The intrigue of the 2024 draft: an elegant monster

Dean Letourneau, a 6-foot-6 center who plays at St. Andrew’s College, a prep school in Ontario, represents the draft puzzle. Recruiters will want to select him toward the end of the first round, but the idea won’t be that simple.

The limits of this giant’s potential are difficult to measure and the fact that he does not play in one of the major circuits like the Canadian major junior or the USHL are many factors that complicate the evaluation.

If, on the other hand, Letourneau were to become Tage Thompson…

“With this range, this skill level and this skating, we could certainly compare the two players,” St. Andrew’s College head coach David Manning said in an interview with TVASports.ca.

With 127 points, including 61 goals, in 56 games, Letourneau set the school’s record for production in a single season. But what importance should we place on such a performance against high school players? Letourneau played two games in the USHL this season and was out; a thin sample.

“NHL scouts are confused,” the renowned Bob McKenzie explained in January. Some recruiters have him in their top 10 or top 15 and several others place him more in the second or third round.

“American scouts are used to the reality of prep schools, the USHL and different colleges,” says David Manning. They adapt to the variety of leagues and, in that sense, are better equipped than the others. There are teams in Ontario that give us the same importance as an OHL team. I think if you are good enough to be selected, you will be selected.”

not a giraffe

Most skating giants have significant coordination problems. That didn’t stop Michael McCarron from being an average-skating first-round pick by the Canadiens in 2013. But it wasn’t until he was 29 that McCarron really established himself in the National Hockey League, with the Nashville Predators.

What makes Letourneau more intriguing than any other phenom of his type is his atypical agility. On the ice he doesn’t look like a giraffe.

“I always said I was a 6-foot-6 guy who played like he was 5-foot-4,” Manning says. He has a fantastic touch with the puck. He can do the same things as smaller players in tight spaces. He can manipulate the puck near his feet, around his body. Most young people who have grown up so much, the way he moves is not very elegant. “That was never the case with him.”

“I think it comes from a combination of sports that I played during my youth: soccer, basketball, volleyball, golf,” Letourneau confesses by phone.

Development first and foremost

Whichever team takes Letourneau in the draft can’t expect him to hit the NHL hard in a year or two.

In fact, although he signed his letter of intent with Boston University, Letourneau is not likely to play in the NCAA until 2025-26.

“I initially chose St. Andrew’s because I needed time to develop,” he reveals. At St. Andrew’s I play 20 minutes a game in all situations. That wasn’t guaranteed in the USHL this season. “Next year I will join the USHL and be able to show what I have learned.”

There is still plenty of room for improvement in Letourneau’s game. We might hear it in a negative way, but for recruiters it rhymes with potential.

“One part of his game that can be unlocked is his physical involvement,” Manning observes. He’s still learning to use his big size and that’s scary. He’s learning to play big. I see a player who is competitive. Does not avoid contact. He just has an identity as a talented striker. He can create space with his body, but most of the time he does it with his abilities. He can take his game to another level.”

“It’s something I try to integrate into my game,” Letourneau admits. It’s difficult because in my league, I often hit opposing players’ heads against my will because of my height. When I played some games in the USHL, I was able to be more physical. I knew that the players were bigger and fewer penalties were called for this type of play. I was able to hit more. “I can’t wait to bring this to the table next year.”

With the Jets selection?

While Letourneau obviously won’t be an option for the Habs with their first pick, he could very well be considered when Kent Hughes steps onto the podium with the first-round pick the Winnipeg Jets offered for Sean Monahan.

The CH, let us remember, is in a situation in which it is advantageous to favor players from Europe or the United States. With plenty of prospects in its pool and a 50-contract cap to honor, the team benefits from a larger window to sign players outside of the Canadian major junior.

“Montreal is great,” says Letourneau. I love watching Cole Caufield play. I watch the way he shoots the puck. “I completed an email survey for Canadians and spoke to them once in person.”

But will he be selected in the first round or much later in the draft? All bets are allowed.

“I don’t think about it too much,” says Létourneau. It would be great if that happened, but my only goal is to play in the NHL for a long time. Even if I get drafted in the first round, that won’t change anything about this goal I have to wait for. I hope to get there in a few years.”

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