Scott Morrow of Shattuck St. Marys (courtesy of Paul Bryant / USA hockey)
By Simon St. Laurent
Just like every year, my ranking will be limited to a top-32, a handful of players that I like for the subsequent rounds as well as justifications for the exclusion of certain players presented almost unanimously as a first-round pick by a majority of the scouts.
Brief overall analysis of the 2021 draft: Frankly, this draft doesn’t really get me excited. I would even go as far as to say that this is the worst draft since I starting cover these.
The 2021 draft lacks franchise-altering prospects at the top and has pretty underwhelming depth as far as the first round is concerned. This does not imply that there are not any good players, only that the vast majority of players end up at a rank that is not truly representative of their true worth.
Personally, I would say I have a maximum of 20 players who I consider worthy of a first-round pick. And Spoiler-Alert, it’s not the first 20 on my list.
As I just mentioned, I have a large number of players ranked at a spot that seems high and while these are players that I like, they are not necessarily players that I want to make a ‘Statement on’ as I have done in the past (Jason Robertson 15th in 2017, Grigori Denisenko 7th in 2018, Samuel Poulin 14th, Vladislav Kolyachonok 15th and Nick Robertson 16th in 2019 or JJ Peterka 16th, Tristen Robins 20th and Ozzy Wiesblatt 22nd last year). Even I was shocked when I saw where some players were on my list. Not necessarily because they are players that we do not find as high in the other lists, I don’t give a damn about that, but more because the implication of leaving the draft with these players at these ranks do not seem optimal.
Making a list from 1 to 32 has its limits, this is where the justifications connected to certain ranks are important. I have some players that I wouldn’t risk taking unless I have 2 first-round picks (or a few early in the second) or have a deep prospects pool but that lack star-potential.
I have been an advocate of the philosophy of ‘taking the best available player no matter what’ for a long time, but the more I analyzed this draft, the more that I saw different scenarios in which my choice would differ.
I also wouldn’t object to the idea of trading away one or many of my picks if the offer is worth it.
What interests me when I look at a list is not to see names next to a number. What interests me is who are the players for whom, as a scout, you would be willing to put your fist on the table to sell your pick to your GM. I count few of these players this year and there is a lot of risk that these players would be taken at a somewhat hasty rank.
Some will find it a bit dishonest to rank players at ranks that I wouldn’t be willing to risk, but so is the 2021 Draft. And that’s where a a team could rather decide to trade down and add another pick. Some will tell me it’s not that common in the NHL, but the Calgary Flames did it twice with their first-round pick last year.
Having said that, I’ve always believed that in the end most drafts end up being similar and the possibility that some players will outperform relative to their rank should not be ruled out. A team that has a few picks between 30 and 40 could come out with some interesting players.
The first four players in my ranking form a tier among which I would be ready to accept arguments for each of the players who make it up.
Simon’s Top 32 Prospects
- Luke Hughes :
I must admit that I myself was a little surprised when I saw a real possibility of placing Hughes first, since I had never really considered him as a runner-up for that title until May, which were the games that Hughes played in march.
Although he has always been quite high in my ranking (top 5) it took me a little while to really appreciate him; Often at the start of the season I would only see a few flashes per game, and a few times it was when the outcome of the game was already sealed. I never knew what to expect and not in the sense that he could be excellent one game and average the next, or that there were inconsistencies from shift to shift, but rather because I was having a hard time finding what his identity was, unlike Jake Sanderson last year who was the number one defenseman for the NTDP.
One of those reasons is that Hughes played a lot on a pair with Sean Behrens earlier in the year and the latter is also an offensive defenseman, so Hughes had to play the role of defensive anchor and stay a bit behind.
Often, he seemed to approach games as if they were practices and opportunities to work on fine-tuning aspects of his game rather than using it to demonstrate the extent of his talent.
In his case, I had high expectations for the games against NCAA teams (which didn’t happen due to the Covid) as well as the international tournaments. In the end, there was no 5-Nations tournament and Hughes was unable to take part at the U-18 because of an injury.
In spite of that, the more the season went on, the more he started to play at the height of his talent and he forced my hand.
The first thing that jumped out at me when I saw Hughes play is how big he is, especially when compared to his brothers. Measuring 6’2 Hughes is also a reassuring presence on defense, already early in the season he didn’t have a lot of polish to do there.
When we speak of the Hughes family, instinctively we think of the skating, for Luke, he too inherited tremendous quality in this department but he is not as agile as his brothers, on a few occasions his pivots were a little slow. His top speed is remarkable though. I was less in love with him at the start of the season as he carried the puck less, as he would rather pass the puck during the breakout, playing with Behrens was also detrimental to him at that level. That being said, outlet passes are great and he can thread the needle on long distance, even from his backhand.
His play on the power play made a big impression on me right from the start. The vast majority of players eligible for the first two rounds (with the exception of those playing against men) play on special teams, but they are not necessarily good players in these situations. As for Hughes, I quickly saw a puck-mover with an intelligence that I had only seen in very few defensemen his age. Most players would rather pass the puck to the players on the ‘half-wall’ without forcing anything too much and without creating anything, Hughes goes for very accurate passes to a teammate placed inside the defensive box of the shorthanded opponent, not to mention how he can move the box with his skating ability. He’s taking enough shot to the net but that’s one area he can improve.
He has excellent hands and an arsenal of dangles he uses most regularly on the offensive blue line, which immediately reminded me of a Rasmus Dahlin.
Even though I wasn’t completely sold yet, I compared him to Owen Power and saw more potential in Hughes; he is not really at a disadvantage in terms of size, for some Power’s 6’5 can tip the balance, but the way he uses it, I don’t see what advantage it proliferates him more. Power is not the type to punish his opponents and Hughes uses his stick just as well and has good defensive covers. Hughes is a better skater and has better hands. He’s also almost a year younger, in fact Hughes is one of the youngest players in this draft, being only days away from the 2022 draft. The two will be teammates together next year in Michigan.
Number of viewings : 24
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2. Matthew Beniers
Perhaps a slight surprise to see Beniers in front of Power. People might be more inclined to take the 6’5 defenseman but in the vast majority of Michigan’s games this season, Beniers was the player with the biggest impact on the ice, and not just between these two players but for both teams on the ice. The impact he has on both end as a centerman is just as important as that of a pillar on the blue line and I don’t think Power’s offensive play is enough to fill the rest of the Impact that Beniers have on all facets of the game, including transition, zone exits and entries, faceoffs, etc.
Many of his assets in the attacking zone lie when he finds himself at the bottom of the goal line; he is excellent from there for spotting his teammates, he can also attack the net when he finds himself at the goalmouth with his quickness and tenacity. He also attacks the net when he’s at full speed and has just passed a defenseman. He is without a doubt one of the best skaters in this draft.
Besides his impeccable work ethic and speed, his Awareness is unmatched in this draft; he always knows where the puck is going to be, he is always the first to come in to support a teammate no matter the situation, he is always the first to recover the puck, etc. It is never by chance that a player is always close to the puck, usually it is a sign of a remarkable sense of the game.
Honestly, it surprised me a little how it was almost unanimous to see Beniers ahead of Johnson. As far as I’m concerned, there has never been much of a debate.
A very fast, big centerman who can inherit defensive responsibilities, he excels in transition and a lot of his offense comes from down the goal line, his style compares to Jonathan Toews.
He may already be closer to his ceiling than other players, but he’s one of the few safe bets in this draft. I see him having a similar impact to that of a Dylan Larkin.
Number of viewings : 16
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3. Owen Power
Only in december I had Power in the first spot, and that’s not a knock on the player, far from it.
Offensively, he has excellent vision in the offensive zone and can make very accurate passes. He has the confidence to step down from his position as a defender and support the attack. He’s showing good things, but I couldn’t see the same offensive poise I saw last year with the Chicago Steels in the USHL.
He lacks the fluidity and offensive skills of Hughes and Edvinsson however I would find it reductive to believe that Power’s offensive impact is limited only from the opposing blue line. Offense often starts with defense, which is what young offensive-minded forwards are taught and Power could not illustrate this concept better. It’s amazing how every time he’s on the ice, he grabs the puck and makes an effective outlet without fanfare, no matter the circumstances. Even with one or two forwards on his back, he wipes them with disconcerting ease, let the play open in front of him and pass the puck to a teammate who completes the exit from the zone, all this instead of succumbing to the pressure and clearing the puck by the glass. The plays always start from him.
Also on the offensive side, he has an excellent “Hockey-IQ” that puts him on the same page as Michigan’s offensive players. That’s something that is overlooked a lot when it comes to offense, but it’s not a prerequisite to be Flashy to be a good offensive player. We only have to look at the wingers who have had success with Crosby over the course of his career, there is the chemistry and complementarity aspect, yes, but you still have to think the game the same way as these players and be on the same page and Power demonstrates these signs of intelligence needed.
Power rarely makes a bad play with the puck. He has a great sense of anticipation, without the puck defensively he recognizes very well when the good times are to ‘pinch’. And offensively he does recognize the opportune moments to venture deeper to give a passing option.
His speed as well as his footwork are good but not great in my eyes.
One of the things Power is most criticized for, and I strongly agree with that, is that he doesn’t have a ‘mean’ side to his game. That’s a big plus he could have to his toolbox. In two years, I’ve never seen him throw a hard hit. Having said that, to be fair, it should also be mentioned that this is not the case for Hughes and Edvinsson as well.
It may shock many, but if I was given the choice, I would take Jake Sanderson ahead Power.
Number of viewings : 17
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4. Simon Edvinsson
A highly mobile 6’4 defenseman, Edvinsson was the player who spent the most time at the top of my ranking this season.
He has superb mobility and excellent hands, which is a bit of a surprise for a defender of this build. Combining these attributes together, it makes him a defenseman who can make some coast-to-coast rushes can and easily go through the middle of the ice, even if it means dangling one or two players in the process. Having said that, he’s not as quick and efficient as Hughes as far as rushing the puck up the ice goes.
He can easily bring the puck out of the corners and out of his own-end with his size, long reach, hands and poise. His outlet passes weren’t always precise early in the season, which has improved over the year.
He’s a better skater than Power and covers more space than him on the ice, especially laterally, he also has better hands but his vision is not as well developed though.
On the power play he doesn’t have a big shot which limits his potential a bit, but he is able to distribute the puck as easily on his backhand as on his strong side.
Edvinsson’s biggest flaw during the season was his lack of “Awareness”. That means that he doesn’t always realize where his opponents or teammates are in relation to him on the ice. His timing to leave his position was also questionable at several points. In the offensive zone he plays very, very deep for a defender, as low as inside the face-off circles.
He still has relatively a lot of polishing to do for such a high pick. Something like positioning can be corrected quite easily, but Awareness, Play Reading, and Risk Management issues are intricated to Hockey-IQ (or intelligence) so it’s a bit more worrying. Another thing that I also don’t like is that defensively he’s quite passive with his stick, so good shooters can exploit that and use him as a screen.
That said, what I blamed him for the most seemed to be fixed to a very large extent in the U-18 tournament, even in Allsvenskan this winter there had been improvements at this level which shows a progression and Edvinsson covers so much space with his skating ability and his size that at his prime, it could be monstrous.
Number of viewings : 31
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5. William Eklund
Eklund is a bit in a category all by himself at the 5th spot of my ranking.
He is one of the best skaters in the draft. He’s so elusive and quick. He uses spinorama profusely in all situations and it serves him very well. He’s really dynamic and there are a lot of parallels to Beniers with his feistiness, quickness and his transitional play as he carries the puck.
The ability to protect the puck is to me a skill just like handling the puck, shooting or skating. And this skill doesn’t just depend on the physical factor as one might think, for example Pavel Datsyuk is one of the best players I have seen in puck protection and he was not a big player (this would be dishonest to use Crosby as an example for a player with similar size as the latter has tree trunks for legs and is in a class of his own) Even the Sedin twins are a good example, no matter how tall they were (6’02), they were rather frail and excelled along the boards to protect the puck. Eklund excels as much in this department with his skating and his agility, among other things, but also because he knows how to use his body to his advantage, by lowering his center of gravity and getting his butt out. He’s not afraid to attack the net, too.
He skates very low and has a very good vision of the game, being above all a playmaker, he is an excellent passer who uses the entire width of the ice.
