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NHL Prospect Watch—January 2021

United States v Austria: Preliminary Round Group B - 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images

With the World Juniors completed, and college hockey trudging along as best it can through postponements and cancellations, it’s a good time to take a look at some noteworthy NHL prospects around the college hockey world...

One of the big risers for Team USA at the World Juniors was the team’s lone 2021 first-time eligible Matty Beniers(2021). Beniers drew big-time praise for his attention to details and ability to do all the little things on the ice to help make Team USA successful.

But what that means for his future NHL Draft stock is an interesting question. Beniers was already ranked around 10th overall heading into the World Juniors, and while his great World Juniors should help him rise in the draft rankings, I do think there is a bit of ceiling to Beniers draft stock. I appreciate his ability to do all the little things as much as anybody, but at a certain point in the draft, don’t you want a guy that also does the big things too? Which is to say, as good as Beniers is, I’m not sure he’s ever a 30-goal scorer in the NHL. He’ll still be very valuable, but I’m not sure I see him sneaking into the conversation for first overall. Top-five, maybe.

Meanwhile, Michigan’s current struggles—the Wolverines are at .500 a dozen games into their season—may be dampening the hype of Beniers’ two other draft eligible teammates in Kent Johnson(2021) and Owen Power(2021).

Johnson’s scoring numbers remain pretty good—15 points in 12 games as a draft eligible player is significant. But digging deeper, his line is 3-12-15, with 11 of 12 assists coming as secondary assists. More troubling is that he has generated just 19 shots on goal over his 12 games. I said earlier this year that it may take time for Johnson to learn what he can get away with at this level, and he certainly could still figure it out, but he hasn’t yet. He’s kind of the opposite of Beniers in that he definitely has 30-goal potential in the NHL, but there are many more question marks about if he can reach that potential right now.

Owen Power still remains, it would seem, the favorite to go #1 overall in the draft. It’s been a weird year with NHL scouts largely kept out of rinks and top Canadian players forced to play overseas, so there is way less chatter out there than you’d normally hear in a draft year.

I see the potential. Obviously he’s huge and moves well. And I do think Michigan’s recent defensive woes fall more on a lack of depth down the line-up than on the big name guys. But I don’t think Power has made the same type of impact this year as say, Jake Sanderson(OTT), or even a Wyatt Kaiser(CHI). Now, Power is one draft year behind those guys, but the age difference is like five months in real time. Power maybe has the upside to be better, but again, I’m not sure it’s a guarantee he reaches it.

The other Team USA player that I thought had a breakout tournament at the World Juniors was Brock Faber(LAK). He built on the momentum of a very good start to the college season with a great World Juniors. Faber has always been a tremendous skater, and he was really able to showcase that ability at the World Juniors where the skill level and pace of play is really high. He’s still not putting up huge offensive numbers, but he is emerging as an elite defender anyway.

Speaking of the Minnesota blue line, I’m a big believer in betting on the team with the best group of defensemen when it comes to the postseason, and this year, I think Minnesota just edges out North Dakota as the best I’ve seen. Obviously the Gophers had the three defensemen make the World Juniors team, but I thought it was notable that there wasn’t a huge drop-off when those three were gone to the Edmonton bubble.

One player who has settled into his role nicely is Ben Brinkman(DAL). Brinkman is a big defensive defensemen with nice athleticism that kind of struggled and faded the past two years when I think he was tasked with carrying more of the offensive load than he could handle. Now that Minnesota has some guys that can create from the blue line and Brinkman can focus on his strengths, he’s having a really nice bounceback year.

The nation’s leading scorer is Quinnipiac’s Odeen Tufto(FA) with 24 points in 13 games(I’m not sure which of those two numbers is more impressive, to be honest). Tufto is a smaller forward, but he has the strength and more importantly the speed that he could still be a very effective NHL player some day. I don’t know that all 32 teams will be fighting for him, but he’ll get an opportunity to prove himself somewhere and he could potentially be a very effective player.

There was talk this past fall about how, due to the pandemic, the 2020 NHL Draft might have a lot of late round steals due to a lack of scouting caused by the shutdowns. I think Denver’s Carter Savoie(EDM) might be one of those players. Another is St. Cloud State’s Veeti Miettinen(TOR), who was selected in the sixth round. Miettinen has 14 points in 13 games with the Huskies, including an incredible 2-1-3 performance against Minnesota Duluth two weeks ago in which he absolutely took over the game. He looks like a big-time offensive prospect.

It’s also a case where I wonder, in a normal year, if Miettinen might have found a way onto Finland’s World Juniors team if St. Cloud State had been able to start their season in October rather than December. The Finns did fine without him, of course, but he has definitely looked like he belong there so far this season.

Brad Schlossman had a good interview with North Dakota sophomore Ethan Frisch(FA). Frisch was a kid that slipped out of the 2019 Draft and will likely end up as a coveted free agent prospect next season. He’s taken a big step forward in limited action this year and looks poised to take over a top defenseman once North Dakota loses Jacob Bernard-Docker(OTT), Matt Kiersted(FA), and possibly Jake Sanderson(OTT) next season.