Prospect Profile: #16 Yann Sauve

Thomas Drance
August 10 2012 02:22PM

 

Since Mike Gillis selected Yann Sauve with the club's second round pick in the 2008 NHL draft - a draft that featured one of the deepest talent pools of defenseman in recent memory - Sauve has dealt with an awful lot of instability and some excruciating bad luck. Following a concussion which, Sauve suffered when he was struck by a car during training camp in the fall of 2010, the former Saint John Sea Dog spent time in three professional leagues during the 2010-11 season (the ECHL, AHL and a three game NHL stint). That has to be difficult, and certainly it's exceedingly rare.

In 2011-12, Sauve played full-time in Chicago, was a fixture in the Wolves' top-four, and while he struggled at times he was mostly solid on a team that needed to play solid defensive hockey in order to win games. Sauve's defensive play still projects at the NHL-level, but he has continued to struggle with both his decision making and his puck-handling. Partly as a result, he's no longer seen as a guy who is likely to contribute offense from the back-end in a two-way role and that limited upside is partly why he appears at #16 on our list.

Read past the jump for more!

Dave Gagner - the Canucks director of player development - recently assisted on a top-10 list that ranked Sauve as the tenth best prospect in the Canucks system over at NHL.com. In that article, Gagner was quoted as saying that Sauve, "has upside as a No. 6 or No. 7 NHL depth defenseman," and we tend to agree. We wouldn't be surprised to see Sauve get a cup of coffee with the Canucks this upcoming season, but even so, his lack of top-four upside is why we've ranked Sauve well outside our top-10. 

When speaking with NHL.com, Gagner touched on the instability that Sauve has dealt with in his young professional career, noting that "Yann was involved in a bad accident his first year pro and missed the first three months of the season." Beyond that unfortunate injury, and the fact that Sauve was passed between the ECHL, AHL and NHL like a hot potato in 2010-11, Gagner notes that Sauve "will now have his third new coach in three years, unfortunately something he doesn't always adjust well to."

That's an interesting quote for our purposes, and may indicate that Sauve's raw decision making processes have drawn the ire of at least one of his coaches over the past couple of seasons (Craig MacTavish, Alain Vigneault and Claude Noel). That sentiment is alluded to somewhat by the Voice of the Chicago Wolves, Jason Shaver, who dropped a Keith Ballard comparison while talking to Canucks Army about Yann Sauve's performance last season (additional reporting from Patrick Johnston):

"[Sauve's] young, still when you think about it. He went from being hit by a car, to Victoria, to Manitoba, to the NHL and I think it messed with his head a little. He’s a nice kid, I don’t want to knock him, but I think that he needed a little more positive reinforcement.

Sauve would be playing a good game, and he’s a bit like Keith Ballard, he’d just make a stupid mistake all of a sudden. Everyone knows he’s made that error and it becomes a bit of a confidence issue."

While Sauve has struggled on occasion and surely has his warts - especially when it comes to his puck-handling - there are those who remain optimistic about his chances of contributing in the NHL. When we chatted with Corey Pronman, a prospect expert with Hockey Prospectus and ESPN.com, he was very complimentary about Sauve's performance and progress over the past two seasons. 
 
"From everything I've heard, Sauve played well this season," Pronman told Canucks Army. Pronman also describes Sauve as a guy who has "pro-strength, defends well and has a decent first pass," however, "[Sauve's] puck moving isn't great so you're going to have some mishaps there."
 
Because the AHL doesn't track any of the underlying metrics we like to rely on at Canucks Army, it's difficult to get a good handle on the way Sauve was deployed by Craig MacTavish last season. It's difficult, but it's not impossible, thanks to our friend and math whiz Rob Pettapiece who ran some numbers and produced a "Quality of Competition" (QoC) and "Quality of Team" (QoT) estimate for the entire AHL last season. Rob's work was based on the QoC and QoT estimates done by Scott Reynolds over at Copper and Blue, using the following methodology: 
To measure quality of competition, I simply looked through the boxscores and identified all of the opposition forwards on the ice for every goal scored both for and against while a player was on the ice at even strength (excluding empty net situations). For quality of teammates, it's the same process, but I'm identifying the forwards on the player's team rather than his opponents. The final "quality of competition" number is the average points per game of the opposing forwards when a given player is on the ice, and the final "quality of teammates" number is the average points per game of that player's forward teammates. For example, a player with a "quality of competition" score of 0.500 would be facing forwards who, on average, have scored 0.500 points per game in the AHL during the 2010-11 season.

Because Rob's QoC/QoT estimates are weighted by goal events, a much smaller sample than if we were able to weigh the numbers by ice-time (the way BehindtheNet.ca does) - the resulting numbers should be regarded as a rough estimate, but I still think they're instructive. (Further qualifiers: the numbers only take into account goals scored in a five-on-five game state, they include the postseason and they disregard empty net goals.) 

Below we've ranked all Chicago Wolves defenseman who qualify (more than 30 on-ice goal events) based on the QoC they faced last season:

Last Name First Name GF/GA ON Qual Comp Qual Team
Baumgartner Nolan 71 0.287 0.282
Connauton Kevin 95 0.279 0.268
Matheson Mark 83 0.279 0.283
Sauve Yann 81 0.274 0.271
Tanev Chris 39 0.274 0.282
Polasek Adam 47 0.270 0.283
Erixon Sebastian 35 0.266 0.288

As you can see, Yann Sauve was a top-four fixture for the Wolves, and played moderately tough defensive minutes throughout last season. With go-to tough minutes guy Nolan Baumgartner moving behind the bench in Chicago, there is ample opportunity for Sauve to step up and assume that burden going forward.

Beyond his role with the Wolves, this upcoming season is chalk full of opportunity for Sauve at the NHL level too. With Aaron Rome, Marc-Andre Gragnani and Sami Salo subtracted from Vancouver's D-corps over the summer, one suspects that Sauve is likely to be called upon to provide the Canucks with some injury-relief this season. In terms of his size, skating ability and defense, Sauve looks nearly ready to be a limited contributor in spot-duty for the Canucks. However, unless (or until) Sauve's decision-making and puck-handling improve, it's hard to imagine low-event addict Alain Vigneault feeling altogether comfortable with Sauve logging regular minutes.

Other Prospect Profiles in this Series: 

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Thomas Drance lives in Toronto, eats spicy food and writes about hockey. He is an NHL News Editor at theScore, the ex-managing editor of CanucksArmy.com and an opinionated blowhard to boot. You can follow him on twitter @thomasdrance.
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#1 Fred-65
August 11 2012, 01:28PM
Trash it!
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I watched Sauve when he was up here and frankly every shift looked like a fire drill. He seemed confused and did a lot of adlib running around. Polasek IMO has over taken Sauve. Sound player, holds his position hits, and can throw them when he wants.

But maybe Baumgartner can instill some confidence and lets be honest that's often overlooked by coaches. You can detroy a player real quick.

Let's hope for the best

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#2 still a grammar nazi
August 12 2012, 02:07PM
Trash it!
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Tom, you're still using commas with your 'which' clauses incorrectly.

You *never* say this which, is completely wrong and slightly brain damaged.

You can say this, which is not nearly so retarded.

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