Feature Story: Metropolitan Division Draft Grades

by Sam Stern on July 9, 2019

Carolina Hurricanes

 

Round 1, pick 28:  Ryan Suzuki, C

Round 2, pick 36:  Pyotr Kochetkov, G

Round 2, pick 44:  Jamieson Rees, C

Round 3, pick 73:  Patrik Puistola, RW

Round 3, pick 83:  Anttoni Honka, D

Round 3, pick 90:  Domenick Fensore, D

Round 4, pick 99:  Cade Webber, D

Round 4, pick 121: Tuukka Tieksola, RW

Round 5, pick 152: Kirill Slepets, RW

Round 6, pick 181: Kevin Wall, RW

Round 6, pick 183: Blake Murray, C

Round 7, pick 216: Massimo Rizzo, C

 

Day 1 Grade: A-

Day 2 Grade: A+

 

Day One:

 

Ryan Suzuki:

 

The Hurricanes landed one of the best pure-playmakers in the class when Ryan Suzuki fell in their laps at 28. Suzuki is a proficient skater who uses his ability to get around the ice and an inherent ability to conceptualize plays on the fly to make himself a constant threat on the ice. Suzuki’s hands, vision and passing are all off the charts, but he’s far from a complete prospect. The major issue with Suzuki’s game — and the reason he fell to 28th — is that he’s allergic to shooting the puck. “But, Sam, he scored 25 goals last season!” Yes he did, he’s a good shooter! The issue is that he doesn’t shoot the puck nearly enough. Plenty of players have made successful careers as pass-first players, but he’ll need to commit to shooting to puck more if he doesn’t want to become a one-dimensional player — even if that one dimension is incredible. 

 

Day Two Highlights:

 

Patrik Puistola:

 

This was a homerun pick for the Hurricanes at 73rd overall. Many experts had Puistola as a late first/early second round candidate, myself included — I had him ranked 33rd. Coming into the draft Puistola had just completed the best ever D-1 season in Mestis (Finland’s second-tier men’s league) in history. His individual skills are undeniable, he’s a swift skater with a very deep bag of one-on-one moves that he loves to pull from off the rush. He’s also quite adept at hiding his release, something he loves to do immediately following a one-on-one move. His shot is among the most accurate in the class making him extremely dangerous on the rush or after possession is established.

 

Domenick Fensore:

 

In four years time if this pick ends up being the steal of the draft I won’t be the least bit surprised. Fensore is an absolute dynamo on the ice. He’s an elite skater, passer and puck-handler. His understanding of how to create lanes, or change the angle of a play at a moments notice is among the best of any draft eligible defenseman I’ve seen over the last five years. Everything Fensore does with the puck is done with the singular purpose of creating a dangerous scoring chance. So, why then, did he fall into the third round? Ten years ago we were told that undersized forwards have next to on chance of being dominant players in the NHL. Of course, this was a ridiculous sentiment. Today we’re told the exact same thing about defensemen. My hope and expectation is that Fensore will be the player that begins to reverse this line of thinking. The Hurricanes have a player here.

 

Jamieson Rees:

 

Rees is one of the best straight line skaters in this class. He has fantastic top speed and doesn’t take long to get there. Once he’s flying his head is up hands are able to keep up with his feet. He thinks the game well and does a very nice job of filtering the puck to the middle of the ice, because of this the chances he creates are generally dangerous. There are some injury and production concerns, but his physical ability is that of a first round talent. Swinging on highly skilled players in the second round is a strategy that I can get behind.

 

What I Would Change:

 

I would have grown up as a Hurricanes fan.

 

Columbus Blue Jackets

 

Day 2 Grade: C-

 

Day Two Highlights:

 

Eric Hjorth:

 

Here’s a player who may have worked his way into the second round had it not been for knee issues that kept him off the ice for all but four regular season games. Hjorth is a massive defenseman who gets up the ice well and loves to shoot the puck. He possesses an absolute cannon of a slap shot as well as a hard and accurate wrist shot. Hjorth loves to join the rush and find soft areas as a trailer to finish a play. He’s a capable puck-handler and does a good job changing directions as he breaks through the neutral zone. 

 

What I Would Change:

 

The Jackets took their shot at making a deep playoff run, but ultimately fell short. Hey, at least they swept the Cup-favorites in the first round to give their fans their first playoff series win. Of course, this left them with virtually no picks left in the draft. This is the price you pay for trying to win. I think fans are happy with the tradeoff.

