Monday, June 24, 2019

2019 New Jersey Devils Draft Class Review

Hi everybody! Another draft has come and gone. We ended up picking 11 players, so let's take a look through each one. Please note, this will only be about the draft picks and not trading for PK F'ING SUBBAN. Okay, got that out of my system. Anyways, let's get started!
1st Round (1st overall): Jack Hughes
Jack. Hughes. Anything else need to be said? I'm not much for giving out grades for draft picks, but this pick alone is enough to warrant an "A" for the entire draft. Drafting Hughes is nothing but cause for celebration. Elite skating; elite vision; elite playmaking; elite stickhandling; elite potential. As much as I love Gomez and Nico, the Devils have never drafted as electrifying a talent as Jack Hughes. Nico and Jack as a one-two center punch for the next decade. Let's go.
2nd Round (61st overall): Nikita Okhotyuk
I'll get my theory out of the way in this section. I believe the team coveted a particular type of defenseman this draft: big, mobile, physical/mean, and strong defensive game with potential growth into a two-way game. That would be my guess why Ray traded down so much. There were a couple guys that he and Paul really wanted to target to fit that organizational need while also getting later round picks for home-run swings (I'll get to them in their sections).
So what to expect from Okhotyuk? Well his nickname is "The Russian Hunter" for two fun reasons: firstly, his last name roughly translates to "Hunter's son", but more relevantly is the fact that he hits and he hits some more. Playing with great speed, vision, discipline and hockey smarts, Okhotyuk is the first step to addressing this area of need in our organization without sacrificing skill or potential. It definitely helps that Okhotyuk was one of two Ottawa 67's we drafted in this class. Since he's in Ottawa, we'll be able to keep a very close eye on him. His game reminds me a bit of a more mobile Anton Volchenkov. One thing that impresses me about Okhotyuk is his agility and ability to shake off forecheckers. Offensively, Okhotyuk has some interesting potential because he flashed some higher end offensive potential over the course of the season. However, since he was buried on Ottawa's depth chart, the numbers never really developed. Now, with the impending departure of Ottawa 67's top d-man, Noel Hoefenmayer, Okhotyuk should get some more ice-time, so we'll see what happens with his offensive game.
Would I have preferred a higher-upside forward that was on the board at the time like a Nathan Legare or Maxim Cajkovic? Honestly, yes, but I completely understand both the organizational need and the potential skill here with this pick. You need defensemen, and you need defensemen that excel at the defensive game.
3rd Round (70th overall): Daniil Misyul
Let's get this out of the way really quickly: Holy hell, this was a slam-dunk pick. Daniil Misyul is a phenomenal skater who excels at transitioning out of the defensive zone. He likes to skate the puck up himself and gains the offensive zone with ease. Misyul is a great puck-handler and an accurate passer. His one-on-one defensive game is stellar too. I guess I would categorize him as a defensive defenseman, but there is really good potential here for offensive upside. He even earned ice-time in the playoffs with his KHL team, which is something extremely rare for a young defenseman. If there's anything I'd like to see him improve upon it's his shot speed (that'll come with his added strength and muscle) and his overall defensive zone awareness. He excels at one-on-one defense but could use some work with playing a more zone-oriented defensive game. This is something that can be taught. At this point, I'm really just nit-picking (but I have to for a fair analysis). And now, here's the question I'm sure many of you are asking: Yes, he hits, and hits hard. He plays a fearless game and loves to clear the crease. That's HIS puck and good luck beating him to it. It only helps that he's 6'3 and has great reach. I'm no medical professional, but I think we can diagnose Misyul with a case of gangly-itis. Misyul isn't very creative offensively, but his offensive game mostly revolves around transition attacks. He'll fit in perfectly with our system and I don't see how he doesn't have NHL top-4 upside. Fantastic pick.
3rd Round (80th overall): Graeme Clarke
For this pick, the Devils turn to the Ottawa 67's again, which brings up a fun/interesting theme throughout a lot of draft: teammates and connections.
Anyways, let's talk about Clarke. Clarke has one of the best shots in the draft. Not only is his shot fantastic, borderline elite, his hands are remarkable as well. I'm sure many of you have seen this goal by now, but it's not the first time he's done the "Michigan" move before!
Like Okhotyuk, Clarke found himself a little further down the line-up (in terms of minutes played) on a deep Ottawa 67's team. What I like about Clarke's game is not only his shot and stickhandling, but his ability to recognize space on the ice and gusto to exploit that open space. This is key for any goal-scorer in juniors to be able to make the jump to be a successful goal-scorer in the pros. There is plenty of room to improve in Clarke's game and to fully establish himself as an elite OHL forward. Most notably is his skating - specifically his explosiveness/acceleration and overall speed. Clarke strikes me as a potential middle-6 RW at the NHL level who excels on the powerplay...but the skating needs to improve. I like the potential for this pick.
By the way, I'll elaborate on all the connections/teammates stuff at the end of this post.
3rd Round (82nd overall): Michael Vukojevic
I'll be honest, this was the first kind of "meh" pick in my mind, and I don't think that's fair to Vukojevic. I had a couple very rough viewings of Vukojevic at the beginning of the season and had a tough time warming up to him. Again, this isn't fair to Vukojevic because that was at the beginning of the season and a consistent theme for almost all picks from rounds 2-7 this draft was consistent improvement throughout the season, especially in the second half. Since the draft, I've looked back on game footage, especially from the second half of the season and the playoffs. I've liked what I've seen and there's definitely something there.
Michael Vukojevic is another big, mobile, defensively-oriented defenseman who plays a mean and physical game. He's already big and strong, and has even more room to grow. One of the things that concerned me about his defensive game from earlier on in the season was that it predominantly involved using his physicality and strength to essentially beat up on the smaller competition...and that won't fly at the pro level against much bigger players...but Vukojevic is strong. He is really strong and as mentioned earlier, he'll have more room to grow and get stronger, so perhaps that could translate to the pros. Vukojevic doesn't have much in terms of offensive upside, but he makes a good pass out of the defensive zone. I'd like to see him improve his agility and lateral movement. I'm not sure what to say about his NHL potential because while normally a player with his skillset would immediately strike me as a likely 3rd pairing d-man, there's something about Vukojevic's intelligence, decision-making, and vision that say there might be something more here. His offensive skills are very...uh...not there at this point, but he make crisp zone exit passes and is able to think the game well. Perhaps in our team identity of a speed-based attack, he'll get some assists via goals in transition. I like his passing though and who knows what else is there. He'll be a prospect I'll keep a very close eye on this upcoming season.
4th Round (96th overall): Tyce Thompson
This pick, like Vukojevic, confused me a little bit. In viewings of Thompson, I didn't quite see any high-end offensive upside, but I think I understand the risk/gamble involved with taking Thompson (maybe not as high as the 4th round, but maybe Ray/Paul were worried he'd be off the board by the 5th or so). Providence College is losing 3 of their top scoring forwards from this season due to pro contract signings. This'll open up more ice-time for Thompson to compete and perhaps show some offensive flair. It should be said that I do think he has a good shot. What Thompson does do well is his play along the boards and grinding down opponents. He'll have to add muscle to be more effective at that game and if he wants to play that kind of game at the pro level. With all due respect to Tyce, I'm not too thrilled with this pick, but I have to trust Castron here. It's easy to say that Castron is the person I trust most in the organization when players like Hughes, Bratt, and Smith are's a little more difficult to do so with these kinds of picks. Let's hope Tyce is a diamond in the rough and he/Castron prove me wrong for worrying.
4th Round (118th overall): Case McCarthy
Another slam-dunk pick. Honestly here until the end of the draft was just slam dunk after slam dunk pick for the Devils. Case McCarthy is a great skating, physical two-way defenseman. He hits, he shuts down opponents, he doesn't lose one-on-one battles, and did I mention plays a near air-tight defensive game? Funny enough, I had Case McCarthy at #45 on my final top-62 list, so this is phenomenal value in my book. In terms of other rankings, he was a bit all over the place, and I know I had him higher than most places. However, he was one of the most impressive defensemen on that USNTDP team after York. Despite his great skating, McCarthy doesn't really like to skate the puck up the ice himself. Rather he opts to make a crisp outlet pass. I think the reason why McCarthy was ranked pretty low by outlets is that his decision-making is pretty simple and he doesn't have much offensive upside. That being said, he strikes me as a guy who can log 20+ of tough defensive assignments in the Show. Fantastic pick here.
5th Round (127th overall): Cole Brady
Let's be real: goalies are really difficult to project. Last year we picked a 6'5" string-bean of a goaltender in the 5th round and this year is no different. What I can tell you about Cole Brady is that he's a big boy and he moves in the crease really well. He plays calm and poised, and he isn't afraid to handle the puck. He plays a very solid positional game and doesn't get beat down low too often, which is a testament to his agility and positioning. He might drop down into the butterfly position a little too soon sometimes, but he's tall enough where that isn't too big of a problem at this level. He's in the NAHL right now and is a commit for Arizona State University in the 2020-2021 season. We'll see if he sticks in the NAHL or plays in the USHL this upcoming season before going off to the NCAA. Brady has the tools to be a good goalie, but goalies are weird to project. The good thing is that we can be patient with him and give him as much time as possible for him to develop.
5th Round (129th overall): Arseni Gritsyuk
Forgive me if you've heard this before, but here's another fantastic pick. Gritsyuk is an undersized winger that plays with intensity and intelligence. The MHL is a bit of a tough league to evaluate and it's a difficult league to score points in, but Gritsyuk had a phenomenal U18 championship tournament for Team Russia. Gritsyuk thinks the game so well and is able to be elusive and sneaky with his skating (particularly his edges). Gritsyuk likes to catch opponents off-balance and attack, usually going wide. Areas of improvement for Grtisyuk are all areas I would deem "coachable" - he'll need to learn to be a better supporting player be it using his line-mates more or for his defensemen looking for an outlet pass. Gritsyuk is also an elusive player when it comes to his own stickhandling skills. Like any young player with his skillset, Gritsyuk will stickhandle himself into trouble and give up the puck by attempting to over-stickhandle his way out of situations. This really isn't a concern for me because he'll need to figure out what he can and can't do over the course of his development. I've always come away impressed from watching his ability to stick to the puck and have the puck find him. He's not a play-driver though; he thrives as a secondary-offense kind of player. To be honest, I could really see the Devils management wanting him to come over to North America for next season as a part of the CHL Import Draft. Not that the MHL isn't a good league or that it isn't difficult for a Russian-born player to come across the world to play junior hockey; I just feel that the areas for improvement in his game are mostly to do with structured play. While I don't think he's quite ready for professional hockey (like the VHL), I think the CHL provides a bit more of a structured environment for him to develop in. Funny enough, as cliche as it sounds, I think his game is pretty well suited for the North-American ice and style of play. If I had to describe him in one word, it would be intense...which is funny because "grit" is literally in his name.
6th Round (158th overall): Patrick Moynihan
Love love love this pick here. Patrick Moynihan at 158 is a steal. Moynihan reminds me a lot of a Joey Anderson type player in that he won't bring that elite offensive game, but will instead fit on, gel with, and significantly improve any line he's on. He's incredibly supportive and is a hard-working no-nonsense kind of player. While not a speedster, he can keep up with play and doesn't get lost in the play. What you're getting is a versatile two-way forward who was referred to by many of his teammates as the most underrated player on the US U-18 team.
7th Round (189th overall): Nikola Pasic
So funny enough, I hadn't realized that Pasic was still on the board at this point. I had thought he would be gone by the 4th round...goes to show how highly I think of this pick. So hey, why not another late round home-run pick? Pasic has fantastic vision and an absolute boatload of skill. Overall he skates rather well - I'd just like to see him improve his acceleration in that regard. Like Todd Cordell said Pasic led his U20 team in points-per-game. One big reason why Pasic fell to where he did was because of inconsistency in his play. Watching him it's very similar to Bratt in the sense of you have player that clearly has immense skill and thinks the game very well, but it's as if he's struggling to figure out what kind of player he wants to be. He'll try to stickhandle through crowds or he'll shoot the puck a whole lot to an almost-predictable level...but really when it comes down to it, I think some clear direction for him would do him wonders in his development. Give him the Bratt treatment. There's a ton of skill and also a great room for improvement. What a pick to end the draft on.
So in case you can't tell, I'm very very pleased with how this draft turned out. There was a great balance of addressing organizational need while not sacrificing skill or the organizational vision of speed, skating, skill, and smarts. I know this sounds cliche, but after the Hughes pick, it's so difficult to just have one "favorite pick" of this draft. If I absolutely had to pick one it would probably be Misyul, but there's so much to like with this draft class, and I'm looking forward to it paying dividends in the future. Thank you so much for taking the time to read through this!
Let's get to some connections, shall we? The obvious ones would be Case McCarthy and Patrick Moynihan playing with Jack Hughes on the USNTDP U18 team as well as Nikita Okhotyuk and Graeme Clarke playing with Mitchell Hoelscher (our 6th round pick last year) for the Ottawa 67's. However, did you know that Graeme Clarke played with Jack Hughes in the 2016-2017 season? Jack Hughes and Michael Vukojevic played 9 games together in the 2016-2017 OJHL Playoffs for the Georgetown Raiders. Jack Hughes and Michael Vukojevic played on the same team way back 2010-2011 for the Toronto Bulldogs at the Brick Invitational Tournament along with Philip Tomasino and Anaheim 6th round pick, Mathew Hill. One more for you: Case McCarthy played on the same team as Michael Vukojevic back in 2015-2016 for the Mississauga Rebels Bantam AAA team. I'm sure there are more connections, but these are just a few, and it goes to show just how much the high-level hockey players in Ontario play together. Anyways, this took a bit of a strange turn at the end, but once again, thank you all for reading this! I would love your thoughts on how we did this draft!
P.S. One more quick thought while I'm at it. We all know the importance of drafting and development, but we got to see first-hand just how important it is (along with maintaining a healthy amount of cap space) when Jeremy Davies was one of the key pieces traded to get PK F'ING SUBBAN.

