2020 NHL Draft: Top 32 Prospects (May, 2020)

FINALLY, I have a new top 32 out.  Why 32?  Because it’s about to be 32 in the 1st round, so why not just jump the gun?  Truth be told, I was working hard on doing a top 64 (again, jumping the gun) list for a lot of the pandemic, but I got this far and just decided to put this one out now since it now seems as though the draft is going to be a ways away still.  A top 64 list won’t be too far behind this one, but for now, I’ll give you this.  A few things off the top for you to know, especially if this is the first time you’re reading my draft stuff:

  1. I have an annoying need to explain things…
  2. I attempt to do my rankings from the POV that a GM would have, which means I’m looking at the value of players more so than simply ranking best to worst.  I also put more stock into upside than most do.  I love and value the draft as much as anyone, but it’s not the only avenue that can be used to build a team.  So there are times where it makes sense to me to take some big swings.  Don’t confuse this for a “90’s mindset” though.  I just mean that in comparison to most lists you’ll see.
  3. I’m big on tiering.  You can’t tell me that organization fit doesn’t matter, or that the separation with players as the draft goes on doesn’t get smaller and smaller.  If players are even, you should be looking at things such as fit and need.  No way that teams should draft strictly for need, I just mean that if you need tiebreakers and I believe you need tiebreakers more and more as the draft rolls on.
  4. You’ll see that I have some players positions different from most.  Those are the positions I would draft the player to play, not the position they perhaps are playing currently.
  5. As you’ll see, I didn’t go too in-depth with most of my write-ups.  I don’t have the time right at the moment.  If you want to know more on most of these kid’s games though I can’t recommend my buddy Yannick St.Pierre’s YouTube page!  The quality of work is outstanding and probably should be behind a paywall, but thankfully for all of us it isn’t!
  6. I’ll likely be accused of having a big WHL bias here, and that’s fine I completely understand and worry that I do too.  But I also know what I saw this season and have a theory as to why someone who watched the league closely is higher on the kids than someone who didn’t.  Coming into the season, there wasn’t any buzz about the dub kids.  But I knew it was ridiculously deep for the league this season and that there are going to be a TON of dub kids going in the 12-62 range.  Doing my WHL/Western Canadian rankings this season, it was tough for 3/4 of the season to find much separation.  Nobody was killing it, but about 12 kids were extremely intriguing (of course, Jarvis emerged as the clear cut top guy).  So, forgive me for being bias if I am, but know that I’m really trying hard to avoid it.  It’s a very deep year in the West, and we’re going to see that both in the draft, and for years to come as these kids grow.

If you want more information on my views on scouting and what all I look for and how I come to my conclusions, I actually just put out this blog explaining things in detail.  I try to be consistent with my logic.  I have no issues with anyone who disagrees with me or sees things completely different from me, but they better be able to explain why.  I see a ton of lists with no explanation and frankly, it always makes me wonder if the person doing the list ACTUALLY knows, or if they’re just taking an hour out of their day to list players and call it their list.

Ok, time to get on with the top 32 because you didn’t click this link to read all this bull shit, you want rankings!  Here you go:

 

Tier 1

1. Alexis Lafrenière

Team: Rimouski  League: QMJHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 192  Shot: L

2020 Stats – GP: 52  G: 35  A: 77  P: 112

Born: 10/11/01, Saint-Eustache, QC

Comparison: Evgeny Kuznetsov

No brainer.  One thing though, you’ll see I have him listed as a centre.  If I’m drafting Lafrenière, I’m drafting him to be a centre.  Perhaps that won’t be the plan initially, but long term I’d want to max out an elite talent like Lafrenière and I believe you do that by using him in the middle as he is tailor-made to thrive there.  As for the comp, I’m sure people will look at me a little sideways with that one.  Know that A) I like Kuznetsov better than most, and B) while I try to be as accurate as possible when doing comps in terms of style, projection, etc. sometimes guys comps will either be a little less or a little more than what I see a player becoming.  In this case, I see a better version of Kuznetsov with Lafrenière.

 

Tier 2

2. Quinton Byfield

Team: Sudbury  League: OHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’4  Wt: 214  Shot: L

2020 Stats – GP: 45  G: 32  A: 50  P: 82

Born: 08/19/02, Newmarket, ON

Comparison: Evgeni Malkin

It’s insane how some have nitpicked his game this season.  He is producing at a better pace in his 17 year old season than Lafrenière did in his!  And he’s 6’4, 214lbs!  And he’s an amazing skater!  The upside is INCREDIBLE, and the downside is what?  2nd line winger?!  Wake up, he’s closer to Lafrenière than he is to Stützle, don’t overthink this.

 

Tier 3

3. Jamie Drysdale

Team: Erie  League: OHL

Pos: RD  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 170  Shot: R

2020 Stats – GP: 49  G: 9  A: 38  P: 47

Born: 04/08/02, Toronto, ON

Comparison: Morgan Rielly

He has all the ability to become a franchise defenceman.  He also is far and away the top defenceman in a draft class extremely thin on pure puck-moving D-men, which boosts his draft stock.  If your team needs a defenceman and he’s still available, they better have a DAMN good reason to pass on him.

 

4. Tim Stützle

Team: Adler Mannheim  League: DEL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 187  Shot: L

2020 Stats – GP: 41  G: 7  A: 27  P: 34

Born: 01/15/02, Viersen, GER

Comparison: Henrik Zetterberg

I was pretty early on Stützle as I had him in my top 15 last summer (that I had seen anyway, I could be wrong), and I was fully on board when he started to get top five hype.  So I get why so many love him, but the talk of him going 2nd seems absurd to me.  But don’t get that twisted, I’m a huge fan of this kid and believe he can become a number one centre.  He needs a year though, and maybe two before I’d be looking at him playing.  There is so much talent, but there is still quite a bit in his game that’s raw.

 

5. Lucas Raymond

Team: Frölunda HC  League: SHL

Pos: RW  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 165  Shot: R

2020 Stats – GP: 33  G: 4  A: 6  P: 10

Born: 03/28/02, Göteborg, SWE

Comparison: Paul Kariya

Raymond had a difficult season, but you look at the speed and skill this kid oozes and there really shouldn’t be any reason for Raymond to fall out of the top five.  Some are down on what he could be, but I don’t really get it.  The upside here is enormous.  He’s going to be the type of winger who can drive his own line and really tilt the ice.

 

6. Yaroslav Askarov

Team: SKA-Neva St. Petersburg  League: VHL

Pos: G  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 176  Glove: R

2020 Stats – GP: 18  GAA: 2.45  Sv%: .920

Born: 06/16/02, Omsk, RUS

Comparison: Miikka Kiprusoff

Did you know that three of the last five goaltenders to go in the top five of a draft are going to the hall of fame (Luongo, Fleury, Price)?  One flat out busted, but did so because of injuries (DiPietro).  The other one didn’t live up to expectations but had some big seasons and also ran into a lot of injury issues.  Don’t get me wrong here, this is 100% against what I believe in.  I believe you take goaltenders in rounds 3-7 and you take about three every four years, if not four in five years.  But you have to be open-minded enough to recognize when the exception to the rule comes along, and I believe Askarov is just that.  Given his talent, his upside, and the track record of Russian born goaltenders of late (3/3 for those taken in the 1st round since 2006) I wouldn’t be allowing him to sit there too long.  He has the potential to change a franchise, and there aren’t many of those types of talents in this draft or any draft.

 

Tier 4

7. Marco Rossi

Team: Ottawa  League: OHL

Pos: C  Ht: 5’9  Wt: 179  Shot: L

2020 Stats – GP: 56  G: 39  A: 81  P: 120

Born: 09/23/01, Feldkirch, AUT

Comparison: Sebastian Aho

The size and how his production has really come from beating up on inferior competition scares me a little bit.  You might say “Size?!  Undersized guys are now thriving you dinosaur!!”  Not what I mean bud.  I worry about the size when it comes to him playing his style of game, and doing that as a centre.  There is a reason that you don’t see many centres under 5’10 in the league.  It’s extremely difficult and you need to have an incredible 200-foot game to thrive if you’re undersized at that position.  I’m confident that Rossi could be that guy though, which is why I have him in my top 10.  But because of how rare it would be for someone as small as he is to thrive down the middle, I can’t bring myself to put him higher than 7th even though I’m a massive fan of his game.

 

Tier 5

8. Seth Jarvis

Team: Portland  League: WHL

Pos: RW  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 172  Shot: R

2020 Stats – GP: 58  G: 42  A: 56  P: 98

Born: 02/01/02, Winnipeg, MB

Comparison: Brad Marchand

Jarvis took his game to another level as the season went on.  His compete, confidence, and his assertiveness just went through the roof, and it leaves me with nothing I dislike about his game.  As for my comparison being Brad Marchand…I just mean in terms of his style and ability, none of the extracurricular stuff.

 

9. Alexander Holtz

Team: Djurgårdens IF  League: SHL

Pos: RW  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 183  Shot: R

2020 Stats – GP: 35  G: 9  A: 7  P: 16

Born: 01/23/02, Saltsjö-Boo, SWE

Comparison: Phil Kessel

I’m not the biggest fan of snipers.  You’ll often see in my rankings that I’m more down on them than most.  So Holtz is further down my list than he is with most.  But with Holtz, what does intrigue me more than most shoot first types is that he has terrific speed.  So he’s a kid who at least has a chance to develop a much more well-rounded game thanks to that speed.

 

10. Cole Perfetti

Team: Saginaw  League: OHL

Pos: LW  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 185  Shot: L

2020 Stats – GP: 61  G: 37  A: 74  P: 111

Born: 01/01/02, Whitby, ON

Comparison: Ray Whitney

I saw SPR take a lot of heat for knocking Perfetti.  I’m not as harsh on him, but I definitely think there is something to what Sean says.  I don’t think Perfetti is a BAD skater, but he isn’t a great skater, and when you combine that with how he loves to dangle and struggles away from the puck, those are legitimate reasons to be concerned.  He won’t be able to dangle pro defencemen like he can OHL defencemen.  I believe he’ll have to make a lot of adjustments to thrive in pro hockey.  But having said that, I don’t view them as ones that are difficult to make.  All the tools are there to thrive.  Understand this too, going back to what Sean said…just because he’s LOWER on him, doesn’t mean he thinks he’s nothing.  In 2018 I had Svechnikov ranked 6th because of the bust rate for Russian forwards taken in the top 25 of the draft since 2004 (only 1/10 prior to the 2018 draft, which has since changed to 2/10 thanks to Gurianov finally getting his career going).  But I didn’t dislike Svechnikov AT ALL, I just found him to be a much bigger risk given that info that essentially proved Russian forwards weren’t being scouted properly.  Caufield is another guy for me I wasn’t ranking as high as others, but having Caufield at 16 on my board didn’t mean I thought he was trash, I simply thought others were either better gambles or were more of a certainty than Caufield.

 

11. Jack Quinn

Team: Ottawa  League: OHL

Pos: RW  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 176  Shot: R

2020 Stats – GP: 62  G: 52  A: 37  P: 89

Born: 09/19/01, Cobden, ON

Comparison: Justin Williams

I didn’t like Quinn for a long time.  And I think there was a false narrative out there that he was living off Rossi, which I stupidly bought into.  But he didn’t play with Rossi five on five, and he put up 34 goals ES.  Love his speed.  Being such a heavy “shoot first” type hurts him in my rankings as historically snipers in junior have a difficult time bringing that game to the show, but his speed and motor make him very endearing.

 

Tier 6

12. Kaiden Guhle

Team: Prince Albert  League: WHL

Pos: LD  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 187  Shot: L

2020 Stats – GP: 64  G: 11  A: 29  P: 40

Born: 01/18/02, Sherwood Park, AB

Comparison: Darnell Nurse

The upside is off the charts with Guhle.  Skating, size, edge, IQ, the kid checks all the boxes to at least be an NHL defenceman someday.  I believe he can be a top pair defenceman, if not a legitimate number one guy someday, but he needs time.  In my opinion, he needs two more seasons in the WHL, and one full season in the AHL.  Then we’ll see.  This is not a kid that an organization should be rushing, and if the proper time is taken, the organization which drafts will have quite the player on their hands.

 

13. Jake Sanderson

Team: USNTDP  League: USHL

Pos: LD  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 185  Shot: L

2020 Stats – GP: 66  G: 9  A: 34  P: 43

Born: 07/08/02, Whitefish, MT

Comparison: Hampus Lindholm

His dad would thrive even more than he did in the 90’s and early 2000’s if he were playing today as speed is much more of a priority and Geoff was a fantastic skater.  Jake is too, but that is where the similarities end.  A polarizing kid in this draft.  It seems as though the NHL scouts really love him, while the independent guys aren’t too enthralled.  Some probably think that I’ve got him too high at 13, but his skating and IQ are going to give him a chance to continually develop his offensive game.  His ability to defend is high end, so he’s a lot like Guhle only minus the physicality.

 

14. Dylan Holloway

Team: Wisconsin  League: NCAA

Pos: C  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 192  Shot: L

2020 Stats – GP: 35  G: 8  A: 9  P: 18

Born: 09/23/01, Calgary, AB

Comparison: Timo Meier

Rare that I compare a centre to a winger or vice versa, but they do remind me a lot of each other, despite the fact that I believe Holloway will be able to play the middle.  Three big traits that he possesses which I love: speed, motor, physicality.  On top of that, he has the versatility to slot in several different places in a lineup.  Some worry about the numbers at Wisconsin, but you have to remember, the jump from the AJ to the NCAA is an enormous one.

 

15. Jack Finley

Team: Spokane  League: WHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’5  Wt: 207  Shot: R

2020 Stats – GP: 61  G: 19  A: 38  P: 57

Born: 09/02/02, Kelowna, BC

Comparison: Jordan Staal

I’m well aware you likely think this is insanely high.  For me, I don’t need a kid to be toe dragging everyone to see how he can thrive in the NHL.  He’s not anything sexy, but he has all the tools to be an elite 2nd line centre in the league which in my opinion is an extremely vital piece for a franchise to have.  He showed both the skillset and the mindset this season to be that player.  His production doesn’t jump off the page, but he got most of the tough minutes for Spokane this season, didn’t see much PP time until late, and didn’t see much time on Adam Beckman’s line (who was the leading scorer in the dub).  47 ES points for Finley, just one shy of Connor Zary who he is both a better skater than, much bigger than, and a full year younger than.  Don’t mean to write forever on Finley, but it kind of drives me nuts that so many people are sleeping on him.  It feels almost like backlash because he’s big.  Skates well, works hard all over the ice, very high IQ, showcases very good hands, good vision, and then he’s one of the youngest players in the draft so there is a ridiculous amount of room to continue growing.  He’s FAR from a coke machine.  I’m not expecting him to be drafted anywhere near here, but I truly believe people are going to be kicking themselves for sleeping on him.

 

16. Anton Lundell

Team: HIFK  League: Liiga

Pos: C  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 183  Shot: L

2020 Stats – GP: 44  G: 10  A: 18  P: 28

Born: 10/03/01, Espoo, FIN

Comparison: Ryan O’Reilly

He’s not a sexy player for fans to get excited about, but Lundell is going to be such a valuable addition for a hockey club.  A Ryan O’Reilly type centre who can thrive in any situation.  Others have dropped him in their rankings much further than this, but I wonder how much of that is perhaps Lias Andersson backlash?  It would be understandable as they have very similar games, and I’m not a big fan of his skating, but I wasn’t a big fan of ROR’s skating when he entered the league.  These type of players are just so damn valuable, I’d have a tough time watching a guy like this drop too far if I were a GM.

 

17. Dawson Mercer

Team: Chicoutimi  League: QMJHL

Pos: RW  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 179  Shot: R

2020 Stats – GP: 42  G: 24  A: 36  P: 60

Born: 10/27/01, Bay Roberts, NL

Comparison: Jordan Eberle

I’m not super high on Mercer’s ability to improve greatly over what he is right now, but I see him as one of the safest picks in this draft.  This kid just seems like a guy who is going to step into a team’s top six in a year or two, and never leave.  Just an easy game for guys to gel with.

 

18. Ozzy Wiesblatt

Team: Prince Albert  League: WHL

Pos: RW  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 183  Shot: R

2020 Stats – GP: 64  G: 25  A: 45  P: 70

Born: 03/09/02, Calgary, AB

Comparison: T.J. Oshie

I’m well aware that you can read the comp, but I can’t stress enough just how damn much of T.J. Oshie I see in this kids game.  Good skater, good skill, high motor, physical, versatile, he’s a kid who can be thrown into any role, any situation, and he’s going to deliver.  I really see him as a can’t miss player.  Might only be a 3rd line winger, but the upside is definitely there to be a fantastic complementary piece in a top-six role.

 

19. Noel Gunler

Team: Luleå HF  League: SHL

Pos: RW  Ht: 6’2  Wt: 174  Shot: R

2020 Stats – GP: 45  G: 4  A: 9  P: 13

Born: 10/07/01, Luleå, SWE

Comparison: Tyler Toffoli

The work ethic gets questioned, but I wonder how much of it is simply that this guy isn’t a checker.  Because he’s not lazy and plays with a decent motor.  No doubt there are concerns about his play away from the puck.  But he has a terrific shot.  As you’ll know if you’ve read my rankings in the past, I’m not as big on the shoot first guys as some.  But once we’re down around this point, it makes a lot more sense to an anti shoot first guy like myself.

 

Tier 7

20. Hendrix Lapierre

Team: Chicoutimi  League: QMJHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 181  Shot: L

2020 Stats – GP: 19  G: 2  A: 15  P: 17

Born: 02/09/02, Gatineau, QC

Comparison: Brayden Point

So difficult to rank.  I’m a huge fan of what I’ve seen, but the neck issues are troubling.  After seeing him in the Hlinka/Gretzky, I had him in my top five, but that’s about all we got to see this season.  This all depends on the medical reports obviously.  If they check out, I still believe he’s worthy of going in this range as he’s just too big of a talent, in my opinion, to pass on at a certain point.  I’ve had neck issues for a decade now that cause cervicogenic headaches.  They mimic migraines.  In fact, when I first started getting them I really believed I was having post-concussion syndrome as I had a concussion a few months prior in which my one boss rushed back to work running heavy equipment just three days later (which if you’ve ran heavy equipment, then you know how awful that is for someone coming off a concussion), so I didn’t even give any thought to it being a neck issue.  Cervicogenic headaches can be brutal, but they also aren’t overly serious (especially if your neck can constantly be worked on) and it’s nothing that a chiropractor can’t help you through.  As soon as your neck is aligned properly again, the headaches immediately go away, because they aren’t actually headaches.  Now, I’m saying all this, I don’t know that this was what the problem for Lapierre was.  I just know it was a neck issue that they thought were concussions.  But having gone through it, I would bet good money that’s what the issue has been (as long as they’re telling the truth).  Remember too, Crosby missing all that time in 2011 and 2012 with what was thought to be concussion issues, and once they figured out it was actually a neck issue, he was good to go again and hasn’t struggled with it since.

 

21. Jan Mysak

Team: Hamilton  League: OHL

Pos: LW  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 176  Shot: L

2020 Stats – GP: 22  G: 15  A: 10  P: 25

Born: 06/24/02, Litvinov, CZE

Comparison: Patrick Sharp

I loved what I saw in his 22 games in the OHL.  A kid who I list as a winger and would draft him as a winger, but the potential is definitely there to continue playing the middle in pro hockey, which is always a nice bonus with a prospect up front.  The comp to Sharp comes from the fact that while he can put the puck in the net and is a shoot-first guy, he has shown that he can be trusted in any situation which will obviously win him big points with coaches as he furthers his development.  So he’ll get a ton of opportunity to succeed.

 

22. Lukas Reichel

Team: Eisbären Berlin  League: DEL

Pos: LW  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 172  Shot: L

2020 Stats – GP: 42  G: 12  A: 12  P: 24

Born: 05/17/02, Nürnberg, GER

Comparison: Reilly Smith

One thing I admittedly worry about is that I and others are overrating the German/DEL kids this season thanks to a Leon Draisaitl influence, but more so how badly most of us (not all, Yannick for one, Yzerman for another) underrated Moritz Seider.  Anyway, with Reichel he is just scratching the surface with what he can be.  He’s showcased a really high IQ, and a good work ethic.  Combine that with how raw his game still is and the upside is really intriguing.  As is the case with anyone raw though, he needs time.

 

23. Mavrik Bourque

Team: Shawinigan  League: QMJHL

Pos: RW  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 165  Shot: R

2020 Stats – GP: 49  G: 29  A: 42  P: 71

Born: 01/08/02, Plessisville, QC

Comparison: Kevin Fiala

One word comes to mind watching Bourque: crafty.  I love the IQ with this kid.  And even though he’s only 5’10, if that 165lbs is accurate, then he has 15-20lbs still to put on which could help his skating.  The skating is passable, but an extra gear for Bourque could be massive for his game.

 

24. William Wallinder

Team: MODO J-20  League: SuperElit

Pos: LD  Ht: 6’4  Wt: 192  Shot: L

2020 Stats – GP: 37  G: 5  A: 19  P: 24

Born: 07/28/02, Sollefteå, SWE

Comparison: Jacob Trouba

The skating ability/size combo is ridiculous.  So raw, but all the tools are here to be a legitimate stud defenceman.  Will Souch did a terrific video breaking down all of Wallinder’s game that you can see here.  Just like Guhle, he needs a lot of time.  He might even need more time than Guhle before we’re talking about him playing in the show.  He’s a kid who an interview could make or break his ranking for me.  Comes off as highly intelligent and committed to his craft, and I might be tempted to put him up with Guhle and Sanderson.  But without that knowledge, I can’t put him higher than this.

 

25. Michael Benning

Team: Sherwood Park  League: AJHL

Pos: RD  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 174  Shot: R

2020 Stats – GP: 54  G: 12  A: 63  P: 75

Born: 01/05/02, St. Albert, AB

Comparison: Ethan Bear

Most are sleeping on him.  He matched Cale Makar’s pre-draft year production, and his draft year production (pre-draft they both had one more point than games played, and then this season they had the exact same 75 points in 54, and Makar’s team in those years was just as good as the Crusaders this season), except these have been Benning’s 16 and 17 year old seasons, for Makar they were his 17 year old and 18 year old seasons.  I don’t like going into stats too heavily, but this is a case where I seem to be the only one pointing this out all season, while understanding that Benning has all the tools to be a top-four NHL defenceman, and yet he is getting zero 1st round buzz.  He’s not Makar, I’d never suggest that.  They play different games, and Benning doesn’t have THAT kind of upside.  But just because he’s not Makar doesn’t mean that Benning is going to be damn good.

