I’ve had more free time of late to look into some more prospects for the 2021 NHL draft, which we now know will actually happen in 2021 and not get pushed back like Friedman had been teasing for months. As a quick refresher, here are the previous two watch lists I’ve written so far this season:
This list in the middle of March can be considered the sequel to the last one, which I have tentatively titled: Mid-Season List 2: List Harder. Like the last one, this will involve some mini-reports on each player based on what I’ve seen (for what players I’ve been able to see), what I’ve read from the real scouting people, and what stats and data tracking is available on them. The combination of those three things is how I come to take an interest in a prospect.
First, there are two people I want to give particular citation credit to for this list. The first is Will Scouch, who I mention a lot — either for his profile videos, data tracking, or weekly streams. The second is Colin Cudmore for his 2021 NHL Draft Expected Range spreadsheet, that shows the range of draft rankings among several sources. Both are follows I would recommend for people who want to get into prospects, the draft, etc.
Jake Martin is a 6’0” RHD playing on the US National Development Junior — it’s the best of the best of American hockey players, most of them are used for the WJC on Team USA. What makes Martin interesting is his defensive play. For those who subscribe to Will Scouch’s Patreon, you will see that Martin’s defensive tracking data is the best among defensmen on the US NTDP Juniors. Better than Luke Hughes who many people say could be the first overall pick this year, better than Hughes’ partner Aidan Hreschuk. In fact, among all draft eligible defensemen that Scouch has tracked, Martin is only behind Carson Lambos — another consensus first round pick. Martin is noted as a good skater and very effective at breaking up transition attempts by the other team. In that sense, he may be reminiscent of Topi Niemela. He’s also effective in shutting down offensive cycles in his own end.
What will hold Martin back is that he does not have much offensive ability to speak of. I’ve only seen one game of his, and he is not one to jump into the play, make a great pass, or get you out of your seat with some crazy skilled play. This is where the comparison to Niemela falls apart, as Niemela showed at the WJC that he at least can drive offense through some skill — even if it isn’t at a high level relative to other defensive prospects. Considering that Martin may have less to work with, he is ranked between the 70’s and 120’s so far. As a potential 4th/5th round pick, that’s not bad value. What makes me think that he may be on the Leafs’ radar is his profile. A smart, positionally sound defensive defenseman who is a good skater ticks a lot of their boxes, and the Leafs have not been afraid to draft out of US junior in recent years either.
Vincent Iorio is a 6’3” RHD playing for the Brandon Wheat Kings in the WHL, which may make you think that Dubas won’t give him the time of day. He may have two things working against him. First, he is an older prospect in the draft as a November 2002 birthday and that’s something that is often held against guys who aren’t consensus top prospects. Alexis Lafreniere last year was an October birthday and he was still taken first overall. Second, unlike other top OHL and WHL prospects, Iorio did not play any games this year in Europe, the USHL, etc. The WHL did just start up, and he has two games played — I haven’t been able to see either of them. But some teams may be more worried that they’re less sure of him compared to other guys who played more this year.
However, Iorio does have a lot going for him. First, even last year he got rave reviews for his play in all three zones. He could contribute offensively as a 16/17 year old, he was good at shutting down transition attempts through the neutral zone, and he could break up cycles in the defensive zone using his size and being physical. He may be a very good all-round defenseman. He’s the sort of guy you will see receive praise-terms like “poise”, “intelligent”, “high hockey IQ/sense”, and so on. That’s what makes me thing that he may be interesting to Dubas, especially if his late birthday and lack of a full season this year are held against him. Iorio’s expected range right now puts him as a late 2nd/early 3rd rounder, but now that he’s playing again that may go up if he plays well. I know some people have him ranked as a late 1st rounder/early 2nd rounder, where the Leafs will be picking if they keep their pick.
Kalle Ervasti is a 6’0” RHD playing in Finland’s U20 junior league. The fact that he hasn’t played in the Liiga at all this year might scare you off, considering the fact that even guys who spend their whole draft season in the Liiga (Niemela, Kokkonen) both went in the third round. In the Draft Expected Range sheet, he’s somewhere in the 160’s or 170’s — so potentially a 5th+ rounder. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t interesting as a late round swing.
If you look at some data tracking, we get an idea for who Ervasti is. He generates a lot of shot assists, but rarely shoots himself — I like him already! In terms of other metrics that are most interesting for a defenseman, it’s noteworthy to compare him to Carson Lambos who will be drafted in the first round and who also played some time in the U20 Finnish league this year. In rush defense (breaking up zone entry attempts), Ervasti is behind Lambos but well ahead of anyone else. In defensive zone breakups and xGA rates, he’s ahead of Lambos. So he has some intriguing potential as an all-round defenseman, who can drive offense through passing the puck up the ice or in the offensive zone and breakup the other team’s attempts to set up offence through the neutral and offensive zones.
