This is the sixth and final part of a series I will be writing, trying to find hidden gems and potential sleepers in the 2020 draft that fall through the cracks for one reason or another. Here are the others if you missed them:
Part III: Looking at 8 potential steals in the OHL
The Toronto Maple Leafs have a pretty strong track record with unheralded European prospects coming out of nowhere. Andreas Johnsson and Pierre Engvall come to mind, Rasmus Sandin if you count him (he played in the OHL his draft year), Timothy Liljegren fell below where he was expected to be picked, and we’re still waiting to see what we have in Jesper Lindgren, Pontus Holmberg or Mikko Kokkonen.
So you all know the drill by now, I’m going to look at 9 draft eligible prospects playing in European leagues who I think are potential sleepers and steals that could fall to the Leafs.
#1) William Wallinder — Left Defense
- Height: 6’4”
- Weight: 192
- Birthdate: Jul 28, 2002
- Team: MODO Hockey J20 (SuperElit)
- Elite Prospects page: https://www.eliteprospects.com/player/482190/william-wallinder
- 2019/20 Stats: 24 points in 34 games (6th on the team, 1st among defense)
I love William Wallinder for two reasons. First, and most importantly, his name makes me thing of William Nylander’s face but with a Waluigi mustache and that makes me very, very happy. Second, because by all accounts he’s a 6’4” gazelle on skates playing on defense. With honey badgers (Hyman) and giraffes (Engvall) already on the team, I feel like expanding our zoological collection only makes sense.
I should add that Wallinder is something of an enigma to draft people. Everyone will agree that he is extremely good skater and very skilled, but there is a lot of disagreement about how much the skill holds real value to a hockey team and how bad his shortcomings balance out against those skills.
The result of these diverging opinions is that his various draft rankings are wide open. And I mean WIDE open. I’ve seen him as high as a mid-first round pick, and as low as a third-round pick. There might be someone else with an even larger difference of opinion but I can’t think of one off the top of my head.
Let’s hit the scouting reports so you can see some of what I mean:
William Wallinder Scouting Reports:
Wallinder is a puck-rushing defenseman with great size and a left-handed shot. He loves to join the rush and he’s often times even leading the rush. He is a great skater and has good puck skills which allow him to play that type of a role. But sometimes he has a tendency to keep the puck on his stick for too long. His strengths are mostly in transition and on the rush attack, though, as he isn’t the most natural offensive threat in the offensive zone. His biggest weakness can be found at the other end. At times, he seems disinterested in defending, almost like he’s just waiting for his team to get the puck back so that they can start rushing towards the offensive end once again.
Wallinder is an excellent skater with strong edges, excellent balance, and fluid movements in all directions. He looks graceful in open ice and can carry the puck from end to end with speed and agility. Even in a clogged neutral zone, Wallinder is confident in his stickhandling and nimble enough to sidestep or weave away from pressure while keeping his head on a swivel and attacking the weakest point. If possession changes, Wallinder can reverse direction on a dime and begin a powerful backskate while maintaining a tight gap with his stick positioned properly.
One of several noticeable aspects of the way he defends is his ability to maintain focus on the puck while taking occasional peeks at possible threats developing elsewhere. Wallinder has a highly-active stick near his own goal but he will drop a quick first step to pounce on a puck in the corner. Even with his back to the wall and under pressure from multiple directions, Wallinder will either use the boards for a bank pass or quickly pivot away from his checker to explode up the ice. He also battles hard for low-slot positioning
Wallinder is a serious threat on the puck. Not only can he quarterback a power play because of his pro-level shot and skating, but he also has soft hands and excellent vision. He whips the puck around the horn with accuracy but he also walks the line and can look off a checker while delivering a backdoor feed. Making plays on his backhand seems natural and he can saucer a pass over a harassing checker’s blade while luring away from the circle.
William Wallinder is flashy to watch with his long legs and high speed when he travels with the puck. Many see him taken in the first round and some even in the top half of the first round. While I can see the attraction of a 6-4” skater that can fly, there are too many holes in his games for me to see him as first round talent. I would like to see higher competitiveness, a bit more skill and more creativity. To reach the highest level you just can’t rely on tremendous skating.
If Wallinder gets better at shutting down plays and becomes a bit harder to play against I can see him as a good bottom pair defenseman. If he can add some more skill to his toolbox, maybe he will develop into a top four defenseman even. But for now, there are too many question marks for me to think that highly. He is good enough to draft and to make a bet on in the late second or third round. I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets picked much higher though as skating and size are so attractive in modern defensemen. Either way he still has much to work on and next season he will step up to play in Allsvenskan full time.
So, he’s a great skater. I like prospects who can skate. He’s also very skilled at moving the puck. His actual impact on offense is in question, as is his defense. For a second round pick though? If he actually falls that far he could be a major steal for the Leafs. I think the idea that “you can’t teach offense, you can teach defense” is becoming overstated because there’s some evidence to suggest that just isn’t true for some guys.
But when that player is still only 17? I’ll take that gamble with a second round pick. He would be 1000% leaning into the type of team the Leafs are building anyways.
William Wallinder Highlights:
Here's the Teddy Niederbach goal where he undressed Eemil Viro, who is hyper-competitive and a real strong one-on-one defender. It happens.— Steve Kournianos (@TheDraftAnalyst) February 7, 2020
How about that pass from William Wallinder?#2020NHLDraft pic.twitter.com/QnuvLjs2lz
#2) Zion Nybeck — Left Wing
- Height: 5’8”
- Weight: 176 lbs
- Birthdate: May 12, 2002
- Team: HV71 J20 (SuperElit)
- Elite Prospects page: https://www.eliteprospects.com/player/470015/zion-nybeck
- 2019/20 Stats: 66 points in 42 games (1st on the team)
There are eight skaters (the other is a goalie) on this list, and six of them are 5’9” or shorter. Smaller skaters have long been an easy way to end up underrated, and I won’t get into it much, but these days being shorter does not make you as much of a long shot as it used to. We all know this by now. Especially for players who are still teenagers and could develop physically some more, if they are late bloomers.
