Welcome to a brand-new prospects column. This is the first instalment of what I hope will be a regular feature during the season, where I provide an anecdote or insight on one prospect from all 31 NHL franchises. Sometimes it’ll be a statistic or a quote, sometimes it’ll be more scouting-based, but hopefully you’ll find it all interesting. I’ll do a couple before the season begins as a warm-up and thanks to the draft and the World Junior Summer Showcase (WJSS), I’ve got a lot of material to work with right now.
ANA: First-rounder Trevor Zegras played both left wing and center at the WJSS and for me, he was more effective down the middle. True, he had elite linemates in Cole Caufield and Joel Farabee, but Zegras is great with the puck on his stick and at center he had more opportunities.
ARI: At 6-foot-6, 236 pounds, D-man Kevin Bahl knows what he has to do for a shot at Canada’s world junior team. “There’s a lot of talented guys here with top-end offensive skill,” he said. “For me, I have to come in and be a shut-down guy. Play simple, move pucks efficiently.” Bahl’s reach makes him an obvious penalty-kill option.
BOS: First-rounder Johnny Beecher is proving his worth at the WJSS with five points in his first four games. Buried on a deep NTDP roster last season, the University of Michigan commit always had the speed and size to break out.
BUF: You can tell how much his American WJSS teammates love defenseman Mattias Samuelsson based on their raucous reaction to his shot-blocking prowess, especially on the penalty-kill. The Western Michigan blueliner also set a great physical tone on the back end.
CGY: On my way home from the draft I ran into Flames media relations ace Peter Hanlon in the security line at the airport. “Your fans are going to love Jakob Pelletier,” I said. Further up the line, a voice chimed in with “Yeah, they will.” I looked up and it was Calgary coach Bill Peters. “He’s really smart out there,” Peters continued. “I’ve watched a lot of video of him.”
CAR: Sniper Patrik Puistola saw minimal ice time in 16 games with Tappara of the Liiga this past season but had a much better role in the second-tier Mestis: “I played in LeKi, also against men, and that was very good,” he said. “I played like, 20 minutes a game. Now I’m trying to get a bigger role on my Liiga team.”
CHI: The OHL’s London Knights made a hard push for towering defenseman Alex Vlasic this summer, but the NTDP product is still committed to Boston University. He was an early WJSS cut, but has a lot of potential for the future.
COL: Power forward Matthew Stienburg plans on going straight from Ontario prep school St. Andrew’s College to Cornell for 2019-20. It sounds like a big leap, but buddy Morgan Barron (NYR), a fellow SAC product, did the same thing and had great success. “It’s a big jump,” said Avalanche director of amateur scouting Alan Hepple. “But he’s a big body and he can skate.”
CBJ: One of the few ‘A’ list Canadian players who suited up against Finland at the WJSS, Liam Foudy showed off his impressive speed as usual. With AHL experience this past spring, he’ll be a superstar in the OHL next season.
DAL: Denis Gurianov has been a slow developer, but AHL Texas coach Derek Laxdal is a believer: “Denis is a little bit of a late-bloomer, maturity-wise,” he said. “He didn’t play a lot in the (2018) Calder Cup playoffs, but we saw a huge progression in his game this past year. He’s big, strong and has blinding speed. He just has to adapt his role to the NHL. He’s very coachable and has a great passion to play the game and moving forward, he’s going to be a big part of the Dallas Stars. He’ll probably have to play some games, sit a couple out, play a few. Once he gets there, he’s going to be a good player.”
DET: Goalie prospect Carter Gylander gets a unique opportunity this month as he heads to Russia for the Junior Club World Cup. He’ll play for the Alberta Jr. A League all-stars, who will take on club teams such as Modo (Swe.), Karpat Oulu (Fin.) and Loko Yaroslavl (Rus.), plus an NAHL all-star squad.
EDM: A year can make a big difference in a teen goalie and Olivier Rodrigue is proud of the work he has put in - though he can still poke fun at his slight frame, too. “I got stronger - though obviously I didn’t get bigger,” said the 6-foot-1, 164-pounder. “I did a good job to get more powerful and worked with my dad on the ice to get ready.”
FLA: Wild pick Matthew Boldy knows all about Panthers first-rounder Spencer Knight and what the elite goalie means for a team. “I played with him the past two years and you’re more willing to make a riskier play with him back there because you know he’s got your back,” Boldy said. “He’s awesome. He works so hard and makes the saves to keep us in the game.”
LA: Defenseman Kim Nousiainen was a pleasant surprise for me at the WJSS. Though only 5-foot-9, 170 pounds, the 2019 fourth-rounder plays a very scrappy game on the back end and like all Finnish D-men at the tourney, he moves well.
