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Feb 7, 2024; Plymouth, MI, USA; Finland's Aatos Koivu (12) skates up ice with the puck against USA during the third period of the 2024 U18’s Five Nations Tournament at USA Hockey Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports

This is a FanPost written by T. McGee.

DBTBers – 

Hello, my fellow DBTB’ers!  A lot has happened since we last Mocked a Draft.  So let’s get right to it.  

Last month, we saw the Top Prospects games for both the CHL and the USHL.  And presently, as I type this, the Five Nations tournament is going on over in Michigan.  Before that, we had the premiere event of hockey prospect world, the World Juniors Championship.  And in mid December, the World Junior A Challenge went down.  Let’s start with that.  

The World Junior A Challenge is a U-19 tournament that puts a spotlight mostly on players from Tier II junior leagues like the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL), as well as the USHL and some high schoolers from the US.  Europe typically sends over teams comprised of players who either started late or haven’t been a part of the traditional National Team program, but they’re late risers who are under consideration for the World Juniors.  As you can see, it’s not flashy like the WJC are, nor does it have a lot of A-listers, but it lets scouts see some kids that would normally fly under the radar.  Canada has so many of these leagues that they split into two teams: East and West.  And, as luck would have it, they played each other for the title (West emerging victorious).  The US finished with Bronze, beating Sweden in a high-powered match-up 8-5.  USHL star and likely Top 15 selection Trevor Connolly finished 2nd in scoring with 11P in 6 games.  A couple of undersized forwards – Mac Swanson (US), Dylan Edwards (CAN E) and Alexander Zetterberg (SWE) all finished in the Top 5 in scoring.  Some other noteworthy performers were Swedish center Lucas Pettersson, defenders Alfons Freij and Will Felicio, Slovak wing Adam Cedzo, and big banger forward Jack Berglund (SWE).    

Following right on its heels, the World Juniors is the Oscars of the prospect showcases.  And this one, although minus Russia, was full of surprises.  The gold medal went to the USA, who beat Sweden in the final.  Meanwhile, the Czechs came from behind to topple the Finns and win bronze.  Many of us were following along to see how the oodles of Sabres’ prospects fared:  I’ll be brief, some impressed, others not so much.  But let’s talk draft-eligibles.  Yes, the World Juniors isn’t typically a venue for a lot of draft-eligibles, it’s more of a tournament for kids a year or two older.  And that’s OK.  But there are always exceptions.  And this time around, we got to see a few of them.  Not surprisingly, this year’s consensus #1, Macklin Celebrini, dazzled with 8P in 5 games before Canada’s shocking defeat prior to reaching the medal round.  But he wasn’t alone when it came to impressing.  Norwegian power forward Michael Braddsegg-Nygard put up 3-2-5 for an undermanned squad just happy to be there, while his teammate, blueliner Stian Solberg, played a heady game and chipped in 2P in 5 games.  Continuing his eye-opening rise, US defenseman Zeev Buium managed to do 3-2-5 for the gold medal winners as the only underager  for the Americans.  And the Swiss rolled out a draft-eligible pair of defenders with Leon Muggli and Danil Ustinkov, both of whom had their challenges, but all-in-all played fairly well, but not as well as their teammate, lightning-quick forward Simon Meier who chipped in a couple goals in 5 games.  Unfortunately, Czech defender Adam Jiricek suffered an injury after the first game of the tournament and missed the rest of the World Juniors.  It would have been a great measuring stick for a prospect that folks seem all over the place on in their assessments.  However, another Czech D-Man, Tomas Galvas, took his spot and seemed to be all over the ice at times while adding 2P in 6 games for the bronze medalists.  A lot to like from this year’s group!  

The Top Prospects games are always fun, it’s a bit like an old-school All-Star game where all these players are thrown together, teams are randomly sorted, and they drop the puck and let ‘em go.  This year, Team Red emerged victorious in a low-scoring goalie duel, 3-1 over Team White.  Some standouts from my perspective:  Cole Beaudoin, a big power-center from the OHL, has a motor and size to burn; Raoul Boillard, a 6’1 center from the Q, was the little engine that could, scoring a couple of goals and just making smart plays through traffic all night; Tij Iginla – Jarome’s kid – was maybe the best offensive player in the game, getting several chances and making high-end skill plays throughout; and Carter Yakemchuk, the physical right-shot D from the W, who showed his remarkable skill level by setting up a couple of dangerous chances while banging bodies along the walls and in the corners.  Boillard, as an aside, went home with the MVP after potting the GWG and the insurance empty-netter.  And of the goaltenders, Lukas Matecha for Team Red stood out with a perfect 30 minutes.   