He skates, thinks and executes quickly, which always demonstrates a very high “Hockey-IQ” when a player thinks and reacts quickly. There have been several examples in the past where the brain does not follow the hands or feet (Nail Yakupov).
When his teammate with Djurgardens, Alexander Holtz, was at the Junior World Championship, Eklund had taken his left point spot during the power-play (being left-handed he is not in a position to use one-timers) and I quite liked him there, even though he doesn’t have a big shot, he was very keen to exploit the open spaces to jump into it and be in a more dangerous position. With his quickness, and without any hesitation, he didn’t give the defensemen any time to react.
He excels in transition and a lot of the offense starts with him as he is often the one who brings the puck into enemy territory. He controls the play very well along the boards but I would like to see him diversify his attacking arsenal a little more by attacking the center of the ice more often (he is not a periphery player either). There were times when I had the impression that he did not create a lot of things offensively other than his agility on his skates, that being said, it must be remembered that he did not play against players his age group this year.
As the line can be very thin between what is considered a good first line player or an excellent second line player and that often reveals more circumstances and subjectivity. I prefer to limit myself to saying that Eklund will be a good top-6 player.
Number of viewings : 24
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6. Mason MacTavish
A big, strong center, MacTavish excels at puck protection, both in the corners and behind the net, as well as when he’s at full speed and checked by another player he has the physical strength and balance to maintain position and be able to executes his play, or even not lose any speed at all.
His speed is something he has improved over last year, being faster and above all more agile.
On the puck he’s extremely strong and I’m not referring to his physical strength but rather to the weight he puts on his stick. To me that is also part of the puck protection skill. There is the physical dimension, of course, but also the skill and intelligence dimension. It’s an art few players have, but you have to place the puck where defensemen can reach with their sticks. Vasili Podkolzin excelled in this aspect in his draft year, and in the NHL you can think of a guy like Brad Marchand where he places the puck closer to his skates which limits the access of the stick to opposing defensemen. It takes more skill than you think. One more example that being talented goes way beyond being spectacular. There are junior skills and NHL skills and MacTavish has NHL skills.
Speaking of his physical strength and strength on his stick, MacTavish is a real poison on the power play. He’ll sneak up in the opposing team’s defensive box near the net, and there he is unmovable, nothing less. If the puck gets to him, with the things I mentioned earlier, it’s impossible to get the puck out of him and he can release a lethal shot very, very quickly.
He is not a spectacular playmaker but he makes simple and efficient plays, demonstrating maturity and intelligence and he make the puck goes up the ice for his team and is easy to read for his linemates.
It happens regularly that junior age players play in positions they won’t play in the NHL. There are a significant number of junior players that plays center and that won’t have the choice but to become wingers in the NHL. In the case of MacTavish, I believe he can make a successful transition to the NHL as a centerman. He plays the center position much better than Cole Sillinger.
MacTavish reminds me of Brock Nelson, a big, hard-to-contain center with an excessively heavy wrist shot who can score 30 goals. However, I do see MacTavish as superior to the Islanders player.
Number of viewings : 10
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7. Matt Coronato
We can speak of a first major surprise here.
What sets Coronato apart from the players he’s ahead of is his unmatched offensive IQ hockey. This is probably the hardest skill to define and detect in a player; for me this defines by the ability to make the right plays according to the situation and Coronato does it very well, he tempers the game when it is time and he goes for a strong offensive push at the right time, the sense of anticipation (Coronato has an excellent one), namely exploiting the flaws in the players of other teams as well as in their system of play, to recognize the open spaces on the ice, both to attack or to place the puck in an accessible place for his teammates and also recognizing his own strengths and weaknesses.
To top it off, Coronato has a strong desire to be the best player on the ice in every game and to improve.
It’s not as sexy as attributes of other players like Sillinger’s shot and toughness, Guenther’s build and shot, Lysell’s speed and hands, but it’s the quality that counts the most to have success in the NHL and I consider Coronato to supplant other players in this department by a large margin. Even his teammate Samoskevich is possibly more talented than he is, but Coronato’s plays end in something much more often, usually a shot on goal or a chance to score.
He has a very good skating stride which, without being at the level of Beniers, Eklund and Lysell, he compensates with an unparalleled work ethic. He uses his skating ability to always push the pace and tempo of the game, he also has the ability to cut from wing to the center while maintaining all his speed and give the defender a hard time. He also likes to circle the whole offensive while in possession of the puck.
Without the puck, his positioning in the defensive zone is irreproachable, in forecheck he does not use his body much, but it must not be mistaken, Coronato is extremely competitive and has a very good stick.
Until December I was a little skeptical of the decision to have Samoskevich play in the bumper or up between the two circles on the power play and let Coronato control the game on the left half-wall because I thought it took away Samosekevich’s offensive creativity and Coronato was better near the net to collect loose pucks but I finally understood why; Coronato can make really good passes through the defensive box, he has a very good one-timer and he is very sharp and convincing with the puck, he never hesitates and moves the puck quickly, he is excellent at orchestrating a collective-attack
Coronato can also play center where he played most of the 2nd half ot the season at.
Comparisons with NHL players have always been a little touchy subject, sometimes a player has some similar characteristics or a style akin to a player without his potential approaching his comparable but in the case of Coronato I see a copy of Jonathan Marchessault, both in terms of style and in terms of potential.
I made mention in my introduction of the players I would put my fist on the table for and Coronato is at the top of that list. I have watched to too many games where he was simply both the best player on the ice and the spark plug for his team. I never saw him take a shift off.
Number of viewings : 29
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8. Cole Sillinger
Since he was injured last winter in the WHL, I didn’t really have a clear picture of Sillinger, so I was quite surprised at how abrasive he is. To me, I wouldn’t even hesitate to say he’s the most physical player in this draft, at least when it comes to high-caliber prospects. He is already mature physically, he initiates a lot of contact and he has mastered the art of “Reverse-Hit” popularized at the time by Peter Forsberg and being used wonderfully today by TJ Oshie and Filip Forsberg.
His level of intensity is very appreciable, he works very hard in pursue of the puck and on the forecheck. While he’s moving his feets, he can cover a lot of ice in his defensive coverages.
Sillinger still represents a difficult case to evaluate, on one hand he has a lot of ‘flash’ and it is easy to be seduced by the attractiveness of his size, his physical play and his shot, (which is without equivocates the best of this draft) but within each of his individual skills, there are technical faults that should not be overlooked.
First of all, his skating is a curious case, there are a lot of technical faults that stand out; his heels leave the ice a lot, which slows down his frequency of stride and reduces his economy of movement, his trunk is too vertical and at times his shoulders move too much, also his funny posture seems to cause him some balance issues, that being said, his speed is sufficient, even at times it looked dynamic. In terms of speed, I don’t think that’s a major weakness but it is one, if not the main reason why I see him on the wing and not in the center in the NHL.
As said before, in my eyes, he has the best shot in this draft, but at times I doubted his ability to get in the open-ice at equal strength. Having said that, it may be a bit harsh as a critic as Sillinger is far from a one-dimensional player and he brings a lot more to the table than his shot.
He has very good hands without necessarily being a player who will maneuver in tight spaces and create a scoring chance out of nothing.
On the power-play he showed some flashes of playmaking ability, at both hash mark. Which is a bit surprising because you would have thought that in such situations it was his shot that he would have been allowed to exploit.
After playing his first few games as a winger, he ended most of his season as a center and in my eyes that is a mistake. As I mentioned earlier, his skating is not good enough to occupy such a role in the NHL (especially to transport the puck through the neutral zone) and most importantly this position completely denature his game. Sillinger is at his best when he works tirelessly on the forecheck and in puck pursue, when he uses his size and hits hard, and seeks to get open to use his shot. When he plays in the middle he tries to play more cerebrally, he stands back rather than forecheck and he tries to control the game. Even though he shows some playmaking flashes here and there, he is not necessarily the kind of player who makes the others around him better.
As comparable in the NHL, Sillinger could grow up to be a strong, robust young winger who disrupt a lot of plays on the forecheck and scores 30 goals, somewhat in the mold of Jake Debrusk (with a much better shot).
Number of viewings : 20
The 9 to 12 range is a bit of an infuriating one. It’s a range that includes players that do have some high-end qualities and that can project to the NHL but that still shows some flaws that I can ignore and that make them overrated in my eyes. They aren’t player that I would push for their selection in the top 10, I would have like to put them a bit lower on my list but since it’s a weak draft, the players that comes after aren’t maybe as skilled and also have some flaws and concerns.
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9. Dylan Guenther
Often playing on the same line as Jake Neighbors last year who was a player I liked very much at the start of the season, Guenther was one of the 2021 prospects I saw the most last year. Guenther was seen as a top 3 pick since the start of the season.
Despite averaging 2 pts per game in 12 WHL games, I’m probably one of the few who wasn’t more impressed than he must with his performance. The word ‘disappointment’ would be an hyperbole here, I’m going to reserve that qualitative for his U-18 tournament.
The things that disturbed me in his game in the WHL (which recurred in U-18 for that matter) do not make Guenther a bad player, however, it is enough to allow me to believe that Guenther is not the promising prospect that many see (or saw).
On the plus side, Guenther is a 6’1 right winger with excellent top speed and major league shot. He has enough individual skills to see him as a top 6 forward in the NHL.
What turns me off about Guenther is that by virtue of what he showed at 16 in the WHL, we were entitled to expect him to be completely dominant in the WHL, and even if it is what the stats suggest, Guenther wasn’t the player leading the charge most of the nights. In many games I found Neighbors to be the player who took matters into his own hands.
If I compare Guenther with the other high-profile forwards in this draft, aside from his one-timer, I am not in a position to see what he does better than the rest.
He has good one-on-one skills but he plays with a long stick and that prevents him from maneuvering in tight spaces. It becomes more obvious when you compare him with a guy like William Eklund and Guenther doesn’t have the Swedish agility as well.
He showed me virtually no high-quality playmaking ability flashes during the year, even on the power play I didn’t see him control the game or set the table for his teammates, something I have seen Cole Sillinger do it fairly regularly and he is far from being seen as a playmaker. On several occasions during the U-18 tournament I found that his synchronism was not right on several of his passes.
He’s not necessarily a player that lacks intensity, but in the offensive zone I find him too passive for my liking when he doesn’t have the puck. During odd-man rushes and on the counterattack, he will still rush to the net to push back the defenders.
When he’s in possession of the puck there are little things that I can’t overlook and that bothers me for a prospect of this caliber.
First of all I find he lacks offensive creativity, something I mentioned a little bit earlier.
He doesn’t diversify his game very much, he doesn’t play different “paces” and he’s very north-south. He plays ia a corridor a lot and I would like to see him attack the center more frequently.
That being said, the biggest complaint I have with Guenther is exactly the same as I had with Alexander Holtz last year and that is his shooting selection. Especially on the power play. He takes way too much shot at times when there is no traffic in front of the net, shots when there is a defender in position to block him, shots where it would have been better to circulate the puck instead and shots from too far. Over time he becomes very predictable and despite the power of his shot, he is not an exceptional scorer who can afford that.
That said, all the ‘flaws’ I mentioned are not what you could call red flags, Guenther still projects well in the NHL only that I put a catch in the projections and I invite people to caution and letting go of the expectations of the start of the season that come with the player’s pedigree, I don’t think we’re talking about a future star, I see him a little more as a possible Patrick Sharp, which is very good in itself.
Number of viewings : 13
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10. Brandt Clarke
Having seen Clarke several times last year when I watched Tyson Foerster, Clarke had that something special about a 16-year-old defenseman, he had an offensive swagger that reminded me a bit of a certain Kris Letang. I saw some pretty glaring flaws but at his age I didn’t really care and wanted to wait until his draft year before judging harsher. All that to say that I anticipated that Clarke could have landed very high on my list this season.
Having said that, it didn’t go as planned at all. From the outset, with the OHL not holding a season, Clarke joined an obscure league in Slovakia
From the start I really didn’t like what I saw
His skating was pretty hard to assess, he shows great agility as he moves laterally on the offensive blue line while handling the puck, but other than that the top speed is pretty disappointing and average at best. He was getting beat on the outside by the opposing forwards fairly regularly. What bothers me the most with his skating and that’s one of the mistakes from last year that I talked about earlier is that Clarke often stops moving his feet, especially after he made a turnover.
On top of that, he plays without too much urgency in his defensive backcheck, which is rather frustrating to watch.
