2018 NHL Draft: Three Underrated Prospects That Are Beginning to Attract Attention

Every year, there are usually two NHL Draft storylines to watch. First off, there is the battle for the top spots in the draft, like Nico versus Nolan last year, and the fight for the #2 spot in this year’s draft. The other storyline is the underrated prospects that rise, seeming out of nowhere, into the first round. A lot of the time, at least one of those under the radar players enters the top half of the draft, and in some cases, even the top 5, like Cale Makar did last draft when he was taken 4th overall by the Colorado Avalanche.

2018 won’t have any prospects like that. There are simply too many top players that have suceeded at the WJHC or in prior years for a team to decide they would prefer some player that exploded into the draft scene in their draft year. However, German prospect Dominik Bokk could come close. Ranked 11th on my February list, Bokk was noticed thanks to his great numbers, 34 points in 29 games, in the Swedish Jr SuperElit, followed by a promotion to the SHL, the top men’s circuit, where he’s put up 2 points in 15 games as a teenager playing against older competition. Ever since he entered the radar of scouts, he has impressed them with his soft hands, quick release, and powerful stride, all of which are good enough for him to be labled with top line potential. Bokk was relatively unkown prior to January, where he managed to break into the top 31 of some lists. In September, Bokk was 46th on Steve Kournianos’ (www.thedraftanalyst.com) rankings. As of January, he is 28th, a significant rise, and I don’t think he’s done yet. I think he’ll end up going in the 10-20 range on draft day, a significant rise for a player that started out as a projected 2nd-3rd round pick. He has passed players like Joe Veleno, Ryan Merkley, Rasmus Kupari, Bode Wilde, and Jared McIsaac, all of which were projected top 20 picks earlier in the year.

Another riser that has broken into the first round is Grigori Denisenko, a Russian winger playing in the MHL, a lesser known league. Denisenko is incredibly skilled, but didn’t get many viewings earlier in the year. Scouts are beginning to realize his high ceiling and he is moving up draft boards. Unfortunately for him, the lack of attention could prevent him from going as high as he could. Choosing which junior league to play in is a big decision for a prospect, and choosing to stay close to home appears to be a good move for a prospect, but if a player really wants to get drafted high, their best bet would be to come over to the CHL, where they would get way more attention. From a purely “I want to get drafted as high as possible standpoint”, the CHL is the place to go. Denisenko is a far better prospect than somebody like David Levin or Giovanni Vallati, but Levin and Vallati have attracted more attention than Denisenko purely because of the league they play in, the OHL.

Aidan Dudas is a player that has just begun their ascent , thanks to an impressive CHL Top Prospects Game, as well as a good season to date, where he has been one of the most productive draft eligible players in the OHL. He first caught my attention when I was sorting through OHL stats on http://www.prospect-stats.com, something I do quite often, trying to identify undervalued prospects. His name was right along those of top prospects like Andrei Svechnikov, Evan Bouchard, Barrett Hayton and Ryan Merkley. I watched Dudas play a week later, and he was underwhelming. He was nearly invisible, and showed none of the speed and skill that he displayed at the Top Prospects Game. That could have been the end of it, but numbers like his aren’t a fluke. A poor player can get some lucky points and easy tap ins, but that many points couldn’t have been luck. I watched him again a few weeks later, and he was 10 times the player he was the first time. He was fast, he played with confidence, and he made things happen. It was obvious that my first viewing came on a tough night for him, but I still wanted to watch him at least one more time before I moved him up my rankings, just to make sure. However, time got in the way, and I couldn’t get another viewing in until the Top Prospects Game, where nobody expected him to excel. Except he did, showcasing his talent to the many scouts in attendance. He was one of my 3 stars of that game. The Top Prospects Game can be a great tool for players to boost their draft stock, and Dudas took advantage. Right now, I think he is commonly viewed as an early 2nd rounder, but if he keeps producing like he has, he’ll break into the first round on more rankings than mine.