Nybeck is an extremely skilled forward, but at 5’8” he’ll not be drafted nearly as high as if he was 2-4 inches taller. He put up some bananas numbers last year:
- Tied for the lead of Sweden’s U18 team in international play with 12 points in 13 games
- Tied for second for Sweden at the Hlinka with 4 points in 5 games
- Led the entire Superelit league in Sweden with 66 points in 42 games, and only one other player in the top 10 scoring for the league was a 2002 birthday. The other was 10th in the league, born in January 2002, and had 48 points compared to Nybeck’s 66.
- He played in 15 games in the SHL, the full professional men’s league.
It was a banner year for Nybeck, not quite as good as other top Swedish prospects who played most of the year in the SHL (Raymond, Holtz, Gunler) but they are all consensus first round picks — the former two are all but locks for the top 10.
Meanwhile, Nybeck’s rankings seem to vary from mid-first round to late second round pick. For what it’s worth, Scott Wheeler and Kevin Papetti are two prospect guys whose opinions I give great weight to. You can see Scort’s mini-report on Nybeck below, and I’ll also add that Kevin has Nybeck near the end of the first round. When you watch his highlights you can see that he exudes skill. He’s not a speed demon, which some hold against him, but he is very crafty on his skates which can matter just as much these days.
Zion Nybeck Scouting Reports:
One of the most purely entertaining players in the draft, Nybeck has been an absolute joy to watch in SuperElit this season, creating with complete ease, almost as if on a whim. There will always be questions about his size and the translatability of his skill set to the pro level but I have seen him crash the crease and try to bang home rebounds only to get knocked over in front — and I love that mentality. He’s naturally going to play a more perimeter style but that’s fine out of a pass-first winger if they have the puck skill and creativity to be able to navigate to the middle of the ice when the play to the outside isn’t there. Nybeck has that. When he’s got the puck on his stick, he can surprise defenders and goalies with his footwork, a change of direction, or an unsuspecting pass. And though he’s not going to fly past defenders on the rush, Nybeck still plays a quick, agile game. He’s got serious power-play upside, too. The right amount of patience could result in a steal because I suspect he falls into the second round on draft day.
Nybeck is a great skater who has a deadly combination of speed and quickness. He is always on the move and giving great effort which makes it look like he’s everywhere. He is a very effective forechecker and backchecker. He is a very smart and creative offensive player who can execute difficult plays because of his excellent hands. On top of that, he also has a very good wrist shot. The only knock against Nybeck seems to be his size. At 5-foot-8, he always has to prove himself over and over again. But he is not afraid to go to the dirty areas of the ice, and he can throw a good hit when it’s needed. Nybeck has all the talents of a top 20 pick but may end up sliding all the way to the second round because of his size.
Zion Nybeck is a skilled top six winger that has elite playmaking skills and vision but lacks elite skating or other physical tools to go along with them. On the one hand, he makes elite plays suggesting high IQ with the puck, including scoring on the rush or saucing the puck cross ice for a scoring chance. On the other hand, he plays a bit too much on the outside and will need space to able to separate from opponents with his skating.
One thing that keeps Nybeck interesting for the bottom of the first round is his ability to consistently produce points. You should not pay much attention to his nine scoreless games in the SHL so far. First, he only actually played in six of those games and the most ice-time he has gotten in a single SHL game is 3:50 minutes. In SuperElit (U20 league) on the other hand, he is competing for the scoring title as a U18 player.
Nybeck will be a strong SHL player in the near future, as the skills are too good to miss out, but is he a top six winger at NHL level? I would like to see him get faster and more agile to reach that level. When he creates for himself, he is predictable and if you hold a good gap on him, he will have a hard time beating you. The thing that stands him out is his playmaking and maybe that will be good enough for a team to play him as a producing player in a middle six role as well. For the draft, I see him as a good pick late in the second or early third round rather than in the first round as there are a few too many question marks as of now.
I think if Nybeck does actually fall to the second round — like DeBrincat and Robertson before him — the Leafs should jump all over that. He has more factors working against him that those two did: he plays in Europe with less exposure, and he’s more of a play maker vs a goal scorer. I think it’s very possible that he could fall to the middle of the second round, and he would be one of the guys on any of the lists I’ve written so far that I most hope does get passed over.
Zion Nybeck Highlights:
Zion Nybeck has scored his first SHL goal for HV71! Nybeck has had a dominate season in the Swedish junior leagues and finally gets rewarded in the SHL. He maybe small but he’s one of the most offensively dangerous players in the draft.— TPEHockey (@TPEHockey) March 5, 2020
Nybeck is my #19 for the #2020NHLDraft pic.twitter.com/tqcPLObGJI
#3) Emil Andrae — Left Defense
- Height: 5’9”
- Weight: 183 lbs
- Birthdate: Feb 23, 2002
- Team: HV71 J20 (SuperElit)
- Elite Prospects page: https://www.eliteprospects.com/player/394716/emil-andrae
- 2019/20 Stats: 38 points in 40 games (4th on the team, 1st among defense)
So, take everything I wrote about Nybeck, mentally switch his position from forward to defense, and you have the gist of what I’ll say about Emil Andrae. He’s small, he’s very skilled, and he had some equally bananas numbers last year — especially considering he’s a defenseman:
- Was the co-leader with Nybeck for Sweden’s U18 team in international play with 12 points in 13 games
- He also tied for second for Sweden at the Hlinka with 4 points in 5 games
- Led the entire Superelit league in Sweden in points by a defenseman with 38 in 40 games.
- He played in 10 games in the SHL, the full professional men’s league.
The thing is, height and size are still considered more important for a defenseman compared to a winger. While wingers are excused more for lack of defense or physical play, many scouts and NHL teams will want their defense to be able to win battles for the puck along the boards and muscle opposing forwards away from the front of the net.
At 5’9”, he might be an inch taller than Nybeck, but people might penalize him for his height even more. However, at 183 lbs he’s not exactly a twig and it isn’t easy for other players to push him around. You can get away with being shorter as long as you have two oak trees for legs held together by a cast-iron butt. He’s also not afraid to be physical.