Ayrton Martino is a 5’10” LW who will be one of the older players in this draft (Sep 28 birthday), but who has a lot of buzz as one of the most fun, high octane offensive players in the draft. He plays in the USHL for the Omaha Lancers, and leads them with 16 goals and 42 points injust 26 games. That’s good for the 5th best PPG rate in the league, behind only Sean Farrell (2020 draft pick), and three potential 2021 first rounders in Sasha Pastujov, Matthew Coronato, and Cole Sillinger.
What makes him so fun seems to be a very well balanced offensive profile. I’ve only watched one game of his, but from what I saw and what I’ve read he can shoot, dangle, skate well with the puck, make plays, and has good anticipation to pick off passes and create dangerous rush chances the other way. I’ve read or heard Will Scouch say many a time that he seems to have 2-3 breakaways every game. In that one game of his I saw, he had two breakaways in the first 10 minutes.
If you look at some tracking data from the USHL, you will see Martino at or among the top for possession and dangerous offensive threat, both as a passer and as a shooter. His expected draft range is as a late second/early first round pick, which would be pretty perfect for the Leafs who could use some more high skill forwards in their system. He’s also a local Toronto boy who played in the OJHL last year, the same league as Ryan Tverberg who the Leafs drafted in 2020. In fact, Martino finished tied for second in the league in points per game. I wonder if the Leafs scouting people saw Martino last year in the OJHL or this year in the USHL while watching Tverberg, Miller, Fusco, etc.
Simon Robertsson is a 6’0” Swedish right winger and the first of two Swedish forwards playing in the SHL who a lot of scouting people are high on. That includes Will Scouch who ranks him 10th, or Scott Wheeler ranks him 18th. However, he did not get a mention in Bob McKenzie’s early-season rankings that covered the top 20. Considering the usual bias against Euro players in the NHL, that’s not surprising. His draft range from all public sources puts him in the mid-to-late first round, so he might be available around where the Leafs would pick if they keep it.
However, it’s worth noting that at the time of McKenzie’s rankings, Robertsson was still playing in Sweden’s junior leagues. In junior, Robertsson was dominant and had 9 goals and 20 points in 15 games. In the SHL he has only 2 points in 22 games, but that’s normal for young draft-eligible guys cracking the professional level for the first time. What’s most noteworthy is that, by all accounts, he is holding his own and not looking out of place. So if you like him and think he may be worthy of a top 20 pick, you hope that other NHL teams aren’t as high on him and he drops. Which, considering what’s happened with other European players, may not be out of the realm of possibility.
Isak Rosén is the other Swedish forward who is in a similar situation as Robertsson. He also wasn’t ranked on Bob’s early list, but gets some love from public scouts like Scouch, Wheeler, Smaht Scouting, and Dobber Prospects. He also started the year in the U20 junior level (7 goals, 12 points in 12 games), and has played 19 games in the SHL with one point. Depending on who you ask, Rosén may be ranked higher than Robertsson, or vice versa. However, if you check the expected draft range sheet you will see Rosen as a late first or even a borderline first/second rounder.
Rosén is known for having a good shot, a good passer, and being a crafty skater. He might have a better all-round game than Robertsson, but he’s also smaller at 5’10” 160 lbs so he would have to be. Getting easily pushed around and out-muscled has been an expressed concern of his play in the SHL this year. What he does seem to have is one of those smol-guy engines where he goes, and he does not lack for effort.
Semyon Vyazovoy is a 6’2” goalie born in ‘03 who plays for Tolpar Ufa in the MHL. I’ve already listed a few of the higher profile goalies (hint: there aren’t many) and the big statistical standout. Vyazovoy is a less big standout, but a standout all the same. Not knowing how to scout a goalie even if I watched all his games, I’m going to either rely on what goalie people say and/or seeing stats that indicate a guy just seems to know how to stop pucks.
Two years ago, at the U16 junior level, Vyazovoy had a .919 sv% in 29 games. Last year, at the U17 level, he had a .927 sv% in 28 games. This year, in the MHL he has a .939 sv% in 26 games, good for third in the entire league on the 5th best team in his conference — so hardly a powerhouse. The two goalies ahead of him played many more games but were also a year older. There isn’t much point in talking about his expected draft range, since as a more obscure Russian goalie in their junior level during a pandemic he won’t have a lot of people who have seen him much to generate any hype. And most draft rankings at this point don’t go past maybe 60 to 75 spots, and some people don’t even bother including any goalies aside from an obvious 2-3 guys. What that means to me is that Vyazovoy may be available with a late pick, and may be a relative steal as goalies go.
Which of these prospects interests you the most?
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