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14 thoughts on “2018 NHL Draft: Three Underrated Prospects That Are Beginning to Attract Attention

  1. I like this article, but you need to do some good follow up articles about needed reforms at the junior level of hockey. I have written lots of articles on this blog and others about the need for fundamental reforms in international hockey including those needed in both North America and abroad at the junior level. I don’t know junior hockey that well so I am not in a good position to suggest what is needed but if hockey is to reach its full potential both in the NHL and internationally, reforms have to be instituted.

    When you are listing your 2 “under-rated” players from Europe, you’re suggesting a visibility problem that needs to be rectified. If you want to see more of your under-rated players get a break, reforms have to be made. What would you do to improve things? Hockey needs people like you who have good knowledge of junior play to speak out and suggest ideas that can develop it. Among the topics that need to have expert articles written about them are the following:

    1. Should the number of Europeans allowed on the CHL be increased?

    2. Should the CHL be expanded? If so by how many teams? And where? If the CHL is expanded more juniors will get top training.

    3. Should a fourth junior under-league be created and join the CHL and compete for the Memorial Cup? One based entirely in New England or maybe in Minnesota-Wisconsin? That would mean more juniors from North America and Europe get more opportunities to be properly developed.

    4. One of the most popular articles written on this blog before I joined was written by Alson Lee about why a top Swiss goaltender, Benjamin Conz was never drafted into the NHL. I wrote an article suggesting that because Conz played in Switzerland, few people would know about him. This brings up a number of topics about improving world junior hockey. First, just what does “European scouting” mean? Should more time be spent scouting in countries other than the “big 7″? What can be done to improve it?

    5. Second, there are more than a dozen countries that have been stuck at the “B level” of play since before 1972 including Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, France, Norway, Poland, Austria, Italy, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Slovenia, Hungary, Latvia, and now joined by South Korea. As mentioned in that same article I wrote, there’s a huge glut of talent not being properly developed. The same “big 7″ countries of 1972 are still the same “big 7″ in 2018. That’s a poor record of development in over 4 decades. All that has ever been done is to host a few clinics by NHL teams and send some out of work former NHL coaches abroad to coach national teams. Clearly it is not enough. What would you do to improve world junior play?

    6. Third, Gary Bettman wants to develop international hockey. He revived the World Cup but kept it to 6 national teams and 2 hybrids, Europe and North America. He did not want any boring mismatches between “big 7″ teams and “b level” countries like what was seen at the WJHC. That’s an open admission that international hockey is stuck to a narrow base and needs reforming. International hockey will not grow and improve until reforms are made, starting at the junior level. What reforms would you institute?

    These are issues that need articles and debate, especially by people who have good knowledge of junior play. You could probably suggest some things that I wouldn’t know about. Probably if some of your reforms were implemented, you would have so many things to write about, you would have to specialize.

    • CHL reform and player development is an interesting topic. I tried to start an article on the topic of CHL reform, but every attempt I made I stopped, deleted, and tried again, until I realized that the reason why I was having difficulties writing about the benefits of CHL reform was because I don’t believe it makes sense. If it did, I think it would have happened already. You said that players in the CHL are “properly developed”.

      Yes, the CHL route is a good way to go for a player developmentally, but I don’t think it’s necessarily better that other leagues in terms of development. Yes, they will get more attention, and be drafted higher, but they won’t neccessarily become a better player because they went the CHL route. In Grigori Denisenko’s (one of the 3 underrated prospects) case, I think it will be better for his development to stay close to home in Russia, because he’ll be more comfortable playing there, and won’t lose valuable develo

      • (accidentally submitted early)
        continued: development time adjusting to NA game. Instead, he can keep playing there, where he should start learning English so he can speed up his adjustment and not lose as much development time.
        Regarding some of your article suggestions:
        1. I don’t think they need to allow more Europeans. It’s the CANADIAN Hockey League, and I understand them wanting to keep it that way. The limit is holding back any talent with legitimate NHL shots, if they have NHL potential, they’re good enough for one of those spots. If the team has all their spots full, they would trade him to a team that does, a move that would make total sense.
        2. The CHL could expand or they could not, it doesn’t really make a difference. There is plenty of space on CHL teams for top talent, there are plenty of players in the CHL that have no NHL

