The NHL Draft Report is a monthly column that highlights a number of topics in the NHL Draft world at the time. Each month will have the main feature story, a themed ‘Team of the Month’, and a Prospect Spotlight that takes a bit of a deeper look at a player. This month the Draft Report includes a look at some of the players that intrigue in the latter half of the draft, a look at the Team, and this month’s Prospect Spotlight dives into the game of
Late Round Swings!
Every year there are picks in rounds four through seven that wind up surprising people a few years later as they enter the NHL and become mainstays on their teams. Whether it was the toolsy winger who found a niche and fit with a team as a productive middle-six guy that becomes the fan-favorite or the steady-eddy blueliner who enters the league younger than expected and just fills in on the bottom-pair as a team goes on run in the back-half of a season, there are always surprises late in the draft.
Sometimes you have to just take a swing on a player that you like and hope that it works out because late in the draft, things can become a bit of a crapshoot. Mark Stone, John Klingberg, Henrik Lundqvist, and Brendan Gallagher were all drafted outside the top-three rounds of their respective drafts and have been stars in the NHL throughout their careers. It’s unlikely that the players below become stars but they are all players who I’ve seen on a number of occasions and just can’t help but envision a role as an NHL player is one role or another. Without further ado, let’s get to this 2020 NHL Draft’s sleeper picks.
Isaak Phillips – LHD – Sudbury Wolves
Playing on a team with one of the best players in your draft year generally helps get eyes on your game but Isaak Phillips was able to fly under the radar a bit this year. With NHL size and good skating ability, the young Wolves defender has plenty of raw potential. He plays a bit of the same style as a Jake Sanderson. A bit understated but effective in all three zones. Phillips’ defensive game is what will get him to the NHL and his skating will help him exceed expectations. The 6’3″ blueliner was often paired with fellow draft-eligible Jack Thompson towards the end of the season and often proved to be the better player as he was able to stabilize the play when Thompson’s play would go awry. In the play below, his defensive play at his own blueline springs a Sudbury offensive chance that Quinton Byfield converts on.
His ability to challenge at the blueline is smart and although he will need to work on his footwork when pivoting, particularly against speedy forwards. He understands his own limitations and identifies when to jump into the offense very well. He rarely leaves his position unguarded, responsibly patrolling the blueline with the speed to pinch down the wall when needed. He may not have an extremely high ceiling but Phillips has a real shot at being a quality number-four defensemen on a team that is in need of a defensive conscience on their backend who can move the puck to the forwards in transition.
Evan Vierling – C – Barrie Colts
This season was the tale to two Vierlings to an extent. Starting the season in Flint after a solid rookie OHL season last year, there were high hopes for the shifty skater and silky playmaker. Then the season started and the lanky center just didn’t seem to have it. He seemed off when he was on the ice and injuries limited how much that happened. Then just prior to the OHL trade deadline, Vierling was sent to Barrie as the prize piece for Barrie in departing with defender Tyler Tucker as the Firebirds were looking to win now with a strong season under the belt to that point. There is a very real chance that Vierling was never fully healthy in Flint because he took off in Barrie!
Going from 10 points in 15 games with the Firebirds to 34 points in 28 games with the Colts, Vierling seemed to be the perfect foil for Tyson Foerster’s goal-scoring touch and the dynamic duo took off! Vierling was able to use his quick feet and high-end vision to find the bomb of a shot that Foerster possesses as he settles into soft spots in the offensive zone. Vierling doesn’t always use his top-speed but he is agile through traffic and breaks out through the neutral zone with the puck on his stick. He will need to build-up his frame as he is a bit thin but the wait could be worth it for Vierling if he slips because of his poor first half.
Zayde Wisdom – LW – Kingston Frontenacs
The most consistent linemate of 15-year-old phenom Shane Wright, Wisdom showed that he wasn’t just ‘a guy’ being held up by a star. He may not have been the catalyst but he did all of the dirty work that allowed Wright and Chromiak (among others) to do their thing in the offensive zone. For every Auston Matthews and Shane Wright, there has to be a Zach Hyman or Zayde Wisdom. Wisdom has decent hands but will need to work on refining things but the young Fronts fan favorite has the work ethic to do it.
