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, or let you in on some questions I ask myself often regarding prospects, amateur scouting and player development.
This week, I wanted to review the depth in this draft and evaluate which prospects ranked outside of most top-10s released so far have the highest chance of becoming a star, even at the detriment of their certainty as NHL prospects. The players listed below won’t necessarily be surefire NHLers, but the amount of raw skill and game-breaking talent they’ve displayed so far puts them in a position to be big-time producers if they do make it to the show.
Some of these players should absolutely be in most folks’ top-10, simply because drafting for upside is one of the most strategically sound methodologies in NHL drafting. If I were a GM with 10 top-10 draft picks to make, I’d rather end up with three stars than nine average or above-average NHLers. The former win you championships; the latter are mostly replaceable via trade or free agency, and often mask a team’s inability to develop prospects.
As has happened often recently, fans, analysts and even team staff can simply point to the amount of draftees who make their team and say “See? No development problem here”, without actually looking at how the team was involved in improving the player. Selecting a high-upside prospect outside of the top-10 requires the infrastructure to buff out the imperfections in their game and to further hone the skills they excel in, as well as a perfectly symbiotic relationship between draft, dev, and coaching.
Not every team has that, but almost every team thinks it does.
Without further ado, let’s talk about this year’s sleepers:
Frank Nazar, RW/C — USNTDP, USHL
High: 8 (DobberProspects)
Low: 21 (FC Hockey)
Our DobberProspects scouting team is the only major draft ranking which features Nazar in the top-10, having him comfortably placed at eighth-overall. However, I believe that Nazar’s upside is among the highest in this year’s draft, as the prospect regularly shows a level of creativity and offensive anticipation which could land him a first-line role if his game is polished appropriately. I’d even argue that his upside is higher than his teammate Logan Cooley, who often features in this year’s top-five due to a combination of extremely refined defensive abilities and above-average puck skills.
The first thing that stands out about Nazar’s game is his ability with the puck; his dekes and stickhandles are not only well-timed but adaptable, meaning that if the defenseman manages to read his intentions, Nazar is able to make an adjustment mid-deke to keep the puck away from him. He also prepares his plays by timing his pass or shot with screens or fly-bys, and can find an open teammate through a seam with ease.
His skating and his goal-scoring, alone, should carry him into the NHL. A solid, spring-like stride shows refined posture and mechanics, and his finishing in-tight, on tip-ins, and even from afar make for a promising ability to put pucks in the net, which should carry well to higher levels.
Regarding his lack of defensive consistency, with prospects you sometimes have to pick your battles; I think that focusing on Nazar’s defensive game is taking precious time and focus away from the improvements that will actually make him an outstanding player. He battles very hard for loose pucks, but can sometimes get tunnel-vision and focus on the wrong threat, which is a manageable quirk. Many one-dimensional stars exist (Patrick Kane, Johnny Gaudreau, Patrik Laine