If you're the sentimental type and looking for a feel-good story, Brandon Davidson's journey to professional hockey might be for you. Davidson was passed over in his first draft-eligible season because of a late arrival to major junior hockey. His WHL debut season was marked by leading Regina, a team that featured Jordan Eberle, Jordan Weal and Colten Teubert, in plus/minus. The Oilers saw enough in Davidson's play this season to sign him to an amateur try-out with the Barons, and just two short years out of the Alberta Junior Hockey League, Brandon Davidson made his professional debut with the Oklahoma City Barons.
To get a sense of what kind of player Davidson is and will be, we've gone back to Scott McDougall, the WHL Scout for The Scouting Report, a free scouting service compiled by a network of writers and scouts throughout Canada and the United States. The guys from TSR have worked with us previously to build scouting profiles on Acadie-Bathurst's Olivier Roy, the Ottawa 67s Ryan Martindale, and the Saskatoon Blades' Curtis Hamilton.
The Scouting Report actually has some real credibility when it comes to rating Davidson -- they called him one of the WHL's draft sleepers for 2010, noting "He’s not overly physical and the best thing about his game is that you don’t notice him. Nothing eventful ever seems to happen when he’s on the ice." In their final rankings for the 2010 NHL Draft, they had Davidson ranked 54th overall. Their draft report read as follows:
Davidson is a player who you probably won’t notice much on the ice, which caters well to his style of play. He’s not overly physical and he won’t blow you away with any puck skills, but he simply does a good job of executing his role. He moves the puck well up the ice, is rarely caught out of position, and is a dependable defenseman who can be effective in any situation.
Copper & Blue: We’ve seen bits and pieces of his game over some training camps, but can you describe Brandon Davidson as a player?
Scott McDougall: Davidson has become a nice two-way player for the Regina Pats over the past couple years. He is steady in his own end and often likes to make the simple play. He is able to defend 1-on-1 and shows a very good first pass. As he has grown into a more veteran role with the Pats, he is starting to show more of a willingness to jump into the play and create a little offense. While not in the same category of some of the WHL’s elite defenders like Jared Cowen, Stefan Elliot, or Tyson Barrie, Davidson has developed into a legitimate #1 WHL defenseman as well as one of the top defensemen in the WHL.
In the pros, I think Davidson could be a lower pairing two-way defenseman. Just a steady role player that is able to chip the puck out the zone or make a nice pass to move the puck up the ice. Still I think that he was a great pickup in the 6th round for the Oilers and they’re sure to be pleased with how he’s progressing.
C&B: He arrived at the highest-levels of junior hockey extremely late and was drafted anyway. Does he still have kinks in his game because of this?
McDougall: As you alluded to, Davidson joined the Pats as an 18 year-old. Like the vast majority of kids his age, there are some kinks, but not having seen Davidson prior to his time in Regina, I really can't say how much of it is a result of playing lower-level hockey. The kinks you are referring to are that his pivoting is still a work in progress and that the occasional poor or late decision results in poor positioning and results in scoring chances or penalties. Davidson has been an important player for the Pats ever since joining the team and so I wouldn’t guess that it hurt him too much.
While we all like to assume that players tend to follow the same path development curve, the reality is that player development in minor hockey often favors those that are the most physically mature and those that can afford to play the highest level hockey along with summer hockey and development camps. That doesn’t mean that either of those favorable conditions will result in success for a particular player or that a player lacking those favorable conditions can’t succeed. In the case of Davidson, his path may have been a little slower initially, but he developing nicely and I don't see any cause for concern there.
I think it is also worth mentioning that although he was passed over in his first year of eligibility, he was one of the youngest players eligible that year. The following year when he was drafted, he was less than a month older than the oldest kids in their first year of eligibility.
C&B: One thing Bruce and I noticed during training camp was how often he was caught in no man's land after making a late decision. Does his decision making have a negative impact in the WHL or was that a product of a faster game in camp?
McDougall: One of the areas where Davidson can work on improving is his decision-making process while under duress. He can be tentative at times and while this is something that he will need to work on at the pro level, he often is able to get away with it in the WHL. Early in the season, late decisions led to Davidson having to take some unnecessary penalties, but as the season has progressed, he has improved his decision-making allowing for him to have better initial positioning and causing fewer stick-infraction penalties. He still has some work to do in this area, but it has been good to see the improvement.
