In previous profiles of other 2020 NHL draft prospects, I’ve picked guys who I find interesting and who have different reasons that I think have made them “sleepers”. For reference, or if you wanted to read the other profiles, they are as follows:

Justin Sourdif is an interesting case study in evaluating a prospect as they age and develop. From last year, through to the start of this year, he was almost always ranked as a first round guy. By the end of this year, he’s fallen past that into the second round or maybe even later. So, how do you assess someone who everyone thought was a first round talent but didn’t meet expectations in his draft year?

Justin Sourdif’s Backstory

Back in 2017, Justin Sourdif was drafted into the WHL 3rd overall by the Vancouver Giants. The next season, he would put up 73 points in 35 games in the BC U18 league before getting into 4 WHL games at the end of the year.

You can read a profile of him after the draft to get an idea of how highly people thought of him:

Justin Sourdif is as balanced of a forward as it gets, he simply doesn’t have any weaknesses around his game and he is able to make an impact everywhere. Sourdif is an outstanding skater. He possesses a long efficient stride and powerful edge work that allows him to change direction on a dime. Sourdif’s skating abilities allow him to be elusive in the neutral zone with the puck and make him one of the best transitional centres you’ll find. Sourdif plays a full 200ft game in which he is all over the ice, supports pressured pucks in his defensive zone and he is one of the hardest working back checkers you’ll see at his age. His versatility is obviously a huge asset to his game but the offensive pieces that he possesses are above average at his age.

Sourdif’s star kept rising in the next season, where he played his full rookie season for the Giants and had 46 points in 64 games as a 16 year old. It was good for fourth in the WHL for rookie scoring, where all three players who finished ahead of him were one year older than him.

That year, Sourdif was picked to play for Team Canada in the World Under-17 Challenge where he had 3 points in 6 games. Before the start of this season, he was picked to play for Team Canada in the Hlinka tournament, where he tied with Quinton Byfield for 3rd on the team with 5 points in 5 games.

This year, his draft year, Sourdif slowly slipped down the ranks. He did improve upon his rookie season, putting up 54 points in 57 games. But people were expecting more production, and when he didn’t live up to the expectations his rankings kept slipping.

You can get an inkling of that from Scott Wheeler’s final top 100 rankings for this draft, where he wrote this short blurb about Sourdif:

After really impressing me late last season and into the summer, I kept waiting for Sourdif to find another gear this year. He’s a very good junior player as is. With enviable speed, he can make plays off the rush and is noticeable when he’s on the ice because he plays fast and loose. On a Giants team that lacked talent up front, Sourdif was a go-to player and relied-upon creator. In his best games, he was dominant and controlled shifts by coming at teams in waves. But he’ll need to get stronger to reach his ceiling as there were games where teams swarmed him and he was neutralized, even though he’s up to the physical challenge and has some snarl to his game.

So we begin to see the reasons why people soured on Sourdif a bit. First, he didn’t produce as much as expected. Second, and maybe part of the reason for the first reason, he was the sole focus for the other team’s defenses and was not big or strong enough to fight through it sometimes.

But do his raw points tell the whole story? Is this a true case of one young player losing his hype because his development stalled?

Justin Sourdif Scouting Report

As usual, I read every scouting report on Sourdif that I could find. I also watched tons of videos and highlights on Twitter and Youtube. In addition, I picked two games of Sourdif’s to watch in full — both near the end of the season after he had the most time to develop. In the first, he scored a hat trick against Calgary on February 21st. In the second, he was held pointless and went -2. I wanted to see him when he was at his best, and when he was at his worst.

Note: in all the highlight clips I share, Sourdif is #42.

Skating: Good

If you read my profile on William Villeneuve, you might remember how he had very mixed reviews on his skating. I read the same sort of criticisms about Sourdif’s skating, despite being called an all-around great skater in the profile I linked from 2017.

His mechanics are described as odd, and it limits his high-end speed. However, he is still said to be very agile and good on his edges. They also make the same point about Sourdif needing to get stronger in his legs, which could help him improve his explosiveness.

In the games I watched, you could see that he was a better skater than most other players on either team. He was quite nimble, able to dodge defenders with quick little cuts and sudden lateral shifts in his movement. I’m not an expert on skating mechanics, but I would say it looked a bit unique compared to everyone else.

