At some point in our lives, most of us have seen the people that surround us get very enthusiastic about something that doesn’t appeal to us. Some people don’t get Frank Ocean, or The Velvet Underground, or the films of David Lynch. Me? I don’t get Guillaume Brisebois. I never have.
There are a lot of smart people I know, people whose opinions on hockey I deeply respect, who really like Guillaume Brisebois as a prospect. But, much like every time a friend tries to sell me on the Velvets, I always find myself shrugging, and struggling to understand what exactly the appeal is.
Brisebois enters our pre-season roundup as the 16th-best prospect in our consensus ranking. This is quite the fall for a player who saw himself sniffing at the top five in January. even for someone who isn’t particularly high on him, that’s a huge drop, and one that can be equally attributed to the influx of talent in the Canucks system over the summer and the fact that he had a fairly pedestrian second-half.
We’ve changed the qualifications up just a little bit this year. Being under the age of 25 is still mandatory (as of the coming September 15th), but instead of Calder Trophy rules, we’re just requiring players to have played less than 25 games in the NHL (essentially ignoring the Calder Trophy’s rule about playing more than six games in multiple seasons).
Graduates from this time last year include Brendan Gaunce, Troy Stecher, and Nikita Tryamkin, while Anton Rodin is simply too old now, and Jake Virtanen is not being considered solely as a result of his games played.
The analytics-vs.-eye-test trope is such a tired one that it feels lazy to cite it, but Brisebois is exactly the type of player that magnifies the divide between “hockey men” and the pocket-protector crowd. What sets him apart from the type of players that usually cause this rift, however, is that he isn’t particularly mean or physical. In fact, in some ways, he’s the type of player that’s often overlooked by the mainstream at the NHL level. For whatever it’s worth, Chris Tanev is frequently cited as a player comparable, and he’s not exactly a bruiser.
Brisebois is what Jim Benning has previously called a “transitional defensive defenseman”. His offensive instincts are limited, but his ability to move the puck is above-average, at least for the QMJHL. From my limited viewings of Brfisebois, I’d say he’s comfortable transitioning the puck into the offensive zone, but is a little too eager to dump the puck in or go glass-and-out. Still, I give full credit to the Canucks organization and the scouting community writ large for understanding that defensive play is in a state of evolution.
Brisebois’ offense improved dramatically this season upon being traded to the Charlottetown Islanders, increasing from 26 points in 52 games in his draft+1 season to 47 points in 62 games in his most recent campaign. While that’s far from a bad sign, it looks significantly less impressive with proper context. Brisebois’ relatively advanced age for major junior obvious played a factor, but more importantly he went from playing on the offensively anemic Acadie-Bathurst Titan to playing on a Charlottetown team that lead the QMJHL in goals-for.
If you’re a Canucks fan, you should definitely be pleased with Brisebois’ development. He was a staple on the Islanders’ power-play this season, where he scored the bulk of his goals, and he appears to have added a sneaky wrist-shot to his offensive repertoire. Defensively, he continues to make safe plays in his own end and in the neutral zone, sometimes to a fault.
I think what strikes me as so odd about the scouting community’s enthusiasm for Brisebois is that even by the eye-test he’s failed to leave a significant impression on me. He looked downright disengaged at training camp and the Youngstars tournament last September, and although he improved upon returning to major junior, it’s still not a great sign that he looked so legitimately shook under the spotlight of an NHL-affiliated event.
By every conceivable measure, Brisebois looks like a steady defender at the major junior-level. But I struggle to see a future for him as anything more than a depth defender in the NHL. pGPS seems to confirm this, as just slightly over one in every ten of Brisebois’ statistical cohorts went on to play at least 200 NHL games, with the majority of those cohortd played in a third-pairing role.
Trying to analyze prospect success is difficult because no prospect exists in a vacuum. Pedigree matters, as does popular opinion, and for this reason I’m willing to go out on a limb and say that pGPS may undersell Brisebois somewhat. That doesn’t mean that his relatively high standing within the Canucks’ system is based on merit, however.
As far as the hockey community on the whole is concerned, I’m sure I’d get pegged as a “numbers guy”, but the truth is that I’m not exactly a math whiz. If anything, it seems like the people who are trying to convince us that prospects that don’t help their team produce much offense are being undervalued are the ones playing three-dimensional chess.
When Rhys Jessop began to articulate the theory that PCS, and it’s spiritual successor pGPS is based upon, it was based on a simple hypothesis: only the best of the best among junior players become notable NHLers. To date, Brisebois hasn’t convinced me he’s the best of the best.
I’ve been wrong before, and I’ll be wrong again. But based on my viewings of Brisebois and his statistical profile, I feel comfortable playing the odds on this one and assuming he’ll go the way of Yann Sauve and be forgotten in five years’ time. If not, I’m sure the comment section will make sure I never live it down.