 

26. Ronan Seeley

Team: Everett  League: WHL

Pos: LD  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 176  Shot: L

2020 Stats – GP: 63  G: 3  A: 29  P: 32

Born: 08/02/02, Yellowknife, NT

Comparison: Josh Morrissey

He’s much like Finley in terms of this likely being a bit of a stunner, but I’ve watched the dub closely this season believe that people aren’t just sleeping on Seeley, they’re in a coma.  A very slow start, and he was a victim of playing on maybe the best blueline in the WHL.  The offensive numbers will come (though they actually did, 30 of his points came in his final 46 games).  He is a terrific skater, very good puck-mover, and is very reliable in his own zone.  I highly doubt anyone picks Seeley in the 1st round, but when it’s all said and done I believe a ton of people could be really kicking themselves that they didn’t.

 

Tier 8

27. Ridly Greig

Team: Brandon  League: WHL

Pos: C  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 159  Shot: L

2020 Stats – GP: 56  G: 26  A: 34  P: 60

Born: 08/08/02, Lethbridge, AB

Comparison: Brayden Schenn

He’s a coach’s dream and just does everything right.  I was high on him entering the season, and then he was so solid in a support role at the Hlinka/Gretzky, and just simply showcased it all season.  I moved him up both these rankings and my Western rankings late because I just keep going back to how physically immature he is.  Greig is going to add another 20, maybe even 30lbs to his frame!  Playing the physical style he does and showcasing that he’s committed to playing a 200-foot game, that extra size will help him tremendously.  IQ, skating, and motor to develop a very complete game.  I thought about having him as high as 21, but one red flag would be the assists.  Half of his 34 apples came with the man advantage.

 

28. Rodion Amirov

Team: Tolpar Ufa  League: MHL

Pos: LW  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 168  Shot: L

2020 Stats – GP: 17  G: 10  A: 12  P: 22

Born: 10/02/01, Salavat, RUS

Comparison: Kyle Connor

I realize he actually played more games in the KHL, but his MHL numbers give a better indication of the type of prospect the team who drafts Amirov will be getting.  Anyway, I have made no bones about how I feel about drafting Russian born forwards the last few years…I’m leery.  That stance could be softening with guys like Gurianov showing signs of becoming a real player this season, obviously Andrei Svechnikov is fantastic, but the track record on these kids in the first round for over a decade has been pretty brutal.  It’s not all Russian born players, just the forwards.  So Amirov gets punished for that coming in at 28, but I’m well aware that he has tremendous talent.

 

29. John-Jason Peterka

Team: EHC München  League: DEL

Pos: LW  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 192  Shot: L

2020 Stats – GP: 42  G: 7  A: 4  P: 11

Born: 01/14/02, München, GER

Comparison: Kyle Palmieri

Peterka is a burner.  I know there is some question out there about his ceiling, but he’s a very safe bet in my mind given the speed, given the motor, and he does have some pretty good skill to go with it.  He’s got a raw game right now, so the team that drafts him likely needs to give him three full years before looking at him for a roster spot.  But again, to my eye, he’s a safe bet to fill a top-nine role on any club.

 

30. Jacob Perreault

Team: Sarnia  League: OHL

Pos: RW  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 198  Shot: R

2020 Stats – GP: 57  G: 39  A: 31  P: 70

Born: 04/15/02, Montreal, QC

Comparison: Mike Hoffman

I worry about the work ethic.  It’s tough to look past the whole “privileged kid” thing when you combine what you see on the ice with the fact that he’s the son of a former NHL player (Yanic).  All the tools though to thrive in the NHL.  It’s funny with the bloodlines in this year’s draft.  Most of the time, kids play a lot like their fathers.  But in this draft you have Sanderson who is a stud defensive defenceman rather than goal-scoring winger, Finley is a giant centre rather than a puck-moving defenceman, Benning is the closet because at least he plays the same position as his old man but he’s much more skilled than Brian was, Greig plays a bit like his old man but I see him as a likely centre where Mark was a winger, and now Jacob Perreault being gifted and a bit lazy where his dad couldn’t skate and really got by with his IQ and work ethic.

 

Tier 9

31. Braden Schneider

Team: Brandon  League: WHL

Pos: RD  Ht: 6’2  Wt: 209  Shot: R

2020 Stats – GP: 60  G: 7  A: 35  P: 42

Born: 09/20/01, Prince Albert, SK

Comparison: Travis Hamonic

May as well call this one  “the WHL safe bets tier”.  I wasn’t as high on Schneider as most were this season, mainly because the upside doesn’t intrigue me.  Don’t mistake this for me not liking the player, I really love his game.  He can skate, defend, and plays very physical.  But I don’t see him becoming more than a number four defenceman.  That’s a nice piece to find, but it’s not an overly difficult piece to find.  So he’s very close to a sure thing, but I would take some bigger swings before I’d settle on the safe bet that is Schneider.

 

32. Connor Zary

Team: Kamloops  League: WHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 181  Shot: L

2020 Stats – GP: 57  G: 38  A: 48  P: 86

Born: 09/25/01, Saskatoon, SK

Comparison: Jarret Stoll

I got eight WHL and nine Western kids in total in my top 32.  I won’t hide from it very likely being thanks to how closely I watched the league this season.  But it speaks to what I saw all season which was while there wasn’t much high-end with the West this season (though Jarvis emerged as that guy), the depth is insane!  I feel as though a lot of people are going a little overboard on Zary, so I’m going to tell you some of the reasons why I’m a little leery.  The skating is suspect.  It’s passable, but it needs work.  He played on the best line in the dub this season, and though Franklin and Centazzo (shoutout to my fellow Wildcats) aren’t drafted, it’s not as though Zary was carrying them.  Finally, 44% of his production came with the man advantage.  I like him, but it’s just a case of there being more question marks then some are suggesting.  He plays a complete game and is very coachable, but much like with Schneider I question how much upside there is.

 

Keep in mind, this is just a top 32.  My top 64 won’t be too far behind this (at least as of writing this that’s the plan).  There is a lot of depth in this draft.  I’m not sure I LOVE this draft as much as I thought I would, but it is very deep and the separation from about 20-60 is pretty nominal in my opinion.

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2020 NHL Draft: Top 25 Western Canadian Prospects

I’m finally finishing up all these draft pieces that when the pandemic first hit, I figured I’d be able to knock out in NO time!  So while it sucks that we won’t get a June draft, it does help me out as now the heavy lifting part of doing my lists is basically done!  Likely that this list will not be my final list given we are so many months away.  We’ll hear more about players in interviews from here on, we’ll still be able to look through more video, lots of things can still happen.

Note the title here.  No WHL in that title, because this time around I’m not ranking just the WHL kids.  BCHL are in.  AJHL are in.  SJHL are in (though they don’t have anyone factoring into this).  MJHL is in (though they’re the same as the SJ).

Something I added this time around that I figured might help is a draft grade.  But it’s not A or B’s, it’s more of a “where I would take them” in the overall draft.  Perhaps will give you a better idea of how I see the kids.  Sure I might have some guy ranked way up high and some guy ranked about 12 spots lower, but 12 spots could mean that I hate the lower guy, or 12 spots could speak to there being a logjam of players.  So hopefully the draft grades help sort that.  They kind of replaced tiering guys.  Not sure why I didn’t just tier them, but I guess I’m just trying something new.

Also, if you want to know more about how I do my rankings lists, I just recently got done this blog laying out in great detail what I look at, what I value, how I rank guys, etc.

 

1. Seth Jarvis

Team: Portland Winterhawks

Pos: RW  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 172  Shot: R

2020 Stats – GP: 58  G: 42  A: 56  P: 98

Previous Rank: 2

Born: 02/01/02, Winnipeg, MB

Comparison: Brad Marchand

First of all, the comp because I know people see that comp and think “he’s an instigator and a chicken shit?!”  Nope, Marchand without all the BS.  I still haven’t soured one bit on Guhle, but Jarvis crushed it this season and not only have I moved him to the number one spot in my WHL rankings, he is starting to get buzz as being a top 10 pick in the draft.  Sorry Oilers fans, I know a prominent Oilers blogger/radio personality believes the Oilers can get him at 20, and trust me I would be well beyond thrilled if he were still on the board, but that seems like big time wishful thinking.  Skating, skill, IQ, and motor is all good-great.  It was really amazing to watch his progression this season.  I was pretty high on him from the get-go (4th on my first list) but didn’t see THIS coming.  But as the year went on, he grabbed the reigns of the Winterhawks and took his game to a whole new level.

Grade: Top 10

 

2. Kaiden Guhle

Team: Prince Albert Raiders

Pos: LD  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 187  Shot: L

2020 Stats – GP: 64  G: 11  A: 29  P: 40

Previous Rank: 1

Born: 01/18/02, Sherwood Park, AB

Comparison: Darnell Nurse

As I said, I’m still very high on Guhle.  Perhaps higher than most.  The reason I’m higher on him than most is that I see him as a kid who an organization can really develop.  He might not be ready until the 2nd season of his ELC contract, but if he is given the proper time to develop he is going to be a damn good top-four D-man.  The skating, edge he plays with, size, IQ, and work ethic he displays tell me that he could really grow by leaps and bounds in the next few years if he is brought along slowly.  Safely, I believe that Guhle is going to be a top-four defenceman who a coach can lean on to play a lot of tough minutes.  But thinking about a couple of WHL alum’s from the 2003 draft who had a lot of similarities to Guhle in their draft year, Guhle compares well which are Shea Weber and Brent Seabrook.  Guhle has similar games to those two in their draft year, but has superior skating ability to them.

Grade: Top 15

 

3. Jack Finley

Team: Spokane Chiefs

Pos: C  Ht: 6’5  Wt: 207  Shot: R

2020 Stats – GP: 61  G: 19  A: 38  P: 57

Previous Rank: 3

Born: 09/02/02, Kelowna, BC

Comparison: Jordan Staal

Most in the internet scouting community see Finley just as a potential 3rd line centre.  But as you can see, I am very high on Finley.  I see him as a kid with all the tools to be an elite 2nd line centre, and on top of that, he’s a safe pick.  He skates well, he has a very high IQ, good hands, good vision, as you can see has outstanding size, has a great 200-foot game, and he is extremely coachable.  That’s not sexy for anyone.  He doesn’t have goals that people can put on twitter and try to “scout-splain” to everyone why he’s so great, desperate to look intelligent to their followers as their inferiority complex overtakes them…anyway…he can produce in many other ways and doesn’t need to toe drag anyone.  He uses his size very effectively to protect the puck, take the puck hard to the net, and has good hands in tight once there.  It should be noted too, this is a kid who spent much of the season in a shutdown role for Spokane.  Not much time until late in the season playing with the WHL scoring leader Adam Beckman, not much time on the top PP unit.  People like Connor Zary has had all the love as far as WHL centre’s go this season, yet the ES production of the two players in nearly identical, and Zary played on the best line in the league.  Finley is bigger, a better skater, and a full year younger.  There have been two sets of head to head battles I’ve looked at hard this season where I come away saying “by no measure should one guy be ahead of the other”.  Guhle vs Braden Schneider, and Finley vs Connor Zary.  Give me Guhle and give me Finley and if you’re truly doing your homework on these kids then I’m not sure how you can have the latter ahead of the former.

Grade: 1st round

 

4. Ozzy Wiesblatt

Team: Prince Albert Raiders

Pos: RW  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 183  Shot: R

2020 Stats – GP: 64  G: 25  A: 45  P: 70

Previous Rank: 6

Born: 03/09/02, Calgary, AB

Comparison: T.J. Oshie

Sometimes I really love my comparisons.  There hasn’t been one that I’ve disliked to this point, but Wiesblatt to Oshie might be my favourite thus far.  The versatility, motor, hands, skating ability, and the gritty/greasy games that both players exhibit, I just see very similar players.  Wiesblatt played the most of the second half for Marc Habsheid, but I like him better as a winger in the pros.  I believe he’s going to be best playing a complementary role again…similar to Oshie.  Such a safe pick.  Very possible that he’s only ever a very good top-nine winger, but I see Wiesblatt being a kid who rides shotgun on a big line because he can provide a little bit of everything for a line and he has the type of game where he’s an easy fit with everyone.

Grade: 1st round

 

5. Michael Benning

Team: Sherwood Park Crusaders (AJHL)

Pos: RD  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 174  Shot: R

2020 Stats – GP: 54  G: 12  A: 63  P: 75

Previous Rank: HM

Born: 01/05/02, St. Albert, AB

Comparison: Ethan Bear

Before I start here, honourable mention for all the tier II kids because again this is the first list ranking the Western kids, not just the dub kids.  I’m not going to be a slave to stats, but I’m not going to completely ignore them either.  I tracked it all year comparing Benning’s stats in this his 17 year old season vs Cale Makar’s numbers in his 18 year old season.  The end result: even.  Makar had twice as many goals, but both played 54 games, both had 75 points, and both were playing with elite teams in the AJHL so nobody can give me a “yeah but this guy played with this player and the other only played with…” save it.  They were even teams.  Don’t get it twisted, Benning isn’t the prospect Makar was.  Makar is a tremendous skater, Benning is a good skater.  Makar is a rover, where Benning plays much more cerebral.  It’s funny though, I’m seeing guys knock Benning’s skating and this is the same ridiculous logic that people had two years ago with Bouchard and Sandin where people are mistaking skating ability with pace of play.  With Benning, I think it’s best to think of a guy like Bear.  Moves the puck very well, knows when to jump in the play, rarely makes a risky decision.  He’s not going to play a “loud” game, but it’s going to be extremely effective.  It’ll be interesting to see what he does in the fall at this point.  Initially when I released this, I had in it that it was questionable whether or not Benning would go to DU in the fall with the COVID concerns.  Jim Matheson tweeted out the other day though that Benning and Savoie are planning to play at DU in the fall.  Matty said that DU will play games with no fans, though that’s nice…they still would need opponents and I’m not sure a decision on these things has been made by the NCAA…but at this point it looks as though Benning and Savoie will play at DU in the fall.  So no extra year of development for the teams that draft Benning or Savoie.

Grade: Late 1st round

 

6. Ronan Seeley

Team: Everett Silvertips

Pos: LD  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 176  Shot: L

2020 Stats – GP: 63  G: 3  A: 29  P: 32

Previous Rank: 11

Born: 08/02/02, Yellowknife, NT

Comparison: Josh Morrissey

Might be a little strong on my comparison here, but I’m thinking more so about what Morrissey was in his draft year, not so much what he’s become which is a top pairing D-man.  Massive jump up my rankings for Seeley, but if you followed along since the beginning of the season then you know I’ve been pretty high on Seeley from the start.  I can honestly say, it’s been a case of me not having the balls to put him higher than most have him.  But as I always try to tell myself “fuck’em, trust what you see”.  Easier said than done…What I see with Seeley is a terrific defenceman with a lot of upside.  He will only get better the more responsibility he is given.  Standard stuff for a sub 6’0 defenceman as he is a terrific skater and can really move the puck.  But then in the D-zone he is very sound fundamentally with his positioning, angles, and stick.  Comes off as a very coachable kid and displays a very high IQ.

Grade: Late 1st round

 

7. Ridly Greig

Team: Brandon Wheat Kings

Pos: C  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 159  Shot: L

2020 Stats – GP: 56  G: 26  A: 34  P: 60

Previous Rank: 10

Born: 08/08/02, Lethbridge, AB

Comparison: Brayden Schenn

He’s a coach’s dream and just does everything right.  I was high on him entering the season, and then he was so solid in a support role at the Hlinka/Gretzky, and just simply showcased it all season.  I moved him up both these rankings and my Western rankings late because I just keep going back to how physically immature he is.  Greig is going to add another 20, maybe even 30lbs to his frame!  Playing the physical style he does and showcasing that he’s committed to playing a 200-foot game, that extra size will help him tremendously.  IQ, skating, and motor to develop a very complete game.  I thought about having him as high as 21, but one red flag would be the assists.  Half of his 34 apples came with the man advantage.

Grade: Late 1st round

 

8. Braden Schneider

Team: Brandon Wheat Kings

Pos: RD  Ht: 6’2  Wt: 209  Shot: R

2020 Stats – GP: 60  G: 7  A: 35  P: 42

Previous Rank: 5

Born: 09/20/01, Prince Albert, SK

Comparison: Travis Hamonic

He’s such a safe pick.  He plays such a pro game already that I have a very difficult time seeing him not playing in the league.  I’ve used the Travis Hamonic comparison all year long, and it is just very fitting not only because of the way he plays but also given that Hamonic spent time in Brandon.  Can more offence come?  Absolutely.  His skating ability is very solid and so perhaps he starts jumping up in the play a lot more and the offensive ability starts coming along, you never know with defencemen.  But Schneider seems to really take pride in being a terrific defender.  His punishing style especially low in the zone coupled with fantastic positioning and angling makes him just miserable to play against.  A throwback, but a piece that is still very valuable as long as a player can skate and Schneider can.

Grade: Late 1st round

 

9. Connor Zary

Team: Kamloops Blazers

Pos: C  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 181  Shot: L

2020 Stats – GP: 57  G: 38  A: 48  P: 86

Previous Rank: 4

Born: 09/25/01, Saskatoon, SK

Comparison: Jarret Stoll

The more I dig into the film on Zary, the more concerns I’m finding.  That’s not just me, that’s pretty much everyone.  I’ve said it in every write-up I’ve had on Zary this season that the skating concerns me, and it shouldn’t be lost on anyone that his numbers are inflated playing with my fellow Wildcats Zane Franklin and Orrin Centazzo.  Now, that’s the negative.  It isn’t as though I don’t see the upside with Zary, and what’s especially intriguing in my mind is that he wasn’t a highly touted kid coming into the WHL.  He’s really had to work to get to this spot.  I use Stoll as the comp and some might see that as a slight.  You look at their 17 year old and 18 year old numbers in the dub, they’re production is nearly identical, their style is nearly identical, and if Zary were to “only” be a high end/tough minutes 3rd line centre like Stoll, that’d be a terrific get in my mind.  While I was rough on him in my write up on Finley, I really do like the player, I just don’t understand what the measure is for most to put him ahead of Finley.

Grade: Late 1st round

 

10. Connor McClennon

Team: Winnipeg Ice

Pos: RW  Ht: 5’8  Wt: 157  Shot: R

2020 Stats – GP: 42  G: 21  A: 28  P:  49

Previous Rank: 8

Born: 06/25/02, Wainwright, AB

Comparison: Brendan Gallagher

His draft stock took an even bigger hit than most with this shutdown, seeing that he broke his collar bone in his 42nd game of the season (right when he was on fire).  I just love the combination here of his motor, skill, and determination he plays with.  This kid is fearless.  But I can’t bring myself to put him any higher than this on my list because of his skating concerns and obviously we didn’t get to see him dominate for an overly long stretch as he was when he got hurt.  Man though, when Krebs came back, obviously Krebs is a great player, but it just gave McClennon ONE guy to help and the game just went through the freaking roof.  17 goals, 22 assists in his final 29 games, a 91 point pace.

Grade: 2nd round

 

11. Jake Neighbours 

Team: Edmonton Oil Kings

Pos: LW  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 201  Shot: L

2020 Stats – GP: 64  G: 23  A: 47  P: 70

Previous Rank: 7

Born: 03/29/02, Airdrie, AB

Comparison: Alex Killorn

I said it all season, I just didn’t understand why he was getting the hype that he was.  I like him, but a lot of people believed he was the best prospect in the dub, and that just was never the truth.  The skating isn’t great, the motor isn’t always going (it’s not as though he’s lazy, but there are times he leaves you wanting more in terms of intensity), and though I don’t say this very often…he needs to shoot more.  There is a reason you don’t see power wingers being playmakers.  So those are the cons.  But he’s still a 2nd rounder for sure with a very high IQ and good size.  But a more assertive game with the puck is definitely something I’d like to see, and I believe he’ll need to really work hard on his conditioning.  As a guy who has put on weight with ease all his life, I can tell you that I need to burn 1000 calories a day to safely say I’m shedding weight, and that’s with a proper diet.  The point I’m getting at is that Neighbours looks like he has that kind of build where it’ll be a little more difficult for him to not so much shed weight, but change his body type a bit which would likely really help his skating.  The potential is here, it’s just that it’s quite a bit that needs work.

Grade: 2nd round

 

12. Tristen Robins

Team: Saskatoon Blades

Pos: RW  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 174  Shot: R

2020 Stats – GP: 62  G: 33  A: 40  P: 73

Previous Rank: 12

Born: 11/15/01, Brandon, MB

Comparison: J.T. Compher

So here is the thing about Robins.  You see him at 12 on the rankings and you say “why does Soups hate Robins?”  I really don’t.  But A) it’s a deep class in the dub, and even deeper when I factor in the tier II kids (specifically the AJ), and B) when I’m doing my rankings, sometimes guys will get punished because of what I see them becoming and not being a difficult type of player to find as some of the things I take into consideration with my rankings aren’t the same as how most do it.  Take Braden Schneider earlier in this list for example.  I really love the way Schneider plays, but even if he maxed out I see him as a number four defenceman.  That’s a nice piece, but it’s not overly difficult to find that piece.  So if I’m a GM, I don’t see his “draft stock” being as high as someone who is perhaps a little more likely to bust.  I’m a big fan of Robins game, which is speed and a very high motor.  He’s terrific on the forecheck.  Wouldn’t write off the possibility of him playing the middle in pro hockey, but more likely that he plays the wing.  I see him as a safe bet to be a top-nine winger, with a chance to be a top-six guy.

Grade: 2nd round

 

13. Cross Hanas

Team: Portland Winterhawks

Pos: LW  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 165  Shot: L

2020 Stats – GP: 60  G: 22  A: 27  P: 49

Previous Rank: HM

Born: 01/05/02, Highland Village, TX

Comparison: Ondrej Kase

BIG jump for Hanas on my board.  First of all I should say, I’m not a fan of this comp, but he was an extremely difficult guy to find a good one for.  Basically my thinking is a very talented kid who has yet to put it all together, and I came up with Kase.  Something I kept coming back to with Hanas is “what’s he going to be once he fills out?”  Because he looks to me like he might be a little bigger than his listing of 6’1, he’s SO lanky.  So when he fills out and is playing around 190-200lbs and has some legitimate strength…he could be lethal!  That added weight/strength could especially help his skating, which is below average in my opinion at the moment but appears to be from a severe lack of lower body strength.  And so you might then say “his stats aren’t very good compared to others” but you have to look deeper than that.  Only 9 of his 49 points were with the man advantage.  Also, according to pick224.com, Hanas estimated TOI was just under 14 minutes a game, which places him 13th of 15 among the forwards who made this list (I’m guessing on Carter Savoie but it’s a pretty safe guess).  Add on top of all this, have you seen exactly how this kid scores?  In looking to review some stuff on Hanas I went to YouTube to see if there was a highlight pack just to grade his goals or points or whatever I can find (do it with all players).  Four times this season he had the WHL highlight of the night goal.  The second time he pulled off the lacrosse goal he didn’t win it.  So realistically he probably should have had that five different times.  Now, I’m far from a guy who gets wowed by lacrosse goals (Mike Legg played how many NHL games?…) but the point is that this kid has a TON of skill.  Finally, pound for pound he protects the puck better than anyone else in the WHL, which is a trait that’ll serve him well in pro hockey.  He was someone who I underrated all season (despite liking what I had seen) due to concerns over the production.  But once I had the chance to dig deeper on him, those concerns are history and I’m really intrigued by Hanas.  He could make this ranking look pretty stupid in a few years.

