This is the third part of a series I will be writing, trying to find hidden gems in the 2020 draft that fall through the cracks for one reason or another. Here are the others if you missed them:
Last year, the Toronto Maple Leafs were in a similar situation as now in that they were without a first round pick. Despite that, they hit a home run with their 2nd round pick in Nick Robertson — a small, young, and highly underrated winger from the OHL who turned into a goal scoring monster. They also seemed to hit a solid double with the Mikhail Abramov pick, who fell to them in the fourth round.
This year the Leafs will try to do it all again, though maybe not to the same level of success. Here are 8 potential steals from draft eligible prospects in the OHL that could fall to the Leafs in the 2nd or 4th rounds.
Martin Chromiak — Right Shot Winger
- Height: 6’0”
- Weight: 181 lbs
- Birthdate: Aug 20, 2002
- Team: Kingston Frontenacs (3rd last)
- Elite Prospects page: https://www.eliteprospects.com/player/292067/martin-chromiak
- 2019/20 Stats: 33 points in 28 games for Kingston/
Martin Chromiak is a right shot forward who plays left wing from Slovakia. He had a weird season in 2019/2020 — he actually started playing in Slovakia’s men’s professional league, and had 6 points in 32 games before coming to OHL in January. I had read that he was promised more ice time in Slovakia, but when they didn’t really happen he chose to come to the OHL to get more playing time for his development.
Since he didn’t dominate his country’s professional league and only has 28 OHL games to his name, he unsurprisingly didn’t have a lot of draft hype through most of the season.
But when he did arrive in the OHL, he was on fire from the word go. His 33 points in 28 games for the third worst team in the OHL gives him the most points per game on the team. Now, from what I can tell he pretty much played all 28 of his OHL games with Shane Wright and you may chalk up some of Chromiak’s success to that. However, there are a few points I want to make:
First, here are Shane Wright’s rate stats before and after Chromiak joined the team:
Shane Wright with and without Martin Chromiak
Second, Chromiak’s international experience for Slovakia has been stellar his whole life. Last year he played 23 international games for Slovakia between the U20’s, U18’s, and Hlinka Gretzky tournament. In those games he had 9 goals and 17 assists for 26 points. He led Slovakia in points (or points per game when he didn’t play as much as others) in every tournament.
So I think that at the very least, Chromiak helped Shane Wright as much as Shane Wright helped Chromiak. He’s been a driving force for all his team’s offense wherever he goes.
Martin Chromiak Scouting Report:
A skilled and confident puck carrier, Chromiak is strong and dangerous in transition. He shows the ability to elude defenders through the neutral zone and is able to help Kingston gain the offensive zone. He is strong along the wall where he keeps his feet moving and his quick hands allow him to be difficult to separate from the puck. Chromiak can accept passes on both his backhand and forehand and is able to finish off plays in tight with those aforementioned quick hands and a quick release. Chromiak is also very good at getting his stick on point shots for deflections, which again is an example of his good hands. He is also good at creating space for himself to utilize his shot, either with a toe drag or stutter step.
You can see that Chromiak has a strong hockey IQ. He is always reading his teammates and quickly pin-points where on the ice that he needs to be. In addition, Chromiak is constantly looking for the puck. He jumps on loose pucks and consistently forechecks when his opponent is in their own zone with the puck. In terms of his skating, he is not the sleekest skater on the ice, but he has a quality stride and deploys cross-overs well when he shifts up and down the half-wall. His turn radius is rather tight, which is particularly helpful in situations such as when a forecheck fails, he can quickly regroup and skate back to his own zone.
All-in-all, Chromiak looks like he could be a solid second-round selection on the draft night. He has top-six upside and can be pivotal on special teams. There is a lot to like about the Slovakian national.
Before his success in the OHL, Chromiak was ranked somewhere in the 3rd round on average — some ranked him even lower. His impressive OHL stint has him skyrocketing up the rankings, however. As of writing this he’s still in the mid-second round range on average, where he could fall to the Leafs. I think he might still be a bit underrated but that gap has closed considerably. I’m in love with him, and I do hope the Leafs have a chance at him.
