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Prospect Spotlight: NHL Draft Stock Entering March

Tony Ferrari looks at how some of the top NHL draft prospects are doing as we enter March, and includes a few under-the-radar names you need to know.
Patrik Rybar and Juraj Slafkovsky

The ebbs and flows of a hockey season are aplenty. With that comes rises and falls of an NHL draft-eligible prospects stock. There are so many players who may have started strong and fallen off – or in some cases, the complete inverse.

A big international tournament could be a big boost to a player’s stock. On the flip side, being a bit lost in the shuffle with a new team could be a cause for concern. This month, we’re going to take stock of how some of the biggest names are trending.

Stock Up: C Shane Wright, Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)

Guess who’s back? There has been a ton of flack thrown Wright’s way this season. After a rookie season that saw him on pace to match Connor McDavid’s age-15 production, the expectations for what he would do as a draft-eligible player were sky-high. Virtually everyone in hockey, myself included, had moments of wondering if Wright is the player we all thought he was. We might not see Wright eclipse 100 points as many expected, but he has begun to turn it on a bit more recently.

After an underwhelming two-game stint at the canceled World Junior Championship, Wright returned to the Fronts with two scoreless games. Since then, the projected first-overall pick has tallied 31 points in 19 games and 17 points in his past 10 games. The Kingston captain has looked more consistently like the two-way force that we’ve all come to expect. Wright is an intelligent player who understands where to be and when to be there while utilizing his teammates and identifying the next play with precision. He doesn’t play the most incredibly flashy game every night but he puts himself and his teammates in good positions all of the time.

If he can keep his recent play up, the odds that he can challenge 100 points is very much a reality. His slower-than-expected start can be forgiven due to the fact that he barely played hockey last season aside from the World U-18s. Now on pace for 31 goals and 92 points, there is a real possibility that he could challenge 40 goals and 100 points. If he gets there, a lot of the concerns will be forgotten.

Stock Down: RW Joakim Kemell, JYP (Liiga)

Regression to the mean is a pain in the butt, isn’t it? After a blistering start to his season where he led the Liiga in goals and points for a not-insignificant amount of time, Joakim Kemell has taken a bit of a step back. Through November, Kemell was shooting about 30% on the year which is wildly unsustainable. Kemell very well could be the best shooter in the draft but no player sustains a run like that over the long term. Now with his shooting percentage settling in around 10 percent on the season, reality is starting to set in.

Kemell dealt with a shoulder injury that wiped out the month of November from his season and it’s not out of this world to think it could still be hampering him. The Finnish sniper has been completely held off the scoresheet since he returned from the injury, covering 13 Liiga games and the two games with the Finnish U-20 squad at the World Juniors. There is very little doubt that Kemell has the talent to be a high-end NHL scorer, but with his effectiveness from distance possibly being limited by the shoulder injury, he needs to improve on his ability to get to the high-danger areas in the offensive zone. If he can figure that part of his game out, use this ailment as an opportunity to diversify and improve his game, he will likely become an even more dangerous scorer moving forward.

Stock Up: LW Juraj Slafkovsky, TPS (Liiga)

The Olympics was bound to boost the stock of a prospect and it just so happened to be draft-eligible winger and Olympic MVP, Juraj Slafkovsky. The Slovak star-in-the-making led the Olympics in goals with seven and helped power Slovakia to a bronze medal, their first medal in the team's history. Slafkovsky had two goals in the bronze medal game to put a cap on his wonderful tournament.

Slafkovsky’s performance against some of the world's best players outside of the NHL has prompted many in the draft and prospect world to move him near the top of the draft board. Slafkovsky brings impressive size and strength, he displayed high-level puck protection skill and his board play looked quite mature at the Olympics. His offensive output was what drew so many in but it was the rest of his game in the offensive zone that had scouts and analysts talking. There is a lot to like with Slafkovsky but as always, the need to point out that sometimes we overvalue a short tournament or big stage event. Watching the rest of his season once he rejoins the TPS lineup will be key in completing his evaluation.

Stock Down: C Nathan Gaucher, Quebec Remparts (QMJHL)

Once considered the top skater from the QMJHL, Nathan Gaucher hasn’t quite lived up to his pre-season hype. He is scoring goals at a decent clip with 20 goals through 42 games but his overall offensive output has been lacking as he’s added just 11 assists this season. Gaucher plays a physical brand of hockey that could entice a team to take him much higher than they should (see: 2021 tenth overall pick, Tyler Boucher), but his game as a whole has been a bit of a question thus far.

Gaucher has been hovering around the mid-20s in rankings all season long thanks to his physicality and two-way play. He is a solid power forward at the QMJHL level who projects as a middle-six player at the next level. Can he find his offensive touch and work his way onto an NHL second-line and bring his puck protection and physical prowess to a team’s top-six or is he destined to be a bottom-six grind-it-out style of player who is important but might be a bit overvalued if he’s taken in the first round? There are a lot of questions still to be answered surrounding Gaucher’s game at the next level.

Stock Up: LD Kevin Korchinski, Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)

The Seattle blueliner has been flying up draft boards recently with his play this season. Korchinski is a skilled defenseman who plays a calculated game using his ability to read the play a step ahead of his competition. With 42 points in 44 games, Korchinski is putting up nearly a point-per-game which is attracting scouts to his game. His penchant for making the best play rather than the safe play is what keeps them coming back for more.

At 6-foot-2, Korchinksi has the size NHL teams covet in a defender, and with his modern-day play style, he should be a coveted asset come draft day. The Thunderbirds blueliner shows escapability and quick decision-making in his own zone, recovering the puck and moving it up ice with precision. His intellect and diagnostic ability with the puck on his stick are what make him worth a fairly high pick. As of right now, Korchinksi is sitting at the backend of the first round on many public boards but his ascension is beginning to gain steam and there are beginning to be whispers of top-15 Korchinski among analysts. 

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