2020 NHL Draft: Top 32 Prospects

I sure hope this doesn’t go as last year did.  Last year I did my first list right after the 2018 draft, and then didn’t have time to do even a second list until just days before the draft.  By those standards, I’m already well behind.  But the plan/hope is that this year I’ll be on top of things much better and by season’s end I’m hoping to have as many as eight different lists, but at least five.  We’ll see, life has a way of getting in the way, but I’m an ambitious person.

 

The timing on this first list is pretty coincidental.  It looks good with the Canadian Hlinka/Gretzky lineup just announced yesterday, but the truth is that I’ve been working on these rankings for a month now (literally hours after the draft wrapped up), and I had actually finished the list itself on Monday.  It’s a deep draft, much deeper than last season’s.  At this point, I’d say 2016 would be a fair comparison, but it’s far too early to tell.  Last year at this time I thought the 19 draft was full of studs, but the truth was that the studs weren’t as “studly” as I thought, and very few surprises emerged as the season went on.  So we’ll see.

 

As I always say around this point, I’m not a scout.  These rankings are much more like Bob McKenzie’s in that I’m not getting to see these kids as much as I need to declare myself a scout.  What I do is look through every quality and trusted write up I can find on these kids, every piece of video I can find, and then form my own opinion from there.  So I rely heavily on guys like Mark Edwards and Hockey Prospect (specifically the Black Book, if you’re a draft fan it is a MUST get, amazing every year), Future Considerations, even though I don’t normally agree with how he ranks his players I read and have big-time respect for the work Corey Pronman does, same goes for Steve Kournianous (who also does a good podcast that’s a great listen).  Also this season I’m working with Yannick St. Pierre covering the QMJHL, Sean Patrick Ryan covering the OHL, and I’ll be covering the WHL.  Not sure how my work will stack up, but these two do a tremendous job covering those leagues.  I couldn’t do my own rankings without these guys doing far better work than what I do.  But I will say I don’t simply take the averages of where these guys rank players and call it a day.  I have my own insights on what I’m looking for, so I take their reports more so than their rankings or opinions, couple it with what I’ve been able to see and create a list of my own (and as you’ll see, I definitely do MY OWN rankings).

 

What do I look for?  A lot.  First and foremost skating is most vital.  Skill is obviously extremely important.  IQ is huge though you won’t see me use “hockey sense” very much as I believe in IQ in general over “hockey sense” (theory being that sometimes players are so talented they might not have to think the game coming up, but if they have a high IQ that it will come).  I MUCH prefer playmakers to snipers.  Playmakers are often more intelligent players, and playmakers can play with other playmakers while it’s extremely rare that snipers work well with each other.  I’m not near the “sizest” that I once was, but still am likely more of a size guy than most seem to be.  One thing I will now value a bit more moving forward is players being NHL ready.  Reason being with ELC’s only being three years, a team shouldn’t be wasting the majority of the contract on developing a player, so I won’t be as hot as I’ve been in years past on a player who is much more of a project.  When I dig into the numbers, I want to know who the damage was done against, who were they playing with, and what the situation was (ES?  PP?  SH?).  Something I’m not as high on as most is “dynamic”.  I get why scouts love it, and I don’t disregard it, but you don’t get style points in hockey.  If you can toe drag a junior defenceman, it really doesn’t mean much because it’s unlikely you’ll be able to do that in the pros.

 

Is that enough for you?  Well that is just what I like in my players.  After all that, I then look for five big things: Current production, ceiling/upside, downside, how the players game will translate, and acquireability (I’m making this a word).  I guess the most simple way to put it for “acquireability” is I put a higher value on assets or player types which are tougher to acquire mostly due to how difficult it is to make a trade in today’s landscape and how crippling UFA can be.  I don’t disregard wingers nearly as bad as I used to (2015, put Mitch Marner 7th in my rankings…OOPS…) but centres and defencemen are more difficult and more valuable pieces to land, so they get preferential treatment in my rankings.

 

Finally, I do tiering.  More people do it now thankfully, and I’m not sure why anyone wouldn’t quite frankly.  Do some scouts truly believe there is a definitive gap between every prospect?  There are so many cases where kids are so indistinguishable as prospects, that a team is bound to go with the biggest need within a tiering.  You don’t pick need over the best player available (BPA).  But you also can’t ignore team building, especially in a league where it is increasingly more difficult to make trades.  So you shouldn’t disregard which tier I have players in.  That is more vital in my mind then whichever number a guy is overall.

 

Allow me to say this right now: I’m still getting to know these kids.  So I’m not doing comparisons this time around.  I do have comparisons I like for some, but not most.  Another bigger difference in my early rankings opposed to my final rankings is I’ll lean much more towards potential at this point in the process.  Take Kaiden Guhle for example.  I put him first in my WHL top 10 rankings, and have him MUCH higher in my top 32 than anyone else.  But the kid has the tools to be elite.  So while others are down on him, I believe he’s about to break out this season.

 

Speaking of WHL kids, the Western influence in this draft might be getting a bit underrated at this point.  There very easily could be 0 Western kids taken in the top 10 (we have a ridiculously long way to go though).  But the depth this season is better than last, and couple that with two kids out the AJ who are threats to be taken in the first round, and we have nine Western kids in my top 32 (10 if you include Dylan Holloway).  I don’t have a Western bias, yet fully admit that at this point I know those kids better than others and it does contribute.  So while we just may see nine kids from the West go in the first round this season, I fully admit that I know those kids the best and it has an influence.

 

This season I’m hoping to do podcasts as an accompanying piece to my prospect rankings and my mock drafts, so click here for more of my thoughts on these rankings, or perhaps to listen to while you read them.

 

Ok, down to business.

 

For the last four drafts, not only has a Canadian not gone number one in the draft, but only one has even been a contender for that spot (Nolan Patrick in 2017).  That is going to change this season, as a Canadian looks like a lock to go first.

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Tier One

1. Alexis Lafrenière

Team: Rimouski  League: QMJHL

Pos: LW  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 192  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 61  G: 37  A: 68  P: 105

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

There are only two questions: Will he go 1st, and whether he’s a star or superstar?  That’s it.  He will step right into the league for the 20-21 season and be a force.

 

Tier Two

2. Quinton Byfield

Team: Sudbury  League: OHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’4  Wt: 214  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 64  G: 29  A: 32  P: 61

Born: 08/19/02, Newmarket, ON

I believe Byfield is the only player who has the ability to contend with Lafrenière for top spot in the draft.  A centre who is 6’4 and can fly is pretty damn difficult to find.

 

Tier Three

3. Lucas Raymond

Team: Frölunda HC J20  League: SuperElit

Pos: RW  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 165  Shot: R

2019 Stats – GP: 47  G: 15  A: 35  P: 50

Born: 03/28/02, Göteborg, SWE

Didn’t do comparisons this time around, but if I were this one was my favourite.  Paul Kariya.  Speed, IQ, playmaking, stature, they’re very similar to one another.  Needless to say, that’s not an insult.

 

Tier four

4. Jamie Drysdale

Team: Erie  League: OHL

Pos: RD  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 165  Shot: R

2019 Stats – GP: 63  G: 7  A: 33  P: 40

Born: 04/08/02, Toronto, ON

A right-shot D-man who is one of the top skaters in the draft, the upside with Drysdale is ridiculous.  He reminds me a lot of Morgan Rielly.

 

5. Kaiden Guhle

Team: Prince Albert  League: WHL

Pos: LD  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 187  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 65  G: 3  A: 14  P: 17

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

He is raw, but the skill set is incredible.  Franchise defenceman type ability, though he hasn’t had the opportunity to truly show that.  But he will this season.

 

6. Anton Lundell

Team: HIFK  League: Liiga

Pos: C  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 183  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 48  G: 15  A: 19  P: 34

Born: 10/03/01, Espoo, FIN

Complete 200-foot centres aren’t the sexiest picks, but they’ll always have a higher spot on my lists than most others.

 

Tier Five

7. Cole Perfetti

Team: Saginaw  League: OHL

Pos: LW  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 185  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 63  G: 37  A: 37  P: 74

Born: 01/01/02, Whitby, ON

He may have only been an 02 kid by a day, but those numbers are scary good for an 02 born kid.

 

8. Alexander Holtz

Team: Djurgårdens IF J20  League: SuperElit

Pos: RW  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 183  Shot: R

2019 Stats – GP: 38  G: 30  A: 17  P: 47

Born: 01/23/02, Saltsjö-Boo, SWE

Maybe the best pure goal scorer in the draft.  One of the most exciting players to watch in the draft.

 

9. Marco Rossi

Team: Ottawa  League: OHL

Pos: C  Ht: 5’9  Wt: 179  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 53  G: 29  A: 36  P: 65

Born: 09/23/01, Feldkirch, AUT

Normally I write off a kid who is smaller than 5’11 and especially smaller than 5’10.  But Rossi is extremely skilled and a very committed 200-foot player, so he’ll have a chance in the middle and if he can’t cut it he can always thrive on the wing.

 

Tier Six

10. Dylan Holloway

Team: Okotoks  League: AJHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 192  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 53  G: 40  A: 48  P: 88

Born: 09/23/01, Calgary, AB

Most have him as a winger, but I like his talents better to play the middle.  Off to Wisconsin this season for a much stiffer test than the AJ.