Also like Nybeck, you won’t see a lot of people talking about Andrae as the fastest defender in this draft but they will remark at how incredible his edges are, and how crafty he is on his skates. He’s also said to be a very smart player, especially on defense. In this way, he reminds me of Rasmus Sandin — who is also not the fastest defenseman but crafty and smart.
Emil Andrae Scouting Reports:
Andrae is a player who has just grown on me with each consecutive viewing. He’s on the shorter side for a defender but I wouldn’t say he’s small. In that way, he’s not unlike some other recent Swedish draftees, including Nils Lundkvist, Erik Brannstrom, Rasmus Sandin and Adam Boqvist (though the latter two have each grown an inch since their draft). Andrae plays a physical, step-up brand that doesn’t shy away from battles, the one thing you may question in a smaller player.
But then he also possesses all of the qualities you’d want out of a smaller defender. He can handle the puck through the neutral zone or use a change of direction to lose someone in the defensive zone. His footwork across the offensive zone blue line helps him run a power play and he changes angles to get his shot through. He could stand to get a little bit quicker from a standstill for a player his size but I see a kid with NHL offense to his game (evidenced in his SuperElit-leading production among D), a sound defensive game and real upside. I have debated several defenders as the No. 2 defenseman in this draft and while I don’t think there’s a clear choice, Andrae’s unique offensive skill makes him the most intriguing. Don’t be surprised if he’s a force at under-18 worlds and begins to grab a little more of the limelight into June.
Andrae is an undersized offensive defenseman with a left-handed shot. His biggest strengths are his skating ability and hockey sense. His edge work is excellent and it allows him to be very elusive. He is a great passer who can start breakouts with short and long passes, and he is also very strong in the offensive zone. Even though he doesn’t own a heavy shot, he’s good at getting shots to the net and sneaking in close enough to score with his good wrist shot. He is a very creative player who can execute plays that most players can’t even think of. Although an offense-minded player, he is also surprisingly good defensively, especially with his active stick. There are a lot of similarities between Andrae and Erik Brännström who plays a similar style, and they both played on HV71 system for the final two years before their draft. Andrae is not quite as good a prospect as Brännström was but he’s not that far from it either.
“Andrae is an average skater if we are talking purely about his north-south top speed. He often has a hard time to get down to the corners first to win puck battles. He compensates for his skating weaknesses with strong agility though. His east-to-west and backwards skating is technically above average. Skating is not a big issue for him at the junior level as he thinks the game fast but the lack of a strong top speed will limit his ability to travel with the puck at higher levels and will also make him extra vulnerable to positioning mistakes as he can’t cover up for them with quick skating,” wrote McKeens’ Swedish analyst Jimmy Hamrin.
The good news though, is that Andrae thinks the game as well as any defender in this draft class. “It is uncommon to see an offensive defenseman at this age that rarely makes the wrong decision such as Andrae,” noted Hamrin. “With the puck, he can control the pace and can stay calm under pressure. Without the puck, he is positionally sound and defends the blue line well with good gap control.”
Additionally, he possesses an elite skill level from the back end that makes him a top notch passer and powerplay quarterback. “Andrae is an elite passer. In the offensive zone he uses strong stick work and agility to move sideways and deliver cross-ice passes to create scoring chances. Andrae’s puck handling is excellent as well and really stands out. He can deke his way through any tight situation and rarely makes mistakes with the puck,” mentioned Hamrin.
I’m far less sure that Andrae will fall to the Leafs in the middle of the second round, but it is a possibility. The lowest ranking I’ve seen for him is 47th by Future Considerations, which is right before where the Leafs will likely pick. His draft stock was probably hurt by the shortened season, since he couldn’t play in the World’s against other high profile and show just how little his size matters. But I think if he somehow does fall that far, and he is available with Nybeck... I think I’d pick Andrae.
Emil Andrae Highlights:
#4) Kasper Simontaival — Right Wing
- Height: 5’9”
- Weight: 172 lbs
- Birthdate: Jan 11, 2002
- Team: Tappara U20 (Jr. A SM-Liiga)
- Elite Prospects page: https://www.eliteprospects.com/player/397010/kasper-simontaival
- 2019/20 Stats: 57 points in 48 games (1st on the team)
Kasper Simontaival is basically the Finnish equivalent to Zion Nybeck. He’s a bit taller at 5’9”, but actually listed at one pound lighter. He also had a bonkers year:
- Finished tied for first on his team with 57 points, with three fewer games played than the co-leader.
- Finished 3rd in the league (Jr. A SM-liiga) in points, but 1st for 2002 birthdays. The two leaders in the league were late 2001 birthdays and also first-year draft eligible (and we’ll talk about one of them below).
- Led all of Team Finland’s U18 team in international play with 8 goals and 14 points in 8 games.
- Led Team Finland at the Hlinka with 7 points in 4 games.
Simontaival’s rankings vary between mid-first round to mid-second round, so not quite as wildly all over the place as Nybeck’s are. What helps Simontaival is that he has more of a complete set of skills on offense. Nybeck is an elite playmaker for his age, but so is Simontaival and he throws in an elite all-round shot to help him score more goals.
Scouts and teams tend to like goal scoring most of all, and if he can be a goal scorer while also being able to make plays for his teammates they’re going to like him a bit more in general than Nybeck. They’ll at least consider him more of a lower risk bet. Simontaival was also able to play in the Liiga equivalent to the AHL — the Mestis — with 4 points in 6 games.
Kasper Simontaival Scouting Reports:
Simontaival blew me away late last year and into the fall of this season but he has plateaued a little, resulting in a fall from the teens to the 20s as he tries to make the jump to the pro level (though he has shown real flashes in Mestis, Finland’s second tier).
I still love his game. He makes a ton of plays on the flank, hanging onto the puck to allow the play to develop and then getting open as a shot threat. He’s also an effective off-puck player and does a great job providing support and forcing turnovers before making a play out of that change of possession.
