One theme that I hope comes through in all of my prospect writing is looking at reasons why certain prospects become undervalued. If you’re going to be able to draft consistently well, you can (slightly) increase your odds by taking guys in later rounds who are worth a higher pick but fall due to [reasons].
It could be that the player is not in one of the high profiles leagues (CHL, USHL, NCAA), or because they have a late birthday for the draft, or because — and this may shock you to hear — a lot of Hockey Men are wary of “smaller” hockey players. The amount of times that a prospect falls because the worry is that they’re too small to perform well at the highest levels of hockey is numerous.
However, that stereotype exists for a reason. For all of the Alex DeBrincat’s, Danny Briere’s, Johnny Gaudreau’s and Brad Marchand’s that make the NHL and excel despite being 5’9” or smaller, there are numerous other small players who don’t.
That caveat aside, small players can still excel in the NHL even if they have a smaller (heh) margin for error. They can’t afford to be poor skaters and they have to have at least some high-end skills, because they’re not going to get by on physically dominating the opposition.
Which brings us to Logan Stankoven. He is a small forward playing in the WHL, and he might be my favourite prospect in this draft. I watched one of his games in the WHL, and all of the Team Canada games at the U18 tournament he played in. I’ve probably seen the most games of his than any one of the prospects I will profile.
THE BASICS: STATS AND CONTEXT
So if you couldn’t tell from the intro, Logan Stankoven is small. He’s listed as 5’8” on Elite Prospects. We know by now that size might not be everything, but for reference there is only a small (heh) amount of active players in the NHL who are 5’8” or shorter, and they are:
- Nathan Gerbe (5’4”)
- Rocco Grimaldi (5’6”)
- Alex DeBrincat (5’7”)
- Blake Lizotte (5’7”)
- Cole Caufield (5’7”)
- Cam Atkinson (5’8”)
- Joe Hicketts (5’8”)
- Kailer Yamamoto (5’8”)
- Mats Zuccarello (5’8”)
- Matthew Peca (5’8”)
- Tyler Johnson (5’8”)
Not a lot of elite stars among this group, but there are some very effective players. DeBrincat has a 40 goal season under his belt, and was on pace to top 30 or even 40 goals in two other seasons. Tyler Johnson has been a perennial 50+ point player for the Lightning, including a 72 point season. Cam Atkinson has two seasons of 30+ goals, and one that topped 40 goals. Zuccarello has been a 0.69 (nice) point per game player. or 57 points per 82 games, in over 600 career NHL games.
So small players can succeed, and Logan Stankoven has succeeded everywhere he’s gone. This year, due to the pandemic-shortened season and needing to quarantine in order to play for Canada in the World U18 championship, he only played in six games in the WHL. In those games, he scored 7 goals and 10 points. In that U18 tournament, he tied for 15th with 8 points in 7 games. As a WHL rookie in a shortened season, he had 29 goals in 59 games as a 16/17 year old. That was good enough to finish second in rookie of the year voting, losing only to Dylan Guenther who will likely be a top 5 pick in the NHL draft this year.
And even though it doesn’t mean a lot, I also want to point out the year before his rookie WHL season, he played in an U18 major junior league in BC as a 15/16 year old. He led the league in scoring with 49 goals and 101 points in 38 games. That’s hilarious enough on its own, but whacky offense in major junior is par for the course. Except... I want to point out that the second best player by points had only 58 points. So he almost lapped the field, and finished ahead by 38 points and in goals by 15 goals when the season was only 38 games long. He actually set the single season record for goals scored in any major midget BC hockey league. The point (heh) is that Logan Stankoven is that despite being “small”, Logan Stankoven has been an elite offensive talent anywhere he’s played.
That’s just objectively hilarious to me.
Here are his draft rankings, as of writing this:
- Bob McKenzie: 44th
- Will Scouch: 15th
- Scott Wheeler: 18th
- Elite Prospects: 26th
- Dobber Prospects: 23rd
- Smaht Scouting: 28th
THE GOOD: COMPLETE OFFENSIVE PACKAGE
The reason why Logan Stankoven is ranked in the second round by Bob McKenzie is (likely) because he is smaller. And the reason why pretty much every public scouting outlet still has him ranked in the first round is because he has one of the most complete offensive profiles in this draft.
His standout skill is his goal scoring. First, because he has a very good shot but also because he can score in other ways aside from just sniping shots. As a result, he will likely be more of a goal scorer thanks to his elite shot that doesn’t just have the power and accuracy, but he is also being able to shoot it, or to use his shot in multiple ways. He can use deception to surprise goalies, and though it is not as good all-around as Auston Matthews, he is capable of using similar tricks — shoot through defenders, curl and drags, quick unexpected snap shots, and so on. It makes his shot that much better.