      • potential whatsoever, if a player does, they’ll just bump someone that doesn’t out.
        3. No, I don’t think so. Adding a US division to the Canadian Hockey League completely goes against it, the CHL is a developmental league for Canada, like the USNTDP is for the US and leagues like the SuperElit are for European countries. Those alternative leagues are great developmental spots as well.
        4. NHL teams comb Europe for talent, and they don’t exclusively scout big 7 countries, other countries attract scouts as well. If Benjamin Conz wasn’t drafted, it is because the NHL teams didn’t see potential in him.
        5. Just because players aren’t from a big 7 country doesn’t mean they aren’t being properly developed. B level countries can develop players too, and lots of players from those countries go play junior in big 7 countries, like Dominik Bokk, a german, who is playing in Sweden now. The reality of the situation is that more NHL talent comes from the big 7 countries, it’s not that the talent in the B level countries just isn’t being developed. Hockey is more popular in some countries, and more talent will come from there. If they want more talent from certain countries, hockey needs to become more popular, and for most of the B level countries, that isn’t gonna happen.
        6. I think my answer for 5 applies here too. If you want more talent from other countries, it must become more popular in those countries.

        What changes would you make to the CHL?

  2. I am glad to get a different perspective on these topics since I don’t know junior hockey that well. But your response raises other interesting questions.

    1. If the development leagues in the United States and Europe are just as good as the CHL, why do so many Europeans and Americans want to play junior hockey in Canada? If the NHL scouting and player development are just as good outside of Canada, there is no need for them to come and the CHL will become a league dedicated to developing just Canadians.

    2. Canada has now won 2 straight Olympics and a World Cup in 2016 and particularly during the World Cup, there was a notable gap between Canada and the rest of the competitors. The other 4 national teams put in a particular poor performance. I have attributed this “gap” in part to the development Canadians get from the CHL. Why is there such a gap now? Both Russia and the USA have much larger populations than Canada so on paper at least, both of those countries should be able to produce far more equal or better players than Canada can. And if Canada can better countries with much larger populations at hockey, then so can other smaller nations. But you don’t win 3 straight major championships so convincingly unless there is something giving you a definite superiority. Canada won so easily even with its second-best player, Connor McDavid playing for North America. Canada is pulling away from every other country in the world. How do you account for it?

    3. There is still the fundamental problem of increasing hockey’s popularity world wide. Back in 1972 after the Canada-USSR match there were boasts that hockey would become the number 2 sport in the world behind soccer. But in 2018, the same “big 7” are still the same “big 7” of 1972. When Bettman revived the World Cup, he only invited 4 other countries and created 2 hybrid teams. Not even Slovakia was allowed to ice a team. That’s a clear admission that hockey has failed to develop in over 4 decades. If hockey is to grow, its base has to be widened. That implies reforms. If your player Bokk has to leave Germany to get recognition and development, then something is wrong with German hockey. And having the odd “b level” country player make the NHL is not good enough. Countries like Denmark, Germany, etc. have to be able to send teams to major tournaments with a real chance to win. The lopsided mismatch games have to end. Do you have any ideas about what could and should be done?

    As for what changes to make to the CHL, you could probably answer that question better than I could. Since I attribute Canada’s continued superiority at the international level in part to the superiority of the CHL, my only suggestion is to keep doing what it is doing and to expand the league so that more players can get its benefits. Since owning a junior team can be a precarious business, it is easy to say “expand the league” and then sit back and watch others struggle. As for where to expand to, I am most familiar with the OHL so there are a number of cities that have lost their teams that could possibly be revived. Cornwall, Brantford, Brampton come to mind. Toronto and Belleville have moved to the AHL. Do you bring them back? Do you put a team in between Toronto and Oshawa, in one of Pickering, Ajax, or Whitby? Is Oakville or Burlington viable? Do you a try a team in Chatham and do you dare try placing a team as far north as Timmins?

