Hello DBTB. Following in the outsized footsteps of our friend Brassmaster, I’ve compiled my Top 125 Big Board for your viewing pleasure. I’m not nearly the tech-savvy guru that Brassy happens to be, so no video or fancy spread sheets for me…just old skool lists of guys in numerical order. I know, I know…yawn.
Next up will be a lengthy Mock Draft. Maybe 6 rounds? Speaking of Mock Drafts, there are a couple links (Brass posted one as well, but if you didn’t catch it, here it is again!) that allow you to conduct your own. Now, the rankings are, to me at least, a bit wonky, but you all can be the judges of that. First is FC Hockey (nhlentrydraft.com). This is the Future Considerations Mock Draft generator, so you can create your own Mocks whenever its convenient. They do a pretty good job with it, so check it out. Next, the folks at Draft Prospects have put a nice simulator as well. You can catch that here: Draft Simulator (draftprospectshockey.com).
With that out of the way, let’s dig into the Draft as it stands right now. This is an unusual year, as the fallout from COVID continues to impact these kids trying to become professional hockey players. What that means is a lot of the major tournaments piling up toward the end of, or after the conclusion of, the Draft Year. So, the U-18 tournament, in Germany this Spring, will get underway in about a week (4/21). The Hlinka-Gretzky Tournament will take place simultaneously with the rescheduled World Junior Championship in Edmonton in August. That’s a lot of hockey to watch!
Not to mention, the CHL Top Prospects game, once scheduled for February, was moved to late March. More on that in a second.
First, it has been discussed in other venues around here, but I think if the Ukraine – Russia conflict continues into the Draft period (and looks to go beyond that), a number of Russians will either fall or will not get drafted at all. Why? A couple reasons. First off, some of the big prospect events will not include the Russian team. That includes the Five Nations tournament over in Europe, and the ones I mentioned above. For players like a Danila Yurov – good enough to be in the KHL, but too young to get any kind of meaningful minutes – taking away a spotlight event really detracts from their ability to showcase their game against peers rather than serving as the 12th forward on a KHL team, so that GMs and head scouts who haven’t had the luxury of watching some of these kids won’t get a chance to see them. And that can lead to guys falling down the Board…or being removed altogether. Secondly, the KHL-NHL relationship could be fractured for some time. This takes away the ability for NHL teams to buy out KHL contracts, as well as creating a number of other logistical challenges for KHL players coming over to the NHL. So there’s a chance – however slim – that a kid you draft this year might not see the NHL for years…or in some cases, more years than they normally would. If they ever come over at all. We all know about the so-called ‘Russian Bias’ amongst NHL GMs, and it exists for sure, but we could see a Russian Bias on steroids. Thirdly, if a Curtain, Iron or otherwise, falls on Russian again, most NHL teams will not have a clear window, much less a hand in, the development of their drafted player. For teams who really have a structured development program, this could be a huge turnoff. Lastly, the Russian government seems pretty intent on stopping people of any notoriety if they want to leave the country. So if, say, a Russian kid’s KHL contract expires, and everyone knows he’s leaving to play in North America, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that the Russian government would not let him go…or at least create enough entanglements to dramatically slow his travels overseas. Maybe none of these things happen, maybe everything gets resolved and we never have to worry about any of this (except the Russian Bias). But there can be no denying there is risk there, and most NHL GMs are heavily risk-averse.
As an addendum to that, Russian wing and goal-scoring prospect Ivan Miroschnichenko was recently diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I don’t know the situation beyond that, but to add that terrible health news (my heart goes out to the kid) to the above concerns around Russians makes it really tough for me to even rank him. So I took him out, off my Board, entirely. For now, at least. So if you’re wondering where he is, that explains it. Let’s hope that he’s healed up and back on the ice in no time, but he was already slipping for me before the news came out, so he was going to be in that 20+ range regardless. I wish him nothing but the best.
As I mentioned earlier, the CHL Top Prospects game went down in Kitchener a couple weeks ago, and like the Biosteel All-American game, it proved to be a low-scoring affair. Team White, captained by defenseman Denton Mateychuk, took the win with a 3-1 victory. Likely #1 overall Shane Wright captained the Team Red in the losing effort. Goal-scoring wing Jagger Firkus received the MVP for his 1-1-2 performance as he fired shots from all over the ice, while Team White doubled up Team Red in shots, on the back of 5 Team White power plays. Standouts for me included Jake Karabela, Noah Warren and Owen Beck on the White side; Danny Zhilkin, Matt Savoie and Mav Lamoureux flashed for me as well as Shane Wright (who potted the only goal for Red thanks to a beautiful pass by Zhilkin). Team Red goalie Reid Dyck made some fantastic saves in net against the barrage, a display I never expected as I don’t think I’ve seen him play yet this year and was wondering "Why is this kid playing in the Top Prospects Game?" Shows you what I know!
Lastly, my Top 15 or so remains unsettled. We’ve seen an explosion by Swede Jonathan Lekkerimaki of late, which has vaulted him into the Top 10 (for now). To my earlier point, former unanimous #1 Shane Wright is playing very well of late, as he tries to regain the chokehold on the #1 overall spot. Meanwhile, I’m starting to think anyone of the guys in the Top 6-7 could go in any order.