Martin Chromiak Highlights:
Jaromir Pytlik — Center
- Height: 6’3”
- Weight: 201 lbs
- Birthdate: Sep 25, 2001
- Elite Prospects page: https://www.eliteprospects.com/player/318885/jaromir-pytlik
- 2019/20 Stats: 50 points in 56 games for the Soo Greyhounds/
If you’ve followed past drafts and talks about prospects, you know how important it is for them to a) make major international tournaments (WJC and Hlinka) and b) have strong performances. They are brief moments of major exposure while competing against other top prospects your age. To some extent, it makes sense... but sometimes people will way over or underrate a player solely because of them.
Take Jaromir Pytlik. As 6’3” center (though he has played on the wing sometimes too) close to a point per game, you’d think he would be a virtual lock to be a first round pick. But that isn’t actually the case. Some people project him for the first round (Future Considerations, Scott Wheeler) but others (McKeen’s, Elite Prospects, NHL Central Scouting) have him ranked in the second or even third rounds.
I’ve seen some of the above prospect outlets specifically mention his sub-par performances at the World Juniors (1 point in 5 games) and Hlinka (2 points in 4 games). I’ve also read that he was moved between center and the wing often in those tournaments, and he struggled to stick to his position during play. That’s certainly a problem, but not a major red flag to me.
Especially if it means he winds up falling to the Leafs as one of the best available players on the board.
Jaromir Pytlik Scouting Reports:
Pytlik’s blend of size and skill pushed him into pro hockey earlier than he should have been but his move to the OHL last season helped him get back on track and build confidence ahead of this year, where he has taken off. Though his offensive game isn’t particularly flashy (he’s not going to pull you out of your seat), Pytlik moves well for his size, is a lot to handle with and without the puck along the wall and is surprisingly skilled in traffic with the puck on his stick.
From Future Considerations:
“Pytlik is an interesting player to me because I think he plays with a great pace and I have been impressed with his skating and transition game,” Galloway said. “He’s a great offensive talent that combines smarts, skill, speed and compete to get pucks to the centre lane in the offensive zone.”
His crossovers and edge work are sound. In terms of his defensive awareness, Pytlik will not consistently battle along the boards for the puck, but there are times where he will be more active along the boards. When he is at open ice, he makes great poke checks and constantly looks for the optimal time to pounce on the puck. His biggest asset is his play in the offensive zone. You can count on Pytlik for accurate passes to and from anywhere on the ice. He is quite effective at creating space for himself and finding holes in the offensive zone to help his team capitalize.
Pytlik just has some tantalizing size and offensive abilities that intrigue me, and he’s reportedly already a very effective penalty killer and two-way center. I’d be awful tempted if he falls to the Leafs in the second round, depending on who else was available.
Jaromir Pytlik Highlights:
Jaromir Pytlik registered 50 points (22g, 28a) in 56 #OHL games in his draft season.— Czech Prospects (@CZprospects) March 30, 2020
Great skater with a good size and an all around complete game, strong with the puck.
Here are all 22 goals Pytlik scored for @OHLHoundPower this season.#2020NHLDraft pic.twitter.com/47TkIsNowV
James Hardie - Left Wing
- Height: 5’11”
- Weight: 176 lbs
- Birthdate: Jan 18, 2002
- Elite Prospects page: https://www.eliteprospects.com/player/502844/james-hardie
- 2019/20 Stats: 63 points in 59 games for Mississauga/
James Hardie is an interesting and polarizing prospect. In the first half of the season he struggled with consistency and went through a big 14 game rut where he had 0 goals and 2 assists. At the midway point of the season Hardie had 11 goals and 18 points in 30 games. There are a few articles around January that noted he was very poor defensively and how he played without the puck. He was inconsistent and pulling the old Jason Blake maneuver — shooting from anywhere no matter how poor the shot quality was.
