*Editor’s note: Part one of our Top 25 Under 25 Round-table is in lieu of our regular Long-form Wednesday piece. Fear not, the feature returns next week. -nkb
This year’s edition of the Top 25 Under 25 featured the deepest talent pool that we’ve seen in years. There was a lot of back and forth among the staff during the voting, and then again in the comments section. Today we re-visit some of the more hotly contested choices in a round-table discussion. Part one runs today, with part 2 slated for tomorrow morning.
Question for everyone: What ranking surprised you the most?
Spencer: With the influx of new prospects - via draft and trade - there was bound to be some shifts in these rankings but Gustavsson’s drop from 8th last year to 24th this year was pretty surprising. I, myself, contributed to this drop as I ranked him 24 this year. It wasn’t, for me, a case of Gustavsson getting worse but every time I looked side by side with another player I was ranking in front of him, I had a hard time justifying Gustavsson. It shouldn’t reflect on his future within the org, but the drop sure was surprising for me.
Ross: I think Veronneau. He ended up right where I had him, but I expected his NHL audition would put him higher on others’ lists, especially the readers.
Colin: I’m a bit surprised Lajoie ended up outside the top 15. I thought for sure that his NHL experience at such a young age would’ve bumped him up a couple notches, although I guess his weak ending left a sour taste. It also doesn’t help that 2/3 spots on the Sens’ left defence are already taken for (hopefully) the next decade.
Ary: The three players where I seemed to significantly differ from others were Vitaly Abramov (I had lower), Marcus Hogberg (I had lower), and Max Lajoie (I had higher). Looking back, I think I’d rank Abramov a bit higher. I love his skillset and he fills the void in my heart that was left from fellow QMJHL stars, Mike Hoffman and Francis Perron. I had him a bit lower because I still think he’ll need at least another season in the AHL to transition, but the early signs from a summer of full training is that he’s taken a few steps.
Hogberg is interesting, because while he’s the most “NHL ready” of the team’s goalie prospects, he may not have as high of a ceiling as a Joey Daccord or Mads Søgaard. I’m excited that he has a one-way for next year, where the team will transition from Craig Anderson to the Nilsson/Hogberg tandem. Finally, while Max Lajoie has to basically re-prove himself under a new coach and a poor second-half of the year, this was a young player that earned the trust of a notoriously distrustful coach in Guy Boucher, and plays a smart brand of hockey that should serve him well on a young defence corps. I like his defensive skillset more than Christian Jaros, but with handedness put into the equation, Lajoie’s in tough to make it on a team that added two new NHL bodies in Hainsey and Zaitsev and a top prospect in Brännström.
Dewie: It would definitely have to be Gustavsson’s drop to 24th. I do agree he had a bit of a tough season but I still think his potential with the organization could be significant; let’s hope this season goes better for him.
Brandon: Honestly, the fact that Max Veronneau was so low. I’ll get into it more a little later, butwhen that guys like Filip Chlapik were ahead of him that was a bit of a head-scratcher to me.
nkb: There weren’t any real surprises in the top 10, but I was bit surprised Mads Søgaard finished outside of the top 25 altogether. Goalies are notoriously difficult to predict, and Ottawa’s got depth at the position, but he was very highly regarded before this draft.
Question for Dewie: You had Maxime Lajoie 6th when the next highest ranking was 12th. What about Lajoie has you so optimistic about his future with the team?
Dewie: I’ll admit that I’m biased when it comes to Lajoie because I saw sparks of an incredibly smart player last season and not just in his first few games. He did get a bit lost as the season went on, but I do place some blame on Boucher for that as well as the team’s general performance. I do believe he needs a lot more experience and proper mentoring, but I think he can be a strong player to the team and contribute some valuable minutes for many years to come.
Question for Brandon: You had Max Veronneau much higher than everyone at else at 8th. What did you see in Veronneau that you liked so much?
Brandon: As I wrote above, I was really surprised that everyone was so quick to forget about Veronneau. He produced at the NHL level, which is a major key for me; as soon as Veronneau signed with Ottawa, he made an impact in the top six. He played a lot of minutes with the likes of Brady Tkachuk and J.G. Pageau, and he didn’t look out of place at all. His possession numbers need work, but 4 points in 12 games is nothing to sneeze at — especially diving headlong into his first pro season. His skating ability is impressive, and refining his technique will be key, but I think we have a legitimate player here.
