The NHL regular season is around the corner, but prospect season has already kicked off. Some leagues, mainly in Europe, have been running for a few weeks already. In North America, the USHL, NCAA, and CHL leagues have all started as of last week.
By now, most of the major scouting outlets have released their pre- or early-season prospect rankings for the 2022 NHL Entry Draft. So now seems like a good time for me to share my early watch list when it comes to the Leafs and the upcoming draft.
I’ll keep it short (for me) because I have only seen one game for a small handful of the prospects I will list. Those I am including caught my interest based on their profile and what early scouting reports I’ve read.
DEFENSE OF INTEREST
- Elias Salomonsson — RHD, 6’1”, 8 points in 10 games in Sweden’s U20 junior league.
- Tristan Luneau — RHD, 6’2”, no points in only one game in the QMJHL so far.
- Simon Forsmark — LHD, 6’2”, 14 points in 11 games in Sweden’s U20 junior league, and he’s now been promoted to the SHL where he has played in 4 games.
- Ty Nelson — RHD, 5’8”, 2 points in 2 games in the OHL.
- Noah Warren — RHD, 6’5”, 3 points in 3 games in the QMJHL.
- Owen Pickering — LHD, 6’5”, 2 points in 5 games in the WHL.
- Filip Nordberg — LHD, 6’4”, 10 points in 11 games in Sweden’s U20 junior league.
- Kasper Kulonummi — RHD, 6’0”, 9 points in 11 games in Finland’s U20 junior league.
- Tyler Duke — LHD, 5’9”, 2 points in 9 games for the US National Development team.
- Jace Weir — RHD, 6’2”, 4 points in 5 games in the WHL.
- Jake Martin — RHD, 6’0”, 0 points in 2 games in the NCAA in his D+1 season.
- Lukas Gustafsson — LHD, 5’10”, 3 points in 6 games in the USHL in his D+1 season.
Of this list, Salomonsson, Luneau, Forsmark and Nelson are all in the top 32 of Elite Prospects’ consolidated rankings, which pulls from the major scouting outlets. The Leafs do currently have their first rounder, but given the do-or-die nature of this season we shouldn’t be surprised if they use it by the trade deadline this year. They’re interesting names if they should fall, or if the Leafs do keep it.
Salomonsson has good size, is a smooth skater, and has a good amount of offensive skill. He has a good chance to get in some pro games in the SHL. Forsmark is in the same boat, but is not (yet) thought of as highly even though he has more points and already gotten into some SHL games. Luneau had some good hype coming into this season, and has a good chance of being the top CHL defenseman taken in the draft. Nelson will undoubtedly be a favourite among public scouts, he has the small guy profile with tons of offensive skill.
Outside of those four top defensemen, the ones that interest me the most are Noah Warren, Owen Pickering, and Lukas Gustafsson.
Noah Warren is a big guy at 6’5” and gets rave reviews for his defensive instincts. The knock on him is his skating and offensive decision making, which will likely means he won’t wind up ranked that high. His defensive skills sound promising, though, which could make him an interesting later round pick. The same can be said for Owen Pickering, but despite his name he isn’t a Toronto boy. He is as big as Warren and also gets good reviews for his defense, but is said to be an excellent skater with some offensive upside. He is not currently getting much first round hype, but some scouts have said he could get there by the end of this season.
Last, there is Lukas Gustafsson. He was undrafted last year, likely due to lack of exposure. He played in only 14 games on a stacked Chicago Steel team. He’s smaller but he is just all kinds of fun. He doesn’t put up a lot of points (yet) but he is an exceptional skater, and uses it aggressively to the point that he’s just constantly involved with the play when he’s on the ice. He is an aggressive neutral zone defender, pouncing on passes and puck carriers to force turnovers or dump ins. He can skate the puck out of his end by just outracing anyone chasing him. He makes good passes to move the puck up, and then uses his speed to jump into the play as a trailer option — or maybe he outright outskates everyone to the net.
He was an invite to the Leafs’ rookie camp, but did not participate in the tournament because he had to maintain his NCAA eligibility. The Leafs reportedly like him, which shouldn’t be surprising since his former GM in Chicago is now the Leafs’ AGM, and the Leafs have picked two Steel players in two of the last three drafts. The Leafs don’t have many picks, however, and especially in the range where Gustafsson may be taken if he has a breakout year. I don’t know what it would take, but I would LOVE if the Leafs took him. Here’s a thread I recently made after watching one of his games this year:
How do I love Lukas Gustafsson? Let me count the ways...— Mr. Knies Guy (@brigstew86) October 9, 2021
#1) Underrated defense for a small defenseman.
He's #14 in white. Keeps puck carrier to the outside, pounces on him immediately when he stops up to pin him against the boards and force a turnover and start the breakout. pic.twitter.com/sioStZ9A1e
FORWARDS OF INTEREST
- Isaac Howard — LW, 5’10”, 13 points in 9 games for the US National Development team.
- Joakim Kemell — RW, 5’11”, 13 points in 11 games for JYP in the Liiga.