 

New Jersey Devils

 

Round 1, pick 1: Jack Hughes, C

Round 2, pick 61: Nikita Okhotyuk, D

Round 3, pick 70: Danil Misyul, D

Round 3, pick 80: Graeme Clarke, RW

Round 3, pick 82: Michael Vukojevic, D

Round 4, pick 96: Tyce Thompson, RW

Round 4, pick 118: Case McCarthy, D

Round 5, pick 127: Cole Brady, G

Round 5, pick 129: Arseny Gritsyuk, RW

Round 6, pick 158: Patrick Moynihan, RW

Round 7, pick 189: Nikola Pasic, RW

 

Day 1 Grade: A+

Day 2 Grade: C+

 

Day One:

 

Jack Hughes:

 

You don’t leave Day One of the draft with Jack Hughes and receive any grade less than an A+. Hughes is a consummate superstar, franchise-altering prospect. Hughes’ mind for the game is unmatched by any prospect since McDavid. He acts on plays as quickly as he conceptualizes them leaving opponents and slower teammates in his wake. Offensively, there is nothing that Hughes can’t do. He may be the second best overall skater in the league as early as next season — behind McDavid. Hughes’ ability to explode out of his crossovers makes him nearly impossible to stop when he’s coming through the neutral zone. He’s able to change directions at top speed and handle the puck masterfully to create holes in the defense’s coverage at lightning speed. Once he’s created the lane he hits his target on the tape, no questions asked. Whether he’s threading a puck through traffic or placing a backhand saucer pass flat on the ice just before his teammate’s stick Hughes is one of the most talented passers we’ll ever see in the NHL. He’s never going to a powerful physical presence, but he’s a good bet to hit 6’ by the time he’s physically mature. His skating, hands and brain are so highly advanced that physical play will be rendered ineffective once he adjusts to the speed of play in the NHL. At every level of competition he’s proven that anything less than double-coverage is simply not enough to contain him. The Devils have their superstar.

 

Day Two Highlights:

 

Graeme Clark:

 

The Devils swung on a talented shooter who played in a diminished role on an older, talented Ottawa 67s team and I absolutely loved it. Clarke was a bit of a hidden gem this season as he had to compete for much of the year to secure a top-6 role; something he accomplished towards the end of the season. Clarke is a gifted puck-handler who likes to work his way in-between the dots and beat goaltenders. He’s not an overly creative passer, but makes good efficient plays that lead to scoring chances. He lacks an extra gear in his skating that, for me, would have set him apart as a top-62 selection regardless of his role with Ottawa.

 

Patrick Moynihan:

 

It’s been re-hashed over and over and we’re going to do it again here. The “role players” on this year’s NTDP U18 team were far better than the roles assigned to them. Had they not been competing with an otherworldly talented group of forwards they would have been major contributors. Patrick Moynihan is exactly the type of player I’m referring to. Often relegated to the fourth line and forced to play out of his natural position Moynihan still found a way to contribute offensively, while playing a responsible defensive game. By no means is he going to become an offensive star, but does he project as an effective third line center? Absolutely.

 

What I Would Change:

 

Day Two was hit and miss for the Devils who made a total of 10 picks in rounds two through seven. My biggest grievance with what the Devils did came in the second round when they selected defenseman Nikita Okhotyuk 61st overall. He’s just not a very effective player in terms of offense or on the breakout. His best qualities are that he’s a big kid that hits hard. A decade ago this pick might have made sense, but today, selecting a player that is unlikely to help your team outside of the physical game this early is a mistake. With defensemen like Domenick Fensore, Anttoni Honka, Mattias Nordlinder, Mikko Kokkonen and Leyton Ahac all being selected in the third round I feel that the Devils could have done a lot better for themselves here.

 

New York Islanders

 

Round 1, pick 23:  Simon Holmström, RW

Round 2, pick 57:  Samuel Bolduc, D

Round 5, pick 147: Reece Newkirk, C

Round 6, pick 178: Félix Bibeau, C

Round 7, pick 209: Cole Coskey, RW

 

Day 1 Grade: B-

Day 2 Grade: B-

 

Day One:

 

Simon Holmstrom:

 

Injuries (hip surgery and a concussion) sidelined holmstrom for a lot of the season and hurt his play even when re turned. At his best, Holmstrom is a talented, fast playmaker who can dart in and out of traffic to create holes and feed his linemates. He makes flashy passes and can dazzle with his individual skill, but will need to start shooting the puck more instead of over-passing if he’s going to be successful in the NHL. His ceiling is a top-six winger that will facilitate offense for his linemates and help run the top power play unit.

 

Day Two Highlights:

 

Reece Newkirk:

 

The Islanders made a fantastic pick when they selected Newkirk in the fifth round at 147th overall. Newkirk bounced around the lineup in Portland this season seeing time as the first line center some games and third line winger in other games. Regardless of where Newkirk played he created offense for himself and those around him. He’s one of the more dangerous passers in the WHL and uses his ability to process the game to get into scoring positions. A lack of elite footspeed is what, in my opinion, held him back from being selected much higher. Don’t be surprised if he looks like a steal in a few years time.

