NHL Draft Ranking 2022, by Simon St-L.
Here is my personal ranking in anticipation of the 2022 NHL Draft. Will be presented in this article, my ranking of the 32 best prospects of the season. I’ll also feature a few players who might be interesting targets for later rounds, as well as profiles on some more popular players who find themselves excluded from my rankings. In total, 43 players will be analyzed in this article.
On a personal note, I do not share my ranking updates publicly during the season but for transparency, I will share inside my descriptions of certain players if their rank has undergone significant fluctuations over the year.
I am satisfied with the work I have done during the season and the flair I had on some players who have seen their ratings increased enormously when I already had adopted a bold position on them.
Speaking of my ranking, it hasn’t changed hugely over the season and honestly, I’m not sure how to interpret that. I am an open-minded person and I have no difficulty admitting my mistakes and changing my mind about a player, but at the same time, I am getting better in what I do and I gain confidence in my skills in evaluating players. Only time will be able to tell me if this will have been a fatal error for me or if I will have won my bet by relying on my instincts and on my initial read.
Of course, making a list for fun as I do has several differences with the realities that NHL teams operate with. Despite the fact that I attach great importance to the work that I put into it and that it is important for me to strike the right note in order to have credibility, the security of my job will not depend on these pick.
One of the challenges for me is to find a balance between risk taking, transparency and authenticity. What I mean by this last point is that, on many occasions, I would not follow my list completely depending on the pick I have as well as the prospect-pool of my team. So, I try to find a balance between placing players according to my preferences and the potential I see in them, but at the same time I try not to place players too high if I wouldn’t be ready to select them at the rank that I rank them. There are a few of these players in my list this season but it will be clarified when they are players that I would take the risk of waiting until later in order to select them.
Brief analysis of the 2022 draft: People will have been able to observe me saying from the very beginning of November that I consider this draft to be relatively quite weak. This is due to several factors. There are different ways to judge the strength of a draft and for me, this one is not particularly strong in any of the categories;
– there is no elite talent at the top.
-When I look at the composition of my top 15, I am forced to place players who do not show great offensive potential.
-I see very few players who can play on a first line or a first pair of defenders and I see few potential big point producers (and I am not someone who sets the bar high for this purpose).
-The depth of the first round is not so bad after all…. But I don’t have many players that I can say I’d be thrilled to pick in the first round after a year of hard work.
A debate will have caused a lot of ink to flow this season and this is surrounding the very first selection of this draft. In my eyes, no player has earned first pick overall status. In the top 5, I count few players who represent a chance for a team to get their hands on a rare and unique asset. In fact, Slovakian winger Juraj Slafkovsky could see that definition sticking to him if his development goes smoothly. Talented 6’4 wingers like this are quite rare in the league and it’s not every draft that we find them in the top 5.
However, we must not only look at what a player can bring to our formation, but we must also look at what our organization can bring to the player!
And as far as I’m concerned, Shane Wright is the player I consider needs the least amount of work to bring him to the next level in his game, so he remains the number one player on my list, despite being less than convincing this season.
Without further ado, here is my entire ranking!
- Shane Wright
Perceived as the 1st overall pick for 3 years already, it is certainly not the discussions that have been lacking surrounding Shane Wright this season. Very clever whoever could have predicted that this player would have been so polarizing.
This is a common phenomenon that we have seen over the past few seasons, where suddenly, the player deemed to get selected first OA does not become so unanimous. This was the case in 2020 with Alexis Lafrenière, in 2019 with Jack Hughes, in 2016 with Auston Matthews and we could continue for a long time.
What’s different about Shane Wright’s situation is that; of 1) the questioning about his place at the top of this draft started much earlier than the examples given where it was only in the last two months that it began to be hypothesized that another player could come out at the very top of the draft. And 2) unlike those players, Wright’s first overall pick status wasn’t jeopardized by the rise of a rival (Stuzle, Kakko, Laine), but rather, because his game began to raise several questions.
Some criticism of the player can be attributed directly to his play style, so let’s start by breaking down this player and looking at where criticism might arise.
Earning ‘Exceptional player status’, Wright made his OHL debut at age 15 in the 2019-20 season. Having watched this league very closely, I had the chance to observe Wright on many occasions and my observation was that, then aged 15, he was already superior to Quinton Byfield aged 17, who was playing his 2nd season in the OHL (as well as his draft season).
Let’s transport ourselves to this season. Aiming to get an idea of many of the players in the draft, it was only around mid-November that I started watching Wright’s games.
At this point, several doubts had already been disclosed in the public square concerning him.
However, Wright’s identity was already well established and he is not a player who has been wrongly elevated to such status as some players have been in the past because of a tournament or two (hello Aatu Raty).
A 6’01 right-handed center, Wright has an understanding of the game and a defensive propensity that is rarely matched for a player of his age.
To benefit from this aura of a first overall pick, a player must show dynamic traits and qualities that will make him a future Game-Breaker.
If we focus on what makes him exciting as a player, we must start with his shooting. He has, in my eyes, the best shot in the draft and when I take into consideration the consistency factors and the ability to be able to shoot on the move, it’s not particularly close. Joakim Kemell could rival him when it comes to shooting, but he has shown inconsistencies that are too hard to ignore at this level. Wright’s shot is unique in terms of velocity and release. Not only does the puck leave his blade at an astonishing speed, but it is very difficult for a goalie to read when it is going to leave his stick because he releases without any momentum and he does it while the puck is very close to his body. Also, he does not continue the motion of his shot with his stick after releasing. Chances are if you blink, you won’t even see it.
Another aspect that makes Wright’s shot elite is the coordination he demonstrates to shoot while in movement. When I mention shooting while being in movement, I am referring to the play of his feet as he releases his shot. He manages to do it within his own skating stride. Even very high-level shooters do not have this nuance in their repertoire and will rather have to let themselves glide when they take their shot. The best prospect in recent years at this precise quality was Jack Quinn. Always in the perspective of shooting when in motion, the consistency of Wright’s execution remains the same regardless of the flank from which he comes, which is another extremely rare quality. Considering the mechanical changes involved in having to shoot from different places while his body isn’t always angled the same way towards the net, it’s remarkable to see the consistency in Wright’s shooting technique.
His qualities as a playmaker on the power play surprised me on more than one occasion. Like his shot, his passes are very crisp and are made while he leaves no clue to his opponents about what he is about to achieve. Two of the criteria I like to look at when judging a player’s play-making skills are whether they are able to be ‘Deceptive’ and how easily they can pass the puck through the opposing team’s defensive box. Wright meets both criteria very easily. The ‘deceptive’ element mainly occurs when he fakes that he will take a wrist shot by placing all the weight of his body on one leg and having his gaze as well as his shoulders and hips straight towards the opposing net to finally pass to a teammate directly through the defensive box. He is at his most dangerous in this facet when he operates from the top of the right circle, where he has the opportunity to be able to take his course and sell the threat of a shot even more. I saw him make passes that very few players in the NHL could have completed. With the quality of the plays I’ve seen him orchestrate for his teammates as well as the threat his shot poses, he’s possibly the most threatening player in this draft with the man advantage.
However, the predominant quality of Shane Wright remains without a shadow of a doubt his intelligence on the ice. His sense of anticipation is among the highest I have had the chance to see. This is accentuated by the fact that his understanding of the game and his positioning are flawless. It’s rare for a prospect’s play without the puck to draw so much praise, but watching Wright break down the opposing team’s offense and anticipate their every move in advance is almost as fascinating as watching a highlights reel of the most beautiful plays of the week. It’s literally as if he sees the games a step or two ahead of his opponents. He is always in the right place to intercept a pass in the defensive zone or in the neutral zone.
Defensively, he is a master in the art of stealing the puck from opposing players with his stick during defensive backcheck.
His positioning is also flawless, he recognizes situations where his defensemen need help in front of the net or along the boards. Having him on the ice in such situations is almost as if his team had 3 defensemen. His defensive game is truly elite and we can very easily project him as one of the best 2-way centers of his generation.
By virtue of what has just been presented, why have so many criticisms surfaced?
You’ll notice I didn’t mention Wright’s puck handling or skating in the positive aspects of his game. Don’t worry, those are definitely not weaknesses either.
However, I find that these are not qualities that stand out for the simple reason that Wright prefers to rely on his hockey intelligence.
His handling of the puck isn’t sexy at first glance, but his hands are dynamic and reactive enough to be able to eliminate a player if necessary if the latter tries to poke check him, but rarely will he decide for himself to get rid of the first layer of defense by outmaneuvering a player or two along the way. Even in tight spaces, he is not so resourceful in getting rid of a player, he prefers to position his body as to protect the puck and then pass it to a teammate who is in a less precarious position, for example a defenseman at the blue line. A player of his caliber and pedigree should be able to create offense in many ways, especially when it’s something that ends up in the player’s arc. For example, Cole Perfetti, Lucas Raymond and Kent Johnson are recent draft prospects who were able to create scoring chances with their hands alone.
It is the same observation that can be made with his skating. Without showing any mechanical flaws, there is nothing exciting about Wright’s skating and he does nothing to promote it. However, just like his hands, when the moment is right, he demonstrates an impressive force of acceleration. On turnovers in the neutral zone by the other team, he can change gears to hurry to take advantage of the blunder to leave in a two-on-one situation. I also saw him catch Jan Mysak on a breakaway when the latter already had a few strides ahead. Overall, I would still prefer to see him be more assertive with his speed and see him try to cause mistakes from the opposing team rather than just seeing him be reactive.
Playing at different paces/speed is often a gauge on which I assess players’ hockey intelligence. There are several examples of very fast players who are not able to slow down the game to their advantage and who seem unable to process information at the same speed as they are skating. Wright is the antithesis of that, he would have the necessary skating ability to push back opposing defenders, but he prefers to slow down the game. That said, he does it effectively.
If you had not deduced it with these last two passages, Wright is, paradoxically, a victim of his (too) great maturity on the ice.
I have never (or almost) seen Wright make turnovers. He never forces a pass lane, he always identifies the right lanes when carrying the puck, never tries to do too much, etc. However, it hurts him in a way, because it greatly limits the ‘it’ (or wow) factor that we look for in a player of his caliber.
His offensive game is based above all on intelligence and he is a player who is focused on collective play. He involves his teammates a lot in the action. This hurts him a little, because we would like to see him take matters into his own hands, but also, because he does not play with very high caliber teammates. He has played with Martin Chromiak in several games that I have seen and although talented, I do not find him to be a smart player on the ice (he is overrated as far as I am concerned). At 5 on 5, when Wright passes to one of his teammates while entering the offensive zone, the puck rarely comes back to him. We are entitled to expect him to make his wingers better, but it still allows us to see things from a different perspective.
It would be nice to see him bolder in his game, but on the other side, a lot of very talented prospects hit a wall when they got to the pros and had to change the way they play and learned it the hard way. Wright won’t. It will also be easier to appreciate the maturity of his game.
The criticisms (in the first half of the season) came mostly because of his disappointing offensive production and it’s a narrative that could easily have been different if his teammates had been able to complete his plays a little more often. I’ve seen several games where he could have legitimately finished 3-4 pts higher if his linemates hadn’t missed open nets.
One of the gripes I agree with is that Wright’s level of compete-level in puck battles doesn’t come close to being enough. It’s not something I expected to see this season, as he was always very detail-oriented and always showed an impeccable work ethic. It is a ‘red flag’ which is relatively large in scope and should not be ignored. Normally, you expect to see top prospects driven by a burning desire to be the best on the ice. That hasn’t been the case for Wright this season. I haven’t seen him take over a game on his own, even on any given shift, it was rare where he was simply dominant. It’s worrying and we have to mention it because even a prospect like Nico Hischier in 2017 managed to win games on his own for his team. What bothered me the most is that the media coverage Wright receives is well documented and his criticisms have most likely reached his ears. In light of that I expected it to have reignited the flame in him for the 2nd half of the season, and despite increased offensive production, the player’s level of combativeness remained well below what we would have liked him to display.
Wright is mostly a victim of the inflated expectations that have been placed on him. Yes, there are some quirks about his game, but the fact that he is not an exceptional player should not tarnish the player’s appreciation. Much like Owen Power last year, he is a player whose ceiling and floor of his potential are not separated by a very large gap.
Is it fair that he is judged more harshly because of his status? Yes and no. I’m willing to concede that I’m more critical on top prospects myself, because when you’re drafting this high, you have every right to expect a player who will change your franchise. But at some point, the relentless criticism of him (albeit true) was nothing new and seemed more attention-seeking than anything. It is true that a lack of competitiveness is unforgivable, but at the latest news, the other prospects are not perfect either and we have not seen them judged with the same intransigence.
Is Shane Wright worthy of a first overall pick? Due to his play this season, the answer would be no, however, no other players have shown to have the makings of a first-pick overall. Although the criticisms towards the player (the lack of fire and urgency in his game as well as the dependence on his wingers to create chances) are completely legitimate (and believe me, they worry me too), if Wright turns on the ‘switch’ he is unquestionably the best player in this draft. As far as I’m concerned, I believe that the player was already anticipating his presence in the NHL and that he adjusted his game accordingly, minimizing the risks on the ice and playing a more structured game. Although my level of patience with him has hit rock bottom on a few occasions, I believe the challenge of playing in the NHL will force him to show us the best he has to offer.
- 2. Juraj Slafkovsky
Slafkovsky is a 6’4 Slovak winger with one of the richest toolboxes among the prospects we have seen in recent seasons.
It’s hard to pinpoint what he does best on the ice because there are so many of his attributes that sit at a high level and he doesn’t rely on one of those more than another.
The first thing I would talk about Slafkovsky is his great hands and the confidence he shows on certain plays. He has excellent puck control and is able to maneuver in heavy traffic, even against men. Possessing a good repertoire of dekes, I saw Slafkovsky on several occasions dangle an opposing forward at the blue line when he had taken the position of a defender who had advanced into the offensive zone. He does not lack audacity and creativity. He can just as well outsmart a player when he has a head of steam as he can when he receives the puck while being static in a corner of the ice where he lets the opposing player come on him and then beats him with a series of quick shoulder movements, colloquially known in English as a ‘Shimmy-Shake’. When he played in the under-20 league in Finland, it was pretty amazing the dangles he pulled out on occasion. It’s a rare quality to be able to deke players when at full speed, it’s very impressive to see that in a player of his size. Later in the season, around December, Slafkovsky started playing with a longer stick (more on that later), which normally affects a player’s puck handling, but Slafkovsky only got something positive out of it. He retained all his dexterity and it also allowed him to extend his reach with the puck.
The thing that impresses me the most about him is the variety of plays he is able to think and perform as well as his deceptiveness. When I talk about a wide array of plays, I’m not necessarily referring to his different weapons such as his shot and his size. I’m still talking about the range of creative ideas he shows with the puck. Slafkovsky is an enigma to his opponents because he can beat them in so many ways and also because he hides his intentions so well. An example of this is when he comes down to one of the face-off circles and begins to wind up as if he was about to take a wrist shot while looking straight at the goaltender and waits at the last second for a defender compromising to block the shot to eventually pass to a teammate in the slot. I’ve seen him make those kinds of plays coming from both sides. Slafkovsky is very quick to analyze what is happening on the ice and he can react based on what he sees if he believes he can make a better play. It happened several times that Slafkovsky was about to shoot and when he noticed that the defenseman was opting for an overly aggressive approach towards him, he pulled a deke out of his hat out of the blue and took the opportunity to advance to an even more dangerous place.
On several occasions I have seen him deliberately mislead his opponents as he saw fit. One such example is on one of the most impressive plays I’ve seen this season, by any player: playing the point on the power play, Slafkovsky grabbed the puck behind his net after a dump-in from the opposition, he carried the puck down the left flank to the neutral zone where he turned his hips back to the play as if about to pass the puck to the player behind him (known as the ‘slingshot’ strategy), seeing this, the players on the other team turned their attention to the following player and at the very second they adjusted their positioning and attention to the player who was following, Slafkovsky turned to face the play, completely dangled the defenseman at the blue line that was not waiting for him and ensured the zone entry in possession of the puck for his team.
Holding this position on special teams, he was often the player who led the charge on the counter-attacks and the variety of plays he displayed was truly impressive. He also has the talent to rush the puck from one end to the other.
I would then move on to his passing skills and his vision of the game. The reason why I decide to talk about this aspect after talking about his hands and his creativity is that these qualities greatly amplify Slafkovsky’s effectiveness as a playmaker. His remarkable dexterity with the puck gives him the status of one of the best prospects I’ve seen to make plays on their backhand. Casually, few players are able to perform high-level plays on this side. The best prospect of recent years in this area was Matthew Boldy. Most impressively, in most situations, performing a backhand pass was not his first option. More often than not it was to hand over to a player who was rushing to the net. Surprising distance passes and even backhand-saucer-passes that landed directly on his teammate’s stick. Helped by his reach and dexterity, it has also happened that in a 2-on-1 situation the defenseman would lay down full length to block the passing lane and that Slafkovsky would extend his reach and still manage to pass from his backhand to his wingman.
On the power play, I saw him fake slap shots from the blue line to finally go with a very precise pass through the entire defensive box to a teammate at the goalmouth.
His passing skills are all the more highlighted by the fact that opposing defenders have no choice but to give him space on the ice because they have to be wary of his unpredictability, which opens up a lot of ice for his teammates.
In several aspects of the game, he demonstrated nuance and refinement and his passing was no exception. During breakouts, I have seen him use the board to manage to pass to a teammate while there were several players from the opposing team cutting off all options. This also happened on several occasions where Slafkovsky did one-touch passes. It shows an excellent understanding of the positioning of his teammates on the ice and that he has already planned his actions in advance in his head. This is part of what is called the ‘pace‘ a player play. It’s not just the pace at which he skates but also the speed at which he can process the information in front of him, think and execute his plays.
When you pay attention to his shooting, there are some positive aspects and other things that leave something to be desired. His one-timer shot from the point or top of the circles is just plain violent. His wrist shot on the power play when granted space is also very threatening; release without momentum and with a lot of velocity. However, his shooting arsenal is not as vast as that of his dekes or his passes.
Indeed, I have not yet seen him demonstrate that he can take shots while he is accelerating. His best shots mostly come when he is stopped or at very low speed. It may be due to a lack of coordination. At this point I don’t expect him to become an expert in this facet like Shane Wright is, but I would like to see him develop his ability to be able to take good shots when he comes out of the circle when cycling in the offensive zone like Dylan Holloway who was also not known for having such a good shot. This is also how Slafkovsky scored his first goal in Liiga and at the Olympics.
As is often the case, assessing a prospect’s skating is not always easy for several reasons; firstly, evaluating players on video has many limitations compared to doing it in person, the different camera angles from game to game can give different impressions. Second, the season is very long. Especially for young players of this age, there may be times when fatigue catches up with them and it shows in their skating. On other occasions, the player may also have to deal with injuries that bother him.
Slafkovsky’s skating looked different at different points in the season. At times we would have preferred to see him add extra speed, at others it looked like he was an above-average skater, playing against men. At times he seemed able to cover a lot of space in a short time with his skating and sometimes he seemed to lack a bit of explosion in small spaces. However, his agility is very good at these said spaces, especially for a player of his size.
What we see first in his case is his unorthodox posture. It’s rare to see a player of his size have flawless technique. In Slafkovsky’s case, certain nuances seem to be exacerbated by the way his body is made. I would be curious to see the anthropometric data of the player because when looking at him, he seems to have a very long torso, which changes his center of gravity and the distribution of his body mass. Generally, in such cases, it is good for the player to play with a shorter stick so as not to have the trunk too vertical on the ice and to take advantage of the gravitational force during accelerations by inclining the torso. Slafkovsky already plays with a short stick, but his posture still seems a bit odd. Leaning his body more would help him maximize the output of his glute muscles when pushing. He would also benefit from further increasing his degree of flexion at the knees.
Something that seemed to help him is that he appears to be in very good physical condition and is able to finish long shifts while maintaining a high level of intensity.
All in all, his mechanics as well as his posture have made progress during the season and do not represent question marks for me. I can also hypothesize that he still has a lot of progress to make physically (in terms of physical strength and power), which will help take his skating to the next level.
At 6’4, it’s obvious his size was going to be mentioned a number of times but how does he use it? Slafkovsky is not a player who will necessarily seek to punish the opponent but facing him on a regular basis is a challenge for defenders. He is capable on occasion of distributing very good hits. It will not be his identity but it happens to him here and there to have this disturbing side where he will give shoulder-check to his opponents when returning to the bench of his team.
Other than the rough aspect, Slafkovsky uses his body very well to protect the puck with his free arm. He is also very effective when cutting at the net, lowering his shoulder and gaining leverage over the defender.
As I mentioned earlier when I was talking about his skating, Slafkovsky is agile and you can see that when he is in pursuit of the puck where he will gain position on the defender with finesse. In the event that it does not work, he has the size and the strength to play the card of the physical game.
His physique is not the only thing that is already mature, his defensive game is remarkable for a player of his age and talent. He is very solid in the neutral zone, with or without the puck. And like when he’s in control of the puck, Slafkovsky quickly analyzes the game when he doesn’t have it. He will be the first to recognize when one of his defensemen leaves his position to cover him and he will backcheck in advance when one of his defensemen attempts a ‘pinch‘ in the event that it does not work and that there is a turnover. In his zone I saw him several times make excellent interventions to prevent a player from shooting from the slot. However, what is most impressive in his defensive game is his ability to steal the puck from an opponent with his stick during backcheck. This is something that came up extremely often in my notes.
Having split his season between the professional circuit in Liiga as well as in the under-20 league in Finland, Slafkovsky has seen his use as well as his role change on the power play. In Liiga he was mainly used in front of the net. Which can make sense due to his size and his ability to screen the sight of the goalkeeper as well as by the quality of his hands to jump on rebound. He was also seen at the goalmouth where he could feed the player into the slot.
However, I much prefer to see him employed at the point as is the case in the under-20s league in Finland and at the Hlinka. He can use his hard one-timer shot and it also allows him to be able to control the game, which I believe he can do at the next level.
Offensively, he was slow to put points on the board but I didn’t penalize him like I did with other players because he had shown that he could be a threat and useful at different points; creative offensively, big and fast, threatening shot on the power play, very good playmaker, useful in the corners as well as in front of the net, responsible defensively.
However, it was a few games that I started to have some doubts about him. In some games, we hardly saw him with the puck and he always seemed to be behind the game. Even with the puck, I found his execution to be a little slow. Looking at my notes from the Hlinka Tournament, I realized that this is something I had noticed myself in the final against the Russians, when the ‘pace’ was faster and he was less noticeable.
I certainly wasn’t the only one who noticed a slump in his game as soon after he was demoted to the U20 league. I watched 2 or 3 of those games and he was just dominant. It reassured me a lot but at the same time I wanted to see more of this player in the professionals. What will go unmentioned and which is super important, in my opinion, is the attitude Slafkovsky shown during this dismissal. He took his pain patiently, accepted his fate and redoubled his hard work. It was a scenario that Lucas Raymond had experienced in his draft year and his work ethic had been very questionable in Sweden’s under-20 league when he was demoted.
This did Slafkovsky the greatest good. He regained confidence and returned to Liiga as a transformed player. He regained the boldness he had in his game and we saw him start to dare plays like he used to. He started carrying the puck, challenging defensemen one-on-one, cutting to center ice, diversifying his shot selection (both location and shot type).
The rest is history: Slafkovsky shone on the biggest stages as he was named Olympic MVP and did very well at the World Championship. The progression was constant and the arguments to put him first are numerous. In my eyes, he trumps Wright in terms of Compete-Level and the desire to make a difference on the ice. While I adore the player and definitely see him as one of the key pieces in the roster he will play with, I am not convinced he will be a big point producer. That being said, when we re-evaluate this draft in several years, the context in which the players will have been placed is likely to have a greater impact than that of the other drafts. Take Slafkovsky as an example, if the New Jersey Devils set their sights on him in 2nd place and they nail him to the flank of Jack Hughes, he could very well prove to be the best player of this draft.
- 3. Kevin Korchinski
Korchinski has been one of my favorite defenseman prospects of the last few years. He is the most improved player in this draft, and there are no other players who show a progression that can dream of approaching that of Korchinski. In fact, the contrast is so strong that it would be more appropriate to use the word ‘transformed’ rather than progression. Of the few viewings I had done on him at the start of the season, few shining notes had emerged. When I went back to see him at the very beginning of January (watching his December games), I had to constantly pinch myself to realize what I was watching. I looked at my notes I had on him and it was literally night and day. He quickly entered my top 10 and from listening to listening, he was only climbing the ladder, to land at number 4 on my list around mid-January/end-January.
It’s a controversial pick, yes, but when I break down the fundamental qualities of a defenseman’s game, Korchinski excels in each one of them.
What predominates in his game is the great ingenuity he shows during zone exits and breakout. Inside this facet, we notice that the toolbox he has at his disposal is simply remarkable; Endowed with an unshakable confidence, we see him using his skating, his calmness with the puck, his vision of the game, the quality of his passes (even those on his backhand) and a propensity to being able to deceive/manipulate his opponents as he pleases. All these qualities taken individually are worth their weight in gold, but the creativity with which Korchinski manages to harmonize them into a whole is worthy of one of the most beautiful pieces of art. I wrote down a few sequences during the year to try to illustrate what I am sharing with you.
– In a game, he takes the puck in his zone, goes around his own net with an opposing forward on his back, advances towards the neutral zone while regaining the same side of the ice from which he has just returned, while all the opposing players are heading towards him (leaving a gaping hole on the opposite side) he then throws a saucer backhand pass between two opposing players, without even looking at his teammate who gets a partial breakaway and scores.
– Recovering a puck on the left side in his zone, an opposing forward’s forecheck push Korchinski to move towards the center, his partner on the defense on the other side is not available since another opposing forward anticipates a pass that would result in a turnover. Korchinski, who is left-handed, brings the opposing forward towards the center of the defensive zone to clear the left flank and goes there with a backhand pass between his own legs to one of his forwards who had come to offer him support. This is followed by an exit from the zone with the field totally free for his teammate. Even stopping the sequence on video at various points there was no solution, and to be able to think and execute this kind of play under pressure is simply fabulous. His ability to get out of difficult situations is unrivaled in this draft.
– Another stark example of this ability came when two opposing forwards pressured him from behind his own goal line. Using the boards behind him, he passed the puck to himself with his backhand, defeating his rivals and then completing the breakout with disconcerting ease.
He is also extremely resilient in the midst of panic and never gives in to the pressure of the forecheck and will rather hold the puck and come back on his steps rather than get rid of it.
Always in the perspective of zone exits, his first pass is simply dazzling. This is also another aspect of his game that I would not hesitate for a second to say that he is the best of his draft. His passes are surgically precise and he manages to reach his teammates no matter how far apart they are and no matter how many sticks or players get in his way. Even in the most inextricable situations, he manages to find his teammates on the ice without ever showing the slightest error of course. One of the things that helps make him so unique in this aspect is his ability to reach his teammates from his backhand. A recent prospect who demonstrated such abilities was Luke Hughes. Another reason why he is so good at passing is his Spatial-Awareness, which refers to his ability to be aware of the environment on the ice and the position of his teammates as well as his opponents. I’ve seen him repeatedly go get a puck in the back of his zone (more on that soon) and go for a bomb of a pass at a teammate, without the slightest hesitation, while turning around.
Another quality that is rooted in his identity and which for me is essential to any defenseman is his puck recovery game. Facilitated by his excellent skating, Korchinski is constantly the first on loose pucks, both after they have been rejected in his zone and when he goes into the offensive zone to prevent a zone exit.
His skating deserves a closer look because it’s been mentioned a few times and he manages to achieve a ton of play on the ice that can almost exclusively be attributed to this ability. From the outset, his skating ability serves him wonderfully to evade pressure (a quality necessary for defensemen) in his own territory, getting back on his own steps than taking a head of steam, the opposing forwards are not able to follow him.
He is very efficient in carrying pucks thanks to the power he generates in each stride and also by the fact that he is constantly taking information on what is ahead of him and he adjusts his routes accordingly. Not only does he prove his effectiveness in leaving his territory and bringing the puck into the enemy zone, but he also manages to materialize these rushes into something concrete offensively; if he’s forced to the outside on a coast-to-coast rush, he’s not going to take a non-threatening shot from the corner of the rink or attempt a low-percentage pass. Instead, he will venture behind the net and buy the time needed to create a scoring chance. Also, when he has the puck in his possession, he is the one who dictates the play and always tries to have a positive impact. He will exploit every inch of ice that we will give him. He is very alert to openings that present themselves in front of him. I even saw him cross between the two opposing defensemen in a 4-on-4 situation. If he is not the one carrying the puck during the transition play, he will jump into play and attack the opposing net, pushing defenders back and creating space for his teammates.
In the offensive zone, his skating is just as impressive. We often see him advancing dangerously. If ever the play closes in front of him, he come back on his steps and regains the offensive blue line. It’s a play that Denton Mateychuk also masters very well, the difference is that Korchinski is so explosive that he creates a big separation between him and his coverer and that allows him to regain the center of the offensive zone to unleash a powerful slap shot. We also observe a very good mobility in the 4 directions, while we can see him skating backwards along the offensive blue line and makes the defensive coverage open up.
His puck-distributing skills are probably the most improved this season. It was also the aspect of his game on which I had been the most virulent in my very first viewings at the start of the season. I was completely blown away by how much confidence he had gained with the puck. Korchinski now distributes the puck very well in the offensive zone. He is of course helped by his skating as illustrated above, but the confidence he exudes is eloquent: he will constantly maintain the look in the eyes of his opponents while challenging them before circulating the puck without ever looking at his pass target. He can also very well set the table for his teammates with his backhand (like during zone exit).
It’s something I mention often, but when evaluating prospects playing in the junior leagues, you have to be careful not to be fooled by their coach’s use of them. We see one-dimensional forwards evolve on the penalty kill just as we see defensemen without any offensive skills playing on the powerplay. Any defensemen deemed to go out in the first round will inevitably find themselves on the powerplay of their respective team but the real question is: Do they have what it takes to replicate this to the next level? In Korchinski’s case, the progress he’s made over the season makes me think there’s no doubt in my mind that he can be an effective quarterback in the NHL. His offensive instincts are much higher than you might think.
There is a recurring theme in this draft and that is that the defensemen coming out of this one doesn’t have big shots. Korchinski isn’t an exception. His shot isn’t overly threatening but it’s decent. His slap shot is heavy and he’s one of the best defensemen I’ve seen in recent drafts when it comes to creating space for himself so he can use it. He also has a good wrist shot where he will drag the puck on his back leg to maximize his weight transfer. Like each individual ability, it is not enough to just dissect it but it is also necessary to assess whether the player manages to use his tools effectively and for this one, Korchinski is very good at spotting the right shot lanes and he consistently hit the target. He is also constantly watching for opportunities to come forward as a passing option at the top of the slot.
His defensive game is getting just as much praise. He defends very well the zone entries, forcing the opposing forwards towards dead zones. His ‘Gap-Control’, which refers to the distance he keeps between the opposing forwards, is already very polished, never compromising and leaving no room for manoeuvre.
The arguments to sell his selection are plentiful, however, I have yet to talk about which one I believe could be the most important of all. See, the progression in his game was exponential in a short period of time and when it comes to scouting, it is always something that must be given a lot of importance. The second point that has not yet been addressed regarding the development of Korchinski is his physical development. Just 2 years ago, he was only 5’7. He is now listed at 6’2. From this great growth curve, his muscle development has a lot to catch up on, only tipping the scales at 185 lbs. We must take this into account and try to project the player in a few years. He is much greener than the majority of his peers and there is still plenty of room for growth both on and off the ice.
The only arrow missing from Korchinski’s arsenal is physicality. I don’t even know if in maturity it’s going to be something he will advocate, for the moment, it doesn’t really seem to be in his DNA. The fact remains that the foundation is there for us to have an excellent defender under our hands.
At the time of entering the top 4 in my ranking, Korchinski was ranked at the very end of the first round or even at the beginning of the 2nd round. Despite the vast expanse between my ranking of the player and the others, I had never had so much confidence in such a position.