Friday, February 1, 2019

2019 NHL Draft - Ian's Top-62 List

Hi everybody. It’s been a while. I’m going to dust off the blog and try and post some more here because I’ve realized that even with all of the incredible opportunities I’ve gotten, I can never talk about hockey too much. So considering that it’s been a long enough time after the World Juniors Championship (and enough time to settle down after the WJC “bump” to certain prospect rankings), now would be a good time to explore my top-62 list for the upcoming 2019 NHL Draft – hosted in Vancouver in June.

Before beginning, I think the “tiers” for the top-31 are separated into a few drop-offs. For me, the drop-offs would be after #2, #3, #8 and #15. After that, it’s a bit of a crapshoot. I’ll try my best to explain what each player brings and why I have them listed where they are. Also, just to make sure I cover this, these are my own personal rankings I’ve accumulated through video views. This list does not represent any organizations I am a part of.

Let’s get started!

1)     Jack Hughes – C, USNTDP U-18, 5’10”, 168 lbs

The crown jewel of the draft class as well as the crown jewel of one of the strongest USNTDP U-18 squads I’ve ever seen. Hughes is a franchise center in the making. Simply put, nobody in this class is better than Hughes at this point or the foreseeable future. Looking to be the first player to make the jump directly from the USNTDP U-18 team to the NHL, Jack Hughes boasts a skillset with incredible skating speed, phenomenal vision and anticipation, and elite stickhandling. The best way to describe Jack’s game is “electric” and the cliché adage of a player being a threat “whenever he steps on the ice” is very appropriate for Hughes. To me, Hughes’ playing style is the embodiment of the “new NHL” (is it even possible to still use that term post-McDavid?). Hughes is not only able to combine his vision and skating skills, but is able to make high-end plays at top speed. What Hughes lacks in size, he makes up for in speed and compete. Not to be outdone in his own end of the ice, Hughes plays a solid all-around game, but is clearly more comfortable driving the pace of play offensively. Hughes loves to skate the puck up the ice himself and will occasionally try to do too much when taking on multiple defenders in zone entries. Possessing a wire of a wrist shot, Hughes will try to get to the high-danger scoring areas of the ice whenever he has the puck and from there is a threat to roof the puck home or make a no-look pass to an open teammate. Jack will be the first player taken in June and will serve as a pivot for whatever franchise is lucky enough to take him for the next decade.

2)     Kappo Kakko – RW/C, TPS, 6’2”, 190 lbs

Kappo Kakko is such an interesting combination of intelligence, goal-scoring, puck-protection, incredible stickhandling, agility and creativity. He’s producing at an incredible rate in the Finnish Liiga, and plays the game with a ton of power. Kakko has all the tools to succeed in the NHL and be a top caliber offensive producer. Kakko is extremely versatile and can be a “do-it-all” kind of player. Should be noted that while he does have some experience playing C, especially at the lower junior levels, I believe he will end up a RW long-term. Kakko will immediately be ready to step into the line-up of whatever team is lucky to draft him. Kakko does not have any major flaws to his game either. There are minor defensive zone positioning improvements that need to be made. All in all, Kakko is a multi-faceted winger who plays a mature and strong puck-possession game, who can beat you with an array of tools.

