DobberProspects’ Mid-Season Top 64 for the 2024 NHL Draft

Hadi Kalakeche

2024-02-16

It’s finally here.

After much deliberation, a two-hour-long meeting and hundreds of cumulative viewings, the DobberProspects scouting team is ready to reveal our top 64 prospects for the 2024 NHL Draft. Between the World Juniors, the U18 Five Nations tournament, and lots and lots of league tape, much has changed in our evaluation of certain players and the depth of our knowledge on the class.

Some risers are starting to rear their heads, and some previously highly-touted prospects are starting to show setbacks that have seen them slip down the board.

Here’s a quick rundown of our team:

Sebastian High: Head Scout & Director of European Scouting

Hadi Kalakeche: Director of North American Scouting

Jordan Harris: OHL Regional Scout

Sasha Lagarde: QMJHL Regional Scout

Luke Sweeney: WHL Regional Scout

David Saad: USA Regional Scout

Wade Messier: North American Crossover Scout

Colin Hunter: Goaltending Scout

Anni Karvinen: Finnish Regional Scout

Graham Montgomery: Russian Regional Scout

Alexa Potack: European Crossover Scout and Graphic Designer

Charlie Maher: USA Crossover Scout and Data Scientist

With our team introduced, let’s get right into it — starting off with this year’s unanimous first-overall pick:

1. Macklin Celebrini, C — Boston University (NCAA)

Hadi Kalakeche – Nothing’s changed at first overall. If anything, Celebrini has further cemented the gap between him and the rest of the 2024 NHL Draft class after being Canada’s best player at the World Juniors and continuing to be Boston University’s best player on an almost nightly basis. That is about the furthest thing from an easy feat for a 17-year-old on one of the most stacked rosters in the NCAA.

A force of nature off the rush, Celebrini consistently utilizes his high speed and agility to create in transition. He attacks downhill with frightening aggression, putting defenders on their heels and keeping them guessing with stop-ups, changes of pace, inside drives, and all the habits you want out of an NHL rush-creator. On top of his transition game, Celebrini has polished his offensive cycle play, has gotten increasingly good at going from retrieval to pass in an instant, and gets off the boards consistently to find open ice in the slot. The defensive engagement is hit-or-miss, but when he gets involved, Celebrini times his interventions well and leaves board battles with the puck more often than not. A triple-threat, plug-and-play center with a booming shot, soft hands and a wide arsenal of set-up passes, Celebrini should have no problem making a name for himself in the NHL next year, no matter where he lands.

2. Ivan Demidov, RW — SKA St. Petersburg (KHL/MHL)

Graham Montgomery – Demidov’s early-season injury and lack of production beforehand left some doubts in our minds after our initial rankings had him as our second-best prospect in the draft. Since his return, however, Demidov has been nothing short of a monster offensively, scoring a point in all but one of his 25 games since coming back and being on a three-point-per-game pace in the MHL over his last 10 matches.

Demidov is without a doubt the toolsiest player in the draft class outside of Macklin Celebrini. His signature trait is his stickhandling — most of the time, it seems like he has the puck on a string. With the way he blends shot fakes into inside-out moves, quick touches into hard passes, and a lot more, he has the best hands in the class by a wide margin. It is a kind of x-factor for the forward, and likely his best case to go 1st overall. However, his hands do get him into trouble at times. He can be over-reliant on his handling skill and playing against weak competition in Russia’s Junior league has afforded him possibilities that won’t work against professional players. That being said, Demidov is a plus skater with elite and often highly creative playmaking habits,, as well as a hard and accurate back-leg wrister. At this point, it is quite obvious that he is too good for the Russian junior leagues but it remains unclear when he might get a chance to play in the KHL. Doing so could give him a better argument for the top spot in the draft, but it is not clear when he might get that chance.

3. Berkly Catton, LW/C — Spokane Chiefs (WHL)

Luke Sweeney – Climbing up from 7th in November to 3rd on our board at the mid-season point, Catton is a wizard, simply put. Offensively, he’s the complete package: a quick-twitch skater with power and dynamism, a quick and powerful shot, deceptive puckhandling and 1-v-1 ability, creative passing, and an otherworldly sixth-sense for playmaking. Though his play away from the puck isn’t the hallmark of his game, it’s not bad either and, completing the picture, makes Catton look to be one of the top options in this class, if not one of the most exciting.

Many of Catton’s struggles this season boil down to his help. Sure, his defensive game is so-so — his defensive positioning comes and goes, and he’ll often lose battles in the slot to bigger, stronger players — but he is asked to do a lot as an all-situations centre who plays power play and penalty kill on a bottom-six team. There are only two other players on the Spokane Chiefs with over a point-per-game, and both of them primarily play with Catton on the power play and at 5-on-5. In fact, Catton and his linemate Connor Roulette have scored just a shade under 40% of all of Spokane’s goals this season. Despite all this, Catton has still been able to have a fantastic season as Canada’s highest-scoring draft-eligible in points-per-game and third-highest in goals-per-game. His level of play is unbelievable right now; its scary to think of the player he could become with more weapons around him.

4. Cayden Lindstrom, C/LW — Medicine Hat Tigers (WHL)

Hadi Kalakeche – Also climbing four spots in our rankings is Cayden Lindstrom, another WHLer putting up absurd numbers among his peers. Lindstrom’s 6-foot-4 frame combined with his soft skill and refined habits made the debate between him and Catton at 3rd a heated one, but Catton’s game-changing skill and Lindstrom being well-surrounded in Medicine Hat were the tie-breakers in the end.

Lindstrom uses his frame better than any prospect in this draft. He drives the net with his shoulder down, his hand extended and his knee flared out to ensure that no one can poke the puck away from him. He leverages body positioning incredibly well — usually, young players his size don’t really have to develop this skill — and he has an aggressive mindset which extends to post-whistle antics as well. Lindstrom is also a great person by all accounts, if you ask anyone who doesn’t have to face him on the ice. The shot and positioning make him hard to handle, and he has some of the best puck-catching mechanics in this draft to boot. It’s hard not to see Lindstrom become a top-six power forward in the near future.

5. Zeev Buium, LD — University of Denver (NCAA)

David Saad – So much for difficult conversation! Buium has skyrocketed up rankings since November and has seen his stock reach all-time highs, while putting up historic levels of production with Denver in the NCAA. He went from our seventh-ranked defenseman in November all the way to the top of our list of blue-liners over the span of three months.

A true master of the “defense begets offense” philosophy, Buium managed to prove himself an effective defender at some of the toughest levels his age allows and has shown a remarkable ability to generate offense with the advantages he creates. He’s fantastically composed under pressure, and his in-zone defensive play ranks among the best the draft has to offer. He may not be the most attractive option on paper amongst his peers and he may not be the most complete athlete yet either; but Buium is one of, if not the most complete defensemen this draft has to offer and that’s what has him ranked as the top blue-liner on our list at this juncture.

6. Zayne Parekh, RD — Saginaw Spirit (OHL)

Hadi Kalakeche – As far as offensive defensemen go, Zayne Parekh is as good as it gets. With his mind-blowing 26 goals and 76 points in 50 OHL games so far, even a quick glance at the scoresheet gives you a pretty good idea of the impact Parekh can have on a game — but the points are just a symptom of what makes Parekh so beloved by our entire scouting team.

The combination of fluid skating, high-end puck skills, and supreme hockey sense make Parekh the defenseman with the highest offensive ceiling in our eyes. His level of poise is absurdly high, to a fault — it often prevents him from identifying moments in which the best play is to get rid of the puck. Parekh’s ability to delay or accelerate passes into lanes depending on the circumstances and his booming shot are already at a level that rivals the NHL’s best, and although the defending isn’t polished, there are individual tools there that could be turned into an effective, cohesive package. Some outlets are calling his defensive game abysmal — we wouldn’t go that far. With some work on his positioning and in-zone habits along with physical development, Parekh could become a true number 1 NHL defenseman and one of the best power-play quarterbacks in the league.