Grade: 2nd round

 

14. Carter Savoie

Team: Sherwood Park Crusaders (AJHL)

Pos: LW  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 181  Shot: L

2020 Stats – GP: 54  G: 53  A: 46  P: 99

Previous Rank: HM

Born: 01/23/02, St. Albert, AB

Comparison: Mike Cammalleri

I hate using a comp that I used a year ago.  Last year this was Caufield’s comp, now it’s Savoie’s.  It fits better for Caufield than Savoie in my mind, even though there are a lot of similarities.  Some worry about Savoie’s skating, but I don’t.  I don’t because I don’t believe that many people saw it showcased to its maximum ability this season.  Savoie looked bored at times.  There were times though that he would turn it on, whether it be in a big game, or when (for lack of a better term) someone would piss him off, as he isn’t afraid to go after someone.  He plays what I would call a “bitchy game”, and I know that sounds like an insult but I really don’t mean it to be.

Grade: 2nd round

 

15. Justin Sourdif

Team: Vancouver Giants

Pos: RW  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 165  Shot: R

2020 Stats – GP: 57  G: 26  A: 28  P: 54

Previous Rank: 9

Born: 03/24/02, Surrey, BC

Comparison: Sam Reinhart

Nobody is going to question his talent.  Great skill and a very good skater.  I am concerned about the determination though.  It’s where the Sam Reinhart comp comes from in that the talent is there, but how bad does he want it?  If you look at Reinhart, while he isn’t EXACTLY what we thought he’d be, he’s pretty good.  And again, Sourdif gets hurt by the dub being so deep this season.  If I did grades on these kids like most of the NFL guys do, I’d have a 2nd round grade on Sourdif.  It’s very likely he is still in my top 62 when I get around to putting that out.   What makes me nervous about having him this low, his ES numbers.  Only 7 of the 54 points came on the man advantage.  But again having said that, it just feels like the passion is lacking.  This is a scenario where I’d put a ton of stock into his interview.

Grade: 2nd round

 

16. Kasper Puutio

Team: Everett Silvertips

Pos: RD  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 185  Shot: R

2020 Stats – GP: 56  G: 5  A: 23  P: 28

Previous Rank: 17

Born: 06/03/02, Vaasa, FIN

Comparison: Damon Severson

The thing that I’ve really liked from the get-go with Puutio was his skating.  And then Larry Fisher told me earlier in the season when he watched Puutio live, the skating jumped out even more at him.  He moves it really well too, and only 7 of his 28 points came on the man advantage.  Statistically, a guy who came to mind was Henri Jokiharju who went 29th in 2017.  Jokiharju had 30 ES points in that season.  Puutio was at a 26 ES point pace this season.  Same size, Puutio might be a better skater, not as aggressive as Jokiharju but that might be better!  He’s like Hanas where the numbers aren’t showing, but I worry that in a few years I’m going to feel embarrassed about where I ranked him.  Some might wonder why he’s so much lower than Seeley despite having similar numbers on the same team, and it’s simple.  I feel Puutio’s game is tailor-made for Everett’s system, where Seeley I believe gets restricted by it.  But while it’s a 10 spot gap in these rankings, they wouldn’t be much further apart than that in the actual draft for me.  Benning/Seeley is where the Western logjam begins for me, and this is where it ends.  One more note with Puutio, he’s done with Everett.  Headed back home for the 20-21 season.

Grade: 2nd round

 

17. Pavel Novak

Team: Kelowna Rockets

Pos: RW  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 170  Shot: R

2020 Stats – GP: 55  G: 25  A: 33  P: 58

Previous Rank: 14

Born: 04/16/02, Tabor, CZE

Comparison: Frank Vatrano

Yet another victim of it being such a deep year in the West (are you sick of me mentioning this yet?!)  It’s actually not much deeper this year though than last year.  The 17th WHL/tier II kid to come out of the West went with the 77th pick.  I think the 17th kid to be picked from the West this year will likely be around that range, so while it looks like I’m down a bit on some of these guys in the 10-20 range, I’m really not.  Anyway, Novak isn’t the best skater, but it’s definitely passable and has room to grow.  He has a pretty good motor to go with good hands and vision.  Would have been VERY interesting to see Kelowna’s season continue in particular as they were really getting it going after the coaching change.  10 more regular-season games, combined with (what I would have guessed as a max) maybe 14 playoff games, and of course they were hosting the Memorial Cup.  Could have given a huge boost to Novak’s stock as he was playing very well right before the break (6 points in his last 3 games).

Grade: 3rd round

 

18. Ethan Edwards

Team: Spruce Grove Saints (AJHL)

Pos: LD  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 165  Shot: L

2020 Stats – GP: 50  G: 9  A: 24  P: 33

Previous Rank: HM

Born: 06/06/02, Grand Prairie, AB

Comparison: Jordan Oesterle

He’s only ranked 18th for me, but Edwards has me as fired up as anyone out of this list.  He’s committed to Michigan but isn’t going until the 21-22 season, meaning that the team which will draft him will get four years before they need to look to sign him (yes, I’m well aware that you can sign him after his senior season, but by then it’s highly unlikely a player wouldn’t go to free agency).  And as much as I like Edwards, it’s mainly because of his upside.  That development time combined with his skating ability makes him extremely intriguing to me.

Grade: 3rd round

 

19. Alex Cotton

Team: Lethbridge Hurricanes

Pos: RD  Ht: 6’2  Wt: 183  Shot: R

2020 Stats – GP: 63  G: 20  A: 47  P: 67

Previous Rank: 15

Born: 05/12/01, Langley, BC

Comparison: Cody Franson

The first OA checks in at 19 on the list.  Cotton, as you can see, was 15th last time around, so he essentially only moved down one spot as the AJHL kids weren’t factored in the last time around.  The mobility is a concern and is what likely kept him from being drafted last June.  Great size though and a hell of a shot.  It’s a big “if”, but IF he can clean up his skating and take it to another level, he would be one very exciting prospect.  Obviously the concern though is how many points came from being paired with Calen Addison?

Grade: 3rd round

 

20. Dylan Garand

Team: Kamloops Blazers

Pos: G  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 172  Glove: L

2020 Stats – GP: 42  G.A.A.: 2.21  Sv%: .921

Previous Rank: 13

Born: 06/06/02, Victoria, BC

Comparison: Carter Hutton

I’m not a goaltending guru, but it’s tough to ignore the season Garand had playing for a squad in Kamloops who definitely weren’t known for their defensive prowess!  Highest scoring team in the WHL, yet 17 year old Garand still put up those ridiculous numbers.  And to my eye, Garrand moves very well and is pretty technically sound for this stage of his development.  My buddy Kirk Morris had a pretty good write up on Garand earlier this season that you can find here.  The big question is the size.  He’s right on the fence for being too small.  Obviously he has some more filling out he has to do, I’m talking about the height, but it’ll be interesting to see how teams view him.  This is essentially a 3rd round grade for Garrand, which seems about right as to where he could go in the draft.

Grade: Late round

 

21. Christoffer Sedoff

Team: Red Deer Rebels

Pos: LD  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 190  Shot: L

2020 Stats – GP: 61  G: 5  A: 14  P: 19

Previous Rank: 16

Born: 02/20/02, Helsinki, FIN

Comparison: Luca Sbisa

He is their horse, chewing up a ridiculous amount of minutes a lot of nights for Brent Sutter’s club.  He’s a very smooth skater, good puck mover, and despite not having stats that jump off the page he has displayed some pretty good offensive skills at times.  He’s solid in his own zone also with good gap control, a good stick, and a willingness to compete down low and in front of the net.  There is a lot to work with here.

Grade: Late round

 

22. Daemon Hunt

Team: Moose Jaw Warriors

Pos: LD  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 198  Shot: L

2020 Stats – GP: 28  G: 0  A: 15  P: 15

Previous Rank: HM

Born: 05/15/02, Brandon, MB

Comparison: Michael Stone

He basically ends up 22nd for me because of pedigree.  I don’t believe that people have done the homework they maybe should on Hunt.  I’m still seeing him in people’s top 62, and essentially as the 6th or 7th best prospect out of the west, it just makes no sense at all to me.  Not at all to suggest Hunt is a bad prospect or can’t make it, but we have to be honest, the shortcomings are tough to ignore.  He doesn’t bring a lot of offence to the table despite getting all the gravy time for the Warriors when he was healthy (of his 15 assists, only 3 were even strength, and I believe of those three only 1 of them was a primary assist), his skating is questionable, it’s not as though he has a lot of physical development left as he is already near 200lbs, and he essentially missed a season of development.  I’m not saying he can’t be higher than I’ve got him, but if someone has him in their top 62 they obviously haven’t spent a second actually looking into him.

Grade: Late round

 

23. Josh Pillar

Team: Kamloops Blazers

Pos: RW  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 174  Shot: R

2020 Stats – GP: 63  G: 14  A: 30  P: 44

Previous Rank: 18

Born: 02/14/02, Warman, SK

Comparison: Conor Sheary

I really wonder if we end up seeing a similar jump in Pillar’s production next season as we saw with Tristen Robbins this season.  They have a ton of similarities, and with Zane Franklin moving on from the Blazers next season, a spot is open on that top line (although he’ll have Logan Stankhoven to contend with).  Really love Pillar in the later rounds because of that speed.  In rounds 4-7, just give me guys with one elite quality, and Pillar’s speed is just that.

Grade: Late round

 

24. Orrin Centazzo

Team: Kamloops Blazers

Pos: LW  Ht: 5’8  Wt: 163  Shot: L

2020 Stats – GP: 63  G: 44  A: 37  P: 81

Previous Rank: HM

Born: 04/17/00, Marwayne, AB

Comparison: Tyler Ennis

Finished 2nd in the WHL with 44 goals on the season and there were very few “cheapies”.  Centazzo has always had a ton of skill, and know that this is someone I’ve watched since he played Atom hockey.  This season he REALLY started to put it together and has so much room to grow both in his game and physically.  Most see a 19 year old who has been twice passed over as someone who doesn’t have much of a ceiling, but Centazzo is the exception to that rule.  Truth be told, I had a tough time coming up with a comp, but I settled on Ennis for a few reasons.  Obviously the size is very similar.  Also, the numbers in their 19 year old seasons are very similar.  Finally, the skill is very similar.  Ennis is a better skater, but Orrin might get there once he starts filling out.  I strongly believe a team should be taking a swing on him late in the draft.  I have a lot of reasons to believe he’s a late bloomer.

Grade: Late round

 

25. Kyle Crnkovic

Team: Saskatoon Blades

Pos: LW  Ht: 5’7  Wt: 161  Shot: L

2020 StatsGP: 63  G: 21  A: 43  P: 64

Previous Rank: NR

Born: 02/10/02, Chestermere, AB

Comparison: Johnny Gaudreau

Obviously, that comp is much more in terms of style than upside.  I’m pretty stunned that you literally don’t hear a thing about this kid.  No doubt that the size is a concern, and the skating isn’t great for someone this small.  But he’s also very slight as you can read, so with added weight/strength he can perhaps take his skating up a few levels and if he adds that to his skill, now it gets pretty interesting.

Grade: Late round

 

Honourable Mention

Ethan Bowen

Team: Chilliwack Chiefs (BCHL)

Pos: LW  Ht: 6’2  Wt: 170  Shot: L

2020 Stats – GP: 41  G: 12  A: 19  P: 31

Born: 05/14/02, Chilliwack, BC

Bowen had a disappointing season with quite a few injury problems.  Admittedly I didn’t see all that much of Bowen outside of a few games on Hockey TV.  But a kid with a lot of intriguing qualities that’ll make him of interest at the draft in the later rounds.

 

Gage Goncalves

Team: Everett Silvertips

Pos: LW  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 170  Shot: L

2020 StatsGP: 60  G: 33  A: 38  P: 71

Previous Rank: NR

Born: 01/16/01, Mission, BC

1 goal in 67 games last season, and 33 in 60 this season.  Pretty massive turnaround.  He’s played centre all season, but I believe he’ll end up moving to the wing in pro hockey which is why I list him there.  Pretty good skill.

 

Michal Gut

Team: Everett Silvertips

Pos: C  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 181  Shot: L

2020 Stats – GP: 51  G: 13  A: 23  P: 36

Previous Rank: HM

Born: 08/16/02, Kadan, CZE

His offensive totals do take a hit as he plays further down the lineup for the Silvertips and sees a lot of tougher minutes.  Pretty good two-way game, nothing flashy.

 

Simon Knak

Team: Portland Winterhawks

Pos: RW  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 190  Shot: L

2020 Stats – GP: 49  G: 9  A: 25  P: 34

Previous Rank: 19

Born: 01/27/02, Kloten, SUI

Someone that SPR had brought to my attention prior to the season as I’d never seen Knak outside of one game at the Hlinka/Gretzky in 2018.  Plays an intelligent game all over the ice.

 

Landon Kosior

Team: Prince Albert Raiders

Pos: RD  Ht: 5’ll  Wt: 190  Shot: R

2020 Stats – GP: 64  G: 5  A: 18  P: 23

Previous Rank: NR

Born: 08/15/02, Regina, SK

Played a lot of minutes with Guhle this season, some might say overshadowed by Guhle.  Good skater, moves it well (as you could guess from a sub 6’0, 23 point defenceman) and a high IQ.  Could be a kid who really pops next season.

 

Owen Pederson

Team: Winnipeg Ice

Pos: LW  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 187  Shot: L

2020 Stats – GP: 61  G: 28  A: 22  P: 50

Previous Rank: HM

Born: 03/27/02, Stoney Plain, AB

His skating needs a ton of work, but the hands and ability to finish are definitely there with Pederson.  The fear from most with him will be that he basically lived off Peyton Krebs.

 

Luke Prokop

Team: Calgary Hitmen

Pos: RD  Ht: 6’4  Wt: 218  Shot: R

2020 Stats – GP: 59  G: 4  A: 19  P: 23

Previous Rank: HM

Born: 05/06/02, Edmonton, AB

Tremendous size and not a bad skater either.  But I just really don’t see it with Prokop.  Definitely a chance he gets drafted simply based on his size and ok skating, but I feel he’s only on some people’s radar due to being a top 10 pick in the 2017 Bantam draft.

 

Lukas Svejkovsky

Team: Medicine Hat Tigers

Pos: RW  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 165  Shot: R

2020 StatsGP: 52  G: 18  A: 20  P: 38

Previous Rank: NR

Born: 11/28/01, Point Roberts, WA

Some people really love what they’ve seen from Svejkovsky.  Speedy and skilled, but while I’m not a stats whore, I also can’t ignore that this was his 18 year old season and he’s well under a PPG pace.

 

Bryan Thomson

Team: Lethbridge Hurricanes

Pos: G  Ht: 6’4  Wt: 181  Glove: L

2020 Stats – GP: 30  G.A.A.: 2.83  Sv%: .898

Previous Rank: 20

Born: 04/09/02, Moose Jaw, SK

Thomson has a lot of tools to work with.  Obviously he has the size for a goaltender that NHL GM’s crave.  A lot of work is needed, but you can say that about basically every goaltender taken in any draft!

 

Ilya Usau

Team: Prince Albert Raiders

Pos: C  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 181  Shot: L

2020 Stats – GP: 58  G: 22  A: 30  P: 52

Previous Rank: NR

Born: 08/03/01, Minsk, BLR

Performed well in his first season in the WHL.  Doesn’t really do anything exceptional but does everything well.  It seemed from afar that he was a very coachable kid for Marc Habsheid this season.

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Soups on Scouting

This is a piece I have been wanting to do for a very long time.  And then it became a piece that I worked on for a very long time.  Some of the reason for that is time constraints, but mostly it was fear of leaving anything out.

Let me start this off by saying this: I’m not a scout.  I’ll never claim to be a scout, unless of course, someone hires me to actually be a scout.  It doesn’t mean that I don’t do it.  I try to watch as much as I can with any player.  But the majority of the work I do is research.  Other ACTUAL scouts are who I primarily base my rankings off of.  I try to listen to the best people out there (which is key as there are a lot of people out there right now, specifically on social media, who want to pretend to be scouts and call themselves scouts, but they aren’t), but I don’t pay too close of attention to any rankings they may do.  I rank based off what the consensus is of their reports.  If I’ve seen something myself that maybe I disagree with, then I’ll trust my own eyes, but for the most part, I go off the reports they do.

Now, having said all this…

I do have my own theories on it and this is basically how I scout when I do it.  Let’s just get right to it because this is pretty damn long!

 

Need

Pretty self-explanatory, these are the traits I covet the most.

Skating

It has always been at the top of my list, but in the last three or four seasons it has gotten to a point where it is tough for me to give the time of day to anyone who isn’t at least above average.  At least.  If I’m building a team these days, it is imperative that the team has two qualities: they are among the fastest teams in the leauge, and the blueline is full of puck movers.  But of course I’m not just talking about top-end speed.  Foot speed, edge work, lateral mobility, etc.  It all factors in.  But skating is so far above anything else for me at this point that I have trouble giving love to anyone who isn’t at least an above average skater.  Average skater?  You better do everything incredibly well, or I better have reason to believe you can improve it.

IQ

I need to see a guy show his intelligence.  Sometimes that player might not show it on the ice as he’s developing.  A perfect example of this that I’ve used for years is Darnell Nurse.  Fans and media think that Nurse is a dumb player for lack of a better term.  I say that Nurse has shown off the ice that he is a HIGHLY intelligent guy, whether it be in interviews or the fact that he was the OHL scholastic player of the year in 2013, and when he was coming up he was always able to get by on his incredible ability and never had to think the game.  This, in my opinion, is the reason why Nurse keeps fooling the analytics crowd.  Insanely gifted, highly intelligent, and an incredible work ethic combine to make Nurse a guy who is continually growing and that growth may not quit until he’s perhaps into his 30’s much like Brent Burns.  Now, does he have the “hockey IQ” that so many crave?  No, it’s fair to say he doesn’t.  But this is why I believe a player like himself will keep improving is because his intelligence will catch up with his physical gifts at some point and when they do he could be something special.  Anyway, that’s the one rare example.  Nine times out of ten you see it in a players game.  I’m just saying that just because a player doesn’t display it on the ice, don’t necessarily discount them as lacking it.

Compete

Very obviously vital to the development of a prospect is going to be his will to compete.  I’ll get into work ethic specifically a little later on, but the fact of the matter is that we have very little insight as to how hard a player does or doesn’t work away from the rink, but we can absolutely see how hard they compete on a night to night basis.  Going to the tough area’s on the ice, not backing down when physically challenged, willingness to play physical, etc.  All of those are examples of compete.  A player in junior, college, Europe, whatever, better show some signs of competing because if he isn’t willing to at those level’s, then what is he going to do once NHL players go up against him?

 

Important

These are traits that a player doesn’t HAVE to have, but they’re pretty damn vital!

Vision

I’ll actually get into it more later when I talk about something related to vision, but simply put for this section, I place a pretty big value on it.  I was torn for a long time whether or not I’d list this as a “need”.  I can argue it either way.

Hard on Pucks

When I say hard on pucks, the three things that I think of are the ability to protect the puck, the ability to win puck battles, and that a player doesn’t get knocked off the puck easily.  You could label this under compete and that is completely fair.  But the reason I don’t is that I feel this is something that can come with development (mainly a player gaining strength).

Numbers

It’s not a “trait”, but a factor.  I talk numbers more than I value them.  But the one thing with numbers is that I’ll dig into them because there are just so many variables.  The big thing I look at is even-strength numbers.  Casey Mittlestadt is a good example of someone who had awesome numbers, but so much of his damage was done on the PP.  Fast forward to the 19-20 season, and it looks like Mittlestadt can’t play in the NHL (and don’t twist that, I’m not saying he IS a bust, just that he is on track to do so).  At this point, I’m not overly big on analytics when looking at prospects (I’ll discuss that later), and while I look at NHLe, I definitely don’t take that as the gospel as some do.  I’ll look mostly at even strength numbers and then take into consideration the role the player is in, how much talent is around that player, etc and try to find players from past drafts who were in similar situations and how they panned out.

Hands

People think hands, they think of goal scoring only.  And no doubt, great hands can create a lot of goals.  It’s a trait that can get overrated by a lot of people because sweet hands gets a player on the highlight reels more than anything else.  Having said that, there is no denying that no matter what position you play, the ability to handle the puck is pretty damn important.  Do you need to be able to toe drag anyone at any time?  No.  But it can’t be like handling a grenade for a player.

 

Want

Some of these (not all, for example the first one isn’t) are traits that a player can develop.  So while it’s big to have them on draft day, it’s not as if it is hopeless that it can be developed.  The others are straight forward…you hope every player has them, but if they don’t it isn’t the end of the world.

Balls

I shouldn’t have to explain this, but I will anyway.  Basically a guy who is willing to throw hits, block shots, not just be willing to go to all the dirty areas but go the extra mile.  Some call it “heart” and that’s fine, but I believe guys can have heart and still choose not to block shots with their teeth.  To me, it takes serious balls to do that!  Obviously some are going to file this under intangibles.  I’m going to talk about intangibles in a bit, but basically my belief is that you can see a guy who plays with balls, therefore it gets its own category.

Gamesmanship

For some reason, many scouts don’t seem to know how to properly describe this, or maybe they just don’t value it nearly as much as I do.  It is huge for me though, mainly because it is so damn rare to find.  Playing with balls as I just described is one thing.  Someone who is willing to battle his ass off is endearing.  But finding guys who are willing to do whatever they feel they need to in order to win is another level and SO valuable.

