It’s been a few months since the last instalment of my rankings and there has been no shortage of player movement during that time.
It was in December that most prospects finally reached the threshold of games played to get to the point where their performance so far this season begins to become a reliable representation of their talent level and potential.
December also saw the World Junior A Challenge, where Bobby Brink, a massive riser on this list, beat out consensus top prospect and potential top three pick Vasili Podkolzin for Most Valuable Player honours.
Then, in early January, we saw the biggest U20 tournament of the season in the World Junior Championships. Kaapo Kakko scored the tournament-clinching goal for the Finns while Jack Hughes dazzled in the games he didn’t miss to an undisclosed injury.
After the hectic holiday season, things have cooled down as the prospects have returned to their club teams to continue with their seasons. The next major tournament on the horizon is the U18s which will put many of the draft’s high-end prospects on display as they fight for the gold medal in a best-on-best international tournament.
As things are quiet, it’s the ideal time to release my mid-season 2019 NHL Draft rankings. We’ve seen an influx of draft rankings recently enter the conversation, as several scouts and publications have had the same, if not, similar thoughts.
Before we dive into the list, we need to get a few things out of the way.
First off, my evaluation method: I put immense value into statistics. This stretches beyond a player’s point production. I also put a lot of value into statistics that can offer additional context, like Involvement Percentage (the percentage of a team’s goals that a particular player records a point on), as well as the invaluable statistic of Betweenness from Evan Oppenheimer.
Betweenness measures the influence that a player has within his team’s scoring network. The way I like to think of it is as a measure of the degree to which a team’s offence would suffer if a particular player was suddenly removed from their roster. The higher the Betweenness score, the more the team would feel the adverse effects.
You can read Evan’s excellent article detailing the Betweenness statistic here. You’ll see me reference Betweenness quite frequently throughout the ranks, usually by embedding one of Evan’s tweets.
Onto the eye test now: In particular, I value skating and intelligence in prospects, but at the end of the day, what I’m looking for is total offensive impact. In most cases, I’m not picky about how a player is making their impact. I only care about the size that is provided with that impact.
I put very little weight into defensive play at this age. A common theme in junior hockey is poor defensive play. That makes sense since the main focus during the early stages of a player’s development is offensive skills.
Typically, the defensive ability begins to show later on in a prospect’s developmental arc, usually after they are drafted. Ruling out a prospect due to poor defensive play at this age is irresponsible and a recipe for poor drafting.
Primarily, I’m looking for upside, but there’s a proper balance between that and the probability of a player making the NHL. If I were to be swinging for pure upside alone, Anttoni Honka would easily crack my top 10 and most likely my top 5. With this balance, he does not.
Beyond the numbered rankings, I have also sorted the players into tiers. These tiers indicate where significant drops in talent exist. Players in the same tier are similar in talent and potential.
With that out of the way, let’s get into the rankings.
1. Jack Hughes (LHC, USNTDP U18)
I seriously considered Kaapo Kakko for this spot, but ultimately decided to stick with the consensus top prospect for the draft.
I’m not going to spend too much time on Hughes or Kakko in this piece and that’s for two reasons. First, I think most people are at least somewhat familiar with their games already and second, I already wrote a 3,300 word comparison of the two prospects, which includes an in-depth breakdown of both of their games.
The tl;dr version of that article is that, although Kakko is much stronger on the puck, a better scorer and has a huge edge on Hughes around the net, Hughes is a stronger skater and playmaker, as well as more dynamic than the the Finn. Hughes has a higher ceiling and I think he’s likely to hit that ceiling, although there’s more growth still to occur than most people tend to think.
2. Kaapo Kakko (RW, Liiga)
Kakko is dominant below the goal line and was one of Finland’s top players at the World Junior Championships as a draft-eligible. He has great hands, fantastic edge work and a high-level shot as well. Kakko’s ability to create space and lanes is exceptional and he makes terrific use of that room with his breathtaking array of skills.
