When it comes to evaluating prospects, the defensive defensemen is one of the hardest types to judge from any distance. Goaltenders of course are in a whole other world, with the prized, franchise-goalie in waiting routinely shelved in favour of the 26-year old with an unpronounceable name who was brought in on a whim. After that most mercurial of positions, however, comes the defensive defenseman. They develop slowly, they can look awful at times, points are irrelevant, plus-minus is rendered all but useless thanks to the fact that the best of them play against the best shooters and typically start in their own end of the arena, and any objective line in the sand is all but impossible to find.
David Musil is a defensive defenseman.
Musil finds himself on the rise in this winter’s rankings, jumping three spots from 17th overall to 14th. Among returning panelists, optimism was the order of the day: Ben bumped him up two notches, Bruce one, Scott five, and Derek six spots. My personal ranking sees Musil moving up five slots, and as I was one of the most optimistic on the player coming out of the draft, I remain so today.
|Rank||Player||DOB||Drafted||Year||Ben ||Bruce ||DB ||Derek ||Jon||DB||Scott|
We should probably start by getting the negatives out of the way. As the chart above shows, the most pessimistic take on Musil came from a newcomer (rookie move, dawgbone – when Derek Zona bumps a guy up six spots you want to take notice, lest he ask you every second game why you hate
Jeff Petry David Musil). Dawgbone’s rationale was as follows:
I know generating offense isn’t the primary focus of a defenceman, but you need to be able to produce something. The less you produce offensively the more you have to stop defensively in order to contribute. The guys who can make a real impact at the NHL level with low offensive totals are few and far between.
Musil doesn’t put up a lot of offense. As a WHL rookie, his projection over an 82-game schedule was 37 points. That fell to 33 last season, and he’s on pace for 33 once again this year. Given that most CHL grads can expect to lose 70% of their offense at the NHL level, NHL goalies can rest easy. (At least, with respect to Musil – there’s still the 26-year old with an unpronounceable name that Igor the part-time scout found last time he took an ice-fishing trip in Siberia.)
So, given Musil’s stagnant offense and the very real difficulties in measuring his defensive contribution at the WHL level, why do I feel comfortable saying that Musil is the 10th-best player under 25 in the Oilers’ system (and fourth-best true prospect)? Am I really that inspired by player agent Ritch Winter’s take on him?
As with most things in life, there are a number of factors I considered. The relative weakness of the Oilers’ current prospect lineup factored in heavily – with the best young players on the team in the NHL and CHL forwards imploding as they graduate to the professional level, there’s a milquetoast middle section of the Oilers under-25 lineup that makes it easy for a player to jump a number of spots very quickly. There are, however, several other items that make genuine optimism for Musil’s future a possibility.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say that what I saw and heard of Musil at the World Juniors didn’t impact my view of the player. It’s always difficult to evaluate a player on the basis of a short span of games, particularly when the competition is uneven, and the Tournament of Small Sample Size has led people who should know better astray more than once. Perhaps that is what is happening here.
Musil was easily the best Czech defenseman at the tournament. He may not have acknowledged it, but his teammates did verbally, his coaches did by means of how they deployed him, and the opposition certainly did. At that level, it was difficult to suppress the urge to compare Musil to Ladislav Smid; the offense was minimal but the passing was good and the defensive play was superb. I was particularly impressed with Musil’s discipline and positional awareness, many times noting his preference for the safe play over the flashy hit or the high-risk decision. On a team that featured some freelancers, it stood out.
But there’s a lot more than a good showing in half a dozen tournament games to Musil’s credit. He wasn’t a reach at 31st overall; most scouting services had him in the range, in no small part because he tends to look like his dad, who played more than 800 NHL games. There’s his usage in the WHL, where Musil has played heavy minutes for the Vancouver Giants, largely in defensive situations (despite the role, Musil has a plus-11 rating).
Of course, there are always quibbles. McKeen’s Hockey noted the following:
"already a settling backline influence as he plays a mature game for his age… would benefit from being more desperate and physically involved while defending his end as he gets too passive at times…"
I understand where the draft-day questions of intensity and physical play come from – Musil isn’t cut from the same cloth as a guy like Theo Peckham, who loves to destroy his opponents with big hits. On the plus side, Musil isn’t cut from the same cloth as a guy like Theo Peckham, whose love for destroying his opponents with big hits sometimes comes at the cost of blown coverage and opposition power plays. That McKeen’s quote is actually a really good example of what I’m talking about – because as easy as it is to apply those exact words to David Musil, that specific quote comes from a summer of 2006 scouting report on Ladislav Smid, fresh off his rookie season in the AHL.
Ultimately, Musil is doing everything I would have expected from Ladislav Smid at the same age. That’s high praise, and the biggest reason I remain optimistic about his future at the professional level.