Shot

For most, shooting ability would be placed under the important category, if not the need category.  It’s not to suggest that if a player literally has a muffin of a shot that it’s not concerning.  I’m referencing players like Owen Tippett, Eeli Tolvanen, more recently Cole Caufield, or if I go Oilers eccentric then Raphael Lavoie.  All players with dynamite shots, but a lot of people seem to fall in love with the shot and don’t look at the overall package.  And again, high volume shooters can’t play with each other.  A line of Steven Stamkos, Alex Ovechkin and Patrik Laine likely wouldn’t work, or at least nowhere near the level that some would believe it would.  Anyway, I love a guy with a big shot, but I need more than that which is why the shot is a “want” for me rather than being “important” or a “need”.

Defending

I debated whether I would put this in the “important” category or not, but I put it here because when scouting a player I won’t dismiss a guy because he can’t defend.  The ability to defend can be coached up as we all know.  What does get concerning with someone who can’t defend is whether or not they’re willing to be coached up to do it?

Size

I’ll talk about it still where others won’t.  Can we stop pretending that it doesn’t even deserve to be discussed?!  A lot of the time with size comes strength.  Weight is more important than height as it goes without saying (yet here I am saying it) that the heavier the player, the tougher they’ll be to knock off the puck or move in general.  It’s funny, a few years ago I recall Craig Button being involved in a debate about whether or not wingspan mattered.  I can’t recall where Craig came out on it (I think he was pro wingspan), but to me, wingspan matters more than a players height because that is actually about reach.  Just because someone is tall doesn’t mean they have the wingspan to match.  So just because someone is tall doesn’t really matter, but the fact of the matter is that someone taller can put on more weight and will usually have a large wingspan which makes it much easier to protect the puck.  I don’t believe that you should sacrifice speed and/or quickness for size, but it still is a very big bonus if a player has it.

Positional traits

What?  I couldn’t think of another way to say this.  Basically I’m thinking about shit like face-off ability obviously for centres, ability to walk the line well for defencemen, play along the wall for wingers, all things that I believe can be fixed with proper development time and coaching which are based on where they play.  I’m not going to punish D-men for being awful in the dot…

 

Wildcard

Intangibles

First thing I should say is that intangibles would be work ethic, passion for the game, coachability, leadership, and how teammates view the player.  Someone reading this is saying “of course, why is this schmuck explaining this to me” and the answer is I’m just trying to cover all the bases.  For people such as myself who aren’t with an NHL club and/or don’t have access to interviewing the players, this is a wildcard.  If I had that ability, intangibles are pretty high on my list.  The analytics world probably would vehemently disagree with me on this, but we’re not talking about kids who have already made the show.  The intangibles are pretty vital to a players ability to make the jump to pro hockey.  In junior, a player can get by on his talent alone.  But that is much tougher to do in pro hockey, and damn near impossible to do in the NHL.  If a player is lacking in the intangibles, his chances of sticking in the NHL are pretty slim no matter how talented the player is.  I will say however that I’m not going to go overboard on a player who only has the intangibles covered and not much else.  You still need the talent to play.  Remember: Rudy only played one series as a Senior at Notre Dame.  That was college…not the NFL…

Analytics

I list them as a wildcard only because of how fresh they are to the process.  I’m DEFINITELY not anti analytics.  And there are things we find out about players analytically throughout the process which is very beneficial to ranking players more properly.  But you can also say that with intangibles after the combine is complete and word comes down about how well players did or didn’t interview.

Conditioning

It’s tricky.  Is it a good thing if a player is in amazing shape?  If they are, then they’ve likely maxed out to this point.  If they aren’t, then they clearly have a lot more room to grow.  But the flip side to that is if they aren’t, then will they learn to be better conditioned (the best example that comes to mind is Drew Doughty)?  If they’re in shape, they must care…right?  And if they aren’t, then they don’t…right?  But if they have been so good without being in shape, then what could they be once they are?!  And if a kid was so good while in terrific condition, then he is limited with how much he can improve, right?  If a tree falls in the forest…

 

Now, I think that covers everything as far as skills/assets go.  Hopefully I didn’t forget things, but it’s a lot to cover!  But when doing the rankings, for me, it doesn’t end there.  What I factor in (and this is where I end up differing from most other independent guys) is I try to look at things from a team-building perspective.  There are things I believe you NEED as a team, and things that people simply want on their team.  You want snipers, but you need playmakers.  You want a dynamic winger, but you need a 200-foot centre.  I always make the comparison with wingers and centres that it is like buying a Ferrari when living in Edmonton.  For six months of the year you’ll look deadly!  But you better own a truck, because that Ferrari isn’t going very far down an unplowed street.  You want the Ferrari, but you need the truck.

 

Centres

I value centres more than any other position in the draft.  Obviously in hockey, your goaltending is the most important position.  But 18 year old goaltenders are in the absolute best case scenario a MINIMUM of three years away, and can be a total crapshoot due to the mental aspect of the position.  Defence is at least as important for a club as centre is, but the big thing I notice in this league is that it’s easier to win without marquee defencemen then it is without marquee centres.  History shows that simply having depth on D has won a lot more than depth down the middle has.  And then of course if you’re looking at winger vs centre, most centres can easily play the wing where it’s rare for a winger to make the jump to the middle (even with the most recent example being Blake Wheeler, he’s a guy for years I’ve wondered why he’d never been tried at centre and I’m asking myself the same question this season with Lafrenière).

Wingers

A lot of this can completely depend on what kind of winger we’re talking about.  I look back on a guy like Mitch Marner, and I ranked him 7th in a draft year where I feel I got my rankings pretty spot on.  Obviously, that one wasn’t though and it was because I discredited wingers too much.  I failed to think “he’s an elite playmaker, which means he’ll make people better” a trait which I adore as everyone should.  I can also think of guys like the Tkachuk brothers who were legitimate power forwards which is incredibly valuable.  So basically for me a winger has to bring something very special to the table.  For the most part, wingers are 3rd in the pecking order for me.  For the most part, if you’re drafting a forward, then they better be pretty clear cut better than any other centre who is on the board.  Most centres can play the wing, and very few wingers can play centre.

Defencemen

IQ, skating, and ability to move the puck are the big ones I look at for defencemen.  I don’t really even want to look at a D-man who doesn’t possess these traits.  We probably get too caught up these days with pure numbers for D-men and assume they move the puck well.  I believe a team full of Hampus Lindholm or Jacob Slavin types would not only win a shit ton of games, but probably be sustainable under the cap with how those types of players get undervalued.  The only reason defencemen aren’t on equal footing with centres for me (again, always exceptions to the rule) is A) I find them to be a little riskier than centres (although I don’t have official numbers on that, could be wrong) and B) as I said above, I feel as though you need at least one elite centre if not two to win a Cup, where I don’t believe a true number one defenceman is a necessity.

Goaltenders

Basically…forget about them.  I personally just have a few rules on tendys.  1) I’d take one a year, and I’d select him no earlier than the 63rd pick.  2) No smaller than 6’1 (I’m a “sizest” when it comes to goaltenders).  3) Have to be quick and athletic.  Like everything in life, always exceptions to the rule.  Yaroslav Askarov is the exception to this rule, as was Ilya Samsonov, as was Andrei Vasilevskiy (Russia has become quite the goalie factory!)  For certain teams in the 2020 draft I would be taking Askarov in the 1st round.  But that terrifies a lot of people because of how unpredictable goaltending is.  As I say when talking about Askarov in my rankings though, you need to be able to identify when the time is right to recognize an exception to the rule.

 

Terms I’m not a fan of

Dynamic

This isn’t figure skating.  We aren’t judging production in hockey.  A highlight reel goal isn’t getting a 6 (although only a 5.7 from the Russian judge).  Now obviously I’m not looking to shit on skill, but I feel it is simply a quality that gets overrated by some.  People get enamoured with a player pulling off the lacrosse goal or toe dragging a number five defenceman who is attending Western next fall.  Obviously I love skill, but as soon as I start hearing about dynamic someone is, I start wondering just how bad his flaws are because it is often a term people will use to distract from a players flaws because they like watching that player play.  Does that make sense?

 

Types of players I really value

All situation centres and defencemen

You would think this is obvious for all, but it very much so is not.  I think of a kid like Kaiden Guhle in this upcoming draft and think “how exciting, that kid has a legitimate opportunity to be a 25+ minute a night defenceman.  Another kid I think of is Anton Lundell, specifically at the idea of Buffalo getting him.  If the Sabres had a centre who can put up 50-60 points and do all the dirty work?  Well…I guess they’d give him to St. Louis…but they know they need that guy playing behind Jack Eichel and if they could get that guy it’d likely take them from not close to a playoff spot to a playoff regular.  If you’re building a team and you can’t get that franchise centre, then in my mind you need most, but likely all your centres to have great two-way ability.  I believe that’s the only way teams can win if they lack a franchise centre.  These type of centres and defencemen aren’t sexy in the slightest, but FUCK ME they are vital to a hockey clubs success.  And you can never have enough of either.

Playmakers

My basic rule (and it’s not really “my” rule, it’s more so “the” rule) is that playmakers can play with playmakers, snipers can’t play with snipers.  It doesn’t mean that every playmaker is going to mesh, and it doesn’t mean that high volume shooters can’t ever figure out how to play with each other, but for the most part this is how it works.  And in today’s game, as much as it’s a speed game, it’s a playmakers game too.  Due to the lack of physicality and the league becoming increasingly smaller, we’re seeing fewer and fewer playmakers playing on the perimeter as we did 10-15 years ago, and therefore they are able to have their way a lot more than they used to.

Types of players I’m not as high on

Snipers

The guy I have gotten a bit of hit for not liking as much as others in last years draft was Cole Caufield.  I didn’t hate Caufield by any means, having him 16th overall isn’t something I view as a big slight.  But it was lower, especially in comparison to independent scouting.  I’m bigger on the viewings than the numbers, but the lack of assist numbers given the centres he had to play with all of last season (three of whom were top 10 picks) was extremely concerning to me and I’m not sure how anyone can suggest his vision is high-end when the kid only had 44 assists in 99 games playing with kids like Hughes, Turcotte and Zegras is not good.  A lot of people want to compare him with Alex Debrincat given their stature, nationality, and skating ability.  Debrincat never had concerns with his playmaking ability, and I’m personally not going to give extra points to the exception to the rule over of the rule.  Of course with Caufield, I strongly believe that many independent guys want to be so “anti-establishment” that they purposely overate those players so that they won’t be viewed as the guy who “overlooked” the undersized kid.  Point being here that with me, don’t ever expect shoot first, second, third, fourth, etc type guys who can’t do much else to be too high in my rankings.

Undersized AND slower

I often call this “size to speed ratio”.  I would have whiffed on Alex DeBrincat (I had him 43rd in my top 50 going into the 2016 draft).  But the fact is that DeBrincat is an exception to the rule.  Now, perhaps a kid like Cole Caufield (a lot of DeBrincat and Caufield stuff in here, but I just think they’re two great players to use as examples) will be another exception to that rule, easy could be.  But I got a lot of flack for having Caufield 16th last season when it seemingly became a game of “how high can we rank him to prove we don’t undervalue undersized guys”.  The fact is that at 16 I’m still saying I believe he can play in the league and put up 20-30 goals a year, but I also believe he’s far from a lock to do so and if he can’t do that, then he’s not playing in the NHL.  If Matthew Boldy (for example) can’t do that, there are still lots of other roles Mattew Boldy can fill.  It’s also much tougher to find Matthew Boldy if you pass on him.  The Toronto Maple Leafs got Nick Robertson in the 2nd round.  Robertson and Caufield at the time of writing this, aren’t too different as prospects.  Both are highly skilled, but they don’t have great wheels AND they’re undersized.  If they’re both burners, I have very little issue.  The skating is much more the issue than the size.  But if a guy has size and can’t skate, they still have the reach to do protect the puck extremely well and the ability to wear down opposing players where that is much more difficult for undersized guys to do if they don’t have the skating.

 

Now, after I take into consideration everything I just laid out, then I still take a lot of other things into consideration.  The reason for this is because I try to look at things like a GM would, not how a person who isn’t drafting these player would do so.

 

Rankings

Team Building

You have wants and you have needs when you’re building hockey teams, and this is where I believe so many people mess up how they rank their players.  People WANT guys like Ovechkin, Stamkos, Matthews, etc.  But teams don’t NEED those guys to win.  To win, teams need high end centres and top four D-men.  It’s tricky doing independent rankings though because I can easily do a list for every team in the league, and those lists for each team would be vastly different.  I’ve used Cole Caufield as an example lots (and negatively to this point) but here we go again.  While I would have had Caufield lower for most teams, I actually liked him a lot for the Oilers.  The reason being that the Oilers could play him down the line with McDavid or Draisaitl, which is what he needs.  He needs (in my opinion) to play with a centre who can do nearly everything and allow him to find the dead spots offensively and utilize his shot.  Right now he’s with Montreal…who is the centre they have either on the team or in the system who can do that for him?  Every team goes BPA.  But this is why the BPA’s can be so different for each team.  And for those people who then scream “just pick the best player and make trades for fit later”, have you been paying attention the last decade?  Trades aren’t happening anymore.  Especially hockey trades.  Team building has to be a massive consideration.

Tiers

More people are using tiers now than when I first started doing my own rankings in 2015 which is good to see.  You must have a pretty damn big ego on yourself if you think that tiers aren’t necessary.  The fact of the matter is that with most prospects we are splitting hairs, and therefore you draft whichever player within a tier is the biggest need for your organization.

“Acquireability”

It is a term I came up with prior to last years draft.  What do I mean?  Let me give you the best example: Matt Tkachuk was rare.  Matt Tkachuk should have gone higher in his draft than 6th.  He should have been 2nd overall in hindsight.  I had him 5th, but I kick myself because when he was eligible, I knew that he was a rare type of player for a team to get their hands on.  And that is huge for me.  Kirby Dach gets taken 3rd overall in the 2019 draft.  Why?  So many people think this is a ridiculous pick, Chicago reached, on and on and on.  In the rest of the 2019 draft, you know what you without a doubt were not going to find?  A 6’4, RH shot, playmaking centre who moves well.  In free agency, you know what you are extremely rarely going to find?  A 6’4, RH shot, playmaking centre who moves well.  In the trade market, you know what you are extremely rarely going to find?  A 6’4, RH shot, playmaking centre who moves well.  Rare is massive, and hardly anyone thinks in those terms when they do their rankings.  Most who do independent rankings don’t give any thought to rounds 2-7 or assembling a roster in general.  “Acquireability” is so big for me, and the more of that which teams can find in the draft, the easier it’ll be for them to fill out the rest of their roster.

Special trait

Some of you reading all this (and thank you if you’re still reading as I’m over 4,000 words on this) might think about the draft as the top 10/15/20/1st round in general.  And that’s fine.  But the reality is that the draft is seven rounds.  It’s about to be 224 picks.  So when you get down to pick 66, 106, 146, 206, etc then you’re looking at guys who are going to take 3-5 years to develop.  I want those guys to have one thing they do extremely well.  Take your pick of the trait, but they need to have at least one.

 

Ok, I think I’m done…finally!  This is likely a blog that I’m going to add to, subtract from, basically adjust a lot over the years as it’s meant to be a bit of a guideline for how I do my rankings.  You can disagree with them all you want, but at least I can point to this blog and say “this is why my rankings are like that”.  And even though there are many people who do rankings who I find myself disagreeing with what they’ll have to say, all I ask is you can back it up.  That’s it.  Just back up what you’re saying.  Nearly everyone puts out a list, and the list has nothing on the players.  And I’m often raising an eyebrow at those lists because while some just don’t have the time, I believe most (independents) simply don’t know what the hell they’re doing.  Maybe I don’t either.  But at least now you can see where I’m coming from whether you agree with it or not.

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SOH Top 10: Worst Peter Chiarelli Decisions

If there is one thing that Covid-19 is giving me a chance to do, it is reminisce.  They aren’t all going to be fond memories, but sometimes it’s fun to even look back at the bad times and laugh…no matter how fresh that wound still is for some.  And for Oilers fans, who I consider myself one of, the Peter Chiarelli era will be viewed as the absolute worst for several reasons.  Many in Edmonton believed that this was the turning point for the franchise, when in fact they hit an all-new low for incompetence under his watch.  This man was gifted McDavid, Draisaitl, Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle, Klefbom, Nurse, the 16th pick in what will likely be a top-five draft of all-time, and a mountain of cap space.  Given that, it is likely the worst job a GM has ever done in the history of the league.  Yes, worse than Mike Milbury.

 

I changed the title of this from “trades” to “decisions”, even though you can come up with 10 awful trades the man made.  For a top 10 list to truly be interesting, you need a little controversy and to have some solid candidates not make the list.  So without further adieu, here is the list (I know Oilers fans, you want to read it while peaking out of your covered eyes, but remember that we aren’t supposed to be touching our faces these days).

 

Hounourable Mention

June 22, 2017: Jordan Eberle for Ryan Strome

This one gets honourable mention because the Edmonton media (specifically Mark Spector) remember it as this horrendous decision,  but it was actually one of his better moves.  Initially, Eberle had a great bounce-back season with the Islanders, and Strome wasn’t great for the Oilers.  But since the trade, Strome has nearly matched Eberle in goals (60-56) and points (137-129) for half the money.  Yes, one problem is that Strome didn’t get it going until he went to the Rangers, but even with the Oilers he had 19 goals his first season (35 points) and had terrific analytic numbers early in the 18-19 season, it was just simply a case of not getting bounces to that point.

 

June 29th, 2017: Benoit Pouliot Buyout (4 years, 1.3 million cap hit per season)

This was the straw that broke Soups back…or something like that.  I texted one of my buddies after this and flat out said: “I’m done with this fuck” or something to that effect.  He did nothing with the savings (Jussi Jokinen could have been signed without the buyout).  But that aside, Pouliot was still capable of being a top-nine forward and even if he had gone to shit during that season you could have simply put him on waivers and buy him out after that season, which would have saved you a year on the buyout.  AKA, the Pouliot buyout wouldn’t still be on the books this upcoming off-season.  Sure would be nice to have an extra 1.3 million…

 

August 16, 2017: Leon Draisaitl signing, 8 years, 68 million (8.5 million cap hit per season)

YEP!  This at least gets an honourable mention.  One of the best bargain contracts in the NHL at this moment still gets a shoutout.  How in the hell does that happen?!  I’m certain you’re asking that question.  It is pretty damn easy for me why.  As good as that contract currently is, it was still easily…EASILY…a million per season of an overpay by Chiarelli, and it can be argued that it’s as much as 1.5 million per season.  Look at that date too.  Chiarelli wasn’t close to a pressure point yet of needing to get Draisaitl signed and get him into camp.

 

January 4, 2018: 4th round (conditional) pick in 2018 NHL Draft for Al Montoya

He traded a conditional 5th round pick, which with ease turned into a 4th, for a backup goaltender.  Ok, that’s not so bad.  Cam Talbot desperately needed someone who could take starts from him at the time.  So why was this such a bad decision?  Oh, because when the trigger was finally pulled on this deal, the Edmonton Oilers were out of the race for the 2018 post-season.  They so obviously, and desperately needed a backup that Todd McLellan would trust and play from the start of the season.  McLellan showed zero faith in Laurent Brossoit and in turn, Laurent Brossoit was awful playing for Todd McLellan.  A good GM would recognize this very early in the season and address the issue, but as we know Peter Chiarelli was far from a good GM…

 

10. February 18, 2011: Blake Wheeler and Mark Stuart for Rich Peverley and Boris Valabik

While there are four players in this deal, the main parts were Wheeler and Peverley.  This was the first of his questionable decisions, back when we all believed he was pretty competent.  But even at the time, I remember thinking “Wheeler was awesome as a rookie for them, why would they give up on him for a guy like Peverly?!”  Not that Rich Peverley was NOTHING, but he sure wasn’t a big addition to that Bruins team.  Some would say “well it worked because the Bruins won the Cup”.  Yeah…something tells me that they could have won the Cup with Wheeler instead of Peverley…

 

9. June 21, 2018: Eric Gryba Buyout (2 years, 300K cap hit per season)

WHAT……….IN THE BLOODY FUCK……….WAS……….THE FUCKING………. POINT……….?  Chiarelli here decides that while he is already up against the cap to push his team even further against the cap by buying out Eric Gryba who would have been $0.00 against the cap by simply spending the season in the AHL.  It was 300K against the cap and I very vividly recall Bob Stauffer laughing on air one day that some people were upset about this.  Sure, it’s not much of a dent in the cap.  But there are two things: A) it further showed the incompetence of Chiarelli, and B) they were so tight to the cap that they shouldn’t have been doing something they didn’t have to like putting 300K towards it when they don’t have to.  This decision doesn’t rank high (if at all) in terms of impact, but the sheer stupidity of it is off the charts!

 

8. June 23, 2018: 5th Round pick for Hayden Hawkey

This one flew under the radar for most people, but it sure drew my ire!  He moved a 5th round pick for a goaltender entering his senior season in college and then didn’t sign him.  WHAT?!?!  So you blindly gave up a 5th round pick, with no conditions on it at all, for a goaltender he didn’t know if he could sign, or if he’d have room on the roster for him if he did want to sign him.  Holy FUCK.  If he was so eager to get Hawkey’s rights, why wouldn’t the deal have at least been a 7th that turns into a 5th if they sign him?!  I don’t know how much I can type the words “mind-blowing”, but we’re going to find out!

 

7. February 28, 2017: Brandon Davidson for David Desharnais

Do you remember the logic behind this?  “We have to move Davidson, otherwise we’ll lose him in the expansion draft”.  So, instead of losing one asset for nothing, he lost two.  It’s as though he believed that if he gave up Davidson for an asset that he was set to lose (David Desharnais) then Vegas couldn’t take another player from his organization.  Instead, he cleared the path for Vegas to take a player they had invested the equivalent of two 1st round picks in (given the quality of that draft), while also hurting the depth of the Oilers blueline, for a very minor upgrade that they likely could have acquired (or got someone similar) for a mid-round pick.  That is QUITE the logic by Pete.  I am well aware of the goal that David Desharnais scored for the Oilers in game 5 of the 2017 series vs San Jose.  I also am well aware of the fact that the ice time would have gone to another player in that spot who likely also could have scored that goal.  Desharnais outside of that solid game in game 5 (also set up the tying goal) wasn’t much of an addition for the Oilers, and when the blueline got beatdown in the next series against Anaheim they sure could have used a guy like Davidson to step in.