There is no guarantee with the draft so I can’t put my name on the line that he will become the 3rd best player in this draft, however, the foundation is there for him to become a first pair defenseman, and for me, in a draft that I qualify as weaker at the top, that amply justifies the 3rd position (he entered that spot in my ranking by mid-march). The range of what he could become at the next level is very wide; he does rushes the puck à la Shea Theodore, he demonstrates flashes of vision à la Roman Josi, he has the ability to avoid opposing pressure à la Miro Heiskanen and he can eat up important minutes like Thomas Chabot. Will he become as good as these defensemen ? I always play it safe with comparisons, preferring to even refrain from doing so in most cases, so I don’t want to put so many expectations on this player, but I believe he can become a first pairing defenseman in the NHL.
- 4. Logan Cooley
Logan Cooley is a center who entered the season with a very impressive pedigree after being, by far, the best player for the United States at the World Under-18 Championship in 2021, when he was the youngest player in the squad. His start to the season was slightly delayed due to injury and in my eyes, it took him some time to find his bearings. For most of the first half of the season, he and Nazar fought a heated battle over who would be the first of the two on my list.
His skating is probably his primary quality. He is arguably the best skater of this draft. The number one thing that makes him such a good skater is his speed. As a center, his speed gives him the ability to be anywhere on the ice, without it seeming to require the slightest effort. He may as well be deep in his own zone supporting his defensemen one second and find himself on the counterattack the next. Even in possession of the puck, he likes to cover a lot of space and we will often see him circling the offensive zone while keeping the puck. His speed poses a threat and also sets opposing defensemen back a lot, making him one of the best players in this draft in transition. However, it is really his agility that sets him apart from the other fast skaters in this crop. Cooley is extremely ‘slippery’ and always finds a way to escape his opponents. He can turn on himself and change direction skillfully without losing speed. He also has a very high level of coordination where he manages to recover pucks behind his back without having to turn around or break his skating stride. He has a unique skating technique that allows him to distinguish himself by using an unusually wide base of support for a player of his size. This serves him very well on a few occasions when he pushes the opponent’s stick away with his leg.
Another aspect where Cooley rises well above his peers in this draft is in offensive creativity as well as natural ability. He plays with unwavering confidence and has the audacity to attempt plays in game situations that the majority of players wouldn’t even attempt in practice. He’s got great hands and he’s going to dangle more players than anyone in this draft. He loves to pass the puck between his legs in a one-on-one situation. As said before, he likes to keep the puck in the offensive zone for a long time and go around the entire zone. He likes to innovate and deceive his opponents in a daring way, for example, going through the offensive blue line he will pretend to leave the puck between his legs for his defenseman who switches positions with him and will finally keep the puck, leaving his cover with the defender and giving him the center of the ice. He also shows ingenuity in small spaces, for example, along the boards by passing the puck to himself or by using his agility and puck handling to get out of difficult situations.
More concretely, Cooley’s playmaking talents are expressed primarily through his propensity to keep the puck and dangle his opponents in order to open the play for his teammates. That being said, Cooley would still be a good playmaker if it weren’t for the fact that the quality of his hands and his skating greatly amplifies his passing skills. He’s really good at misleading his opponents by intentionally looking at another passing option. As far as I’m concerned, this is a fundamental quality of any good playmaker and Cooley manages to make these kinds of plays from different places on the rink; When playing in the left circle on the power play (which is not always the case), he will keep his shoulders, head and hips pointing towards the net before threading a pass through the defensive box. Another sequence showcased this quality perfectly as he descended down the right flank in a 3-on-2 and kept his eyes constantly on the player on the left to finally slide the puck delicately towards the player in the center who rushed to the net. Another quality of his passing skills is that he is comfortable on his backhand. We regularly see him using this type of pass to extend his reach while defenders lay down on the ice to cut passing lanes. His offensive creativity is also put forward with this type of pass as he will make backhand passes behind his back behind the opposing net. The final inclination that consistently comes out in his passing choices is that he really likes to drop-pass (or leave the puck between his skates for a teammate). It happens to him regularly in zone-entries to leave the puck directly to the player who follows him behind but he also uses this kind of pass laterally when he’s criss-crossing while gaining the zone, going from east to west.
If there’s one aspect of his offensive arsenal that Cooley has much to envy his rivals, it’s his shooting. His shot lacks power and Cooley doesn’t show the same signs of deception using his shot as he does with his puck distribution. He also doesn’t seem to possess any goal-scoring instincts as seen with other players. From a longer distance, his shots don’t hit the target as consistently. Overall, he’s still progressed over the season at that level, I’d say enough to pose some threat at the USHL level, but I don’t see him becoming a feared shooter at the next level. One thing I liked about his shot selection, and it may sound counterintuitive, but it was that he was forcing the other team to be honest and not cheat while using his shot. Since it’s not necessarily in his DNA to take a lot of shots, opposing teams had adjusted to his style of play and cheated on the penalty kill, keeping a tighter coverage towards his teammates. Cooley who was operating in the right circle had started taking a lot more shots. By having to be more wary of him, it again gave more space to his teammates. At this time of year, Cutter Gauthier (the primary shooting option on that powerplay) was at the left circle and he now had a lot more room to unleash his shot when Cooley gave him the puck.
Another aspect that identifies Cooley is his two-way game. He is one of the good defensive centers in this draft. This quality in him is expressed by three constants; his level of alertness on the ice, his skating and his work ethic. He is always taking information on the rink and he adjusts his positioning accordingly, he will never be taken on the wrong foot and he never cheats on the rink (which one might believe judging by his play with the puck). He always spots the occasions when, in his own zone, an opposing defender leaves his position to go down the goal crease. His level of involvement is also beyond reproach.
Something I would add in the case of Cooley is that the NTDP lines changed constantly during the season, and what kept coming up was that every time I wanted to thoroughly assess the wingers, it was difficult for me to do it properly with those who found themselves at Cooley’s Wings, no matter who they were. It was difficult for them to maximize their qualities and play up to their talent, despite Cooley being the club’s most talented player. For such a good talent, I find that the extent to which he improves his wingers is not as high as one would think.
In conclusion, Cooley is a player that I like and have a lot of fun watching play. That said, I’m less optimistic than many of his ultimate potential. For the last stretch of the season, we saw him simply dominating in the USHL, that said, the style of play he advocated is far from guaranteeing success in the NHL. Too often his spectacular plays don’t materialize into anything concrete, it puts a damper on his offensive ceiling, plus he’s not much of a goal-scoring threat. At some point in early winter, I had him as low as 9th on my list. Although some doubts have been dispelled, others persist. His rise (or rather, his return) in my top 5 was a combination of his dominance in the last stretch of the season, as well as other players in front of him who have seen, question marks arise or remained in their play. He is quite possibly the most talented player in this draft, but not necessarily the most effective in his offense.
- 5. Pavel Mintyukov
Pavel Mintyukov’s transformation as a hockey player was fascinating to watch. The best way to picture it at the start of the season would be to think of a racehorse that needs to be tamed. A dynamic offensive defender going his own way, the Russian showed bits of a defenseman capable of neutralizing the best opposing elements on occasion and it was on these promising plots that I took a bet by ranking Mintyukov in my top 10 in November.
For a few years now, we have been talking about ‘modern defensive defensemen’, alluding to the end of the era when defensemen being bequeathed defensive missions were known to have finesse on their skate and with the puck worthy of a bull in a China-Shop. Mintyukov is at the forefront of a new trend that we can see in some prospects and I would say that we could speak of a ‘modern offensive defenseman’.
Mintyukov is very talented and what stands out the most about his offensive game is the audacity as well as the innovation he shows in his games. It is when he is patrolling the blue line that his poise is most obvious. With excellent puck handling, long reach and very good multi-directional agility, forwards rushing at him to steal the puck out of him risk being on the wrong side of a highlight-reel. He generates so much power laterally that he can get rid of his pursuer in spectacular fashion. The majority of good puck handlers usually operate with a shorter stick but Mintyukov doesn’t, which makes it all the more impressive when he pulls off those fakes where he can bait opponents away from him with his reach and he then brings the puck close to his body with fluidity while moving explosively. Something that will come up often in my profile of Mintyukov is that he is very offensive-oriented and plays with firm intention. Few defensemen can move to the offensive blue line with the puck under pressure like he does. After defeating his opponent, his idea is already made to explode up to the slot and create a scoring chance. Every time he’s on the ice, he steps in with the determination to score.
All in all, he has very good hands for a defenseman and of all the draft prospects, he is one of the players who has made the best plays in a one-on-one situation. On the other side, he is a little handcuffed by the position of his hands on his stick, being too close to each other. It is in tight spaces that you see the repercussions this causes him.
Overall, his puck-distributing skills are very good. He made some very impressive passes directed towards the slot as he descended to support the attack along the boards. He also manages to hide his passing intentions as he can reach teammates without even having his head or body pointing in their direction.
Like the majority of defensemen in this draft, Mintyukov’s shot may leave a little to be desired. He has a good snap-shot but he needs to be inside the face-off circles if he hopes to beat the goaltenders cleanly. His one-timer isn’t a threat on the powerplay, luckily, he relies more on his puck-distributing skills and his dynamism with the puck to open up additional play selections. His wrist shot is limited in power because his hands end up too close together, preventing him from using the flex of his stick.
On counter-attacks, he aggressively jumps into play and in odd-man rushes, rather than hanging back in 2nd wave, he will take the center and drive straight to the net, pushing defenders back. He then has the hands to grab the rebounds. He is constantly looking for a way to jump into the play and achieve something. Another example of how he likes to jump into the play is when he moves the puck in the neutral zone: rather than watching his forward carry the puck after completing a pass, he will immediately move jump into to eliminate an opponent with a ‘Give-N-Go’. This tendency in his game perfectly explains the selections he will prioritize in puck-carry. He will never try to skate from one end to the other by himself. He will instead use his teammates intelligently so as to receive the puck again without having to deal with one more player in front of him.
One of the things I appreciate the most about Mintyukov is his physical play. There are not many defenders of this mold nowadays. Even less when they can count on the level of individual skills of the Russian. Last year’s draft was a perfect reflection of what I’m saying: 11 defensemen over the 6-foot mark were chosen in the top 40 and only two (Logan Mailloux and Nolan Allan) brought a physical element to their game.
It was rare during the season that I watched two games in a row where Mintyukov didn’t have at least one good check. It happened quite regularly that he distributes several good ones in a game. Especially during the opponent’s counter-attack in the neutral zone or when entering the zone, he does not concede his territory to the opposition. He has this little nasty side where he will make a player pay the price if the latter shows up in the neutral zone with his head down. When he’s on the ice, his opponents need to be aware of that.
At the defensive level, there are good and less good. To continue in the vein of Mintyukov’s athletic and physical abilities. He excels in puck recovery, which is a fundamental quality for a defenseman. Not only do you have to have a good skating-base, you also have to know how to position your body in the right way so as not to give a corridor to the opponent in forecheck – not giving up on the inside. It is also necessary to show calm, composure as well as ‘deceptiveness’ when the puck is recovered so as not to be imprisoned along the boards by the opposing forward. It’s something he does very well. He also has the individual skills to easily get rid of the opposing pressure as well as to be able to control bouncing pucks.
He also repeatedly showed excellent hand-eye coordination to hit pucks in the air, preventing zone entries. It was something Brandt Clarke showed during the U-18 tournament last year.
As for the less brilliant aspects, Mintyukov sometimes offers erratic play in his zone.
When he covers his area, he is sometimes too passive and does not offer the same level of alert as when he goes on the attack. However, he is very engaged in one-on-one battles and when he has to defend tighter spaces. It still happens quite regularly where after advancing on a player along the boards, it takes him a little too long to return to the front of his net and leaves a player unsupervised. He is most often noticed on the penalty kill where he plays relatively high, which leaves a player alone at the goal line.
Another aspect of his defensive game that needs a little work is directly related to his identity as a player and how he perceives the game. As I mentioned, he is a defender who has a strong inclination for offense and who tries by all means to make a difference when he is on the ice.
A few times, his ‘pinches’ in the offensive zone or in the neutral zone were too aggressive and he was caught on the wrong foot.
There is also the fact that when he goes on the attack, he does not do it halfway. Even shorthanded he joins his team’s counter-offensive. There was also a sequence that I could not help but take in picture and share with people with whom I discuss prospects. When shorthanded, his team was in the opponent’s zone, most of the players on the ice were grouped in the same place. Of the lot, Mintyukov was the one who was closest to the opposing goalkeeper. It is as it is as a sequence, until you realize that his team is shorthanded, that it’s in the middle of the 3rd period and the score is tied. It often happens that he goes as low as the goal crease at 5 on 5. The problem is that the effort he then offers to back-check is sometimes appalling. He lets the forward who swapped with him defend the counter-attack and doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to retake his position as a defenseman.
His first pass could also be a bit livelier.
Despite all that, I gave passes to Mintyukov because I saw him play very solid defensively. In the games against Windsor he was up against Wyatt Johnston who is probably the best player in the league and he did a sublime job of keeping him quiet. He even applied 2-3 very good checks to him in a certain game. In other games where Saginaw held a late lead, his coach relied heavily on Mintyukov to protect the lead and whenever he understood the task assigned to him, he carried out the challenge with flying colors. As the season has progressed, the Saginaw’s Spirit prospect has matured tremendously in his devotion to defense. There were no more sequences where he seemed to do as he pleased and he even established himself as a defensive rock. I’ve even seen him kill shorthanded 5-on-3 situations in brilliant ways
One of the questions that I had at some point with him is that during the month of January, the quality of his game declined quite significantly. He was typically used around 28-29 minutes per game, even on 3-in-4-night streaks. My guess was that it was just gassed out. In his case, he hadn’t played the previous season and he had only appeared in 33 games the season before. This lack of games may have ended up catching up with him. He’s also still a bit green physically, so the question will be whether it’s just physical immaturity due to age or whether he just doesn’t have the genetic makeup to handle the rigors of a long schedule with excessive use. The confidence he will have regained in March will have convinced me not to hold it against him.
I drew some parallels with Simon Edvinsson (who was the player who spent the most time at the number one spot in my ranking last year) in the sense that the errors in his game, mainly related to positioning, were more due to the fact that he was looking to experiment on the ice and learn what he can get away with and what he can’t. Unlike other cases where these errors are the result of limitation in hockey IQ level. I don’t compare players beyond this point though, they are quite different and Edvinsson is a big notch above.
For a long time, I had trouble finding a comparable for Mintyukov, then, more and more I started to see similarities to what I was seeing of Josh Morrissey in junior. Although the latter has not become the offensive defenseman I envisioned, he remains a first pair defender who can provide 35-40 pts per season. In their draft year; both were forward-thinking on offense, capable of knocking down opponents, good passers but who don’t have a big shot and ultimately, the attitude to make anyone who ventured into their zone head-down pay the price. When I compare them and see that Mintyukov is bigger physically and still has room to build a lot of muscle mass, and he’s more explosive on his skates, I can’t help but see a hope that, in the worst case, will become a good number 3 defender and who possibly could evolve on a first pair. Even if technically, he is more advanced than other prospect of this draft since he is a ‘late’, Mintyukov did not play last year, compared to prospects like Cooley and Nemec. In addition, the maturation he has shown throughout the season, especially in relation to his defensive game, gives me a glimpse of possible gains in other aspects. He also has room for a lot of physical growth when it comes to developing muscle mass.
- 6. David Jiricek
A 6’03 right-handed Czech defender, Jiricek is a player who, ironically, have benefited from an absence caused by a knee injury, as counter-intuitive as that may sound. I wasn’t Jiricek’s biggest fan in the first half of the season. Even if one strives to watch games without bias, it can be difficult to erase our initial assessment, especially when it has solidified in subsequent viewings. It was mainly Jiricek’s shortcomings that jumped out at me during my first viewings and it was difficult not to focus too much on that and not to attach too much importance to it. But taking advantage of his absence to take a closer look at his rivals, I started to find that there are several things that they are not as good as Jiricek and that they too have things that will need to be worked on. in their game.
By the way, let’s talk about it. The most controversial aspect of his game is his skating. Jiricek is not an elegant skater at first sight. His posture is unorthodox and he seems uncoordinated in addition to lacking balance. His skating base is not wide enough for a player of his size and his trunk is too vertical. As a result, Jiricek’s stride is rather short and very choppy, especially on his first strides where he doesn’t generate a ton of power. Jiricek’s biggest problem though is his backwards skating. Defending the fast skaters for him is an extremely tough task. His footwork is not good enough to keep up with good skaters. His pivots aren’t on point and he can’t afford to keep his feet static on the ice because he won’t be able to keep up with changes in direction and speed. Because of this, he is not the best equipped defenseman to deal with forwards on the forecheck, whether in possession of the puck or in puck-retrieval.
However, there are things he does well. I would argue that his lateral mobility in the offensive zone is not as good as one might think at first glance, but he uses it well. What I mean by that is that Jiricek is great at selling the threat of one of his devastating shots to his opponents so it ties up the defense, then giving him more time and space to run along the line blue. I also find that he is a player who has been able to adapt his game well according to his own limits, by developing a unique technique to protect the puck in this kind of scenario. He loves to make this play where he receives the puck on the right point and he pretends to take the center by moving backwards to finally brake and accelerate to regain the right side and then go down along the boards. Normally, he would risk committing turnovers since his mobility is not that good but Jiricek will slightly turn his back on his opponent while using his long reach to increase the distance between the puck and his opponent to secure it. As for his speed as such, it has no problem as far as I’m concerned. I saw him start from behind the opposing net (after an offensive rushes) and easily catch his opponents in defensive backchecks. What is most impressive is that he seemed to improve that facet a lot as he came back from a major knee injury. This testifies to his impressive strength of character.
Jiricek is one of the players who plays with the most bite in the entire draft. He has a ‘throwback’ element in his game that you don’t find much these days. The Czech loves to play physical and it’s something he actively seeks on the ice. When he defends the zone entries, he likes to hit the puck carrier. He is clearly not a ‘reactive’ player on the ice, he is looking to provoke things. In the neutral zone, if he sees that one of his forwards is in a position to cover him, he will move forward to hit an opponent hard. This is also how Jiricek defends best. As explained earlier, his skating has certain limits and he also has a tendency to play too aggressively, which makes him poorly manage his angles with which he approaches opposing forwards. Jiricek exposes himself to be beaten if he tries to play the puck in this kind of situation, it is when he simplifies things and instead opts to play the body that he gains efficiency in his own zone.
Offensively, Jiricek probably has the best slapshot in the draft. His arsenal is very varied; his one-timer will likely be a weapon on an NHL power play and his wrist shot is also very good. What is most desirable, however, is the way he manages to create space for himself by eliminating a player with his puck handling or by faking a slap shot. He has very good hands and he has the confidence to attempt this kind of play and he is probably the defender in this draft who manages to break through the first layer of defense with the most ease. He shows very good patience in the offensive zone as he will wait for his opponent to compromise before making a deke. He has very good hands. He really likes to go along the board on the right side and even go down behind the net to pass to a teammate in the slot. What bothers me a little is that the majority of the time he makes a rushes in the offensive zone, it happens on the periphery. I wonder if this will not cause him a problem when he arrives on a North American-sized ice rink.
Jiricek was also the author of several very good passes in the offensive zone. He can reach his target either with a precise long-distance pass from the blue line to the mouth of the net or by combining his handling of the puck to dangle a player before reaching a teammate in the slot. I also saw him make a great backhand pass through the defensive box.
In transition, I’m not the most sold on his game. When he carries the puck, he doesn’t have the best awareness of his opponents’ position on the ice, so when he attempts a drop pass (Slingshot ) he often commits turnovers. It also happens to him to break the rhythm of the game because he does not always evaluate his options well when breaking out through the neutral zone and that kills the play.
Overall, Jiricek is still one of (if not the) best offensive defenders in this draft and he defends well if he prioritizes physical play. His skating doesn’t scare me as much as at the start of the season and I believe this can be corrected with changes made to his posture as well as with work in the gym (he is only 189 lbs on a 6’03 frame and several of his balance problems could be corrected with an improvement in his core muscle.
- 7. Simon Nemec
Nemec is a player who had a bit of a roller coaster season and that was reflected in the fluctuation of his ranking on my list during the season. To better understand the reasoning, we will review his season in chronological order.
Lining up for Slovakia at the Hlinka tournament, Nemec is a right-handed defenseman who had set the bar pretty high on what it would take to come out in 2nd spot at the NHL Draft this season.
His game was a bit of a jigsaw afterward, quickly coming out of that discussion for me. But once that we have better analyzed the player, he remains a prospect of very good quality, we just need to temper expectations.
When we analyze each of his qualities and try to project them into the NHL, we realize that it is less stellar than what could have been anticipated at the start of the season. This is caused by the fact that the limits of his game are eclipsed by his greatest quality: his involvement on the ice.
Supported by a good hockey sense and superb readings of the game, Nemec can appear from nowhere in the neutral zone to come and intercept a pass or poke check a player. This quality, however, is shown more often than not by his propensity to join as a passing option during counter-attacks and to come and support his forwards deeply in the offensive zone. His offensive instincts are very well developed. Even when shorthanded, Nemec wasn’t shy about aggressively challenging the puck carrier, even provoking odd man rushes. All of that, along with a tendency to carry the puck, made Nemec the most outstanding player in the Hlinka, at least as far as I was concerned.
Since no prospect is perfect, there were still certain elements of his game that gave birth to certain questions.
The caliber of play of the Hlinka had to be taken lightly a little without the presence of Canada and the NTDP. For this reason, it was not yet allowed to judge his defensive game honestly.
That being said, my questions were about his offensive play. Nemec had shown enough good flashes but his entire offensive arsenal was not at a level that seemed to me worthy of such a high selection.
First, his shot is clearly not a threat. His one-timer lacks power, subtracting an important weapon from what he can bring on the power play. A few times he did a good job of taking advantage of the free space in front of him, taking the opportunity to step up to at the top of the circles to take a better shot. On other occasions he showed good timing to wait for traffic to settle in front of the net before shooting, which is a very good play but there were a few times when a teammate was open to take unleash a one-timer (Slafkovsky), which would have been a better option.
Which brings me to my other point; not being a scoring threat himself, Nemec has to be an elite puck distributor to justify his status. Which is not the case. I’m not saying it’s something in his game that’s lacking, because that would be an hyperbole. He generally shows good patience on the blue line during the powerplay, carefully evaluating each of his options and letting his opponents compromise before making a play. However, his level did not allow me to anticipate seeing him occupy a role in the chair of a quarterback of a first powerplay unit.
Also during the Hlinka tournament, I also found that his way of creating offense was not as vast as I would have thought at the start. His offensive game is mainly caused by his involvement in the game and his intelligence as to his positioning and his timing. These are very desirable qualities, yes, but I would have liked to see him be able to eliminate the first layer of defense with different assets.
All in all, I loved his game and I was really looking forward to seeing how far he was going to be able to transpose his skills during the season.
As I feared, the lack of elite quality in his game stood out against better quality opposition when he found himself playing against men.
We were still able to observe the same strengths that he had shown against his age group, making very good interventions in the neutral zone and offering his support very deeply to his teammates in the offensive zone.
One aspect of his game that I was waiting for in order to properly assess was his effectiveness in his own zone. He has a good active stick and makes good interventions but overall, I find that he lacks a bit of conviction, especially with regard to his passes coming from his own zone, they were not lively enough for my taste.
That’s not the only way his transitioning game gets affected. On several occasions, Nemec has been found guilty of a turnover where he tries to go around his own net and exit the zone by transporting the puck through his skating and he then lost the puck by the hand of the forward on the forecheck.
His skating is something else that I had reservations to analyze following the Hlinka. He definitely seemed quick but I was expecting better context. Against the men, you can see that there are limits to what he can do with it and it figures more as ‘good’ rather than elite. We also see him much less confident carrying the puck, thereby neutralizing one of the already limited aspects that allowed him to stand out offensively against his age group.
He will have needed a good period of acclimatization. It was around mid-November when he started to show signs of progress in his game. The aspect that benefited the most was his handling of pressure in his own zone. We have also seen him more confident in imposing his presence in the neutral zone to defend counter-attack situations.
The right-handed defender I had seen at Hlinka finally showed up in the second half of the season. It started with the WJC, which is probably the biggest showcase for a draft-eligible prospect. Nemec excelled there. His puck-carrying game proved to be a major weapon for Slovakia. We have also seen him correct the mistake he constantly repeated at the start of the season when he bypassed his own net in his zone, now using his free arm to neutralize his opponent’s stick.
This rise in the quality of his game continued in the professional league in Europe and was even exponential, being one of the best defenders on the circuit and setting numerous records in the playoffs. Overall, my observations of the player remained the same; good at carrying pucks, must move forward to take good shots, good puck distributor but not elite, active everywhere on the rink but not the most effective at clearing the front of his net and can scatter a little on the ice.
Nemec is a difficult case to assess. It would be wrong to say that he does not have very high-level qualities but these are not equal to the impact he can have in certain games. One of the issues is whether he can replicate that performance in a higher caliber. One of the reasons for this questioning is that it is difficult to see him advocating the same style of play in the NHL. Personally, I see Nemec more as a very good second pair defender who could benefit from some protection from his coach in terms of the oppositions that we will give him. His style of play, his size, his skating and his passing skills remind me a bit of Sergei Zubov (we’re only talking about style here).
- 8. Jonathan Lekkerimakki
Jonathan Lekkerimakki is a dynamic Swedish winger who took me longer than I would have liked to fully grasp him. Normally, I’m not a big fan of this type of player so I played it safe with him, even when he started producing in the SHL. In all transparency, I started to make up my mind on his case from my 15th viewing.
His best asset is without a shadow of a doubt the quality of his shooting and his scoring skills. Lekkerimakki has one of the best shots in the entire draft, if not just the best. What makes him so dangerous is the power and precision of his wrist shot, managing to beat goalkeepers from distance when there isn’t even a screen in front of them, every of his shots are dangerous. Nowadays, not only are goalkeepers extremely imposing in front of their net, they are also experts in dissecting the position of the different body segments of the shooters (position of the hands, shoulders, rotation of the trunk and hips, etc.) in order to anticipate where they will shoot the puck. Even near-perfect shots aren’t enough to beat them, to do that you have to mislead them or limit the amount of information they can take. Lekkerimakki encapsulates this last point wonderfully. The release on his shot is subliminal. It requires no momentum and he does not continue the motion of his shot after the puck leaves his stick. In fact, when the puck goes, Lekkerimakki’s stick blade position is still inside his skate base, giving goalies no time to react. He uses his stick flex a lot on his shots as well. Another aspect that makes the Swede so dangerous is the placement of his shots. Every shot he takes make goalies work. He will always opt for shots that will be difficult for them even if his primary intention is not to score. Being a right-hander, when he comes on the right flank, he will prioritize low shots, against the direction, aiming for the opposite leg of the goalkeeper to cause rebounds in the slot. The final noteworthy aspect of Lekkerimakki’s shot is his shot selection. Too often young players who have such a weapon tend to rely on it too much and when they rise through a higher caliber, they are no longer able to do as they please. For excellent shooters, this can be seen in attempts to shoot without a screen or from too far on the ice. Lekkerimakki is no victim of this, as he never rushes his shots, showing patience instead. He does not take low success percentage shots even if there is a chance in front of him. To top it all off, Lekkerimakki also has great scoring instincts, knowing how to get forgotten in front of the net net.
The second thing that jumps out when looking at the winger is his excellent skating and high speed. He has the speed to create separation from his pursuer and he is also very skilled as he can mystify his coverers with small changes of direction and shoulder movements. Lekkerimakki is also very agile and possesses remarkable escapability in small spaces, being able to turn on himself skillfully. To complement this skill, he also has excellent balance on his skates, maintaining a good posture even when pushed by an opponent when in motion and/or pivoting. In the use of his speed, Lekkerimakki demonstrates the same intelligence and the same maturity as with his shooting as he recognizes well the situations to let his talent speak, as well as the situations where it would be better to opt for a play with higher success rate. He is not a player who plays at one speed and always tries to beat opposing defensemen, he knows how to slow down the game to his advantage and how to involve his teammates in his attacks. The last thing to mention, and this might be the most important of all regarding his speed, is that Lekkerimakki plays at a high pace when it comes to his decision making. His brain seems to operate at the same speed as his feet and hands, and that’s a very desirable trait that translates wonderfully well to the NHL.
Which brings me to what I consider to be the most important aspect to me that ultimately sold me in Lekkerimakki’s case, which is: His intelligence. This is what differentiates Lekkerimakki from other players advocating the same style of play that I mentioned in the introduction not being a fan (Fabian Lysell, Joakim Kemell, Samu Tuomaala, etc.) These players are all guilty of the same faults on the rink ; they hold onto the puck far too long, makes a ton of turnovers, misuse their teammates (especially in the neutral zone), and have questionable shot selections. Lekkerimakki does not commit such sins on the rink. When carrying the puck, he is good at evaluating the information in front of him while keeping his head held high. He is not a player prone to turnovers.
Another aspect that makes mention of Lekkerimakki’s intelligence is his skills as a playmaker. Although he is not considered a ‘Playmaker’, he wants to be effective in this facet without fanfares. His passes are always precise and well timed. His passes always while playing at a good speed, which translates well to the NHL. He is also capable of passes on his backhand on occasion. On the power plays, he is not a predictable player by the threat of his shot, he incorporates his teammates very well in the collective attack and he is able to use his teammate inside the defensive box. He shows some signs of creativity where he uses his main assets (shooting and skating) to push back the opposing defenders and after giving a glimpse of a wrist shot, he hands the puck behind him to his teammate who comes in 2nd wave.
To top it all off, Lekkerimakki plays with an appreciable level of intensity, finishing some of his checks and not hesitating to get his nose dirty in the high-danger areas. Defensively, he is doing well, showing a good ability to cut passing lanes by extending his stick completely on the ice, which is easy for him given that he has a relatively low center of gravity.
It will be curious to see where Lekkerimakki will play next year since his club in Sweden, Djurgardens, have been relegated to the 2nd division in the Allsvenskan. Maybe the NHL team that selects him will be tempted to bring him to the AHL right away, which would be a good option, in my opinion.
- 9. Frank Nazar
Playing at center, Nazar is a right-handed player lining up for the United States Development Program. Endowed with a very high level of creativity and natural skills, Nazar spent several time in the season ahead of his teammate Logan Cooley on my list and found himself as high as 2nd place at one point ( november).
If every top prospect offers something that sets them apart from the rest, it’s definitely in offensive IQ that Nazar supplants his counterparts. His offensive intelligence is arguably the highest in the entire draft. Nazar can create scoring chances from little and this is mainly to benefit his teammates, he who is an excellent playmaker. Similar to his teammate Logan Cooley, his passing skills are greatly amplified by the quality of his puck handling and his ability to outsmart opponents. By doing so, he eliminates variables from the equation and creates openings for his teammates. His level of creativity is very high and he has the audacity to try plays that few players would attempt. With him, each of his teammates represents a threat on the ice. One (if not the) best sign of a good playmaker is the ability to hide their real intentions and mislead their opponents, it can be said without a shadow of a doubt that this ability ranks highly among Nazar selection of play. It is often said of good shooters that they have the ability to change their shooting angles to beat goalkeepers, but Nazar changes his passing angles before giving the puck to his teammates. He will bring the puck closer to his body to give himself the possibility of passing to one of his wingers who did not exist otherwise, he creates his own passing lines. Coming back to the comparison with Cooley, I would tend to say that in some aspects, Nazar’s creativity is more ‘efficient’ than that of Cooley; he uses the width of the ice more effectively for his passes, opts more often (and finds success) with long distance passes and he makes better use of his teammates rather than trying to do everything for them. Another aspect of Nazar’s passing skills that I find surprisingly effective and transferable is his quick thinking and ability to use one-touch passes and very quick puck movement. He therefore demonstrates a great understanding of the game and awareness of his environment on the ice. The opposing team rarely has time to react accordingly and this usually leads to a quality chance. Even other than in the offensive zone, Nazar proves to be a smart passer. We often see him in the neutral zone using the boards to give to a teammate when there were no open lines for him. The foundations are there to make Nazar a very good passer at the next level, there is however a (relatively major) correction that he will have to make over time and that is: his pass attempts in the slot. The more the season progressed, the more Nazar forced passes in this spot and only a very small percentage of those found takers.
