The former general manager Ray Shero and current director of scouting Paul Castron of New Jersey Devils loaded up on prospective defensemen in 2019. Four were selected among six picks between the second and fourth round: Nikita Okhotyuk, Daniil Misyul, Michael Vukojevic, and Case McCarthy. The Taylor Hall trade brought Kevin Bahl to the system. All five have similar projections for the future as defensemen. They may be sound defensively but their offensive skills may be limited. To that end, it may be worth the Devils’ while to look at some offensive defensemen in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft to balance out that part of the prospect pool. The subject for today’s profile may fit that need in the prospect pool: Charlottetown Islanders defenseman Lukas Cormier.
Who is Lukas Cormier?
According to his profile page at Elite Prospects, Lukas Cormier is a left-shooting defenseman from Ste-Marie-de-Kent, New Brunswick in Canada. He was born on March 27, 2002 and he is not big. Cormier is listed at 5’10” and 170 pounds. While being a couple of inches below six feet is not that big of a deal, the weight suggests that strength could be an issue. That and he could stand to get stronger; although, you could say that about most prospects of any type anywhere.
Cormier completed his second season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with the Charlottetown Islanders. His 2018-19 season with the Islanders was quite successful. Cormier scored 15 goals and put up 36 points as a rookie defenseman. While 15 goals may not seem like a lot, it was enough to set a league record for goals by a rookie defenseman. Those 36 points were good to finish tied for 13th among all rookie skaters in points that season too. He was named to the QMJHL All-Rookie team and he appeared in camp for Canada’s World Under-18 team. While he was not selected, his talents were still on Hockey Canada’s radar and so they selected him for the 2019 Hlinka-Gretzky Cup, where Canada won Silver. It looked like onward and upward for Cormier in 2019-20.
Unfortunately, it was not a fortunate season for the defenseman. After a fine start to the season where he scored four goals and eleven assists in the team’s first thirteen games, he suffered a foot injury from blocking a shot in late October. He was held out for over a month and ended up missing 19 games. He did return in January and performed at the CHL Top Prospects Game. However, whatever puck luck he had prior to the injury just went south. Cormier would put up just two goals and nineteen assists in his 31 games before the QMJHL (and the CHL) ended the season. While 21 points in 31 games is not at all bad, it is not ideal for someone in their draft-eligible season who had a more productive start and was looking to improve on last season’s totals rather than just matching them. Without the QMJHL playoffs or the World Under-18 Championship tournament, one wonders whether Cormier would heat up and produce more like he was before his foot injury in October.
That said, there was one notable improvement in Cormier’s production. The young man shot the puck a lot more. Per his stats section in his profile at the QMJHL website, Cormier took 137 shots in his rookie season. That works out to a per-game average of roughly 2.17. In 2019-20, Cormier took 174 shots in 44 games for a per-game average of approximately 3.95. That is an astounding increase at firing the puck. According to Pick224, the only defenseman in this entire draft class with a higher shot per game average is Jeremie Poirier with 4.05. (Brief aside: 128 of those shots were at even strength. Again, per Pick224, only Poirier took more shots among all defenders eligible for the first time in 2020.) Cormier may have only converted 3.7% of those shots, but he was not deterred from shooting.
One other point to make about Cormier’s production is that it is well-supported by the power play. In his rookie season, 7 of those 15 goals were from the man advantage as were 4 of his 21 assists. In 2019-20, Cormier may have only scored one power play goal but 18 of his 30 assists were from the power play. Generally, this is usually seen as a concern as power plays are less frequent and there is no guarantee the player gets to be a part of that special team at all, much less get significant time on it. Cormier’s production rates at even strength are not that impressive. However, Cormier’s skillset does lend itself to a power play situation and the production in juniors does point to success in that area.
Where is Lukas Cormier Ranked?
From a prospect perspective, Cormier is all over the place when it comes to rankings.