I truly believe he’s got what it takes to be a second-line creator as a playmaker and a shooter. He can protect the puck in traffic or use the inside lane to cut past a defender without getting bumped. If there’s a concern with his game, it’s that he’s not a speedster for his size, which requires to use his skill to play at a slower pace sometimes. He’s not slow, though, and if he can add an extra step he could have real value as another player who is likely available into the second round.
Contrary to what was expected, Simontaival hasn’t been a regular at the men’s level this season. But he has been dominant player in the junior league, scoring 22 goals and 52 points in 45 games. Most importantly, though, he has been focusing on his play without the puck to become a more well-rounded player. He has been frequently used on the penalty kill and protecting a lead which are not situations where you would normally expect to see a skill player like him. Becoming a more well-rounded player increases Simontaival’s chances of being a full-time player at the men’s level next season and also increases his chances of one day playing in the NHL. He has upside to become a top-line scoring star but even if he doesn’t reach that level, he can still become a middle-six offensive winger because of his improved all-around game.
Kasper Simontaival has been an integral part of Tappara U20 for the last two seasons. He has been a proficient goal-scorer in the Finnish junior leagues and projects as an offensive player at the pro level. Simontaival’s shot is his calling card, but he is also adept at setting up his teammates for scoring chances. He has added speed and endurance since last season and his overall game is also heading in the right direction.
There is no doubt that he has the offensive toolbox to develop into a quality NHL winger. He also reads the game very well and has great vision. At the moment I would consider Simontaival one of the most intriguing draft eligibles out of the Finnish leagues for 2020.
Simontaival is a precision shooter and clinical finisher with a scorer’s blade. He has an excellent shot selection as he can score with a one-timer, slap shot, wrist shot or backhander. The release is very quick, especially on his wrist shot, with impressive power to boot. He can be a scoring threat from pretty much anywhere in the offensive zone – even from further out. He has the ability to create space for himself to unleash quality shots, even when having limited time and space. Scoring goals seems to come very naturally to him.
What I think has been hurting Simontaival’s rankings is that many expected him to break into the Liiga full time this season, and he didn’t. He played more in the Mestis last season than he did this year, and he was playing 5 games in the Liiga last season as well. Like Nybeck, he also lacks the elite speed that people want in shorter wingers to make up for his lack of size. However, none of that has really held him back and if he falls to the Leafs in the middle of the second round, he would be a steal in my books.
Kasper Simontaival Highlights:
#5) Alexander Pashin — Left Wing
- Height: 5’7”
- Weight: 154 lbs
- Birthdate: Jul 28, 2002
- Team: Tolpar Ufa (MHL)
- Elite Prospects page: https://www.eliteprospects.com/player/568059/alexander-pashin
- 2019/20 Stats: 39 points in 37 games (4th on the team)
Alexander Pashin is the smolest of the smol. At only 5’7” and 154 lbs, he would need to have some very elite skills to make teams take him seriously as a NHL-worthy prospect. Thankfully, he sort of does. I say “sort of” because, as a Russian in the MHL, he arguably has less exposure even than the Swedes and Finns playing in their countries’ junior leagues.
He had the highest points per game pace of any 2002 player on his team, he led the U18 Russian squad in international play with 13 points in 15 games, he led the Russian’s Hlinka team with 7 goals and 8 points in 5 games, and he tied for second on Russia’s U18 World Junior Challenge tournament with 4 points in 5 games.
Against other top prospects, including those older than him, Pashin has been able to hold his own. Unlike Nybeck or Simontaival, Pashin has speed for days and he has good edges as well. He was used by Russia as a penalty killer for his speed and ability to create turnovers, basically a shorter Kasperi Kapanen in that regard. He also has an elite shot, which helped him score 7 goals in 5 games at the Hlinka against the best of his peers.
Honestly, where there are some slight questions about Nybeck or Simontaival’s speed or all-round play, Pashin doesn’t have the same flaws. He has more of a complete game, and more elite skill in areas that people like the most: speed and goal scoring. The main knock against him really does seem to be that he’s just that much smaller than everyone else.
But, at 154 pounds he may be a late bloomer physically. Maybe he grows another inch or two, not uncommon for 17 year olds, and he can put on more weight in the form of muscle where it matters for hockey players so he can at least hold his own in most situations. If he does, he has all the skills needed to make the NHL.
Alexander Pashin Scouting Reports:
Small players can often appear quick but can be slow when measured directly. Pashin is not one of these players. I tracked him at 1.55 seconds blueline to blueline, which is simply remarkable. He’s explosive and agile on his edges, able to cover plenty of ice quickly. His skill can be simply dumbfounding at times with quick hands and is able to do it at top speed. His speed and skill allowed him to drive a ton of controlled offensive zone transitions. 51.3 of them per 60 minutes at 5 on 5 put him second to Marat Khusnutdinov so far in these profiles. Pashin works hard with and without the puck and certainly doesn’t give up on play, even if he is the one who lost possession. He struck me as a player who got 85% of the way to something special before losing control, and if he can improve that over the next few years, he could be a heck of an offensive dynamo. Tolpar Ufa deployed him as an aggressive forechecker which often pinned him in the offensive zone, which left him with the lowest involvement in defensive zone transitions with just 6.56 total encounters per 60. Again, I don’t see him to be an excellent option in defensive transitions, but he’s got tons of potential when it comes to his combination of skating and skill.
Pashin finished second in the tournament goal scoring with seven goals in five games. He scored a hat trick in the semi-final against Finland and added two more in the gold medal game. I refer to Pashin as Russia’s Cole Caufield, but perhaps that’s an oversight. They both are undersized, highly skilled forwards. Pashin also helps defensively by creating turnovers along the boards and cutting off passes from opponents, and is an effective penalty killer. He’s an extremely intelligent forward who is always moving, unafraid to play physically, who can score from anywhere thanks to his lethal shot.
An undersized goal scorer who started off his season with an impressive showing at the under-18 Ivan Hlinka, Russian winger Alexander Pashin is the epitome of the often-used “top-six forward or bust” label. He is the type of player who is sure to both excite and frustrate draft aficionados and NHL scouts alike.
