There's one type of player I like to look for when it comes to identifying potential hidden gems for later round picks. They are guys who play on a stacked team, behind a bunch of true stars. They don't get as much of a role in terms of ice time, quality linemates, powerplay, and so on. But on most other teams, they could be one of their better players getting that bigger role.
One of the most common places I look for that kind of player is on the US National Development Team. They are, by definition, always a very stacked team – and this year perhaps more than ever before. Their top line are all consensus first round picks, and they will likely have another at least one and maybe two more from their second line. Will Smith, Ryan Leonard, Gabe Perreault, and Oliver Moore stole the show all year, and broke records in the process. Danny Nelson is another who might get there too.
But there in the bottom six for most of the year was Beckett Hendrickson, a power and playmaking winger who is committed to play at the University of Minnesota in the NCAA in two years. Next season he will age out of the NTDP program, and will play for Sioux Falls in the USHL. But we know of another big winger who turned himself into a blue chip prospect with Minnesota recently, don't we?
So let's dig into who Hendrickson is and why I like him as a potential hidden gem.
THE BASICS: STATS AND CONTEXT
- Position: Left-wing
- League(s): US National Development Team
- Height: 6'2"
- Weight: 174 lbs
- Birthdate: June 24th, 2005
Here are his draft rankings, as of writing this:
- Bob McKenzie: Unranked (outside top 80)
- Scott Wheeler: 94th
- Elite Prospects: 58th
- Dobber Prospects: Unranked
- Smaht Scouting: Unranked
- Future Considerations: Unranked
Beckett Hendrickson is a bigger (6'2") power winger who played on the USNTDP's U18 team. As mentioned above, he played almost the entire season in their bottom six. While that normally might be something you hold against a prospect in their draft year playing in a junior league, there is an exception to be made for the USNTDP. They select the cream of the crop for their roster, and while they do still have their bottom six play a somewhat traditional bottom six style, they're still very good players who would likely be on most other USHL teams' top sixes. That's certainly the case for Hendrickson.
Hendrickson is a Minnesota boy, and was selected to join the USA's development team two years ago. Last season, he played for their U17 squad where he played higher in the lineup. He reportedly was used as high as their first line center, but would usually get moved between that and the third line. In 73 combined games, he had 19 goals and 12 assists – more of a bottom six kind of point production.
This year, he started the season with an injury very early on and missed a good chunk of games. By the time he returned, they were winning a lot of games and the top six was humming along their record setting pace, so his previous spot was bumped solidly into the bottom six. He played in another 73 combined games and improved his production to 20 goals and 30 assists despite being used almost always in the bottom six.
As part of the NTDP, he has also played for Team USA in various international tournaments like the the Five Nations tournament and the World U18s. Since Team USA makes up their roster in those tournaments with mostly the NTDP, he played in a similar bottom six role yet again, and had 4 points in 14 games.
Occasionally, Hendrickson would be bumped up to play with some of the other top 6 stars in a supporting winger role, and generally would do well – he did not hold them back at all. While playing in the bottom six, he was often the guy to really drive play for his line. While in the bottom six at even strength, Hendrickson did get some powerplay time on their second unit at times. He also was regularly used on the penalty kill, quite a lot.
There isn't a lot in this contextual information that is an obvious sign that Hendrickson could be a potential steal in the later rounds, so let's dig into his scouting info.
THE GOOD: EVERYTHING ABOUT PLAYMAKING
From watching Hendrickson a bit in his games against the Chicago Steel, when I was checking in on Moldenhauer, some of Team USA's games at the World U18s, and a few miscellaneous games once I started following him, there is a lot to say about his playmaking.
All his scouting reports and his tracking data will note just how high level his playmaking and passing is. It is by far and away his greatest strength, and where he impacts the game the most. He just has a good amount of vision and anticipation to see how a play can develop, and making plays with the puck to help it develop favorably.
Hendrickson has enough puck handling to manipulate the angle of his pass to get around defenders to access the best passing lane. He has a deft touch and can lead his teammates, or float a pass into an open area of ice where he knows his teammate is heading. He can pass it well from his forehand and backhand. He has a sense of delay and drawing defenders to him to give more time needed for passing options to open up. He can hit short passes and stretch passes in/from/through all three zones.
Outside of his playmaking, there are still other elements to Hendrickson's game that project well. One area of his game that seemed to improve later in the year is his shot. He is mostly a pass-first kind of player, but he starting flashing a shot that does seem projectable to the NHL. If he learns to use it more often, that will only help his playmaking and his shooting in the future. In the past when he has scored goals, it has come from being around the net and having good timing for pouncing on loose pucks and passes into the slot. He has gotten a couple of slick deflection goals that I've seen, as well.
Here are some examples of his shot. Hendrickson is always wearing #18.
