2021 NHL Draft: Late-Round Sleepers

Nick Richard

2021-07-21

The top of the draft gets all the hype, but a quick look around the  NHL serves as a solid reminder that there is always value to be unearthed in the draft’s later rounds. In the fifth and deciding game of the Stanley Cup Final between Tampa Bay and Montreal, there were a total of nine players that were drafted in the fifth round or later – including a few that weren’t drafted at all. Hitting on early-round picks is paramount to building a winning franchise, but the final rounds are where having a great scouting department can really pay off.

The DobberProspects Draft Scouting Team has been hard at work all season, watching game tape and discussing prospects at length. Though most of these players didn’t crack our Top 100 Ranked Prospects for the 2021 NHL draft, they all bring something to the table that could see them outperform their prospective draft slot. Here are some of our favorite late-round sleepers:

Ruben Rafkin | RHD | TPS Turku (Liiga)

January 8, 2002 (OA) | 6-0 | 190 lbs

TPS Turku (Liiga) | 48 GP / 4G 12A 16PTS / 36 PIM / +10

Finland (WJC-20) | 1 GP / 0G 0A 0PTS / 0 PIM / 0

Eetu Siltanen: Rafkin, a bit surprisingly, wasn’t selected in last year’s NHL draft, but it seems unlikely that he will go undrafted again this year. Even though Rafkin was included in our scouting team’s top-100, I highly doubt he’s going to go in the first 4 rounds of the draft. So, why would drafting him in the later rounds be good value? Rafkin had a really good season in Liiga for a D+1 aged player, recording 16 points and a plus-10 rating in 48 games, averaging over 17 minutes of ice time per game. He was also one of the leading defensemen in his team’s playoff run for the silver medal.

Rafkin doesn’t shine in any particular area, but he is versatile and balanced without a notably weak area in his game. He skates pretty well, can keep up with the pace of the game, and has good hockey sense. He brings a hard physical presence to the game even though he’s not the biggest player as well. He is a two-way defender without much offensive upside but still has solid puck skills and a heavy slap shot. He also showed some good vision with strong breakout passes in my viewings. He could potentially be a really solid bottom-four defender with penalty killing ability, supporting a more offensively inclined partner at even strength.

Linus Sjödin | C/W | Rögle BK (SHL)

October 2, 2002 | 6-0 | 168 lbs

Rögle BK (SHL) | 22 GP / 1G 0A 1PTS / 0 PIM / -5

Rögle BK J20 (J20 Nationell) | 19 GP / 5G 13A 18PTS / 37 PIM / -1

Samuel Tirpák: Sjödin is the type of player I really enjoy watching. I am a big fan of smart defensive players who leverage that defensive side to create offense and counter-attacks. He has the speed and skating technique to become a super effective two-way player at the next stage in his development. He is also a very intelligent defensive player. He defends the neutral zone with great detail and can recognize patterns in the opposition’s offensive game, executing a plan to negate that attack and help his team regain possession. In the defensive zone, he uses his stick very well and is very smart in reading passing lanes.

I would say the thing that would make him not so desirable is his offense. He is not very creative and leaves a lot to be desired with the puck on his stick. However, he has produced against his peers each season, and I believe this trend will continue at the SHL level next season. He projects as an ultra responsible two-way center or winger and could be a potential steal for a team that values those qualities.

Danila Klimovich | C | Minskie Zubry (Belarus Vysshaya)

January 9, 2003 | 6-1 | 187 lbs

Minskie Zubry (Belarus Vysshaya) | 37 GP / 28G 24A 52PTS / 40 PIM / +8

Dinamo-Molodechno (Belarus) | 6 GP / 1G 0A 1PTS / 0 PIM / 0

Belarus (WJC-18) | 5 GP / 6G 0A 6PTS / 4 PIM / -4

Belarus (WC) | 3 GP / 0G 0A 0PTS / 0 PIM / -3

Eetu Siltanen: Klimovich had a strong showing in the U18 Worlds, where he scored 6 goals in 4 games while displaying his excellent wrist shot and great puck skills. His U18 performance also earned him a spot on Belarus’ Men’s Worlds team, where he also had a solid tournament despite being held off the scoresheet. He showed great effort and even managed to flash some of his offensive skills and smarts, albeit playing for one of the weakest teams in the tournament.