The All-American Prospects Game went off a week earlier, and that highlighted a number of kids in what should be a really good year for the USHL.  This one was a thriller, ending on OT with a 5-4 win by Team White over Team Blue.  More guys who jumped off the ice to me:  Cole Eiserman, the mindbendingly good scorer for Blue, continued to impress with speed, attacking the net and ripping the puck.  He’s got some flak for having questionable smarts, and it showed at this game, but he’s got all the tools to score a lot of goals in any league; Will Skahan, monstrous 6’4 defender who loves to hit and even in this game, the equivalent of an All-Star game, blew a couple guys up in the process, plays a safe, smart game and reminds me of Will Borgen; John Mustard, who you can call the Colonel, is a power-skating wing with size and skill who’s flown under the radar for much of the season; and Sasha Boisvert, the big, fast centerman with size who I think has a very high ceiling.  James Hagens, who isn’t even eligible to be selected until next season, took away the MVP.  

Lastly, the recent U-18 Five Nations Tournament (USA, Sweden, Czechs, Swiss, and Finland) wrapped up a week ago in Plymouth, Michigan (home of the US NTDP).  To everyone’s surprise, the Swedes managed to beat the US 4-3 despite being outshot by more than 2-to-1.  And, predictably, a brawl broke out at the conclusion of the game, which seems to be a recurring theme between these two nations lately.  More standouts from this tourney, which had quite a few kids who are eligible for 2025 making a name for themselves.  On the US side, Teddy Stiga for the US was a lightning bug, scoring, distributing, recovering pucks and competing despite his size; Aatos Koivu in one the first international tournaments I’ve seen him in, looked quick and smart creating chances and hustling on the back-check for an outgunned Finnish team; slick playmaker Jamiro Reber for the Swiss, scoring and passing while slipping checks all over the place; Sebstian Sioni, big, mobile defender for the Finns who laid the body and sprung transition from deep in his zone.  

So lots of hockey to digest there!  And with the Sabres facing more injuries and sort of wallowing in the 20-25th in the NHL right now, attention turns to the Draft…at just the right time!  Hope you enjoy reading!  

Let’s go Sabres!      

ROUND ONE:       