7. Sam Dickinson, LD — London Knights (OHL)

Jordan Harris – Very rarely do you see a defensive defenseman produce at a point-per-game pace in the OHL, but that’s the type of season London’s Sam Dickinson is having. He is a major contributor who is heavily relied upon on a dominant London team. Dickinson is an excellent defender, both in-zone and against the rush, who can be downright dominant at times. Most recently there have been a few mental mistakes which have led to chances against, but overall, he is as close to a true shutdown defenseman as you’ll get in the OHL. Dickinson plays with effective gap control and makes up lots of ground with his skating and reach, rendering him near-impossible to get around. Along the boards, Dickinson can separate the opponent from the puck with a stick lift, a takeaway, or a simple body check, while being highly effective in pursuit to retrieve pucks as well.

Despite his high point totals, Dickinson is still limited as a playmaker in the offensive zone. He doesn’t anticipate play as well as other players in this class, which will limit his offensive creation a bit. Still, he has a knack for timing his pinches, keeping plays alive, and getting pucks to the net to score or be tipped. He’s unlikely to be a 55+ point player in the NHL, but he’ll produce more than enough, which will be perfectly fine given how rock-solid he is on the back-end.

8. Konsta Helenius, C — Jukurit Mikkelin (Liiga)

Anni Karvinen – Helenius has been a regular top-ten name for this draft class during the whole season, and for a good reason. The highly intelligent Finnish forward has been relied on playing in a difficult top-six center role during his Liiga season with one of the top teams of the league. He was asked to do the same in the World Juniors and while the first games were quite underwhelming for his standard, he showed his compete level by upping his play when the stakes were higher.

His Liiga season has continued on the promising path and his game based on quick processing and anticipation has allowed him to produce points at a level only a few have been able to match at this age. The next months will have a crucial effect on his draft stock — many scouts have pondered if he lacks high-end offensive skills other top names in this draft class possess. The competitive Liiga playoffs can be an excellent opportunity to showcase “clutch” characteristics and playing against his own age group in the U18 Worlds will give him an opportunity to play a bit more freely. We might see him really highlight his skill that tends to be overshadowed in tight Liiga games.

9. Artyom Levshunov, RD — Michigan State (NCAA)

David Saad – One of the more interesting prospects in this year’s draft, Levshunov makes his money while on the attack. His combination of vision and strength makes him capable of executing a lot of high-risk plays that his peers can’t, and his skating allows him to cover an unfair amount of ice. Tool for tool, he’s a heavy contender for best in the draft.

While he can be prone to the occasional gaffe, his frame and reach allow him to get a lot of second chances and he is intelligent enough to dig himself out of a lot of holes, even those that are self-imposed — which is a very important trait, because Levshunov does tend to get himself into a lot of trouble. Turnovers, failed suppressions, and a tendency to panic have been frequent observations of ours in his rookie season at Michigan State. If he can tap into his more cerebral side and keep his cool under pressure, Levshunov becoming the best defenseman in this draft can very well be in the cards.

10. Igor Chernyshov, LW — Dynamo Moscow (KHL/MHL)

Graham Montgomery – Chernyshov brings a lot of qualities that should translate to higher levels of hockey. He is an above-average skater with good size, and this makes him an effective straight-line attacker in transition. While many of his transition routes are rather simple, he does not hesitate to put his shoulder down and drive to the net, creating scoring chances for himself on the rush regularly against MHL competition. He also brings a heavy physical game, using his 6-foot-2, 200-pound frame to bully smaller players off the puck on the forecheck. His effort level on the backcheck and his proactive defensive positioning are also high-end tools, especially for a winger, and he can rifle pucks in so many different ways.

Chernyshov’s results in the KHL have been less impressive, although he is starting to regularly create chances for himself in that league as well. His playmaking is not particularly special although he has good raw passing skills. He will have to learn how to be a more well-balanced threat to be an effective scorer at higher levels.

11. Michael Brandsegg-Nygård, RW — Mora IK (Allsvenskan)

Sebastian High – Brandsegg-Nygård is among the most refined players at this point in the draft class — it’s unlikely that he becomes anything less than a third-line Swiss Army knife and consistent penalty-killer. His defensive instincts, habits, and engagement are all key strengths in his game, and have helped him put up exceptional defensive results against professional competition in HockeyAllsvenskan this season. That’s not to say that his value is limited to the defensive side of the puck, however.

His shot grades really highly in our eyes, featuring a heavy wrist shot release which he is comfortable using in motion and on either leg. Brandsegg-Nygård has definite upside as a goal-scorer, especially off the rush and in the vicinity of the crease. He uses his plus-level stride and mobility in tandem with his strength and puck-protection tools to attack the middle and retain possession in transition. While this facet of his game remains a tad linear for our liking, the progression his on-puck confidence has seen over the past 6 months is more than notable. If his goal-scoring can become his marquee tool, he could hit the 30-goal plateau in an NHL top-six, but if it doesn’t, he’s still going to provide valuable middle-six production and 200-foot impact.

12. Anton Silayev, LD — Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod (KHL)

Graham Montgomery – Silayev is an impressive sight to behold, standing at 6-foot-7. He uses that height to his advantage, employing his long reach to disrupt passes and angle attackers away from the middle of the ice. His trademark feature is his exceptional skating which, combined with his height, often looks surreal. His defensive sense is good enough to put him in the right places most of the time but he often struggles to think quick enough to make an effective play when the puck comes to him. In general, he is a very raw prospect. The physical tools are clearly there, especially with his foundational skating ability, but we have yet to see the rest of his game fill out.

Silayev is still adapting to the pace of the KHL, with his decision-making being the principal point of concern. Furthermore, he has not shown much improvement there over the season which makes this flaw increasingly troublesome. He often makes blind passes or similar rash decisions when facing pressure in his own zone, often leading to turnovers or unnecessary icings. Furthermore, his offensive upside is questionable at best. There are some elite gap-closing tools in Silayev’s game, but he has yet to prove himself as a consistent threat in the offensive zone and, as such, we’re a bit more skeptical than the average scouting team when it comes to Silayev’s value as a top-five pick.

13. Liam Greentree, RW — Windsor Spitfires (OHL)

Hadi Kalakeche – Greentree’s meteoric rise up our boards is a direct result of him showing more and more versatility and translatability in his offensive game. Back in November, he seemed like more of a shoot-first, straight-forward winger, whose reads were good but far from exceptional. However, as the season has gone on and Greentree got more comfortable dishing the puck, it became clear that the 6-foot-2, 200-pound winger has hockey sense in spades. Drawing players in to open up passing lanes, directing his teammates into space with non-verbal cues, looking off his passes, feeling and playing off of back pressure and supportive routes… the playmaking just seemed to unfurl in front of our eyes.

Greentree has also shown that, despite his skating deficiencies, he is still capable of using stop-ups and accelerations to manipulate opponents off the rush for either a shooting lane or a slot pass option. The work rate and defensive awareness are also assets in his game that he exploits regularly. We predicted a middle-six ceiling for Greentree when we ranked him 28th overall in November, but it’s looking a lot more like top-six upside given his play in the last few months.

14. Nikita Artamonov, RW — Torpedo Nizhny  Novgorod (KHL)

Graham Montgomery – Playing in the KHL consistently as a first-time draft eligible is an impressive feat, although the league has seen a decline in quality of play in recent years. Artamonov has done exactly that, playing regular minutes for Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod, mainly in their top-nine. While he lacks the pure offensive excitement of many of the other Russian forwards in this class, he does have a refined game built around pro-level habits. He’s a well-rounded player who contributes in all three zones and is one of the harder-working players in the entire draft, often beating KHL veterans in battles for position through sheer effort.

A good playmaker with a great touch on his best passes, Artamonov has a knack for getting pucks through multiple layers of defense. However, more often than not, he is trying to set up plays from the perimeter. Attacking the middle of the ice more consistently could unlock more upside, but the combination of safe floor, interesting offensive tools around which to build and some of the most polished off-puck habits in the draft makes Artamonov a worthwhile bet in the mid-teens.

