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Atlantic Forecast Vol. 2

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D-FENS part one of two

2018 NHL Draft - Portraits Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images

First and foremost, if you missed Volume 1 of this series then go check it out! I went with a similar formula this time around with a couple of minor tweaks: 1) I used an age-24 cutoff instead of 25, 2) I used points-per-game instead of save percentage (duh), and 3) I didn’t include info for players over the cutoff and will only mention them fleetingly. Just like Volume 1, I collected all information from capfriendly and eliteprospects.

So without further ado, enjoy this abbreviated scouting report on young defenders in the Atlantic division (part one of two!):

Ottawa Senators

Without getting caught up in yesterday’s heartbreaking news, things look wide open on the right side for the Senators’ defense corps over the next few years. Lamentably, Nikita Zaitsev will obstruct one spot with his $4.5M cap hit for the next four seasons so unless the Sens do something perfectly rational like buying him out, the following players will compete for the two remaining spots:

  • Christian Jaros 0.48 PPG in the AHL and 0.33 PPG in the NHL
  • Jacob Bernard-Docker 0.71 PPG in the NCAA
  • Lassi Thomson 0.40 PPG in Liiga
  • Max Guenette 0.63 PPG in the QMJHL

At age-23 and already with some NHL experience, Jaros should have a considerable advantage locking up a spot with the parent club next season and should have a future at least as a third-pairing defender with Ottawa. Bernard-Docker, to me, represents Ottawa’s greatest asset down the right side. Among the NCAA defenders profiled, his production relative to age really stands out and I think we can safely project him at least as a second-pairing type. Thomson hasn’t quite lived up to his draft pedigree in his first season as a member of the organization and the Senators should absolutely take their time seasoning the young blueliner. Guenette, meanwhile, has exceeded my expectations as a seventh-round selection and could end up as one of Ottawa’s late-round steals. Even if Guenette ends up as a depth defender, Ottawa will have gotten full value for the pick.

Boston Bruins

Colour me surprised again because much like the Bruin’s situation in the crease, Boston hasn’t handcuffed themselves on the back-end with a bunch of the poorly-aging contracts we come to expect from teams in their window of contention. None of the defence contracts in Boston have both term AND cap so they have the flexibility they need to build their d-corps from the ground up.

  • Connor Clifton 0.07 NHL
  • Brandon Carlo 0.30 NHL
  • Cameron Clarke 0.19 NCAA
  • Charlie McAvoy 0.34 NHL
  • Axel Andersson 0.56 QMJHL
  • Victor Berglund 0.45 Allsvenskan

The standout defender in this group, McEvoy, has already cemented his place in Boston and will undoubtedly get locked up long term in Massachusetts. The Bruins also have Carlo and Clifton signed to manageable contract for the next couple of seasons. While none of the numbers above really jump off the page, I might put money on Victor Berglund forcing his way into the conversation. Much like Thomson in Ottawa, the Bruins should feel no urgency to bring Berglund over from Europe. They have that luxury of depth in their back pocket either way. Again, like the goaltending situation, Boston surprised me with their balance of current competitiveness and options in the farm system.

Buffalo Sabres

With Rasmus Ristolainen, Colin Miller, and Brandon Montour down the right side for the foreseeable future, the young Sabres in the pipeline might have to wait and that might not be the worst news in Buffalo and none of the numbers I came across really blew me away.

  • William Borgen 0.14 AHL
  • Casey Fitzgerald 0.32 AHL
  • Philip Nyberg 0.19 Allsvenskan and 0.29 Swedish Division I
  • Matthew Spencer 0.45 ECHL
  • Henri Jokiharju 0.25 NHL
  • Oskari Laaksonen 0.31 Liiga
  • Miska Kukkonen 0.11 Liiga and 0.50 Jr. A SM Liiga

If Buffalo does opt to move one of their established blueliners, Jokiharju looks like the heir apparent. It surprised me how quickly Chicago moved on from the young Finn and it disappointed me that Ottawa couldn’t get in the mix. Whereas the Sabres have a bright future between the pipes, their current right-side D looks about as good as it will get any time soon.