His wrist shot is rather weak, he never uses one-timer which takes away an option in his game and can make him a bit more predictable (despite moving the puck using his wits is one of the things he does the best)
His hands are nothing exceptional and despite a few noteworthy dekes in Slovakia, the pace of the games in this league and the space he has on the ice did nothing to make me excited too quickly.
Like Edvinsson, I found that he was poorly choosing his moments to go deep into the offensive zone to support his forwards and that he did not have the awareness to notice that this was not the time and that could result in odd-man rushes on the other side.
In his own end and during PKs he often forgot about the players near the net, instead going to pressure the puck carrier at the hash mark.
Offensively, in addition to all the points mentioned above, I mostly found that one of the reasons I didn’t like Clarke was that his offensive play didn’t turn me on more than it needed to be. He’s at his best moving sideways at the blue line and delaying his shot and circulating the puck using his wits.
It’s one of the limitations of scouting players in video, but in Clarke’s case, you can easily see his liveliness on the ice and his enthusiasm. He also seems very vocal on the ice and on the bench. You can’t fault him for lacking in passion but it can also result in bad non-verbal language on the ice, as mentioned earlier, especially when he turns the puck over.
I was still trying to stay objective and not be overly critical because there was still a good chance that the caliber and pace of this league was responsible for a lot of the things I blamed it on. And there’s also the fact that when I scout on a high-profile player like Clarke, I tend to be more critical. This may be one of my flaws as an evaluator, but every year there are players chosen in the top 10 who do not become the player they were meant to be and lack of talent is rarely the cause, so we can’t ignore all these little details.
Honestly after those 9-10 games from Clarke in Slovakia I had no idea where to rank him but it was closer to 20 than 10. Even some times I updated my ranking and left him out completely, preferring to wait to evaluate him at the U-18 tournament, on a North American rink, in a faster pace of play and against the best of his age group.
I was pleasantly surprised with his performance at the U-18, but not for the reasons people would think.
Clarke’s offensive play didn’t blow my mind, yes he turned out to be a very good puck distributor but that was to be expected and I didn’t find him to do it to a worthy level of all the hype we were giving him. We were talking about his Corsi and I-don’t-know-what during the tournament when Canada had a record of something like 38 goals for and 5 goals against, in such scenarios we shoudn’t grant too much importance to such things (I am not the biggest fan of advanced statistics….)
What made me leave the detractor camp was that several of the red flags mentioned above were not present.
His defensive play was much better, he defended very well one-on-one, playing the body rather than the puck, although he lacked physical strength he sought to get involved and give out checks, he started to defend well in front of his net as well, he has shown good hand-eye coordination in hitting pucks on the fly to prevent clearances in his end zone.
And offensively, despite not being a great puck carrier, he is effective in his outlet passes and zone breakout. He’s smart in his passing choices and has the patience and intelligence to delay his passes to open a better option.
It’s going to seem a bit special, but the fact that he didn’t carry the puck very much is proof of his intelligence to me. Knowing how to do an honest and fair self-assessment of one’s strengths and weaknesses is an important aspect in a player and Clarke seems to know his limits and also what makes him effective. Sometimes some players have a predominant quality being younger and they come to rely on it too often. This makes them dangerous players at a lower caliber but in the long run they end up using this quality as a crutch and it prevents them from developing other aspects of their game to become a more complete player or to add arrows to their bow. Example; Philip Broberg with his skating ability and coast-to-coast rushes (since we’re into the puck transport topic) we could also talk about the Alexander Holtz shooting selections I mentioned earlier. Some will say they prefer a player who has the ability to do it and then teach them to temper their game and choose when to do it. This is an argument that can be defended very well but when these errors are repeated in profusion and the player seems to have difficulty using his teammates, it suggests a lack of Hockey IQ and it is not something that can be corrected as easily as one would be led to believe.
He will remain recognized as a high-profile prospect for his offensive talents and even though I find him overrated on this subject, at least he has shown me with the U-18, that he will not be a 5v5 liabilities and that he may be useful other than offensively. I see him more as a 2nd pair defender.
Number of viewings : 17
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11. Chaz Lucius
Being a rather weak edition, NHL scouts didn’t have much to sink their teeth in with the NTDP this year. On top of that, Lucius who was one of the most coveted players, spent most of the season being injured.
Like the 2 previous players, Lucius is a player that I ‘like’ without necessarily saying that I would be willing to put my name on the line to push his selection.
He is a tall, lanky right-handed center, very talented. His two greatest assets are his shot and his hands. His wrist shot is very powerful and he releases quickly. His shot is very precise and he can elevate the puck up close. With his superior puck control, he is able to receive a puck in an unfavorable spot and immediately adjust to take a dangerous shot. He’s also able to find soft spots on the ice and while he’s not a player labelled as a gritty or combative player but he does go to the dirty area.
He also has excellent hands and can make some unique plays. It’s a quality in his arsenal that he likes to use. As said earlier, he uses his hands to make his shot an even more formidable weapon. He is able to combine several forces in conjunction. However, it should also be noted that his biggest weakness can sometimes come out when he uses his hands. If he ever drops the puck while dangling, he doesn’t have the explosion in his first few steps to go and retrieve the puck like a Fabian Lysell would, for example.
He’s not necessarily a playmaker, but he can spot his teammates who got forgotten behind defensive coverages.
Lucius is playing center and although he is not recognized as a force in both directions of the ice, he follows play well and makes good reads in the defensive zone nonetheless. He’s very likely to have to play wing in the NHL because his skating ability is quite below-average.
Other than my last 2-3 views of the player, I haven’t been overly impressed this season.
Risking becoming a winger, I find him to have a very similar profile to Tyson Foerster (whom I ranked 19th last year). A great right-handed player with excellent shooting, good hands and a long reach. For my part, I would take Foerster first, which testifies of the quality or therefore, lack of, of the 2021 draft.
Number of viewings : 9
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12. Kent Johnson
Probably somewhat of a surprise to see him this low.
Johnson is a very talented forward, his hands and creativity are very impressive and ranks at the top of this draft. He is a player who might grab your attention quite early in a game but beyond that I have several reservations about the player.
His skating is quite ordinary, his speed is average at best. He lacks explosion, he wins almost no battles along the ramps. In tight spaces he often tries to outmaneuver his opponents with little hesitation and changes of direction but that doesn’t work because he lacks the power to create separation and he doesn’t have the physical strength to protect the puck with his body. He remains quite agile and can turn on a dime quite easily.
He is very easy to neutralize behind the opponent’s net and in such situations, he never gives a second effort. I find he has a lot more flashes than substances. He performs a lot of passes in spinorama and in innovative ways but most of the time he would have achieved the same result with a simple play.
Defensively, his game doesn’t really feature red flags. When linemate Matt Beniers was at the World Junior Championship for the United States, Johnson played center and fared well. He did some good readings in the defensive zone.
His offensive production is also quite deceptive; lots of 2nd assists on routine plays and there are also two or three games of 4pts or more.
Guys like Tyson Jost and Casey Mittlestadt have also performed very well in the NCAA with an average skating stride and speed (although they were in their post-draft year) and they still have a hard time adjusting to the NHL. To be fair, it should be mentioned that Jost also played in a man’s body and Johnson still has a lot of weight to put on (if he’s able to) and Mittelstadt seems to be finding his grooves with Granato behind the bench. But I still find him too ineffective along the boards and behind the net and with his lack of speed and eagerness I don’t see him becoming an impact player.
I had several reservations about Cole Perfetti last year (speed, ability to reproduce what he does as a junior in the NHL, physical strength and 5v5 game) but if I am given the choice between the two, I chose the latter long before Kent Johnson.
Number of viewings : 18
Starting at the 13th spot, the gap between players is pretty close and is mostly a matter of preferences. Some players could have been 5-8 spots higher or lower and I could easily make arguments for it. A lot of the players there are ranked at a spot that is a bit eyebrow-raising but it is once again a demonstration on the lack of quality and depth in this draft.
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13. Xavier Bourgault
Playing with Mavrik Bourque, Bourgault is a player that I observed a lot last year and that I already had a special affection for.
There is, however, a world of difference between being a good junior scorer and being a legitimate NHL prospect. These nuances lie in my eyes in the characteristics of what I call “ A hockey player ”, it is an expression which elicits a few mockeries on occasion but which illustrates what a professional player should look like. I used that phrase last year to describe players like Dylan Holloway and Jake Neighbors.
This includes winning your 1 on 1 battles, giving support along the boards to teammates, backchecking having an active stick and harassing the puck carrier, using their body and playing well defensively, knowing how to extract puck to his opponent, play well in the neutral zone and use his teammates well in the simple, yet effective plays.
Without consistently excelling in these categories, there has been a noticeable improvement in Bourgault’s game at these levels since last year.
Aside from those subtleties, one of the things that held Bourgault back a bit was his skating and he also improved that aspect in the offseason and throughout the year.
Without saying that it’s his bread and butter, Bourgault’s primary quality is his scoring talent and in his case it comes down to so much more than just his shooting. He excels, nothing less, knowing how to use his teammates to distract from him for a few seconds the time to reposition himself to be able to take a better shot, he masters the art of ‘Give-n-go ‘. All these subtleties mean that I would be inclined to say that his biggest quality is his intelligence on the ice.
Last year I said that Bourque was one of the best playmakers in his draft but he was more of a “Dual-Threat” because his shooting and scoring abilities were underappreciated. This year it’s the same for Bourgault; as a scorer, his talents as playmakers are remarkable and they’re not talk enough for my taste. I’ve seen him make subliminal passes time and time again throughout the season.
While Bourque was at Team Canada Junior camp, Bourgault played center and personally I didn’t really like him in that position, in fact there were two stretches in the year that I had cooled down on him. I think it wouldn’t be too critical to say that he can be quite inconsistent. He could be a bit grittier too and must continue to work on his speed.
In my eyes he has what it takes to quietly become a top 6 winger in the NHL. My favorite thing about him is that he already plays the way I see him playing in the NHL to be successful there which makes him easier to project.
A player that could be a very good selection between 20 and 24.
Number of viewings : 21
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14. Scott Morrow
Ok, wait a sec! Don’t leave!
I would be shocked if a team were to take him in the first round. Personally, I would take him in the first round only if I don’t have an additional pick between 33 and 45. This implies that in several scenarios I would take players that I ranked lower than him first, taking the risk of selecting him later. I know this idea of ranking a player in one place and washing your hands of it may sound irresponsible but making up a list from 1 to 32 when we have no context; no given pick at our disposal, no prospect-pool and NHL team with which to compose, leaves too much to interpretation. We are not on the floor too and we cannot try to trade our picks. Morrow is a player I would love to add to my prospect-pool but I would like to make sure I add safer prospect in the same crop, including defensemen. Maybe a club with multiple first-round picks like the Columbus Blue Jackets or the Minnesota Wild might be tempted to take him since, even if he’s poised to be picked later, it only takes one team to nab you the player you want.
Making up a list from 1 to 32 has its limits; the strategies a club adopts are not always as easy as following your own roster. Morrow is a good example of that, he’s not a player I would pick from where he’s on my list (definitely not!) And depending on what picks I would benefit from, the spot I would take him would be different.
In the hockey world there are a few expressions that bother me a bit. One of those is the tag “Boom or Bust”. Very often in these scenarios, the player does not become a star or a bust down the line. The expression is also mostly used with prospects at the end of the first round or in the second round but the success rate of these choices is around 25%, so if the player fails but had a 75% chance pointing in that direction, can we really talk about a flop more than we would about a prospect said to be safer but which also fails to establish itself in his respective role?
That being said, Morrow is a Boom or Bust.
A 6’2 right-handed defenseman, Morrow has remarkable athleticism. Without necessarily being one of the fastest skaters in the draft, his skating agility combined with his hands and creativity make him a player who can do whatever he wants on the ice when in possession of the puck.
Morrow played the entire season in a weak league at Shattuck St-Mary. For that reason alone, Morrow was the biggest headache for probably a lot of scouts in this draft. With his skill-level, he was able to dominate every shift. He has one of the best pair of hands in this draft and was making fun of multiple opponents every time he was there. Every time he was on the ice he created several scoring chances, it really looked like a cheat code on the ice. He has no difficulty getting to the net and he can also go throught the ice from east to west while using backward crosses and dangling an opponent or two in the process. This does not make him an individual player though; he can make superb passes in the offensive zone showing good vision. He does not have a very big shot and very rarely uses one-timer at the blue line, he prefers to go with small quick shots aiming at tips in front of the net.
