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Welcome to another edition of DPDR! This week features game reports on Isaac Howard, Luca Del Bel Belluz, Lane Hutson, Jordan Gustafson, and Miko Matikka.
Howard is one of the top offensive players on a stacked NTDP U18 squad, utilizing his blend of high-end skills to lead his team in scoring to this point in the season. With the draft drawing closer and closer, Howard looks like a potential top-10 pick in 2022.
You would be hard-pressed to find a prospect for the 2022 NHL draft who has done more to increase his stock so far this season. A relative unknown coming into 2021-22, he has led the way in terms of scoring among OHL draft-eligbles for most of the season and is currently neck and neck with Shane Wright in that regard.
Hutson is a teammate of Howard’s with the NTDP who is enjoying a productive season as well. He is extremely undersized for an NHL defenceman but his skating ability and offensive skill set could be enough for teams to ignore his size and strength deficiencies.
Gustafson got his draft-year off to a strong start with Seattle in the WHL but his production has slowed a bit in recent weeks. Nevertheless, he remains inside the top-10 in scoring among draft-eligible players in the WHL.
Matikka is a big, powerful winger currently playing in the Finnish junior league in order to maintain NCAA eligibility. He is committed to the University of Denver for next season where he will look to build out his offensive toolbox in the coming years.
Let’s get to it.
Isaac Howard | LW | USNTDP U18 vs. Madison (USHL) | 2021-12-04
0 G, 3 A, 1 SOG, 12:37 TOI
Nick Richard: It’s hard to complain any time a player registers three points in less than 13 minutes of ice time and while Howard showed flashes of the high-end skill that has earned him a place near the top of our draft board, he wasn’t quite as dominant as the stat line might suggest.
Howard’s skating ability was a differentiator in this game. His powerful, technically sound stride allowed him to beat opposing players to loose pucks and there were a number of occasions where he was able to easily gain separation from his man with the puck on his stick. He has great acceleration and was able to open up his hips to receive a pass in the neutral zone before quickly pivoting north, rapidly gaining speed as he entered the offensive zone.
In the offensive zone, he was able to shake checks while maintaining possession and showed off his spatial awareness, getting lost in coverage before emerging in open space as a passing option. I would have liked Howard to be more assertive in getting to middle ice in the offensive zone, however, and that will be something to monitor in his game. There were also a couple of occasions where he was too casual or overhandled the puck, leading to turnovers.
Howard was effective in transition, creating a number of clean zone entries with creative passes. Carrying with his head up to scan play, he has the ability to quickly change the angle on his pass attempt with a slick handle towards or away from his body before dishing through a defender’s feet or triangle. His first assist on the night came off a subtle chip play in the neutral zone where he took a hit to spring a two-on-one rush but his second assist came on one of those slick passes as he sent Frank Nazar between two defenders for a breakaway goal.
Howard manned the left half-wall on the powerplay and was one of the preferred options when the unit was forced to regain the zone. He didn’t create much on the man advantage in this one outside of one hard wrister that found iron. Taking the cross-seam pass, he quickly shifted his body to open up to a shooting position and wasted little time unleashing a heavy shot that beat the goaltender but failed to find twine.
He didn’t really impact the game defensively but had a nice strip on the backcheck in the neutral zone to disrupt an opposing possession. Howard’s greatest attribute on the defensive side is probably his ability to pounce on loose pucks or turnovers and skate or stick-handle them out of trouble to turn play in his team’s favor.
There are games where Howard can be a primary offensive driver and then there are games where he is more of a facilitator or complementary piece on his line. It was the latter on this night but he still managed to find a way to have a positive impact on the game with his high-end offensive skillset.
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Luca Del Bel Belluz | C | Mississauga vs. Niagara (OHL) | 2022-02-25
1 G, 0 A, 2 SOG, 18:50 TOI
Kyle Watson: In the first half of the season, Del Bel Belluz led all 2022 draft eligibles in the OHL in scoring. He is now second to Shane Wright, producing at a 1.25 PPG clip compared to Wright’s 1.44. It is easy to see why: he centers the Steelheads’ top line alongside fourth-year winger James Hardie and plays on the top powerplay unit.