Just for edification purposes, this is MY Board. I do not pretend to know anything more than any of you, and we have some very smart hockey people on this Board who follow this stuff – Brassmaster, of course, along with folks like Swords and Skins, Senecanation, and Dr. Who among others – far closer than I, and who can call me out for my crazy ideas. As a reminder, this is not my projection of what order these players will be selected, nor is it some kind of consensus ranking. Just my two cents – and probably worth less than that – purely about the players I like, and if someone gave me a job selecting players on Draft Day, who I would go with. It is not set in stone. There are likely several iterations before we get to the Final Top 175 right before the Draft. I haven’t seen every player there is to see, so if there are a few omissions, I either haven’t seen them or I really don’t like them for some reason.
For those of you who have followed these in the past, you know my general philosophy of how I rank the players, what I look for. Ideally, I want size and speed combinations. A 6’4 guy who can really burn will rise in my rankings. Rare, for sure, but what I look for. Then an elite skill – skating, strength, vision, shot – pushes you toward the top. Skating is vitally important, as are smarts...seeing the ice on both ends, being aware of situations and the players around you. Lastly, effort. I want guys who want to get better, who have a high workrate all over the ice, who will take hits to make plays and will dish out hits if necessary to stop plays from happening. Sometimes I fall right into consensus, other times I’m way out in left field. But I’ve had a pretty decent track record through the years here at DBTB…although I’ve missed on some whoppers too! So take all my rankings with a healthy armful of salt.
Leave your thoughts, as I know you will. And now…enjoy!
1. Logan Cooley, 5’11 C, US NTDP
2. Shane Wright, 6’0 C, OHL
3. Juraj Slafkvowsky, 6’4 LW, FIN
4. Matthew Savoie, 5’10 C/W, WHL
5. Danila Yurov, 6’1 LW, RUS
6. Connor Geekie, 6’4 C, WHL
7. Simon Nemec, 6’1 RHD, SVK
8. David Jiricek, 6’4 RHD, CZE
9. Cutter Gauthier, 6’3 LW, US NTDP
10. Joakim Kemell, 5’11 RW, FIN
11. Marco Kasper, 6’1 C, SWE
12. Jimmy Snuggerud, 6’2 C/W, US NTDP
13. Luca Del Bel Belluz, 6’1 C, OHL
14. Ryan Chesley, 6’0 RHD, US NTDP *
15. Alexander Perevalov, 6’0 RW, RUS
16. Noah Ostlund, 5’10 C, SWE
17. Filip Mesar, 5’11 W, SVK
18. Jonathan Lekkerimaki, 5’10 C/W, SWE
19. Jani Nyman, 6’3 LW, FIN
20. Sam Rinzel, 6’4 RHD, US HS
21. Tristan Luneau, 6’2 RHD, QMJHL
22. Owen Pickering, 6’4 LHD, WHL
23. Pavel Mintyukov, 6’1 LHD, OHL
24. Brad Lambert, 6’0 RW, FIN
25. Jack Hughes, 6’0 C/W, NCAA
26. Viktor Neuchev, 6’2 W, RUS
27. Nathan Gaucher, 6’3 C, QMJHL
28. David Goyette, 5’11 C, OHL
29. Denton Mateychuk, 5’11 LHD, WHL
30. Frank Nazar, 5’9 RW, US NTDP
31. Mats Lindgren, 5’10 LHD, WHL
32. Elias Salomonsson, 6’2 RHD, SWE
1 (33). Owen Beck, 6’0 C, OHL
2 (34). Filip Bystedt, 6’4 C, SWE
3 (35). Jiri Kulich, 6’0 C/W, CZE
4 (36). Noah Warren, 6’5 RHD, QMJHL
5 (37). Calle Odelius, 6’0 LHD, SWE
6 (38). Artyom Duda, 6’1 LHD, RUS
7 (39). Liam Ohgren, 6’1 C/W, SWE
8 (40). Kevin Korchinski, 6’2 LHD, WHL
9 (41). Gleb Trikozov, 6’1 C/W, RUS
10 (42). Maveric Lameroux, 6’7 RHD, QMJHL
11 (43). Lian Bischel, 6’5 LHD, SWISS
12 (44). Seamus Casey, 5’10 RHD, US NTDP
13 (45). Adam Ingram, 6’2 C, USHL
14 (46). Devin Kaplan, 6’3 RW, US NTDP
15 (47). Gavin Hayes, 6’1 RW, OHL
16 (48). Aleksanteri Kaskimaki, 6’0 C, FIN
17 (49). Ike Howard, 5’10 RW, US NTDP
18 (50). Jagger Firkus, 5’10 W, WHL
19 (51). Cameron Lund, 6’2 C, USHL
20 (52). Matyas Sapovaliv, 6’4 C/LW, OHL
21 (53). Ruslan Gazizov, 5’11 W, OHL
22 (54). Tomas Hamara, 6’0 LHD, FIN
23 (55). Ryan Greene, 6’2 C, USHL
24 (56). Rutger McGroarty, 6’0 C/LW, US NTDP
25 (57). Regier Lorenz, 6’3 C, AJHL
26 (58). Fabian Wagner, 6’0 RW, SWE
27 (59). Fraser Minten, 6’1 C/RW, WHL
28 (60). Matthew Seminoff, 5’11 RW, WHL
29 (61). Christian Kyrou, 5’10 RHD, OHL
30 (62). Ty Nelson, 5’9 RHD, OHL
31 (63). Alexander Suzdalev, 6’2 RW, SWE
32 (64). Topi Ronni, 6’1 C, FIN
1 (65). Charlie Leddy, 6’3 RHD, US NTDP
2 (66). Quinn Finley, 6’0 C, USHL
3 (67). Kiril Dolzhenkov, 6’7 W, RUS
4 (68). Jordan Dumais, 5’9 RW, QMJHL
5 (69). Vincenze Rohrer, 5’11 C/RW, OHL
6 (70). Jordan Gustafson, 5’11 C, WHL
7 (71). Garrett Brown, 6’3 RHD, USHL
8 (72). Spencer Sova, 6’1 LHD, OHL
9 (73). Otto Salin, 6’0 RHD, FIN
10 (74). Simon Forsmark, 6’2 LHD, SWE
11 (75). Josh Niedermeyer, 6’0 LHD, BCHL
12 (76). Julian Lutz, 6’2 RW, GER
13 (77). Ludwig Persson, 5’11 C/W, SWE
14 (78). Servac Petrovsky, 6’0 C, OHL
15 (79). Kasper Kulonummi, 6’0 RHD, FIN
16 (80). Miko Mattikaa, 6’3 RW, FIN
17 (81). Tyler Dunbar, 6’4 LHD, USHL
18 (82). Alexander Pelevin, 5’11 RHD, RUS
19 (83). Danny Zhilkin, 6’2 C, OHL
20 (84). Hannes Hellberg, 6’1 W, SWE
21 (85). Topias Leinonen, 6’5 G, FIN