- #32 North American Skater - Central Scouting Services (April 8, 2020 - Final Ranking)
- #60 - Elite Prospects (April 2020 ranking)
- #20 - Future Considerations (March 1, 2020 ranking)
- NR - McKeen’s (Mid-season rankings from January 18, 2020 via EliteProspects)
- NR - International Scouting Services (March 2020 ranking via EliteProspects)
- NR - Hockey Prospect (January 16, 2020 ranking)
- #45 - TSN.ca - Bob McKenzie (Mid-season ranking from January 30, 2020)
- #54 - TSN.ca - Craig Button (March 30, 2020 ranking)
- #42 - Steve Kournianos, The Draft Analyst (March 2, 2020 ranking)
- #41 - Dobber Prospects - Cam Robinson (April 1, 2020 ranking)
- #23 - The Hockey Writers - Josh Bell (February 28, 2020 ranking)
- #23 - The Hockey Writers - Andrew Forbes (March 14, 2020 ranking)
- #23 - The Hockey Writers - Larry Fisher (April 6, 2020 ranking)
- #15 - Tony Ferrari of Dobber Prospects (March 30, 2020 ranking)
There are a couple of rankings, such as all three main prospect writers at The Hockey Writers, that think Cormier is a first round caliber player. Tony Ferrari especially liked him enough to put him in the middle of the first round. Whoever is scouting him for Future Considerations has also been a big, big fan. However, he often did not appear on the Top 31 lists at NHL.com, Sportsnet, HockeyProspect (their January ranking at least), McKeen’s (ditto), or ISS. Elite Prospects lists a top 31 but their profile for Cormier state he’s 60th. That is at the back end of the second round; others closer to the middle of the second round may be more appropriate. I have heard it said about the 2020 NHL Draft Class - mostly from Will Scouch - that there is a lot of variation between 25th and 60th. It appears Cormier is in that group to most rankings save for the few mentioned early on.
What Others Have Said About Lukas Cormier
Steve Kournianos wrote up a draft profile on Cormier earlier this month at his site, The Draft Analyst. As usual with Kournianos’ work, you should read the whole thing. I am going to highlight a section that points out what is best about Cormier and one potential red flags.
Although he is one of the draft’s cleanest puck distributors and a one-man breakout, Cormier also owns a plus shot that can beat goalies from distances. He doesn’t hesitate to shoot and will use his quick feet and agility to walk the line until a lane opens up. Cormier uses pump fakes effectively and will look off teammates in the circles before feeding them with a perfect slap pass. More agile than explosive, Cormier is a well-balanced skater with average speed who can shift gears as he navigates through a clogged neutral zone. His feet are quick and he can react and recover to rapid changes in possession or counterattacks.
Kournianos does note how well Cormier disguises his intentions with the puck with “no-look” passes. This section I quoted points out the positives of his shooting. We know from the stats page he fired the puck a lot. This explains why that is a positive in Cormier’s case; he was not just launching prayers from the blueline and hoping for answers. In conjunction with how well he moves with the puck, it is easy to recognize Cormier as an offensive talent.
This section also includes a concern. Specifically, “Cormier is a well-balanced skater with average speed.” There is a difference between being agile and fast. In context of the whole section, it reads to me that Cormier is the former but not the latter. This could present an issue when Cormier is in a situation where he needs to backcheck in response to a counter-attack or catch up if the play gets behind him. Combined with the fact that Cormier is not a big player to begin with and this flag becomes more red.
Kournianos does also note in his profile that Cormier did improve his defensive game as 2019-20 went on and was given a top penalty killing role. He notes that he sees Cormier is coachable and while he may struggle against bigger opponents, he will make the attempt. Given the position, that is admirable but it is also another possible limitation.
Over at The Hockey Writers, Matthew Zator wrote up this profile on Cormier on March 23, 2020. Zator is a fan of Cormier and this profile confirms it with statements such as:
His mobility, puck skills, elite shot and willingness to jump into the play has fueled his offensive numbers over the last two seasons in the QMJHL. As a 16-year-old he played on the top pairing with the Islanders, which is unprecedented for a player just starting out in the junior leagues. More importantly, he not only survived there, but he also thrived.
In a league that is based on speed and quickness, Cormier will be a sought after prospect in this year’s draft. More and more teams are building their backend on these attributes because of this fact. That is why I see him going in the first round, instead of late in the second round.
While I agree with Zator that the NHL is becoming more about speed, I question if Zator’s definition of speed is confused with quickness. Because while Zator clearly liked Cormier’s mobility, that is not the same thing as being fast. Being fast and agile is what the game is moving towards. That said, it is possible that Zator saw Cormier and came away with a different opinion than, say, Kournianos from his viewings. Zator’s profile does not go into a lot of detail but he is correct that Cormier does have a two-way game and the quotes from earlier in the season he cites supports that.
I think the best profile for Cormier is one you can watch.
A Little Video
If you are not a subscriber to Yannick St-Pierre’s Draft Dynasty channel on YouTube, then go forth and do that thing. His profiles go into very good depth and they are well-supported by the clips he uses. While you may see some of the same things in a highlight video, St-Pierre goes the extra mile by finding and including non-highlight clips while explaining a player’s pluses and minuses. He recently uploaded a profile on Cormier, who wears #51 for the Charlottetown Islanders, and it is absolutely worth your time. The video breakdown begins after an overview of his stats at the 2:41 mark:
St-Pierre opens the video portion by showing off how effective Cormier is at running Charlottetown’s power play. Most of the two minutes or so features Cormier distributing the puck very well to his teammates. We know he shoots the puck a lot but, again, he is not just a cannon from the back. The video shows that he can assess the situation, force the opposition penalty killers to come at him, and make a difficult pass look rather simple. St-Pierre goes as far as to say that there are not many defensemen in this year’s draft that could run a power play, but he thinks Cormier is one of the few that could. I can agree with that not only with the video but also in conjunction with his production and Kournianos’ write-up.
