As of late, I have taken an interest in watching a good amount of OHL Hockey. Personally, I find the games more exciting than NHL games to watch. There is something about the wild disparities in talent, the time and space top players are afforded, and the buzz of the smaller (but sold out) arenas. Every game is also dripping with ambitions of a brighter future to come. It's all quite a nice change from the choppy, clogged, NHL game (particularly the Sabres putrid brand of NHL Hockey). If all of this sounds strange to you (and frankly, it should) then I'd suggest that you be glad that I am watching the OHL games so you don't have to.
In this installment, I'll be covering the only two OHL players who are realistically in play for the Sabres when they pick first.
A quick word on my grading system:
For overall grades I use a scale of 1-100
100: McDavid, Gretsky, Crosby
90-99: An elite prospect who should be expected to be one of the NHL's best at his position
80-89: A prospect that should make the NHL and contribute positively, but questions remain as to how good they can be
70-79: A prospect who has a shot to be a positive contributor in the NHL but there is a lot of projection; at the very least you are looking at a very good AHL player
60-69: A prospect with a shot at making the NHL if everything goes right, who has a floor as an AHL contributor. The classic "lotto ticket"
50-59: AHL ceiling
less than 50: varying degrees of "ugh"
If I'm talking about a particular skill or attribute I am going to use baseball grades
20= putrid (lowest grade available)
80=hall of fame calliber (top grade available)
So without further ado...
17 years old (DOB March 26, 2000)
RW, 6'3" 187lbs
Team: Barrie Colts
2017-2018 Stats: 39 GP, 35G, 26A, 61P, 59 PIM, +21
Andrei Svechnikov is no "consolation prize" to whomever does not get the top pick. Let me just get that out of the way. I've seen him play probably about a dozen times for Barrie this year and every time I find myself thinking, "well what has he really done in this game so far" he puts a goal on the board, or toe drags a D-man out of their jock strap. Although he's only 17, he's truly a men among boys at the OHL level. It's not rare to see him circle around the offensive zone, coasting with the puck, for 5 or more seconds. I haven't seen an OHL defender yet who is up to the task of keeping him out of scoring spots, and beating him to the loose pucks in scoring areas. And that is what I believe truly makes Svechnikov a great prospect. It isn't just his speed, shot, strength, size, and hands (although he has at least a 60/70 future grades in all areas) but his offensive awareness is also tremendous.
Svechnikov's numbers would probably be even more impressive were it not for the fact that he was injured with a wrist injury earlier in the year. He returned to the lineup in December and since the new year he has 22 goals and 40 points in only 23 games. That is, needless to say, quite a torrid pace.
If you are wondering, Svechnikov also played for the Russia U18 team and dominated, putting up 4 goals and 8 points in 4 games. He also has 2 goals and 7 points in 7 career games for the Russia U20 team. So he has proven his chops at the international level as well.
What's the Catch:
So what's the catch you ask? Really, there isn't one. Recently, a fellow DBTB'er commented that he felt his stride was uneven at times--I don't see it (to be fair, the author of that post made it clear he was fishing for negatives). To me, I see a player who glides around the ice effortlessly and who can get to top speed extremely quickly.
In a way, Svechnikov's greatest strength could also be said to be his lack of any weaknesses. There really isn't one aspect of his game that I see and say, "ya that won't work at the NHL he will need to improve on that significantly." One potential concern would be discipline. Svechnikov has taken quite a few penalties, with 56 penalty minutes on the season. He also doesn't take too much defensive zone responsibility on his current team--but I don't see him as being a liability in that part of the ice at the next level. I'm excited to see how far he can lead Barrie in the playoffs when the compete levels will rise.
What's the Word:
I think Svechnikov would have been a 20 goal scorer this year if he had been playing on a line with Jack Eichel. If the Sabres are lucky enough to draft him, he will immediately provide scoring punch and it would be truly surprising if it took him that long to put up his first 30 goal season. He may never be an elite playmaker, but he will also add assists in non-significant numbers as well due to his skating ability and his plus passing skills (I would slap a 55 on his passing right now with a 60/70 future grade).
Overall Grade: 94
18 years old (DOB: October 20, 1999),
RHD, 6'2" 188 lbs
Team: London Knights
2015-2016 Stats: 43 GP, 2G, 15A, 24 PIM, +15
2016-2017 Stats: 68 GP, 11G, 33A, 24 PIM, +30
2017-2018 Stats: 61 GP, 22G, 56A, 48 PIM, +17
Sane observers of hockey everywhere have Dahlin and Svechnikov as going 1-2 respectively in this year's draft. After that opinions start to diverge but most mocks have Bouchard going somewhere in the 6-10 range. Put another way, should the Sabres get poor lotto-ball luck, he could be in play at #5 (which is currently the worst pick the Sabres could have). So let's dive in shall we?