#1: SAN JOSE: Macklin Celebrini, 5’11 C, NCAA 

#2: CALGARY: Artyom Levshunov, 6’2 RHD, NCAA 

#3: CHICAGO: Anton Silyayev, 6’7 LHD, RUS

#4: ANAHEIM: Cole Eiserman, 6’0 RW, US NTDP 

#5: COLUMBUS: Sam Dickinson, 6’3 LHD, OHL 

#6: OTTAWA: Cayden Lindstrom, 6’5 C, WHL 

#7: BUFFALO: Carter Yakemchuk, 6’2 RHD, WHL

#8: MONTREAL: Zeev Buium, 6’1 LHD, NCAA 

#9: MINNESOTA: Berkly Catton, 5’11 C/LW, WHL 

#10: SEATTLE: Konsta Helenius, 5’11 RW, FIN 

#11: ST LOUIS: Ivan Demidov, 5’11 RW, RUS  

#12: NY ISLANDERS: Zayne Parekh, 6’0 RHD, OHL

#13: NASHVILLE: Trevor Connolly, 6’1 LW, USHL 

#14: SAN JOSE (PITTSBURGH): Michael Braddsegg-Nygard, 6’1 RW, SWE

#15: WASHINGTON: Tij Iginla, 6’0 LW, WHL 

#16: DETROIT: Liam Greentree, 6’2 RW, OHL 

#17: ARIZONA: Sasha Boisvert, 6’2 C, USHL

#18: NEW JERSEY: Matvei Grindin, 6’1 C, USHL 

#19: CHICAGO (TAMPA BAY): Andrew Basha, 6’0 LW, WHL

#20: PHILADELPHIA: Charlie Elick, 6’4 RHD, WHL  

#21: TORONTO: Igor Chernyshov, 6’2 LW, RUS 

#22: LOS ANGELES: Adam Jiricek, 6’1 RHD, CZE

#23: CAROLINA: Emil Hemming, 6’2 LW, FIN 

#24: EDMONTON: Terik Paraschak, 5’11 RW, WHL

#25: VEGAS: Beckett Sennecke, 6’3 RW, OHL 


#27: DALLAS: Matvei Shuravin, 6’3 LHD, RUS

#28: COLORADO: John Mustard, 6’1 C, USHL 

#29: NY RANGERS: Lukas Fischer, 6’4 LHD, OHL

#30: WINNIPEG: Stian Solberg, 6’2 LHD, NWY 

#31: VANCOUVER: Michael Hage, 6’1 C, USHL 

#32: OTTAWA (BOSTON): Alfons Freji, 6’1 LHD, SWE 


#1: SAN JOSE: Aron Kiviharju, 5’10 LHD, FIN 

#2: CHICAGO: Will Skahan, 6’4 LHD, US NTDP 

#3: ANAHEIM: Leo Sahlin-Wallenius, 6’0 LHD, SWE  

#4: COLUMBUS: Ryder Ritchie, 6’0 LW, WHL

#5: OTTAWA: Adam Jecho, 6’3 RW, FIN

#6: BUFFALO: Yegor Surin, 5’11 C/W, RUS

#7: WINNIPEG (MONTREAL): Lucas Pettersson, 6’0 C, SWE

#8: MINNESOTA: Dominik Badinka, 6’2 RHD, FIN 

#9: CALGARY: Tanner Howe, 5’10 RW, WHL 

#10: SEATTLE: Henry Mews, 6’0 RHD, OHL 

#11: ST LOUIS: Simon Zether, 6’3 C, SWE 

#12: NY ISLANDERS: Maxim Masse, 6’2 LW, QMJHL

#13: NASHVILLE: Dean Letourneau, 6’6 C, OJHL

#14: PITTSBURGH: Nikita Artamonov, 5’11 RW, RUS 

#15: ARIZONA (WASHINGTON): Noel Fransen, 6’1 LHD, SWE

#16: DETROIT: Cole Beaudoin, 6’2 C, OHL 

#17: ARIZONA: Karl Sterner, 6’3 RW, SWE 

#18: NEW JERSEY: David Svozil, 6’1 LHD, FIN 


#20: CAROLINA (PHILADELPHIA): Jett Luchanko, 5’10 C, OHL

#21: ST LOUIS (TORONTO): Tomas Galvas, 5’10 LHD, CZE

#22: CHICAGO (LOS ANGELES): Melvin Fernstrom, 6’1 C/RW, SWE

#23: CAROLINA: Veeti Vasainien, 6’0 LHD, FIN 

#24: EDMONTON: Luke Misa, 5’10 C, OHL 

#25: VEGAS: Christian Humphreys, 5’10 C, US NTDP 

#26: ARIZONA (FLORIDA): Tomas Lavoie, 6’3 RHD, QMJHL

#27: DALLAS: Ondrej Kos, 6’1 LW, FIN

#28: MONTREAL (COLORADO): Kamil Bednarek, 6’0 C, US NTDP

#29: NY RANGERS: Will Felicio, 5’11 LHD, USHL

#30: NASHVILLE (WINNIPEG): Spencer Gill, 6’3 RHD, QMJHL

#31: CHICAGO (VANCOUVER): Gabriel Eliasson, 6’6 LHD, SWE 

#32: ANAHEIM (BOSTON): Miguel Marques, 6’0 W, WHL 


#1: ANAHEIM (SAN JOSE): Leon Muggli, 6’0 LHD, SWISS

#2: CHICAGO:  Ryerson Leenders, 6’2 G, OHL 

#3: ANAHEIM: Eemil Vinni, 6’2 G, FIN 

#4: COLUMBUS: Caleb Heil, 6’3 G, USHL 

#5: CHICAGO (OTTAWA): Justin Poirier, 5’8 RW, QMJHL 

#6: BUFFALO: Harrison Brunicke, 6’2 RHD, WHL

#7: MONTREAL: Adam Kleber, 6’5 RHD, USHL 

#8: MONTREAL (MINNESOTA): Alexandre Blais, 5’10 RW, QMJHL 

#9: CALGARY: Luca Marelli, 6’2 RHD, OHL 

#10: SEATTLE: Max Curran, 6’3 C, WHL

#11: ST LOUIS: Colton Roberts, 6’4 RHD, WHL 

