2019 has been an exciting year in the world of prospects. With the year coming to a close on Wednesday, I thought that today’s Prospect Ramblings would be a good opportunity to review some of the biggest stories from the last 360 odd days in the world of hockey prospects.
10. 2017 Draft Prospects
There might be some recency bias at play in my suggestion that the 2017 draft class has been one of the top-10 stories of 2019. This week I wrote a piece in DobberHockey’s The Journey, detailing what I see as one of the most volatile shifts in prospect valuation of a particular group. The 2017 draft was advertised as a deep class, and over the last two years of development, we’ve witnessed ample support of that adage.
9. Ryan Merkley
Detailed discussions of prospects’ personality traits are somewhat of a buzz-topic for those of us who are on the outside, looking in. That is to say that most of us hear stories and rumors, but the truth about players who are said to have “bad attitudes”, or “personality issues” usually doesn’t come out for years, or ever. The Ryan Merkley stories are still just that, but the proof is in the pudding, and the young Sharks defenseman had a hard time finding an OHL home for the 2019-20 campaign before finally landing in London.
Merkley seems to be on the right track as far as on-ice evidence goes, but his “attitude” will remain a concern as he makes his way to the NHL.
8. Elite Goaltending Prospects
Spencer Knight was the first goalie selected inside the top-15 of an NHL Entry draft since 2010 when Dallas selected Jack Campbell at 11th overall. 17-year-old Yaroslav Askarov is another netminder who is taunting us with his draft stock – the Russian has been mentioned regularly inside top-15 draft rankings, and as high as seventh overall in some. The brotherhood of scouts and evaluators have often taken exception to young goaltenders, yet it appears as though these two have proven enough to buck the trend.
7. Kakko vs Hughes
The jury on the first overall selection of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft is still out, and likely won’t be back in, officially, until the two 18-year-old’s have hung up their skates. The rivalry will likely be ingrained in the divisional battle of The Hudson for years to come, allowing us to frequently evaluate the pair in head-to-head competition.
6. Jokiharju for Nylander
Back in July, the Chicago Blackhawks made a trade that was a bit of a shock for many in the hockey world The Hawks traded their 29th overall selection from the 2017 draft, Henri Jokiharku to the Buffalo Sabres, for the seemingly bust-worthy Alex Nylander. Chicago’s depth in the prospect defenseman category was likely a major consideration in what motivated the team to make the deal, however, the jury is still out on the deal.
Nylander has struggled to find offense when deployed with anyone other than Patrick Kane, while Jokiharju has been a valuable two-way defender for Buffalo, despite his lack-luster fantasy production.
5. Vegas Selling Prospects
The Vegas’ Golden Knights began building their roster in the Spring of 2017, beginning with the free-agent signing of Reid Duke on March 6th. Three months later, George McPhee selected 12 players through seven rounds of the NHL Entry Draft. The surprising immediate success that followed has allowed the Knights to continue to build their team with a focus on immediate success.
As such, two of the first three players who were selected by the Golden Knights in that first Entry Draft, as well as their 2018 first-round picks have been sent packing from the league’s youngest franchise, providing a new fantasy perspective for players who were likely assumed to be Vegas property for years to come. Both Nick Suzuki and Erik Brannstrom find themselves in new homes and in both cases a more immediate opportunity for NHL success.
4. USNDP owns the Draft
The US National Development Program U18 squad has been gradually gaining momentum and recognition as the world’s most productive system for future NHL prospects. The 2019 NHL Entry Draft was yet another testament to the programs’ success as it fed the seven players to the top fifteen picks. Ultimately, 17 of the rosters 23 players were selected in the draft, building atop the foundation of the world’s best development program.
3. Gusev Arrives
Drafted by Tampa Bay in the seventh round of the 2012 Entry Draft, Nikita Gusev broke out on the KHL scene in 2016 with SKA St. Petersburg. The Russian’s North American intentions became an intriguing narrative in the years that would follow, with his two-year KHL extension eventually wearing through the patience of the Tampa Bay brass. His rights traded hands to Vegas, before finally settling in New Jersey where Gusev agreed to terms on a two-year contract. The 27-year-old has been nothing if not consistent and seems to be becoming more of an impact fantasy player by the day.
2. Jesse Puljujarvi
Towards the end of August, Edmonton Oilers former fourth overall selection signed a contract with Karpat of the Finnish Liiga. After struggling to find a groove in North America since coming overseas in 2016, Puljujarvi opted to rejoin his former pro-European club in an effort to revive his professional career.
Since departing for Finland, he has reportedly been pursued in trade talks by several other NHL clubs including the Detroit Red Wings. JP’s contract is reported to have an out-clause, should the 21-year-old wish to return to the NHL, however, the chances of that happening this season are fading by the day.
1. Rebuilding Rangers
On February 8th, 2018, The New York Rangers issued a letter to their fans indicating that they were embarking on a roster restructuring procedure and that pain was imminent. In the year that followed, the team’s hockey operations department spun the organization’s pipeline and roster 180-degrees, removing dead-weight and acquiring exciting prospects from every corner of the hockey world.
The teams’ new and improved young core includes players from the draft, free agency, and trades many which appear to be a part of the Ranger’s future core.
Happy New Year to all. Thanks for reading. @olaf1393