There’s no doubt about it: prospects these days are showing off their potential at very young ages. And while it’s prudent to let these kids develop, it’s also fun to forecast what their futures may look like. Getting a chance to see a number of these players this summer at Power Edge Pro camp, I thought it would be fun to do a special Prospect NTK that looks down the road as far as possible, based on draft class. I didn’t see everyone in Toronto – some kids were busy at the Hlinka-Gretzky tourney – so I’ll mention a couple obvious names along the way. We’ll start with 2019 and go from there.
Jack Hughes, C, U.S. NTDP (USHL): The most impressive thing about Hughes is that he got to play with the pros, not the prospects. That meant a cross-ice game against Connor McDavid – and Hughes didn’t look out of place. The quickness and skills are obvious in Hughes, but he’s also looking a little taller. He’s listed at 5-foot-10 and while shorter players often lie about their height, I don’t think that’s the case here. Hughes is definitely No. 1 for this draft, while Finland’s Kaapo Kakko (who got hurt at the Hlinka) looks like a solid No. 2 right now.
Johnny Beecher, C, U.S. NTDP (USHL): Beecher has incredible speed and with his solid 6-foot-2, 188-pound frame, he’s very difficult to stop on the rush. He’s been overshadowed by Hughes on the NTDP, but Beecher has the potential to be a solid two-way player thanks to his gifts. He’s a University of Michigan commit and definitely one to watch in the first round.
Quinton Byfield, C, Sudbury Wolves (OHL): The top pick in the 2018 OHL draft, Byfield is a force to be reckoned with. An unholy combination of size (6-foot-4, 214 pounds already), skating ability and offensive skill, Byfield pretty much scored at will during the scrimmage I saw. He goes to the net, he finds teammates with beautiful passes and he buries his chances. Other top players to watch in 2020 include Alexis Lafreniere, who just captained Canada to gold at the Hlinka, plus Swedes Alex Holtz and Lucas Raymond, who took silver in the tournament.
Josh Lawrence, C, Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL): Fast and skilled, Lawrence had great chemistry with Byfield, also dominating the scrimmage. He doesn’t have the same size, but he’ll put up a ton of points in the ‘Q.’ Lawrence was taken 15th overall by the Sea Dogs because he was committed to Boston University at the time, but he has since signed with Saint John. The New Brunswick native was the leading scorer for Selects Academy in Connecticut, which is a solid developer of talent.
Cole Perfetti, C, Saginaw Spirit (OHL): Another player who chose major junior over college, Perfetti was a Michigan commit before signing with the Spirit. They took him fifth overall in the OHL draft, so it was quite the gamble, but it paid off. Perfetti is a dynamic offensive player who led the Vaughan Kings to the OHL Cup final this spring. He looks bigger now than he did then, which bodes well. He’s listed at 5-foot-9, but has a pretty sturdy frame.
Stephen Halliday, LW, Central Illinois Flying Aces (USHL): For a kid that just turned 16 in July, Halliday is a monster at 6-foot-3, 220 pounds – and he can score. He uses that frame well and while he wants to work on his explosiveness, he’s not plodding out there. The top pick in the USHL draft plans on playing two years with Central Illinois before heading to the University of North Dakota.
Luke Hughes, D, Little Caesar’s (Mich.): The youngest of the Hughes brothers, Luke has an absolutely gorgeous skating stride. He’s quite advanced for his age in terms of skills and his strength will come as he gets older. Hughes is a Michigan commit and will battle Minnesota’s Chaz Lucius (who had to leave before the scrimmage for another commitment) atop the rankings for top American in the class.
Shane Wright, C, Don Mills Flyers (Tor.): Solidly-built with great playmaking skills and hockey IQ, Wright is a candidate for Exceptional Status this upcoming season, which would allow him to enter the OHL a year early, like Connor McDavid and Aaron Ekblad did. Wright has already been playing up an age group with Don Mills and big things are expected. For the record, I asked Wright about Exceptional Status and he said he hasn’t made a decision yet (and hey, fair enough – it’s August). Cruz Lucius, Chaz’s younger brother and linemate at Gentry Academy, is another name to keep in mind.
Adam Fantilli, C, Toronto Jr. Canadiens (Tor.): Another player who could go for Exceptional Status, Fantilli is similar to Wright, in that he also has a sturdy frame, nice hands and great offensive instincts. He’s a December birthday, however, meaning he won’t be eligible for the NHL draft until a year after Wright. Nonetheless, Fantilli looks promising. I’ve heard he may play for the Toronto Red Wings this season.
Connor Bedard, C, West Vancouver Academy (CSSHL): This is the big one. Despite just turning 13, Bedard was one of the most dangerous players in the scrimmage. His shot is lethal and his puck protection ability separates him from the pack. Bedard is a 2005 birthday who played with 2003s last year and should be the first WHL prospect ever to get Exceptional Status, once eligible.