C&B: We've also both noticed his positioning fails him at times. Is that happening in the WHL?
McDougall: There seem to be two reasons that Davidson can be caught out of position. Either he makes a late decision resulting in a bad play leaving him in a poor spot to recover or he looks to jump into the play and gets caught behind an opposing player. With the improved decision-making I think we will see his positioning improve as well, but I expect this to be an area of concern for him as he gets adjusted to the pros. I think there will be some growing pains, but I don’t think it is bad enough that he’ll never be able to overcome it. At the moment it isn’t causing him too many issues at the WHL level.
C&B: Scouting reports have talked about his technical deficiencies, especially in his pivots and movement in his own zone. Is this still an issue?
McDougall: While his skating is not without flaws, I don’t think it is as big of a deal as some of the reports. I think he is a decent straight line skater that like many young players has problems with pivots especially in transition play.
In the offensive end, he usually allows himself plenty of time to turn and get into position if the opposition is attempting to breakout of their zone. Where he gets into trouble is when he’s pinching or the play turns quickly and he’s pivoting against players with speed. This has caused him to give up odd-man rushes or forced him to take penalties.
Again though, I don’t think it is as big of a deal as some suggest and to be honest, I think Davidson is ahead of the more highly-touted (and recently signed) Oiler prospect Martin Marincin in this regard right now.
C&B: What role did he play on the Pats?
McDougall: As one of the veterans on this year’s team, Davidson played in all situations for the Pats and was flexible enough to play either point position. He was relied upon to play key minutes against the opposition’s top players. Whether the Pats needed a goal or need to protect a lead, they would often turn to Davidson.
C&B: He racked up an impressive amount of points for a team that missed the playoffs. I assume he's proficient on the power play?
McDougall: Davidson's passing skills and ability to get pucks through traffic makes him a useful powerplay option for the Pats. With Myles Bell stepping up to help him on the blue line this year, Davidson has become more creative and chooses to jump into the play more actively now. Because he doesn’t move around as much as he probably should and he is still working on his pivots, I don’t see Davidson as a powerplay threat in the pros. I think he has the skills to contribute a little offense at even strength, but I don’t see him getting a ton of power play time.
C&B: Scouting reports have lauded his passing ability - can he skate the puck out of the zone as well?
McDougall: Davidson isn’t one to attempt to skate through multiple checks to get the puck out of his end. He will most often choose the simplest option which usually is a pass. If no outlets are available, Davidson will attempt to skate the puck out of the zone if he thinks that he can without causing a potential turnover. If he has any doubt, Davidson isn’t afraid to flip the puck off the boards and out of the zone that way.
C&B: Does he play a physical game?
McDougall: While it is clear that he isn’t much of a fighter, Davidson has better than average size and has improved his physical game. He will clear out the front of the net and isn’t afraid to get involved in a little pushing and shoving on behalf of a teammate. He isn’t regarded as a punishing hitter, but he will take out his man.
C&B: In your opinion, should Brandon return to the Pats as an overager, or is he ready for the AHL?
McDougall: I love the improvement in Davidson's game and I would consider him one of the better defensemen in the WHL right now. I can see benefits both ways. By staying in junior and playing big minutes in Regina, he can focus on some things he needs to work on. With Myles Bell ready for bigger role and Regina due to have another poor team next year, there is a good chance Davidson would be traded to a playoff contender at some point during the year giving him some much needed playoff experience.
At the same time, it would be good exposure for him to learn the pro game and get challenged by the things he currently gets away with at the junior level. For the Oilers, it would be important to judge where he'll improve the most. At the AHL level, he likely won't get a lot of playing time playing behind former teammate Colten Teubert, Alex Plante, a couple AHL vets and depth players like Kevin Montgomery. The Oilers will have to determine how their depth chart looks and whether it makes more sense to have Davidson play a minor role in the AHL level versus major minutes in major junior.
I think it would be best for Davidson’s development to make the jump to the AHL, but with Marincin recently signing an entry level contract with the Oilers my guess is that Davidson plays another year of junior before making the jump to the pros.