    It also brings up an issue I mentioned in my first e-mail, having a fourth all American CHL branch. In the WHL, there is a US division. Do you add more teams in Oregon (Salem, Eugene), Washington (Tacoma), Idaho (Boise) and western Montana, then split them off to form their own branch? Or do you just form 2 American WHL divisions? And you could certainly set up a US division in the OHL that already has 3 American franchises. Adding cities like Lansing, Toledo, Akron, Cincinnati, and Albany would make a viable division.

    Out east, you could try a Three Rivers team. Is Fredericton big enough now to have a team? Do you put a team in Newfoundland in St. John’s? And instead of having an American CHL branch, set up a New England division that plays in the QMJHL?

    Finally, there is an issue that WILL happen that will affect the CHL. Seattle will be given the 32nd NHL franchise. What happens to the Seattle Thunderbirds?

    • My responses to what you brought up:
      1. Until about 3-4 years ago, the CHL was on a different level from other leagues, but since then, the leagues have more or less evened out IMO in terms of development. Junior hockey in the USA has really developed, the USNTDP has evolved into a fantastic program for American prospects, and more and more players are choosing to do so, as well as going the NCAA route (which most USNTDP kids go on to play in). European scouting at the NHL level is better than many think, because people look at draft rankings from independent services, where European scouting is lacking. European prospects go higher than expected every year, because the teams, with higher quality European scouting than scouting services, have these players higher on their personal draft lists.

    • 2. Canada has more people that actually play hockey than the USA and Russia. As the popularity of hockey in these countries continues to grow (especially in the USA), the gap will shrink.
      3. Every sport has mismatches in team quality at the international level. Soccer has different tiers of team quality as well. It all comes down to the popularity of the sport in each country, and that will never be equal. Hockey will always be more popular in Canada than it will be in Germany, despite the attempts that can be made to try to grow the game in certain areas. The international games that the NHL is staging in these countries is a good way to try to grow hockey in these places, but I think that the NHL should be focusing on trying to grow the hockey leagues in these countries, like the SHL in Sweden, or the Czech Extraliga. If going to an SHL game is a really good experience, more and more people will go, and the

    • and the popularity of hockey will increase.
      To the CHL: Adding some more American CHL teams is an interesting idea. If they added them in cities that have no prominent pro team, it could help grow the game in that area.
      Seattle Thunderbirds: They could coexist with the Seattle NHL team. They wouldn’t be the only place with a CHL and NHL team in the same city. Edmonton has the Oilers and the Oil Kings, and Vancouver has the Canucks and Giants. A CHL game can be a cost effective alternative for an NHL game. I live in Edmonton, and I know people who go to Oil Kings games instead of Oilers games because it’s cheaper.

  3. Thanks for providing some more insights into junior hockey. I’ll go over your points individually so it is easier to read.

    1. About the equality of the CHL and American/European junior leagues: We’ll have to see who is right. The results of the revived World Cup point to a wide gap between Canada and the other “big 7″ countries, never mind just the “B level” countries which I attribute in part to the superiority of the CHL. If you are right about the improvement of the American/European leagues, that gap has to start closing and results have to start being seen in major international hockey tournaments. All 4 national teams at the World Cup were busts. At the recent WJC, at least the US and Sweden might be getting closer. Finland and Russia were icing WJC competitive teams a few years ago. Czech and Slovak hockey has been in the doldrums for a long time and nobody has risen from the “b level” ranks. Canadian superiority is great if you live in Canada, especially if you have the partisanship for hockey that Canadian fans have, but hockey is not going to grow internationally until a lot more countries besides the usual 7 can ice competitive teams that have a chance at winning.

    2. Your second point about mass participation might be true. That brings up the question about how do you get more people outside of Canada to play hockey at a high level. That’s the heart of the problem. One sport that seems to have found the answer for both men and women is curling where countries that never used to compete can now send teams that can win major tournaments. Perhaps I’m making a ridiculous unrealistic comparison, but curling has succeeded where hockey has failed. Back to hockey, if large countries like Russia and the USA still can’t match Canada, then a lot of development work needs to be done everywhere. That’s the reason your player Bokk had to leave Germany. Who should be doing it and what kind of development work needs to be done? Women’s hockey is so bad that only 2 countries can ice good competitive teams, and they have been threatened with expulsion from the Olympics because of the competition problem. The very future of the sport is at stake. And boasts about hockey becoming the number 2 sport in the world won’t come true unless this problem is faced up to and dealt with effectively.