So on the one hand, you’d think with those question marks and stats, it’s not surprising for me to tell you he didn’t have very good rankings. But let’s put that into perspective: even outlets and scouts that have released preliminary rankings, mock drafts, or their final rankings published since the hockey seasons ended either do not have him ranked at all (but their rankings only go as far as the first three or four rounds) or they have him ranked shockingly low. NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings, for example, has him at #163... for North American Skaters. That would make him something like a 6th or 7th round pick when you take into account goalies and European skaters.
Again, fair enough... if the rest of his season progressed the same way as his first half. But once he broke out of that 14 game slump he exploded in the second half — more than doubling his goal rate and tripling his point per game pace.
James Hardie Season Splits
His offense, especially his goal scoring, are enough to have some people pegging him for a mid-round pick. While the surge in points helped make people forget the issues with the other areas of his game, and while some say he did make improvements, he does still need to develop more.
For what it’s worth, I spoke with HardevLad about him — Hardev lives in Mississauga and saw a lot of their games. Where Thomas Harley and Cole Schwindt (two prospects drafted last year) stood out to him, Hardie didn’t. His surge in points are mostly, he thinks, being moved to the top line and being given more ice time.
James Hardie Scouting Reports:
Originally a first-round selection of the Steelheads in the OHL Priority Selection, Hardie improved greatly in his second year in the OHL. The Mississauga Steelheads, a quality young team led by 2019 NHL draft picks Thomas Harley, Cole Schwindt, and Keean Washkurak, had a very strong showing in the second half of the OHL season and Hardie was one of the main reasons for that. He ended up finishing the year as the team’s leader in goals, shots, powerplay goals, game winning goals, and was second in points. Yet, we don’t hear his name very regularly as a potential selection in the first three rounds.
James Hardie of the Mississauga Steelheads is a super intriguing prospect. Hardie is a player that a few years down the road, could quite possibly look like a steal in the mid to later rounds of the draft. He is a very strong skater and a player that handles the puck quite well. He adds that “bite” component to his game as well, as he does not shy away from engaging in physical contact. With a continuation of honing in on this defensive zone coverage and his play away from the puck, we could be talking about a completely different player come next season.
From Brock Otten at OHL Prospects:
A volume shooter, Hardie certainly can sling it. Sometimes, I think his decision making is questionable, as more patience could pay off in certain situations (like spinning off the half wall and firing at a bad angle, rather than continuing to work the cycle or playing it back to a defender). But he does have a very heavy shot and it does generate rebounds that create scoring chances. Additionally, he looks good on the powerplay with that quick release. Unquestionably, he will be among the leading goal scorers in the OHL by the time his OHL career is over. The question is, does his skill set translate and does he do enough other things well to warrant a high ranking? I think his play without the puck has become more consistent in the last month or so as he’s fighting for space and battling in the corners more assertively. But I’d like to see him playing between the dots more, especially with his big shot. I also think that he’s going to need to improve his skating, given his average size (5’11) to improve his game. Goal scorers are valuable though and Hardie does have enough going for him to draw NHL interest in hopes that other parts of his game round into form.
Between Hardev’s comments, these scouting reports, and his Jekyll and Hyde season I am not really sure what to make of him. Some people seem to like the upside he still has, while others note he doesn’t stand out that much and has some real problems to his game. But that’s exactly what a mid-round pick is to me, the performance he flashed in the second half makes him seem like a worthy gamble to make with a fourth or fifth round pick.
James Hardie Highlights:
Mississauga Steelheads winger James Hardie has had a break out season in the OHL. Was one of the biggest risers on my draft board. He has a wicked wrist shot with a variety of releases. Under rated play maker and a pure goal scorer with 34g and 29a in 59GP. #2020NHLDraft #OHL pic.twitter.com/gnHEw6VUjE— matt morrison (@95morrison) March 20, 2020
Zayde Wisdom — Right Wing
- Height: 5’9”
- Weight: 195 lbs
- Birthdate: May 20, 2002
- Elite Prospects page: https://www.eliteprospects.com/player/537563/zayde-wisdom
- 2019/20 Stats: 59 points in 62 games for Kingston/
Zayde Wisdom is the other winger that made up Kingston’s dynamite line with Shane Wright and Martin Chromiak. He had the benefit of playing with Wright pretty much all year, although I would once again argue that the two benefited from each other. With Chromiak, you could see how Wright’s stats increased across the board once he joined. With Wisdom, you can see how his stats before Chromiak arrived were right there with Wright’s.