He projects as a dominant offensive winger with a well-rounded offensive profile, making him extremely difficult to stop due to the sheer variety of ways that he can threaten.
3. Dylan Cozens (RHC/W, WHL)
A big, powerful centre, Cozens is strong on the puck and a force in the offensive zone. He’s excellent on the boards and around the puck and can execute the cycle at a high level. Cozens is very good at moving the puck through the neutral zone and appears to do a good job of generating zone entries.
While he’s more than capable of making flashy, high-skill plays, his overall game tends to revolve around quietly effective play that allows his team to hold possession of the puck for long periods of time. For instance, I’ve had a couple viewings of him where he has seemed quiet, but he’ll still have managed a couple primary points.
Cozens has spent time as both a centre and a winger this year, but I’d project him as a right winger when he arrives at the NHL level.
4. Alex Turcotte (LHC, USNTDP U18)
Alex Turcotte is really tough to evaluate since he’s missed all but 11 games so far this season due to a couple different injuries (after missing significant time with the first one, he sustained another serious injury in his first game back). He’s finally healthy again and is up to 13 points in the 11 games he’s played. That’s pretty solid– not necessarily what you’d expect from a prospective top five pick, but only two of those 11 games have fallen against USHL teams; the other 9 against much more difficult NCAA competition.
Turcotte is a dynamic centre with game-altering ability. He’s an excellent skater; high-end speed, great on his edges and a wide base that makes him difficult to knock off the puck. He supports the play very well and finds open pockets in the offensive zone.
He’s a fantastic puck-carrier with great hands and an excellent sense for open lanes. I really don’t think there are any significant weaknesses to his game. He could easily contend for the top three in my eyes. All he needs to do is stay healthy and he’s going to start attracting far more attention than he’s received so far.
5. Trevor Zegras (LHC, USNTDP U18)
The best description of Trevor Zegras that I’ve heard so far is “Jack Hughes-lite.” It’s spot on; Zegras plays a very similar game to the #1 prospect with most of the same strengths and weaknesses as well.
He’s an excellent playmaker with otherworldly vision, a great skater capable of attacking lanes and he processes the game at an extremely high level. He plays an east-west style, and like Hughes, he can be easy to knock off the puck, but that will improve as he adds strength.
— Stars n’ Stripes Hockey (@StarsStripesHKY) January 9, 2019
6. Jakob Pelletier (LW, QMJHL)
I just want to take a minute to brag about something. On August 21, 2018, I published my preliminary rankings for the 2018 NHL Draft. In the #5 spot was Jakob Pelletier, a player typically regarded as a fringe first-rounder at the time. A little over a week later, I published this article lauding Pelletier’s ability.
At the time, this was a very unpopular take, but it’s looking pretty good now. Pelletier has continued his excellent play this year, currently operating at a pace of 1.41 PTS/GP, and has risen up rankings accordingly, although he still doesn’t receive the recognition he deserves as one of the 10 most promising prospects eligible for the draft.
For an in-depth breakdown, I encourage you to read the article linked above. It’s a bit dated, but Pelletier’s game remains the same. He’s an excellent skater, a fantastic playmaker and doesn’t let his size (5’9″) hold him back in the slightest.
7. Arthur Kaliyev (LW, OHL)
One of the most divisive prospects available in this year’s draft, Kaliyev is an American sniper currently tearing up the Ontario Hockey League. At the time of writing, Kaliyev is over 1.5 PTS/GP for the Hamilton Bulldogs, a statistical accomplishment that is untouched by any first-time draft eligible in the CHL (double-overager Brett Leason continues to maintain his absolutely ridiculous rate of nearly 2 PTS/GP).
Kaliyev is a dominant sniper with enormous potential as a goal-scorer. Armed with a lethal shot, soft hands and an excellent sense for open space, he’s a nightmare to defend because he can attack in so many ways. Give him space and he’ll have time to pick his spot on the goalie, a recipe for disaster; or play him tight and leave yourself susceptible to his soft hands and speed, often ending in him blowing right past the defence. He’s strong on the puck and can slice through the offensive zone to find space for his shot.