    3. I agree with you to a point about mismatches and elite teams. You do see mismatches at soccer’s World Cup and there are elite teams that are competitive almost every time. Soccer is always going to be more popular than hockey in Germany, etc. And it will take a lot of development before ANY country matches the popularity of hockey in Canada. But at least in the soccer World Cup you do see teams that have never won the tournament make serious runs at the championship. In 2010, two teams that had never won the World Cup, Spain and the Netherlands made the Final. With the state of international hockey the way it is, that NEVER happens. Sooner or later “dark horse” teams have to start rising which would mean hockey is finally growing. As I wrote in one article on this blog, where I would start is Germany, Switzerland, and Denmark. They along with Slovakia had the most players on Team Europe which went to the Final in the World Cup. Turning the “big 7″ into a permanent “big 10″ would be the most significant development in international hockey in decades.

    4. I would rate the Thunderbirds survival chances at 50-50. It is true that junior hockey survives in Edmonton, Vancouver and Calgary. It also does in Ottawa. But when I was a boy, the OHL had the Montreal Junior Canadiens and the Toronto Marlboroughs. Both are now gone as is the Brampton team. Certainly a CHL game is more feasible for most hockey fans but I think when people in the big cities where junior hockey survives with the NHL go to a CHL game, they do so because they love and are interested in junior hockey rather than because of cost. One other possibility might come up in the near future because of NHL expansion/relocation. One of my predictions (and I could be wrong) is that once Seattle is officially admitted, the NHL will announce expansion to 2 more western American cities and then shift the Coyotes to Quebec. That gets rid of two problems, Phoenix and the unsuitable Quebec City bidder, Pierre Karl Peladeau. Conceding that one of the new western cities will undoubtedly be Houston, what if the other western city is Portland? If all this were to happen, you would have to debate the future of the Quebec and Portland junior teams as well as Seattle.

    5a. Finally I’ll throw out one other idea that you might want to consider and write articles about. I wrote an article on the blog suggesting that the Memorial Cup be made an international trophy in which the champions of the CHL, the American champion, SHL, etc. play an annual tournament for a junior club World Championship. Is this feasible? And as a preliminary to starting such a tournament, all these junior leagues affiliate themselves under one new world junior hockey organization (something like FIFA). Should this be done? For the head of this new international body, I suggested that CHL Commissioner Dave Branch would be the ideal man for the job before he retires.

    5b. And since all the junior leagues are now affiliated with one another under the leadership of Branch whose CHL is the benchmark for developing players, is this the way to finally effectively attack the hockey development problem? Now that all the world junior leagues are affiliated with each other, could Branch standardize the development of play in the other leagues so that they match the CHL? As mentioned in point 2, how should junior hockey’s quality be raised and who should do it are crucial questions. This idea needs input from you and other knowledgeable people about junior hockey.

    • A few things regarding your points:
      1. Time will tell. I think the gap will begin to close soon. The Czech team is already beginning to grow at the WJHC level, and was a legitimate dark horse at the World Juniors. Hockey will also grow as draft eligible Filip Zadina becomes an NHL star in the next 3-4 years.
      2. Getting more hockey on TV is a big step in growing the popularity of the game in B level countries. If people see it on TV, they may find they enjoy it. If kids see it, it may prompt them to being playing hockey.
      3. Getting more kids into hockey in these B level countries should lead to better

