The Next Generation: CTP’s October Bottom 16 for the 2019 NHL Entry Draft

Hey readers, it’s capitalcorrespondent and the unfortunately uncredited Ellie Green, here with brand new bad opinions about the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. Someone put us in charge of ranking hockey infants, so here we are, with sixteen freshly judged children.

That sounded wrong.

Editors note: Grab a coffee… it’s a long one! 

Anyway, as much as the playoff missing top fifteen stand to benefit, the riches being dished out in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft don’t stop there. There are plenty of strong players with relevant, applicable skill sets available in the back half of the first round — puck moving defenders like Cam York and scoring talents like Valentin Nussbaumer, Trevor Zegras, Cole Caufield, and Matthew Boldy among them — and just because they’re outside the Top 15 now doesn’t mean they’ll stay there.

But, for now, here are October’s bottom sixteen, a balm to the soul for fans of current playoff teams.

(31st Overall): Spencer Knight (G, USNTDP [USHL])

Yes, yes, we know, taking a goalie in the first round is a crime now. But listen, Spencer Knight is legit. Legit legit. One of the best goalies to come out of the USNTDP in years, legit. At the time of writing, Spencer Knight has a .932 save percentage in eight games with the National Team Development Program, and a not too shabby 2.01 goals against average. Now, these are both pretty poor stats by which to evaluate a goaltender, especially such a young one, but we’re working with the information we’ve got here, c’mon.

At 6’3” and 197lbs (a decent size for a goalie in a league trending towards huge, athletic frames), Knight describes himself as a technical goalie— someone who plays tighter to waste less energy and cut down on unnecessary movement. He’s identified moving less as an area of his game he wants to work on, aiming to rely more heavily on his instincts and reactions rather than make big, sprawling athletic saves à la Jonathan Quick. His basic positioning is miles more in check than Quick, and he has the big, wide frame like Carey Price to use to his advantage.

(30th Overall): Sasha Mutala (RW, Tri-City Americans [WHL])

Despite missing some time very early in the season, Sasha Mutala is carving out his place slowly but surely for this year’s first round projections. One of the biggest assets to his game comes from his ability to accelerate and reach a top speed that can wreak havoc on the opposing defense. Described as a playmaker first and foremost, Mutala also has an excellent release on a dangerous shot that has him, tentatively, at a point per game and tied for sixth in team scoring early in the season.

In a two goal performance at the Hlinka-Gretzky tournament, Mutala showcased his ability to tip the puck and be a nuisance in front of the net, as well as almost comically redirecting a puck into the net via the cage on his mask. His scoring looks like it’s taking a step forward this season, but watch out for his exceptional speed as well, because it forces turnovers and when paired with his strong work ethic, can be dangerous to the opposition.

(29th Overall): Blake Murray (C, Sudbury Wolves [OHL])

Playing in his second year with the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves, Blake Murray is a speedy skater with a gritty style of play that will see him adapt well to an NHL roster when they see fit to call him up. A left shot centre with a big body (6’3”), he moves exceedingly well for his size. In his rookie OHL season last year, it took Murray just three games to net his first hattrick. Playing on a team with Quinton Byfield (a consensus 2020 top 10 pick) and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen (a Buffalo Sabres goalie prospect, and the first goalie taken under the new, goalie allowed, CHL import draft rules), Murray has a pretty decent team around him, but his good start is all his own work, as he trails only Byfield and David Levin on the team scoring chart.

While his offensive game is a notable positive, Murray is also responsible in the faceoff circle and reliable enough to trust to win a draw. He cited his goals for the 18-19 season as getting stronger as a player which will only serve to benefit his already gritty game. He has a fantastic release on a shot he could serve to utilise more, and can be both a goal scorer and a playmaker on any line he’s put on.

(28th Overall): Yaroslav Likhachyov (RW, Gatineau Olympiques [QMJHL])

Likhachyov is another prospective first round pick with minor skating issues that could drop him to the second round should any, currently lower ranked picks, take a huge leap forward in their draft year. He’s the opposite of what we see in Columbus draft pick Liam Foudy, whose hands can’t function at the same speed as his feet. Likhachyov has the hands to go in the middle of the first round, with an incredible level of raw talent, but hasn’t yet showcased an ability to accelerate and reach the speed you would expect of a player under six feet tall.