Klimovich’s obvious strengths are in his offensive game and point-producing ability. As mentioned, he has great puck skills and was able to dance around players multiple times in U18’s. He also has a crazy wrist shot; it releases quickly and is extremely heavy. It might be a bit of a bold statement, but in my books, his shot is top-20, even top-15 in this entire class. He has the size and work ethic, and he doesn’t seem to have problems with the physical game. His game is mostly based on skill, so he definitely needs to simplify so when moving to higher levels. He is a bit of a risky pick but has legitimate upside. If he reaches that upside, which is definitely not certain, he would be a top-nine player, maybe even a top-six player. His shot should also make him a powerplay weapon at the NHL level.

Ty Gallagher | RHD | U.S. U18 (USNTDP)

March 6, 2003 | 6-0 | 190 lbs

U.S. U18 | 48 GP / 14G 13A 27PTS / 37 PIM / +6

Nick Richard: Gallagher is a well-rounded defenseman with decent size who put up good numbers with the USNTDP U18 team this past season. He is committed to Boston University for the 2021-22 season, and it will be interesting to monitor how his game translates against more mature competition.

The first thing that stands out about Gallagher is that he really likes to shoot the puck, and he does well to create lanes to get pucks through. He can find a path to get a quick wrister through or drift out of coverage to make himself available to fire off a heavy one-timer. He is a capable playmaker inside the offensive blue line as well, and he will have to do a better job of picking his spots to shoot or pass as he continues his development. Gallagher gives a solid effort defensively, and he isn’t shy about engaging physically, but his overall defensive game is still a bit of a work in progress. There might not be anything exceptional about his game, but there is a solid base of skills to build off of, and Gallagher could develop into a solid NHL defender in the proper development system.

Marcus Almquist | W | HV71 J20 (J20 Nationell)/ Rødovre (Denmark)

September 13, 2003 | 5-7 | 168 lbs

HV71 (J20 Nationell) | 19 GP / 10G 13A 23PTS / 37 PIM / +7

Rødovre (Denmark) | 19 GP / 5G 1A 6PTS / 2 PIM / –

Eetu Siltanen: Almquist played in two different leagues this season. He started the season with HV71’s U20 team in Sweden, but after their season got canceled due to the pandemic, he moved back to his home team, Rødovre, on loan. He was 2nd in points amongst draft-eligible players in J20 Nationell before the season got canceled, leaving names like Robertsson, Strömgren, Rosén, and Lysell behind. That just shows how good of a point producer he can be.

Almquist is an all-offense player and is an all-or-nothing draft pick. He’s an extremely fast and agile player with great goal-scoring touch, utilizing an accurate wrist shot with a quick release. At his best, he is relentless on the forecheck and can force turnovers from the opposition. But, in the defensive zone, he is usually very inactive, and his possession numbers are just, in a word, bad. He can leave you speechless with his offensive zone showings and then scratching your head with some decisions at the other end of the ice. He’s also extremely small at 5-7 and is really easy to knock off the puck. As mentioned, Almquist has a high ceiling but a really low floor and is an all-or-nothing draft pick. He either becomes a top-nine NHL point producer or doesn’t become an NHL player at all. 

Jiří Ticháček | LHD | Rytiri Kladno (Czech2)

January 30, 2003 | 5-9 | 170 lbs

Kladno (CZE2) | 17 GP / 0G 2A 2PTS / 6 PIM / +4

Kladno (CZE U20) | 2 GP / 2G 2A 4PTS / 0 PIM / +3

Czech Republic (WJC-18) | 5 GP / 0G 0A 0PTS / 4 PIM / -4

Samuel Tirpák: Ticháček is one of those guys who seems likely to fall further in the draft than they should, primarily due to his height. We see it every year. But don’t let his 5-9 frame fool you; he is more of a defense-based two-way player than an offensive one. He is a great all-around skater with solid technique and four-way movement, but he needs to get a little stronger to handle corner and net-front battles much better. His offensive upside is based around his movement on the blue line, with which he creates space for himself and his teammates.

