Photo courtesy of the Chicago Steel
It was a fun activity for the 2020 draft class so bringing back Player A vs Player B for the 2021 draft class was a no-brainer! If you didn’t catch the couple from last year, the premise is fairly simple. I asked the Twitterverse to choose two players and have me pick between the two and explain why. I answered almost all of them on Twitter and I am a day late but a few of the most intriguing matchups wind up here! So without further ado, let’s get started!
This is an interesting pairing in that they are two of the most skilled players in terms of raw puck skills and willingness to try a thing or two. The difference between the two is the pace of play and engagement away from the puck. Johnson uses his skill to make himself one of the most dangerous and creative playmakers in the draft. He is quick when he needs to be but the pace that he play’s at mentally doesn’t always match up. His skill and ability to use his teammates helps mitigate that at times but it could be an issue at the next level. Lysell doesn’t have a pace issue on the other hand. His ability to push the pace and attack the defense, making them uncomfortable, really makes him a dangerous player to play against.
The other difference is each of their engagement away from the puck. Prior to his trade to Luleå, Lysell had some concerns with how committed he was to the defensive side of the game but his motor was never questioned. He is an active defender, even when he wasn’t always making the right reads. His growth since the trade has been impressive. He is not only making the effort but he is bringing the same pressuring and decision-forcing style he plays with offensively to the defensive side of the puck. Johnson on the other hand still struggles away from the puck and can get lost in the flow of a game until he finds that space. He has the requisite skill to be an effective two-way player but he doesn’t really have the desire to do so at this early stage of his career.
Decision: I think it was pretty clear from the breakdown but I side with Fabian Lysell here. Both should be top-10 picks and I won’t be shocked to see both fall to the back half of that group but they could easily wind up being two of the top-three players in the class if they hit their ceilings, both among the highest in the draft.
Brennan Othmann and Mason McTavish, two of the best OHL forwards in the draft class, are both playing for EHC Olten in the Swiss League (second-level Switzerland). Othmann has been overseas a bit longer than McTavish, who is just a few games into his tenure, so there is likely some rust being shaken off. They are different players stylistically as well. McTavish is built like a fire hydrant and has a cannon of a shot. He isn’t easy to knock off the puck because of his build and can win board battles when motivated. He does a good job of finding space in the offensive zone so that he can use his shot. He is the kind of player that could earn an NHL paycheque for a decade with his ability to find twine.
Othmann is a bit more of a well-rounded player overall. He has a good shot, particularly his wrist shot, but he is also a skilled playmaker giving him a bit more of a dual-threat factor. He doesn’t have the same level of one-shot ability that McTavish possesses but he is a more mobile player who can generate speed and affect the game in transition a bit more as well. The one area that Othmann had previously lacked was the physical aspect. While McTavish has always been a player who can impose himself physically when needed, Othmann has begun to develop that. Using his body more effectively both in terms of throwing a hit here and there or framing himself into good spots positionally along the boards, Othamnn has benefitted from playing against men this year.
Decision: While the booming shot that McTavish has is intriguing and would be a valuable asset on almost any team, Othmann has developed into a player who can affect the game in so many areas. Whether it be transitionally, in the offensive zone, or his developing defensive game, Othmann has rounded his game out quite nicely.
The battle of the short kings is among us. Robidas and Wilmer are two players that have been the topic of many discussions this year when it comes to whether a sub-5’10 player could translate to the next level. I’ll give my take on that here, addressing neither of their games directly until the decision. For a smaller player to make his way into the NHL and have success, especially if they are not infinitely skilled (ie. Nils Höglander), they need to do a few things at a very high level.
To start, the player has to utilize his body at a high level in battles and not throw their body around. Anyone 5’9″ can generate some speed and throw their body around in junior hockey. You can catch a junior-aged player with a hit like that and accomplish what you intended. When you get to the NHL level, those hits are not there as often and they won’t be effective as a smaller player. You’ll bounce right off of NHL players. Instead, you need to establish body position, use your low center of gravity to your advantage, frame up properly in board battles, use your size to get in and under players in battles. A small player can’t blow players up, they need to out-tactic them in one-on-one battles.