#12: TORONTO (NY ISLANDERS): Markus Gidlof, 6’4 G, SWE 

#13: NASHVILLE: Sam O’Reilly, 6’1 RW, OHL 

#14: ANAHEIM (PITTSBURGH): Hagen Burrows, 6’2 W, US HS

#15: WASHINGTON: Nathan Villeneuve, 6’0 C, OHL 

#16: DETROIT: Danill Ustinkov, 6’1 LHD, SWISS 

#17: ARIZONA: Jamiro Reber, 5’10 C, SWISS 

#18: NEW JERSEY: Kim Saarinen, 6’4 G, FIN 

#19: TAMPA BAY: Nilopekka Muhonen, 6’4 LHD, FIN 

#20: PHILADELPHIA: Markus Kearsey, 5’11 LHD, QMJHL 

#21: SEATTLE (TORONTO): Sebastian Sioni, 6’1 LHD, FIN 

#22: COLUMBUS (LOS ANGELES): Tuomas Suoniemi, 5’10 C, FIN 

#23: CAROLINA: Oskar Vuollet, 5’10 C/W, SWE 

#24: ARIZONA (EDMONTON): Jakub Milota, 6’2 G, QMJHL

#25: VEGAS: Carson Wetsch, 6’3 RW, WHL 

#26: FLORIDA: Felix Lacerte, 5’10 C, QMJHL 

#27: NASHVILLE (DALLAS): Jack Pridham, 6’1 RW, BCHL

#28: ARIZONA (COLORADO): Raoul Boillard, 6’1 C, QMJHL 

#29: ST LOUIS (NY RANGERS): Javon Moore, 6’2 LW, USHL 

#30: WINNIPEG: Eriks Mateiko, 6’4 LW, QMJHL

#31: VANCOUVER: Teddy Stiga, 5’10 RW, US NTDP 

#32: WASHINGTON (BOSTON): Tory Pitner, 6’1 RHD, USHL 


#1: ARIZONA (SAN JOSE): Jakub Fibigr, 6’1 LHD, OHL 

#2: NASHVILLE (CHICAGO):  Nicholas Kempf, 6’2 G, US NTDP

#3: ANAHEIM: Herman Traff, 6’3 RW, SWE 

#4: COLUMBUS: Marek Vanacker, 6’0 LW, OHL 

#5: OTTAWA: Carter George, 6’1 G, OHL 

#6: BUFFALO: Aatos Koivu, 6’0 C, FIN 

#7: MONTREAL: Julius Miettinen, 6’3 C, WHL 

#8: MINNESOTA: Kasper Pikkarainen, 6’3 RW, FIN 

#9: CALGARY: Tarin Smith, 6’1 LHD, WHL 

#10: SEATTLE: Ben Danford, 6’1 LHD, OHL 

#11: ST LOUIS: Matvei Babenko, 6’3 RW, RUS

#12: NY ISLANDERS: Lucas Van Vliet, 6’1 C, US NTDP 

#13: NASHVILLE: Maxim Velikov, 6’1 RW, RUS 

#14: PITTSBURGH: Keith McInnis, 6’1 LHD, USHL 

#15: WASHINGTON: Matthieu Tallifer, 6’0 RHD, AJHL

#16: OTTAWA (DETROIT):  Darels Uljanskis, 6’1 LHD, SWE

#17: ARIZONA: Ollie Josephson, 6’0 C, WHL 

#18: VANCOUVER (NEW JERSEY): Jonnie Morello, 6’3 C, OJHL 

#19: OTTAWA (TAMPA BAY): Clarke Caswell, 5’11 LW, WHL 

#20: PHILADELPHIA: John Whipple, 6’1 LHD, US NTDP 

#21: TORONTO: Alexander Zetterberg, 5’8 C, SWE  

#22: LOS ANGELES: Linus Eriksson, 6’0 C, SWE 

#23: CAROLINA: Christian Kirsch, 6’4 G, SWISS

#24: NASHVILLE (EDMONTON): Brayden Dube, 5’10 C, WHL 

#25: SAN JOSE (VEGAS):  Logan Hensler, 6’2 RHD, US NTDP 

#26: FLORIDA: Luka Testa, 6’0 C, OHL

#27: DETROIT (DALLAS): Max Plante, 5’10 C, US NTDP

#28: COLORADO:  Bryce Pickford, 6’1 RHD, WHL  

#29: NY RANGERS: Brodie Ziemer, 5’11 RW, US NTDP

#30: WINNIPEG: Erik Olsson, 6’2 G, SWE 

#31: VANCOUVER:  Will Zellers, 5’11 C, US HS

#32: BOSTON: Diego Johnson, 5’11 RW, AJHL  


1#7:  Carter Yakemchuk, 6’3 RHD, WHL:  The Sabres have had some luck with players from the Dub of late (Benson, Cozens, Savoie, etc).  Here they add a defender to their growing list of prospects on the back-end.  And this kid fills a need.  Has all the tools: size, he can shoot it, pass it, skate, lead the rush, trail on the rush, has puck skills, defends in transition, plays a mean, heavy game, and likes to blow guys up in open ice.  The question with him is, can all these tools be brought to bear simultaneously?  If so, he’s quite possibly a top pair defender in the future.  If not, he’ll be a bottom pair defender who can be a jack-of-all-trades type.  Either one has value, obviously.  But if they can develop this kid…he could be a future partner for Dahlin or Power.  First off, as with all defenders, his mobility.  