Zayde Wisdom with Shane Wright
Basically, I think people are too willing to give basically all the credit credit to Wright. He was unbelievable good for a 15/16 year old, but he was still only 15/16 years old. He was a good player in the OHL, but not dominant. Not yet anyways. Meanwhile, Zayde Wisdom was on a bad team overall and playing with a 15/16 year old and averaged close to a point per game, and more than 3 shots per game. That interests me muchly.
Wisdom came into this season not ranked by anyone for this year’s draft. His performance has led him jumping right into many scout’s top three or four rounds. For me, I think he might still be a bit underrated for three reasons: the first is the Shane Wright factor, the second is being on a bad team, the third is that he is only 5’9” (or 5’10” depending on what site you believe). However, regardless of his height Zayde Wisdom is a thicc boy already at 195 lbs.
And since I mentioned it, that may be another reason people have never taken him seriously. When he was 15 and being drafted into the OHL, he was listed at 250 pounds. Apparently a lot of it was baby fat and since then, he’s gotten it under 200 and maybe grown an inch. He is by all accounts an incredibly driven kid who will work his ass off to improve himself. Needs to lose some weight? He lost 50 pounds in 3 years. Needs to work on his skating? He can blow by OHL defenders now.
Zayde Wisdom Scouting Reports:
Wisdom’s skating has improved considerably to the point where he can actually be graded as a slightly above average mover. Part of that comes from the fact that Wisdom never stops moving his feet and appears to have an unending supply of energy on the ice.
Wisdom’s shot is sneaky good. He generates a lot of velocity on his wrist shot and his release has really improved over the course of the season. He is gaining confidence in his ability to create his own scoring lanes and loves to use the toe drag to create space and use his defender as a screen. He also scores a lot of his goals within tight to the crease, where he finishes off second chances or buries pucks into an open net.
He has a very strong understanding of how to play without the puck. On the forecheck, he anticipates passing lanes well and forces turnovers by taking away the defenders’ primary option. He is also very adept at finding scoring lanes, slipping behind defenders and getting into those open spaces. He is not the biggest guy, yet he is so effective in tight to the crease because he reads the play well and is able to get inside positioning on larger defenders.
Wisdom is a good skater with good speed and is markedly improved from a year ago. He is able to get on the forecheck quickly and create havoc. He darts into lanes quickly and without hesitation. He’s a small guy at 5’9” but built like a tank. Quite simply he is the little engine that can with a motor and work ethic that never hits pause.
Wisdom is not afraid to go to the dirty areas, in fact, he has a superb net front presence. You’ll find he parks himself in front of the blue paint and yes, he is hard to move. He’ll score the majority if his goals from the top of or in the paint. But he also has an excellent shot and release that can beat a goaltender from the high slot or coming down his wing. Frankly, with his ability to find open ice combined with his shot, we are a little bit surprised he doesn’t score more of those goals.
Wisdom has also improved on his puck possession and has learned the importance of maintaining possession in today’s game. He is strong on his feet and hard to separate from the puck.
To me, Wisdom sounds a bit like Zach Hyman. Maybe not the flashiest, but a very smart and high effort player that makes the absolute most out of what he has to work with. I admit to having some sentimentality towards him ever since I read this profile on his remarkable life’s story.
He’s not someone I’d look to take with the second round pick, but they do have two picks in the fourth round. If he’s still around in the fourth round I would be awful curious if the Leafs use one of them to take him. And after reading Scott Wheeler’s profile on him I will personally turn a firehose of earwigs on any GM who picks Wisdom before the Leafs can!