Detroit Red Wings

The Red Wings have begun in earnest to pare down all those ghastly contracts from the hangover of their glory days and have accumulated a glut of picks and prospects. I like their defence better than their goaltending and again, they have a deep and diverse group.

  • Patrick Holway 0.50 NCAA
  • Kyle Wood 0.19 AHL
  • Filip Hronek 0.50 NHL
  • Gustav Lindstrom 0.11 AHL
  • Seth Barton 0.48 NCAA
  • Gustav Berglund 0.44 SuperElit
  • Antti Tuomisto 1.07 Jr. A SM Liiga
  • Moritz Seider 0.41 AHL

Detroit has a pretty clear map with Filip Hronek already established at the NHL level and all eyes on former sixth (!) overall pick Moritz Seider who has to date enjoyed a solid rookie season as a professional. I would recommend, however, that you take note of wild card Antti Tuomisto. The former second rounder has torn it up in Finland and has had scouts talking for a while. While I didn’t rave about Detroit’s goaltending, I think Ottawa may have their hands full with this group of defenders down the road.

Florida Panthers

Whatever I said about other teams digging their way out of salary cap hell, the Panthers have basically done the opposite. In terms of defence, the Cats have former first-overall pick Aaron Ekblad locked up long term so we need only look at the two spots below him really. With that considered, the Panthers don’t have a tonne of options, and, like the Sabres, they lack that ace prospect on D that both organizations have in the crease.

  • Aaron Ekblad 0.59 NHL
  • Brady Keeper 0.33 AHL
  • Thomas Schemitsch 0.33 AHL
  • Ben Finkelstein 0.71 NCAA
  • Santtu Kinnunen 0.05 Liiga 0.31 Mestis and 0.67 Jr. A SM Liiga

Don’t get me wrong, the Panthers find themselves in an enviable position with Aaron Ekblad anchoring this group. And any one of Brady Keeper, Thomas Schemitch, or Ben Finkelstein could probably make the jump. I wouldn’t however, count on any of the latter to really move the needle.

Montreal Canadiens

Mastodonic. I said it last time and I will say it again. When building their defence, the Habs will have to find a way to navigate about Shea Weber’s mastodonic contract. With a cap hit just shy of $8M that carries through the next half-decade and then some, Montreal will operate with one hand tied behind their collective back. They have some warm bodies in the hopper but, again, no one prospect that has the scouts salivating.

  • Noah Juulsen 0.25 AHL
  • Cale Fleury 0.02 NHL and 0.00 AHL
  • Arvid Henrikson 0.04 NCAA
  • Josh Brook 0.22 AHL
  • Jacob LeGuerrier 0.50 OHL

Much like the situation riding a tandem of Carey Price and Cayden Primeau, Montreal may have to employ Weber, Noah Juulsen, and Cale Fleury or Josh Brook as a default set simply because of salary cap implications. They won’t have the financial flexibility to bring anyone in from the outside and they don’t have any big names coming along. I like Jacob LeGuerrier as somewhat of a Max Guenette comp though. Both mid- to low-round picks have little pressure and plenty of time to make names for themselves. LeGuerrier could end up found money for a Canadiens team that has little wiggle room.

Tampa Bay Lightning

With most of their cap space tied up among an elite offensive corps and their all-star goalie, the Lightning have to operate their defence on something of a shoestring budget. They have a diverse if unspectacular group of young defenders. Although, as we know, Tampa Bay drafts shrewdly and, as we’ve learned from their forwards, the Lightning always have something up their sleeves when it looks like they can’t possibly have any more stars in the pipeline.