As mentioned earlier, Nazar is a very skilled puck handler and this makes him a preferred option for carrying the puck and for entering territory as he can navigate through heavy traffic and can easily get past many players only with the quality of his hands. His ability to get rid of his opponents is also enhanced by his agility on the ice. His ability to be evasive is nearly unmatched in this draft, with Cooley and Noah Ostlund being the other two players I consider the cream of the crop for this purpose. Just when you believe you have trapped him, he manages to transfer all his body weight to the other side and keep possession of the puck while maintaining his speed.
The Michigan native is also a very good skater. What is impressive is the progression he has shown at this level over the season. Without saying it was a weakness early in the schedule, he was definitely not a ‘Speedster’. By the end of the season, I could say with full confidence that his speed represented a major threat to his arsenal. He even displays a separation speed where he can leave his pursuer in the dust and he regularly beat defenders on the outside. This is also something that has returned throughout the season: his propensity to beat defenders with speed and attack the net, despite a less optimal size for this kind of play. It goes without saying that he is not afraid. It’s also possible that I got caught because he doesn’t seem as fast as he actually is. One of the reasons for this is that he doesn’t have a very high skating frequency for a player of his size, which is a little misleading, though, when I watched him side-by-side with Isaac Howard, he was as fast as him. Other than through his offensive rushes, Nazar uses his speed to pounce on every mistake his opponents make. Probably the most tantalizing aspect of Nazar’s skating skills is his poise and agility on the ice. He can turn around effectively and even when pushed around, he manages to keep his balance and keep the puck. He also incorporates changes of speed and direction very well into his game.
Although at a certain stage Cooley had shown himself superior to Nazar in my assessment, the debate remains legitimate to a certain extent and the latter shows to be superior in certain aspects of the game. One of them is his shooting and his instincts to score goals. Nazar has a better shot that he fires quickly and has a much easier time finding the back of the net from mid-to-long distance, unlike his teammate. His shot is also more accurate. To top it all off, despite not being what you would call a ‘Sniper’, Nazar knows what to do to score goals, regularly heading to the net. The criticism that could be applied to him in this department is that his propensity to send pucks to the net is somewhat inconsistant and sometimes non-existent. Was a sequence of 5 games that I watched him in isolation where he took only one shot on goal from a dangerous place and this occurred during an overtime period where there was a lot more space on the rink.
One of the biggest questions with Nazar is that his future as a center is uncertain. One of those reasons is that his defensive game isn’t always on point. Mainly at the level of involvement. The positive signs he shows at this level mainly refer to his reading of the game and his ability to sneakily remove the puck from his opponents. He recognizes well when he needs to switch from man-to-man coverage to zone coverage. During the PK, he is very alert and quick to take advantage of the scrambles of his opponents but his backchecks at even strength sometimes leave something to be desired, where he will let himself slip. It happens to him to arrive late during the counter-attacks of the opposing team. His involvement in his zone is not always consistent and sometimes he gives players more time and space than he should for them to make a play.
Personally, my greatest fear with Nazar is his inability to protect himself adequately. He often exposes himself on the ice to being hit hard and that has happened a few times in the season, sometimes, even several times in the same game. It was previously said that Nazar loved to cut in the middle of the ice and to the net and it was in some of these situations where he paid full price. We observe the same thing in the center of the ice. We cannot blame him for lacking character, however, because each time that happened, he would come back to the charge as soon as the next shift, as if nothing had happened.
There are doubts whether his future is as a center. At least, he should evolve there next year at the University of Michigan with the departures of Matt Beniers, Kent Johnson, Thomas Bordeleau and Brendan Brisson. Nazar should pivot the 2nd line behind Adam Fantili.
10. Jimmy Snuggerud
Jimmy Snuggerud is a strong, very talented American winger who has been in my top 10 for most of the season (as high as 8th at the very end of December). Possessing a very varied and complete offensive arsenal, he is what we called a ‘Dual-Threat’. That means, he is as dangerous as a scorer as a passer.
It’s hard to decide between the two, but his shooting probably represents his best quality. The desirable traits of his goal-scoring touch are many and varied. From the outset, his shooting is among the elite of this draft. Both his wrist shots and his one-timer are incredibly violent, making him a threat every time he has the puck. He uses the flex of his stick a lot to unleash his shots and it feels like the puck will literally explode when it leaves his blade. His shots are the vast majority of the time on an upward trajectory and make it very difficult for goalkeepers to control. Beyond the violence of his shots, Snuggerud has scoring instincts that cannot be teached. He is also shown to be very smart in his shot selections and he knows how to be ‘Deceptive’ by hiding his real intentions as he goes to take shots on goal without even looking at the net, turning around or while his shoulders and his trunk are not even oriented towards the net. The right-handed winger also knows how to score goals, usually continuing his actions at the net after taking a shot to grab his own rebound.
His passing skills are just as good, and curiously, when analyzing what makes him so effective in this department, it is the same 3 characteristics as with his shots that stand out; the crispiness of his passes, his ability to hide his intentions as well as the continuation of his actions after making a play. The first thing that really sets him apart as a passer is really the precision and the ardor behind his passes. This allows him to make passes that very few players in this draft can replicate. He’s amazing to use the full width of the rink in the offensive zone to deliver to a teammate, even through a multitude of sticks in his path. Even when he has to execute a pass out of his own zone, we can see that these are NHL quality passes; directly on the blade of his teammate and with enormous conviction behind. Snuggerud is an excellent playmaker thanks to his vision as well as his propensity to be impossible for his opponents to read. Much like his shots, he’ll find a way to hand off to a teammate when his body alignment isn’t pointing in that direction. Finally, what makes him so dangerous in the offensive zone is that he never remains stationary and that he will immediately jump into a free space after making a pass, and with a frame of 6’2, he is very difficult to contain.
To top it all off, Snuggerud has some really good hands that allow him to dangle opponents with ease. He can maneuver impressively under pressure or when surrounded by several players in the neutral zone.
In terms of skating, the American is all in all a good skater despite some slight shortcomings to be corrected. It happens to him on occasion that his feet seem heavy and he needs to keep gaining power if he wants to step up in that department. That being said, he’ll still have some bursts of speed to beat defenders wide and if he has a stride ahead of them, it will be very, very difficult to get the puck out of him with his long reach, his physical strength as well as his size. He also demonstrates some very interesting flashes of agility as he can turn on himself and turn sharply to get rid of the opposing pressure. These elements in his game are all the more effective since Snuggerud manages to combine his puck handling with them, making him very evasive on the ice. It is within the analysis of his skating that it would be most relevant to talk about his puck-protection technique. It’s a facet of the game in which he excels. The main reason he is so good at this aspect is that he has come up with a technique for himself that takes into consideration his limitations as well as his unique attributes. Not being the fastest of skater, Snuggerud will not seek to beat defensemen by using all the space available to him but rather by running into the defensemen and with his reach, he will distance the puck from his body, making it out of reach for his rival. With his size and physical strength, he very often has the advantage. Plus, Snuggerud manages to keep his feet moving and pick up some extra speed so he can beat defenders. When the game is already installed in the offensive zone, he is also very effective in puck protection. It’s very impressive to see him from the height of his 6’2 turn his back on his opponents and continue to handle the puck while looking over his shoulder to carefully assess his next play selection.
For most of the first half of the season, Snuggerud reminded me a lot of Drake Batherson: a very talented right-handed winger, as threatening as a goal scorer as well as a passer, having had a major growth spurt in the year before his draft-year and having some work to do with his skating.
In the second half of the season, he started playing a much more powerful game. He used his size more to apply hits and to forecheck. He is very effective at this aspect and that gave him another tool in his toolbox. By occupying such functions on his line, I however found him more withdrawn than at the beginning of the year and I found the offensive package a little less attractive than what I had led to believe earlier in the season.
In conclusion, the American forward has everything of a future top-6 player; great offensive IQ, major league shot, ability to reach teammates from long range and through the defensive box, hands and agility to be evasive, size and forechecking efficiency. He may not be the next Drake Batherson as I thought at the start of the season, but the team that gets his hands on him in the draft will have a player who could greatly contribute to the success of an offensive line, and this, in more than one way.
11. Matthew Savoie
People who know me and who have spoken with me this season will be surprised to see Matthew Savoie…. this high on my list! In all transparency, it was only in April that Savoie entered my top 15. Since this may come as a surprise to some people, I will first explain the reasons that led me to adopt such a position on the player before drawing up a portrait of his strengths and weaknesses.
First of all, Matthew Savoie was playing at center for most of the season, and at 5’9, without being particularly solid in his own zone, it was impossible to know what his real impact on the ice would be and his real value as long as we hadn’t seen him at the wing. I know times have changed and there is now more room than before for smaller players but the reality remains that they have no choice but to be elite in what they bring in hope to make it to the NHL. And for these players, good production in junior hockey is not enough, they must bring a little something more. In the case of Savoie, it was clearly not his defensive game and since he remained a bit higher on the ice, as a center, during the forechecks, we were not talking about a player who was constantly disturbing things on the ice and creating havoc.
Another reason (and probably the main one) that led me to be less enthusiastic about Savoie than other people is that the player already seems very close to his finished product. I’ve had the chance to see him play for the past three years and I haven’t seen a lot of changes, remaining practically the same player on the ice. It’s the same thing on a physical level. It’s been three years since Savoie was listed at 5’9 and this season, he was listed at 185 lbs (finally at 179 lbs during the Combine but must also be taken into consideration that players lose a few lbs during the grueling schedule of a full season). Which indicates to me that the player has finished developing physically and that he will not benefit from the same leeway of other players who have a lot of physical catch-up and who will be able to improve several facets of their game by virtue of that. This hypothesis is also confirmed by the fact that Savoie has had full facial hair for the past two years. Some will find it crazy as an argument, but it is an additional sign that the player is ahead of his physical maturation on several of his rivals. Since I haven’t necessarily seen the player on an upward slope since last year, I’m going with the premise that ‘What you see is what you get!‘ in his case.
Another complaint I made to Savoie at the start of the season was that he produced a lot of his offense during the power play. This is a subject that opens the door to good discussions: On one hand, I must concede that there is a reason why he collects pts in such situations (more on this later) and also that, in the end, if a player can go and score a big important goal (or set the table for it), whether at even strength or on the power play, it doesn’t change anything. It is also important to mention that the final statistics of Savoie do not point to an inflated production by the special teams. However, my biggest problem was not with the numbers per se, but rather with the general contribution on the ice at even strength. In the first half of the season, I had a lot of trouble seeing him generate offense at 5-on-5. Very often, he was a total non-factor in these situations. More often than not, it was teammate Connor McLennon who drove the play on this line.
It was around the end of February / beginning of March that Savoie began to be employed on the wing and this had a significant impact on the quality of his game. Several other players I had in front of him at the start of the season stagnated quickly or while dissecting their game, I observed things that chilled me just as much, if not more, than in the case of Savoie at the start of the year. In this draft which I describe as weak, I had no other choice but to put him higher on my list.
It is also possible that I was too critical of him. This is a bit ironic because I find some of the criticisms towards Shane Wright when compared to Connor Bedard a bit unfair. However, that’s kind of what I was doing in the case of Matthew Savoie. I compared him to all the little players that have been drafted in recent years and I always found him inferior to them in one facet or another; he doesn’t create as many scoring-chances as Seth Jarvis, he’s not as good defensively as Marco Rossi, he doesn’t have elite scoring talent like Cole Caufield, etc.
But you have to compare the player with the ones from his own draft (which is to his advantage) and at some point you have to accept the player for what he is.
As for player analysis now.
Savoie has one of the best wrist shots in this draft. He unleash quickly and the puck leaves the blade of his stick with great velocity. To illustrate how quickly he takes his shots, Savoie is excellent at ‘Catch and Release’ type shots. This happens when Savoie, a right-hander, comes on the right flank and receives the puck. He receives the latter on his strong side and manages to shoot inside of a single motion, which allows him to lose no time (virtually equivalent to a one-timer shot) and he even gain in accuracy. His shooting accuracy is also at a very high level, being able to beat keepers on both the near and far side. He also demonstrates good offensive intelligence by placing the puck in difficult places for goaltenders; between the pad and the blocker/glove. It is mainly on the right side that we have seen him beat goaltenders this season, whether by being static at the top of the right circle during power play or in motion during odd-man rushes. What he does best is dragging the puck slightly while approaching the center, forcing the goalie to move and open up the short side. We haven’t seen it this season, but during the last season, when he played with Dubuque in the USHL, Savoie played in the left circle on the power play and his one-timer shot was just as dangerous. Finally, he also has very good hands allowing him to beat the goalkeepers in a one-on-one situation.
His skating is very good but given his size, it would be better if he added another notch. What he does very well, however, is to quickly gain speed thanks to very good acceleration. The majority of the occasions he has beaten defenders wide have been when using changes of speed. He was going to come in quickly from the left side, put on the brakes for a split second and direct his shoulders towards the center of the ice as if to change direction, to finally accelerate again on the left flank, while dipping his shoulder to gain leverage on the defender. This kind of play was also possible thanks to his very good handling of the puck. Occasionally, he performs impressive rushes. The problem is that if he can’t make a play on that rush (or cut to the net) he finds himself forced to go behind the net or back along the boards and his size and lack of physical strength prevents him from effectively gain time for his teammates. All in all, Savoie plays fast and that also involves his decision-making and his execution during single plays, for example, handing over to a teammate just before entering the offensive zone if he is blocked in his way. It’s part of his intelligence, he’s going to generally move the game forward and he’s not a player who plays selfishly and commits turnovers due to poor risk management.
The place where Savoie stood out the most throughout the season was on the power play. Employed at the top of the right circle, he scored several goals thanks to his laser of a wrist shot. Later in the season, Savoie was moved to the left circle (where he played in Dubuque) so he could use his one-timer. I personally found him much less effective. Rather than being able to beat the defensive box with cross-ice passes, Savoie will move up and down inside the allowed corridor along the boards and will generally pass the puck behind the net, being less of a catalyst for a scoring chance.
It is rather in the right circle in PP that the talents of Savoie’s playmaking have been most displayed. He excels at it for several reasons. First, his ability to catch a teammate (usually Connor McLennon) with a pass through the defensive box is possibly the highest in the entire draft. Also, his puck movement is fast and his passes are always very lively. He can also hide his intentions cleverly by selling the threat of a shot.
The thing is, despite showing good qualities as a passer, Savoie has difficulty promoting it at 5 against 5. The times I have seen him orchestrate plays, other than on the Power play, was on ‘Off the rush’ sequences. One of the reasons Savoie loses effectiveness in making plays is that he is not a winger who excels at cycling in the offensive zone, largely due to the limitations of his size.
Despite this, Savoie is still a combative player. Since he started playing on the wing, we see him a lot more causing turnovers and creating things on the ice, he likes to rush to the net when he doesn’t have the puck and he sometimes plays bigger than his size (still, he does not have the physical strength of a Marco Rossi). While that’s a nice quality, I wonder if he’ll be able to handle his way in small area in the NHL and find a way to make an impact at even-strength.
Despite my several questions about the player, Savoie remains one of the most talented in this draft. I have a little hard-time in qualifying him right away as a pts producer at the NHL level, but a team that already has several players with an interesting size could find a way to place him in a right spot to exploit his strengths while making up for his weaknesses.
12. Owen Pickering
Owen Pickering is the epitome of a raw player. The left-handed defenseman who displays a size of 6’4 was not on the radar before the start of the season. He has the foundation in his game to become a very good defenseman and we can observe latent offensive skills that allow us to hope for the best in his case. In everyday life, it is said that we have 30 seconds to make a good impression. Without saying that hockey players operate with these same modalities, the first impression will still be important. In the case of Pickering, the first 2 games I watched were against the Regina Pats and a certain Connor Bedard. The Swift Current Broncos defenseman had done a brilliant job to keep the young prodigy quiet. Embellished with some offensive flashes, Pickering was 2nd on my list by the end of the first half of the season.
The first thing that jumps out at you when you watch him is how great a skater he is for a 6’4 player. He displays a fluidity that has very few rivals in this draft, which is out of the ordinary when you consider his size. His top speed is also very satisfactory. The Broncos rearguard has superb mobility that serves him well on the offensive blue line. He can maraud it easily even with little room for maneuver in front of him, something he manages to do just as well backwards as forwards. He shows several signs of unpredictability for his coverer as well by coordinating wonderfully head and shoulder fakes combined with an opening of the hips to leave a wide possibility of option. He can very well grab the puck at the blue line completely to the right of the offensive zone and carry it to the goal line on the left side of the goaltender without ever being threatened with having it taken away. He also demonstrates great agility by using pivots on his own to get rid of pressure regardless of his location on the ice. One thing that is hugely important with Pickering is that just 2 years ago he was 5’7 and weighed 131 lbs!!!! To see a player demonstrate such a high level of agility and coordination in his strides following such a big growth spurt is a real feat. Which could easily explain that on occasion, his explosion in his first strides left a little to be desired. This is observed when after a pivot, he must go full speed forward to catch up with an opposing player who is leaving in breakaway. This can also be seen (sometimes) when he takes the puck out of his zone using his skating and when he goes to mystify an opponent with a succession of changes of direction and after having taken his decisive trajectory, he won’t create much separation from his opponent. He only needs to gain muscle strength. He is currently listed at 179 lbs despite being 6’4, given his growth spurt, I have no worries that it will come. Even in fights along the boards you can see that he still lacks strength. In terms of puck-carrying, the Manitoba native is very good at winning the neutral zone. His skating is obviously one of the main causes, but on top of that he has very good puck handling and excellent processing of information to choose the right routes to take, even if it means having to deke a player or two along the way. The option Pickering will adopt the majority of the time when he crosses the center line is to dump the puck deep into enemy territory and then go and recover it himself. His skating allows him to do that but during the season I was waiting to see the progress he was going to make with regard to zone entries to better assess his offensive intelligence in such situations but he continued to favor the ‘Dump-And -Chase’. It’s a shame because you can see the propensity towards the offensive. Even when his teammates are carrying the puck, he will support the offense and jump into the play but if the puck is handed to him before entering the zone, it does not materialize often enough in something concrete offensively to my taste.
We can see, however, that Pickering’s offensive instincts are blooming before our eyes. There’s a lot more offensive in him than you might think. He has the hands and the confidence to dangle players when in possession, even in his own zone. However, the greatest consistency in his game in the offensive zone is his penchant for going down very deep to offer himself as a passing option. He is very often found marauding around the opposing net. This is also where he scored several of his goals this season. He is not only threatening by the fact that he ventures into dangerous areas but also by the selection of play that he will make with the puck in that spot. He will often challenge the defensemen and the opposing goalkeeper by waiting and letting them take the bait before going with a dangerous pass to a teammate on the other side. He also has good patience in the offensive zone and does not crumble under pressure as he will manage to buy time for his teammates by slightly turning his back on his coverer and pushing him away with his leg.
However, Owen Pickering’s best quality in the offensive zone is, without a shadow of a doubt, his vision and the quality of his passing. He was the author of several of the best passes I have seen this season, among all the players eligible for the draft. A few times I saw him make cross-ice passes that just leaved me in awe. Even pausing the play on my computer at different times, I couldn’t figure out how he could spot his teammates like that. He achieves this while leaving no clues to his opponents as his head and shoulders were oriented towards the opposing net. Another aspect that favors making him so deceptive is that his passes are extremely lively and he will use the same ‘flex’ on his stick as if he was about to shoot. He can also open lanes when he goes down in the offensive zone in possession of the disc. It’s difficult to contain a 6’4 player who moves the way he does, it often frees one of his teammates in the slot, which he manages to reach without fail.
The quality of his shot has a lot to envy to that of his passes. Like the majority of defensemen in this draft, his slap shot leaves a lot to be desired in terms of power. This still comes to handcuff his ultimate offensive potential since it removes an important arrow from his bow during the power play. His wrist shot, however, is far superior. His shooting mechanics is very good. He uses his upper hand very well as leverage to add extra power. He uses a lot of flex on his stick as well. He doesn’t have the best shooting arsenal, but he knows very well how to maximize the effectiveness of his skills by making himself very often accessible at the top of the circles to take his shots. He also likes to take low shots, against the direction to cause rebounds for his teammates. Another thing he does well despite his limitations is finding the right shooting-lanes. He won’t overpowered the goaltenders with his shots from distance but he will excel at moving the defense in front of them in order to create traffic before shooting the puck. He has also been seen to be more daring in his shot selection during the year as he looks to beat goaltenders over the shoulder on the short side. I don’t expect him to become a threat with his shot but I think we can still hypothesize that he will add power to it with the physical maturation that will come in the next few years .
His offensive production is nothing very impressive at first glance (33 pts in 62 games) but he played for one of the worst junior teams in all of Canada. The 2nd best scorer of his team ended the campaign with 47 pts in 62 games.
There are a few small details that I like a little less in his game.
He was guilty of turnovers on a few occasions. The ones that happened while he was carrying the puck didn’t bother me that much because that’s part of the learning process and he still showed a propensity to want to impact the game. That said, it’s more a few turnovers coming from in his own zone that bothered. His panic threshold would benefit from being higher and I would like to see him able to get out of complex situations on his own without having to reject the puck. Defensively, he also has difficulty getting into the shooting lanes to block shot.
However, what cools me down the most is that Pickering hasn’t shown the progression I was hoping for over the season. I would even go to say that for me, he is essentially the same player at the end of the season as he was at the very beginning. Also, in the event that his offensive skills do not develop further, it could represent a rather beige selection at such a high rank. If his development is going well, beware! His way of interpreting the game in front of him as well as the natural skills to achieve his goals are indeed present for him to become an important player in a formation. There is only more projection to be done in his case than with other players. I wouldn’t call it inconstant in his case, but he didn’t look like a ‘Top-Pick’ on every single one of my viewing.
13. Lian Bichsel
It may come as a surprise to many to see Bichsel so high on my list, but the 6’5 Swiss defenseman is a player I believe will make an invaluable contribution to an NHL club in the playoffs. He is unmistakable on the ice and has an identity that is lost in the NHL.
Those who know me know very well that I am not one to make sensationalist claims, but Bichsel is quite possibly THE most physically dominant prospect I have had the chance to see. As if that was not enough, it is important to specify that it was against men that the Swiss imposed the law on the ice (he plays in the SHL in Sweden). The hits he distributes are persecuting, and the majority of them occur when he seems very far from putting all he got behind them. Rarely have I seen him take a head of steam before going to hit an opponent. Yet the impacts are resounding. Alone, the impact of his hits is not enough to qualify his physical game as elite, but the latter is full of elements that make him unique and that make the Swiss player a virtuoso in this aspect. First of all, his consistency of execution is the highest I have been able to observe among such prospects; his approach and his timing is always on point, never being caught off guard but above all, the number of good checks he distributes in a game is very high. If we compare to other robust defenders of recent years, Bichsel is the one who displays (by far) the greatest consistency in this regard. I saw him throw players on the ice 8 (!) times in an SHL game. While it’s not always play-of-the-week center-ice hits, Bichsel literally looks like he’s toying with his opponents. One aspect of the tall Swiss’s overall game that has been improved this season is his propensity to jump into play and his ability to distribute shoulder-check was no exception: he is regularly seen hitting a winger in the offensive zone while the latter is waiting to tip the puck out of his own zone. It’s the same observation in the neutral zone where he will hit the players who are just waiting to dump the puck into opposing territory before retreating to the bench for a change. Even if it will not be a big check, he wants to be very insistent and his opponents must constantly play with their heads held high and be wary when he is on the ice, in a series 4 of 7, it becomes very exhausting. He shows a very good intelligence with his selections of hits, where he’ll never gets caught against the current and also, he shows maturity where he is not necessarily looking for the big checks but he also distributes ‘good’ checks to simply separate the puck carrier from the puck. Perhaps the most desirable thing about the defenseman’s physical game is the mentality with which he approaches every on-ice appearance. It is often said of scrappy little players that “It is not about the size of the dog in the fight but rather about the size of the fight in the dog that counts”. Now apply this phrase to a 6’5, 214 lbs giant. Bichsel wants to be the one ruling on the ice. It was fascinating to watch Leksand’s games against Frolunda as the Swiss spent his shifts chasing Elmer Soderblom, a 6’7 Detroit Red Wings prospect. Despite being at a height and age disadvantage, Bichsel wanted to prove to everyone that HE was the biggest on the ice. He’s an ‘Alpha-Dog’ and a player you definitely want to go to war with. He could definitely turn out to be one of the most feared defenders of his generation.
Bichsel has much more to offer than physical play, however. In terms of natural abilities, we have seen one of the strongest progressions of the season among the prospects of the 2022 draft. One of these improvements was in his skating. It wasn’t something that held the Swiss back very much, but he did reach a higher level during the season and it was mainly in the area of hip mobility that we saw the most beneficial changes. It now gives him the ability to deceive his opponents with several options when he has the puck and it’s also easier for him to adjust to changing situations in real time, as he can now borrow different directions without having to sacrifice fluidity of movement. He offers surprising mobility for such a physical specimen, displaying above all a very good skating technique where we find optimal flexion at the level of the knees and an inclined trunk. With this slight tweak, Bichsel has had a relatively large gain in confidence in his own abilities. We see him a lot more moving forward in the offensive zone to jump on loose pucks, something he also duplicates in the neutral zone. Without being the player who will be asked to bring the puck deep into the opposing zone, he will still make a few occasional rushes towards the net as he leans his shoulder and pushes the opposing players away with his free arm. Towards the end of the season, he even made a few coast-to-coast rushes beating a few players along the way. His handling of the puck has also improved, although he managed to surprise many people in this regard at the start of the season. Just like with his skating, it is above all at the level of confidence that the change has taken place. Bichsel is now much more assertive with the puck, keeping it on longer and asking it more often on the rink. He can get rid of a player on occasion, such as in the neutral zone, when he can bring the puck from left to right while covering a lot of ice thanks to his long reach and his skating. He demonstrates good dexterity and good ‘Hand-Eye’ coordination being able to hit pucks in the air to prevent a dump-in in his own territory. He also displays a good calm in his own zone, not scrambling under pressure from an opponent. In terms of puck distribution, Bichsel is not necessarily a defender who will orchestrate offensives, but he is capable of surprising cross-ice passes when he is used on the left (being left-handed, he is mainly used on the right, which is very impressive considering he plays against adults). Otherwise, he remains intelligent in his choice of plays and he never screws up a play of his team, identifying well the players who come to support him. He’s also smart about his body position in the offensive zone; he uses his free arm very well to protect the puck and when he receives a difficult puck on the offensive blue line and a forward arrives to steal it from him, he will turn his back to protect it with his body, preventing a potential breakaway.
Bichsel is, as far as I’m concerned, the 2nd best defensive defenseman in the draft (the first will be mentioned later in my ranking). His defensive game can be summed up in three main categories. The first would be his ability to defend zone-entries. He excels in this facet because the positioning of his body is beyond reproach. By maintaining a good opening at the hips, he will approach the forwards so as to push them towards the boards but he will be positioned so that he can follow them stride-for-stride if they choose to go on the outside and he is also going to be in the right position not to concede the center-ice should they decide to attempt a deke and take the slot. He also excels there thanks to its long reach. Of all the prospects I’ve seen have such an advantage, he’s probably the one who uses it the best. If ever a forward is one step ahead of him, he will have no difficulty in poke checking him and taking the puck away from him. What’s even better is that as soon as the puck is no longer in his opponent’s possession, Bichsel seizes it and makes the appropriate play, whether it is to immediately relaunch the offense or to buy time by sticking along the board to wait for the reinforcement of teammates. The second area where Bichsel demonstrates above average defensive play is in his puck recovery game. Helped by his skating, it is especially in the positioning of his body that Bichsel shows his efficiency as he manages to place himself in a way to put the puck out of reach for opposing forwards, and with his size, it’s not like they can shove him down and grab it. Finally, Bichsel is a defender who stays with a well-defined area to defend and he does not scatter too much, remaining close to his net and in the corners of the rink. These are two places where he will make life difficult for the forwards who will venture there.
Although not the player with the highest offensive potential, Bichsel shows in his own way a very unique ‘upside’ and for me, a project like this deserves a higher selection than forwards with an uncertain 2nd line projection.
14. Conor Geekie
What a weird season it’s been for Conor Geekie. 17-year-old players who have a size of 6’03 and 196 lbs as well as a panoply of offensive qualities so desired by NHL teams are rare. Showing bits of brilliance at the start of the season, Geekie couldn’t yet manage to harmonize all his qualities together. As is often the case for young players with such a well-stocked toolbox, time was needed to witness what may well be the player’s finished product. I didn’t want to judge the player too harshly at the start of the season because I kept in mind what happened with Kirby Dach in 2019. A center with a very imposing size and who showed himself to be one of the good passers of his draft, I wasn’t the most infatuated with this player, until I watched his playoffs. Geekie didn’t had to wait until this time of year to prove he can be a dominant player. He started taking over games on his own in December. Still showing room for improvement, Geekie was in my top 4 in the draft for much of the winter. However, his game quickly stagnated and we could see that he took things into his own hands mainly thanks to his physical strength and offensively, his game was much more limited than I would have thought.
The subject that sparked the most discussion surrounding the Winnipeg Ice center was without a doubt his skating. At first glance, no, there is nothing very seductive about Geekie’s skating. His stride is very short and choppy and there is a lot of movement in his upper body when he skates without the puck. There is a limit to the changes that can be made to a player’s skating mechanics. In Geekie’s case, he will never look like an elegant skater, but the question in his case is whether he can improve the efficiency of his first strides enough to be able to excel in small changes of directions that constantly arise within an on-ice presence and whether he can manage to gain enough acceleration. Much of this can improve with work in the gym. His top speed has also been the beneficiary of a lot of progress in the season. At the beginning of the calendar, when he carried the puck, he preferred to attack through the center and pass immediately to a teammate on the wings and then attack the net directly, pushing back the defenders using his big size. I liked that he seemed aware of his limitations but such a talented player can’t be such a high draft pick if he can’t beat defenders on his own. Fortunately for him, in December we noticed clear progress made in terms of his explosion on skates. Results ? He began to accumulate the number of times he was able to bypass a defender from the outside and finish his run with a power charge to the net. It was mainly his top speed that was the recipient of this improvement, but there were a few sequences where we could see him coming out of a battle along the ramp to take the center of the slot before unleashing a shot, and that with two players on his back. We also saw a newfound confidence on his zone entries as he held on to the puck longer, beat players with his hands and even played east to west.
He’s not the one who’s going to lead the exits from the zone but he’s going to take the opportunity to take a head of steam and his top speed is very adequate, with his size, good luck stopping him, whether it’s he attacks the center without the puck to push the defenders back or if he receives a pass in the neutral zone and he’ll beat the defenders on the outside and then cuts to the net. As far as I’m concerned, his speed is good. It is especially during defensive backcheck that we see him reach his maximum and I have seen him easily pass several players on the ice. He is also the player I have seen perform the most impressive defensive backchecks of any draft. One thing that bothers me with his skating though is that he has a lot of difficulty using his outside edges to pivot, resulting in numerous falls on the rink.
Geekie can make scouts salivate since he is one of the best centers on the 200 feet of the ice in this draft. As just mentioned, he was the player I’ve seen made the best backchecks this season. His underestimated speed allows him to catch players but this is not the only factor that allows him to regain possession of the puck, there are two other elements that come on top of that: his physical game and his work with his stick. Geekie knows how to position his body in front of his opponents to gain position against them and maximize the force he can generate with his body to shove his opponents. He is a master in the art of stealing the puck from his opponents. His play with his stick without the puck quickly made me think of that of Mark Stone. I saw him show great ingenuity to cut passes in the neutral zone by coming to lay his stick completely on the ice. He also has excellent ‘Hand-Eye’ coordination allowing him to prevent the opponent from leaving or entering the zone when he threw the puck in the air (this also served him several times to catch passes that would otherwise have been impossible to receive). He also supports his defenders behind his own net. In several games, Geekie was the center for Winnipeg who inherited the big defensive responsibilities to face the opposing team’s best players.