3)     Vasili Podkolzin – RW, SKA-1946 St. Petersburg, 6’1”, 190 lbs

If you’re a team picking in the top-5 and in need of a multi-faceted RW with an array of tools, then are you in good luck this year. Podkolzin plays an airtight three-zone game and hunts for the puck each shift like a hungry dog. His ability to make plays at high-end speed might be his best asset. Podkolzin can be used in any situation and has the foot speed to be a threat whenever he’s out there. Podkolzin has had phenomenal international tournament performances, which have only helped his draft status. Podkolzin is a sparkplug and there’s a ton of things to like in his game.

4)     Alex Turcotte – C, USNTDP U-18, 5’11”, 194 lbs

Alex Turcotte remains the most underrated player in this draft class (at the time of this posting). Turcotte is an incredibly fast and intelligent center with the best two-way game out of his peers. Turcotte’s skating is strong and smooth while having a low center of gravity. It’s difficult to get the recognition you deserve when playing behind Jack Hughes, but make no mistake…Alex Turcotte has top-6 if not top-line C potential at the NHL level. The combination of intelligence – play anticipation, playmaking, and decision-making – along with speed to burn, soft hands, high-end vision, and the fact that the hands can keep up with the skates makes Alex Turcotte was of the most lethal offensive players in this draft class. The concern with Turcotte is his injury history.

5)     Dylan Cozens – C, Lethbridge Hurricanes, 6’3”, 177 lbs

Dylan Cozens is a big and powerful right-shot center who plays an up-tempo game. His all around skating ability is stellar and he loves to play physical. Cozens’s up-tempo game along with his speed and physicality allow him to drive the plays on whichever line he’s on. Being hard-wired with an "in your face interface", Cozens is always involved in play, and constantly finishes his checks. Cozens has better hands that he gets credit for, and while he has room to improve in his playmaking game, there doesn't seem to be a particular area of his game that is below-average. Cozens relies on his speed more than anything for his game - be it creating offensive chances or being an absolute pest in the defensive zone. Occasionally, Cozens will follow up on a hit too much and get himself out of position or get back late into the defensive zone, but this really isn't a concern of decision-making. Bottom line, Cozens plays aggressive, and is a wonderful combination of speed, power and scoring ability.

6)     Bowen Byram – LD, Vancouver Giants, 6’1”, 176 lbs

Bowen Byram is the best defenseman in the draft class at this point. What stands out about him is that I would argue that he doesn’t have any true “elite” characteristics to his game. He’s more so a “jack of all trades” type player on the blueline. Byram’s best asset is his agility, and he uses it as the prominent driver of his game. Byram plays an excellent two-way game and positions himself exceptionally well. Byram plays with a ton of emotion and loves to play physically. In my mind, Byram has definite top-pairing potential and can play in whatever situation you need him to. Considering the lack of defensive prospects projected to go in the top-15 of the first round, it wouldn’t surprise me if a team took Byram at #3, but that’s for a later mock draft post. Byram plays with an excellent compete level and looks to be a top-pairing two-way defenseman at the next level…just an all-around excellent defenseman.

7)     Kirby Dach – C, Saskatoon Blades, 6’4”, 195 lbs

Kirby Dach is a lanky center who excels at playmaking. Dach plays an elusive game despite limited top-end speed. While this is a bit tough to quantify, Dach might just be the most confident passer in this draft class. Furthering on that note, Dach plays the game with a lot of confidence. Adding more to the elusiveness aspect, Dach doesn’t always gain the offensive zone via straight line. He’ll shake and bake, do some stutter-steps, or any other variety of slick moves that will get a defenseman out of position. So in this sense, while Dach may be limited by his top-end skating speed, he, at this point, is able to mitigate it well through his elusiveness. Despite having a very strong wrist shot, Dach is much more of a pass-first player. Defensively, Dach is a strong supportive player and knows where he needs to be in the zone. He uses his long reach to his advantage in both breaking up plays/passes, but also in battles along the boards.

8)     Trevor Zegras – C, USNTDP U18, 5’11”, 159 lbs

Perhaps one of the best one-on-one all-situational players in the draft, Trevor Zegras plays a crafty playmaking game. Zegras can drive an offense and be that “go-to guy” with his skating and high caliber playmaking skill. Zegras has very good top-end skating speed and angles his body so he can gain the offensive zone more easily. Additionally, Zegras has a fantastic on-ice work ethic. If you’re on the ice with Zegras, keep your stick on the ice because he’ll find a way to get the puck to you. And then there’s the one-on-one play…Zegras has remarkable stickhandling skills and is able to use them while at top speed. He’s able to use his agility and stickhandling to create space in the offensive zone to get the puck to a high-scoring area. Defensively, Zegras plays a tight game with good hustle on the back-check. He also plays excellent supportive hockey in the neutral zone, especially with breaking up passes.

9)     Peyton Krebs – C, Kootenay Ice, 5’11”, 185 lbs

Perhaps one of the more mythologized players in the draft class because of his responsibility of serving as the Sisyphus for the Kootenay Ice, Peyton Krebs is one of the most intelligent players in the entire class. Krebs plays an excellent all-around game and there is the ever-alluring question of what his point totals would look like if he wasn’t playing on a bottom-dwelling team. Krebs skates with stellar agility and speed. Krebs is more of a pass-first guy, but isn’t afraid to shoot, especially while on the rush. His passes are crisp, accurate, and (as previously mentioned) intelligently placed. Krebs’ skating and intelligence should be enough to get him into the NHL one day. The question is how high his offensive ceiling could be. And, for the biologists out there who just happen to be reading this, yes, Krebs can cycle extremely well.

10)  Ryan Suzuki – C, Barrie Colts, 6’0”, 171 lbs

An electrifying playmaker, Ryan Suzuki combines incredible vision with elite speed. Suzuki can feather or whip the puck to your stick wherever you are on the ice and one thing that impresses me about his play is how little time the puck actually spends on Suzuki’s stick. To me, this is more indicative of the metaphor for Suzuki playing like a snake lurking in grass. He’s sneaky, fast, and darn near uncontainable at top speeds. Like some of the other players listed above, Suzuki is a pass-first guy despite having a great wrist shot. It just means that once he figures out how to incorporate it into his play more, he’ll be that much more dangerous of an offensive threat. Suzuki doesn’t like to play in the heavy areas of the ice, nor does he engage physically much at all, but Suzuki is an all-around excellent player who combines blistering speed, incredible vision and good stickwork to consistently be a scoring threat.

11)  Matthew Boldy – LW, USNTDP U18, 6’2”, 187 lbs

Matthew Boldy is a coach’s dream. He plays with high IQ, is a threat to score from nearly anywhere in the offensive zone, has the versatility to be charged as a playmaker on his line, hardly ever makes mistakes, and has a powerful skating stride. It’s no surprise why a few independent scouting organizations (and most likely some NHL teams) hold him in very high regard. The best way to really describe Boldy, in my opinion, would be “versatile”. He’s a plug-and-play guy who will be able to not only hold his own, but excel in whatever situation he is put in. It’s hard to separate yourself on such a talented USNTDP U18 squad, but Boldy’s style of play isn’t dependent on a particular “line driver”. At this point, I believe Boldy’s ceiling is a low-end top-line winger.

12)  Victor Soderstrom – RD, Brynas, 5’11”, 176 lbs

The crux of Victor Soderstrom’s game is moving the puck up the ice, but there is much more to Soderstrom than that alone. Soderstrom plays an incredibly mature game and looks like he has ice in his veins whenever he’s out there. Since the new year started, Soderstrom has been on an absolute tear for Brynas, and has played in key spots for the men’s team (e.g. penalty kills, last minute or so with a team lead, etc.). The cliché of a player who plays beyond his year is very applicable with Soderstrom. Soderstrom shoots the puck very hard and plays an overall game of supportive hockey. There is something intriguing about Soderstrom that says, to me, that he has top-pairing potential at the NHL level. Soderstrom ticks all the boxes you would look for in a defenseman: good skating, high hockey IQ, strong shot, and a confidence in his game. Funny enough, even as I’m writing this, I feel the need to re-evaluate Soderstrom’s placement on this list. I still believe Byram is the best defenseman in the draft class right now, but Soderstrom is making it incredibly difficult to keep claiming that. That’s how good Soderstrom has been as of late.

