In the most recent Entry Draft, the first with Mark Hunter at the the helm of the scouting process, the Leafs made a significant push to draft high skill players. While this was highlighted by the selection of Mitch Marner at 4th overall, and a couple of high-risk high-reward players selected late in the draft (such as Nikita Korostolev), in between the Leafs opted for a couple of young defencemen with offensive upside.
We looked at one last week, as Jesper Lindgren just missed out on the list. Another, Erie Otter defenceman Travis Dermott, marks the first member of that class of 2015 to crack our list, debuting at #22.
By virtue of playing on Connor McDavid's team, Dermott got a lot of visibility this past season, as Sportsnet may or may not have had a camera crew simply following behind Erie's team bus to broadcast their games. Regardless, if you could tear your eyes away from McDavid or teammate Dylan Strome, you would have noticed Dermott handling a large responsibility for the Otters on the back end.
Dermott quarterbacked an Erie powerplay that routinely ran with four forwards. While 23 of his 45 points on the season came via the powerplay, as I mentioned on the podcast, when you watched a powerplay with the likes of McDavid, Strome, Nick Baptiste and Remy Elie, it's easy to miss Dermott in that group.
Also something to keep in mind; Dermott's late 1996 birthday means that while this was his first year as draft-eligible it is also his third year playing junior hockey; having played for his hometown Newmarket Hurricanes in the OJHL for a year before jumping to the Otters. That extra level of experience can make a difference when examining his production relative to some of his other draft-eligible peers.
As Scott broke down when Dermott was drafted, it's interesting to hear him refer to Morgan Rielly as a player he compares himself to. When looking at the strengths of his game (smarts, positioning, moving the puck up ice) I'm reminded much more of Stuart Percy. Dermott lacks the breathtaking speed that sets Rielly apart from so many other young defence.
We spoke with Gus Katsaros of McKeen's Hockey about Dermott's season and his future development plans:
PPP: What about Dermott's game makes him such a highly touted prospect? The Leafs used an early 2nd round pick to draft the Otters defence while several other prospects with first-round potential were falling.
GK: There's a stability to Dermott's game allowing to lay the broad foundation to develop an already advanced offensive skill set. A good first pass, solid puck moving ability and capable of running a PP at the top of the umbrella, are directly translatable to NHL, while built upon a ‘safe' defensive game that still requires refinement. The strong suit is that there's more upside to add to a strong foundation than some of the other question marks of players selected in that same band of players.
PPP: Is there any concern that his offence was a factor of being heavily involved on a team featuring Connor McDavid and Dylan Strome?
GK: That's probably the first element investigated upon playing with such superstar talent, however a crude calculation has points with McDvid under 25% - the impact of playing together wasn't as big a factor in his direct success, and Dermott's natural talent is apparent independently of his star former teammate.
PPP: What's next for Dermott's development?
GK: More OHL development time, there are defensive aspects that could be improved, while skating could improve. Learning to be more assertive physically in 1-on-1 battles, while adding strength to enhance his effectiveness overall. There's likely another year in the OHL after 2015-16 as well, to be determined.
Dermott's still a new and relatively lesser known prospect - despite his high draft status, unless you're fully immersed in the draft it's tough to have too strong an opinion on 18 year olds who still have a long way to go to reach the NHL. Considering Dermott is still multiple years away from likely becoming an NHLer, a first ranking of 22 (in a very competitive field) should probably be viewed as more of a provisional ranking at this moment.
It's extremely unlikely Dermott plays anywhere this season other than back with Erie, though he could also potentially have a shot at a spot on Team Canada. Dermott is yet another defensive prospect to add to the long list of hopefuls that the Leafs have produced in recent years.