22 (86). Jace Weir, 6’2 RHD, WHL
23 (87). Kocha Delic, 5’11 W, OHL
24 (88). Ilya Kvochko, 5’9 C, RUS
25 (89). Lane Hutson, 5’8 LHD, US NTDP
26 (90). Kasper Lundell, 5’11 C/W, FIN
27 (91). Mattias Havelid, 5’10 RHD, SWE
28 (92). Tyler Brennan, 6’4 G, WHL
29 (93). Jake Livanavage, 5’10 LHD, USHL
30 (94). Alex Sotek, 6’0 RW, SVK
31 (95). Slava Sapunov, 6’0 RHD, RUS
32 (96). Bryce McConnell-Barker, 6’1 C, OHL
1 (97). Filip Nordberg, 6’4 LHD, SWE
2 (98). Adam Sykora, 6’0 C/W, SVK
3 (99). Danill Ivanov, 6’4 LHD, RUS
4 (100). Jake Karabela, 5’11 C, OHL
5 (101). Reid Schaefer, 6’3 RW, WHL
6 (102). Jake Furlong, 6’1 LHD, QMJHL
7 (103). Nicolas Moldenhauer, 5’11 C/RW, USHL
8 (104). Otto Hokkanen, 6’2 C, FIN
9 (105). Gustav Karlsson, 6’1 C, SWE
10 (106). Tyson Jugnauth, 5’11 LHD, BCHL
11 (107). Santeri Sulku, 6’3 C/RW, FIN
12 (108). Brennan Ali, 6’2 C, US HS
13 (109). Sergei Murashov, 6’0 G, RUS
14 (110). Josh Filmon, 6’2 LW, WHL
15 (111). Colton Smith, 6’2 RW, OHLggf`
16 (112). Ryan Healey, 6’3 RHD, US HS
17 (113). Rasmus Ruudslatt, 6’0 LW, FIN
18 (114). Alex Bump, 6’0 LW, USHL
19 (115). Dominik Rymon, 5’10 C, CZE
20 (116). Adam Engstrom, 6’2 LHD, SWE
21 (117). Jakub Hujer, 6’4 W, QMJHL
22 (118). Dylan Silverstein, 6’0 G, US NTDP
23 (119). Liam Arnsby, 5’11 C, OHL
24 (120). Georges Fegaras, 6’2 RHD, OJHL
25 (121). Rodwin Dionicio, 6’2 LHD, OHL
26 (122). Parker Bell, 6’4 RW, WHL
27 (123). Jack Devine, 5’11 RW, NCAA
28 (124). Joel Jonsson, 5’9 RW, SWE
29 (125). Niks Feneko, 6’1 LHD, QMJHL
POTENTIAL SABRES HAUL:
1#9: Cutter Gauthier, 6’3 C/W, US NTDP: A tank of a kid who can play center or wing, all over the line-up, fire the puck and defend. You say BFLO already has one of these guys? Well, what’s wrong with two? Not only for the A+ name, but Gauthier is a beast of a 2-way forward who is a coach’s dream for his versatility. Over a PPG for the US Development Team, Gauthier does a little bit of everything: played #1C for the NTDP when Logan Cooley was at US World Junior camp and didn’t look out of place at all, has played left wing down on the 3rd line for the Program and everywhere in-between, he’s set up shop in the slot or at the top of the circles on the PP, and has been one of the primarily penalty killers as well. He reminds me quite a bit of Dylan Cozens when he was draft eligible. At 6’3, 200#, he plays big and isn’t afraid to engage physically on either end of the ice. I wouldn’t call him a big hitter by any means, but he plays into and through contact well and seems to relish taking a hit to make a play as much as he does dishing them out. Defensively he’s plenty strong enough to control the stick of his check, to pin and hold forwards against the walls or down in the corner, and box guys out on the point or around the net. When he does put a hit on, it’s usually done with purpose: to separate a player from the puck or disrupt a rush before it becomes a dangerous chance. But Gauthier is far more than a defensive forward with some size. In fact, his biggest attribute outside of his size is his shot. He’s a goal scorer first and last. Prefers to operate between the dots, he’s always looking for seams or space to unload that shot on an unsuspecting goalie. Can let loose a laser beam of a shot with very little time or space, which makes him an ideal player for the bumper position on the PP but has also shown to be very dangerous on the weakside circle. A heavy, hard shot that will hurt defenders who attempt to get in its way, he’s also got a crazy good wrister which he uses from the tops of the circles on in with deadly accuracy. Doesn’t stand still, stick always on the ice, he comes loaded up as soon as he steps on the ice, and his size makes it tough to get around him and close out a shot. Even when you think you’ve got him, he gets a dangerous shot off. And he’s a true threat in transition, where his impressive skating combines with his shot and release to make him a lethal 3F trailing the play. Speaking of his skating, it’s very Eichel-like in that he only needs a couple crossovers and he’s up to top speed. Powerful skater, it doesn’t look like he’s flying up ice until he blows past a couple defenders and creates an odd-man rush. He skates strong and takes great lines to the puck. And that carries over to his lateral play – his balance is exceptional, and for a guy who likes to take and give out hits, he seemingly never hits the ice. Even in puck battles along the walls, when he’s the guy everyone wants to knock down, he always remains on his feet. He’s not going to dance around a guy, but he doesn’t have to when he can just bull them over. Plays a North-South game (again, like Cozens) and is perfectly happy knocking a guy off the puck, exploding out of the blocks to get up ice, and burying a feed on a 2-on-1 in the same sequence. A terror on the forecheck, Gauthier can either play that physical F1 game and get in deep on defenders to force turnovers, or be the 2nd forward in, read the play and intercept a pass before it gets out of the other team’s end. Has a good motor, and when the game is on the line, he never seems to slow down or overthink things. Put up 51P, including 31G to lead the Program, in 45 games. Off to Boston College, where he’ll team up with a really good incoming class of kids. He’s probably a couple years away, but there’s a lot to like with this kid. You could play him with just about anyone, in any role, and he’ll likely do well. Ton of upside here as well, as parts of his game only started to manifest this year, including becoming a much better distributor of the puck in the O-zone as the year went on.