Kaliyev does an exceptional job of creating dangerous opportunities for himself. He leads the entire OHL in Individual Expected Goals, places 4th in 5v5 Expected Goals and find himself 9th in 5v5 Expected Goals per game. (prospect-stats.com)
8. Peyton Krebs (LW, WHL)
Despite playing for a dismal Kootenay Ice team, Krebs has been putting up points at a tremendous rate considering the unfavourable conditions (48 points in 40 games). He’s involved in more of his team’s total goals than both Dylan Cozens and Kirby Dach are on their own respective teams, a very promising trend. It takes a little more digging because of how poor Kootenay is as a team, but his overall statistical resume is fantastic.
Krebs is a slight playmaker with excellent skating, vision and lane manipulation. He’s a very strong playmaker from along the boards and has no fear of the centre of the ice. He’s an exceptional handler of the puck that doesn’t force plays; if he needs to, Krebs will hold the puck until a play opens up, no matter how long that ends up being. He could stand to shoot more, but Krebs is an elite playmaker with excellent skill in transition.
9. Bowen Byram (LHD, WHL)
Byram is an ultra-intelligent puckmoving defenceman that is tearing up the WHL right now. He’s been on fire lately and has surpassed the point per game mark as a blue liner. He isn’t overly dynamic or super flashy, but he’s extremely effective. He transitions the puck very well, is a major danger in the offensive zone and loves to jump up into the play, finding extreme success in that area.
He consistently makes excellent reads, putting him in impeccable position to make the proper play. He projects to be a possession monster, capable of moving the puck up ice with control and quickly regaining it from the entire team when it is lost. I don’t think he has high-end skill in any physical skill (his intelligence is exceptional, but that isn’t physical), but he’s extremely well-rounded and forms an excellent bet to be an effective NHLer for quite some time.
10. Connor McMichael (C/W, OHL)
McMichael’s finally starting to attract attention, but he remains drastically underrated.
The London Knights are a dominant offensive team. They lead the OHL in goals scored, averaging 4.48 goals per game. Even with this level of offensive dominance, it’s still McMichael, a draft-eligible, that is the most important piece of London’s offence.
Here’re some charts for all 36 London Knights’ games (all games that 2019er Connor McMichael played in).
McMichael looks to be, far and away, London’s biggest scoring driver all around.
This could be a bit misleading for evaluating other players who played fewer games, however. pic.twitter.com/yU0gNcQs70
— Evan Oppenheimer (@OppenheimerEvan) January 7, 2019
McMichael is the total offensive package. He’s fast, he’s an excellent puck carrier and he knows how to put the puck in the net. He generates dangerous opportunities at an exceptional rate: he ranks 14th in the entire OHL in 5v5 High Danger Shots Per Game, and 13th in 5v5 Individual Expected Goals Per Game. He has no problem converting on those opportunities either with 27 goals in 43 games this season.
McMichael is an excellent playmaker as well. He’s 26th in the OHL in 5v5 Primary Assists Per Game with 0.3 A1/GP. He has fantastic vision and he’s great at moving the puck into the slot as well.
11. Kirby Dach (RHC, WHL)
Dach got off to an incredible start to his season, but after cooling off significantly, he now finds himself producing at a rate of about 1.18 points per game, which is good but not great. For comparison, Dylan Cozens is currently sitting at 1.4 PTS/GP, which is truly elite production.
A playmaker, Dach has an otherworldly sense for passing lanes and the location of his teammates. He has great touch on the puck and can make difficult passes appear easy. Standing at 6’4″, Dach is huge and makes good use of his size and the reach that comes with it.
He’s effective on the forecheck and he uses his extended reach for a variety of purposes, whether that be forcing a turnover, taking away passing lanes, or protecting the puck.
