As the season winds down, or has already finished in some cases, I thought I would explore the different situations where some of the biggest names in the draft presently find themselves and what could still happen that would result in them increasing their draft stock.
A few players have seen their seasons come to an end and a small number of these players also have late-1992 birthdays, making them ineligible for this month’s Under-18 World Championship in Germany. Players in this case, such as potential first overall pick Adam Larsson of Sweden, have done all they can do and the only further information that will affect how a team may value them will be determined at the NHL combine and during each team’s individual interviews with the player. Scouts are aware of players who fall into this category and make sure to do their homework in February and March. This is generally a more common occurrence with players in European leagues as North American seasons generally last well into April and even May.
The second category that players fall into is when their team has already finished its season, but their birthdays are earlier.
Most players from this second category will go off to represent their respective countries at under-18 events. This is a prime opportunity for players to gain exposure in a high stakes, energetic and competitive environment, which can really catapult a player up the draft board. Some of these players play in obscure areas where they aren’t heavily scouted or play on bad teams or in bad situations and are given a clean slate to strut their stuff with only a couple of months before the draft.
Europeans are often the ones who benefit the most from these tournaments, because this may be the first or second time most of the North American scouts get the opportunity to see them play. It offers a prime occasion to compare the skills of these players against what the scouts have witnessed all season long from other prospects. Joel Armia of Finland is a player who falls into this category and expectations are high for the young power forward. A strong tournament could solidify him as a top 10 pick, while a below average performance may push him out of the first round altogether. It is just that kind of draft and for players such as Armia, the under-18 tournament is an absolutely massive stage where they will be under the microscope the entire time.
The Canadian League playoffs are another scene where a draft eligible player can really make a splash. Look, for instance, at Red Deer Rebels center - and odds-on favorite for first overall selection if you ask me - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. His dominant first round performance in his team’s four-game sweep of rival Edmonton saw Nugent-Hopkins tally four goals and five assists. It’s obvious he has an extra gear for playoff hockey. If he can continue to show this it will be yet another reason for teams picking early in the first round to salivate at the thought of adding him to the fold.
Another two players taking advantage of their playoff exposure are Jonathan Huberdeau and Zack Phillips of the Saint John Sea Dogs. With the new Quebec League format, first place Saint John was matched up against 16th place Cape Breton and the Sea Dogs’ offensive stars took advantage, tallying 12 points between the two of them during their dominant four-game sweep. As the competition gets stiffer, the opportunity for each of these young stars will grow and would culminate in a massive spotlight if they qualify their club for the Memorial Cup.
There is no question all of the top prospects have had ample time to showcase their abilities and most teams and scouts have a strong impression as to what each player is capable of, but the games in April and May will indicate an entirely different level of play and potential for each player.
Those players who can raise their game to meet the challenges of these higher levels of competition will endear themselves that much more and could result in them reaping the rewards in June at the NHL draft.
Ross MacLean is the head scout for International Scouting Services and is considered one of the rising stars of the business. A young, diverse and versatile hockey mind, MacLean leads ISS' network of scouts and puts his domestic and international hockey experience and knowledge towards ranking and providing industry-leading profiles and information on draft eligible players around the world.