Earlier this week I opened up the monthly Mailbag. Those pieces are always a favourite of mine as I get an eclectic mix of questions and honestly, the format allows me to ramble on a little more than usual (although I do slide in some decent rambles from time to time… like right now for instance).
One of the first questions posed was this:
Hughes or Boqvist and why?— Jared (@JxredNHL) February 19, 2018
I was excited. This is a big question and one that I’ve been wrestling with internally for months. Who do I like better? To start the year, it was Boqvist but as the season has worn on, Hughes has slowly taken over.
There is a ton to unpack when it comes to these two offensively inclined defenders and when I began answering the question I realized I was well over a thousand words and had barely scratched the surface. And so, I dedicate much of this Ramblings to it.
Quinn Hughes and Adam Boqvist have been the number two and three ranked defensive prospects on my board since the beginning of their draft-eligible campaigns. They are similar-style players that rely on terrific skating ability to create offensive chances but can open themselves up to some blemishes in the defensive end because of it.
Let’s break them down…
The youngest player in college hockey is also one of the most dynamic. Standing just 5’10 and 175lbs, the University of Michigan standout has witnessed his comfort level and production increase with each passing game.
His role with the US World Junior squad was a microcosm of his NCAA career to date. He is a one-man breakout machine that can fly out of the defensive end, create separation through the neutral zone and gain entry over the blue line with regularity and often with some pizzazz.
He would also try to do too much at times and those led to turnovers or opposition scoring attempts which result in some more time on the bench.
It’s important to note that Hughes was playing in a 19-year-old tournament as a freshly turned 18-year-old so it wasn’t overly concerning to see him have some growing pains and the same can be said at the NCAA-level. You can take the mistakes for his innate ability to generate chances.
Take a look at this compilation of him rushing the puck from the Summer Showcase:
I’ve said it on many occasions – Hughes is the best pure skater in a draft full of top notch skaters. His composure, edgework, agility, acceleration and ability to set the pace to create seperation are second to none. It’s what will allow him to thrive in the NHL despite being slightly undersized and it’s what will continue to help him clean up defensive mistakes by being able to get back into position quicker than most.
As it stands, Hughes currently sits with three goals and 19 points through 29 games with just six of those coming with the man advantage. It may not sound like gaudy totals, but for a true freshman, they’re very strong.
For comparison, Zach Werenski recorded nine goals and 25 points in 35 games also as a true freshman back in 2014-15. That UofM squad converted on nearly 26 percent of their power play opportunities (thanks in large part to Dylan Larkin, Zach Hyman and Werenski), while this rendition of the Wolverines has scored on just 19 percent of their opportunities.
Hughes has put 2.5 shots on goal per night while converting at just four percent of them. This comes on the heels of him sniping 10 goals on 116 shots (8.6%) with the USNTDP a year ago, meaning we can expect more goals to find the back of the net soon as well – and it’s already beginning to happen as he has two in his last four games.
Defensively, Hughes has taken nice strides this year as well. While still prone to the odd error due to his holding onto the puck far longer than most players as he weaves his way around the ice, he’s also developed a good stick and his gap control continues to improve.
Those aspects of his game cannot be understated as its crucial for undersized defenders to be able to use their position and stick to shut down the attack because they cannot rely on their physical strength.
For many, Adam Boqvist (pronounced “boo-kwist) is the answer to a team’s prayers if they miss out on the lottery balls and Rasmus Dahlin.
While he wasn’t afforded the same opportunity to shine at the World Juniors as Hughes was due to his Swedish squad being blessed with a bevy of high-end offensive defenders – most of which were 1-2 years’ his senior, Boqvist has found a way to impress at international tournaments before.
His omission from the WJC team wasn’t so much an indictment of his play, more a logjam of similar and more experienced players.
We mentioned earlier that Hughes is the youngest player in the NCAA this season. Well his late 1999 birthdate facilitated that, but Boqvist is almost a full year younger than Hughes. He was born in August of 2000 and is one of the youngest players in this 2018 crop.
His age dictates we need to project further along his developmental arc as he’ll play his entire draft-eligible campaign as a 17-year-old – much of it playing against men in Sweden’s top two professional leagues.
The right-shot defender clocks in at 5’11 and 170lbs and just like Hughes, offers tremendous skating, vision and playmaking ability.
One aspect that he clearly outranks Hughes is his shot. Boqivst loves to get to puck on net and can walk the line and let go a big time clapper or find lanes with quick wristers.
*Notice how he uses his edges to create separation and change the angle on his release point. Those are pro-level traits.