Zayde Wisdom Highlights:
Yevgeni Oksentyuk — Left Shot Wing
- Height: 5’8”
- Weight: 163 lbs
- Birthdate: Feb 27, 2001
- Team: Flint Firebirds (5th best)
- Elite Prospects page: https://www.eliteprospects.com/player/517437/yevgeni-oksentyuk
- 2019/20 Stats: 78 points in 58 games/
This is cheating a bit since I wrote about Oksentyuk in the overager piece, but the more I dug into him the more impressed I was. As I wrote in that overager article, it’s not surprising that Oksentyuk was overlooked for last year’s draft. He was a 5’7”, 150-ish pound winger who had only ever played in Belarus.
He had a great U18 WJC tournament, leading Belarus in scoring and leading them to quarter-finals after beating Finland. But you see the size and his 18 points in 49 games in Belarus’ men’s league and... yeah I don’t think many people really saw him, much less formed a strong opinion about him. In fact I checked 2019 final rankings and I could not find a single one that even included him at all — not even the NHL central scouting’s list for top 135 European skaters.
By the end of this season, Oksentyuk finished with the most points on Flint, although top prospect Ty Dellandrea had a higher points per game pace. What is impressive about Oksentyuk’s raw points pace is that only 15 of his 78 points came on the powerplay (19%), where as Dellandrea had 21 of his 70 points on the powerplay (30%). Oksentyuk also averaged more than 3 shots per game, a good pace for an undersized, rookie, European import winger.
Yevgeni Oksentyuk Scouting Reports:
From Dennis Schellenberg, lead European scout for Future Considerations (quoted by OHL Prospects):
Oxentyuk is a gifted offensive catalyst who plays with a lot of energy and a high work rate and compete level. Quick on skates and with explosive strides, he is an exciting player to watch who can combine speed and skill. Loves to play an active game with the puck on his stick. Can use his quick hands and good puckhandling skills to create havoc offensively. Needs to add to his frame, which will make him more effective in physical battles
If Yevgeni Oksentyuk had played in a league that had more exposure, he likely wouldn’t have been undrafted last year. He is a smaller winger but he doesn’t play like one. He invites physicality and generally sets the tone himself. He isn’t afraid to work the puck to the dirty areas of the ice and win puck battles. He is a relentless forechecker and is impressive along the boards considering his size. Oksentyuk is a puck retrieval machine.
His offensive game is dynamic, unpredictable and consistently dangerous. He has a big shot but can sometimes have a hard time hitting the net. The volume of shots that Oksentyuk takes helps in that regard but working on hitting the net with consistency will be key. His vision is solid and he often makes passes that most players don’t think about making. With that creativity comes mistakes, however. The young Belarusian doesn’t lack for effort, often making up for those mistakes with a furious back check to, at a minimum, break up the play going the other way. Yevgeni Oksentyuk is an interesting prospect who teams will look at to play a middle-six skilled pest role. He has the potential to be a 60-point player with an edge.
So Oksentyuk is a small but fiesty, brash and offensively gifted winger with a heavy shot. He is ranked 84th by Future Considerations, and 109th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting. He gets some good reviews by people who watch him, as you can see by the two scouting reports above.
By the time more of the major scouts and aggregate reports come out with their final draft rankings, we might see Oksentyuk moving up the rankings a bit more. The Leafs currently have a 2nd round pick that would be 51st overall if the season ended now, and then no pick again until the fourth round at 113th. Picking Oksentyuk at 51st doesn’t much sense, but given that he is small, from Belarus, and an overager it is conceivable that he could fall to their fourth round pick.
Yevgeni Oksentyuk Highlights:
Tyler Tullio — Right Shot Wing/Center
- Height: 5’9”
- Weight: 161 lbs
- Birthdate: Apr 5, 2002
- Team: Oshawa Generals (8th)
- Elite Prospects page: https://www.eliteprospects.com/player/201944/tyler-tullio
- 2019/20 Stats: 66 points in 62 games (4th on the team)/
In the case of Tyler Tullio, I think there are two reasons why he may be underrated going into this draft. First and most obvious, he is is a small center/winger at only 5’9” and a pretty light 161 pounds. As I mentioned in my overager piece, however, there is something to be said for keeping an eye out for guys who are late bloomers in terms of their physical maturity. For example, while Elite Prospects lists Tullio at 5’9”, his OHL page lists him at 5’11” and 166 lbs. We’ll assume he’s somewhere in that range, but let’s split the middle and say he’s 5’10”. That one inch between 5’9” and 5’10” is pretty big in how you perceive him as a prospect isn’t it?
