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Top 25 Under 25 - #16 Martin Gernat

Richard Wolowicz

Firstly, I'd like to congratulate Martin Gernat for being enormous. At 6'5" and with the wingspan of an albatross, you definitely know when Gernat is on the ice because his gravitational pull yanks the popcorn out of your hand. He can uncork a big shot when he makes contact, which isn't always, and in any case sure likes to try. Plus he's an Edmonton Oil King. So far he's ticking all the boxes of "size" and "local", or at least as local as a born-and-bred Slovakian who still speaks English like Ivan Drago can be.

I don't want to pan Gernat too badly. For one thing, in hindsight, I ranked him slightly too low: he should certainly be above Colten Teubert. But, then again, he and Teubert have a lot in common. Oversized players who scored a decent clip in junior and got lots of love because of their combination of size and offense, but were always a little clumsy and a step slow and had those moments where you thought "this guy is rated how high, again?" Of course Gernat's offense is above Teubert's level, but then again Gernat played for a better offensive team and doesn't make me wonder if he'd be more comfortable playing in snow boots.

Ah, you may say, but Gernat scores. Yes, Martin Gernat had gaudy scoring numbers last year on an excellent WHL team. A late pick who put up points like that in a tough junior league and combines it with size... it's easy to understand the appeal.

But he was a late pick for a reason, somebody whose skills don't suggest a smooth professional transition. Somebody who hasn't particularly learned to play defense, and somebody whose numbers clearly benefited from one of the CHL's strongest teams. No, forgive me if I'm not sold.

Rank Player DOB Drafted Year Alan
Jon Ryan Scott
16 Martin Gernat 1993-04-11
122 2011
14 24 12 21 23 11 18 15

Previous Rank: #25

Take away Martin Gernat's 2011-12 season, for a moment. As a thought exercise, let's look at the player he was going into the Western league last season. What would we see?

Gernat had never played a single season in even a third-rate league, spending the entirety of his career in the Slovakian junior divisions. The Slovakian league isn't great; the junior divisions continue that trend. The numbers were decent but far from dominant; good offense but nothing that approached his past season's WHL production. And they were at a level below a Canadian tier II junior league.

In the 2010 World Juniors, Gernat got into Team Slovakia and played all six of their games. But his team barely avoided relegation and Gernat, an offense-first player, managed only one assist for his trouble on a team that scored 27 goals.

It's true, he rose to the occasion with the Oil Kings. That's what edged him into the top 25 in January: he started off the season at a better-than-point-per-game pace. His production declined as the season went on and dipped further in a successful playoff run, but one thing is clear: Gernat beat the hell out of expectations last season.

Jonathan Willis, our resident optimist, agrees. I'll let him speak for himself.

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.

That's quite an endorsement. So what's my problem?

I'm leery of defensemen who can't defend, particularly big ones. Gernat makes his bones with poise on the puck, a willingness to turn absolutely anything into an offensive play, and a quality shot. But against that is ineffective defensive positioning. His difficulty using his big (but lanky) body stood out to me the few times. I've read scouting reports saying he's a good skater: well, he's got some speed but there's a lot more to good skating than that. Perhaps I just saw him on bad nights but what I saw was a point-A-to-point-B skater that made me wonder just how he was so effective.

If Gernat was 5'11" we'd be talking about him in the mid-twenties on this list, not the mid-teens, because the scouting reports would be asking questions about his defensive ability. "Will he ever figure it out? He's not Jay Bouwmeester in the attacking zone; in his own end he's actually a liability. The only way for that to work in the NHL is if he's truly an ascendant offensive talent or if he figures the defense out." (Anybody who points to an offensive player's plus/minus on a Memorial Cup-calibre team as evidence either way will be roundly mocked in the comments.)

But because of his size there seems to be this expectation that "oh, he'll learn." Big men are good defenders! Everyone knows that! The idea that he just isn't; that this guy's problem isn't "filling out his frame" or "getting some experience" but actually lacking skills he wasn't taught during his teenage years in a shoddy European junior division, barely registers.

People assume that Gernat will be some professional force, that he just needs to fill out. They assume that his offense, based roundly around nothing special but dogged determination against inferior WHLers, particularly on the powerplay, will translate. I assume none of these things. I hope for the best, and I certainly rank Gernat well ahead of the no-hopers and nobodies. But one good season surrounded by question marks is not enough to elevate him into even a second-tier prospect.