Defensively, he consistently maintains intelligent gap control and anticipates forward movements extremely well. He uses great positioning to cheat his size a little bit and cuts off lanes that a player of his size wouldn’t usually be able to. He led all draft-eligible skaters with a 57.75 CF% at even strength, playing mostly a shutdown role at the pro level with 47.14% OZS ratio, which shows how impressive he was. I expect him to go a little late based on his size, but whoever drafts him is getting a potential gem, both as a player and as a person.

Florian Elias | C  | Adler Mannheim (DEL)

August 7, 2002 (OA) | 5-8 | 170 lbs

Adler Mannheim (DEL) | 34 GP / 3G 5A 8PTS / 12 PIM / -1

Germany (WJC-20) | 5 GP / 4G 5A 9PTS / 4 PIM / -2

Eetu Siltanen: Elias is a pretty similar case to Rafkin. He went undrafted last year, but I don’t see that happening this year. Elias had a good season with Adler Mannheim’s DEL squad, scoring eight points in 34 games. He also represented Germany at the World Juniors, having a fantastic tournament on a line with Tim Stützle and JJ Peterka, scoring four goals and five assists.

Elias is an undersized player who skates well, but he could still improve his mobility as a smaller player. He is an intelligent player with great hockey sense who reads the game very well and anticipates situations well. He’s creative and makes plays happen. Elias also has a good motor, being a relentless forechecker, and plays a responsible two-way game. He has a solid wrist shot and was able to score goals with it when presented with a good scoring chance. The concerns are definitely in his physicality and the fact that he’s a center as small centers don’t work out in the NHL too often. However, this was a good D+1 season for a late-round pick, and if he can continue his development, he could definitely become an NHL player.

Lukáš Pajer | C/W | HC Litomerice (Czech2)

July 4, 2003 | 5-10 | 176 lbs

HC Stadion Litomerice (CZE2) | 12 GP / 3G 4A 7PTS / 6 PIM / +7

HK Hradec Kralove (CZE U20) | 5 GP / 4G 3A 7PTS / 2 PIM / +7

Czech Republic (WJC-18) | 5 GP / 2G 1A 3PTS / 2 PIM / -6

Samuel Tirpák: Pajer is an offensive dynamo that creates scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates at an incredibly high rate at the pro level in CHANCE Liga. He is a solid skater with almost no flaws in his stride. However, he needs to add that separation speed in the next couple of years in his development to fully push his offensive game through. At 5-10, he is not the tallest guy in the world, but he uses every inch of his body to protect the puck when he is creating space and opportunities in the offensive zone. Pajer’s understanding of space and timing when attacking the opposition is truly outstanding. In 12 games at the pro level, Pajer was creating 4.88 individual scoring chances at even strength per 60 minutes of ice time.

That was third in this year’s draft class, behind only Petr Moravec and Adam Měchura. He has incredible vision, and his offensive prowess was the reason he led all draft-eligible players in points per 60 with 3.05. He was the only skater that surpassed the three points per 60 mark. Only one other eligible had above two points per 60, and that’s highly touted forward Martin Ryšavý. Pajer’s weird usage with over 40% of starts in the defensive zone makes me even more excited for what’s to come with his production in the correct usage scenario. He has his flaws, mostly from the defensive side of the game, and lack of separation speed, which should be addressed.

Joshua Roy | C | Sherbrooke Phoenix (QMJHL)

August 6, 2003 | 6-0 | 190 lbs

Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL) | 15 GP / 9G 8A 17PTS / 2 PIM / -4

Sherbrooke Phoenix (QMJHL) | 20 GP / 13G 5A 18PTS / 2 PIM / -12

Nick Richard: Roy has been a solid contributor in his first two seasons of Major Junior hockey but hasn’t quite lived up to the expectations bestowed upon him as a former first overall pick in the QMJHL. A midseason trade saw him go from Saint John to Sherbrooke where he put his goal-scoring ability on display but failed to rack up big point totals.