 

6. November 16, 2018: Ryan Strome for Ryan Spooner

Strome for Eberle is surprisingly sneaky good, but this is where he should be crucified.  In fairness, I thought it was actually a good move at the time.  The career numbers suggested it was a solid move, which is why perhaps I have this lower in my rankings than most would.  But this was such a disaster.  The icing on the cake was that Strome was tight with McDavid, and Spooner from everything I’ve heard (this could be wrong so don’t hold me to it) was pretty immature and not well-liked in the room.  While Strome has been a home run in Manhattan, Spooner was bought out by the Canucks after the 18-19 season and played this past season in Europe (and didn’t even stick with one team or even one league over there).

 

5. December 30, 2018: Drake Caggiula and Jason Garrison for Brandon Manning and Robin Norell

This one was more obviously worse from the get-go.  The final trade as the Oilers GM, and likely as an NHL GM.  Little Petey thought that it would be a good move to shed one of the fastest forwards on the roster, a roster which severely lacked speed, and one of his franchise players best friends on the team, for a defenceman who in no way whatsoever was a need, and was notorious for not only being the player to break Connor McDavid’s clavicle but then getting into it with McDavid the next time the two played.  To top all this off, his roster that was already rubbing up against the cap added 750K to it, and another year at 2.25 million.  That man was SOMETHING ELSE.

 

4. January 21, 2019: Mikko Koskinen extension

This one is very similar to the Draisaitl contract.  It’s not so bad NOW, but he drastically overpays for a player for no reason whatsoever.  Koskinen was already digressing after a hot start, and Chiarelli gave him 1.5-2 million more per season than he was worth at the time, and as we found out that value would continue to fall as the season wore on, to the point where people were openly asking whether or not the Oilers should buy him out of the deal before it begins (which they couldn’t have unless they had a player going to arbitration which opens up a 2nd buyout window after July 1st).  He didn’t just give Koskinen 4.5 per, he also added a modified no-trade clause.  Because simply just overpaying players wasn’t enough for Peter.

 

3. June 29, 2016: Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson

Some, maybe most, would have this higher on their list than I do.  I have always at least been able to see some logic in this one.  Don’t get me wrong, nobody in their right mind should ever have believed that this trade was worth doing one for one (as Bob McKenzie for some reason loves to constantly remind us of…I’d hate him if he weren’t the best).  They saved nearly two million in cap space, got an extra year on the deal coming back than the one going out, got a specific need, and in 2016 it looked as though Larsson was just beginning to grow as a player rather than having already maxed out.  I also did somewhat understand the logic behind “making it McDavid’s team”.  Having said all this, again I want to make it extremely clear that I wouldn’t have even given this deal a thought.  I would have done it perhaps if Jersey had kicked in a 1st round pick and another prospect (remember too, Jersey’s 1st in 2017 ended up being 1st overall).  There was a big need for the organization at the time to rebuild their system as the entire time to that point which they had been rebuilding, they still had next to nothing in the system.  But not a FREAKING CHANCE would I have even considered this one for one.  My man Pete sure did though.

 

2. July 4, 2013: Tyler Seguin, Rich Peverley and Ryan Button for Loui Eriksson, Joe Morrow, Reilly Smith and Matt Fraser

This is what they were willing to put on camera, who the hell knows what the real conversation was.  Just like Hall, it’s not that they dealt him.  I’m not a huge Tyler Seguin fan and wasn’t at that time so I understand their frustrations.  But it’s that they simply made up their minds on trading him rather than making sure they could get the right deal rather than simply taking the best deal.  That seems to be the pattern with Chiarelli.  He makes up his mind on a player, and if he’s made up his mind that he no longer wants the player, then he’ll just take whatever the best deal is for him.  Even if you go back to that time, I can pull out all the positives and make it sound as good as possible.  Loui Eriksson was one hell of a two way forward.  Joe Morrow was still a decent prospect.  Reilly Smith looked like he had top nine, perhaps top-six potential.  Matt Fraser was…not much.  But he got three respectable pieces.  And Seguin was not only pure trash in the 2013 playoffs, but there were also rumours EVERYWHERE that he was a complete shit show off the ice.  Having said this, you’re still giving up a 21 year old kid who not only has franchise centre potential but at times Seguin had lived up to that potential just three years into his career.  Add to that, you also move out the guy that you just traded Blake freaking Wheeler for in Rich Peverly in the deal.  So he essentially gave up Seguin and Wheeler for three average pieces.  Three pieces/players who can be signed every summer in free agency.  Even with what Eriksson was, he still wasn’t worthy of being the key piece to fetch a potential franchise centre.  It was a very bad trade at the time that got so very much worse as time went on, much like the Hall/Larsson swap.

 

1. June 26, 2015: 16th and 33rd overall picks in the 2015 NHL Draft for Griffin Reinhart

This is the one I tweaked about more than any other because I knew what they were giving up, and I knew the value on what they got back had greatly diminished.  It wasn’t that I had a hate on for Griffin Reinhart, but to give up the 16th and 33rd picks in a draft that was being compared to the 2003 draft (and five years after the fact it has lived up to that billing) for a prospect who was scuffling and his organization had clearly soured on him was as foolish as it gets.  Mat Barzal is the one that always gets pointed to as who they passed on, but Ilya Samsonov WOULD have made sense and SHOULD have been a target for the Oilers, Kyle Connor, Thomas Chabot, Brock Boeser, Travis Konecny was one of my favourites in that draft, even the guy who it is rumoured they would have taken…Joel Eriksson Ek would have been a much wiser play.  And when you look at Eriksson Ek, one thing you have to keep in mind is that the Minnesota Wild rushed him and messed up his development.  And even then, he seems to now be progressing.  None of the players I mentioned were guys who look good in hindsight.  They were all very serious contenders to go in that range and perfect fits for the Oilers needs at the time.  The other side of this coin that drives me nuts isn’t even that Reinhart didn’t pan out, nor is it that they lost him in the expansion draft.  The thing that drives me insane still to this day is that he was NOTHING of a need!!!  The left side of the blueline moving forward was fine!  They had two kids in Klefbom and Nurse who were progressing very nicely at that point.  Brandon Davidson was a solid prospect at that point, at least as good as Reinhart at that time.  It was mind-blowing.  Now, you might have it further down on your list because it is highly unlikely that Chiarelli had done any of the leg work to make this deal happen, and I understand that logic.  I even subscribed to it for a long time.  But he was still in charge and still greenlit the deal.  He had the power to tell the guys who were still around who believed everyone on the 12-14 Oil Kings were going to the hall of fame that they weren’t, and he didn’t.

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Edmonton Oilers Top 20 Prospects – March, 2020

Well…what else is there to do right now?  Not a heck of a lot.  But I have some blogs in the vault that I had been working on, and after a few days of depression and sitting around thinking “what the fuck?!”, I’ve now gotten back on track.  Did a podcast last week, looking to put out some of the blogs I had started (such as this one), maybe try some different blogs, maybe knock out some different podcasts, and we’ll see how this goes!  HOPEFULLY, no matter what I put out for content, it’s entertaining and helps people pass the time.

 

Oh how things have changed since the last time around!  Three players have graduated from the list, unfortunately another damn good one from the last list has been lost, and therefore the list definitely isn’t near as strong as it was.  Having said that, the top end is still strong, and their is still ridiculous potential with the group I speak of in this list.

 

As for how I rank them, it’s no doubt a bit of a juggling act.  I place a much higher value on potential then how close someone is or isn’t to playing with the big club.  For example, William Lagesson is nearly a lock to being their number seven defenceman for the 20-21 season, but the upside is severely lacking.  So for me, that isn’t going to fetch him a high ranking on my list as that type of player is a dime a dozen.  Having said that, a certainty can have more value than someone who is still multiple years away from playing.  So it can be confusing how I rank them, but

 

With my last list in my honourable mentions, I mostly discussed the kids who had just been drafted by the club and didn’t make the top 20.  This time around I picked five guys (best burger joint on the planet) who have questionable futures with the organization.

 

The first time I did my own Oilers prospect rankings was just days after they were eliminated by the Anaheim Ducks in the 2017 playoffs.  That was the only list I did that didn’t have Kailer Yamamoto on it.  The other thing was it had a couple of defencemen ranked 2nd and 3rd who after watching their WHL careers unfold I seemed to be much higher on than most were.  Now I get to rave about how all three have graduated to the big club.

 

Graduated

Ethan Bear

Phenomenal rookie season.  Absolutely phenomenal.  I’ve said this before this season, but it still baffles me how people were so shocked at his emergence this season.  He fell as far as 8th in the last rankings I did, but he never fell because I soured on him.  I always maintained that if he cleaned up his skating that he’d be a top-four defenceman, and if he didn’t then he could still be a bottom pairing guy.  I won’t go as far as to say that I saw this coming THIS season, but it definitely didn’t shock me.  His emergence might have been the biggest reason for the turnaround.  Far from the only reason, but had Bear not stepped up, the blueline would have been THIN.

 

Caleb Jones

As great as Bear was this season, I still wonder though if Jones will end up being the better defenceman.  Not that I see it being a big gap between the two either way, but Jones skating is so terrific, and I don’t believe we’ve truly seen what Jones can do offensively yet.  He became more and more comfortable as the season went on, and by the time Klefbom went down he was more than ready for a top-four role.  That is so key for this organization, as now if they need to protect 7/3 in next year’s expansion draft rather than 4/4, they can move a big-time guy like Klefbom or Nurse out and still be in great shape.

 

Kailer Yamamoto

I’m not sure fans understand exactly what the Oilers just might have with Yamamoto.  We might be talking about this kid before too long in the same breathe as McDavid and Draisaitl.  Not that he is going to be a 100 point guy, that would be absurd!  But that he has the ability to carry his own line and dominate a hockey game if need be.  He has the speed, skill, and the compete level to become a high-end player in the league.  It took him longer to establish himself than I believed it would (though only by a season), and now that he has, he’s proving he’s the goods.  The focus of a lot of Oilers fans moving forward is what a contract extension for Ethan Bear will look like.  Well for Yamamoto (would have been July 1st, but who knows when the new league year will begin at this point), he is eligible for an extension and if I’m Ken Holland I’m looking to do as many years as I possibly can to ensure Oilers fans see all of this kids prime.

 

Hounourable Mention

Jesse Puljujärvi

Team: Kärpät  League: Liiga

Pos: RW  Ht: 6’4  Wt: 201  Shot: R

2020 StatsGP: 56  G: 24  A: 29  P: 53

DOB: 05/07/98, Älvkarleby, SWE

Acquired: 1st Round, 4th Overall, 2016 Draft

Previous Rank: NR

The first of two where I ask: are they prospects?!  We all know the story, he says he’s never coming back to the Oilers, and Ken Holland isn’t going to move him unless he gets a great offer.  I laugh at the “threat” that he’ll stay for another year in Finland.  AWESOME!!!  I was saying last year at this time (before he even asked for a trade), that the best-case scenario for Puljujärvi would be that he goes overseas for two years to develop.  This is not hurting him in the slightest.  It’s not hurting his game or his value.  For me, if I’m Ken Holland, I wait until he’s willing to return because I have always seen him as a kid with massive talent who will eventually put it all together.  I’m not saying I expect him to become the star I once believed he’d be, but a top-six player definitely isn’t out the question given he’s still doesn’t hit 22 until May 7th.  He needs to fire his agent in my opinion, and he needs to mature.  After next season I would suggest that the pressure could begin to mount to move him, but I don’t believe it’s this off-season and I don’t believe Holland will move him just to be done with it.  That’s not his style.

ETA: Early 21-22

 

Anton Slepyshev

Team: CSKA Moskva  League: KHL

Pos: RW  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 194  Shot: R

2020 StatsGP: 54  G: 18  A: 27  P: 45

DOB: 05/13/94, Penza, RUS

Acquired: 3rd Round, 88th Overall, 2013 Draft

Previous Rank: NR

The second of two who I’m not sure whether or not they could be referred to as prospects.  Unlike Puljujärvi however, it really sounds for sure that Slepyshev will be back with the Oilers next season.  The problem I could see though is where exactly he fits in the lineup.  At this point, it looks as though everyone they currently have up front will return.  Still, Slepyshev is capable of being a very solid top-nine forward for this club.  This time around, he’ll have a head coach who isn’t looking for any reason possible to pull him from a line or completely out of the lineup…

ETA: Early 20-21

 

Joe Gambardella

Team: Bakersfield  League: AHL

Pos: LW  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 201  Shot: L

2020 StatsGP: 50  G: 14  A: 14  P: 28

DOB: 12/01/93, Staten Island, NY

Acquired: Free Agent, Signed March 28th, 2017

Previous Rank: 14

Ken Holland increased the depth of the Oilers dramatically last off-season simply by bringing in a lot of fringe NHL players.  What that did was essentially make a guy like Gambardella strictly an AHL player.  His struggles this season MIGHT be the result of a guy who lost some of his passion to play given that he is now 26 years old and the NHL is looking more and more like a pipe dream after getting into 15 games last season.  I’ve always felt like he’s had the tools to be a role player in the league.  Great wheels, plays with a ton of passion, doesn’t shy away from the dirty area’s, it still wouldn’t surprise me if he ended up spending some time in the show at some point.  But even with a year left on his contract, it sure doesn’t look like that’ll be with the Oilers.

ETA: Mid 20-21

 

Josh Currie

Team: Bakersfield  League: AHL

Pos: RW  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 190  Shot: R

2020 StatsGP: 56  G: 24  A: 17  P: 41

DOB: 10/29/92, Charlottetown, PE

Acquired: Free Agent, Signed July 19th, 2018

Previous Rank: NR

I can’t see Currie re-signing (his deal is up this off-season).  After getting into 21 games down the stretch in the 18-19 season, he became an afterthought for the new brass.  Perhaps he resigns himself to the thought that he simply sign an AHL deal and stay in Bakersfield.  But if he still has NHL aspirations, then he’ll be looking for a new home as time is running out for him.  If this is it for Currie, it’ll be a big loss for the Condors as he has carried them offensively for the last few seasons.

ETA: Early 20-21

 

Shane Starrett

Team: Bakersfield  League: AHL

Pos: G  Ht: 6’5  Wt: 194  Glove: L

2020 StatsGP: 14  GAA: 3.63  Sv%: .874

DOB: 07/12/94, Bellingham, MA

Acquired: Free Agent, Signed April 10th, 2017

Previous Rank: NR

It’s very possible that Starrett has played his final game for the Oilers organization.  He is a group VI (6 for those who don’t do Roman numerals, I don’t know why they always are but I don’t want to look any dumber than I already am) free agent this summer, Olivier Rodrigue will be entering pro hockey and need starts, Dylan Wells still has a year left on his ELC, and of course, Stuart Skinner does as well.  Not much room for Starrett, who after a terrific 18-19 regular season, started to fall off in those playoffs, and then injuries really have taken their toll on his performance this season.  Personally, I’m not too high on Starrett.  In my viewings, he is a guy who blocks pucks but can’t make saves.  This is something I’ve talked a lot about in the past with goaltenders.  Having size and being positionally sound is great, but I still need to see that a guy has the athleticism to make a big save and I’ve never seen that with Starrett.  Beyond that, it is much more vital to be giving starts to the younger guys which of course is difficult to do with Starrett in the fold.

ETA: Early 21-22

 

I hope you enjoyed the appetizers, and now for the main course…

 

20. Matej Blümel

Team: HC Dynamo Pardubice   League: Czech

Pos: LW  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 198  Shot: L

2020 StatsGP: 31  G: 4  A: 1  P: 5

DOB: 05/31/00, Tabor, CZE

Acquired: 4th Round, 100th Overall, 2019 Draft

Previous Rank: HM

There is nothing that stands out with Blümel, but everything checks out as ok at this point.  He is a solid skater, good size, and he is pretty skilled.  Obviously playing in Pardubice this season it is much tougher to gauge his skill, but at the WJC we all had a good look at him.  It was a BIT of a disappointing performance for him, but it became a bit of a mess with the Czech team with all their injuries.  What I did like is that he saw a lot of tough minutes, and I believe that is how he is going to get the attention of the organization moving forward.  As I said, nothing stands out but he does everything well so if he can develop his 200-foot game then he will have that special trait he will need.  The beauty of his situation is that the Oilers have a while before a decision is needed on whether or not to sign him.

ETA: Mid 23-24

 

19. Markus Niemeläinen

Team: Ässät  League: Liiga

Pos: LD  Ht: 6’6  Wt: 190  Shot: L

2020 StatsGP: 55  G: 1  A: 6  P: 7

DOB: 06/08/98, Kuopio, FIN

Acquired: 3rd Round, 63rd Overall, 2016 Draft

Previous Rank: NR

Niemeläinen is one of those guys who just MIGHT still surprise us, simply because the ability is so ridiculous.  Not just the size, but he has always had people intrigued because he can also skate extremely well for that size, and he also moves the puck well.  He has never shown any interest in becoming a two-way defenceman as many desired him to be, but he has always been solid in his own zone.  And the thing with this club is that they are now getting to a point where they will have plenty of offensive production coming from the blueline.  They might need a shutdown guy as Niemeläinen has more than enough potential still to become.  This is the final chance they have to sign him (becomes a UFA June 1st), so it’ll be interesting to see whether or not they do so.

ETA: Mid 21-22

 

18. Ostap Safin

Team: Wichita  League: ECHL

Pos: RW  Ht: 6’5  Wt: 205  Shot: L

2020 StatsGP: 54  G: 16  A: 19  P: 35

DOB: 02/11/99, Praha, CZE

Acquired: 4th Round, 115th Overall, 2017 Draft

Previous Rank: HM

Some…maybe most, will have given up on Safin.  And I get it.  A) the Oilers prospect depth isn’t what it was thanks to the kids who have graduated this season.  B) he’s still just a season removed from his hip issues.  C) the size, skating, and edge combination with this kid is worth investing time in.  Even if Safin only becomes a 4th line player, he would still be a 4th line guy with size who can really skate and punish the opposition.  Last year wasn’t pretty, and this season putting up average numbers in the ECHL doesn’t inspire much.  But I have to see a healthy season out of him in the AHL before I’m ready to write him off because there is just too much to work with here.

ETA: Mid 22-23

 

17. Aapeli Räsänen

Team: Boston College  League: NCAA

Pos: C  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 207  Shot: R

2020 StatsGP: 34  G: 11  A: 13  P: 24

DOB: 06/01/98, Tampere, FIN

Acquired: 6th Round, 158th Overall, 2016 Draft

Previous Rank: NR

Back, and better than ever!  Räsänen was a kid who I was pretty high on prior to last season.  And then last season was…horrific.  He went from being a kid who was a no-brainer to sign to a kid who there was no way you’d waste a contract on.  Now he’s back on the radar, but with a regime in place that didn’t draft him.  It’ll be interesting to see if A) they attempt to sign him and B) if he’s willing to sign with the Oilers as he will become a free agent next summer.  The Oilers could really use another centre in the system as some may argue they don’t have one coming (McLeod might be better suited for the wing, Lavoie is likely a winger in the pros, and Marody had an awful season).  I don’t see Räsänen as anything more than a 4C (always compared him to Mark Letestu), but a 4C who can be thrown on the ice in any situation is a pretty damn valuable piece to have.

ETA: Mid 21-22

 

16. Tomas Mazura

Team: Kimball Union  League: USHS

Pos: C  Ht: 6’4  Wt: 190  Shot: L

2020 StatsGP: 35  G: 13  A: 60  P: 73

DOB: 09/23/00, Pardubice, CZE

Acquired: 6th Round, 162nd Overall, 2019 Draft

Previous Rank: HM

It’s funny, in doing this write-up about Mazura the thought started to run through my mind “this situation reminds me a lot of Mark Jankowski” before I even realized that Jankowski went to Providence college…where Mazura is going this fall.  A total project, but one that has me overly intrigued.  Mazura is an EXTREMELY likable kid.  If you recall at last year’s development camp he held court with the media, and basically just had a conversation with all of them as if he’d been around them for years.  If you don’t recall that, click here to see it.  Most kids at that age will give the media the standard answers they’re coached to give by the teams PR people and get the hell out of there.  Mazura loved every minute of it and could have talked all day!  Then you have the size.  Last summer he was listed at 6’2, 170lbs.  Now (as you can see) it’s 6’4, 190.  And the kid is still RAIL thin.  It’s that size combined with his very solid skating ability and vision that has me giddy about what he could be.  But again, he’s a total project and a total project means that he’s still a long way away.  He has yet to truly be tested, but that will change this fall.  High IQ, great size, great skater, tough to bet against this kid becoming a player someday.

ETA: Early 24-25

 

15. Dylan Wells

Team: Bakersfield  League: AHL

Pos: G  Ht: 6’2  Wt: 190  Glove: L

2020 StatsGP: 7  GAA: 3.77  Sv%: .878

DOB: 01/03/98, St. Catharines, ON

Acquired: 5th Round, 123rd Overall, 2016 Draft

Previous Rank: 19

A very disappointing season for Wells, but I can’t help but wonder if it’s a result of an organization showing absolutely zero faith in the kid?  I’ll tell you, one of the most bizarre situations this season has been the organization giving Stuart Skinner ample opportunity when Shane Starrett went down and giving next to none for Dylan Wells, despite the fact that Wells had nearly identical numbers to Skinner’s.  This happened last year in the playoffs too when Wells played tremendous in game two of Bakersfield’s 2nd round series vs San Diego, and then never dressed again in the series.  The only thing I can point to as to why this might be is that Keith Gretzky was responsible for drafting Skinner, and Wells wasn’t his pick.  Other than that, I don’t understand why they prefer Skinner so much to Wells.  Nevertheless, Wells is still a kid who has a lot of talent and has flashed that talent on numerous occasions, it’s just a matter of finding consistency.  It’ll be make or break for Wells next season, the final year of his ELC.

ETA: Early 22-23

 

14. Ilya Konovalov

Team: Lokomotiv Yaroslavl  League: KHL

Pos: G  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 196  Glove: L

2020 StatsGP: 40  GAA: 2.45  Sv%: .912

DOB: 07/13/98, Yaroslavl, RUS

Acquired: 3rd Round, 85th Overall, 2019 Draft

Previous Rank:17

What looked like a draft day heist by the Oilers quickly started to look like a draft day bust playing for Craig MacTavish to start the season as Konovalov’s numbers took a massive dip, and even after MacTavish was shown the door Konovalov’s numbers never recovered and quite frankly it was a disaster of a season.  The numbers were really the only big reason to get excited about Konovalov, as the size is very questionable for an NHL goaltender.  And those numbers that were so disappointing this season, were even worse in the playoffs wherein five games Konovalov had just a G.A.A. of 3.64 and a Sv% of .888.  No doubt that he has the quickness needed for a sub 6’0 goaltender, and I love how technically sound he is and how he tracks the puck in my viewings.  But it was definitely a season to forget, and now we’ll see how he rebounds.