Pashin is small in terms of height, and although he is listed at 5-foot-8 and 154 pounds, he actually appears smaller than his official measurements. Nonetheless, he is a plus skater, particularly in terms of acceleration, edges, and pivoting. Pashin’s straight-line speed is between average to slightly above average, although that should improve as he gains strength. He consistently is one of the best skating players on the ice and does a good job keeping his feet moving throughout his shift.
Pashin displays excellent offensive skills. His close-quarter passing is top notch and his skate-to-stick transition when receiving passes is impressive as well. When it comes to firing the puck on net, Pashin has soft hands and a quick release. His combination of superior sense for the offensive side, skating ability, and his hands allow him to generate several high-quality scoring chances a game. As seen at the Hlinka and in the MHL, he can be a prolific goal scorer and his highlight reel will show several quality snipes and dangles. Pashin’s anticipation and positioning on the attack are sound, and he consistently displays the unteachable skill of hiding in the offensive zone, only to reappear exactly where the puck is going.
Pashin is much more likely to fall to the Leafs in the second round, but considering his height I cannot argue that he might be more of a long shot. His rankings vary from 35th to 81st as a reflection of that. But I still think he could be a potential steal for the Leafs considering his skills, and the biggest weakness is something that a late growth spurt and some squats can overcome over the summer with an 80’s rock montage going on in the background.
Alexander Pashin Highlights:
I really like Alexander Pashin's game!— Tony Ferrari (@theTonyFerrari) April 16, 2020
Here he controls the zone entry, curls back and attacks the slot. He loses the puck but then fades to the backside and attacks the net to bang in the rebound.
But remember, he's too small and won't be able to get to the net. #2020NHLDraft pic.twitter.com/sz5PrwwFXN
#6) Veeti Miettinen — Right Wing
- Height: 5’9”
- Weight: 159 lbs
- Birthdate: Sep 20, 2001
- Team: Kiekko-Espoo U20 (Jr. A SM-Liiga)
- Elite Prospects page: https://www.eliteprospects.com/player/396163/veeti-miettinen
- 2019/20 Stats: 73 points in 52 games
So, remember how I said that Simontaival didn’t lead his league in points? The actual leader is this guy, Veeti Miettinen. At 5’9” he’s the same height, but at 159 lbs he’s much skinnier and he’s also older as a late 2001 birthday that very narrowly missed last year’s draft. However, Miettinen absolutely destroyed the same league as Simontaival:
- Set the all-time league record for goals in a season with 42 in 52 games.
- Led the league in points with 73.
- Was basically his team’s entire offense, with the 2nd best teammate having exactly half as many goals (21 vs 42) and only two-thirds the points (49 to 73).
- Finished tied for 4th on Finland’s Hlinka team with 3 points in 4 games, tied for second in goals with 2.
So, considering those ridiculous numbers and that they’re the same height, why is Miettinen almost always ranked behind Simontaival? Part of it is the lack of exposure against older/better competition. Where Simontaival played some games professionally in the Mestis and Liiga, Miettinen didn’t — but that was entirely by his choice.
See, Miettinen committed to play in the NCAA next year. In order to preserve his eligibility for that, he can’t play any professional hockey games. That meant less eyes on him against tougher competition — but it also means that if he goes to the NCAA, he won’t be able to play professionally for the team that drafts him for three years. That is likely the other reason why teams are more wary of drafting him — they might want someone who’s more likely to get into their development program in the AHL or NHL sooner.
Veeti Miettinen Scouting Reports:
Miettinen is obviously a very talented offensive player. He has great hands which allow him to dangle in tight spaces very well. He is also a very smart player who can make creative plays for himself and for others as well. Even though he is a good playmaker, he’s more of a goal-scorer at heart. He has an excellent wrist shot which he can release quickly and accurately. He can also change the angle of the shot to make it even more difficult for the goalie. Miettinen is also a very good skater who gets high marks in both speed and quickness. What often gets overlooked is his play without the puck. Miettinen is a puck-hound who is always trying to steal the puck and cause turnovers. Although not a true two-way player, he is a reliable player defensively and more than capable of killing penalties. His strengths are definitely more in an offensive role but he has shown he can do a decent job playing a defensive role as well.
It is difficult to project where Miettinen gets drafted in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft but he definitely has all the tools needed to become an NHL player and his offensive skills give him top-six upside. Because he’s taking the NCAA route, the team that drafts him may have to wait three to four years before he even plays in the AHL. But Miettinen is definitely a player who is worth the wait.
Miettinen’s skating ability is elite, his feet are some of the quickest amongst draft eligibles, as is his agility in tight spaces. When he accelerates, it looks like he’s hopping, and his top speed is fantastic. He reaches his top speed so quickly, and he’s able to maintain it. He can beat defenders straight up, or burn them with a deke. Through the neutral zone, he’s one of the most effective puck carriers in the entire draft.
He’s a slight player at only 5’9 and 159 pounds, but he maintains a low center of gravity which helps him stay on his feet most of the time. Coupled with his insane agility, he’s a serious problem in the offensive zone.
He’s able to release from coverage so fast there, and he makes a perfect no-look pass to a wide open option in the slot. Miettinen’s hands are just as quick as his feet, and he’s able to make plays like that very consistently. Miettinen creates offense in all situations, but he’s deadliest on the power play. He’s one of the most patient players I’ve ever seen, and he can break down coverage so well. Miettinen’s quick nature allows him to change shooting and passing lanes to open up new options at will.
One of the most prolific scorers in all of Finnish junior hockey since the beginning of last season, the diminutive Miettinen may also be considered one of the purest of skill forwards in this draft. Take away the size equation and you’re still looking at a dynamic playmaker with an elite shot who plays in all situations. In fact, Miettinen might very well be the top shorthanded threat in any teenage league, let alone the premier Jr. A SM-Liiga.
