Back as promised and by popular demand, the mid-season expectation versus reality grades have quickly become the three-quarter-season expectation vs reality grades.
To recap the concept of this piece, the 2019 NHL Entry Draft is more than 200 days old we’re quickly beginning to get a picture of how last year’s draft picks’ D+1 campaign will shape up. Today we’re looking at how some of the players from the first round of last summer’s draft have developed and progressed. Using a format of ‘Expectations vs. Reality’ and ultimately, a final grade, I’m looking at each of the players drafted in the first round last June. I’ll do my best to convey a sense of where each player is today relative to what we expected from them coming out of the draft, with the grading scale matching up as follows:
A – Exceeding expectations based on the quality of competition, in both offensive and two-way aspects
B – Meeting expectations in both offensive and two-way aspects
C – Slightly missing expectations in either offensive or two-way aspects
D – Missing expectations in both offensive and two-way aspects
F – Entirely disappointing relative to expectations
To clarify, two grades of B+ does not mean that the players have had equivalent seasons, only that they’ve both performed the same relative to their respective expectations.
Trevor Zegras | 9th overall
Expectations: One of the most skilled players to enter the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, Zegras wound up falling surprisingly low to the Anaheim Ducks at 9th overall. With the 3-10 block of the draft being an aggregate of position players, Zegras may have simply come off, to some teams, as one-dimensional – or simply, less dimensional than the other players available. Regardless of the drop, expectations for the American were still high heading into his D+1 campaign. The BU commit would be following in the footsteps of former top-10 selection, Clayton Keller, who posted a very similar resume to Zegras prior to beginning his collegiate career. With a comparable playing style to Keller, the outcome of Zegras’ Freshman campaign could partially be judged on that datum.
Reality: Zegras’ motor was going from the drop of the puck in early fall with the BU terriers. It wasn’t long before it became a forgone conclusion that he would be one of the locked-in players to the American U20 roster, another outcome for which he could be judged. Ultimately, he’s scored on a slightly slower pace than Keller had in 2017, and finished the World Junior tournament with a significantly more disappointing result. As impressive as Zegras’ D+1 campaign has been, and yes, it has been impressive, comparing his results to a modern datum gives some pause to that success. Zegras is an extremely skilled playmaker, and he will be a valuable fantasy asset in the near future, but it’s important to see his success from an accurate perspective, eliminate emotion, and manage your fantasy assets accordingly.
Brayden Tracey | 29th overall
Expectations: Significant talk was made of Brayden Tracey’s crutches in Moose Jaw last year, and at the time of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. With a pair of 20-year-old forwards supporting the WHL rookie’s offense, Tracey’s excellent production was seen as having a very tiny asterisk. His skill level was appreciated by many, but what percentage of his production was attributed to his own ability seemed to be questioned. Matching the production from his draft slate would be considered an acceptable level of success for the 29th overall selection, anything else would require context.
Reality: After signing an entry-level contract with the Ducks in late November, expectations rose even further for the 29th overall pick. The question of his linemate driven production had begun to evaporate with Moose Jaw as his production seamlessly continued, but the struggling Warriors opted to send the Ducks’ prospect to Victoria in a mid-season rebuilding move. Being left off of Canada’s final roster for the World Junior Championship was a slight disappointment for Tracey, but not all that surprising. Since changing squads, Tracey’s production has expectedly slowed with his skilled game struggling to bear fruit on the, “just ok” Victoria Royals team.
Victor Soderstrom | 11th overall
Expectations: Among a draft class which heralded an exciting group of top defenseman, the Swedish blueliner, Victor Soderstrom was unjustly overlooked by some on draft-day. Bowen Byram, Moritz Seider, and Phillip Broberg all preceded Soderstrom’s selection in on Day #1 of the draft. The skilled two-way defender who is property of the Brynas organization had split most of his draft campaign split between the organizations SuperElit and SHL squads. Poised for a full slate in the SHL, Soderstrom found himself sitting amongst a group of strong Swedish defensemen who would be challenging for roster spots in the U20 tournament. Selection to that squad, paired with a successful team season for Brynas would look great on the resume of the ‘Yotes new prospect.
Reality: Soderstrom has been off to a rocking year in the SHL with Brynas. The 18-year-old is second only to Nils Lundkvist among U20 blueliners and was excellent for team Sweden at the World Junior Championship. At his current level of play, there’s no doubt that the Coyotes are itching to get him in their lineup. He’ll likely find his way to North America in the fall, with an outside chance of making Arizona’s roster out of camp.
Jakob Pelletier | 26th overall
Expectations: The speedy, gritty Moncton Wildcat was an exciting player to watch in his draft year. His combination of shifty transition game and spatial awareness made for a player who was nearly unstoppable on most nights in the QMJHL. His lack of size and top speed, however, left some questions unanswered.
Reality: The return of Jeremy McKenna to Moncton, and the addition of a handful of uber-skilled QMJHL players later on in the year has made it difficult to isolate the continued success of the Flames prospect. In some aspects, Pelletier has done well to prove his doubters wrong. The 18-year-old has been an all-around leader for the Wildcats, and played well in all situations. His offense has climbed to the heights expected of him in his D+1 slate and the team has been an overall success. Being snubbed by Team Canada for the World Junior roster has been the only major disappointment for the 26th overall pick, something that it seems he will not soon forget.