13)  Cam York – LD, USNTDP U18, 5’11”, 171 lbs

Cam York is an interesting player simply because I don’t think we’ve given him enough credit. Again, this logic rests on the idea of the notion that it’s difficult to stand out on such a talented team, especially when the star talent is in the forward corps. However, Cam York is a do-it-all defenseman with above-average top skating speed. York’s skating isn’t exactly smooth or polished, but he uses his speed and fluidity well. The way York surveys the ice and processes the game is very impressive, especially his reaction speed. As mentioned earlier, York excels as an all-around kind of guy, but he’s more of an offense-first guy, and the crux of his offensive game is moving the puck and creating chances through his passing (and overall playmaking ability). York has a solid wrist shot with a fast release. There’s room for York to grow, especially with his overall skating, but the foundations are there for a successful NHL player. It wouldn’t be fair to pidgeon-hole York’s potential as simply a Powerplay QB at the next level, because I do believe York can bring an all-around impact to the game. His years at the University of Michigan will significantly help his development.

14)  Connor McMichael – C, London Knights, 6’0”, 170 lbs

It may be a bit tough to notice, considering how stacked the London blueline is, but Connor McMichael is the straw that stirs the drink for the forwards on this team. In addition to London’s stellar track record of producing NHL talent, McMichael should see a big rise in the standings as he continues to produce. McMichael has phenomenal vision and IQ, and has an very hard and accurate wrist shot. McMichael competes hard and plays physical in board battles. McMichael is basically the standard caliber of high-end potential forward from the London system. This is not to demean McMichael’s skills, but rather point out that he is right in line with the high levels of expectation I have on forward prospects from the London Knights. It really wouldn’t surprise me if there was a team that made a Barret Hayton-like reach in the top-7 and pick McMichael. There are a ton of talented and high-caliber Center prospects, especially projected in the top-10, but there’s something safe about McMichael.

15)  Cole Caufield – RW, USNTDP U18, 5’7”, 157 lbs

Cole Caufield is one of my favorite players to watch in this draft. He’s an electric goal-scoring winger who plays fearless and never gives up on the play. Caufield has good stickhandling skills to be able to beat defenders one-on-one, but the best aspect to Caufield’s game would be his goal scoring ability. I wouldn’t exactly say he’s a carbon copy, but Caufield’s game compares extremely well to Alex DeBrincat, even more than simply a smaller player who can score goals. Caufield may be a bit overlooked because he plays on a line with Jack Hughes or perhaps, for some reason, because of his size, but Cole Caufield is one of the purest goal-scoring talents in this draft class.

16)  Matthew Robertson – LD, Edmonton Oil Kings, 6’3”, 201 lbs

I’m a sucker for your conventional “old-timey” d-men from the Dub, and Matthew Robertson plays physically and combines that physicality with his strength, size, and reach, to be one of the most difficult d-men to beat one-on-one this entire draft class. One thing that Robertson is especially good at in the defensive zone is preventing zone entries. Robertson is a strong skater with room to grow in his agility. His top-end speed needs improving as well, but at this moment, Robertson’s game revolves mostly around his strength. Robertson plays a rather simple game and makes good, crisp passes on the offensive side of things. Occasionally Robertson will charge the net with the puck by swinging down to the goal-line in a power-move but the majority of Robertson’s offensive game comes from his hard shot at the point or from passing the puck to a rushing forward while on the breakout. As mentioned earlier, Robertson has shown that he has the physicality to play how he wants on the ice, but also has the puck skills to be able to stick in today’s NHL.

17)  Alex Newhook – C, Victoria Grizzlies, 5’11”, 185 lbs

The BCHL is no longer some mystical, unknown league in Western Canada for those of us on the Eastern coast of the US. While there have been some notable players drafted from the BCHL like Beau Bennett, Travis Zajac and Kyle Turris among others, the league has recently solidified itself in recent years as a top-end development league for players from Western Canada who want to bypass the WHL and go to NCAA programs. Names that fall into this category would include Tyson Jost, Dennis Cholowski, Dante Fabbro, Jonny Tychonick in recent years. Alex Newhook is another addition to that list. Newhook has incredible speed and processes the game very quickly. Newhook is another one of those players I should have much higher on this list. There’s a ton of talent in this draft, don’t get me wrong. The biggest area for improvement in Newhook’s game is that there are stretches where he disappears on the ice. These moments are extremely rare in his BCHL play and only really pop up in international play like the U17’s and the World Junior A Challenge. At those international tournaments you could really tell the amount of skill Newhook had even though he wasn’t driving play like he does in the BCHL. There are so many small things that Newhook does extremely well like finding the space on the ice and skating through the neutral zone, and not to mention his incredible shot, but the key asset for Newhook in my opinion is his explosive acceleration. He can absolutely motor up the ice at the drop of a hat. It should be noted that Newhook has been playing the best hockey of his season after his relatively quiet WJAC Tournament. Long story short, I have Newhook at 17 but should have him higher. There’s no doubt in my mind he drops beyond #15 on draft day.

18)  Philip Broberg – LD, AIK, 6’3”, 203 lbs

Another perplexing prospect, some teams will likely be salivating at the thought of a defenseman as big as Broberg with the high-end speed that he has. They’ll love the sight of him skating the puck end-to-end with confidence and poise. Others will fall into my school of thought. He has lots of promising potential and with a few tweaks or minor improvements, he could be a very effective NHL top-4 guy. Personally, why I have Broberg (likely) lower than other outlets is because the one area where I believe Broberg needs to really improve is his hockey-IQ – mainly his decision-making. This is not to say all hope is lost; it could just mean that Broberg is still figuring out what he can and can’t do in a men’s league. It’s not crazy to assume a 17-year-old kid can’t have these kinds of road blocks. The thing about Broberg and why I have him this high, despite being down on such a crucial component as hockey IQ is that his physical skills alone bring a sense of NHL certainty. So Broberg isn’t a traditional boom or bust pick. At this point, Broberg is a great mix of size, skating and speed with a hard point shot. If he can fix the areas of improvement above the shoulders and develop a strong mental game, the ceiling is very high for Broberg.

19)  Moritz Seider – RD, Adler Mannheim, 6’4”, 198 lbs

Once again I sit down to write about a player and realize I should have him higher. Moritz Seider might be my favorite player in the draft class because he’s so interesting to watch play. I’m a sucker for prospects from non-conventional hockey markets, so it’s nice to see Germany start to produce some high-end potential talent like Leon Draisaitl and Dominik Bokk in recent years. Seider’s game is all about strength. Seider might just be the strongest player in the draft class. He’s built like a brick wall. Defensively, Seider is stellar. He’ll shut down opponents with his positioning and physicality. He doesn’t get fooled easily and he also maintains excellent gap control with opponents. On the offensive side of things, Seider flashes top-pairing potential with poise, instincts and crisp passes. Seider plays a very mature game and would undoubtedly be higher on lists if he was playing in a more well-known league (besides the German DEL). There is a ton of promise and Seider is one of those guys who you pick high because of his potential, and can let sit for 2 or 3 years to really give him time to develop. Or you could sign him immediately after drafting and have him play for your team’s AHL affiliate. Seider is versatile and thinks the game very well. I think the reason why he’s my favorite prospect in the draft class is because of the way he combines his physicality with the cerebral element of his game. Seider has run into a little bit of trouble with some shoulder injuries, so I’m sure that will be the subject of many questions in Draft Combine interviews.

20)  Jakob Pelletier – LW, Moncton Wildcats, 5’9”, 161 lbs

Will NHL teams make the same mistake and overlook a dynamic offensive talent because of size concerns? Pelletier possesses very high skill level along with excellent vision and very good skating speed & edgework. Pelletier is another player that plays like a snake lurking in the grass because of his ability to, in essence, sneak into high-scoring chances. This doesn’t mean that Pelletier is good at battling for positioning with raw strength. Instead, Pelletier uses his skates well and serves as a “digging” guy rather than simply a “pushing” guy in board battles. More of a playmaker than a scorer, Pelletier’s game revolves almost entirely around his vision and play anticipation. There are some rumblings around rankings having Pelletier in the top-10, and it really wouldn’t surprise me to see that. Pelletier has a near non-stop motor and is contributing some incredible numbers on the statsheet. What I’d like to see more from Pelletier is better footspeed, agility and overall first-step acceleration. The NHL is no longer mainly about big, physical players, and if Pelletier can make that minor improvement, then the sky is the limit. As is a theme for this, the next time I do a ranking, the look will be drastically different. Pelletier is a high caliber speedy winger who never quits. He has definite top-6 potential at the NHL and should be ranked accordingly.

