It’s less than five months to draft day! We’re back with another edition of Road to 2020, a series where we dive into what’s happening in the world of draft prospects. Since revealing the preliminary top 20 in August, the rankings have considerably changed with some players rising and others not quite meeting expectations.
The World Junior Championships and the CHL trade deadline are both in the rear-view mirror, which were both discussed at length in last month’s column. The eventfulness has slightly died down in January, but there’s still plenty of performances worth highlighting.
If this is your first time reading this series, I’ll be using expected range in reference to prospects, which is essentially a public consensus of where a player is expected to be drafted. You can find the full explanation here, the data here, and the interactive charts here.
Competition At The Top
Nothing has changed at the summit — Alexis Lafrenière still stands as the consensus #1 prospect and Quinton Byfield the consensus #2. But past that, where there was previously some apparent stability in the top five with players like Lucas Raymond and Alexander Holtz, there’s starting to be some disruption.
Two of January’s biggest risers were Tim Stützle (xRange: 3-8) and Marco Rossi (xRange: 5-10). Both have had incredible seasons in their respective leagues and have been discussed at length in this series before, but they’re finally starting to see some recognition as potential top-five talents. Especially for Stützle, he was seen as a wild card at the beginning of the season given the rarity of top prospects playing in the German elite league. But with more viewings, and some international exposure, scouts are finally getting a better idea of how fast and skilled a player he is.
Some of the more consistent risers also continued to improve their draft stock this month, including Jack Quinn (xRange: 19-73), Dawson Mercer (xRange: 13-24) and John-Jason Peterka (xRange: 21-43).
A player I expect to start rising soon is Seth Jarvis (xRange: 30-69), who’s currently riding a nine-game point streak for the Portland Winterhawks, in which he has an astounding eleven goals and sixteen assists. He’s now ahead of fellow WHL forward Connor Zary (xRange: 13-21) in scoring, with his P/GP rate close to what Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Kailer Yamamoto put up in their respective draft years.
Continuing the trends from last month, the biggest fallers in January were the injured Justin Barron (xRange: 14-35) and Hendrix Lapierre (xRange: 12-27). Both QMJHLers weren’t quite living up to expectations prior to their injuries either, but the months-long setbacks certainly haven’t helped their draft stock.
More interestingly, two of the more controversial forwards at the beginning of the season have seen a dip in production recently. Antonio Stranges (xRange: 17-35) is the first, with his 35 points in 44 games being the 7th highest rate on the London Knights. He’s one of the flashiest players you’ll ever see and an incredible skater, but the consistency in his results hasn’t been there.
The other player starting to fall in the rankings is Zion Nybeck (xRange: 17-31), a 5’8” Swedish winger who I’d previously classified with the likes of Noel Gunler, Holtz and Raymond. His production in the SuperElit league last season certainly warranted the discussion, but unlike the others he hasn’t been able to find himself a consistent role in the SHL. He’s still playing in the SuperElit league, with his 1.39 P/GP only slightly higher than it was last year at 1.23. It’s not the amount of growth many were expecting.
The All-American Prospects
With the All-American Prospects Game happening earlier this month in Plymouth, there’s no better time to highlight some of this year’s most intriguing players coming out of the U.S. Development Program. This is considered to be a weak year for American prospects in general, especially compared to the amount of talent they provided for the 2019 draft. But they’re a top development league for a reason, still with many notable players.
At the forefront is defenceman Jake Sanderson (xRange: 19-40), son of former NHLer Geoff Sanderson. Billed as a two-way player, he was named MVP of the All-American Prospects Game after bringing out his offensive side with two goals. Joining him is Tyler Kleven (xRange: 39-85), who by some is considered a fringe first round talent given his 6’4” size and physicality, but his lack of production has been suspect.
For the forwards, there’s a few players worth mentioning who could be taken in the first couple rounds. Most notably is playmaker Thomas Bordeleau (xRange: 26-46), the leading scorer on the U.S. National U18 Team. He’s followed by players like Ty Smilanic (xRange: 28-61), Luke Tuch (xRange: 36-81), Brett Berard (xRange: 38-113) and Dylan Peterson (34-96), the last of which has fallen drastically since the beginning of the season, but combines his 6’4” frame with some very green playmaking skills. He played his junior hockey in Ottawa too, so he ticks nearly every bias the Sens’ scouts have shown.
Each player has their flaws, but it just shows how deep this class is that this is considered a weak year for the program. They may not have any eye-popping high-end talent this year (look out for 2021 and 2022 for that), but you can expect to hear their team name called consistently in the next tier down of picks.
Overagers To Watch
In previous months I’ve discussed forwards, defencemen and goalies to watch for in the later rounds, but have neglectfully been leaving out overagers. Now that we’re further along in the season, some key draft re-entrants have started to emerge. I’ve excluded xRange here because most of these players are only ranked by a small handful of sources, but here are eight players worth keeping an eye on.
- My personal favourite is D+2 centre Benjamin Baumgartner, who leads all U20 players in the NLA (Swiss pro league) by a mile, with 25 points in 32 games. The last player with a higher D+2 P/GP was Roman Josi in 2009-10, amongst both drafted and undrafted players.
- Yevgeni Oksentyuk was completely off the radar playing in Belarus last year, but the winger’s been hot since moving to the OHL’s Flint Firebirds, with 50 points in 40 games.
- Another forward, Dmitri Sheshin has only made the list of one scout in the consolidated rankings, but the 5’8” winger is currently 2nd in MHL scoring with 61 points in 52 games as a D+1 player.
- Even shorter than Sheshin, the 5’7” Xavier Simoneau is in the top five for QMJHL scoring with 62 points in 46 games. He was invited to the Leafs’ prospect camp last summer.
- Also in the QMJHL is Yegor Sokolov. He’s a year older than the players already mentioned, but he’s been one of the league’s best goal scorers with 36 goals and 70 points in 38 games.
- According to last year’s consolidated rankings, Billy Constantinou was the highest valued player who went undrafted. The offensive-minded defenceman has ramped it up even more this year, with 40 points in 45 games in the OHL.
- Defenceman Adam Wilsby was loaned to the Allsvenskan this year in Sweden (their second tier men’s pro league), and it seems to have been the right move. His 27 points in 30 games is the best season a U20 defenceman has ever had in that league, as uncommon as it may be.
- Lastly, there’s many overage goalies who could be taken, but one player at the forefront is Nico Daws, who won gold with Canada at the World Juniors. His 92.8% save percentage is tops in the OHL.