His biggest weapon is his ridiculous release. He possesses one of the best shots in the draft and doesn’t shy away from using it. He finished last season with 29 goals and would have likely topped 30 in his age-16 season had COVID-19 not shut down the season prematurely. What makes Stankoven’s shot so dangerous is his ability to change angles and shoot from a variety of positions without sacrificing his pop. Whether it be a quick curl and drag or a one-time pass into his feet, Stankoven’s natural shooting ability is high-end.
He is also very aggressive offensively, both with and without the puck. He will forecheck hard and does not let his size prevent him from engaging physically when chasing down the puck. He is relentless in applying pressure, and will buzz around the offensive zone when his team has the puck to either support teammates with a passing option, or to head into dangerous areas so if he does get a pass he’s in a better position for a dangerous scoring chance.
Here he takes a pass surrounded by two defenders, and the goalie square to him. Instead of going for the goal himself, which he still may have been able to score with his shot, he freezes the goalie with a good shot fake and passes to his wide open, undefended teammate with a much more open net.
He is all about attacking. Skate hard and fast with the puck, pass it into dangerous areas, shoot it from dangerous areas. He doesn’t just fire shots from distance, the quality of his shots and chances are more impressive than the quantity. According to Will Scouch’s manual tracking data (paywalled data), Stankoven has an elite offensive profile in one of the top junior leagues in the world. He generates the highest rate (per 60) and highest percentage of shots, passes, scoring chances, and overall offensive threat. But he also has arguably the best profile for specifically high danger shots, passes, scoring chances, and so on.
Similar to Frölunda’s Lucas Raymond, Stankoven plays a high-tempo game and is a menace in the offensive zone. He rushes towards the puck and plays the puck hard. Stankoven has elite forechecking ability and if his opponent has the puck along the boards in their own zone, he applies pressure to limit open lanes and capture possession of the puck. While some prospects are much stronger as a forechecker and are not as strong in the neutral and defensive zones, Stankoven is the opposite. When he is in his own zone and the neutral zone, he does not leave many gaps for his opponents.
This clip is a great illustration of his aggressiveness and creativity. He skates hard into the zone to back off the defenders, stops hard, skates around to use two defenders as a pick for each other, fakes a backward pass to freeze the defenders again and gives him a clear path into the slot for a wide open look.
Speed creates space, @LoganStankoven knows what to do with the space he creates for @blazerhockey. It helps he has also laser for a shot @TheWHL @CHLHockey #REMAXHub— Zach Hodder (@ZachHodder) April 6, 2021
How it Happens ️ pic.twitter.com/QO2enKlKpW
On top of his shooting and aggressive offensive style, Stankoven is also an effective playmaker. Even if he has more goals than assists, he is very capable at making good, effective passes. He passes a lot, and succeeds on a high percentage of them — including to dangerous scoring areas, not just simple passes back to the point.
Most of all, Stankoven is also just smart. That’s a very in vogue buzzword for scouting prospects, but it is true for him. He is smart at reading plays and positioning himself in ways that increases his effectiveness, whether he has the puck or not. He is smart in how he maneuvers himself physically to make the most out of his abilities. He has the skill, but he knows how to use it to maximize his effectiveness.
Some other small notes about things I like about Stankoven, but which are not necessarily huge or elite strengths of his. For a small forward, he is reliable defensively. He’s by no means going to be Mark Stone, but the effort is almost always there. He’ll use his smarts for reading the play combined with some physical tricks I just mentioned above to break up passes and steal pucks from opponents. At the very least you can say he won’t be a defensive liability.
Stankoven is able to utilize his quick feet to gain body position and work his way between his opponent and the puck. He has great positional habits and great stick placement to be effective in a larger area than his size might normally allow. Stankoven is effective in all three zones, but his best offensive skill is his ability to transition the puck with speed and push the puck deep into the offensive zone. Stankoven also does an incredible job of reading the play and anticipating where the puck is going to be. The number of intercepted passes or loose pucks he was able to jump on through the NZ and OZ was highly impressive and really enabled Canada to maintain pressure on their opponents.
Curtis Schwartzkopf at Future Considerations has a great article combining analytics from manually tracked data, along with clips showing how he is able to effectively play physical despite being shorter. He may only be 5’8” but he is very smart with how he uses his body for leverage, and at 170 lbs he’s already as “big” as all of the other NHL players who share the same height, with potential to add more muscle and weight. That will help him make up for the physical disadvantages he may have due to his height.