21)  Samuel Poulin – LW, Sherbroooke Phoenix, 6’1”, 207 lbs

I remember watching a game between Canada U18 and Switzerland U18 at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup back in August. There was a particular player that really caught my eye with how he played with such power and scoring potential. Clearly, since this is his section, I’m talking about Samuel Poulin. Poulin plays a hard overall game whether he has the puck or not. Poulin is able to blend using his size and vision to create plays and scoring chances. Poulin, to me, is extremely versatile in that he can play both a skilled and a physical game. He’s your prototypical power-forward, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he even gets a cup of coffee in the NHL for a few games or so before being sent back down to the QJMHL. There’s not much more he can learn from juniors in all honesty. He needs to gain more strength, but Poulin is another sleeper of a talent waiting to break out. In simple terms, Poulin is a big guy who is hard to knock off the puck and can score. There’s really nothing to dislike there.

22)  Mikko Kokkonen – LD, Jukurit, 5’11”, 190 lbs

Mikko Kokkonen is an interesting prospect, and I think he has potential to go in the mid-to-later part of the 1st round in June. The aspects that stand out the most about his play right now would be his hockey IQ and defensive play. Predominantly playing third pairing on a team in the highest professional league in Finland, Kokkonen has managed to put up some very impressive numbers from the back end. Kokkonen had an excellent performance for the Finns at the Hlinka Gretzky Tournament before the season and then kind of faded off of the radar so to speak. He hasn’t really gone anywhere, nor has he played poorly, but it’s difficult playing on a relatively new team in such a tough league. Anyways, Kokkonen has very good puck skills as well. The only area where I think Kokkonen needs to improve is his overall skating. He has pretty solid top-end speed but his acceleration could be improved. For me, Kokkonen’s projection relies entirely on his skating ability/improvements. Kokkonen is in no way a flashy player but for some reason the points keep on coming. There has been significant increase in Kokkonen’s time on ice and defensive responsibility as the season has progressed. To me it really looks like Kokkonen is settling in nicely to the pace and toughness of the Liiga. I hate using same-country player comparables, but Kokkonen reminds me of a lesser-skating Urho Vaakanainen. Kokkonen is a reliable two-way player and if he can improve the fine details of his skating, he will make a team very happy to pick him.

23)  Arthur Kaliyev – RW, Hamilton Bulldogs, 6’1”, 190 lbs

I’ll start by saying this: I should have Kaliyev lower on this list. The raw talent is undeniable. In fact, Kaliyev is one of the premier offensive threats in this draft class. He has a world class shot. Take any supposed compete level or defensive play concerns and put them aside for a moment. Kaliyev is a strong player who is difficult to knock off the puck. His skating speed is above-average, but he has excellent bursts of speed that create separation. For me, the big question with Kaliyev is whether or not his scoring ability will transfer to the NHL. It’s always the huge question when it comes to offensively-minded prospects, but I’m a bit less optimistic about Kaliyev’s ability to transfer. The main culprit of this is his skating. He doesn’t need to be an elite skater, but I have to wonder what his ability to create space at the NHL level will be, because that is a huge, and difficult, transition. This will likely be the ranking that I eat the most crow on in the future, because if Kaliyev hits, he can be a top-line scoring threat for a long time. If he doesn’t, well….For a Devils reference, Kaliyev makes me think of the goal-scoring promise of Reid Boucher. Boucher had a phenomenal shot and tremendous goal-scoring (offensively minded) instinct. Boucher is actually producing extremely well in the AHL, but he could never make the jump to be a productive NHL player, and that was because of his skating. The one thing that Kaliyev has on Boucher in the skating department is his propensity for strong bursts of speed, but will that be enough? There’s plenty of time for him to work with skating coaches, but I feel a bit pessimistic about his ability to do so. That being said, I do have Kaliyev this high because if he is able to pan out, my goodness will he be a home-run pick. Kaliyev is a very talented power forward prospect…a true boom or bust pick.

24)  Raphael Lavoie – C/RW, Halifax Mooseheads, 6’4”, 198 lbs

Raphael Lavoie is a prospect that makes me scratch my head a bit. Lavoie puts up fantastic scoring numbers, has an excellent shot, plays an excellent puck-possession game and looks on some nights to be the complete package. Lavoie demonstrates very good play anticipation and even flashes a bit of high-end awareness occasionally. He doesn’t get that sort of tunnel vision trouble that most goal-scorers his age get. It would be no surprise to me if a team moved up or took Lavoie off the board in the top-15…especially if they view him as a Center long-term. He looks more comfortable as a winger because he can just fire pucks on net that way. At this point, if I were to compare Lavoie to previous power forwards from the QMJHL, I would say his potential ceiling is higher than Anthony Mantha’s but lower than Pierre-Luc Dubois’. The thing about Lavoie that makes me scratch my head is that I don’t quite see the hype that others do on a consistent level from Lavoie. Also, I think it’s because power forwards with solid not stellar skating and relatively inconsistent hockey IQ scare me. In some sense, I’m holding Lavoie guilty for the sins of prior power forward prospects who were “all tools and no toolbox”, which isn’t quite fair on Lavoie, but in trying to be the most fair in how I evaluate him there are two minor elements that raise a potential red flag for his hockey IQ: overall positioning (both offense and defensively) as well as his tendencies to mishandle the puck – which isn’t indicative of a lack of puck skills –. These are very minor issues but they raise red flags for me. Forgive the ramble.

25)  Ryan Johnson – LD, Sioux Falls Stempede, 6’0”, 161 lbs

I should start this off by saying that Ryan Johnson is another one of my favorite prospects coming into this draft. It all starts with the skating. Johnson is a high-end, near elite caliber skater. Johnson uses this skating to excel in all aspects of the game. He’s difficult to beat because of the way he’ll angle you away from the net along with his gap control. He’s stellar at the breakout (and just taking the puck up the ice himself). He plays with such poise and calmness that he looks beyond his years, despite being one of the youngest defensemen in the USHL this season. He also has an excellent shot from the point Johnson will need to add more muscle to his frame, but should make an immediate impact at the University of Minnesota, where he’s committed to play next season. Johnson is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to highly mobile, highly intelligent defenders available for the picking this draft.

26)  Bobby Brink – RW, Sioux City Musketeers, 5’10”, 165 lbs

Bobby Brink has game breaking talent. He has stellar hands and plays a speedy, fearless game. Brink is so intriguing because he’s an incredibly hard worker with a high propensity for scoring goals. He has a very heavy shot and has a stellar two-way game as well as a very high level of play anticipation. In terms of overall talent, Brink would be much higher on this list. However, Brink is just a bit too raw and inconsistent for me to put him in the top-20 or so. His work ethic alone means he has NHL potential. His passing is precise and he thinks the game at a high level. Brink really shone at the World Junior A Challenge, where he showed scouts his high-end potential. Inconsistency is the only question I have surrounding Brink’s game, which isn’t the worst thing in the world. It seems that in American hockey circles, he’s held in high regard. He’s committed to the University of Denver for next season, but his CHL rights were recently acquired by Portland of the WHL, so we’ll have to see where Brink ends up next season. If Brink can hammer out his inconsistencies, he has very high offensive potential.

27)  Nils Hoglander – LW, Rogle BK, 5’9”, 185 lbs

It’s hard not to like Nils Hoglander. He’s a high-octane winger who plays an aggressive game and pushes the pace of play. Hoglander is fearless in his game and has an excellent all-around skating. He is definitely a waterbug out there on the ice – just zipping around. Hoglander combines his stellar skating with excellent vision and very good decision-making. Hoglander possesses very good stickhandling skills and has a quick shot that he’s able to get through to the net despite traffic on or around him. All in all, Hoglander is a feisty, aggressive winger who pushes the pace of play and is able to contribute offensively.

28)  Thomas Harley – LD, Mississauga Steelheads, 6’3”, 183 lbs

One player who saw an unbelievably large jump in his draft stock is Thomas Harley. Harley is one of the youngest players in the draft class, and has excellent skating ability, especially his edgework. Harley plays a steady two-way game and there isn’t necessarily one particular trait about his game that stands out. He’s more of a jack-of-all-trades kind of guy. He’s more of a lax defenseman in the sense that he won’t be hounding you for the puck all the time (trying to suffocate opponents and whatnot), but will rather use his positioning and gap control to force turnovers. That non-aggressive aspect (if that’s the right term to use) carries over to Harley’s offensive game too. This isn’t a bad thing, but I know there are negative connotations with that word, so I’ll clarify. Harley doesn’t necessarily drive to the net. Rather, his offensive game mainly revolves around threading a pass through to an open teammate or lightly floating the puck on net in hopes of a rebound or deflection. In that element, Harley plays a very simple game. It would help him to improve his shot in the future. There are some question marks regarding Harley’s decision-making, but they aren’t too serious in my opinion. He’ll just have the occasional gaffe where he’ll randomly just go for a walk with the puck. However, the tool are all there for a top-4 defenseman.

