In the hockey blogosphere in 2017, if you want to make fun of a bad idea, you attribute it to Vancouver Canucks GM Jim Benning. The Canucks are poised to pick fifth overall, and the popular joke has them picking Michael Rasmussen. And I’ve seen several stat-minded writers and Tweets who are fearful their team will make the mistake of picking him.
Is Rasmussen an overhyped bust in the making? Or if he starts to drop, is he worth a look?
The Basics & the Numbers
|2013-2014||Okanagan Hockey Academy Btm Prep||OMAHA||59||41||46||87||123||||
|BCMML Sabres 1||U16 Cup||4||0||3||3||0||||
|Okanagan Hockey Academy Elite 15||CSSHL E15||2||1||0||1||0||||
|2014-2015||Team British Columbia||CWG||6||1||1||2||4||||
|Okanagan Hockey Acad. White Prep||CSSHL||28||27||23||50||36|||||Playoffs||3||3||5||8||4|
|Canada Black U17||WHC-17||5||2||1||3||16||||
|2016-2017||Canada U18||Hlinka Memorial||4||1||3||4||8||||
|Player statistics powered by www.eliteprospects.com|
As with Nicholas Hague (who I’m much keener on for many reasons), the striking thing about Rasmussen is his size. He’s a 6’5”, 203 lb. centre playing for the WHL’s Tri-City Americans. I imagine you’re immediately thinking that Rasmussen’s overhyping is due to size being overvalued. That’s part of it! Stay tuned.
Rasmussen has very pretty goal totals. Rasmussen is top ten in the WHL (forwards with minimum 10 GP) in goals per game, and everyone ahead of him is older than him. He’s a little more ordinary in primary points generally, but 37th in your league is nothing to be ashamed of—and again, he just turned 18 last month. Lots of goals! Lots to like.
The problem shows up when you slice up his totals by strength state. At even strength, in primary points per game, Rasmussen drops to...138th (of 327 eligible forwards.) That’s...not the most encouraging thing for your first-round pick.
As you would logically expect, this means Rasmussen is killing it on the powerplay. He’s second in the WHL (behind Leafs prospect Adam Brooks) in 5v4 P1/60 for forwards. Neat! Is there any reason to be concerned about that?
The Reasons To Be Concerned About That
I’m not the first person to look at Michael Rasmussen, and so I’ll now rely on two very smart people who have reviewed the question beforehand.
First off is Jeremy Davis of Canucks Army, who is an excellent writer on prospects and who has reason to fear his team wasting a pick on Rasmussen. Davis looked over the case of Rasmussen in February and pointed out the problems. In short: 5v4 production is less predictive than 5v5 production, and Rasmussen appears to make his money operating point-blank on the powerplay. That’s not to say his goals don’t count—as James van Riemsdyk can tell you, being a gigantic forward who sets up near the crease can be a very profitable line of work. But it also suggests he may be relying on his teammates to get him the puck in the danger area. If Rasmussen isn’t driving the bus in this situation (argues Davis), that’s a worrying sign. Looking at the goal-heavy forward production, Davis gives Rasmussen the kiss of death: he compares him to Canucks potential bust Jake Virtanen.
That leads to my second resource: friend of the blog Alan, who recently evaluated Rasmussen over at Raw Charge. Alan added some additional colour to this analysis by pointing to Rasmussen’s extremely ordinary assist rate at 5v5, and compares him to other forwards going in the same range. A guy who specializes in a) being tall and b) tapping the puck in, even if he does it very frequently, is very questionable for a mid-to-high first if he doesn’t have other skills. Alan advocated that his Tampa Bay Lightning should pass on Rasmussen at 14th overall.
Okay, we have a feel for his numbers. But clearly some scouts are seeing things in him that they like. What things?
Future Considerations is on the low end with regard to Rasmussen, ranking him 18th overall, but their report on him still says nice things—as you might expect for a mid-first prospect.
A big, skilled forward who uses his size well…has improved his skating substantially from his midget days…for a player his size, he moves phenomenally well, smoothly and with impressive power…does a very good job of consistently getting to the greasy areas of the ice; he wins a lot of battles in those areas due to his size and reach…goes to the net and blocks the goaltender’s view while looking for deflections and rebounds…not flashy hands, but can carry the puck using his body extremely well to protect it…has underrated vision and playmaking ability…needs some work on his shot as he currently lacks consistent accuracy and quickness in getting it off his blade…just knows how to utilize his strengths to make a difference…uses his reach to disrupt opponents and get into lanes…willing to block shots…has a ways to go, but could be special and has loads of upside.
