15. Aaron Luchuk (Reader Rank: 18, Last Year: N/A)
Aaron Luchuk hasn’t had the easiest path to where he is today in professional hockey. Despite an impressive showing in his minor midget season with the Greater Kingston Frontenacs, Luchuk was only a fourth round pick in the OHL draft and, aside from a brief three-game spell with the Windsor Spitfires, played Junior B hockey for his age 16 season. This might not have been totally surprising, though: most scouts would describe someone of Luchuk’s stature as undersized given his 5’10, 184 pound frame, and the OHL can be an unforgiving league for some of the smaller, talented youngsters. He did carve out a permanent roster spot for himself with Windsor in 2014-15 when he played 67 games and recorded 10 goals and 13 assists. But it wasn’t until the next season that the first signs of Luchuk’s potential began to shine through: he posted 27 goals and 26 assists for a very respectable 53 points in 68 games as an 18 year old. Still, the production wasn’t enough to get him drafted.
Luchuk took another step forward in his 2016-17 season with the Spitfires as he notched 60 points in 68 games and was a vital part of the Windsor Memorial Cup championship season. He capped off that year in fine fashion, scoring the Memorial Cup-winning goal. Still, a prominent role on a championship team was not enough to get Luchuk onto the draft boards of any of the 31 NHL teams. At the Sens’ Development Camp this year, Luchuk explained that he’s been using the slights as motivation.
Which brings us to this past season, which I’m sure most of our readers are familiar with already. Luchuk exploded for 115 points in 68 games for the Spitfires and the Barrie Colts, and midway through the year signed a pro contract with the Senators. Even just making it as far as the development camp this summer should be considered a major accomplishment but that brings us to where we stand today. What can we reasonably expect from the young prospect? Is this past season’s offensive outburst a sign of things to come? Is Luchuk just a late bloomer? Or should we be skeptical of a player who only really filled the net once he was 20 years old and still playing junior hockey against teenagers?
The biggest thing working in Luchuk’s favour is his vision with the puck and his overall offensive versatility. He sees the game better than most players, and that kind of intelligence can prove to be a great boon at the pro level. If Luchuk’s going to be a successful NHLer, he’ll need to demonstrate that he can keep making the kind of creative, incisive plays that marked the end of his time in junior. Here’s a nice assist from last season where we see the full complement of skills in action:
The biggest thing holding Luchuk back from making the leap to the big leagues might be his size. While it’s true that attitudes in the NHL concerning size have gradually evolved, it’s still an uphill climb for anyone under 6 feet tall that’s hoping to make it. And though he can’t change how tall he is, Luchuk can work on the other knock we see in most scouting reports: his skating. Luchuk isn’t a bad skater per se, but he’s not flashy and even in the OHL he didn’t consistently get separation the way that say Alex Formenton does. Pro hockey is a whole other level yet speed-wise.
Luchuk’s most likely to start this season in Belleville, where we are cautiously optimistic the AHL squad will be much improved over last year’s disaster. Projecting prospects is challenging in the best of circumstances, but Luchuk’s case is particularly vexing: is he a late blooming scorer or another overager scoring wizard who doesn’t quite have the chops against the top competition? A successful first professional campaign would go a long way towards having us believe it’s the former and not the latter.