I think Dach is more of a wild card than people typically think. It’s easy to get caught up in how dominant he appeared at the beginning of the season, but just as often as he can take over a game, he can have next to no impact. Which one of those two modes is Dach going to be in the majority of the time?
12. Alex Newhook (LHC, BCHL)
It’s always difficult to evaluate prospects in Junior A leagues such as the BCHL and that holds true here. Newhook is tearing up the league, but it’s difficult to judge whether that’s a product of poor competition or elite talent in situations like these.
In Newhook’s case, I think it’s quite clear that’s it’s the result of legitimate high-end talent. Newhook showcases dominant skill every game he plays, singlehandedly carrying his team to a win some nights. He’s an outstanding skater, capable of blowing right by hopeless defenders. Add that to his lightning quick hands and you’ve got a one-on-one nightmare for defenders.
However, Newhook’s statistical profile isn’t quite as strong as one would expect out of a prospect with this kind of skill and that’s why he doesn’t crack the top 10. His raw production isn’t what you would expect out of an elite prospect and even more concerning, it seems that Newhook isn’t even the most influential player in his team’s scoring network.
2018-19 Victoria Grizzlies
Newhook looks good, but it doesn’t look like he’s dominating relative to his teammates.
So either his teammates are driving scoring as much as he is, and they’re all fantastic, or Newhook isn’t that special.
PS: Riley Hughes doesn’t look great here. pic.twitter.com/jug4ebtaa1
— Evan Oppenheimer (@OppenheimerEvan) December 14, 2018
Remember Tyson Jost? After some time in the NCAA, Jost is struggling to establish himself as an NHL player after being drafted 10th overall out of the BCHL by the Colorado Avalanche in 2016. Similar to Newhook, Jost wasn’t as important of a piece in his team’s offence as you would expect and now he’s struggling to transition to the pro level.
Kyle Turris, one of the most successful players the BCHL has ever produced, did lead his team in Betweenness during his draft year and he turned out very well. It’s only a few prospects, so it’s nowhere near conclusive, but there could be a trend here. If there is, Newhook isn’t on the promising side of it. It’s hard to say, but I’d exhibit some caution here.
13. Nicholas Robertson (RW, OHL)
A criminally underrated winger, Robertson put on a show at the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game, completing several dazzling passes and putting his dynamic ability on full display. The brother of Dallas Stars prospect Jason Robertson, Nick is an explosive skater with a fantastic first step. He can accelerate very quickly and is lethal at top speed. Owning exceptional vision and a deceptive shot, Robertson is a true dual-threat attacker that can be overwhelming to defend.
Robertson has earned the bulk of his attention from exceptional showings at the Hlinka-Gretzky and now the Top Prospects Game, but he’s been similarly effective for the Peterborough Petes of the OHL. Through 32 games, Robertson has tallied 34 points for the Petes, an even split of 17 goals and 17 assists and he’s done so as one of the most influential pieces of Peterborough’s offence.
#CHLTPG: The East Coast-West Coast beef was a media concoction.
Californian Nick Robertson with a beauty of a pass to Staten Islander Arthur Kaliyev, who uses his elite shot to give Team Cherry a 1-0 lead pic.twitter.com/xOxop0p7n0
— Steve Kournianos (@TheDraftAnalyst) January 24, 2019
14. Pavel Dorofeyev (LW/RW, MHL)
A skilled Russian winger, Dorofeyev has split time between the KHL and MHL this season, taking part in 19 KHL contests and 16 in the MHL. In those 16 MHL games, Dorofeyev has destroyed the league, tallying 25 points. His single KHL point may seem modest, but it’s everything that should be expected from a player his age at that level.
Dorofeyev is slick with fantastic hands, agility and recognition of lanes and space. A scorer, not only does Dorofeyev have a strong shot, but he also anticipates the play exceptionally well and has no fear of the crease, allowing him to collect rebounds and loose pucks in the slot.