In this game, he and Hardie dominated possession and share of scoring chances. Every time they stepped on the ice, something happened and they looked like they were playing on easy mode against a depleted IceDogs team. It was a good opportunity to get a look at what Del Bel Belluz has in his offensive toolkit: he thrives in tight spaces and loves a cheeky drop pass. He showed great finishing ability on his goal, getting open on the rush and gaining power by dropping to one knee to get more behind the shot. That was really the only look I got at his shot in this game, however, as he mostly tried to set up his wingers. Del Bel Belluz does well transitioning from defense to offense, taking big looping routes back to his own zone, picking up the puck and rushing at the defense. His skating is pro average, but he shows good deception and uses his teammates well to break through the trap.
I can see him continuing to play center at the next level because of how tenacious he plays. He showed good man coverage consistently in his own end and has a very active stick. He is not overly physical, though.
I don’t think Del Bel Belluz is more than NHL average in any category and it is important to consider his late birthday as a contributor to his great production. However, he does show a very well-rounded game and strong enough off-puck play that I can see him as a middle-six center in the NHL. I have no doubt he will post ungodly numbers in his final year in the O, especially if Hardie returns as an over-ager.
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Lane Hutson | LD | USNTDP U18 vs. Youngstown (USHL) | 2022-02-23
0 G, 0 A, 2 SOG, 25:56 TOI
Alexander Annun: Hutson led all NTDP skaters in ice time against the Phantoms as he and Ryan Chesley anchored the top defensive pairing. Hutson brought his typical offensive flair in this tilt as he gained control of the puck in his own end and escorted it up ice a number of times looking to create offense.
Hutson saw plenty of time on special teams in this one, assuming his role as the powerplay quarterback where his stickhandling and mobility along the blue line kept the defense chasing his shadow. He moved the puck well in this one, displaying great vision and precise passing, though he did have one very careless giveaway on the powerplay that gave way to a shorthanded breakaway that ultimately turned into nothing.
The most impressive part of his game in this one was his work on the defensive side of the puck as he won 15/17 puck battles – good for 88% in this tilt – and used his momentum to throw his weight around and knock people off the puck. He looked physically up to the task in this game and did not get pushed around by the larger opposition, and his skating ability made it impossible for them to get around him as he mimicked their every move. Hutson was a suffocating defensive presence in this one as he made good defensive reads, broke up several passes with his stick, and did well to get his body in the lanes to prevent pucks from getting through. He also led all skaters with 12 takeaways in the contest, showing his ability to really step up as a defensively responsible player with a couple of faces missing from the lineup.
Hutson contributed in every facet of the game against Youngstown and with continued defensive performances like that he can expect to garner some interest towards the end of that first round.
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Jordan Gustafsson | C/LW | Seattle vs. Spokane (WHL) | 2022-01-25
1G, 1 A, 1 SOG, 15:55 TOI
Evan Pace: Gustafsson supported his teammates well, found himself open and willing to receive passes, and competed extremely hard in all three zones in this game.
He is able to pounce on offensive opportunities when given the time and space, and uses his vision to find his teammates in good areas to score. He used his solid IQ to find some open space in the slot, where Kevin Korchinski found him for a sweet goal. Gustafson was also able to tally a nice assist in the second period where he came up with a takeaway to coral a rolling puck and found his teammate going to the goal.
At times, Gustafson overhandled the puck in tight spaces. While he can sometimes coast around not affecting the play as much as I would like at times, he is still effective in his ability to support his teammates. All in all, he played a pretty good game where he was able to capitalize on his opportunities and remain effective in various ways.
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Miko Matikka | RW | Tappara U20 vs. Jokerit U20 (U20 SM-sarja) | 2022-02-19
1 G, 1 A, 4 SOG, 21:30 TOI
Eetu Siltanen: This was my first viewing of Matikka this season and he had a solid showing against Tappara. He took a hit to the head in the second period but returned to the game and scored a goal with a great one-timer from the left half wall on the powerplay. He also notched an assist off the rush for the OT winner.
Matikka had a solid offensive game in this one. He made good offensive zone decisions with the puck and was able to generate shot assists. He controls the puck very well, he can be a dangerous shooter, and his skating looked solid for his size but lacked top speed. However, he was injured for the first half of the season which was probably still affecting his game.
Off the rush, he was able to make a few solid zone entries and completed strong passes in transition. However, I’m not sure about his hockey sense as he made some questionable decisions from time to time. On the powerplay, he also tried to force a cross-crease pass in a situation where it obviously couldn’t be done. As I said, this was a solid showing from Matikka but I definitely need to see more and he needs to improve if he wants to be considered a good mid-round prospect.
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