It’s easy to point towards Miettinen’s aforementioned shot or his playmaking abilities — what scoring leader doesn’t possess at least one or both of those qualities? The most impressive aspect of Miettinen’s game, however, is the way he thinks plays two, three, sometimes even four plays ahead of everyone else. He’s constantly picking off passes near the opposing line or intercepting leads via the forecheck. Additionally, Miettinen is an inside player with excellent lateral quickness and edgework, and when he cuts inside he still gets a lot of mustard on his wrister, especially when going against the grain.
So he’s smart, he’s an elite skater, and an elite goal scorer. His size and development path that he chose are weird to hold against him, but if it helps him fall to the Leafs in the second round I’ll be fine with that. They don’t “need” a player to make their NHL roster right away, and if they can keep churning out quality players to be cheap and fill out their roster (Robertson, Abramov, Sandin, Liljegren) over the next 2-3 years, they can afford to be patient.
With Miettinen’s rankings ranging from 33rd to 79th, he is more likely to fall to the Leafs than Nybeck or Simontaival anyways.
Veeti Miettinen Highlights:
#7) Marat Khusnutdinov — Center
- Height: 5’9”
- Weight: 165 lbs
- Birthdate: Jul 17, 2002
- Team: SKA-1946 St. Petersburg (MHL)
- Elite Prospects page: https://www.eliteprospects.com/player/552045/marat-khusnutdinov
- 2019/20 Stats: 38 points in 44 games (6th on the team)
Marat Khushnitdinov is the second Russian on this list. He’s two inches taller than Pashin, and also plays center. He doesn’t have quite the same offensive production as Pashin, but some like him better as a prospect for his superior all-round abilities. He finished 6th on his MHL team in points with 38 in 44 but was second for 2002 birthdays. He reportedly played mostly 3C and was used in all roles (powerplay, penalty kill etc). In international play, he finished well behind Pashin in points.
Part of this seems to be that Khusnutdinov is already something of a defensive specialist. Despite his size, he plays physical and constantly harasses opposing puck carriers thanks to his great skating. While he didn’t have the raw points of someone like Pashin, he is exceptional at two-way play, driving possession, and getting the puck back to transition to offense.
Considering how much ice time and linemates can impact raw points, especially in junior leagues, I’d be curious how many more points Khusnutdinov would have if he was played top line minutes and if he would wind up closer to Pashin.
Playing a more valuable position, having rave reviews for two-way ability, and being two inches taller you will see Khusnutdinov’s rankings between 20th and 70th where Pashin’s was 35th to 81st despite the points. That does make it slightly less likely that Khusnutdinov will fall to the Leafs in the second round, but could potentially make him more valuable overall if he does fall that far.
Marat Khusnutdinov Scouting Reports:
Khusnutdinov played the majority of the season as SKA’s 3rd line center, and was continually tasked with shutting down top opposing lines. I would have liked to see him higher up in the lineup, but it’s not as if he barely got any ice time. He was given lots of well deserved minutes on the power play, and was SKA’s best penalty killer by a mile. When it comes to defensive play, Khustnutdinov is an animal. He’s an excellent faceoff taker, and always plays with full effort. He’s constantly pressuring puck carriers with pokes and shoves, and for a small guy, he loves to use his body to gain position. He’s someone who will do whatever it takes to win, which bodes well for his NHL future.
The key aspect of Khusnutdinov’s game is speed. He’s got an endless motor, with some of the quickest feet in this draft class. He’s extremely agile, both with and without the puck, and his edgework is elite. His stride is quick and powerful, and doesn’t ever break down. His hands are just as quick as his feet, making him a truly dynamic puck carrier. Khusnutdinov knifes through the neutral zone like it’s nothing, weaving his way in and out of cover at will.
Khusnutdinov plays uptempo, constantly driving the play towards the opposition’s net. He makes you inch towards the edge of your seat if you’re even sitting down still. What Khusnutdinov does on the ice, most players don’t even attempt to try.
Khusnutdinov has an intriguing offensive profile. He plays without fear in the offensive zone. He blends a willingness to try things with an impressive rate of success. Khusnutdinov is a good skater who is excellent on his edges. When he gets skating downhill at an opponent, it forces his opposition to read and react quickly. What makes Khusnutdinov a special player offensively is that he reads and reacts even faster than his opponent. If he is driving wide and the defender makes the appropriate read, Khusnutdinov will pull the puck inside and drive the net through the slot. His hands are excellent in tight, needing very little space to pull something out of his bag of tricks.
For starters, Marat Khusnutdinov can just play. He’s often part of leadership groups on his teams for a reason. SKA-1946 has many, many players at least a full year older than Khusnutdinov, yet he was named an assistant captain from the start of the season, and a lot of that can be measured up to his style of play. He’s a tremendous two-way force who tails opponents relentlessly without the puck, and maximizes his efficiency getting up the ice with the puck.
He can do it on his own stick, but he also is exceptional at locating teammates in stride and getting positive exits and entries that way. He can jump deep into the offensive zone which may put him a bit out of position, but he covers so much ice so much of the time that he can cover for himself without issue. He’s constantly moving around the ice, and from time to time it can get him out of position and open up a bit too much space on the ice, but with some refinement and further skill development, he could be an extremely reliable force at both ends. He plays the exact style I’m looking for centres to play. Backcheck responsibly, get the puck through applying constant pressure, command the middle of the ice with your mobility and aggression, move pucks efficiently on your stick and facilitate offensive cycles. Khusnutdinov certainly has the tools to be an excellent player, and it’s there almost every shift.
Honestly, I love this kid. I love the idea of getting a two-way dynamo at center who can drive play and doesn’t exactly lack for offense. He’s one of the players that the more I read about him, the more highlights of his I see, the more I like him. He’d be one of the near automatic choices I’d make if he’s available with the Leafs’ second round pick.
Marat Khusnutdinov Highlights:
#8) Roby Jarventie — Left Wing
- Height: 6’2”
- Weight: 185 lbs
- Birthdate: Aug 8, 2002
- Team: Koovee (Mestis)
- Elite Prospects page: https://www.eliteprospects.com/player/534236/roby-jarventie
- 2019/20 Stats: 38 points in 36 games (5th on the team)
You’d think a big (6’2”) goal scoring (23 in 36 games in the Mestis, leading the team despite playing 10 fewer games), younger (August birthday) winger that can reportedly skate like the wind would have a lot of draft hype. I would have expected him to be a sure-fire first rounder. Where some of the other Finnish prospects I’ve looked at who are ranked in the 2nd or 3rd round are smaller, have questions about skating, and play in the junior league instead of professional league, Jarventie checks all of the right boxes.
