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:
As usual, 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.
This list will be the last of the “Watch List” series. After this, I’ll start putting out full profiles on individual players, since I’ve reached the point where I struggled a bit to find enough names for this one. This is partly because, after the deadline, the Leafs traded away about 90% of their draft picks, including their first rounder. That eliminates some guys who I highly doubt will fall to the second round.
As always I will to give particular citation credit to Will Scouch, who I mention a lot — either for his profile videos, data tracking, or weekly streams. He’s done several profile videos for this year already, which you should check out if you want to learn more about the bigger name guys.
I always want to give a special thanks to Colin Cudmore, though sadly in this case it is for a final thanks. His 2021 NHL Draft Expected Range spreadsheet, which he has maintained for a few years now, was a really good tool to get a complete idea for what the consensus rankings were across dozens of outlets. Unfortunately, Colin has chosen to move on from writing about hockey, which is something I can sympathize with greatly. Still, Colin’s a good guy and did some great work so I wish him the very best in his future.
With all of that out of the way, let’s dive into some new prospects!
Aleksi Heimosalmi is a 5’11” RHD playing in Finland’s U20 junior level this year, where he put up 21 points in 35 games for Ässät which led all draft eligible defensemen in the league. According to a Finnish Junior Hockey blog, he plays in all situations. As you might expect from the number of points, he is a good offensive defenseman. For those who have seen him, they report that he is very quick and mobile on his skates and with the puck on his stick. That helps him in the offensive zone to set up scoring chances, and in the defensive zone to elude pressure and exit the zone. If he has some flaws, he can be a bit shot happy at times but not to an extreme extent, and he has some difficulty being physical to break up cycles or close out on a puck carrier in the neutral zone. He’s only listed as 154 lbs, so he has some filling out to do. Despite that, he’s not poor defensively — in fact, he might wind up being better defensively than offensively, at least in terms of points. He might be like Travis Dermott in that regard.
For his rankings, there aren’t many reliable scouting folk who have made rankings going beyond the second round. So only a small handful have him ranked at all, and they’re the ones who are high on him. Dobber Prospects has him ranked 63rd, and Scouch has him ranked at 75th as of now. The Leafs don’t have a pick between the 2nd and 5th rounds for now. It would be too early to take Heimosalmi in the 2nd, and he may not be around in the 5th round. But if he does fall that far...
Corson Ceulemans is a 6’2” RHD playing in the AJHL, which automatically invites comparisons to Cale Makar because every defenseman from the AJHL will be compared to him now. Let’s say this straight away: Ceulemans is a good defensive prospect, but he ain’t that good so get Makar out of your head. He’s also very divisive by rankers. McKeen’s has him highest at 14th, but others have him ranked in the 2nd round. For what it’s worth, McKenzie’s early season rankings in the top 20 did not include him, but his mid-season rankings should be out soon. Without a first round pick, Ceulemans is a bit of a stretch to fall to the Leafs in the second round. On the other hand, the top ranked offensive defenseman from the AJHL last year — Michael Benning — fell to the fourth round. Ceulemans is four inches taller though, and this year’s draft isn’t as deep. We’ll see how Bob mentions him in his next rankings.
For what it’s worth, Ceulemans is an interesting prospect. Watching his highlights and reading what people write about him, he’s a very good skater in just about every way you can think of it. He can accelerate quickly, he has a high top speed, and he is agile in terms of making quick cuts and pivots. This makes him a very effective puck carrier, in a way that may make you think of Morgan Rielly. But he can also make good passes up the ice. He can produce in the offensive zone too, and quarterback a powerplay. The biggest criticism I’ve seen of him is that he’s very inconsistent. He can whiff passes, skate into coverage, and have stretches of ineffectiveness. His tools make him exciting, and the AJHL is a weird league to scout by all accounts. I can see why he may be taken in the first round this year, but I can also see how he could fall to the second round. He may have some risk, but the tools are too good to not take if he falls to the Leafs in the second round.
Logan Stankoven is a 5’8” centre playing in the WHL, and he may be my favourite prospect who could fall to the Leafs in the second round. He’s small, yes, but he is a first round talent in every sense. He’s only played in 6 games in the WHL so far, because they started their season so late. But in those 6 games he has 7 goals and 10 points, after having 29 goals and 48 points in 59 games last year as a 16/17 year old. Players who are that small need to have a strong mix of exceptional skating, skill, and no timidity when going to any area of the ice. By all accounts, Stankoven has all of that. He has a wicked shot, is an effective passer, and is just a waterbug all over the ice. He is aggressive in the offensive zone and on the forecheck. He uses his skating ability to get on defenseman too fast for them to react, and will not shy away from engaging physically even if it’s just to give them a bump to knock them off balance a bit. As a center, he maintains that same fast and intense play in all three zones, making him very effective overall. His underlying numbers are hilarious in a small sample this year. He’ll likely move to the wing if he makes the NHL, but he could be a special winger.
