Ramblings: Zegras Heating Up, OHL & QMJHL Prospects to Watch

Hadi Kalakeche

2021-11-16

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.

Zegras Picking Up the Pace

First and foremost, I wanted us to have a little word about Trevor Zegras. I’ve been a massive fan of his game since before he was drafted, and his performances since have only solidified in my mind the idea that he’ll be something special for years to come. Despite starting the season off cold with only an assist in six games, the prospect has since turned up the heat with seven points in his last eight, including a three-point night against Vancouver in a 5-1 Anaheim win.

It’s not just the points, but how he gets them, that makes me believe in Zegras’ potential as a future 1C: his creativity, honestly, knows no bounds. I could spend the rest of this article breaking down the variety of skills Zegras brings to the table, but I’ll just show his assist from last game instead:

A spinning behind-the-back assist is not a skill we see often from NHL forwards; Auston Matthews and Patrick Kane are among the select few to have this arrow in their quiver. Zegras has that level of inventiveness on the puck. Not only is his playmaking and skating refined enough to find teammates and release pucks in any direction, but his shot is precise and hard to read, making him a true dual-threat offensive contributor.

I’d be astounded if Zegras doesn’t end up being the Ducks’ marquee forward for the next 20 years. This is not just a production outlier — if anything, the long pointless stretches in Zegras’ stat sheet so far should become the anomalies with five years of hindsight. He’s the real deal; even if he doesn’t push his name up into Calder considerations, Zegras should be able to become one of the most inventive and dynamic forwards in the NHL within a couple of seasons.

QMJHL Standouts

Xavier Bourgault, RW/C – Edmonton Oilers

Bourgault’s Draft +1 season is going better than most could have predicted, as the forward has earned a whopping 30 points through 16 games to start the year. He leads his team by a margin of six points, and is tied for first league-wide with the next prospect on this list. What’s more, his 15 goals are also tied for the QMJHL lead.

Despite a concerning amount of knee flare in his skating, Bourgault is able to create good velocity on his strides and shift his weight efficiently from left to right in order to get around opponents. He can already move at above an NHL average level, and has a heavy, snappy shot that can be released from many different positions.

Most especially, the way he reads and reacts to plays in the offensive zone, getting involved with both his stick and body to create multi-possession shifts, is extremely projectable. Not only is he racking up points, but he’s doing so in a manner that can be replicated in the NHL – retrieve, reach the middle of the ice, play across opponents’ feet, always be doing something. That’s the basis of cycle offense, which consists of 60% of the NHL’s goals on average.

The issue with Bourgault is the amount of inefficient plays he makes with the puck — outlandish dekes with little chances of succeeding, shot attempts with three opponents in the way and a wide-open point man, and the occasional impossible pass make his game a bit uncontrolled and erratic. Good decision-making on the puck is one of the most important aspects of NHL hockey; Bourgault might just not be taking the Q seriously, but that still reflects badly on his overall mindset.

 

Joshua Roy, C – Montréal Canadiens

Roy dropped to the fifth round in 2021, and the Habs were able to pick him up at 150th overall. The prospect had showed a decent scoring touch, and was decent off-the-puck, but didn’t show much else that projected him to be the Q’s leading scorer along with Bourgault through 16 games. His skating, which has improved, remains a setback as he has heavy strides and is more comfortable working the puck from a standstill.

However, he has explored his playmaking game even further, which has led to this increase in production; 19 of his 30 points so far have been assists, whereas he only managed 13 of those in 35 games last season. Added power-play time and a switch from the bumper to the half-wall have allowed him to showcase his ability to distribute the puck on a more regular basis, and his ability to create and execute in seams has been clear as day so far this year.

Pretty outstanding for a player who was selected 150th-overall. His impressive showing at the Canadiens’ training camp adds to the intrigue around this potential late-round gem.

 

OHL standouts

Sasha Pastujov, RW – Anaheim Ducks

There is no way Pastujov should have been available for the Ducks to take at 66th overall;  he was the 31st-overall pick on my final 2021 NHL Draft rankings, and I still felt he could have gone higher than I had him. If someone had jumped on Pastujov in the twenties, I wouldn’t have questioned it.

Instead, Pastujov dropped all the way to the early third round, and Anaheim was quick to select the offensive winger and add him to their already-overflowing pool of young talent. After opting to join the OHL for his Draft +1 season, the prospect has lit the league on fire in his rookie season, scoring 15 goals and 12 assists in only 16 games, leading the league in both goals and points (27). The winger’s ability to dominate the half-wall on the power-play and move the puck in simple, intelligent ways makes him a constant offensive threat, and he can rip the puck like few 2021 draftees can.

Deception, manipulation and execution are constantly on display when Pastujov handles the puck, and he can find seams, thread the needle and create scoring chances out of nowhere with his outstanding playmaking. The only setback in his game is a subpar skating stride, but he misdirects opponents so well that it should be less of an issue than it is for most. I have high hopes for this prospect, and so should you.

 

Francesco Pinelli, C – Los Angeles Kings

Yet another prospect who dropped much further than he should have, Pinelli’s selection at 42nd-overall by the Kings contrasts with my 10th-overall ranking of him prior to the 2021 NHL Draft; I was pretty much the highest scout on Pinelli that I could find; most had him in the late teens or twenties. The prospect’s stats so far don’t jump out at you (16 points in 14 games), but the way in which he has earned the majority of his points warrants a mention: I have rarely seen a prospect think the game as profoundly as Pinelli does.

He predicts dilemmas in opposing coverage and benefits from the confusion to make a play no one expects, he finds ways to draw opponents to him at specific angles that open up space, and overall manages to out-think everyone on the ice.

This doesn’t always lead to goals, especially on a Kitchener Rangers team that spends a lot of time on the penalty-kill and that doesn’t have as much offensive firepower as the rest of their division, but the outlook for this prospect is quite high. I never bet against smarts; yes, Pinelli’s skating needs to come a long way if it’s to be considered above-average one day, but any prospect who thinks the game the way Pinelli does has me sold.

 


Thanks for reading — follow me on Twitter @HadiK_Scouting for all of your fantasy prospect needs!

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