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2021 NHL Draft Profile: Marcus Almquist

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He’s small, he’s Danish, and he can rip it.

2021 NCAA Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Championship - Northeast Regional Photo by Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images

I’ve said before that I have a soft spot for smaller players that can absolutely rip it. See: Robertson, Nick; Miettinen, Veeti; and my previous profile on Stankoven, Logan. When you’re a small sniper playing in the CHL, and you have more aggressive elements to your game, you’re someone who might fall to the second round. But when you’re playing in an obscure league in Europe, like Veeti Miettinen (Finnish junior), you don’t get nearly the same attention and hype.

Now, Veeti Miettinen lacks elements of his game that Robertson and Stankoven do. He’s more of a perimeter sniper, and is arguably not as good of a skater. But for a sixth round pick? I loved swinging on him. Being able to score goals is one of the most valuable skills to have for a forward, and Miettinen’s shot is elite.

Which brings me to Marcus Almquist. He has a number of things going against him: he’s even shorter than Logan Stankoven, he played half of this season in Sweden’s junior league and the other half in Denmark’s pro league. The pro league part is good! But it’s still Denmark.

And that’s why I’m looking at Almquist as another Miettinen-like pick in the sixth round for the Leafs. Because he fits a very similar profile.

THE BASICS: STATS AND CONTEXT

Marcus Almquist is a 5’7” winger from Denmark, making him one inch shorter than Stankoven and two inches shorter than Miettinen and Robertson. In the article for Stankoven I mentioned how there was only 11 players in the NHL this season who were 5’8” or shorter. If you look at players who are 5’7” or shorter, that number is cut down to five. So suffice to say, Almquist is a longshot to make the NHL. That’s why he’ll likely be available in the later rounds of this draft — he may even go undrafted.

But he has a lot going for him, and it’s his ability to produce offensively. He played in only 19 games in Sweden’s U20 junior league this year before it was shut down due to COVID. In that time, he finished 7th in the league in points with 10 goals and 13 assists. If you filter that list to only include draft-eligibles this year, he finished second.

He then spent the rest of the season back home in Denmark’s pro league, where added 5 goals and 1 assist in another 19 games playing against men. Among draft eligible players, his six points were behind only three behind Kasper Larsen — a defenseman who played in 43 games.

And that’s not the first time he played professional hockey in Denmark. In 2018/19, as a 15 year old, he played 21 games in Denmark’s 2nd tier professional league, and was a point per game player with 21 points. Denmark may have relatively weak professional competition, but being that young, and that small, and succeeding against bigger and older men is impressive.

And this is where I point out his birthday. Marcus Almquist was born on September 13th, 2003. That makes him only three days away from not being eligible until the 2022 NHL draft, making him comparable to Nick Robertson who is a September 11th birthday of his draft year. So not only has Marcus Almquist been one of the better point-generating forwards in Europe entering this draft, but he’s also the youngest. He has been succeeding against much bigger and older players even among his peers for his whole life.

One fun fact I would point out: despite being eligible for the NHL draft one year after Veeti Miettinen was, Almquist is only 7 days shy of being two full years younger than him. That’s how much extra time for development he has. Another fun fact: despite being two years younger and two inches shorter, Almquist is already heavier than Miettinen (168 lbs vs 159 lbs). So despite being shorter, he is not necessarily as easy to push around.

Next season, Almquist could either continue to play in Europe — probably Sweden, either in their U20 junior league, the SHL or potentially a mix of both. But he was also picked by Victoria in the WHL’s import draft. It would be interesting to see how he would fare in either case, and I’d prefer to see how he fares in the SHL in a better quality professional league if he gets that shot.

Here are his draft rankings, as of writing this:

  • Bob McKenzie: Unranked
  • Will Scouch: 57th
  • Scott Wheeler: Honourable Mention (Outside top 100)
  • Elite Prospects: Unranked
  • Dobber Prospects: Unranked
  • Smaht Scouting: 53rd

THE GOOD: SKATING, SHOT

Unfortunately, I did not have any chance of watching a full game of Almquist’s. It’s not easy to find streams of Swedish junior or Danish pro league hockey, and he did not play in any major international tournaments like the World U18s. His profile is interesting enough to that soft spot of my heart that I basically scoured the internet to find as many clips as I could. I also found a video on YouTube (he’s #12 in red) that showed all of his shifts from a game cut together, which is close to as good as a full game.

What I saw was a smaller player who did not stand out all that strongly, but neither in a good or a bad way. He was one of the faster skaters on the ice, but not so much faster than anyone else. He had some skill, able to pull off a couple of dangles and set up a teammate for a great chance off the rush with a nice pass. He did try some other skilled moves that were broken up, and I think he still needs to get bigger, stronger, faster, and just overall better to become dominant in that league.

And to be clear, I don’t view any of that as bad. To be at worst an average player in a men’s pro league at his age and size is impressive on its own. To flash above average abilities is even better. I think if he played a full year in Sweden’s U20 league and finished near the top of the leaderboard in goals and points, he’d have more hype at this draft. But because of COVID and because he played half his season in Denmark, his already slim chances of getting a lot of attention basically went to zero.

