Road to 2020: Top Draftees Already Playing In Ottawa

The monthly draft journal returns with notes on the Ottawa 67s, a strong group of Russians, and more.

Welcome back to Road to 2020, the monthly series where I’ll be looking at stories and trends from the past month leading up to the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. With an incredible crop of talent, and the Ottawa Senators possessing a wealth of picks, June 26th could present itself as a key moment in the franchise’s history.

Once again, I’ll be using expected range in reference to prospects, which is essentially a public consensus — you can find the full explanation here and the full data here. Last month we touched on the race for #1, the German trio and more. This month we’re starting local, looking at the Ottawa 67s.

Local Talent

For those in Ottawa who also follow the local OHL team, you’ve been in for a treat this season. They’re currently 1st in the league with a record of 18-6-0, and have been absolutely electric offensively. A lot of that has been driven by Marco Rossi (xRange: 8-13), the Austrian sensation who’s currently 2nd in the OHL in points per game. After putting up three goals and three assists yesterday against the Kingston Frontenacs, the young centre is up to 44 points in 19 games.

Take a second to think about that. The 67s are good, but it’s not like he has another superstar on his wing (overager Austen Keating is next in team scoring). His current rate of 2.32 P/GP is higher than any other draft-eligible player in the OHL (Quinton Byfield, Cole Perfetti, etc.) and even above Alexis Lafrenière’s rate in the QMJHL. The last player to beat that was Connor McDavid, meaning he’s on pace to surpass OHL draft superstars like Mitch Marner, Taylor Hall, John Tavares, and really anybody else you can think of. It needs to be stated that Rossi is one of the draft’s oldest players, born eight days after the 2019 draft cutoff. He’s also short in stature at 5’9”, but his lower body strength is incredible for someone of his size. All of this, and he’s still not yet a consensus top-10 pick.

Someone else worth mentioning on the 67s is Jack Quinn (xRange: 31-93), who was one of this month’s biggest risers. He too is on the older side of the draft class (he turned 18 on September 19th), but he’s taken a massive leap forward offensively. His 27 points in 23 games is not quite at Rossi levels, but it’s still among the best of OHL draft-eligible forwards. His offensive creativity has really flourished, with a fantastic ability to find space for himself, as shown in the clip below.

Russian Talent

Last month I focused on the incredible crop of German talent, which is still showing to be an incredible group (especially Tim Stützle, who was the single biggest riser for the second straight month). This time I want to shift focus to a group of Russian prospects, who although may not have a headlining talent like Andrei Svechnikov, could still have one of their best groups entering the draft in years.

The player you may be most familiar with already is Yaroslav Askarov (xRange: 6-12), who is shaping up to be the highest-touted goalie prospect since Carey Price — even higher than Spencer Knight who was drafted 13th overall in the 2019 draft. He has everything: size, mobility, calmness, and the results. Since putting up a 92.5% save percentage in the VHL (Russia’s 2nd tier pro league), he was called up to the KHL earlier this week, winning his first game against HK Sochi stopping 23 of 25 shots. While I’m always skeptical of taking goalies in the draft at all, let alone that high in the first round, every goalie expert is currently pointing to him as the next one, which is very promising.

Aside from Askarov, the Russian talent in 2020 is quite deep. Rodion Amirov (xRange: 13-23) has been on everyone’s radar since his strong showings at international tournaments. Maxim Groshev (xRange: 36-94), who I mentioned briefly last month, was a massive riser in November after continuing to establish himself as a steady KHLer at 17 years old, a very rare feat. The forward depth continues with Vasily Ponomaryov (xRange: 20-39), Daniil Gushchin (xRange: 29-73), Alexander Pashin (xRange: 30-72) and Marat Khusnutdinov (xRange: 34-89). The first two are scoring plenty in North America. The 5’7” Pashin is point-per-game in the MHL, and Khusnutdinov has a well-rounded skillset that some scouts will die by, despite him scoring at a slow pace.

Even on defence they have some solid prospects, most notably Alexander Nikishin (xRange: 23-77), and one of my favourite names in the draft, Shakir Mukhamadullin (xRange: 33-75). They may not be on the levels of Ivan Provorov or Mikhail Sergachev, but they’ve both found themselves playing consistently in the KHL, which like Amirov and Groshev, is a very rare accomplishment. Only seven other draft-eligible defencemen have played 10+ KHL games in the league’s history, although that doesn’t automatically correlate to success (Andrei Pribylsky played 24 KHL games last and went undrafted).