Yakemchuk has some amazing edgework for a kid his size (6’3 200#), able to dance around defenders, walk the line on the power play or sidestep forecheckers when trying to exit his own zone.  He’s not blazing fast, but his linear speed is solid, and one he gets going he can become a freight train.  Plus, lateral movement exceptional.  Doesn’t have light feet and if he gets crossed up, it’s hard for him to recover.  Plays fast.  Doesn’t overhandle the puck and isn’t one to hesitate or regroup.  He’s always thinking attack, and his skating reflects that.  Puck skills are high end.  Puck seems magnetized to his blade, and he doesn’t give a second thought to trying something other defenders would be reluctant to attempt.  Can pretzel a defender either way – inside-out or outside-in – and can link together plays.  For example, beat a defender one-on-one, slip a check and then look away sauce to the slot for a one-timer from a teammate.  Will bait a forechecker, beat him with one move, skate up ice and turn it into an odd-man rush that he finishes.  A strong passer.  Still learning situational hockey, the merits of playing a simple game in his own end and a more dynamic game on the other side of the red line.  But he can make all the passes.  Stretch pass?  Yes.  Saucer on a 2-on-1?  Yes.  Backhand into the slot from the wall?  For sure.  Diagonal from one blue line to the other on the tape?  Un-huh.  Shot is a missile.  Prefers to pass it but can really lay on the heavy one-timer.  Hard, accurate clapper from the top of the circle.  Hands are good enough to take the puck deep and go bar down from in tight or pick a corner.  Shoots to score.  Defensively, he’s competitive.  Although he can make some terrible decisions with the puck, especially trying to clear his zone, he’s improved by leaps and bounds from last season.  Stick positioning is something else to work on.  Hustles his butt off.  If he makes a mistake, immediately tries to correct it.  Doesn’t typically get caught out in space, puts the work in to stay with his check and has the skating to do it.  Has a mean streak.  Loves to put a hit on a forward coming into his area and isn’t shy about dropping the shoulder and putting a guy through the glass.  Will drop the gloves, although his team discourages it since he’s so important to their success.  Works his tail off to win puck battles, pin opponents on the walls, and never seems to quit on a play.  Relentless once he gets after something – be it a puck, an opponent, or sticking up for a teammate.  His decision-making needs to get cleaned up, especially with the puck, and he can struggle defending transition or getting caught high in the zone.  But part of his so-called inadequacies is the fact that his team is not very good.  He needs to do almost everything for his club, which can cause him to try to do WAY too much.  With Calgary in the bottom half of the WHL, this kid is 2nd on the Hitmen in goals and total points (20G – 27A – 47P in 42 games), all the while being a plus player and having almost 100 PIM.  Looked very good in the CHL Top Prospects game and played limited minutes on Canada’s Bronze-medal winning U-18 team last year.  He’s one of the older kids in the Draft class, so there might be some concerns about upside there.  But with some coaching and taking a little off his shoulders, he could be the best defender in a loaded class when we look back in five years.  At the top of his upside, you’re looking at a Drew Doughty-type of player.  