  • Ben Thomas 0.32 AHL
  • Erik Cernak 0.20 NHL
  • Cal Foote 0.51 AHL
  • Alex Green 0.65 NCAA
  • Nick Perbix 0.42 NCAA
  • Max Crozier 0.56 NCAA
  • Dmtri Semykin 0.62 MHL

You could probably go ahead and pencil in Erik Cernak and Cal Foote for roster spots next season and feel pretty confident. Again, not world beaters, however, Tampa Bay has so much skill up and down the line that they won’t really miss the lack of high-scoring blueliners on that side. Max Crozier and Dmtri Semykin will make things interesting down the road though and either one could rocket up the depth chart in the coming seasons. The Lightning have done an admirable job of keeping the hopper loaded with several decent prospects as opposed to hanging all their hopes on one or two boom-or-bust picks.

Toronto Maple Leafs

With any luck, Cody Ceci will sign an eight-by-eight extension in Toronto this summer and Leafs fans won’t have to fret about the future of their defence corps this decade. But I digress. Much like Tampa Bay, Toronto has so much of its cap assigned to its forward group that rounding out the defence will require a lot of cap circumvention careful planning.

  • Joseph Duszak 0.97 ECHL and 0.25 AHL
  • Jesper Lindgren 0.30 AHL
  • Mac Hollowell 0.68 ECHL and 0.29 AHL
  • Filip Kral 0.94 WHL
  • Timothy Liljegren 0.78 AHL
  • Eemeli Rasanen 0.00 KHL and 0.30 Mestis
  • Mike Koster 0.50 USHL
  • Kalle Loponen 0.51 OHL

Timothy Liljegren stands out as Toronto’s premiere prospect on the right side and could crack the Leafs’ roster as soon as next season based on his play in the AHL. I imagine he will round out a group with a couple of low-cost veterans given the financial constraints placed on the team. After that, no one really jumps off the page although Mike Koster and Kalle Loponen have miles to go ahead of them. If Senators fans can find solace in one thing, Eemeli Rasanen looks like a bust and Toronto drafted him with the second-round pick included in the Phaneuf trade. I just wanted to end this article on a positive note.

