Is Danick Martel the next Tyler Johnson, or the next Jason Akeson?
Undersized forwards are more common in the NHL now more than ever before, ever since Martin St. Louis proved that you can thrive at the NHL level with a 5’8 frame as long as your exceptionally gifted offensively. As most of us know, St. Louis was an undrafted free agent signing by the Calgary Flames who went on to break records for the Tampa Bay Lightning. He proved to be a dangerous scorer for a Tampa Bay Team that featured players such as Vincent Lecavalier and Brad Richards. A similar opportunity has been granted to Drummondville, Quebec native Danick Martel, who went undrafted but eventually signed an entry-level contract with the Philadelphia Flyers.
Danick Martel is a 5’8, 166-pound sniper who has exceptional speed and has steadily improved each of the three seasons he spent in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). During his first two seasons playing in the CHL, he accumulated a combined 101 points (51 goals, 50 assists) and was a +48 for the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada, a team that featured another Flyers undrafted camp invite (Now with San Jose) Nikita Jevpalovs. In his third and final year in the QMJHL, Martel would prove his worth, breaking his combined career totals in one season, reaching 102 points (48 goals, 52 assists). Prior to the QMJHL
Prior to the QMJHL playoffs, he was rewarded with an entry-level contract on March 10, 2015, by Ron Hextall and the Philadelphia Flyers. Despite putting up 3 goals and 4 assists, the Armada were eventually eliminated in 6 games by the Gatineau Olympiques in the first round. In his professional debut with the Phantoms, Martel played 5 games and scored his first professional goal and adding two assists.
Ron Hextall was very adamant about building through the draft when he was first named General Manager of the Philadelphia Flyers, and it will soon come to fruition. Next season, members of the 2014 draft class (Hextall’s first draft as GM), will be eligible to join the AHL. The Phantoms will acquire Travis Sanheim, Nicholas Aube-Kubel, Radel Fazleev and if he decides to leave Brynäs of the SHL, Oskar Lindblom. However, the 2015-2016 phantoms already feature a team of mostly veterans, so much so that they are required to scratch 2 a game. However, they have two young players that are beginning to come into their own. One is 22-year-old Taylor Leier, who has become an elite AHL two-way forward and is expected to be a full-time NHL player, potentially after the trade deadline. The other is 21-year old Danick Martel who has provided the Phantoms the consistent goal scoring that it has lacked over the last few seasons.
Martel is currently second in AHL rookie goal scoring with 18, behind only Bruins’ Frank Vatrano, who was called up to the Bruins, where he tallied a hat-trick vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins. So far this season, Martel has 29 points (18 goals, 11 assists) in 43 games. With 25 games remaining, Martel can hit, or at least, flirt with, the 30-goal mark. No Phantom has scored 30 goals in a season since John Matsumoto hit exactly that in the 2009-2010 season. The hope is that Martel can repeat or improve on his offensive output while focusing on playing a more 200-foot game. Next season he will have the opportunity to play with a quicker phantoms lineup along with real talent on the blue line.
While it’s easy to look at his numbers and fantasize about those totals at the NHL level, everything must be taken with a grain of salt. It was not long ago that Twitter exploded after Ron Hextall decided to waive Phantom’s great Jason Akeson, who was given a shot on the 4th line with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Zac Rinaldo. Akeson was an offensively gifted right winger who was notorious for his clumsy mistakes and sloppy play in the Neutral and Defensive zones, which led to his waiving and Hextall’s decision to let him walk as a UFA after the season. Like Martel, Akeson lit the world on fire in the CHL, then made a seamless transition in his AHL rookie season.
Martel’s focus should be on his 200-foot game and smart decisions with the puck in the neutral zone. If his game does translate to the NHL, he would be a blessing for coach Hakstol as he is extremely versatile with his position. With the Armada, he played mostly center with a few games at left wing, while currently lining up mostly on the right wing and occasionally center for the Phantoms. He is thriving under the guidance of a very smart coach in Scott Gordon, and only time will tell if he can become a top-6 sniper or just another undersized fringe NHL player.