What’s a “sleeper pick?” Well, I’m sure every scout and organization across the sporting world have their own definition for that one. Nevertheless, in this article I take a look at potential “sleeper picks” from Atlantic Canada. Rankings are rankings, it’s what a player puts into their game and all of the sacrifices after their name is called at the draft that matters most. As for the sleeper picks, it’s all about the quiet talent or the talent that “whispers.” All some players need is an opportunity to take off and prove all the critics wrong. “Sleeper picks” make those that really know a player (their skill, character and the intangibles they possess) look like geniuses. There are a ton of examples of players from this neck of the woods who have been drafted in the later rounds that have excelled at the QMJHL level and beyond. This year will be no different. Every organization hopes every prospect they select hits, but in all reality that doesn’t always happen. It’s the “sleeper picks” that no one is willing to take a chance that pays dividends in the long run for any organization. In many ways “sleeper picks” surprise the hell out of people, but those that do their homework know how to project and know what type of impact a “sleeper” can have when given the right opportunity will ultimately hit a homerun on draft day.
Here are some potential sleeper picks in no particular order:
Rylan Benner 6’1 LCG Mount Academy Saints: Rylan Benner shockingly flew under the radar all season long. He’s currently ranked as an E on the CSR’s final list. The 16-year-old backstop from Riverview, New Brunswick had a tremendous campaign for the Mount Academy U-17 AAA Saints. His exploits between the pipes didn’t get much recognition or attention until the end of season. Goaltenders come in all shapes and sizes, however, ask anyone and they will say size definitely matters these days when it comes to playing in the blue paint. Sadly, the hockey world has a way of casting off or labeling young players especially goaltenders far too early in their developmental process. At the end of the day there’s not a lot of patience and too much pressure when it comes to young goaltenders. At 6’1, 190 pounds size and strength doesn’t seem to be an issue for Benner, but the question remains, why aren’t more people talking about his game and potential? Well his addition to the list as an E prospect definitely means the CSR took notice and that QMJHL teams are quite intrigued as well.
Perhaps, Rylan Benner is the best kept secret when it comes to the 2022 QMJHL draft. Quality goaltending is hard to come by, which makes prospects like Benner so important to the future of any organization. When push comes to shove are junior hockey organizations doing the right thing when it comes to growing and developing the position? Are they patient enough with young goaltenders? Do they give them enough time? Do they rush them? Do they play them enough early on in their careers? Do they put too much pressure on their young goaltenders to win? When is the right time to throw them into the fire and let them play?
The questions are endless with regards. Nevertheless, when it comes to Rylan Benner, you can ask all the questions you want, his play, composure and natural feel for the position answer all the questions you dare ask.
In 11 games this season Benner is 10-1 with a 1.21 GAA and .961 save percentage. To fully evaluate and project any young prospect you have to go beyond the stat sheet, beyond the numbers and look at the intangibles the player possesses. Benner has room to grow both figurately and literally when it comes to the game of hockey and position. Like so many young netminders Benner has the tendency to play a little deep in his net at times will and will need to challenge and fight for his space to ensure he excels at the next level. He’s incredibly comfortable playing the puck which is rare amongst goalies at his age. Benner’s overall technique is incredibly sound. He’s square to the shooter and very composed and relaxed in the blue paint. His lateral movement agility, quickness and athleticism jump off the page.
He’s not a flashy netminder by any means which is a good thing. Some might mistake his calmness as not being intense or engaged, but that’s certainly not the case. Rylan Benner is a battler which is one of his strongest attributes. When things get a little squirrelly and the action intensifies around the net, Benner remains cool and composed, but that doesn’t mean he won’t sell out for pucks and do just about anything in his power to keep the puck from going in the net. You can tell this young kid hates to get scored on and feels like he should be able to stop any shot no matter what.
We all know it takes a special breed and character to be a goaltender and that being the last line of defense can take its toll.
Benner’s fierce competitive spirit is evident every time he gets the nod.
Rylan Benner has all the tools, foundational technique, and mindset it takes to be an outstanding netminder at the next level. It might take some time and experience, but all signs point to him having a significant impact at the junior level. You can use all the labels you want; you can be over critical and overanalyze every minuscule detail the player possesses, or you can flat out project. Every situation is different, every scenario unique. Every player and goaltender have their own unique path in the game. For now, we all wait to see how things will play out, but Rylan Benner is definitely a “sleeper pick” because not a lot of teams have seen him, obviously, the teams that did certainly know what he’s capable of, hence that’s why he’s a “sleeper”
Matthew Butler: 5’6 LSF Pinnacle Growlers: “Oh he’s too small to have an impact at the next level.” How many times have you heard that one? I’m sure many people have said the same for Newfoundland’s Matthew Butler, which is complete BS if you ask me. If you can play, you can play and Matthew Butler can flat out play the game. This kid is dynamic play making forward who possesses an extremely elusive skill set. He’s a solid skater who can put it into an extra gear at a moments notice. Butler has incredible instincts and hockey IQ, fantastic vision and compete level. He’s solid defensively but will need to work on his stick positioning when defending below the dots at the next level, especially if he wants to play through the middle which he can definitely do. Butler plays big, he understands body positioning extremely well. At times he needs to engage a slight bit more defensively, but that is often the case for players that think one or two plays ahead and always end up with the puck on their stick. He’s very good in the face off dot. The team that drafts Butler will more than likely start him on the wing, and then move him to the middle around the half way mark of the season. He will have to get stronger in order to win puck battles on the halfboards in his own zone, but that will come with time, hard work and reps against tougher competition. Butler is more defensively accountable than Brady Burns, but thinks the game equally as well as Burns does from an offensive perspective. Butler has tremendous offensive instincts very similar or comparable to that of Josh Nadeau, Butler has a very solid accurate shot and quick release. This kid is a massive “sleeper pick” due in large part to his size. Obviously, some organizations will steer clear of him because of his stature which is totally wrong, while others will covet and value his amazing skill set and individual talent. Matthew Butler is the type of “sleeper pick” that organizations will say they won the draft because they selected him where they did! This kid will be an unbelievable player in the league at 17!