1#17: Luca Del Bel Belluz, 6’1 C, OHL: Well, not only are the Sabres winning the all-name title in this Draft, but they’re also adding a potent scorer who’s improving by leaps and bounds. LD2B (as I’ll be calling him to save space) came into the year as an afterthought for most draftniks. He posted a measly 6P in 58 games in his rookie year in the OHL and seemed to fall off everyone’s radar. Fast forward to this season. Belluz is absolutely crushing it with 72P in 64 games, and the 6’1 180# forward is the 2nd highest scoring draft eligible in the OHL behind presumed #1 overall Shane Wright. D2B makes his bones on the offensive end, and he shows high-end offensive instincts in doing so. Blessed with tremendous hands, he uses those and his hockey smarts to consistently get to the right spots on the ice to create dangerous chances for himself and his teammates. His incredible patience coupled with those hands and great spatial awareness allow him to keep possession for seemingly ever, and he's strong enough to hold off bigger D-Men, waiting to capitalize on a mistake or a quick decision from a defender. When those invariably occur, D2B slides into the open space or outmaneuvers the opponent, opening up a passing or shooting lane, getting inside leverage, or putting the puck in a dangerous spot. Those incredible hands let him stickhandle around danger, and even off-balance, thread saucer passes and no-look gems through a thicket of sticks and legs. The puck seems stuck to his blade. He’ll dangle you all day if you let him, and he’s got light feet to allow him to sidestep lunging sticks or overeager defenders. Great going inside-out, or outside-in, and head is always up looking for a play to make. Has turned more than a few kids into pretzels this year. Excellent deception in his game as well. Will lure defenders out of position, pull the puck back and strike in the blink of an eye. Uses a whole book of feints, fakes, and gear shifting to keep defenders off balance. A tremendous feel for creating offense. And he can wire the puck as well. His shot is quick, especially when he chokes up on his stick a bit, and he rips it just enough to keep teams honest and unable to sit on his extraordinary passing. Very creative with how he gets pucks to the net – wrap-arounds, dekes, one-timers, tips, rebounds, transition goals – he’s got a bag of scoring tricks almost as deep as his playmaking bag. Not satisfied with just putting up points, D2B is solid in his own end as well. An effort defender, that spatial awareness and hustle lead to a high work rate in the D-Zone. Never gives up on a play, or a check, hanging in there even when the play is dead. A certain relentlessness about his defensive game; always working to lift a stick or lock a guy up, he’s not impossible to beat, but he’s going to back-pressure you until you give up or turn the puck over. And his stick disrupts a lot of plays that he quickly turns the other way. Has a competitive streak a mile long. Sounds great, right? Hold on. The questions about D2B revolve largely around his skating. And it is in a word, honestly, weird. It’s clunky, choppy, and awkward…but still, he seems to get around the ice pretty well, and has scored some really gorgeous goals taking the puck end-to-end. The concern is that as he climbs the ladder, there will be fewer and fewer defenders who D2B can use that array of fakes and jukes on to create space, and his skating will become more exposed. That is something he will absolutely have to improve to become a successful NHL player. His agility, however, is very good and his light feet really help him navigate through traffic or turn a defender inside out. He was one of the best players at the CHL Top Prospects testing on agility with the puck, so there’s some strong raw material to work with here. I see some Jack Quinn in his rise, same with a big mid-season jump and then steadily up toward the end, and I think he’ll continue to do the same. There’s some vintage Loui Eriksson in his game – will have a few huge years (70+ points) and be a reliable, smart 2-way forward who’s tough in his own zone. Could do a lot worse later in the 1st round.