 

11. Justin Barron

Team: Halifax  League: QMJHL

Pos: RD  Ht: 6’2  Wt: 192  Shot: R

2019 Stats – GP: 68  G: 9  A: 32  P: 41

Born: 11/15/01, Halifax, NS

I love Barron’s skillset, but I’m not a big fan of the numbers given that last season was his 17 year old season.  Then again, they’re similar to Evan Bouchard’s who was also an older draft eligible.

 

Tier Seven

12. Hendrix Lapierre

Team: Chicoutimi  League: QMJHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 165  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 48  G: 13  A: 32  P: 45

Born: 02/09/02, Gatineau, QC

Terrific skater and terrific vision.  When you have those two traits, I’m likely to put you pretty high on my list.

 

13. Justin Sourdif

Team: Vancouver  League: WHL

Pos: C  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 165  Shot: R

2019 Stats – GP: 64  G: 23  A: 23  P: 46

Born: 03/24/02, Surrey, BC

Much like Guhle, the opportunities that Sourdif will get this season will be far greater than he got playing on a top team in the WHL last season.

 

14. Tim Stützle

Team: Jungadler Mannheim  League: DNL U20

Pos: C  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 165  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 21  G: 23  A: 32  P: 55

Born: 01/15/02, Viersen, GER

A lot to like here.  Only thing that keeps him lower than Lapierre and Sourdif at the moment (for me) is the league he plays in.

 

15. Noel Gunler

Team: Luleå HF J20  League: SuperElit

Pos: RW  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 176  Shot: R

2019 Stats – GP: 31  G: 27  A: 19  P: 46

Born: 10/07/01, Luleå, SWE

Another fantastic sniper playing in the SuperElit league last season.  At the moment, he might have the best shot in the draft.  Gunler reminds me a lot of Brock Boeser.

 

16. Jan Mysak

Team: HC Litvinov  League: Czech

Pos: LW  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 176  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 31  G: 3  A: 4  P: 7

Born: 06/24/02, Litvinov, CZE

Maybe the two best attributes that Mysak brings to the table are his IQ and his skating ability, which are the two things I value most in a prospect.

 

Tier Eight

17. Yaroslav Askarov

Team: SKA-Varyagi im. Morozova  League: MHL

Pos: G  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 163  Glove: R

2019 Stats – GP: 31  G.A.A.: 2.37  Sv%: .921

Born: 06/16/02, Omsk, RUS

Pretty rare for a goaltender to be this highly touted these days.  Even more rare to be one in a good draft year.  Yet here we are, with Askarov entering the season with a shot at being a top 10 pick.

 

18. Jean-Luc Foudy

Team: Windsor  League: OHL

Pos: C  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 168  Shot: R

2019 Stats – GP: 63  G: 8  A: 41  P: 49

Born: 05/13/02, Scarborough, ON

Foudy has two things I simply love which would be speed for days and is a pure playmaker.  I like him a little more than most.

 

19. Vasili Ponomaryov 

Team: MHK Krylia Sovetov Moskva  League: MHL

Pos: LW  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 176  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 37  G: 9  A: 20  P: 29

Born: 03/13/02, Zelenograd, RUS

The one negative with Ponomaryov has is his skating isn’t GREAT.  But he counters that negative with one of the best motors in the draft.

 

20. Antonio Stranges

Team: London  League: OHL

Pos: LW  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 170  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 66  G: 13  A: 21  P: 34

Born: 02/05/02, Plymouth, MI

I have a feeling that people now know who he is thanks to a certain goal he recently scored?  The kid has insane skill, the question is if he has more than that?

 

21. Connor McClennon

Team: Winnipeg  League: WHL

Pos: RW  Ht: 5’8  Wt: 154  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 46  G: 14  A: 15  P: 29

Born: 06/25/02, Wainwright, AB

One of three WHL undersized wingers who I have an extremely difficult time separating from one another.  McClennon should be on at least a competent team this season, which should drastically improve his numbers.

 

22. Seth Jarvis

Team: Portland  League: WHL

Pos: RW  Ht: 5’9  Wt: 165  Shot: R

2019 Stats – GP: 61  G: 16  A: 23  P: 39

Born: 02/01/02, Winnipeg, MB

Jarvis is the second of those WHL kids.  He had the best numbers of the three kids last season.

 

23. Ozzy Wiesblatt

Team: Prince Albert  League: WHL

Pos: RW  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 187  Shot: R

2019 Stats – GP: 64  G: 15  A: 24  P: 39

Born: 03/09/02, Calgary, AB

The third of the three WHL kids (as Shooter McGavin would say: “oh you can count, good for you”), Wiesblatt has the best size and perhaps plays the most in your face of the three.

 

24. Carter Savoie

Team: Sherwood Park  League: AJHL

Pos: LW  Ht: 5’9  Wt: 170  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 58  G: 31  A: 42  P: 73

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

The lesser-known Savoie as his younger brother Matthew is already being hyped (along with Shane Wright who was the 1st overall pick in the OHL draft last spring) to be the first pick of the 2022 draft.  Why Carter Savoie didn’t get an invite to the Hlinka/Gretzky camp, I REALLY don’t know.  He was more than worthy and will likely prove why this season.

 

Tier Nine

25. Jacob Perreault

Team: Sarnia  League: OHL

Pos: C  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 198  Shot: R

2019 Stats – GP: 63  G: 30  A: 25  P: 55

Born: 04/15/02, Montreal, QC

Might end up being a better fit on the wing than the middle, largely thanks to having a terrific shot.  Much better skater than his old man (Yanic) was, but a questionable motor.

 

26. Connor Zary

Team: Kamloops  League: WHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 174  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 63  G: 24  A: 43  P: 67

Born: 09/25/01, Saskatoon, SK

Interesting kid as he came a little out of nowhere to get on the map, especially late last season.  Was it a kid getting hot, or has he taken his game to another level?

 

27. Ty Smilanic

Team: U.S. National U17  League: USDP

Pos: C  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 168  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 54  G: 20  A: 18  P: 38

Born: 01/20/02, Denver, CO

High-end speed with a high-end motor.  Smilanic’s scouting report is so similar to what Josh Norris scouting report was just three years ago.

 

28. Will Cuylle

Team: Windsor  League: OHL

Pos: LW  Ht: 6’2  Wt: 201  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 63  G: 26  A: 15  P: 41

Born: 05/02/02, Toronto, ON

Power forward with a big shot, but average skating ability.  He reminds me a lot of James Neal.

 

Tier Ten

29. Jake Sanderson

Team: U.S. National U17  League: USDP

Pos: LD  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 170  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 44  G: 4  A: 20  P: 24

Born: 07/08/02, Whitefish, MT

Like his dad, tremendous skater.  Very raw defenceman but thanks to those wheels he has a chance to be a heck of a defenceman.

 

30. Michael Benning

Team: Sherwood Park  League: AJHL

Pos: RD  Ht: 5’9  Wt: 170  Shot: R

2019 Stats – GP: 60  G: 10  A: 51  P: 61

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

Consider this: Benning had almost identical stats last season as Cale Makar had in his 17 year old season.  This season will be Benning’s 17 year old season…

 

31. Dawson Mercer

Team: Drummondville  League: QMJHL

Pos: RW  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 170  Shot: R

2019 Stats – GP: 68  G: 30  A: 34  P: 64

Born: 10/27/01, Bay Roberts, NL

The Voltigeurs are set to have another strong team this season, but with Joe Veleno and Max Comtois off to pro hockey, a lot more offensive responsibility/opportunity will go to Mercer.

 

Tier Eleven

32. Helge Grans

Team: Malmö Redhawks J20  League: SuperElit

Pos: RD  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 192  Shot: R

2019 Stats – GP: 34  G: 5  A: 12  P: 17

Born: 05/10/02, Ljungby, SWE

Great combination of size and mobility, coupled with the fact that he’s a right-shot defenceman means that Grans could find himself going a lot higher than this come June.

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2020 NHL Draft: Top 10 WHL Prospects

Welcome to the first edition of my top ranked WHL prospects for the 2020 NHL draft!  My buddy SPR was looking for someone to keep an eye on the WHL for him this season and so I’m going to be that guy!  And even though I’m saying WHL, I’ll also be keeping a close eye on the tier II junior leagues in Western Canada as well.

 

Not the sexy class of dub kids that we just saw with the 2019 draft class, but at this point, I wouldn’t call it a down year for the league either as 2018 was.  It’s probably deeper than last year’s was, with as many as eight kids of this top ten getting consideration for spots on my initial top 32 list for the 2020 draft.

 

A couple things before I get to the list.  I didn’t do comparisons for the kids this time around as my comp’s tend to change drastically as the year goes on, I have more viewings, and simply more information in general.  Also, even though this should go without saying, I look at this as if I were a GM.  So I’m projecting, and I’m considering not necessarily need but things I view as most valuable.  If you want to see who the best point producers are of these kids, the WHL has a quality website and others do as well to check out the stats.

 

With all that said, here is the list:

 

1. Kaiden Guhle

Team: Prince Albert Raiders

Pos: LD  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 187  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 65  G: 3  A: 14  P: 17

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

He’s number one for me.  I know he’s not for most, but at the moment I have a difficult time putting him behind anyone in the dub given his overall pedigree.  Guhle was the number one pick in the 2017 WHL draft, captain of the U17 team, and a VERY complete defenceman.  Obviously, he doesn’t have tremendous stats, but a lot of that was the team he played on this season.  Guhle had to take a backseat to many this season as the only regular on the Raiders blueline who wasn’t a 99 born kid.  A phenomenal skater who is already very effective in his own zone and loves the throw his weight around.  The big thing that everyone will be watching with him this season is whether or not the offence is going to come.  His puck skills are a bit in question at this moment, but I’m personally willing to cut some slack to a kid who was in his situation this season.  Had he been playing for most other teams in the league, he’d have seen a lot more quality minutes.  Even without improving his puck skills however, he will be a very solid pick.  However, if those do come around, the offence should follow.  And if the offence comes, the scouting community is going to be gushing over him.

