Evaluating prospects is a rather tricky business, considering the inherent volatility that accompanies attempting to project how, what’s still for all intents and purposes, a progressively developing young man will wind up turning out 4, 5, 6 years from now.
For an 18 or 19-year old kid, the fact of the matter is that there are so many obstacles and unforeseen circumstances that can sidetrack their career’s along the way before they ever even truly get started. That’s part of why any scout or talent evaluator that’s worth a damn will tell you that they try to avoid overly committing to projections or comparisons, instead looking to establish a floor and ceiling that can be reasonably expected from said prospect.
This understanding neatly segues into a discussion about the player we had ranked as the 20th best prospect in the team’s system this summer, specifically because of how little real data we have on him following just one season of action in North America. At the time, Anton Cederholm seemed like a fine enough player to take in the 5th round where there’s minimal risk associated with the pick, but based on what we’ve seen thus far it appears his overall upside is rather limited.
I’m of two minds when it comes to Cederholm, who I admittedly had as the 20th ranked prospect in my own individual rankings. The fact that he spent essentially the entire season playing on the top defensive pairing for a team that ran roughshod on the WHL – finishing with the 2nd most points in the regular season, before ultimately bowing out in a thrilling 7-game WHL final to an Edmonton Oil Kings squad that went on to win the Memorial Cup – is a positive.
The same can be said for what happened when the already stacked team traded for Matt Dumba mid-season; instead of giving in to what must’ve been an enticing proposition of a tour de force Dumba-Derrick Pouliot partnership on the blueline, head coach Mike Johnston thought enough of Cederholm and what he brought to the table that he kept his top pairing intact for the remainder of the year.
Without having spoken to Johnston (who strikes me as a shrewd hockey mind), I imagine that he figured Cederholm’s ‘stay-at-home’ style lent itself nicely as a complement to Pouliot’s more offensively-inclined mentality. Particularly in the role of a physical presence, as Cederholm’s 6’2”, 204 pound frame coincidentally put him in the middle of his fair share of collisions and kerfuffles. If you’re a fan of that sort of thing, then this highlight pack of Cederholm’s 2013-14 campaign is right up your alley.
That video is mainly comprised of big hits and fights, which unfortunately sort of just illustrates the concern with Cederholm’s resume from this past year. While he admittedly didn’t really get a whiff of the power play, it’s somewhat startling that a player that was used as much as he was managed just 4 goals and 12 assists in 71 games on a squad that blew the WHL out of the water offensively (their 338 goals scored were 28 more than any other team, with only 4 of the other 21 teams even topping 250).
The available data is regrettably primitive for Major Junior, but unless there was some sort of voodoo it seems hard to fathom that Cederholm couldn’t have rolled out of bed and fallen into a more respectable output. On the surface it’s worthy of an eyebrow raise, because even if his best-case projection is that of a physical, defensive-minded blueliner the reality is that not too many of those types wind up making it to the NHL level without having shown that they can produce their fair share offensively on the way up first.
In putting together this profile and attempting to get a better understanding of the season he had, I reached out to a keen Portland Winterhawks observer who was kind enough to share some of what she’d not only seen, but tracked, throughout the year. She sent over a rather disturbing piece of information from the WHL final itself:
While struggling against a formidable opponent like the Oil Kings over the course of a 7-game sample is hardly something to get overly worked up about, the fact that they were so effortlessly gaining the offensive zone against Cederholm was a reason for pause. Especially since it certainly matched up with what I’d seen from him on the odd occasion I got to watch a Winterhawks game last season, in which opponents were targeting what appeared to be a noticeable lack of mobility and foot speed.
Was this actually a prevailing theme throughout the entire year, or just an unfortunate case of catching someone on the wrong nights?
“Anecdotally, I think the numbers make sense with what I saw throughout the year. He tends to yield the blue line without pressuring, but speed is also a factor there. He seems to have a rather conservative approach, and I’m not sure if it’s intentional, ‘balancing out’ the high risk/high reward Pouliot approach (contesting most entries), or if it’s genuinely his game. At the beginning of the year, he was physical in all the wrong ways, and he didn’t really use his body to contest. Toward the end of the year, he started to do that more. So because of that, I think the ‘true’ number is somewhere not as egregiously bad, but still reflective of his tendency not to engage as much as he probably could or should.”
At the beginning of the season he was always a step behind and often made up for it by penalties (tripping, interference, hooking). To a certain extent, that continued throughout the season, but it certainly ended better than it began. He also got whistled for quite a few roughing calls and fighting majors, though, which act as noise (with regards to the large penalty minute totals he racked up). There’s the roughing and fighting aspect of being ‘physical’, and then there’s the getting body position aspect. I think over the course of the season Cederholm got better at the defensive aspect while the fighting part stayed constant, which is why his penalty numbers are somewhat higher than I’d expect.
Megan brought up an interesting point there which I do think bears taking into account when evaluating his play last season: this was Cederholm’s first year in North America, and considering he turned 19 years old midway through the campaign giving him an added amount of slack seems wise.
It’ll be interesting to see how he looks next season, now that he’s got his feet wet at this level. The Canucks seem to banking on a marked improvement, considering they’ve already jumped the gun and invested in him with an entry-level contract earlier this summer.
For now, Cederholm’s place on this list is suppressed as he finds himself stuck behind a handful of other defensemen in the system that are either a) closer to tangibly contributing to the Vancouver Canucks, b) have a considerably larger perceived upside, or in most cases, a healthy combination of both.
One final note on the methodology for this series: our 5 writers – none of whom are in Brendan Gaunce’s family tree – were polled for their respective top 20, resulting in an aggregate score. Once every profile has been published, we’ll release each of the 5 individual lists for the purposes of public shaming (though as you’ll see, there wasn’t exactly all that much variance except for a few occasions).
We tinkered with the definition of a “prospect” for the purposes of entertainment this year, shifting our initial definition of 22 years or younger by the start of this coming season up to include all players that were 23 years or younger on this past July 1st, in the hopes of including a richer pool of talent. With all apologies to Jeremie Blain and his family, we figured this sort of editorial discretion was best for all. Now that that’s out of the way, look for the next profile on the docket to run daily from Monday-Friday until we hit what we (unanimously) believe to be the top prospect in the Canucks system.