It doesn’t take much looking beyond the basic statistics from last year to see why Martin Gernat is a prospect worth watching. The 6’5" defenceman recorded 55 points and an astonishing (even by Edmonton Oil Kings standards) plus-41 rating in 60 WHL contests last season.
So what else is worth knowing?
In the summer, there wasn’t really a consensus view of Gernat. I was the most optimistic at the time (ranking him 11th, as I have once again), but three members of our panel had him outside the top-20. This time around, there is near-total unanimity – he ranks 13th overall, with nobody more than two slots off that assessment.
Given that Gernat missed most of the start of the season with a shoulder injury and has been slow getting back into the swing of things, that’s probably more ‘damning assessment of the rest of the prospects’ than it is ‘ringing endorsement of Gernat.’
Still, there is plenty to like. Here’s what I wrote in my take on Gernat in the summer at this website:
Many European players struggle in their first North American season, but there was no sign of that with Martin Gernat. He posted impressive offensive totals immediately, with 55 points in 60 games. Of the WHL defenders drafted above him, just one (first round pick Joe Morrow) managed to do more offensively. Add in a team best plus-41 rating, his 6'5" stature and the discipline that he showed in the WHL and there are a lot of reasons to like this player. I try not to put too much weight on limited personal viewings, but in the games I've watched Gernat's also been a steady influence on the back end - making a good first pass, skating well and staying in position and just generally looking like an excellent two-way defenseman. Obviously, there's still a learning curve ahead but the early results are very promising.
The question is the depth of the learning curve. The hope was that this season Gernat would be able to play a bunch of minutes and help file down some of the rougher edges – for example, while I lauded his positional play in my comment, that was a relative statement. For a rookie WHL’er, I though Gernat’s positional play in 2011-12 was pretty good. For a guy pushing for NHL employment, it wouldn’t be nearly good enough. Unfortunately, with Gernat only playing 19 games he hasn’t really had the opportunity to get the kind of minutes a defenceman his age really should.
The news isn’t all bad. Gernat revealed in a December interview that he had filled out somewhat – listed at 191 pounds in most places, he’d actually gained weight, coming in at 199 pounds – and hoped to play at between 210 and 220 pounds by 22.
With Gernat, the long-term upside is his most attractive quality. A 6’5", 220 pound defenceman who can skate and has plus puck skills is the kind of player every team in the league wants to land. There is a lot of road yet to cover between now and then – including the jump to the professional ranks, which has done a number on some of the Oilers’ most promising amateurs – but the potential is there.