Five Thoughts for Sunday: The 2020 NHL Draft Awards

Picking the top overager, favourite small player, best name and more.

It’s been a long year of draft coverage at Silver Seven Sens. From draft profiles to podcast episodes to thinkpieces to even more draft profiles, it’s been mine and Ary’s pleasure to dive deep into the most important draft class in Ottawa Senators history.

We’re far from done either, with another six weeks until the big day rolls around in October. But while those draft profiles tend to lean towards the more objective, opinion-compiling and data-driven side of draft analysis, we’re switching it up today with five made-up awards for prospects in the 2020 draft. Some are serious, some are fun and others are an excuse to just highlight a player I really like.

So without further delay, let’s jump into the first award:

Best Small Boi

Awarded to the player who best exemplifies being short, skilled and all around a fun and loveable player to watch.

Winner: Juuso Mäenpää

Runner-Ups: Marco Rossi, Emil Andrae, Alexander Pashin, Xavier Simoneau

Not gonna lie, there were a lot of contenders for this award. I just love my small players, okay? It’s still somehow a market inefficiency when it comes to drafting, so seeing players like Quinn Hughes, Kailer Yamamoto and Alex DeBrincat outplay their draft positions always adds a little joy to my heart.

Obviously, I had to opt for the smallest of small bois in this award pick, with Juuso Mäenpää measuring in at 5’7”, or 5’4.75” from NHL Central Scouting. He’s probably somewhere in between, which either way would instantly make him one of the shortest players in the NHL should he make it to the big leagues.

The Rookie of the Year winner in the Finnish U20 league, Mäenpää is one of the league’s speedier players who can fly all over the ice. He’s electric in transition, seems to be all over the place in the offensive zone, and as a natural centre did a consistent job involving himself in his team’s backcheck. He’s seemingly fearless with the puck on his stick, with solid puck skills to make him versatile as a playmaker from the boards or even a one-timer option in the slot.

I highly recommend checking out the work of Lassi Alanen, who’s taken on the giant task of manually tracking stats for Finnish draft prospects. The sample size is far from complete with only a handful of players in the database per team (25 total players in Mäenpää’s league), but I still treat it as valuable information. You can find the results in his Tableau charts here.

Of the players tracked, Mäenpää ranks second out of all players in shot assists per 60 minutes — the amount of times his passes directly resulted in a shot — only behind 2022 top prospect Brad Lambert. He also ranks first in scoring chance assists per 60 (similar to shot assists but for higher danger chances), and rates highly in terms of being a primary contributor to his team’s shots. He’s a true dual-threat player, one who was really effective last season.

Furthermore, Mäenpää has the highest percentage of controlled zone entries in the database. The downside is that he also had one of the worst rates of shots against per 60 minutes, which will be something to look out for in future. His size obviously plays a factor too, as strength is what he’ll need to work on most. But if we’re looking at the innate skills which have proven to take prospects a long ways, Mäenpää is player I’d be placing my bets on at the draft table. He’s not expected to be taken until at least the third round, making him a potential steal.

As for the honourable mentions, you can read Ary’s in-depth profile of Marco Rossi here, who best exemplifies all the tools of a player who plays above his size. We’ve covered Emil Andrae and Xavier Simoneau on this site already, so I’ll just direct you to their respective draft profiles. We’ll also be covering Alexander Pashin in depth in a couple weeks, so keep your eyes peeled for the supremely fun маленького мальчика.

The Jared Cowen Award

Awarded to the player who will probably be drafted way higher than they should because you can’t teach size or something like that.

Winner: Tyler Kleven

Runner-Ups: Shakir Mukhamadullin, Yan Kuznetsov, Louis Crevier, Aidan Campbell

Essentially the opposite to the Small Boi award, this one was a toss-up between two defencemen in Tyler Kleven and Shakir Mukhamadullin, both listed as 6’4”. If I’d written this piece for the 2019 draft the winner would’ve been Alex Vlasic, drafted 44th by Chicago. So it only made sense to go with the USDP player for the second year in a row, a factor that will likely vault him into the top two rounds of the draft.

I don’t mean to harp on Kleven’s game too much, because there are still some elements to like. His slap shot is one of the strongest in the draft class, and he can certainly throw a hit. But between sluggish skating, questionable decision-making with the puck and inconsistent awareness defensively, it really hampers his chances of being impactful at the NHL level.