Owen Bresson: 6’1 LCG South Kent Selects: Owen Bresson shouldn’t be a “sleeper pick”, but given his current ranking there’s two sides to that story, some might say he’s where he belongs while others may say he’s far too low on the draft board/ranking system for their liking. Bresson is anathletic netminder, solid technique, very square to the shooter, needs to be a little quicker with lateral movements, like many young netminders he plays deep at times, he needs to come out and challenge a little more to cut down the angle and take certain options away from the shooter, he has a solid glove that might need a little refinement in order for him to reach his full potential, but that will certainly come with time, hard work, progression and experience. Bresson is sometimes down a touch early which could potentially cause him some issues at the next level, but this kid is a natural, Bresson will undoubtedly continue to grow and progress he could be one of those players that in a few years’ time, everyone wonders how could he have ended up being selecting at that point of draft. Owen Bresson is a “sleeper pick”, that given the time will be a key contributor at the Major Junior level.
Kyle Greene: 5’8 RSF Bishop Kearney Selects Kyle Greene can skate for days, he skates like lightning. Greene is a “sleeper pick” because he doesn’t have the flashy numbers or stats to back up his underrated individual skill set. All Kyle Greene needs is time. The organization that drafts him know that he thinks the game extremely well and that his skating ability will definitely translate and have a substantial impact at the next level. Some teams will stay away from Greene based on his size which doesn’t make sense to me. Obviously, he will have to get a lot stronger which will happen naturally with the maturation process. Greene has very good lateral movement and agility, he brings good energy and jump every time he’s on the ice. His hockey IQ and processing is very good, he thinks the game so well, and has a very good release. Greene needs to make sure he’s more defensively accountable at all times, but that can be said about a plethora of young draft eligible players. Kyle Greene is a “sleeper pick” of all “sleeper picks” because of his ability to skate and process the game. Of course he has a lot of work to do in the gym to get stronger and to work on his play away from the puck, but that simply takes time. If a team takes their time with Greene he will definitely be a key contributor to their line up in the future.
Sam LeBlanc 6’0 LCG Moncton Flyers : How can you win two Provincial titles in back to back years, win an Atlantic title and a National Championship and still be a “sleeper pick”. That’s probably what Sam LeBlanc is thinking right now, but the hockey world and QMJHL scouting fraternity are definitely paying attention now. How could a kid like that go undrafted? Well, it happened last year, and I don’t really know why myself. This kid is the ultimate battler, the ultimate puck stopper and he does it when all the chips are down. LeBlanc isn’t the flashiest or most technically sound netminder, don’t get me wrong he’s solid, but this kid simply battles and stops pucks no matter what. He gives his team a chance to win games, every time he’s in the blue paint. What more could you ask for in a goaltender? Stop pucks and win games. Obviously, Sam LeBlanc shouldn’t be a “sleeper pick” he will definitely get drafted now, but the real question is why didn’t others see it last year? Personally, I loved his game last year, I loved his compete level and I voiced that on several occasions, but at the end of the day, he went undrafted.
The past is the past and you can’t go back and change that, but let’s just say Sam LeBlanc’s journey so far in the game is an incredible story. Persistence and perseverance always pays off. You see it’s the intangibles that this kid brings day in day out that should have never been overlooked. LeBlanc will have to work on a few things and refine his game slightly to reach his full potential at the next level, but this kid is going to be a solid netminder for years to come. The question right now is not if he will get drafted its when? There’s no question teams paid very close attention to him this season and rightfully so. You see Sam LeBlanc should have been a “sleeper pick” last year and that’s how easy it is to miss on a player.
There are tons of “sleeper picks” in this years QMJHL draft class. Unfortunately, some may get passed over. I guess the biggest take away of all is that value is value. Often times a players true value gets overlooked. No one can fully predict or project the intangibles a player possesses. “Sleeper picks” aren’t really “sleepers” they are right in front of us, playing their game, playing to their identity, it’s up to us to see it. Some do, some don’t, that’s what makes this aspect of the scouting process so intriguing. I could write a book on all of the potential “sleeper picks” in Atlantic Canada, I just identified a few. To be honest with you, I probably missed some to, as scouts we all make mistakes, it’s those mistakes that make us better, it’s those mistakes that we carry with us every time we go to a rink so we don’t make them again.
Best of luck to all the draft eligible prospects from this region,
Continued success and see you at the rink,