Here’s what the scouting profiles say...

From DraftGeek:

Sourdif is an outstanding skater. He possesses a long efficient stride and powerful edge work that allows him to change direction on a dime. Sourdif’s skating abilities allow him to be elusive in the neutral zone with the puck and make him one of the best transitional centres you’ll find.

From McKeen’s Hockey (paywall):

Sourdif doesn’t have the kind of straight ahead speed that makes you gape, but he possesses enough to pull away from most WHL skaters, especially when carrying the puck. He can control his body in tight spaces, stop quickly and change direction well. He impresses with his acceleration while carrying the puck, and with his ability to attack at various speeds.

From Future Considerations’ draft guide (paywalled):

At first glance he can seem out of control and off balance on his skates, but just as you think he has nowhere to go, he’ll make a lightning quick maneuver and end up all alone in front of the net. His well-rounded offensive game and creativity will carry him far, however if there is something that will hold him back it will be his unorthodox skating stride. He covers good ground and is by no means slow, but his stride doesn’t come from the strongest base. Additional lower-body strength would definitely aid in this.

This clip is a good example of the type of quick sudden shifts to elude defenders. He enters the zone with the puck on a rush, looking like he’s going to try and go wide around the defenseman. The moment when the defender starts to lean that way to check him into the boards or at least cut him off, Sourdif cuts into the middle and blows past him easily.

Shot & Scoring: Very Good

This might be Sourdif’s best skill, or at least it is skill that is the easiest to notice. Sourdif has a very good shot, and is good at creating a shot for himself — either through his puck handling, ability to get open for a pass, or to go to the net for a rebound. His shot has a good amount of power behind it, but what stood out to me is that he is quick and accurate with it. He is able to score from distance with it as a result, but he doesn’t just settle for that. He often makes a move or tries to get closer to the net.

There are times I wish he was actually more selfish, or more willing to let a shot go. He had 163 shots on the season, good for 2.9 shots per game. He really seemed to defer to his line mates at times. Or at the very least, he seemed at times to look to pass or make a play when it might be better for him to shoot. And his shot seemed good enough to unleash more often.

One profile noted his shot was inconsistent, as he would sometimes flub them and wind up with weaker velocity. I didn’t see that in either of the games I watched, so maybe he worked that out by the end of the year. My biggest issue with him was simply that he didn’t shoot as often as he could have.

Here’s what the scouts say...

From Alex Appleyard at Smaht Scouting:

Sourdif lives in the high danger areas, and it is a surprise to see him anywhere apart from the slot of the crease when the play is set up. His understanding of seams in defenses is impressive, and as with players such as Danny Briere, Brad Marchand and Brendan Gallagher he possesses the ability to appear out of nowhere to slam home lose pucks with defensemen nowhere in sight. Sourdif also has a nice shot. His snapshot especially is impressive, and he can rip a wrister too.

From McKeen’s Hockey:

Sourdif isn’t afraid to shoot the puck. He snipes from in close, he flicks wristers from the circles; he generally, in the parlance of every hockey fan ever, shoots the damn puck. He can shoot the puck up from in close, and he picks corners from the circles with the best of them. He is good at getting his shot on goal from just about anywhere on the ice. He is accurate from in tight and has scored his share from inside the dots. He has a quick release, quick enough to fool goalies who aren’t expecting the puck to arrive. He has been deadly from in close and around the circles

From Future Considerations:

He has deft hands in tight if pressured, shows excellent vision and touch on his passes and has above average finish when given the chance to bury the puck, but could refine that finishing ability to become more of a constant threat. Does a great job at creating space offensively both with and without the puck, but he really shines at playing keep-away once the puck is on his stick thanks to his quick hands, sharp turns and competitiveness.

Here we see more of the quick release, as Sourdif receives the pass in the slot and fires it off  almost immediately.

The breakdown in this video says it all, really. He picks up a loose puck and drives to the net. He gets an inside step on the trailing defenseman and cuts into him with his body so he can protect the puck, then when he’s in close he roofs it over the goalie’s glove.

This one also shows a good combination of his skating, shot, and willingness to get a better shot from more dangerous areas. He gets the pass on the left wing, then immediately cuts into the middle of the ice through two defenders and into the slot. With no one defending him, he rifles a hard wrist shot top corner.