ETA: Early 22-23

 

13. Filip Berglund

Team: Skellefteå  League: SHL

Pos: RD  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 209  Shot: R

2020 StatsGP: 52  G: 5  A: 15  P: 20

DOB: 5/10/97, Skellefteå, SWE

Acquired: 3rd round, 91st overall, 2016 draft

Previous Rank: 15

Joel Persson out, Filip Berglund in?  That could be the case this fall in Bakersfield as a decision needs to be made on Berglund.  Like Niemeläinen, Berglund needs to be signed by June 1st or else the Oilers will lose his rights.  From what I’ve seen, Berglund is the much more important and the much more polished of the two defencemen.  Like the aforementioned Persson, Berglund isn’t the best skater.  Unlike Persson, he plays more of a stay at home style similar to Adam Larsson (I’m far from the first to make that comparison).  He does show a bit of offensive ability in his game and does move the puck well, but it’ll be his defensive game that will potentially be his ticket to play in the show.

ETA: Late 20-21

 

12. Cooper Marody

Team: Bakersfield  League: AHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 194  Shot: R

2020 StatsGP: 30  G: 5  A: 12  P: 17

DOB: 12/20/96, Brighton, MI

Acquired: Trade with Philadelphia, March 21st, 2018

Previous Rank: 11

It is pretty depressing for me how this season went for Marody.  This time last year, this kid was trending towards making the team before too long.  A dirty hit and a concussion later, and Marody all of a sudden is a shell of what he once was and there are rumours that he has lost the passion he once had for the game.  When he’s right, this guy has terrific skill and vision, and much like Tyler Benson or formerly Ethan Bear, his skating was the only question mark he had.  Perhaps this time away will serve him better than anyone.  A chance to get healthy, perhaps get in a better frame of mind, and with that possibly gets his career back on track.

ETA: Mid 20-21

 

11. William Lagesson

Team: Bakersfield  League: AHL

Pos: LD  Ht: 6’2  Wt: 207  Shot: L

2020 StatsGP: 25  G: 3  A: 7  P: 10

DOB: 02/22/96, Göteborg, SWE

Acquired: 4th Round, 91st Overall, 2014 Draft

Previous Rank: 13

It’s tough to imagine that Lagesson can become anything more than he has at this point.  He really has maxed out his ability just getting to the cusp of the NHL as he has.  But having said this, he is still the likely candidate to be the team’s number seven defenceman next season and he is very capable of filling that role.  The skating ability is just average, which is the biggest issue he’s facing, and the way he skates it’ll be very difficult to improve it.  We have yet to see “his game” at the NHL level though.  When he’s right, he can play a nasty/in your face physical game.  And he moves it very well for a stay at home type.  But again, tough to imagine him being more than a 6/7 at this point.

ETA: Early 20-21

 

10. Olivier Rodrigue

Team: Moncton  League: QMJHL

Pos: G  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 159  Glove: L

2020 StatsGP: 39  GAA: 2.32  Sv%: .918

DOB: 07/06/00, Chicoutimi, QC

Acquired: 2nd Round, 62nd Overall, 2018 Draft

Previous Rank: 20

It’s ironic.  When Rodrigue was selected as the 3rd goaltender for Team Canada for the 2020 WJC, he wasn’t playing that well.  I can’t recall the exact numbers, but his Sv% was around .905.  Bob Stauffer blindly ranked him 5th in the organization just because he made Team Canada.  And then of course when Nigel Dawes falter in Canada’s goal, Rodrigue still didn’t even get a look.  He wasn’t already a bust, but he was a pretty big disappointment to that point.  Once he returned though, his game took off and Rodrigue ended the season with the 2nd best Sv% in the QMJHL (minimum 20 games played).  He has the ability to make it, all the raw ability in the world.  But at his size, it is imperative that he is nearly perfect technically.  Rodrigue will likely spend next season with Wichita in the ECHL where he will get the starts he needs, and we’ll see what happens.  The door could be open to get some starts in Bakersfield with Starrett likely out the door and the organization showing next to no faith in Wells.

ETA: Early 23-24

 

9. Stuart Skinner

Team: Bakersfield  League: AHL

Pos: G  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 203  Glove: L

2020 StatsGP: 41  GAA: 3.31  Sv%: .892

DOB: 11/01/98, Edmonton, AB

Acquired: 3rd Round, 78th Overall, 2017 Draft

Previous Rank: 18

I don’t know if he’s a stud prospect, but he sure is getting every opportunity possible to be one!  Clearly the favourite of the Oilers brass, he did show flashes of becoming that stud goaltending prospect the Oilers have lacked since Devan Dubnyk was in the system (and Dubnyk never looked like he’d be much while in the AHL).  If I remember correctly, he went on a 10-15 game run where his Sv% was around .915.  I apologize that I can’t recall the exact numbers, but it was a good stretch nonetheless.  You could argue that Skinner is the organization’s most important prospect, with none of the other goaltenders showing much promise this season, and no long term answer anywhere in the organization at the moment.  Skinner is the closest thing to it.

ETA: Early 21-22

 

8. Philip Kemp

Team: Yale  League: NCAA

Pos: RD  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 203  Shot: R

2020 StatsGP: 32  G: 3  A: 8  P: 11

DOB: 02/12/99, Greenwich, CT

Acquired: 7th Round, 208th Overall, 2017 Draft

Previous Rank: 16

He’s a forgotten prospect at this point.  But he will be an important one IF he signs with the team.  Straight up, I doubt he will.  American kid, so close to free agency, I bet he is dealt this off-season, which sucks.  However, should he stay and sign he would be the top prospect on the right side beginning next season (obviously in saying that, I’m assuming Bouchard will be on the big club).  Kemp is nothing flashy, but he skates well and is a terrific defender.  He’s very similar to Matt Benning, although I wouldn’t say he’s as physical as Benning is.

ETA: Late 22-23

 

7. Ryan McLeod

Team: Bakersfield  League: AHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 201  Shot: L

2020 StatsGP: 56  G: 5  A: 18  P: 23

DOB: 09/21/99, Mississauga, ON

Acquired: 2nd Round, 40th Overall, 2018 Draft

Previous Rank: 9

When we are looking at the most important prospects in the Oilers organization, McLeod is right near the top of the list.  The big question for me is whether or not he can play the middle.  If he CAN, he’s a vital piece for an organization with a severe lack of depth down the middle.  Potentially the 3C this organization has been looking for.  The talent is there for McLeod to be that guy.  Outstanding skating ability with great vision and a very solid 200-foot game.  He has the raw tools to be not just a 3C but a damn good 2C.  But he plays on the perimeter and shies away from playing in traffic.  If he’s only going to be a winger, I believe he can be a top-nine winger starting next fall.  But the organization needs more from him, and if he delivers it would be massive.

ETA: Late 20-21

 

6. Dmitri Samorukov

Team: Bakersfield  League: AHL

Pos: LD  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 196  Shot: L

2020 StatsGP: 47  G: 2  A: 8  P: 10

DOB: 06/16/99, Volgograd, RUS

Acquired: 3rd Round, 84th Overall, 2017 Draft

Previous Rank: 7

He is a pretty important prospect.  Perhaps more than most realize at this point.  The reason for this is the plan they clearly have in place with the expansion draft in 15 months.  At this point, it looks like a lock that they’ll keep seven forwards and three defencemen, meaning that they’ll either be trading or simply losing an LHD (Klefbom, Nurse, or Jones).  When that happens (and obviously I’m guessing here), the organization is hopeful that one of their young defencemen is ready to make the jump to the bottom pair.  Most will suggest that prospect is Broberg.  But in my opinion, Broberg needs more time than just next season.  Samorukov, on the other hand, could be ready with another year in Bakersfield.  Barring Broberg coming over, Samorukov will be the star prospect on the Bakersfield blueline as Bouchard will likely make the jump to the Oilers.  That means he should be in line for a ton of opportunity and a chance for his game to take a major leap forward.  The skating, puck-moving, size, and physicality is all there with Samorukov.  Definitely top-four potential.

ETA: Early 21-22

 

5. Raphaël Lavoie

Team: Chicoutimi  League: QMJHL

Pos: RW  Ht: 6’4  Wt: 199  Shot: R

2020 Stats – GP: 55  G: 38  A: 44  P: 82

DOB: 09/25/00, Chambly, QC

Acquired: 2nd Round, 38th Overall, 2019 Draft

Previous Rank: 10

Freshly signed to his ELC, it’ll kick in at the start of next season and he will likely burn at minimum one year of it in Bakersfield.  What really made me sit up and take notice of Lavoie this season was his performance at the World Juniors.  Yes, he played very well, but it was what he excelled at which made me excited.  Dale Hunter had him in a 4th line checking role, and he was tremendous.  That showed me that this is a kid who isn’t going to let his ego get in the way, and is willing to play any role asked of him which is exactly the type of guy who will thrive playing for Dave Tippett.  We already knew he had good size, was a decent skater, and had a hell of a shot.  Thinking down the road with him, you give him next season to develop in Bakersfield, and then a spot opens up in the bottom six with Chiasson’s deal being up.  That’s a long way to go and a ton can and will change, but as of writing this that is the scenario I could see playing out.

ETA: Early 21-22

 

4. Kirill Maksimov

Team: Bakersfield  League: AHL

Pos: RW  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 207  Shot: R

2020 StatsGP: 53  G: 5  A: 8  P: 13

DOB: 06/01/99, Moskva, RUS

Acquired: 5th Round, 146th Overall, 2017 Draft

Previous Rank: 6

The stats look extremely underwhelming.  So why is he still this high on my list?  If you know anything about Bakersfield this season, you know A) their season was a MASSIVE disappointment, and B) there was hardly any opportunity for Maksimov with so many AHL vets and NHL players on the squad this season.  Then on top of that, Benson, Marody, and until the new year Yamamoto were all ahead of him as well so it was next to impossible for Maksimov to get top nine minutes, let alone produce.  The fact of the matter is this kid is continually showing good improvement in his skating ability and play away from the puck, and obviously he still possesses very good size and an amazing shot.  Todd McLellan had a very obvious bias against European kids, and Jay Woodcroft was McLellan’s right-hand man for so many years.  That’s a big concern for me with Maksimov as he received such little opportunity this season.  That needs to change next fall because this is in my mind is one of the most important prospects in the pipeline, one of the most talented prospects in the pipeline, and by all accounts a very hard-working kid as well.

ETA: Late 20-21

 

3. Tyler Benson

Team: Bakersfield  League: AHL

Pos: LW  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 192  Shot: L

2020 StatsGP: 47  G: 9  A: 27  P: 36

DOB: 03/15/98, Edmonton, AB

Acquired: 2nd Round, 32nd Overall, 2016 Draft

Previous Rank: 5

He’s right there.  He looked better in his second stint (although he really never left) than in his first, and he will have the summer to work more on his foot and edge work.  His speed is fine, it’s funny how many good observers confuse speed with pace of play.  Pace of play is something that will come for a kid with elite hockey sense and Benson has that.  But he’ll have to work hard to gain traction with the big club, not because he can’t play in the league, but all of a sudden they’re pretty deep up front.  By now, you all know Benson’s game.  Extremely high IQ and terrific playmaker who is often on the right side of the puck and good along the wall and down low.  Just like Ethan Bear at this time last year, it’s all about the skating.  If it doesn’t develop further, he will play in the league, but probably only as a fringe top-six winger.  If he can clean it up though, he’s a stud.

ETA: Early 20-21

 

2. Philip Broberg

Team: Skellefteå  League: SHL

Pos: LD  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 203  Shot: L

2020 StatsGP: 45  G: 1  A: 7  P: 8

DOB: 06/25/01, Örebro, SWE

Acquired: 1st Round, 8th Overall, 2019 Draft

Previous Rank: 2

The potential is enormous.  But I can’t stress enough that the Oilers need to take their time with him.  Right now, if I’m projecting, he’s Jay Bouwmeester 2.0 (and yes I know I’m not the only guy to suggest that).  But he has the tools to become a complete defenceman.  I can’t help but wonder if he wouldn’t have been better off playing in the OHL this season (I believe Hamilton owned his rights) and playing against kids his own age where he’d perhaps be able to work more on his game rather than just look to keep his head above water playing for Skellefteå.  I’m greedy, I want Broberg to become the legitimate number one D-man he has the potential to be.  But I would be taking my sweet ass time with him.  Another year in the SHL, followed by at least one full season in the AHL, if not two.  If he never reaches that potential, you’re still looking at a new age, shutdown D-man like Bouwmeester which is nothing to be upset with.

ETA: Early 22-23

 

1. Evan Bouchard

Team: Bakersfield  League: AHL

Pos: RD  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 194  Shot: R

2020 StatsGP: 54  G: 7  A: 29  P: 36

DOB: 10/20/99, Oakville, ON

Acquired: 1st Round, 10th Overall, 2018 Draft

Previous Rank: 1

They have a stud on their hands.  Credit where it’s due because I don’t see eye to eye with a lot of what he has to say, but Craig Button was the first one I heard who compared him to Larry Murphy and I believe that is an extremely accurate projection.  Now, consider that when Murphy played, even though he eventually got in the Hall of Fame, he bounced around the league because he drove teams nuts with his lack of physicality.  Bouchard has the same issue, but in today’s game that is not anywhere near the sin that it was in the 80’s and 90’s.  This is pretty exciting for the organization and their fans that barring a rash of injuries and a need to use Bouchard this post-season that they’ll have three full seasons of a ready prospect like this on his ELC capable of playing top-four minutes right from the start.  I would guess he is occupying the point spot on the top PP unit by December at the latest.

ETA: Early 20-21

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2020 NHL Draft: Top 20 WHL Prospects (March, 2020)

The first year that I attempt to tackle just the WHL and focus solely on one league, and I get about the worst year possible to rank their kids!  Nobody is pulling away for me in this race and we are splitting hairs with so many of these kids.  Guhle vs Schneider, Zary vs Finley, Wiesblatt vs Neighbours, anyone can rank these kids in pretty much any order and I’m not going to put up much of a fight.  Which means the guy doing the rankings better put a HECK of a lot of time into research and going over everything with a fine-tooth comb (which is one reason I’m so late in getting this list out).  This is what I’ve done, but it’s frustrating because I might look back at this in two weeks and start kicking myself and I don’t just give myself love taps, I kick hard!!

It’s crazy.  I won’t be the least bit surprised if there are no WHL kids who go in the top 15 of the draft.  All the top kids in this year’s class have noticeable warts.  Having said that, I believe there are nine kids as of writing this who could then go in the 15-40 range.  You can make a legitimate case for any of the kids I have ranked 1-6 here being the top WHL draft prospect right now and I truly mean this that the gap from 1 all the way down to 14 is very small, so the depth here is just crazy.

I’ve decided to give you a top 20 this time around…just because I’m THAT good of a person.   Added to that are 6 honourable mentions, and 4 more kids playing tier II junior out West to bring the total to 30 players in the rankings this time around.  I’m like the Oprah of the WHL.  Souprah.

 

1. Kaiden Guhle

Team: Prince Albert Raiders

Pos: LD  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 187  Shot: L

2020 Stats – GP: 61  G: 11  A: 29  P: 40

Previous Rank: 1

Born: 01/18/02, Sherwood Park, AB

He remains number one for me yet again, though this is getting even tighter.  I’ll tell you the one thing that drives me nuts this season though is anyone trying to make the case that Braden Schneider is a better prospect than Kaiden Guhle.  By no measure (in my opinion) is Schneider better than Guhle.  They are such similar defencemen, but Guhle is a better skater, not nearly as filled out at this point, just as physical, and a draft year younger.  You’re talking about a big, physical, terrific skating defenceman who is miserable to play against in his own zone and moves the puck well.  And when you’re looking at his defensive game specifically, there isn’t anything I dislike.   Positioning, angling, stick, zone entries, and puck retrievals are all high end for a draft eligible defenceman.  He reminds me a lot of two different defencemen: Darnell Nurse and Brent Seabrook.  Both guys never put up big offensive numbers in their draft years and yet one was a cornerstone for a three time Cup winner and the other is a 25 year old, top four defenceman, who just got 5.6 million per season.  Pretty good company.  If you’re looking at the here and now with Guhle, maybe you’re not as high on him.  But I believe the upside is ridiculous with Guhle.  This kid has all the tools (and I consider IQ and work ethic in those tools) to become a terrific defenceman in the show someday.

 

2. Seth Jarvis

Team: Portland Winterhawks

Pos: RW  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 172  Shot: R

2020 Stats – GP: 55  G: 40  A: 51  P: 91

Previous Rank: 4

Born: 02/01/02, Winnipeg, MB

The most skilled player to come out of this year’s crop of WHL kids checks in at 2 this time around, barely edged out for 1st by Guhle for me.  All season I talked about how Jarvis is in that group of kids who could be ranked anywhere from 3rd to 9th for me, and I had him as the top kid in that group the last time around, but now Jarvis is starting to separate from that group.  Skating, IQ, vision, compete are all very solid, but its the hands which are perhaps what I like about his game the most.  There are a lot of players that Jarvis reminds me of.  A bit of Jordan Eberle, a bit of Brendan Gallagher, a bit of Nik Ehlers, all players who are undersized, but all players who have a different skill set.  He needs to improve his play away from the puck, but it’s not any worse than most kids his age.  He’ll fly the zone quite a bit but that’ll likely be coached out of him in time.  He’s not on the top of my list this time around, but if he continues trending how he has of late, I can’t imagine I’d have anyone higher than him the next time around.

 

3. Jack Finley

Team: Spokane Chiefs

Pos: C  Ht: 6’5  Wt: 207  Shot: R

2020 Stats – GP: 57  G: 17  A: 36  P: 53

Previous Rank: 10

Born: 09/02/02, Kelowna, BC

He takes a very big jump up my rankings.  And I’m well aware that many won’t agree with this, and that’s fine.  This is how I feel right now, and just hear out my POV on this.  Obviously the tool kit stands out.  He’s not just 6’5, he’s not just 207 lbs, he’s a good skater who is putting up impressive numbers when you factor in that he’s been seeing a ton of tough minutes in Spokane.  His season is actually greatly replicating the season Ryan Johansen had in his draft year, and it took scouts a while that season until they started to really recognize Johansen.  Finley is a kid who to me looks like a sure thing to play in the league, but the upside is still there.  Of course, the one guy most noticeable who I’m ranking behind Finley is Connor Zary.  When I break down Finley v Zary, I have all the edges other than raw point totals going to Finley.  Even strength scoring however, Finley is better PPG (0.78) than Zary (0.76).  If Finley were the one playing with Zane Franklin and Orrin Centazzo (shoutout to my fellow Marwayne Wildcats…) then would his numbers resemble Zary’s?  In my opinion, they’d be as good or better.  Is Finley going to make a lot of highlight reels?  No.  He’s not overly dynamic.  Luckily for Finley, I’m not big on players being dynamic.  Being intelligent and constantly on the right side of the puck isn’t sexy, but production is production.

 

4. Connor Zary

Team: Kamloops Blazers

Pos: C  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 180  Shot: L

2020 Stats – GP: 52  G: 34  A: 43  P: 77

Previous Rank: 2

Born: 09/25/01, Saskatoon, SK

The work ethic and the IQ really stand out when you watch Zary play and as I’ve said before the guy is a coach’s dream.  You can put him in any situation and he’s going to thrive.  My buddy Larry Fisher compares him with Bo Horvat and it really is a spot-on comparison.  I’d say you’re at least getting a Jarret Stoll type with Zary (who was similar to Horvat but simply didn’t sustain the offensive production Horvat has and will).  Captain material.  He simply does everything very well.  However, that can be viewed as a negative too, as a fellow contributor to the oilknight.ca pointed out (I won’t say who, but I’ll just say he knows the QMJHL extremely well…) sometimes it’s not so much that they do everything well as it is they don’t do anything great.  And that is fair with Zary is he doesn’t do one thing that stands out, and for me, the skating is a bit concerning.

 

5. Braden Schneider

Team: Brandon Wheat Kings

Pos: RD  Ht: 6’2  Wt: 209  Shot: R

2020 Stats – GP: 58  G: 7  A: 35  P: 42

Previous Rank: 9

Born: 09/20/01, Prince Albert, SK

As you can see, I am coming around on Schneider.  Way too tough on him in the summertime, I tend to do that with the kids who have the late birthdays.  He’s a safe pick.  As I said earlier, he’s very similar to Guhle, I just don’t feel as though there is anything Schneider does better than Guhle, and I believe Guhle has some offensive upside where I’m not sure Schneider has much.  The comparison I’ve used all season though is Travis Hamonic, and no team is going to cry about getting a D-man like that.  I like his skating, and he’s not just a physical guy in his own zone.  Much like Guhle, good gap control, positioning, and stick.  You can really see with Schneider that he takes pride in being that shutdown/throwback defender.

 

6. Ozzy Wiesblatt

Team: Prince Albert Raiders

Pos: RW  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 183  Shot: R

2020 Stats – GP: 61  G: 24  A: 44  P: 68

Previous Rank: 5

Born: 03/09/02, Calgary, AB

So if you’re looking at just the skill sets on the dub kids who I have so closely bunched up (Wiesblatt, Jarvis, Neighbours, McClennon, Sourdif, etc), Wiesblatt could be the least skilled of those kids.  But on the other hand, Wiesblatt is perhaps the most likely to simply play in the NHL of the group.  So how do you rank that?!  It’s tricky, and I admit I do have to come up with more of a system to make such issues much easier to figure out.  Wiesblatt, in my opinion, is going to be the type of player who can play in any situation.  Right now he’s playing the middle for the Raiders, though I see him as a winger down the line.  Good skater, good motor, plays physical, plays a little greasy at times, he’ll be a fan favourite wherever he goes.

 

7. Jake Neighbours 

Team: Edmonton Oil Kings

Pos: LW  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 196  Shot: L

2020 Stats – GP: 61  G: 23  A: 45  P: 68

Previous Rank: 6

Born: 03/29/02, Airdrie, AB

I get why some people love him as much as they do.  That’s never been lost on me.  Neighbours plays a pro game, he can play a hard game, and he can play a bit of a greasy game at times too.  His IQ is high end.  I really worry about the skating though.  It’s not that it can’t improve, but it’s much more to do with a theory I have.  Neighbours is already pretty filled out at 5’11 and near 200 lbs.  That doesn’t suggest he is going to gain a whole lot more strength.  Maybe.  I’m not saying he won’t.  But I’m more willing to bet on kids making a big improvement in their skating ability who aren’t yet filled out.  If he can get his skating to where it needs to be, I love him just as much as everyone else seems to.  But I’m just not sure he can.