 

2. Justin Sourdif

Team: Vancouver Giants

Pos: C  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 165  Shot: R

2019 Stats – GP: 64  G: 23  A: 23  P: 46

Born: 03/24/02, Surrey, BC

For me, Sourdif was the only one in consideration for me with Guhle for top kid in the WHL.  When you look at the numbers with Sourdif, keep in mind most of his damage was done either five on five or PK (20 goals, 20 assists).  Really thin at the moment too, Sourdif has the framed to easily put on another 20lbs.  The big thing for Sourdif will be continuing to improve his skating.  Right now, he’s quick, but he’s not real fast.  He’s not slow, but as you can read he is currently listed as 5’11 so if you’re drafting someone sub 6’0 then you hope to get a great skater.  The stats indicate he isn’t much of a playmaker, but in my opinion, those numbers were hurt by having to play most of the season on the wing and playing a game the Giants needed.  I see him as a natural centre and expect his assist totals to really shoot up this season, especially given much more PP time.

 

3. Connor McClennon

Team: Winnipeg Ice

Pos: RW  Ht: 5’8  Wt: 154  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 46  G: 14  A: 15  P: 29

Born: 06/25/02, Wainwright, AB

2nd overall in the 17 draft behind Guhle.  Tough to judge playing on such a terrible team last season, it wouldn’t stun me with the Ice now being on much more solid footing as an organization if McClennon were to rocket up some scouting lists.  The downside is that a lot of McClennon’s points were on the PP (3 goals, 8 assists).  The upside is that 12 of his 15 assists were primary.  He was also terrific at the U-17’s last year, putting up 8 goals and 11 points in 5 games.  I’d say that tournament gives you a much better indication of what McClennon is playing on a competent team.  He’s a sniper.  He has a hell of a shot.  Zero issue with getting his nose dirty and going to the tough area’s on the ice, and while his top speed isn’t elite, he’s an extremely quick player.  McClennon is first in a group of three kids who I had a very difficult time separating.

 

4. Seth Jarvis

Team: Portland Winterhawks

Pos: RW  Ht: 5’9  Wt: 165  Shot: R

2019 Stats – GP: 61  G: 16  A: 23  P: 39

Born: 02/01/02, Winnipeg, MB

Just barely edged out by McClennon who got the nod for me mainly due to playing on such a terrible team and being the higher pick in the bantam draft.  But Jarvis had a tick better PPG, much better five on five numbers, and even though both are small kids he has a bit more size.

 

5. Ozzy Wiesblatt

Team: Prince Albert Raiders

Pos: RW  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 187  Shot: R

2019 Stats – GP: 64  G: 15  A: 24  P: 39

Born: 03/09/02, Calgary, AB

Wiesblatt is a little different of a prospect than Jarvis and McClennon in that he has a little more size as you can see, and he plays with a lot of edge.  Good numbers in the regular season, and good numbers in the playoffs too with 5 goals and 5 assists in 23 games.  It is so close with all three of these kids.  Wiesblatt was the lowest drafted of the three and has the lowest PPG.  You could also point to seeing some PP time and five on five minutes with some real good players.  But then on the other hand, he’s got better size than Jarvis are McClennon and not just that but he uses that size to play a more in your face and physical game.

 

6. Connor Zary

Team: Kamloops Blazers

Pos: C  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 174  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 63  G: 24  A: 43  P: 67

Born: 09/25/01, Saskatoon, SK

Just missing this past draft by 10 days, Zary’s numbers stack up decent against a guy like Kirby Dach on a less talented team than the Blades were in Kamloops.  Zary actually had three more points than Dach at five on five, only playing one more game.  Obviously there is much more to this than the numbers, but that is one big positive for Zary.  At this point in the process however I still need to compare his 2018 numbers to the other kids in this class, and that’s where he falls a little down these rankings as his 17 year old numbers are lower (29 points in 68 games).

 

7. Jake Neighbours 

Team: Edmonton Oil Kings

Pos: LW  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 201  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 47  G: 11  A: 13  P: 24

Born: 03/29/02, Airdrie, AB

I like the size (obviously more so the thickness), and he’s has great hands, but Neighbours best trait is his IQ.  He is an extremely cerebral player.  The big concern I have though is the skating.  I’ll need to see some improvement in his top end speed next season, but if he does that he’ll start getting serious buzz come next season.

 

8. Ronan Seeley

Team: Everett Silvertips

Pos: LD  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 176  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 52  G: 1  A: 8  P: 9

Born: 08/02/02, Yellowknife, NT

He’s 8th right now, but Seeley has the ability to jump all the way to tops on this list in the next 11 months.  This kid has a lot of talent but was stuck in Everett as a bottom pair guy every night.  Terrific skater, and though his puck skills aren’t tremendous, like Guhle in P.A. it could just be a case of not getting to handle it much thanks to a lack of ice time.  This one is much more about projecting than anything.  Others would have guys like Braden Schneider or Daemon Hunt ahead of Seeley, but Seeley has a much higher ceiling than both.

 

9. Ridly Greig

Team: Brandon Wheat Kings

Pos: LW  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 159  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 63  G: 14  A: 21  P: 35

Born: 08/08/02, Lethbridge, AB

Greig just needs to add strength.  He’s rail thin at the moment.  And because of this, Greig is getting knocked off the puck relatively easy and isn’t generating the power in his stride that he needs to be a good-great skater.  Yet he put up 35 points?  28 at even strength?  14 of the 21 assists were primary?  Keep your eye on him.

 

10. Daemon Hunt

Team: Moose Jaw Warriors

Pos: LD  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 198  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 57  G: 7  A: 13  P: 20

Born: 05/15/02, Brandon, MB

Similar to Guhle, Hunt was playing with a very good blueline this past season.  Dissimilar to Guhle however is that Hunt was getting a lot of minutes with Josh Brook and Jet Woo.  That might have helped him out a lot defensively, but also maybe hurt his offensive production.  Only one of those goals and two of those assists were on the PP, while Brook and Woo lit it up on their PP.  Pretty good skater and very solid defensively.

 

Hounourable mention

Braden Schneider

Team: Brandon Wheat Kings

Pos: RD  Ht: 6’2  Wt: 209  Shot: R

2019 Stats – GP: 58  G: 8  A: 16  P: 24

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

Certainly, the biggest omission from the top 10 as others have him much higher than I.  Hell, I even seen that Corey Pronman gave him a special mention and he only did a top 21 list (top 28 with those extra names) and Pronman NEVER likes this type of player!  For me, 24 points in his 17 year old season isn’t much to get too excited about.  He only missed the draft by five days.  I like his skating, and his defensive play is very sound, but the production is uninspiring for me at this point.  But it’s VERY early in this process, plenty of time to make me look like a jack ass.

 

Josh Pillar

Team: Kamloops Blazers

Pos: C  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 165  Shot: R

2019 Stats – GP: 68  G: 7  A: 15  P: 22

Born: 02/14/02, Warman, SK

Scary good wheels.  His numbers this past season don’t stack up with the other kids in my top 10 so I couldn’t put him in there, but this kid is going to be one of the best skaters in this draft.  He’s going to be interesting to track playing on what I expect to be a pretty good Blazers team.

 

Carter Savoie

Team: Sherwood Park Crusaders (AJHL)

Pos: LW  Ht: 5’9  Wt: 170  Shot: L

2019 StatsGP: 58  G: 31  A: 42  P: 73

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

Obviously he’s in the AJHL and not the WHL, but I’m still going to be tracking him closely this season as I said off the top.  The Winnipeg Ice tried to get him, but in the end Savoie is sticking with the Crusaders and then it’ll be off to the University of Denver for the 20-21 season.  It may have “only been the AJHL”, but leading an elite AJHL team in scoring as a 16 year old is no joke.  In fact, his 73 points were good for 5th in the league.  One scouting service currently has him 80th.  It’s only my opinion, but I’m predicting that scouting service is going to give better “consideration” to their next list.  Dylan Holloway is top 10 for a couple of scouting services right now, no lower than 11th that I’ve seen.  Holloway (who missed being a 2019 pick by eight days) had 88 points in the AJ this season and was only at a PPG pace the year before.  So if he had played the 58 games in 2018 which Savoie played this past season, let’s assume he has 58 points.  So obviously a 30 point in improvement from last season to this.  Savoie has a 30 point improvement and we’re talking about a 100 point player.  The skating is great, the IQ is high, I know the hype is around his brother but the elder Savoie is going to be a damn good one too.

 

Michael Benning

Team: Sherwood Park  Crusaders (AJHL)

Pos: RD  Ht: 5’9  Wt: 170  Shot: R

2019 Stats – GP: 60  G: 10  A: 51  P: 61

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

Along with Savoie, the Crusaders also have defenceman and very close friend of Savoie’s, brother of Oilers defenceman Matthew Benning, Michael Benning.  The big thing I can’t take my eyes off of with Benning is the stats in comparison to AJHL alumn Cale Makar.  In Makar’s 17 year old season, he was a shad over a PPG with 10 goals and 45 points in 54 games.  As you can see, Benning put up extremely similar numbers in his 16 year old season (although in fairness, Benning is only a little more than two months younger than Makar was at the time).  However, while the numbers are so similar, the style of play is not.  Makar was as dynamic of a defenceman as you’ll see, while Benning plays a much more understated/cerebral game.