When it comes to what skills and traits are his strengths, the two things that he does well are skating and shooting. It does not seem that either are particularly elite, in the same way that Miettinen’s shot was already just so good. However, I think that Almquist is arguably ahead of where Miettinen was two years ago as a prospect overall. I think he will wind up being a better skater and more complete player.

In that video I watched, I was pleased to see Almquist doing some little things. Protecting the puck, knocking an opponent into the boards, stripping them of the puck, taking an opponent down with him when he himself was knocked to the ice. Even if he was easier to get pushed around, it didn’t necessarily deter him and he was — at times — able to fight back enough to make plays.

From Derek Neumeier at Future Considerations:

He is incredibly quick and agile, and has a stellar pair of mitts. When he gets the puck in the offensive zone he can really buzz as he darts around, slips through or around traffic and funnels pucks into dangerous areas. Zone exits and entries with possession aren’t problems for him. His decisions with the puck aren’t perfect, but he is capable of creating dangerous chances out of nothing in a way that most other prospects aren’t. Can slow the play down in the offensive zone to find his openings or up the pace to force mistakes. Doesn’t get any power behind his shots because he is tiny and slight, though his precision with the puck should allow him to score goals in tight. Is elusive with his feet and can curl to protect the puck.

His other strength is his skating, which is also very good but maybe not elite. He is quick and agile more than he is very fast, but that’s somewhat by necessity. He aims to be more elusive to avoid getting hit, which helps him a lot when he carries the puck through the neutral zone, which I thought was where he stood out the most in the Denmark pro game. It can help him in the offensive zone too, as he was constantly moving around the ice looking for uncovered areas to take a pass and fire his shot.

From Will Scouch:

Marcus Almquist is a player who has so much talent, but not much of a feel for the game in a unit. He’s skilled, quick, covers a tremendous amount of ice, and just a ton of fun to watch regardless of when he’s playing. He’s a guy who isn’t doing a whole lot except zipping around open ice, but when he gets the puck, he has some high skill, high fun moments that make him a very interesting pickup.

From Josh Bell at Future Considerations:

Nice use of crossovers to change direction and gain the zone. Some nice skating – not elite, but very good. Speed and agility are what stand out. While he’s planted net-front on the cycle often, he doesn’t crash the middle when entering the zone on the rush. He opts to sticking to the outside lanes, often circling the net for a pass. Will need to find those lanes to the net. Nice edges and puck protection. Doesn’t hold it under pressure too often, usually moves it while he still has space, but does well here.

THE FLAWS: PHYSICALITY, SIZE, OFF-PUCK PLAY

There is ultimately no way of getting around the fact that Marcus Almquist is very small — there’s a reason why only five players of his height or shorter played at least one game in the NHL this year. It’s just that much harder for them to make the full use of their abilities when they’re playing against the biggest, fastest, and strongest hockey players in the league.

While he had some fight to him in the Denmark pro league, he was definitely being overpowered at times. As a result, the game that Almquist played was more on the perimeter. He was constantly moving through open space, but he would go to the net or cut into more high traffic areas at times as well. He would generally shy away from contact and would look to use his stick or strike at opportune moments, but would also engage more physically a few times.

He is still so young that he has more time to get stronger, maybe even grow another inch — he was listed as 5’5” back in October 2020! But that strength will make other areas of his game better. He’ll be more difficult to push around, his shot will have some added zip, and his skating will become more explosive. It might also help him play more physical when he needs to, such as defensively in his own zone, and helping his line in the offensive zone if there’s some cycling or scrums off a faceoff.

Because the same concerns that are still there with Miettinen will be there with Almquist. And yet with Miettinen, in his draft year he was setting records in Finland’s U20 league. Almquist in his draft year was not leading the Swedish U20 league, even if it’s better competition and even if he’s almost a full year younger. His offensive skills and production will need to be truly elite if the rest of his game is held back in the NHL by the detriments of his size. And it’s not fully clear that it would be.

OVERALL ASSESSMENT

If you’re underwhelmed by the profile, highlights and numbers for Almquist, considering where he played, congratulations! You’ve just discovered we’re talking about a sixth round pick. But, to me, he’s not underwhelming. I see promise. I see promise in his age relative to other draft eligibles, in his set of skills, in his potential upside, and in what he’s already been able to do as a much smaller and younger player throughout his hockey life.

Because in the sixth round, you’re not looking at players who have such high end skill that Almquist does or the potential to grow as much as Almquist may. We’ve seen how much development a guy with that late a birthday can have in one season, with Nick Robertson. We’ve seen how a smaller, seemingly one-dimensional sixth round forward can perform at higher levels with Miettinen in the NCAA. There is overwhelming odds that Almquist never makes the NHL.

But he’s a player I would absolutely roll the dice on, if he’s still available when the Leafs pick in the sixth round. He’s just fun, and I can see a world where he becomes even more fun at higher levels.