15. Trevor Connelly, LW — Tri-City Storm (USHL)

David Saad – Connelly has always been one of the better playmakers in this year’s draft, but doesn’t always play like he wants to be. Way more often then he should, Connelly stubbornly called his own number in an effort to 1v5 his opponents, often to his team’s detriment. Fortunately, it seems to be getting pruned out of his game. Connelly still boasts enough skill to make those 1v5 plays but in reigning himself in, he has become a much more effective 5v5 player, showing energy on the back-check as well as a much more concentrated playmaking game. Now, he’s a bona fide triple-threat, and plays the game at a ridiculous speed — he’s insanely hard to suppress cleanly.

The production tells part of the story, he sits 3rd in the USHL for points while playing 5 fewer games than those above him, and is 2nd in points/game outside NTDP players. He’s also matched his numbers from last year in 24 fewer games. He’s not the safest player in the draft, but he’s definitely set to be one of the most fun.

16. Cole Eiserman, LW — USNTDP (USHL)

David Saad – Eiserman is starting to fall off on multiple lists, and we are no exception. While his shot, offensive routes and ability to release in tight space continue to be top-of-the-class strengths, it’s simply not enough. A lack of overall engagement, poor decision-making, a lack of explosive skating and an overall passivity have regularly marred viewings. He has also taken steps back in his playmaking game which makes him more one-dimensional than one can view as healthy. We’re especially concerned with his lack of effective work in transition, which hurt his projectability. The best scorers in the NHL manage to do a lot of their best work off the rush and, as of right now, this doesn’t seem to be a strength in Cole Eiserman’s game.

Eventually, something has to give. Either Eiserman can round out his play at both ends of the ice to become closer to a net-neutral even-strength player or he specs everything into his offense and becomes a multi-layered threat. Until at least one of those comes, it is becoming increasingly challenging to correlate Eiserman to his pre-season reputation.

17. Tij Iginla, LW — Kelowna Rockets (WHL)

Luke Sweeney – We’re now in February, and Iginla remains one of the highest scoring draft-eligibles in the CHL. While these goals may not come from as diverse of an array of skills as some of the other top CHL talent in this class, the scoring speaks to the strong all-around game Iginla has built this year — a game that’s easy to project in an NHL top-six, even if only in a support role. A lot of Iginla’s goals do come from his shot, which is built on strong technique and a release that rattles off the blade with impressive quickness. Iginla can also get it off quickly and in-stride, making him particularly dangerous off the rush. However, many of Iginla’s strengths are best observed off the cycle, where he is utterly dominant at times.

Iginla is always engaged on the forecheck, either as the F1 or as a supporting forward and generates a ton of turnovers low in the offensive zone, often from positioning, patience and a quick stick, but also from pure determination. Iginla uses his puckhandling, body positioning and timing to get play into the middle of the ice where he can dangle, force his way to the front of the net, make use of his underrated playmaking ability, or settle for using shot to create an opportunity.  The biggest qualm with Iginla is in his own end. Iginla is too hasty to fly the D-zone, often leaving his team out to dry and diminishing the level of impact he can have defensively. The fix is not an extremely difficult one, and if he can put it together, Iginla projects as a high-end top-six complementary scorer.

18. Alfons Freij, LD — Växjö Lakers (J20 Nationell)

David Saad – There are a lot of great playmaking defensemen in this year’s draft, and Freij is up there with the best of them. He has been purely dominant at the J20 level with Växjö. Quick-twitch hands allow him to escape pressure easily, even with his back against the boards. He senses that pressure early, too, allowing him to respond proactively and choose the right escape routes.  Factor in his mobility and he has the tools of a possession monster — few things can ever keep Freij from putting the puck where he wants it.

What separates him from his peers of a similar archetype, however, are the compliments to that game. He knows when to simply shoot the puck and rarely, if ever, overpasses. He is active defensively as well, demonstrating a great understanding of how to build on the advantages he creates. Freij has more or less everything you want your offensive defensemen to have, and is solid defensively as well. His aggressive style of play leads to him being overeager at times and there still are some habits he needs to learn in-zone, but as he reigns himself in, he can become one of the best defensemen in this class.

19. Andrew Basha, LW — Medicine Hat Tigers (WHL)

Luke Sweeney – Basha is a dynamic offensive player who jumped on a lot of people’s radars with a hot start to the season on the Medicine Hat Tigers next to fellow draft-eligible Cayden Lindstrom. Since then—and since Lindstrom’s injury—Basha’s not only maintained his high level of play, but taken it to another level. He is more of a playmaker, but that doesn’t sum up his whole game. Basha loves to play with speed with the puck on his stick, making him a zone-entry machine. He brings that same energy in the offensive zone, using that speed to put defenders on their heels before he picks them apart. Basha’s puckhandling is excellent and he frequently makes plays battling through stick checks, in motion and mid-stickhandle. He has a great feel for the game, leading to a lot of highlight reel passes.

Basha also has a strong shot and is having some scoring success this season. He gets some decent torque on what’s more of a sweeping shooting motion, but more of his goals come from a combination of high pace, good positioning/timing, and being a high-volume shooter. There are some defensive warts in Basha’s game, but in a lot of ways they stem from being a player laser-focused on creating offense who wants to get out quickly in transition. He does an OK job of creating turnovers, but it is certainly an area of improvement. With Basha, whichever NHL team drafts him will be getting a player high skill, pace and creativity who oozes dynamism in every puck touch.

20. Beckett Sennecke, RW — Oshawa Generals (OHL)

Jordan Harris – Since the start of the season, Sennecke has been a player to keep an eye on. It’s evident that he boasts high level skill, a tantalising toolkit, and great vision, however, he hadn’t quite put it together yet. At the mid-season mark, Sennecke still isn’t a finished product, but the flashes of skill and dynamism with the puck, and the ability to find his teammates on the ice, are more regular. Even more promising is that Sennecke seems to have increased his work rate and is a better defensive player than we had previously given him credit for. Sennecke will make highlight reel plays by dangling the puck through or around opponents before setting up a player for an easy scoring chance. He also has a good shot and can be relied upon to score.

The area of concern for Sennecke would be his skating. It doesn’t look too aesthetically pleasing and it’s not an efficient stride. Currently, we’re chalking that up to his incredible growth spurt in a short period of time which saw him grow five inches in less than two years. Although he looks awkward doing it, Sennecke is a very good player in this draft. Once he is comfortable enough in his frame and puts it all together he could be lethal.

21. Luke Misa, C — Mississauga Steelheads (OHL)

Hadi Kalakeche – In terms of pace, there are maybe two forwards who can keep up with Misa in this entire draft. That’s what landed him at 16th on our November rankings, and that’s what keeps him well within our first round. By pace, we don’t just mean the foot speed — Misa’s processing speed is also high-end, and more than matches his footwork. He uses that combination of physical and mental pace to create advantages in all three zones. Efficient and energetic on the back check, dynamic off the rush and willing to dig pucks out of corners despite his lack of size, Misa is a player who just seems so easy to play with. His playmaking game gels extremely well with his high-pace play, ensuring that any linemate who gets open for even a split second gets the puck on his stick.

The defensive game is also a big area of strength for Misa. He circles low, offers support to teammates, and chases puck-carriers down the ice with fervor and dedication. If he can learn to leverage his low center of gravity to win more puck battles, there’s a clear path to a second-line and top power play role in his future.

22. Adam Jiříček, RD — HC Plzeň (Czech Extraliga)

Anni Karvinen – Adam Jiříček is a very interesting name for the upcoming draft for many reasons. His season has been very up and down as he’s been playing mostly at the highest pro level in Czechia. His level of play has varied a lot within games, from being very tentative to trying to do too much. However, Jiříček’s raw tools are incredibly intriguing, with his physicality shining the brightest. He loves to use his body to separate players from the puck. He’s also a great skater; his edgework is excellent, allowing him to make spin-off of checks effectively. However, his skating stance needs a bit of development; currently, it has a negative effect on his acceleration.

