Prospect Mailbag: Brannstrom, Thiessen, Knight, & Hughes vs Kakko

by Chris Wassel on April 26, 2019
  • Feature Story
  • Prospect Mailbag: Brannstrom, Thiessen, Knight, & Hughes vs Kakko

 

 

Question: “It is the question that everyone keeps asking, do you take Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko if you are New Jersey?”

 

Answer: It has been the same choice since day one for me. For as good as Kaapo Kakko is, Jack Hughes presents the best fit for the New Jersey Devils. Let’s deep dive this a bit for Hughes. Russ Cohen and I frequently talk about prospects and one of the things that Hughes does which separates himself is his edgework. Does this sound like a testimonial from the Jack Eichel year? Perhaps. Hughes has edgework and first stride ability that is generational.

Trajectory wise, the urge will be to play him on the top line. It is something I could not disagree with more. The funny thing is playing him in the middle-six at even strength with some veterans is much more prudent. This allows Hughes to be more creative and learn the game with more puck responsible veterans. The third line with some second line ice time and first power-play unit scenario would not surprise anyone if it came to fruition.

New Jersey needs a more consistent power play and Hughes will make plays that help improve their special teams immediately. That’s right. I said immediately. At a minimum, chances, particularly of a high-danger variety, will rise. After that, teams will start cheating when Hughes is on the ice and that will lead to more breakdowns on the opposition penalty kill.

Jack Hughes has NHL vision right now. He will turn 18 in a couple of weeks. Hughes has something else that is just as obvious – marketability. New Jersey will have Hall, Hughes, and Hischier. That is some nucleus to build around for the Devils. Lastly, talking to Hughes, one gets the impression that he is eager to improve on his deficiencies with swift quickness. That likeability is not just about giving the right answer. Hughes gets it. It’s not to say that Kaako does not. It is to say that Hughes, barring something unforeseen, is the New Jersey Devils’ first pick in June.

 

 

Question: “Would you take three first-round picks and a prospect for Jack Eichel in a fantasy hockey league?”

 

Answer: It always depends on the prospects. However, this is Eichel we are talking about here. The idea of giving up Eichel for essentially four prospects is a bit daunting. Here is why. I know what I am getting with Eichel and the center still has room to improve. Now, the scales tilt a little if I see a Troy Terry or Adam Fox included in that prospect pool.

However, despite the Eichel cap hit (if one is in a salary cap league), I can fill holes with a few minor league players and still have the Buffalo center on my roster. That is a better prospect for my fantasy team’s health.

 

 

Question: “Can you shed a little light on the Jesper Boqvist versus Erik Brannstrom debate for us? This has been talked about a lot in our fantasy league.”

 

Answer: This is going to be a good bit of fun. For those that do not know, one of the biggest issues with Boqvist is simply health. This season he showed as Brynas just a glimpse of the future and it is bright. The concern is those pesky injuries but he is healthy now and ready for the worlds if he is called upon. As for Brannstrom, he is a talented player who does not have a linear arc for two reasons. One is the defensive position and two, he plays for the Ottawa Senators. Brannstrom will get more chances while Boqvist develops at a slower rate. Which one has more potential long term?

The answer is Boqvist albeit not by much. Also, the Swedish forward is under contract for another season, but something tells me if there is an out, Boqvist is coming to North America. His skill as a shifty forward who can be a pesky pest is underrated. One final thing to understand is Boqvist will not play in the NHL next season but in two seasons, could be somewhere in New Jersey’s top-nine. Do not be shocked.

 

 

Question: “What do you see for a prospect like Matthew Thiessen?”

 

Answer: An interesting question. Thiessen was a seventh-round draft pick of the Vancouver Canucks in the 2018 NHL Draft. So, the thought process plays out in the sense of a long-term project. However, Thiessen showed something while playing for Dubuque (USHL) in the second half and the playoffs. There is this calm and poise about him that screams NHL talent. It may take time for some of his other attributes to come to light, but Cam Robinson said it best.

“Yeah, I caught one of the games a couple of days ago. He looked very poised out there. Strong positioning, sucking in rebounds. I liked it.” 

Thiessen will play for Maine come the Fall and quite honestly, they are getting a gem with a few rough edges but a gem, nonetheless. How many years will he play for Maine before Vancouver brings him up to the AHL may be a better question. Will that be 2,3, or 4? Stay tuned!  

 

 

Question: “Do you see a goaltender going in the first round this year?

 

Answer: Well, I do dabble in mock drafts from time to time and talk frequently with those that do them way more than myself. The answer is a tenuous yes here as I do have Spencer Knight going somewhere in the 28-35 range which is basically right at the end of the first round. A good bit may depend on who ends up in those 28th, 29th, 30th, and 31st slots.

Also, Knight has risen so much throughout the year that it would not surprise if some teams contemplate reaching as high as 15-20 to draft the American goalie. The draft-eligible prospect is good and only getting better. The U-18 tournament opened plenty of eyes for those who had any doubts about Knight.

This is from Bob McKenzie:

Spencer Knight is the clear choice as the top stopper in this draft, a potential franchise player at his position. There are those associated with USA Hockey who believe the 6-foot-3, 197-pound elite athlete is on a trajectory to become one of the best American goalies ever.”

The team that drafts Knight will get a goalie that strives at adapting and adjusting. Their goalie coach will be thankful.

 

 

Question: “What’s your thought process on how New Jersey is developing its players currently?”

 

Answer: This has been more of a hot-button topic than anyone thought it ever would be. The last decade under Lou Lamoriello featured enough misses and then there has been the Pavel Zacha chaos. Zacha was likely overvalued by many but most egregiously by New Jersey. The forward will still be a pretty good middle-six talent but not that top-line projection some had him projected for.

I am harder on New Jersey than most who cover them daily. My thought process is simple and frank. Yes, I did play the game up until I broke my ankle at a high school tournament where several scouts were present. The Devils must make strides at Adirondack and Binghamton, and this is something which will not and should not be a quick fix.

Simply, the situation is improving but patience (which understandably is thin) is needed.

 

 

Question: “Who are a couple of currently projected reaches in this year’s draft that could surprise?

 

Answer: The one that comes to mind really is Knight. Should he go in the 15-20 range? Probably not. Now, his upside raises the chances a team reaches for him for fear they cannot draft him. This is not a 50-100 pick reach. We are talking moving up a half round maximum for Knight.

The other may be Thomas Harley. I still believe his current draft projection in some mocks is too high. Again, we are not talking a huge stretch just a more modest one. Should he go in the middle of the first round? Probably not. Should he go in the late first or early in the second and that answer becomes a yes.

In a few years, these two players could be top-tens in redrafts for their work ethic and willingness to actively work on their deficiencies. These are 18-year-old players that truly are mature beyond their years.  

 

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