Phillip Broberg | 8th overall
Expectations: At eighth overall, the Oilers took a swing on Swedish Defenseman Philip Broberg from AIK of the Allsvenskan league. With a showing at the World Junior Championship already under his belt, the Oilers saw a sizable, mobile blueliner who they thought would be able to complement their NHL squad in short order. With a seasons worth of experience in the second-tier Swedish professional league, it looked as if Broberg could be poised to make an immediate impact in the SHL before becoming an option for the Oilers soon after.
Reality: After taking what seemed like a massive step in his draft season, Broberg has gone on to make relatively mediocre progress as an 18-year-old. The entirety of his D+1 campaign has taken place within the confines of the SHL, a league which he would’ve been expected to have a quick transition to. Unfortunately, Broberg has been held down on the AIK depth chart and has struggled to contribute offensively. From a fantasy perspective, it hasn’t been a great year for development. His NHL arrival has likely been set back from where the Oilers’ would’ve initially projected and his offensive ceiling remains questionable.
Los Angeles Kings
Alex Turcotte | 5th Overall
Expectations: Being the second forward selected of the jumbled 3-10 group in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft carried with it the entire weight of a rebuilding franchise. The LA Kings made their selection at fifth overall with the hopes of finding a player who would be capable of steering their organization with a two-way rudder, and a cargo full of skill. Turcotte was one of the top recognized players for the USNDP last season and boasted an elite vision, strong technical skating and a team-first two-way style of play. In his commitment to the University of Wisconsin, he would be joining, and forming, perhaps the favorite to win the 2020 National Championship.
Reality: The rangey centerman has brought his competitive strengths to the Wisconsin Badgers as a rookie and the production has followed. In being named to Team USA’s U20 squad, Turcotte checked yet another box on his list of expectations, however, he followed it up with a relatively lackluster performance. Turcotte seemed to lose focus from his typical edgy and proactive style at the tournament leaving the American defenseman out to dry in some instances and failing to contribute in others. All in all, Turcotte still looks to be much of the same player that the Kings selected last summer, but a standout performance in the last few months of the year would go a long way towards solidifying that sentiment.
Tobias Bjornfoot | 22nd overall
Expectations: Among the second tier of defenseman available for selection in the 2019 Entry Draft, Bjornfot was one of the first to come off of the board to the Kings at 22. The Swedish defenseman had begun to show a more refined style of offense as his year with the Djurardens U20 squad progressed, and his experience with the organization’s SHL squad was also a likely consideration in what motivated the Kings to nab him with their second pick. With many of his peers being selected in the first half of the first round, there were already a handful of comparables from which he could be judged. Ultimately continuing to develop his 200-foot game would be a vague indication of a successful D+1 campaign, while overthrowing any of his countrymen for a spot on the World Junior roster would make for an exciting indication of his development.
Reality: Bjornfot was one of the few overseas players to immediately make his way to North America following his selection. The Swede’s ELC has brought him right to the King’s doorstep where he’s played primarily with the AHL’s Ontario Reign. Additionally, Bjornfot made his NHL debut with the Kings immediately out of camp. His continued development in the AHL was supplemented at Christmas time when the 18-year-old joined Team Sweden for their run at the World Junior Championship, capping off what has been a very exciting year for the LA prospect.
San Jose Sharks
Vasili Podkolzin | 10th overall
Expectations: From a purely hockey perspective, the selection of Vasili Podkolzin at 10th overall was immediately considered a steal for the Canucks at the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. The Russian’s multi-dimensional game was considered uncontested by any other player at the draft, being held back only by his status as a player restricted by his contract in the KHL. His exceptional drive and elusiveness were considered his strongest assets, and with experience in arguably the world’s second best league, Podkolzin seemed like a home run on the ice. Facing the first year of his renewed contract in the KHL, continued growth in production would be the start of a successful D+1 campaign, but ultimately, leading the Russians to an all-around successful showing at the WJC would be a major factor in Podkolzin’s success litmus.
Reality: Rather than sticking with the KHL’s SKA from the beginning of the season, Podkolzin has continued to bounce between there and the second-tier Russian league, the VHL. His year began quite slow, but since retuning to SKA, he’s regained his scoring touch and become the player that he was expected to be from the get-go. A relatively strong U20 showing in the Czech Republic combined with an all-around strong series with the CHL was enough to consider his U20 circuit a success. Going forward, Podkolzin will need to finish the year on a strong note in order to maintain his “meeting expectations status”.
Vegas Golden Knights
Peyton Krebs | 17th overall
Expectations: The fall of Peyton Krebs to 17th overall was one of the big surprises of round #1 – 2019. Despite sustaining an injury to his Achilles tendon in early June, Krebs was still expected to have been selected in the top-15 picks of the draft. His fiery nature on the ice combined with a strong sense of the game happening around him seemed to make the Kootenay Ice captain a relatively safe pick for that range. With his injured Achilles likely holding him out of the lineup through most of the first half of his D+1 campaign, there would likely be little to immediately judge him on, other than a successful return from injury.
Reality: Since returning to WHL competition and his new home in Winnipeg, Krebs has been electric. Returning as a stronger version of the same player who finished the year hot in Cranbrook last season, Krebs has left little doubt that the Golden Knights made a steal of a pick at 17. His dominance and skill in the offensive zone make him a dangerous player to defend against and he has already shown signs of continued development in the defensive zone and in making a responsible, confident transition.
Looking back at the Pacific Division, there have been a few players that have failed to meet expectations, however, no complete busts yet. The 17-20 range looks to have been a sweet spot for the division as several of the perceived “second-tier” players have made massive strides in their development to date.
Check back in a couple of weeks for a similar analysis on the players drafted by Metropolitan Division teams. In the meantime, find me on Twitter @olaf1393.