His physical game is something that has seen the same improvements as his skating in the first half of the season. Falling off relatively easily at the start of the year, it was around December that Geekie started looking like a man among kids on some shifts. He handed out some of the biggest hits I’ve seen this season and within the same shifts he was going to grab the pucks before making a play. He literally looked like a man possesses. What I liked about this aspect of his game is that Geekie also showed impressive strength of character. Each time he was hit, he took note of the player’s number and immediately hitted him back, at all costs.
From an offensive perspective, Geekie is first and foremost a playmaker. There are 3 aspects he has shown in the year to give him credit for that quality. First of all, Geekie is one, if not THE best player in this class to perform saucer passes. He is the player who has demonstrated this skill most often in the year. It was especially behind the goal line that he was able to put this quality to good use. Secondly, he is also a very good player on his backhand. He has the ability to buy time and stretch his reach before making plays. Lastly, Geekie has the ability to delay his plays until one of his teammates gets out of cover to charge for the net. Unfortunately, after seeing this quality in Geekie’s game, I saw several limitations within it in the 2nd half of the season. He is a very good passer in plays that are more linear, such as 2 on 1 situations. On the other hand, Geekie does not necessarily have the creativity and the ability to mix several of his tools to manipulate opposing defensive structures. It was especially when you saw him switch with a defender and take the center of the offensive blue line that you could see that he was limited in his repertoire to make the defensive coverage move.
As far as his shooting goes, it is more or less the same state of affairs that we can see with his talents as a playmaker: interesting and distinct flashes at the start of the season, but several limits which are attached to it observed in the second half of the campaign.
His wrist shot is quite good, enough that he can pose a certain threat from long distance, especially when he takes advantage of the screen blocking the view of the opposing goalkeeper. Up close, he really likes to beat goaltenders by raising the puck over the shoulder on the short side. He manages to make the goalkeepers kneel by selling an intention to pass by looking at a teammate just before. This is probably the greatest consistency in his offensive game with his shooting selections: He likes to take shots from the goal line and from tight angles and take advantage of cheating goalkeepers looking to beat them over the shoulder.
However, just like with his passing skills, a lack of diversity and creativity greatly limits the offensive input that Geekie can generate with his shot. One, he’s pretty predictable and telegraphed in his shots from the left circle on the powerplay (which isn’t on his one-timer side), he drags the puck around a little too long and he’s not not an adept at changing his shooting angle. When he goes down the wing, he’s good on the right flank to switch from his backhand to his forehand and shoot inside his skating cadence as he places the puck inside the triangle of the defender, making it inaccessible for the latter. However, he comes on the left flank more often and the more the season progressed, the less threatening he seemed. Despite having pretty good power and accuracy, his shot isn’t that scary for a goalkeeper as they can see him coming in advance quite easily. Geekie does not possess the ability to perform an extra play within the motion of his shot to readjust his play selection and beat an opponent, for example, he lacks footwork and agility on his skates to make a small change of direction and then take the center if he was about to take a shot. If his momentum is on, he must finish it. His offensive game does not really have a surprise effect.
However, he has the necessary hands allowing him to dangle opposing players at his ease.
At the start of the season I thought we hadn’t seen the best of Geekie and one of the reasons was that Savoie was the player who benefited from quality time on the power play and we have to admit that he there is a reason why things were the way they were. He is a much better puck distributor than Geekie and his shot is much more threatening and unpredictable. Maybe Geekie would benefit from being used somewhere other than the left circle, but by virtue of what’s been shown, I don’t believe he’s a player who has what it takes to be the figurehead of a PP.
As is the case with the majority of prospects, when a youngster seems to adhere to a well-defined archetype, often lazy comparisons fall into the mouths of observers. In the case of a big center who has certain flaws in his skating and who distributes the puck well, it is the name of Leon Draisaitl who is launched cheerfully. As far as I’m concerned, I think it’s more realistic to see a kind of Kevin Hayes in Conor Geekie, which already represents a very good hockey player
15. Marco Kasper
Marco Kasper is probably the player who caused me the most trouble to rank at the end of the season. In all honesty, the Austrian only made my first round this fall. For most of the year, I found that his individual skills were greatly overrated and that the intangibles he brought failed to compensate for a lack of high offensive potential. It was a 4th line player that I saw in him, no more. By reconsidering this whole draft, the lack of talent, the lack of depth as well as the risks that several of his rivals have made me reconsider inserting him in my ranking. He took his game up a notch during the SHL playoffs, but I still had the same assessment of the player. However, it was at the World Championship that I saw a completely different version of Kasper. This kind of situation is really annoying. On the one hand, we don’t want to cast away our evaluation of a player that derives from several viewings spread over a full season, but on the other hand, we can look crazy if we rank him too low and we disregard the progress he has shown. In the end, despite showing an enriched offensive arsenal, I still don’t see a player with great upside as a pts-producer, but he is one of the safest players as well as one of the closer to the NHL, so my ranking had no choice but to reflect that in this draft which I find abysmal.
It was mentioned in the introduction, but what Kasper brings in abundance are his intangibles. He is the player who plays with the most aggressiveness of the entire draft. Boasting only a decent size (6’0 187lbs), Kasper literally plays like a mad dog on the ice; coming at full speed to hit anything that moves on the ice, always being the one who initiates skirmishes after the whistle, going to get his nose dirty in front of the opposing net, seeking to physically punish his opponents when the game is out of reach for his team, etc.
Kasper is a player with very good skating. His mechanics is flawless, aligning optimal flexion at each of his joints and maximizing the contribution of each of his muscle groups. He generates a lot of power with each of his strides. This makes him a good option for carrying the puck since he can beat defenders on the outside but also because he is able to change trajectory while maintaining the same speed. He also finds success there thanks to his poise in situations where he is surrounded by several opponents. The Rogle’s forward may not represent the elite of his draft in terms of speed or agility, but he is for me, the player who plays with the highest ‘Pace’ in the entire draft, thanks in large part to his on-ice mentality and desire. He is very intense in his play without the puck and he executes his plays with it very quickly in addition to always remaining in motion.
The Austrian is a relatively smart and responsible player on the ice. In his own zone as well as in the defensive zone, he will not force plays, preferring to hand over the puck to his defenders. He has a good awareness of where his teammates are on the ice by going to cover his center player or one of his defenders during a permutation. It also allows him to make the right play when pressured since he has already scanned the ice. Defensively, he sometimes have a hard time getting into shooting lanes.
What’s been ironic in Kasper’s case is that very often when you see players being dominant un junior’s league is that, you’d like to see them at a higher caliber to see if their game can carry over to more structured system, faster paced and against stronger opponents. As for Kasper, you could see that he was doing very well against men, but I wanted to see him against his own age group to see if he could dominate there and thus better analyze his individual abilities (being the player who acts as a screen in front of the goalkeeper during power plays in SHL, it is more difficult to observe his puck-distribution and his shot).
In January, Kasper went to play several games in the under 20 league in Sweden and personally I found that there was nothing impressive about his game and his performances were grossly overrated. I always appreciated what he had offered in SHL because not all good junior players would have performed so well in that context, but I was worried that we were dealing with a guy who will only fill a jersey if he makes it to the NHL.
His individual skills have always been difficult for me to assess. In December, he took part in an international tournament against adults, playing against teams such as France and Belarus, and his skills looked very average on one shift but good the next.
If we start by looking at his handling of the puck, I have always considered him to be average but suddenly the World Championship arrives and I can see better what makes his hands good. It’s not necessarily his puck handling per se that’s superior but rather how he manages to open gaps in an opposing player’s coverage with a first fake that involves a change of direction and/or speed using his skating ability. Then he has the ability to spot what the player concedes to him very quickly and he does not waste time by performing additional and unnecessary manipulations, he directly attacks the opening that presents itself to him, whether it is between the legs of the player, his triangle, inside or outside. He demonstrates certain flashes of offensive creativity, for example, faking a windup to take a shot and as soon as the defender gets down on his knees to block the shot, he gains the center and fires a backhand shot from the slot.
His passing skills have also shown an inconsistency during the season. However, unlike his hands, the question was more: Is his game vision limited or is he complicating things on his own? He had mainly shown wise decisions in his pass selections without attracting attention and it must also be said that he was rarely used in situations to be the main puck distributor on the play. Was a sequence where he had a teammate alone in the slot and Kasper had several seconds to get the puck to him, but instead held on to it longer before attempting a low efficiency play. On the same sequence, he recovers the puck at the offensive blue line and draws an opponent towards him before making a backhand pass between two players without even looking.
I am, however, quite confident to say that his shot does not rise above average. Kasper will mainly score his goals closer to the net, which suits his style of play very well.
16. Julian Lutz
Relatively a big surprise in my ranking, Julian Lutz is a prospect for whom I have had a special affection since the very beginning of the season. The contexts to properly assess him this season were rather limited. A 6’02 winger from Germany, he started his season at the Hlinka tournament where he took part in 4 games. After playing 2 exhibition games in the DEL, Lutz suffered a back injury and missed nearly 3/4 of the season. He will have finally played 14 games in this league before going to lend a hand to his country during the U-18 tournament. In total, it’s 24 games in which he will have taken part this season (if we include the 2 exhibition games). The problem is that in 8 of these (during international competitions), Germany was greatly outmatched and his use in the DEL was sporadic (benefiting from only 3 minutes of ice time in several of these ).
The best way to describe the style of player would be to say he’s a hybrid between a power winger and a playmaker.
Lutz is indeed an excellent passer and this is mainly his greatest quality. His vision is of a very high standard and he sees passing lanes where there aren’t always any, whether it’s using the boards to reach a teammate while in his own territory or in the neutral zone, but mainly by his way of spotting the ‘soft spots’ on the ice, which are the free spaces where there is still no one, by making a finesse pass to a place where one of his teammates will meet in the imminence. The delicacy of his passing in difficult situations is something that came up constantly in my notes, for example, when he maneuvers in heavy traffic and the path is blocked for him, he will meticulously slide the puck between the ‘Tripod‘ of a defender so that it is accessible to a teammate who skates behind the defenders. It’s that kind of finesse play that makes him such a great playmaker. In this kind of play, the majority of prospects would attempt a shot that would be blocked or deflected out of harm. Lutz also loves making cross-ice passes at the mouth of the net when he finds himself practically alone near the goalkeeper on the right side, which demonstrates his great generosity with the puck. He’s a player who works well on his backhand while he can buy himself time with his wide skating base (more on that later) and taking care to look over his shoulder to spot the good pass options. Finally, and this is perhaps where Lutz excels the most as a puck distributor, the EHC Munchen winger shines when it comes to making plays from behind the net (or even coming out of the corner of the rink). He is very resourceful at this location of the rink, having seen him make some of the most creative plays I have seen a prospect make at this location. He is dangerous because he manages to reach a teammate in the slot with a high success rate, even on his backhand or even if his field of vision and body position do not suggest that he can reach a teammate.
One of the reasons that contributes to making the German such a good passer is that his handling of the puck allows him to dangle players and create openings on the ice. One of his play selections he likes to make is to brake at the blue line after gaining the O-zone in possession of the puck, bait a player or two on him, dangle them and then hand off to a teammate who will benefit from the center of the ice. Lutz has the hands to deal with unpredictable elements and keep possession of the puck in heavy traffic. He can easily deke players in a one-on-one situation and loves to use his puck handling and patience to manipulate defenders into moving their stick to open up a new passing lane. His handling of the puck also helps him to give himself a better chance of scoring when I saw him skillfully bring the puck from his backhand to his forehand before beating a goalkeeper, and this, when he had practically no room to maneuver.
Another enticing quality of his game is that he is a SUPERB skater. His mechanic is very good; he has a wide base of support and he leans forward by inclining his trunk. He also plays with a very low center of gravity, which helps him maintain better balance in his battles for the puck, as he is still quite green physically (more on that later). Lutz has excellent speed but he is not a straight-line skater, he loves to change his angles of attack and see what happens; he can easily exploit an opening that is created and he has the agility to readjust his trajectory and return to the initial side. He also manages to gain speed inside his crosses. The German is excellent at using his wide skate base to push off his opponents’ sticks to buy himself time while he’s along the boards.
It is above all his passing qualities that are predominant in his game, but he also has a very good shot. His wrist shot is gaining height quickly and is very difficult for goalkeepers to contain. He also hides a lot of power behind his wrist shot and his throw on receptions. He demonstrates some similar qualities inside his shooting selections as he does for his passing skills: he seems to see plays ahead and if an opening comes his way, there will be no hesitation on his part and he will attack the free zone to unleash a very good shot from the wrists. He also has in his arsenal a sneaky one-timer on the strong side (fired on one-timer on the left side despite being a southpaw himself) that is never easy for goaltenders to read and also offers an element of significant surprise.
He also plays with a great work ethic. He works very well with his stick to neutralize the carrier of the puck and he does not give up until he regains control of the puck. He is always moving on the ice and always applying pressure. Lutz is anything but a reactive player on the ice, he has a very good ‘engine’ and is often the first to jump into action. Even on the face-offs, he gets out of the blocks very quickly and grabs the puck as soon as it touched the ice. He likes to play physical too, whether it’s battling in front of the net or even applying checks as he comes at full speed.
Which brings me to tell you about one of the aspects that could be the most important in his development. Lutz still has a lot of catching up to do in terms of his physical development. He is currently listed at 185 lbs on a 6’02 frame, which gives him a very low body mass index. In the DEL, he was often physically abused and the vast majority, if not almost all, of his mistakes on the ice occurred due to the delay in physical strength that he demonstrated against his rivals. The fact that he shows a lot of power in his lower body leaves me optimistic about this. He is just a player who will need more time to develop and reach his full potential. He easily has a 20 to 25 lbs up to gain.
It’s really no small task to make it into a men’s league after being out for so long due to a back injury (which probably kept him from training in the gym as well). I’ve been saying this for a few years now, but the caliber of DEL is greatly underestimated. In addition, of all the professional leagues in Europe, it is the one that offers, by far, the most physical game. Despite this, Lutz has demonstrated an inclination to advocate physical play and finishing his checks and getting his nose dirty. He also displayed his strength of character when he did not allow himself to be intimidated by anyone, each time he was pushed around, he took a little head of steam and he returned to hit the same player. He has a very combative attitude on the ice.
It will be seen in a few years if it was a wise choice to put him so high. In the DEL, I saw him make a few little nervous mistakes as he returned to the game very late in the season when his team slowly but surely prepare for the playoffs and in the U-18 tournament he did a few mistakes as he looked to do a bit too much on the ice, being by far the best player on his team and the tournament taking place in his native Germany. Maybe in the end I should have given more importance to this kind of detail. But the level of talent is very enchanting and I believe that he is a player in whom we are far from having seen all the potential. Lutz was #12 on my list in November and December! In the end, I will have watched every shift he has spent on the ice in his season.
I’ve never been the biggest fan of comparisons but several elements of his game remind me of a player I can’t say enough good things about him: Ondrej Palat. His persistent work on the puck carrier, his east-west zone entries, the level of talent and the propensity to finish his checks despite being first and foremost a skill and finesse player. If he manages to add some weight, I believe he could become that kind of player.
17. Alexander Perevalov
Perrevalov is a 6’0 Russian winger shooting from the right. He has been one of my favorites from this draft since the very beginning of the year and it stunned me to see how long he has flown under the radar.
Possessing a lot of talent, it is strangely Perevalov’s hockey sense and anticipation that I considered his main quality.
He reads the game extremely well when he does not have the puck, and this, not only from a defensive perspective. When the opponent is in possession, Perevalov is always ready to exploit the slightest mistake and already spot the openings in case of turnovers. When his teammates are in possession of it, he reads their intentions wonderfully and always finds himself in the right places at the right times.
He is also adept at causing turnovers himself with excellent timing and an ability to identify when an opponent is vulnerable, for example; no support from teammates, bouncing puck, little time to make a play, etc.
That being said, Perevalov remains above all a player with a very high hockey intelligence so he is not necessarily a player who is always running on the ice without a specific goal. Time and time again I saw him let his teammates do the work on the forecheck and instead, just predicted the opponent’s error and intercepted breakouts like that. When it is his linemates who force a turnover, he is very alert and quick to jump on loose pucks, for example, in the neutral zone or on shot rebounds.
In order to consider him so highly as an offensive player, a strong sense of the game and anticipation are not enough. Luckily for him, Perevalov has great hands and he plays with a lot of creativity.
Like any high-level offensive player, Perevalov has a patience with the puck that allows him to sow doubt in the minds of his opponents and let them compromise. I consider him to have one of the best pairs of hands in the entire draft, he can beat defenders in one-on-one situations with disconcerting ease. What I like about his electrifying play in possession of the puck is that he will get past a player in order to then attack the net by leaning the shoulder and pushing the defender away with his free arm. It incorporates a game of finesse to a greater purpose and which can materialize in something concrete.
It’s very rare that a prospect’s shot is something that raises so many questions about his projection in the NHL. Not because it’s a major limitation, but rather because we see glimpses that promise a lot, but also because some things are a bit bothering me. To immediately rule out one aspect of his shot that is beyond doubt, his one-timer shooting is really good. His timing is excellent and it certainly isn’t lacking in the power department. Which is the only thing that worries me about his shooting repertoire: the power behind his wrist shot. He lacks the ability to be able to beat goalkeepers cleanly when there is no screen in front of them, unlike his compatriots Ivan Miroshnichenko and Gleb Trikozov who can beat goalkeepers from afar without problems. It’s still something that I’m unable to ignore because it weighs a lot in the balance when it comes time to project a player as a top-6 scorer. It’s a shame because the other aspects of his shooting are all of a very appreciable level; he knows how to get open effectively, he’s very good at taking shots when he comes on the wing, he’s great at cutting in the center of the ice before taking a shot but what I likes the most is that it brings an important dimension of ‘deceptiveness’, making it very difficult to read. Perevalov is able to take good shots no matter what foot he is on. He also likes to take all the time necessary in a 2v1 situation and leave the goalkeeper in doubt.
One of the reasons goalkeepers, and even defenders, need to be on their toes is that Perevalov is quite a playmaker. Much like his shooting, he brings several elements of deception with him and he has an impressive variety to flaunt his skill. He is one of the players who impressed me the most in this regard during the season. Several of his passes made my eyes widen. He can make outstanding cross passes, can pass close to the net, passes while he’s a top speed, passes where he leaves his opponents compromised, passes while he seems to be in motion to take a shot, etc. He sees plays in advance and recognizes the open spaces to which he sends the puck before a teammate arrives. He also has a very high success rate passing the puck to a teammate in dangerous areas.
For all of these enumerated reasons, Perevalov was quick to prompt me with comparisons to Xavier Bourgault (ranked 13th on my list last year).
Contrary to preconceived (sometimes wrongly) images of Russian players, Perevalov is a seasoned defensive player. This is mainly thanks to his hockey intelligence as well as his work ethic. He has a very good defensive awareness and shows no reluctance to be the first player of his line to backcheck on the ice. He made several very impressive defensive backchecks throughout the year. He works very hard and has a good stick to steal the puck from his opponents. One of the reasons he’s so good is because he plays fearlessly on the ice and often comes first on loose pucks. He also uses his body well in puck protection and he agrees to pay the price of a good hit if it allows him to make a play for the good of his team. He does not hesitate to place himself in the shooting lanes and was a regular on the penalty kill for his team in the MHL and was constantly used in the end of the game.
Having talked a bit about his physical game, it is something that I appreciated during the Hlinka tournament, where he regularly finished his checks. Overall, I liked that aspect of his game except in two games early in the MHL season where he was getting rid of the puck a bit quickly along the boards when a player came in to check him. However, there has been notable progress that has been made in this facet which ties in with the next point I wanted to bring up: his KHL games.
Without saying that the MHL was too easy for him, you could clearly see that he was already a good notch above his opposition. I wanted to see him in a higher caliber because despite the fact that he was already playing very good hockey, the fact that he was very good in all aspects of the game without necessarily being elite in one place made me question having him so high on my list.
The thing that was most noticeable was how aggressively he played. At no point was it a question mark in the season but where you could clearly see him taking his game up a notch. He fought very hard along the boards, gave his 110% during defensive backchecks and what was impressive is that he won these battles and protected the puck well with his body. He also seemed very strong on his stick. He played like a player who wanted to make an impact every time he jumped on the ice. What I liked was that he was able to create very beautiful things. It’s all well and good to work hard on the ice, but it’s still relatively easy to fill jerseys with hard-working players, finding talented players is another. Perevalov was used on the point on the power plays and his level of confidence with the puck was remarkable. He did not hesitate to take one-timer shots and even to advance dangerously towards the slot. He was also able to create scoring chances on zone entries at even-strength. It is in this caliber that I have seen him distribute his biggest checks of the entire season. I was amazed. I had always been his biggest fan until then and I would never have expected him to look so good at this level from his first 2 games. At that time, Perevalov was number 6 on my list.
This experience seemed to ignite a kind of flame in him and he started to play a lot more aggressive when he returned to MHL. We saw him continue to distribute good shoulder checks and he began to attack the opposing net on a more constant basis. Without saying that we can talk about him as a physical player, discreetly, he will have been one of forwards who handed out some of the best checks I’ve seen all season. You must not play with your head down in front of him. Even in one-on-one situations against defenders he began to be more assertive, incorporating successive moves and sharp changes of direction, making him even more dangerous. His number of shots per game has also increased.
His skating is a bit like his shot: difficult to assess because he sometimes gives the impression of being very good and at other times he may lack a little power. In this respect, too, he compares himself to Xavier Bourgault. I’ve seen him bypass defenders on a regular basis, though, and he’s very skilled, being able to use excellent, snappy pivots in possession of the puck to deke defenders. He also has a very high level of coordination, being able to receive difficult passes while maintaining his speed. He seemed to gain power as the season progressed and seemed, oddly, faster when playing in the KHL.
Beyond individual skills, Perevalov is a player who has impressed me throughout the season with the number of turnovers he causes and the number of scoring chances he generates on the ice. His involvement always ends up paying dividends for his team. There were several streaks during the year where he seemed all over the ice.
On the other hand, his end of the season will have brought me some fears. The statistical regression in itself does not bother me that much but I would have liked to see his individual skills progress a little more. His involvement was no longer always there and what came back the most was that he still lacked physical strength, often falling on the ice. For a player who has a strong propensity to get the puck to the net, this will be crucial for him. In early May, Perevalov played two games with a Russian 20-year-old youth squad where they faced Russian and Belarusian adult teams. He did very well. Better than even Danila Yurov! (which was also the case in KHL) Given the geopolitical situation, I expect him to slip in the draft. Until where ? I cannot say…. But despite presenting more questions than I would have expected at the start of the season, he is a player that I LOVED at several points in the year and I believe that if he can gain muscle strength and if he comes next year and all the little plays that weren’t working due to small things suddenly click again, he’ll be a great home run attempt. Obviously, I wouldn’t necessarily take him where he’s ranked, but that rank speaks volume to his talent and potential, as well as the fact that he’s a player I’d be actively looking to grab in Round 2.
18. Danila Yurov
What a surprise it was to have to drop Danila Yurov like this in my ranking… I saw in this Russian player a solid contender for the 2nd place in the draft just behind Shane Wright at the start of the season. I even shook my head when I saw him ranked relatively low in the early and mid-season lists. The argument used to justify such a position was that Yurov was given very little playing time and had no opportunity to show off his talent. It’s hard to argue against that, however, what Yurov had shown me at the very beginning of the season with more ice time in terms of talent and understanding of the game was going to be very difficult for any other player in this draft to equal. Ironically, it was when he started playing a lot more in MHL that I began to gradually but steadily drop him down my rankings.
In the very first games of the season (with the Russian national team and in the KHL) Yurov was employed as a center player (the few appearances he made in this position during the year) and this contributed a lot to the favoritism I had for him. The understanding he showed of the game in a professional league for a kid his age was almost unparalleled. His game readings were always on point in all three zones. When the opposing defenders seized a rejected puck in their zone, he let his wingers apply pressure and remained higher and always anticipated the right option chosen by his opponents in order to nullify a possible zone exit. During the opposing team’s counterattacks, he was excellent at closing the center of the ice for the puck carrier and forcing him towards dead zones (along the boards). In a situation of puck rejection in his zone, he was often the first to go and recover them and support his defenders in battles. He also showed excellent stick in his own zone to cut passing lanes.
Along with demonstrating a strong two-way commitment to the ice, Yurov demonstrated a dedication to his team well ahead of his own personal interests. His work ethic was impeccable:
– He was often the first on loose pucks.
-He was battling hard in the corners and helped with his long reach, he caused multiple turnovers.
-He was always the first during defensive backchecks.
– He was always moving on the ice, both in the offensive zone and in the defensive zone.
– He agreed to pay the price by taking good checks in order to successfully complete an exit zone.
– When a teammate got hit hard, he was always the first to jump into the fray.
The reason it’s surprising to see Yurov show this kind of quality at such a high level is that he’s a very talented player first and foremost.
The 6’1 Russian player has an excellent pair of hands. What makes him such a good puck handler is that he has a very long reach and he uses it very well to dangle his opponents. His movements from the outside to the inside are unrivaled in this draft ; when he comes to the left flank in a one-on-one situation against a defender, he will widen his skate base and will bring the puck inside while keeping it close to his body and maintaining an excellent balance on his skates, being very difficult for the defender to stop him. His qualities as a puck handler are enhanced by the fact that Yurov incorporates several elements into his game and defenders must respect his speed since he likes to bypass them to then attack the net. They will therefore tame a different approach with him where they will step back more, then giving him the space necessary to pull out a deke or unleash a shot.
Yurov projects himself as a better playmaker than scorer. He is not a very ‘flashy’ passer but his passes evoke the same qualities as in his readings of the game: his intelligence. Rarely will he make passes that will amaze you, but rarely (or never) will he go for poor pass selection, no matter where on the ice. In the offensive zone, he is not a player who will rush his plays; if he’s at the mouth of the net, he won’t force a pass into the crease, he won’t hesitate to hold the puck longer or simply hand over to a player at the point to keep the defensive box moving . During zone entries, although he can very well make his way to the net on his own, he demonstrates the ability to play at different paces and to slow down his game to wait for the arrival of a teammate. He also shows very good vision in the neutral zone and in the event that a defender on the opposite side comes to close the center of the ice, he will make a saucer pass in the free spot abandoned by this same defender so that one of his teammates can go and retrieve the puck. One of the best passes I’ve seen him make was on a power play where he was from the top of the left circle and he was just dribbling the puck catching everyone’s eyes, waiting patiently for a teammate breaks free at the mouth of the net, finding him for a goal.
Despite innate and undeniable offensive instincts, Yurov is not a born goal-scorer. It is very rare that we will see him use his one-timer (unlike the previous year) which is a shame because it represents, by far, his best shot in his arsenal. His wrist shot isn’t very powerful, he doesn’t have the luxury of beating goaltenders from afar, so he’ll advocate rushes to the net by going around defenders, as mentioned earlier. One of the issues I had with Yurov’s shooting this year is that since he doesn’t have the shot to beat goalkeepers, he has to find a way to beat them without having to rely on the power (lack of) of his shot. He had a lot to gain by getting better at changing his shooting angles. He is not a master in this art, but he has definitely made progress over the season. At the start of the campaign, it was mainly on the right flank that he showed this nuance in his game, where he could use his long reach and wide base of skate to bring the puck inside to shoot (exactly as he does to deke defenders). On the left side, he has been for most of the season relatively fairly telegraphed in his windup, being easy to read for both the goalkeeper and the defenders. I was also left on my appetite because we did not see him attacking the center of the ice to release his shots. It was on this end that he showed signs of improvement as he would drag the puck away from his body, using his long reach in the process to bait the goalie along their post and then shoot to the other side. It is around the net that he demonstrates the most creativity and bolder plays with his shot as he tries to lift the puck over the goalie’s shoulder in tight space.
The maturity he showed on the ice as well as his strong work ethic, coupled with an improvement in his top speed, made me see him as a center player. It is in this position that he has played his best games and he has everything in his toolbox to make him a very effective center. If I would draft him, I would put everything in place for him to be developed as such. The problem is, as with many other Russian players, his development carries more uncertainty than players in North America. This is even more true in the case of Yurov since the team he plays for does not have any team in the VHL (the AHL equivalent for the KHL), so he will probably be forced into a limited role next year and the odds of seeing him at center probably aren’t that great. To make sure that is the case, I would make an exception on one of my rules and I think I would bring him to the AHL prematurely. Such a top draft pick is a hugely important asset to any NHL roster and you can’t risk his development being ruined in Russia, so I’d bring him to North America and put every resources within my organization in place to oversee his development as best they can. As a bonus, he could also acclimate to smaller rinks quickly. However, this carries some risks. It’s a lot harder to produce in this league than people think and it can take a toll on a young player’s confidence. There are fewer talented players and the game systems are sometimes more dump and chase, which can kill the creative outbursts of offensive players.
My biggest question in the case of Yurov would be whether he is ready to manage the physical game advocated in North America next year. Although he has shown no fear of tough play and has managed to win a few loose puck battles in the KHL, the norm in his game is that he still lacks physical strength, and that’s a fact that we could do even see in the MHL. At 6’1, 179lbs, Yurov still has plenty of room to grow at this level. However, it is a little too easy to be optimistic about the development of muscle mass and strength that a player can gain. To work in the field of physical preparation, there are individuals who could try as hard as possible, they will not be able to add mass and gain more power. This has some uncertainties, but different data (such as that collected during the Combine) allows us to formulate a hypothesis more easily and take a position. One of these is to watch the explosion that the player shows on the ice. Without giving a course in physiology, the distribution of muscle fibers is different in each individual and good athletes are endowed with more so-called “fast-twitch” fibers. These are also the same muscle fibers that have the most potential for hypertrophy. In Yurov’s case, since he has quite a good amount of acceleration in his skating, it’s easier to hypothesize that he’ll be able to add enough weight to his frame. If we take as an example, Connor Zary who was also a ‘late birthday’ who had to gain physical maturity in his draft year. The difference is that Zary had no explosiveness in his skating stride, and we look at him today, two years after being drafted and he hasn’t gained muscle mass or strength and is struggling with the physical play of the American League. To show nuance, I would add that the key word remains ‘hypothesis’ since Lukas Reichel was a powerful skater with a slightly lankier build who seems to have difficulty gaining weight.
The thing that bothered me the most about Yurov’s season was definitely his MHL play. Despite a harvest of 36 pts in 23 games, his performances gave me no reason to get carried away, quite the contrary. The evaluation of the player’s skills on the ice remained the same, it was rather with his psychological approach that I began to become disinterested. Yurov was not playing like a player who wanted to make a difference on the ice. With his level of talent, he would have been expected to be the player all eyes were on every time he stepped onto the ice, which was not the case. In the offensive zone and while carrying the puck, he could have controlled the game as he saw fit, instead he often delegated the task to his teammates. He hasn’t proven to be a player who has what it takes to be a ‘Go-To guy’. If we draw the parallel with Slafkovsky who was also demoted in the under-20 league in Finland, it’s night and day. Many of my disappointments have been caused by his deployment in this league. In the first place, he was playing on the wing when I would have liked to see him play in the center. This could have influenced his responsibilities as well as his desire to make a difference. Secondly, he was usually employed in the ‘bumper’ (inside the defensive box) during power plays when he should have been the player in control of the game. This deprived us of observing his puck distribution skills. However, by far the thing that infuriated me the most was the work ethic (more like the ‘lack of’) he displayed. On several occasions, no matter the situation, he let himself slip on the ice. On the penalty kill, he wasn’t going to put pressure on the puck carrier, he was just going to approach them, stretching his arm out to look like he was putting pressure on them. The quality of his defensive backchecks also declined a lot. The contrast is so strong with what he has accustomed us to that it is difficult not to hold it against him too much because in KHL he was impeccable, however, the sampling in which he was frustrating to watch only increased throughout the year.
You have to be honest, scouting still involves a lot of ego. Even if we don’t want a player to bust, we don’t want to look crazy with players that we rank lower or higher than the consensus. As cliché as it may sounds, if there’s one player I hope I’m wrong about, it’s Yurov. He has the talent and the intelligence to be a player who can be of great service to an NHL team.
