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Welcome to this week’s edition of DP Draft Reports! This week features snapshots of Matvei Michkov, Will Smith, Ethan Gauthier, Ondrej Molnár, and Lenni Hämeenaho.
Even the most casual observers have probably heard plenty about Russian phenom Matvei Michkov. Coming into the season, he was considered the clear number two prospect behind Connor Bedard for the 2023 draft class but a lack of playing time due to various injuries, combined with strong play from several other top prospects, have raised questions about his current standing.
Will Smith of the US National Team Development Program is a highly skilled offensive creator who plays a well-rounded game in all three zones. He has had a stellar start to his season with six goals and 13 assists in his first 10 games.
The son of former NHL defenseman Denis Gauthier, Ethan plays the same bruising style that his dad brought over his 10-year NHL career. He blends that tenacious style of play with a high degree of offensive skill, evidenced by his six goals and 10 assists in his first 10 games of the season with Sherbrooke in the QMJHL.
Ondrej Molnár split time between the top Czech pro league and the junior circuit last season but looks to have carved out a permanent role at the top level in his draft year. He is a playmaking winger who brings energy on the forecheck and has potted a goal and an assist through 10 games to start the season.
Lenni Hämeenaho plays a straightforward, hardworking game. He is getting his first taste of pro hockey in Liiga this season and has performed well for a player his age, picking up four assists through 14 games while playing around 17 minutes per game.
Let’s get to it.
Matvei Michkov | W | SKA Neva St. Petersburg vs. Khimik (VHL) | 2022-10-03
1 G, 1 A, 4 SOG, 13:44 TOI
Jordan Harris: After missing the start of the 2022-23 season due to a knee injury suffered in the summer, Michkov started his campaign in the VHL, outside of one KHL game where he saw less than three minutes of ice time. It looks like the intent of starting Michkov in the VHL was to ease him back into game shape in a league that will challenge him, at least initially, until he’s ready to contribute in the KHL.
This was Michkov’s second VHL game back from injury, and he looked more comfortable than he did in his first game. It was a very quick start for him, showing great pace, compete level, and physicality, and he looked as though he was making a statement. Physicality will never be a staple of Michkov’s game, but it was nice to see him lay a hit early in the first period to show that he was feeling fine physically. Adding to his quick start, Michkov’s passing was crisp, accurate, and well-timed, especially showing off effective one-touch passes in transition. Later in the period, Michkov was hit with a seeing-eye pass down low on the powerplay and roofed the puck past the goalie from his spot on the left flank. For a stretch in the first half of the game, it seemed his line was generating high-quality scoring chances nearly every shift. Michkov was also so effective on the powerplay in this game as he was able to use his elite shot as well as his high-end vision and passing to exploit the penalty kill. Due to Michkov being a scoring threat, the opposition keys in on him when he has the puck and, at times, will break from their penalty kill structure. Michkov has the awareness and vision to identify the open lanes that he creates for himself by his shooting threat and set his teammates up for high-danger scoring chances.
From the end of the second period until the end of regulation, Michkov was fairly quiet. His team was holding onto a 4-1 lead and his engagement, especially in the defensive and neutral zones, started to decrease. Additionally, he and his linemates were struggling to generate the offensive chances at even strength that they created so well earlier in the game. The team relinquished their three goal lead in the third, period forcing the game to go to overtime. In overtime, after a penalty gave SKA the man advantage, Michkov showed off the powerplay prowess referenced earlier and sent a sharp pass through traffic to a teammate who fired it into the back of the net.
Overall, this was a solid game from Michkov as he continued to get acclimated to playing again coming off injury. It’s not the best we’ve seen from Michkov during his rise to prospect stardom, but he flashed a lot of skill and showed that, even after more than a month off, he can still dominate a powerplay. We’d like to see more consistency from Michkov at 5v5, and he’ll need to ramp up his intensity and involvement away from the puck to make a seamless transition into the KHL in time.
Will Smith | C | NTDP U18 vs. Michigan Tech (NCAA) | 2022-10-08
0 G, 2 A, 3 SOG, 17:29 TOI
Evan Pace: Heading into this game, Smith has been on a rampant offensive pace. He has been producing at an elite level and has been an enormous part of the U18 squad’s early-season success. Smith’s ability to exploit bad gap control and take advantage of poor defensive positioning and space was evident from the start. He finds lanes to receive passes and is able to protect the puck well and register scoring chances. As a playmaker, he’s without a doubt one of the best passers I’ve been able to watch this year. He identifies lanes so well and showed it on Ryan Leonard’s goal in the first period, where he manipulated the penalty killers with a fake shot and fired a hard pass across the ice for a one-timer. The offensive creativity was on full display as he utilized cutbacks, no-look passes from behind the net, and manipulative head-fakes to terrorize the Michigan Tech defenders.
