When Waterloo Blackhawks forward Taylor Cammarata is selected on Sunday, likely the first anecdote to be told will be how Cammarata was a teammate of top-3 overall selection Nathan MacKinnon at Shattuck-St.Mary's, and that Cammarata out-scored his linemate 170 to 101 as a bantam, and 139 to 93 the following year on the school's U16 team.
Cammarata has always been a scoring phenom. After leaving Shattuck-St. Mary's, he joined Waterloo in the USHL, and in 2011-2012, scored 69 points in 60 regular season games, numbers that are unheard of for a player his age. The next highest scoring '95 birthdate in the league that year had just 32 points. This past year, Cammarata dominated, leading the league in scoring with 93 points in 59 games.
All those points had many followers of the draft salivating, but the scouting community seemed less enthused about him. NHL Central Scouting left him off their mid-term list completely, before begrudgingly adding near the bottom of their list in the final rankings.
So what are the drawbacks to a player that can seemingly put the puck in the net at will? To start, Cammarata is tiny, measuring in at 5'7" 157 lbs. Small players have played in the NHL before, but usually, those players are considered to be great skaters, and Cammarata is by no means a speed-burner. The other concern is that most of Cammarata's offense comes while playing on the perimeter, and that he struggles to handle physical play. He also provides very little help on the defensive end of the ice. There is the fear that once he starts facing higher levels of competition and better goal tending, he won't be able to have the same type of scoring success, and if he isn't scoring, he provides little in the way of other value to a team.
This isn't the first time those criticisms about Cammarata have been leveled, however. Many of the same concerns were brought up when Cammarata made the move to the USHL as a 16-year-old, but Cammarata more than proved those critics wrong. The USHL certainly isn't the NHL, but it does carry a reputation as a more defense-oriented league, with a lot of older, physically stronger players, and Cammarata was still able to thrive.
The bottom line is that there are significant risks involved in drafting Cammarata, but that's true for almost every prospect that will be selected in the draft. There's the old cliche that you can teach a player skills, but can't teach size. But the type of off-the-charts hockey sense that Cammarata possesses is something that can't be taught, and a skill that virtually no other player in this draft has. Of all the so-called 'boom or bust' prospects in the draft, Cammarata might be the one with the biggest upside, but also the least upside if he struggles to produce offensively. It's hard to see Cammarata playing in the league at all if he's not a first line forward.
Pegging where Cammarata will be selected in the draft is incredibly difficult. I don't think he'll go in the first three rounds of the draft just because of the risk involved in taking him. But I also can't see him being passed over completely like where Central Scouting had him ranked. There's holes in his game, but the same could be said for numerous prospects ranked ahead of him on the CSB list, and most do not have the same incredible potential Cammarata does. At a certain point in the later rounds of the draft, that potential will be too much for a team to pass on, and they'll likely take a chance on him.