Roy is a great shooter capable of beating goaltenders cleanly at the junior level and has decent vision with the puck on his stick. Though he is creative when handling the puck, he gets caught watching all too often when he doesn’t have it. His skating stride is riddled with poor mechanics, and lacks explosiveness, and that is compounded by the fact that he struggles to process the game quickly enough to take advantage of his offensive skills at the next level. If he can learn to play with better overall pace and make smarter reads away from the puck, he could develop into a powerplay specialist that can handle sheltered minutes in the NHL. There are many warts in Roy’s game, but his natural scoring ability will garner plenty of interest at this point in the draft.

David Gucciardi | LHD | Waterloo Black Hawks (USHL)

October 9, 2002 | 5-11 | 161 lbs

Waterloo Black Hawks (USHL) | 29 GP / 7G 10A 17PTS / 51 PIM / -2

Youngstown Phantoms (USHL) | 4 GP / 0G 3A 3PTS / 0 PIM / -1

Samuel Tirpák: Gucciardi is one of my personal favorites in the later stages of this draft. He is an offense-based two-way defenseman with a lot of translatable traits, such as very effective skating, which leads to very intelligent movement with and without the puck and recognizing when to jump into the rush or when to stay back. With players who possess high upside similar to Gucciardi, there are obvious risks for their selection.

Gucciardi has a very well-rounded skill set besides the obvious offensive game. He has good gap control and defensive awareness most of the time. However, he makes costly mistakes at times, which is one of my knocks on his game. He needs to be more consistent. However, he progressed in that department well throughout the year with Waterloo of the USHL. It will be a long road for Gucciardi to get to the NHL, but I believe he has the toolkit to make it happen.

Dario Sidler | RHD | EVZ Academy (SL)

June 4, 2003 | 5-7 | 159 lbs

Zug U20 (U20-Elit) | 20 GP / 3G 11A 14PTS / 10 PIM / +11

EV Zug (NL) | 7 GP / 0G 1A 1PTS / 2 PIM / +2

EVZ Academy (SL) | 24 GP / 1G 5A 6PTS / 10 PIM / -5

Switzerland (WJC-18) | 5 GP / 0G 3A 3PTS / 12 PIM / +3

Eetu Siltanen: Sidler had a solid season in Switzerland’s second league, playing games in the Swiss juniors and a couple in NL. He had solid numbers in all three leagues and was also was one of his country’s leading players in the U18 Worlds, scoring three assists and even finishing the tournament with plus-3 -rating.

Sidler’s a really undersized but skilled and mobile two-way defender. He skates with agility and speed, moving the puck very well. He has solid puck skills and can utilize them to get out from under the pressure of opposing forecheckers. For his size, his physicality is solid, but unfortunately, size is a big factor in his game. He struggles in battles against bigger opponents, and clearing the net-front against men was almost impossible for him. He controls the puck pretty well on the rush but with his short body and stick, that’s not always easy for him. Sidler’s a real long shot for sure but has some real upside. On the other hand, his NHL certainty and floor are really low.

Connor Kurth | W | Dubuque Fighting Saints (USHL)

July 30, 2003 | 5-11 | 214 lbs

Dubuque Fighting Saints (USHL) | 52 GP / 15G 26A 41PTS / 26 PIM / -8

Nick Richard: Kurth had a productive rookie season in the USHL, finishing third in team scoring with 15 goals and 16 assists in 52 games for Dubuque. As one of the younger players in this draft class, that type of production is difficult to ignore, and he will look to build off of his strong campaign when he begins his collegiate career at the University of Minnesota next season.

Kurth has plenty of offensive skill. He is a smooth puck handler with quick hands, able to deceive defenders with sharp fakes and execute plays under pressure. He has a good shot that is aided by his soft hands, which allow him to release the puck quickly and accurately. Kurth is a physically mature player, especially for his age, and has the strength to play through traffic or win battles along the boards, but his skating isn’t where it needs to be. He is a stiff skater with poor posture, and improving his overall mobility will allow him to unleash his offensive toolkit as he progresses up the ranks.

(Statistics from EliteProspects.com)

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