29)  Anttoni Honka – RD, JYP, 5’10”, 176 lbs

I have no idea where to put Anttoni Honka on this list. Honka has the potential to be the best offensive defenseman in the draft. He has incredibly smooth skating. Honka excels at skating the puck out of danger (out of the defensive zone) and up the ice. In fact, Honka was one of the best in the World Juniors tournament at that role. On the base level alone, Honka’s fantastic skating is a huge plus to his game. His high-end puck skills also help. On the other hand, there are questions of his hockey IQ, specifically decision-making, as well as questions of defensive play and questions regarding his ability to win puck battles. I can’t tell if his head scratching decisions on the ice are a result of over-confidence, a young kid trying to figure his way in a tough league, overall bad risk assessment, or something else. Knowing full well that these rankings are fluid, and I try to clarify what would increase or decrease each player’s stock on this list, I’m pretty comfortable with having Honka as a late 1st rounder. The potential is there, no doubt. He and Kaliyev are the ultimate boom or bust picks of the draft.

30)  Pavel Dorofeyev – LW/RW, Stalne Lisy Magnitogorsk, 6’0”, 163 lbs

Another highly underrated winger coming into the draft, Pavel Dorofeyev has undoubtable high-end skill with stellar hands and a strong wrist shot. It wouldn’t surprise me to see a Kravtsov-ian jump in the rankings either for Dorofeyev because of his tremendous offensive potential. Dorofeyev is an excellent east-west skater with fantastic edgework and has very high hockey IQ. His decision-making is fantastic and is surprisingly difficult to knock off the puck, despite needing to add more muscle to his frame. Dorofeyev is a longer-term project, but has a very high offensive potential. Another promising aspect to his game is that most of his offense comes at even-strength.

31)  Spencer Knight – G,
It’s always tough trying to include a goaltender in the top-31 for me. This is mainly due to the cop-out reason of the fact that goalies are very difficult to project long-term. All that matters for this list is that Knight is, in my opinion, the best goalie available in this draft class. Knight plays an aggressive game with excellent positioning in the net. He doesn’t try to do too much to make saves and combines his positioning well with his athleticism.

32)  Ville Heinola – LD, Lukko, 5’11”, 176 lbs

Ville Heinola has the makings of a modern puck-moving defenseman. He’s been very good defensively for Lukko lately and has only been improving his offensive game. I think he has the highest likelihood of making the NHL out of the Finnish defensemen listed before (Kokkonen and Honka), but Heinola likely drops because of an injury that will keep him out for roughly 6-8 weeks. This is another example of how my next list will be significantly higher because Heinola likely goes in the ~25 range on draft day. Heinola has good, not great, top skating speed and uses his first steps very efficiently. His edgework is outstanding. There is still room to build muscle because, as seen in the World Juniors, he tends to get outmuscled off the puck. Heinola is able to mitigate this with stickwork and positioning. Heinola plays with good tempo and reads the play exceptionally well, with room to grow in his decision-making department. Definite top-4 potential.

33)  Alex Vlasic – LD, USNTDP U18, 6’6”, 192 lbs

So Alex Vlasic is a very interesting prospect in this draft class. With a statsheet like that, it would be difficult not to pigeon-hole him as a “big shutdown defenseman”. I try to avoid buzzwords as much as I can because what does “dynamic” even mean? How would you define a “puck-moving defenseman”? Anyways, these are off-topic. Vlasic is a very big guy on the USNTP U18 blueline. Overall, I think the skill is there for a top-4 defenseman at the NHL level. His IQ doesn’t quite stand out to me positively or negatively. He sometimes strikes me as better on the offensive side of the ice than the defensive side. Vlasic isn’t bad defensively. In fact I think his defensive game is very good. I’ll get to my concern a little later, but with the way Vlasic plays on the defensive side of things, it would be a significant step in the right direction if he played physically in the defensive zone. His size alone is enough to result in a difficult corner or net-front battle. Offensively, Vlasic has very good hands, and he plays very while possessing the puck. Vlasic has a propensity for making complicated plays look simple and can even lead a breakout. The thing that concerns me is his skating. It’s not necessarily bad, especially for a bigger guy, but I do think his skating is holding him back. It’s difficult to tell because there is a tendency for him to get stuck up the ice, so is that a lack of explosive skating step or poor decision-making? There will definitely be at least one team with Vlasic in their top-31.

34)  Nicholas Robertson – C, Peterborough Petes, 5’9”, 168 lbs

I try not to bring in other players when discussing a prospect, especially siblings. However I must say that it’s kind of funny how Nicholas Robertson plays almost the exact opposite game of his brother, Jason (2017 Dallas pick). Nicholas plays a very fast and creative game. He really stood out to me at the Hlinka Gretzky Tournament. Robertson (Nicholas) reminds me a lot of Phil Kessel actually. Robertson has very solid skating ability, including a high top-end speed and good overall mobility. Robertson also has very impressive vision, especially in the offensive zone and not to mention a fantastic shot. Robertson is already playing on Peterborough’s top forward line, and is already scoring at a PPG pace, but something about his skillset says that he’ll break out even more so next year. Robertson is such an intriguing pick with plenty of upside.

35)  Lassi Thomson – RD, Kelowna Rockets, 6’0”, 187 lbs

When in doubt, pick a Kelowna defenseman. In all seriousness though, Lassi Thomson is an incredibly promising offensive defenseman playing in the WHL. Thomson has good overall mobility and initiates defensive zone breakouts very efficiently. He has a very powerful point and is capable of quarterbacking a Powerplay very efficiently. Thomson plays very aggressively and likes to join offensive rushes through the neutral zone – if he’s not carrying the puck himself. There are elements to his game that make me question his defensive zone awareness and positioning, and sometimes Thomson will make a poor decision or be too aggressive with the puck. However, Thomson has, so far, acclimated very well to the WHL this season. There are improvements to make in his own zone, but Thomson has a very promising offensive game.

36)  Simon Holmstrom – RW, HV71, 5’11”, 172 lbs

Simon Holmstrom is a playmaking winger with strong overall skating. In fact, Holmstrom’s skating is excellent. He has fantastic edgework and is seemingly always involved in play. Demonstrates overall good stickhandling and is an adept playmaking. Holmstrom will occasionally take too many risks with the puck and has room to grow in the decision-making department. Holmstrom has stellar vision and has missed time from an injury. Holmstrom has very good overall positioning and strikes me as a high-end complimentary player on a line. He won’t exactly drive the pace of offensive play, but he uses his skill well to compliment the line drivers.

37)  Brett Leason – C/RW, Prince Albert Raiders, 6’5”, 198 lbs

It’s hard to deny the numbers that Leason is logging with Prince Albert. Leason plays a very strong power game. Leason is very difficult to knock off the puck. He uses his frame and strength very efficiently, and has made big strides in his overall skating ability. There is still a lot of room to grow in Leason’s skating, but he’s been able to create offense relatively consistently for Prince Albert. What strikes me as most impressive about Leason’s game is how efficient he is with his effort, skills, etc. He doesn’t necessarily score high-skill goals, but rather from hard work, good vision, and making the simple, smart decision. Moving forward long-term, I see him more as a RW.

38)  Nolan Foote – LW, Kelowna Rockets, 6’3”, 187 lbs

Nolan Foote is a rugged power winger who plays a strong north-south game with very good puck protection, stickhandling, and physicality. Foote likes to get to the dangerous areas of the ice and cause havoc to create space to get his shot off. Foote has an excellent shot as well. In fact, his shot is remarkable. Foote has very high hockey IQ and his best traits in my opinion would be his shoot-first mentality as well as his overall physical play. All in all, Foote is a very promising prospect who projects as a secondary scoring winger at the next level.

39)  Yegor Spiridonov – C/LW, Stalnye Lisy Magnitogorsk, 6’2”, 192 lbs

Yegor Spiridnov is a very promising two-way center with a long reach and very good skating mobility. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Spiridonov’s game is his defensive responsibility and ability to create space to allow the wingers on his line to “do their thing”. Spiridonov is consistent and reliable in all three zones of the ice. The one aspect that I would like to see Spiridonov improve upon is to not be so conservative in the offensive zone. Overall, Spiridonov has so many things that you want from a prospective future C, minus that killer offensive instinct. Next draft rankings I will put Spiridonov higher on my list because despite that criticism, he is putting up stellar offensive numbers in the Russian MHL (juniors) and I do think he is a late 1st round sleeper pick. Until that point, I’d like to see him drive play a bit more. Everything else about his game is safe though.