15. Bobby Brink (RW, USHL)
One of the more underrated draft eligible players, Brink is a shifty offensive winger that plays with pace and intelligence. He has an explosive stride that allows him to consistently beat opponents to pucks all over the ice and moves with intimidating speed once he works up to top gear. He does an exceptional job of creating space for himself and his teammates and is able to make the most of that space with a dazzling array of skills on the puck, including quick hands, high-end vision and a threatening shot as well.
Brink is absolutely destroying the USHL with 33 points in 19 games. Even with the relative weakness of the USHL taken into account, that kind of production is still exceptional, ranking 8th in the draft class by Adjusted PTS/GP. Even better, Brink is a July birthday, placing him on the younger side of the draft class.
I took a more in-depth look at Brink’s game earlier in the season.
16. Vasili Podkolzin (RW, MHL)
I’m going to be honest with you: I have absolutely no idea if Vasili Podkolzin is good or not. My current projection of him is even more of a blind stab than the rest of these ranks. He’s been incredible at international tournaments, absolutely destroying the Hlinka-Gretzky tournament and dominating the WJAC and was more than serviceable as a first time draft eligible at the World Juniors.
On the flip side, he’s been mediocre at best in league play, rotating through the Russian KHL, VHL and MHL and failing to find success in any one of the three circuits.
When Podkolzin is firing on all cylinders, as he seems to be whenever he’s outside of Russia (insert conspiracy theory here), he’s a dominant, well-rounded attacker that can threaten in a multitude of ways, whether that’s through his skating, his shot, or if he’s threatening someone’s well-being by running them over in open ice.
The upside here is significant, but so is the risk. Podkolzin’s weaknesses are few, but he struggles with inconsistency and gets caught with his head down far more often than you’d expect out of a prospect with his caliber.
If the draft were today, it seems that Podkolzin would be selected within the top 5. That could be a pick that pays off in spades, but just as easily, it could be a selection that haunts the franchise for years. He appears promising, but caution is recommended.
17. Cole Caufield (RW, USNTDP U18)
Looking only at pure scoring talent, undersized sniper Cole Caufield is right up there with Arthur Kaliyev for the best scorer in the draft. Despite his size, Caufield has no trouble finding the dangerous areas and once he’s there, an abundance of finishing ability takes care of the rest.
As strong of a scorer as he is, I’m concerned with the other elements of Caufield’s game. He isn’t an exceptional playmaker, he relies on others to transition the puck and I’m not confident in his ability to create opportunities for himself.
He seems to be the type of player that is a fantastic compliment to an elite playmaker (like Jack Hughes, his linemate with the USNDTP), but ultimately, that’s what he is: a complimentary player, not a driver of play. In the top half of the first round, I think you shoot for creators, but once we get to this 16-20 range, I think it’s the perfect time to jump on an elite finisher like Caufield.
18. Matthew Boldy (RW, USNTDP U18)
A slick, creative winger, Boldy is one of the most intriguing players in the draft. He’s capable of making incredible plays with the puck and is up there among the best for some of the best puck skills in the draft. His hands are outstanding; the list of opponent’s that have been made to look silly by him is a long one.
Once you move away from those hands, the rest of his offensive profile begins to raise concern. He has a dangerous shot, but he can struggle to utilize it and his skating and passing doesn’t stand out. His overall offensive results haven’t been fantastic either: Boldy isn’t far above the point per game mark despite playing with tons of talent with the USNTDP.
If you’re willing to bet on his offensive profile rounding out, Boldy will make a fantastic selection. He has upside, but it’s tough to buy in on a player with an offensive profile this unpolished.
19. Anttoni Honka (RHD, Liiga/Mestis)
If you’re at all familiar with my work, you know that I absolutely love this kid. You may have noticed with the last few rankings that the focus is shifting more towards pure upside, and I’m not sure any other player in the entire draft has more than Honka. If the Finnish defenceman pans out, we could have an elite offensive defensemen on our hands here.
Honka has flaws, there’s no doubt about that. He’s very poor in his own end, playing a risky, overaggressive defensive style that leads to him looking silly far more often than it proves successful in breaking up offensive plays. His upbeat offensive style can result in the occasional egregious turnover.
