Image courtesy: @S7Dsn
As we enter the halfway mark of the season, players are beginning to separate themselves from the pack. For some, an opportunity to showcase themselves at the recent World Jr. A U19’s or on the big stage at the upcoming World Junior Championships is riddled with pressure. The expectation of improvement rings loudly in their ears of all the players each day.
And just as we expect players to make strides and improve year-over-year, I expect the same from myself as a talent-evaluator. In the past, I’ve tried to accrue as much data as I could over a large swath of players. This meant that I may have seen a player three or four times before Christmas and then perhaps not again. I felt spread too thin. This year, I’m attempting to limit my numbers to improve my depth of knowledge on those individuals. It means the public list will be smaller, but hopefully, improved.
As always, my assessments are limited. I am but one man who also has a four-year-old son, a four-month-old daughter, a teaching career, and many writing commitments. However, I’m fortunate enough to have a very patient and supportive wife, as well as a thickening list of smart eyes in the stands to bounce things off of.
The list below is not intended to mock up what the selections will eventually be this June. This is how I perceive the player today in conjunction with how I believe they will progress and develop. I’m limited to mostly assessing these players on their on-ice achievements. Knowing these young men as individuals would be telling towards their drive and determination. Something that cannot be understated.
Regarding my method, I place immense value on skating ability and processing speed. Physical attributes are great, but if you can’t see the play develop or recognize your options quickly, both offensively and defensively, you’ll be destined for an uphill battle. It’s hard not to love a creative player with a rocket of a shot or incredibly slick puck skills. But those attributes come behind speed and smarts.
Regarding tiers, Tier 1 is a two-player cabin. Quinton Byfield sits in the pole position with Alexis Lafrenière less than a whisker behind. I’m sure there will be chatter regarding the flip-flop at the top, but my decision was not taken lightly. Byfield possesses the immense potential to be a rare and special type of player. A centre so large and skillful that matchups will cease to phase him. A kingmaker of a man. The way he can manipulate his body with possession and under duress is wildly impressive and he’s barely 17 years old. And while his explosiveness can appear less-than-stellar due to his length, he generates so much power in his stride that it does not take long for him to get up to high gear. His game continues to evolve each day, week, month.
The arc is racing upwards.
Meanwhile, Lafrenière, who is currently the more advanced offensive player, is a menace with the puck. His shiftiness and puck skills are unmatched. His shot is heavy, quick and accurate. He’s going to be an impressive first-line winger – potentially even as early as next season. However, and I may be nitpicking a tad here, his feet can be a bit heavy at times. It clearly isn’t holding him back any at the CHL level. But its an area in need of some cleaning up.
Tier 2 houses players 3-10, Tier 3 is 11-20, Tier 4 starts to thicken up with players 21-31. Call Tier 5 the kids outside of round one because it’s not even 2020 yet. Let’s not split too many hairs.
- Quinton Byfield, C / 08-19-02 / 6’5 214lbs / OHL
A physical specimen who blends exceptional power to a speed-driven, skill game. His quick hands allow him to maneuver in tight spaces, while the long reach propels his puck-protection. A mammoth of a man at just 17. His absolute ceiling is so rare, that it’s scary to even consider.
- Alexis Lafrenière, LW / 10-11-01 / 6’1 192lbs / QMJHL
A premier, point-producing machine. Extremely dangerous in one-on-one situations. Scores in a variety of ways but equally menacing with his distribution skills. Will be one of the rare wingers who will dictate everything.
- Lucas Raymond, LW/ 03-28-02/ 5’10 165lbs / SHL
An explosive winger who is equally dangerous with his shot or pass. Moves with quickness and handles the puck at a high-level even at top speed. His puck skills are fluid, controlled and capable of embarrassing. Finishes with accuracy off of a quick release. Capable of converting from all over. Possesses that rare trait of escapability. Hasn’t been afforded much top-six time with a top SHL club, but shouldn’t cloud our impression of him.
- Jamie Drysdale, RHD / 04-08-02 / 5’11 165lbs / OHL
A fluid, puck-possessing rearguard who plays with terrific pace. Has his head up at all times, and can bomb outlets the length of a football field. Uses his brain to get a jump on bigger opponents. Transitions for days. He’ll devour minutes in the NHL.
- Marco Rossi, C / 09-23-01 / 5’9 179lbs / OHL
One of the elder statesmen of the class gives up size but makes up for it in skill. Has the ability to drop-jaws with his puck skills. A duel-threat off of the rush or set up. A monster on the man-advantage. His numbers this season have forced people to take notice.
- Tim Stützle, C / 01-15-02 / 5’11 165lbs / DEL
Germany: Elite Producer of Prospects. After Adler Mannheim incubated Moritz Seider into the top 10, they’ll look to do the same with the skill centre in Stützle. Speed and quickness are the name of the game. Quality vision and a nice release round out the profile.
