The dog days of summer are well underway– unless, of course, you’re an NHL prospect.
Midway through July, a handful of top 2019 draft prospects have already have signed entry-level contracts. n To nobodies surprise, the top three – Jack Hughes (New Jersey), Kaapo Kakko (NY Rangers) and Kirby Dach (Chicago) – all signed their entry-level contracts in the early weeks of July.
On Monday, two more notable contracts were signed, with Buffalo inking a deal with center Dylan Cozens and the New York Islanders secured a deal with winger Simon Holmstrom. While a thumb injury doesn’t change anything, Cozens is a strong center that’s still at least another season away from making the Sabres. Holmstrom, a gifted goal-scorer from Sweden, needs a year of pro hockey under his belt in Sweden before it makes sense to bring him over to Long Island.
Those signings only begin to scratch the surface of teams committing to their 2019 picks. Let’s take a look at the biggest names that have signed entry-level contracts since July 1:
Moritz Seider, D, 18 (Detroit – 6th overall)
Detroit made it clear that Seider is vital to the team’s long-term future by taking him as early as they did, but Seider didn’t play as much as scouts were hoping for with Mannheim in Germany this past season but when he did, he was fantastic. Seider will be surrounded by veterans, but he will get a significant upgrade in playing time for the defending DEL champions after showing what he can do as a freshman. With Detroit needing defense help, he’s a contender to make the NHL in 2020-21.
Philip Broberg, D, 18 (Edmonton – 8th overall)
The Oilers desperately need help at defense, and Broberg has the tools to become the team’s top option down the line. Broberg is signed for another year in Sweden and likely won’t make the trip over to North America until 2020-21, so patience is needed. Broberg will get heavy minutes with SHL Skelleftea this coming season and will be one of Sweden’s top players at the World Junior Championship, so this is his time to shine.
Victor Soderstrom, D, 18 (Arizona – 11th overall)
The Coyotes traded up to acquire Soderstrom, so they will look to bring him over as soon as possible. A mobile two-way defender with good speed, Soderstrom spent most of the season with Brynas in the Swedish league and will play a bigger role as the youngest defender on the team. Soderstrom projects to be a solid second-pairing defender capable of producing offense and throwing big hits, but the Coyotes shouldn’t rush him and allow him to develop in Sweden.
Ville Heinola, D, 18 (Winnipeg – 20th overall)
The Jets love their Finnish youngsters, and Heinola has the potential to truly become one of the team’s biggest stars on the point. Heinola had an impressive 14-point campaign with Lukko in the Finnish Liiga as one of just two U-18 defensemen in the league (his 0.41 points per game average was good for second among U-20 defensemen). Heinola has true top-four upside and will factor into Winnipeg’s roster decisions in 2020-21.
Tobias Bjornfot, D, 18 (Los Angeles – 22nd overall)
Bjornfot was one of the most underrated defensemen in the draft and one who you absolutely love throwing on the power play. A good puck-moving defender with high top-end speed, Bjornfot wasn’t used much in the Swedish league with Djurgardens but thrived with the U-20 team. Now, he’ll get his chance with the big club in 2019-20 before making his eventual move overseas in a year or two to play in North America.
Connor McMichael, C, 18 (Washington – 25th overall)
McMichael was one of the most improved players in major junior this year, producing 36 goals and 72 points on London’s top line. He had 16 points the previous season. McMichael is known for his smart decision making with the puck and he’s got a good wrist shot, but his third OHL season will be used to work on his consistency without the puck. McMichael’s still needs time to prove this past season wasn’t a fluke, but he’s Washington’s best center prospect by quite a bit.
Artemi Knyazev, D, 18 (San Jose – 48th overall)
Kniazev is a smooth-skating defenseman that handles the puck well and does a lot of small things well. Knyazev had a good season with the QMJHL’s Chicoutimi and will return to play with fellow Sharks prospect Vladislav Kotkov. He’s still a few years away, but it’s good to have your future ready to go, especially with the Sharks set to have four defensemen hit the UFA market next summer.
Samuel Fagemo, LW, 19 (Los Angeles – 50th overall)
As Ryan Kennedy mentioned last week, Fagemo used his 2018 draft snub as motivation to kick butt in Sweden. A fearless goal-scorer with a love for the net, Fagemo won the SHL and Champions League titles this past season and will play an even bigger role with Frolunda in 2019-20 alongside 2020 draft sensation Lucas Raymond. Look for Raymond to move over to North America when his SHL deal expires in the spring of 2020.
Brett Leason, RW, 20 (Washington – 56th overall)
Leason became a major junior sensation after exploding for 89 points with WHL Prince Albert, 57 points more than his previous best of 32. Leason isn’t far from being ready for the NHL due to his age and he’ll be a key contributor in the AHL with Hershey this season. Don’t be surprised if he’s called up on a few occasions to fill a need on the right side.
Alexei Protas, C, 18 (Washington – 91st overall)
A 6-foot-5 center, Protas hopes to be the first Belarusian forward to play in the NHL since Mikhail Grabovski, who happens to have played for the Capitals a few years ago. He also played with Leason in Prince Albert, so this gives the team the option to reunite them for instant chemistry if they both reach the NHL (Protas is still at least two-to-three years away from getting a look in the NHL). Protas should be Belarus’ best player in U-20 play this year, assuming Prince Albert release him for the Division IA World Junior Championship again.
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