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.
As we’re approaching the final stretch of the 2021-2022 season in most leagues, I thought it’d be interesting to take a look at some of the drafted standouts from the major North American development circuits. The QMJHL, OHL and WHL have churned out more than their fair share of top prospects, and although the scoring leaderboard doesn’t paint a full picture, you’re more likely to find an NHLer at the top of it than at the bottom.
The uncertainty of those leagues’ continuity throughout COVID-19 has also led more prospects than usual to look towards the American collegiate circuit for their development paths over the past few years. We’ll take a look at the NCAA rookies who have made a name for themselves this season, and see where their paths should lead them moving forward.
Joshua Roy: King of the Q
An August birthday, in his Draft +1 season, is leading the QMJHL by a margin of 10 points, and putting up the best Draft +1 point-per-game average (1.97) since Jonathan Drouin and Anthony Mantha — the third-best in the past 20 years.
That prospect is 2021 fifth-round pick Joshua Roy.
The Canadiens’ prospect returned from the league’s COVID-related break on February 4th and has accumulated 26 points in only 10 games since then, bringing his season total up to 73 points — 25 goals, 48 assists — in 37 games. Initially lauded for his above-average scoring ability, Roy has managed to prove that his playmaking might just be the superior asset of his game, as his ability to pre-scan and set up his teammates immediately upon reception, as well as his ability to delay and find tougher lanes, have truly been impressive.
When Roy gets the puck, things happen. He might not be the biggest, nor the fastest, but his processing speed leaves nothing to be desired. His creativity with the puck is also an outstanding asset. When looking at the elements that made him available at 150th-overall for the Habs to pick up, skating deficiencies, laziness, attitude problems and poor conditioning were brought up very often. Looking back, knowing that Roy is a francophone and had no other choice than to go play in Saint John, NB when they picked him first-overall in the QMJHL draft, I can see how that would affect a 16/17-year-old, especially during a pandemic. The skating concerns, though, there’s no denying those. Posture, explosivity, agility, all need work before he can be considered a blue-chip prospect.
After his trade to the Sherbrooke Phoenix, it took Roy a half-season to ease into his environment, but his game shape is obvious now. He went from being overweight to being on the leaner side over the summer, and despite a month and a half without the physical strain of the QMJHL schedule, Roy came back and actually looked even better. Sometimes, all a prospect needs is a change of environment and proper training entourage to completely change his outlook. Make no mistake: this is a steal by the Habs, and it has Yannick St-Pierre written all over it.
Wyatt Johnston: Leading the Way in the OHL
Dallas Star center prospect Wyatt Johnston’s season so far has him in the top-three for points per game, and leading the way in overall production by a point with four games in hand on the runner-up. He has tallied 29 goals and 56 assists for 85 points in only 46 games on a Windsor Spitfires team which he has outright been carrying, surpassing the second-best scorer on the team by a difference of 34 points (Matt Maggio, 52 points in 44 GP).
The 23rd-overall pick in 2021 will look to keep his streak going and continue to be the primary offensive driver on his team. His shot is whippy with a short release that masks his aim, his playmaking allows him to direct plays to dangerous areas on a regular basis, and he has a polished defensive game on top of that. I’m not sure if there’s top-line potential here due to a lack of high-end vision and craftiness, but he’s a very efficient forward with the ability to make things happen on every shift.
Logan Stankoven Tops the WHL Leaderboard
Sitting atop the WHL in points-per-game is center Logan Stankoven, with a total of 29 goals and 43 assists for 72 points in 43 games. The Dallas Stars second-round pick sits tied for third in the league for points overall, and doesn’t seem anywhere near slowing down. His high motor and goal-scoring touch have continued to be the main drivers of his production, and the prospect has added some consistency in his playmaking flair that wasn’t as prevalent in his draft year last season.
His ability to corral bad pucks and retain possession has helped him a lot in that aspect, as the forward finds himself barrelling down on the slot with possession with regularity. His play-reading has helped him pick more than his fair share of passes off, and although his first instinct remains to shoot, Stank is getting a lot more comfortable distributing the puck from the dot lanes. He also has a set of hands that make you wonder how he dropped to 47th-overall in last year’s draft (spoiler: he’s 5-foot-8).
This kid has a bright future. A lot of the intangibles that short kings need are there — feistiness, high physical and mental pace, scoring touch, hands, off-puck movement, and so much more. If his skating posture can be rectified, he might just become even more of a cannonball out there. His motor already compensates for his mechanical shortcomings; I can only imagine what he could do without them.
NCAA Freshman Standouts
A lot of new faces have surfaced in the NCAA this year, and among them are some of my favorite prospects from the 2021 NHL Draft. We’ll look at two prospects in particular more closely, and add a couple of honorable mentions just for good measure.
Scott Morrow, RD — UMass-Lowell
The Carolina Hurricanes’ 40th-overall selection has managed an outstanding Draft +1 season in the NCAA, earning a mind-boggling 12 goals and 18 assists in 31 games so far this year, becoming the first freshman and fourth blueliner in UMass history to reach 30 points in a season. The prospect’s offensive game has been on full-throttle this year, as he regularly displays his ability to skate, fake and dangle his way through anything and anyone in his way. He baits opponents one way, and exploits their ankles the other, ensuring that the puck stays as far away from their reach as possible. Not only that, but he mans the blue line like very few 19-year-olds do at his current level.
He’s displayed a level of offensive consistency that few defense prospects can boast, only getting kept off the scoresheet in eight of his 30 games. The level at which Morrow manages to play the game offensively has me wondering how he was passed over 39 times, especially when his play without the puck isn’t abysmal. There are still growing pains, mostly in his in-zone defending and physical play, but the blueliner uses his speed and four-way mobility to close gaps wherever he finds them, making time and space a rarity for his opponents.
If Morrow keeps going like this, he’ll be hard to knock as one of the NCAA’s top defensemen next year, especially if Owen Power and Luke Hughes aren’t there to steal his thunder.
Matthew Knies, LW — U. of Minnesota
The Leafs’ second-rounder in last year’s draft has been lights-out for the Golden Gophers through 28 games, with 10 goals and 17 assists so far. The prospect’s size and execution speed blend well with his high-end edgework, making him one of the best prospects in the NCAA at manning the boards and getting off of them. He loves to gain the middle and shield the puck, using his reach to keep the puck out of reach and makes his way to the net often due to an increasingly-growing bag of skills, and has one of the most impressive finishing touches in the league as well.
If he can make his playmaking click at a more consistent level, there won’t be many weaknesses left to speak of in Knies’ game. The Leafs continue to impress with their Day 2 drafting, and have in their hands a gem to polish and work with extensively. Top-line, middle-six and bottom-six NHL forward are all possiblities at the moment for the 6-foot-3 winger.
Honorable mentions: Josh Doan (ARI/Arizona State), Luke Hughes (NJD/Michigan), Mason Lohrei (BOS/Ohio State), Carter Mazur (Undrafted/Denver)
Thanks for reading — follow me on Twitter @HadiK_Scouting for all of your prospect-related needs!