- Anton Lundell, C / 10-03-01 / 6’1 183lbs / Liiga
A polished, two-way centre who already brings the full package. His patience with the puck allows him to distribute the puck with more efficiency. Boasts an elite brain. Looks bigger, stronger, and faster than last season. Very good at everything.
- Alexander Holtz, RW / 01-23-02 / 6’ 183lbs / SuperElit
An elite shooter who can finish from out high. Anticipates well and gets his body into a position to fire. Owns above-average speed and puck skills to go with the killer instinct. Set the U17 SuperElit goal-scoring record last season. Playing a sizable role in the SHL now.
- Cole Perfetti, C / OHL / 01-01-02 / 5’10 185lbs / OHL
Let’s just stick with the incredible finishers. Perfetti led all CHL rookies in tallies a season ago. He broke the Hlinka record a minute later. This kid has ice in his veins and can convert from out high or down low. Reads the play, finds the soft areas and owns a deft passing touch as well. A little more quickness would be great.
- Yaroslav Askarov, G / 06-16-02 / 6’3 163lbs / VHL
The best goaltending prospect we’ve seen in a very long time. Hits all the markers – size, composure, puck-tracking, elasticity, and competitive fire. His body of work thus far deserves a top-10 slot. Currently tearing up the VHL this year which is literally unheard of for a U18.
- Dylan Holloway, C / 09-23-01 / 6’ 192lbs / NCAA
A powerful, two-way pivot. Boasts a heavy release that he uses to draw defenders before expertly distributing. Has made a nice impact at Wisconsin as a true freshman amongst a sea of impressive freshmen.
- Connor Zary, C / 09-25-01 / 6’ 174lbs / WHL
A puck-possession pivot who clicked above a point-per-game last season. Great speed, deft puck skills, and equally dangerous with the shot and pass. An elder statesman.
- Emil Andrae, LHD / 02-23-02 / 5’9 183lbs / SuperElit
Creative, shifty, and intelligent. Throw in strong edgework and deceptive speed and you’ve got the recipe for success for an undersized defender. Can dance out there.
- Noel Gunler, RW / 10-07-01 / 6’1 176lbs / SHL
In most classes, Gunler would be the premier finisher in the group. In 2020, he’s fourth or fifth. That’s no slight to him. The Swede possesses a killer instinct and never hesitates to puck a shot on net. Despite that ability, he has a strong distribution game to go along with quick hands. The skating is okay.
- Dawson Mercer, RW / 10-27-01 / 6’ 172lbs / QMJHL
Intelligent, play-creating winger. Makes the hard plays, but can also dazzle with his puck skills. Two-step quickness already showing improvements.
- Topi Niemelä, RHD / 03-25-02 / 6’ 163lbs / Liiga
Won’t often wow you with his offensive creativity, but blends intelligent reads with effective transitions. Heady player with a lot of upside.
- Rodion Amirov, LW / 10-02-01 / 6’ 168lbs / KHL
An impressive two-way winger. Competes for every puck and tends to win thanks to his balance and strong core. Was electric at the U18s. Has a quick, deadly release to go along with soft hands. More speed and strength would vault him up.
- Jan Mysak, C/LW / 06-24-02 / 6’ 176lbs / Czech
A poised, intelligent forward who anticipates the play as well as anyone in this class. Has already added better speed to his package and will look to continue that trend. An underrated finisher.
- Mavrik Bourque, C / 01-08-02 / 5’10 165lbs / QMJHL
The type of player who sees the game a step ahead of most. A dual-threat offensive catalyst who thrives on the man-advantage. More strength and speed would be nice.
- Jérémie Poirier, LHD / 06-02-02 / 6’ 192lbs / QMJHL
Toolsy defender with above-average skating and puck skills. Transitions well with his feet, but can skate (and pass) himself into trouble at times.
- Jake Sanderson, LHD / 07-08-02 / 6’1 185lbs / USNTDP
A raw defender who oozes potential but needs a lot of refinement. Flashes premier qualities. NoDak commit.
- Roni Hirvonen, C /01-10-02 / 5’9 163 / Liiga
Some of the quickest and deadliest hands in the crop. Has stepped up to the Liiga full-time this season and performed well in a limited role. Destined to be a winger.
- Hendrix Lapierre, C / 02-09-02 / 6’ 165lbs / QMJHL
A premier distributor with quick hands and a mind for creating. Makes plays at a high rate and often with a high degree of difficulty. Doesn’t possess high-end skating abilities, but his awareness and anticipation make up for it. Relies a little too much on the PP. Concussion issues are concerning.