Boqvist has had a bit of a tumultuous season thus far. Clearly too good for the J20 circuit where he compiled 14 goals and 21 points in just 23 games, he found himself earning just three or four minutes of ice time with Brynäs of the SHL.
He’s since been demoted to the Allsvenskan – Sweden’s second tier and a very quality league, where he’s been far more comfortable but still hasn’t been as active offensively as he was in the junior ranks. You’d have to imagine that he’s still in the feeling out portion of professional hockey – trying to keep the mistakes low to earn trust from his coaching staff.
Again, it’s very important to keep his age in mind when assessing Boqvist. He’s just 17 and playing in a pro league against some top-level talent. When he matches up against his age group, as he did at the Ivan Hlinka tournament and again more recently at the Five Nations tournament in Plymouth, Michigan, he’s been at the top of the skill pile.
Boqvist really got himself on the map with that monster Hlinka tournament last September where he produced a goal and eight points in five games – good for second overall in tournament scoring while peppering opposing goaltenders with a barrage of shots each game.
Another factor that goes into the appeal of Boqvist is his being a right-shot player. Offensive defensemen on the right-side are damn near considered unicorns. Almost all of the very elite producing blue liners are righties – Burns, Karlsson, Subban, Klingberg, Doughty… and when a team finds one, they usually do all they can to hold on to it.
Take your pick here. Do you want the ultra-speedy left shot guy who can blaze around the ice with aplomb and is likely a tad closer to being NHL-ready or do you prefer the historically more sought-after right-shot player with the big shot and near-equal skating ability?
This exercise has done nothing to wipe away the indecision from my mind between these two players. I feel that Hughes is the more advanced prospect as of today, but he should be, he’s 10 months older.
Meanwhile, Boqvist demonstrates such great potential and offers a more complete offensive game with his shot.
There will be struggles for each early on due to their size, and for Boqvist, the transition to the smaller North American ice and physical game will definitely test his mettle, but each has the skills to one day be impactful producers for both fantasy and real-world scenarios. The type of ability that changes the face of a top power play unit.
Final Report Card
NHL Readiness: Hughes
So it sure sounds like Eeli Tolvanen is coming over at the completion of his KHL season. A certain Editor with DobberProspects has been saying that for several months. I can’t quite recall is name but I think it rhymes with Slam Clobinson.
Anywhooo, the things that Tolvanen has accomplished as an 18-year-old this season has been otherworldly.
17 goals and 34 points in 47 KHL games which has already broken Evgeni Kuznetsov’s U19 record and sits as the third most goals and points by a U20 player with two games remaining on the regular season schedule
He led all scorers with three goals and nine points in five Olympic games, while producing a goal and six points in five World Junior Championship games, and soon enough, some NHL regular season and playoff contests.
Tolvanen is going to be a rockstar and his being airlifted into Nashville for what many assume will be another deep playoff run will be a great look at what his future may hold. Expect him to find a home on the second line and second power play unit right out of the hop.
Here is an updated look at how the top two forwards for the 2018 NHL Draft score their goals
I mentioned this in the aformentioned Mailbag, but Zadina may have a difficult time producing from his favourite area in the slot and at the faceoff dots. That said, the very best finishers in the world have an innate ability to find time and space in deadly areas like those – something Zadina has made a habit of doing in the junior ranks. It’ll be interesting to see how he fares against the big boys.
Meanwhile, Svechnikov doesn’t really care where he is on the ice. He bulls his way to the tough areas and finds the back of the net, and is equally adept at sniping from distance. Those traits will be more easily repeatable at the next level.
Both are red hot right now. Svechnikov extended his point streak to 13 games on Thursday evening by pumping a goal and two helpers. He has 15 goals and 26 points over that streak to push his season long total to 31 goals and 52 points in 34 OHL contests.
His 1.53 points-per-game ranks sixth in the OHL, and his 0.912 goals-per-game is the third highest mark in the CHL.
Here's a look at how Svechnikov compares to some of the elite OHL draft-eligible scores in the last 10 years
Courtesy Twitter @S7HDesign
Meanwhile, Zadina saw his own lengthy streak come to an end on Wednesday, but he had tallied 12 goals and 16 points in the seven games prior.
He sits with 39 goals and 69 points in 47 games – good for fifth in QMJHL scoring.
It's going to be a great push to the finish line for these two tremendous talents.
That’s all for this week. Thanks for reading and feel free to follow me on Twitter @CrazyJoeDavola3 where the hockey takes are never ending
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