Monday, July 06, 2015

Canucks 2015 prospect development camp invitees: defence


The Canucks 2015 development camp is in full swing, which means it's time for PITB's annual look at this year's invitees.

Let's start with the defence, featuring two 21-year-olds out of the NCAA and an 18-year-old out of the OHL: Matthew Caito, Rob Hamilton, and Justin Lemcke.

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Matthew Caito – Defence
5’11″ – 190 lbs – August 13, 1993 (21)
Coto de Caza, CA
Miami University

I'm not going to lie: it is endlessly confusing to me that Miami University is in Oxford, Ohio.

"Oh, you go to college in Florida?"
"No, it's not in Miami, it's in Oxford."
"England?"
"No, Ohio."
"Wha-?"

Anyway, Matthew Caito plays defence for the Miami University RedHawks and is heading into his senior year. This past season, he led all RedHawks defencemen with 24 points in 39 games and was a team-high plus-19 and blocked a team-high 64 shots, while averaging over 28 minutes per game on the top pairing.

Caito is a two-way defenceman with offensive upside known for his great skating and ability to move the puck. A scouting report from 2013 notes his "willingness to engage in the physical game" despite his smaller stature, but lacks strength to move players off the puck.

Caito wasn't completely off the radar in his first draft eligible year back in 2011: Central Scouting had him ranked 163rd among North American skaters in their mid-term rankings, though he fell off the board by their final rankings. He then played in the USHL for a season, before heading to Miami, where he had a strong freshman season, scoring 21 points in 42 games.

It's a bit concerning that he hasn't significantly improved on those numbers since, though 24 points was still good enough to tie for 17th in scoring by NCAA defencemen.

***

Robert Hamilton – Defence
6’0″ – 185 lbs – January 1, 1994 (21)
Calgary, AB
University of Vermont

Robert Hamilton's former coach with the AJHL's Okotoks Oilers had a lot of positive things to say about him back in 2011 when he committed to the University of Vermont:
"He’s got great feet, his agility is very good, he’s smart and aggressive in terms of jumping up-ice with and without the puck and I think the scouts really saw that he’s got that potential, that skating ability to play at that faster pace.”
A scouting report from 2012 mentions his strong overall game, defensive soundness, decision-making, and slap shot, but suggests his skating is actually average and needs work. From that scouting report, Hamilton was evidently 5'10" three years ago and has grown a couple inches since then.

Hamilton started at Vermont in 2013 at 19 and he had a decent freshman year, skating on the top pairing and putting up 13 points in 38 games and even earning freshman of the week honours in mid-October. Last season, however, his sophomore year, was much more disappointing, as he managed just 1 point, an assist, in 24 games, though he at least earned All-Academic honours.

Obviously, points aren't everything for a defencemen, but being able to put up points against the lesser competition of lower leagues is usually a good indicator of being able to keep up with the speed of the NHL game.

It's unclear why Hamilton had so few points last season or why he played in just 24 of Vermont's 41 games, as I could find no information on a possible injury to explain it. In any case, the Canucks must have liked something they saw in him to invite him to camp and perhaps he'll show more in his next year or two at Vermont.

***

Justin Lemcke – Defence
6’3″ – 200 lbs – February 13, 1997 (18)
Whitby, ON
Belleville Bulls

Justin Lemcke is the most intriguing invitee among the three defencemen, partly because he's just coming off his first draft-eligible season, so there's more room to project what player he might be unlike Caito and Hamilton who, at 21, have already somewhat established what kind of player they are.

Lemcke played with Canucks prospect Jordan Subban on the Belleville Bulls, who were a weaker team this season. He had a respectable 23 points in 64 games after putting up 15 points in 50 games as a 16-year-old in his rookie year.

Though he wasn't selected in the 2015 draft, he was ranked 127th overall by International Scouting Services, suggesting they saw him as a 4th round pick, and 137th among North American skaters by Central Scouting. Lemcke was even one of the 120 prospects who attended the draft combine and it really is surprising he wasn't picked.

He was also highly regarded before entering the OHL, as he was selected in the first round of the 2013 OHL Priority Selection draft, one pick ahead of Mitch Marner, who was just picked 4th overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs.

At 6'3" and 200 lbs (officially 6'2.25"), Lemcke has NHL size and reports indicate that he has the skill to go with it, including soft hands developed by playing high-level lacrosse. He might not even be done growing, as his father is 6'7".

McKeen's had Lemcke at 96th overall in their top 120 and 19th among OHL prospects, but he moved up to 88th overall in their final rankings. They describe him as a "large, thickly-constructed stay-at-home blueliner" who is "modestly skilled with an okay shot and a feel for when to support the attack." They also note that he's deceptively mobile.

Here's a scouting report on Lemcke from Tyler Parchem at Elite Prospects:
Lemcke is an effective two-way defenseman who plays smart and makes a good first pass. He is also capable of playing solid physical hockey and improved throughout the season. He is very poised for a young defenseman and could be a good selection in the later rounds of the draft as he has the potential to be a solid NHL prospect.
Sean LaFortune at TheScout.ca was high on Lemcke:
While his primary tools project for him to be an honest, shut down defender who leans on guys and plays safe, honest minutes, he showed some offensive growth this year, managing the puck well and utilizing his shot on the powerplay. 
He will need to continue to work on his footwork and agility, he’s a quality skater north to south, moves well given his massive frame, just need to continue to work on his edges/pivots, as he lacks explosiveness and can be exploited in transitions, but makes up for it with his hockey sense and ability to read plays.
Brock Otten at OHL Prospects also saw Lemcke as underrated:
Lemcke was a horse for the Bulls this year, playing a ton of minutes in all situations. He's got great size at 6'2, 200lbs and really gained the confidence to play with more of an edge as the season went on. With his terrific mobility and his increasing desire to assert himself physically, he profiles as a big time player in his own end. But his offensive skills are improving as well. He really seemed to get better in this regard as the season went on, especially when it came to using his skating ability to jump up in the play as the 3rd or 4th man in. He's still got some work to do with his first pass and decision making with the puck, but the necessary skills are present for him to develop into a quality defender at both ends.
On top of his size, skating, and skill, Lemcke has the type of intangibles that Jim Benning has shown a preference for, with his Belleville coach describing him as "the ultimate teammate" who is quiet, confident, and a steady leader.

If the Canucks like what they see, they'll have a small window to sign Lemcke this off-season before he goes back into the draft for next year. There is some precedence for the Canucks doing this, though it was under Mike Gillis: Evan McEneny was an invitee after his first draft-eligible year and the Canucks signed him in mid-September.

8 comments:

  1. Lemcke does sound like a very intriguing prospect. He sounds like exactly the type of player that a smart team would not use a draft pick on, but rather would invite to an invitee camp. Maybe Benning is starting to learn this, as his last two draft picks last year were total plugs who could have been easily just invited as undrafteds because no one was going to waste a pick on Pettit or Stewart. This year, he used a late pick on Jasek instead, who could be a sleeper.

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  2. I liked what I saw from Hamilton at the prospects camp yesterday. Very vocal on the ice and made many smart, crisp plays with the puck.

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