Wisdom gets around the ice with some pace but he may need to reign in his stride as it has a tendency to get wild, particularly late in shifts. Wisdom won’t be a guy who steps right into the NHL, likely needing a couple of seasons at the AHL level but there could be a middle-six role at the NHL level. Coaches love players who know their role and do their job and Zayde Wisdom checks all the boxes as the man to get his nose dirty in order to get the puck to his high-skill linemates.
Lukas Svejkovsky – RW – Medicine Hat Tigers
Do you want to have some fun? Watch Lukas Svejkovsky at his best. The uber-skilled forward has hands that can make defenders look silly. His first few steps are as quick as almost anyone in the draft, generating instant speed. Svejkovsky can really get moving through the neutral zone and when he can avoid contact between the bluelines, he is a nightmare for defensemen to handle. He can skate himself into corners at times but he has a feisty side that really gets him battling hard.
The issue with Svejkovsky is that the motor isn’t always on and there are times where he just seems to want to get the puck on someone else’s stick. He rushes decisions at times. He regularly sends passes to the middle of the ice but has a tendency for being a bit over-confident, sending the pass into traffic. There is going to come a point in this draft where someone decides that the gamble on skill is worth trying to iron out the passivity that he has to his game at times.
Maxim Beryozkin – W – Loko Yaroslavl
A big-bodied winger who generates offense and plays a decent defensive game. Beryozkin has a wicked wrist shot and gets it off in the blink of an eye. His passing is fairly simplistic at times but it is effective and he finds open teammates. The young Russian’s biggest weakness is his skating. He possesses good agility and he is strong on his edges but his acceleration is an issue. He has a bit of a short and heavy stride which limits his instant explosivity.
There will be work to do on Beryozkin to get his skating to an NHL-level. The raw potential for Beryozkin is promising because there are elements to his skating that are good such as his edges, agility, and even his top speed. When he is able to get to his top-speed, he can be a wrecking ball. There were more than a few times this season where Beryozkin was able to put his shoulder down and drive to the net, bowling over a defender in the process. If a team takes the flyer on Beryozkin, their development staff will have their work cut out for them but a middle-six scoring winger who plays a power game.
Dylan Garand – G – Kamloops Blazers
At the beginning of the season, Dylan Garand’s name was mentioned near the top of most people’s list of goalies to watch this season. He was coming off a strong rookie season in Kamloops and he was expected to be one of the best netminders in the WHL. He showed composure throughout the season and he consistently found ways to stop the puck. Garand has always been one of the best netminders at his level and showed growth throughout the season.
The Blazers netminder did have the benefit of being a good team who ended up finishing atop the BC Division standings and fourth in the entire WHL. Some have knocked the puck stopper for it but with each additional view of the Blazers, Garand makes it evident that the success of the team wouldn’t be what it is without him. He isn’t as refined as the top guys like Yaroslav Askarov, Joel Blomqvist or Drew Commesso but the top Canadian netminder for the 2020 draft oozes potential and could be a good NHL starter down the line.
The “All Summer-Birthday Second Team”
There are a lot of high-end players with late birthdays (post-July 1st) for the 2020 NHL draft from Quinton Byfield to Jake Sanderson. The ‘All Summer-Birthday Second Team’ features the late birthdays who are likely to be selected outside of the first round. Late birthdays leave room for a bit of extra development time at a pivotal age in the player’s development curve. Drafting a player who is still 17 on draft day is a lot different than drafting a player who is almost 19 years old.
LW Ridly Greig – C Colby Ambrosio – RW Dmitri Ovchinnikov
D Brock Faber – D Wyatt Kaiser
G Jan Bednář
Bednář may not have put up the statistical numbers that many had hoped for this season but the young Czech netminder still shows a ton of promise. He has NHL size and has very good mobility. Bednář is smooth in his crease, transitioning to and from each post with ease and fluidity. He has been a bit inconsistent on occasion but when he is on top of his game, he is a nightmare for the opposition.