  4. players coming from those countries, and more competition at the international level.
    4. The addition of NHL teams in cities that already have CHL teams can definitely have an impact on those CHL teams, and it is very hard to try to predict the future of that team. As far as I know, Seattle wouldn’t have any teams from any other sports playing in their arena alongside the NHL team, so things shouldn’t be too crowded for the Thunderbirds to stay. For cities with an NBA or possibly NLL team it is harder for them to share the arena 3 or sometimes even 4 ways. This is in addition to concerts and other events.
    5a: That is an interesting idea. The Champions Hockey League in Europe is similar to this, but with pro teams, and maybe that could pave the way for an international club junior tournament. I don’t see it happening anytime soon, but it is a very plausible idea that is extremely interesting. I’ll think about writing about that, thanks for bringing it up. Quick note: the SHL is Sweden’s pro league, the SuperElit is the junior league.
    5b: This is a really interesting idea that I want to give some more thought, and I will probably write about it. Great idea.
    Sorry for the awful formatting and multiple comments, I’m on mobile and I kept accidentally hitting submit.

  5. Thanks for responding. As before, I’ll go over your ideas in point form so it is easier to read.

    1. I hope you are right about the Czech team. They and the Slovak team have been in the doldrums for a long time. Seeing them as a force again along with raising up some of the “b levels” would be a great step for international hockey.

    2. That’s an interesting idea that wouldn’t have occurred to me. I see the development problem in terms of training and administration reorganization. You’re seeing it as a media problem. That certainly merits several articles that could be written. How good is media coverage of hockey in the European “big 7″ and in the European “b level” countries? Is lack of media exposure holding the development of international hockey back? Or is there sufficient media coverage and there are other factors that stop hockey from growing? I’ve written lots of articles on this blog and when I was writing on Bleacher Report about media coverage in the United States and its effects on the NHL. I’ve speculated that lack of American media exposure was a main reason that Bettman was hired in the first place, to turn NHL hockey into an “American game”. Certainly his quest to get a major American television contract played a crucial role in which cities got expansion franchises. His idea was to place teams in cities that had little contact with hockey in hopes that now that hockey had spread all over the US, it had become a “big 4 American game” and merited a richer tv contract and more American coverage.

    2a. He got mixed results from his attempts. He got a better American television contract but still nothing to compare with the NBA, MLB, and the NFL. Hockey is still ranked number 4 in America. Some doubtful markets became major successes. Tampa Bay, Dallas, Anaheim, and now Las Vegas are good examples. Nashville has finally come around and I still believe that fans will come back to Carolina once they have a competitive team again. Others have been disasters like Atlanta, Phoenix, and Miami. Columbus is still a suspect city. At one time it was speculated that there were 10 American franchises losing money. And there were other consequences. To his regret, Bettman let Quebec, Winnipeg, Hartford, and Minnesota move to his experimental cities. That made him a villain in Canada. In 2010, he opened the door for their readmission. And in his attempts to place new hockey teams in unfamiliar markets, obvious places where hockey was loved like Canada and the northwestern United States were ignored. To this day, I continue to write about the poor American media coverage. When I bought Windows 10, a media panel of the current news events got installed. Every day they have about 30 sports articles, and hockey seldom gets mentioned. Today for example, the only hockey story was about Sidney Crosby getting his 400th goal.

    2b. So if you have good knowledge about European television coverage of hockey, you could probably write several good articles about how it affects junior hockey in Europe, adult hockey and the NHL. I remember I wrote an article and I am not sure for which blog about the NHL getting better television coverage in Europe after they signed a contract with some kind of European media. But that’s as far as it goes with me. If what you alleging is true, that European media coverage is poor and is hurting the development of junior hockey, then articles need to be written about it like the ones I have written about the effects of American tv coverage.

    3. You could probably write a good article(s) on the effects of the NHL placing teams in CHL and other junior league cities and why they work in some cases and why they don’t in others.

    4. I hope you write articles about the two possibilities I’ve suggested. As you can see about my knowledge of European hockey, I don’t know enough and I am not qualified to write anything further unless I get more knowledge. And it doesn’t have to be Branch at the head of a new international body, though it seems to me that right now he is the best qualified for the job. But the position does need a visionary who knows what he doing, who has some grand conception of what international junior hockey could be and how to make it happen.

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