Unfortunately, Jiříček’s season came to an abrupt end after he suffered a season-ending injury in the first game of the World Junior Championships. It is such a shame because we believe the player himself and, of course, scouts around the world would have wanted to see him play well in the World Juniors and in the upcoming U18 Worlds.

23. Terik Parascak, RW/C — Prince George Cougars (WHL)

Luke Sweeney –Parascak has been an interesting player to follow this season for a number of reasons. He found himself pretty high in many early-season rankings thanks to a scorching start where he had 29 points in his first 14 games before cooling off significantly with eight in the 10 games after that. Nevertheless, much of what made Parascak successful early in the season remains and he still has a good chance of being an impact player at the NHL level.

Parascak thinks the game at a high level, sees the ice just as well and has excellent timing. While a lot of his goals come on backdoor tap-ins and royal-road passes, he does do a lot of work to get himself in position for these opportunities. Parascak’s puckhandling and body control—especially in-tight to the net—also allow him to make more of these frequent opportunities, as does his shot, which he gets off the blade quickly and without as much need to settle it down or create the look himself. Parascak is also decent positionally in transition, though his skillset is not in-tune to be a game-breaking transition player. His skating is average and, as a result, he isn’t usually the player leading the rush or creating entries or exits. Though his signature skills are not as dynamic as other top WHL prospects, Parascak’s smarts and habits could make him a higher-level complimentary player worthy of a first-round pick.

24. Carter Yakemchuk, RD — Calgary Hitmen (WHL)

Luke Sweeney – Carter Yakemchuk plays a divisive game, though one we have come around on as the season has progressed. The statistics make him hard to ignore, and when you look at the physical tools as a 6-foot-3, 200-pound right-handed defenseman, it becomes almost impossible. He has clear skills between the deceptive and confident puckhandling that often turns into highlight reel dangles, the fearlessness when it comes to jumping up in transition and his booming, accurate shot. Even his playmaking is much better than we had initially given him credit for, as he can use his gravity to get the defense’s attention before dishing it to the slot.

There are certainly warts, though. Yakemchuk’s skating is not a strength. While he’s able to get moving with some space due to his size, his stride is a little clunky, lacks power and extension, and tends to break down under pressure. Yakemchuk’s defensive game also needs work, although he does have the tools to improve it. He can be strong in defending the rush, though he is not consistent in this ability. In-zone, his reads and instincts are sometimes poor, made worse by the fact that he tends to chase a lot of hits. Between the success, the skills and the size, Yakemchuk has a lot of promising elements for a young offensive defenseman, but the risks are significant due to the many parts of his game that he needs to shore up.

25. Dominik Badinka, RD — Malmö Redhawks (SHL)

Sebastian High – Badinka is our pick for the likely late riser in this draft class, as his type of profile and toolkit rarely goes overlooked among NHL teams. He’s very mobile, composed under pressure, and a consistently capable breakout passer. He uses his aggression, scanning, and physicality in tandem with his mobility to effectively defend the rush and the slot at the SHL level. His handling remains quite limited, which in turn limits his on-puck offense, but his fluid off-puck rotations in the offensive zone help create space, time, and defensive confusion. His game exudes maturity, which has been routinely tested by SHL competition; he keeps the simple and effective play in his back pocket while scanning for more dangerous options, making his fall-back option a consistently smart one. Some tool refinement will be needed for Badinka to project as a clear top 4 talent in the NHL, but he already possesses many important building blocks for a modern meat-and-potatoes defenseman.

26. Michael Hage, C — Chicago Steel (USHL)

David Saad – Hage seems to have heard the music and has been red-hot since our last ranking. Having encountered every challenge a young athlete can take on and still improving to this degree is nothing short of remarkable. He has a real mastery of timing, spatial awareness and pressure that is quickly making him one of the more dynamic playmakers in the draft, while boasting a solid and versatile arsenal of shots — especially in transition. The skating projects as above-average, as well, aiding his ability to create downhill.

It’s become a regular occurrence to see Hage make passes right through both a backchecker and looming defenseman and barrel the contact that follows. He seems to be reading play better in general, as well, clearly growing accustomed to the USHL pace. If he keeps trending in his current direction, we hope to see him land in undisputed first-round territory — it would be a truly poetic way for him to wrap up his season.

27. Jesse Pulkkinen, LD — JYP (Liiga)

Sebastian High Pulkkinen has impressed us more and more with each passing viewing, and we wouldn’t rank a D+1 this high if that weren’t the case. His style of play is as unique as his development trajectory; the hulking left-handed defenseman moves around the ice with shocking fluidity, which his handling skill can match. He’s composed under pressure – almost to a fault, as he can overestimate his ability to shield possession at times – and beyond comfortable with the puck on his stick. He has shown a level of offensive dare at both the WJC and in Liiga that complements his toolkit and creativity, and facilitates a 2nd pairing and PP2 projection. He uses his mobility and reach to match footwork when defending the rush, maintaining an increasingly consistent tight gap, and being able to close it aggressively and quickly.

We see upside with Pulkkinen in all three zones, but he shines brightest with the puck on his stick. To maintain a spot this high on our board, Pulkkinen will need to continue to balance on the line between actively fine-tuning his habits and retaining his offensive aggressiveness, which he has done very well so far this season.

28. Miguel Marques, C — Lethbridge Hurricanes (WHL)

Luke Sweeney – In another draft year chock-full of dynamic scorers from the WHL, Marques may well be one of the league’s most enjoyable. He is quick with a high motor, though not a burner, and he’s got a good shot with a quick release, though also not elite, but what really stands out are his unbelievable quick-twitch hands, his vision as both a playmaker and scorer, and his complete focus on driving the middle of the ice. Marques makes goalies and defenders alike look silly 1-v-1, whether that’s charging up the ice to undress the netminder or dancing around a checker on the perimeter to gain the middle. Once there, while a lot of his value comes from an ability to find passing lanes in the slot at an extremely high rate, defenders still have to respect Marques’ shot at all distances, his agility and edgework, and his slippery puck protection game.

Marques’ main criticism (outside of his height at 5’11) is his consistency. At his best, Marques is all the things listed above coupled with the ability to retrieve pucks off the forecheck, pick defenders’ pockets, all while displaying a 200-foot motor. When things aren’t going his way, Marques can get frustrated, try to do too much himself, be less disciplined defensively, and even seem a to play a lazier checking game. The test for Marques down the stretch will be to see if he bridge the gap between these two players and rightfully solidify himself as one of the WHL’s top draft-eligibles.

29. Aron Kiviharju, LD — TPS (Liiga)

Anni Karvinen – After tearing up his kneecap back in October 2023, Aron Kiviharju hasn’t seen any game action. On December 29th his team HIFK posted a video on X where Kiviharju was back on the ice. According to the HIFK’s latest statement (Feb. 2nd), he is still 6-8 weeks away from returning to game action. This timeline suggests that he would be back in time for the U18 Worlds, which are played in Finland this year. Everyone surely hopes to see the talented blue-liner playing against the best of his age group. Kiviharju has one of the highest hockey IQs of the 2024 draft class and when it’s combined with his incredible passing ability, he remains a very intriguing prospect.

There were warts pre-injury which led to him slipping as well — he struggles under physical pressure, and the lack of a well-rounded offensive toolkit makes his upside as a power-play quarterback more questionable than other blue-liners in his mold. The off-the-charts intelligence and elite breakout game keep him in our first round, though.

30. Sacha Boisvert, C — Muskegon Lumberjacks (USHL)

David Saad – Boisvert might be one of the best pure centres in the class. He supports his defensemen, is active in both ends of transition and uses his large frame and reach to great effect. He is never out of a play, and despite not being the best skater, is able to compensate for it with some great on-ice awareness; he is always skating with a goal in mind. Boisvert is also a decent puck carrier with an above-average shot, but he lacks any truly elite tools, which puts his upside in the air. There are also some junior habits to work through, a tendency to overshoot and the occasional hero-puck play. These should iron themselves out easily enough and an NHL job to some capacity should be in his cards.