Second, Tullio played on a strong team full of older offensive stars. Oshawa was led by Philip Tomasino, Nashville’s first round pick last year, who was traded from Niagara and put up 43 points in 26 games with the Generals and 100 total points on the whole season. Then there’s 21 year old Brett Neumann, who led the team with 45 goals and 298 shots. There’s also Allan McShane, the Canadiens 4th round pick in 2018. This is the Shane Wright effect all over again, where people think that playing with a star means your numbers are inflated or they just make you look good.
The younger Tullio still managed to carve out a role for himself on whatever line Oshawa would put him with. Looking back at previous starting lineups they posted on game days, sometimes he was put with Tomasino, sometimes with Neumann, sometimes with both, and sometimes with neither. And despite playing with older and more dominating offensive players, he consistently put up good numbers. He averaged just under 3.5 shots per game, and scoring over a point per game is nothing to sneeze at in your draft year.
Tyler Tullio Scouting Reports:
Despite being undersized, he is a buzzsaw on the ice. Playing without fear, Tullio outworks every other player on the ice and he has the skill and offensive instincts to capitalize on the chances that he generates. He has a good shot that plays up because of his lightning-quick release. Tullio also possesses a bomb of a one-timer from the faceoff circle on the powerplay. He battles in the dirty areas, using his agility and good stick work to come out of scrums with the puck. He is a player who, if put in a top-six role, can excel at the next level with his nose for the net and high-motor.
Tullio is one of those players that the puck just seems to follow because of his hockey IQ and awareness on the ice. He is great at finding those soft spots in the defense, especially in the slot, and has a very quick release too that has helped him hit the 10 goal mark already this year (good for second on Oshawa). Away from the puck, he is always competing, excelling down low and in puck retrieval. He has a real knack at forcing turnovers in the opposition’s end and in the neutral zone and has the skating ability to be able to quickly strike and attack the other way. While he does not possess elite size, and may not be a center long term, he most definitely possesses NHL potential due to his well-rounded game and ability to process on the ice.
Josh Tessler on the Twitters:
All-in-all, Tullio is a fast skater. Wide stride. Strong playmaker. Strong along the half wall and is a valuable asset on special teams. In his own zone, he is a defensively responsible forward. Lot to like about Tullio.— Josh Tessler (@JoshTessler_) March 13, 2020
You may be sensing a theme with a lot of these prospects I’m picking as potentially underrated. Many are on the smaller side (in height, weight, or both) but are said to have a great amount of skill, skating, and are tough litter devils who won’t let their smaller stature hold them back. It’s exactly the kind of forward that we’ve seen the Leafs under Dubas target. Semyon Der-Arguchintsev, Nick Robertson, Mikhail Abramov, Mike Koster, and Nick Abruzzese are the most obvious examples.
Tyler Tullio’s current draft rankings is in the 50’s, with some (like NHL Central Scouting) putting him somewhere more in the third round. After seeing Robertson go 53rd overall and SDA go 76th, Tullio seems appropriate to go somewhere in that range. I’d be curious to see if he falls past the second or even third rounds like Abramov did. I’m not sure I’d love him in the second round depending on who else was available.