He put his name firmly on the map at the Hlinka-Gretzky tournament, with 7 points in the 5 games he played.  He’s still finding his feet in the QMJHL, but we like the skill set he has to offer. Likhachyov is very adept at completing passes when dealing with pressure from the opposition. Some have even noted seeing enough Kucherov in his game to draw the comparison. When he waits in front of the net for a pass his positioning is always strong, and then when he scores it can look almost effortless.

(27th Overall): John Beecher (C, USNTDP [USHL])

6’3” and already over 200lbs, Beecher is the kind of big bodied physical player that will turn the heads of NHL GMs. While he doesn’t have a huge ceiling with regards to his offensive play and scoring, Beecher offers a clever, defensively sound game that has the floor of his potential solidly above some other players in the draft. His skating is strong for a player so big and heavy, which will be infinitely helpful for his journey to the big leagues.

Beecher has committed to the University of Michigan for the 19-20 season, but in the NHL we see him as a middle six centre who will offer defensive reliability with, say, two scoring wingers flanking him. His speed allows him to get up the ice and his size give him the ability to protect the puck while doing it, good for focusing on playmaking rather than individual scoring. In 60 games last season, he put up 41 points.

(26th Overall): Matthew Robertson (D, Edmonton Oil Kings [WHL])

Robertson is a defenseman that we’ve come around on over the last week.

With the NHL trending in the direction of smaller, offensive defenseman, Robertson is a 6’4” throwback of epic proportions. Not one to capitalise on the puck skills he does actually have, he has a more defensive mindset than some of the other defensemen in the class, and his size offers him the ability to utilise a long reach and intimidatingly huge presence from the blueline. Playing on the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL, Robertson is their primary defensive force, logging heavy minutes at 5 on 5 as well as on both special teams squads. This raises a question — could he emerge as more of an offensive talent if he wasn’t always compensating for others’ defensive liabilities and had more time and space to work with?

This isn’t to diminish his offensive abilities in any way— Robertson has a hard, crisp shot that continues to be a huge part of his game and the package he could provide to a future NHL team. For example, there’s this great shot from the point in team Canada’s game against Sweden at the Hlinka-Gretzky tournament earlier in the summer. It’s purely the changing nature of the NHL game that has him ranked this low, but our minds are easily changed, and a solid draft year could serve Robertson well.

(25th Overall): Simon Holmström (RW, HV71 J20 [SuperElit])

Following a great first season playing SuperElit, Holmström has started the 18-19 season there but there’s a very good chance we see him get extended SHL time as the season continues. He’s a very, very good skater, which we are seeing more and more of with European prospects. Holmström is a player who hounds the puck but can be criticised for the volume of high risk plays he initiates. With good size to match his skating and skill, and handling his return from a hip surgery that kept him out of the Hlinka-Gretzky tournament well, this is a player who could go a long way up in this draft class, with skating and play comparisons made between him and Filip Zadina.

Starting the season in the SuperElit is a good shout, but if he proves himself on the same level, or better, than last season, then don’t be shocked to see him in the SHL for a long look. He makes smart decisions that outweigh, to a large extent, any mistakes he might make with the puck. He’s a work in progress, but we see him as a player with a massive upside.

(24th Overall): Jakob Pelletier (C/LW, Moncton Wildcats [QMJHL])

A small, fast, energetic winger who can add a little something extra to get a line going on his QMJHL team. A natural centre, he’s another one of those players who, should you be able to look past his size, could be a great addition as a later first round pick. Though he’s only 5’9, he has the speed to make up for it. His red hot start to the QMJHL season should start putting him on everyone’s ‘to watch’ lists, as Pelletier could be an underrated steal in this years draft due to his size.

After suffering a fractured wrist at the Hlinka-Gretzky tournament on August 8, Pelletier will be looking to live up to his fantastic first season in the QMJHL, where he finished third in the rookie scoring race with 61 points in 60 games with the Moncton Wildcats. His QMAAA coach compared him to the likes of Alexander Radulov, a player who wants the puck and wants to be a difference maker within his team. Commended for his leadership qualities from a very young age, Pelletier seems like the type to fit into any kind of team environment and can rally a team in tough moments.

(23rd Overall): Matthew Boldy (RW, USNTDP [USHL])

Currently playing on the right wing of Jack Hughes with the National Team Development Program, it’s easy to underestimate Matthew Boldy as a product of playing with a widely regarded generational talent. A Conor Sheary to Jack Hughes’ Sidney Crosby, a Ty Rattie to Hughes’ McDavid. Okay, maybe those examples are a little extreme, but the help to illustrate why Boldy is not one of those players. Committed to Boston College for the 2019-20 season, Boldy could, in the future, offensively drive his own line in the NHL. We have him ranked here, for now, but believe he’s a player who could rise quickly in the time left before the draft.