31. John Mustard, LW — Waterloo Black Hawks (USHL)

David Saad – One of the more entertaining players in this year’s draft. Mustard has exploded onto the scene in his first year in the USHL. He’s one of the finer skaters in the draft and can beat defenders with elusiveness, simple dekes, or just raw speed to an insuppressible level. Not to say he’s all sparkle either — he’s got a lot of upper body strength that he uses to win puck battles, extend offensive possessions or provide some old-fashioned grit. He tends to tunnel-vision at times which leads to him not being the total triple-threat he otherwise would be. Still, he’s one of the younger players in this year’s draft and the progress he’s made is nothing short of staggering. We really might just be scratching the surface of what he’s capable of.

(Fun Fact: He and Trevor Connelly are both committed to Providence. Defenders in the conference, beware.)

32. Henry Mews, RD — Ottawa 67’s (OHL)

Jordan Harris – Earlier in the season, our thoughts on Mews were mixed, and they remain the same for our mid-season rankings. Mews is a very effective passer who can move pucks up the ice and set up teammates in the offensive end. His skating and shot are both above average and he’s got great hands too. Given his tools, you’d think he would generate offense more in line with players like Parekh and Buium, but he isn’t. At times, he seems hesitant to activate while opting for a safer mission. Some of our scouts believe this could be the result of playing within an Ottawa system that doesn’t lend itself to much risk-taking.

Given this perspective, it’s hard to gauge what the offensive upside is with Mews as it currently doesn’t match the skillset. On the back end, it’s been a mixed bag. Mews can struggle in his own zone and really look overmatched, especially under pressure. This leads to turnovers or an inability to exit the defensive zone. If the offense is actually better than what he’s shown, then our spot for Mews will hold. If it’s not a schematic issue, then we could see Mews dropping in our next rankings.

33. Charlie Elick, RD — Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)

Luke Sweeney – Charlie Elick, our second WHL defender off the board, is a much more poised, meat-and-potatoes type player than our first, Carter Yakemchuk. However, like Yakemchuk, Elick is also a physically developed (6-foot-3, 200 pounds), right-shot defenseman. Elick’s skating forward, backward and laterally is all very strong, though he uses this more for defensive purposes than as a transition leader. Outside of his physical attributes, Elick is also a much more developed, mature defender than his fellow WHLers in this draft. He uses his skating ability to close gaps and deny the defensive blue line, as well as using his strength and athleticism to box-out the netfront, win battles below the goal-line, and crush the opposition with body checks.

Though his offensive game is coming along and still might not translate to higher levels even if refined, it would not be a surprise to see a player with Elick’s combination of size, energy and skating come off the board even earlier.

34. Emil Hemming, RW — TPS (U20 SM-sarja)

Anni Karvinen – Hemming is a right-shot power forward who’s been playing in both the Liiga and the U20 SM-Sarja with TPS. Hemming’s biggest strength is his powerful shot and his ability to find soft ice in the offensive zone. He has good shooting mechanics and can beat goaltenders cleanly, even at the Liiga level. Despite playing a limited defensively responsible 4th line role, he’s been able to produce points in Liiga. In addition to his great shot, Hemming possesses some other interesting tools. He is a good, powerful skater, has some physicality in his game, and is quite good at handling the puck. The biggest question marks concerning his game are his decision-making and the variability in his level of play. Fortunately for him, these are not uncommon issues for a player his age. If his development continues well, Hemming has clear middle-six/secondary scoring potential in the NHL.

35. Tanner Howe, LW/C — Regina Pats (WHL)

Luke Sweeney – Howe’s offense has been much harder to come by on the Regina Pats without Connor Bedard. The Pats are the fifth-worst team in the WHL, and there was only one player outside Howe on the team over a point-per-game, 20-year-old defenseman Parker Berge who has since been traded to Everett. Nevertheless, Howe has risen to the challenge and still has a lot projectable skills and tendencies. A true buzzsaw forward, Howe plays bigger than he is, holds onto pucks well and beats bigger defenders on pucks with strong position. Howe loves the net front and goes there with zero fear, though to a fault, as it limits the rest of his offensive game when he parks himself there. With his combination of tenacity, puck battling, protection abilities, and net-driven approach, he’s a player with a strong bet to work himself into an NHL middle-six.

36. Ryder Ritchie, RW — Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)

Hadi Kalakeche – Ritchie’s early-season performances, highlighted by impressive stickhandling and puck protection tools, made us hold him in high esteem in our November top-32 were he was ranked 17th overall. Since then, however, a closer inspection of his fundamentals and recent performances have had us doubting that the skill will be able to stack at the NHL level and, as a result, our projection of his game has changed.

Although the stickhandling, once the puck is secured, is perhaps top-five in this class, pucks just bounce off his stick on reception — even off of clean, accurate passes. He often has to stop moving his feet to make a play, struggles to blend deception into his moves and his passes often come with a fair amount of needless risk. The defensive game is decent enough to see him perhaps mould into a checking role, and we’re still banking on the fundamentals improving. The right team could make a solid middle-sixer out of Ritchie, but we struggle to see the top-line upside.

37. Raoul Boilard, C — Baie-Comeau Drakkar (QMJHL)

Sasha Lagarde – Boilard has really impressed with his growth as a player in the QMJHL this year. He  stands out due to his improved puck-handling skills, excellent vision and confidence when attacking the middle of the ice, on top of being a faceoff wizard.  With great hands and an unlocked top arm, Boilard effortlessly maneuvers through tight spaces and executes precise passes through open seams. He drives his line, no questions about it.

Defensively, Boilard is reliable and benefits from consistent scanning habits, enabling him to intercept passes and break up plays effectively. However, there is room for improvement in his skating and his agility. Additionally, considering Boilard’s size at 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds, he needs to engage more physically along the boards and down low in the defensive zone, which would add another dimension to his game.  Overall, Boilard has a fun blend of skills and the potential for some serious growth moving forward.

38. Lucas Pettersson, C — MoDo J20 (J20-Nationell)

David Saad – One of the most tantalizing players of this year’s draft, Pettersson is a slam-dunk first-round talent at his best. He plays a fast, skilled game and can take over shifts with breakneck speed. A very accurate shot and a well-rounded defensive game should paint the picture of a minute-munching center at the NHL level. However, Pettersson hasn’t always been at his best — his engagement can waver, he can shy away from contact and he can be frustratingly passive. These tendencies tend to shrink during his SHL or international reps but all the puzzle pieces show a player who should be making magic happen in the J20 level. He hasn’t had much to say in that regard until lately, with five consecutive multi-point games to rack up a total of 13 points in that span. If he can keep this up, he might give reason for pause on the current assessment.

39. Harrison Brunicke, RD — Kamloops Blazers (WHL)

Hadi Kalakeche – One look at Brunicke’s stat line — only 21 points in 46 games — will have you wondering why he is our 39th-ranked prospect at this stage in the draft cycle. Very rarely does a CHL defender worth a top-40 pick not even cross the 0.5-point-per-game threshold in their draft year. However, Brunicke’s lack of points hides a particularly alluring set of tools, and an even more impressive foundation of habits and decisions.

The size-mobility combo is already a big plus — at 6 foot 3 and willing to engage physically, and with the edgework and lateral agility he displays, Brunicke covers a lot of ice. He closes gaps early, is especially proficient when it comes to boxing players out of the slot, and matches footwork in transition to maintain a steady distance between him and the puck-carrier. Very solid decision-making, aided by constant scanning and set-up fakes, makes him reliable on retrievals and pass receptions. On top of that, Brunicke shows flashes of high-end skill on the puck and already has the confidence to keep trying things. If he continues to try and take opponents by surprise with inside-out dekes and high slot drives while adding some more offensive-zone activation to his game, we could be looking at a true do-it-all two-way blue-liner whose analytical impact consistently outranks his peers.

40. Teddy Stiga, LW — USNTDP (USHL)

David Saad – A far cry from the NTDP’s headliner, Stiga has made a name for himself with his adaptability and flexibility. He’s not a Swiss Army knife — he’s an all-terrain vehicle. Great feet enable his absurd intelligence and magical hands to make any play happen, no matter the role — he’s played virtually every position and situation imaginable for the NTDP so far this year. Add in his ability to mix-up both his speed and power game, and you have one of the most versatile forwards this draft has to offer, with the playmaking skill to become a second-line forward.