1#30: Tristan Luneau, 6’2 RHD, QMJHL: Long (6’2 175#) defender who isn’t particularly physical but brings two high-end talents to the dance: skating and smarts. Luneau has a sparkling pedigree and is one of the top right-shot defenders in the class. But I think as the love affair with blazing fast, offensive-minded blueliners continues (and rightly so), Luneau may get passed over for players like Mintyukov and Mateychuk. As a result, he should be available when the Sabres select. Having missed the first month or so with an injury that required surgery, Luneau got off to a late start but jumped back in as a key player for a middling Gatineau team. He plays with a serenity on the back-end that would make him an ideal partner for a Dahlin or an Owen Power. Has a very high panic threshold, rarely coughs up a puck or makes a bad decision, and coupled with his superb skating, marks him as a textbook two-way defender puck distributor. Luneau came into the Q with a reputation as a high-end offensive D-man, but I think his future NHL role is more geared toward being a Jaccob Slavin-type of player thanks to his smarts and his skating. The latter is very good; his stride is textbook, has solid burst out of the blocks but never looks labored. I think he’ll get faster as he gets stronger. Transitions from forward to back, pivots, and gap control are all near the top of the class. Can get the puck and fly up ice, leading the rush, then pivot back and shutdown a counterattack at the other end without breaking a sweat. His sharp lateral movement gets a lot of credit for allowing him to be a highly effective PP QB, but where it shines to me is his ability to close out forwards in his own end. He can be a strong on-puck defender, especially in transition, thanks to those light feet and agility. No slouch with his stick either. A really astute poke-check artist, Luneau is heavy on his stick, and it’s always active, disrupting plays and causing opponents to panic with the puck and turn it over on the rare occasion he’s out of position. His instincts and vision make him a 4th forward in transition, where he – like Dahlin – is more than capable of serving as a zone-entry weapon and letting his forwards fill their lanes to create chaos in the O-zone. He’s a great heads-up defender who sees the ice very well. Once identifying the pressure, Luneau can beat forecheckers with his skating and stickhandling, or calmly snap off a pass on the tape of an exiting forward. Has an excellent stretch pass that he doesn’t employ nearly enough, and his first pass is typically on-time and on-target. His shot is iffy – he can struggle to get pucks through, and he doesn’t have much of a one-timer – but that’s something he can work on. Most of his work in the O-zone focuses on puck distribution. Runs a PP with authority and effectiveness, but at even strength he can zip the puck around the perimeter and pressure the D by forcing them to move. Can be very elusive with the puck on his stick. Plays in every situation as the anchor for his club and is effective in all of them. Needs to get a lot stronger – he routinely can get outmuscled down low around the net, despite being a willing participant in puck battles. The added strength will help him in several areas – burst in his skating, improving his shot, and his defensive work in tight. Put up 18P in 31 games for the Olympiques, making him their leading scorer from the back-end. He could really round out the young Sabre defense corps. Think of someone like a Henrik Tallinder or another, more modern defensive defenseman like a Brian Dumoulin…recover the puck, get it out of your end with control as quickly as possible. IMO that will be his game, and he could be one of those players who lasts for a long time in the NHL.
2#8: Viktor Neuchev, 6’2 W, RUS: High-volume shooter, this Russian wing plays the kind of game Granato seems to love: North-South, high pace, getting pucks to the net. And boy can he get the puck to the net in a hurry. Rail-thin, this Russian sniper has great size (6’2 165#) but will need time to grow into his frame. But you can’t dispute his production – Neuchev is the leading draft-eligible goal scorer in the MHL with an impressive 40G in 61 games. And he’s on the upswing, with 10P in his last 5 games, including 8 (!) goals. Creativity is the name of his game, and he’s clever with and without the puck. His lines to scoring areas are varied and deceptive, his feet remain in motion as he seeks out open space, and he can change the shooting angle before you can adjust to get that lethal shot to the goal. Once there’s a sliver of daylight, he gets the puck to the net. How? Has a Tage Thompson-esque curl and drag move as he comes off the wall into the middle of the ice, and again like Tommer, he can snap off a rocket with very little space and very little time. The shot is not overly heavy, but it is hard and it comes off his blade with a lot of action…but Neuchev’s also highly accurate, so he can pick corners and hit them before the goalie can get set. Has superb hands, able to handle bouncing pucks, flatten them, and rip it all in one motion. Can shoot it off the stickhandle just as well as a catch-and-shoot. And has a killer one-time from anywhere…the goal-line, or the low slot, anywhere in-between...to boot. In short, he’s a pure goal scorer. And the scary thing is, if he played on a better team, he might have even gaudier statistics. Neuchev has more than twice as many goals as the next highest scorer on his club, and 27 more points for Avto, a team in the bottom half of their MHL division. Not a stationary scorer, he is a strong skater as well. His footwork is exceptional, especially with the puck on his stick. Smooth pivots, strong lateral movement, opens up shooting lanes for him. Edges make it tough for guys to get in front of him or stay stick-on-stick. Good linear speed as well, gets up and down the ice efficiently and with good pace. Needs to get more explosive out of the blocks, but even though he’s not a burner, his work rate doesn’t wane. He’s always hounding the puck and never gives up on a play…sometimes to his detriment, as he can take some really long shifts. Especially on the forecheck, where he’s a dog on a bone. However, he’s not without his issues. His work defensively can be a train wreck. Like a lot of pure scorers, he gets stuck watching the puck too often in his own end and will chase the puck leaving his check behind. Additionally, he can stop moving his feet, which can tend to look like he’s conserving his energy for the offensive end. I don’t believe that’s the case, given his high effort level in other parts of the game, but it’s a mark against him. Additionally, he’s not physical, and will need to get bigger/stronger to compete in the North American game. He’s got the frame to do it – he’s just very thin, and if he’s going to play wing in the pros, Neuchev needs to be able to win board battles. But given he’s over in Russia, he’ll get a long window to work on his game. Honestly, he’s like a bigger, better, more talented version of Olofsson from his draft year. If he can just turn into that, it’s a good investment here.