19. Jiri Kulich
Jiri Kulich is a Czech player that I really liked during the Hlinka tournament. I was somewhat surprised to see him in the considerations for the first round as early as this fall but I must admit that he has demonstrated his usefulness on the ice and offensively, his progression in terms of individual skills has been constant throughout the season. Kulich can play center or wing. Strangely, he will have played on the wing every opportunity he has had to play with his age group and he will have played in the center in the men’s league in the Czech Republic.
At first glance, Kulich is a player who projects himself more as a middle of the lineup player. We are therefore not talking about a huge offensive potential but where he gains in value is that his game is easily transposed into the NHL thanks to several qualities.
Kulich is a player who has a good understanding of the game. He always skates in the right place when he doesn’t have the puck, this includes his game to collect loose pucks and also his ability to get open when his teammates are in control of it. With the puck, he usually goes for good, simple plays that move the play forward. His execution is quick, not holding the puck too long and racing straight to the net after handing it to a teammate.
He is responsible defensively thanks to his reading of the plays mentioned above but also thanks to an excellent work ethic. He gives his 100% during his defensive backchecks and he fights hard for possession of the puck.
Offensively, Kulich offers a major league shot. What’s fascinating about him is that his shot wasn’t such a big threat early in the season. It was still a good quality but we weren’t talking about the resounding shot he currently has. What I liked the most about the Hlinka tournament was his ability to take tough shots. What I’m saying here is; shots when he is in an inadequate body position, skillful shots very close to the net or shots when he was at full speed. A good example of this would be on a sequence where Kulich made a rush to the net and as a defender shoved him just before getting to the goalie, Kulich managed to skillfully bring the puck close to his body and attempt to beat the goaltender over the shoulder, while his skates ended up behind the goal line. His wrist throw is heavy. His release point is difficult to read and he opts for high shot, with great velocity, which gives goalkeepers a hard time to control. Another thing that impressed me with his shot was that he was consistently able to reach the net despite heavy traffic. It’s not a skill that is given to everyone, talk about it to Brad Lambert…. Finally, Kulich demonstrated a very good ability to get rid of defensive cover to make himself accessible as a passing option, whether in the slot, or by slowing down and put himself available as a 2nd wave, during counter-attacks. to find himself a good distance from the defenders when he was going to receive the puck and thus benefit from more time to release a shot. It was also a quality that he had also demonstrated: his patience before firing his shots, managing to move the opposing goalkeepers.
During the season, Kulich was unable to promote his good shot as much as he would have liked in the men’s league in the Czech Republic, being more content with being a player who rushes to the net without the puck instead of getting open. He will have taken some good shots while he was moving or accelerating. And suddenly, came the U-18 tournament!
Kulich turned into one of the biggest ‘Volume-Shooters’ in the entire draft (player who takes the largest number of shots in a game). Mainly during the powerplay where he was really ‘trigger-happy’ when it came time to use his one-timer shot. The latter is powerful and has a lot of velocity. Being left-handed it was mainly inside the right circle that he used this weapon but Kulich likes to be forgotten by coming back very high in the offensive zone (virtually coming out of it) and then going down to the left circle to take a one-timer from a pass from below the goal line on that side. His wrist shot is also dangerous as he releases quickly and doesn’t need to bring the puck back before shooting.
In addition, the Czech is an excellent skater. Top speed is where Kulich gets such high praise. He has one of the best top speeds in the entire draft and he has separation gear, allowing him to get around defenders on a regular basis. He uses this asset wonderfully well to be the first on pucks rejected in enemy territory. He is very good in such circumstances by his relentless work and he uses his body and his stick well along the boards. Something I like about Kulich when he gains control of the puck is that he will not be satisfied with an ordinary play, he will seek to bring the puck into the dangerous zone. He plays with intention and desire.
To make those kinds of plays and get out of the corner with the puck and navigate through heavy traffic, it takes good hands. Kulich is showing decent in this category. He’s not always the most adept player to maneuver in tight spaces but he’s able to incorporate some nifty puck handling as he’s in full gear to beat defenders from the outside.
Offensively, he’s not a guy who’s going to move the puck all that well in the opposing zone. We see him make effective plays but he is not a player who will brilliantly incorporate his teammates in the offensive zone. I don’t consider his offensive IQ to be that high or to be a natural scorer even though it’s possibly his best offensive quality, but he knows how to get open. He practically always plays at the same speed, which is at maximum speed at all times, which shows me on occasion a lack of diversity in his offensive play selections. But overall, he’s much more effective than guys like Isaac Howard and Cutter Gauthier at using that quality. It is for this reason that I see Kulich as a winger in the NHL even though he has also played at center this season; he uses the outside of the rink to carry the puck (didn’t show much creativity the times I saw him go through the center) and it also allows him to maximize one of his greatest qualities that is to capture loose pucks.
Realistically, Kulich easily projects himself as a 3rd line player in the NHL. His style of play and his predominant qualities make me think of a poor man’s Adrian Kempe.
20.Luca Del Bel Belluz
Luca Del Bel Belluz is one of those players this season that I was very high on before he even appeared on the radar. I would have liked to keep the secret longer, but with a harvest of 76 pts in 68 games, it was impossible. Del Bel Belluz is a center that has different traits that make him a very distinct player but some of these said traits come with several false beliefs attached to them.
First and foremost, Del Bel Belluz captures people’s attention with his level of natural skill and creativity with the puck. He has one of the best pairs of hands in the entire draft and he has the confidence to use them to maximum effect. In the offensive zone, he will not hesitate to dangle a player if it allows him to improve his pass selection or his location to take a shot. I saw him on several occasions in a 2v1 situation laying down the defender before taking the slot to get a better chance to score. He is extremely skilled around the net; he can elevate the puck over the goalie’s shoulder even at close quarters and he can maneuver skillfully despite the tight space. This is also one of the most impressive things when it comes to his hands; he excels in small spaces despite having a long range. Generally, excellent puck handlers will favor shorter sticks. He is very clever on the ice and he constantly manages to get out of difficult situations thanks to the quality of his hands, both in the offensive zone and in the neutral zone. It’s not something he did a lot in the first half of the season but since doing it, his ability to carry the puck through the center of the ice is greatly enhanced by his puck handling.
To continue in line with his offensive arsenal, Del Bel Belluz has an excellent shot. Especially his wrist shot. Like all good shooters, Del Bel Belluz is an ace when it comes to changing his angle. Helped by his high-level puck handling and his long reach, he manages to deceive defenders who believe are having a good ‘gap-control’ on him and he will bring the puck inside, very close to his body before unleashing his shot. He not only has a good shot, but he also has highly developed scoring instincts. We regularly see him showing great patience in order to sow doubt in the heads of the goalkeepers and let them take the first step before exploiting the slightest opening that will be released. I’m one of those people who is pretty critical of this draft and would call it relatively weak, but if this draft offers anything in abundance, is that there is a plethora of very good shooters. Del Bel Belluz’s shot isn’t as powerful as some and his ‘release’ isn’t on par with others, but if there’s one place he could rise to the top among his peers, it’s is at the level of accuracy. He only needs a small space to place the puck in the net. He is used on the left point during the power plays and it is a position that allows him to take full advantage of his wrist shot as he often goes down to the face-off circle to take a shot.
One of the predominant qualities of Del Bel Belluz’s game is his great intelligence on the ice. With or without the puck, he is what I call ‘a cerebral player’. This, however, caused many to mistake his calculated approach on the ice for a lack of hard work. It’s never a coincidence that a player is constantly near the puck or the action. Which is the case of Del Bel Belluz despite the fact that he is not a relentless player on the ice and that he is not the fastest skater. This makes a strong mention of his intelligence. He always seems to be a step or two ahead of his opponents and anticipates the collective play of his rivals wonderfully, managing to spot which passing options will be favoured. Many would prefer to see him more involved on the forecheck, but the number of turnovers that I have seen him benefit from just his anticipation and his positioning probably surpasses the majority of players in this draft, except maybe Isaac Howard. It even happened to myself during the season to have wanted to see him play with a little more urgency in his game but his nature is quite different and that is not necessarily a bad thing. With him, a lot of things are done in silence, even his way of getting open in the offensive zone. He will take the time to carefully process the information on the rink and he will find the free places to exploit very efficiently. He even regularly finds himself, forgotten, completely alone at the mouth of the net. As for the combative aspect, I can make certain concessions. A few times, it happened that one of his teammates was in battle for the puck in the corner of the rink in the offensive zone and Del Bel Belluz preferred to return peacefully to the bench for a change, which bothered me. Yet despite popular belief, Del Bel Belluz wins many of his puck battles along the boards. My first viewings of Del Bel Belluz were against the Kingston Frontenacs and a certain Shane Wright. Del Bel Belluz’s coach used him consistently every time Wright was on the ice and Del Bel won virtually every corner battle for the puck between the two players. In the open spaces, he is also very good at taking possession of loose pucks by adopting an excellent body position in front of his rival. Overall, I find that the criticisms of his work ethic are more due to a lack of understanding of the player. I prefer a player with his flair to a player who just moves air without getting anywhere, for example, Nail Yakupov.
One of the other identity aspects of Del Bel Belluz is that he is an excellent player in both directions of the ice. He is easily one of the best defensive centers in this draft. As said before, his reading of the game and his anticipation make him a player who is always in position to intercept a pass or to pokecheck an opponent. He’s excellent in his defensive backchecks and that’s another reason why I don’t like to read that he lacks intensity. His skills to get the puck from his opponents are extremely well developed and require an excellent sense of timing and persistent work on the puck carrier. He does not hesitate to go deep into his own zone to help his defenders and he will even go down and neutralize opposing players in front of his net if he has to. Throughout the season, it was to Del Bel Belluz that the Mississauga coach entrusted the biggest defensive responsibilities and the least advantageous confrontations. He was constantly paired against the best elements of the opposing team. He excels at face-off circles and is a regular on the penalty kill, a situation in which he shows no reluctance to block shots. He is also always in the fray to protect advances late in the game.
Del Bel Belluz is also a seasoned playmaker. He has excellent vision and he can pass to teammates even when there are multiple sticks in the passing lane. During the power plays, he has no difficulty passing the puck through the defensive box. One of the things that stands out the most about this facet of his game is that he seems to have eyes all around his head. He often spots teammates who aren’t even in his line of sight. He is excellent to hand the puck with his backhand to a player who follows in ‘trailer’ (or in 2nd wave, during a counter-attack). He also often throws a backhand pass to the slot after winning a battle along the boards. Just like with his sense of anticipation without the puck, Del Bel Belluz seems to read plays one or two steps ahead on offense as well. He’ll spot the best passing options before he’s even grabbed the puck and won’t waste any time handing it to a teammate for a scoring chance. His passing selections are always smart and efficient, even if they don’t lead to a scoring chance, they constantly move the play forward.
Another thing about his game that is distinctive but comes without fanfare is his propensity to drive the puck to center ice. It’s an aspect that goes unmentioned and is less noticeable because he doesn’t have the attitude and style of play of a very rugged and combative player, but yet he is one of the players who brings the most pucks in the danger zones. The means he uses to achieve these ends is quite extensive; with the quality of his passes, by dangling a player before exploiting a free spot, but also because he shows commitment and combativeness to attack this spot (which accentuates my disagreement with the narrative more than it does is not working hard enough on the rink). For a good part of the season, his skating did not allow him to go straight through the center when carrying the puck, but he showed ingenuity and deception to get there somehow. He would by the right flank and would let the puck trail slightly behind him as if he was about to take a shot and when the defender was about to compromise, he would attack the center. When he is not in possession of the puck, he will constantly continue his actions at the net.
As for his skating, Del Bel Belluz is a decent skater. It’s not a weakness in itself, but it could be a limiting factor that would prevent him from reaching a higher level in his game. For most of the first half of the season, he was not carrying the puck much in neutral zone. He would rather prefer to hand over to a teammate before going to position himself in the offensive zone. I don’t know if it’s for lack of confidence, because in this same period, I saw him grab the puck behind his net and carry it even though he had a player on his back. That being said, it demonstrates the player’s maturity and awareness of his own arsenal and how to choose game options that allow him to maximize his core abilities. On the other hand, what shows even more intelligence on the part of the player is that he managed to make adjustments during the season to make his puck carrying game much more efficient. His speed and his explosion showed some progress in the season but not in the same way as Conor Geekie for example. Instead, Del Bel Belluz improved his efficiency by incorporating elements of deception and creativity into his puck-carrying style. He will now meander from left to right to lead defenders in the wrong direction before outmaneuvering them. He became very elusive when entering territory. His agility on skates leaves no doubt about it. He can turn on himself suddenly in the offensive zone to get rid of a coverer. One of the things to consider in the case of Del Bel Belluz is that, like all OHL players last year, he did not play. But in his case, that was accompanied by the fact that he went from 150 lbs in his rookie season to a weight of 185 lbs by the dawn of the 2020-2021 season. This could suggest an improvement in the event that he is not yet acclimatized to his physical maturation and also the fact that he could still have a lot of progress to make in this area. He mentioned in an interview that he considers his skating his biggest weakness and also his priority to work on during the offseason, which is encouraging. Now, will he have the right resources at his disposal to achieve this? I saw him train under the tutelage of Gary Roberts so I would believe so.
Del Bel Belluz is a ‘late birthday’ but given the fact that he missed a full season in the OHL, I might play him two more seasons in that league, even if he would be eligible for the AHL in 2023-2024. Kind of like the San Jose Sharks did with Tristen Robins.
21. Rutger McGroarty
McGroarty is a player I was looking forward to see this season because, although he was in several preliminary top 10s, I hated what I had saw out of him the season before. This is explained by the fact that I found him to be a rather one-dimensional player offensively, not having a very vast repertoire of offensive weapons, among other things, by an almost total lack of talent as a playmaker. And moreover, his skating represented a major deficiency in an already limited game. The performances he offered this year were up and down and he made me change my mind more than once. Undeniable progress has been made but hiss success at the next level still arouses a lot of precariousness as far as I am concerned.
His biggest obstacle to overcome is still his skating, even if it is much better than last year. In the case of McGroarty, the limitations observed do not only stop at the technical aspects but also affect the player’s own perception of himself. It is well known that for a player to be successful he must have a good understanding of the game, but far too much is overlooked in the understanding that players must have of their own game. McGroarty proved to be very inconsistent in this respect during the season. He doesn’t always seem aware of the limits he has. On occasion he worked very well within the limits assigned to him but this was interspersed with sequences where he gained more confidence in his skating skills than he should have. He was then trying to be a player who he isn’t (nor within his reach) and he lost sight of what he had to do to maximize his strengths and be effective on the ice. An example of a player who did this well is Brandt Clarke. Although I wasn’t a huge fan of his last year, he had a very honest assessment of his game and he recognized the options to avoid, among other things, not advocating carrying pucks during his zone exits since his skating did not allow him to do so.
Since he started his season on a high note in this regard, I’ll start by laying out what he was doing well:
– One of the big differences with his skating compared to last year is the posture he adopts with his upper body. We see it more inclined than last year, taking advantage of the gravitational force.
– Also, in line with body leverage, McGroarty doesn’t have the speed to beat defenders but I saw him early in the season only needing a slight separation from the defender to then drop his shoulder and tuck in below them to then cut to the net. I saw him score a great goal like that.
– His agility on his skates has also improved a lot. He can now, to some degree, be able to pivot on himself and brake hard when changing direction to fool an opponent. An additional advantage which was mainly observed during the powerplay where it allowed him to benefit from a few additional seconds before making a play and/or in order not to commit turnovers.
– At the level of intelligence that I mentioned earlier, at the beginning of the year he recognized his limits and knew that he could not carry the puck deep into the opposing zone, so he braked when entering the O-zone and waited for the arrival of a teammate.
– This play selection was also observed in the neutral zone where he would quickly hand the puck to a teammate and immediately explode towards the center of the ice to head for the net. What I liked about plays like that was not only the awareness of his weaknesses, but also the fact that he already knew what to, planning his next plan in advance.
– Following a (prolonged) more difficult period for him, he returned to basics around January and we saw him become more efficient thanks to a simplified game. It is with this aspect, combined with a notable improvement in his speed, that we have seen him opt for puck rejections in enemy territory rather than attempting plays that do not work for him. I would even say that he uses those kinds of plays to his advantage when a defender played with an overly aggressive ‘Gap-Control’ in the neutral zone to pass the puck by the boards for himself and take advantage of a bad pivot from the defender to create a zone entry or an odd-man rush.
However, for most of the first half of the season, McGroarty believed he could create plays using his skating on a regular basis, which was not the case:
– The progress he has made in terms of agility mainly serves him in tighter spaces where he can use his size in puck protection as well as his hands but we have seen him try to mystify his opponents everywhere on the ice, without success.
– We saw him gain too much confidence (which is not always a good thing) in his ability to carry the puck and he started looking to beat defenders with speed instead of dumping the puck.
– He had also started opting for finesse plays rather than prioritizing simple plays. Instead of taking the corridors that were given to him, he changed direction and tried to play a little more East-West and he constantly found himself in dead zones, losing possession of the puck.
Technically, McGroarty has a lot to work on in terms of his skating. There are those players that skating seems to be ‘Effortless’ and there’s McGroarty.
Two other aspects that I find worrying about the projection of his skating in the years to come is that; First, I wonder if he has the genetic profile to gain enough power in his strides. His skating cadency is very high and yet he is not a fast skater. He doesn’t generate much power when pushing. Physiologically speaking, if we do not have a profile predisposed to power and explosiveness, we cannot expect too much improvement in this regard.
Finally, this concern is exacerbated by the fact that McGroarty is already quite mature physically (6’0, 205lbs). The margin of progress he could benefit from with training in the gym is more limited than that of other players. Samuel Poulin was a player that I adored and who came from the same mold (already high body mass index and average skating) and he did not make the progress that I would have liked to see him make at this level. However, since there is always another side to a coin, Aatu Raty was also already physically mature last year IN ADDITION to being even further behind McGroarty mechanically and he has made incredible progress to that effect this season. Like what, nothing is lost for the American winger.
*** End of season note: McGroarty’s skate is ‘okay’ for me and I don’t have too many worries anymore. That being said, he often falls back into the same patterns of thinking he’s better than he really is trying to be the puck-carrier on his line and trying to beat defensemen with the outside or with his agility. It loses a lot of its effectiveness as well. ***
Probably the best quality in McGroarty’s game is his shot. The American winger is a very good scorer. His shot is extremely heavy and his release is done excessively quickly, taking the goalkeepers by surprise on several occasions. We often see him take shots right after a face-off win and the opposing defenders do not even have time to put their stick to deflect the shot. A player can’t be a good goal scorer only by the quality of their shot, fortunately for McGroarty, he has a very good instinct and he anticipates in advance where the puck will end up and he easily spots the free areas.
The aspect of the NTDP captain’s game that won me over the most during the season, even more than the improvement in his skating, is the renewal he has made in terms of his passing skills. Not only is the contrast to last season striking, but there are multiple layers to his playmaking skills. One of the first things that attracts compliments is that he constantly recognizes the right passing option to favor, carefully evaluating the risks and success rates of the various choices presented to him. One of the main occasions when these plays are denoted is during the power plays where he is often found at the bottom of the goal line. He shows good patience, never forcing any passes. He excels at spotting a player leaving his position to come to the mouth of the net but I’ve seen him adjust in real time several times as a defender comes down to cut the pass line. He was instead delaying his play and making sure his team retained possession of the puck instead. Another aspect that really blew me away about his playmaking skills is his Spatial-Awareness which boils down to awareness of his surroundings and the position of his teammates and opponents. I’ve seen him join teammates near the net when they weren’t in his line of sight. Finally, he can occasionally complete passes with a high coefficient of difficulty, the most frequent being by joining a teammate who rushes to the net when there does not seem to be a passing line.
The sturdy winger also has good hands. They are mainly used in tight spaces; in front of the net and behind the goal line, where he is often found during power play. It is also a place where he scored several of his goals. He has the puck handling to allow him to get rid of a first player but he has the same annoying habit as with his skating which is: not knowing when to stop and recognizing the limits to his talent.
It would be so much more effective if after having deking a player, he would pass the puck to a teammate and went into position to shoot or go in front of the net. Instead, he will try to deke another player or pass between the 2 defenders when he does not have the speed or the hand dexterity to do so. He has all the profile of a good modern power forward (he can throw his body around quite well) but he seems to think he is a very talented finesse player. I would be very curious to know which player he compares himself to….
Despite the fact that he doesn’t always seem to know how to take advantage of his qualities and that he sometimes tries to do too much (depending on what he is capable of), I believe that it is possible to teach McGroarty how to play effective hockey within his own skill set and limitations, and that if done properly, he could become a useful player who can be used anywhere in a lineup.
- 22. Cutter Gauthier
Cutter Gauthier is a rugged American forward who lines up for the United States Development Program. Having played both at center and on the wing this season, he is full of skills sought after by NHL scouts. However, if I had only one sentence to describe the player, I would say, “His whole is not as good as the sum of his attributes”. Another expression that could also be used is that Gauthier has all the tools but he does not have the toolbox.
One of the first things that jumps out when looking at him is the ‘Size-Skating’ combination. Rare are the 6’3, 200 lbs players who have the skating skills that Gauthier possesses. Not only is he very quick and powerful in his strides, he also demonstrates good physical strength as he is very difficult to dislodge when in possession of the puck and he maintains his balance on the ice, despite attempts by his opponents to jostle him. The foundation of an excellent skater is there, however (as will be the case for most of his attributes), Gauthier’s use of them does not offer the same excitement. Don’t get me wrong, his speed allows him to always keep up with the play and be able to jump into the action quickly on counterattacks and constantly show up as a passing option for his teammates but when he has the puck he isn’t a player who can create offense from his skating. For fast skaters, there are different ways to produce offense through speed; One, the temerity and the determination to cut to the net after getting rid of a defender is one of them, but one of the aspects to which I pay the most attention for these players (and which testifies at the same time to a high offensive intelligence) is the ability to vary his speeds and tempos to confuse opposing defenders and create space on the ice. Gauthier can occasionally make rushes at the net but as for the second option, it’s not something that lends itself to his game. The main reason (and it will be mentioned later as well) is that Gauthier does not have a very high offensive intelligence. He is able to spot the immediate chances/opportunities/options but he is not able to see the possible openings if he eliminates a player or if he changes the rhythm of his game. A prospect who excelled at that level was John-Jason Peterka in 2020. Being the most explosive skater in his draft, he attacked defenders at full speed before abruptly hitting the brakes, which opened up plenty of space for his teammates. The variety he had in his attacking game led me to believe he was very underrated at that level and 2 years later time seems to be proving me right.
Another department where Gauthier rises above his peers is in his shooting. He has one of the most violent shots in the entire draft and the diversity of his shots is also very impressive. His one-timer shot is thunderous, his wrist shot is extremely dangerous, being very heavy and accurate and requiring no momentum, leaving very little time for goalies to take in information. His backhand shot is also very impressive and somewhat unique as it has a lot of velocity and he can elevate the puck even up close against goaltenders. A bit like with his skating, Gauthier will be good at targeting the primary options to use his shot (when spotted in a dangerous area by a teammate or by coming on the wing when he has space in front of him) but his cognitive process does not operate at a level that allows him to see the possibilities that might arise if he makes a little play or two before taking his shot, and thus create a chance for himself. It’s on the power plays where Gauthier has the best opportunities to use his wrist shot, when he’s regularly employed at the top of the left circle (not his one-timer side). Although extremely dangerous, I highly doubt he will hold such a position in the NHL. To play in this key position in the NHL also means being a very good puck distributor and I haven’t been able to see any high-level flashes in this aspect of Gauthier’s game. This is a significant barrier in the exploitation of one of his best assets. He could become a very effective presence in front of the net with his imposing size, but since he hasn’t played there all season, we have to be careful with this projection. Would he be alert enough to jump on loose pucks and make one-touch pass to a teammate in the slot? It remains to be seen but we do know that he has a goal-scorer touch, so who knows!
Another aspect where Gauthier stands out is at the level of the physical game. He is somewhat inconsistent at this level but, among the forwards in this draft, he is most likely the one I have seen distribute the biggest hits this season. Even against NCAA teams, he bullied players much older than him. However, the majority of his hard-hitting checks have come in the neutral zone, and while this is a major part of the player’s game, he would have much to gain from delivering such checks in the offensive zone (on the forecheck) if he aspires to become a power forward feared and dreaded by opposing defenders.
Without being the first player that comes to mind when I think of natural skills, Gauthier still has good dexterity with his handling of the puck allowing him to maneuver well even when surrounded by several players.
As has been mentioned many times, Gauthier’s offensive intelligence is lacking. His vision for spotting openings on the ice as he carries the puck shows several limitations. His skating and puck handling could make him an interesting option but there is not much variety in his rushes/zone-entries and he is not very effective when advocating for the center of the ice, being much more comfortable following the corridor along the boards. When in the offensive zone, he shows a certain inclination to attempt plays while retaining the puck, such as going up towards the offensive blue line or playing from east to west, but we quickly observe signs of limit at the level of his vision.
Gauthier was tried out as a center by his coach around January, and it coincided with him rising up in some lists (or rather, echoed by NHL scouts). In my eyes, it is clear that he will remain a winger at the next level. He seems much more comfortable carrying the puck as a winger and you can see that his nature is in this position, often going to get in front of the opposing goalkeeper in the offensive zone. He will still have demonstrated an interesting acclimatization to this position, but it is not enough for me.
In the end, although having several attractive assets, Gauthier does not have the IQ necessary to evolve on an offensive line in the NHL and this is what is reflected in my ranking. However, one must remain open-minded and see things with a different eye and formulate arguments on why Gauthier could be worth a high selection: the United States Development Program is full of stars and it can be difficult to be put at the forefront in such circumstances. Gauthier evolved on the wing of Logan Cooley for a good part of the end of the season and it happened that he hardly touched the puck in a game. He might have been able to shine in another formation. Also, young players with so many tools sometimes need more time to put everything into practice, this is perhaps the case for Gauthier.
- 23. Isaac Howard
Isaac Howard is an extremely dynamic left winger playing for the United States Development Program. Player that I liked last year and at the start of the season, he was one of the prospects who fell the most on my list versus the start of the calendar (was as high as 7th during the months of November and December).
His main quality is his dynamism on the ice. Howard is one of the most explosive players in this draft and his top speed, as well as his acceleration, is enough to put several defenders in perilous situations. He will mainly attack them by taking off the ice and trying to beat them from the outside. In addition of being excessively fast, Howard is one of the players with the best ‘engine/motor’ in the entire draft, that means, his feet are always in motion and he maintains a high level of energy during the entirety of his shift. He’s not the type of player who’ll cheat on the ice, far from it, but he remains very alert if the opposing defenders venture a little too deep into the neutral or offensive zone and he will remain a little higher in case where his team would regain possession of the puck to go on a breakaway or in a odd-mad rushes. It happened to him a few times to hide behind the opposing defense in such situations and personally I have no problem with it (especially considering the player’s work ethic which will be discussed later). Howard’s level of athleticism goes well beyond just his speed, he also demonstrates a very high caliber of coordination, retrieving pucks skillfully from his feet while maintaining full speed. Despite the fact that he rises among the elite of his cohort in this regard, some elements of his skating have rather put me off this season. First, he has been inconsistent in effectively using this attribute by incorporating changes of direction and speed. At the start of the season, he showed tendencies to play laterally against defenders and his changes of direction covered a lot of space, even with only a few strides. Few defenders possessed the multi-directional mobility to be able to follow him. The problem is that Howard has failed to maintain this habit in his game, becoming more and more of a corridor and periphery player. The other conflict I have with Howard’s skating skills is that he didn’t vary his attack speeds and always seemed to play at the same pace, becoming more predictable to his opponents. Also, the high pace he advocates seems to have a negative impact on his vision of the game, which will be discussed later.
Another distinction of Howard’s game is the flawlessness of his work ethic. At various points during the season, he was the player with the best work ethic in the entire draft. This originates with his skating skills and his aforementioned ‘engine/motor’ as he is constantly moving and applying pressure to the puck carrier. He is the player I have seen cause the most turnovers in the entire draft and he puts so much effort during his backchecks. Howard is also a player who isn’t afraid to sacrifice his body for the greater good, throwing himself in front of shots and willing to pay the price to make plays. Despite the criticisms that can be leveled at him, he is a player who takes to the ice with the determination to make the difference both with and without the puck. He has remarkable determination and he is what is called a ‘hungry‘ player.
Beyond athletic qualities and his strength of character, Howard is a player who has a good level of individual skills. He has good puck handling skills and manages to pull a few tricks up his sleeve, showing ingenuity or great finesse in certain plays when he has been observed lifting the puck over the shoulder of the goalkeeper when he had very little room to maneuver. One aspect with his puck handling that he does very well is to incorporate different parts of his body inside of it (along with head, shoulders and feet) to remain unpredictable in the eyes of his opponent and suggest different possibilities of options. He likes to display a certain creativity in the offensive zone that few players demonstrate as he goes to the top of the slot and fakes a ‘Drop-pass’ between his legs to a teammate to finally exploit the hole that this causes in defensive coverage. What I like the most about him is the confidence that transpires with him when he has the puck, he likes to look right defensemen in the eye while stepping forward to challenge them
What surprised me in the case of Howard this season, is that his profile seemed to change somewhat when I saw him mainly as a playmaker the previous season. As for this year, I saw him more as a speedster causing turnovers and scoring chances and being able to finish skillfully near the net (he is not a player who will beat the goalkeepers from medium or long distance). Based on what I had observed last year, it did not worry me too early in the season because I remained optimistic that he would manage to put all his qualities together eventually. However, his play-making skills turned out to be a lot worse than I thought. The main reason for this is that Howard’s field of vision seems to shrink a lot when playing at full speed, and unfortunately for him, he plays at that pace most of the time. His passing selections bothered me more and more as the season progressed. He would benefit from slowing down the game or braking hard to create separation on the ice with the defenders. Other than his execution, Howard’s decision-making also seems rushed on a few occasions when he doesn’t take the time to extract as much information as possible before making a play. His Spatial-Awareness on the ice appeared to be lacking as well as he was unable to spot a teammate if not directly in front of him. Although harsh in my assessment, Howard has shown he can make high quality passes on occasion so he has the potential in him to reverse the trend and regain feathers in this area.
In one-on-one situations as well, Howard struggled to recognize which were the good opportunities to try a play and which weren’t.
Another change that has taken place in Howard’s game this season that has penalized him, and it may seem insignificant, but it is in his stick length selection. The American forward started playing with a long stick somewhere around December and it coincided with his fall in my rankings. Howard is so quick and dynamic that he is very difficult for defensemen to follow, especially when keeping the puck close to his body because he has the dexterity of his hands and the agility of his feet to adjust to pokechecks attempts by the opposing defenders but with such a long stick, the puck is much easier to access for his opponents. This affected his puck handling and shot quality as well as he became more predictable and defenders had an easier time deflecting them out of harm’s way.
- 24. Viktor Neuchev
Neuchev is a Russian winger with one of the greatest talents in this draft. His level of natural skill is ridiculously high.
His predominant quality is most likely his excellent hands, making him one of the best possible options in puck carrying. What makes him such a good puck handler is that his talents are amplified by his great hockey intelligence, his confidence as well as his unique skating skills (more on that later). He loves to attract players to him and then beat them in many ways; by having given enough time to a teammate to come and support him, with a sudden change of direction/speed or with a deke. He plays with a lot of conviction when he has the puck, when he finds himself in a one-on-one situation with the defenders, he regularly attacks their ‘tripod’ (the area between the base of each skate of the defender as well as their stick). He excels at gaining enemy territory and he can literally create scoring chances out of thin air. I’ve seen him many, many times manage to get a quality chance when he was in a one-on-three situation. Unlike other players of the same mold, when Neuchev makes spectacular plays of this sort, they are usually also plays that provide a lot of substance and are not without relevance. As mentioned, he is very often to be able to eliminate a player in order to open more ice for his teammates, to enter the zone despite heavy traffic, to be able to take a shot on goal despite an unexpected situation but also to make a scoring chance even more dangerous. Example, during two against one, he will make the defender lay down on the ice while cutting in the center to improve his shooting angle or during a one-on-one situation, he will dangle the defender to find himself alone with the goalkeeper. He is also very effective in such scenarios to gain position on the defender by leaning his shoulder before cutting to the net. To add, not only does Neuchev make superb plays that he has planned in advance, he also has the acuity of mind and the talent to readjust his strategy in the heat of the moment. There are plenty of smart players who knows what they’re going to do with the puck before having it, but few can adapt like Neuchev does. If, for example, a defender reacts to a clue in his non-verbal that betrayed him, for example, looking over his shoulder before making a pass without looking, he is so aware of what surrounds him and he is constantly processing information which allows him to adapt in real time to what is presented in front of him.