From a defensive standpoint, it seems that the defensive-zone structure is pretty rotational, and Smith is able to play both center and wing in his own end. He’s normally able to adapt to movement from his own players and works hard to get the puck back, but in this one, he didn’t show it. There were times of confusion, lack of effort, and engagement, but in past viewings, he’s shown much better two-way effort and attentiveness. He’s proven he can rack up points and handle the physicality against much older competition in the NCAA and USHL. If he’s able to show more consistency in the defensive zone and continue to dominate offensively, Smith will be a safe bet to end up in the lottery or mid-first round.
Ethan Gauthier | C/W | Sherbrooke vs. Moncton (QMJHL) | 2022-10-08
2 G, 1 A, 6 SOG, 19:37 TOI
Hadi Kalakeche: Gauthier displayed the full array of his offensive prowess in a game that saw a ton of penalties on both sides — despite that, Gauthier earned both of his goals and his lone assist in this match at even-strength while playing a key role both on and off the puck on all four of Sherbrooke’s powerplay goals. The game ended in an 8-5 score for the Phoenix, and Gauthier was on the ice for seven of his team’s tallies.
Gauthier’s first goal was a tap-in at the front of the net after gaining body positioning on his man. After three smart interventions to prevent the puck from exiting the offensive zone, he used his high-end reflexes to corral and bat the puck into a wide-open cage on a scramble — a goal that likely wouldn’t have occurred against a better defender. Then, at the start of the second period, he leveraged his speed to gain the offensive zone in possession, faked an inside move, and fired a pinpoint backhand pass cross-ice right on Justin Gill’s stick. The fake opened up enough space and freed up enough time to clear a lane down low for the royal-road pass. Lastly, Gauthier scored the final goal of the game after sending Roy into the offensive zone with an area pass before receiving it back from him near the goal mouth and backhanding it through the netminder’s wickets.
Gauthier’s determination, smarts, and skill were evident in this viewing — he pushed the pace deep in the offensive zone and kept plays alive on his own, he identified his targets quickly and often connected on his passes, and was rarely out of position, if ever. His skating posture needs some work; although he can pick up speed pretty well, his agility and explosivity are limited by a wide stance with slightly extended knees. Fixing that would also help him better engage his core muscles in puck battles and leverage his low center of gravity. Other than his skating, Gauthier’s shooting and playmaking still need some diversifying — something that often comes with experience and is extremely fixable. The rest of his game, though, from his scanning habits to his work ethic, continues to make him look more like a top-20 pick than a late first-rounder.
Ondrej Molnár | RW | HK Nitra vs. HC Dukla Jihlava (Tipos Extraliga) | 2022-09-06
1 G, 0 A, 3 SOG, 16:15 TOI
Sasha Lagarde: Ondrej Molnár is an interesting prospect due to his unique skill set of being able to find open ice, cycle the puck, and provide support both in the offensive and defensive zones. He is often used as a support player, and in this game against Dukla Jihlava, his skill set stood out in the most positive of ways.
Molnár is a pass-first type of player and used his edgework to separate from defenders while scanning the ice at an elite level. He was often the first forechecker into the offensive zone, applying pressure and stripping pucks due to his good stick checks. Molnár always seems to be in the right place on breakouts and is one of the better players at slowing down the play to allow his defensemen to gather their footing in the defensive zone. Due to his great skating, he is excellent in transition as he is a very capable stick-handler. Molnár excels off the cycle in the offensive zone and abused the Dukla Jihlava defensemen all game with his excellent support. Molnár is under the radar because his game doesn’t scream “high-end,” but his IQ, cycling ability, and edgework are some great tools to have in his toolbox going into a full year with HK Nitra. Molnár didn’t showcase his shot in this game but seems to be much more comfortable distributing the puck. We need to see more of his shot so he can open up several passing lanes. I wouldn’t call him one-dimensional, but I didn’t see a shooting threat in this game.
Lenni Hämeenaho | LW | Ässät vs. Jukurit (Liiga) | 2022-10-15
0 G, 0 A, 4 SOG, 17:29 TOI
Eetu Siltanen: Hämeenaho had a big role with a over 17 minutes of ice time against Jukurit. He had a pretty solid game and can definitely handle playing in Liiga full-time, but wasn’t a stand-out player in this game by any means. Hämeenaho is listed at 6-0 on Liiga’s official website, but he looks and plays bigger than that. He played hard, went to the dirty areas, and finished hits consistently. He also showed great net-front presence and was really close to scoring after winning a battle near the blue paint. Hämeenaho’s not a bad skater but needs to add quickness and improve his separating speed. He has plenty of raw skill and the potential to have more offensive production. Hämeenaho showed that skill with one great move and one great hook pass to create a chance for a teammate.
Hämeenaho did come a bit short with some on-puck decisions and creativity but plays a simple game – he puts the puck to the net and works hard to get there himself to create pressure around the opposing net. He’s definitely a promising prospect but left me wanting more offense considering his performance last season. However, he looks like a second or a third-rounder right now, as he could be a relatively safe pick with a solid floor and the upside to develop into a more impactful player.