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.

NHL 2016-17 Season Second Quarter Report

It is now approximately half way through the NHL season and the second quarter of the current campaign was quite different from the first. In the first quarter, the pattern was mostly Win 3 Lose 1, 2-2, 1-2, 2-1, etc. In the second quarter what occurred was the dramatic long winning streak. Three teams, Columbus, Minnesota, and Philadelphia hit double digit figures, with Columbus nearly setting a new NHL record. Several teams soared into playoff positions or at least made themselves contenders again.

Among the teams that experienced significant long winning streaks were:

East: Columbus, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington, Toronto

West: Minnesota, San Jose, Calgary, Vancouver

Here are other things to note during this period:

Still the teams to beat

Defending champion Pittsburgh in the east and 3 time champion Chicago in the west are still the teams to bet on despite the obvious improvement of many other teams. They are the safe choices for bettors.

Out of the picture

Colorado and Arizona are the first teams to be completely out of the playoffs (unless they start playing like the streaking teams listed above). They are now contending with Las Vegas for a high draft choice next year.

Show me

Despite the impressive winning streaks, Minnesota and Washington still have to prove themselves. They have done this before in the regular season. Now they have to play like this in the playoffs. Neither of them has even reached the conference final and Minnesota has yet to beat a true contender in a playoff round. Smile and pat them on the back for what they have done this quarter but the true test comes at the end of the season.

Winner of the second big trade

When Edmonton traded Taylor Hall to New Jersey for Adam Larsson the results were almost even in the first quarter. But the second quarter has declared a clear winner. New Jersey dropped out of a playoff position while Edmonton still has a good record and is in the middle of the playoff pack.

Nightmare quarter

Besides Arizona and Colorado, New Jersey had a second quarter as horrendous as their first quarter was good. They were playing excellent hockey at the beginning and were solid playoff contenders when Hall was briefly injured, came back, and then the team played horrible hockey and dropped out of a playoff position. The defense, usually the strength of the Devils is now one of the worst in the league. The playoffs are still within reach, but unless they turn things around, that chance could disappear in the third quarter.

Disguises:

1. Injured with a bag over his head

It was bad enough when Montreal Canadiens General Manager Marc Bergevin decided to go hunting for culprits who failed to respond when star goaltender Carey Price got injured last year. It was even worse when Bergevin decided that the main culprit was P. K. Subban, singled him out, and traded him to Nashville for Shea Weber. It is sickening when Weber is thriving in Montreal, Bergevin being hailed as a genius for his astute trade, while Subban struggles on the ice and gets injured. It is horrible when Nashville which was now supposed to be a true Stanley Cup contender may not even make the playoffs while Montreal is near the top of its conference. Poor Subban has nowhere to hide. As of now he can be blamed for the downfall of Montreal last year and Nashville this year. He could not have had a more horrible spell cast upon him. If you see someone walking down a Nashville street with a paper bag covering his head, you know who it is.

2. Playing with a bag over his head

Taylor Hall, now of the New Jersey Devils got injured frequently and could not play defense which made him expendable by Edmonton. This year he got injured off and on, he is a -7, and the Devils whose strength was usually defense are now -29, the worst in the Eastern Conference. They have dropped out of a playoff position while Hall’s old team, the Oilers, are now in the middle of the playoff pack in the west including a recent defeat of the Devils on their own ice. Adam Larrson, whom the Oilers got from the Devils is an even 0. Interestingly, Ryan Nugent Hopkins, another number one NHL draft pick for the Oilers is even worse than Hall at a horrible -12, the worst on the team, proving that almost all the number one draft picks whom the Oilers have drafted over the past decade cannot play or even be taught how to play defense and have been like liabilities instead of assets.

3. Watching with bags over their heads

All those expert predictors at NHL.com who said before the season started that Subban was the final piece of the puzzle for Nashville and predicted that the Predators would end up in the Stanley Cup Final.

Executive nightmare

Poor Tampa Bay General Manager Steve Yzerman believed his team was a legitimate Stanley Cup contender (so did I) so he signed all his top stars to contracts to win right now. Then Mr. Brittle, Steve Stamkos got injured again, the team has failed to rally in the same manner the Montreal Canadiens failed to rally last year when Carey Price got injured and now there is a real chance that Tampa Bay may not make the playoffs.