3#8: Charlie Leddy, 6’2 RHD, US NTDP: Physical, defensive D-Man with good size (6’2 180#) and a very disciplined game in his own end. Leddy has played much of the year on his off-hand, pairing up with one of the many offensive-charged RHD at the Program. Even still, he’s incredibly reliable, efficient and understands his role despite not putting up big numbers. But those numbers (14P in 46 games) do not tell the whole story. Leddy plays in the hard situations, he’s the top PK’er for the Program, is out there protecting leads late in games. In short, the coaching staff counts on his responsible play to win them games. How does he do it? First off, his size. He’s long, and growing…I’ve seen one publication put him at 6’3 already…and uses that reach to his advantage. Strong on his stick, always seems to have stick-on-puck, and shuts down forwards by eliminating their passing/shooting lanes with that stick and reach. Likes to body up opponents, not blowing them up, but subtly directing them away from high-danger areas to the walls or corners where he can pin them and turn the puck over. His top-notch skating helps in that area as well. Gaps are tight, his 4-way skating and transitions are seamless, and strong backwards skating are all hallmarks of high-end defenders. He isn’t flying up the ice like Paul Coffey, but he can move really well with burst and explosion when needed. It’s his agility and transition work that makes him so effective in his own end. Mirrors offensive players easily, cuts off their routes to the net, and not afraid to put a forearm into a rushing forward’s chest to slow them down and disrupt their puck handling. Can keep up with most everyone he plays against, recognizes – and takes – good angles against those few who are better skaters to close them out. Leddy’s not completely without skill though. Sees the ice well, and when the puck is turned over, he gets it to the right player without any hesitation. Consistent, pinpoint first pass out of his end. Passes are on target and typically the right choice, springing transition and more importantly to Leddy, clearing the D-Zone. Not only a precise passer deep in his own zone, but an underrated passer in the Neutral Zone where he can direct traffic and hit forwards in stride entering the O-Zone and creating chances. What he can do offensively is mostly unknown – he doesn’t play on the PP very often, and at evens almost always hangs back around the blue line and waits for a counter-attack. But having seen what he can do with the puck, I think there’s a lot more there for hm to become. And did I mention he’s a leader as well? Has been wearing a letter as part of the Program’s leadership group. Strikes me as similar in development to Mattias Samuelsson, and that worked out pretty good. Like Cutter Gauthier, he’s off to Boston College next season where he’ll likely get a couple years to develop his game before he even thinks about the pros. But if he develops well, he could be a great option as a low-cost partner for Power or Dahlin down the road.
4#8: Julian Lutz, 6’3 RW, GER: When you have a really deep prospect pool already, you can afford to take some shots. Here’s one. Lutz came into the Draft Year pretty high on folks’ radar – he’d played well at the Hlinka Tournament the previous Spring and showed out for the German team at the U-18 World Juniors as a 16-year-old. But he suffered a pretty major UBI injury before this season got started, and basically missed ¾ of the season. He only recently returned to action, jumping right into the DEL – the German Senior Men’s League where JJ Peterka once plied his trade – but only putting up 3P in 14 games while playing with some former Sabres’ properties like Philip Gogulla, Zach Redmond and Andrew MacWilliam. But make no mistake, Lutz has a boatload of talent. First off, with his size (6’3 195#) he’s an electric skater. Nice explosion out of a start, great change of direction, a terror on the forecheck. His lateral ability is also excellent, and he can weave through traffic in the NZ to force turnovers or blow by defenders at the blue line to create odd-man rushes. Exceptional balance makes him a real chore to knock off the puck, and defenders give him a little more room so he doesn’t embarrass them zipping past them into a scoring area. But he doesn’t have to go around you. He's more than willing to go through you, and getting engaged physically is a part of his game he doesn’t neglect. Will bump, check, or clear out defenders if they’re in his way. Doesn’t shy away from initiating contact – either carrying the puck to the middle of the ice, or on the forecheck. Like Peterka, he's a very North-South kind of player, always playing downhill. The kind of player Granato seems to value in his system. And again like Peterka, Lutz is an engine…he’s high-octane all the time, never takes a shift off, full bore for 60 minutes. And importantly, Lutz flashes some big-time offense, particularly in transition. He can snap up a loose puck, put defenders on their heels, then beat them wide and cut into the net for a chance. Makes his bones around the net, where he absorbs a lot of contact but holds his ground – that balance! – and scrambles to find loose pucks in the crease. Now, to be fair, his offense is inconsistent, sometimes flashing enough to make you sit up, other times he disappears as far as generating chances. He also can make some poor choices with puck management, taking ill-advised shots or attempting to make the impossible play and turning the puck over as a result. Those issues can be coached out of him, however, and he has some raw ability to build upon. The Sabres will have to be patient, but they’ve shown under Adams that they’re more than willing to do that as the players develop. Lutz should get the opportunity to play for the German team in the U-18s to show off his game against his peers, although the German team is a bit down this year compared to the Stutzle – Peterka show from previous days. A gamble here, but you’re betting on upside. And with the #1 Prospect Pool (according to some, at least) the Sabres can afford to do just that.