Tyler Tullio Highlights:
Tyler Tullio ('20) picks up the loose puck, skates up the ice and completes a cross ice pass to Brett Harrison ('21). Harrison with a backhand shot goal. pic.twitter.com/vKb3UGGHJR— Josh Tessler (@JoshTessler_) January 25, 2020
One rookie to keep an eye on as we close out the season and head to playoffs is @Oshawa_Generals' Tyler Tullio.— Caitlin Berry (@caitlinsports) March 11, 2019
5 points in his last 5 games. 40 points (15G 25A) on the season. Compete in spades, speed to match & great accuracy on that shot. #OHL #2020NHLDraft pic.twitter.com/c5IUkL0Srh
Ruben Rafkin — Right Defense
- Height: 6’0”
- Weight: 190 lbs
- Birthdate: Jan 8, 2002
- Elite Prospects page: https://www.eliteprospects.com/player/285312/ruben-rafkin
- 2019/20 Stats: 31 points in 59 games for Kingston/
Ruben Rafkin is an average sized right shot defenseman who was born in Finland but played the last four years in North America. Two years ago he joined the Tri-City Storm of the USHL for one season, with a tentative commitment to play in the NCAA for Colorado down the line. Instead, he decided to go to the OHL to play for Windsor where he acquitted himself quite well. Next season, he has signed to play in the Liiga back home in Finland. He’s had quite the journey.
As a Finnish defenseman who’s jumped all over the world in recent years, he’s probably not had a consistent set of eyes following his growth. There aren’t a lot of scouts who with overlap between the USHL, OHL, and Liiga.
He’s also a two-way defenseman who seems to have a bit more of the defense way than the offense way — although 31 points in 59 games in your draft year as a defenseman isn’t anything to sneeze at. At the same time, he doesn’t seem to care that much about points as a defenseman, as he touched on in a recent interview:
For a defenseman, points can be decided by luck at times. I’ve never really watched point totals all that much. A lot of players my age can put up points in juniors but they won’t all be point-producers in the NHL. Someone has to do the dirty work and just play basic defense. Sometimes I feel like that gets overlooked.
He seems like a pretty colourful kid. The above quote isn’t to say that he can’t put up points — he started his OHL career with 12 points in his first 13 games. But he seems dedicated more to being a good defenseman than his points. He doesn’t have gaudy shot totals, even though he is said to have a good shot. He is more focused on making good passes.
Ruben Rafkin Scouting Reports:
Rafkin has come to the OHL from Finland and made an immediate impact in the top-four for the Windsor Spitfires. He has shown poise, puck-moving ability, and an excellent transition game. His smooth skating allows him to play in any situation.
From OHL Prospects:
Marco Bombino says, “I have only seen Rafkin in international tournaments where he has consistently stood out. He moves the puck well up the ice and gives smart, simple enough passes to the forwards. He has a heavy slap shot with good wind up and velocity. What I really like about Rafkin is his competitiveness. He delivers heavy hits, he’s not afraid to play rough and has a strong physical presence. He is versatile and can do a little bit of everything.”
Rafkin is not a typical Finn that is about skating, passing and scoring goals. He’s a physical defender who, while at 6 feet tall, plays even bigger. In fact, he relishes that type of game and the more physical the game, the better he is. And he’ll be the first player to come to the aid of a teammate.
But he’s not just a physical player as he possesses some intriguing skills. Rafkin is a very smooth skater with excellent agility. He’s not a burner but he’s not slow. He uses his edges very well and he’s quick enough to step up on opponents and deliver a check. He’s strong along the walls, but needs to work on his net front coverage both in terms of positioning and strength.
Rafkin also has some very good vision, and when combined with the superb passing abilities he has, he is a threat at creating offense. He has the ability to quarterback the powerplay with those skills, but we didn’t always see those opportunities granted to him in Windsor.
Rafkin’s rankings are a bit all over the place, I suspect depending on how much the person making each ranking has seen of him considering his unusual playing history. Future Considerations has him highest at 52, but others like McKeens or NHL Central Scouting have him outside of even the third round. I’d love if he fell to the fourth round for the Leafs to use one of their two picks on him.
Ruben Rafkin Highlights:
Ethan Cardwell — Center/Right Wing
- Height: 5’11”
- Weight: 180 lbs
- Birthdate: Aug 30, 2002
- Elite Prospects page: https://www.eliteprospects.com/player/201866/ethan-cardwell
- 2019/20 Stats: 47 points in 63 games between Saginaw and Barrie./
Sometimes a player can get buried down the lineup on a good team. When you’re starting to break into the OHL and your team is already stacked with stars and older players, while your team is pushing for an OHL championship, they’re not going to care as much about developing a young kid.