2#7: Yegor Surin, 5’11 C/W, RUS: A McGee favorite, Surin is a terror on the ice in multiple ways.  While my opportunities to watch him are limited, I have seen him play a few games and absolutely love the upside with this kid.  There’s some comparisons to Viktor Neuchev, not play styles, but that kind of wild, undisciplined game that flashes all sorts of high-end talent but needs to be refined and reined in a bit.  It’s working for Neuchev in Rochester.  Can it work for Surin?  Maybe.  First off, Surin is a very late birthday, missing the cut-off for next year’s draft by a few weeks.  With that in mind, I think some of his lack of discipline comes with a lack of maturity.  But he is dynamic.  An elite playmaker, Surin has incredible touch on his passes.  He can put a saucer on the tape from a few feet away or make a blind cross-zone pass on a platter for a one-timer.  Loves to get the puck into the slot, either carrying it or passing it.  Instincts on the offensive end are totally high-end and will often put pucks into space where teammates can skate into it…sometimes without even looking to see if a teammate is there.  Can play up high, or down below the dots, and always seems able to find an open teammate whether through a crowd or making a simple play.  Will try just about anything and is supremely confident he’s making the right play – sometimes to his disadvantage when he bites off more than he can chew.  A very strong skater for his size (5’11 180#) he’s tough to knock off his feet or to move when he gets on the puck.  Heavy on his stick.  Good top speed straight-ahead, but is a slick, nimble lateral skater who can dance with the puck if the situation requires.  Sneaky quick.  Really savvy changing gears, especially in transition.  Will coast a bit and then suddenly turn on the jets and leave his check in the dust.  Keeps opponents guessing.  Lethal give-and-go player, either making the pass or receiving it.  Hands, as you might imagine, are exceptional.  Buttery soft.  Dekes for days.  But decisive when setting up an opportunity.  He’ll bide time stickhandling waiting for a teammate to get to open ice, and once they do, bam, the puck’s off his stick in a blink.  At times, he can overhandle the puck and try a few too many moves, getting him in trouble and causing an ugly turnover.  But those are slowly becoming fewer and farther between.  A responsible centerman most of the time, Surin uses his slick skating and edgy playstyle to disrupt zone entries and rushes in the Neutral Zone before they get underway.  He’s also a major agitator.  Constantly getting mixed up in after-the-whistle shoving matches, face washings and dust-ups.  Has been suspended twice (that I can find) for illegal hits.  Has 104 PIM in 37 games in Russian juniors.  Managed to put up 46P in 37 games, and even saw 3 games in the KHL despite his young age.  This would be another player that the Sabres could let percolate over in the Russia until the time is right.  Bring him over in a couple of years and let him adjust to North American in Rochester and see what you’ve got.  Besides, they need a couple guys who play with an edge in their prospect pool.  And this one can also score with the best of them!         