He’ll get low, brace his legs, and throw his butt in the way of an opponent to block them off from the puck. It helps him protect the puck or prevent them from getting to it first with their longer reach. At a higher level, I can see how this trick might not work as well against opponents who are much bigger or stronger, or who know how to counter that trick. But considering he’s small, where he makes contact with them makes it hard for them to respond. They can get bumped off balance, or be forced to take a penalty to try by hooking or grabbing him out of instinct.
THE FLAWS: SOME NITPICKS
There are only three smaller (heh) flaws in Stankoven as a prospect. First, he’s short and that’s not nothing, but I don’t think it’s a major issue for him. The issues that all smaller players can face have to do with space and physical play, where bigger players with longer reach and better skating than the junior level are able to take away a smaller player’s space. It can push a smaller player to the perimeter, where it’s a lot harder for them to be effective.
There are some things a small player can do to avoid these issues in the NHL: they have to be a fast and/or agile skater, they have to be very offensively skilled, they have to still be strong for their height, and they have to avoid shying away from scrums and dangerous scoring areas. They don’t necessarily have to have all of those, but you sure do improve your chances of success in the NHL if you do. In this case, I believe Stankoven pretty much covers all of those needs. There is only one small (heh) concern of all of those, and that is...
Second, he’s a good skater but not a great one. He is fast, and he is agile, enough that I am not concerned about it. But it is an area of improvement from what I have read, but considering his work ethic and that he already has a good foundation to work with, I think the Leafs and specifically Barb Underhill can work on improving it.
Some extra details to explain it from Joel Henderson at Future Considerations:
He skates with a wider frame and quick strides which hinders the power in his top speed but gives him the ability to shift his weight and explode laterally if he needs to on zone entries. That same explosiveness lets him get to loose pucks first.
Third, he is a good playmaker but his passing can be inconsistent. This is especially the case with longer passes. But he can identify seems, and is adept with drop passes and shorter saucer passes. I don’t know if this is a mechanical issue for him or a matter of a lack of strength that can throw off his accuracy at higher distances. If it is an issue with strength or mechanics, that’s another thing I think can be improved upon with further physical development with the Leafs’ team. There is a chance that his passing will always be inconsistent in this regard, but it is worth noting that despite this “flaw”, his analytics for shot assists and dangerous passing completion percentages is still very strong at his current level.
Pretty much any major public scouting outlet ranks Stankoven in the first round. Bob McKenzie’s rankings, which was after Stankoven started playing in the WHL but before the U18 tournament, has him in the middle of the second round. That may increase a bit because of how well he played on a big international stage, but I’m skeptical that it will be enough to get him into the first round. The issue will be, while smaller players are the most likely kind to fall from where even the Bobfather ranks him, he’s also probably not going to fall far enough to where the Leafs will ultimately pick in the second round.
But like I said in the piece on Scott Morrow, Logan Stankoven is one of the two players in this draft who I love and reeeeeaaaaaally hope the Leafs can snag. If the Leafs are going to pick in the second round, I swing on someone who is a potential first round talent but drops due to relatively insignificant concerns. I don’t think the Leafs should prioritize trading up, in the sense of deliberately spending more picks to move up in the draft. But if they swing a trade involving roster players that nets them a higher second round pick, or even a low first round pick, I would absolutely use that on Stankoven if he’s still available. I’ll hope that this hypothetical pick the Leafs get is before the likes of Minnesota, Carolina, and other smart NHL teams pick again because I don’t see him slipping past all of them.
Simply put: Stankoven is one of the best pure elite offensive players available in this draft. If he was even two inches taller, I think he’d be a guaranteed first rounder if not top 15 guy. Most scouting people already think he should be a top 15 guy. He has it all: puck carrying, passing, shooting, pure play making, the lot. Him being 5’8” is a mild concern, or he wouldn’t be likely to fall to the second round.
But the important thing for me is that he has everything a smaller player needs in order to be successful in spite of his height. He has all of the skill mentioned above, and best of all he doesn’t let being small prevent him from being effective. He’s a bulldog without being reckless like Nick Robertson can be. He is smart with using his body to be physical without making himself vulnerable. He’s a quick and agile skater and creative with his dekes and fakes to prevent defenders from squaring him up — not quite as good as someone like Mitch Marner does, at least not yet. And he is generally fearless. He will engage physically when the situation calls for it. He won’t shy away from scrums, but will dive in to fish the puck out. This is what separates him from, say, Veeti Miettinen, who is more of a perimeter guy who looks to be opportunistic.
I admit I have a real soft spot for smaller players who are fearless and can just rip it with a wicked shot. Stankoven has all of that and more, and I am putting all my paychecks until the draft into buying live chickens and goats to sacrifice to the hockey gods that the Leafs somehow draft him (or Morrow).