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Is Holland Done? He Doesn’t Have to Be

Just like the last blog, before I get rolling I’m going to talk more on the Boundary battle of Alberta game because now we have a second game to talk about!  The first game not only sold out in incredible time, but the roster spots also were snatched up quickly.  Tickets go on sale tomorrow morning (Tuesday, July 30th) at 9 AM and can be bought either at LHRF.com or at Boundary Ford in Lloydminster ($25.00 per ticket).  Also, with a new game comes new roster spots so there are now eight spots (four per team) available for $1,000.00.  And the two latest names to get added to the list of players playing in this game were announced Friday.  Mark Fistric for the Oilers, and Mike Commodore for the Flames.  Fistric was dealt to the Oilers just after the lockout ended and the season began in 2013.  At that time the team was getting pushed around and needed someone who could push back and Fistric did just that.  Every game he’d play there would be someone from the opposition laid out, one of the last true crushers the Oilers have had.  A 1st round pick in 2004 by Dallas, Fistric spent six seasons in the Stars organization before joining the Oilers and then spent the final two years of his career in Anaheim with the Ducks.  His style was very similar to Commodore’s, who took a full four seasons to truly establish himself in the league.  But he finally did during the 2004 run to the Cup final for the Flames.  Commodore became a fan favourite during that time and continued that after he packed his shit and was dealt from the Flames to the Hurricanes prior to the 05-06 season (see what I did there?!), in a move that turned out terrific for Commodore as he was a key contributor in the Canes Cup winning team (still pains me to say that as an Oilers fan).  Like Debrusk and Macoun, it’s an amazing opportunity to play with genuinely good guys who played in the league and have about a billion stories to tell.  These aren’t guys who are going to “big time” anyone.  They’re going to be an absolute blast to play with, and again all this money is going towards Project Sunrise which is a terrific mental health initiative, so you’re not only paying for one hell of a good time, but you’re helping end the stigma which is something I’m personally all in on.  If you’d like more info on how to play in the game, call the Lloydminster Region Health Foundation at  306-820-6161.  The extra game added will also be on September 28th, this one starting at noon MST.

Well Ken Holland sure got back into Oilers fans good books since the last blog I wrote!  Getting James Neal for Milan Lucic, even in the absolute worst case scenario is still a huge win for the Oilers.  Even with the money retained, the Oilers would still open up 3.3 million per season on the cap.  Lucic on a buyout would have only opened up 500k in two of the next three seasons, only 2 million in the other.  And that’s the worst case scenario.  I actually believe that everything I’m hearing and reading on what happened with Neal last season and what he’s been doing this off-season, he sounds like a solid bet to rebound this season, not to mention he’s a terrific fit for the team.  Would I put the chances that Neal bounces back high?  No.  Maybe 45-50%.  But the chances Lucic could help the Oilers were down to about 5-10%.  It is a sure win, with the potential to be a home run.

 

So now that fans are satisfied, the Oilers are ready for camp to open in a little under seven weeks…right?  If this is what Holland entered camp with, I believe most rationale fans would be ok with it.  He’s improved the team speed, he hasn’t ruined the cap situation, I still don’t understand the Sekera buyout at all over possibly moving out a guy like Kris Russell, but it is debatable and he did at least open up a spot on the blueline for Caleb Jones to step in.  But the thing is that he still has some moves he can make to improve the roster further.

 

Starting with Matt Benning, and this conversation always drives me nuts.  I’ve wanted the Oilers to explore moving on from Benning for a year now, but when I lay this out for people they don’t ever seem to understand why.  I don’t dislike the player.  Matt Benning is very worthy of being an NHL player, might even be capable of playing in a top-four role if given the proper D partner.  But he’s not a fit for the Oilers at all.  This blueline is overrun with D-men who lack skill, speed, and/or a high-end ability to move the puck.  Couple that with the fact that they have three kids either needing NHL minutes or are close to ready for them who play the right side in Joel Persson, Ethan Bear and Evan Bouchard (all of whom are better puck movers with at least as good of skating ability) and it just makes it so obvious to me that Holland should be looking to use Benning to secure another forward.

 

We all thought that player was going to be Connor Brown.  Could it still?  The Sens still aren’t too deep on the blueline and have a lot of young forwards ready to crack their lineup.  Marcus Sorensson from the Sharks might make sense, Calle Järnkrok from the Preds, there are a few options out there which might make sense.

 

You could also move Ethan Bear.  It is a similar situation to Benning in that it’s not the best of fits, especially if Benning is staying.  Bear has similar skating issues in that he can move well enough to play in the league, but maybe not well enough to help an already average skating team.  Another case for Bear is that while he’s the cheaper cap hit and moves the puck extremely well, that also might make him a bit more valuable on the market.

 

In both cases, they are pieces which could bring back what is really needed which would be complementary wingers for the top two lines or a third-line centre.  When I say complementary wingers, I’m not talking about top-six wingers, but rather wingers who can play with top-six guys.  If you assume that four of the top six are McDavid, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins, and Neal, then you really just need to find a couple of players who can hang with those guys.

 

Of course, the one wildcard in all this remains Puljujarvi.  To me, it’s very unfortunate that him going to Europe to play was really just a bluff from his agent, Markus “I’m hell-bent on destroying my client’s career” Lehto.  I wouldn’t have wanted him over there for one year, I wanted two.  But neither seem likely all of a sudden and now we’re hearing more and more rumours that Puljujarvi is going to end up back with the Oilers come September.  It’ll be interesting to see if he does end up back with the team what he’s going to look like.  On one hand, the double hip surgery should help his skating long term.  Not that his skating was shitty, but he still looked as though he really lacked strength and his agility wasn’t where it could be.  But on the other hand, I’m going to be surprised if he’s ready to roll.  I’m sure that a two week conditioning stint in Bakersfield to start the season would be possible, but that won’t be the cure.

 

IF he’s back, he needs patience.  Patience from the organization, patience from the media, and patience from the fans.  He needs to play and stay on the third line.  I still strongly believe that once this kid starts getting some real traction that he is going to flourish.  To what level?  Remains to be seen.  I don’t think it’s far fetched that he still ends up reaching his full potential, but obviously at this point, nobody is going to set that as an expectation.

 

After the Lucic trade, fans are feeling much better about the Oilers entering the season.  But the reality of the situation is that things are still very bleak entering next season.  Thanks to the scenario in goal, it might be hopeless.  But there are still bullets to fire that can improve this squad without hurting the future of the team either in terms of future cap or future assets.

 

Nobody should be expecting them to make the playoffs this season, but we all want/hope Holland and company do everything they can (without sacrificing the future) to give them the best opportunity to do so.

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Trying to Figure Out the Long Term Plan

Photo by Ian Kucerak/Postmedia

Before I start today, we have a pretty big event coming to my hometown of Lloydminster on September 28th.  Eight alumni each from the Oilers and Flames will square off in the Boundary Battle of Alberta with all proceeds going toward Project Sunrise which is a terrific mental health initiative.  The event is already sold out (I believe tickets went in something like six hours, ridiculous), but why go sit in the stands when you can play in the game?  Not sure where it currently stands, but when the event was announced they had four spots available on each team for $1,000.00.  The first two names are being announced today (perhaps already have been by the time this gets posted) will be Sportsnet colour analyst and former Oiler Louie Debrusk, and former Flames defenceman, two time Stanley Cup champion, over 1,100 games in the NHL Jamie Macoun.  Both guys have reputations as being among the most genuinely great people ever to suit up in the league.  We’re not talking about guys who if you pay a grand to play next to them they’re going to treat a guy like shit and then get the hell out of there when the game is done.  Great guys with a couple thousand or so stories from their years playing hockey to tell (a lot of which I’m sure can’t be shared in public settings…).  It’s a great start to the list and I know that more great names are still to come, so if you got the dough it’d not only be worth your money but it goes towards a terrific cause.  If you’re interested, send me a DM on Twitter (@TJ_Soups) and I should be able to get you in touch with the right people to make it happen.

 

Now, how to transition from something damn good to something terrible…I’m kidding, it’s not terrible.  But if you’re impatient, as all Oilers fans should be, it’s a very hard truth to hear or read, but it’s a fact.  And the fact is that this is at least a one year rebuild for the Oilers.

 

I’m guessing very few Oilers fans, even those who view themselves as the “elite” fans, were aware of this.  Or perhaps they were trying to convince themselves otherwise.  To me, it was obvious from the moment they fired Peter Chiarelli that it would take a minimum of 18 months to undo the knot that Chiarelli tied.  I’m not a big Ken Holland fan, but it was going to take damn near a miracle for anyone to step in and turn this team into a playoff contender.  Even in trying to construct a roster myself, assuming UFA’s would sign, assuming GM’s would take my trade proposal’s, what I pieced together still wasn’t going to be anything of a sure bet and really isn’t far off what Holland has done.