Question for everyone: Was there any player left off the list that you believe should have been included? Who would you have dropped?
Spencer: He was literally on the cusp of our rankings, but I had Mads Søgaard holding down the #25 spot and left Shane Pinto off my personal rankings. I will admit this is partially because I’m still shocked by the Pinto pick - based on who was still available - and partially because Søgaard’s size, prospect reports and what we’ve seen so far has me very intrigued. Our overall staff rankings had Pinto at 25 and Søgaardat 26, so the difference is negligible in the end. Otherwise, everyone I ranked was in our top 25 *puts on cool guy shades*.
Ross: I thought Mads Søgaard might have gotten some more love. I think the main reason he didn’t make the list is because there were already three goalies ahead of him. I probably would’ve just swapped him with Shane Pinto, because I think Søgaard has a better long-term NHL outlook than Pinto.
Colin: There’s plenty of players who in previous years would’ve definitely made the top 25, but the depth this year pushed them out. Carcone, Crookshank, Søgaard and Gruden were all on the cusp for me, but ultimately I’m pretty pleased with how the list turned out.
Ary: I ranked Olle Alsing (final rank: 33), Mads Søgaard (26), and Angus Crookshank (27) over Max Veronneau, Filip Gustavsson, and Shane Pinto. I really like Pinto, but will need to see him for a year at NoDak before he makes it on my list in a deep system — especially when Crookshank performed well as a freshman with UNH last year. Gustavsson is a player that will require patience, but also didn’t perform well last season and I wonder if the team drafting some extra ‘tenders has to do with their loss of faith in his potential. Goalies can take a lot longer to develop, so I’m fine waiting, but I didn’t think he deserved a spot. Finally, Olle Alsing is a bit older than some of the other players on this list at 23, but was quietly one of the best defencemen in the SHL last year, and I’m excited to see him in Belleville or Ottawa next season.
Dewie: It’s really hard to judge the prospect’s potential once we reach the players in the 22-28 range, but I agree with most that I thought Mads Søgaard would be there as well as maybe Angus Crookshank (bonus points for the cool last name). While Max Veronneau and Shane Pinto could turn out to be staples in the long run, I think there’s a risk they won’t make it at all.
Brandon: I’m going to be 100% alone in this, but I really like Mark Kastelic. He was my vote for #25, and I really get the feeling that he’s going to become an NHL mainstay. He has great size, and a scoring touch that will likely make him a serviceable secondary option at the pro level. If I had to drop anyone, it would probably Shane Pinto, just because I haven’t seen enough of him yet. I would probably switch him out for Mads Søgaaard.
nkb: Søgaard is the obvious candidate here, and I did have him on my list at 25, but Parker Kelly is another player that could have the skills necessary to play at the highest level. His 35 goals last year in the WHL are rendered a bit less impressive by virtue of his being 19, but it’s not nothing.
Question for nkb: You ranked Anthony Duclair 17th overall, much lower than the rest of the staff and the readers. Why are you so much more pessimistic about the young forward?
nkb: This is probably my spiciest opinion, relative to the fanbase and the other readers anyways, but I promise I’m not just saying things for the sake of being provocative. Like everyone else, when I watch Duclair I see a great deal of offensive upside. His skating is world class, and he has the hands to make the spectacular seem regular. Those things are all true. But I also look at the defensive numbers he’s posted in his career, and the fact that he’s already on his fifth team because of those shortcomings and I worry. The Sens are the absolute best case scenario for him in that everyone is learning a new defensive system and they sorely need the type of scoring punch that he can provide. I had him so low because to me, at age 24, I don’t believe he’s ever going to improve his defensive game enough to be a top 6 player. The Sens’ system is chalk full of forwards who are still young enough that they absolutely have the potential to surpass Duclair. Hence, my rating of him. I’ll wrap by saying this: my ranking of Duclair is the one where I feel I have the biggest potential to be massively wrong after just this season. We shall see.