30. Zach Aston-Reese, Right Wing, Northeastern(Signed by Pittsburgh Penguins)
He plays a heavy game and he is consistently strong on pucks. He has four shorthanded goals this season. One of them, earlier in the season, he did great work along the wall to win a battle, killing time if nothing else. But, then he came away with the puck and scored.
The question some NHL teams will have is how heavy is game can be at the pro level when he's having to go up and down the sheet at the pace of pro hockey for 12-14 minutes a game.
At the next level, he's going to have to be a bottom six player, and all indications point to him being able to do just that. A lot of his goals have come off tip-ins, rebounds or looks in the slot where he's found a seam in the defense and received a good pass. Very few of his plays are of the highlight reel variety.
While he doesn't have the hands or elite speed to be a top six player, he can be a bottom six forward that does a good job in his own zone taking away time and space, and winning puck battles along the wall. He can cycle well down low, be a puck hound in all three zones, and push possession while he's out there. He can kill penalties and chip in offensively from time to time.
See also: A January feature on Aston-Reese. A March feature on Aston-Reese.
29. Dylan Gambrell, Left Wing/Center, Denver(San Jose Sharks)
After a breakout season as a freshman, Dylan Gambrell had to prove that he could still produce despite the other two-thirds of last year’s dynamite ‘Pacific Rim’(Trevor Moore and Danton Heinen) departing for the pro ranks. Gambrell answered that challenge by matching his production from last season.
He’s a smooth skater with an explosive burst of speed. His ability to handle difficult passes is already pro-level, which allows for him to generate so many more opportunities in the offensive zone. He’s got a good release on his shot, but is more effective using his speed to create openings, then dishing the puck off to teammates.
Gambrell projects as a scoring line second winger at the NHL level.
28. Joseph Woll, Goalie, Boston College(Toronto Maple Leafs)
Boston College brought in goalie Ryan Edquist late last spring as an insurance policy if young freshman Joe Woll wasn’t able to handle replacing Thatcher Demko in the Eagles’ net immediately.
Woll established himself as the true #1 starter for the Eagles and put up good numbers in his rookie, which look incredible when you factor in his age and the fact that he was playing in front of a rebuilding Boston College defense.
He has pro size, with very sound positioning and decent athleticism. He’s still young for a goalie and will need time to mature and develop consistency, but a great freshman season shows he’s on the right track.
27. Adam Fox, Defenseman, Harvard(Calgary Flames)
Adam Fox is still very much an incomplete player, but potentially a very exciting one. Fox is not good on the defensive end of the ice, but makes up for it with exceptional, elite passing ability.
There’s no better example than this year’s World Juniors gold medal game, when Fox was on the ice and partly responsible for a pair of goals against, but he helped lead the United States comeback with a pair of assists, including one to tie the game late in the third period.
Fox was just as good from the blue line in NCAA play, tallying 31 assists in 36 games so far this season. The defensive play can be taught, and the lack of physicality improved with coaching and time spent in the weight room. But Fox’s vision and play-making skills are something that can’t really be taught. It’s going to take him another year of two of college hockey, but his future as a power play quarterback at the NHL level is very intriguing.
26. Ryan Poehling, Center, St. Cloud State(2017 NHL Draft eligible)
Ryan Poehling is an interesting player to watch. Since he’s eligible for the Draft this summer, he’s being watched very closely every night by myself, and about a dozen or so scouts here every night. Poehling very rarely makes a high-end skill play with the puck, but he’s very good at getting in the right spot and getting tips and deflections of the puck. I’ll have to go back and check, but at least four of his seven goals have come on plays like that.
Poehling accelerated through his senior year of high school to join his older twin brothers as freshmen at St. Cloud State this year. He got off to a very slow start in the first half of the season as he struggled with the jump straight from Minnesota high school to Division I college hockey. But he really started to come into his own in the second half of the season. Poehling is strong forward with good anticipation and a quick first step. He doesn’t make a lot of flashy skill plays, but he is excellent at puck retrieval to keep possessions alive in the offensive zone, and does a lot of the little, quiet things to make his team better.