 

What I find funny though is seeing people mock signings like Joakim Nygård, Gaëtan Haas, and Josh Archibald and I can’t help but think just how moronic people can be.  What is wrong with these signings?!?  Sure, they aren’t the BIG moves people want, but they’re low risk, rationale moves that this club has been begging for since…2008?  2006?  And yet the moment they’re announced, people can’t wait to shit on them.  At least you can see a plan here with Holland and it’s to put out a much faster lineup, which is one thing I was clamoring for entering the off-season.

 

But those type of moves again suggest that this is going to take a year.  Not to suggest that they’re looking to tank this season or anything along those lines.  They’re not.  They’re trying to put together as good of a lineup they can, but without killing the gains they’re making on the cap over the next few seasons.  You can’t quick fix this.  Did anyone notice it cost the Leafs a first round pick to unload a year of Patrick Marleau?  I’d guess Kris Russell would have cost a second, and can you imagine what it’d then cost to shed the rest of the Lucic deal?!?  No thank you.

 

So it is going to take some time.  And how much more damn patience are us Oilers fans going to have to display?!  Well, if you want them to put together a perennial playoff team, give them a year.  Obviously, we all want them to make the playoffs this season.  But we as fans need to have the mindset that they won’t and what we’ll see is more of what we saw last season.  For our mental health, this is a much better approach then demanding they make the playoffs ASAP.  And we must remind ourselves, we want to win Cups, not be what the Minnesota Wild or Columbus Blue Jackets have been.

 

As it currently sits, they’re going to have close to 25 million in cap space next summer.  So that’s a nice start, but it’s not just that.  A year from now, Kris Russell is much more movable with only a year left on his deal and a no-trade list that shrinks from 21 teams to 16.  I also believe that after he gets his signing bonus (whenever that is as it’s been disputed a lot in the media) Milan Lucic will be much more movable.  After his bonus is paid, Lucic will only cost 1 million dollars for the 20-21 season.  Now, before you say “yeah, but then he still has another two years left after that at a combined 9 million and a 6 mil a year cap hit”, remember that after the 20-21 season the CBA is up.  Teams are getting compliance buyouts.  At least two, maybe more.  Is he movable without penalty?  No.  But he’s much more movable, and in a year from now, Holland will have more assets stockpiled and a chance to be more aggressive.

 

You also have to go back to the draft with what I still find to be a completely bizarre use of the 8th overall pick in the draft selecting Philip Broberg.  It’s not just that it was a reach, it’s the lack of justification which came with it.  The Oilers strength in their system is the blueline, and specifically on the left side.  Add to that, Klefbom is young and locked down for four more seasons at an extremely team-friendly number, and Nurse is already a top-four D-man at 24 years old.  They already had 10 D-men 26 and under who are either on the roster or on the cusp.  Another seven defencemen in Europe, NCAA, or in the AHL.  A kid like Broberg just couldn’t have been less of a need.  BUT…

 

You have a lot of power to make trades when you’re deep on the blueline, and you will save on the cap.  Defencemen probably get overpaid more than any other position in the league.  If you’re developing them and locking them down at the right times, it can cut way down on cap mistakes.  Look at the Preds.  The only bad deal they made with their D-men was matching the Shea Weber offer sheet, which they made up for by moving him for P.K. Subban.  In turn, they’ve been able to pretty much do whatever they’ve wanted to the last few seasons.

 

The Broberg pick combined with the cap space coming up had me wondering if there wasn’t something to all the smoke around Taylor Hall possibly making a return.  Those rumours won’t go away.  And it would be one thing for them to be coming from people with zero credibility, but Elliotte Friedman has hinted at it before.  It was around the trade deadline where he said it on a podcast (can’t remember which it was, but not his own), and also talked about it on Oilers Now when asked days after.  Bob Stauffer has hinted at it a lot for several months now, and from all accounts has remained in close contact with Hall since being dealt.  Back to Friedman, who has also talked recently about Hall’s desire to play in a market where it really matters.

 

But the problem is that while fans would hear 25 million and believe they can easily go out and sign Hall for 12 million a season, they can’t.  Well, they COULD, but we’re talking shedding all of the 10 million of dead weight on the cap that Russell and Lucic eat up, AND you’d have to move out Darnell Nurse who is looking to be in line for a contract extension worth 6-7 million per season if his numbers can stay in the 30-40 point range.  Then you still likely have to go get a goaltender to be a 1B with Koskinen (if not a 1A), and even with Nurse in the lineup, you have to upgrade the blueline.  Sure, they have a lot of kids who will likely see some quality NHL minutes this upcoming season, but will kids like Jones, Persson, Bear or Lagesson be ready for top-four minutes after next season?  HIGHLY unlikely.

 

But the thing about the Oilers is that they don’t need another star like Hall.  Filling the holes they have better would take this team from the outhouse to the penthouse.  Mikael Granlund, Alex Galchenyuk, Chris Kreider, Robin Lehner, Jared Spurgeon, Sami Vatanen, Justin Faulk, there are a lot of guys who might get to the open market who would be great fits for what the Oilers really need.

 

Giving them a year to focus on a build rather than to be dusted in five by the Sharks would also give them a chance to really implement a lot of kids to save even more cap space.  Benson, Jones, Persson, Lagesson, Yamamoto, and Bouchard are all kids who are either going to push for spots on the roster or should be ready to go for the start of the 20-21 season.

 

So this very possibly could be what their plan i.  If so, I believe it’s fair to say “ok, one year build, next year playoffs, the year after that is when they’ll be able to put out a true contender”.  For those of you fearing a McDavid trade request if this is the case, he’s not going to ask out if they have a very legitimate plan.  You can miss the playoffs trending up and miss the playoffs trending down.  Sure, shit could hit the fan once again this season and be a nightmare and if that’s the case then he just may finally snap.  But more than likely they’ll be more competitive this season and if they do miss the playoffs they’ll at least do so trending up.  The kids gain experience, the system gets stronger, the cap space increases, and the organization at least has a GM who isn’t going to piss away any asset or cap space he can get his hands on.  That’s a BIG improvement over how things have been here.

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Edmonton Oilers Top 20 Prospects – July, 2019

I say this every year this time of year…summer sucks!  I know most of you don’t agree, but deal with it.  Bugs, allergies, forced trips to the lake no matter how shitty the weather, and there are no sports on.  Zero.  Mid-season baseball and early season CFL action just simply don’t cut it, and please don’t give me the MLS.  Summer just flat out sucks.  Some of my buddies get geared up for pre-season NFL action, but even being a die-hard NFL fan, I can’t really get into it.  There is no other two month stretch in the year quite like this one, and while my significant other is in all her glory right now as a teacher who lives for these two months, I am the polar opposite.

 

Perhaps the best way to counteract this personal misery is to talk as much hockey in as many forms as I possibly can!  Yesterday I had my summer power rankings, and today I bring you my latest top 20 Edmonton Oilers prospect list!

 

While this is a fresh list, be warned that some of the write-up’s aren’t.  Simply put, there was just no reason to change what I had wrote on some of these players back in April.  Add to that, I have trouble keeping my blogs under 2500 words these days, so anytime I find a way to cut a bit of a corner, I’m going to take it as there are only so many hours in the day!

 

Hounourable Mention

 

Maxim Denezhkin

Team: Yaroslavl  League: MHL

Pos: C  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 165  Shot: L

2019 StatsGP: 51  G: 22  A: 17  P: 39

DOB: 12/10/00

Acquired: 7th Round, 193rd Overall, 2019 Draft

Obviously, you can see he has some filling out to do.  Skating isn’t great, but I often wonder when slighter guys are having skating issues at these level’s of hockey if added strength isn’t what is needed to get their skating to the level it needs to get to?  Also a high character kid from what I’ve read and heard.  Interesting 7th round pick, I definitely wouldn’t say it sounds wasted.

ETA: Early 24-25

 

Tomas Mazura

Team: Kimball Union  League: USHS

Pos: C  Ht: 6’2  Wt: 170  Shot: L

2019 StatsGP: 37  G: 14  A: 40  P: 54

DOB: 09/23/00

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

The more I’m reading on Mazura, the more I’m at least interested.  Where he really caught my attention was the first media scrum he did at development camp.  WOW!  I tweeted after seeing it “I can see why they took him”.  Look, loving the kid doesn’t make him a good prospect.  He is insanely thin right now.  I got him as 6’2 but if I’m not mistaken, some have him at 6’3.  And 170lbs might be extremely generous.  The kid has a shit ton of filling out to do.  He is a total project, but they bet on a kid who is big, skates well, and seems to have a ton of energy along with a high IQ.  Can’t complain about that.  Major project though.

ETA: Early 25-26

 

Matej Blümel

Team: Waterloo  League: USHL

Pos: RW  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 198  Shot: L

2019 StatsGP: 58  G: 30  A: 30  P: 60

DOB: 05/31/00

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

Reading about him in the Hockey Prospect Black Book, they say he’s a very inconsistent player.  He’s a shoot first kid as he led the USHL in shots on goal this season.  It does sound as though he has some decent upside, as a 19 year old in the USHL his numbers really weren’t too impressive.  Compared with Flames prospect Martin Pospisil (someone I was very high on as a mid-rounder in last years draft), Blümel was outproduced on a PPG basis, 1.43 to 1.03.  Obviously, there is a long way to go here for both players, but not overly encouraging when you consider that Pospisil is just a solid prospect who brings a lot more to the table (he’s a rat).  Blümel is off to UCONN this fall so the Oilers have at least three seasons to let him develop before making a decision on him.  Was interested to find out that Mazura and Blümel are very tight friends.  Scott Howson claims he had no idea of that when they picked them, but…I don’t know.  Pretty tough to believe that just being a coincidence.