5#8: Colin Kessler, 5’11 C/LW, US HS: Silky smooth playmaking forward who will be off to the NCAA next season. Kessler may not be the biggest kid on the block (5’11 170#) but he’s not only a slick operator with the puck, but he’s not afraid to go to the nasty parts of the ice – either with the puck, or to go get it. The Alaska native plays for the venerable Culver Military Prep, a long-time standard bearer of US prep hockey, where he’s put up a dazzling 65P in 36 games, almost 20 points more than the 2nd-highest scorer on his club. And he does it with style. His best attribute is his offensive awareness; Kessler seems to know where to go with the puck before it touches his blade, and he gets the puck there quickly. He one-touches the puck regularly, reads plays so well it seems he sees cutters coming to the net before they get free, and can move he puck so quickly at times that the defense cannot set up, which suggests he’s got a top-notch hockey brain. Couple that with some impressive puck skills, and you’ve got yourself a pretty smooth playmaker. Uses a lot of subtle movement to open up passing lanes – head fakes, changes of direction – and unless trying to make a pinpoint pass, will even use look-aways and no-look passes to find open teammates in scoring areas. Can sauce the puck in transition or from the half-wall on the man advantage, even can drop lobs right in front of a forward blowing the zone. He’s such a good passer, he takes advantage of it by looking pass, waiting for the goalie or defender to commit, then ripping a wrister that has some surprising power behind it. Dangerous on the power play thanks to his dual threat nature, he’s also excellent in transition and surprisingly given his slender build, has some real bite to his game. Won’t hesitate to get to the net front to try and bang in rebounds, even receiving more than a couple face washes for his efforts. Will score in a variety of ways. Doesn’t back down from puck battles, even when out-sized and out-strengthed, and wins more than his fair share of them. Gets into defenders’ faces. Lot to like from a kid with his kind of offensive instincts and high-skill level. Interestingly, he’s off to the University of Vermont next season, where he’ll join a pretty strong recruiting class. Given Vermont’s been scraping the bottom of the barrel for several years, this is worth watching to see if Kessler and Company can revive UV’s hockey fortunes.
6#8: Reid Dyck, 6’4 G, WHL: Well, there’s been a demand for the Sabres to draft a goaltender, and while this Draft isn’t particularly strong as far as netminders go, some of the ones I liked just weren’t good values. So here we are, with the immortally named Reid Dyck. Now, in case you think I selected him only for his name, you would be wrong. And as things worked out, on one of the biggest prospect stages, Dyck dominated. Presently, Dyck is playing second fiddle on a poor Swift Current team to over-age goaltender Issak Poulter, who has put up some middling statistics but with the Broncos’ -60 goal differential, you can figure out how the defense is playing in front of him. But Dyck has held his own. He’s 3rd in the WHL draft-eligibles in saves despite several fewer games played than the other leaders, and his SV% is 7th (an .884%). He’s big, mobile, and smart as a goalie. A bit of a hybrid, he possesses the quickness and reaction time to fit as an ‘athletic’ goaltender, making a lot of highlight-reel saves, but he’s also gifted with size and smarts, which could lead some to consider him a more positionally-sound goaltender. Size and long legs help him execute when down in the butterfly, where he can be impenetrable at times, particularly down low. At 6’4 200#, he can be tough to get a puck behind. When he’s on his angles, watch out – he’ll shut the door and there’s no getting in after that. But his lack of experience can get him off his game too often. Becomes especially vulnerable when you get him moving cross-crease, where he can lose focus and starts giving up the top half of the net. This is where you can see him make some crazy saves, but also allow some easy ones, especially high to the glove side, which can get too low as he moves left to right or vice versa. But where he really made a name for himself was at the CHL Top Prospects Game. Coming in as relief, he absolutely locked down his side, making 23 saves to no goals allowed while making a litany of fantastic stops against some of the best in Canadian juniors. Also showed some flair, flashing the glove with a flourish a few times. Dyck has up to 3 more years in the WHL, and next year he will be the #1 guy, so they have plenty of time to let this kid develop. If he becomes a future NHL’er, they will have likely made their decision on what they have with guys like Devon Levi and Erik Portillo and likely moved on from one of them. A developmental goalie, Dyck has some traits that I really like and could become a real surprise in a few years…but if not, he’s a 6th round pick and if you’re BFLO, you can jump back into the Draft to select more goalies in the interim.