Stats

Name Affiliation Drafted Age League Games Points Contract Cap Hit
Name Affiliation Drafted Age League Games Points Contract Cap Hit
Liljegren, Timothy Leafs 17 20 AHL 37 29 RFA 2022 0.863
Foote, Cal Lightning 14 21 AHL 47 24 RFA 2021 0.925
Keeper, Brady Panthers NA 23 AHL 48 16 RFA 2020 0.925
Seider, Moritz Red Wings 6 18 AHL 37 15 RFA 2022 0.925
Schemitsch, Thomas Panthers 88 23 AHL 46 15 RFA 2020 0.715
Jaros, Christian Senators 139 23 AHL 29 14 RFA 2020 0.755
Thomas, Ben Lightning 119 23 AHL 41 13 RFA 2020 0.700
Brook, Josh Canadiens 56 20 AHL 45 10 RFA 2022 0.795
Lindgren, Jesper Leafs 95 22 AHL 30 9 RFA 2021 0.776
Fitzgerald, Casey Sabres 86 22 AHL 25 8 RFA 2021 0.859
Wood, Kyle Red Wings 84 23 AHL 36 7 RFA 2020 0.700
Borgen, William Sabres 92 23 AHL 44 6 RFA 2021 0.864
Lindstrom, Gustav Red Wings 38 21 AHL 45 5 RFA 2021 0.776
Hollowell, Mac Leafs 118 21 AHL 17 5 RFA 2022 0.800
Juulsen, Noah Canadiens 26 22 AHL 12 3 RFA 2020 0.863
Duszak, Joseph Leafs NA 22 AHL 8 2 RFA 2021 0.800
Fleury, Cale Canadiens 87 21 AHL 2 0 RFA 2021 0.772
Berglund, Victor Bruins 195 20 Allsvenskan 42 19 ELC 2021 NA
Nyberg, Philip Sabres 129 22 Allsvenskan 16 3 ELC 2020 NA
Kral, Filip Leafs 149 20 CHL 48 45 ELC 2020 NA
Guenette, Max Senators 187 18 CHL 48 30 ELC 2021 NA
LeGuerrier, Jacob Canadiens 126 19 CHL 46 23 ELC 2021 NA
Loponen, Kalle Leafs 204 18 CHL 45 23 ELC 2023 NA
Andersson, Axel Bruins 57 20 CHL 39 22 RFA 2022 0.795
Nyberg, Philip Sabres 129 22 Division 1 21 6 ELC 2020 NA
Duszak, Joseph Leafs NA 22 ECHL 35 34 RFA 2021 0.800
Spencer, Matthew Sabres 44 22 ECHL 31 14 RFA 2020 0.728
Hollowell, Mac Leafs 118 21 ECHL 19 13 RFA 2022 0.800
Tuomisto, Antti Red Wings 35 19 Jr. A SM Liiga 41 44 ELC 2023 NA
Kinnunen, Santtu Panthers 207 20 Jr. A SM Liiga 6 4 ELC 2022 NA
Kukkonen, Miska Sabres 125 19 Jr. A SM Liiga 4 2 ELC 2022 NA
Rasanen, Eemeli Leafs 59 20 KHL 16 0 NA NA
Thomson, Lassi Senators 19 19 Liiga 30 12 RFA 2023 0.925
Laaksonen, Oskari Sabres 89 20 Liiga 36 11 ELC 2021 NA
Kukkonen, Miska Sabres 125 19 Liiga 19 2 ELC 2022 NA
Kinnunen, Santtu Panthers 207 20 Liiga 22 1 ELC 2022 NA
Kinnunen, Santtu Panthers 207 20 Mestis 16 5 ELC 2022 NA
Rasanen, Eemeli Leafs 59 20 Mestis 10 3 NA NA
Semykin, Dmitri Lightning 90 19 MHL 39 24 NA NA
Bernard-Docker, Jacob Senators 26 19 NCAA 24 17 ELC 2022 NA
Finkelstein, Ben Panthers 195 22 NCAA 24 17 ELC 2020 NA
Green, Alex Lightning 121 21 NCAA 23 15 ELC 2021 NA
Crozier, Max Lightning 120 19 NCAA 25 14 ELC 2023 NA
Perbix, Nick Lightning 169 21 NCAA 26 11 ELC 2022 NA
Barton, Seth Red Wings 81 20 NCAA 21 10 ELC 2022 NA
Holway, Patrick Red Wings 170 23 NCAA 10 5 ELC 2021 NA
Clarke, Cameron Bruins 136 23 NCAA 21 4 ELC 2020 NA
Henrikson, Arvid Canadiens 187 21 NCAA 26 1 ELC 2020 NA
Ekblad, Aaron Panthers 1 24 NHL 49 29 UFA 2025 7.500
Hronek, Filip Red Wings 53 22 NHL 52 26 RFA 2021 0.714
McAvoy, Charlie Bruins 14 22 NHL 50 17 RFA 2022 4.900
Carlo, Brandon Bruins 37 23 NHL 53 16 RFA 2021 2.850
Jokiharju, Henri Sabres 29 20 NHL 52 13 RFA 2021 0.926
Cernak, Erik Lightning 43 22 NHL 49 10 RFA 2020 0.698
Jaros, Christian Senators 139 23 NHL 6 2 RFA 2020 0.755
Clifton, Connor Bruins 133 24 NHL 30 2 RFA 2020 0.725
Fleury, Cale Canadiens 87 21 NHL 41 1 RFA 2021 0.772
Berglund, Gustav Red Wings 177 19 Superelit 25 11 ELC 2023 NA
Koster, Mike Leafs 146 18 USHL 28 14 ELC 2024 NA