That said, Morrow had no business in that caliber and there are different ways of interpreting this situation and it comes down to a toss or whether you like the player enough and are willing to take the risk.
On one hand, we have to admit that despite all the fanfare in his game, Morrow was far from a polished product in the Prep-School leagues. At times his outlet passes were imprecise, defended badly rushes when there were a lot of space, for example 2 against 1 and even one against one where he was served a few cups of coffee during the season, it happened to him quite often not knowing how to position well in the shooting lines in the defensive zone or giving too much space to the shooter, could be too aggressive in his cover which gave way to some gaping holes to exploit and he doesn’t use his size a lot. All these faults (which we could very well call red flags) and the fact that these were still present in his 3rd year in this weak caliber are reasons enough to justify that teams would not have him on their list.
However, there is also another way of looking at it. Often when we play at a lower caliber, it has the effect of leveling our game down. Several mistakes in Morrow’s play can be attributed to a certain nonchalance (don’t be deceived, that’s still a red flag). Playing at a higher caliber can increase our alertness, focus, and work ethic. This simple fact can keep us optimistic. You can also watch former prospects who had to move from Prep-School to a higher caliber and transition without their game falling. Brendan Brisson was the 2nd best scorers in the USHL in 2019-2020 and had played for Shattuck the year before, defenseman Zac Jones and forward Shane Pinto played in a U18 AAA league before playing their draft season in the USHL and were very successful there. These 3 players also had a splendid transition in the NCAA, as well as in the NHL for Pinto and Jones!
This is a phenomenon that we have seen in many prospects this season; Fabian Lysell offered better hockey in SHL than against his age group, Stanislav Svozil played better in the U-20 tournament than in the U-18 tournament, Nikita Chibrikov was better in the VHL than in the MHL, I would almost be tempted To say that it was the case for Fedor Svechkov as well, there are also several examples over the years of players who have been better in the NHL than in the AHL. You could also compare the play of his teammate Shai Buium to Shattuck this season and in USHL, and in my eyes it hasn’t dropped much (it took him some times to adapt however).
These reasons gave me confidence and there was also the fact that Morrow was supposed to join the University of North Dakota, which is a program known to excel at developing prospects. As an example, Nick Schmaltz who was one of my favorite prospects came through North Dakota with the reputation of a not-too-hard-working player and a one-dimensional player and he is now an excellent 200-foot center in the NHL.
However, North Dakota wanted him to join the team only in 2022-23, as did Brent Johnson, so Morrow decided to go with UMass instead. The program has just won a national title and just saw Cale Makar and Zac Jones leave their ranks. I have a feeling this could be a great place for him to grow. But at the same time, the team has just won a national championship so it makes you wonder if they will be that strong in the years to come, it could expose a player like Morrow… He is easily the biggest puzzle of all this draft.
He ended his season by joining the Fargo Force, Clarke Cup finalist in the USHL, appearing in 6 playoff games. It was kind of the same Morrow one would expect; plays that leaved you scratching your head a bit, but also offensive surges that few players can boast of having the confidence and skill to achieve. He compromised himself a few times by covering a player too closely leaving a hole in the defensive coverage and finding himself a bit lost afterwards. At times he has shown improvement in his use of his body and also in his anticipation. His puck handling has seemed to improve from game to game, acclimating to the level of play. Offensively, he will need to improve finding the shooting lanes as several of his attempts were blocked before reaching the net. He’s been shut out in those 6 games but I think it’s a bit misleading because he’s got and created a good number of scoring chances. He finished Game 5 and the start of 6th with a few appearances up front, a decision I didn’t like from the coach. He had been decent defensively and most of the offense he creates comes from controlling play from behind and he can patrol the opponent’s blue line with his skating ability like few defenders can.
His style of play is a lot like Brent Burns and he’s the biggest home run attempt in the entire draft and I’d be risking it.
Number of viewings : 19
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15. Tristan Broz
Broz is a player I have started to scout rather late this season, starting my views on him in May. Like a lot of players this season, Broz has been quite difficult to rank as he has had some very strong games and others that are much more low-key. He is also one of those players whose rank on my list is not representative of where I would select him.
Broz is a talented and intelligent winger who brings a lot of intangibles with him. Without being a very physical player, Broz likes to stir the pot and he is constantly disturbing the opponent. He is also quite talkative on a regular basis. My first viewings on the player were during a back-to-back against Sioux Falls and Cole Sillinger and Broz had the upper hand over the latter, which is saying something! This is called making a good first impression. He had been very abrasive those games and had shown himself to be the kind of player I quickly fall in love with; talented, good in all three zones, very smart with the puck, quick in his decision-making and execution and disturbs the opponent.
An example of this description is during a game, he was on the receiving-end of a hard hit but barely legal, he immediately got up, and without moving towards the player (which had me a little disappointed) he regained his position on the ice, received a pass in the neutral zone and went to set-up a goal on the counterattack, he then immediately went towards the guy that hitted him and went to applaud him directly in his face.
With that style of play, it’s a little surprising that Broz is one of the best passers in the draft. Especially when it comes to powerplays. He hides his intentions well and can make very difficult passes through multiple players. His saucer passes are also remarkably precise.
He also has a very good wrist shot. His shot is heavy and precise and he uses it very well. He has the patience and the skill to use a little “drag” to delay his shot. He also knows when it’s better to send the puck to the net without necessarily trying to beat goalies cleanly, such as when there are teammates in front of the goalie ready to jump on the rebounds. He likes to take sharp angle shots as well.
Like many players this season, his skating was hard to assess. At times it seemed to look like something that might limit him and at other times he seemed quick, dynamic and capable of good acceleration to beat his opponents. Broz is very good at using the technique called ’10 -2 ‘(think of Sidney Crosby or Jeff Skinner) where he will open his hips by making a slight rotation of the pelvis and trunk to give the impression that he is braking and watching for a pass to the center but he actually retains all his speed and deceives the opponent as well. I also love the fact that he plays from east to west on the entry. It gives defenders a hard time, he can then use his vision to spot a teammate or his speed and hands to make his way to the net. This is a sign that the player is not playing in the corridor which often shows signs of limits in the Hockey IQ department.
Another aspect of Broz’s game that I really like is his intelligence and his patience with the puck. The term ‘Poise’ is used to refer to defensemen who are calm with the puck, never falters under the pressure on the forecheck and who know how to delay their plays at appropriate times. Even as a forward I would be inclined to use that quality with Broz, in all three zones he reacts very well with puck possession when a player puts pressure on him. He is able to slow down the game and make a small deke to eliminate a player and open up passing options. He never gives in to pressure and always makes sure his team stays in possession of the puck.
Now, to mention the things that I didn’t like during my views on this player; Broz has had rather low-key games. On several occasions during the regular season, he didn’t seem like he wanted to be Fargo’s go-to-guy. On the power play he stood very far in his own zone on outbreak, as if he didn’t want to be the ‘Slingshot’ option so that he wouldn’t be caught carrying the puck (when a player is carrying the puck in the neutral zone to push back the opposing defense and then send it back into his own territory so that a player can control the puck at full speed against a static defense) yet he has the hands and the speed to be able to maneuver against the defensive wall. Sometimes on a breakout, he gives the puck to a teammate and will not attack the neutral zone or the free spaces to give himself as a passing option or recover a free puck as Francesco Pineli does so well. He will rather seek to be forgotten. He can be a few games without being noticed at 5v5.
In the playoffs, I watched Fargo’s 9 games and he played really well. I was even shocked at how fast he looked.
He is not a player that I would select at the spot I ranked him, ideally, he would represent a very good value between 30 and 40. Despite the occasional 5v5 absences, I believe he can become a 2nd-3rd line in the NHL that could play on the power play and bring an interesting dimension.
Number of viewings : 20
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16. Oskar Olausson
I prefer to keep my ranking during the season to myself so I do not sell off the players that I like and so I don’t influence the ranking of others but now that I am pulling out my final ranking, I have no qualms about mentioning the places some players have been throughout the year.
It will seem surprising but at the start of the season I saw Olausson as a potential top 5 choice and who could even end up as a candidate for the first overall pick.
Of the several hundred games I have watched this season, the game I was most impressed with was an Olausson game in the Under-20 league in Sweden. If he had had to perform like this in the Canadian Hockey League on a consistent basis, he would have had a similar rise to Nico Hischier’s in 2017, I have no doubt about that. The easy argument would be to say that it was because of the caliber of play the league has to offer that I was so amazed but in fact the first few games I saw of the player were in the SHL and even there, I thought he was fantastic at this level as well.
Olausson is a big, very fast 6’2 winger who is at his best when he has the puck on his stick. He always has his head held high and chooses the right plays. He is very dynamic for his size and he has an incredible pair of hands. He’s able to control the puck at full speed, he’s very agile and he’s able to shift his entire weight and body from one side to the other in a fraction of a second and combined with his long reach, good luck getting the puck out of him. He can slice through opposing defenses without any issues weaving his way through a horde of players. His hands and his feets moves at the same which is always impressive, especially for a guy his size.
He’s able to play at different ‘pace’, which is a quality that I really like. He can attack the net or he can slow down play and organize collective attacks. Once in the offensive zone he always chooses the right play to make, and he has the talent for making plays with the lower success rate as he can dangle a few players before passing the puck.
Without the puck he is always in the right place in the neutral zone or in the defensive zone to recover free pucks or to put pressure on the puck-carrier. He is also able to skillfully steal the puck from opposing players. The only flaw that bothered me a bit is that I would have liked to see him a little more ‘mean’, he missed out on several great chances to apply big hits.
His shooting is not at the same level and he is not as big (6’2 vs 6’5) but in the fall I was comparing Olausson to Mikko Rantanen.
His role became more limited in SHL and he was eventually send down to the Allsvenskan. At this level I would have liked to see him lead the charge but he found himself more often as a passenger on his line. We often saw beautiful flashes but it did not lead to anything concrete. Without saying that I blamed him for a lack of hard work, I would have liked to see him with more bite in his game and attack more the dirty areas. He played on the outskirts a bit for a while. I also found that in Allsvenskan his timing in his shots was off, he had started playing with a longer stick so maybe it could be due to that or maybe it was due to loss of confidence. But in the worst-case scenarios he is still a smart player with the puck and who knows how to find free spots on the ice.
That being said, I definitely see an NHL player in him and he had a few better games by the end of the season and the skills he demonstrated earlier in the season have not gone away, a lot will depend to know if he really wants to become one of the best players of his draft and if he is ready to put the efforts to achieve it. A team that has scrutinized him and who have done their duty by interviewing the player, his teammates and his coaches and who believe that he can become the player of the start of the season again could still have him high enough on their list.
I believe his downfall in the rankings this season is largely attributed to a lack of confidence.
I’ve always said that the interview process and knowing too much of the player on the individual and personal side of thing can be a bit of a double-edged sword, but in Olausson’s case, I believe it would be the deciding factor.
His team in the SHL, the HV71, were relegated to the Allvsenskan losing their qualifying game so he will play in Sweden’s 2nd Division next year unless a transfer is made. This leaves me neither hot nor cold, on one hand he will be able to regain his confidence in his abilities in a lower caliber, on the other hand, not facing better competitions could halt his development.
He is a player on whom the ranking is very volatile. If he had shown in Allsvenskan this winter, even half of the player I saw at the start of the season, I could have put him around 10th-15th. As if it were not for his strong early season performances, I could also understand a first-round exclusion.
Number of viewings : 24
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17. Zach Dean
A player that I really appreciate since the start of the season.
Dean check absolutely all the boxes for me; He’s a very good skater and he excels at carrying the puck with his skating ability but mostly with the confidence he plays with and his great hands. He’s one of the best danglers in the entire draft, very creative and daring in his game and he can deke in every way, at full speed carrying the puck, in tight spaces and even along the boards when he is static. He’s a very good passer too and this quality is also benefited by his confidence and creativity.
On top of that, he has an amazing work ethic, the kind of player you want in your organization. He plays very well back and forth on the ice and without being a physical player, he redefines what the expression ‘hard to play against’ really means – we tend to associate this expression with big players who hit everything that moves but Dean is an expert at stealing the puck from his opponents, he harasses the puck-carrier relentlessly, he is very good on the forecheck without necessarily playing the body, he causes a lot of turnovers and is always in the right place to retrieve free pucks.