Puck Handling & Play-Making: Good to Very Good

Justin Sourdif is very fun to watch with the puck. He is very willing to make plays, either with dangles and stick handling or making a great pass. I will say straight away that I think he can very effective at this. My one complaint goes back to what I said about his shot — he often will look to make a pass when it’s the harder play, leading to turnovers when he could have gotten a good shot off.

In some of the highlights below you will see what I mean, except they’re plays where his highlight reel pass worked out. When it doesn’t, though, it can be frustrating to watch. In the second game I watched where he was held pointless, he did this a couple of times. It’s a small thing, and as he gets older and wiser I think he’ll learn where to pick his spots better. Part of this belief is because he seems like a very smart player, which I’ll get to below.

What I think he is very good at is handling the puck. He can be a wizard with it, especially when you combine it with his agile skating. In the games I watched, he is the one who looked like he drove play the most on his line.

Here’s what the scouts say...

From Smaht Scouting:

He is very good at effective zone entries, and getting through the neutral zone quickly and seamlessly. Once he gets into the offensive zone he also understands how to slow the play down while keeping options available, in order to either set up a cycle or find a trailer who has beaten their man.

From Future Considerations:

He is constantly assessing and re-assessing his options and it makes him a nightmare to defend as there is no element of predictability in his game.

From McKeen’s Hockey:

For a touted goal scorer, Sourdif’s passing and vision are impressive. While he isn’t afraid to shoot, he is an equally skilled passer. He can put passes on teammates’ tape while in motion. It’s not that he puts passes in tight spots, instead it is his vision and ability to get the puck to open scorers that stands out. Just as he isn’t afraid to carry the puck, he isn’t afraid to move the puck either.

This is a good example of when going for the pass made sense. As he drove to the net on a 2 on 1, the defender closed on him, putting him in tight with the goalie square to him. So he stopped on a dime and threw a spinning backhand pass to his teammate who had a wide open net.

This is one of those examples where the pass he makes to set up the goal looks pretty, but also seemed like it added difficulty to the scoring chance that he didn’t need to add. I can’t argue with the result, and I would say if he shot it in close when he had the chance it might not have had as good a chance at being a goal. But I also think it’s the type of play he’ll have more difficulty making in the NHL. But really, the whole play with his stick handling was mesmerizing. Part of what made the goal work is he seemed to hypnotize the defenseman and the goalie, who both completely forgot about the other guy right at the side of the net.

Defense & Intelligence: Very Good

This might be Sourdif’s best part of his game, but is something that isn’t easy to notice. Sourdif is a very smart and clever player, at both ends of the ice. He anticipates play for offense and defense, to make a pass or break up a pass. He knows where to be in the defensive zone, he supports his teammates to transition into offense, all that good stuff. He is also pretty physical for a guy his size (5’11”, 165 lbs).

He was relied upon on the penalty kill, and used a lot at even strength to drive play. He might not have had the points to show for it, but has always been remarked as something of a coach’s pet for his complete game and work ethic.

Here’s what the scouts say...

From McKeen’s Hockey:

One play stands out in particular that gives you a glimpse into Sourdif’s ability to process the game and react accordingly. He poked the puck away from an opponent in the neutral zone creating a 2-on-1 going the other way. At the last moment he passed the puck accurately but his teammate’s shot was stopped and rolled behind the net. Sourdif changed direction, grabbed the puck, controlled it, shot it, and scored before any defenders could get back to stop him. This play shows his ability to read the play defensively, react and turn the loose puck into a 2-on-1. He managed the spacing well to ensure he had a good passing lane and put the pass on his linemates tape. Again he anticipated where the puck was going and found himself able to finish off the play.

From Smaht Scouting:

Sourdif can also penalty kill, and is a reliable defensive player who is trusted by his coaches to kill off games versus top lines. His hockey IQ does not “pop” like some players, but he rarely makes major mistakes and is good in all three zones, so there is no doubt he thinks the game well. His IQ presents itself best by his ability to get free in dangerous positions.

