Welcome to my ramblings, where I’ll be writing down my thoughts on NHL and draft-eligible prospects once a week. I’ll be using the ramblings to keep you posted on the week’s events, and let you in on some questions I ask myself often regarding prospects, amateur scouting and player development.
Love to have you back, and hope your week’s doing great! Let’s jump right into it:
Raymond’s Red-Hot Start
First and foremost, I think we all agree that we need to talk about Lucas Raymond. To be candid, I truly thought he’d need a year in the AHL before becoming a full-time Red Wing. I had left him completely off of DobberHockey’s 25 Calder candidates shortlist in the Fantasy Prospects Report as a result, and now with hindsight the list looks incomplete without Raymond’s name on it.
Instead of playing with Grand Rapids, as I had assumed he would at the start of the offseason, Raymond currently leads all NHL rookies in scoring with seven points, including four goals, in six games. This came after a three-goal, four-point night against the Chicago Blackhawks for the Swedish winger, who only turns 20 in March, putting him on a three-name shortlist of teenagers having scored four points in a game with the Wings — a list completed by none other than Steve Yzerman and Gordie Howe.
When Raymond ended his last game for Frölunda in the SHL, I saw a prospect who was still in need of refinement and adaptation, as he still took wide puck routes and played a perimeter game while being easy to mark and push off the puck, but who had also taken a decent step offensively, leading the SHL’s 2020 draftees in points per game. The skill with Raymond, as always, was undeniable, which is why I feared the risk of rushing him on a Wings team that didn’t have much of a shot at anything coming into the 2021-2022 season.
I don’t know what exactly happened in the offseason, but Raymond arrived in training camp with something different about him. He worked through opponents instead of around them, was able to fend off defenders much stronger than him when protecting the puck, and just looked hungry for a goal on every puck touch. Before I knew it, Raymond was the player to beat out for an opening-night roster spot on the Wings, and he ended up starting game 1 on the top line with Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi.
”Stormed into the NHL” is an understatement. Raymond took his shot and ran with it, putting himself in top Calder considerations in a year rife with top-end rookie talent breaking into the NHL. I love to be wrong about this kind of thing; if I had written the 25 Calder candidates list even one morning skate into rookie camp, Raymond would’ve been there. He really blew me away with his offseason growth, and he should continue to put up sporadic multi-point games throughout the season with the amount of power-play time he’s seeing. Everybody and their mother seems to be picking up Raymond in their Fantasy Leagues, and especially if he’s available for free, I don’t see why they shouldn’t. Consistency is more or less the only lacking in his game at this point.
Anton Lundell: Big Brain Hockey
After starting his NHL season with two scoreless games in which he still managed to showcase his defensive game on the penalty-kill, Lundell is now on a three-game point streak, in which he has two goals and three assists. He earned two points in consecutive games against the Lightning and Avalanche, and an assist against the Flyers on Saturday, resulting in a point-per-game pace for the center through five matches so far. In order to encompass what makes Lundell so special, here’s a breakdown of his first NHL goal:
At the beginning of the play, Lundell (#15, White) closes down on his opponent at the top of the screen. Knowing Tampa’s proclivity for the change-of-side pass on breakouts, Lundell positions his stick in the mid-lane and attacks Ondrej Palat from the faceoff-dot outwards, essentially forcing him to stickhandle and fake a board pass before throwing it to the middle. The pass is then less accurate, and Sergachev misses the reception.
As soon as Lundell sees his teammate involved in a puck battle, he angles forward and hides between both defensemen, almost at the perfect distance between the two to maximize space and time once he receives the pass. He then attacks away from the closest (and best) defenseman, Victor Hedman, drawing him in and passing across his feet to find a now-unmarked Sam Reinhart, who throws a nifty one-touch backhand pass back to Lundell who has already opened up his body for the one-timer.