Dean is also very combative and is always the first to get his nose dirty and to be in skirmishes, he never backs down in front of anybody, he sometimes even plays quite borderline and likes to stir up trouble. In some games, he was almost targeted every time he was on the ice and he responded blow for blow.
He’s a guy who goes to war in every game and he’s often even the general on the ice, even when he doesn’t have the puck he instructs his teammates on the ice on what to do, before the faceoffs he is always giving instructions to his teammates.
On the negative side, I doubt he is actually 6 feet tall, he doesn’t win a lot of faceoffs as a center and he lacks a bit a finishing-touch. I like the player a lot but I’m not sure if he would have made towards the tail-end of my first last year I think.
The lack of production worried me a few times during the season but on that point there are several parallels between Dean and prospect Jamieson Rees (whom I had ranked 18th in 2019); not a very big player, magician with the puck, very combative and annoying to play against. Much like Dean, Rees hadn’t had a very productive draft season with 32 pts in 37 games but exploded the following season with 61 pts in 39 games, which reassures me a bit in Dean’s case. He’s a lot more talented than his stats suggest.
The comparison I have long used for Dean was Max Domi, especially when the latter was playing with a shorter stick. Both are very good with the puck and have that little plague side. Lately I’ve started to see a lot of similarities with Rielly Smith.
Number of viewings : 19
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18. Isak Rosen
Rosen has been very hard to assess this season as he was in the SHL and only had a few minutes of ice-time per game and he could rarely show his skill with the puck.
A 5’11 forward, Rosen is a fantastic skater. He’s very fast and he’s one of those players who seems to be gliding on the ice and doesn’t seem to put any effort to reach his top speed.
His wrist shot is just amazing. He needs virtually no wind back and the puck comes out at blazing speed. It is also very accurate.
I do not doubt his intelligence and his vision of the game but I have not seen him make his teammates better on a constant basis, it must be said however that in many games in Sweden he hardly played so that reduces the sample size quite a lot. However, on the power play he often makes dangerous passes at the goal-mouth.
He is not a player who shy away from attacking the net but the big question mark with Rosen is that despite his 5’11, he weighs only 161 lbs and does not have the physical strength to fight in the traffic, along the board or for free pucks. A lot of the plays in a game is about battling for pucks or space on the ice, and he won’t always have the luxury of controlling the puck as he sees fit. It’s easy to be optimistic and believe that he will be able to add muscle mass to his body, but it’s not something in the genetic makeup of all players. His father and uncle played professionally in Sweden and both were of good build so there is a silver lining.
Unlike many other talented players somewhat in the same mold, I have a harder time ruling Rosen out of my first round because the only red flag is his physical development and not his intelligence on the ice. Make no mistake, this is a major point that could limit his potential but it is not something deceptive like other spectacular players but individual. Quite early in the season he reminded me a bit of Sebastian Aho.
Number of viewings : 19
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19. Jack Peart
Another rather major surprise …
In the more recent years, we have witnessed forwards with a somewhat deficient skating ability establishing themselves in the NHL and finding success. Now, can a left-handed defenseman with a somewhat diminutive build (5’11) manage to find his way into the NHL and become an important player. The answer is yes if he has the same trait that these so-called slower forwards have in common and I am talking about Hockey IQ and Peart is one of the players with the best sense of the game in this draft.
Peart has superb 4-way mobility, he is able to perform end-to-end rushes on occasion although that isn’t likely to be something he’s going to do in the NHL. He’s able to move the opposing team’s defensive box on the power play with his mobility to the blue line.
Some will argue that for a guy of his size his skating ability is not elite but I never saw him arrive late to retrieve a loose puck, it also mentions his intelligence; He has an excellent awareness of his surroundings on the ice, he has a good sense of anticipation and his positioning is flawless, which allows him to recover free pucks.
He plays with an active stick in his zone and is able to defend very well. He will always be at a bit of a disadvantage by his build at the higher level but he is still 5’11, he would be an inch taller and no one would talk about it….
With the puck, he always plays with his head held high, he really is a reassuring presence on the ice for his coaches and teammates. He never panics with the puck, with his composure and the quality of his skating, he manages to get the puck out of the corners of the rink or in front of his net with disconcerting ease.
His first passes are very high quality, very precise and will never get a teammate in trouble. He always chooses the right play and is a fantastic passer in all three zones.
I’ll admit I was also surprised to see him so high on my list myself, but despite not being a very well-known and popular name, Peart is a relatively safe bet to me. I’m pretty confident he’s going to play in the NHL. His only limitation (which is his physique) is taken a little out of proportion and most of the players in this draft contain bigger question marks. We are probably talking more about a good 2nd pair guy who does not have a huge offensive potential, but if my prospect-pool and the choices I have at my disposal do not allow me to take a risk, I would be happy to leave the draft table with this player.
Number of viewings : 13
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20. Tyler Boucher
Tyler is the son of former goaltender Brian Boucher.
A bit like Peart, it’s surprising to see him so early and he’s not a very well-known player, but in my eyes, he is a player who has a very strong chance of playing in the NHL and be effective there. I also believe that his potential is higher than some believe.
The question mark with Boucher is that he often seems injured.
Unfortunately for him, on two occasions he had to be absent while playing excellent hockey. At the start of the season, he was in my eyes the best forward of the NTDP in his last 2 games before getting injured and late in the season I loved him before he got injured again.
Boucher is a power forward like there ain’t too many nowadays. He is fighting for the title of the most physical player of the draft with Chase Stillman.
Some people have criticized his skating a bit but all in all I think he’s a very good skater for a player of his size. I also find it to be quite technically sophisticated; his feet are fast and always in motion, his cadence during his crossover is very good and he manages to generate a lot of power and gain speed during these, with his size and speed, he is dangerous and difficult to stop when he enters the offensive zone while switching form one wing to another. The degree of flexion at his knees is optimal and allows him to generate a lot of power with each stride. He is able to run past defenders and attack the net.
At the start of the season, I had noticed that he had a bit of a wide base on his starts and I found that he had a bit of difficulty making sharp turns, he had to take them very wide on the ice. For a guy who plays the style of play he is known for, it hurted him cause when he was applying pressure on the forecheck, some defensemen were able to get rid of him by changing direction quickly.
That being said, in his final few games of the season he seemed much more agile on the ice and even managed to turn on a dime on a few occasions.
Boucher also has a good level of individual skill too; he has good hands and this quality comes through mostly in conjunction with his play along the boards. With his build and physical strength, it was easy to see that he would excel in such situations, but one of the main reasons is that he is able to handle the puck and make ingenious plays in these places. He can pass the puck to himself using the board or simply dangle a player in tight space.
He also has a fairly good wrist shot. He scored most of his goals (in a very short season) at the goalmouth, where a high percentage of goals are being scored in the NHL. Despite that, I find his shot difficult for goalies to read and he could become a dangerous shooter. His ‘release’ point on his shot is close, what I meant by that is that he releases his shot while the puck is still very close to his body (sometimes not even further than the base of his skates), without having to keep up the momentum with his stick and his shot has a lot of velocity which may make it difficult for goalies to handle rebounds.
He always plays the pedal to the floor, puts a lot of pressure on the puck-carrier and with the body-checks he is able to give, he creates turnovers to opposing players who are not ready to take the blow to make a play. He is also involved on the 200 feet of the ice. He reads the game well and in the neutral zone he has an active stick and is very keen on jumping on free pucks.
One of the reasons I say he’s underappreciated is his intelligence on the ice. I find he hides his intentions with the puck well, uses his teammates very well and mostly picks the right play most of the times. Because of this, he could cause surprise and establish himself higher than you may think in an NHL lineup.
Number of viewings : 7
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21. Shai Buium
A 6’3 left-handed defenseman, Buium played with Scott Morrow at Shattuck at the start of the season but when the club’s activities were put on hold due to the Covid he made the right decision to join the Sioux City Musketeers in USHL.
His greatest quality is quite possibly his skating. Combined with his great reach, he is good at forcing forwards to the outside. He can jump into the play at any given time, in all three zone. It’s not necessarily his strength, but when he carries the puck, he’s able to create separation with his pursuer. He’s not as agile and crafty as Morrow but he very well may be faster in a straight-line
Offensively it took him a while to unravel in USHL, it was around mid-March that he started showing flashes; to patrol the blue line from east to west and make the opposing defense move, to challenge forwards or opposing defensemen with dekes, to go deep into opposing territory and even to attack the net. With his size and speed, the opponents had their hands full.
Late in the season, Musketeers started using two defensemen on the power play, but only one of them at the point, leaving Buium at the level of the right circle. He mostly played the role of a forward on the half-wall, sometimes going down to the goal line to pass the puck and even going in the slot. During the breakout he stayed high in the neutral zone like an forward would, he seemed a bit lost and often remained static on the ice in such situations. A bit unusual as a strategy but in the year I have also seen Oscar Plandowski with Charlottetown, Vinny Ioro with Brandon’s Wheat Kings and even Corson Ceulemans play such roles on the power play. Of these players, only Plandowski had the profile to take advantage of his strengths.
I see Buium as having the potential to become a good shut-down defender, however, he is not a defender who is making his opponents pay the price despite his 6’3, which seems a common theme in this draft.
Number of viewings : 24
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22. Fedor Svechkov
A player who moved quite a bit in my rankings this year, Svechkov is a 6-foot Russian center who excels in both directions of the ice. He’s very cerebral with and without the puck. He’s a hard worker when he doesn’t have the puck, he also has flawless defensive positioning.
He spent most of the season against men in VHL in Russia and his coach gave him a lot of defensive responsibility for such a young player, he was starting a lot of his appearances in defensive territory and hardly had any power-play time during the season. It was towards the end of the year but he was used in front of the net.
My biggest problem with him during the year was his skating ability. Failing to see technical flaws, it is rather a lack of speed in his case, which limits its potential.
Besides his speed (or lack of), I find that Svechkov’s lack of dynamism also spills over into his play with the puck. He’s not necessarily a lacking player, but his decision making puzzles me. In MHL I saw him moved the puck in a very incisive fashion, making one-touches passes on the power-play through the crease. At other times, especially at the U-18 tournament, several of his passes were alright and by no means represented bad decisions, but I found his speed of decision-making and execution a bit slow. It leaves me wondering as to whether he is playing at enough “pace” to develop his offensive side so that he can become a 2nd line center in the NHL. Even without the puck in the offensive zone, I find he plays a bit without urgency in his game, he’s not active enough for my liking when he’s looking to get open. I believe it is more a fact that stems from his cerebral nature more than a lack of combativeness because he has proven time and time again through his defensive play in the VHL that there is no need to worry about his work ethic.
Svechkov was transferred to SKA-1946, a top-notch organization in Russia, I am curious to see if he will develop his offensive game a little more in the years to come.
He does have a very distinct identity on the ice and he projects quite easily at the next level as a useful player so I have no problems with him ranked in the top 15 (I even had him near my top 10 at certain moments during the season). Both on the ice and in terms of potential, he reminds me a lot of Radek Faksa.
Number of viewings : 17
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23. Matthew Knies
Knies is probably my biggest disappointment of the year.
Last year I discovered him during the WJAC tournament in December 2019 when I was watching the USA to scout Brendan Brisson, Sam Colangelo and Sean Farrel for the 2020 draft. I then watched him a lot at the end of the season. in USHL to assess the infamous Mitch Miller.
Knies reminded me a lot of Samuel Poulin at the time (player I love and ranked 14th in 2019), a big 6’2 player who has excellent vision, has good hands and can cut at the net while having a player on his back. I saw him as a potential top 15 pick if he could improve his skating ability.
And the worst part about it is that he actually improved his skating. A lot!
I wouldn’t say he is above average but he did what was expected of him by working on his weaknesses.
He is very quick but his top speed seems slightly insufficient at times so that when he carries the puck to the neutral zone, he has to content himself with rejecting the puck in offensive territory and chasing it, neutralizing any impulse of offensive creativity. It also happened regularly that he was not the first to land on the puck in such situations.
He still has some work to do but he uses his skating ability very well in combination with his size to protect the puck with little stutter steps and quick cut and turns.
He uses his body very well, also moving his head and shoulders to deceive his opponents. However, along the boards he falls quite easily for a guy of his size, I have a feeling that with some work on his core strength it could be corrected.