 

8. Connor McClennon

Team: Winnipeg Ice

Pos: RW  Ht: 5’8  Wt: 157  Shot: R

2020 Stats – GP: 42  G: 21  A: 28  P:  49

Previous Rank: 8

Born: 06/25/02, Wainwright, AB

Maybe the toughest kid to rank.  On one hand, he has exploded offensively after a slow start.  He recently went on an 11 game point streak and had 29 points in his last full 18 games played.  Why did I say “full”?  Because in his last game McClennon suffered a broken collarbone and will be out likely until the end of the WHL regular season, if not longer.  The other thing some would point to in terms of his production was that he took off once Peyton Krebs returned from his Achilles injury.  But let’s not pretend McClennon is playing on some offensive juggernaut in Winnipeg where he’s able to live off other’s accomplishments.  McClennon is a lot like Kailer Yamamoto, not just in stature but also with his drive and fearlessness on the ice.  He plays much bigger than his size.  The skating isn’t where Yamamoto’s was at this point though.  I personally believe it’s better than some have suggested, but there is no doubt it needs work.  Opposite of Neighbours though, McClennon has a lot of weight and strength to pack on still, so it’s possible it could greatly improve as he does.

 

9. Justin Sourdif

Team: Vancouver Giants

Pos: RW  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 163  Shot: R

2020 Stats – GP: 54  G: 24  A: 28  P: 52

Previous Rank: 3

Born: 03/24/02, Surrey, BC

A big slide down my rankings for Sourdif, but again, I have to stress that I don’t see anything of a big gap between 1st and 9th, and it’s an even smaller one between 6th and 9th.  The thing you have to remember with Sourdif that while the numbers aren’t where many believed they would be for him this season, it is the Vancouver power play that is killing his production more than anything.  So while he’s down at 9 for me at the moment, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to go on a tear at some point and shoot back up into my top 3.  It’s that tight.  And with Sourdif, the skillset isn’t in question.  I do worry though that the drive isn’t there with Sourdif.  He isn’t very assertive with the puck, and he doesn’t bring much in terms of physicality or gamesmanship.

 

10. Ridly Greig

Team: Brandon Wheat Kings

Pos: C  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 162  Shot: L

2020 Stats – GP: 54  G: 24  A: 33  P: 57

Previous Rank: HM

Born: 08/08/02, Lethbridge, AB

Greig is an intriguing prospect for a lot of people.  He plays a pro game and he has a lot of growing to do physically so that always will make people wonder where the ceiling is.  I like his skating ability and feel as though there is room for that to grow quite a bit in the next few seasons.  He has excellent hockey sense, is a decent playmaker, protects the puck well, plays a solid 200 foot game, he is willing to play a physical game, he is just simply a very complete player.  For me, I see him as potentially a terrific two-way centre.

 

11. Ronan Seeley

Team: Everett Silvertips

Pos: LD  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 176  Shot: L

2020 Stats – GP: 60  G: 3  A: 29  P: 32

Previous Rank: HM

Born: 08/02/02, Yellowknife, NT

The skating ability is his calling card.  You’d think that with a defencemen sub 6’0 and a great skater that he’s a big risk-taker.  But remember: he’s playing for Everett, and the Silvertips under Kevin Constantine previously, and currently Dennis Willaims, are the stingiest team in the WHL.  Don’t let the numbers fool you, this kid can move the puck very well and has a lot of untapped offensively ability.  At this point, I don’t see Seeley going in the top 62 of the draft, but he is a sneaky good prospect who has been a personal favourite of mine.  If I’m an NHL team, I’m not looking to reach to get him, but I’d slot him in the 63-124 range (3rd or 4th round) and hope he finds his way to our pick because there is a lot to work with here.

 

12. Tristen Robins

Team: Saskatoon Blades

Pos: RW  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 174  Shot: R

2020 Stats – GP: 58  G: 31  A: 35  P: 66

Previous Rank: NR

Born: 11/15/01, Brandon, MB

The first thing that stands out with Robins is his speed.  This kid is a burner, but he combines that with a terrific compete level which makes him lethal on the forecheck, on puck retrievals, and on the backcheck.  He plays the middle for the Blades, but for me personally, I would be drafting Robins as a winger.  Hey, if he can play the middle that’s even better!  But I see him as a winger in pro hockey and while I question if he’ll have the skill level to produce at a top six level, he sure looks as though he has the speed and work ethic to be an effective top nine winger in the show.

 

13. Dylan Garand

Team: Kamloops Blazers

Pos: G  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 172  Glove: L

2020 Stats – GP: 39  G.A.A.: 2.23  Sv%: .922

Previous Rank: NR

Born: 06/06/02, Victoria, BC

At the start of the year I have to admit, I didn’t like Garand mainly because of his size.  And though the size hasn’t improved, and NHL organizations still prefer bigger netminders, it isn’t as though 6’1 is a size of goaltender which isn’t going to get a look in the league.  And then the season he’s having has now is so damn impressive!  His numbers are right there with Team Canada’s Joel Hofer who is playing on a more dominant team in Portland.  And it’s not as though Kamloops is some defensive juggernaut, this is a team who has played pretty wide open hockey this season.  I love the way Garand moves in net.  He’s very technically sound with terrific reflexes.  If this kid’s ability to track the puck can catch up to the rest of his game, he will be an NHL goaltender even at this size.

 

14. Pavel Novak

Team: Kelowna Rockets

Pos: RW  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 170  Shot: R

2020 Stats – GP: 52  G: 22  A: 30  P: 52

Previous Rank: 7

Born: 04/16/02, Tabor, CZE

Before I get to Novak, what a mess in Kelowna this season.  As a Western guy and covering the WHL for Sean as I do, this is humiliating that this team is hosting the Memorial Cup this season.  I thought 2013 was bad with the Blades being bounced in the 1st round, it is nothing compared to what is going on with the Rockets.  And they are the last franchise I thought I’d ever type something like that about in the WHL.  Ok, Novak.  He’s the Rockets leading scorer as of writing this.  He’s a very similar prospect to Wiesblatt, McClennon, Sourdif, etc. in that he’s a bit of an undersized guy who can produce.  The thing that scares me with Novak is the skating ability isn’t great.  He has the skill to succeed, but at the moment I don’t believe his skating is good enough to get him to the next level.  If he can get it to where it needs to be, Novak will be pretty intriguing.

 

15. Alex Cotton

Team: Lethbridge Hurricanes

Pos: RD  Ht: 6’2  Wt: 183  Shot: R

2020 Stats – GP: 60  G: 18  A: 47  P: 65

Previous Rank: NR

Born: 05/12/01, Langley, BC

Something that keeps me up at night when ranking kids for their drafts: the late bloomer/over-ager.  I get so locked in on certain kids that I rarely give consideration to such things!  Thankfully, I didn’t miss Alex Cotton’s incredible 3rd season in the WHL that is getting more and more attention as the year has worn on.  He moves the puck extremely well, has a great shot, and he showcases good compete.  The play in his own zone needs work, but the big concern with Cotton are the boots.  His skating is just ok, but the positive with it is that he has improved it quite a bit over the last year.  Can it continue to improve?  If it can, the team which drafts him will have quite the prospect on their hands.

 

16. Christoffer Sedoff

Team: Red Deer Rebels

Pos: LD  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 189  Shot: L

2020 Stats – GP: 59  G: 5  A: 14  P: 19

Previous Rank: NR

Born: 02/20/02, Helsinki, FIN

Sedoff is starting to get some love from the scouting community despite playing on a rebuilding Rebels club.  He is their horse, chewing up a ridiculous amount of minutes a lot of nights for Brent Sutter’s club.  He’s a very smooth skater, good puck mover, and despite not having stats that jump off the page he has displayed some pretty good offensive skills at times.  He’s solid in his own zone also with good gap control, a good stick, and a willingness to compete down low and in front of the net.  There is a lot to work with here.  Another interesting tidbit is his size.  Elite Prospects lists him at 5’11, 159lbs.  The WHL’s site has him at 6’1, 189lbs, a pretty damn big difference!  When I’ve seen him, it appears to me like the WHL size is the correct one, at least in terms of height.

 

17. Kasper Puutio

Team: Everett Silvertips

Pos: RD  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 185  Shot: R

2020 Stats – GP: 53  G: 5  A: 20  P: 25

Previous Rank: HM

Born: 06/03/02, Vaasa, FIN

A very similar prospect to Sedoff, but in a very different situation (at least he is since his trade to Everett).  The skating ability of Puutio, much like his teammate Ronan Seeley, makes him a very intriguing prospect in the middle to late rounds of the draft.  He’s very raw at this point.  Both offensively and defensively, there is a ton of room for growth.  But he’s a kid who as I already said is a terrific skater, and he moves the puck very well.  If he can refine his defensive game, there is no reason he couldn’t be a Jonas Brodin type D-man down the line.

 

18. Josh Pillar

Team: Kamloops Blazers

Pos: RW  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 174  Shot: R

2020 Stats – GP: 58  G: 14  A: 27  P: 41

Previous Rank: NR

Born: 02/14/02, Warman, SK

When you’re just simply looking at stats, Pillar doesn’t stand out.  But this kid has been a favourite of mine all season because of his wheels.  I’m a big believer in taking kids later in the draft who have one terrific trait and looking to develop the rest, and Pillar has that in his skating.  Very similar to Tristen Robins who is in his 18 year old season, and  Pillar is already out producing what Robins did last season.  Also like Robins, he’s playing the middle for Kamloops.  If Pillar was playing the wing he’d likely have a lot more freedom offensively, and likely be getting a lot more attention than he has.  31 ES points on the season playing primarily in a checking role for the Blazers this season.

 

19. Simon Knak

Team: Portland Winterhawks

Pos: RW  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 190  Shot: L

2020 Stats – GP: 46  G: 9  A: 24  P: 33

Previous Rank: HM

Born: 01/27/02, Kloten, SUI

A player who does everything well, but nothing great.  Ok size, ok speed, ok hands, ok vision, ok hockey sense, an ok shot, he’s just ok.  Now, if Knak has a great work ethic than he is just scratching the surface on what he can become.  And what will help him a lot with that development is being a Winterhawk with Mike Johnston as his coach.  I’m not sure if Knak has shown enough to get himself drafted at this point, but he will have a lot more of an opportunity on a Winterhawks team which looks primed for a deep run into the WHL playoffs.

 

20. Bryan Thomson

Team: Lethbridge Hurricanes

Pos: G  Ht: 6’4  Wt: 181  Glove: L

2020 Stats – GP: 28  G.A.A.: 2.94  Sv%: .896

Previous Rank: NR

Born: 04/09/02, Moose Jaw, SK

Nothing like Garand.  Garand gets love for the numbers he’s put up this season and the mystery of whether or not he will be just big enough to succeed.  Thomson has the size and ability but doesn’t have the numbers as he fluctuates above and below a .900 Sv% this season.  But the upside is tough to ignore with this kid.  I hate comparing him to a former Hurricane (because I worry about it coming off as lazy on my part), but he is very similar to Stuart Skinner when Skinner was 17.

 

Honourable Mention

Orrin Centazzo

Team: Kamloops Blazers

Pos: LW  Ht: 5’8  Wt: 163  Shot: L

2020 Stats – GP: 58  G: 42  A: 34  P: 76

Previous Rank: NR

Born: 04/17/00, Marwayne, AB

This one is both interesting and fun for me to write.  A kid who’s family I know well, I watched a ton of as he was growing up, played on a line with my nephews in their U-16 Midget season, and is tearing it up on the best line in the WHL this season along with Connor Zary and fellow Marwayne Wildcat (once again, shoutout to my fellow Wildcats) Zane Franklin.  Orrin has always possessed ridiculous skill, and now he seems as though he’s putting it all together and figuring out just how good he can be.  No doubt, he benefits from having Zary and Franklin on his line.  But there are some who feel it’s Centazzo who is the offensive catalyst of that trio.  If I were a team, I’d give him a close look in the later rounds.  I think the higher level of hockey this kid plays, the more he is going to elevate his game.  He has the skill to play in the show.  Tough to rank at this point for me which is why he is in the HM section, but he’s an intriguing player to keep an eye on.

 

Michal Gut

Team: Everett Silvertips

Pos: C  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 181  Shot: L

2020 Stats – GP: 48  G: 13  A: 22  P: 35

Previous Rank: HM

Born: 08/16/02, Kadan, CZE

Last time I said that Gut was a good skater, but I’m not sure that was very accurate as in my viewings since it has been the one thing about his game that has concerned me.  He is however a kid who looks to do everything right out on the ice, a very responsible 200-foot player.

 

Cross Hanas

Team: Portland Winterhawks

Pos: LW  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 165  Shot: L

2020 Stats – GP: 57  G: 19  A: 25  P: 44

Previous Rank: NR

Born: 01/05/02, Highland Village, TX

Has some high end skill in his game scoring some highlight reel goals this season.  But the hockey sense is very questionable.  If he can learn to start playing a simpler game and improve his play away from the puck, he might be a player.  Just as the case with his teammate Simon Knak, the one thing Hanas has going for him is that his head coach Mike Johnston has one heck of a track record developing players and Hanas has a skill set Johnston can work with.

 

Daemon Hunt

Team: Moose Jaw Warriors

Pos: LD  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 198  Shot: L

2020 Stats – GP: 23  G: 0  A: 11  P: 11

Previous Rank: HM

Born: 05/15/02, Brandon, MB

Such a difficult kid to rank as he has been out since the 3rd of December (suffered a severe cut to his arm).  He’s nothing flashy.  Some might even say he’s boring.  But he’s effective.  Terrific in his own zone with his gap control, angles and stick, he was logging all the tough minutes for a weak Warriors squad.  The PPG might look solid at first glance for a defenceman.  Obviously having no goals in 23 games isn’t a great sign.  But if we’re talking about statistical red flags, the one for me is that of his 11 assists, only two came at even strength, and one of those was a secondary assist on an empty net goal.  On top of that, I don’t love the skating ability when I’ve viewed him.

 

Owen Pederson

Team: Winnipeg Ice

Pos: LW  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 187  Shot: L

2020 Stats – GP: 57  G: 23  A: 21  P: 44

Previous Rank: NR

Born: 03/27/02, Stoney Plain, AB

Pederson plays on the top line in Winnipeg with Vegas Golden Knights 1st round pick Peyton Krebs.  For what turned out to be a short period of time, Pederson was flanked by both Krebs and Connor McClennon and they were one of the hottest lines in the league before McClennon got hurt.  As you can likely guess, it is Pederson’s skating that needs work.  His assets are obviously his size, but also he isn’t afraid to use that size which makes him an effective player on the cycle and in front of the net.  Finally, Pederson has very good hands too.  So there is a lot to work with here, but the skating needs a lot of work.

 

Luke Prokop

Team: Calgary Hitmen

Pos: RD  Ht: 6’4  Wt: 218  Shot: R

2020 Stats – GP: 59  G: 4  A: 19  P: 23

Previous Rank: NR

Born: 05/06/02, Edmonton, AB

Hey, what do you know!  The night I do the write-up for Prokop is the night he busts out offensively!  1 goal on the season going in, 2 goals in the game!  But obviously that is not what Prokop is known for.  He’s a throwback type of D-man.  A bruiser in his own zone who will throw people around.  The skating and the hockey sense are the concerns with him.  I think the skating is OK, it’s not great but I think it’s passable, and then the hockey sense is obviously a concern.  He’s iffy to get drafted, but it wouldn’t surprise me given the tools he has in his arsenal.  You get down to the later stages of the draft and sometimes it isn’t about how good the kids are but much more about how much you’ll have to work with as an organization attempts to develop a kid.

 

AJHL

Michael Benning

Team: Sherwood Park Crusaders

Pos: RD  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 174  Shot: R

2020 Stats – GP: 54  G: 12  A: 63  P: 75

Born: 01/05/02, St. Albert, AB

I’ve often pointed to the comparison in his numbers to Cale Makar’s draft year this season (keeping in mind that Makar was in his 18 year old season vs this being Benning’s 17 year old season), so let’s do it again!  They finish with the exact same games played (54) and the exact same point totals (75).  Now, as mightily impressive as that is for Benning, he’s not Makar.  They are obviously very mobile offensive-minded D-men, but Makar was more dynamic than Benning is.  Benning is much more of a cerebral player and not the skater Makar was/is (even though Benning is a terrific skater).  But let’s look at other recent AJHL comparisons.  Jacob Bernard-Docker (26th overall in 2018) had 41 points in 49 games.  Ian Mitchell (57th overall in 2017) had 37 points in 53 games.  If we are comparing their games, Mitchell’s most closely resembles Benning’s.  And don’t say “yeah, but the teams they played on…” these four played for what are currently the four best programs in the AJHL.   In a way, they really aren’t even AJHL teams, but rather minor league teams for NCAA programs.  Benning is also pretty solid in his own zone.  Despite his stature, he does not get pushed around and is willing to battle in all the tough areas.  It won’t be his calling card, but he’s not at all a liability in his own zone as the Crusaders lean heavily on him defensively.

 

Carter Savoie

Team: Sherwood Park Crusaders

Pos: LW  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 181  Shot: L

2020 Stats – GP: 54  G: 53  A: 46  P: 99

Born: 01/23/02, St. Albert, AB

The most anticipated game of the year in the AJHL was on January 18th.  Sherwood Park vs Brooks.  At the time, the top two teams in the CJHL going head to head.  A possible preview of the AJHL final.  What did Carter Savoie do?  Plays his best game of the year.  Hatty, plus an assist (all points at even strength), Crusaders win 7-4.  The knock on Savoie is his skating.  From the get-go this season I didn’t have the issue with it that most seemed to, and as the season has worn on I feel stronger than ever in the opinion of him being a guy who just simply picks his spots and plays a much more cerebral game than most give him credit for.  His skating doesn’t stand out, but it’s fine.  He cranks it up when he needs to, and there is plenty of room for improvement.  Also, he’s a miserable SOB to play against!  He’s not afraid to go after a guy.  He’s not overly physical, but he plays in the tough area’s and will do what he has to do to create space.  He can look lazy at times, but it’s the same type of thing you see out of most goal scorers that they’re always just looking for dead ice.  50 goals in 50 games, near 2 PPG on the season, the kid has lived up to his hype in the AJHL this season.  It’ll be interesting to see what he does in the playoffs.

 

Ethan Edwards

Team: Spruce Grove Saints

Pos: LD  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 165  Shot: L

2020 Stats – GP: 50  G: 9  A: 24  P: 33

Born: 06/06/02, Grand Prairie, AB

I’m not liking that my secret player is not being kept a very good secret!  Ranked 85th by NHL Central Scouting among North American players, only 15 spots back of Benning.  Edwards plays at a quicker pace than Benning and might be a little bit better skater of the two.  Edwards can also (as you’d expect), really move the puck well.  Despite all this, he really isn’t a big risk taker in my viewings of him.  Again I am going to point out as I did last time, he isn’t a kid I’d be looking to take in the top 93 of the draft, but in the later rounds he could be a flat out steal.  Committed to Michigan, but not until the 21-22 season, meaning the team which drafts him would have as much as five seasons to allow him to develop before making a decision on him.

 

BCHL

Ethan Bowen

Team: Chilliwack Chiefs

Pos: LW  Ht: 6’2  Wt: 170  Shot: L

2020 Stats – GP: 41  G: 12  A: 19  P: 31

Born: 05/14/02, Chilliwack, BC

He’s run into injury issues this season, likely are the big reason for his somewhat disappointing season to this point.  I still worry about the skating with Bowen, but again I’ll point to how big and gangly he is at this point.  There are other kids in the BC league challenging Bowen for top prospect, but all of them seem to also have their warts.  At this time I still believe Bowen is the most intriguing of them all, but it’ll be interesting to see where it stands once we’re a round or two into the post-season which starts soon.  Heading to North Dakota beginning next fall.

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Soups Rankings: March, 2020

Better late than never I guess, seeing it’s March 4th.  It would have been better for me to have done this a week ago, right after the trade deadline, so it would have been more of a deadline recap.  This still is, but obviously a week has gone by.  Ok, I’ll quit bitching and get on with this.

Before I start, again I’ll explain: I have teams still in the hunt behind teams with no chance.  Why?  Because I don’t feel those teams still in the hunt will make the playoffs, and that they’re in a worse situation moving forward.  So, for example, I have Ottawa higher than Arizona.  Arizona is in the race in the West, but I don’t feel as though they’ll get in, and therefore I look at how they are moving forward and moving forward the Senators are LOADED.  It’s a different/weird way of doing it, I’m aware, but it’s how I want to do it.  Also, these have very little to do with how teams are playing of late as some moronic power rankings do it.  Basically, I’m ranking who I like to win the Cup until I get to the teams that have no shot (and then as I just explained, I then rank those teams differently).  We good?  We better be…

 

31. Detroit Red Wings

Last month: 31st

They haven’t moved above 30 this season.  The worst thing for Wings fans is that I’m not sure this season will be the end of the worst of it.

 

30. San Jose Sharks

Last month: 30th

What a mess this is.  And they might get back in the hunt next season to make the playoffs, but they aren’t going anywhere if they do.  Doug Wilson just seems to refuse to rebuild it, and I understand why.  But they need a massive rebuild and continually putting it off just digs a deeper hole.

 

29. Los Angeles Kings

Last month: 29th

Unlike the Sharks, they’ve accepted who they are.  But I still say, I do not have a clue what they are hanging onto Kopitar and Doughty for.  “But they have NTC’s!”  Ask them.  If they don’t want to go, fine, but ask them.  This rebuild will not be done before they are, so move them now and get some big returns for them.

 

28. Anaheim Ducks

Last month: 27th

The Ducks don’t have a big time player to move like the Kings do.  You might say Getzlaf, but they wouldn’t get anything for Getzlaf at this point.  The other thing is that the Ducks have drafted well over the years, so they have more of a head start on things than the Kings and the Sharks.  It is still a big hill to climb though.

 

27. Chicago Blackhawks

Last month: 21st

They’re going nowhere.  Absolutely nowhere.  Third year in a row that they’ll miss the playoffs, and I’m not sure where they’re headed.  They do have some very nice young pieces, but much more is needed.

 

26. Montreal Canadiens

Last month: 26th

You know, I don’t think they’re out of it thanks to how inconsistent the Leafs are and how bad the Panthers are playing.  But I don’t like this team at all moving forward as I’ve expressed several times by now.

