The 2020 NHL Entry Draft was a flagship year for Doug Wilson Jr., the San Jose Sharks Director of Scouting. The event yielded some of the organization’s most exciting prospects in first rounder Ozzy Wiesblatt, prospect poster-boy Thomas Bordeleau, WJC standout Adam Raska, and snipers Daniil Gushchin and Tristen Robins.
It’s easy to get lost in the shuffle of Brandon Coe’s draft class, especially considering that save for Raska, those mentioned were drafted ahead of the fourth-round selection (98th overall), who has played four years of juniors hockey with the OHL’s North Bay Battalion.
The issue extrapolates looking at the wider spectrum of that year’s draft, as nine of that draft’s top-10 picks have already seen time in the NHL; Alexis Lafreniere (NYR), Quinton Byfield (LAK), Tim Stutzle (OTT), Lucas Raymond (DET) and Jamie Drysdale (ANA) have all seen substantial NHL time and are already playing regular roles on their respective NHL clubs. So continuing to rack up time in juniors following his draft year, playing for a one-time last-place OHL team, the fact that Coe has flown under the radar is not his own fault, but perhaps that of the collective eye turned elsewhere.
For one, here’s a kid who was once drafted third-overall in the OHL. But Coe would never garner as much interest from the hockey world than in 2021, when our no. 12 prospect fought to rediscover the spotlight.
Start with the North Bay Battalion, who went from a 17-41-4 record in 2019-20 to clinching the division this season, finishing second place with a 43-18-3 record. The OHL canceled its 2020-21 season due to the COVID pandemic, so Coe earned experience at the AHL level that year, playing 17 games with the San Jose Barracuda, collecting four assists and his first goal at the professional level.
Regressing for a season seemed to be the best thing for the Battalion’s offense, as the team scored 78 more goals than the previous season, good for an increase of 1.15 more goals per-game. Out of their total 267 goals-for in 2021-22, Coe, now an alternate-captain and leader after three seasons with the Battalion, accounted for 34, getting in on an additional 67 goals with assists.
Most of Coe’s points were helpers, a total of 67 this season. He’s proved himself an adept playmaker who always seems able to find his teammates at dangerous areas on the ice. It’s promising to have seen his game evolve beyond what the Sharks bargained for.
Elite Prospects’ 2020 Draft Guide describes Coe by the following: “Defence is the strongest element of his game. What he lacks in energy, he makes up with intelligent positioning. He’s always above the play in the offensive zone. An advance physical game allows Coe to win battles, establish body positioning, and escape with possession.”
Factor in Coe’s frame — he’s up to 6-foot-5, 203 pounds now, according to the Battalion’s roster listing — the Sharks were probably envisioning a bottom-six type, a checking-line staple and grinder with a little offensive instinct, a la Eric Fehr circa 2018. It’s not a bad look, as Fehr was considered an important fixture on a hopeful San Jose squad contending for a deep postseason run. But this year, Coe is showing that scoring is more than just instinctual.
The Battalion, who are now playing in the OHL’s Eastern Conference Semifinal, have relied heavily on Coe, who has figured into over a third of all of his team’s scoring. This is no small feat and mirrors another player who has largely driven his team’s scoring this year: Timo Meier. Coe claimed contributions (goals and assists) in 0.38 of the Battalion’s total goals-for in 2021-22 compared to Meier’s 0.36 for the Sharks.
Evidently, Coe has been the more impactful player for his club compared to Timo this season, highlighted by the Battalion’s quick revamp and appearance into the postseason, an achievement that currently eludes the Sharks. But you can’t compare the OHL to the NHL, and making the leap has proved difficult for even the most prolific scorers. But for what it’s worth, Coe’s point production kept him at the top of the stats leaderboard for many weeks to begin the season.
His dominance this year was just what the Sharks ordered. He had hoped to join the organization after his 17-game AHL stint and attending Sharks development camp in September 2021 (where he skated on a line with Bordeleau and William Eklund). Like many CHL prospects, the now 20-year-old needed an extra year to develop, especially considering the gap-year in 2020.