But let’s see what the NHL scouts have to say:

On EPRinkside not ranking Kleven in their top 93 (April 22nd):

We took a little bit of flack for that one. “I guarantee you Kleven is going to go in the first round. One of those teams with three first-round picks — they’re going to be the one do it,” one Central Division scout told EliteProspects.

From the HockeyProspect Black Book:

“For me he’s in the same grouping as Guhle but I see them both as second rounders and that is probably lower than a lot of guys have it.” - NHL Scout, April 2020

From the Recrutes draft guide:

“What’s funny is you watch him in practice and he’s actually more skilled than Sanderson,” said one US-based scout that saw plenty of USNTDP games.

On top of this, from the 30+ sources I’m tracking for draft lists, the second highest ranking of Kleven belongs to Bob McKenzie, whose aggregate ranking of NHL scouts places him all the way at #36.

Runner-up Shakir Mukhamadullin is just behind on McKenzie’s list at 42nd, and could easily win this award in most other years due to his questionable decision-making in nearly every facet. His skating is at a higher level than Kleven, but it’s a rarity to see him use his positioning effectively in any situation, with sub-par puck skills to boot.

The three other runner-ups deserve consideration for a variety of reasons. Yan Kuznetsov is another 6’4” player who’s lauded as one of the draft’s better defensive players, and will likely get a bump for playing against NCAA competition this past season. I’m definitely more convinced of his upside compared to the former two players, in the sense that he really was effective defensively while playing against better competition. But he’s not necessarily the type of player I’d be looking for at the draft when similar players are typically available every year in free agency.

And to quickly look at the last two, Louis Crevier stands at a monstrous 6’8” but put up very middling results for the Chicoutimi Saguenéens as an overager. Meanwhile Aidan Campbell is one of the draft’s youngest players, and despite being 6’5” had a disastrous 87.2% save percentage for the Erie Otters. While it’s a bit of a longshot that either of these players get drafted, betting on poor CHL results is never a good idea, even with their height advantage.

Best Overager

Winner: Alex Cotton

Runner-Ups: Yevgeni Oksentyuk, Dmitri Rashevsky, Nico Daws, Xavier Simoneau

Every year there seems to be one or two overage players who really stand out and put themselves in the conversation for the second or even first round. Last year that was Samuel Fagemo and Brett Leason (even though Pyotr Kochetkov beat them to the punch at #36), before that it was Scott Perunovich, and then we have to go back to 2016 to find Henrik Borgström as the last overager to be selected in the first round, 22nd by the Florida Panthers.

2020 is no such year, with a handful of players making a good case to be drafted in their second, third or fourth year of eligibility, but none garnering enough attention to be seriously considered in the first couple rounds. Only two players have been ranked by at least 50% of the sources I’m tracking: Flint winger Yevgeni Oksentyuk (expected range of 71-94) and Guelph goaltender Nico Daws (expected range of 70-103). But I’ve gone with someone different as my pick for best overager: Alex Cotton.

Here’s what I had to write about Cotton in the profiles piece on our favourite CHL defenceman:

Another WHLer who impressed me for very different reasons is Alex Cotton, an overage prospect who exploded onto the scene this year for Lethbridge leading the league’s blueliners with 67 points in 64 games. It’s the 10th highest P/GP for a D+1 defenceman in the past decade, hovering around players such as Juuso Välimäki, Jake Bean and Henri Jokiharju. He outplayed last year’s 53rd overall pick Calen Addison on the same team, as Cotton’s offensive instincts grew to a whole new level this season. He’s effective with his shot from the point making him an effective power play option along with being one of the WHL’s best offensive creators, period.

I knew Cotton was a solid player heading into writing that piece, but the more I researched him the more he worked his way up to being my favourite overager in this draft. All of the above still stands with Cotton, although I want to further emphasize his fantastic offensive instincts. Here’s the graph of player rates for expected goals and expected primary assists for CHL defencemen, taken from Mitch Brown’s manually tracked database:

He’s not the setup guy by any means, but he’s absolutely lethal when it comes to turning himself into the fourth forward and using his shot to create dangerous chances for his team. He was better at that than every other blueliner in the CHL last season, which combined with his smarts should put him on the radar of scouts around the NHL.

Oksentyuk is a very viable runner-up for this award, also receiving consideration for the Small Boi category. Having played hockey in Belarus up until last season, he broke onto the scene as the leading scorer on an otherwise bleak Flint Firebirds roster, scoring 33 goals and 78 points in 58 games. He’s quick and skilled with the puck on his stick, playing a very elusive game where he’s able to create space for himself despite standing at 5’8”. Not a bad start to his career in North America.

