August 13 2012 12:30PM
In some ways, Alex Grenier is the prototypical Mike Gillis prospect. Or, at least he's got several traits that the Canucks have trended towards favouring when selecting prospects at the draft. Grenier is a "late-bloomer" who was drafted as an overager, out of the QMJHL, and he possesses a big body.
While Grenier has a power-forward's frame (6,5, 200 pounds) he doesn't exaclty have a reputation for pugilism, rather he's usually described as a skilled player. When you consider that Grenier didn't even break into Major Junior hockey until he was 19 years old, that he ultimately became a third round NHL draft pick and a point per game player in the Q is startling.
Grenier appears at #15 on our consensus list, but I had him in my top-10. For what it's worth the prospect writers and QMJHL media types whom I asked, had a high-regard for Grenier's skill set and potential. He'll be playing in Austria with EC Salzburg this upcoming season and worth tracking closely. At the very least Grenier's future development should make for an interesting "test-case" for the Canucks' recent "late bloomer" drafting obsession.
Read on past the jump.
I watched Grenier somewhat closely this year, and probably saw him play in and around 7-8 games between the Penticton Young Stars Tournament and watching the Halifax Mooseheads on television. At the Penticton tournament, perhaps Grenier was trying to do to much (in fairness he'd only played a half season in the QMJHL before being thrust into an NHL training camp) but he stuck out like a sore thumb to me for all the wrong reasons. Here's what I wrote about him back in September:
"I know that some fellow bloggers were impressed by the play and size of Alexandre Grenier this week - but I don't see it. Maybe it's because he's old for a draft pick and I tend to dislike when Gillis drafts older players, or maybe it's because his lanky frame reminds me of Marc-Andre Chouinard... Whatever it is, hockey looks really difficult for Grenier, and nothing he does on the ice is crisp."
There's a reason, I suppose, that I'm a blogger and not a scout!
Watching Grenier play towards the tail end of the QMJHL season, and comparing it with what I saw in September, was night and day. Grenier was a fixture on the Mooseheads power-play, he moved the puck well, he showed off a dangerous shot, and he even filled in playing the point with the man-advantage when Halifax's blue-liners were ravaged by the injury bug. You're unlikely to be tasked with playing the point on the power-play if you're not a skilled forward...
My perception of Grenier's rapid improvement isn't unique, by all accounts Grenier's development has accelerated to an extreme degree over the past eighteen months. Before the draft, I corresponded with Corey Pronman of Puck Prospectus and ESPN about Grenier's progress:
"Grenier wasn't really on my radar much last year and Q scouts I talked to didn't call him a skill guy either. Just a rare case of a player whose main development years happen at nineteen & twenty instead of at sixteen-eighteen. Sometimes for larger players it takes a while to get coordinated in their bodies, and to be comfortable being creative with the puck. There's little doubt among anyone I talk to whose seen him recently he's a skilled player."
In addition, Pronman describes Grenier as having, "top six potential for sure. [Grenier is] still a work in progress with a lot of variance in his projection, but at the same time I think he has so many tools to work with that he could hit another level."
"Grenier is a tall, lanky winger who has surprisingly soft hands for a big man. He skates well for his size and can handle the puck effectively in traffic. He has a hard wrist shot that he isn't afraid to use. He's a late bloomer who didn't start playing major junior until half-way through his 19-year-old season when he was signed by the Quebec Remparts. Because of his late start, he still has catching up to do with some of the finer points of the game but is an intriguing raw project."
Grenier wasn't at the most recent Canucks Prospects Camp, but I wouldn't read anything into that. It's primarily an orientation camp and anyway the Canucks extended Grenier an ELC this past Spring. Grenier's decision to spend next season in Austria rather than join the Wolves (or the Kalamazoo Wings) appears to have been his own, and the Canucks have given it their public blessing.
When I asked Pronman about Grenier's decision to play in Austria (against inferior competition than that offered by the AHL) he didn't think that Grenier would be "overly challenged there," which makes sense. Grenier only has a season and a half of QMJHL seasoning under his belt so I can understand why he'd decide to play a full season in Austria before plying his trade in North American pro-hockey. At the very least Grenier should get lots of ice-time in Salzburg, and he'll be playing for former NHL bench boss Pierre Page.
Grenier's skill set is as tantalizing as his route to the NHL (should he eventually make it) is untraditional. It is said that you "can't teach size" and it's also true that 6,5 forwards with good hands don't come along very often, but it's a realisitc possibility that the Canucks managed to find one in the third round of the 2011 draft when they selected Alexandre Grenier. He remains very raw and probably a long-shot to make a serious dent at the NHL level, but his rapid development over the past couple of seasons is frankly remarkable, and exciting.