It's easy to like Brandon Davidson's story. Not surprisingly he was passed over in his first draft, given he'd played with the Lethbridge Y's Men Titans in the Alberta Midget Hockey League. Not that there haven't been a lot of mighty fine hockey players pass through the AMHL, but usually the ones who are still there at 17 are not high in the priorities of scouts. Two things worth noting - with a late-August '91 birthday, Davidson was one of the youngest players eligible for that draft; more importantly, his earlier development was slowed somewhat due to simple fact that hockey is expensive for divorced parents with three hockey-playing sons. As with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins missing his entire 12-year-old season in somewhat similar circumstances, sometimes life gets in the way.
Davidson proceeded to surprise a whole lot of people the following season, when he walked on to Regina Pats camp with just 7 games of AJHL experience under his belt, and not only made the team but went on to lead the Jordan Eberle / Colten Teubert -led squad in plus/minus. That can of course be a deceptive stat, especially without context, but +15 on a -32 team is impressive no matter how you cut it. Stu MacGregor and crew were sufficiently impressed to spend a sixth round pick on Davidson in his 19-year-old draft season, that pick having been the sweetener of the Visnovsky-for-Whitney trade.
With Eberle and Teubert graduating to pro, the Pats cratered in 2010-11, but Davidson had another encouraging season, increasing his offensive output while retaining a respectable -5 on a horrid -96 club. The horridness didn't seem to be happening on Brandon's watch, and a year ago he made his debut on C&B's Top 25 Under 25.
Davidson has been hanging around the lower echelon of that list, going from #25 to #18 and now to #21. Last time's overall ranking was a bit of an anomaly; as Scott pointed then, "The first really odd thing is that Davidson ranks higher in the aggregate ranking than he does on any of the individual lists," just a fluke of distribution in other words. He has slipped back a little, though. Ben dropped him five spots, Derek four, Jon eight. Scott kept him in the same slot, while he inched up one notch in my own rankings. The most positive rating came from new panellist Dawgbone, who summarizes his optimism:
he’s a bit of a late bloomer. He didn’t even make it to the WHL until he was 18 but ever since then he’s kept improving his game. He’s got some decent offensive potential from the backend and is tracking well for a late round pick.
Ben was a little less charitable in his assessment. (I know, I'm shocked too!)
Sure, Brandon Davidson's having a decent year in the WHL. He bloody well better be; he's twenty and a half years old and if a player isn't tearing the WHL to shreds at that age then he probably has one leg. His points-per-game is actually down from 2010-11, which is the only year of his career that's been non-crappy for a player who won't exactly make his bones as a shutdown blueliner. Nine times out of ten, the so-called "late bloomer" is just getting results because he's bigger and older than the opposition. That's Davidson.
Well, technically .706 points per game is "down" from .708, but the larger point I suppose is that there is no clear improvement in evidence. That said, the Pats have gone from also-ran to playoff contender largely on the strength of improvements at the defensive end of the ice, where they have shaved 1¼ goals per game from last year's league-worst 4.33 GA/G. Improvements at the offensive end are a more modest ¼ goal per game, while the Pats as a whole have gone from a goal differential of -96 to a respectable +8 as of this writing. While it's impossible to directly attribute defensive improvements to an "out" player, it doesn't require a huge leap of faith to conclude that Davidson - who is after all the club's #1 blueliner - has improved his game behind his own blueline. While scoring at similar levels as last year, he has seen his plus/minus soar from -5 to +19, second best on the team. Surprisingly, the defenceman ranks second in club scoring as well with 36 points, a mere 47 behind the one-man wrecking crew that is Jordan Weal.
In recent weeks Davidson has joined forces on the top pairing with yet another Oilers prospect, namely Martin Marincin who was traded to the Pats at the deadline. Odd that no fewer than four of C&B's Top 25 Under 25 have played junior hockey in Regina.
That Davidson is spending his overage season back in junior is something of a red flag, of course. It is in keeping, however, with his "late bloomer" development curve. Again there are mitigating circumstances, In part he was a victim of circumstance, given that he was one of a five late '91s that the Oilers selected in that 2010 draft. All of those picked ahead of him - Taylor Hall, Tyler Pitlick, Curtis Hamilton, Ryan Martindale - were ahead of Brandon on the pecking order for pro contracts this season. The lanky puck-moving rarguard had a decent camp, but was caught in that numbers game and sent back to Regina. There he was named team captain in short order and led the squad to a blazing start that has it well-placed for a playoff berth for the first time since 2007-08.
Of course, all that and five bucks
will might buy you the beverage of your choice at Starbucks. I think it's fair to say that Davidson is tracking higher than his draft number, but you could cut that #162 in half and you're still looking at a long shot to make the bigs. On the other hand, Brandon is a very good bet to make the Barons next season, and take on the next challenge in what at best projects as a multi-year development phase.