With an incredible release on a nice shot, he has a persistence and worth ethic that many NHL GM’s will pay attention to. Boldy moves well for his size, listed at 6’2” and 187lbs already, and doesn’t let his frame weigh him down in situations where quick, nimble movements are needed. In a 1G, 1A performance against Sioux Falls, he takes the puck for a walk, twirling around the opposing team’s players to feed a teammate for a pretty goal. He’s a winger that can create offense from his own stick, or complete smooth passes to teammates at the drop of a whistle.

(22nd Overall): Tobias Björnfot (D, Djurgårdens IF J20 [SuperElit])

While there isn’t anything exceedingly flashy about Björnfot’s game, he’s the kind of player that does so many of the little things right it can be hard to criticise him.

Sweden pumps out so many incredible defensemen, so it’s unsurprising to see at least one ranked in the first round of many 2019 Draft rankings. He won’t wow you with incredible offensive skill, but he has a nice, hard shot from the point that will get him a handful of goals. He played 1 SHL game during a brief callup, but it’ll likely be later in the season that we see him getting any extended time in Sweden’s top league, if any time at all.

His skating has improved somewhat in the last year, but aside from that he’s a smart, steady presence on the blueline— a timeless style of defense that any NHL team will be able to benefit from when he eventually makes the NHL. Good speed and the ability to get the puck out of the zone quickly and carefully are two highlights to his evolving game.

(21st Overall): Cole Caufield (C/RW, USNTDP [USHL])

We spent a lot of time reading that Cole Caufield is ‘undersized’ but until it came to writing his draft profile, we didn’t realise just how little this guy is.

Standing at (according to EliteProspects) 5’7” and 157lbs, Caufield is going to have a tough time battling against all of the scouts, general managers and head coaches who don’t have the same belief in shorter players that they do in the big guys. However, there’s no denying his talent. In playing last year with the U17 team, Caulfield put up an incredible 44 goals in 40 games, with 63 points overall, and 17 points in 19 games with the U18 team following a promotion. He’s making his name as a pure goal scorer, and is hard to overlook as one of the best talents in the draft, despite his size.

His impact on the game outside of goal scoring is debatable, so he’d thrive and meet his potential on a team with a solid defensive system. With comparables such as Alex Debrincat, we believe Caufield could be a potential first line winger in the NHL, as long as he plays under a coach who can look past his size and see the depth of his offensive skill.

(20th Overall): Nolan Foote (LW, Kelowna Rockets [WHL])

Nolan Foote is the second son of Avalanche alumnus Adam Foote, who coincidentally took over the head coach position for the Kelowna Rockets, his son’s WHL team, on Monday, October 22nd. Foote has had a big frame since he was sixteen, standing at 6’3” and padding himself out with around 15lbs over the last year and a half. What we like about Foote’s game is that he uses his intimidating frame to give himself space when playing in the offensive zone, and protects the puck well. When it comes to skill, there’s a big upside to taking him in the draft, but from a personal observation, there’s an instability to his skating that we really dislike.

His start to the WHL season has been alright but not head turning, putting up just under a point per game. Perhaps a new coach will relight an offensive fire in him, but as a word of warning, his numbers in his two previous WHL seasons haven’t been mind blowingly impressive. It leads you to wonder if a key contributor to his draft stock has been his ‘pedigree’, with his father having worn the ‘C’ for the Avalanche and his brother Cal being a first round pick by the Tampa Bay Lightning (14th overall).

(19th Overall): Trevor Zegras (C/RW, USNTDP [USHL])

Another prospect in this years draft committed to a school in Boston (this time BU rather than BC), Zegras is one of the most agile skaters in the pool. He has everything you could want from a centre or a right wing— and was centered by Jack Hughes before Hughes’ promotion to the U18 team. He can complete difficult passes from just about anywhere on the ice, one of his biggest strengths, and can bury a shot bar down from some impossible angles.

Zegras currently drives the U17 team’s top offensive line, but makes smart plays in his own end that don’t leave him as a defensive liability. He has a strong ‘hockey IQ’ and makes decisions well when on a tight time limit, and exploits open passing lanes like it’s going out of fashion. It wouldn’t be surprising to see his draft position rise exponentially as the countdown to June begins, as a full season driving a line and taking responsibility in a leadership role will prove to any doubters that he’s more than just a product of Jack Hughes.