His skills as a play-maker are also of a very high standard. Especially during the power plays where I saw him make incredible saucer passes through the defensive box.
Neuchev is a special shooter in several ways. He has a very good wrist shot which is made all the more dangerous by his ability to exploit every inch of ice that is offered to him, especially during the power play. He very quickly recognizes the gaps in the enemy’s defensive coverage and exploits them to his best. A significant number of his goals came from shots into the top of the net when there was hardly any space. Like his puck handling and passing skills, Neuchev’s shooting skills come with a strong deceptive element. He can take shots without giving any cues to goalkeepers while his shoulders and hips aren’t even angled toward the net. One aspect of his shooting that makes him unique is the way he changes his shooting angles. The vast majority of the time, players who are adept at this nuance within their skillset will do so by using a drag and bringing the puck closer to their body. Although able to do so, Neuchev will very often change his angles outward rather than inward. He will make the defender bite inside to then take the space offered to him on the outside and will shoot while standing on one leg.
A very good shooter as far as I’m concerned. There was during the season, a streak of a few games that I saw from Neuchev where his shot didn’t looked as good. Suddenly it seemed weaker and his timing was ‘off’ on his one-tiner. I was wondering if I wasn’t completely wrong in my initial assessment. However, soon after, all fears dissipated. I believe the reason could have been something as mundane as him experimenting with a different length, flex or curve on his stick. It’s very rare to see inconsistencies in something like a player’s shot during the season. It’s quite common during such a long season to come to this kind of questioning about a player’s skating but as I sometimes do in such scenarios, it is also possible that Neuchev was struggling with a minor injury that hampered his shooting mechanics.
Like his shooting, his skating skills are unique. But not necessarily because they rise above the masses. Neuchev remains a good skater and he is faster than he first appears. He’s always pushing the tempo of the game and while he’s not necessarily going to bypass defenders on a consistent basis, he arrives with enough speed and his hands pose enough of a threat to push defenders back. He also has a never-ending ‘engine‘, always in motion on the ice, both to retreat defensively and to disrupt the opposing team’s puck carrier in the offensive zone and neutral zone. What makes Neuchev so unique as a skater is his incredible balance on the ice and his way of using his edges and being able to spin on one leg. The way he incorporates these moves where he turns his back to his pursuer while maintaining his speed and continuing to adjust to defensive cover by constantly changing his body position makes him elusive on the ice. Especially when combined with his handling of the puck and the fact that he always keeps his head up and can make a sublime pass at any time. This is the first time I’ve seen a player use the ’10-2′ method in this way. Typically, players do this while facing their coverer, as seen here:
Neuchev does it with his back to his opponents but still manages to gain position on them on the inside.
His play on the PP is amazing. One of the best in the draft. It’s amazing how much control he has over the game, you’d swear he moved every piece on his board as he saw fit. Like a chess player. His passing and scoring skills are at their best in these situations.
He has a very good work ethic; will never miss a defensive backcheck and I have seen him on occasion throw himself in front of shots.
In less-than-glowing aspects, Neuchev is currently listed at 6’2, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. At the eye-test, he is at most 5’11. And that may even be a little generous.
He does not play for a powerhouse in Russia and it has happened on a few occasions in the year in MHL where his body language left something to be desired, showing signs of notorious frustration. He is so little surrounded that he is regularly employed nearly 30 minutes per game.
Which changes the few games he played in VHL where he was only used sporadically. It’s a shame because I would have liked to see it in a higher caliber. With little playing time, the only thing that was noticeable was him retreating defensively and winning races for loose pucks. I would have loved to see him at the WJAC tournament on North American ice, but this tournament was once again canceled due to Covid-19. All in all, I still consider that playing in the MHL represents a lesser obstacle in the projection of players than playing in the under-20 league in Sweden or Finland. The game is more structured and there is also more collective play. Casually, the caliber of this league has improved a lot over the past few seasons. Neuchev is a late player too, having played most of the season at 18.
He represents another player that I would not take at the rank where he appears on my list. I’m not a huge fan of the word ‘steal’ that’s thrown around cheerfully on day 2 of the draft, but Neuchev actually has, in my opinion, the potential to be a steal at the end of round 2 or early of the 3rd round.
- 25. Calle Odelius
A 6’0 left-handed defender, Odelius has been one of my favorites since the very start of the season.
He’s not a defender with very high potential, but from the moment I saw him I always suspected that his offensive instincts were latent and had room to develop.
This is also something that I have seen throughout the season and it has been fascinating. The progression was steady and you could clearly see him adding one tool after another to his dormant offensive arsenal.
To better reflect this journey, let’s review his season in chronological order.
It was while lining up for Sweden at the Hlinka that I discovered Odelius.
Beyond the fact that I was anticipating a development in the offensive aspect, there are other reasons why I held this player in such high regard. His defensive game is already on point and he has qualities that rise to remarkable levels.
Indeed, his coverage in his zone is excellent. He keeps excellent gap-control, which is the distance he keeps with his stick from his opponent. In the same line of thought, his shorthanded game is flawless, he gives nothing to the opponent without having to compromise himself, he cleans the front of his net well too.
He is also a very good skater backwards, never getting caught off guard.
What impressed me the most about him, however, was the calm and composure he had with the puck in the defensive zone and in the neutral zone as well as with his breakout passes. These are not the main qualities that we will focus on first when looking to promote a player, but Odelius is among the elite defenders of recent years in these categories.
He never seems overwhelmed by panic. Helped by good puck handling and great mobility, Odelius manages to get past forecheckers with disconcerting ease. These three qualities along with an above-average hockey intelligence help him to quickly identify safe areas when pressured and he can subsequently achieve this through the aforementioned qualities.
In these scenarios, he will often draw players towards him to free up space for his partner and will then hand him the puck without him having to deal with the opposing pressure. Even with a player on his back he can skate and maneuver as he pleases without ever resigning himself to clearing the puck.
These attributes further accentuate Odelius’ puck-recovery qualities. Already that is one of his strengths, now that the puck is in his possession, the chances of it returning to the opponent are very slim.
The same phenomenon can be observed in the neutral zone where he can calmly draw a player on him before performing a short and simple pass and ensuring that his team can enter the zone in control.
Another facet of his game that I find sensational is his ability to get out of his zone, largely through what has just been explained, but also through his superior breakout passes. Rarely have I seen a prospect who can make long passes like he does. Most of the prospects in recent years that I have seen resorting to these kinds of passes definitely did not have the same success rate as him, let alone the ability to do so on a consistent basis. I have rarely been so impressed by this aspect of the game in a player as with him.
It is for these reasons that I firmly believed that he was hiding an offensive potential in him; he’s just too smart on the ice and he’s too great of a passer in the defensive zone and in the neutral zone. In addition, he always identifies the best possible passing option and if there is none, he can delay the game, attract a player and open up options as well.
During this tournament, Odelius had shown some flashes in puck transport. He had also shown in the offensive zone the same calm with the puck as in the defensive zone and in the neutral zone. He could patrol the blue line and make his opponents move.
However, there were some limitations to his offensive play. For example, following his breakout passes, he often used to stay behind rather than continue his action and present himself as an option in the 2nd wave.
When carrying the puck, while effective, he didn’t seem to demonstrate the offensive instincts to pursue his rushes all the way, often settling for an unthreatening long-distance shot.
When his team was installed in the offensive zone, very rarely he advanced in the play to create confusion in the structure of the opposing team.
Now in the regular season, Odelius has begun to add layers to his offense throughout the season.
The first thing I noticed was that he started jumping into the attack after making a play.
An example of this took place during a power play. Still inhabited by the same composure, Odelius grabbed a puck rejected in the neutral zone. Having a player charging at him, rather than throwing back into the enemy’s zone, Odelius patiently returned to his own zone in control of the puck, pulling the player onto him. He waited for one of his teammates to support him, gave him the puck with a perfect saucer pass and immediately exploded forward for a ‘give-n-go’, eliminating the opposing player and this resulted in a 5-on-3 zone entry.
Then he built on his ability to patrol the blue line in the offensive zone and showed progress. He started to be more assertive and take the ice that was available to him and go down to the top of the circles to take shots.
The vision and intelligence that I had noted in his passing choices and their execution began to translate into the offensive zone. Moreover, he managed to sell his intentions effectively and deceive his opponents. He has never shown himself to be the victim of telegraphed passes.
He then started to stand higher in the neutral zone and not concede anything to the opposition. It was also in these circumstances that I noticed his sense of anticipation, where he read perfectly the breakout of the opposing team and intercepted many passes.
Even though he doesn’t possess a dangerous shot, it was still a pleasant surprise to see him start taking more shots. Example, one-timer which I had not seen him do at Hlinka. Much like his passing, his shot selection is always very smart. He often waits until there is traffic in front of the net and shooting low to aim for a deflection or a return.
His puck carrying game has taken a big step and he now demonstrates the ability to face multiple players in front of him and fight his way through them, unlike the Hlinka where he was seen only eliminating the first layer.
This newfound confidence could also be seen in the offensive zone where he added an additional element of deceptiveness by using subtle feints with head and shoulder movements.
And eventually, he started coming much lower in the offensive zone as his team is in possession to show up as a passing option.
His offensive output in Sweden’s under-20 league is a bit inflated by the quality of his squad and shouldn’t really be used as a barometer of how much he is projected at this level, but it is still something encouraging.
At 6’00, he has a correct size without more for a defender. He doesn’t necessarily advocate physical play, although he did enjoy playing a bit nasty with his stick and cross-checking after the whistles during the Hlinka.
However, I suspect the player to be relatively thick in the upper body because on several occasions I have seen players initiate contact on him and finally end up laying down on the ice. What is called in the jargon, a ‘Reverse-hit’.
Recalled at times in SHL, Odelius was convincing despite limited playing time. His ‘pace’ or the speed at which he makes his plays was never in doubt as far as I was concerned but seeing him be just as effective in this league as he is at the junior level was something. who reassured me and who continued to sell me on the player. His defensive game was very good and he made several excellent interventions with his stick.
I see Odelius as an excellent number 5 defenseman who could in the best of scenarios become a number 4. I don’t really expect to see him play as a power play guy in the NHL one day but his intelligence and passing skills will make him a very effective player at 5 against 5. He can also play an important role on the PK of his formation. He’s one of the best defensive defensemen in the draft as far as I’m concerned.
- 26 . Artyom Duda
Artyom Duda is a 6’1 left-handed Russian defender. He was the mainstay in defense of the top team in the MHL (Russian junior circuit), Krasnaya Armiya Moskva, which won the league championship. Had it not been for this player’s lack of exposure in international competitions, he would have earned much more attention. He’s not the type of player who will quickly grab people’s attention, but when you pay close attention to him, you can quickly see a player who has a style of play that lends itself perfectly to the Pros.
Duda is, in my humble opinion, the best defensive defenseman in the entire draft. If I had to support this statement with two predominant qualities in Duda’s game, I would say that it is his intelligence on the ice and his skating that manage to proliferate such status. He’s such a reassuring presence to his coach and teammates when he’s on the ice, I don’t recall seeing him concede odd-man rushes situations, commit costly turnovers, or place a teammate in a perilous situation due to bad game reading and a bad pass that follows. His defensive positioning is excellent, always being placed so as not to be beaten and being able to cut passing lanes with his stick. He aligns his body against the forwards so that he is ready for any eventuality. His ‘Gap-Control’ which refers to the distance he keeps with the carrier of the puck is always well controlled. It is in the small details that we observe his intelligence, for example, when there’s a dump-in in his own zone and the opposing forward goes to recover it, Duda finds a way to block his path, without causing an interference, simply by putting himself in front of him but without playing the body. If the player tries to beat him with shoulder and head movements to sell him a wrong route, Duda has the footwork to be able to follow him, even when he is skating backwards. This is what leads me to tell you about the other quality that elevates the Russian defender to this status.
Duda has excellent skating, which, like the rest of his game, requires closer attention to see a quality that is relatively high against his peers. If I had to describe his skating in one word, I would say: efficient. Mechanically speaking, his skating technique is flawless and could easily be used as a benchmark for any good skater. Duda will look for a full extension at the hip, maximizing the input of his glute muscle and he pushes wide enough on the sides to have a large contact surface of his skate blade on the ice to optimize his pushes, this also allows him to quickly bring his skates back inside his support base and maintain good balance. His shoulders always remain perfectly aligned with his skates, indicating an optimal inclination to the trunk, always in the optics of maintaining a good balance. More concretely, Duda has a very good top speed, and this, with a still low stride frequency, he generates a lot of power with each of his strides. This gives him the opportunity to follow very good skaters during defensive backchecks and without it looking difficult for him. He never seems to panic. His speed and his calm can also be seen when he recovers loose pucks in his territory.
Offensively, we don’t see him carrying the puck much, since he often opts for a breakout by a pass (a place where he also demonstrates high-level efficiency, without being flashy), so it’s difficult to denote elements of ‘Deceptiveness’ with his skating, but when he is on the offensive blue line, we can see him generating a lot of power in his lateral movements to get rid of an opposing forward who rushes on him without much difficulty.
Offensively, Duda collected 41 pts in 52 games, giving him the 2nd rank among defenders in the league. Having observed him in different contexts (international tournament in December), it is clear to me that if he had played in a different league (example, on Canadian soil in the CHL) Duda’s offensive skills would have stood out more and his name would have emerged much more often among public scouts this season (this hypothesis is also supported by the fact that he advocates a rather North American style of play). The game system adopted by his team somewhat handcuffs him and prevents him from demonstrating the extent of his abilities. During an international tournament in December, we saw him much more daring and bolder with the puck while there were impressive rushes and beautiful dekes. That being said, his MHL game is clearly not devoid of any offensive flashes.
Like his defensive play, Duda’s hockey intelligence is at the forefront of his offensive contribution. He recognizes very well the situations where he can switch with a forward and go to stand in front of the opposing net, he very well identifies the free spaces available to him to jump into the play.
For a player who doesn’t have a predominant offensive quality, Duda displays great confidence with the puck; he demonstrates good vision and he challenges his opposition when in possession of the disc, looking them straight in the eye. He can use the width of the offensive zone thanks to his powerful skating.
He has a very good wrist shot, heavy and precise. He usually keeps them at a height that is very difficult for goalies to stop, i.e., no more than a foot above the ice, just above the pad but below the shield or the glove. He shows some signs of deceptiveness as he goes to unleash his shot while keeping his eyes on a teammate as a passing option. Coming from the blue line, it is not so much the goalkeeper who will be misled but rather the opposing forwards and defenders, which will open up shooting lanes. If the goalkeeper is screened, it quickly becomes a dangerous shot.
Something that stands out a lot about his offensive game and goes unsaid is that he constantly finds a way to get the puck to the center of the offensive zone. Helped by the power he generates laterally with his skating (as mentioned above), he will head towards this place to unleash his shots.
However, to pull off this kind of play, Duda needs a good pair of hands. It is in this play selection that we observe the greatest quality of his handling of the puck which is: his panic threshold. He does not budge in the face of pressure from an opposing forward. He can receive difficult pucks on the blue line where he has to catch it on his backhand as an opponent is charging at him and he finds a way to bring the puck on his forehand and dekes him. It’s been mentioned a few times, but in a certain tournament I saw him being more daring with the puck and going from end to end while passing the puck to himself between his skates facing an opponent. I don’t think there’s a great point producer in him at the next level, but clearly there’s a lot more talent in him than you would think at first glance.
Personally, I see in him a player who has the potential to establish himself in the NHL, even if it is as 4th or 5th defender. He can possibly defend against the best offensive elements on the other side and he has the composure with the puck and under-the-radar offensive skills to allow him to play his game well as they evolve in offensive situations. The situation from Russia leaves us in the dark as to where he will be selected in the draft, but I would not be surprised to learn that several teams have him relatively high on their list.
- 27. Brad Lambert
A tall right-handed center, this Finn has seen his star fade over the past season. Playing in Europe and having played games in professional league from the age of 15, Lambert was the typical case of the player who was given the label which had nothing to do with who the player really is.. Although talented and promising, people made him a top-3 caliber prospect only because he rose to prominence before his peers. Already last year, you could see that he was not a dominant player against his age group.
What are the reasons why Lambert was elevated to this rank so early? There is the fact, as I said, that he appeared on the radar 3 years ago and when a player of good size skates like he does in a men’s league, it attracts attention.
What about the player now? Make no mistake, I’m not a Lambert hater. I appreciate him very much for what it is, only that my assessment differs from that of others.
Lambert is probably, in my eyes at least, the best skater in the entire draft. His skate base is wide and he generates a lot of power with each stride. He is one of the few players who can create separation with his opponents very quickly. To top it off, he has an excellent ‘motor’ and a very good work ethic, always staying in movement.
The place where you can best appreciate Lambert’s skating, however, is during his transition game, especially when it comes to entering the offensive zone. He’s one of the most dominant players I’ve seen in that facet over the past few years, being downright monstrous in some games. In addition to having incredible skating and fairly good hands, he has good composure, remaining in control when under pressure. He also manages to clearly identify the corridors to carry the puck, not necessarily trying to make his way through several players, preferring instead to enter through the wings. The problem is that all these zone entries hardly ever led to anything concrete on offense.
His defensive game is also good. He always retreats when he is on the ice and his positioning in his own zone is more than adequate. However, it’s not an elite defensive game either. He is not a typical center who will neutralize the best opposing elements, he is not necessarily a center who is difficult to face, he’s not a player who will constantly steal the puck from the opponents and he does not have showed a lot of anticipation intercepting plays to launch a counter-attack.
He still has attractive qualities and translates well to the NHL. For a player who has seen himself drop a lot in the rankings for the draft, Lambert, unlike many similar cases in recent seasons, doesn’t really have any red flags in his game, it’s just that he doesn’t have a lot of offensive potential.
First, his shot is clearly not a threat. It’s not that it is that weak, it’s just that Lambert isn’t able to use it. The two most recurring themes in my player notes throughout the season were; his ability to gain the offensive zone and that his shots never made their way to the net. There’s no ‘misleading’ element to his shooting and defenders always have plenty of time to adjust and deflect them out of harm. His ‘release’ is not particularly sharp and he never hides his intentions, for example, by luring a defender with an available pass option on the ice. He also has a lot of trouble spotting good shooting lanes and remains predictable in his approach. Several players manage to dominate a lower level (AHL) and when they arrive in the NHL, they are no longer able to produce because they miss a small fraction of a second in their game. It is difficult to project that Lambert will be able to show enough progress at this level when he already has enormous difficulty executing quickly in the Liiga…..
His skills as a playmaker are also pretty average as far as I’m concerned. Again, like his shooting, he’s quite predictable in his approaches and doesn’t have a huge amount of variety in his plays. However, I don’t question his vision so much because I’ve seen him make some pretty solid passes on the power plays.
The reason I don’t consider Lambert a high-quality offensive player is that I don’t see his hockey intelligence as very good. He always plays pretty much only at one speed and he doesn’t seem able to see his options well when he plays at this pace. His approaches are, for the most part, linear. He does not cause confusion in the opposing defense by making changes of direction and by attacking the center. The problem is that he is also not effective at changing pace. He is a bit of a one-speed player. His offensive game does not contain many deceptive elements and is not a player who will create scoring chances for his wingers. Besides, his coach did not use him on one of the two circles during the power play for most of the season. However, I still liked his game in these situations. He actively marauded in the offensive zone and provided excellent support for his teammates.
When I look at a prospect, there are always two questions I ask myself: Can his games/qualities carry over to the NHL? And, can these plays be replicated by his draft peers? And if so, by how many of them? Although he has aspects of his game that make him a player with some utility in the NHL, in terms of his offensive game, I am not in a position to say that he has qualities that the others have not and which allow it to rise above the average.
To return on a more positive note, there is something that I really liked about Lambert and it deserves to be highlighted. During the season we have seen him become aware of the limits in his game that he must work with and rather than clinging to his status as a potential top pick in the draft and trying things that do not work (or are not in his arsenal), like, trying to be creative on the ice and performing drop-passes behind him between his legs and whatnot (which he was doing at the start of the season) he started to understand how he can become an effective player inside the cards assigned to him. He will never be a great playmaker but he has started to understand how he can work within his limits. When entering the zone, rather than trying to spot a teammate at the zone entry or trying to install a collective play (which he had difficulty doing because he has difficulty tempering his game and spotting the right options), Lambert started going behind the net very quickly, leaving the puck in the paint reserved for the goalie and letting his teammates attack the loose puck. A prospect who was very effective in making these kinds of plays was Alex Turcotte in 2019. For that we have to give him a lot of credit. If he can continue to make these kinds of observations and adjust his game and his approaches, we could see something promising with a renewed identity.
Personally, I see him more as a 3rd line player. His game in transition is very impressive and it is crucial in today’s hockey to ensure possession of the puck. This is far from being a disavowal towards the player. It is clear to me that he does not have what it takes to be the main piece of a line on a top-6 but depending on the team for which he will play, it is still possible that the qualities which are unique to him are perceived as a need on one of the first two lines for the complementary aspect (carrying the puck, supporting his teammates along the boards, working behind the net, etc.), which is not impossible.
By virtue of the rank I rank him in, do I hate the player? Absolutely not. I like Lambert for what he is and in the aspects where he is useful. The sooner you get the idea out of your head where he was supposed to be a top 3 pick and a pillar of a rebuild and he’s more of a complementary middle of the lineup player, he’s a player I appreciate.
- 28. Joakim Kemell
An electrifying winger from Finland, it goes without saying that Kemell has been polarizing this season. Controversy easily adheres to players cut from this mould. Personally, I’ve never had Kemell in my top 10 and while I could see the case for the player, any conversation putting him in the top 3 was never taken seriously.
Kemell’s qualities are undeniable and when he takes advantage of them, he captures everyone’s attention.
The one that comes at the top of the list is without a doubt his shot. His one-timer is of violence that has no equal in this draft. His wrist shot is also phenomenal. He is at his most dangerous inside the left circle (being right-handed he is able to use one-timer), especially during power plays. His wrist shot is especially hard to read as the puck seems to translate across his stick blade before leaving it, often heading into the near end top corner.
Although among the elite of this draft in this department, Kemell has to deal with limiting factors in this regard. The first would be that he is far from being as threatening at equal strength as on special teams. Much of this phenomenon is affected by his (lack of) intelligence on the ice and a certain inability to read games properly. At 5 on 5, he has difficulty tempering his game and has difficulty recognizing the right routes to take with the puck, generally opting for the periphery and playing individually, he very often loses the puck. Without it, he often heads to the net, which isn’t a bad thing, but it takes away from his greatest strength and the rest of his game doesn’t make up for such a high selection if he can’t be a dangerous at even strength. Many good shooters have the bad tendencies of showing poor shot selection, shooting from everywhere, from too far and without a screen, for example Alexander Holtz and Dylan Guenther in the last two drafts. Kemell shows signs of this flaw on occasion, but quite often he doesn’t even have time to take a shot because he’ll commit a turnover, keeping the puck for too long.
Even on the power plays, he doesn’t bring much diversity to his game, making him predictable and undermining his effectiveness. For a player who relies far too much on one quality for my liking, Kemell has shown lack of coordination on his one-timer shots during the season, far more than he can afford, fending the air at many times.
He has an excellent pair of hands, showing a very high level of puck control. Opting for a relatively very short stick is probably one of the reasons why his timing on some of his shots is lacking. He is certainly not lacking in audacity, attempting shots and even passes with the stick between his legs.
His skating is as electrifying as his handling of the puck, being one of the fastest in this draft.
One aspect of his game that cannot be faulted and that many people seem to ignore is that Kemell advocates a very physical style of play. There isn’t a check he’s going to avoid, capitalizing on every opportunity to hit an opponent. It’s even something he actively seeks on the ice, traveling great distances to hit a player. He applies very good checks in more than one respect. First, the impact of his shoulder checks are very solid, and among the forwards of this draft, I only saw Geekie, Gaucher and Gauthier deliver better checks. I would even say that Kemell was much more consistent than Gauthier (6’2) in this respect during the season, which is saying something. I even saw him throw great hip checks when, playing at the point on the powerplay, he had to backcheck and skates backward like a defender.
Secondly, his hits are not only good in terms of impact but also in terms of efficiency. The primary goal remains to separate the opposing player from the puck and Kemell masters this nuance very well.
However, despite the fact that it is an element of his game that is very appreciable, some questions arise from it. Kemell is not the biggest, posting a size of 5’11 (finally and officially listed at 5’09.5 at the Combine) and 176 lbs, he exposes himself to certain risks if he preserves such an abrasive style. It is also necessary to contextualize his style relative to that of the league in which he plays. The Liiga is very little physical, which practically gives him free rein to allow himself what he wants on the ice. I think there is a certain parallel that can be drawn with two players of diminutive size who had this disruptive side on the ice in their DNA. Ozzy Wiesblatt and Ridly Greig (ranked 22nd and 23rd respectively in my 2020 list). Two players that I really liked during their draft year. I was amazed at how nothing scared them on the ice and how physical they could be despite their less than ideal build (both listed at 5’10, Greig now appears at 6’0) . The reason I mention these players is that both played in the WHL. I’ve been pretty vocal about it in the past few years; this league puts all the professional hockey circuits in Europe to shame when it comes to physicality. Although it is a junior league, I often joke that it is a men’s league. When a player likes to hit and disturb so much, usually he will have his fair shares of hits given back to him. This was the case with these two players. I’ve seen them deliver some of the biggest hits I’ve seen that year, but I’ve also seen them be the target of some of those. Even Cole Sillinger (6’0, very physically strong) last year in the USHL received very hard checks in response to his own hits. You would think Kemell is just good at avoiding getting into vulnerable positions but we saw him at the WJC getting the bells rung by Red Savage. The hit wasn’t legal but we are not talking about a big player in Savage either…. (a generous 5’10). When he makes the jump to North American soil, he will have to deal with much bigger players looking to make him pay the price.
As you can see, Kemell’s game doesn’t enchant me as much as the majority of observers and I’ve only talked about his attributes.
The criticisms included in the characteristics that have just been presented can be corrected quite easily. However, there is much more disturbing in his game.
A variety of elements make me question his intelligence on the ice.
The first point that tops this list has been touched previously and that is his selfishness with the puck on the ice. I don’t like to fall into superlatives, but Kemell is the prospect I’ve watched being guilty of the most on-ice turnovers I’ve ever seen. And by far. I even joked this year that he made turnovers as if that was his only source of income. The main reason is that he uses his teammates very badly, both in the offensive zone (as mentioned when I was talking about his shooting) and also while carrying the puck in the neutral zone. Another reason is that he poorly recognizes open spaces on the ice. If he keeps the puck, he will very often identify the wrong lane and will try to pass between 2 defenders which will result in a turnover most of the time. There are also several occasions when he could simply dump the puck in free places but he does not do so. Heck, he has the ability to skate as well as the inclination to put use shoulders to go get the pucks himself, so that would be a good option. Ironically, the times he opted for a pass to a teammate, it was the wrong play to make and would have been better served attempting a play on his own rather than putting a teammate in a rough situation. All this tells me that he has difficulty properly assessing what is in front of him. Even on odd man rushes, I’ve seen him choose the wrong passing option on several occasions.
Which brings me to the next point, Kemell doesn’t seem to have a huge attention to detail. A huge number of his passes during the season were of unforgivable inaccuracy for a player of this caliber. His qualities as a playmaker are not very high. One aspect that impressed me in this regard though was seeing him do high saucer passes and see the puck land directly on a teammate’s stick.
My sampling of the player is large and yet I haven’t seen him create next to nothing for his teammates. He was also very quiet at 5 against 5. Even in puck transport, he is not effective despite excellent skating and excellent hands.
His attitude also seems peculiar, seeing him slam the door while returning to the bench very often.
I recognize that he has a lot of talent, but for me the risk of him becoming a bust is too high.
- 29. Gleb Trikozov
Right-handed winger, Trikozov is a Russian prospect on whom my opinion will have changed drastically over the course of the season, and this, on more than one occasion.
There are many reasons for this back and forth. He will have gone from ‘maybe a project for the middle of the draft’ to ‘I have no time for him‘ to ‘in my top-32 and who knows how far he can go‘ to ‘outside of my top 32 and I don’t know if I would be ready to draft him‘ to ‘His most recent playoffs give me confidence in him back again’. The progression he has shown in the first half of the season is impossible to ignore, add to that a high level of individual skill and Trikozov has taken a meteoric leap in my ranking. Following this honeymoon, I started to have questions about his work ethic as well as his consistency. After further viewings, these questions did not linger as much as I feared, but I did however find that the offensive dominance I had seen from this player earlier in the fall was not as pronounced. than I would have believed. Too much optimism on my part? Or games against weaker opposition? Who knows !
During a rather low-key Hlinka tournament, Trikozov will have demonstrated some playmaking flashes enough to pique a curiosity in me. Following my viewings of the player in the VHL league (the AHL equivalent for the KHL), I quickly removed Trikozov from my list of player to watch this season. Summarily, he was not able to make plays at this level, he was clearly a passenger on his line, was not involved in forechecking and his skating had several shortcomings. Indeed, while carrying the puck he had a strange posture, much too vertical, preventing him from having an adequate hip extension, his heels left the ice a lot giving the impression that he was galloping on the ice . But more importantly, the speed was not there and he seemed clearly overwhelmed by this caliber of play.
A few weeks passed and to my surprise, I found that Trikozov was producing at a blistering pace in the MHL after being demoted there.
The most notable change will have been his skating. I would never have anticipated seeing so much progress at this level in such a short window of time. From a mechanical point of view, he will have changed his posture, tilting the trunk forward, which has direct repercussions on the power he manages to generate. This new speed boost allows him to bypass defenders at the MHL level. He likes to do this by slowing down along the boards when entering territory, baiting a defender towards him and speeding up afterwards. For the moment, I remain skeptical to see him repeat this kind of play in a higher caliber, but the progress demonstrated remains encouraging. After getting acclimated to the league and seeing how dominant he can be in it, Trikozov started playing at a little too ‘easy’ pace and I would have liked to see him challenged a bit more.
It is inside this improvement on his skating that we could observe a totally different approach to the game of Trikozov. Indeed, his level of involvement was much higher. He began to play with combativeness, which could be observed when he cut the net with an opposing player on his back. Overall, Trikozov was playing with a lot more commitment; we now saw him fighting in the high-danger area, making good defensive backchecks, deploying more effort to get open in the offensive zone and showing a certain interest in using his body against his opponents.
Another change I found striking in his game is the quality and employment of his shooting. I’m someone who doesn’t particularly like attaching labels to players, but in Trikozov’s case, he pretty much went from being exclusively a playmaker to a lethal goal-scorer in just a few short months. It’s a fairly rare phenomenon but it reminds me a bit of the case of Sasha Pastujov last year. His wrist shot is resounding and has impressed me time and time again. He is one of the few prospects who manages to beat goalkeepers from afar, without even a screen in front of them. The speed at which it releases is very lively. His shot is heavy and gives goalkeepers a lot of difficulty to control. This profile change has come about, in part, through two realizations in his game. The first was discussed earlier and is his propensity to go in the high-danger area, making him more dangerous. The second is the learning phase that Trikozov is currently lgoing through to incorporate his various assets within each other. Using the quality of his puck handling, it allows Trikozov to delay his shots or change his angles while he’s moving. He is also very good at using defenders as a screen. To conclude on this aspect, his one-timer is also very good. His entire shooting arsenal is superior to that of Alexander Perevalov and most certainly rivals, if not supplants, that of Ivan Miroshischenko.