41. Tomáš Galvas, LD — Bílí Tygři Liberec (Czech Extraliga)

Sebastian High – Galvas has been one of the more entertaining European blue-liners in the 2024 class. He’s a very mobile skater whose agility and escapability enable creative small-area problem-solving, which comes in useful when his high-octane style of hockey gets him into trouble. This toolkit and his quick and creative processing enable a dynamic on-puck game; against professional competition, Galvas drives a ton of offense both on the rush and the cycle. His defensive game is less effective as of yet; he remains fairly passive and permissive in his transition defending and his lack of strength and size are most notable in his defending of the cycle. He is far from a guaranteed NHLer, but the tools are tantalizing at their best and a second pairing offensive-leaning role is a possibility if his development focuses on doubling down on his strengths.

42. Ondřej Kos, LW — KOOVEE (Mestis)

Sebastian High – Kos has impressed in our viewings reaching back to the Hlinka-Gretzky Tournament last summer, where he stood out as one of the top defensive forwards at the showing. Since then, he has continued to convince us with refined defensive habits, a possession-oriented approach, and a composed on-puck game. His puck skills remain raw, but he has shown flashes of intriguing playmaking and use of quick processing and speed differentials to create gaps in defensive structures. The upside may be a bit limited with Kos, but once he grows into his frame, we expect him to play reliable and consistent minutes in an NHL bottom-six.

43. EJ Emery, RD — USNTDP (USHL)

Hadi Kalakeche – Emery’s drop in our rankings from 27th to 43rd is based on two factors: other prospects have elevated their game, and Emery hasn’t as much over the past three months. Since our last rankings, Emery has only logged three points in 11 games, and although offense is not what he is known for, you want to see at least some form of adaptation to get more pucks to dangerous areas, and we just haven’t. A fantastic skater with some of the best rush defending tools in this draft, Emery is still worth a shot as a second-rounder — he’s exploring with offense, though, which bodes well for his future on a second pair. If he can’t figure out what works and what doesn’t, there’s still a role for him in long run as a bottom-pair rush specialist in the NHL.

44. Leo Sahlin Wallenius, LD — Växjö Lakers (J20 Nationell)

Sebastian High – Sahlin Wallenius is a skilled and mobile offensive defenseman who has made his mark this season by getting a ton of pucks toward high-danger areas. He’s fairly creative in the offensive zone and has flashed impressive playmaking. While that facet of his game is routinely outshone by his teammate Alfons Freij, it remains a key strength in his game. His feet are pacier than his mental processing at this stage, which makes inconsistent execution a hallmark of his game. In flashes, he anticipates play well, but small miscues in timing are quite common for him in the defensive zone. That said, his high stride rate and impressive agility allow him to recover from mistakes very quickly, which he is typically hasty to do. He’s learning to delay with the puck on his stick and let play develop when he has some space in dangerous areas, which is a promising progression on the offensive side of the puck. The defensive side of the game still needs more work as it is at times marred by hesitation and anxiety. He’s trying to get more involved physically to diversify his defensive impact, but it doesn’t project as an NHL strength yet. The upside is quite intriguing, especially offensively and as a carrier in transition, but the risk makes him a mid 2nd round valuation in our eyes.

45. Cole Beaudoin, C — Barrie Colts (OHL)

Hadi Kalakeche – Beaudoin is yet another prospect whose stock dropped as a result of others in his class elevating their game and standing out as of late, while his game remained relatively the same over the past few months. As a result, he drops 14 spots from 31st in November to 45th in February. Prospects of Beaudoin’s size usually lack the technical puck-protection abilities that average- or below-average-sized prospects are forced to adopt. Beaudoin not only has the size, but the technique, making him one of the best puck-protectors in the draft, as well as a solid defensive contributor. His strong and compact release makes him a solid off-puck threat, too. The ceiling is low with Beaudoin, but there isn’t much preventing him from making a third line as a power forward penalty-killer and cycle offense specialist.

46. Tarin Smith, LD — Everett Silvertips (WHL)

Hadi Kalakeche – An incredibly intelligent defenseman, Smith supports play with area passes, constant scanning and timely offensive activation. His hands are surprisingly good, as he can dangle forwards from the blue line or even score goals when he gets a lane to the slot. Defensively, Smith identifies his checks and sticks to them like glue, and has gotten much better at boxing out the slot. His skating holds him back considerably in both directions, but if he can improve his edgework and weight transfers, there’s a clear path to a second-pairing, second power play role for Smith.

47. Clarke Caswell, LW/C — Swift Current Broncos (WHL)

Luke Sweeney – Caswell was a favorite of ours in early November and, while he hasn’t elevated his game a ton since then, he has maintained his play, chugging along at just over a point-per-game despite the smaller role after his Swift Current Broncos acquired Connor Geekie. Caswell’s calling card is his playmaking game, which is one of the best in this WHL class. Between his vision, deceptiveness, puck protection, timing and middle-lane focus, Caswell is equally adept at finding streaking teammates off the rush as he is turning a low offensive zone turnover into a backdoor play. Caswell wins battles well enough, but with so-so strength and positioning, he’s not a great defensive player. In addition to OK footspeed and shooting, its obvious that Caswell is not a very well-rounded player, but banking on the playmaking skillset, we could see him fitting into an NHL bottom-nine.

48. Veeti Väisänen, LD — KooKoo (Liiga)

Anni Karvinen – Väisänen is a smooth-skating left-handed defenseman who has been logging regular Liiga minutes with KooKoo. He plays a reliable two-way game, closing gaps effectively and positioning himself proactively to stifle threats. While he may not possess the flashiest tools, he utilizes them extremely effectively — Väisänen plays very mature hockey and rarely looks out of place when playing against professional competition. Despite not having the biggest frame (6- foot, 163 pounds), he uses it quite well when closing in on the boards, even against Liiga competition. As the season has progressed, he has become more comfortable playing in the Liiga and, more importantly, playing to his strengths. Becoming more active in the offensive zone is key to his development, but the fundamentals of smarts, poise and mobility make him a solid bet in the mid-forties.

49. Daniil Ustinkov, LD — Zürich SC (NLA)

Sebastian High – Ustinkov is a toolsy defenseman who is at his best with the puck on his stick in transition. He’s a strong skater with good lateral mobility, and he uses those tools well to drive dangerous rushes through the neutral zone. He has a tendency to hold himself back when it comes to aggressive offensive actions, but when he does commit to them, he flashes high levels of creativity and skill. That lack of offensive aggression has held him back in our viewings, but if he learns to trust his instincts a bit more and is afforded more freedom to activate from his coaching staff, he could develop into a dynamic blue-liner. While he’s significantly more raw than the next player on our board – a fellow Swiss defenseman – his convincing selection of tools and flashes of brilliance allowed him to edge out Muggli, and if fostered over the remainder of the season, could see him climb our board significantly.

50. Leon Muggli, LD — EV Zug (NLA)

Sebastian High – Muggli is an intelligent defenseman who is quite capable of getting the most out of his tools. He’s far from the biggest (6-foot, 165 lbs) but he uses leverage well to give himself an advantage in puck and board battles, lowering his center of gravity and absorbing contact well. It’s in the offensive zone, however, where his intelligence shines brightest. He’s not overly daring with the puck on his stick but he’s a capable distributor and play connector, with a keen understanding of where the puck should go to enable scoring chances in any given situation. His tools make him a bit difficult to project into a top 4 NHL role with confidence as of yet, but his intelligence and instincts as a distributor could unlock that potential with more time and development.

51. Cole Hutson, LD — USNTDP (USHL)

Hadi Kalakeche – Seeing a Hutson ranked in the late second round might just give many fans of prospects a serious case of war flashbacks, but in this case, it’s hard to justify ranking Cole Hutson any higher. The more the season goes on, the more we see Cole as a very muted version of Lane. They both display about equal levels of skating, with Cole being much less creative and energetic, and his defensive positioning and awareness are a leg behind Lane’s at the same age. The offensive skill is still there, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a defenseman with the activation instincts that he has, which makes him worth the mid- to late-second-round bet in our eyes.

