Welcome to The Prospect Network! To kick off the site we are doing a prospect panel where five members of the site each share our opinions on various draft questions and topics along with questions we have received on Twitter.
Part 1: The Important Stuff
Q: Who is the biggest sleeper beyond the first round of the 2020 NHL Draft?
Ben: One player consistently ranked outside the 1st round who I am a big fan of is Saint John Sea Dog defenseman William Villeneuve. Often overshadowed by higher-ranked teammate Jeremie Poirier, Villeneuve was quietly an effective QMJHL defenseman last season. Despite his poor numbers on an awful Sea Dogs’ team, Villeneuve is head first type player who possesses the puck well and makes smart reads at both ends of the ice. I thought he had made a strong enough case for the Hlinka team in August, but he ultimately fell short.
Sam: Again, this one is tough to say this early on because we don’t really have an established consensus top 31 yet. There are tons of players I could answer this one with, but I’m going with Michael Benning, who somehow is not a consensus first round prospect after putting up Cale Makar-esque numbers as a draft-minus-one in the AJHL. An intelligent offensive defenceman, Benning is a powerplay machine who makes positive contributions in transition. He’ll always receive flak for being a smaller player without elite-level mobility, but I’m not sure when we decided that was an essential requirement for a sub-six foot player to be successful in the NHL anyway.
Tobbe: My biggest sleeper is Lucas Ramberg, who is a smooth skating D-man playing for Luleå. He is 6’0″ 176 lbs and is a June 30th birthday, meaning he is very young for the draft class. He’ll spend most of the season in the SuperElit but he did recently get his SHL debut where he played well.
Max: He’s not outside of the 1st round for everyone, but the vast majority of people are likely sleeping on Marat Khusnutdinov. He’s a little guy, but is super dynamic and hard working. He is a really crafty playmaker who can create plays at full speed. He’s playing for SKA-1946 in the MHL this year.
Rich: For me, it’s Ty Smilanic. The U.S U-18 forward is one of the best forwards on his team, but his production was suppressed by being on an absolutely dreadful team last season. The entire age group should look better this year entering their second season together. Look for Smilanic to really put his name on the map in the coming months.
Q: Who is the best skater in the 2020 NHL Draft?
Ben: Deciding who the best skater is always proves to be a difficult task, so I’ve decided to break up my answer. The fastest skater of the draft is Jean-Luc Foudy of the Windsor Spitfires who I have at #18 on my personal list. Antonio Stranges has the best edgework of any player. Quinton Byfield is the most powerful skater in the draft, while Lucas Raymond has the best agility of anyone. Jamie Drysdale gets top marks in almost every category. Overall, I’d say in their own unique ways, these five guys make up the best skaters of the draft.
Sam: There are plenty of great skaters in this draft– Antonio Stranges, Jean-Luc Foudy, Quinton Byfield– but the best skater in the draft is Lucas Raymond in my books. The Swede is about as close to mechanically flawless as you can get– his stride is perfectly aligned, every part of his body working in complete sync. He mixes elite speed with agility, lateral movement and quick feet to absolutely terrorize defenders.
Tobbe: Lucas Raymond, not the fastest in a straight line but his edgework, agility and acceleration are all elite.
Max: Antonio Stranges, and for me it’s not close. You watch this kid’s edgework and it’s mesmerizing. His heel to heel skating blows away the competition. He can then go face the play and receive the puck at full speed and so much more with that move.
Rich: For me, it’s Antonio Stranges. Just watch him skate for a shift during a London Knights game and you’ll see why. He’s not the fastest guy in the class, but his 10-2 skating style is a joy to watch and he’s incredible on his edges.
Q: Who has the best shot in the 2020 NHL Draft?
Ben: There’s only so many players you can go with on this one; a high-quality shot is easy to distinguish from a mediocre one. Two of the top Swede’s in the draft, Gunler and Holtz, have NHL releases already. One player with an underrated shot is Cole Perfetti; it’s not the most powerful, but it’s precise and quick.
Sam: This one is a virtual dead heat between Alexander Holtz and Noel Gunler. Both players are extremely talented and versatile scorers, able to get shots off under just about any circumstance. They’re perimeter threats, with the shots to score from beyond the faceoff circle. They have lightning-quick releases, getting shots off in a quick, deceptive manner. I can very well see a scenario where both players hit the 40 goal mark at some point in their careers.
Tobbe: Noel Gunler, his release is the best I’ve ever seen in a draft eligible player.
Max: Everything about Noel Gunler’s shot is perfect. It’s NHL level and better right now. He can shoot moving, take one timers, anything.
Rich: This one is a toss-up between Alexander Holtz and Noel Gunler for me, but I have to go with Alexander Holtz. He’s got a ridiculously accurate shot with a lightning quick release. Wouldn’t be surprised if he scored 20+ goals in the SHL this season.
Part 2: Questions from Twitter
Who will be the most polarizing prospect this year, like kaliyev or podkolzin?