MIN: Adam Beckman came to the WHL late and it paid off. He spent 2017-18 playing Saskatchewan midget with Battleford before exploding for 32 goals as a rookie with the Spokane Chiefs this past season. “I got a chance to play midget in a scenario where I could play 25-30 minutes a night and play every situation,” he said. “This year I got the chance to step in and be an impact player, instead of maybe a fourth-liner when I was 16.”
MTL: His Timra squad was relegated out of the SHL this past season, so center Jacob Olofsson has signed with Skelleftea for 2019-20. “They like young players and have good training,” he said. “And they’re near the top of the SHL, so I want to be a part of that to push myself.”
NSH: While Canada got shelled 8-3 by Finland in their second WJSS game, Phil Tomasino stood out by doing what he does best: causing offensive havoc. The speedy first-rounder had a number of rushes and breakaways, though he couldn’t bury them on that particular day.
NJ: I asked Chicago’s Kirby Dach which older Canadian players he watches for good work habits and blueliner Ty Smith was one of his answers (Detroit’s Joe Veleno was the other). “I’ve played with him numerous times in the past and he’s a pro on and off the ice already,” Dach said.
NYI: Seventh-rounder Christian Krygier was very noticeable on Team USA’s back end at the WJSS. “He’s come in here, played a simple game, brought some physicality and he can skate,” said coach Scott Sandelin. “He’s not trying to do too much and we need some of that. It’ll be fun to keep watching him.”
NYR: Defenseman K’Andre Miller will be key for Team USA’s 2020 world junior squad as a veteran of last year’s team. “You need those older guys,” said USA coach Scott Sandelin. “He’s been really good here. It’s that maturity, that confidence level. He’s got the size and athleticism and he can skate.”
OTT: I asked GM Pierre Dorion about 2019 first-rounder Lassi Thomson’s decision to head back to Finland for the upcoming season after playing in the WHL last year: “We left it up to him. We really liked the Kelowna option, but we’re going to respect the fact he’s going back to Ilves. Our head European scout, Mikko Ruutu, tells us that if he had to pick a place to put a prospect, it would be Ilves. He likes the coaching staff there. They’re going to be a younger team, so Lassi can play with some veterans but really grow and develop, too.”
PHI: After a tough freshman year at Providence College, center Jay O’Brien decided to make a change. He’ll be heading to Boston University eventually, but this season he’ll play in the BCHL for Penticton, one of the best Jr. A programs around. USHL Youngstown was also interested in his services.
PIT: Calen Addison is a dynamite skater, but on the small side for a defenseman. Canada coach Dale Hunter noted that Addison has to defend smart because of it. For what it’s worth, I liked Addison’s battle level at the WJSS.
STL: Canadian goalie Colten Ellis got battered for seven goals against Finland, but coach Dale Hunter didn’t pull him until the pre-arranged midway point of the game. Hunter didn’t think many of the goals were Ellis’ fault, citing a lot of back-door plays and a lack of help in front of him.
SJ: Goalie Zachary Emond left the WJSS early with an undisclosed injury, but he’ll get a lot of time to prove himself this year with Rouyn-Noranda in the QMJHL. Last year’s starter, Samuel Harvey, has aged out of the league.
TB: There’s a lot of talent on Canada’s WJSS roster, but according to teammate and netminder Olivier Rodrigue, Nolan Foote has the hardest shot. No doubt that’s why Foote saw a lot of time on the team’s top power play unit.
TOR: Growing up in Northern Ontario, Justin Brazeau never took power skating lessons. The free agent signing has been working with Leafs guru Barb Underhill this summer and the team is over the moon with Brazeau’s progress. He’s a massive sniper, so this is an exciting development.
VAN: It’s getting spooky how good defenseman Toni Utunen is against Canada. He had the upset quarterfinal winner for Finland at last year’s world juniors, then scored twice and added an assist in the 8-3 WJSS drubbing of the Canadians this week. Utunen’s ability to pick his offensive spots is impressive.
VGK: Defenseman Kaedan Korczak reaped the benefits of playing for WHL Kelowna in the lead-up to this summer’s draft; Rockets alumni Shea Weber, Josh Gorges and Damon Severson all reached out to him with advice on taking in the experience. Vegas took Korczak 41st overall.
WSH: Defenseman Martin Hugo Has is a rare Czech kid playing in Finland, but his reasoning makes sense: “I wanted to play against better players,” he said. “In Czech (with Sparta Prague’s under-16 team), we had won back-to-back titles, so I wanted to move on.”
WPG: First-rounder Ville Heinola ended last season strong with Lukko Rauma, averaging 21 minutes in the last month of the season. Assuming he returns, Heinola wants to keep it rolling this year. “I think I’ll have a big role, like the same as when I stopped last season,” he said. “Power play, lots of ice time.”