That might be what happened to Ethan Cardwell a bit when he was on Saginaw, and led to him being under appreciated. Saginaw finished the year 3rd in the entire OHL, led by the likes of top prospect Cole Perfetti, as well as Blade Jenkins, Damien Giroux, and Cole Coskey — all of the latter three players older and already drafted by NHL teams. When I look back at starting lineups for Saginaw through the season, he was either on the third or fourth lines.
Thankfully for Cardwell, he was traded to Barrie in the middle of the season and was immediately put onto the second line and top powerplay unit. As is often the case, being given more of an opportunity led to better boxcar stats:
Ethan Cardwell Before & After Trade
After being traded to Barrie, Cardwell just about doubled his pace of goals, assists and shots. And he seemed to be the one that carried his line: he played predominantly with two other players traded to Barrie around the same time: Anthony Tabak and Josh Nelson.
Tabak is a December 2001 birthday, so he is eligible for the draft for the first time this year. He had 15 points in 28 games with Barrie, and averaged less than two shots per game. Nelson is a 1999 birthday and never drafted by an NHL team. He was a 0.5 point per game player for pretty much his whole OHL career. With Barrie he did a bit better, putting up 22 points in 28 games and averaged around 2.5 shots per game. Meanwhile, Cardwell carried the line with 26 points in 26 games, and exactly 3 shots per game on the second line.
Ethan Cardwell Scouting Reports:
From Brock Otten at OHL Prospects, writing before Cardwell was traded to Barrie:
Really like Cardwell’s game and I think he’s been way better this year than the stat line indicates (0.50 ppg). He operates extremely well off the rush, showing an understanding of how to use his body to open up space, but also exhibits good scoring instincts to fill gaps and generate scoring chances. I’ve generally been quite impressed with his decision making with the puck too. There have been times when I’ve thought Cardwell was Perfetti (they are similar in stature and skating ability) before seeing the number. I think Cardwell has a lot of potential as a goal scorer at this level as he gains strength and his shot becomes a little heavier. I think we’ll see his production start to increase as the year goes on.
From Dominic Tiano at OHL Writers, which also touches on how often he was jerked around being called up to Saginaw and sent back down to the OJHL in the past:
What is evident first and foremost is Cardwell’s extremely high hockey IQ. In the offensive zone, he alludes defenders and finds those soft spots almost unnoticed and when teammates find him, he releases an above average wrister with a superb release. He uses that same IQ defensively. As one of the youngest players available in the draft class, his defensive abilities and understanding is ahead of most of his peers. His positioning is superb, he gets into lanes with his body or stick and does extremely well at creating turnovers.
Cardwell is a good technical skater, good edges and control, strong on his blades and agile. However, he lacks speed in both his first strides and top end. If he can continue to work on his speed that would help him even more. What we do know is that Cardwell is an extremely hard worker so putting in the effort is something we expect from him.
Cardwell has shown he can play up and down the lineup and play an offensive role with talented players, or take on a checking role on a lower line. By all accounts, he is a coachable kid willing to do whatever is asked of him.
I think it’s easy to see why Cardwell might be underrated. He was never really given a chance to shine offensively until the last 26 games of the season. He’s also one of the youngest players in this year’s draft with an August 30th birth date. Once he was given a chance, he ran with it: he was a point per game player on the second line, carrying his linemates and showing more defensive maturity than others in his draft year.
Cardwell isn’t on many rankings, since most (at the moment) don’t look beyond the first 3 rounds or so. Craig Button had him 72nd, Elite Prospects ranks him 85th, and NHL Central Scouting lists him as the 70th best skater in North America (so keep in mind there would be European skaters and goalies in both regions that would be ranked ahead of him). He could well be available to the Leafs in the fourth round.
Ethan Cardwell Highlights:
Which OHL sleeper do you think will fall to the Leafs?