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.
A couple of big-name prospects have finally hopped onto the ice for their first steps in the NHL, and what better to do than to delve into their performances so far? We’ll take a look at the top-two picks in 2021, Owen Power and Matthew Beniers, in more depth, then cover the other prospects who earned their debuts in the past few weeks, namely Kent Johnson, Nick Blankenburg, Ben Meyers, and Thomas Bordeleau.
Owen Power, LD — Buffalo Sabres
Power’s NHL debut came as no surprise to anyone who’s watched him even once this year with the University of Michigan — he was ready. No doubt about it. His game was already polished and close to its final product when he was drafted first-overall in 2021, but there were still areas that needed development. Specifics that, had he made the jump instantly, he likely would’ve been too concerned with keeping his roster spot to perfect.
His passing needed some work — patience is one thing, but overhandling is another. Check. His skating habits also needed some work — his stride is sound, but he seemed sluggish at times, taking himself out of the equation on more than one occasion by not skating through his passes. Check.
Now, the Sabres have a transitional ace, with the ability to dominate the small-area game with his back to the play, and dominate the long game when facing it.
Oh, and he’s 6-foot-6, 220-ish pounds. In the words of Kanye West: “Damn, they don’t make ’em like this anymore”.
Through four games, the most recent first-overall pick has earned a primary assist, maintained a Corsi For percentage above 50 (52.73 — via NST), and generally looked like a player way older than his 19 years of age. Although there were moments in which it was clear he still had some things to learn, for a rookie taking his first steps in the league, Power showed a lot of what he could offer at the next level.
As his career progresses, his number of defensive zone starts will increase. Out of his 49 starts so far, only eight have occurred on either side of his own goaltender. It is clear that the Sabres coaching staff is doing its best to give Power positive ice-time to work with, but I maintain that Power is at his best when breaking out the puck. If any rookie should be getting defensive zone starts early, it’s him.
There are still some minor timing issues, as seen on this previous play, but Power is well on his way to becoming a stud on the back-end for the Sabres, hopefully for years to come (after the Eichel saga, you never know, but I digress).
Matty Beniers, C — Seattle Kraken
After earning an assist in his first NHL game, a 5-3 loss to the Calgary Flames, Beniers contributed to the Kraken’s 4-3 shootout win against the New Jersey Devils with his first NHL goal, a net charge that truly exemplified the type of play we’ll be seeing regularly from Beniers for the rest of his career.
Intensity, quick reactions, and paying the price are the three biggest qualities in Beniers’ game. He’s one of the most tenacious prospects to lace them up for the first time this season, and this goal shows the details that make the man. As he cuts around Yegor Sharangovich (NJD #17) to charge the net, notice how his entire body works to rid himself of the Devils forward’s pressure. Even as Sharangovich gives him a solid whack on the shaft of his stick, Beniers applies counter-leverage to ensure that his stick is readied and he is able to pounce on a rebound that hasn’t even happened yet.
Later on, in overtime, Beniers pulls off this sweet piece of magic:
I don’t think there’s a better chair to be sitting in than the one Beniers is in right now. Sitting comfortably in-between Ryan Donato and Jordan Eberle in the top-six is exactly where he should be at this point. The details in his game — the pre- and post-puck touch skating routes, the way he connects plays at high speeds, the intensity — warrant an immediate shot in the top-six on a team which, honestly, could have been much deeper if it wanted to. I’m still scratching my head about the expansion draft, but Beniers is reaping the benefits of that carousel of weird decisions.
If I could choose one quick fantasy rookie pick-up to finish the season, I’d go for Beniers. He’s the prospect with the most likely odds of continuing on a point-per-game pace until the season ends.
Kent Johnson, C — Columbus Blue Jackets
Johnson has been my favorite player to watch on this year’s University of Michigan class, and the entry-level contract he signed with the Jackets is well-earned. A tremendously skilled and creative offensive dynamo, Johnson’s stickhandling and playmaking could make him one of the most prolific scorers in next year’s Calder race. We’re getting ahead of ourselves, though, so let’s focus on his immediate impact.
Zero points in three games so far, let’s get that out of the way. The analytics, though, show a prospect who might just be a bounce away from his first NHL point. His Corsi for percentage (55%) and his expected goals for percentage (52.69% — both via NST) indicates that he’s out-chancing his team and contributing to driving play towards the offensive zone efficiently. It’s only a matter of time before Johnson gets comfortable enough to start performing spin-o-rama passes and ridiculous dekes you’ve never seen before. Especially once he cements himself on the power-play.
Nick Blankenburg, RD — Columbus Blue Jackets
The fourth Michigan alum in a row to feature in his first NHL games this year and the team’s former captain, Blankenburg has been impressive to watch, especially for his style of play. Even though the 23-year-old stands at 5-foot-8, 175 pounds, he doesn’t seem to get overpowered physically, and can box out the opposition surprisingly well for his size. He has some offensive upside as well, and managed to snag an assist in his first NHL game against the Habs.
Great decisions under pressure, especially below his own goal-line, outstanding awareness of his surroundings, and the uncanny ability to absorb a check make up a good portion of what makes Blankenburg an NHL-ready prospect. Within the next few years, the Jackets could have a bona-fide top-four blueliner on their hands.
Ben Meyers, LW/C — Colorado Avalanche
The former University of Minnesota captain led his team in scoring in his senior year, outscoring none other than Matthew Knies by eight points. He then went on to sign his entry-level contract, and has wasted no time at all introducing himself to Avs fans, with a goal and a third-star performance in his first NHL game.
His decent frame (5-foot-11, 200 pounds) helps him make space for himself in the dirty areas and along the boards, and he has a nose for loose pucks that could benefit him greatly as he tries to carve out an NHL role. He likely won’t be much outside of a bottom-six forward, especially not on this stacked Avalanche squad, but his remarkable debut game deserves some recognition.
Thomas Bordeleau, C — San Jose Sharks
Yet another Michigan alum makes his NHL debut. What is in the water at that program?
After signing his ELC and posting three assists in two AHL games for the San Jose Barracuda, Bordeleau quickly earned a call-up and wasted no time getting on the scoresheet, earning his first NHL assist in his first game with the Sharks, albeit a 5-4 overtime loss to the Minnesota Wild.
The 5-foot-9 forward showed some decent feistiness to dislodge a loose puck and keep it alive in the offensive zone, which was an element of his game that was inconsistent in his draft year. After posting a point per game in the NCAA with the Michigan Wolverines, it was pretty clear that Bordeleau’s college days were nearing an end, and his pro career couldn’t be off to a better start.
Big fan of this kid’s game. Pick him up if you can.
Honorable mentions: Bobby Brink, Nathan Smith, Jack McBain
Thanks for reading — follow me on Twitter @HadiK_Scouting for all of your prospect-related needs!