- Theodor Niederbach, C / 02-25-02 / 5’11 172lbs / SuperElit
An agile centre who can make plays in tight spaces. Loves to pull the puck in and let it fly. Has been excellent in the J20.
- Brendan Brisson, LW / 10-22-01 / 5’11 179lbs / USHL
A finisher by nature, but the intelligence and wherewithal to draw opponents and make a nice play. Been trending upwards throughout his rookie USHL campaign. A former prep school superstar.
- Eemil Viro, LHD / 04-03-02 / 6’ 168lbs / Jr. SM-liiga
A calming presence who makes the correct play most of the time. Good feet. Tight gaps. Think Ville-Heinola-lite.
- Zion Nybeck, RW / 05-12-02 / 5’8 176lbs / SuperElit
Speedy, competitive winger who can terrorize on the forecheck despite his size. Plays bigger than he is. Can make plays in-tight. A duel threat.
- John-Jason-Peterka, LW/RW / 01-14-02 / 5’10 181lbs / DEL
A nifty offensive player who has strong anticipation skills and the confidence to jump into openings and drive hard. His finishing ability is hinged on a quick and accurate release where he limits the movement of his bottom hand to add further deception. He’s been very good in the top German circuit.
- Tyson Foerster, C / 01-18-02 / 6’1 194lbs / OHL
Can really rip it. Has taken noticeable steps forward in the past 16 months and is a clear riser for this crop. Sound decision-making. I would still like to see him explode into holes more often.
- Willam Wallinder, LHD / 07-28-02 / 6’4 192lbs / Allsvenskan
Large and in-charge. Nice upside here. Quality feet. Quick outlets. Not afraid to jump into the rush. Looks competent in a pro league as a young ’02.
- Braden Schneider, RHD / 09-20-01 / 6’2 209lbs / WHL
A bit of a throw-back, two-way defender. Decent feet and smart outlets. Makes the safe play. Questionable whether he’ll play up the lineup in the NHL, but has a very safe floor.
- Ryan O’Rourke, LHD / 05-16-02 / 6’2 181lbs / OHL
- Vasili Ponomaryov, C/LW / 03-13-02 / 6’ 176lbs / QMJHL
- Kasper Simontaival, RW / 01-11-02 / 5’9 172lbs / Metis
- Thomas Bordeleau, C / 01-03-02 / 5’9 179lbs / USNTDP
- Lukas Cormier, LHD / 03-27-02 / 5’8 170lbs / QMJHL
- Justin Sourdif, C / 03-24-02 / 5’11 165lbs / WHL
- Jaromir Pytlik, C / 09-25-02 / 6’3 196lbs / OHL
- Helge Grans, RHD / 05-10-02 / 6’3 192lbs / SuperElit
- Antonio Stranges, C/LW / 02-05-02 / 5’10 179lbs / OHL
- Jack Thompson, RHD / 6’1 172lbs / OHL
- Jacob Perreault, C/RW / 04-15-02 / 5’11 198lbs / OHL
- Ty Smilanic, C / 01-20-02 / 6’1 170lbs / USNTDP
- Sean Farrell, LW / 11-02-01 / 5’9 179lbs / USHL
- Michael Benning, RHD / 01-05-02 / 5’9 170lbs / AJHL
- Jake Neighbours, LW / 03-29-02 / 5’11 201lbs / WHL
- Jack Quinn, RW / 09-19-01 / 5’11 176lbs / OHL
- Kaiden Guhle, LHD / 01-18-02 / 6’3 187lbs / WHL
- Seth Jarvis, RW / 02-01-02 / 5’10 172lbs / WHL
- Lukas Reichel, LW/RW / 05-17-02 / 6’ 170lbs / DEL
- Ozzy Wiesblatt, RW / 03-09-02 / 5’10 182lbs / WHL
- Daniil Guschin, RW / 02-06-02 / 5’8 161lbs / USHL
- Nick Malik, G / 04-26-02 / 6’2 174lbs / Czech2
- Jean-Luc Foudy, C /05-13-02 / 5’11 168lbs / OHL
- Dylan Peterson, C / 01-08-02 / 6’4 192lbs / USNTDP
- Joel Blomqvist, G / 01-10-02 /6’1 205lbs / Jr SM-liiga
- Will Cuylle, LW / 02-05-02 / 6’2 201lbs / OHL
- Justin Barron, RHD / 11-15-01 / 6’2 192lbs / QMJHL
- Alexander Pashin, LW / 07-28-02 / 5’7 154lbs / MHL
- Oliver Suni, RW / 02-13-02 / 6’2 187lbs / OHL
- Tristen Robins, C / 10-15-01 / 5’10 174lbs / WHL
- Alexander Nikishin, LD / 10-02-01 / 6’3 196lbs / KHL
Follow me on Twitter @Hockey_Robinson
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