Welcome back to Tuesday’s Prospect Ramblings.
If you can believe it, the majority of teams – at least those who have yet to be ravaged by Covid – are, or have already approached the 25% mark of their respected season. What’s crazy? The league kicked off just over a month ago and we are already seeing a select few teams begin to scour through scouting reports to get a sense for this year’s top-half talent.
In such a condensed season, all it will take is a solid stint and you are right back in the mix of things. However, given that all points stay within the division, falling too far behind, even this early, is bound to result in a lottery spot. It’s just the cutthroat nature of operations these days.
Speaking of the draft, there have been some interesting takes regarding the finer details of this year’s draft, which is tentatively set to take place in Montreal this June. The reasons of concern are obvious – with many leagues being shut down for parts, or in some circumstances, all of the year, many prospects have been dealt the short straw with regards to their scouting position.
Of course, if you are a young player coming up through the European, Russian, or NCAA (with exception of a few divisions) systems, you are laughing. However, if you are fighting for a spot in the draft order and play out of the CHL – with an exclamation on the WHL and OHL – it’s been a tough go. This is blown to even larger proportions if you are coming up through one of the various non-major Junior systems, such as the BCHL or AJHL, which in some cases, haven’t even seen exhibition action.
Despite the WHL and OHL making attempts, which sound promising, to kick start a (very) condensed schedule, the argument still stands that there just won’t be enough time to properly evaluate the talent throughout these leagues.
So, what are they proposing?
Of course, this is all hearsay, but there have been some serious rumblings with hosting a mini spring tournament for players to take to part in. This is not anything new, really. With tournaments such as the Russia/CHL Series, various European tournaments, and of course, the WJC, it’s quite common. However, the emphasis would be placed even more so in this year’s event, given the fact that this is a short opportunity to prove that you deserve that coveted first-round selection.
Another option that is being tossed around is the date of the draft itself. Much like they did with last year’s draft (pushed back the date), it has been proposed that the draft be moved to next December or even January, to allow for further scouting time.
Finally, the third rumor that I have come across, and in my opinion would be crazy, is to essentially postpone this year’s draft until next June. At that time, the league would hold two separate drafts within the same week – one of the 02′ draft class and one for the 03′.
While I understand the concept and reasoning behind the idea, I personally feel that this may be a stretch. But I am curious, and certainly willing to hear better reasoning to change my mind. What are your thoughts? If you feel inclined, leave a comment on how you feel about the draft. Do you prefer either option? Should they keep it status quo? Let me know!
To bring it back to the season at hand.
As mentioned, many teams have passed the 25% threshold. Given the timeframe, I believe this is a reasonable allotted time to go through some of this year’s “feel good” (prospect) stories. Each year we have them – last year, we had a Zamboni driver step in and earn an NHL victory, we saw Elvis Merzlikins steal the show and become the only topic for discussion for a quarter of a season and even saw Morgan Geekie produce four points in two games, finishing the season as the leagues All-Time points-per-game producer – yes, he had a full season to gloat about being a higher producer than the Great One.
Here are some of my personal Prospect feel-good stories through the 2020-21 campaign, thus far.
Ty Smith Means Business
There was no denying Ty Smith‘s offensive potential. Given his strong four year (and change) tenure with the Spokane Cheifs, where he amassed 235 points, it did not take a rocket scientist to predict his potential to become a top-pairing, special teams quarterbacking defender. But this quick? Despite being held out of action for the past week (due to Covid), the 20-year-old sits in good company among the league. He is currently firing at 0.89 clip, which trails just a small number of players – all of them in the top echelon of the elite.
Oh, and he’s doing so skating five minutes less than any of the above names. Not only that, but it wasn’t until his last few matches where he had been placed on the top powerplay unit and has yet to play top-line minutes at even-strength (for an extended stretch). He sits as a co-leader in points, second in plus/minus with a plus-four rating, and third with eight penalty minutes on the New Jersey squad.
The future looks extremely fruitful.
Joel Farabee’s Break Out
In the first NHL game, of the first day, Joel Farabee disrupted the fantasy world with an explosive four-point effort. Thus, began the year’s first streaming frenzy as everyone and their dogs hopped on their phones to pick up the second-year winger.
Since then, he has certainly cooled off, at least in terms of four-point performances. However, he has quietly been one of the club’s top silent killers early in the season. He currently sits second on the team in both goals and points, with six and 12 respectively, while he also holds a co-lead with a team-leading plus-six rating. He also sits at the top, along with Andrei Svechnikov, for the league lead in points by a U21 skater and is doing so while seeing third-line minutes (14:19).
At this rate, he has become a must-own fantasy producer and full-fledged difference-maker on the Flyers
Nils “Pepper Pot” Hoglander
He had certainly given us no shortage of highlights before making his NHL debut last month. Whether it was Michigan style goals – two, for that matter – or extremely creative and ankle-breaking dangles, it was evident that Nils Hoglander was an entertaining piece to the Vancouver Canucks pie. However, would his slick, energetic, and hard-working style translate to the NHL immediately? I have been honest in the past, and I will again – I did not think so. Not right away. While I was rooting for him and thought he would trend into a serviceable middle-six forward, I did not foresee what would eventually come.
No, he is not technically “blowing it out of the water” with regards to the points. In fact, with just three goals and seven points on the year, he sits seventh on the team. Yet, on a night-to-night basis, he easily looks like the club’s best player – at least in effort level. He is a waterbug on the ice, who spends his entire shift pressuring puck carriers, skating with tremendous speed and fluidity, and delivers constant headaches for defending skaters.
The fact that he has injected himself into a mainstay top-six role, is as good as a feel-good story as they come.
Is Chicago Good?
Heading into the year, there were no questions about it – the Blackhawks were going too bad. This reality was extended even further when the team announced the absence of their captain, Jonathan Toews, and of course, the hand injury to Kirby Dach during the WJC. There was no hope.
Well, at the time I am writing this, they sit tied for second within their division, with 20 points – keep in mind, they have four more games played than many of the teams – and sport a respectable 8-5-4 record. They are sitting with a minus-one goal-differential, which is surprisingly dead smack in the middle league-wide.
Queue my Kevin Lankinen rant.
Following four “alright” years in Liiga, and two mediocre years in America – which includes stints in both the ECHL and AHL -, I don’t think anyone could have predicted his next chapter.
The Hawks’ were off to a dreadful 0-3-0 start, with a measly minus-10 goal differential when Lankinen made his NHL debut. Although he suffered a 5-4 overtime loss in the start, his 30 save performance would be the beginning of a very respectable run. He’s now established himself as the club’s starting netminder and sports a 6-2-3 record to go with a .925 save percentage and 72.7 quality start ratio.
Who knows how long the fairytale lasts, but I think it’s safe to say that Kevin Lankinen owns the rights for the “feel good” story of the year. If he can somehow manage to backstop this “bad” line-up to a playoff appearance, he may have notched himself a starting job next season. The only thing that could have made this run better for the 25-year-old is if it were a contract year.
Regardless, the questions at large has to be – is he the new Elvis Merzlikins, or the Hamburglar? Time will tell.
With my ramble on the league last week, and Peter Harling’s terrific write up in yesterday’s installment, I won’t get too far into detail with regards to the American Hockey League. However, with the league’s recent “prospect movement”, it’s safe to say that it’s as exciting and healthy as it has ever been.
Let’s just say, I couldn’t agree more with Pat on this one:
Thanks for joining me for another installment. Enjoy the week, be safe and if you would like updates on prospects, follow me on Twitter @hall1289.