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Pierre-Olivier Joseph: Is he really a sleeper?

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Is Craig Button the only man who sees the truth about this player, or has he overrated him?

2017 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game
Pierre-Olivier Joseph on Team Cherry at the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game on January 30, 2017 in Quebec City.
Photo by Mathieu Belanger/Getty Images

Pierre-Olivier Joseph is not normally a player we would be looking at for the 2017 draft. He’s ranked by almost everyone well below the spot the Leafs will pick in the first round, but well above their likely second round pick number (somewhere in the fifties).

But Craig Button picked Joseph as his choice for the Leafs to take in the first round in his mock draft. We could laugh and walk away, but maybe he knows something no one else knows. It has happened before.

Pierre-Olivier Joseph

Joseph is a left-shooting defender on the Charlottetown Islanders in the QMJHL. He will still be 17 at the draft, and turns 18 on July 1. He’s listed now at six feet and 161 pounds, and he has one and about two-thirds seasons on the Islanders to his name.

Pierre-Olivier Joseph via Elite Prospects

Season Team League GP G A TP PIM Playoffs GP G A TP PIM
Season Team League GP G A TP PIM Playoffs GP G A TP PIM
2014-2015 Collège Antoine-Girouard Gaulois QMAAA 42 3 8 11 18
2015-2016 Collège Antoine-Girouard Gaulois QMAAA 19 1 9 10 12
Charlottetown Islanders QMJHL 48 1 7 8 30 Playoffs 12 1 2 3 6
2016-2017 Charlottetown Islanders QMJHL 62 6 33 39 54 Playoffs 13 1 5 6 12
Player statistics powered by www.eliteprospects.com

Bob McKenzie’s ranking from January had him at 36. Future Considerations has him at 54. NHL Central Scouting has him at 27 for N.A. Skaters, so by the time you add in the Europeans, that puts him out of the first round. However, they had him much lower in their midterm rankings. Hockeyprospect.com has him just barely in the first round at 29 from a ranking in February.

So Button’s choice in his mock draft is to have the Leafs bypass several other, more highly-ranked defenders for this player no one else has ranked that high. It’s more than a little odd.

To argue in favour of a choice like that, I would say that Joseph is very young, and has had a good year. It’s not an exceptional year. He is 46th for defencemen in the Q in five-on-five primary points per game (out of 188 defenders). He is 26th in shots on goal per game, however, so he shoots a lot.

On the other hand, by looking at just the defenders under 18 in the Q, his five-on-five and power play points are not top of the list. And several of the players ahead of him are younger. The age factor doesn’t quite hold up on the point side of his record. (All statistics from Prospect Stats.)

Joseph is, it should be said, the third highest ranked player in the Q, after Nico Hischier and Maxime Comtois on most lists. The other two are very high up, and watch that third step, it’s a doozy. Joseph is a long way below them by all scouting reports available.

Scouting Reports

First:

Intriguing prospect. Wears ‘A’. Big mobile defender, no fun to play against. Plays a two-way game, but looks like he will develop into more of a shutdown physical defensive defender at next level. (ISS from February. He is not in their top 31.)

Second:

At his first training camp with Charlottetown in 2015, Joseph was sent back to Midget AAA to work on his game. It only took 19 games before he was called back up, earning a spot in the lineup at age 16. It was no easy task considering the position he played at 6-foot, 150 pounds at the time.

"It just forces you to be smarter and think differently than other players," Joseph said. "You need to have a physical component in your game, but the goal is to be smarter than the big guy skating next to you."

Joseph put on 10 pounds and played 48 games in his first season, and is now a vital part of an Islanders defense that also includes drafted NHL prospects Nicolas Meloche (Colorado Avalanche) and Guillaume Brisebois (Vancouver Canucks). (NHL.com from a March profile.)

So none of that screams out secret first rounder hiding in the second round section of the list. While he has risen on ISS’s list, and the NHL’s, that’s the only clue to why Button would chose this player at 17th, or more accurately, say the Leafs would do that.

The only other fact about Joseph that everyone mentions is that his older brother is Tampa prospect Mathieu Joseph.

Craig Button

Craig Button likes to make waves. Maybe this choice is more about him than it is Joseph, which is an easy accusation to throw around but hard to back up with anything but speculation.

Jeremy Davis at Canucks Army had a look at draft lists recently in a very interesting way. It’s worth a read for any person interested in the draft.

Which Service Has the Most Outlandish 2017 NHL Draft Rankings? – Canucksarmy

[T]he rankings by the various services are all over the place. Being one of those spreadsheet nerds, I decided to measure the volatility of the draft rankings statistically, and see whose rankings are in line with the crowd, and whose are the most outlandish – the hottest of takes, if you will.

The point of this exercise was not to measure which players move up and down a lot from one ranking to another, but rather which ranker is closest to the average of all of them. It’s not measuring success at picking players, it’s measuring how off the board the ranker is.

Button was the second most outlandish ranker by this methodology.

Next is Craig Button (TSN), whose already popular lists have probably gained a little bit more credibility around these parts recently because of his 2014 assessment of Jake Virtanen (he had him ranked 41st prior to the draft) which is aging pretty well. However, a pattern seems to have formed here. Like Virtanen, there are several other prospects that Button is not as high on as others. When he doesn’t see a player as a potential first round pick though, he doesn’t simply bump them out and into the 30’s – he punts them into the 40’s, 50’s, or even 60’s. There are already several examples of Button purging popular players in his most recent rankings.

Joseph at 17th is merely the mirror image of this pattern. In order to move him up, Button had to bounce someone down. And as Davis says, he does not just bounce everyone down one rung relative to other lists. He has Nicolas Hague at 55, Erik Brännström at 45, Urho Vaakanainen at 57. He also has a handful of forwards, including Comtois, ranked much lower, so it isn’t just defenders he sees differently. It seems like it’s hockey he sees differently.

He may very well conceptualize defence differently to everyone else. It seems like he weights scoring and other attributes in his own proportions, not shared by other scouts.

Conclusion

If Joseph turns into the highest possible level of player that his scouting reports say he can be, he would be a defensive defender with a small amount of offensive talent and a lot of all-around skill. He would be big and tough and “no fun to play against”, and it’s not like you don’t need players like that. The most positive thing about the scouting reports on him are that he’s mobile, by which I take it they mean, not so large he has the turning radius of a Zamboni.

My question is: why would you ever think a guy like that is a first rounder?

He would need to have all of the grit, sandpaper, heart, soul, character and toughness of Roman Polak and the puck possession smarts of Martin Marincin and be better in front of the net than the two of them combined before he would be worth a first round pick.

At 3:35 of this video, the Vegas scout Scott Luce talks about Joseph as a player who does a lot that is good, but nothing that is excellent. Just like a second rounder.

Sorry, Craig, you’re on your own on this pick. Just because you were right about Virtanen doesn’t mean you’re right on this. Maybe in five or so years we’ll all discover he was on to something. But I’m not counting on it. But if he falls to 50-something where Future Considerations has him, maybe the Leafs should look at him.