ETA: Early 24-25

 

Ostap Safin 

Team: Halifax  League: QMJHL

Pos: RW  Ht: 6’5  Wt: 205  Shot: L

2019 StatsGP: 15  G: 3  A: 8  P: 11

DOB: 02/11/99

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

I felt as though I had to drop him off the list, but I’m not personally giving up on him.  I’ve seen others disregard him after this season, almost like they have no clue that he missed the majority of the season with a hip pointer.  Hip issues are TOUGH to overcome.  I think of a guy like Brett Connolly who had hip issues in his draft year, and it took him until the 16-17 season to really establish himself in the league and I can’t help but wonder if that was why?  So we’ll see on Safin.  But as I’ve pointed out many times, this kid has a monster ceiling.  He’s not just big, he is a tremendous skater and plays with an edge.

ETA: Late 21-22

 

John Marino 

Team: Harvard  League: NCAA

Pos: RD  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 181  Shot: R

2019 StatsGP: 33  G: 3  A: 8  P: 11

DOB: 05/21/97

Acquired: 6th round, 154th overall, 2015 draft

The big question with Marino is now whether or not they’ll get him signed as he is about to enter his Sr. season and therefore be a UFA after the season.  The regime who drafted him is gone and as it felt during the draft, Ken Holland wants to do EVERYTHING his way whether it’s for the best or not.  I’ve maintained for a while now I like Marino maybe more than most.  Nice size, great skater and moves the puck well.  A new age shutdown D-man.  Add to that he’s a RH shot, I’d love for them to get Marino signed, but perhaps there is something under the table already done and both sides have agreed that it’ll be better for his development to stay at Harvard for the season rather than see limited time in Bakersfield?  Something worrisome for getting Marino signed is that he now doesn’t have Adam Fox in his way, so he’ll be Harvard’s number one D-man this season and as a result his numbers might get a massive bump and therefore draw a ton of suitors to the impending UFA.

ETA: Early 22-23

 

20. Olivier Rodrigue 

Team: Drummondville  League: QMJHL

Pos: G  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 159  Glove: L

2019 StatsGP: 48  G.A.A.: 2.43  Sv%: .902

DOB: 07/06/00

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

The raw stats that I have up don’t look overly great for Rodrigue last season.  One that tells more of the story that looked a little better however was his adjusted goals saved above average, which was 9th in the Q last season (13.631).  Still wasn’t the type of season I believe most were hoping to see out of a kid they traded back into the 2018 2nd round to snag, but we have a LONG ways to go with Rodrigue.  Look at that weight, he might still have 30lbs to put on.  He’ll be in the mix for the 2020 WJC team, but he is nowhere near the lock he seemed as though he’d be for it this time last year.  But I can’t stress enough that there is a very long way to go with this kid.

ETA: Early 23-24

 

19. Dylan Wells  

Team: Wichita  League: ECHL

Pos: G  Ht: 6’2  Wt: 190  Glove: L

2019 StatsGP: 34  G.A.A.: 2.94  Sv%: .910

DOB: 01/03/98

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

Before I begin, those numbers are combined ECHL and AHL.  Got into one AHL playoff game which was game 2 vs San Diego and played great!  It was a losing cause, but he came up with a 35 of 38 stops.  In his first year of pro hockey, the kid had a very respectable .910 Sv% (.909 in 12 AHL games).  Extremely encouraging when you remember that he was coming off a very disappointing final year in the OHL.  It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster in his three years since being drafted, but for my money, he’s had two out of three good seasons.  Next year is a big one though.  I really don’t know how at this time they plan on working with Wells and Stuart Skinner.  Both need more AHL minutes this season, and they have Shane Starrett as the starter so there is only one spot available.  Are they going to carry three goaltenders in Bakersfield and possibly just rotate all three?  Do Wells and Skinner take turns starting in Witchita and splitting time with Starret in Bakersfield?  Or, is someone being shipped out?  It’s an interesting predicament.

ETA: Early 21-22

 

18. Stuart Skinner 

Team: Wichita  League: ECHL

Pos: G  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 203  Glove: L

2019 StatsGP: 47  G.A.A.: 3.07  Sv%: .891

DOB: 11/01/98

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

Like Wells, the numbers are combined ECHL and AHL.  Had some real good moments in relief of Shane Starrett in the 2nd round of the AHL playoffs vs San Diego.  Wells got the full 60 in game two of the series, but Skinner took over after Starrett struggled in game three, and again after Starrett struggled in game four, then was tremendous in the game five start stopping 45 of 46 helping the Condors stay alive.  A rough outing in game six led to being pulled after the first period, but overall in the series Skinner played very well against a good Gulls team.  It really is neck and neck at this point between Skinner and Wells and I don’t think anyone knows who is going to come out on top.  I think I can speak for all Oilers fans in saying we don’t care just as long as one of them comes out on top as a starting NHL goaltender.

ETA: Early 21-22

 

17. Ilya Konovalov

Team: Lokomotiv Yaroslavl  League: KHL

Pos: G  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 194  Glove: L

2019 StatsGP: 45  G.A.A.: 1.89  Sv%: .930

DOB: 07/13/98

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

I now can say I’ve seen him play!  There is a clip on youtube with the camera solely on him!  It is damn near impossible to tell what exactly he is having to face, but there are some quality scoring chances in the 5 minutes or so where he makes some great stops.  Two breakaways and a glorious chance from a cross-crease pass where he stole one.  Something else I noticed is how well he appears to track the puck, and then I’ve read that it’s one of his biggest strengths.  Very positionally sound.  Bob Green said something along the lines of him being bigger than he looks, and again it’s just from the one highlight pack but I can see that.  If you think NHL teams worry about the size of their skaters, it is NOTHING compared to the size requirements for goaltenders these days.

ETA: Early 22-23

 

16. Philip Kemp 

Team: Yale  League: NCAA

Pos: RD  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 203  Shot: R

2019 StatsGP: 30  G: 3  A: 5  P: 8

DOB: 02/12/99

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

He’s nothing to get over excited about, but there is some reason to get excited about hitting on a 7th round pick.  Don’t believe that’s happened since 2003 for this organization (Kyle Brodziak).  I see him as a Mark Fayne clone, only question is whether we’re talking Fayne in Jersey, or Fayne in Edmonton.

ETA: Late 22-23

 

15. Filip Berglund 

Team: Skellefteå  League: SHL

Pos: RD  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 205  Shot: R

2019 StatsGP: 52  G: 2  A: 9  P: 11

DOB: 5/10/97

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

A little like Kemp in that he doesn’t have much flash in his game.  Maybe a little more offensive ability, but definitely not the type who oozes skill.  On one hand, it’s good that he’s staying over in Sweden another season with the team currently looking at six D for two bottom pairing spots next season (I doubt they’ll want one of the kids on the roster as the number seven guy).  But on the other hand, we would like to get a closer look at him sooner or later.  20-21 I’m sure.

ETA: Late 20-21

 

14. Joe Gambardella

Team: Bakersfield  League: AHL

Pos: LW  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 201  Shot: L

2019 StatsGP: 50  G: 29  A: 19  P: 48

DOB: 12/01/93

Acquired: Free Agent, Signed March 28th, 2017

It’s go time for Gambardella, and he’s right there.  He’s got the wheels that this organization needs a lot more of, so that’s a good thing.  And he started to gain the trust of Ken Hitchcock near the end of the season, so that’s another great sign.  He’s not a guy Hitchcock would normally like, but he seemed to really appreciate Gambardella.  27 goals, 45 points in 48 games in the AHL this season.  I think he can be a regular, but I do wonder if it’ll be with the Oilers.  Might be the wrong time for him to break through here, but he’ll get his shot in camp.

ETA: Early 19-20

 

13. William Lagesson  

Team: Bakersfield  League: AHL

Pos: LD  Ht: 6’2  Wt: 207  Shot: L

2019 StatsGP: 67  G: 8  A: 19  P: 27

DOB: 02/22/96

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

I’ve always liked him.  There isn’t a high ceiling with Lagesson, but he sure looks like he’ll play in the league at this point.  Not a pretty skater, but he can move.  Not an offensively gifted player, but put up ok numbers this season.  Not a killer on the back end, but he loves to get his nose dirty.  He’s ready to see some minutes with the big club, so it’ll be interesting to see if they can accommodate that with so many other D-men in the system around the same level.

ETA: Mid 19-20

 

12. Joel Persson 

Team: Växjö League: SHL

Pos: RD Ht: 6’1 Wt: 187  Shot: R

2019 StatsGP: 50  G: 6  A: 25  P: 31

DOB: 03/04/94

Acquired: Free Agent, Signed May 18th, 2018

Have to admit, I’m pretty stunned thus far that they still have a log jam of bottom pair right shot D-men.  Persson, Benning and Bear are all ready for NHL minutes this fall.  Will Persson or Bear perhaps be tried on a 2nd pairing with Nurse?  Neither are ready for that, but both fit much better with Nurse than Matt Benning does.  I wouldn’t do it, but it looks as though they may.  Anyway, Persson doesn’t do anything exceptionally well, but is a well rounded D-man who can skate and move the puck well…AKA the type of defencemen the Oilers are desperate for.  He did a ton of the heavy lifting for Växjö this season, essentially being their number one defenceman.