Aside from the “underrated vision and playmaking”, most of this gibes with what we know about Rasmussen. He can get where he wants to go and whack in goals while there, at least in junior.
The Hockey Writers have a generally cautious profile, putting Rasmussen in the 18th-20th range. Most of the commentary is consistent, though there’s another intriguing reference to Rasmussen’s passing ability being better than his assist total would suggest. There’s also, unfortunately, skepticism about his skating, which is always worrisome in today’s NHL.
Here’s Zac Urback, in a thread:
The #1 guy in the 1st round I’d stay away from is Michael Rasmussen…Big guys who score at the rate Rasmussen does at 5v5 don’t work out. pic.twitter.com/B4aHKQ7d0I— Zac Urback (@Zac_Urback) April 19, 2017
Read the whole thing before you judge, though: Urback suggests later that Rasmussen may be disadvantaged by a poor on-ice shooting percentage.
Our own Kevin Papetti offers a balanced take.
Rasmussen is obviously a huge physical presence. He towers over most players, and he's a strong net front presence as a result. His skill set will involve being a force down low, winning puck battles, and setting up scoring chances for his teammates. In terms of weaknesses, he's not overly fast, and he's not a huge threat in terms of zone entries. He did most of his damage on the powerplay this season, and just about every other CHL first round forward prospect outscored him in terms of primary points per game. Ultimately, his size and playmaking combination is intriguing, but I prefer taking a better puck carrier in the first round.
Here’s PPP’s Scott Wheeler:
Rasmussen is an interesting case study because he's still an excellent prospect but he's been catapulted too high because of his mix of size and skill and the belief that there aren't great options after the big two. Still, I like Rasmussen more in the back half of the first round than near the top.
With Rasmussen, you've got a kid who gets to the slot and finishes plays. He really does have an excellent shot. But again, he's not heady with the puck and doesn't see the ice well, which makes him a little one-dimensional.
Ending on the big one: McKeen’s Hockey has infamously ranked Rasmussen third overall, and last November they went so far as to describe “whispers” of him going first overall. I suspect these whispers were one person and the one person was Rasmussen’s agent family advisor, because no one else seems to have suggested it. Their explanation in November was a favourable comparison to Keith Primeau. Essentially: Rasmussen is a power forward. If you’d like a power forward, you could draft Rasmussen. Decide for yourself if that’s appealing or not.
Should the Leafs look at him at 17th overall?
I can’t imagine the foregoing has made anyone very keen (or very McKeen) (sorry) on drafting Rasmussen. But at the same time, this is where we need to distinguish between “not worth a top five pick” and not worth picking.
In this survey of draft rankings—and these rankings are pending end-of-year updates in some cases—only MacKeen’s has him as high as 3rd. But the other eleven sources all have him ranked between 8th and 20th. None of these resources think he would be an off-board pick at 17. Jeremy Davis, in that generally critical article quoted above, says “getting Rasmussen in the mid-to-late first round is in all likelihood still a good decision.” The 17th overall pick, as Katya has written, is not the kind of ticket to top-end talent a top-three pick should be. And: Rasmussen has scored a lot of goals, which are important; he’s big, which is still useful; and he’s impressed in many smaller ways, to judge by the quotes. At some point, if he keeps falling in the draft, Rasmussen will transition from overvalued to correctly valued to undervalued, and whatever you think of him, that point probably happens by the start of the second round. It might happen before 17th overall.
So is he worth our first?
Ultimately, I say no. There is guaranteed to be someone on the board I like better than Rasmussen. A quality defender like Erik Brannstrom, Jusso Valimaki, or Nic Hague; or a good forward like Nick Suzuki or Lias Andersson. If you’re willing to go the other way with regard to size, Kailer Yamamoto’s WHL numbers compare extremely favourably to Rasmussen’s, despite him being nine inches shorter. I would take any of these players before Rasmussen; ultimately, I think he’s well below where our first would be and well above where our second will end up. He’s not nothing. He might be something. But he’s not for us.