From The Hockey Writers:

Sourdif has proven that hard work and tenacity pay off, as he’s become one of the WHL’s top two-way players. He has great awareness in the offensive zone along with a laser-quick shot, impressive playmaking abilities, and strong puck control under pressure, while also having the same high-end awareness in the defensive zone as well. Additionally, he can play both center and wing and be effective on both the power play and penalty kill, so versatility is another weapon in his arsenal. Oh, yes, he can play the physical game and throw a big hit occasionally too. In other words, he’s a coach’s dream.

Defense and cleverness isn’t something you can easily find highlights of, so we’ll have to settle for this clip that shows off some of his ability to anticipate the plate. Sourdif is #42 in red. He spends the beginning of the clip along the right boards, but is the one who sees where the puck is going to go and beats the defenders to get to it first.

Advanced Stats: Very Good

So, a guy with lots of draft hype but didn’t quite meet expectations for production. What’s the deal? He seems to have lots of skill — maybe not a single standout skill, but is very good at skating, shooting, puck handling, and defense. It didn’t show up on the score sheet as much as some hoped, but where I think you really see his effectiveness is in the underlying numbers.

First, his transition play. According to Will Scouching’s tracking data, Sourdif had the 5th most controlled offensive transitions of this year’s draft, behind only Mavrik Bourque, Jake Neighbours, Daniil Gushchin, and some scrub named Alexis Lafreniere. When you look the rest of his tracking data, it shows him as above average but not elite in several categories: generating dangerous shots, offensive treat, passing, and so on. But it’s his transitions and dangerous shot generation (that he takes himself or that he sets up) that seem to be his strong suits.

As far as driving play, Sourdif was a bit of a monster. At even strength, when he was on the ice his team outscored the opposition 59 to 28 — scoring more than double than the other team, for a 68 GF%. That carried his team by a pretty wide margin, and finished third in the WHL among draft eligible players behind only Seth Jarvis and Jack Finley.

This also touches on one of the reasons why Sourdif’s point production doesn’t tell the full story of his offensive ability. For starters, the team around him was not offensively strong. They had one player who finished better than a point per game, and it was Tristen Nielsen who is two years older, is undrafted, and only had 65 points in 61 games. Overall, Vancouver finished in the bottom half of the league in goals for, but tied for 3rd best in goals against. Sourdif was undeniably a driving force for that.

The other element is that Sourdif was not on the Giant’s primary powerplay. He was relied on heavily at even strength, and was also used on the penalty kill. So only 7 of Sourdif’s 54 points were on the powerplay. He finished tied for third in the WHL among draft eligible players in primary even strength points with 36, behind Seth Jarvis, Tristen Robins and tied with Connor Zary.

To me, being able to drive play and produce primary points at even strength at that level is something I think a lot of people might overlook.

Where Should Justin Sourdif Be Drafted?

Now I come to it, and I will admit I’m torn. I came into this more excited about him than I am now that I’ve pretty much finished writing it. His underlying numbers look great, but his scouting reports just sound... good. After reading them all and watching those games, I can see what they all mean.

He seems like a solid player. His transition play and overall ability to generate dangerous scoring chances is very good, in junior at least. But trying to project him to the NHL is difficult. I said about Tristen Robins that being a jack of all trades without one huge elite skill didn’t mean anything to me, because he just seemed so good at everything.

So it’s weird for me to say that Sourdif seems like he’s good across the board without one elite skill, and now it does mean something to me. I think it’s more that watching Sourdif and watching Robins, I can see much easier with Robins that there’s something special there than I did with Sourdif. It was easier for me to see the weaknesses in Sourdif’s game, even if they weren’t glaring.

I think part of the other reason why I’m not as excited about Sourdif is that I don’t see the fit for him where the Leafs have picks. I think he’s just not quite good enough for me to want to take him with the Leafs’ second round pick, considering other potential options that are likely to be there. But I also don’t think he’ll fall as far as the fourth round.

If the Leafs somehow acquire a third round pick, or a late second rounder, I think he would be a good fit there. I think the Leafs could do a lot with him to work on his skating, get him stronger and more explosive, and refine his skills enough. His transition play and complete game in all zones is tantalizing enough for me that I think it would be worth taking him in that range.

Where would you draft Justin Sourdif?

2nd Round22
3rd Round if they acquire a pick there31
4th Round17
I’d pass on him2