40)  Vojtech Strondala – C, HC Kometa Brno, 5’7”, 154 lbs

Vojtech Strondala is a highly skilled, but very undersized forward prospect. He’s extremely elusive and plays an excellent finesse game. Strondala plays at a very high-paced game. The league is gearing more towards speed rather than size, so will a team take a risk on Strondala? The skill and production is there. Nearly every aspect of Strondala’s game can be described as “quick”. I’d like to see him improve his first-step acceleration. Strondala reads the ice well and plays with an extremely high compete level. Size be darned, one team will pick him and Strondala will become a fan favorite in no time.

41)  Billy Constantinou – RD, Kingston Frontenacs, 6’0”, 185 lbs

It’s hard to deny the raw talent that Billy Constantinou has. He’s incredibly talented, skates extremely well and has stellar vision. Constantinou is fantastic at producing offense. His shot isn’t the hardest, but he’s able to thread passes and use his skating to create offensive chances. He’s excellent on the rush and as a result, cheats a bit in his defensive zone coverage. It looks like he’s lazy in the defensive zone but I think it’s more likely that his mind is not on the defensive side of things. There is room to grow with his hockey IQ and decision-making, especially when it comes to some careless plays. Constantinou’s game is based in his skating and he loves to join the offensive attack. All in all, Constantinou is an offensive defenseman who needs to improve his puck skills and overall compete level, but has promising offensive potential.

42)  Drew Helleson – RD, USNTDP U18, 6’2”, 181 lbs

Drew Helleson plays a clean and crisp two-way game. Playing in all situations, Helleson competes extremely hard on the puck. Relatively safe in his own end, Helleson has good gap control and an active stick. Helleson plays aggressively in terms of pushing the puck up the ice, but for the actual scoring component, he’ll delegate to the forwards on the team. Helleson has an accurate shot, but he much prefers to pass the puck around. He’s still working on “picking his spots” so-to-speak, but is a smart overall player with decisions and reads. The mantra of how a defenseman is more than his stat sheet is especially prevalent with Helleson.

43)  Robert Mastrosimone – C/LW, Chicago Steel, 5’10”, 170 lbs

Robert Mastrosimone is another sleeper with excellent vision and speed. He really impressed me at the USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game. Mastrosimone makes crisp and accurate passes, gains the offensive zone with ease, uses his skating to go wide of defenders, plays with a ton of grit, thinks the game very quickly, and has a wire of a wrist shot. When he’s in top form, he can control the offensive pace of the game. He’s definitely a candidate for a big jump in draft stock…just does everything right.

44)  Tobias Bjornfot – LD, Djurgardens IF J20, 6’0”, 187 lbs

It’s difficult which is more noticeable in Bjornfot’s game at first: his skating or his maturity. Bjornfot mostly plays a simple game and nothing too creative. Bjornfot has a very hard point shot. Overall, Bjornfot has excellent agility and high hockey IQ. In fact, Bjornfot’s overall skating is stellar and absolutely an asset to his game. Bjornfot also has a calmness and composure to his game. There is room for improvement in Bjornfot’s defensive zone positioning  and overall strength. I think there is a ton of offensive potential for Bjornfot, and he has the foundational tools to be a two-way defenseman at the next level, but he seems to be more of a longer-term pick. As in, give him 3 years to develop after getting drafted before he can really make an impact like I know he can.

45)  Ryder Donovan – C, Duluth East High, 6’4”, 190 lbs

Ryder Donovan is an incredibly versatile forward who can serve both as a goal-scorer or a set-up man. Donovan demonstrates excellent top-end speed as well as very impressive first-step acceleration. Donovan’s skating allows him to flourish in the transition game, but watching him play, it seems that he loves fighting it out in the “trenches” and creating offensive chances by skating away from the boards and finding a forward in a shooting position. Still having room to grow on the defensive side of things, Donovan plays a power-forward puck-possession game but doesn’t quite play with a punishing physical aspect. He doesn’t need to with his skating. He’ll need to work on engaging more in puck battles because at the high school level, he’s basically able to shrug off opponents. This is not a matter of gaining strength, but learning to better use his body against bigger and stronger opponents. It doesn’t concern me though because Donovan’s success at his level isn’t a result of being able to physically push other players around.

46)  Marcus Kallionkieli – F, Sioux City Musketeers, 6’1”, 176 lbs

Marcus Kallionkieli is an interesting player. He has a good frame and a long skating stride. Perhaps this is higher than other rankings may have him, but I do like Kallionkieli’s projection as a scorer. Perhaps he’s a bit of a one-dimensional player. He plays a simple game in mostly trying to find the shooting lanes, and his vision, IQ, and defensive play are all slightly above-average. It’s clear that the main element that Kallionkieli brings to the table is his scoring ability. Kallionkieli’s skating is pretty smooth and helps him create space for getting his shot on net. It helps significantly, and why I have him higher than others, that he has such good acceleration. I’m not talking about being a speedster or having a launch speed like a rocket. I’m simply referring to a player’s ability to create space to shoot the puck. There are aspects of strong playmaking ability it Kallionkieli’s game, but again, the lynchpin to his future in the NHL is whether or not he will be able to score goals. I have him at #46 because of that acceleration and space-creation ability, but we’ll need to re-evaluate very soon to see.

47)  Valentin Nussbaumer – C/W, Shawinigan Cataractes, 6’0”, 168 lbs

Valentin Nussbaumer is a high-effort, elusive-skating center. While an area for improvement for Nussbaumer would be increasing his top-end speed, he’s always moving his feet and present in the play at hand, regardless of the zone. Nussbaumer has excellent positioning and as a result, is able to excel in the counter-attack game. Using stellar vision, Nussbaumer is able to play a solid game in tight spaces and isn’t afraid to play against physical defensemen.

48)  John Farinacci – C, USNTDP U18, 6’0”, 181 lbs

John Farinacci is a fast and complete playmaking center who can beat you with his puck skills, skating or physical play. Crafty with the puck, Farinacci uses his stickhandling and always plays with a high level of intensity. An area of improvement for Farinacci would be better reading of the developing play, especially at the higher speeds, but Farinacci combines his multi-faceted approach with soft hands and an impressive patience to consistently be an offensive threat on the ice.

49)  Judd Caulfield – F, USNTDP U18, 6’3”, 203 lbs

Judd Caulfield is a mean and physical winger who does whatever he can for the team to succeed. Caulfield has above-average hands and vision, plays very well in transition, and likes to skate to the dirty areas of the ice including but not limited to the corners and the goal-front. Caulfield has a few stickhandling tricks up his sleeve but mostly relies on his physicality and difficulty to knock off the puck. So far this season, Caulfield has demonstrated a very versatile element to his game being able to contribute in nearly every situation from top-6 even-strength minutes to time on the PK.

50)  Yegor Afanasyev – F, Muskegon Lumberjacks, 6’3”, 203 lbs

Yegor Afanasyev is an interesting prospect. He combines his large frame with speed very well. His overall skating quickness is very good. It may be repetitive based on prior players on this list, but Afanasyev doesn’t simply use his large stature to push around smaller competition, but rather as just one tool in his kit. Afanasyev sees the ice extremely well and shows very good decision-making abilities. To me, Afanasyev has a bit of a higher floor but a lower ceiling compared to the other forwards in the draft. That being said, I do like the intriguing combination of skills that Afanasyev brings, but I don’t quite see a high offensive potential. As long as he can continue his progression with good vision, decision-making, and strong overall skating, he will have NHL potential.

51)  Case McCarthy – RD, USNTDP U18, 6’1”, 194 lbs

Case McCarthy is a strong, sturdy defenseman. To me, he seems like another “jack-of-all-trades” type defenseman here. McCarthy strikes me as a solid pro prospect and player who might be better in professional leagues than in junior/NCAA leagues. Overall, his defensive game is very safe. McCarthy strikes me as a safe prospect. There is nothing elite about his game, but there is nothing below-average either. If anything, his upside isn’t all that high, but because of his versatility, I can see some solid promise in his game. Overall, McCarthy has good skating and has a hard shot. If anything he doesn’t quite push the pace of play nor does he have high offensive instincts, but again, he’s a safe player who can hold his own in his zone. The raw skills are there and he will need some time at Boston University.

