I've written some in the past about the curious nature of seventh round picks in the NHL Entry Draft; how some are legitimate attempts at finding the next Pavel Datsyuk or Henrik Zetterberg- taking kids who have the skillsets but are just missing something, whether it be a hitch in their stride or physical immaturity- and some are acts of good will (see: David Carle and Louie Nanne), and some are born of a restlessness of sitting at a table, on a crowded draft floor for a second day in a row (see: Florida trying to take Alex Ovechkin in 2003.) We'll never really be privy to the discussions that take place in those tight huddles, but I think its safe to say that as fans we all hope that these types of late picks DO end up being something worthwhile.
That the kid they took just needs a bit more strength, or hits a growth spurt, or that the proverbial "transmission clunks into gear." Which brings us to our 2011 Seventh Rounder, Tyler Graovac of the Ottawa 67's.
Just in case you've missed it so far, Graovac's been, well, a freaking monster this year- 18 goals in 18 games (with a whopping 12 of them coming at even strength, which is a massive number,) including two hat tricks- he's nearly reached his OHL career high in points just with goals alone. And we wonder, how in the hell was this kid, all of 6'4" 200 pounds, taken 191st overall?
Although he's in his third season, he's never played the full 68 games; as a 16 year old he played in 52 and some playoff games, although in a limited role behind some potent offensive forwards. He was lost for the last two games and the playoffs in his Draft year because of a broken forearm, and he missed time last year because of a broken jaw and a bout with mononucleosis, the latter which he reportedly tried to come back early from and sputtered- he did contribute 10 points in 18 playoff games though. I think its easy to say that he's underachieved considering what he is as a player- a tall, skilled, two-way center; but I also think that we, as fans, tend to look at the development process through a myopic lens. We get spoiled by the elite prospects and their immediate impacts at higher levels, and there tends to be a trickle down effect- that every player, no matter where they were taken, should all be on that same trajectory, even though clearly there is a distinction between a player taken 1st overall and a player taken at 191.
So, does that make Graovac a non-starter because, in his age-19 year, he, according to Brock Otten in an email exchange, "is now taking advantage of his physical gifts"? Hell no! I'm 32 and still uncoordinated, so I can only imagine it took some time for Graovac to settle into his growing body- not only that, but learning to use it to his advantage. "The biggest difference I've noticed is an increased willingness to go to the dirty areas looking to create offense. That, combined with his increased strength and his natural size, has allowed him to be pretty effective near the goal mouth area. He's also looked stronger and more consistent in working the cycle game in the offensive end," said Otten. It should be noted that he isn't playing with Top NHL Draft Prospect Sean Monahan either at even strength.
Otten still stands by his prognosis- that Graovac doesn't have enough skill to be a top-6 and lacks the jam to be a bottom-6 guy; which is troublesome in the world of player roles within an NHL roster. That said, I think we also need to look at some context- that Graovac won't ever have to be "the guy" the team has to lean on, and that really, as I look down the Wild depth chart, we simply don't have a pivot of his size (and I say that because it looks as if Charlie Coyle is being groomed as a wing.) Meaning, even if he isn't as skilled as a Granlund, Lucia, Phillips, etc., his two-way ability would allow him to take care of the defensive responsibilites and allow the others to create.
Sometimes it is a matter of alchemy, instead of fitting players into roles- even if he doesn't become a star quality player but contributes as a complementary guy doesn't mean Minnesota whiffed on the pick. An asset is an asset.
Tyler Graovac is motivated too- he is considered a legitimate candidate for Team Canada for The World Junior Championships. But he's got to prove to the Wild Brass (the same ones who went out and showed faith in him by selecting him in the Draft) that he is worthy of a contract, and moving forward I can't see how the team could just let a 6'4" 200 pound two way forward (that don't grow on trees) go by the wayside.