To many people whose scouting opinions I trust, he is first-round pick worthy. Scott Wheeler has him 21st, Will Scouch has him 15th, Dobber Prospects has him 32rd, and Smaht Scouting has him 29th. Pretty much all of those have said they’re moving him up too. But he’s still small, and there is a history of small but very talented players falling out of the first round. Nick Robertson, Alex DeBrincat, and so on. Since he has played so few games, I would almost be willing to bet money that he falls out of the first round. I will be very curious to see where he lands on Bob McKenzie’s next ranking and will be praying come draft day that he falls into the 50’s.
Matthew Samoskevich is a 5’11” center/winger on the Chicago Steel that’s overshadowed by the likes of Matt Coronato and Sean Farrell, but could wind up better than both. The Other Matt (not his actual name) has 36 points in 34 games for the high-powered Chicago Steel. You may think his points are inflated because of that, but he pulls his own weight. At the All-American Prospects game, with the likes of Coronato and top-prospect Cole Sillinger, Samoskevich shined as bright as anyone. He has a good shot, but is more of a playmaker to set up his teammates. He’s also a very good skater, which is where has a clear edge on Coronato. His skating makes him a very effective transition player, to carry the puck through the neutral zone and enter the offensive zone with control. Coronato may have all the points, but Samoskevich may wind up having a better career in the long run as his tools are more projectable to the NHL.
Now, unfortunately Samoskevich is someone who I had included before the Leafs traded their first rounder. He’s a guy who is currently ranked as a late first/early second rounder, but I’m pretty skeptical that he falls down as far as the Leafs’ second round pick. He’s not super small, and he’s playing on a high profile team or in high profile games. People will know about him, and he’s been playing all year. He’s someone else I’ll be curious to see where McKenzie ranks him when he updates his list, but I could see him winding up being a late first round guy.
Ville Koivunen is a 6’0” forward playing in Finland’s U20 junior level who has some bonkers numbers. He leads the league for draft eligible players with 49 points in 38 games, but that might even underrate how much he’s dominated the level. Lassi Alanen manually tracks the big name prospects in Finland, and you can see Koivunen on his own in just about every area. He is the leader, or among them, in individual shot rate, shot assists, individual expected goals and assists, and expected goals against for forwards. The combination of his points and underlying numbers — both offensive and defensive — is exciting. People who have watched him play back all of that up. Koivunen is very good. He gets such exceptional results for having a very effective mix of skill and smarts. He has talent, and he knows how to use it to impact the play at both ends of the ice. The one knock on him is his skating — not that it’s bad, but it’s not exceptional which is what people look for in top picks.
Finland’s U20 junior isn’t exactly the strongest junior level. So for a top prospect, he should be dominating like that. However, most top prospects in Finland should also be getting some Liiga games, like Räty has. But Koivunen played all year in the junior level. I’m not sure if that’s the only reason, but not many people have Koivunen ranked at all so far. Most rankings at this time of year go only as far as the first two rounds, maybe some honourable mentions. Scouch has him ranked 32nd — a borderline first rounder — while his other rankings are in the low 60’s at the end of the second round. I’d love for someone like Stankoven, Martino, Morrow or Brent Johnson to fall to the Leafs in the late second round. They’re all potentially ranked as late first/early second rounders, and would be legitimate falls. Koivunen may be ranked as a late second round guy (for now), but he’s someone I would also call a potential steal if the Leafs pick him. He played on the same team as Kalle Loponen too, so the Leafs will have had a good look at him.
I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel as far as any goalies that anyone knows about, but I’ll include one last name that I’ve heard good things about. Owen Bartoszkiewicz is a 6’2” American goalie playing in the NAHL, which is a pretty lesser known junior league. That’s not to say that no goalies have ever come from the league — you have maybe heard of Connor Hellebuyck? He’s pretty good, I heard.
Bartoszkiewicz has a lot of things going for him. He’s a good size for a goalie. He’s a good athlete, according to some tracking done by Josh Tessler who measures goalie’s up/down and side/side time. Mr. Tessler also tracks low and high danger rebound rates for goalies, where Barty also has very strong numbers. And, to top it all off, he has a .922 sv%, which is 2nd most in the NAHL for draft eligible goalies — except he’s played more than double the amount of games as the guy who has the highest, and he’s on an expansion team with a high work load.
Another name I’m curious about is Arseni Sergeyev. He’s 6’3”, from Russia but also playing in the NAHL. He has a bonkers .948 sv%, but only in 13 games — so he’s the leading draft eligible goalie for sv% ahead of Bartoszkiewicz I mentioned above. The thing is, I can find no information about him outside of his EP page. There are some tweets from 2019 with highlights, and one 2020 tweet saying he’s improved without any specifics. So... no idea about him, and 13 games isn’t a lot. If I can find anything about him closer to the draft I may do a smaller write up on him, but that’s all I got for now.
Either Bartoszkiewicz or Sergeyev will likely be available in the laaaaaaaaate rounds, considering the league they play in. Hellebuyck in his draft year had even better numbers than Bartoszkiewicz in 53 games, and he was drafted by the Jets in the 5th round.
Which of these prospects interests you the most?
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