The Finn struggles to gain the trust of his coaches, playing a very limited role at the WJC and averaging ~13 minutes a game in the Liiga.
Honka’s game is full of highs and lows, but the positives outweigh the negatives. Honka is a breakout machine, capable of getting the puck out of his own zone with possession at a ridiculous rate. It’s very rare to see him attempt an uncontrolled exit.
In the three games I’ve tracked, he has moved the puck over the blue line in an uncontrolled manner just once — and that doesn’t mean he forces possession exits with poor results either. In that same three game sample, he has failed on just 1 exit attempt.
Honka is able to exit the zone with this kind of success because of his ability to escape forechecking pressure. If he doesn’t have a play on his first look, Honka doesn’t cede possession by throwing it into the neutral zone. Instead, he’ll move his feet to create additional time and space for him to make a controlled breakout play.
Great play from Anttoni Honka to escape pressure and create a controlled entry. He’s so good at accelerating away from a checker, and it allows him to make plays like this. pic.twitter.com/25qVCAroWh
— let’s go rangres (@DraftLook) December 28, 201
20. Phillip Tomasino (C, OHL)
Another undervalued player, Tomasino is a slippery centre with outstanding puck skills. He’s a dangerous and creative manipulator of the puck that consistently attempts high skill plays, usually with great success. He’s agile, shifty and does an excellent job of identifying open space.
His statistic profile is exceptional: he leads all OHL draft-eligibles in 5v5 goals per game (18th in the entire league), and his raw production compares very well with many of the consensus first round — and even some top 15 — selections in the draft class.
Phillip Tomasino: ELITE. pic.twitter.com/T0vPq16Vpe
— let’s go rangres (@DraftLook) January 13, 2019
21. Nils Höglander (LW, SHL)
Historically, when draft-eligible players top 0.09 points per game in the SHL, they have gone on to play in the NHL 51% of the time. Nils Höglander is way above that mark, currently operating at a pace of 0.36 PTS/GP. His draft year production is comparable to that of Mika Zibanejad, William Nylander, Carl Grundstrom, Jesper Boqvist and Isac Lundestrom.
At 5’9″, Höglander is undersized, but he’s already proven that he can contribute amongst men in the SHL. He’s an aggressive offensive winger that flies around the ice, using his first-step quickness and agility to win races and quickly turn towards the offensive goal. He generates plenty of quality shots and can act as a very capable playmaker, armed with excellent vision and touch on the puck.
22. Ville Heinola (LHD, Liiga)
Heinola made Finland’s WJC roster and was very solid before Maxime Comtois ended his tournament with a knee injury on a hard, borderline-dirty hit in the corner. He saw time on Finland’s top defensive pairing with Henri Jokiharju and finished the tournament with a goal and an assist through five games.
Heinola plays for Lukko in the Finnish SM-Liiga where he has 6 points in 23 games. He’s an intelligent, two-way defensemen that has any particular skill that stands out among the rest, but he’s well-rounded and very effective. He does an excellent job of maintaining possession as he exits the zone and sets his forwards up for controlled entries on the other side of the ice.
At the professional level, he’s shown a safe, low-risk style of play, but he has an offensive side to his game that has only been apparent at the junior level. In 9 games this season in the Jr. A SM-Liiga, Heinola has 9 points. As Heinola develops and his skills catch up to those of the adult men that he plays against, that offensive output should begin to show at the professional level.
23. Egor Afanasyev (LW, USHL)
A large, powerful winger, Afanasyev is a dangerous scorer with excellent USHL production. His 40 points in 35 games is quite impressive on its own, but even better, Afanasyev has been involved in 27% of his team’s goals and is a very influential piece of his team’s scoring network.
Afanasyev is constantly creating dangerous opportunities. He owns a threatening shot that he makes heavy use of in the slot and protects the puck very well as he drives towards the crease. He’s a physical specimen that’s difficult to stop, but he’s also capable of taking over a game with raw skill alone.