Hendrickson has good habits off the puck, and at both ends of the ice. In the offensive zone, he takes smart routes to find open areas of the ice to present a passing option. He also works and skates pretty hard on the forecheck. On the defensive side, he is generally unspectacular in effectiveness but has good habits and makes good decisions. Last year he got strong reviews for his two-way play because of his defensive ability, it just seems that his issue this year was more physical... so this seems like a good time to talk about that.
THE FLAWS: PROJECTION RISK
There are a few areas of Hendrickson's game that are worrisome – which yeah, otherwise he wouldn't be someone I'm writing about as a potential 5th round pick. While his playmaking is better than most of the players I wrote about earlier as trade down options, for the 2nd/3rd round, there are three main problems with his game that need improvement. That adds a bigger element of risk in his projection, compared to others who may not have a similar high level skill but are more safe.
The first is his physical play. Like I said, he has good decision making and has good habits with and without the puck. But despite being 6'2", he was pretty easily pushed around all over the ice. It happens in front of the net, along the boards, in the defensive zone, and so on. This limits his effectiveness quite a lot already, when he's only playing at a junior level. It will be even worse if and when he goes pro, so it is definitely something he has to work on. The good news is that at 6'2", you'd expect that he has plenty of room on his frame to pack on some muscle in the next few years. It is also possible that he was really limited by his injury at the start of the season.
The other area is what happens with Hendrickson does not have any passing options. Try as he might, there are times where he's on his own or outnumbered, or he is playing against a good defense. When he isn't given time or space, his default is to keep trying to delay and delay until something opens up. But a good defense can and will close on him, and then either overpower him pretty easily (see above) and take the puck off him or at least knock it loose. This is a puzzling weakness of his, because I would not have otherwise said he's a bad puck handler. He can do enough to create passing lanes most of the time, it's like he just freezes or short circuits. He improved that a good amount by the end of the year, but it's still concerning and would make him pretty one dimensional and easily neutralized.
The final area is his skating, which is not a major weakness. In fact, I'd say it's about average overall – but I'm no expert. He is fine when skating without the puck, especially in a north-south direction when he just needs to turn on the jets. The problem is that in some key areas, his skating issue exacerbates both of the first two flaws mentioned above. He can't easily skate away from pressure, or evade defenders checking him or pushing him out of the way.
The good news is that all three of these issues seem like things that are fixable. I mentioned above that he generally makes the right decisions, which is so important to have in a prospect when projecting them. He also seems to have a lot of projectable physical growth, specifically in adding muscle and getting stronger. The biggest issue of is how he deals with pressure when he has the puck. If he can develop some kind of more advanced puck handling to evade pressure, he'll unlock his offense even more. Improving his skating and his strength will help with both, especially with his size. Just being able to turn his back on defenders and not get knocked over when they try and get to him will do wonders for him.
Beckett Hendrickson is arguably the most interesting long term project pick in the draft for me. He has some very interesting and high level skills with his playmaking, plus some projectable tools with his height. He seems like he has a long ways to go to improve his quality as a prospect and a player, but also a lot of potential and room to grow.
The fact that he is committed to the NCAA, but won't join them for two seasons, means he would likely be something like 4-5 years from finishing his NCAA career and going pro. That actually seems perfect for his development, especially with a top quality program like Minnesota and the relationship Toronto already has with them from Knies and Koster's time there.
The question is, will Hendrickson fall to the fifth round? There's no guarantee, but it seems possible. I've seen some scouts (anonymous, of course) say he should go in the third or fourth round. So he may wind up being someone that's a better option to snap up if Toronto somehow acquires a pick before the fifth round. There are only a few scouting outlets who rank Hendrickson at all, but those who do have him much relatively high. It will be telling if he winds up on Bob McKenzie's final rankings, since as of writing this he was not ranked him at all.
If he is available, I'd definitely take a gamble on him. As of now, he's a power forward playmaker who lacks the physical strength to be as effective in the power game as he could be. But if and when he improves that, he could take a huge step in his play. There aren't many others who could be available in the fifth round who have his skills and upside – even if he does have a lot of risk.
Thanks for reading!
I put a lot of work into my prospect articles here, both for the draft and Toronto's prospects. I do it as a fun hobby for me, and I'd probably do it in some capacity even if PPP completely ceased to exist. But if you like reading my work, some support would go a long way! I pay for a few streaming services (CHL, some NCAA, some USHL, the occasional TSN options for international tournaments that are broadcast) to be able to reliably watch these prospects in good quality streams. I also pay for some prospect-specific resources, such as tracking data and scouting reports from outlets like Elite Prospects, Future Considerations, McKeen's Hockey, and The Athletic.
Being able to get paid for this helps me dedicate more time and resources to it, rather than to second/third jobs. And whatever money I make here, a lot of I reinvest back into my prospect work through in those streaming and scouting services. Like I said, I'd be doing whatever I can afford for this anyway, so any financial help I get through this is greatly appreciated!