Jakob Pelletier May Be The Most Underrated Prospect In The 2019 NHL Draft Heading Into The Season

 

Jakob Pelletier with the Moncton Wildcats

One of the most compelling parts of following the draft is identifying overrated and underrated players, and digging into why they may be viewed that way relative to their true potential. Overrated players can be overvalued for a multitude of reasons, the seemingly most common ones being size, physicality, and intangibles, all of which are typically overrated as predictors of future success. Underrated players are similar— most often being sunk by a lack of size, poor defensive game, or lack of awareness (a factor that typically only has any effect on players in lesser known junior leagues, such as the Russian MHL).

For Quebec-born forward Jakob Pelletier, it seems to be his small stature that is the driving force behind his lack of representation in draft rankings. At just 5’9” and 161 pounds, Pelletier isn’t a big guy, and despite today’s NHL being an environment where small, skilled players can thrive, Pelletier continues to be somewhat of an afterthought in draft rankings, typically found at the very end of round one, if featured at all.

Looking at some scouting reports, it seems even more apparent that size is holding back Pelletier’s draft stock. In his rankings, Corey Pronman described Pelletier as having “all the tools you want minus his size,” but Pronman ranked him just 24th despite this heavy praise of his skill-set, signaling that stature is what pulled him downwards.

Ever since he was drafted third overall in the 2017 QMJHL Draft, great things were expected of Pelletier. The rebuilding Moncton Wildcats were counting on Pelletier to help lead their team back to respectability, and the Quebec-born forward delivered, posting 61 points in 60 games in his rookie campaign. That total, good for third on his team, made him the second most efficient scorer on the roster, trailing only a 19 year old Jeremy McKenna.

Looking beyond his size, Pelletier is a supremely talented winger with game-breaking skill. A playmaker, Pelletier possesses good vision and can make accurate passes.

He’s also a strong skater, with good top-end speed and edgework, that can threaten with his feet. A deep knee bend allows him to generate power from his stride, and his two-step quickness is quite good, giving him an edge in puck races.

Despite his size, Pelletier is effective in what are considered the “dirty areas,” such as in front of the net, in the corners, and along the boards. He does this by not doing so the way one might expect– rather than outmuscling opponents in the “power forward” vein, Pelletier uses his edges and shiftiness to avoid those physical confrontations where he’s at a natural disadvantage. His quickness and acceleration make it so he can win the majority of puck battles with enough of an edge to retain separation from his opponent, making it quite difficult to contain him.

Here’s Pelletier displaying that edgework, turning on a dime several times behind the goal line, allowing him to shake off the defender through his skating alone.

Pelletier has mastered the act of jumping into the slot area uncovered to put the puck into the back of the net. This is another way that he’s adapted his game to suit his size– rather than jump into the physical battle occurring right in front of the net, where he’d very likely be overpowered, he’s able to lurk on the outskirts and jump in at exactly the right time.

This ability allowed Pelletier to place fourth on his team in high-danger-shots-per-game and second in high-danger-shots-per-total-shot, despite his small stature.

Although Pelletier can contribute by jumping in and finishing opportunities, his main method of offensive contribution is his playmaking. In the first clip, we saw a snippet of his passing ability, but there’s a lot more where that came from.

Look no further than this excellent pass off the rush that ended in a primary assist for Pelletier.

The foundation of Pelletier’s playmaking style is his vision. Pelletier has a knack for identifying open teammates that aren’t necessarily right in front of them, and is entirely capable of getting them the puck while drawing defenders away in the process.

As exhibit A of his playmaking prowess, I present this beauty of an assist. Pelletier is able to identify the open teammate beside him while looking down to gather the puck.

This pass displays his vision. He manages to identify his teammate as a passing option before reaching the puck. For me, this is one of the key characteristics of a premier playmaker.

And here’s a nice play on a two-on-one to create an easy goal. He forces the defender to commit to him, then slides the puck across the slot.

The final way that Pelletier can consistently create offence is through the breakaway, an art that he’s more or less mastered. His speed allows him to create separation through the neutral zone, making him an open target for a stretch pass. Pelletier had several goals of this mold last season.

As far as weaknesses go: Pelletier could work on his puck-handling to make him more of a one-on-one threat with the puck. Right now, he can threaten with his speed as a goal-scorer, but his hands aren’t advanced enough to beat a defender that way. This will make him more versatile as an offensive threat, and allow him to be dangerous as both a scoring and passing option.

Pelletier could also shoot more frequently. Although he’s primarily a playmaker, he has the toolbox to be an effective scorer as well, so he could stand to improve on his 2.67 shots per game.

Pulling up the spreadsheets now, Pelletier’s statistics reinforce the skill we’ve just taken a look at. Last season, Pelletier cracked a point-per-game, an achievement that might not seem incredible at first, but becomes remarkable when you realize how uncommon an accomplishment of that ilk really is. Before Pelletier, only three players have reached that mark in their draft-minus-one season, and you’ll surely recognize at least two of those names.

Back in 2004-05, a certain individual going by the name of Sidney Crosby was closer to tripling that mark than doubling it. He was followed by another Penguins draft pick in 2006-07, Angelo Esposito. Esposito, selected 20th overall in 2007, was supposed to give the Penguins a one-two-three punch at centre, but knee injuries destroyed his career. It wasn’t until several years later — 2012-13 — that Nathan MacKinnon was the next to accomplish this feat, posting 75 points in 44 games.

Now, it’s important to acknowledge that Pelletier doesn’t project as a franchise player like Crosby and MacKinnon are (despite clearing the same benchmark, both significantly outscored Pelletier), but this represents just how impressive his season was.

Pelletier stacks up to his peers very well. Adjusted Points-Per-Game identifies the forward as the fifth strongest forward and sixth best skater in the class.

Even more promising is that most of Pelletier’s points appear to be caused by his own skill, not his teammates; he had the 3rd highest all-situations Betweenness and 2nd highest 5v5 Betweenness on his team.

Betweenness is a statistic created by Evan Oppenheimer that attempts to measure scoring influence in hockey. Essentially, it measures how involved a player is in their team’s scoring network. The higher their Betweenness score, the more that team would theoretically suffer if that player was suddenly removed from the network. You can read Evan’s write-up for the statistic here.

All in all, Pelletier is an offensive weapon that is overflowing with offensive skill. Few players in this class are as effective as playmakers as he is, and he has a developing scoring element to his game that could prove similarly dangerous in a couple years. The translatable skills are aplenty, and unless his draft stock increases dramatically over the upcoming season, Pelletier looks primed to be a steal.