Every year, I canvas scouts from NHL teams to get the inside scoop on that season's draft class. I just so happened to be looking back on some of those quotes recently and thought it might be fun to revisit how the scouting community viewed some of today's young guns at the time.
In general, it was interesting to see which players had already made it to the NHL and which ones were still prospects. Heck, some were never drafted at all. So just for funsies, here's a look back at some scouting reports that caught my eye, with the player's draft year in parentheses.
Rasmus Dahlin, D, Frolunda (Buffalo Sabres, 2018)
One of the hottest players in the league right now, Dahlin was the No. 1 prospect in 2018 - but only now is he moving into potential Norris Trophy territory. Needless to say, the talent hawks were plenty excited at the time.
“Not many holes in his game. He’s got size, skill and smarts. Plays against men and he’s a dominant force. Can play the game almost any way you want. He’s got man-strength now. Effortless skater, high-end puck skills. Great physical attributes. There’s nobody close to him – he’s No. 1, then there’s everybody else.”
Rasmus Sandin, D, Sault Ste. Marie (Toronto Maple Leafs, 2018)
The 'other' Rasmus in the draft that year may not have had the same spotlight, but he did bring a lot of intrigue to the table nonetheless. Now he's part of that annual Leafs fan debate about blueliners.
“I’m a big Sandin fan. He’s that new-wave defenseman. Great hockey sense, great mobility, light on his edges. Might be one of the best passers in the OHL this year, outside of Evan Bouchard. Needs to work on his defensive play a bit, but he’s smart.”
K’Andre Miller, D, U.S. NTDP (New York Rangers, 2018)
Potential was the name of the game with Miller, who caught scouts' eyes for a number of reasons, including the fact he used to play forward when he was younger.
“He’s a physical specimen. Beautiful, powerful stride and he’s becoming a real stout defender. At the least, he’ll be a minute-eater because he’s such a great athlete. I love his floor and I love his ceiling.”
Quinn Hughes, D, University of Michigan (Vancouver Canucks, 2018)
As a late birthday, Hughes was already in college by the time he was draft-eligible, but that didn't stop him from putting up big numbers as a freshman with the Wolverines.
“He’s a dynamic player. You gotta use him in the right situation and put him with a guy that plays defense, but I’d pay to watch him play and there aren't many players I’d say that about. He makes plays when there’s nothing there. It’s his ability to go one way when you expected him to go the other way that opens things up. His upside is incredible.”
Noah Dobson, D, Acadie-Bathurst (New York Islanders, 2018)
In a draft class that featured the likes of Dahlin and Hughes on the back end, Dobson didn't get the same amount of hype, but he ended up winning two straight Memorial Cups (on different teams no less) and breaking out for the Isles last year.
“I love him. He’s playing too much right now, over 30 minutes a night, so what you’re seeing is a guy trying to conserve energy and play on a rocking chair. But early on he was slicing through the ice and putting defenders on their heels. His puck retrieval is really good. He’s 6-foot-3 and to skate like he can…wait until he gets another 20 pounds on him.”
Grigori Denisenko, LW, Yaroslavl Lokomotiv (Florida Panthers, 2018)
While he hasn't become an NHL regular yet, Denisenko has been hampered by last year's broken kneecap and pandemic-related moves in the AHL. He started off this season with the Charlotte Checkers.
“He’s got high-end skill. Missed a game at the World Jr. A Challenge because of a dirty hit - and he deserved it - but when he came back he was maybe a little nervous. Still, he has a bit of an edge to his game. Passes like a pro, shoots like a pro and creates offense every time he’s on the ice. Pretty close to Evgeny Kuznetsov in terms of skill at the same age.”
Shane Pinto, C, Tri-City Storm (Ottawa Senators, 2019)
The latest rookie to turn heads in Ottawa, Pinto was traded from Lincoln to Tri-City during his draft year before heading off to the University of North Dakota for two seasons.