On the power play he may be able to orchestrate his team’s attacks well because he is a good passer. He played the vast majority of the time at the top of the right circle and he kept the opponents honest as he takes a lot of shots. He has a pretty quick release and his shot has a lot of velocity but it lacks accuracy. With the number of shots he takes, his opponents have no choice but to respect this aspect of his game and it then opens up options and space for him to spot his teammates.
I found that last year he showed a lot more offensive creativity and his playmaking skills seemed better as well. I had started wondering if he wasn’t just benefiting from having Colby Ambrosio on his line …
Above all, I have the impression that he has lost confidence in his means.
On top of all that, Knies made an appalling number of turnovers in my viewings. Often the idea behind the play was good, but a guy of his talent is supposed to be able to do better.
At the caliber of the USHL, and even within his own team, Knies has been in for long stretches without really standing out. He was a bit frustrating to watch because you can see the potential of the player, but it translated very little on the ice and he was hardly ever the locomotive of his team.
A few times I was prepared to throw the towel in his case but he has shown that he can be very useful on the ice with his play without the puck. He breaks a lot of play with his stick and has a very good work ethic. He also has too many tools in his trunk, often his mistakes were a matter of fractions of a second or a inch or two.
I’m especially afraid it’ll be like Jake Neighbours last year, a player I loved at the start of the season and finished far enough off my radar at the end of the season, all to bounce back brilliantly the following season.
Knies will play with Chaz Lucius and Tristan Broz at the University of Minnesota next year.
Number of viewings : 22
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24. Fabian Lysell
Out of this entire draft, Lysell was one of the hardest players to get a fair idea of. At the start of the season, I saw him as a polarizing player who could very well be 5th on someone’s list and 20th on someone else’s. Truth be told, he even fluctuated between those ranks on my own list.
It is quite a paradox because he is an extremely ‘flashy’ player and often these players come with negative prejudices with them and Lysell does not meet this definition completely, but at the same time, one can also blame him for many things that come with that kind of player. On the positives, Lysell isn’t a perimeter player as he doesn’t mind going into the goalie crease, scoring a few ‘Greesy’ goals in the process (but that will be a different story in the NHL) and he’s implies behind the net too. He also shows sufficient effort in both side of the ice and has a good defensive conscience. He has very good hands which he uses to dangle opponents at full speed, which is a very rare quality. In the offensive zone he uses it very well to change his shooting angles, especially from the top of right circles (Lysell is right-handed) where he toe-drag to delay his shot and let the defender compromise to block his shot. He likes to shoot low to create rebound chances in such situations. He is also able to take shots from difficult positions.
For the negatives that often come with players like this, Lysell plays way too individual. He tries to goes coast-to-coast way too often and that results in a lot of turnovers. He’s a fantastic skater and puck handler but his risks are miscalculated so I’d much rather see a guy like Eklund carry the puck. Eklund carries the puck into the offensive zone to be able to set up a collective attack, Lysell starts on an individual play and it ends on an individual play. Even when he finds his way, he often messes up a chance to take a shot and instead try to a wraparound at full speed. The success rate has been very low with his attempts this season and he leaves himself vulnerable to be annihilated when he’ll play in North America.
You could put all his turnovers on the fact that he tries to do too much and he should learn to simplify his game, but that also shows a lack of IQ hockey.
His size and physical strength is also something that turns me off.
Surprisingly, with what has just been said, Lysell is however not a bad playmaker. It is a bit difficult to pin down because it is something that came up often in my notes taken on the player when he was in the offensive zone but in neutral zone, he has no idea whatsoever in how to use his teammates.
Another surprising fact about Lysell (although strangely so for many prospects this season) was that he played better hockey at a higher caliber in the SHL, against men, than when he was playing against his age group in the Swedish Under-20 League or in Swedish intra-team matches (U18 vs U19). His game was simplified and he brought more substance. Fewer turnovers and looked more like a “hockey player” than a junior player. He played much better collectively and was more incisive in his decision-making with the puck and calculated his risks better too. His work habits were better too, he couldn’t trust his talent alone and had to work hard for every puck possession. He provoked things using his speed both on the forecheck and on the backcheck He was all over the ice and had a very good active stick defensively. I personally found him more convincing than Lucas Raymond had been in SHL last year. However, this sample where Lysell was so good was only limited to 3 games, which is to be taken into consideration.
The style of playing reminds me of a lot of similarities with Jacob Perreault (14th on my list last year and drafted 30th by the Anaheim Ducks) and personally I would take Perreautl ahead of Lysell.
People often associate ‘spectacular’ with ‘upside’ and the questions I have about Lysell’s Hockey IQ and his way of using his teammates as well as his lack of physical strength make me fall into the skeptics’ camp.
Number of viewings : 28
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25. Francesco Pinelli
Pinelli is a player that I had seen several times last year with the Kitchener Rangers in the OHL and that I saw in him a player that I could have made a statement about by ranking rather high. Smart with the puck, hardworking, scoring a lot of his goals near the net, where goals are scored in the NHL, quality of leadership, etc. He reminded me of Nick Foligno.
Like many players this year, Pinelli had little to no choice but to go play in an obscure league somewhere in Europe. He set his sights on Slovenia, playing against men.
Pinelli is a really hard-working center. A player who plays hockey the right way; great work ethic, back-checks and attacks the net. He plays at a fast pace.
He’s not necessarily a great puck-carrier, his hands and skating are good, without rising to a higher category. What he does well, however, is that he is aware of his limitations, which is a sign of intelligence. He is not going to try to carry the puck, he will instead hand it to a teammate in the neutral zone and then fiercely attack the neutral zone to make himself available as a passing option and then beat by speed a defenseman and protect the puck with his body. He is at his best working this way, rather than trying to overdo it and dangle opposing players.
Without being a playmaker, he uses his teammates well to receive the puck again for a better positioned shot and can demonstrate some flashes of vision.
He has good scoring instincts, he can score near the net, and he has enough offensive instinct and confidence as well as hands to deke a player to take a better shot.
Without being that similar, I throw Pinelli a bit into the same chair as Svechkov would in the NHL, that of a shutdown center. The Russian is more cerebral and maybe a little more talented but I find Pinelli more fiery and he brings a physical dimension and an ‘edge’ that Svechkov does not have and I find that he plays at a ‘pace’ higher.
A limited role at the U-18 and a lack of viewings took me down a few ranks at the very last minute. I’m not sure he’s going to play center in the NHL as well. Could explode in OHL over the next two years.
Number of viewings : 10
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26. Aleksi Heimosalmi
I am not sold on Heimosalmi, but he has interesting potential and at this stage we have to find players to insert.
A 5’11 right-handed defenseman, Heimosalmi is an excellent skater. His top speed is not exceptional but his footwork is. He can receive a pass to the offensive blue line while static and completely shake off cover from a forward that comes to pressure him only by using his footwork.
The problem with a defender of his size is whether he will be able to defend against bigger players, Heimosalmi surprisingly manages to neutralize opponents along the board. Despite his limitations, he uses his body well. He plays his position well enough and never gets beaten in one-on-one situations. In conjunction with his footwork, he uses his stick well to force attackers to the outside and doesn’t get skate by (also in the party because he has very good pivots).
I haven’t seen him use a big slap shot; in fact, I’ve almost seen him use wrist throws. He doesn’t have a big shot but as I said with Eklund when he played left point on the powerplay in the SHL, Heimosalmi has the skating ability and the awareness to see the spaces and the opportunities to leave his position to be able to take better shot.
He is still physically frail and might be a bet that could pay huge dividends.
Number of viewings : 10
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27. Corson Ceulemans
A 6’2 right-handed defenseman who has played in the AJHL this season, Corson Ceulemans quickly brought back memories of Braden Schneider in my first viewings.
He’s the most physical of the high pedigree defensemen in this draft and he has that ‘hard to face’ side that others don’t have.
Ceulemans is a solid skater and he benefits both defensively and offensively. He is excellent at preventing forwards from entering his zone. On the offensive side, he quickly spots opportunities to jump in the pinch and he can pinch aggressively in the attacking zone.
He doesn’t have a bad shot, especially his one-timer which has a lot of velocity.
He is a bit limited in terms of puck handling. He’s capable of occasional flash here and there but at the higher level it might expose him a bit but he likes to make a play quite frequently which I find impressive, he makes a saucer pass to himself, one or two feet in the air over the stick of the forwards on the forecheck and picks up the puck a few feet away. It takes daring and confidence
Continuing in the line of his offensive play, while I’m not ready to say that I see him on an NHL power play, he is capable of making bright passes on occasion. He especially excels at giving-n-go with a teammate along the board while he is at the blue line, by doing this he traps the forward putting pressure on him at the blue line and he leaps dangerously towards the slot. It takes intelligence and alertness, and it also showcases his athletic abilities.
Question marks have arisen on his hockey IQ. Ceulemans will join the University of Wisconsin next year.
Number of viewings : 11
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28. William Stromgren
Ironically, I’ve done everything in my power to avoid any recency bias in my ranking this season, but I still end up placing a player that I didn’t like earlier this fall fairly high in my ranking.
Recency bias exists and that’s not a bad thing in and of itself. Prospects that end the year well are showing strong progress, which is one of the most crucial things to watch out for and those that stagnate or regress, very rarely reach the potential seen in them earlier.
In Stromgren’s case, it’s not so much a matter of recency bias but more of a significant improvement in the player’s game over the season that could point to a big progression curve.
Stromgren is a player that I had seen a handful of games this fall in Sweden and I really hadn’t been infatuated. Enough to take him off my list soon enough.
A big 6’3 winger, Stromgren is quick but I found him lacking in agility, it took him a lot of space for him to turn. I also found that mechanically there were faults in his skating ability; his recovery phase is a bit slow which decreases his frequency ok skating stride, short hip extension through his pushes, the upper body moves a lot occasionally and his crosses are rather short, choppy and generate very little power. Despite all of this, Stromgren still remains fast so we can remain optimistic and think that he can only improve this aspect of his game.
He has quite a shot but I found he had no idea how to get open on the ice in order to use his shot, even on the power play. His sense of the game was too far behind for me to see anything with him.
And then in May, I went back to see 3 Stromgren games this winter in the Allsvenskan and then I saw a completely transformed player. His sense of the game was much better, I saw some really good flashes of vision too that I hadn’t seen earlier. I saw how excellent his hands are, probably some of the best in the entire draft. He began to play with confidence and challenge defenders with his speed and dangle and his shot remained just as dangerous.
In the U -18 tournament, he hardly played in the first 4 periods and it took him a few games before he started to have time on the power play but he gained the confidence of his coach as he went along the tournament progressed and ended up on the 2nd line.
What makes Stromgren such a tantalizing prospect is that he has had a meteoric rise during the season, and the fact that he still has a very low body mass index at 6’3 176 lbs his BMI is at 22 and in average, NHL players are between 25.5 and 27, which would give a minimum of 25 lbs to gain. He is relatively very young for his draft year so I see a big progression in his case. His profile reminds me of Roby Jarventie last year.
Number of viewings : 12
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29. Ville Koivunen
A player with interesting development potential, Koivunen is a 5’11 Finnish left winger who is still physically immature. He played with Karpat in the under-20 league in Finland with, among others, Aatu Raty and Samu Tuomaala.
Koivunen’s greatest strength is his intelligence on the ice. This strength can be seen in the patience with which he plays; he is able to slow down the pace of the match, he makes defensemen be on their toes (they should be wary of him since he has enough skills and the hands to make fun of their one-on-one coverage), he is very creative offensively and sees passing lines that few players can see and he has the knack for creating a scoring chance from little. He is in my eyes one of the smartest players in this draft.
However, he lacks physical strength and dynamism in his skating ability, but it is quite possible that the two are interrelated and as he gains mass as well as muscle strength his speed will improve. In fact, this is one area where he has made significant progress this season and it is noteworthy.
Speaking of his physique, yes he is still relatively frail but for players in this mold what interests us is whether the player demonstrates fighting spirit and an inclination to go to dirty areas and this is the case for Koivunen. He’s not big but works very well along the boards.
He has an interesting potential and his intelligence and his talents as a playmaker remind me of a certain Teuvo Teravainen.
Those who have followed me for a while know that I find the Liiga to be rather overrated. Drafting Koivunen I would try to bring him to North American soil to play in the CHL.
