Last weekend was a busy one for me, between games at Mariucci Arena, in Mankato, and two days at the Upper Midwest Elite League. It gave me a good chance to see a wide variety of prospects eligible for this year’s NHL Draft. I’m cleaning out the notebook with a few notes and thoughts from my travels last weekend.
I’ll withhold extensive comments on the NTDP U18s since I’ll get another chance to see them this weekend in Duluth, and it’s difficult to come up with much good to say about a team that gets drubbed 9-0.
But the big discussion surrounding the team is the fact that this could be the first year since 2008 that a player from the U18 team isn’t selected in the first round of the NHL Draft. Of course nobody looked like a surefire first round pick last Friday since it’s tough to look good when you get beaten that badly. I’ll still maintain that somebody gets there by June though, though probably in the latter stages of the first round.
The most likely candidates, to me, are: Scott Reedy, Josh Norris, Grant Mismash, and maybe Michael Pastujov as a longer shot.
Heading into the year, I thought Reedy was a slam-dunk, but he hasn’t been as productive this year, and didn’t look like the same player I saw last year against Minnesota. He just wasn’t showing the same jam in tough areas and he doesn’t have quite enough skill to play a finesse game like that. I believe the talent is there though.
Norris is the most complete player of the bunch. He’s not going to be a big scorer which limits his upside, but he does everything else so well from the center position that I could see him sneaking into the late first round.
Mismash is still intriguing because I see some elite tools, especially his ability to handle the puck in traffic, but he’s not a complete player yet. In the right situation, I think he could score a lot, but what he’s doing 60-feet away from the net on the power play is baffling to me.
Pastujov is a wildcard. Missing so much time due to injury has really slowed his development down. If he can stay healthy, I think he still has the potential to develop into a big-time player.
The opening weekend for St. Cloud State’s Ryan Poehling was a forgettable one. Poehling was held scoreless both nights, tallied one shot on goal in each game, and finished a -3, with all three minuses coming in the second period on Saturday. The Huskies played him on what was basically their second line and gave him time on the power play, though there weren’t a lot of power play opportunities in either game.
Poehling wasn’t that noticeable on Saturday unless you were specifically looking for him. My big concern with Poehling is that he’s just a guy out there. There’s no doubt that being a guy out there as a 17-year-old against 20-23 year-olds is extremely impressive. But I’m not sure I see the high-end offensive capabilities one would expect from a high first round pick so much as a kid that is big and strong for his age. It’s just one weekend and it’s early though, so that opinion could certainly change.
Finally, I’ve made it out to a few Elite League games over the past couple weeks too. Here are a few players that I think belong on the NHL Draft radar.
Dylan Samberg(Hermantown(Minnesota Duluth)) is a bit of a late-bloomer that had a tremendous summer and has put himself on the NHL Draft radar. Samberg’s combination of size and mobility is good enough that he should get drafted this year. He’s still a very raw player. I have some concerns about his ability to find a second or third option with the puck when under pressure rather than punting possession away, but given the upward trajectory of his development this past year, there’s always a chance that could come.
I’ve mentioned John Stampohar(Grand Rapids) as a potential draft pick for a while now because I thought he showed great potential last year, and so far this year, he’s starting to make steps to realize that potential. He’s a really smooth skater, and what has stood out the past few times I’ve seen him is how good his vision is to find teammates.
Ryan Sandelin(Hermantown(Minnesota State)) was great for Team North last Saturday, scoring two nice goals, but then didn’t do much against the U17s. Whether that was because of the faster pace or just an inconsistent young kid is anyone’s guess. Sandelin isn’t a flashy, high-skill player, but he’s a really strong skater that plays a tough, responsible game.
Sammy Walker(Edina(Minnesota)) has been scoring at a very good clip in the Elite League so far, though he was a little quiet against the U17s. He’s got an elite burst of speed, which makes him effective, and though he’s started to fill out a little bit, there’s still a lot of muscle that he could add as he matures, so he’s not a finished product yet.
Normally I’d be very hesitant about a kid that has already been passed over the Draft once before and is still playing high school hockey. But Nick Perbix(Elk River(St. Cloud State)) is a later-bloomer that made huge strides later in the high school season last year. He’s big, skates well, and plays a decent defensive game. I don’t think he’ll get drafted unless he ends the year with a strong run in the USHL, but he’s a player worth watching.
Finally, I really like the skating ability of a couple defensemen in the league—Carson Kosobud-Moorhead, Keaton Pehrson(Lakeville North(Michigan Tech)), Chase Hartje-Bemidji—though they’re all inconsistent enough that they’re likely borderline to be drafted.