 

25. Arizona Coyotes

Last month: 20th

They likely gave the Devils a top 10 pick for a player that they won’t be able to re-sign.  A top 10 pick, for nothing.  That stings.  They have to hope they win a top 3 spot so they can avoid that happening.  Well, they’ll still lose Hall, but at least if they win a top 3 spot the pick defers until next season and perhaps they can ensure it’s a pick in the 16-30 range.

 

24. New Jersey

Last month: 28th

How ironic that I have the Devils one spot ahead of the Coyotes before the season is out.  They could have three 1st round picks this year, two could be top 10, the other would likely be in the 15-20 range.  Combine that with Hischier and Hughes and they are in a very good spot in their rebuild.

 

23. Ottawa Senators

Last month: 24th

While the Devils might have three 1st rounders, the Sens are guaranteed to have two, and at this point they would be no worse than 6th and 8th.  Add to that, the Islanders are looking dicey to make the playoffs and that 1st rounder is only top three protected.  So they might be looking at three picks in the top 15 of the draft.  It gets better as they own four picks in the 2nd round and three of those look like they’ll be in the top 50.  So six picks in the top 50 of a deep draft, seven likely in the top 60, and of course this is a team that has already acquired a boatload of talent.  They are going to get REALLY good before too long.

 

22. Buffalo Sabres

Last month: 22nd

So I think they’re growing and are in the best spot they’ve been in since their rebuild began, but it sure sounds like there is a ton of panic there again.  I worry Eichel is going to ask out after the season.  He doesn’t seem like the type of guy who would be willing to stick it out.  I’m not sure it would be the worst thing for them either.  Awesome talent, but the return they’d get would be astronomical, and I could see it being a bit like the Duchene situation in Colorado with Rasmus Dahlin playing the role of Nathan MacKinnon.

 

21. Florida Panthers

Last month: 8th

I’m tapping on them!  This is a mess.  Bobrovsky looks done, because don’t forget this didn’t just happen.  He was never right all last season either.  Showed up in the playoffs, but was awful by his standards in the regular season.  So weird that Joel Quennville didn’t “change the culture” there.  I was told that coach Q was going to “change the culture”.  And now it looks like Dale Tallon is going to be axed, and therefore Quennville may get axed, and they are likely bleeding money given the rumour that they need to cut 10 million from the payroll…WHAT.  A.  MESS.

 

20. Columbus Blue Jackets

Last month: 16th

The Seth Jones injury has killed their season.  If you go by percentage points, they’re already on the outside looking in at the playoffs and Jones isn’t coming back.  Their only wins in the last month have been against teams that they should be beating.  I think they’re done, but it’s been one hell of an effort.

 

19. NY Islanders

Last month: 15th

The Jackets have been sliding, but so have the Islanders, and the way I have it finishing up I don’t believe the Islanders will get in either!  It’ll be close, but the Rangers are trending up, and the Hurricanes are simply a better team.  Four points up right now, but I just don’t believe they’ll make it, much to the delight of Ottawa Senators fans barring the Islanders then winning a top three pick.

 

18. Minnesota Wild

Last month: 25th

I am at a bit of a loss as to how this team is playing so well.  I like their blueline a lot, but offensively I just don’t get how they aren’t relatively easy to shut down.  But they’re charging up the standings right now, and just may get in.  The big test is that they still have to play Nashville twice, and Winnipeg once.  But the reverse of that is they have seven games on the schedule that they should win.

 

17. NY Rangers

Last month: 23rd

It’s funny, I hate that they think they’re done their rebuild because I don’t feel as though they have much more coming.  And as great as Panarin has played this season, this is likely the peak.  Kakko is going to be a good player, I don’t know if he’s going to be that star who can carry a team.  But credit where it’s due, they’re coming on strong, and they might have the best goaltending in the league right now, and I believe they are going to sneak in the playoffs.

 

16. Calgary Flames

Last month: 17th

I sound like a broken record with them, but I just don’t know that they do or have anything elite that is going to give opponents trouble.  Ok goaltending, ok blueline, ok forwards, ok speed, ok size, everything is just ok.

 

15. Toronto Maple Leafs

Last month: 10th

I fully admit I’m now starting to get worried about this team moving forward.  I worry Dubas can’t bring himself to make the type of move he may need to do where he’ll sacrifice a bit more than he should to get the piece or pieces they need.  Beyond the blueline which looks fine moving forward it just isn’t great at the moment, what really concerns me is that none of their big four up front bring a 2nd dimension to the table.  Dubas might need to move one of them out either to get the roster tremendous depth, or to get a different element much like how in the fall of 1996 the Red Wings dealt Keith Primeau, Paul Coffey and a 1st for Brendan Shanahan (and Brian Glynn, but nobody remembers poor Brian Glynn).  They’re getting in the playoffs this season, but I can’t see them getting out of the first round, and wonder about how it’ll work moving forward.

 

14. Winnipeg Jets

Last month: 14th

At 14 and holding for the 3rd straight month.  It’s funny too because I don’t ever look at what they were previously ranked until after I rank the teams.  If this team can sneak into the playoffs, they’re capable of doing some damage.  But can they overcome all the issues they’ve been faced with this season?

 

13. Vancouver Canucks

Last month: 12th

The BIG x-factor here is Markstrom’s health.  If they can hang on without him, and he’s back by the playoffs, I really believe they can do some damage.  I know they don’t have much experience, but they have a lot of guys who are made for April and May.  But they need their stud goaltender to lean on.

 

12. Nashville Predators

Last month: 11th

Remember the 2006 Oilers?  Meet the 2020 Preds, a team that by a lot of measures has been excellent this season and can’t figure out their special teams.  This is one of the best rosters in the league and in a wide open West, it is just begging for another 2006 Oilers, 2012 Kings, etc.  I’m not suggesting they are going to do that, but to me they have that kind of feel to them.

 

11. Philadelphia Flyers

Last month: 13th

They are so quietly playing terrific hockey.  But I just don’t buy them in the playoffs.  Right now they look like they’d play either Pittsburgh, Carolina, or Washington in the first round.  I don’t like them against any of those teams.  They are a very well-rounded club though.

 

10. Edmonton Oilers

Last month: 19th

I cringe having them this high, but if they’re healthy, they’re one of the most well-rounded teams in the league.  They might be the fastest team in the league.  They can put burners on all four lines, good-great skaters will occupy 10 of the 12 forward spots.  They haven’t sacrificed size to do it either and they still have a lot of skilled size that teams need in the playoffs.  Finally, that blueline features five guys who can move the puck (when healthy) and is extremely deep.  That is scary.  Now, the two question marks for me are A) will they be able to figure out where Anthanasiou fits by the playoffs?  B) will the goaltending hold up?  We’ll have to see about A, but if you look close at B, Mike Smith has been very solid this season if you simply take out a bad month of December when the Oilers as a team played awful.  I don’t feel as though they have a major flaw.

 

9. Colorado Avalanche

Last month: 9th

I can’t recall who it was around the deadline, but they put it perfectly.  The Avs window is just now opening.  You don’t go for it the moment your window opens, because how do you even know you don’t have enough to win already?!?  I’d take it a step further, I personally don’t believe their window opens until next season when Bowen Byram steps in.

 

8. Carolina Hurricanes

Last month: 7th

I’m still sky high on that roster, but that goaltending scares the hell out of me!  I don’t understand why it wasn’t more seriously addressed at the deadline.  Trocheck, Skeji and Vatanen is a great haul, but I’m not sure how much they improve the Hurricanes.  A good goaltender would have made them serious contenders.  And obviously, they have to get in!  IF they get in, they’re a threat.

 

7. Dallas Stars

Last month: 6th

This team is much more built for the playoffs than the regular season, and they are going to be one very difficult out for whoever gets them.  The one thing I will say though is that it’s very possible one of Nashville or Winnipeg gets the wildcard spot for that division, and both those teams match up very well with the Stars.  Not to mention they have the Blues to deal with as well.

 

6. Vegas Golden Knights

Last month: 18th

A massive jump, but they got the top four defenceman they needed, and they went out and upgraded their goaltending which was smart.  Although someone needs to point out that Robin Lehner’s numbers have gone down as the season has worn on.  They still feel very flawed to me, but this team has an ability to get hotter than any team in the league when they feel it.

 

5. Tampa Bay Lightning

Last month: 5th

I believe this is the third straight month I have them at five.  They appear to have completed their hot streak that they badly needed to get back in it, and now that they’re comfortable they appear (to me anyway) to have let off the gas and are getting ready for the playoffs.  The Stamkos injury hurts a bit, but not to the level that others will have you believe.  As long as they get him back before the start of the second round, I believe they’ll be fine and I see them taking their game to another level come April.

 

4. Washington Capitals

Last month: 2nd

They have everything you need to win…except the speed.  That didn’t matter in 2018, and it didn’t matter for the Blues last year, but it has hurt the Caps in the past when playing Pittsburgh and last season with Carolina.  But they have as good of a shot at winning it all as anyone.

 

3. St. Louis Blues

Last month: 1st

They’ve seemed kind of bored of late.  I really don’t see anyone knocking them off in the West though.  They just seem to have everything.  The one thing I would worried about for the Blues is that they might end up getting one of Nashville or Winnipeg in the first round, and if either of those teams got right, they could knock off the Blues.  But they sure look like a team that is going to go back to the final.

 

2. Pittsburgh Penguins

Last month: 4th

They look scary good.  I’ve probably wrote this for four seasons now, but the fall off a cliff is coming for this group.  But it hasn’t happened yet and won’t happen this season.  I like the Zucker pick up despite how much they gave up, I feel as though he’s a perfect fit.  It’s a solid team everywhere, and two of the best players in the world (still) leading the way.

 

1. Boston Bruins

Last month: 3rd

For me, no team stands out as a clear cut favourite to win the Cup at this time.  And I’m not sure I should be putting THIS much stock into a team that might get worn out having just gone to game seven of the final last season.  But they are fast, play tough, are great defensively, have great goaltending, and can score.  This is a terrific team that can play it any way you want.

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Going Out on a High

Wednesday night brought an end to the Lloydminster Bobcats 2019-20 season, with the Olds Grizzlys in town for the final showdown of the season.  It was Lloydminster and District Co-Op pink in the rink night, the Cats were looking for their 4th win in their final 7 games to close out the season, and for Cats assistant captain Chance Adrian, the team’s lone 20 year old, it was an opportunity to go out on a high note.

 

The Cats came out flying and ended up out shooting the Grizzlys 17-12 in the opening frame, but it would be the Grizzlys who emerged with a 1-0 lead as with just 14 a point shot from Josh McNeil found the back of the net.

 

It’s always a concern when you outplay your opponent in a period and they come out with the lead, especially when it’s a goal in the final minute that is from a fortunate bounce as the McNeil goal was, those are normally backbreakers.  Especially for a young team.  But it was another sign of how far the Bobcats have come this season as they shook it off, and at 6:20 of the 2nd, Mack Stewart would keep the puck on a 2 on 1 and beat Grizzlys starter Ty Marcinkowski to tie the game.  They didn’t stop there as just 2:23 later it would be Cam Aucoin making a pretty centring pass to Alex Danis who was driving the net and was able to redirect the Aucoin pass into the back of the net and it was 2-1.  Then just 1:25 after that, on the power-play, it would be Chance Adrian in his final game in a Bobcats uniform sending a backhander towards the net that Nolen Coventry was able to tip in.  3 goals in 3:48 and the Bobcats were in control.  The Grizzlys would get one back as former Bobcat Logan Bromhead made a great feed to Daine Milgate and Bobcats netminder Josh Dias had no chance as Milgate tipped it in.  3-2 Cats after 40.

 

You had to wonder if the Bobcats were going to have one of those nights where no matter how much they did right, things weren’t going to bounce there way as 5:08 into the 3rd the Grizzlys tied the game off the stick of Brendan McBride got a weird one past Dias.  Once again though, the Cats showed how resilient of a team they had become throughout the season and continued to tilt the ice in their favour.  Finally at 13:40, Ty Mosimann would steal the puck and rip one far side on Marcinkowski to make it 4-3.  The Grizzlys would push in the final minute, but the Cats held strong and to cap off the regular season, Jayvon Leslie made a great play to get the puck up to Cam Aucoin who would seal it right at the end of the game (19:59 officially, but it turned out to be the final play of the game and the season).  The Bobcats go out on a high with a 5-3 victory.

 

After the game I caught up with Bobcats head coach Nigel Dube who had these thoughts on the game.  “Awesome way to finish off the year.  Through the last 11 we’re 4-5-2, a lot of people are probably looking at that and looking at our growth over the year.  What a crowd tonight too.  Hats off to the Lloydminster and District Co-Op for the kindness wins pink in the rink…it was just awesome.  Exclamation point on the month.  And credit to this group in there.  It was a special group that I think is going to be looked back on with the foundation they’ve laid here for the Bobcats.”  I couldn’t interview Dube this time around without getting his thoughts on Chance Adrian after wrapping up his AJHL career.  “Chance is a special person, a special player.  What he brings to the organization or any organization every day with his heart and his passion is amazing.  When we brought in Tegan Skehar as a 16 year old, we put Tegan with Chance to lead him and teach him the right ways, that demonstrated exactly what he is and what he means to this organization.  I saw the 113 games he’s played here, he’s a bright spot and wears his heart on his sleeve.  I could go on for hours about what a great kid he is.”  Finally, I asked Dube about how bright the future is for the organization with all but one player eligible to return in the fall.  “The biggest part when we go back and talked about what needed to be done this season was to establish a foundation.  And that kind of phrase maybe got lost a little along the way when you have your tough weeks or your tough games when people ask what’s going on, but I don’t think within the organization that was ever lost and that was the path we continued on.  We went young, we stayed young, and we matured throughout the year and we grew as it went on.  And credit to the 22 guys in the dressing room.  It wasn’t easy for them, and yet the work ethic that they brought everyday whether it was in the room, on the ice, in the gym, or in the community being the spectacular role models they were.  They performed every day with a smile on, and it speaks to their character.”

 

So that’s a wrap on the 2019-20 season for the Lloydminster Bobcats.  It was a rebuilding season where we saw the Bobcats truly grow.  When organizations go through rebuilding phases at any level, there is always going to be pain, and not necessarily growth.  And this season had its pain.  But throughout the season, the games got tighter, the wins became more frequent, and by the end they had managed to get wins against two of the best teams not only in the AJHL but in the CJHL (which were the top ranked teams in the country at the time of the wins by the Cats).  By the end of the season, people were going to the rink expecting the Cats to win as opposed to hoping they’d win.  The future is extremely bright for this organization, and it’s going to be an exciting 20-21 season!  See you in the fall!

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Grand Larseny! Bobcats Netminder Leads them to an Upset Win Over the Top Team in the Nation

Back on January 17th, the Bobcats hosted the then number 1 ranked team in the CJHL, the Brooks Bandits. The Bobcats came out on top of that one for their biggest win of the season by a score of 4-3. 27 days later, they once again played host to the top ranked team in the CJHL, but this time it was the Sherwood Park Crusaders, a team that had beat up on the Bobcats the last time they were in town by a score of 8-1. But this was not the same Bobcats team that the Crusaders faced back on December 22nd.

Alex Danis got things started for the Cats at 13:06 of the 1st period…sort of. Former Crusader Cam Aucoin gained the zone and dished off to Brendan Morrow who put the puck on goal. Danis in front got a stick on it, the save was made by Crusaders starter Jordan Frey, but then deflected off Will Zapernick and into his own net. It doesn’t matter how, it’s how many and the Bobcats had 1. They got a 2nd just before the 1st period ended as Ty Mosimann sent a pass over to Aucoin and he found the back of the net from the slot and the Cats went to the dressing room with a big 2-0 lead.

The Bobcats momentum would carry over to the 2nd period as just 1:54 into the frame as Frey would rob Sam Carper with the initial scoring chance, but then Jared Miller was able to find the rebound and put it in for a 3-0 lead. That would be the end of the night for Jordan Frey who was the recipient of some very bad bounces, and the Crusaders would turn to Carter Gylander for the rest of the night. But it would be the starting netminder at the other end of the ice who was the story in this game, and at 3-0 the game turned into the Garrett Larsen show. Larsen, who was rewarded with his 2nd straight start after one of his finest performances of the season in the Cats win on Saturday, was even better on this night making several tremendous stops to keep it a 3-0 game. Before the period was done, Brendan Morrow would make it a 4-0 game as Gylander had trouble with the Tegan Skehar point shot, and Morrow was there to put it in. 4-0 Cats after 40 minutes, and Larsen was up to 36 saves on the evening.

Even at 4-0, I don’t believe that anyone on the Cats bench assumed the game was done facing the top team in the nation, and as expected the Crusaders came at the Cats hard. It wasn’t until 12:50 of the period, their 45th shot, Gylander out and the Crusaders on the power-play that the Crusaders finally broke through on Larsen as Reid Irwin put in a rebound. Sherwood Park got another quick one off the stick of the leading scorer in the AJHL Arjun Atwal to make it 4-2. The Crusaders continued to put the pressure on, but the Bobcats did a good job from that point defending the 2 goal lead and finally at 18:19 it would be Tanner Mack putting it into the empty net for the Bobcats and putting the game on ice. The Crusaders ended up putting 53 shots on Garrett Larsen by the end of the night, but they could only get two of those pucks past the Wisconsin native, who needless to say was spectacular for the Cats this evening.

I caught up with Bobcats head coach after the game who had these thoughts on his teams performance. “I thought that our guys came prepared to work, and it continued on from last week. I thought we got out shot at the start, but we didn’t give up great chances and we stuck with it. And we’ve talked a lot about throwing pucks towards the net, and we did that and we found ways to convert on their turnovers and score some goals.” I asked Dube specifically about Larsen’s performance. “The tandem that we have back there with JD and Larss is huge, and for Larss to come in again was a big test to go back to back and he came through. Both goalies have everyone’s confidence throughout the room. Tonight Larss came up with some big saves at big times and guys rallied around that.”

The Bobcats will go for their 3rd straight win this Saturday as they head up to Fort McMurray to take on the Oil Barons. Puck drop for that one at the Casman Centre will be 7:30 and you can catch all the action on Hockey TV as Taylor Pope will have the call on that one. The Cats are only in action one more time at home for the 2019-2020 season, that being on Wednesday February 26th as they play host to the Olds Grizzlys. That one will get underway at 7:30, however if you are unable to make it down to the Civic Centre, Shane Tomayer and myself will have the call for you both on Hockey TV, and on the MixLR app!

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The Come Back Cats: Bobcats Rally to Down Drayton Valley

There was 8:52 to play in the 3rd period when Brendan Morrow gained the zone on Saturday night at the Centennial Civic Centre against the Drayton Valley Thunder.  The Thunder had a 2-0 lead.  Shots were 39-24, also in favour of the Thunder.  And Morrow was on his own as the rest of his line-mates were making a change, so he was 1 on 4.  This game simply had a feeling that it just wasn’t going to be the Bobcats night…

 

After a fast paced 1st period between the two teams produced zero’s on the scoreboard, the Thunder got it rolling in the 2nd.  Colson Gegenbach, after hitting the crossbar early in his shift, and then getting stopped point blank by Cats starter Garrett Larsen, refused to be denied as he one-timed a puck that bounced off the boards perfectly for him to hammer home and the Thunder had a 1-0 lead.  The Thunder continued to tilt the ice and finally were rewarded with their 2nd goal of the frame as Bailey Tomminga drilled one past Larsen from the right dot that was in off the back crossbar, wouldn’t be shocked if it made a dent, and the Thunder not only had a 2-0 lead but were all over the Cats.  Shots in the 2nd were 19-9 for the Thunder in the period, and the scoring chances were likely more lopsided than that for Drayton Valley.  Following the game Bobcats head coach Nigel Dube said of the period “I thought in the 2nd period we were awful, and there’s no other way to put it.  We didn’t compete hard, we cheated the game, and they got 2.”

 

As things got going in the 3rd, the Bobcats weren’t able to generate much.  They were executing better, but the ice was still tilted in Drayton Valley’s favour as Larsen was doing everything he could to keep it a 2-0 game, and he did just that making two or three excellent saves, and finished the evening with an outstanding 38 saves on 40 shots sent his way by the Thunder.  Then came that Morrow zone entry…

 

As I said, 1 on 4 didn’t give Morrow many options and the Thunder were able to corral the puck, but couldn’t get it out past Cats defenceman Cole Jungwirth who threw the puck to the slot.  With Morrow having worked his way into the slot, he had the presence of mind to find Chance Adrian, fresh off the bench and all alone behind him in the slot and Adrian buried it to not only make it a 2-1 game but completely ignite his hockey team.  I asked Dube after the game about the impact that goal had on the team.  “I think you would have felt like the game could have been a 4 or 5-0 game before that goal, and then when you cut the lead in half it revives everyone and that was what we said at the media time out.  And then a big power-play.”  That big power-play Dube referenced came with 6:37 to play as the Cats, already with a 5 on 4 advantage caught a break when Drayton Valley got caught with too many men on the ice.  It didn’t take the Cats long as Ty Mosimann cashed on the 5 on 3 and all of a sudden it was a tied game.  But the Cats weren’t done there as just 3:12 later and with only 3:00 to play the Cats won a big draw in the Thunder zone and it would be a shot from the point off the stick of Gunner Kinniburgh finding the back of the net, and the comeback was complete.  The Cats locked things down in the final 2:55 after the Kinniburgh goal and walk out of the Centennial Civic Centre a VERY happy group after the 3-2 victory.

 

“I was proud of our effort and what we did to come back in the 3rd period.  We persevered, and found a way.  It was a gutsy effort and proud of how they responded to the 2nd, and the effort throughout this week was pretty good” Dube said following the game.  1-1-1 record against 3 of the top 5 teams in the AJHL North absolutely is a heck of an effort by the Bobcats.  And not only a good effort, but the one thing that has become very noticeable with this hockey club as the season has moved along is the resiliency.  Early in the season, I don’t believe they come back from a 4-1 deficit in Bonnyville as they did Wednesday night.  Early in the season, I don’t believe they give the Spruce Grove Saints the fits that they did on Friday night.  And early in the season, I don’t believe they fight back from the 2nd period that they had Saturday night to pull out a victory.  They’re really starting to grow as a group.

 

The next time you have the chance to see that growth will be Wednesday night at the Civic Centre when the number one ranked team in the CJHL, the Sherwood Park Crusaders come to town to take on the Bobcats.  The last time the Bobcats took on the number one ranked team in the CJHL was just a little over 3 weeks ago when they defeated the Brooks Bandits by a score of 4-3.  Will history repeat itself?  Puck drop at the Civic Centre will be 7:30 PM, and of course if you can’t make it down to the arena, Shane Tomayer and myself will have all the action for you on Hockey TV, and on the MixLR app!

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