Welcome to my biweekly ramblings!
I am proud to say I am now a Junior Editor here at DobberProspects and will be providing some insight into the prospect world every other Friday.
I wanted to start the season off by talking about some 2022 draft-eligible prospects that did not play last season – or experienced abbreviated seasons – due to COVID-19.
Most nights I have found myself electing to watch the OHL – sometimes instead of the NHL – just because of how fascinating it has been to see how far the players have come in their development despite a majority of them not playing hockey for a year.
The London Knights, in particular, have been a very exciting team to watch this season. Led by fourth-year players Luke Evangelista and Brett Brochu, they have shot up the CHL Power Rankings, starting the campaign off with seven consecutive wins.
Something unique is happening in London this year: they are seeing a lot of draft-eligible players play significant roles. Usually, the Hunter brothers like to ease their kids in and let the 19 and 20-year-olds see most of the ice time. However, this season they have six 2022-eligibles all earning their ice time and forcing their coach to run all four lines.
Jackson Edward received a “B’ rating and Colton Smith, Ben Bujold, Landon Sim, Brody Crane, and Isaiah George all receive “C” ratings on NHL Central Scouting’s preseason watchlist, alongside Brochu and re-entry Stuart Rolofs.
This week they added to that total by signing import pick Ruslan Gazizov – who won a gold medal at the Youth Olympics and Hlinka-Gretzky Cup alongside Matvei Michkov and Ivan Miroshnichenko.
The two standouts for me thus far have been Isaiah George and Colton Smith.
George was a top name heading into the 2020 OHL Draft but fell to the fourth round due to his interest in playing college. He has been logging minutes on the first pairing alongside fourth-year Gerard Keane and has not looked out of place. He plays the game with poise beyond his years: he is an excellent four-way skater and provides a calm presence at both ends of the ice. I haven’t seen much offensive flair from him yet, but I would put his pro ceiling as at least a second-pairing defenseman who kills penalties.
As of writing this article, Smith is second in team scoring with six goals and nine points in seven games, including a hat-trick. He was a second-round selection by the Knights and was not projected to explode offensively like this. However, he spent the offseason training with fitness coach Tony Greco, alongside the likes of Brandt and Graeme Clarke, Rolofs and Canucks pick Connor Lockhart and it really shows. His first step looks quicker and he can really rip the puck:
Both are currently listed as “C” ranked prospects by Central Scouting – projected to be picked beyond the third round. Expect that to change.
100 kilometers down the 401-E in Guelph, Matthew Poitras and Danny Zhilkin are two 2022-eligibles who are splitting opinions.
Zhilkin was ranked as a first-round talent in two of the most mainstream lists: Craig Button’s and Sam Cosentino’s. However, he has struggled out of the gate, posting just three points in his first seven games.
Poitras, on the other hand, started the year scoring at a point-per-game pace and was Central Scouting’s only “A” ranked prospect from the OHL not named Shane Wright. He has since cooled off, with just one point in his last four games.
I think Zhilkin possesses more raw skill, but scouts will likely favour Poitras due to his more well-rounded game.
Zhilkin, who won gold at the U18s with Canada last May is capable of producing highlight-reel plays due to the amount of pace and skill he plays with. His top speed with the puck on his stick is impressive:
I was actually at the game when he scored that goal, and it was really the only time I noticed him on the ice – bar a couple of nice moves with the puck. My eyes were instead drawn to Poitras, who was a firecracker every time he stepped on the ice.
The 12th overall pick in the 2020 OHL Draft was constantly engaged in the play: he battled for pucks and used his teammates well. In stark contrast, Zhilkin was prone to floating around and waiting for the puck.
Poitras also possesses good puck skills and can generate a lot of power on his release for a smaller guy:
It will be interesting to see which Storm player gets picked first come draft time. I can honestly see them both being first-rounders. I think a lot of OHLers are going to work their way up rankings throughout the year.
The final player I wanted to comment on is Matthew Savoie, a player long-hyped in scouting circles. It was just two years ago when the Canadian forward was considered for exceptional status, but at the start of his draft year, it feels as if the hype surrounding him is dying down.
While many lists have him as a top-three ranked prospect – including our own – Savoie has been placed in the latter half of the top-10 in many rankings, including Bob McKenzie’s. However, I am having trouble trying to figure out why he’s not seen as a locked-in top-five talent. The only knock on him is a lack of physicality and I really thought we were getting past the belief that small players won’t succeed in the NHL. Brayden Point is a two-time cup champion and players of his stature like Mitch Marner, Alex DeBrincat, Brad Marchand are all all-star caliber players.
This is a player who is arguably the most skilled in the entire class, was over a point-per-game on a poor Dubuque team in the USHL last year, and is one of the top scorers in the WHL this season on the best team in junior hockey, the Winnipeg Ice.
I understand the argument that he might not be a true center in the NHL, but for me, if he slips beyond the top five, someone is going to get a steal.
Thank youfor reading! Be sure to check back in two weeks when I will be projecting my 2026 Olympics rosters!