 

What I Would Change:

 

I might have packaged a second round pick and whatever other accompanying pieces to move up and select some of the first round talent that fell into the second. 

 

New York Rangers

 

Round 1, pick 2: Kaapo Kakko, RW

Round 2, pick 49: Matthew Robertson, D

Round 2, pick 58: Karl Henriksson, C

Round 3, pick 68: Zac Jones, D

Round 4, pick 112: Hunter Skinner, D

Round 5, pick 130: Leevi Aaltonen, RW/LW

Round 6, pick 161: Adam Edstrom, C/W

Round 7, pick 205: Eric Ciccolini, RW

 

Day 1 Grade: A+

Day 2 Grade: B+

 

Day One:

 

Kaapo Kakko:

 

Every season the “rivalry” between the top two players in the draft gets more heated as we draw near the draft. But, this year just felt different. Kaapo Kakko had a storybook season playing in Liiga as a U18. He set the goal-scoring record by an U-18 player in the Finnish Liiga, won Rookie of the Year in Liiga, scored the golden goal at the World Junior Under-20 Tournament, won gold at the Men’s World Championships where he recorded six goals in 10 games against some of the best players in the world. Already physically mature, Kakko has drawn comparisons to Jaromir Jagr, Rick Nash and other former superstars. His ability to control the puck along the boards using his incredible leg strength, quick turns and elite-level puck skills captured the hearts of scouts and draft aficionados alike– to the point that it was reported that there seemed to be a 60/40 split on Hughes and Kakko amongst scouts and GMs in the NHL. He’s an incredibly versatile and dangerous scorer who can beat goaltenders from anywhere on the ice. His vision and creativity in the offensive zone are elite; he loves to create offense from below the goal line right up to the dots. In Kakko, the New York Rangers were not awarded a mere consolation prize. They’ve acquired their future superstar for the next 15 years.

 

Day Two Highlights:

 

Matthew Robertson:

 

The Rangers selected a defender 49th overall that many had going in the first round. Robertson has the size, strength and mobility to project as a top-4 defenseman. He does a very nice job of choosing when to join the rush and has a well-developed shot that he uses with frequency. Robertson doesn’t project to be a particularly high-scoring defenseman, but instead, a very effective player in all three zones, who helps his team maintain possession of the puck. His first pass is accurate and quick, he likes to take control and work through the neutral zone to create controlled-entries and has a blistering shot from the point. 

 

Karl Henriksson:

 

He spent the season centering an elite winger in Lucas Raymond on Frolunda j20’s top forward line. Henriksson is a well-balanced center who plays a responsible defensive game while possessing the skill and processing ability to be dangerous offensively. Henriksson distributes the puck well and loves to circle high in the offensive zone to give his wingers time to find an open area. He battles around the net and finds soft areas to tuck away rebounds and in-tight passes. Henriksson safely projects as a full-time middle-six NHL center.

 

Leevi Aaltonen:

 

This was another fantastic pick late in the draft that I’m confident will be looked at as a steal in a few years. Aaltonen is an absolutely electric skater who reaches top speed in the blink of an eye. His skating ability coupled with a sneaky release on his hard and accurate shot make him a particularly dangerous player off the rush. He’s small and is guilty of fading at times, but the upside here is absurd.

 

What I Would Change:

 

In the fourth round the Rangers selected a relatively unknown defenseman in Hunter Skinner. Skinner was not productive in the USHL this season and upon review of his game tends to make some pretty bad decisions with the puck. He also lacks any sort of finesse or skill with the puck on his stick. This was a bad pick that becomes more painful when you look at some of the players selected right after him.

 

Philadelphia Flyers

 

Round 1, pick 14: Cam York, D

Round 2, pick 34: Bobby Brink, RW

Round 3, pick 72: Ronnie Attard, D

Round 4, pick 103: Mason Millman, D

Round 6, pick 165: Yegor Serdyuk, RW

Round 6, pick 169: Randy Ross, G

Round 7, pick 196: Bryce Brodzinski,

 

Day 1 Grade: B-

Day 2 Grade: B+

 

Day One:

 

Cam York:

 

York had the luxury of being the top defenseman on a team riddled with high-end forwards. He’s a good skater, a good passer and he thinks the game well, but he isn’t elite in any one area. York is capable of making a jaw-dropping play with his puck skills and does well to find the open man. He just doesn’t look to have the extra gear that will turn him into a high-end offensive defenseman. I question some of his decision-making and have doubts about his ability to continue producing once he’s away from Jack Hughes, Alex Turcotte, Trevor Zegras, Cole Caufield and Matthew Boldy. He projects as a skilled second pairing defenseman that will help out with the man-advantage.