“Definitely has an NHL body. He’s got hands, skating ability and a good shot. Effective when he’s playing a power game and he can make plays down low. The knock is that he doesn’t make plays off the rush. He thinks he’s a center, and he is good on faceoffs and defensively, but I see him as a winger.”
Jack Hughes, C, U.S. NTDP (New Jersey Devils, 2019)
The top prospect heading into the year, Hughes ended up going post-to-post with New Jersey taking him first overall. He headlined an absolutely outstanding NTDP draft class that saw 17 players from 'The Program' get selected.
“He’s an offensive dynamo who generates offense and points pretty much every time he’s on the ice. Has elite awareness and an acute sense of danger in terms of opponents around him, so he’s able to escape and buy himself time. His skating and hockey IQ separates him from everyone else, plus he has the will to attack. He’s going to be a serious player for sure.”
Trevor Zegras, C, U.S. NTDP (Anaheim Ducks, 2019)
I mean, do we need to say anything about one of the most creative and exciting players in the game today? I suppose it is funny in retrospect that Zegras was available at No. 9 when the Ducks picked him.
“Almost a poor man’s Jack Hughes. Explosive and offensively gifted. He’s the motor on whatever line he plays on, even when he has lined up with Hughes. He’s got vision and creativity and he’s ultra-skilled. He’ll transition to pro hockey seamlessly.”
Matthew Boldy, LW, U.S. NTDP (Minnesota Wild, 2019)
Perhaps overshadowed a bit by his NTDP teammates, Boldy has nonetheless put his stamp on the Wild already and is off to a hot start in his second NHL season.
“Elite scorer with a great shot and he knows how to get into scoring lanes. Has elite hands in tight and unbelievable hand-eye co-ordination. One of the better scorers I’ve ever seen with The Program. He can score from outside the dots and that’s not easy. He’s just tapping into his body.”
Cole Caufield, RW, U.S. NTDP (Montreal Canadiens, 2019)
One of the big storylines of the 2019 draft was about how high the diminutive Caufield would go. His goal-scoring ability suggested top-10, but in the end the Habs got a steal when he fell to them at No. 15. Six of his NTDP teammates were already taken by then.
“You see the red light with Caufield. The DeBrincat comparison is valid, but Cole Caufield has his own game: he’s got an edge. His shot and release are incredible. Shame on you if you pass on him because of his size.”
J.J. Peterka, RW, Red Bull Munich (Buffalo Sabres, 2020)
Part of an awesome wave of German talent in 2020, Peterka played on a line with draft mates Tim Stutzle and Lukas Reichel at the world juniors. He would end up going early in the second round to the Sabres and has gotten off to a solid start in the NHL this season.
“Every time I’ve seen him, he’s been on the ice with Stutzle and this guy is right there with him, but it’s not about flash. This guy’s powerful, has speed, hunts pucks, works. He’s a guy who can be a real core piece to a team and play in the middle of the lineup. If you need him to move up with skill players he can, if you need him killing penalties and using energy, he can do that too.”
Anton Lundell, C, HIFK (Florida Panthers, 2020)
Lundell is such an interesting case because he was the opposite of most prospects at the same age: defense over offense. After spending one more year in Finland, he came to the NHL last season and the offense indeed was there.
“His game is very advanced in terms of his ability to play with men. Powerful kid, gets around the ice, tremendous details – maybe to a fault. At times you see him on the defensive side of the puck more than you’d want. You want him to break out and show off the skill, start driving the net more. But he has the ability to assimilate quickly to pro hockey in North America given his work rate and his ability to start on a bottom line and move up. He’ll be trusted by coaches and his game will evolve from there.”
Jake Neighbours, LW, Edmonton Oil Kings (St. Louis Blues, 2020)
On a veteran Blues squad, Neighbours is quickly becoming a fan favorite thanks to his crash-and-bang style.
"Terrific player. His skating may not be perfect, but he's certainly efficient. Tenacious worker, which certainly helps. He's a character kid. I hear all kinds of stories about what kind of person he is and it shows on the ice. He's not going to get outworked and he has the skill. Keen hockey sense, too."