Following that up, Dmitri Rashevsky is a player who hadn’t gained much traction in scouting circles until closer to the end of the season, as he wasn’t representing Russia at international events. But he was the heart and soul of Dynamo St. Petersburg in the MHL last season, leading his team in scoring by 26 points with 44 goals and 30 assists in 61 games. As you might tell by his goal total he possesses a magnificent shot, and is just as much a volume shooter ranking second in the league in shots on goal (behind fellow overager Dmitri Sheshin). He also has a wonderful set of hands, making him an intriguing option despite being a late birthday for an overager.

Simoneau appears in this piece yet again, so here’s the link again to the QMJHL forwards piece. I reluctantly added Daws to the runner-ups too, even though I don’t think he stands out that much in this year’s mediocre crop of goaltenders. But he has the recognition playing for Team Canada at the World Juniors, and he led the OHL in save percentage last season at 92.4%. He’ll probably be gone before I’d personally feel comfortable drafting any goalie, but there’s a reason he’s in the conversation for the top netminder in this draft not named Yaroslav Askarov.

The ‘Player Who’s Falling Down Draft Lists But Probably Shouldn’t Be’ Award

Winner: Jérémie Poirier

Runner-Ups: Lucas Raymond, Lukas Cormier, Zion Nybeck, Kasper Simontaival

I’ve already taken plenty of heat for being a vocal supporter of Jérémie Poirier, but you bet I’m standing by my opinion here. We covered him as part of our feature on the big four QMJHL defencemen (Poirier, Cormier, Barron and Villeneuve), so I won’t go in depth again on what makes him an intriguing prospect. Instead I want to pivot this conversation more towards the toolkits we look for in young defencemen at the draft.

He’s been falling lots as the season has progressed, with more and more scouts becoming frustrated with his defensive play. The chart below shows his expected range from public sources throughout the past year — he was considered a lock for the first round up until May, and has since fallen to the range of the late first to early third round. It’s been quite the dropoff.

But we’re talking about the defensive play of a 17/18-year-old here. Not only is that not really part of the role he’s projected to play going forward, but there’s no shortage of time for him to show improvement before he’ll need to make the jump to the NHL. He possesses the skills that are much harder to improve down the line — offensive awareness, elite puck skills, and a dynamic shot that he uses in the right situation.

It could take some work for Poirier to apply himself as a two-way defender, but that’s not what he’s supposed to be. A team that lets him run wild offensively and is able to compensate for him defensively will be rewarded immensely. Defensive players are still valuable, but these are the skills you’ll find more through free agency rather than spending valuable draft picks.

My first runner-up for this award is Lucas Raymond, who I personally consider a steal if he’s drafted anywhere outside the top three or four picks. He’s still viewed that way for the most part in the public sphere, but seeing him go 6th, 10th and 12th in the mock drafts from writers made me wince a little. He’s been linked to the Sens at fifth overall by multiple sources, which would make me ecstatic if that happens. Fingers crossed.

Lukas Cormier, Zion Nybeck and Kasper Simontaival all fall into a similar category as Poirier, in that they’re flawed players who are all still highly skilled. As draft sensei Will Scouch likes to say, it’s good to bet on what you see from young players at their best. Hockey is a strong-link game, and we know they can all be excellent players with some work and patience. We’ll be covering Nybeck and Simontaival more in depth on this site soon, but you can already count me as a fan.

Best Name

Winner: Ivan Ivan

Runner-Ups: Gunnarwolfe Fontaine, Primo Self, Roman Faith, Zakhar Zakharov

The most coveted award of the bunch, this was something I put to Twitter way back in April. Here were the results after a week of polls... the voters were wrong, is what I’m saying.

Truthfully, the real winner of this award and the above bracket could’ve been Sequoia Swan, an enforcer who led the MJHL in penalty minutes last season with 207 in 55 games. But the chances of him getting drafted are slim to none, making Ivan Ivan my personal winner of the Best Name Award for the 2020 NHL Entry Draft.

Listen, I get the arguments for Gunnarwolfe Fontaine, who let’s face it, has the most hardcore name of the bunch. I also understand the case for Primo Self, the king of self-improvement. But there’s something about Ivan Ivan that continues to crack me up — we’ve long discussed the double first names of Chris Neil, Bobby Ryan, Nick Paul and the rest... but having the same name twice? Now that’s new territory, folks.

Do you agree? Disagree? For any of the five, is there a player you’d choose as the victor instead? Drop your choices in the comments below.

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