52. Maxim Massé, RW — Chicoutimi Saguenéens (QMJHL)

Sasha Lagarde: Massé possesses some impressive skills such as his puck-handling ability, a knack for winning battles along the boards, and precise passing to ignite transitions while being a noticeable down-low presence in the offensive zone. While we haven’t seen a lot of shooting prowess this season, he has had flashes of long-range scoring ability. Concerns arise due to his limited speed and questions surrounding his hockey awareness. Transitioning these skills to the NHL might be challenging, given the higher pace and intelligence of NHL players. Despite these potential obstacles, Massé’s unique skill set offers some promise if he can overcome these hurdles to be a contributor at the NHL level.

53. Jett Luchanko, C — Guelph Storm (OHL)

Hadi Kalakeche – Luchanko’s on-ice testing at the CHL top prospects game is making scouts talk, but the projectability of his game is what has seen him crack the first round on Bob McKenzie’s list, among others. We’re not as sold — despite his team-leading 53 points in 48 OHL games — that there’s enough skill to make him worth the first-round bet, but the combination of raw athletic ability, high motor, solid skating and defensive acumen makes Luchanko an easy-to-project player. There’s a role in the NHL as a third-line checking forward in Luchanko’s near future, and for an August birthday, that’s rare.

54. Adam Jecho, RW — Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)

Luke Sweeney – Adam Jecho, a Czech national playing for the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings, has been a much talked-about prospect with some even pushing for him in the early first round. There’s certainly a lot to like. He’s 6’5 and 200+ pounds, scoring near a point-per-game with solid but not spectacular skills. Jecho doesn’t play with a ton of creativity, and while many of his skills are good for a player his size, they don’t stand out in a big way. His shot is hard with a quick release, but he’s not a long-distance sniper. While his puckhandling, touch, and puck protection are all solid, he doesn’t create much with his passing. Jecho’s limited ability to create offense for himself and diminished ability to do so for others drives him down our list.  His size, skill and poised play could make him a decent NHL contributor lower in the lineup, but at this stage, an impact top-sixer seems unlikely.

55. Stian Solberg, LD — Vålerenga (Norway)

Sebastian HighSolberg flew onto our radar at the World Juniors, where he logged massive minutes for Norway. His defensive aggression has stood out consistently in our viewings, the Norwegian blue-liner enjoys playing a violent style of hockey which incentivizes opposing forwards to avoid his side of the ice on the rush. His on-puck decision-making has left room for refinement, but his flashes of offensive dare and shooting skill leave room for optimism that he can develop into an impactful two-way defenseman. While his physicality, defensive aggression, and upside as a rush defender stand out as key strengths, his massive role at the WJC gave him space to show off his ability to be both an offensive transition driver and a real goal-scoring threat. While the massive amounts of time and space in Norwegian pro hockey limits his ability to flash NHL-style offensive plays, we’ve seen enough of his tools, instincts, and defensive habits to justify a top 55 ranking.

56. Carter George, G — Owen Sound Attack (OHL)

Colin Hunter – Our top ranked goalie at the mid-season point, George’s game is mature beyond his years. His ability to track and anticipate play, along with excellent movement selection and (mostly) perfect positioning allow George to consistently keep the play in front of him. On the very rare occasion that he finds himself out of position, he has the athletic ability to recover. Though he’s listed at “only” 6’1, his relatively upright and compact stance allow him to fill more of the net than his counterparts of similar size. George is a confident puck handler and does so often – typically with success.

57. Ryerson Leenders, G — Mississauga Steelheads (OHL)

Colin Hunter – Leenders comes in at #2 in our goalie rankings, but only just barely. In contrast to the calm and conservative George, Leenders plays with a bit more flash – using strong skating, reaction time, and athletic ability to make saves. That is not to say that Leenders is not an excellent technical goaltender; his movements and selections usually leave little to be desired. He clearly thinks the game at a high level and is consistently able to anticipate play and control rebounds at a rate superior to his peers. There may be some concerns with his size as a relatively smaller goaltender, but Leenders appears to have the tools to succeed despite this.

58. Kamil Bednarik, C — USNTDP (USHL)

David Saad – Bednarik oozes confidence and boasts a remarkable power game with his considerable strength and a good dosage of pro habits. He’s raw at the moment, but has been trending in the right direction and looks to be a great “draft-low/high floor” option. He needs some time in the oven, but whether it be as a power forward-esque skill player or as a physically imposing, oppressive grinder, it’s hard not to see him in the NHL at some capacity in the future.

59. Simon Zether, C — Rögle (SHL)

David Saad – Zether is the longest-tenured SHL player of this year’s group and has done fairly well for himself in consistent bottom-six minutes. A defensive specialist in his current role, Zether’s game revolves around playing the body, winning puck battles, and abusing his frame to be a general pest. As he gets better at building on the advantages he creates and adds some overall speed to his game, he can find himself doing a similar job in the NHL quite soon. The potential is limited, but we see a solid third-liner in Zether’s not-too-distant future.

60. Matvei Shuravin, LD — Krasnaya Armiya Moscow (MHL)

Graham Montgomery: – Shuravin is an intriguing defensive prospect. He has decent size and skates well. He uses his reach effectively and maintains good gap control defending against the rush. His major limiting factor is in transition, with some of the worst breakout metrics we’ve ever seen. He projects as a defensive defenseman at the pro level, but he struggles with offensive transitions mightily, even against MHL competition. Ignoring outlet pass options in favor of dump-ins, throwing passes up to nobody for icing after icing… he will need to improve a lot in this area to be considered earlier in the draft for us.

61. Matvei Gridin, LW — Muskegon Lumberjacks (USHL)

David Saad – A bona fide triple threat, Gridin is a monster in the offensive zone and his highlight reel is nothing to scoff at. Few players have the skill and intelligence to pull off the plays he does, which makes his fluctuant engagement all the more frustrating. He tends to shy away from the physical side of the game and despite his above average size, creates a lot of his work through the perimeter and power-play. How effective he will be as a 5v5 forward and if his current style is at all translatable is up for debate. Still, the temptation of one of the best draft-year scorers in recent USHL history at a pro-ready size is one bet many would gladly take.

62. Ben Danford, RD — Oshawa Generals (OHL)

Hadi Kalakeche – Danford’s well-rounded game is sure to attract some NHL scouts earlier than the late second round. A relatively safe defenseman will good breakout tools and mobility, Danford’s upside revolves around retrieve-and-pass plays under pressure. The lack of offensive pop is a detractor, and so is the decision-making on the rare occasions where he gets beat to a loose puck, but there’s upside — especially if he starts experimenting offensively — as the safe member of a middle pair or the more active member of a third pair in the NHL.

63. Luke Osburn, LD — Youngstown Phantoms (USHL)

David Saad Osburn has been making headlines at the USHL level — no rookie defenseman has found their game as quickly as he has. This is largely in part due to some otherworldly hockey sense; a great sense of timing and natural aptitude for playing in motion. He’s great at handling and applying pressure on both sides of the puck and has seemingly mastered the current level’s speed. There are a lot of questions with his game as of now, namely some defensive inefficiencies and uncertainties around his toolset; but he’s one of the youngest draft-eligible players this year and the speed of his progression is staggering. He can soar if he can keep this up.

64. Sam O’Reilly, C — London Knights (OHL)

Hadi Kalakeche –  O’Reilly’s game flows through his processing. Offensively, he relies on his intelligence to find small pockets of space from which to operate, and often plays as F3 on forechecks to respond to sequences rather than lead them with a board battle win. Defensively, he identifies threats earlier than most, anticipates passes and picks them off, all while keeping a mental map of his surroundings. The puck skills won’t be a hallmark of his NHL game, but if the skating improves, the toolkit should translate as a bottom-six defensive center.