— Aden Benson (@AdenBenson1) September 22, 2019
Ben: I’m going to predict that Yaroslav Askarov, who is far and away the top goalie in the draft, will be the most polarizing player throughout the draft season. Rarely do scouts even come close to agreeing on where goalies should be ranked, and the disagreement is going to be especially prevalent when Askarov is being ranked in the top-10 by some and out of the 1st round by others. BTW, Askarov is very, very good and currently sits as my #10.
Sam: It’s tough to say this early, but there are a few candidates who are trending in that direction. Noel Gunler– an absolutely lethal Swedish sniper who scored 27 goals in 31 games– seems like the early favourite. He seemed like a clear top 10 pick at the conclusion of the 2018-19 season but his absence from international events this summer (as a 2001 birthdate, he was too old for the Hlinka) has put him under the radar. Bob McKenzie’s list had him at 17th– an insultingly low ranking– and he’s been placed in the teens on plenty of other lists. I wrote an article for DraftGeek earlier this month detailing all the skills– the scoring, the instincts, the offensive versatility– that make him a top 5 prospect in my eyes.
Tobbe: That will be Noel Gunler for a few reasons. First off his skill level is elite, right up there with the top of the draft class. The reason why he will be a polarizing prospect is because there are some concerns about his attitude highlighted last season when he pushed a ref in a game and got suspended. There’s also a myth that he’s a one way player, a myth that i will crush over the course of this season.
Max: I’ll go with someone other than Noel Gunler and say Justin Barron. He’s a lot similar to Broberg, who there was also controversy around, in that he’s a flashy puck rusher that lacks decision making capabilities. Although it’s still probably Noel Gunler.
Rich: It’s early, but it’s easily Noel Gunler. For me he’s easily a top-5 player in this draft class, but I have seen several outlets not even have him in the top-20. I don’t really understand why. Frankly, there is a ton of false information going around with regards to Gunler. His play in the SHL this season will speak for itself.
Which player is more likely to be over-valued by traditional NHL scouts: Kaiden Guhle or Tyler Kleven? Any other players worth being cautious about?
— Colin Cudmore (@CudmoreColin) September 22, 2019
Ben: Tyler Kleven. He came into the NTDP program with mountains of hype. The question marks I had about him before the 2018-19 season began only magnified as the season wore on. There’s no doubting Kleven is a solid player in his own end, but with limited offensive ability as it stands, it’s puzzling to see him ranked in the 1st round on some lists.
Sam: Kaiden Guhle is already being overvalued by NHL scouts– his 19th overall ranking on Bob McKenzie’s preseason ranking is strong evidence of that– so I have to go with him here. Both players are big, defence-first blueliners whose offensive upside is a big question mark, but Guhle’s strong showing on the international stage at the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup as well as his spotlighted role as an important part of a WHL team’s defensive corps should garner more unearned attention from NHL talent seekers.
Tobbe: Both probably? Not a fan of either. I’m cautious about Jean-Luc Foudy, feels very similar to his brother and i just don’t think the upside is there, he has a full season to prove me wrong though.
Max: Both are fairly similar players. They are big guys who thrive because of their size. I think many have figured it out with Kleven because of how tough of a season the NTDP had. With Guhle, his team’s success in the WHL and at the Hlinka keeps him in too many pundit’s top few tiers of players. His combination of size and skating is a very attractive trait for many people, even if his overall game isn’t on that level.
Rich: It would not surprise me to see both of these players be surefire first rounders come next June. Should they? Probably not. NHL scouts tend to overrate these player types and they always get over drafted.
I’ve seen @DraftLook touch on it, but what’s the opinion around Justin Barron? Overrated? Underrated?
— Draft SZN (@TylertheJetsfan) September 22, 2019
Ben: I have Justin Barron at 14, which I feel puts me a little lower than consensus on him, but still reasonably close. The thing about Barron is that I feel he is being overrated because the sum of the parts is better than the actual player. He’s an exceptional skater, plays solid defence and with physicality, and he can shoot the puck well, but watching him play, I expect more impact from a player who can do all these things as well as Barron can.
Sam: There’s a lot to like about Barron– particularly his mobility and size– but I’m far from enamoured with his game. His raw tools are attractive, I can’t argue with that, but for every time Barron winds it up for an end-to-end rush with his elite-level skating ability, there are several examples of Barron choosing to opt for the low-skill, glass-and-out uncontrolled exit rather than the more difficult but considerably more valuable play to exit his zone without relinquishing possession of the puck. A player can be as big or as fast as humanly possible, but it doesn’t mean much when they aren’t using those tools to make positive contributions for their team.
Tobbe: A bit overrated mostly because he was so good at 15, he’s stagnated a bit since then. I still very much like him as a prospect though.
Max: I think Barron is a bit overrated. He’s a flashy guy who can really skate and make plays off the rush, but his decision making is a big question mark. He doesn’t control the play from the blue line as well as I want to see from a guy like him.
Rich: I’d say Justin Barron as trending towards overrated. Many people have Justin Barron as the top defenseman in this class, but I don’t see it that way. His tools have scouts enamored, but his decision-making leaves much to be desired. At the moment, I have him towards the back-end of the first round.