Overall, this is still shaping up to be a fantastic draft class for Russia, with plenty of players already getting pro experience. The Senators have gone longer than any other team without drafting a Russian, with the last one being Ruslan Bashkirov in 2007. With the Senators seemingly flipping a switch in the last year on their general stance on Russians, maybe it’s time they finally draft one.

Injuries and Fallers

The biggest faller this month was once again Dylan Peterson (xRange: 29-89), who I mentioned last month as part of the underwhelming crop out of the USDP. He scored three assists last night, so maybe he’ll start to heat back up to the original expectations.

Another major faller has been Justin Barron (xRange: 12-20), whose status as the draft’s second best defenceman is starting to slip. He’s still having a solid season as a two-way defenceman, but with his scoring rate currently behind four other QMJHL defenceman (Lukas Cormier, Jérémie Poirier, William Villeneuve and Charlie DesRoches), the expectations are starting to dwindle.

The biggest injury news from this month also comes from the Q, as Hendrix Lapierre (xRange: 9-16) is out indefinitely with a concussion. This is serious news for the forward, who has now sustained three concussions in just the last eight months. It’s hard to see how this won’t affect his future at least somewhat, which is terrible considering how gifted he is as a playmaker. This could end up being another situation similar to Peyton Krebs last year, who fell to the Vegas Golden Knights at 17th overall after tearing his Achilles near the end of the season. Hopefully Lapierre can recover back to his full form, and continue with a healthy career.

Additionally, top Finnish prospect Anton Lundell (xRange: 3-9) will be out for the next six weeks with an undisclosed injury. He’s been rolling through Finland’s pro league with 12 points in 20 games, making this a massive loss for Team Finland who would’ve likely used him as their top line centre at the World Juniors.

The last player worth touching on amongst this month’s fallers is Lucas Raymond (xRange: 2-4), who although hasn’t fallen in any rankings yet, seems to be losing some steam as the consensus 3rd overall pick. His five points in 15 SHL games is still marvellous, but not quite at the elite level that was expected following his record-breaking season in the SuperElit last season. A lot of this comes down to context — his coach hasn’t been giving him any of his  deserved opportunities to succeed, being played for only 10 minutes a night with weak linemates, when he could easily be flourishing on their top line. That doesn’t take away from the fact that he’s been a dynamic, play-driving force in his small bits of playing time. But it’s a situation worth keeping an eye on.

Defencemen To Watch

Many of the players I pointed out last month as having hot starts continued to dominate in November (Ryan Francis, Tyson Foerster, etc.), and some started to rise up the rankings. This time around I’ll list some defencemen who are off a good start statistically (at least by points given the lack of available stats), who may not be getting loads of attention in the rankings so far:

  • Previously mentioned as having a higher P/GP rate than Justin Barron, William Villeneuve (xRange: 50-89) has been killing it with the Saint John Sea Dogs. His partner, Jérémie Poirier (xRange: 14-26) has been receiving much more praise, and deservedly so, making it an interesting dynamic to watch for the rest of the season.
  • Over in the AJHL, an unconventional league for draft-eligible prospects, Michael Benning (xRange: 27-69) is currently scoring 1.42 points per game, a higher rate than Cale Makar’s 1.39 in 2016-17.
  • Jack Thompson (xRange: 33-107) is second in OHL scoring amongst draft-eligible defenceman behind Drysdale, with a scoring rate around the range of former top picks Olli Juolevi, Travis Dermott and Jakob Chychrun.
  • In Finland, the 5’9” Tomi Niku (xRange: 154-156, ranked by only once source) has been scoring at a good rate in the Jr. A SM-liiga, similar to Kim Nousiainen who was drafted by the LA Kings last year. It’s ahead of guys like Joni Jurmo (xRange: 64-110) and Samuel Knazko (xRange: 43-89), who have been receiving more attention thus far.
  • Lastly, while maybe not as overlooked, this year’s crop of Swedish defenceman is, as you may have instinctually assumed, excellent. In the SuperElit, both Helge Grans (xRange: 23-55) and Emil Andrae (xRange: 21-49) are scoring at or near a point-per-game pace, while William Wallinder (xRange: 22-87) has seemingly burst out of nowhere with a smart and creative skillset that’s wowed scouts for a player that’s 6’4”./

That’s all for this month’s edition of Road to 2020! If you’re interested more in the scouting side and deeper analysis of this draft’s prospects, I’ll link a bunch of reading in this sentence for you to play a game of link roulette.

If you’re interested in expected range, you can either visit the Google Sheet that includes the raw data for all 300 players currently in the database, or play around with the interactive charts that show the monthly progression of each player’s xRange or draft value.

Thanks for reading!

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