I covered the 2013 NHL draft extensively and heavily. It’s not too difficult to find one of the 1.5 million (give or take) mock drafts I did that season, and the players that were taken in the first round are more or less embedded forever in my memory. Familiarity is a powerful force, and I’ve written more about the 2013 draft than just about any other singular subject in the sport.
Outside of John Scott not actually being a hockey player, but that’s a different thing all together.
It’s impossible to nail every draft, no matter how much video you consume and how many scouting reports you scour. There are always going to be a handful of players that outperform expectations. That player for me from the 2013 draft is Sean Monahan.
I didn’t think he was going to be nearly as effective in the offensive zone as he has been. Not even close.
To be clear, I never thought or wrote that Monahan wouldn’t pan out or would bust. I just didn’t think he had the offensive upside that he’s been displaying since erupting onto the NHL scene as a teenager. To me, the Brampton, Ontario forward seemed like a pick that would eventually evolve into an outstanding second line center.
There’s nothing wrong with being an outstanding No. 2 pivot in this league, and Monahan seemed headed for that kind of role. He was noted for his two-way acumen and strength in all three zones while playing with the Ottawa 67’s for three seasons.
Good luck finding anyone that believed that Monahan would immediately jump into the NHL and score 22 goals as a rookie though. While 2013’s first-overall selection Nathan MacKinnon has struggled with a sophomore slump this season and Jonathan Drouin can’t find is way off the fourth line in Tampa, Calgary’s No. 6 pick has already eclipsed the offensive marks he set last year. Monahan recently scored his 24th goal and should hit the 30-goal/50-point plateau as a 20-year-old.
How rare are 30-goal seasons for players at that age? Well… pretty rare.
— Neil Greenberg (@ngreenberg) March 7, 2015
I never doubted how smart Monahan was. Patrice Bergeron is one of the most intelligent hockey players alive, and he only has one 30-goal campaign to his name. Anze Kopitar is another outstanding two-way forward and his highest goal total is 34. Both of these centers bring way more to their teams than scoring—things like Stanley Cups—but they’re considered elite because of their play in all three zones.
Monahan has (way) more scoring ability than I initially thought. That’s what I was wrong about. He seemed poised to be a 15-20 goal, 30 assist second-line center to me. The kind of good-not-great just about every team needs if they’re going to take a run at the Stanley Cup. Watching him torch the Detroit Red Wings last night, I was reminded of the first play that really made me realize how high of a hockey IQ we’re looking at here.
It was on October 11, 2013 that Monahan scored a game winner against Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils. On the surface, it doesn’t look like a special goal. A casual hockey fan might see this tally, notice that Monahan just buried a shot from in close while standing still and come away unimpressed. Don’t be fooled by the visual simplicity of this goal.
Remember, this is a teenager just getting settled in at the NHL level. In fact, this was only Monahan’s fifth NHL game. First, Monahan immediately notices (then) teammate Sven Baertschi lose control of the puck along the wall. Instead of slamming on the breaks and pinning the puck against the boards and engaging in a battle, Monahan pokes it towards the blue line to an open defenseman.
Roll the tape again and watch where Monahan goes from there. Talk about knowing where the puck is going before it gets there.
He fades to the front of the net even though the play is still on the opposite side of the ice. Neither New Jersey defender notices Monahan Nightcrawler-ing behind them, and Brodeur doesn’t have a prayer once Baertschi fires off his cross-ice pass.
For the most part, Monahan hasn’t slowed down since. He went through some goaless droughts last season, but even the league’s best goal scorers have those.
Fast forward to the aforementioned Red Wings/Flames contest, and Monahan and is still doing what he’s been doing since his second game in the NHL. Scoring goals, and important ones at that. Last night Detroit got off the blocks quickly, but Calgary fought back and eventually secured an important two points. That might not have happened if not for Monahan’s knack for scoring big goals in key situations.
Down 2-0 by the midpoint of the first frame, the Flames needed to get some momentum in their favor. Brendan Smith was whistled for interference at the 9:57 mark—less than two minutes after the Red Wings scored their second goal—and Monahan once again showed off his ability to slow the game down and outwait his opposition.
That’s a tremendous amount of patience and poise. Monahan is frequently described as a player that is cool as a cucumber, but it’s really striking to see that trait play out like this. And he’s still getting better, sitting at least three or four years away from his prime playing years. In early February, fellow Flame Matt Stajan touched on that subject in early February when speaking to Kristen Odland of The Calgary Herald.
You know what, he’s been so good all year. He’s faced tough competition, game in and game out. And he’s grown as a player. He relished those moments when he’s up against those best players in the league. He’s a very special player.
Monahan hasn’t been perfect, but he’s way ahead of the curve. Ahead of the curve that the NHL set for him, and way ahead of the curve I thought he’d adhere to.