The U.S. NTDP defender that has seemed to flow a bit under the radar this season has been Brock Faber. He isn’t a very flashy defenseman but he is an effective puck mover from the back end and a tough defender. He drives shot differentials positively but doesn’t contribute a ton in the offensive end. He has a big shot from the point but doesn’t consistently hit the net. He is a real meat and potatoes player who succeeds in playing low-event hockey.
Wyatt Kaiser is a name that may not be as well known as some of the others on this team but he certainly deserves mention. While not all U.S. high school players are worth the hype that they get sometimes because of the volatility of the U.S. high school competition, Kaiser certainly profiles as a player to keep an eye on. He is an exceptional skater who can control the pace of play. He shows some offensive flash but he profiles as a skilled transitional defender who doesn’t panic and makes quick decisions in transition.
The forward lines are centered by Colby Ambrosio of the Tri-City Storm. The skilled center has a knack for getting open and sitting in the soft spots of the defensive coverage. He has quality puck skills and can be pretty slippery along the walls. Ambrosio has a very good shot and knows how to run a powerplay from the half wall. He likely won’t be the go-to guy on the top unit but he could be a very good second powerplay facilitator. His top speed is impressive but he needs to get his hands to catch up to his feet a bit more consistently. He will be heading to Boston College in the fall which will be the perfect place for Ambrosio to take his time and develop.
Ridly Greig (#17 in yellow above) is a high motor workman-like player who does the jobs that make coaches smile. He is an effective offensive player but likely won’t be a true catalyst. His value comes in doing all of the small things that every line needs. He is a good forechecker and a relentless puck hound. He relies on the powerplay to do his damage but there is no reason he can’t be an effective middle-six player at the NHL level who plays in all situations. He gets under his opponents skin but needs to reign it in at times because he gets himself into trouble from time to time.
Dmitri Ovchinnikov (below, #97) has been fun to watch this season as he has made noticeable improvements in his game throughout the year. He is a skilled and dangerous goalscorer who can play all three forward positions. He is at his best in space and he finds it all over the ice. Consistently attacking the middle of the ice and using a blend of speed and puck handling to cut to the slot. The puck jumps off his stick when he shoots the puck. He needs to build up his frame and work on getting a bit stronger because he can be pushed around a bit. If he can get stronger, Ovchinnikov could be the steal of the draft.
Jacob Perreault: From Sniper to Offensive Catalyst
Sarnia Sting #44 | C/RW | 5’11” | 198lbs | 39G-31A-70P in 57 GP
Coming into the season Jacob Perreault was looked at as a tail-end of the first-round talent who was a very good goal-scorer but had concerns away from the puck and his skating would need to be cleaned up. Fast forward a year and he might be the most improved player in this draft class that no one is talking about.
Perreault’s biggest weapon is and always has been his shot. He isn’t a one-trick pony or a player who has to be set up at the face-off dot waiting for a puck to be put on a tee. Perreault has the one-time ability of a power-play threat and the ability to get his own shot while his team has control of the offensive zone. He has the agility and puck skills to work into space with the puck and then fire a quick snapshot with accuracy. He has the ability to alter his shooting angle with the unique ability to shoot the puck from a variety of stick positions. The ability to pull the puck into his body and fire the puck makes his shot all that more dangerous.
Playing on a struggling team often reveals a lot about a player’s mentality. Where some players would attempt to take the offensive load onto themselves leading to poor decisions, Perreault has actually shown growth in his ability to involve his teammates. His playmaking will likely never be his primary weapon but the young Sting forward has shown improved awareness of passing lanes and how to manipulate the defense to open them up. He often uses his shot to draw defenders in, opening lanes to thread passes to players in or across the slot.
The area of Perreault’s game that has shown the most growth has been his overall skating profile. This is the area that has truly allowed Perreault to blossom as an offensive catalyst. His stride has been cleaned up technically and while there are times where he reverts to a bit slo