Daniel Audette, son of fourteen year veteran Donald Audette, is a draft eligible center playing in the QMJHL. There is a lot to like about the speedy skater, including his excellent offensive skillset and strong leadership capabilities. Despite these, however, he is not rated extremely highly in draft rankings due to multiple issues, including size, defensive play, and quite possibly a poor supporting cast. For Lou Lamoriello and other GMs this upcoming draft, the question will be whether or not the positives outweigh the negatives, and if so, during which round should he come off the board.
Who is Daniel Audette?
Hailing from Buffalo, NY, Daniel Audette is a quick and intelligent center who nonetheless is maturing in the Canadian Junior Leagues and plays for Canada at the World Junior Championships. Two years ago, he was drafted number one overall in the QMJHL Draft by the expansion Sherbrooke Phoenix. Since then, he has gone on to post quality numbers despite playing on one of the worst teams in the Q.
If you go to Elite Prospects and look at Audette's statistics while playing for Sherbrooke, you will instantly notice that the team is quite bad. Even with scoring over a point per game this past season, Audette still posted a miserable plus/minus of -37. While he is by no means a quality defensive player, any player who scores that much for their club should not have such a poor differential. As it turns out, Sherbrooke has been quite atrocious in its first two seasons, going 21-38-3-6 in its inaugural season and recording an even worse 16-43-4-5 last year. Therefore, when looking at Audette's overall production and numbers, one must keep in mind that he played for a subpar team that could have suppressed his numbers somewhat.
Despite any possible suppression in Sherbrooke, however, he still posted above average numbers. In his first season there, he produced 10 goals and 29 points in 54 games for an average of 0.54 points per game. Last year he showed considerable growth from the season prior, posting an exceptional 55 assists and 76 total points in 68 games, for an average of 1.12 points per game. In Sherbrooke's lone playoff performance during Audette's tenure, he managed to post a half point per game, tallying 2 assists in 4 games. Sherbrooke ended up being swept by Baie-Comeau, being outscored 27-7 in the process. He also showed his leadership qualities to Sherbrooke, which knitted an A onto his sweater this past season.
What also must be noted is that Audette has done all of this despite being undersized. Currently, the skater stands at 5'9" and weighs 176 pounds. These are small numbers, even for a junior league skater. His size will undoubtedly cause him to fall somewhat in the draft; however, it can also be seen as even more of an accomplishment that he was able to produce like he did for such a poor team despite being undersized. The main question, of course, is will he be able to produce at a similar level when he is facing even bigger competition in the NHL. If the answer is yes, then he has a bright future.
What Others Have Said About Audette
Scouts, analysts and talent evaluators all tend to praise Audette's considerable offensive talent while bemoaning his lack of size and strength as a serious question mark on his future. Hockey's Future is one website that falls into this category, writing this about the center:
It is easy to question whether Audette has the size and strength to make it as a player at the next level, let alone as a center. What cannot be questioned, though, is the skill he shows when he has the puck on his stick. A good skater with outstanding puckhandling ability, Audette sees the ice extremely well, which helps him create scoring chances and set up his teammates even when playing in traffic
I happen to really like what is written here. Size is something that Audette mostly cannot control. He may be able to put a few pounds on in the weight room, but that is about all he can do with what he was given. What he can control, however, is everything else that Hockey's Future praises him for. Puck handling ability is extremely important for a center, especially one that prefers to dish the puck like Audette does. Excellent puck handling means that he can gain zone entries by carrying the puck in instead of dumping, something the Devils could certainly use. Combine that ability with good vision on the ice, something else he can work on in practice, and it creates a skater who has a great knack for setting others up for goal scoring chances.
Draftsite.com, which predicts Audette to be taken early in the 3rd round, has this write up:
His bloodlines and elusiveness put the undersized Audette on scout's radar because of his skill,speed and heart. His skating base, and lower body strength make him strong on the puck and a guy who plays big and is a scoring threat at a moment's notice. Reads the ice and can handle the puck at his top gear, but also he can go laterally with sharp cuts and stop/starts to get loose. His vision allows him to slip away and act on the room he has made for himself, as he passes the puck extremely well and also works hard in his own end back checking. Looks like a good long term selection who may help a team down the road.