24. Ryan Suzuki (LHC, OHL)
Suzuki is an intelligent playmaking centre with otherworldly vision. He’s also one of the most difficult players on this list to evaluate.
When Suzuki is at his best, he’s an entertaining, offensive-bent centre that shows his intelligence in all facets of the game. He has a tremendous sense for the location of his teammates and the defensive coverage of the opposition. Frequently, Suzuki knows who he’s going to pass to before he even receives the puck himself. Because of this, he’s able to pull off quick one-touch passes into dangerous areas that leave the defence scrambling.
However, Suzuki can be streaky, inconsistent and at times, downright invisible. As a result, he hasn’t produced at the level expected of him with just 47 points through 44 games.
25. Billy Constantinou (RHD, OHL)
Constantinou is flying under the radar, but as a skilled right-shot defensemen, he could provide massive value to an NHL team one day.
Constantinou makes most of his money in transition where he makes poised, intelligent plays to generate controlled zone entries for his team. The defenceman has a terrific mindset with the puck, always searching for an option that allows his team to retain possession. If he doesn’t have an outlet to move the puck out of the zone, he’ll create one; rather than throwing the puck back into the neutral zone like many defencemen would.
It’s much more difficult to make a play to retain possession while under pressure than it is to make one that gives the puck back to the other team (albeit in a less dangerous area of the ice), but Constantinou manages to achieve a very high execution rate on these plays.
26. Nathan Légaré (RW, QMJHL)
Légaré, a scoring winger with excellent finishing ability around the net, shares a lot of similarities with the aforementioned Cole Caufield. He’s an exceptional complimentary player with fantastic shooting talent, but it doesn’t seem that he can create opportunities for himself.
Légaré does a fantastic job of getting himself open and is seemingly a constant passing option for his teammates. He’s always buzzing near the net and uses quick bursts of speed to jump on rebounds and loose pucks in the slot. He’s playing with one of the QMJHL’s elite in Ivan Chekhovich and has had tremendous success alongside Chekhovich, currently sitting at 66 points through 48 games which is just ridiculous for a player his age.
27. Victor Soderstrom (RHD, SHL)
A steady, intelligent defenceman, Soderstrom is finding success as a teenager in the SHL. He generally plays a quiet, low-risk game, but still manages to be effective on zone exits and in the offensive zone. He’s shown flashes of high-end skill that I think we would see more if he played in a junior league.
Ideally, we’d see Soderstrom attempt more high-skill plays, but it’s hard to decipher whether that’s a result of a lack of skill or simply because Soderstrom is limiting himself to a safer game in the SHL.
What he has shown is the ability to make a strong exit pass and potential as a power play quarterback at the NHL level. I don’t think his upside is tremendous, but Soderstrom is a strong bet to be an effective NHL player in the future.
28. Alex Beaucage (RW, QMJHL)
Quite possibly *the* most underrated draft-eligible player (at 28th, I feel that I might even be undervaluing him myself), Beaucage is a scoring winger that is recording excellent results in the QMJHL. Through 51 games, Beaucage has 62 points— a pace of 1.22 PTS/GP as a 17-year-old.
Beaucage has an absolute laser of a shot which he pairs with a deceptive release. It’s rare for a player to be a consistent shooting threat from as far away from the net as the faceoff dot, but pinpoint accuracy and above-average leverage makes Beaucage a dangerous shooter from that area.
Additionally, Beaucage is a terrific passer, especially in medium range. He does an outstanding job of putting the puck into space for teammates and can make plays from his backhand as well as his forehand.
If anything is going to hold Beaucage back, it’s his skating. The winger gets around through short, choppy crossovers that generate very little power for him and Beaucage will often find himself a step behind the play as a result.
Without improvement in this area, his NHL potential is little to none, but it’s unfair to count a player out for a deficiency in one particular area, especially when it’s something that can be improved (compared to something like hockey sense, for example, where growth is considerably more difficult).