I’ve honestly ran out of superlatives to describe Lundell’s smarts; he just plays Big Brain Hockey. I have yet to see him make an outright bad decision — his intentions are always good, and he knows what he’s supposed to be doing at all times as both a center and a winger. Going into the 2020 NHL Draft, Lundell was often projected outside of the top-10, as scouts and teams questioned his skating ability and how well he would be able to adapt against NHL forwards. He was selected 12th-overall as a result, and in the year following his selection, Lundell has massively improved his stride to the point of it not being a weakness anymore. He is now a center with good skating, unfathomable smarts, a heavy shot, great playmaking, high-end defensive involvement, and a pro frame. What else is needed, exactly, from a top-caliber center?
Lundell was in my top-five most likely Calder trophy candidates, and I’ll double down on that: he is only getting better from here. Even if he misses out on the Calder due to finishing with less points than, say, Lucas Raymond , Cole Caufield or Trevor Zegras, he remains my favorite rookie to watch so far this season. The Panthers’ center line is becoming unfair, and Lundell is a huge part of that.
2022 NHL Draft-Eligibles: Risers and Fallers
I wanted to end this piece by talking about the 2022 NHL Draft’s rich pool of decent prospects, who will be hearing their names called in Montreal come July. Some of these prospects have been going up and down in my personal top-32, which I will be releasing soon on Twitter with in-depth breakdowns of each pick over at The Journey, and I wanted to give you a sneak peek of who will be going where.
Conor Geekie, C – Winnipeg Ice, WHL
Geekie missed out on my top-15 from a few weeks ago, as I still had questions surrounding his ability to play with pace and connect with opponents at high speeds. However, Geekie has shown a side of his game as of late that I just can’t ignore, making transition plays with regularity and carrying the puck with purpose and speed. His edgework still needs fine-tuning, but so did Lundell’s when he was drafted. He’s got a smart streak to his game as well, and can shoot the puck with weight and accuracy, on top of his imposing frame at 6-foot-4, 205 pounds already. He’ll probably sneak his way into my top-10 and stay there until further notice, despite an average start to his WHL season (eight points in nine games).
Joakim Kemell, RW – JYP, Liiga
Kemell was the 10th ranked prospect on my list last month, and I had refrained from ranking him higher up due to the feeling that his production (three goals, two assists in five games) would regress to below a point per game in the meantime, but instead he has surpassed the mark through fourteen games so far, with 15 points which include a whopping 10 goals. The prospect doesn’t seem to want to slow down, and is setting up to have one of the most prolific under-18 Liiga seasons in history. He is the current all-time leader in Liiga points per game for draft-eligible players with 10 or more games played, and he can shoot the puck like few can in this draft. He adds high-end skating and stickhandling to his offensive arsenal, and uses his speed to win puck races and backcheck on the defensive side with improvable consistency. He’s neck-in-neck with fellow Finn Brad Lambert at the moment in my top five, and I can see him surpassing the center if he keeps up this insane production rate.
Ivan Miroshnichenko, RW – Omskie Krylia, VHL
Miroshnichenko’s third-overall ranking in my top-15 from last month isn’t sure to stick, due to a mix of high-end performances from fellow draft-eligibles and more and more evident weaknesses in the Russian winger’s game. Despite his impressive skating and decent offensive tools, Miroshnichenko has lacked in involvement both on and off the puck so far in the VHL, and has failed to earn a noticeable share of points, with only three goals and four assists through 17 games. The prospect will need to find a second or third gear if he wishes to stand out enough to earn a top-10 pick in this year’s draft.
Tristan Luneau, RD – Gatineau Olympiques, QMJHL
A bone-dry start to Luneau’s QMJHL season through five games has him dropping in my rankings, especially since his play hasn’t been matching up to the hype that surrounded Luneau after his Draft -1 season, which saw him earn 18 points in 31 games as a 16-year-old. The prospect’s decision-making hasn’t been up to par so far, and even if he manages to make it work later on, the lack of consistency in that aspect is worrying. You want your blueliners making crisp, smart passes out of their zone, and Luneau will need to adjust. He’ll likely stray just outside of my top-20.
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