Number of viewings : 10
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30. Ayrton Martino
Martino is a forward with undeniable offensive skills. He is a fantastic playmaker. His vision and intelligence on the ice ranks high, very high among his peers in this draft. He has very good offensive creativity and is hard to read for opposing defenders as his hands and feet move at the same speed and he always seems to be a stroke or two ahead of the other players. Martino is a player who wants the puck on his stick and who wants to make a difference in the game.
I’ve never seen a player get so many breakaways. He cheats offensively (more on this later) but he also has a good sense of anticipation and puts a lot of pressure on the puck carrier and regularly causes his own breakaways.
He spent most of the season at the left point on the power play. Towards the end of the season, they used him lower towards the goal line but personally I prefer to see him play higher where he can control the game and move the opposing defense with his skating and his creativity.
He dominated the USHL this season as a rookie, which is noteworthy and hints at great things for the future.
As for the elements that tarnish the player’s profile and that scare me, Martino is a player that I find a bit ‘scared’ on the ice. He plays slightly too much on the periphery for my taste and during skirmishes after the whistle, he tries to stay as far away as possible or to hide somewhere.
He has a strong tendency to cheat offensively so he often becomes a one-zone player and offensively he’s not the one who’s going to come out of the corners with the puck.
Earlier in the season, I really didn’t like his shorthanded play. I thought he was playing way too low, giving room for the players at the point or he wasn’t sure where to position himself and was running all over the ice. It was probably cherry-picking a bit because that is not likely to be the chair the player will occupy in the NHL. That said, he’s made tremendous progress in this regard during the season. His play with his stick, his sense of anticipation and his speed even allowed him to provoke odd-man rushes.
He’s also on the older side of this draft.
The other prevalent reason that chills me in Martino’s case is that he will be joining Clarkson University in the NCAA. In the past 10 years, this program has produced only one NHL player and he started playing last year; Nico Sturm of the Minnesota Wild.
Number of viewings : 18
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31. Josh Doan
Just like every year, I end my ranking with a big surprise (although this year there was more than one)
Son of the former Phoenix Coyotes figure, Josh is a forward who was overlooked in last year’s draft.
Having played in both the wing and center, Doan has played mostly with Sean Farrell this season. The ‘release’ on his wrist shot is just lethal making him a very good scorer. He also has very good hands, liking to come back to the offensive blue line when he has the puck, then regain the center going with a deke or two in the process, he also likes to do this backward skating play as would do a quarterback at the blue line and making the opposing defense move.
Doan plays smart and the right way. He can slow down his plays brilliantly to open up options, he can play at different speeds which is a testament to very good IQ Hockey. He is good at entering territory and can vary his attacks and play East-West.
There is a difference between a good junior player and a player who has what it takes to become an effective player at the next level and I see those attributes in Doan. Despite some good dekes here and there, Doan is not a player who keeps the puck too long on his stick, often making good decisions with the puck. He also has a good work ethic, protects the puck well and can throw some pretty heavy hits along the board too. The physical aspect of his game goes a bit too quiet for my taste, although that’s not the first quality that comes to mind when we talk about him.
He was playing for a loaded team in Chicago and you have to keep that in the equation but Doan is a typical late bloomer too. Chicago last year was just as stacked ’relying on Brisson and Colangelo and even Gunnarwolfe Fontaine. Doan was relegated to a supporting role. There is also the fact that he has developed tremendously physically during this time.
His dad Shane mentioned in an interview that Josh weighed just 157 lbs last year and was only able to complete 4 chin-ups, this holiday season he was well over 180 lbs and could do 24 chin-up (still according to the father’s words)
Speaking of Doan, I would like to give credit to Craig Button, analyst at TSN. It was towards the end of February that I started to be convinced that Doan would deserve a draft selection and I saw him as a pick for rounds 4-5, discussing this with Button he replied that Doan was a top 50 pick. A few months later, we had to admit he was ahead of everyone else on this subject.
Like the majority of the players in my ranking, I would not select Doan where I ranked him, in the best of all worlds I would like to pick him up in the 3rd round but I am quite convinced that teams are watching for him in the 2nd round then depending on where I would draft and who is available on my board, it is possible that I would select him in the 2nd half of the 2nd round.
At one point I was even tempted to put him ahead of Knies, he can be as good as the latter in his play without the puck and I find him smarter in his decision making. Doan wouldn’t have made his 75 pts if he had played at Tri-City but I don’t think Knies would have produced a lot more in Chicago, we only have to look at Mackie Samoskevich who is easily more talented than these two players and who did not have rock-solid statistics in Chicago, even playing with Farrell at the start of the season and with Coronato at the end. Doan actually took Samoskevich’s place in the Bumper in the power play late in the season.
He was, in my eyes, the best player in Chicago in the Clarke Cup final, which deserves to be highlighted.
First 19-year-old player since Samuel Fagemo whom I have in the first round but the latter was in my hidden cards in 2018 and I would have drafted him in the 4th round so we can say that this is the first time that I put an overager so high.
In an ideal scenario, I believe Doan could become something of a Zach Hyman genre, which is great.
Number of viewings : Around 20
The ‘Forgotten’ Category:
In a field as subjective as scouting, it seems rather unlikely that people like all the players available, but also like the same. You have seen the differences that make up my list by the players to whom I have an appreciation but also by the notable omissions it contains.
This category is used to introduce these players. What is a little different this season is that I put players in this category who have, at some point in the season, been in my top 32.
Now, where I would pick up these so-called player?, quite frankly, these are players on whom I simply would not set my sights.
I don’t pretend to have the truth and just like the players I hold in the highest regard, there is a possibility that I am wrong. They’re not bad players though, but it’s hard for me to consider leaving the draft table with players that leave me lukewarm.
In the second round, we see quite regularly teams swapping their pick for another team the following year.
Every year there are players on whom I get an initial idea and then deviate drastically, to finally come back to my starting point of view. This was the case with Chibrikov this season.
After a few games in the MHL, I found the player to be talented but I didn’t see a first-round pick. Then in the fall he played some great hockey in the VHL and soared up my roster, finally coming out of my top 32.
Chibrikov is an offensive player and it’s pretty obvious, he has good hands and a very good offensive IQ, he can beat players one on one but most importantly, he can orchestrate collective attacks and circulate the puck well and create plays for his teammates.
Technically speaking, his skating ability is flawless, his trunk is hunched over just enough, his knees are bent at the right angle and he has good hip extension, his skating stride frequency is very good too and he is constantly moving his feet.
At the start of the season, I found him better than his teammate and 2nd round pick last year, Marat Khustudinov and I had come to wonder at a certain point if I would not take Chibrikov ahead of Rodion Amirov but two of the reasons why I have not leaned in his favor is that; his shot is really not a threat and physically he gets pushed very easily. And that’s not to mention his style of play which exposes him to receiving really big checks.
Having said that, you have to give it to him, Chibrikov isn’t afraid of anything. He plays with an edge ’and he has an impressive strength of character. I saw him give very good hits, some even quite borderline, I saw him be the first to jump into a scrum after one of his teammates was hit hard.
In a VHL game this winter, Chibrikov was hit very hard (a headshot), the following shift he was in front of the net on the PP and received countless cross-checks to finally score tipping the puck than banging home his own rebound. The problem is that in the same match he received two other huge hits, something that is common in his case, even at the under-18s he was the victim of very big body checks.
I’m not very keen on his puck protection game, he doesn’t use his body very well and similar-built players like Eklund do very well, and he doesn’t put the puck in hard spots to reach for the stick of the opposing defenders, an expert in this facet in his draft year was his compatriot Vasili Podkolzin.
His defensive play at the start of the MHL season was a major weakness, very often he remained mesmerized by the puck which resulted in gaping hole in the defensive zone, or he did not cut the passing lines well but after a stint of 9 games. in KHL (of which I have not watched any game) these errors have all disappeared. He must have learned a lot in this short stint. If I’m not mistaken, he’s played fairly consistently shorthanded in the VHL at times.
The actual size and weight of the players has always been something to take with a grain of salt. Chibrikov is listed at 5’10 and when he was next to Red Savage who is also 5’10 (and not particularly a big one), Chibrikov looked a good inch or two shorter.
I had probably ranked him too high at times because of some great VHL games. Subsequently he was good without being great for a long time but the fact that he played in a men’s league I gave him the benefit of the doubt but in the MHL playoffs he was very, very disappointing, even his level of intensity was very low, which is really surprising in his case and against the best of his age group at the U-18 he did not impress me more than he needed (he was also very undisciplined during of this tournament), all this explains his exclusion from my list.
Number of viewings : 36
Bolduc is a player who has dropped a lot in my ranking but unlike several other players, I cannot speak of a disappointment. In his case, it’s probably just an over-hasty and optimistic assessment on my part.
To see a 16-year-old scoring 30 goals in his rookie season in the QMJHL with a hard shot and having a style of play that already resembles that of a pro, plus two excellent first games this season and I saw Bolduc having a rise throughout the year reminiscent of Pierre-Luc Dubois in 2016.
At this time, I loved that Bolduc was working hard both ways on the ice and could be helpful in more than one way, he was using his body very well with and without the puck. I had been really impressed with the way he was running the Océanic’s power play, playing at the left point. He moved around a lot in puck control and moved the opponent’s defensive box just by using his mobility and he circulated the puck dangerously, constantly putting it in the goalmouth.
Subsequently, things started to get tough. He didn’t seem too comfortable carrying the puck into the neutral zone, his attacks were little varied and as a center player he was only able to gain the zone through the wings. His offensive intelligence began to seem more limited as well.
Bolduc plays with a stick that is too long, which limits his handling of the puck in tight spaces and his shots while being in movements.
One of the things I blame him the most (and maybe it’s too harsh on my part) is that he seemed to choked by the pressure of being the ‘Go-to-Guy’ with the Oceanic. In his defense they were a very weak club and he is very young, he also had an injury-ridden season and never got his groove going.
From mid-January he started playing off-wing, ie on the right wing, and the change was very beneficial to him, without the responsibilities of playing center. He actually played both wings, and as a result, the front 3 positions during the year.
On the power play he was also switched from left point to right point. He was no longer able to control the game like he did earlier, but it allowed him to exploit his excellent shot, which is his best attribute.
I find his offensive creativity is not sufficiently developed to see him play on an offensive line and on the power play in the NHL and I find that he does not play with enough bite and feistiness to find him a chair in the NHL in a supporting role.
Having said that, he has strengths and he’s responsible defensively, he has good work ethic and he could be a bottom-6 shooter. The situation in Rimouski hurt him because it often happened that he was in a very good position but the puck never reached him.
Inferior prospect than guys like Isaac Lundestrom and Jan Mysak in their draft year in my eyes.
Number of viewings : 15
L’Heureux is a player whose reputation does not necessarily match the player. Depicted as a very tough, intense and difficult player to face, L’Heureux’s work ethic is actually one of the big questions marks I have with him.
He doesn’t hit as much as people say and far too often when he applies a check, he gets himself out of the play. He has several absences where he stops moving his feet and is also very slow to provide support to his teammates in battles along the boards.
His IQ hockey is also something I don’t like and find rather weak, he’s not very creative offensively; telegraphed passes, slows down the play without knowing what to do with the puck next and takes unnecessary risks when he has the puck in his own zone and misjudges what’s going on around him.
Defensively, he often has poor positioning and has the annoying habit of stopping moving his feet.
He had a good rookie season because he was already playing in a physically mature body but this season, when we take a closer look at his offensive production, we see that he has fattened his record against a very weak Cape Breton club with 28 pts in 13 games and that he collected only 6 pts in 15 games against Charlottetown.
Number of viewings : 10
Nause is a player who made a strong first impression on me and that must be said, he’s hard to miss. A 6’2 left-handed defenseman with a long reach, Nause has superb mobility in all four directions and is very quick to jump into action no matter where on the ice, from pinching to the blue line to prolong an attack, in the neutral zone to interrupt an opponent’s relaunch, to assist a teammate in a battle along the ramps or to support the attack deep in the offensive zone. His skating ability also allows him to turn on a dime effectively to escape the pressure.
He is very alert on the ice and recognizes situations well and does not take bad risks, with or without the puck.
He also has great hand-eye coordination for hitting pucks in the air and preventing breakouts or clearances in his territory.