3#7: Harrison Brunicke, 6’3 RHD, WHL:  The first South African to ever be drafted by the Sabres, Brunicke is a kid with a lot of unrefined ability.  And this is something the Sabres seem to do well with.  He’s not that different from players like Komarov or Novikov that are already in the system.  Excellent size (6’3 190#), a lot of two-way ability, and untapped talent.  Brunicke is a graceful skater.  Smooth, easy strides and the ability to turn on a dime.  His lateral skating is maybe the biggest surprise in his game, as he can sidestep forecheckers, attack defenders and beat them wide or inside, and can stay in front of opponents coming down in transition.  He’s not blazing fast getting up the ice, but he doesn’t have any hitch in his stride nor have trouble changing directions forward-to-back or vice versa.  And that skating informs a lot of his game.  He’s a physically aggressive defender in his own zone.  Gaps are pretty tight, and he happily will drop a hip or a forearm into his check to knock them off the puck or paste them to the boards.  Loves to separate players from the puck with a well-timed check or hit.  That snarl applies to his board work as well.  Powerful lower body lets him pin opponents down low, allowing for his teammates to recover pucks.  Great center of gravity.  Strong around his crease.  Pushing opponents away from his goalie is typically the first thing on his checklist when he’s not defending the puck.  Doesn’t hesitate to drop the gloves either.  Isn’t a particularly great defender with his stick, but he’s not afraid to use it to swat opponents around the net or when racing for pucks.  Offensively, his game is still growing.  His puck skills are surprisingly high-end.  Brunicke can stickhandle out of trouble in his own end, dangle a forechecker and then skate the puck up quick enough to lead the rush and make a smart decision with the puck.  He’s a slick operator in tight, whether down below the goal line in his own end, or pinching on the offensive end, he seems to always come away with the puck.  Patient puck handler who uses the space given to him.  I’m not sure he’s developed a good sense of when to go, and when to stay back, as it seems to come in spurts.  That said, when he does attack up ice, he can dazzle with his combination of puck skills and skating.  I wouldn’t call him a ‘skill’ player, but he does flash some excellent skill and the more opportunities he’s been getting, the better he starts to look.  I think some of this is more about experience and confidence than anything mechanically inhibiting him.  His passing, however, is fairly inaccurate and needs to improve if he’s going to be a threat coming out of his own end.  He also could stand to add some power to his shot.  Right now, the release is a touch slow and it’s a bit of a muffin…an accurate muffin, but still.  Has put up 19P in 43 games for a bad Kamloops team after being the #6 D-Man for the Memorial Cup hosts last season.  At the end of the day, there’s a lot of potential here.  If the Sabres can be patient with him (they can), they might have themselves a real find in 3-4 years.  Not bad for a 3rd round pick.    

4#7: Aatos Koivu, 6’0 C, FIN:  Yes, he’s related to the Koivu dynasty.  As the son of former Hab captain Saku Koivu, this kid has some serious bloodlines.  But he’s carving his own path and tearing up Liiga in the process.  Plagued by injuries in previous seasons, he’s managed to remain injury-free this year, and his consistency of play and production are the obvious beneficiaries.  Koivu is, much like his father and his uncle Mikko, a guy who has a sky-high work ethic.  Always moving his feet, constantly hunting pucks, Koivu hustles all over the ice.  And it’s easy to do when you can skate like this kid.  Koivu’s got great burst in his first couple strides and his change of direction is smooth and explosive.  It can look like his team has 6 players instead of 5 at times, he just seems like he’s everywhere all at once.  He can blow by a defender.  Ability to track and recover loose pucks and 50/50 pucks is exceptional – very Zach Benson-like – even at his size.  If he catches you leaning as a defender, he’ll explode by you and get position or leverage on his check.  Doesn’t fear going to the crease.  He’s a shoot-first center, and he should be…he’s got a laser beam of a shot.  Doesn’t scare you with a big wind-up, but release is quick and precise, knows how to use defenders as screens and disguise his shot, and will catch an unsuspecting goalie napping only to find the puck in the back of his net.  Deadly, hard wrister and a lethal one-timer.  Extremely crafty as well.  When you combine his speed and his smarts, he beats opponents to spots all over the ice and reads where the defense might break down.  Very clever player.  Sees the ice extremely well, even against men, and finds the best route to the puck or to the net.  Able to find space and get open against bigger, stronger defenders.  Smarts really help him avoid panicking.  Even in bad situations, he doesn’t make poor decisions with the puck, and he doesn’t overreact.  Hands are exceptional.  He’s got a whole arsenal of moves in the shootout or on breakaways, and pillowy soft hands allow him to use them all.  Will dangle you to death if need be, but he’s economical in his movements.  Receives tough passes easily, settles pucks without breaking stride.  Defensively he’s calm, smart, and positionally sound.  Defends fairly well in space, covers a lot of ice.  Won’t outmuscle anyone, or overpower people below the dots, but always seems to be in the right place, right time to intercept passes or deflect shots.  Koivu started in the Finnish U-18 league, where he went for a PPG (17P in 16 games), then was promoted to the U-20 league where he really took off, tearing it up with 29P in 23 games before getting promoted again to the senior Men’s League (Liiga) where he’s managed to play in a handful of games.  Like the others mentioned here, a ton of upside and he continues to climb draft boards, so he might be off the Board by 50 if he continues along this pace.     

Talking Points