(18th Overall): Anttoni Honka (D, JYP [Liiga])

We have a soft spot for the littlest Honka, whose older brother Julius is a defenseman with the Dallas Stars. Anttoni spent 20 games last season playing with JYP in the Liiga, and added both a World Junior Championship U18 gold medal and a Champions Hockey League championship to his list of achievements. He’ll likely spend this full season with the Liiga side, and has already showed impressive flashes, like this game in September where he got a goal and two assists.

Labelled as the most offensively talented Finnish blueliner in the 2019 draft class, there’s lots to like about Anttoni Honka’s game. He’s adept at sticking with the play until possession changes hands again, and particularly good at disrupting opposing scoring chances in front of the net. However, when he’s got open ice to play with he can look a little lackadaisical, resulting in passes not connecting and and turnovers that aren’t even pressured.  He isn’t a hard, aggressive player like Cozens, his physicality is lacking at best but he remains confident in the face of opposition closing in, meaning he’s less likely to make mistakes under pressure. These are small wrinkles to iron out, however, and we can see his stock rising in the coming months because of his soft hands and great ‘hockey-IQ’.

(17th Overall): Valentin Nussbaumer (C/W, Shawinigan Cataractes [QMJHL])

Nussbaumer is the jewel in the proverbial Swiss crown for the 2019 NHL Draft. A natural centre who has been playing wing in the QMJHL, he has a quick, clean release on his shot that can leave goalies looking over their shoulder in confusion. He always has his feet moving and peaks at a speed higher than your average player, which allows him to transition easily between strong physical play and bright flashes of skill with the soft hands to tie it all together. This serves him well when it comes to finding the net, but his dual status as a winger and a centre makes his playmaking just as valuable as his scoring touch. Drafted 4th overall in the 2018 CHL Import Draft, Valentin Nussbaumer is the best Swiss prospect this year and is spending the 18-19 season with the Shawinigan Cataractes.

The start to his North American career hasn’t been head-turning, still at under a point per game. He’s another player that would benefit from a scoring uptick to cement his draft stock. The talent is there, he just needs to express the consistency he often does in international competition, in his North American game. A great example of what this kid can do is this hat-trick performance against Sherbrooke Phoenix. There aren’t many highlight packages out there yet, but remember the name Nussbaumer.

(16th Overall): Cam York (D, USNTDP [USHL])

For a defenseman, 5’11” Cam York is undersized, but makes up for the lack of frame with a big impact on play. A smooth skater with the patience to wait with the puck, Cam York’s offensive production over his last two years with the USDP program (during which he played both U17 and U18 last season and is now nearly a point per game on the U18 this year) is the cherry on top of an impressive resume that includes above or nearly point per game stats over two years at Shattuck St. Mary’s.

Since starting with the USDP in the 2017-18 season, York has also played in the U17 World Hockey Challenge (during which he scored five points in six games), and the WJC-18, during which he scored six points in seven games. Despite his deadly shot, York may not score many goals (the last time he broke 10 goals in a season was at the bantam level), but he has the hands to dish out incredible assists for years to come.

Honourable Mentions

The honourable mentions list for October is likely going to look wildly different to the one you’ll see in November, and December, and so on. This is primarily due to the strength of this year’s draft class.

For example, Albin Grewe (C/RW) looks like he will be one of the class’ biggest risers, whereas once the shine of his NHL pedigree wears off, Tag Bertuzzi (C) could fall off the list entirely. Mikko Kokkonen was the youngest player to ever suit up in a Liiga game, at fifteen years old, but the Finnish defender just fell out of our top 31. Should anyone in front of him stumble, there’s every chance he worms his way back onto the list.

Case McCarthy spent last year playing on a team with Jack Hughes, but hasn’t yet proved himself outside of that context this year. He’s a big heavy defender that could have his draft stock lifted by his frame. Moritz Seider is a lanky defender currently playing in Germany’s top league. Should he find more of a scoring touch, he could move up. Ben Brinkman’s terrific skating as a defenseman could push him past many of the fringe first round forwards we have here.

So early into the season, be it Liiga, or SuperElit, or CHL, there’s so much that is still unknown to us, but in November’s top 31, we’ll be tracking the biggest risers and fallers of the month.

Watch out for tomorrow’s official top 15 rankings!

(Image source: JYP’s official Facebook page)

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