Again, all of the positives directed at Audette are skills that he can control and work on in practice. He is elusive, reads the ice well, handles the puck well, passes the puck extremely well, and works hard on back checks. If you take that scouting analysis and throw it on a 6'0", 195 pound frame, there is no question that Audette could and most likely would be taken in the first round.
One website that is not so high on the Buffalo native is The Hockey Writers, which has this to say:
Audette is the son of, Donald Audette who played 13 NHL seasons as an undersized forward. Daniel swift on his skates and continuously moves his legs to be open for passes. A gifted stickhandler, Audette is known to put up points wherever he plays and scored 76 points in 68 games.
He’s going to need to take some time before an NHL club decides to give him a chance in the pros though. He’s almost nonexistent when it comes to defense. Granted he’s goal scorer, but as a center, you need to be able to play both sides of the puck. His size doesn’t allow him to be overly physical either.
Despite some grammatical issues, the website makes one thing very clear: Audette is not a good two-way center. While his offensive skillset is unquestioned, he does not chip in all that much defensively. This is the one controllable issue with Audette that could hurt his draft position. Teams like the Devils love two-way forwards that value defense as much as offense. Players like Travis Zajac and Jacob Josefson were first round targets by Lou because of their ability to play defense as much as offense. If Audette does not learn how to aid his team in his own end, he may have trouble maintaining success at the NHL level.
In terms of rankings, Central Scouting has Audette ranked as the #75 North American skater in its final rankings. Sadly for Audette, however, midterm rakings were much kinder to him, as he was ranked #59. What exactly caused the drop in rankings is a little unclear, as he had a quality season despite his team performing so poorly. Craig Button has the center as his #86 ranked player on his top 100 list. Considering that Audette is the #75 ranked North American skater overall, this is a high ranking by Button, but not completely undeserved. Button clearly notices the skill and potential that Audette possesses, and feels that his game could translate well to the NHL.
A Little Video
There is a draft profile video on YouTube provided by www.sportsandmoore.com, which highlights a little bit of his skating while also conducting an interview. Although this does not showcase much of his talent on the ice, it is never a bad idea to get to know the player a little more before determining what he may be able to accomplish in the future.
The next video is a highlight reel of some of Audette's goals while playing for the Sherbrooke Phoenix and the QMJHL. While there are some nice clips of him scoring goals in this video, what struck me the most was how competent he was at setting up plays and making things happen, whether it be with a pass or a rebound or whatever else. Sometimes it would be him just skating around with the puck to move defenders out of position. This is a great trait for a center to have, as if he can build on this skill in the NHL, he can improve the play of his teammates and make everyone around him better.
Finally, while he is certainly not imposing with his size, it seems like Audette does not shy away from a fight either. Here, he is going to blows with Danick Martel of the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada. Before watching, it is worth noting that Audette actually outsizes Martel, who stands at 5'8" and weighs 161 pounds. Nonetheless, it is great to see some grit from Audette, who even manages to knock the helmet off of Martel during the fight.
An Opinion of Sorts
Daniel Audette is someone that I would love to have on New Jersey. While he may be undersized, he gives 110% during every practice and every game to make sure that his ability and hockey awareness more than make up for any size disadvantage. Because of this, his offensive skills are certainly impressive, and his constant hard work on the ice pays off with plenty of assists and points. A center like this would work great setting up a winger like Reid Boucher, both of whom have some speed and could team up to score lots of points for the Devils. While his size could be an issue and may prevent him from ever becoming a top line center, someone with as much skill, pedigree, and determination as Audette could work his way to a top 9 or even top 6 role, given the right circumstances.
However, the fact that he may need a couple years in the minors beefing up and improving his defensive game prevents me from wanting the Devils to take him with one of their first two picks. Ideally, those picks should be used on forwards that do not need as much time in the minors working on their size and improving their game. Instead, if he is still available with the team's third round pick at #71, I would be absolutely excited with Daniel Audette. If he can gain some size and become more of a two-way center, he will undoubtedly find success in the NHL, and I hope that it is while wearing the red and black.
Now that you have heard my opinion, what do you think? Is Audette someone that the Devils should target in the third round? Or does his size and/or lack of strong defensive play scare you away? If you would not want Audette in the third round, what sort of player would you prefer taken at that point? Please leave your comments in the section below, and thanks for reading.