29. Albin Grewe (RW, SuperElit/SHL)
An unpolished, but promising winger out of Sweden, Grewe could be an excellent bet for a team swinging for upside at the end of the first round. Grewe has split time between Sweden’s SuperElit and SHL this season, scoring 30 points in 21 games in the SuperElit and going pointless through 15 games in the SHL.
Grewe is a threat from the perimeter, able to connect with teammates with short, direct passes into the slot or walk it in and let go a menacing wrister with a quick and deceptive release. At times, he’s able to cut towards the crease himself, but he often struggles to gain a step on the defender in order to do so.
Grewe has exceptional technical skill on the puck, but his intelligence and foot speed could hold him back. It’s tough to become a more intelligent player (although additional experience should help), but an increase in mobility should be very achievable.
30. Matthew Robertson (LHD, WHL)
An intelligent, two-way defensemen, Robertson makes an impact in all three zones. He loves to join the rush offensively and is able to make things happen with the puck in that situation (it’s quite common for a defensemen to make a good play to make themselves an option off the rush, only to have the entire opportunity die on their stick). He’s confident and assertive on the puck, comfortable with hanging on to it for as long as is necessary.
On the breakout, I’d like to see him do a better job of making use of his feet to escape forechecking pressure. He’s stationary with the puck too often, and although it isn’t resulting in turnovers, the forechecking pressure is forcing him to make indirect passes to his wingers, usually by rimming the puck around the boards. Obviously, that isn’t ideal, since it becomes considerably more difficult for the forward to handle the pass.
Despite this, he still seems to be quite effective at exiting the zone with possession, partly because he does an excellent job of drawing pressure to him before making a play, creating space for his teammates.
While Robertson’s combination of intelligence, two-way play and size will be an enticing option for NHL teams, I’m not sure how much upside Robertson has. He’s an excellent choice if all a team is looking to get out of their selection is an NHL player, but I think Robertson’s upside is limited to a proficient second-pair role.
31. Moritz Seider (RHD, DEL)
Seider has been attracting attention lately as a potential top 20 selection, but I just don’t see it. Owner of a well-rounded, two-way game, Seider is proficient in several areas, but doesn’t have any singular skill that I would classify as high-end.
One element of Seider’s game that I would identify as above-average is his defensive play. The German back does an excellent job of defending his own blueline, pairing a tight gap with excellent anticipation to break up offensive efforts before they can start. In his own zone, he positions himself quite well and takes away passing lanes.
With the puck, Seider doesn’t show as well. He can make an uncontested outlet pass, but an inability to escape pressure can cause trouble for Seider when he doesn’t have an abundance of time with the puck. As a result, he can struggle on breakouts when facing off against a quick forecheck.
Offensively, Seider makes more of a positive impact, but I’d still like to see more from him. He can be impactful jumping up into the rush and can occasionally threaten with a well-placed shot from the point. However, he could stand to be more consistent in this area.
Personally, I don’t see much upside in Seider, but I know quite a few people that would disagree with me. However, I do think that his combination of a well-rounded skillset and professional experience in the DEL make a strong bet to be an NHL player, even if that’s potentially only as a bottom-pairing defenceman. For the record, I think Seider has a shot at a future of being a capable #4 defensemen on a team, I’m just not sure how likely that is.
Honourable Mentions (in no order):
Cam York (LHD, USNTDP)
Raphael Lavoie (RW, QMJHL)
Samuel Fagemo (LW/RW, SHL)
Kristian Tanus (LW, Mestis)
Phillip Broberg (LHD, Allsvenskan)
Mikko Kokkonen (LHD, Liiga)
Robert Mastrosimone (LW, USHL)
Egor Serdyuk (RW, QMJHL)
Maxim Cajkovic (RW, QMJHL)
Samuel Poulin (RW, QMJHL)
Jamieson Rees (C, OHL)
Brett Leason (RW, WHL)