ETA: Early 19-20

 

11. Cooper Marody  

Team: Bakersfield  League: AHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 183  Shot: R

2019 StatsGP: 58  G: 19  A: 45  P: 64

DOB: 12/20/96

Acquired: Trade with Philadelphia, March 21st, 2018

I love him, but I’m not sure I love him for the Oilers.  The wheels are concerning and with both the big club and the higher end prospects there are too many players like that in the system.  So for me personally, I’d be willing to part with him for the right piece.  But I love his game.  A pure playmaker who is unafraid to go anywhere on the ice.  If he does improve the wheels, he’ll be one hell of a player.

ETA: Late 19-20

 

10. Raphaël Lavoie

Team: Halifax  League: QMJHL

Pos: RW  Ht: 6’4  Wt: 199  Shot: R

2019 Stats – GP: 62  G: 32  A: 41  P: 73

DOB: 09/25/00

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

He was a great value pick and has tremendous ability.  However, his motor is scary, not in a good way.  Now, I list him as a winger.  I believe that’s where he ends up.  BUT, he does currently play the middle.  So for me, that would be the key thing to watch for next season.  Final year in Halifax on what should be a very good Mooseheads team again as they’ll return most of their key contributors, it would be a massive help to the organization if Lavoie took some big steps in his development as a centre this season, not just a top 10 prospect.  That’s the hope.  The expectation is that he can become an effective top nine winger down the road.

ETA: Mid 21-22

 

9. Ryan McLeod 

Team: Saginaw  League: OHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’2  Wt: 207  Shot: L

2019 StatsGP: 63  G: 19  A: 43  P: 62

DOB: 09/21/99

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

I wonder if Marody could give McLeod his compete, or if McLeod could give Marody his wheels?  For me, I’m going to favour the guy with the wheels and McLeod has ELITE wheels.  He’ll play in the league because his speed is that good.  But frankly, it’ll be a matter of him playing with more balls that dictates whether he’ll be a bottom six player or a top six player.  He has all the ability to be a 2nd line player, if not a 1st liner, but it is pretty damn rare for a player to all of a sudden gain on ice bravery (for lack of a better term) as a trait.

ETA: Early 20-21

 

8. Ethan Bear  

Team: Bakersfield  League: AHL

Pos: RD  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 205  Shot: R

2019 StatsGP: 52  G: 6  A: 25  P: 31

DOB: 06/26/97

Acquired: 5th Round, 124th Overall, 2015 Draft

As has been stated by myself and others hundreds of times by now, the big question is his skating.  And like Marody, I wouldn’t be afraid to part with Bear this off-season.  But unlike Marody, Bear’s trade value is probably less than it should be at the moment.  With neither guy, you don’t move him unless you get the right deal, but I’m just saying I’d at least listen on both.  Fans have got mesmerized by Jones skating ability that they seemingly have forgotten Bear’s ability to move the puck.  It’s elite, not to mention a big shot to go with it, and Bear’s overall skating isn’t that bad at all.  I find his lateral movement actually to be pretty high end, it’s the top speed that is lacking…in my opinion anyway.

ETA: Mid 19-20

 

7. Dmitri Samorukov 

Team: Guelph  League: OHL

Pos: LD  Ht: 6’2  Wt: 181  Shot: L

2019 StatsGP: 59  G: 10  A: 35  P: 45

DOB: 06/16/99

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

Lower than most in Oiler land have him.  Why?  I’m perhaps more realistic than others?  Watch what’s going to happen here.  So I’ve seen some have him as high as third in their rankings.  Sammy is going to play most of next season (likely all of it) in Bakersfield, and it’ll be a big adjustment to pro hockey.  In the OHL, Sammy started to figure out that he was more physically gifted than most of the league.  He wasn’t dominating because of his IQ.  So what I expect to happen is he’ll struggle in his first year in the AHL much as Caleb Jones did.  And just like with Jones, people will then bail hard on him, and then around this time next year, I’ll have him higher than most.  Although I hope I’m wrong on that and he steps into the AHL and blows the doors off the league.  I wouldn’t complain about that in the least!  But from what I’ve seen, I believe pro hockey will be a big adjustment for him.

ETA: Mid 20-21

 

6. Kirill Maksimov  

Team: Niagara  League: OHL

Pos: RW  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 207  Shot: R

2019 StatsGP: 63  G: 40  A: 39  P: 79

DOB: 06/01/99

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

He keeps dropping in my rankings, but it is everything to do with the organization adding to their system and nothing to do with souring even the slightest bit on the kid.  I fully believe this kid is going to make it and he’s going to be a total sniper.  A bomb of a one-timer, yet his best shot is his wrist shot.  His wrister reminds me of Joe Sakic’s.  No backswing.  People also rave about his work ethic, the way his 200-foot game has developed, and the only knock is a lack of not great wheels.  Not that they aren’t good enough already, just that they aren’t great and I’ve made the point several times that I believe it’s coming.  You watch him skate and it just looks as though he lacks power.  Then you look at how he’s built and he still just has such thin legs.  So when he starts developing lower body strength, I won’t be surprised if we’re talking about his skating being one of his best traits.

ETA: Mid 20-21

 

5. Tyler Benson  

Team: Bakersfield  League: AHL

Pos: LW  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 190  Shot: L

2019 StatsGP: 68  G: 15  A: 51  P: 66

DOB: 03/15/98

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

I can honestly say I never lost faith in the ability.  I definitely was losing faith in the ability to remain healthy at this point two years ago, but not in the kid’s ability.  His IQ and playmaking ability are elite.  He’s willing to play a complete game too, something that maybe gets a little underrated with him.  I maintain that Benson is going to ride shotgun with 97 at some point in the next year or two because they think the game so similar and he’s just such a perfect compliment.  The mistake the organization has made in the past is they would keep a good roster spot open for a kid like this.  I believe this is one reason they signed Tomas Jurco.  Benson is LIKELY ready, but let’s start making sure that the kids are earning their spots on the roster.  As has been said before he doesn’t have elite wheels, but he’s one kid who won’t need elite speed with how he thinks the game, and it’s not as if he’s a bad skater either.  He can move well enough.

ETA: Early 19-20

 

4. Caleb Jones  

Team: Bakersfield  League: AHL

Pos: LD  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 205  Shot: L

2019 StatsGP: 50  G: 6  A: 23  P: 29

DOB: 06/06/97

Acquired: 4th Round, 117th Overall, 2015 Draft

Benson can move, but Jones can fly.  I’ve maintained over the last two years that Jones was a player because of the skating, and you all got to see that over 17 games this season.  I won’t spend much time here because you’ve all seen him closer than most of these kids, but I will say that I believe he’ll be a top-four guy eventually, and I believe he’s proven that he’s ready for a spot on the bottom pair this season.  I would say that like Benson they should also have a veteran for Jones to compete with, I’d assume that’ll be whoever will likely be the number seven D-man, not to mention Lagesson.

ETA: Early 19-20

 

3. Kailer Yamamoto  

Team: Bakersfield  League: AHL

Pos: RW  Ht: 5’8  Wt: 154  Shot: R

2019 StatsGP: 27  G: 10  A: 8  P: 18

DOB: 09/29/98

Acquired: 1st Round, 22nd Overall, 2017 Draft

A set back of a season.  But consider this: Johnny Gaudreau is maybe the poster boy for undersized players in the league right now.  Gaudreau played one game before the age of 22.  I compared Yamo to Cam Atkinson in his draft year, Atkinson’s first full season (kind of, it was the lockout year) was at age 23.  And read his weight, 5’8 was one thing but 154lbs is another.  I’ve had that number for a while, so I’m sure he’s packed on a few more pounds, but he’s still really small and still probably doesn’t have the strength he’ll need.  So I’d expect a full season in Bakersfield next season, but don’t bail on him yet.  He still has the qualities to thrive.  He has high-end skill, high-end IQ, and he’s insanely driven.  I thought it would have happened by now, but in hindsight, that’s likely what I missed on him.

ETA: Early 20-21

 

2. Philip Broberg

Team: AIK  League: SWE-Als

Pos: LD  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 203  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 41  G: 2  A: 7  P: 9

DOB: 06/25/01

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

I make no bones about the fact that I REALLY didn’t like the pick.  But people also need to understand that there is a difference between believing the organization should have gone elsewhere, and hating the player.  Broberg was a very risky pick, but the saying is high risk/high reward and the fact is that Broberg has the potential to be a number one defenceman in the NHL.  That’s not nothing.  What I need to know (impossible for a guy like me to know this) is where is Broberg’s IQ at, and what is his work ethic like?  I’ve flat out LOVED what I’ve heard from him thus far.  Seems to be a very humble, honest, hard-working kid.  That’s a great sign.  I’m going to guess that what won the Oilers over is he blew them away when they interviewed him.  Personally, I never read or heard that he was one of the better interviews at the combine, but it doesn’t mean he wasn’t.  I wish he was headed to Hamilton for the upcoming season so he could get adjusted to playing in North America sooner and playing against weaker competition would give him a chance to work on the aspects of his game he struggles, namely his puck skills and his puck moving.  Glass half full: those skills have never needed to be developed because his size and wheels have allowed him to dominate at most levels without needing them, and therefore it remains to be seen if he will improve them to the level he needs to.  I hope this is the case.

