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.