Photo Credit: Vancouver Canucks/Twitter

First Look: Canucks Roll the Dice on Undrafted NCAA Forward Marc Michaelis

There hasn’t been much in the way of NHL-related news in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, but the Canucks gave us all something to chew on Thursday afternoon when they inked undrafted NCAA forward Marc Michaelis to a one-year deal worth $700,000.

Michaelis has taken a unique development path, playing three seasons in Germany’s junior league before making the jump to North America in his draft+2 season. He then played 2 fairly unremarkable seasons in the USHL with the Green Bay Gamblers before making the jump to the NCAA in 2016. Since then, he’s been a consistent point-producer, averaging 1.09 points per game. The high-water mark of his career thus far came this season, when he potted 20 goals and 24 assists in 31 games for Minnesota State (Mankato).

When viewed through the eyes of Jeremy Davis’ (the head honcho at NextGenHockey.ca) prospect Graduation Probabilities system, or pGPS for short, Michaelis looks like the longest of long shots. There were 13 other players in Michaelis’ cohort, all of whom failed to make an impact at the NHL level, and only one getting any taste of NHL action whatsoever. While that probably sounds like a red flag, there are still some signs that Michaelis could buck that trend.

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The good news is that Michaelis had better era-adjusted offensive production that 12 of his 13 matches. It’s also relatively rare for 24-year-old players to play in the NCAA, which significantly limited Michaelis’ potential matches.

It’s also important to note that in spite of Michaelis’ lacklustre cohort from this season, he hovered around the 10% mark in base XLS% for each of his prior three seasons. Given the offensive consistency he showed over the course of his NCAA career, I would say that those years are probably more indicative of his chances at becoming an NHL regular than his numbers from this season.

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If that is indeed the case and the Canucks just got a 1-in-10 chance at an NHL regular for nothing more than a contract slot, that’s a fair bet to make. At the end of the day, it’s going to be an uphill battle for any undrafted player to make it to the NHL, so these numbers are relatively low even in the best of cases.

What will likely make the difference for Michaelis is how well-suited he is for the pro level and how he fares by the eye test. I’d be lying if I said I’d seen him play at all before today, so I reached out to Elite Prospects and EP Rinkside Managing editor J.D. Burke for his take on Michaelis:

“It was well-established going into this season that Marc Michaelis would be one of the big names in undrafted NCAA free agency. His robust scoring profile at Minnesota State (Mankato) and competent showings in international competition for Team Germany warranted that sort of attention, too. Michaelis is a pass-first skater that can play just about any position at forward. He has about NHL-level offensive instincts, vision, and defensive habits, too. The big hurdle for Michaelis is going to be improving his skating. There’s plenty of room for growth there. If everything breaks right, I like Michaelis’ chances of developing into a fourth-line forward at the NHL level.”

All in all, Michaelis looks like he’ll be a capable AHL forward at the very least, with a chance to play some games for the big club in the event of an injury. While you could argue that’s aiming a bit low, the truth is that the Canucks’ forward group actually looks quite healthy for the time being, and stocking up on low-cost undrafted forwards is probably a smart idea given the uncertainty the NHL is facing right now.

Outside of the Yan-Pavel LaPlante signing, the Canucks have fared reasonably well when dipping into the undrafted free agent pool, and at this point, their scouts have probably earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to dice rolls like this one. They took a similar bet last year on another older NCAA player in Brogan Rafferty, and that’s already paid off quite nicely, with Rafferty developing into one of the most productive offensive defensemen in the AHL. While Michaelis’ certainly doesn’t look like much to write home about through the lens of draft analytics, it’s important to remember that the field is still in its relative infancy, and pGPS still lets a lot of players slip through the cracks. Given Michaelis’ versatility and the offensive prowess he showed during his time with Minnesota State, there’s still a decent chance he’s one of those players.