Well, the overager turned overachiever after leading the OHL in points going into the month of December, earning himself a three-year, entry-level contract with San Jose, signed on Dec. 6 2021, a few days after his birthday. He finished the year fifth in scoring among all OHL skaters with 101 points.
Like I said: more than just instinct. Try determination.
When trying to gauge what it took to have the breakthrough season he did, it likely hinges on the fact that Coe is a player who has more than just his hockey career to play for. It’s something he detailed in his own words, in an essay titled “For Dad,” which he wrote for the Players’ Tribune, commemorating his late father, Lance.
“Even though it was hard not to miss my parents when I was in North Bay, I found a new competitive edge. Every time I stepped on the ice, I left it all out there. For my dad. For me,” Coe wrote of his first years in juniors, a mindset that has evidently imprinted on his 2021-22 campaign. Growing up, Coe lived in Ajax, Ontario, but with his parents, made the 30-minute commute to Toronto on practice and game days, where Coe could play against stronger competition.
Lance passed away from multiple myeloma in 2020, just a month after Brandon was drafted to the NHL, but was with him for every step of the journey: from waking a six-year-old Brandon up for early-morning pre-game skates, hours before Brandon’s youth-league games; trips together to Pittsburgh to witness then-budding star in the game, Sidney Crosby; and watching his son don the green for the North Bay Battalion.
Now, Coe is having the best season of his career, having improved his point-totals exponentially through his four-year juniors career. But it means more than just production or being a leader on the ice. In the same essay, Coe recounts how despite being hospitalized for months at a time, Lance, along with Brandon’s mother, Heather, were Coe’s biggest supporters. “I think I always knew, deep down, that he wanted to see me in the NHL, even if I didn’t fully realize it.”
“So when he got sick, his dream became my dream,” Brandon wrote.
What We Like
If Coe goes on to win the J. Ross Robertson Cup, the Memorial Cup, or both, it will be the cap to his likely ending junior career — and will add to his Sharks Top Prospect award in 2022, OHL Player of the Week honors in November 2021 and CHL Top Prospect honors in 2020.
He’s projected to make the jump with a promising crop of Sharks prospects expected to be at the center of the franchise a few years from now, along with Eklund, Benjamin Gaudreau, Gannon Laroque and Coe’s aforementioned draft peers. Expect to see him in a Barracuda sweater to start the 2022 season.
Coe brings the type of acumen that is already championed by the organization: the archetypal two-way forward. Logan Couture, Matt Nieto, Tomas Hertl, Nick Bonino and Noah Gregor are all current players in that mold. They’re a group who have seen power play time throughout their careers, but also possess roles on the league’s second-best penalty kill. It should make for a seamless transition for Coe.
Aside from that, he brings some much needed size — many current prospects sit at 5-foot-11 or under, including Gushchin, Bordeleau and Eklund. Despite Coe’s frame, “he skates well for a big man,” as noted by former player, now Sharks scout Bryan Marchment.
No, size does not directly translate into a positive, but with size comes implied strength, a tool that we’ve seen Hertl and Meier both use to be successful hockey players in their careers. If he could continue to mimic some of those habits, Coe’s physicality around the puck will be an important component around driving play and managing traffic.
Areas of Improvement
While Coe’s game seems to be air-tight in most aspects, the question now is how often will he bring his A-game? Only a few players can hope to be consistent in such a rate of production as Coe has put up this season. And still, Coe never went more than three games without a point through the 68 OHL games.
The question of consistency is more of a criticism of Coe’s career prior to his 2021-22 breakout campaign. All signs to point to him having solved that issue this season, but taking that next step comes with a new level of wear and tear on the body.
His high production can as easily recede as sustain. It’s a common occurrence for transitioning players. Despite all the markings of a true talent, Coe will have to dig deep to prove that this year wasn’t a fluke.
Everyone remembers clutch Sharks goals. There was Meier’s last-second game-tying goal against the Vegas Golden Knights on Apr. 24 and the four or five from the 2019 Western Conference Final. How about this one from Coe?
He shows poise, skill and speed to steal back Game 2 in the Battalion’s first round of the 2022 playoffs against the Ottawa 67s. It’s been part of a steady diet of clutch performances from Coe this postseason. You love to see it.