ETA: Early 22-23

 

1. Evan Bouchard 

Team: London  League: OHL

Pos: RD  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 194  Shot: R

2019 StatsGP: 45  G: 16  A: 37  P: 53

DOB: 10/20/99

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

Even with Broberg in the picture, I along with seemingly everyone else who is ranking these kids still has Bouchard tops on the list.  He’s the much safer bet of the two prospects.  Broberg has the higher ceiling, but with Bouchard I’d be completely shocked if he wasn’t at least a number five defenceman in the show for a decade.  And that’s worst case scenario.  Having said that, he still needs a year in Bakersfield.  His puck-moving ability, shot, and how well he reads the game offensively makes his defensive game passable at this point, but passable isn’t good enough when you’re talking about a kid who has the talent to be a top pairing D-man.

ETA: Late 19-20

 

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Soups Rankings: July, 2019

The NHL never ceases to amaze me.  Is it not the most odd thing perhaps in sports that their free agency has this flurry of signings right out the gate, and then all of a sudden by about 7PM EST on July 1st it goes dead?  Why?  You look at the remaining UFA’s, there is actually a lot of quality players out there, and yet in the three days since it has essentially been crickets.  And chances are, it’ll probably be this way until September 3rd, which is the day after Labour Day.  Why don’t we just say that the league completely shuts down all operations from July 3rd until September 3rd?  A full two months off, rather than pretending that’s not what happens?

 

Anyway, with things completely dead, it’s a good time to look at where these teams stand.  Obviously a Jake Gardiner here, a Ryan Dzingel there and maybe it makes a difference to a squad heading into the 19-20 season, but why wait?  It’s summer, what in the fuck else are we going to talk about?  The lake?  That place where we get maybe a max of five days during the summer that are good and we are forced to make the most elaborate meals that require an insane amount of work while we’re supposed to be RELAXING?!?  That place?  The lake and new year’s eve are the two most overrated things on the planet.  Like, why is it that I have the same amount of fun on any random Friday that I have at the lake or on NYE?!  If they’re so great, wouldn’t this NOT be possible?  Neither suck, they’re just badly overrated and this annoys me to no end.

 

With that being said, let’s see who I overrate…

 

31. Ottawa – It’ll be a hell of a long climb back for them.

 

30. Detroit – Stevie Y is likely going to do a great job, but he’s just getting started.

 

29. Los Angeles – It’s pretty bleak at the moment.

 

28. Buffalo – Watch out for Dahlin this season.  Talk about under the radar, he had 44 points as an 18 year old on a terrible team.  Kids a star.  But outside of him becoming a Norris contender AND Eichel being a Hart contender, I don’t see how this team can do anything.

 

27. Edmonton – I’m just resigned to this at this point.  Look, I had no visions of Holland turning them into a contender overnight and have always maintained they just needed to work with what they have at this point and wait out some of this mess.  But Holland doesn’t seem to have much of a plan, which was exposed with the Sekera buyout.  If he’s waiting a year, then why buyout Sekera now?  If he’s not, then why not also buyout Gagner and Manning to give them 6.9 mil in extra space?  Because he didn’t have a plan.  It was never going to look great, but a good GM does better than he has to this point.

 

26. Columbus – I worry this might be a little low for them.  I know what they’ve lost, but they also still have some terrific pieces.  But until Korpisalo proves himself as a starter, this is where they sit.

 

25. Minnesota – If you’re Mats Zuccarello, why them?!?!?  I’m sure there is some reason, but it’s definitely not because you believe you can win.  I don’t think they’re done, and again I’ll suggest to Ken Holland that they are ripe for the picking right now with Spurgeon.

 

24. Chicago – That Robin Lehner signing looks great, but he’s going from one of the best defensive teams in the league to one of the worst.  Toews, Kane, Keith, and Crawford are all a year older, and while they have some good young players, I’m not sure they can be much more than they were in 2019.

 

23. New Jersey – There off-season LOOKS really sexy!  Hughes, Subban, and Simmonds, that looks terrific!  One problem: Their big issue was goaltending and Ray Shero did absolutely nothing to fix it.  Oh, and Subban is coming off his worst season.  Oh, and Simmonds is too.  Oh, and Hughes is a rookie.  Oh, and Taylor Hall STILL doesn’t look like he wants to re-sign there.  It’s Elaine looking in the skinny mirror.  The dress might look great in the skinny mirror, but not in reality.

 

22. NY Rangers – Don’t confuse terrific off-season with terrific team.  Don’t confuse stockpiled young talent with ready to contend (Jeff Marek).  I’m as high on what the Rangers have done as anyone.  But the fact of the matter is they still have a very young roster and I’m not a fan of what they have down the middle.  If they make the playoffs this season I won’t be surprised at all, but I’m not going to have them as a lock for it as many others likely will.

 

21. Vancouver – Tricky team to rank for me.  On one hand, you look at what they added to last years team and they look ready to be a playoff team.  So why am I not putting them there?  Markstrom.  Did he turn a corner in his career last season, or was it a career year?  That J.T. Miller trade suggests it better well not be just a career year, otherwise, it’ll be a pretty damn nervous fan base in Vancouver heading into the 20-21 season.

 

20. Anaheim – Probably higher than most have them, and I’m not sure I’m the biggest fan of putting them this high.  But I find myself often drinking the Dallas Eakins kool-aid.  I believe he’ll have learned a ton from the Edmonton experience, he has a shit ton of young talent to work with in Anaheim, and by far the most important thing is he has a goaltender.  And not just a goaltender, maybe the best in the league in John Gibson.

 

19. Montreal – There is potential to move much higher here.  Kotkaniemi taking a massive step wouldn’t shock me, and Poehling being a major contributor wouldn’t shock me either.  But I believe both may need to happen for them to get back in the playoffs.

 

18. Arizona – I’m guessing most will have them at least in the top three in the Pacific if not winning the division because if they were that good unhealthy, just imagine when they’re healthy!!!…and with Kessel!!!  I don’t know if it’ll play out quite like that.

 

17. Colorado – I love this team and love even more where they’re headed.  But it’s the future that looks amazing there, not the present.  The present looks good enough to make the playoffs again, but I believe they’re a year or two away from really contending.

 

16. Carolina – I don’t know if I like them this high.  They made the Conference finals, just about everyone will be back, great.  But Mrazek is so inconsistent between the pipes and now they have Reimer coming in who looked simply awful last season for the Panthers, a step back could be coming.  Having said all that, they’re one of the most well-run organizations in the league despite a lot of noise that points to the contrary.

 

15. NY Islanders – Varlamov was an odd signing, but Barry Trotz gets everything out of any goaltender he has and Varlamov might be inconsistent but he is extremely talented.  Add to that, the decision to let Lehner walk and bring in Varlamov seems very sloppy…I’ve called Lamoriello overrated many times before, but he’s not at all sloppy.  The man knew exactly what he was doing here.

 

14. Philadelphia – If they have a full season of Carter Hart and JVR, they probably make the playoffs last season.  I hate the Hayes contract like everyone, but he should help improve them as should Vigneault.

 

13. Pittsburgh – I don’t like where this is headed.  I like the Kessel deal for them, but it really feels as though they’re big time on the decline.

 

12. Winnipeg – Probably more than any other team in the league right now, this is a “wait and see”.  Connor and Laine aren’t signed, and looking closely at their roster I simply don’t see a way they go into next season with this blueline.  Woof.  Josh Morrissey might be the most underrated defenceman in the league right now, but he can’t do this on his own.  I know Byfuglien is still around, but he’s 34.  And after those two they have NOTHING.  The Trouba trade badly hurt them, and in my opinion, now they will have to move out one of Ehlers, Connor or Laine to fix it.

 

11. Florida – If Bob plays how he can, this team is a lock for the playoffs and built for a deep run.  Joel Quenneville is fine, but it’s Bobrovsky who’ll make or break their season.

 

10. Calgary – I don’t know that last season is repeatable, as they got career years out of a ton of guys.  But let’s not confuse “might not be as good” with “won’t be good”.  I still would guess they’ll compete for the Pacific title and are a lock to be top three in the division.

 

9. St. Louis – The last time I did rankings they were nowhere near here.  Boy how times have changed…but as far as repeating, I have a tough time believing they’ll do that.

 

8. Dallas – The blueline is a year older, they should be able to score a bit more, I believe they can win the West this season but Jim Nill still will need to add.

 

7. Washington – Death, taxes, Ovy gets 50, and the Caps win the division.

 

6. Vegas – Stone made a big difference in their lineup once he arrived and if not for that horse shit call on Eakins they might return to the final last season.  I kept waiting for the bubble to burst on them, but last year proved they were no fluke.

 

5. Nashville – Subban out, Duchene in.  Interesting.  I don’t have the best feeling about them moving forward, almost as though they’ve lost their magic as stupid as that sounds.  But just on paper, they still should be elite.

 

4. San Jose – It looks like such a cap mess, but somehow Doug Wilson always manages to pull a rabbit out of his hat and do anything he wants to.

 

3. Boston – It’ll be interesting to see how they respond.  I believed this time last year that they had caught lightning in a bottle, yet they went to game seven of the final this past year.  They have so many kids who aren’t stars but are just really damn solid.

 

2. Toronto – What have I been telling all of you?  Dubas is an awesome GM, knows exactly what he’s doing, and they’re going to be fine.  As of writing this, Marner isn’t signed, but you think this guy isn’t prepared for anything that might be coming in terms of an offer sheet?!  Barrie is an upgrade on Gardiner, and Spezza should be able to handle the 3rd line duties.

 

1. Tampa Bay – Fuck the sweep, they’re going to be great again.

 

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