Friday, July 5, 2019

2019 Draft: Assessing the Damage

This year was my first go at ranking some of the top prospects for the NHL draft and it was very much a learning experience. As everyone knows this was a strong group of American players, which was great for me, as I focused on the American and college-bound prospects. I think I did a pretty good job, though we won’t know for years + years. I ranked the skaters by forward and defense, and I didn’t bother with players I haven’t watched, such as those in the BCHL or other top prospects in the marquee developmental leagues, like the OHL or European pro hockey.

Only three of the forty prospects I ranked went undrafted, and none of them were indicated by me to go early in the draft. They were each invited to NHL camps following the draft. The three to go undrafted were Gunnarwolfe Fontaine (Toronto Maple Leafs camp invitee), Ethan Frisch (Vancouver Canucks camp invitee) and Michael Gildon (New York Rangers camp invitee). I’ve included some reflections on how my rankings played out in reality below.

Forwards 1-25

1 Jack Hughes - 1st overall
2 Alex Turcotte - 5th overall
3 Trevor Zegras - 9th overall
4 Matt Boldy - 12th overall
5 Cole Caufield - 15th overall
6 John Beecher - 30th overall
7 Ryder Donovan - 110th overall
8 Shane Pinto - 32nd overall
9 Robert Mastrosimone - 54th overall
10 Bobby Brink - 34th overall
11 Ethan Phillips - 97th overall
12 Vladislav Firstov - 42nd overall
13 Nick Abruzzese - 124th overall
14 Michael Gildon - undrafted
15 John Farinacci - 76th overall
16 Andre Lee - 188th overall
17 Judd Caulfield - 145th overall
18 Owen Lindmark - 137th overall
19 John Malone - 180th overall
20 Matt Stienburg - 63rd overall
21 Aaron Huglen - 102nd overall
22 Gunnarwolfe Fontaine - undrafted
23 Pat Moynihan - 158th overall
24 Marcus Kallionkieli - 139th overall
25 Bryce Brodzinski - 196th overall

Defense 1-15

1 Cam York - 14th overall
2 Alex Vlasic - 43rd overall
3 Ryan Johnson - 31st overall
4 Ben Brinkman - 173rd overall
5 Drew Helleson - 47th overall
6 Jackson LaCombe - 39th overall
7 Jayden Struble - 46th overall
8 Case McCarthy - 118th overall
9 Marshall Warren - 166th overall
10 Henry Thrun - 101st overall
11 Zac Jones - 68th overall
12 Dom Fensore - 90th overall
13 Max Crozier -120th overall
14 Ethan Frisch - undrafted
15 Ronnie Attard - 72nd overall

No real surprises. I did a ranking, so there were going to be some discrepancies with what happens on draft day. The hardest part of the ranking process has to have been the upper-echelon NTDP names, Turcotte, Zegras, Caufield, Boldy — even Hughes, who I did waver on at times. My ranking of those pre-eminent five (six, counting Beecher), aligned with how it eventually played out on draft day, but it was nearly very different. I saw Zegras peeking ahead of Turcotte for a significant portion of the spring until I really reflected on it. Turcotte seems to have the higher floor with a similarly tremendous upside. Same goes for Caufield and Boldy — I ultimately bet on Boldy because I think he has a lot of room to grow as a player, whereas with Caufield, everyone gets the jist. The question is how high-end of a goalscorer Caufield is in the NHL. Caufield could be pretty high-end and I see him as the better player of the two today. Boldy’s frame, offensive capacity and body control are pretty unique in my estimation, and that pushed him over the top. The Boston College-bound forward defines ‘toolsy’.

Mike Gildon was my highest-ranked player not to go, but the Ohio State-committed power forward was ranked 14th, in the range of names where the difference between players is razor-thin. I think his draft stock was hit because he wasn't one of 'the guys' for the NTDP this season, but it could be that I am just relatively high on him.

Gunnarwolfe Fontaine also didn’t go. I’m aware that I'm high on the Northeastern commit, but maybe I over-estimated the NHL's appetite for small scorers. I thought Fontaine would be picked because he was hard to ignore for the Steel, though maybe I watched more Steel games than most. Ironically, his teammate Jake Schmaltz, a North Dakota commit, going in the 7th was probably my only surprise, though the final round always has some players like that.

As far as the rest of the forwards, I'm aware of being high on Ryder Donovan, but I felt he went in the lower-bound of his likely range, so I don’t see it as a big miss. I don't think that Donovan's ceiling is drastically lower than John Beecher, but I may be in the minority there. Nick Abruzzesse is a name I ultimately had pretty high. The way I see it, you like him or you don't — and if you think he can put it together in the NHL, then he's going to have a shot at being a serious producer, which is why I ended up placing him relatively high.

St. Andrew’s College captain Matt Stienburg, went at the top of the third round. I knew that I ought to have put him higher, but I waffled in the end, listing him as my 20th-ranked forward. He reportedly had impressed numerous NHL teams with performances (specifically in the jumping categories) at an unofficial combine, as he was not invited to the NHL’s combine. In general, I really liked what I saw from Stienburg in the handful of games I watched this year, and it seems the Avs got him at a pretty good spot. Roseau’s Aaron Huglen went right around the range where I thought he could be a good pick, mid-fourth round. He showcased some serious upside in 30 games for Fargo of the USHL this season, while netting over 2 points-per-game in the Minnesota high school circuit.

As for the defensemen, I know I was high on Ben Brinkman, maybe high on Marshall Warren. Defenders are hard to evaluate, and it only gets harder and harder to play defense at a high level, so I don’t make too much of my ‘misses’ when it comes to blue-liners. We won’t know for years, of course, but even then, it can be hard to quantify what a defenseman adds to a team. Another defenseman, Ethan Frisch, is a player I didn't expect to get drafted, but I still ranked him. His draft stock was low, thanks to the fact that he didn't have a draft year where he separated from the pack of other good prospects, but I felt he secured his place among them. Frisch and Gildon are the re-entry skaters I would keep a close eye on next year. There were also some players I considered that I didn’t end up ranking, but did get picked. For example Hunter Skinner (4th round) and Will Francis (6th round). Both are right-shooting defenders with size and intriguing upsides.

Here are seven un-drafted college hockey recruits, five forwards and two defensemen, that I was thinking might be late-round looks.

Jack Jensen - Eden Prairie (MSHSL) - MN
Sam Stange - Eau Claire (WIAA) - WI
Nate Warner - St. Cloud Cathedral (MSHSL) - MN
Garrett Pinoniemi - Holy Family Catholic (MSHSL) - MN
Grant Silianoff - Cedar Rapids (USHL) - ND

Ryan Siedem - Central Illinois (USHL) - Harvard
Josh Luedtke - Minnetonka (MSHSL) - Denver