Skilled right handed defenseman don't grow on trees, and Bouchard is definately a highly skilled right handed defenseman. He has 78 points (22 goals) in 61 games on a depleted London Knights team that has shipped out most of their best players (including Buffalo asset Cliff Pu). In large part due to Bouchard's emergence (and because of the emergence of goaltender Joseph Raymaakers) London finds itself solidly in good playoff position in the Western Conference.
While most scouting reports I read emphasize his passing skills, I think his best skill would be his hand-eye skills. If there is a loose puck in his vicinity chances are he will be the first to get his stick on it. Bouchard also is a very good puck handler, and can dangle around the offensive zone before unleashing a shot or finding a teammate. I honestly think he could competently quarterback an NHL powerplay right now. He gets his shot through, he is comfortable on the half wall as well as at the point, and picks his spots to sneak down low. I'd probably slap a 70 on his hand-eye skills and a 60 on his powerplay skills with a future grade of 70+. He can simply be an elite powerplay quarterback.
Defensively, he has plus size and strength as he's 6'2" and already appears to be one of the stronger players in the OHL when he does find himself throwing his weight around (see the catch below, however). I've seen a bit of a nasty streak to him as well--he's not afraid to mix it up after the whistle.
If you care he is the captain of his team. While that may seem like quite an honor for a 17 year old, and it is mostly, keep in mind that he is by far the best player on his team and is in his 3rd season with the team.
What's the Catch:
Bouchard must meditate quite frequently, because I don't think I've ever seen anyone bring as much of a "calmness" to their game as Bouchard. Another way to say it is that Bouchard is often not in a ready position and doesn't exactly play with a high motor when he's not near the puck. I must confess that to me, it looks like Bouchard is not trying at times. I can't get over it. It really bothers me. He doesn't try to move his man off his spot when "fighting" for position in front of the net. Instead he is content to simply stand next to that man. I refuse to believe that his game in his own end would translate to the NHL without a massive uptick in his activity and compete levels. A lot of scouting reports refer to this as "poise" but I just can't bring myself to see it that way. In one recent game for example, I counted three goals scored while Bouchard coasted around his own zone to no purpose. For a d-man with so many points, and who plays in front of one of the better goalies in the OHL, his +/- isn't as high as you might think it would be. While +/- is a flawed stat, in this case I think it speaks to broader difficulties in his own zone.
Another aspect of his game that bothers me is that he also has a tendency to wander around. I'm not just talking about joining the rush (although he does do that frequently and mostly to good results) but also in his own zone as well as in the offensive zone. Part of this may be his confidence that he will be able to recover if he is caught out of position--but that confidence is not always well placed. He is often caught a day late and a dollar short on the defensive side because he wandered out of position.
He may simply be bored with OHL hockey given that it is his 3rd year and that he is very clearly better than most, if not all, of the players around him on any given night. But I've seen the same effort out of him when the commentators noted that tons of NHL scouts were in attendance.
What’s the Word:
If you are more of the mind that the "poise" that Bouchard plays with is really "lack of motor, effort, and attention to detail" then there is a lot of projection to who he can end up being. Listening to the Knights' broadcast, the commentator suggested that he could jump straight to the NHL due to his experience at the junior level, but I think he would benefit greatly from time in the AHL. The problem is that he won't turn 20 next year, and also will not have completed his 4th season in the juniors until after next year. So the choices for Bouchard are one more year in the juniors (where it is unlikely that he will be challenged enough to improve significantly) or jumping straight into the NHL. If I am drafting Bouchard, I'm sending him back to the juniors (maybe after a taste in the NHL) and then making him work his way up through the AHL system. So I wouldn't plan on seeing him stick until 2020-2021 at the earliest. Not exactly ideal for a top 5 pick.
His offensive floor alone probably makes him a worthwhile NHL player when it's all said and done, even if he doesn't improve his other habits. And there is no skill missing in his game that would lead me to suggest that he can't develop a strong two way game. It's really up to Bouchard. The smart money at this point, would probably be that he will never be a great defender in his own zone but that his offensive attributes will make him a worthwhile NHL player. While I would be all over him after say, pick 10, I think the uncertainty about his ability to be a defenseman would make me very weary of picking him in the top 5.
Overall Grade: 85