Trikozov’s early season playmaking talents were addressed and although fewer in number, the flashes he continued to show during the season proved to be more effective and interesting. And it’s based on the same tweaks that saw him become such a dangerous shooter and that’s his newfound propensity to go high-danger areas and incorporate different qualities inside a play to fool his opponents. The plays that I had seen him made by then were mostly plays coming from the corner of the rink or along the boards, remaining on the periphery. Now maneuvering inside the opponent’s defensive box, he can let the threat of a shot hang before delivering to a teammate at the mouth of the net. We also see him circulating the puck very effectively on the power play, being incisive and quick in his decision-making. The problem is that his team does not have good offensive elements other than him and this prevented him from maximizing his effectiveness in these situations.
He also has good hands and can beat defenders one-on-one. The progress he had shown in the first half of the season as well as an optimism to see him, eventually, combine all his assets together had made Trikozov a player who appeared inside my top 32 between November and December.
One of the things I didn’t like on occasion was Trikozov’s non-verbal language. It was not uncommon to see him raise his arms in the air following a missed call by an official or a poor play by one of his teammates.
Thereafter, he began to show a lot of inconstancy, both in his offensive production and in his involvement in the game. Although one does not come without the other…. Trikozov had dropped out of my ranking and I wasn’t even sure I would have been ready to take him no matter what round in the draft. I was ready to throw the towel until the playoffs came.
With a production of 18 pts in 13 games (including 10 goals), the intensity he demonstrated on the ice was impossible to ignore and his talent made him well deserved to return to my ranking.
- 30. Liam Ohgren
Powerful winger of 6’1 and 201 lbs, Ohgren is a Swede who sees his rank fluctuate a lot on the different lists. Unlike a player like Joakim Kemell, it’s not because he’s a polarizing player or a high-risk player. I think it’s more a question of approach and philosophy. Ohgren is a pretty safe pick who could be ready to play in the NHL sooner than many of his rivals.
Not having a lot of potential offensively, he is for me a typical 3rd line player but the importance of these players should not be trivialized. We can say beyond a doubt that Ohgren is one of the hardest working players in this draft. He has a great work ethic and he manages to make several good plays thanks to this quality but he would not be as effective if it were not for his impressive athletic ability. He can easily overpower his opponents with his physical strength and grab the pucks that way. He works effectively with his body knowing how to position himself to gain position over his opponents and also how to protect the puck. He constantly rushes to the net without the puck and pushes opposing defensemen back.
When I refer to Ohgren’s athletic abilities that enhance his effectiveness on the ice, it’s not just his physical strength. Indeed, the tall Swede is an excellent skater. He is a powerful skater who has a wide skate base and gains a lot of explosion with every stride. His skating technique is excellent, having an optimal degree of flexion at the knees, a trunk leaning forward and seeking full extension at the hip with each push. He also has a low center of gravity, especially for a player his size, which, along with his wide base of support and physical strength, makes him extremely difficult to push around when in possession of the puck. Ohgren has the speed to beat defenders on the outside, and if he can’t, his physical strength and puck-protection technique still allow him to get to his intended destinations. He has a long reach and uses his free arm very well to protect the puck.
If there’s one category where Ohgren demonstrates an intriguing offensive asset it’s in his shooting. He rode at almost a goal-a-game pace in Sweden’s junior league and it’s no coincidence (despite playing with some great teammates). His wrist shot is excessively heavy. The velocity of his shot is probably his best quality, he also manages to take really good shots while in movement. His placement of the puck on his shots is also one of the aspects that make him dangerous, often opting for shots no higher than a foot from the ice, barely over the goalie’s pad. He also has a certain scoring instinct in a one-on-one situation against the goalkeepers when he will use his long reach wonderfully to go on his backhand and score. That being said, there is still a reason why I do not have very high regard for his offensive potential despite the assets that have just been presented. Ohgren isn’t so threatening in the way he uses his shot. If he has the space and the time necessary, he can beat the opposing goalkeepers but he is still quite telegraphed in his mechanics. He doesn’t have the luxury of having an excessively fast release and he doesn’t have a lot of elements of deception in his shot, for example, he’s not a player who will change his angles.
His puck handling is adequate despite not being a player who has the offensive creativity to beat players in a one-on-one situation. It’s mostly his puck protection that gets the praise in this department (largely explained by his long reach).
The aspect that makes me doubt the most about his offensive contribution is his intelligence on the ice as well as his vision of the game. On a few occasions I have seen him fail to make simple plays and if not, he is not not a player who knows which passing lines are open and which are not. Another reason for this lack of passing skills is that he does not have a very good awareness of the position of his opponents on the ice.
- 31. Noah Ostlund
A diminutive center, Ostlund is a Swede who will have seen his rating increased in the second half of the season. Having been unimpressed with his play during Hlinka and 5-Nations in November, it was while watching his teammates with Djurgarden that Ostlund caught my attention.
The best quality of his game is his skating. The Swedish center player is very similar to Logan Cooley in several aspects. At first glance, their skating draws comparisons with their large base of support for smaller players. Ostlund has really good speed and he’s one of those players who looks like he’s flying over the rink. He looks just as fast sliding as a lot of players who are accelerating. He uses his skating very well in different ways on the ice and one of those places that benefits the most is his puck carrying game. His speed is not the only denominator, he has a very high level of coordination with his body and he can mislead his opponents in the neutral zone with dekes of head and shoulders while changing his course and keeping his top speed. He has exceptional control of his body. Was a sequence where, leaving the zone, he was in full acceleration and received a pass behind him. He pivoted backwards, caught the pass and turned around to face the play in a single motion, without losing even a modicum of speed. This quality makes him an excessively evasive player on the ice. Similar to a snake, he is simply not catchable! This great agility is largely attributable to his ‘Edge-Work’ (which refers to the ability to use the outside of his skate blades to turn on himself) which are amazing. Another element that makes him such an effective player when skating with the puck is that he processes information just as quickly as he operates. He sees the players coming to pressure him in advance and he only needs a split second to get rid of them. What bothers me, however, is that Ostlund has a strong tendency in his game to deviate to the periphery when carrying the puck deep into offensive territory. It’s the same observation when he grabs the puck in the offensive zone. I will explain in a later paragraph how this diminishes his skills as a playmaker, but to stick to his skating, this tendency will greatly nullify his effectiveness on a North American rink. Even more when he has to deal with defenders much bigger than him who will come to nail him to the boards. Without the puck, he is definitely not a player who fears to attack the high-danger area but with the puck, he must learn to operate more in the center of the ice and in the dangerous places.
Despite some distinct offensive qualities, it is Ostlund’s defensive play that is the second most notable aspect of his game. Despite his small size, he excels in this facet for several reasons. The first would be that he is harassing the puck carrier. He forces his opponents to rush their actions and make bad decisions. His sense of anticipation is among the best in this draft as he sees the opposing team’s plays in advance. Another observation of his game without the puck is that he goes very deep into his own zone to support his defenders. When he’s on the ice, his defenders don’t have to worry about forgetting a player in front of the net. He really is a reassuring presence when he is on the ice. In addition, with his skating, he will never be late to join his team’s counterattack. This may sound outlandish to many given his stature, but for me, Ostlund redefines a bit what it means to be tough to play against. No, he won’t be a player who punishes his opponents, but he is constantly in the right place at the right time and his work on the puck carrier is very tenacious.
His best tool offensively is his playmaking skills. First of all, it is mainly by keeping the puck for a long time and by moving the opposing defensive coverage that Ostlund will set the table for his teammates. This quality is accentuated by his great patience in possession of the puck. Ostlund never forces plays and he constantly retraces his steps to reevaluate the game in front of him. It’s another statement that doesn’t seem to make sense at first glance, but Ostlund creates a lot of space for his teammates on the ice by drawing opponents on him. The Swedish center mostly picks the right plays and that’s largely down to his decision-making under pressure. In all three zones, he is seen demonstrating impressive calm when he appears to be imprisoned or at risk of receiving a check. From a technical point of view, Ostlund is extremely adept at making saucer passes. It is especially in his own zone or in the neutral zone that he will resort to this kind of pass while sticks obstruct the path to all possible passing lanes. He will manage to reach a teammate despite this thanks to this skill. In the offensive zone, Ostlund is able to make very lively passes without hesitation when he has just taken possession of the puck, giving defensive coverage less time to adjust. This especially happens when he is not the one entering enemy territory in control of the puck. These are the kinds of passes that I would like to see him adopt more often. Although I concede that it’s a very good quality to have to be able to slow down the game and reassess your options by retracing your steps, Ostlund has a style of play that is not guaranteed to carry over to the NHL, especially since he often differs towards the periphery with the puck. For such a smart player, I don’t think the percentage of his passes that lead to scoring chances is that high. To be successful in North America he will have to reinvent himself a bit and learn to play ‘Off the Rush’ a bit more.
The Swede has a very good pair of hands and he can beat opponents in a one-on-one situation while at full speed. It’s a quality in his arsenal that is accentuated by his agility on his skates. He has the necessary finesse and refinement in his handling of the puck to beat a defender with very few puck touches, by putting the puck in an inaccessible place for the defender, for example, inside his support base. He has a relatively long reach as well for a player of his size.
His shooting, however, is a missing weapon in his offensive arsenal. His production of only 9 goals in a relatively weak league is a good indicator of this. One could argue that this low production largely depends on his propensity to set the table for his teammates but his scoring instincts are not particularly developed at a high level. However, the quality of his shooting improved a lot in the second half of the season, more specifically his slap shot which he no longer hesitates to use when he jumps on a loose puck inside the circles. There seems to have been a shift in his mentality regarding the use of his shot. His level of coordination was praised several times in the last paragraphs and it is something that we also find inside his shooting as we see him being able to take good shots while his feet are in motion.
The other limitation, and probably the most important, in the case of Ostlund is his size. He seems to have grown during the season and his 5’11 does not cause a problem but his 164 lbs are more restrictive. It will be to see in his case if he can add enough muscle mass and if he will find a way to attack the dangerous zones more often in possession of the puck so that he can have success in the NHL.
- 32. Sam Rinzel
Rinzel is a 6’4 right-handed defender who caught my attention during the Hlinka tournament last August. Rare are the defenders of his size who skate as he does and who are accompanied by a good shot and a propensity for rough play. Even if I have several reservations towards him and that I find that when you scratch little deeper, important limits resurface, the American defender has still shown impressive progress this year. Having spent most of the first half of the season in Prep-School, I did not observe him in this caliber. In January, he was called up to play 2 or 3 USHL games where he didn’t impress me, but it was in March when I saw a transformed player. Especially during his first few games after having been called up.
The best selling point surrounding the Waterloo Black Hawks player is: the tools at his disposal. The problem is that within each of the qualities he demonstrates, I denote a substantial limitation in terms of what is most important in a hockey player and that is: intelligence on the ice.
What strikes the eye when you look at him is the ease with which he moves on the ice. He has excellent mobility at the blue line and he can easily turn on himself to escape the pressure of an opposing forward. If he has enough space in front of him, this kind of play results in a good shot taken to the net. However, if play closes in front of him, he has difficulty identifying a passing lane quickly and will continue to try to buy time and space by moving around until eventually, he is unable to make a play. His stride as well as his speed are really impressive and this serves him very well to venture into the offensive zone and jump into the play. In possession of the puck, he is confident and moves with ease but one of my biggest questions in his case is if he can bring the puck inside. Every time I see him come out with impressive flashes thanks to his skating, everything happens on the periphery.
On a defensive note (still concerning his skating), Rinzel does not maintain a good ‘Gap-Control’ with the opposing forwards when entering the zone and he too often finds himself with his feet static, exposing himself to being bypassed easily.
The American has a great shot, especially his wrist shot. He manages to take good shots while on the move and his shots don’t require much windup. With his propensity to join the rush, he is always a threat when he joins the counterattack in the 2nd wave. His shot is dangerous when he has a free field in front of him – following having got rid of a first opponent or after having descended at the height of the circles to present himself as a pass option – that said, it is the same observation that is realized with his skating: he does not know how to use his tools properly. Often, his shot selections are rather questionable. On several occasions he took shots from long range when entering the opposing territory which were easily blocked by opposing defenders. Was also a sequence where he presented himself as a passing option on a 3 on 1 and, being on his strong side, he placed himself in a position to take a one-timer but he rotated his hips far too much, being practically with his back to the opposing goalkeeper and he will have finally fended the air on his shot.
On occasion, he is able to show relatively good vision, being able to find a teammate at the mouth of the net with the help of a cross-ice pass. But my question in his case is: can he achieve this kind of play when there are several layers of defense in front of him? This kind of pass happened when there was a lot of space in front of him and the option was obvious. As long as players or sticks obstruct the path, he does not seem able to spot his forwards. He will instead opt for the kind of play mentioned above: he will seek to eliminate a layer of defense by skating up and down the offensive zone until eventually something opens up in front of him, or he loses the puck.
On several occasions, I suspected that he did not see what he had in front of him so well because of his play selections (passing or puck carrying) in all three zones. Also, his zone exits were often questionable when pressure was put on him.
One of those reasons is, I believe, because he often plays with his head down. That would explain why he’s constantly improvising in the offensive zone and can’t maneuver with multiple variables in front of him. For a player of his size, I saw him a few times get thrown on the ice because he had his head down in possession of the puck. A few times, it happened to him to fend the air when he played with his head held high.
Defensively, the American has a lot to work on his game. We still have to start by giving him some praise. Rinzel is a player who has a good size and who is starting to see the advantage this gives him. There is still a lot of progress on this side but the foundation is there and after ten games in the USHL, he began to impose his presence more and more in his territory. As for the less seducing aspects, there are three things that happened quite frequently; Poor body alignment when approaching opposing forwards, being hypnotized by the puck and poor risk management with the puck in his zone.
When advancing towards opposing forwards, more specifically along the boards, Rinzel angles his body position incorrectly and he compromises too much to one side, approaching the opponent with his skates in front rather than keeping a wide base of support and to remain the shoulders aligned vis-a-vis the trunk of his adversary. This mistake also includes the next point to mention which is the fact that Rinzel tends to keep his eyes fixed on the puck, preventing him from taking the necessary information on the direction that the forward will take thanks to the position of different body parts. Finally, Rinzel tends to take some miscalculated risks in his own area, as he goes past his goalkeeper and tries to deke an opposing player.
In all honesty, in my last viewings of Rinzel, I had ruled that he was not going to be inside my top 32. That said, I couldn’t find 32 players who showed better potential…. His position in my ranking might come as a surprise to many, following the many concerns I have shared about him, however, I believe that this illustrates a point that I have been trying to convey for a few years now: it is far too optimistic (and I would be tempted to say ‘naive’ if it weren’t for fear that my remarks would be viewed as condescending) to believe that there are thirty players in a draft who have a sure potential to reach the NHL. In these whereabouts in a ranking, I find it difficult to see how one can be so excited on a player. At some point, I wanted to put a player that really comes out of left field like I like to do every season with my very last pick, however, I couldn’t see any player that I would have liked to make a ‘Statement’ out of. Still, there are some interesting selling points with Rinzel; he is one of the youngest players in this draft, he still has a lot of physical maturity to gain and a player of his talent advocating a bold style might just need more time to put all his tools in place.
Here is the ‘forgotten’ category from my first round. These are players who have; never been in the considerations for me to integrate my top 32, have appeared there at a certain point in the year, or simply, they are players on whom I have been asked questions during the season. I will present them in alphabetical order.
Nathan Gaucher is a 6’3 right-handed center who started the season as a prospect deemed to go in the first round of the 2022 NHL Draft. For my part, this status was quickly put into oblivion. That being said, teams operate with different philosophies and different realities so a first-round selection is not to be ruled out in his case.
Where Gaucher manages to make a strong case for himself is in the style of play he advocates. He was always a very responsible player on the ice and took pride in his defensive game and in the little details. Addressing an impeccable work ethic, he wants to be very effective in winning his one-on-one battles, whether to protect the puck or to seize it at the expense of his opponents. His game with his stick is also very effective as he shows a propensity to extract the puck from opposing players. Despite having sought-after qualities in the style of a ‘Pro’ player, Gauchers lack of natural offensive skills took precedence over the little things he did well on the ice. Already limited to a fairly low projection in the roster of an NHL club, Gaucher had to add additional arrows to his bow since the competition is fierce to carve out a position in the ‘Bottom-6’ of a team and that at this point, the coaches have nothing to wax about the rank of selection of a player. It was around mid-December that the center realized this and he added what is for me his best asset and that is his physical game. Already blessed with an imposing size and good physical strength, Gaucher now plays a much more aggressive style of play as he seeks to punish his opponents on a regular basis. He distributes very good checks and it is easy to notice that the opposing defenders know it when he is on the ice as they seek to protect themselves when he is the Remparts who performs the forecheck. It plays in their head and they are more prone to making mistakes.
If Gaucher wants to become an NHL player, he must excel defensively. That hasn’t always been the case for me this year. Especially in the first half of the season where his defensive reads were not always on point. However, overall, we can speak of a pretty solid game without the puck. It is not thanks to a superior intellect and a strong sense of anticipation that Gaucher finds success there, but mainly thanks to his abrasive style of play and his intensity that he can occupy such a role. He also excels in the face-off circle, being able to inherit heavy responsibilities at the end of the game.
At the other end of the rink, you guessed it, I’m less keen on what the forward has to offer. Gaucher is not a very creative player offensively and he shows several limits in this regard. He does not show a lot of ‘Poise’ in possession of the puck. He’s not going to backtrack and wait for new options to come his way, instead forcing passes to the net that won’t materialize. He is not a player who can play at different speeds and who can play an East-West style. Despite a few nice dekes here and there, he’s not a player who can beat players in a one-on-one situation on a regular basis.
That being said, he still does a good job playing within his limits and we are not talking about a player who sees himself differently than the reality is. He keeps his game simple and he even finds a certain efficiency in his role. He is generally used in front of the net or in the ‘Bumper’ position during power plays and he does a good job where he is very difficult to dislodge due to his size and physical strength. He also has a ‘hungry’ mentality always jumping on loose pucks before opposing defenders. He’s at his best when he’s just playing inside certain lanes; by continuing his actions at the net without the puck and by going along the boards in control of it.
In terms of natural abilities, Gaucher is a fairly good skater and he has gained explosiveness during the season. He has good straight-line speed and can beat defenders from the outside when entering the zone. It is this kind of play that he must prioritize because he does not have the creativity nor the necessary refinement in his passing skills to create plays for his teammates when entering the zone. He is still a good option for carrying the puck because in addition to being fast and physically imposing, he plays with a relatively short stick and he keeps the puck close to him, making it difficult for opposing players to get it out of him. In addition, he excels at transferring his weight to his stick, adding to this quality. He doesn’t do this often, but he can beat his coverer if he changes his angle of attack abruptly.
More tangibly, Gaucher is not a player I can envision becoming a threat with his shot. He is quite direct and predictable in his windup. There aren’t many ‘Deceptive’ elements to his shot; he does not change his shooting angles at the last second, will not open a shooting-lane by handling the puck and manipulating the position of the defender in front of him before shooting, he will not deceive defenders and goalkeepers looking away with his head to hide his intentions, etc. The power and accuracy of his wrist shot shows nothing superior to his peers as well. The best play he makes to use his shot is when he comes down from the left wing and leans his shoulder while putting the puck inside the opposing defender’s stick reach and he will then fire quickly. He also does a really good job of getting open in the top slot at even strength and that’s something he manages to do multiple times within a game.
As a passer, these are the same observations that I observe with his shot. It presents no (or very few) elements of deception in his approaches. It’s easy for defenders to predict which pass he’ll go for and quite often Gaucher picked the wrong pass lines in my viewings. Even in a situation of odd-man rushes, I saw him make bad passes, among other things, due to a lack of precision. Often his saucer passes are far too hard, being impossible for his teammates to pick up. Even in a 5-on-3 situation, I saw him rush non-existent passing lanes.
For me, Nathan Gaucher is a player who has a relatively good chance of reaching the NHL, but it will be in a 4th line role, as far as I’m concerned. A formation which has a thin pipeline and which has a situation with the salary cap which promises to be perilous in a few seasons could opt for a safer pick like him.
David Goyette is a very talented center player who plays for the Sudbury Wolves in the OHL. What he has managed to accomplish this season is impressive. Playing for one of the weakest clubs in the league, Goyette, in his rookie season, finished first in scoring for his team, with a harvest of 73 pts in 66 games. Which is 23 pts more than the player who comes in 2nd place in points for his team.
The best quality of Goyette’s game is his skating and when we dissect this, we realize that it is above all his agility that stands out. He excels at beating opposing players in tight spaces by shifting his full weight and body completely to the other side, nimbly. I don’t consider his speed to be above average. He does not have the ability to beat defenders from the outside but he is still effective in carrying the puck since his skating gives him the opportunity to mislead his opponents by constantly changing his angles of attack. He can purposely lead his opponents in one direction before passing to an uncovered teammate on the opposite flank.
Goyette is a player that I hadn’t watched much during the year, gathering the majority of my viewings during the 2nd half of the season. His hands and scoring skills had been touted repeatedly, but it was oddly his passing skills that impressed me the most when I watched him. I saw him join teammates precisely in the slot as he was along the board. This is what struck me the most: his ability to join his wingers in the slot. I’m not necessarily a fan of advanced stats, but his success rate for this kind of pass in my viewing must have been very high.
Goyette has a good level of individual skills. He has excellent hands that he uses perfectly in sync with his skating to deke players. He likes to attack the ‘Tripod‘ of opposing players, which is the area bounded by the support base of the skates and the stick on the ice of other players. He has good scoring instincts as he demonstrates one-on-one skill against goalkeepers. His wrist shot, although fired quickly, does not deserve as much praise from me as is claimed by other observers.
Unlike other players who advocate the same style of play, Goyette does not stand on the periphery; he continues his actions at the net during counter-attacks and when the game is set up in the offensive zone, he likes to maraud near the mouth of the net.
Another thing that pleasantly surprised me about Goyette is his defensive play. He recognizes very well the moments when an opposing odd-man rushes is emerging and he will cover his defender wonderfully. He performs very good defensive backchecks but when the game is already installed in his own zone, he is not a center player who will come to deeply support his defenders. It happens to him on occasion to come and finish his checks even if he is still behind in terms of physical strength.
By virtue of my ranking, Goyette is not a player I would set my sights on but a top 50 selection is realistic. I see him as a winger in the pros
Mats Lindgren is a Canadian-Swedish player with an interesting profile. A 5’11 left-handed defenseman, he is one of the youngest in this draft and has some qualities that will appeal to an NHL team.
It’s hard to pin down what he does best on the rink because his best quality isn’t maximized in his use. Lindgren is one of the best skaters in his class. He has excellent speed and it is largely thanks to a very high skating frequency that he manages to rise above his peers. It’s a bit of a shame, because it’s especially without the puck that this quality stands out. An asset like that should make him a player who orchestrates plays for his team, but that’s not very often the case. His skating allows him to quickly close gaps in the defensive zone and make opportunistic interventions with his stick to deprive the opposing team of scoring chances. Still without the puck, we see him jumping in the counterattacks as well as in the offensive zone to make himself available as a passing option and to sow a little chaos in the opposing coverage. When he is in possession of the puck, he demonstrates a certain efficiency in puck-carrying thanks to his skating but, without this being a shortcoming in his game, his analysis of the situation in front of him and his offensive instincts are not at the same level to allow him to bring the puck from one end to the other and to eliminate several opposing players while doing so. It is ironically in 5-on-5 situations that Lindgren’s puck carrying is most evident (something that will come up later as well), during power plays he will be more likely to end his excursion in the neutral zone where he’ll simply opt to pass the puck to his teammate coming in 2nd wave as the ‘Slingshot’. It is in the opposing zone that we realize that Lindgren does not show a lot of resources for such a good skater. Surprisingly, he does not have the agility to completely spin around on himself and beat his pursuer. He’s not a player who will look to beat players one-on-one and he doesn’t show a lot of deception aspects in his game; he will not open passing lines, side-step players, turn on himself, regain the blue-line etc.
As for the rest of his offensive game, Lindgren’s shot is not a threat but he still uses it well, prioritizing shots that will cause rebounds. Knowing he can’t beat them cleanly, he’ll instead come down the left board and fire low shots, aiming for the pad on the opposite side to aim for rebounds into the slot.
In terms of puck distribution, Lindgren offers a rather limited game. He would be much more effective if he could make the defensive coverage move with his skating and if his shot could be seen as a weapon by the opposing team. His prowess on the power play is decent, nothing more. The play he will do the most will be to take the puck at the blue line, on the left side, and skate backwards towards the center of the offensive zone and then pass to Luke Toporowski on the left who will be able to go down to the circle to fire a shot. It is rare that we will see him make superb passes from the blue line. Strangely, as with his play carrying the puck, it is at even strength that we see Lindgren make his best plays as he ventures deeper with the puck before making a pass.
Defensively, the rearguard of Kamloops offers a fairly solid game. The basics of his skating allow him to defend very well the zone-entries. His feet are always moving and he doesn’t bite at the changes in direction and speed of his opponents. For a defender who plays with a relatively short stick and does not have a very long reach, he manages to keep a very good ‘Gap-Control’ with the opposing forwards. In his zone, he is constantly on the move and he follows his player everywhere, he is also very alert on permutations. He also demonstrates a very good fighting spirit in his zone while he does not take any presence lightly and always shows involvement.
Despite some great selling points, Lindgren is a player who falls a bit between two chairs as far as I’m concerned. I don’t see much offensive potential in him and he doesn’t have the typical characteristics of a shutdown defender.
Tristan Luneau is a player on whom I had high expectations when starting the season. Having watched the Gatineau Olympiques many times last year to watch his teammate Zach Dean, Luneau is a player who impressed me last season. He looked like a real general on the ice and I expected to place him very high in my ranking. His start to the season was delayed a few weeks due to injury. I gave him the benefit of the doubt for a while, but after a certain point, Luneau was no longer on my list.
In the end, two flaws will have come back continuously in my viewing which will have greatly penalized him.
The first of these flaws is the question-marks surrounding his skating. I didn’t recall that this represented a major deficit in his game last season, but it now drastically changed the perception I have of the player. Having a limitation is one thing, but in Luneau’s case, the impact it has on his overall effectiveness as a defender is simply too great to compensate for. What’s curious about him is that he seems a much better skater when he has the puck than when he doesn’t. This is mainly due to his posture. Without the puck, his trunk is much too vertical, which is the vector of the other mechanical faults observed. This results in a lack of full extension at the hip and a lack of flexion at the knees, resulting in a short skating stride that does not generate much power. It is really during defensive backcheck that it is the most inconvenient for Luneau. He finds himself exposed in such situations and he does not have enough of a good stick to be able to overcome this problem in his game, seeming to give all his attention to his skating. Because of this, Luneau shows a major deficiency in puck recovery, which is a fundamental quality for any defenseman. However, when he has the puck in his possession, his skating seems much better as he is leaning more forward when handling the puck, this could hint at a possible improvement in this regard. Another aspect of his skating that is lacking is his edge work. Luneau moves quite well in the offensive zone, but in his own territory, an inability to change direction suddenly and/or to turn on himself is the author of the second most cumbersome aspect in Luneau’s game and which is: His game under pressure.
This lack of agility closes him many avenues to take when placed in tougher situations, but that is not the only reason. His handling of the puck also shows some limitations, preventing him from working properly when under pressure and his panic threshold seem rather low, rushing his plays and showing himself guilty of turnovers in such scenarios. It is also in these situations that we observe that Luneau does not deal very well with the physical game as I have seen him play far too often with the tip of his stick when he was threatened with being hit.
These two aspects are too problematic in my eyes and the rest of the qualities he has to offer do not prevail over these. I don’t see assets that are attractive enough to allow me to set my sights on the player. That being said, there are things he does very well on the ice and they need to be addressed.
At first, Luneau is above all a very intelligent player on the ice. He reads the game very well and he thinks at a high level. It is especially in the way he uses his teammates on ‘Give-N-Go’ type plays that the superior intellect of the defender comes out. He sees the spaces that could be exploited on the ice by moving an opposing player with a pass before jumping into the freshly opened free space. Even during his breakout passes in his own zone or in the neutral zone, he demonstrates advanced game readings when his decision is already made before the puck even appears on his stick. An additional aspect that I appreciate about the defenseman’s quick puck distribution is that he continues his actions and jumps into the play immediately afterwards.
Without being a dynamic defenseman offensively, he offers a fairly solid game on the power play. He distributes the puck effectively and even if I have several concerns with his skating for certain aspects, he is still effective in moving at the blue line and moving the opposing team’s defensive box. Also, he stays on the move and actively looks for openings to take better shots than if he had stayed on the blue line. His shot is one of his good offensive assets, especially his slap shot and his one-timer shot from the blue line. He also has a decent wrist shot that he likes to take as he goes deeper into the offensive zone (mostly taking rising shots).
All in all, I haven’t seen the same poise on the ice as last year and the appearance of some major shortcomings make me adopt a more cautious position on his case. More concretely, he may have already been taken by the time I would be ready to select him. That being said, I’m not ruling out the possibility that he’ll bounce back next year. The flaws I blame him for can be corrected quite easily and he has other qualities that could appeal to an NHL team.
** Note that I will not rank Miro according to the disease that affects him. He spent most of the season between 20th and 25th rank for me. I didn’t think it was fair to rank him since he had to leave when his game seemed to take off. **
Ivan Miroschichenko is a Russian winger who has sparked a lot of heated debate this season. Being perceived as Shane Wright’s closest pursuer in the eyes of some people, he struggled to break into the top 20 for other observers. Playing in the VHL in Russia, which is a men’s league (the equivalent of the AHL for the KHL), many were waiting for the showcase of opportunity that was going to be for him the world under-20 championship in December to properly assess him. To the dismay of many, Miroschichenko was not retained by the Russian team. It seemed like a big surprise to many, but for me, the only surprise was that he was considered for a position until the very end. You guessed it, I’m on the side of the detractors when it comes to this prospect. The explanation given by Sergei Zubov, coach of Russia, was that he was not fit enough. The most optimistic in his case thought that if this aspect could be corrected, Miroschichenko would quickly become a top prospect again. My observations of the player lead me to believe that even if that was the case, there are too many flaws in his game for me to see him as a next-level impact offensive player.
One of the main issues in Miroschichenko’s game is his level of inconstancy. Although at such a young age it is commonplace for players to express inconstancy, it was the first time that I had seen such a pronounced display of inconsistancy on a shift-to-shift basis inside a game. Generally, when a player is inconsistent, it is something that is observed at different points in the season. Players are still learning at this age and for the more talented ones, they are also experimenting and learning what works and what doesn’t at a higher level. Sometimes changes to their game can take up to a few weeks, so we have to be rigorous in our scouting and watch players at different points in the season. The case of Miroschichenko is different, offering rather taciturn performances interspersed with a few very intriguing flashes. The problem is that his flashes are far too rare to rekindle any enthusiasm in me.
His work ethic is also something that leaves something to be desired. We see occasional flashes of a player who wants to give his full-commitment, but far too often he finds himself completely still on the ice. He is a player who is more reactive than proactive. In fact, on second thought, I would say that what we observe is not necessarily due to a lack of will on the part of the player but rather due to limitations in his understanding of the game in general.
He’s not a player that I would consider smart on the ice. To judge the IQ of an offensive player, I will often focus on his game vision, his creativity and his talents as a playmaker. Miroschichenko does not meet any of these criteria, at least very few. The only times I saw him set the table skillfully for teammates were on power plays when he was already well planted in the left circle. If he’s in full speed or on while moving, he’s not able to make plays for his teammates and his vision seems to shrink a lot. It is of course not the only criteria that determine the intelligence of a player but it means a lot to me. It also does not determine whether or not a player can be effective, but when we take into account the player’s unsatisfactory involvement, it prevents him from being the one who will go and collect the pucks behind the net or in corners before handing over to a teammate.
Another aspect where I question his IQ is in his own zone. He shows no resistance to getting involved defensively, but the game seems to be going too fast for him and we often find him a little lost on the ice. This is even more obvious when the other team installs ‘cycling’ in the offensive zone and when there are permutations of positions between a forward and a defender. We even use him regularly on the PK where his work is honest without more, he will come forward enough to close certain shooting lanes, but that comes back to what I was saying earlier: he is a reactive player rather than proactive. He’s not going to force the opposing players to make a decision quickly and have them turn the puck over or fumble with the puck.
