Prospect Ramblings: Thoughts on Nazar and Farrell; Buying Low on Bourque, Bourgault, and Brisson

Ben Gehrels

2023-02-22

Cover credit: usahockeyntdp.com

Welcome back to my weekly ramblings, where I will provide news and updates, highlight intriguing prospects, and generally track the development of junior players across the hockey world.

After being held out all season due to a lower-body injury, the illustrious Frank Nazar III (CHI) has finally returned for UMichigan (NCAA). He has a couple points in four games and will have to get up to speed quickly as the Wolverines enter the Big Ten Quarterfinal series just over a week from now.

Great to see him back on the ice flashing a bit of sass.

As you may remember, Nazar received high praise in the public scouting sphere ahead of the 2022 draft, standing out as one of the more skilled, offensively dynamic players available: Dobber Prospects ranked him fourth overall in our final rankings, while Elite Prospects awarded him the highest ceiling and best transition forward in the crop—plus second overall in straight-line skating, problem solving, and vision. High, high praise.

He is an elite skater and creative, deceptive puck handler whose game has often been described along the lines of “controlled chaos.” In fact, in a recent interview, Nazar professed to feeling most comfortable in “those chaos moments”—presumably because that is when systems break down and things can happen. That idea makes me think of a phrase from Coach Martin St.Louis’ first interview after becoming Montreal’s Head Coach: “I want my players to make great reads. Great players make great reads. When a great player isn’t able to make a read, he becomes an average player.”

Nazar excels due to his combination of high-end tools and the ability to make reads, process reactions quickly, and surprise his opponents by doing something unexpected. His draft-year production (70 points in 56 games) did not exactly blow the doors down, especially when comparing his scoring rate to the top four from this year’s USDP, but he finished third on the team right behind Logan Cooley (ARI). The Blackhawks traded Kirby Dach, their former third-overall pick, for the right to select Nazar at 13th overall, so they clearly believe in his potential. 

The rebuild in Chicago will be long and painful but Nazar remains a high-end fantasy asset—particularly if you are managing a rebuilding dynasty team that doesn’t need meaningful NHL production from him over the next few years. He has a chance to be a central piece of whatever roster eventually rises from the ashes of the Kane-Toews era.

Sean Farrell is going absolutely bonkers in the NCAA this year. His 46 points in 27 games is just a few points behind Adam Fantilli (2023) for the nationwide scoring lead. Farrell is in his D+3 campaign, of course, but his production has impressed at every level. He slipped to the fourth round in 2020 because of size concerns (he’s 5-9) but has looked dominant against his peers all along—an increasingly familiar narrative, isn’t it?

He has displayed outrageous chemistry all year with linemate Matt Coronato (CGY), the triggerman to Farrell’s inspired playmaking. Here they are connecting in the Beanpot final against Northeastern, which Harvard ultimately lost in a shootout. Farrell laps a perfect one-touch pass past—count them—four defenders’ sticks. Talk about finding a seam!

Farrell’s tracked data shows that he still struggles breaking up plays in the defensive end but excels in transition and creates scoring chances at an exceptional rate. He is an elite distributor with a high-end offensive skillset. Odds are his game will translate smoothly and quickly to the pro game—provided he can handle the physical demands and defensive responsibilities. Look for him to take a spin in a Habs jersey in the near future.

Farrell sits well outside Dobber’s Top 100 Forward Prospects list at 138th but continues to make Montreal look smart for grabbing him in the fourth round a couple years ago. He has solid NHL potential as a Jesper Bratt type who could put up assist-heavy buckets of points under the right circumstances.

Surveying the fantasy landscape right now, there is a ton of value available through buying low on underperforming AHL rookies. Between slots 10 and 50 on Dobber’s Top Forward Prospects list are players like Hendrix Lapierre (11th/WAS, 23 points in 47 games), Mavrik Bourque (28th/DAL, 28 in 47), Xavier Bourgault (31st/EDM, 26 in 50), and Brendan Brisson (33rd/VGK, 19 in 38) who are all averaging around half-a-point per game.

Of those four, I actually like Lapierre the least even though he currently has the highest rank. He has always been more of a playmaker than sniper (fewer shots), does not play overly physically (fewer hits), and is set to enter the NHL just as the Capitals embark on a major rebuild in the post-Ovechkin/Backstrom years. Washington’s pipeline is pretty grim, so there is not a lot of help on the way either. Unlike teams like Chicago who have already blown things up, the Capitals look set to push for another few years still on the backs of a core now firmly in their mid-thirties. See what you can get for Lapierre on the open market if anyone is interested.

I see Bourque, Bourgault, and Brisson as a tier or two beneath blue chip—meaning their points ceiling and/or NHL certainty are a bit lower than the very best prospects—though still possessing high-end upside under the right circumstances. Given that Bourgault is in the Oilers system, there is always the possibility he comes up and plays Jordan Cheechoo to Connor McDavid’s Joe Thornton, potting 50 goals out of nowhere. That narrative fails to materialize far, far more often than otherwise, however: as with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin for the Penguins over the years, there has been a rotating cast of Oilers wingers who have squandered their chance to be the next big thing. Perhaps Bourgault can emerge from the fray victorious like Jake Guentzel eventually managed, but I’m not holding my breath—or investing a ton in acquiring him.

Bourque was made to play in a team’s top six and is smart and versatile enough that he could excel quickly at the NHL level if given solid deployment. Dallas feels increasingly crowded but are a young team on the upswing and Bourque could play a role in them taking another step forward.

It is hard to say where Brisson might fit into Vegas’ lineup. They are a foggy team to me: at first they were a band of nobody’s who came together to create a fast, scrappy brand of possession hockey that took the league by storm. But then they shipped off tons of the capital acquired through drafting and trading (Nick Suzuki, Cody Glass, Erik Brannstrom, Alex Tuch, Peyton Krebs, Marc-Andre Fleury) to bring in big names like Max Pacioretty, Robin Lehner, Shea Theodore, Alex Pietrangelo, Mark Stone, and Jack Eichel. That group aged the team, changed their chemistry dramatically, and put them right up against the cap—to the point that they were forced to trade Pacioretty to Carolina for next to nothing.

Young players have traditionally struggled to make the roster of this “new and worsened” Golden Knights team. Now Brisson, Pavel Dorofeyev, and Lukas Cormier are the only prospects of fantasy significance left in a once-robust pipeline. Wingers Phil Kessel (UFA) and Brett Howden (RFA) are the only forwards whose contracts expire after 2022-23. If they move elsewhere, Mark Stone returns from injury, and Paul Cotter is used (perhaps more effectively) in a third-line grinding role, we could see a top nine that includes Brisson in 2023-2024:

Reilly Smith – Chandler Stephenson – Mark Stone

Brendan Brisson – Jack Eichel – Jonathan Marchesseault

Paul Cotter – Nicolas Roy – Pavel Dorofeyev

Lots of question marks here, but Vegas’ top six appears to have a winger slot (currently Cotter’s) available. The other five players seem set, though Stone and Eichel each have increasingly long injury histories. What do you think would happen to Brisson’s value were he to get called up and score, say, three goals in five games riding shotgun with Jack Eichel? Worth inquiring with his owner in your league before that happens.

Thanks for reading! Follow me on Twitter @beegare for more prospect content and fantasy hockey analysis.

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