I especially like St-Pierre’s discussion of the other aspects of his game. Such as his skating (5:47 to 8:23), where he explains that his top speed could be better and perhaps needs to be to be more successful at the next level. He does note that Cormier is a smart player and so any issues with speed are mitigated in the QMJHL; however, it could become one in the NHL. I also enjoyed St-Pierre highlighting Cormier’s transition game. He noted and showed how well Cormier handles forecheckers and still make a zone exit pass to not only get out of trouble but kick start the offense going forward. It is a great video and I implore you all to watch it and the other videos on St-Pierre’s channel.
For a different taste, here is a highlight video from Kournianos’ YouTube channel, the Prospect Film Room. This is a collection of clips for just over eight minutes of #51 for Charlottestown making an impact:
This video shows off more of Cormier’s shot and how willing he is to step up in the offensive zone to join the attack. While he may not have a top speed, he can join a rush and be a real threat as a trailer or as a passing option. The video further supports the idea that Cormier is an offensive defenseman who is both quite adept at shooting and passing the puck. I also noticed how smart he was in these clips. He really was not forcing much or making a decision that would go awry. Granted, these are highlights so they would not show too many errors to begin with, but as I watched this, I kept picking up what he was putting down on the ice. That is a positive.
An Opinion of Sorts
I agree with St-Pierre, Kournianos, and others that Cormier does project to be a featured member of someone’s power play. While many NHL teams utilize four forwards and a 1-3-1 formation, Cormier does appear to have the skills to be that lone defenseman. He is crafty with the puck. He is patient and can survey the situation in front of him before making a decision. Despite not scoring many goals in 2019-20, his frequent shooting is a positive and if he can maintain that at the next level, then he can keep opposing penalty killers guessing with what he would do with the puck. I can see how he would be valuable.
I can also see how the shortcomings will hold him back. In addition to being a smaller player and where strength is an issue, a lack of perceived top speed and abilities that may not translate well in 5-on-5 may limit what he could become. I want to be more optimistic than St-Pierre’s assertion that he may end up being a power play specialist. But I will agree that Cormier has some work to do and whoever drafts him will have to help him with that. Cormier is not likely to grow four inches, but he can add muscle in a smart way, he can be coached to be more effective in 5-on-5, and he can work on his skating form at a minimum. No, Cormier will not likely become a big-minute defenseman in the future. But I do think he could have a NHL career of being a useful defenseman who can provide offense from the back for a team that could use it.
Despite the names on the current roster, this all may interest the New Jersey Devils. When Cormier is ready to compete for a job in a few seasons, it is entirely possible that P.K. Subban (contract ends in 2022) and Will Butcher (contract ends in 2022) are no longer with New Jersey and Damon Severson would be entering the final season of his current contract, so he could be a target to be moved. The Devils may need someone in their system to fill a power play position at that time. That will depend on what happens with Ty Smith and Reilly Walsh. My point remains: someone like Cormier would fit a need of sorts in the prospect pool. It would also mean the Devils have a defenseman in their system that has an offensive skillset that may have a future in pro hockey.
Alas, with his issues, Cormier is definitely someone to consider for the second round. Or the third round if he really slips. The Devils have no picks in either round right now. I definitely do not think they should use any of their first round picks on him. There are better and more complete players at those possible spots to take. I think there are better defensemen to look at if the Devils feel they need a defender. However, if the Devils were to get into the second round through a trade and Cormier is still there, then it would be a respectable move for the reasons stated earlier. I am not sure if Cormier alone is worth trading back into the round if available, but I do think it is reasonable to have a conversation about it.
As much as I can respect the offensive skillset and his intelligence on the ice, the other parts of Lukas Cormier’s game makes him more suitable for a second round pick in my view. And based on the rankings and how others discuss him, I am not alone in that thinking. While the Devils currently do not have a pick in that round, that this kind of talent may be available well into the second round may make one wish the Devils could get into it somehow. Maybe to even take Cormier himself. Still, I want to know what is your take on Cormier as a prospect. What do you think of his game? What about him impresses you the most? What do you think of his injury history? Does it scare you off of him or do you think he can overcome it? Would you want the Devils to take him? What do you think he will go in this year’s draft? Leave your answers and other thoughts about Cormier in the comments. Thank you for reading.