Being a great skater is another factor that goes into a smaller player being able to excel at the next level. Not being a burner isn’t a detriment so long as you have some solid edge work, some quickness, and a consistently high motor. Skating has been proven to be fixable in recent years, and while it isn’t easy, it can be done.
Decision: With all that said, the choice between Robidas and Wilmer is easy for me. While Robidas has the edge as a skater and even a slight edge in the skill department, Wilmer ticks so many more of the boxes for me when it comes to a small player making his game work at the NHL level, even if both may need a long road to get there.
Two of the best defensive defenseman in the 2021 Draft class battle it out in this matchup. The more skilled of the two is Stanislav Svozil. The young Czech blueliner has shown flashes of some really impressive puck skills with the occasional end-to-end puck rush or dangle at the blueline. He is a very good skater who can look effortless at times defending the rush. He does a good job of staying mobile and keeping solid gaps, leading with his stick, and disrupting play. Svozil makes breakout passes with ease and efficiency.
Chayka is a bit more reserved. He plays a stout defensive game and kills the opponent’s offense at every turn. His ability to get into the face of an attacker, be it on the rush or in sustained zone pressure, Chayka is able to thwart offensive pressure with his excellent mobility and good stick. He doesn’t have as much of the puck rushing ability Svozil possesses but he is crisper in his own zone. He has the tools to be more aggressive, it’s just not in his nature.
Decision: This is very tough. They are literally back-to-back on my board and I could be convinced of either if it came down to being the GM who makes the pick. I will default to my draft board at the moment and go with Svozil who I think has a bit more of the boom or bust nature to his game but the stylistic difference in their willingness to get aggressive offensively is what gives him the edge for now.
The Chicago Steel continues to be the London Knights of the USHL as they yet again have multiple players who should be picked relatively high in the draft. This year they feature super-skilled water bug, Matthew “Mackie” Samoskevich, and the stat-filling, offensive producer Matthew Coronato. They are very different stylistically and have very different strengths and weaknesses.
Mackie is a very good playmaker who can drop your jaw with some of the skilled moves he makes to embarrass a defender. He has some of the most fun hands in the draft and you are constantly waiting to see what he tries next. There are some concerns as to how well his skillset will translate and the is a realm of possibility where Samoskevich ends up being a very good junior and college player but never really establishes himself in the NHL. There will need to be a maturing process but the tools and skill make you wonder what could be.
With Coronato, you get a player who doesn’t have the speed or agility that a player like Samoskevich has but he possesses a far more translatable and precise offensive tool chest. He has a very good shot, with a snap shot that can beat goalies from all over and a one-timer that is lethal on the powerplay. He is a very good passer as well, distributing the puck to his teammates all over the offensive zone, looking to put the puck in the back of the net and generate some offense.
Decision: Both players have their warts, including defensive games that leave some to be desired, but Coronato and Samoskevich both bring packages that NHL teams will like. Whether it be betting on Samoskevich maturing his game or wondering whether Coronato is a good bottom-six player or top-six player. With that said, I think Coronato will be an NHL player at some point and I’m not as certain with Samoskevich. I think you can get a pretty solid scoring third-line winger out of Coronato.
Thank you for joining me for another Player A vs Player B. It’s a fun activity and helps drive some discussion! Be on the lookout for my first 2021 NHL Draft Rankings as Managing Editor! I’ll be following a similar outline as Cam Robinson did when he was at the helm. We will also be publishing a new ranking from the DobberProspects Scouting team in early March! There will be MASSIVE changes from our November 1st ranking as we skipped the January edition because of so many shutdowns and pauses over the months of December and January.
You can follow me on Twitter @theTonyFerrari, I’m always happy to chat prospects and talk draft!