6#28: Ales Sotek, 6’0 RW, SVK: This kid has been on my radar all season, but I might be one of the only ones who likes him. Sotek is an average-sized forward who can skate and really rip the puck. Slippery, fast, and innately knows how to get open and what to do with it when the puck comes to him. Tough to keep track of considering how often he’s bounced around the Slovak leagues, he’s put up huge numbers against his peers – 65P in 35 games in the U-20 league, where he is the highest producer on a per-game basis of any draft eligible. He’s also played a bunch of games in the 2nd tier Slovak Men’s League, and 41 games in the senior Men’s league, suiting up for a grand total of 8 different teams this season. Also put up 2P in 4 games for the silver-medalist Slovak team at the Hlinka tournament last Spring despite getting 3rd and 4th line minutes. Sotek is pure offense. He’s smart, skilled, and can skate. But he rarely picks the puck up in his own end and just heads straight up ice unless he’s chasing the play. Shifty might be the best way to describe him. Not an elite skater, rather just extremely elusive, either moving laterally to escape stick checks or bodies, or small changes of direction that lets him keep a half-step ahead of pursuit. Has great anticipation and burst in his skating. Good balance, he's happy to carry the puck weaving through a crowd and the Neutral Zone, or he can trail the play and clean up a rebound or stuff a deflection in. His bread and butter is transition hockey, where he excels. The puck seems magnetized to his blade. Head always up, always looking to find a way to make a play however difficult it may be – going through two defenders, putting pucks through legs or sticks, drawing opponents to him, even using the boards to escape defenders and create space. Great at tracking pucks, he can jump from a standstill to get to loose pucks and turn a nothing play into a scoring chance. There’s no play he won’t try, a bit like a Slovak Trevor Zegras. Of course, this didn’t help him get more minutes in the senior Men’s League (it might have actually cost him minutes), but the creativity and skill is plain when you watch him. He’s a playmaker. Not a great shooter, nor a great passer, but equally very good at both. Makes things happen. Very deceptive with both the pass and shot – will use defenders as screens and shoot through them, or use them to hide the puck until he’s ready to make a play – and likes to shift gears when skating to keep opponents on their heels. Will take a hit to, again, make a play and he’s sturdy enough to use that balance and strength on his skates to fend off checks or hits in order to advance the puck to scoring areas. As you might expect, Sotek is not a great, or even good, defender unless he’s pursuing the puck. Intense puck hound, could be a very dangerous forechecker in the right system. Defending space is poor, and he can get caught up puck-watching and trying to fly the zone rather than staying and playing structured hockey. Picking your spots better can be coached, of course, so that’s correctable. Will also need to improve his battle for 50/50 pucks – he likes to stand outside the scrum and hope the puck pops free, instead of getting in there and fighting for loose pucks on the walls, an important component of what Granato’s system wants the wings to do. But for raw ability, I think you could do a lot worse than Sotek here. He’s a longer-term project, and will probably require moving to a tougher League before its all said and done (Liiga, SHL?) but I think he’s worth the gamble.
7#8: Manu Charbboneau, 6’3 RHD, AJHL: I know. A 3rd right-shot defender? Yep. Another fantastic name, Emanuelson Charbonneau is bound for the University of Nebraska-Omaha next season, where he’ll get plenty of time to develop behind some pretty solid defenders for UNO. And he’ll need that time. Very raw, there are a lot of tools to like, but he’s going to need quite a bit of seasoning. Let’s start with the attributes. First off, he’s got great size at 6’3 195#, and he plays every shift like its his last. There’s a quiet intensity to his game that underscores what a gamer he is. Don’t be mistaken, he’s a project that will likely require 3 years of college hockey (gasp!). But he’s highly mobile, plays with a mean streak, and isn’t afraid to push guys around in his own end. Secondly, his skating. A powerful skater, he gets around the ice with ease, and transitions pretty smoothly. Could still use some work on his 4-way skating, particularly when he flips from forward to back, but he’s got a lot to learn still. That said, he’s got good burst changing direction or coming out of a stop, he gaps up well, and mirrors the opposition well when skating backwards. Explodes to the puck as it enters the zone. Good linear speed, he can keep up with transition as the 4th forward, fill a lane, and still get back to cover the opposition coming back. There’s some hesitation at times when he doesn’t read the play quick enough and he gets caught flat-footed, but generally, his defensive instincts are solid. Thirdly, his attitude. This kid is all about pressure and closing you out. His skating lets him keep his gaps tight, but he wants to take you into the boards. Good stickwork keeps the pressure on you to make a play or lose the puck, and when most players are under that kind of pressure – physical, heavy-checking – they make a bad decision and it leads to a turnover. Charbboneau plays that style all over the ice, but particularly in his own end, where he does such a good job of identifying a dangerous play and neutralizing it before it can really have an impact. Hustle is consistent shift-to-shift, and blocking a shot or taking the body is second nature to him. Now, his offensive game will need to evolve – right now it’s very basic – as evidenced by his rather pedestrian 16P in 41 games, but he was the #3 defenseman scorer on his club. A long-term investment, but in the 7th round, I think he’s worth a long look.