52)  Kaedan Korczak – RD, Kelowna Rockets, 6’3”, 192 lbs

There’s so much to like about Korczak’s play. He’s a right-handed shot who munches minutes, skates well, and has very high hockey IQ. Korczak is definitely a candidate for a team to trade into the later part of the first round to take. Besides the obvious Kelowna remarks, Korczak has been tasked with a ton of responsibility and has been used as the #1 guy. Perhaps he hasn’t gained as much traction because the scoring pace hasn’t kept up with what it was at the beginning of the season, but Korczak has top-4 potential at the NHL level. His defensive game is very impressive, especially knowing that he plays against most teams’ top lines. Korczak is another prospect to re-evaluate for the next draft ranking list. Arguably the best element of his game is his play anticipation and reaction. He has very good positioning to begin with but his ability to react in “real time” is very impressive.

53)  Albin Grewe – C/RW, Djurgardens IF, 6’0”, 176 lbs

So Albin Grewe is a very difficult player to evaluate for me. He has incredible raw skills with the puck and can dangle like nobody else. However, he turns over the puck so very often and it seems like he lacks a high-end hockey IQ. He’s an aggressively skilled player who doesn’t rely on his physicality. With Grewe there’s a fascinating combination of skill, compete level/motor, and physical strength that’s hard to not take into account. There is plenty of room to grow for Grewe in his puckhandling skills and hist skating quickness/agility, but there is a ton of promise here.

54)  Dmitri Sheshin – LW, Stalnye Lisy Magnitogorsk, 5’7”, 143 lbs

Dmitri Sheshin is a gritty hard-working winger who hates to give up the puck. If I could further emphasize “hard-working” for Sheshin, I would. Sheshin demonstrates excellent edgework on his skates and is able to create havoc in one-on-one battles with defensemen behind the net. He can turn and pivot very easily making him difficult to contain despite his small frame. Despite such a small frame, Sheshin is really strong. Don’t take him lightly (yes, intended) when trying to skate around him because he isn’t afraid to show his strength. Sheshin has pretty slick hands and solid overall vision, but again the most prominent asset to his game is his work ethic.

55)  Artemi Kniazev – LD, Chicoutimi Sagueneens, 5’11”, 176 lbs

Artemi Kniazev is a very promising and intriguing puck-moving defenseman. He skates like the wind out on the ice and plays with a calm smoothness to his game that makes him look calm, poised and mature beyond his years. Kniazev has as booming slapshot and is almost always involved in play in the offensive zone. There is a lot of room to improve Kniazev’s defensive game. There’s an element of inconsistency to his defensive game as well. Some nights the defense will look passable while others he’ll look very lost or not knowing where to put his effort. One area where Kniazev is proficient in defensive play is standing up at the blue line and preventin zone entries. Kniazev likes to play fast and likes to be involved in all aspects of offensive play. I would almost say he was a wizard with the puck.

56)  Michal Teply – LW, Bili Tygri Liberec, 6’3”, 187 lbs

I like Michal Teply’s game. He plays a very simple game of getting to the high-danger areas of the ice and wiring a shot on net. His shot is arguably his best asset. Right up there with his shot would be his puck possession game – it’s very difficult to knock Teply off the puck once he has it. Should be stated again that Teply doesn’t play a flashy game. He’s had relatively quiet international tournaments, most notably the World Junior A Challenge (which is a U19 tournament). Teply is also playing in the top 2 Czech professional leagues, so what I’m saying is that among his peers, Teply is able to control the pace of the game, drive offense and be very effective. It should be noted that Teply does play a solid overall defensive game, especially while in the neutral zone. Teply could stand to improve his top-end speed. A team picking Teply will need to understand that his game will take a little while to develop and that he’s much more than his stat sheet suggests. Teams who run systems predominantly around creating high-danger scoring chances should be keeping a close eye on Teply.

57)  Shane Pinto – F, Lincoln Stars, 6’2”, 185 lbs

Shane Pinto is a big and strong forward who excels in puck possession. He uses his strength well and is incredibly difficult to knock off the puck. This makes him a nightmare to try and defend blow the goal-line. Pinto sort of plays a “new-age heavy” style of hockey where the focus is still on puck possession and strength, but he doesn’t lumber around the ice like a gargoyle. Rather, Pinto has very good overall skating and uses his edged very well in positioning himself to protect the puck. Watch out when he’s charging towards the net with the puck on his stick because that’s when Pinto is the most effective. Pinto strikes me as more of a supportive player who will battle it out in the trenches to create space for, and make crisp passes to, the goal-scorers on the line.

58)  Hunter Jones – G, Peterborough Petes, 6’4”, 194 lbs

As mentioned in the blurb for Spencer Knight above, it’s very difficult to evaluate and project goalies so I feel a bit strange having Hunter Jones on my list because of that. Hunter Jones uses his height and overall size very well in not only taking up the net – while standing or in the butterfly – but also to see around traffic in front of him. Jones’ lateral post-to-post movement is good, but it will need to improve to make the jump to the pros. The thing that stands out the most about Jones’ game is how controlled and collected his movements in net are. Jones doesn’t flop around in order to make a save. Also, Jones isn’t too quick to drop down into the butterfly which, again, demonstrates a strong conservation of movement. One last note is how many games he’s played for Peterborough this season. At the time of this post, Jones has started 42 games, the most out of any goaltender in the OHL. There’s no denying his versatility as a starting goaltender in the OHL.

59)  Daniil Gutik – LW, Loko-Yunior Yaroslavl, 6’3”, 179 lbs

Daniil Gutik is a big forward who combines excellent hockey sense with strong overall puck skills. Gutik is just a difficult player to defend against, whether it be because of his size and reach or his stellar stickhandling skills or his strength on the puck. One element that will make Gutik even more dangerous would be increasing his top-end speed. Demonstrating a high compete level on the ice, Gutik reads the ice very well and makes smart decisions on the ice. Gutik shows playmaking promise and could have top-6 potential. There is a lot to work on but the foundation is there.

60)  Patrik Puistola – LW, Tappara U20, 6’0”, 170 lbs

Patrik Puistola is a smooth and strong two-way winger with a knack for scoring goals. He’s in a bit of a tough situation because Tappara is notoriously difficult for young players to get consistent playing time with (because they’re a strong roster), so Puistola has been playing in the lower leagues like Mestis (2nd professional league) or the U20 league. Puistola has very soft hands and likes to dangle around opponents. This can make him look like a selfish player but I think it’s more so that he’s figuring out what he can and can’t do at the level he’s at. It’s hard to not mention how Puistola is breaking scoring records for U18 players in Mestis as well. Puistola needs to add another gear to his top-end skating speed, but has incredible baseline skill. The reason why I have him this low on the list is because (relatively) smaller players who have some skating and speed concerns do scare me, but as mentioned earlier, the skill is there.

61)  Vladislav Kolyachonok – LD, Flint Firebirds, 6”2”, 181 lbs

Truth be told, it’s always a bit difficult to evaluate and get a read on players playing for rough teams, but there’s a lot to like about Vladislav Kolyachonok. First off, don’t read into the fact that the London Knights waived him because there’s more to his situation and skills than that. Long story short, London wanted to make sure they were going to have a smart and dynamic-skating defenseman on their team even if Adam Boqvist made the Chicago Blackhawks roster. Boqvist was sent back down to the OHL and when you consider both the limitation on import draft players (Kolyachonok is from Belarus) and the fact that OHL teams can’t trade first-year import players, waiving Kolyachonok was the only option. That’s how he got onto Flint’s roster. Wow that was a tangent. Anyways, Kolyachonok has a non-stop motor which is especially helpful when combined with his incredibly smooth skating. Kolyachonok thinks the game at a high speed, sees the ice well and makes very good decisions. Although he’s a big guy, Kolyachonok is surprisingly deceptive with his puck movement.

62)  Henry Thrun – LD, USNTDP U18, 6’2”, 190 lbs

Henry Thrun is another underrated defenseman from this draft class. Thrun is incredibly smart and has very good skating skills. I say this because while his multi-directional acceleration is excellent, he could stand to improve his top-end speed. Thrun plays a simple, no-nonsense offensive game and is able to produce results. All in all, Thrun is a rock solid reliable defenseman with very high hockey IQ who can chip in offensively. Thrun moves the puck very well and doesn't run around all over the ice. He's mature and uses his frame and strength well to fight for position as well as knock players off the puck. 

There are a ton of other players that are right at the cusp of making this list. Guys like Maxim Cajkjovic, Isaiah Saville, Xavier Parent, and many other talented players. If you've made it this far, thank you so much for reading this! I would love to hear your thoughts on this list.

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