The limits of his intelligence are also observed when he carries the puck. I was talking about flashes earlier and that is something I was referring to; we often watch games of Mirocshicenhko where he is invisible for most of the game and out of nowhere, we see him make a rush with the puck and we wonder ‘Why doesn’t he do it more often?’ , after all, he is a powerful skater with good hands, right? In fact, it’s probably best that Miro isn’t the one carrying the puck. The reason is that he has difficulty reading the situation in front of him and that he cannot find the right solution to compose against the defensive wall. It also regularly happens that he does not choose the right corridors to adopt and that he will put himself at a disadvantage. He would be effective if he used his speed and physical strength to bypass defenders along the boards and then attack the net. The problem is that he doesn’t and instead goes for a long shot.
This is often the case with such dangerous shooters, their shot selection leaves something to be desired since they were able to rely on this strength for too long during their development in minor hockey. On the one hand, we can’t blame him because he has a devastating shot. The thing he does best with his shot is when he comes down the left side, cuts through the middle and uses the defender as a screen. Already that it is difficult to read for the goalkeeper, Miroschichenko releases this kind of shot when his shoulders and hips do not even face the opposing net, taking the goalkeepers by surprise.
It is on the powerplay that are the most favorable situation for Miroschichenko to use his shot. His one-timer is very powerful and is one of his best qualities. What bothers me is that during these situations, he remains far too static on the ice.
Miroschichenko is a powerful skater. He is often stopped on the ice and his feet feel heavy, which is concerning. But when he comes out of the blocks, his acceleration force is impressive, generating a lot of power with every stride. This phenomenon was observed during the Hlinka tournament where he took the puck from Simon Nemec on the blue line and he got a breakaway from the neutral zone. Creating separation with every stride, Nemec is a good skater and was never able to catch up to him. Other than the fact that he doesn’t move his feet enough on the ice, other aspects of his skating bother me slightly. One of those is that I suspect the player lacks mobility in the hips. When he has to change his route to carry the puck, he is unable to pivot his hips and maintain his speed. It is also observed when he receives passes that are not perfect and the puck ends up in a less than optimal place, he cannot readjust his position quickly in motion, he must practically stop moving.
At least he has a solid base to work with when it comes to his skating because he is powerful. These characteristics of physical strength are also seen in his upper body. Miro is ‘thick’ as we say. Although the times he went to apply a good check is a bit insufficient in my opinion, there have been several times when a player came to hit him and he found himself lying on the ice not knowing what had happened. Miroschichenko is also very good at puck protection, reminiscent of a dog on a bone that won’t give up, no matter what.
In addition to being helped by his great physical strength, he has very good hands around the net. Overall, he’s not a very creative player but his hands are still quite impressive, I’ve seen him attack the ‘tripod’ a few times (triangle defined between the base of the skates and the stick on the defender) at full speed. Few players can boast of being able to achieve this kind of game.
Finally, taking all this information into account, what about the projection of the player?
In my eyes, for too long the intelligence of snipers has been trivialized, underestimating this type of player. Being perceived as a shooter, Miroschichenko demonstrates too many limitations in this regard for me to portray him in such a role (does not attack free places enough, does not use his teammates in an optimal way, his shot selection is quite-poor, etc. ). Even at his best, I can’t see him as a top-6 scorer. That said, all is not lost in his case, if he agrees to devote himself to a new role, Miroschichenko could become a relatively effective player. He could become a sort of power forward that is effective inside the hallways along the ramps. This is a change that we saw take place towards the end of December when he started to play more of a power game and made his puck protection his main asset.
Mateychuk is a left-handed defenseman playing for the Moose Jaw Warriors in the WHL. Although playing in different positions, I quickly spotted parallels between him and 2021 draft prospect Logan Stankoven in that after my initial viewings of the player most of my notes were positive but I was not optimistic about the player’s projection at the NHL level. In fact, the parallel even extends to the main weakness of players, which is the ‘Size-Skating’ combination
His skating is (mainly) what will dictate whether or not he succeeds at the next level so we will start by addressing this facet of his game because there is a lot to cover.
It is often said that scouting is something fundamentally subjective, which is difficult to contradict. After all, whether or not you like a player remains a matter of taste, especially since we know from the outset that errors will not be unknown to us. However, when the time comes to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of players, the concept of subjectivity begins to show certain limits.
Mateychuk’s skating is one of those rare instances where the player’s attribute represents both a strength as well as a weakness. When I consider every aspect of his skating, I would rate it as ‘Average’ but someone could easily tell me they consider it ‘Very Good’ and I would completely understand their point of view and I wouldn’t find it so far-fetched.
There is no shortage of opportunities to assess him as Mateychuk is constantly skating with the puck. He is particularly effective in this facet mainly thanks to his composure and his intelligence, but he would not be able to make the plays he has in mind if it were not for his excellent agility on the ice. He’s one of the best players in this draft for being ‘Deceptive’ with his skating. He is constantly readjusting passing lanes on the ice by moving his opponents as he pleases by moving from one direction to another. He is also excellent at changing his skating route when the situation in front of him closes in, skillfully turning around and retracing his steps. This is something that can be observed in his game, regardless of the zone, when an opposing forward puts pressure on him. He has very good balance on his skates.
He also demonstrates efficiency in carrying pucks, once again, greatly helped by his intelligence and composure. Always playing with his head held high, he identifies without error the right lanes to adopt and he deceives the opponents without great difficulty. Sometimes he gets more confident in his speed than he should, trying to bypass defenders to the outside but rarely does that cause him any problems because he pivots on himself and regains the top of the offensive zone while keeping the puck if he sees that he can’t venture deep into the zone. He moves a lot in the offensive zone in possession of the puck, which is impressive to see.
However, it’s when you dig a little deeper that the limitations of Mateychuk’s skating begin to surface. There are some apparent weaknesses that will be addressed, but first, we have to put some nuance in what makes his skating look effective.
First, although at the junior level he is comfortable carrying the puck, his speed is far from optimal for a defenseman of his size. Playing at defense, his rushes are generally made while his opponents are camped, static, in the neutral zone, while he benefits from all the time and space necessary to reach his top speed, giving the impression that he beats his opponents with speed. Also, he defeats his opponents by going around them from the sides rather than going through them, but with his lack of explosion and his short reach, he is at risk of committing turnovers if he does not have enough space in front of him.
Second, yes, his agility is impressive and his way of patrolling the offensive blue line from east to west and deceiving opponents has a lot to please, but that is not as much attributed to his skating as one might think. A bit like David Jiricek will immobilize forwards in the offensive zone because they must fear the threat of his shot, it is a bit like what happens with Mateychuk and his intelligence that his opposition must respect.
And much more in surface, there are the limitations that are of more concern. As said before, his maximum speed is far from optimal for a defender of his size. The best opportunities to properly assess it is during a defensive backcheck following a turnover and it is observable that his acceleration force is not sufficient. His lack of explosion also prevents him from excelling in puck recovery, which is fundamental in the game of any defender.
In the event that he recovers a puck in the back of his territory and the opposing pressure is already installed, he no longer has the same space to get out of trouble with his skating and with his smaller stature, the opposing forwards don’t have too many difficulties to supplant him physically, making him much less effective when trying to leave his own zone.
It is also quite common to see him defend against counter-attacks by skating in the same direction as the opposing forwards, refusing to defend by skating backwards because he knows that this represents a weakness in his game. Ironically, his backward pivots are rather slow, he who excels in turning on himself during offensive situations.
To conclude this aspect of his game, I would add that the projection as to a possible improvement in his skating is a little more difficult because the player already seems quite close to physical maturity.
One aspect of his game that leaves no room for debate is his vision as well as his skills as a playmaker. His offensive IQ is very, very high among his cohort and it is as a passer that he is at his best. The pillars of this facet were mentioned earlier; his intelligence, his patience in possession of the puck as well as his strong propensity to deceive/manipulate his opponents using his skating ability. It’s fascinating to watch him bait everyone, including the goalkeeper, in one direction only to finally, at the last second, pivot his hips and spot a teammate at the mouth of the net. He never makes eye contact with the player he is going to pass the puck to, making him extremely unpredictable for his opponents. In my eyes, he’s one of the best playmakers in the entire draft and at times I’d even be prepared to argue strongly that he is even the best of them. Which is completely surreal when you take into consideration the position in which he plays.
However, I still put a small damper on this ability of his since he manages to create such good openings for his teammates following long puck possessions and there is no guarantee that he will be able to reproduce this in a higher caliber.
Even without possession of the puck, he finds a way to get involved, going deep into the offensive zone to support his forwards. We can also observe the same thing during the counter-attacks where he jumps into the action in order to create an odd-man rushes situation.
His breakout passes are still effective if given the time and space necessary, being able to make good passes over long distances.
During the season, we could observe at the ‘Bumper’ position (inside the defensive box, in the slot) on the power play. Far from me the intention of wanting to question the work of the coaches because they are not in this place for nothing, but it is a decision which I greatly disliked. First of all, it completely neutralized his best asset in his arsenal which is his distribution of pucks and also because he does not demonstrate the qualities that we are looking for in a player playing in this position. It may seem like a very unusual strategy, but it is one that is becoming more and more common. Last year I was able to observe a wave of defenders playing in unorthodox positions during the power plays. Oscar Plandowski in Charlottetown as well as Vinny Ioro in Brandon who practically played as a winger inside the face-off circle, not to mention Shai Buium in Sioux City who sometimes played on the goal line as a puck distributor, even Pavel Mintyukov at play in the bumper early in the season in Saginaw.
Now, what about his defensive game? I wouldn’t consider it a nuisance, but the negative seems to trump the positive in this category. First, we have seen that he has difficulty defending counter-attack situations due to the limitations of his skating, particularly backwards. His physical limitations prevent him from effectively defending the front of his net as well as along the boards. That said, when the game is set up in his own zone, he demonstrates excellent active stick cutting through passing lanes.
I feel like in the long run there isn’t much room for improvement in his case but there are always surprises and his level of talent is too hard to ignore so it’s a bet that I can respect even if I would not be ready to take. I think his chances of establishing himself in the NHL are pretty slim. If I draw a parallel with a defender with a size below the 6’0 mark last year and I am given the choice between the two, I take Jack Peart (19th on my list last year) ahead of him, without hesitation.
Matthew Seminoff is a 5’11 right-handed winger. Playing with the Kamloops Blazers, he made a very strong first impression during my first viewings. So much so that I had taken an initial position that was far too optimistic. Although my enthusiasm for him is no longer the same, he remains a player that I appreciate.
The reasons that lead me to appreciate Seminoff is that he has a very distinct identity as a player and that he manages to excel in the facets that allow him to be effective despite the fact that he is not a top prospect.
Indeed, Seminoff offers one of the best work ethics in the entire draft. He has a ‘motor’ that never stops and is always in motion on the ice. No matter the outcome of the game, he gives his 110% in each of his shift. Without the puck, we can see him perform excellent defensive backcheck, but it is on the forecheck that we see him being at his best. His hard work and propensity to play much bigger than his size results in an impressive number of turnovers. He plays with a lot of bite in his game and never misses an opportunity to complete his checks. His intensity and his ability to disrupt opposing defenders in forecheck despite his smaller size had quickly seduced me and this is what I was referring to earlier when I mentioned having been too excited at the start. His intensity allows him to extend his effectiveness far beyond just his forechecking game. Indeed, during the power play he is used in front of or at the mouth of the net and in the event that a shot is blocked or deflected, he is always the first to go and collect the loose pucks.
The other aspect that I really like about this player is that he does everything you want to see from a smaller player; He’s not afraid to initiate confrontations with bigger players, he’s constantly attacking the opposition net and he excels in tight spaces. It is on this last point that Seminoff stands out from many other players of his stature. It is often behind the opposing goal line that we will see him make his best plays within a game. He is very good at puck protection, which is even more impressive when you take his size into consideration. He is very evasive and his pivots on himself as well as his successions of sharp changes of direction prevent opposing defenders from pinning him against the boards. He also understands how to use bodily levers to his advantage.
He’s not a player who plays with a lot of offensive creativity, but everything he does, he does with intention, which is usually to charge at the net.
Offensively, he is not a player who has a predominant quality in his game and it is this lack of high-end offensive quality that prevents me from putting him higher.
His offensive contribution comes mainly from his flair towards the net, thanks to a good sense of the game, and his contribution in small spaces.
His skating requires a bit of work. He could add some extra speed to his arsenal and would benefit from going for more hip extension on his stride. What Seminoff does well, however, is to remain evasive with changes of direction.
More concretely, he won’t create scoring chances (whether with his shooting or his playmaking skills) from mid or long distance. His shooting is not a big threat and his puck distribution game is at its best around the net. It’s not what seems the most impressive at first glance, but he remains intelligent in his passing choices and casually, I’ve seen him make some pretty difficult plays. A big part of his game in playmaking is sending low shots to the net, aiming for the goalie’s pads to aim for a rebound for his teammates.
This season, he has been employed regularly on special teams. His dedication to the team, his intensity and his reading of games will have allowed him to render valuable services to his coach during the PK. On the powerplay, he was used at the mouth of the net / in front of the net. A position that suited him well thanks to his great vigilance on the ice. As mentioned earlier, he was able to collect loose pucks around or behind the net, but also being able to distribute the puck quickly to his teammates.
Seminoff had his best games (at least, of the ones I watched) at the start of the season. I wondered, how come? I have a few hypotheses to explain this phenomenon;
– After an excellent start to the season, Seminoff was promoted to the first line of his team along with Logan Stankoven and Josh Pillar. 2 players who offer the same qualities as Seminoff bring but with more talent. This reduced his efficiency and we mainly saw him relying on them on the ice to make plays. Later in the season we separated them again and Seminoff started to control the puck more but I think he didn’t have the same confidence he had then at the start of the season.
– For a good part of the season, he was used around 28 minutes per game. When his minutes were cut to around 20 minutes per game, the quality of his game started to rise once again.
One aspect that is significant about Seminoff is his self-assessment. He is aware of the style of play he must adopt in order to be effective and he uses the right comparables in order to mold his game (Brendan Gallagher). Too often, we see prospects comparing themselves to players who are far too talented, or even worse, who are completely different from them. The step is very high when we go to a higher level, and when our perception of ourselves is too advantageous and there is a significant gap between what we are really worth and what we THINK we are worth, it can be very challenging and not all players, as talented as they may be, will have the ability to adapt to a different role.
Seminoff is the kind of player you shouldn’t bet against. It will be interesting to see where he comes out in the draft.
Suzdalev is a 6’2 winger from Sweden with a lot of talent. He definitely has special skills; his problem will have been that he will only have been able to demonstrate them in a lower caliber.
The most apparent aspect in his repertoire is the quality of his puck handling. Not only does he have one of the best pairs of hands in the entire draft, he is also one of the most daring and creative players. I saw him attempt the ‘Zegras-Milano’ play long before they achieved the feat. He loves having the puck at the end of his stick and innovating on the ice. Advocating a style of play where the attention will inevitably be directed towards him, the dexterity of his hands allows him to get out of difficult situations by improvising and dangling a player on his way. He plays with a lot of confidence and will constantly look to challenge defenders in a one-on-one situation by stepping up to them and looking them straight in the eye as he constantly changes his approach angle to maintain a high level of unpredictability. This characteristic is also observed when he has a pursuer on his back while he will meander in different directions to remain unpredictable. His efficiency with the puck is explained by the fact that he not only uses his hands but also his shoulders and his footwork to get rid of players, his whole body moves in harmony. He is excellent at carrying the puck in the neutral zone and in the zone-entry thanks to his handling of the puck mentioned earlier, but also by the quality of his skating and also because he always plays with his head held high and he can get past players putting pressure on him with disconcerting ease. He often uses his long reach to beat defenders to the outside while still being able to maintain his speed. One of the problems is that often a gap is offered to him in order to attack the net and he will rather prefer to head towards the corner of the ice and then return to the top of the offensive zone. It was especially when entering the zone where he showed the best ability to read the game in front of him and then take the best decision. This could materialize in different forms;
– Whether by beating defenders wide with his speed.
– Whether spotting a hole in defensive coverage on the opposite side.
– Whether by slowing down his pace or retracing his own steps to attract players to him and give his teammates time to get open.
– Whether passing from one side of the rink to another.
He really likes to grab the puck no matter where he is on the ice. His risk management with it in his own zone showed greater maturity at the start of the season when he was going to give to the best passing option in the majority of cases. He later showed himself guilty of the same mistake that inhabits a good number of young people of such talent; he started trying to do everything alone on the ice, taking uncalculated risks.
If there’s one aspect that Suzdalev manages to materialize into something tangible all the fanfare that comes with his puck handling, it would definitely be his playmaking skills. He combines the quality of his hands with excellent vision as well as being patient with the puck by baiting players towards him before beating them, creating situations where his teammates will benefit from more space and time to take their shot. This combination of quality is also transposed during odd-man rushes where he will slow down and wait for an option that will present itself in the 2nd wave. He is also very good at performing saucer passes. One of the conceivable limitations with his talents as a playmaker is that he seeks to do too much and it’s hard to see him reproducing those same plays at a higher caliber (and advocating a different style of play). There are players who are always going to be looking for the perfect shot, Suzdalev is going to be looking for the perfect pass. He will try to do everything for his teammates before giving them the puck for a chance to score, instead of using them to build a chance with a collective game. Selfishness or lack of intelligence?
While he’s definitely a player who’s going to favor playmaking, his shot is far from being something that holds him back. He has a good release and he is very good at changing his shooting angle where he will bring the puck close to his supporting foot. He can take good shots from the top of the circles or when going down on the counterattack. He also likes to take shots from difficult angles which continues in the line of daring plays that he likes to adopt. His selection of even-strength shot leaves something to be desired since he always prioritizes the pass, he will often take shots as a last resort. However, during the power plays, he is more assertive from the left circle whereas if a covering player anticipates a pass to his teammate at the goal line and he goes a little lower, Suzdalev will take the space that we gives him to come forward and fire a shot from the top of the circles.
The biggest problem in Suzdalev’s assessment is that he plays a style of play that is difficult to transfer to a higher caliber and he has only been able to showcase his talent in the junior circuit in Sweden which is according to me much lower than the MHL in Russia. I find the talent even more diluted and the game lacks even more structure. When he was called up to play in international tournaments with Sweden, he didn’t stand out. At the start of the season, I definitely saw a talent worthy of a selection, but the contexts to assess him adequately were extremely rare and not very complimentary for him. I was only able to watch one of the 5 matches he played in Allsvenskan, against the men, and although we were able to observe that he could follow the caliber at the skating, he could not benefit from the opportunities to dismantle his know-how. I will be curious to follow his development in the years to come, but he is no longer a player I would be looking to pick in the draft. At least, not in the first half of it.
Here’s a few sleeper picks that I quite like for the latter rounds.
Playing for the Drummondville Voltigeurs, Lamoureux is a giant 6’7 right-handed defenseman. Despite modest offensive production and a shift to a national league that gives room to smaller defenders, Lamoureux has a lot to please and he offers a unique identity and qualities that are not outdated for the modern era.
It won’t come as a huge surprise to tell you that Lamoureux’s defining characteristic is his physical play. It seems obvious with such a size, but the most recent examples of players of such size did not display the same ‘meanness’ and the same propensity for physical play. He is one of the most dominant players I have seen playing in junior hockey in recent years. It does not reveal a feat like his peers Lian Bischel who can boast of displaying such authority on the ice against adults, but we must keep in mind that Lamoureux is relatively young for his league and that he must face older opponents, while still a long way from his full physical development. His checks are hard-hitting and he doesn’t hesitate to step into the neutral zone or even into the offensive zone while a forward is waiting for the puck to deflect it out of his zone to strike. He can also give very big checks while defending a zone-entry. All this requires excellent timing, and a good sense of anticipation, which he also demonstrates when his opponents seek to check him, while he deliberately leaves the impression that he is vulnerable and then run them over when they least expect it. It is also in his genes to give miserable life to opposing forwards who dare to venture up close to his goalkeeper. He is already a threat at 17, can’t wait to see him play at 19 in the QMJHL….
His defensive play offered some inconsistencies over the course of the season, but overall, the desirable aspects prevail and I’m not too worried that what leaves a little more to be desired can be corrected. The defensive aspect where Lamoureux has been most effective throughout the season has been in front of his net. When the game is in his own zone, he does not try to leave his position to put pressure on the disc carrier, he will stay in a well-defined area with his goalkeeper and good luck trying to penetrate it! During the first half of the season, Lamoureux showed both good and less good when defending zone-entries. First, it is important to note that despite his very tall size, Lamoureux plays with a relatively short stick, which means that his ‘Gap-Control’ (distance he keeps with the puck carrier) is not optimized. We therefore saw him being overwhelmed a little too often for my taste in the first months of the calendar. At other times, he did a great job of forcing forwards on the outside and then pinning them down the boards. With the accumulation of viewing I have done on the player, the conclusion I have come to is that he must defend counterattacks with his stick on the ice to maintain greater distance from the attacker. His backward pivots are nothing to worry about for me, it’s normal for a 17 year old of that size to show a slight lack of coordination on occasion. He also has a more than adequate skating foundation to work with. As for how he handles the puck in his own zone, that will be covered later when discussing the progression he has shown coming back from a shoulder injury.
To continue on his qualities as a skater which were mentioned, Lamoureux is not what one qualifies as a ‘Heavy-Footed’ player, his footwork is adequate and he does not present any limitation which could harm him in the future. All in all, he has good speed and his greatest quality could very well be his long strides, which allow him to reduce his skating frequency and maximize his energy savings on the ice. He is not a player who will seek to create openings on his own with his skating ability when in possession of the puck, but he nevertheless demonstrates a certain ability to avoid players in the neutral zone by playing across the width of the rink. Few players manage to maintain a small gap with him when he adopts a lateral trajectory because he manages to cover a lot of ice without having to exert much effort and it is easy for him to distance players from the puck with the help of his body. He won’t always advocate puck carrying, but when he does, he shows some confidence and manages to change his routes based on the information in front of him.
In the offensive zone, he still shows quite good vision. From the blue line, he recognizes opportunities well when his teammates go to the net with their stick on the ice, sending pucks low to the ice to aim for a deflection. The Voltigeurs defenseman is employed on the power play and even if it is obvious that he will not occupy such role in the NHL, he demonstrates enough efficiency at this level to allow me to believe that he won’t be a liability at 5-on-5 in the NHL with better offensive players. One aspect that improved over the course of the season in this regard was his unpredictability for his opponents, but that will be addressed a little later. From time to time, Lamoureux can make deep rushes into the offensive zone as he goes along the boards. The aspect I have the most to say about his offensive game is his shooting. At this point, you’re probably already tired of hearing me mention it, but the defenders of this draft have, for the most part, shots that leave a lot to be desired. Lamoureux is no exception. What was his biggest flaw in my eyes, at least in the first half of the season, is that a very low percentage of his shots reached the net. Few players missed the target with such regularity. The other aspect of his shots that would require a lot of refinement is his one-timer. It lacks a lot of power and its synchronism is lacking. This could be explained by his choice of a shorter stick but mainly because his shooting mechanics are carried out with very little, if any, rotation at the level of the hips. Everything happens at the thoracic level with him, greatly limiting the transfer of energy he can perform. Some of the best shots I’ve seen him take this season have come from along the boards when the goalie’s sight is screened. He was taking advantage of the traffic in front of the net, but since it’s a shot that doesn’t come from a threatening place and that meant he was stepping into the offensive zone, he sometimes didn’t not recognize that opposing forwards were behind him. The heavy traffic meant that this also represented a risk of turnover and odd-man rushes for the opposing team. His wrist shot isn’t too bad. During the season he started to recognize that it is his best tool in his shooting arsenal and he started using it more often. The change did not only take place by the volume of shots he will take but mainly by the positioning he will adopt in the offensive zone. Rather than going to the left circle to take a one-timer shot (which is hardly effective in his case) he will stay directly in the center of the offensive blue line and will take his shots from there.
One aspect I like about Lamoureux is how he recognizes and uses small spaces with the puck to get out of trouble and secure the puck. What I mean is that when you put pressure on him, instead of putting it back in a safe place away from him (which would result in the opponent retaking the disc) he will spot a small restricted space near him where he will send the puck and then go and collect it and thus save time to have a better selection of play at his disposal.
The towering defenseman had to be absent for several weeks during the winter due to an injury. Seems like the time spent watching games on the press gallery (perhaps doing more video sessions with his coaches as well) has done him a lot of good. I noticed several improvements with his game. Mainly with his puck management. He is much calmer with this one. In his zone, he will keep it longer if necessary and will pivot on himself before making a play, which he did not do much at the start of the season. In the offensive zone, he is less predictable for his opponents when moving the puck. He will now open his hips when he moves with the puck showing his coverer that he has several options available to him. His shooting mechanics have also improved a lot and he has gained confidence with the puck as well. Before, we were often under the impression that he was handling a hot potato when he took his shots. Now we see him stepping into a more dangerous place and we see him dribbling the puck before shooting and even changing his shooting angles. I even saw him faking a wrist shot before beating his coverer fluidly and then heading behind the opposing net in possession of the disc before making a play.
I don’t know where Lamoureux will be selected, but for me he represents a better ‘Value-Pick’ and a better project to develop than his QMJHL rivals, Nathan Gaucher and Tristan Luneau (I haven’t watched Noah Warren enough closely to be able to compare the two.
Hunter Haight is a very curious case to analyze. His statistics this season are very modest (41 pts including 22 goals in 63 games) despite quality playing time, and even with the presence of Tyson Foerster on his wing at the end of the season. Still, every time I watched OHL players face the Barrie Colts, Haight stood out in the best possible way. So, I went to watch some of his games and it really confirmed what I saw in him: a very good hockey player.
Haight is a right-handed center player listed at 5’10 but looking at him I wonder if the measurements are correct as he has always appeared taller than that to me.
His greatest quality is by far his intelligence on the ice.
In possession of the puck, he always chooses the right options and will never force non-existent passing lanes or opt for individual play. It is especially when entering zones that we can testify to these elements when he tends, for the most part, to slow down the game. He is also a player who always takes care to look at all his options when, no matter the flank on which he comes, he will pivot his hips to see if there is not one of his defenders who would come to support the attack in the 2nd wave. After having make a pass, he will always finish his actions in the right place, whether at the mouth of the net or in an open space as a passing option. His success rate in zone entries seems very high.
It is the same observation that we realize in the neutral zone when he uses his teammates very well, even with bank-passes along the boards if there is no opening in the play. He also happens to keep possession of the puck and to retrace his steps in the neutral zone or even as deep as in his own zone if he does not like the play in front of him in order to better relaunch the attack.
Without the puck, he also demonstrates a very high level of intelligence. On the offensive side of things, he reads perfectly the intentions of his teammates with the puck during cross plays, or simply, by his positioning. Whenever one of his teammates seems in a precarious position, Haight is in the right place to back them up, whether it’s for a pass option or as support along the boards.
Defensively, Haight has some of the best hockey-sense and anticipation in the entire draft. At each of his sequences, we can pause the game by asking ourselves; what would be the best place where he could be positioned and that’s usually where he is. He also shows an inclination to play defensively, always backchecking and following his player very closely.
In terms of individual skills, Haight doesn’t do anything with a lot of flashes, but he does everything at a relatively impressive level. He is a very good skater, reaching a good top speed and possessing very good footwork. He has the ability to gain Speed inside his crosses and that’s one of the reasons why he’s a good puck-carrying player. In addition, he is constantly in motion on the ice.
He has good hands, very soft, being able to dangle opponents on occasion. There were a few sequences where he released very good dangles in a one-on-one situation this season. His wrist shot is also something you see him perform and make you wonder how come his offensive production isn’t higher. His release is very fluid. His shots are released without him having to bring the puck back to gain momentum. This allows him to take good shots while the puck is inside his skate base. To compensate for the lack of strength that might be caused by minimal windup, Haight bring his hands at the top of his stick forwards relatively to his body so he can pull on it and add leverage to his shot.
It is especially inside the left circle during the power play that we see him taking advantage of his very good wrist shot.
In fact, it’s in this same spot (inside the left circle during the power play) that we see some of the Barrie Colts center’s best playmaker flashes, as he passes dangerously back to the mouth of the net. At equal strength, it is above all by his propensity to choose passes with a high success rate that he defines himself as a good passer.
Haight is a player I would target in the 3rd round of the draft. I believe he could have a big breakout at the junior level and the team that picks him will look very smart next year. Although I don’t see him as a potential home run, I believe he has the intelligence to become a good center on a Bottom-6.
Ignored in last year’s draft, James Stefan could represent a very good target at the end of the draft. Playing for the Portland Winterhawks in the WHL, he has played with the Lincoln Stars in the USHL for part of the winter during the 2020-2021 season. What is interesting is that when we look at his record from last year, we realize that he has grown an inch and that he has added more than twenty lbs to his frame (he is now 5 ’11 and 181 lbs). He will have taken off this season with a production of 34 goals and 79 pts in 68 games.
The first question I will answer regarding him is… Yes! He is indeed the son of the former NHL first overall pick in 1999 by the Atlanta Trashers; Patrick Stefan!
Stefan is a player with good offensive qualities, his best easily being his scoring skills. The first thing that makes him such a good scorer is certainly the quality of his wrist shot. His shot is excessively heavy and the puck takes a lot of velocity. His release is fast and violent. Not only is his shooting excellent, but Stefan also has the ability to use his assets well, easily being able to be forgotten at the top of the slot. His shooting is so good that he can afford to stay higher between the two circles, where the defensemen are not going to cover him. He shows a certain audacity with his shot selections because he can afford it (shots from a tight angle, trying to beat goaltenders’ short side, shots where he tries to elevate the puck over the goalkeeper’s shoulder while he is very close of them, quick shot when he seems to be looking away from the net, etc.). Stefan also has the understanding of the game and the intelligence as a scorer to use his teammates wisely as he masters the ‘Give-N-Go’ and knows how to get rid of the pressure by handing the puck over to a teammate on the ice before making himself available again.
His skills as game makers are also quite good. He is able to make some very good passes. He has some confidence with the puck so he’s careful to take his time and look at each of his options. Something that greatly accentuates his puck distribution game is his sense of the game and his ‘Awareness’ (which refers to the position of his teammates and opponents on the ice) as he can be seen passing on receptions, with no hesitation in spotting a teammate for a scoring chance.
His puck control is also very good. A few times he pulled off dangles that made my eyes widen. Especially when he was coming on the wing, which is a very good thing since in his case, it allows him to level off at a rather average top speed. That doesn’t make him a bad skater though. He actually has quite good edgework and he likes to use Cut-Backs moves in the offensive zone to get rid of his coverer before releasing a shot.
When gaining the O-zone, he is a player who keeps things relatively simple; he will slow down the paly before passing to a teammate, will keep a rather linear approach or will simply dump the puck deep in the opposing zone. He also occasionally tries long shots and while I can’t say enough good things about his shot, he would benefit from using different routes to push defenders back and using fake shots with his shoulders and his head to make the defensemen bite on the first move and open up some space.
Without being the first player on the forecheck and the one who will recover free pucks, he is effective in chasing pucks as he demonstrates a good work ethic and will harass the puck carrier.
It’s hard to predict where a 19-year-old, overlooked prospect from last year, will be drafted. Especially since he is not necessarily the fastest on the ice. But, Stefan has a certain offensive flair and his progress this season has been very impressive, I expect him to still be available in the 5th round and I would start to select around then.
#71. Les meilleurs espoirs pour le repêchage 2023
Dans cet épisode, Mat et Pascal discutent du tournoi Hlinka présentant plusieurs espoirs en vue pour le repêchage 2023 de la NHL.
#70. Ouverture du camp des Canadiens de Montréal
Dans cet épisode, nous aborderons plusieurs thèmes dont les attentes envers différents espoirs du CH cette saison. De plus, nos chroniqueurs répondront à VOS questions dans «Le Forum TSLH»
#69. La NHL sous le radar (Édition 13 septembre 2022)
Pour un premier épisode de la NHL sous le radar dans le TSLH Podcast, Pascal et Mat discute de certains sujets d'intérêt dans la NHL.