Image courtesy: @S7Dsn
As we enter the halfway mark of the season, players are beginning to separate themselves from the pack. For some, an opportunity to showcase themselves at the recent World Jr. A U19’s or on the big stage at the upcoming World Junior Championships is riddled with pressure. The expectation of improvement rings loudly in their ears of all the players each day.
And just as we expect players to make strides and improve year-over-year, I expect the same from myself as a talent-evaluator. In the past, I’ve tried to accrue as much data as I could over a large swath of players. This meant that I may have seen a player three or four times before Christmas and then perhaps not again. I felt spread too thin. This year, I’m attempting to limit my numbers to improve my depth of knowledge on those individuals. It means the public list will be smaller, but hopefully, improved.
As always, my assessments are limited. I am but one man who also has a four-year-old son, a four-month-old daughter, a teaching career, and many writing commitments. However, I’m fortunate enough to have a very patient and supportive wife, as well as a thickening list of smart eyes in the stands to bounce things off of.
The list below is not intended to mock up what the selections will eventually be this June. This is how I perceive the player today in conjunction with how I believe they will progress and develop. I’m limited to mostly assessing these players on their on-ice achievements. Knowing these young men as individuals would be telling towards their drive and determination. Something that cannot be understated.
Regarding my method, I place immense value on skating ability and processing speed. Physical attributes are great, but if you can’t see the play develop or recognize your options quickly, both offensively and defensively, you’ll be destined for an uphill battle. It’s hard not to love a creative player with a rocket of a shot or incredibly slick puck skills. But those attributes come behind speed and smarts.
Regarding tiers, Tier 1 is a two-player cabin. Quinton Byfield sits in the pole position with Alexis Lafrenière less than a whisker behind. I’m sure there will be chatter regarding the flip-flop at the top, but my decision was not taken lightly. Byfield possesses the immense potential to be a rare and special type of player. A centre so large and skillful that matchups will cease to phase him. A kingmaker of a man. The way he can manipulate his body with possession and under duress is wildly impressive and he’s barely 17 years old. And while his explosiveness can appear less-than-stellar due to his length, he generates so much power in his stride that it does not take long for him to get up to high gear. His game continues to evolve each day, week, month.
The arc is racing upwards.
Meanwhile, Lafrenière, who is currently the more advanced offensive player, is a menace with the puck. His shiftiness and puck skills are unmatched. His shot is heavy, quick and accurate. He’s going to be an impressive first-line winger – potentially even as early as next season. However, and I may be nitpicking a tad here, his feet can be a bit heavy at times.