So why are his rankings between 33rd and 81st? Why is he such a polarizing prospect among scouts?
That link mentions some of the big points that you usually see come up: some are worried about his “inconsistent” play, the problem is that his biggest moments of inconsistency seem to have happened during high profile international tournaments. At the Hlinka, he had 1 goal in 3 games. In other international tournaments he had 7 points in 13 games, well behind other top Finnish prospects. There are also complaints that he doesn’t take advantage of his size as often as he could, and is relatively weak defensively and without the puck.
This is something I struggle to handle as I process information about a prospect. I really, really hate the labels of “inconsistency” because too often they don’t really mean anything. Sometimes, they can... but often they don’t. Sometimes it refers to a player’s point production, sometimes his “effort” or his defense. To me, every player is “inconsistent” depending what the person saying it means.
The other thing I struggle with is having a player’s rankings considerably rise or fall based on short tournaments. I get it, they’re playing in front of more scouts against other top prospects. But the short amount of time means that it’s very easy to make mountains of molehills. Having a shooting percentage bender, or great luck and bounces, means you can look a lot better than you actually are... or vice versa. Especially if you have a nagging injury, or just don’t click with linemates, or don’t get the best ice time, linemates, or PP opportunity.
So while I think these tournaments are useful enough to keep in mind, I don’t want to discount everything else positive about him. He still played most of the year in a tougher league than Simontaival or Miettinen, he still has great size and skating and a great goal scoring touch.
Roby Jarventie Scouting Reports:
Järventie has finished his first regular season in Mestis, the second-highest men’s level in Finland. It was an extremely successful rookie season for the 17-year-old as he scored 23 goals and 38 points in 36 games. He averaged 15 minutes of ice time with about two minutes of that coming on the power play. Järventie has been a well-known prospect in Finland for a few years because he has always been one of the top players in his age group in Finland. Some were expecting him to be able to play at the Liiga level full-time this season but he wasn’t quite ready to play his style at that level, so playing in Mestis was the next best thing. His father Martti was a long-time professional hockey player in Europe.
Järventie is a modern power forward who uses his great size to protect the puck and drive to the net with the puck on his stick. But he doesn’t play a very physical brand of hockey. He is a goal-scoring winger who owns a great shot and decent playmaking abilities but he is a bit of a one-dimensional threat which is why he projects to become a complementary goal-scorer rather than someone who drives the offense himself. He also doesn’t play a well-rounded game, so if he’s not producing offensively, he’s not contributing much else either. But he has potential to become a 30-goal scorer at the NHL level if things break right.
If there is one thing that NHL scouts love, it is big wingers who can skate. That describes Roby Jarventie to a tee. The 6-2”, 185lbs forward from the Ilves program (although he suited up mostly for KOOVEE in Mestis this year on a loan), is blessed with power in his stride that allows him to be an effective North/South attacker. “Jarventie’s skating is a great mix of agility and fluidity. His first few strides are quick and very powerful, allowing him to separate from defenders in the blink of an eye. He likes to use his speed to attack from the outside before cutting to the net,” wrote McKeens’ Finnish analyst Marco Bombino.
Jarventie also happens to be a skilled goal scorer who possesses multiple weapons to help him find the back of the net. In 36 Mestis games this year (the Finnish second league), Jarventie posted 23 goals. This was good for top five in league goal scoring, a league that saw only three other U18 players score a goal (with the other two only scoring one goal each). “His wrist shot is very quick and accurate and he can get it on net from a distance. He has a solid, hard one-timer as well. Possessing swift hands he is effective around the net and is quick to collect loose pucks. Jarventie has a goal-scorer’s touch and he is quite a clinical finisher in prime scoring areas,” mentioned Bombino.
A pure sniper with one of the best shot-release combinations in the draft, Jarventie is a well-balanced winger who has spent the majority of his draft year as a top-line winger for one of the leading teams in Finland’s adult-age Mestis. Jarventie plays as mistake free a game as a teenager can play and most of his decisions and movements on or off the puck seem calculated. Although Jarventie can score goals in a variety of ways, his most impressive skill is the way he slings rockets off his blade within nanoseconds. Not only does his shot look pretty, but it has knocked goalies off balance from distances above the circles.
Jarventie is able to sniff out the perfect opportunity to motor up ice. While he certainly has benefitted from playing consistently with a leading scorer like center Janne Seppanen, Jarventie brings a diverse skill set to his line beyond setting up for rifle shots at the net. He’s dependable carrying the puck in open ice and will stickhandle through or around traffic, and he’s capable of trapping checkers up high once he’s inside the offensive zone. Jarventie also is an excellent passer who puts the right touch on his deliveries dependent upon the situation and distance to target. His dual-threat capabilities when coupled with his constant movement in all three zones makes him difficult to contain, and it even seems as though KooVee designed set plays off faceoffs specifically for him.
His rankings put him in a good spot to potentially fall to the Leafs, and considering all of the above I think he could be a steal. He has all the pieces you’d want in an impact winger at the NHL level: he has the skating, he has the shot, and he has the size. “Consistency” is something that can be found and improved as a player matures mentally and physically. But you can’t teach those other important skills.
Roby Jarventie Highlights:
#9) Joel Blomqvist — Goaltender
- Height: 6’1”
- Weight: 205 lbs
- Birthdate: Jan 10, 2002
- Team: Kärpät U20 (Jr. A SM-Liiga)
- Elite Prospects page: https://www.eliteprospects.com/player/495890/joel-blomqvist
- 2019/20 Stats: .931 SV% in 34 games
Back when I wrote about the WHL prospects, I mentioned Dylan Garand as a goalie prospect to watch come draft day. He had some of the best numbers in all of the WHL despite playing for a team some writers described as “wide open”. The concern with him, apparently, was that he was 6’1” and teams worry about having shorter goalies. Well wouldn’t you know, Blomqvist is another 6’1” goalie who had great numbers in the Junior Finnish league and has some questioning his long-term viability as an NHL goalie because of his height.