 

Day Two Highlights:

Bobby Brink:

 

The fact that Brink fell out of the top-20 let alone the first round is astounding to me. Brink has one of the top five minds in this class. He processes everything at full-speed better than most kids can at half-speed. The power and accuracy of his shot and the deception with which he uses it make him one of the most dangerous shooters in his age group. He may be the hardest working forward along the boards in the class and as soon as he retrieves the puck he’s able to turn it into offense. Skating issues are the only knock on his game and while it’s evident that he isn’t a fantastic skater, if cleaning up his stride is the only thing he needs to truly work on — it is — the Flyers landed themselves a top-15 talent in the second round.

 

Yegor Serdyuk:

 

Serdyuk is a quality passer who needs to clean up some skating issues and start being more selfish. His skill-level with the puck and ability to find the open man make him a threat every time he’s on the ice. He’s dangerous one-on-one and loves to make a quick move to change the angle of a play and hit a man that no one thought was open. He’ll need to be more explosive and find ways not to fade for extended stretches to reach his potential.

 

What I Would Change:

 

The Flyers looked really smart when they traded back from pick 11 to pick 14 in the first round, until they selected Cam York. This is less of a knock on York, who is a fine player and a fine pick in that range and more of an indictment on management, who passed up on Alex Newhook and Cole Caufield. Two forwards who present first line ceilings and all the tools to get there. The Flyers didn’t take either of the best players available.

 

Pittsburgh Penguins

 

Round 1, pick 21: Samuel Poulin, RW

Round 3, pick 74: Nathan Légaré, RW

Round 5, pick 145: Judd Caufield: RW

Round 7, pick 203: Valtteri Puustinen, RW

Round 7, pick 211: Santeri Airola, D

 

Day 1 Grade: B+

Day 2 Grade: C+

 

Day One:

 

Samuel Poulin:

 

The Penguins used their first round pick since 2014 on a well-rounded winger who projects as a top-six forward that will slot into the lineup nicely within the next three years. Poulin does everything well; he’s a dangerous passer who has good enough hands to make a move and create a new lane when there’s nothing readily available. He has a thick frame that he uses to punish defenders that dare challenge him along the boards or in front of the net. Poulin is adept at finding soft areas from which to unleash his deadly shot. His shot it undoubtedly his most dangerous asset. He gets the puck off quickly and it just explodes off his blade and finds his target with regularity. The lack of flashiness in his game left him somewhat underrated this season, but that didn’t stop the Penguins from making a really good pick 21st overall.

 

Day Two Highlights:

 

Nathan Legare:

 

In Legare the Penguins landed one of the best trigger-men in the class. His shot is absolutely dynamite and it’s very easy to envision an aging Sidney Crosby setting him up 30-40 times a season. Outside of his shot, though Legare has some work to do. He’s not a creative passer and he labors a bit trying to get down the ice. The potential is there for Legare to be a goal-scorer in theNHL, but not until he rounds out his game.

 

What I Would Change:

 

The Penguins did well with the picks that they had, but instead of taking two Finnish overagers in the seventh round I would much rather have seen them dip back into the QMJHL pool and select forward Xavier Simoneau. He was one of the best passers in this class and it’s a travesty that he went undrafted. He would have made this PEnguins draft class look much better.

 

Washington Capitals

 

Day 1 Grade: B+

Day 2 Grade: B-

 

Round 1, pick 25: Connor McMichael, C

Round 2, pick 56: Brett Leason, RW

Round 3, pick 91: Aliaksei Protas, C

Round 5, pick 153: Martin Hugo Has, D

 

Day One:

 

Connor McMichael:

 

People seem to be low on this selection, but I’m actually quite happy with it. McMichael is an all around center who does a fantastic job of creating and finishing around the net. He’s going to make his money inside the dots and in front of the net where he has an instinctive ability to locate where the puck is going to be and put it in the net. He’s a serviceable passer who could stand to add a little more flair to that aspect of his game, but I think the Capitals landed a future contributor here.

 

Day Two Highlights:

 

Martin Hugo Has:

 

Has is a lanky defenseman who does a nice job of using his reach and an accurate pokecheck to keep oncoming rushers from entering the zone cleanly. He’s an adequate skater who does an alright job of joining the rush and contributing on offense. He’s got a heavy shot from the point and walks the line well. The upside is limited, but for a fifth round pick I like him.

 

What I Would Change:

 

A lot of people are really high on Brett Leason. I am not. I think he’s one of the worst skaters in the entire class and scoring like he did as a double-overager just doesn’t impress me that much. I think his limited hockey IQ and inability to get up and down the ice in any sort of efficient manner will keep him from ever being an effective NHL player.