So what, nothing came of it

Florida Panthers became the first team to fire their coach, Gerard Gallant, despite having a winning record. General Manager Tom Rowe took over and the team is neither better nor worse than when they were under Gallant. The only benefit to Florida is that Gallant’s salary is off the books. He is now a leading contender to be hired as a coach next year.

Hanging in

Ottawa Senators may have lost their best player, goaltender Craig Anderson because he is at home caring for his wife who has cancer. But the Senators are still hanging on to a playoff position.

Frustrated by circumstances beyond his control

John Tavares of the New York Islanders helped his team to finally win a playoff round for the first time in eons last year. The Islanders seemed poised to join the top eastern teams as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender if they made the right moves during the off season. But the Islanders play in the smallest, worst arena, the Barclay Center, in the league, the only one that actually has obstructed view seats for hockey spectators. Unlike the glory years, the Islanders now lose talent during the off season instead of the acquiring it and cannot afford to build a legitimate contender around Tavares. Ominously, the Islanders played the two worst teams in the league back to back, the Avalanche and the Coyotes and lost both games. The playoffs are still within reach but the Islanders may be the first eastern team to drop out of playoff contention.

Dream trade for the Tampa Bay Lightning

Swapping “Mr. Brittle” Steve Stamkos for Tavares.

Major stumblebum disappointments

Boston, Tampa Bay, Nashville and Dallas were all expected to be better than they are. They are not playing bad hockey but are fumbling along with one-step-forward-two steps back, two-steps-forward-one step-back, etc. records. Meanwhile the streakers have zoomed by them or are in position to legitimately challenge for a playoff position. These teams need to go on win streaks themselves or they may not make the playoffs, something nobody believed when the season started.

Show some support

Last time I checked, Columbus had the sixth worst attendance in the league, with just over 15,000 patrons per game or 82% capacity. The win streak brought about this “improvement” because before it they were the fourth worst in the league with only 75%. Come on fans, show some support for this team. If you can’t support a winner, Quebec (and a few other cities) want a team badly and are waiting…

Poor role model

That wonderful dessert team, Arizona Coyotes whom the NHL fought to the death to keep in Phoenix and out of Hamilton, Ontario is already out of playoff contention, has the second worst record in the NHL, and as usual has one of the worst attendance records in the league. Now comes news that in suburban Glendale where the Coyotes play, the city council wants to be rid of the Coyotes and have an arena without a tenant and that the Coyotes may move across the city to suburban Tempe into a yet to  be built new arena. This is a wonderful example for the NHL’s newest dessert team, the Las Vegas Golden Knights. Keep a stiff upper lip Bill Foley and Gary Bettman.

Still waiting…

All quiet on the Quebec City front.

Why the Heck Would You Do That?: The Tampa Bay Lightning Draft Story

Being from Tampa, I am a Lightning fan, but I think Steve Yzerman is an idiot and this draft bolstered this opinion. Apparently everyone who follows hockey as a whole and not just their favorite teams knows that a good defense is necessary to win in the NHL. Everyone that is except Yzerman.

In this draft, the Lightning had picks 3, 33, 124, 154,184,186. The third-round pick was traded for goalie Andres Lindback and the fourth-round pick was traded for BJ Crombeen. It will take at least another year or two to determine if those moves are going to pay off. The extra seventh-round pick came in the Ben Bishop trade.With these picks, I was very hopeful that Tampa, would be able to acquire several defensemen in order to fix the severe weakness in that area.

When both the Avalanche and Panthers passed on Seth Jones, I was ecstatic for the whole minute and a half before Yzerman pick Jonathan Drouin. Tampa’s defense sucks and yet Yzerman chose a left-winger. This baffles me. Yes, I know Martin St. Louis probably does not have many more years left and Drouin could fill his shoes, but we really needed an NHL ready defenseman and Seth Jones was it. After the pick, twitter was ablaze with all of the angry Lightning fans. Even people who were not Tampa fans were shocked by Yzerman’s choice.

The second-round pick was not any better. There were plenty of decent defensemen left on the board, but again Yzerman chose a left-winger in Adam Erne.  At this point I do not understand what Yzerman’s plan for the team is. Not including this year’s draft, according to the Lightning’s prospect site, there are thirty forwards but only fifteen defensemen in the system.

The rest of the picks Tampa had in the draft resulted in a goalie, another left winger, a center and a right-winger. Which begs the question how on earth is Yzerman going to get the Lightning’s defense back to where it needs to be in order to contend for the Stanley Cup?