For reference, here is a quick refresher on all the goalies in the NHL who are also listed as 6’1” or shorter:
- Anton Khudobin (5’11”)
- Pavel Francouz (6’0”)
- Calvin Petersen (6’1”)
- Antti Raanta (6’0”)
- Jaroslav Halak (5’11”)
- Philipp Grubauer (6’1”)
- Juuse Saros (5’11”)
- Jordan Binnington (6’1”)
- Alexandar Georgiev (6’1”)
- Jonathan Bernier (6’0”)
- Petr Mrazek (6’1”)
- Jonathan Quick (6’1”)
Despite the stigma of size, Blomqvist is still probably a top 5 goalie prospect in this year’s draft. That’s because he simply blew away the Jr league in goalie stats. Here are the top 5 goalies in the league:
- Joel Blomqvist: .931 SV% in 34 games
- Oskari Parviainen: .926 SV% in 27 games
- Tobias Ancicka: .918 SV% in 27 games
- Kasper Lehikoinen: .914 SV% in 15 games
- Mikael Petro: .910 SV% in 24 games
So he not only led the league with the best save percentage with a big drop down to 5th best, he also played more games than others behind him. He’s also the only 2002 birthday in that top 5 list. His performance is driven by very strong mechanics: he is said to have excellent rebound control and positioning, with good vision and anticipation that plays a calm style rather than a frantic one.
Aside from his height, there is another reason why he isn’t considered up there with Yaroslav Askarov as a goalie prospect. At the Hlinka he had 3 starts and put up a .919 SV%, in 9 starts for Finland in other international games he had a .916 sv% — good, but not great. His numbers in the Jr Liiga, with a bigger sample size, were much better. And in 2 games in the Mestis that Blomqvist started, he got shelled.
Take what I said above about struggling to weigh performance in smaller samples but good competition for international tournaments, and for a goalie it’s even worse. Finland didn’t necessarily have the strongest rosters (Canada and Russia were in a whole other level at the Hlinka), and Blomqvist was their number one goalie getting the tough starts against Canada, Russia, and so on.
Joel Blomqvist Scouting Reports:
Blomqvist finished his first full season in Jr. SM-liiga with a 0.931 save percentage as the number one goalie for the regular season championship winning Kärpät team. Blomqvist won 26 out of the 34 games he played and took home the Best Goalie award at the end of the regular season.
Blomqvist has also been Finland’s undisputed number one goalie in his age group in international events for two years now, including at the U17 World Hockey Challenge last season and at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup to start this season. He was also Finland’s number three goalie at the U18 Worlds last season as an underager.
Blomqvist has the size, technical skills and hockey sense to become a starting goalie at the NHL level. But like most young goalies, he will need lots of time and development before he gets there. He has a chance to be the second goalie taken in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, as early as in the second round. But it also wouldn’t be surprising if the goalie run doesn’t start until the third round.
With Yaroslav Askarov getting all the praise, it’s easy to see why a poised and technically-advanced netminder like Blomqvist will get overlooked in the first half of his draft season. Granted, he may not be as unique a prospect as his aforementioned Russian peer, but Blomqvist has been nothing short of a brick wall in Finland’s top junior league, albeit for a superior defensive team. He’s a stand-up butterfly goalie who ensures every opening is as tight as possible during his lateral shuffle while staying perfectly squared to the puck.
Blomqvist is a calm, poised netminder who stays upright during the majority of his post slides and seems to avoid dropping to the ice via a complete butterfly. Rather, his crouch when facing break-ins or shots from the slot is incredibly low, which may be a byproduct of getting beaten five hole with frequency earlier in the year. Although he’s married to the blue paint and rarely challenges shooters outside of it, Blomqvist can run that risk because his angles are played to near perfection and he never seems to lose the net in the event of a cross-ice or cross-crease passes. In odd-man situations, Blomqvist properly angles towards the puck and is confident in his timing and quickness to get across and respond to a pass. It usually takes a snipe to beat him upstairs, especially short-side high.
Joel Blomqvist has made steady progress over the last few seasons and was named the best goalie of the season in the Finnish U20 league. I think the honor was well-deserved, and he showed a great deal of potential and consistently performed at a high level throughout the season. He also got to play his first couple of games in the Liiga. He will play on loan for Hermes in Finland’s second-highest league next season.
Blomqvist is a calm, technically sound goalie with excellent rebound control. He plays his angles very well and is consistently square to the puck. He has a very strong foundation and I don’t see any significant weaknesses in his game right now. I think Blomqvist is definitely one of the top Finnish goalies in the last several NHL drafts and is a good bet to be selected in the second or third round this year. He has a legitimate chance to develop into a starting goalie in the NHL.
Goalies are difficult enough to try and compare, it’s worse when you’re doing it between different leagues, levels, and rosters for international games. Justin Pogge vs Tuukka Rask, anyone? What I like about Blomqvist is that scouts like his mechanics, and in the largest sample we have of him (Jr Liiga) he was heads and tails above his peers.
His rankings vary between 45th and 85th. He will almost certainly be available when the Leafs pick in the second round if those rankings play out like that. What interests me more is the longshot that he might fall to them in the fourth round.
Or, maybe the Leafs can trade down with their 2nd round pick. They can move down a few spots and get a third round pick. Instead of getting one of these other sleepers, they can get two — one of the skaters mentioned above and Blomqvist.
Joel Blomqvist Highlights:
Joel Blomqvist (#2020NHLDraft) makes a good save here moving laterally and tracking the pass. He eats the rebound and temporarily stops the attack.— Tony Ferrari (@theTonyFerrari) February 7, 2020
Blomqvist has been very good today for the Finns. #U18 #5Nations pic.twitter.com/UlD5eMdAvs
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