- Frank Nazar — C, 5’10”, 12 points in 9 games for the US National Development team.
- Ludwig Persson — C, 5’11”, 15 points in 11 games in Sweden’s U20 league, and 0 points in 5 games since being promoted to the pro league SHL.
- Gleb Trikozov — C, 6’1”, 1 point in 6 games in Russia’s second tier pro league, the VHL.
- Rieger Lorenz — C, 6’2”, 14 points in 9 games in the AJHL.
- Alexander Perevalov — LW, 6’0”, 26 points in 14 games in the MHL.
- Jonathan Lekkerimäki — C/W, 5’11”, 16 points in 10 games in the Swedish U20 junior league.
- Aleksanteri Kaskimäki — C, 6’0”, 16 points in 10 games in the Finnish U20 junior league.
- Kasper Lundell — C, 5’11”, 12 points in 8 games in the Finnish U20 junior league.
- Miko Matikka — RW, 6’3”, 5 points in 5 games in the Finnish U20 junior league.
- Justin Côté — C, 5’6”, 4 points in 4 games in the QMJHL.
- Danny Zhilkin — C, 6’2”, 2 points in 2 games in the OHL.
- Matthew Poitras — C, 5’10”, 2 points in 2 games in the OHL.
Howard, Kemell, Nazar, Persson and Trikozov are all in EP’s consolidated rankings, which is just the first round at this point. Howard is a small(ish) offensive dynamo for USA’s national development team, and Nazar isn’t far behind him on the same team. Kemell is putting up one of the best seasons by point productions for a 17 year old rookie in the Liiga so far, so expect him to really rise up the rankings if he keeps it up. Persson had very good production in junior and has been promoted to the SHL, which is always a good sign. Trikozov is starting slow, but he’s in semi-pro as an U18 after a good MHL season the year before.
The forwards that interest me the most, who are outside of the first round (for now), are...
Alexander Perevalov, who is currently leading the entire MHL Russian junior league in points. That includes guys who are in their early 20’s. If you filter the list to only U18s who are first-time eligible, Perevalov has double the amount of points as the second best player. If you’re wondering why he isn’t ranked in the first round, it’s because the real top-tier Russian prospects are all in the VHL or KHL. Perevalov may get his chance eventually this year, considering his production, but even if he doesn’t he’ll be worth keeping an eye on this draft.
Kasper Lundell interests me because he is the younger brother of former first round pick Anton Lundell, who went 12th overall in the 2020 NHL draft. Kasper is smaller and not as highly regarded as his older brother, but he’s no slouch. He has 12 points in 8 games in the U20 junior level, where Anton played the whole year in Liiga. He is among the leaders in points for the league, along with his teammate Aleksanteri Kaskimäki who has 16 points in 8 games.
Miko Matikka is another interesting prospect in Finnish junior. He has 4 goals and 5 points in 5 games, which is not as eye-popping as the other two. But his microstats being tracked are reportedly bonkers. He also has an enticing combination of size (6’3”), offensive skill, and good skating that has been reported as greatly improved. He could be another power-forward and goal scoring winger like Knies. We won’t see him in the Liiga at all, unforunately, since he has committed to the NCAA and will have to stay in junior all year just like Veeti Miettinen did in his draft year.
Lastly, we come to Justin Côté. He will likely be a favourite of mine this year, as I always like me a smol zippy forward who can rip it. The early contender for that prototype this season is Côté, who at 5’6” has the smol part down. He also hasthe elements to his game that you want to see from such a small player: he is a fast and elusive skater, he has a very good shot, and he uses a mix of deception, creativity and fearlessness to get to the dangerous areas where he can score without being physically dominated by much bigger opponents.
Justin Côté was really impressive in my viewings. Dangerous shooter off the pass thanks to movement, timing, and refined shooting mechanics. Finds creative ways to get to the middle. Non-stop motor. He'll be a popular player on prospect twitter this season. pic.twitter.com/pVPAsxpwNw— Mitchell Brown (@MitchLBrown) September 30, 2021
GOALIES OF INTEREST
There are no clear cut, blue chip goalie prospects with hype going into this season as first rounders like there have been in the past few drafts. There’s no Wallstedt, Cossa, Askarov or Knight equivalent in this draft.
- Sergei Ivanov — 5’11”, has a .920 sv% in 6 games in the MHL with a very strong track record in Russia’s junior league and for their international team. But at 5’11” he won’t get much hype.
- Charles-Edward Gravel — 6’0”, has a .929 sv% in 4 games in the QMJHL, with some pedigree entering his major junior career.
- Topias Leinonen — 6’5”, has a .929 sv% in 6 games in the Finnish U20 junior level. Has the size teams like looking for, and decent numbers playing in the U20s as a 16 year old last year with good signs of a leap in performance now that he’s a year older.
- Thomas Milic — 6’0”, has a .934 sv% in 3 games in the WHL in his D+1 season, after good numbers in his draft year but only in 9 games due to the shortened season.