Honorable mentions:

Hadi Kalakeche: Will Skahan, LD — USNTDP (USHL)

Skahan goes from an honourable mention in our top 32 to an honourable mention in our top 64. Teams will love him, but no one on our team who has watched him is particularly sold on the processing, poise, skill or decision-making. He’s big, mobile and hits hard, which will be enough for more than one NHL team to give him an early look, but we’re not convinced there’s top-four upside in his game.

Hadi Kalakeche: Max Plante, C — USNTDP (USHL)

Plante’s skill is electric. He often uses his teammates as distractions from his true intention: deking the lights out and driving the middle. On top of that, an absurd playmaking touch makes playing with Plante a matter of when you’ll get a slot pass, not if. The lack of size, strength and pro habits hold him back as he stands, but if that improves, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more creative and skillful player outside of the first round.

Hadi Kalakeche: Gabriel Frasca, C — Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)

Frasca was out due to a shoulder injury for the first half of the OHL schedule, but has shown some interesting soft skill and a mature game since his return to the Kingston lineup. The defensive game has been decent in flashes, but Frasca is still very much finding his footing post-injury. There is more hockey to watch before any of us are comfortable slotting him into the top two rounds.

Sebastian High: Melvin Fernström, RW — Örebro J20 (J20 Nationell)

Fernström’s production has jumped off the page in J20 this season, but the tape leaves us a bit more skeptical. He’s a skilled shooter, making the most of the perimeter scoring chances J20 defenses routinely afford, but his lack of defensive and transition involvement limit his impact at this stage. While the finishing skill and flashes of creativity and handling skill are enticing, his overall toolkit has yet to take shape, which kept him as an HM on our rankings. 

Sebastian High: Topias Hynninen,RW—Jukurit (Liiga/U20 SM-sarja)

Topias Hynninen caught our eyes with his unrelenting motor and flashes of playmaking creativity and skill. The latter two have mainly been apparent in his U20 tape, but he’s spent most of this season in Liiga with Jukurit, where the intensity, pressure application, and forechecking skill. He’s a pain to play against, shining brightest when getting underneath opponents and out-leveraging them on offensive zone puck retrievals. We see the foundation for a potential bottom-six checking winger in Hynninen. 

Sebastian High: Herman Träff, RW — HV71 (J20 Nationell)

Träff may not play the flashiest style of hockey, but he’s fairly toolsy and learning how to make an impact via subtle details. He looks to go against the grain when pressured, especially in the neutral zone, and takes the extra beat of time junior hockey affords in order to deliberate on his options, rather than hastily rushing the first option he spots. He has shown flashes of a power game, creative problem-solving with his hands and strength, and a middle-driven mentality, but the consistency of these flashes would need to increase for us to rank him inside our top 64. 

Sebastian High: Linus Eriksson, C — Djurgården (J20 Nationell)

Eriksson has impressed us with his solid foundation of physical tools and defensive habits so far this season. Both in J20 and HockeyAllsvenskan, he has made his mark on games by consistently applying defensive pressure, whether it be on the back check or against the cycle, and placing himself in key passing lanes, scanning to make adjustments. His skating, lower body strength, and puck protection tools and mechanics all represent strengths in his game, and aid his projection as a potential bottom-six contributor. 

Anni Karvinen: Aatos Koivu, C — TPS U20 (U20 SM-sarja)

Aatos Koivu, the son of former NHLer Saku Koivu, has taken huge steps during the season. The intelligent center started the season with the U18 team but was moved to play in the U20 and has also gotten a couple of Liiga call-ups already. While his physical play needs improving, he possesses a couple of nice tools in his toolkit with his shot and skating.

Anni Karvinen: Sebastian Soini, RD — Ilves (U20 SM-sarja)

Soini has put up a solid season playing mostly in Mestis, the second Finnish pro league. The most notable thing with Soini’s play has been his composure under pressure. He can make good decisions with the puck in his own end and that combined with his good frame (6-foot-2, 194 pounds) is something that NHL organizations like to see.

Luke Sweeney: Julius Miettinen, RW — Everett Silvertips (WHL)

A 6’3 Finn playing in the WHL, there’s a lot interesting about Miettinen’s game, even if he is a project. Miettinen wins a lot of puck battles, is a good skater and puckhandler, and looks to make a lot of plays into the middle of the ice. He has also carved out a successful role at the netfront for Everett’s powerplay. However, he struggles in his own end and doesn’t create chances at either the volume or success rate you would like to see. It might take some time, but Miettinen’s toolkit makes him a player to watch.

Jordan Harris: Lukas Fischer, LD — Sarnia Sting (OHL)

Fischer looks like an NHL player from a physical standpoint, but he is definitely still developing his game.  A 6-foot-4 defenseman with incredible strength and good skating, Fischer is still learning how good he can be on both sides of the puck. The inconsistencies in his defensive game are what holds him back from being ranked for now. If he puts it all together, there’s huge potential for him.

Jordan Harris: Marek Vanacker, LW — Brantford Bulldogs (OHL)

Vanacker is a goal-scorer who moves around the ice with ease and can really reach another gear to distance himself from opponents. He has put up very impressive point totals in Brantford playing in all situations, but we feel like he’s gotten a few more bounces to go his way than one would expect. Still, Vanacker is a very promising prospect and could push higher up our list by season’s end.

Sasha Lagarde: Justin Poirier, RW — Baie-Comeau Drakkar (QMJHL)

Poirier has one elite tool that he has abused throughout the course of his QMJHL career: his ability to shoot the puck from a variety of places. Standing at 5’8, 181 pounds, he does a great job of leveraging his smaller frame to win puck battles and he doesn’t shy away from the physical part of his game. However, his meal ticket is his shot and any team who takes him will have to round out a lot of other parts of his game to get him to the NHL.

Sasha Lagarde: Marcus Kearsey, LD — Charlottetown Islanders (QMJHL)

Kearsey is a really fun, mobile defenseman who provides efficient zone exit and offensive zone entry in the QMJHL this season. His skating is really excellent and he has improved his edgework to make him even more agile especially while walking the blue line. However, he needs to improve his defensive positioning and his gap control, as he gets beat on the outside often enough for it to be a concern. Keep an eye out for this guy.

Sasha Lagarde: Noel Fransén, LD — Färjestad BK (J20 Nationell)

Fransén is a very solid skater on the back end who is more than capable of doing everything on the ice well. He is a safe, good in transition player who has flashed some offensive upside in the J20. Nothing stands out as elite with Franzen but he can become a nice stabilizing piece on a teams bottom-4.

Graham Montgomery: Yegor Surin, RW — Loko Yaroslavl (MHL)

A feisty and physical offensive-minded center. Surin plays with an edge, evident by his tendency on one hand to throw massive, game-altering hits, and on the other hand, to take unnecessary penalties. There is some upside as a playmaker, although he often takes an individualistic approach to creating offense. His motor and pace of play are both highlights, showing potential to be a bottom-six energy player.

David Saad: Brendan McMorrow, LW — USNTDP (USHL)

Strong, a great skater and a reliable two-way forward, McMorrow is one of the few NTDP players who are better without the puck than with it. We can see him churn out an NHL job on a shutdown line — he has all the tools to be an effective bottom-six player.

Colin Hunter: Eemil Vinni, G — JokP (Mestis)

The top goalie for many coming into the draft year, Vinni had a real rough start to his professional career in Mestis. Since then, however, he has been excellent and seems to have found his footing playing against men. Vinni is an intriguing prospect: the tools are evident but so are the issues. His lateral speed and general skating abilities are great, and he loves to aggressively challenge shooters. However, he can have a hard time tracking, getting beat on medium-low danger chances and through the body too often. 

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Name Fantasy Upside NHL Certainty
Colby Barlow 8.0 9.5
Ville Heinola 6.5 8.5
Dylan Coghlan 4.5 7.5
Oskar Magnusson 6.5 4.0
Patrick Guay 7.0 5.0
Brandon Lisowsky 6.5 5.5
Nick Malik 4.5 1.0
Kyle Jackson 6.0 5.0
Viktor Persson 6.0 2.0
Jeremy Langlois 6 5.5

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