His skills with the puck and his offensive vision seem latent, there is definitely potential there, but every time in the season that it seemed like it wanted to come out, there was a little something missing to solidify his status as a legitimate prospect at the first round.
Where it is most difficult is that Nause is often involved in several errors per game, I gave him the benefit of the doubt all season because often it was not the decision that was at fault but more the execution, It also happened that it was his teammates who were taken out of position, sometimes it was just a question of a slight imprecision of a pass of just a few inches, sometimes small errors of focus. But these scenarios happened too regularly and he was not the most used defender in crucial situations by Patrick Roy and because offensively I did not see enough (his shot is not very threatening), that makes it a projection not very high in the alignment. We may be talking about a 5th defenseman. I still love the player and I will follow his development with interest but I am not ready to say that I would select him where he is going to be chosen.
On several occasions this winter I saw parallels with Matthew Knies, player whose tools you see and who shows very interesting flashes but who is always only a few small details or a few inches away from having a brilliant evening but that in the end, it does not lead where to what we would like. When this is repeated over dozens of games, you end up letting go.
Number of viewings : 15
To be honest, I was never a big fan of Pastujov, lack of talent is not the problem. He has good hands and is quite a threat on the power play, he is able to pass through the box with ease and he has quite a one-timer. He has a good vision of the game and hides his intentions well when in possession of the puck making him unpredictable for the opponent. But his skating is quite ordinary, his 5vs5 game is rather ineffective and I do not find him very competitive and rather easy to push around.
Number of viewings : Around 20
To say that I was practically called an extremist for saying at the very start of the season that Raty was not a first-round caliber prospect, he’s now seen as a prospect not even breaking into the top 50 of many NHL scouts
These are the dangers of preliminary rankings. The projection is even hastier, sometimes we see the weaknesses of the player but we expect that it will be corrected in the following year. Which doesn’t always happen. In Raty’s case, a strong performance at 16 at the U-17 tournament gave him a status that has remained attached to the player for far too long. At the 5-Nations tournament in February 2020, Raty was in no way superior to Eklund and Lysell who were also 2021s prospects (for Raty and Eklund, being late-DOB, it was their only participation in the tournament, Lysell was an underage)
From my first viewing of Raty this season (late August-early September) I was completely overwhelmed to see that the player had such a strong reputation.
Since I started watching the draft-eligible prospects, Raty may be the worst skater I’ve seen for a player is seen as a first-round pick, let’s not even talk about the fact that he has long been seen as a No. 1 overall pick. His stride is very choppy, especially in his first strides, there is no extension at the hip and very little flexion at the knees, he really has no agility on the ice and his balance also seems lacking. His base of support is way too narrow; his feet are way too close to each other and it prevents him from pushing properly to the sides to generate enough power. During the season he has made some progress in terms of his speed but he remains below average in my eyes and mechanically it is not prettier. And even in some stretches where I didn’t have a problem with his speed, defenders could easily get rid of him with a slight change of direction since he doesn’t have the agility to follow.
His play without the puck in those games looked questionable at best. As a center he had no idea how to defend the opposing team’s counterattacks, he didn’t know when to skate backwards, when to apply pressure, when to leave some space and cover an area or lines of passes
To pursue on his defensive play, in Liiga he played like a player who didn’t want to make mistakes so he played his man’s shadow, following him all over the ice and sticking to him all the time. Some would say it’s good defending, but that’s not the way he’s going to cut passing lines and launch a counterattack.
Offensively I don’t see anything exciting either. He has a very good wrist shot and very good puck handling. He’s going to be good at maneuvering when he has a few players around him putting pressure on him but he’s not a player who has ‘hands’ to be able to dangle a player 1v1. He isn’t able to win the offensive zone with a wide variety of play, he certainly isn’t going to do it by skating past defensemen with speed.
In the offensive zone he’s not very good at hiding his intentions with the puck and he’s very predictable in his game and very telegraphed in his passing. Does not show offensive creativity. Even in the Under-20 league in Finland, I didn’t find him dominant and I didn’t find him leading the charge, not at even-strength and not even on the power play.
He just wouldn’t be on my list, I see no point in ranking him somewhere, knowing full well that I would prefer players that I know who are going to be available later on. I wouldn’t even select him in the second round. I stopped watching him after January. By this point several people had told me he was playing a lot better, rightfully so, but the only improvement I had noticed was that he was better at getting open near the net and in the dirty area without the puck. I haven’t seen any progress in the skating department or in his offensive creativity.
Number of viewings : 16
Being a player I thought was fantastic last year, Samoskevich was one of the players I was most looking forward to see this season.
We have to admit that this did not happen without some disappointments.
In terms of sheer skill, one could argue that Samoskevich is in the top 15 in this draft. He’s a great straight-line skater and he’s fantastic at carrying the puck, he has that speed of separation where he can leave his closest pursuer behind, he can beat defensemen with speed and bypass them with ease and he also has great hands which allow him to deke his opponents at full speed.
His shot is really underestimated, he has an extremely powerful shot. Both his one-timer and his wrist shot. He also has the hands, offensive creativity and skating skills to allow him to change his shooting angles making him an unpredictable and dangerous player.
He’s shown some good playmaking flashes where he’s going to deceive everyone on the ice waiting at the very last second before making a play. However, while spectacular and impressive, we can’t speak of an ‘efficient’ playmaker since they are often flashy plays which require a few dekes or a coast-to-coast rush beforehand and which are plays with not very high success rate.
As mentioned in Coronato’s profile earlier in the season I was a little bit puzzled with where Samoskevich was being used on the power play, I would have liked to see him play one of the halfwalls to see him controlling the play. I found that the ‘bumper’ (or inside the defensive box) did not suit him very well; not the biggest nor the most combative player and I didn’t think he had the profile to jump on loose pucks. A little later he was playing higher up (above the circles), in the center, where he could use his dangerous wrist shot by selling his intentions to opposing defenders.
Where the going gets tough is that Samoskevich’s production was way below what a player of his talent should have as an offensive record and the impact he has in a game is also very disappointing.
It’s hard to find him a chair in the NHL because I have a hard time seeing him on a bottom-6 and offensively, there is also a lot of ‘garbage’ in his game which makes him a risky player and a player who isn’t as good as his skills may suggest
He forces a lot of non-existent passing lanes, he also commits several turnovers when trying to rush the puck from one end to the other and work his way between two defenders, he often skates directly in dead-spot himself. Often when he has the puck in odd-man rushes scenario, he drifts outwards, like Sam Colangelo did last year and that results in a ruined chance. He doesn’t always seem to know what to do with the puck and he becomes an unpredictable player for his teammates as well.
He centered his own line and often with Farell at his wing but around the beginning of March or mid-March he started playing on Coronato’s wing and he wasn’t doing much. He was also knocked out of the first wave of the power play.
Number of viewings : 26
A player I have called since the start of the season a ‘Poor man’s Fabian Lysell’. His stature, his speed, his dynamism with the puck and the individual style of play reminds me a lot of Swedish.
Tuomaala is a fast skater with excellent hands and a lot of self-confidence. When carrying the puck, he excels in transition because of these qualities.
His best asset, however, remains his shot. We can possibly talk about the best one-timer of the entire draft.
Surprisingly, I’ve seen him give some pretty big hits throughout the year and it’s not mentioned very much, having said that, he’s not the type of player who completes every check and that plays with an abrasive side.
The scoring talents are enticing but Tuomaala plays a little too much on the periphery for my taste and despite all his talent he often leaves lukewarm performances. He plays too individual.
Number of viewings : 25
Stankoven is a curious case, when I reread the notes I had on the player there were more positives than negatives but it always ended with ‘Not a fan’. He is a good talented player who has all the intangibles you look for in such a player but with the limitations of his size AND his skating ability, I cannot help but to side with the skeptics.
Last year I watched the Blazers over and over again to watch teammate Connor Zary and Stankoven was already being talked about. He found a way to score goals on a regular basis, but despite that, I never saw a first-round talent in the player.
Stankoven has played center position this year in Kamloops but there is no doubt he will have to play on the wing if he aspires to play at the next level.
He is above all a goal scorer, and that he does very well. He has quite a release on his wrist shot! He has great scoring instincts and he knows how to get open and he fights for every inch on the ice, which I really like. It shows fighting spirit and it helps keep your feet active. He also knows how to recognize free places on the ice. When he has the puck, he never rushes his shots. He always tries to make the opposing defenders move beforehand to give himself a better shot.
Not to say he’s one-dimensional, other than his shooting, the rest of his offensive strengths aren’t worth mentioning any more than they have to be. He has a good work ethic and he doesn’t mind going to the net despite a player of his size.
In addition to his size, his skating, as mentioned earlier is a major flaw in his game. His skating stride is short and choppy, his trunk is too vertical, there is no extension at the hip during his stride and he pushes backwards rather than to the sides.
Every year a little player arrives in the NHL and is successful there and people are led to believe that times change and trends will reverse but even though he is combative, Stankoven does not have a sufficient skating ability and doesn’t have enough tools in his trunk to have what it takes to acclimatize and take on different roles.
Number of viewings : 10
I only saw him 2 games in WHL and had several players to watch in those games. From the number of viewings I have on other players, I don’t find it very authentic to allow myself to rank a player with such a small sample. I had seen a game in Finland and really liked what I had seen. I preferred not to watch the games he played early in the season as he was dealing with acclimatization in a new country, on different sized ice and in different styles of play. A bit the same story for Logan Mailloux.
Target for subsequent rounds: As the 2021 draft is very weak, there are many of my targets for Round 2 inside my top 32. We are talking about targets here for rounds 3 to 5.
Personally, I prefer to keep the number of these players rather small. These are players that I would target and would love to leave the draft with them (in the proper round). I don’t really like the idea of presenting a big pool of players, it’s more difficult afterwards to make your credibility when you have presented a variety of players and one or two ends up making it.
In the last few years I have featured defensemen Albert Johansson and Zac Jones in this category. Jones is already in the NHL with the New York Rangers and Johansson has just had quite a season in Sweden and is very promising for the Detroit Red Wings. Last year there was forward Landon Slaggert whom I saw becoming an excellent role player in the mold of a Chandler Stephenson (before the latter inherited the role of first center in Vegas) and he was a point per game player in the NCAA as a freshman.
Son of Brian, former Habs player, Savage is a target for the end of Round 3 or the start of Round 4, in an ideal scenario.
Red is very easy to appreciate. This season I have watched well over 100 players and I wouldn’t be insecure to say that Savage probably has the best work ethic of them all.
A 5’10 center player, we mostly talk about a role player. Player to whom you entrust defensive responsibilities, whom you play at the end of the game, on the PK and to take big face-offs. He makes great read on defense, has a great sense of the game, his positioning without the puck is impeccable and he has a good sense of anticipation which allows him to break through many of the opponent’s attacks. He also does a lot of things with his forecheck.
He plays the right way and excels in the small facets of the game, he is a player in whom his coaches, no matter what level he plays, will have unwavering faith
Offensively he has enough quality to say that he is a legitimate prospect, despite his stature he excels at attacking the net, taking advantage of his physical limitations, he lowers his shoulder to gain leverage over his opponents. Coupled at more than acceptable speed, this makes it one of his main arrows in his offensive bow. He also has good hands when he finds himself in a one-on-one situation against the goalkeeper. He’s also a very, very underrated playmaker.
A 6’2 left-handed defenseman Cole Jordan is one of the top 5 skaters in this draft. Maybe even one of the top 3!
Even if he is not the player with the highest offensive instincts, he makes perfect use of his mobility in the offensive zone to prolong plays, support the attack, support teammates, jumps deep into the play to make himself a passing option and when he has the puck he can patrol the blue line with ease.
It’s great to play with confidence, but there are times when Jordan, in his own zone, tries to get out of trouble with his skating ability when he could pass to a teammate. And his outlet passes are quite effective and is capable of excellent first passes.
He would be a target towards the end of the 3rd round.
Closing time (No, not that song from Semisonic) : I want to say thanks to all of you that took the time to read me. Even if I’ll never have the pretention to call myself a ‘scout’, it is something that passionate me deeply. I invest a lot (probably too much) of my free-time on it. This field is constantly changing as the trends in the NHL changes and that’s what makes it interesting. We’ll also makes our fair shares of mistakes along the way but that’s only an opportunity to learn from it.
Looking forwards for our interactions at @19Simon19 on Twitter. Have a great one, ‘till next time !