Anyone who has read any of my draft and prospect work the past few years will know that there is one archetype that I just love on a psychological level, and that is smol kings who can rip it. Last year, Stankoven won my heart by meeting that profile as strong as anyone else I’ve watched at this level. It’s also why I’ve loved guys like Robertson, Hirvonen, and Miettinen in the Leafs’ system.
There’s no one at Stank’s level this season, but there is someone who has an argument to be considered a prospect in a tier down from him. And that’s Jagger Firkus, who can not only rip it but also has an A+ name, he’s a ginger, and is just a ball of fun with the puck overall. He may wind up being one of the biggest boom or bust picks in this draft, because of the big issue that plagues this archetype and cannot be ignored.
THE BASICS: STATS AND CONTEXT
Weight: 154 lbs
Birth date: April 29th, 2004
Here are his draft rankings, as of writing this:
- Bob McKenzie: Honourable mention
- Will Scouch: 28th
- Scott Wheeler: 34th
- Elite Prospects: 22nd
- Dobber Prospects: 24th
- Smaht Scouting: 21st/
Jagger Firkus, international Rock Star, was drafted in the fourth round to the WHL. At the time, he was listed as 5’5” and 125 lbs. That’s not that uncommon for WHL draft picks, since they are drafted a year before the other two CHL leagues. Now, Firkus is 5’10” and 154 lbs. The height is normal enough for NHLers, but that light weight is an indication of a bigger (heh) potential issue for his future projection.
But in junior, it has not affected Firkus in the slightest. In his WHL draft year, he had 33 goals and 65 points in only 30 games in an U15 AAA league. The next year, he skipped a level/age group in minor hockey and had 10 goals and 34 points in 30 games in the U18 AAA league, as a 15/16 year old. He also got into 12 games in the WHL for a brief debut. Last season, he started the season again in the U18 level and had 6 goals and 11 points in only 4 games. He then spent the rest of the year in the shortened pandemic season in the WHL, where he had 6 goals and 14 points in 34 games.
This year, he had his big breakout. He had 36 goals and 80 points in 66 games. That was good for 3rd in the league for U18s, behind Matthew Savoie (consensus top 10) and some guy named Connor Bedard who’s no big deal. He finished ahead of a consensus first round pick in Conor Geekie by 10 points.
By any way you can slice his production, he is a top offensive prospect among all CHL prospects. He among the top leaders in powerplay and even strength production for primary points, and goals especially. This is true for raw production, as well as points or goals per 60.
THE GOOD: DUAL-THREAT PLAY MAKING OFFENSE
As you can imagine from his goal and overall point totals, Firkus drives a lot of value with the puck. He shows a very high level for both passing and shooting, making him a legitimate dual-threat offensive force as a playmaker. But it goes even beyond that, because he is also very good at driving offensive transitions.
So, TL;DR: you want Firkus to have the puck when he is on the ice.
Western scout, Joel Henderson’s ranking of WHL prospects in this draft, describes all of the skills and tricks he uses:
Even though he appears 6th on this ranking, he has easily the most skill of anyone listed yet and I say that with the utmost respect to the five players above him. When Jagger passes, he uses look offs, slip passes, extends to his reach, can saucer over sticks, pass crisply through traffic, spot stick laterally and is one of the most accurate passers in the WHL which makes the ability of his teammates to shoot one-timers or catch and release shots more easily. That is just his passing. The adjustments he can make to poor passes to still get shots off is incredible. He has amazing shot accuracy, can shoot off a glide or both feet, one timers, slapshots, etc.
That shows up in his microstats, from Mitch Brown’s tracking data, where he profiles strong in basically every offensive metric:
Firkus may just be one of the most offensively skilled players in the draft, because he can do so many things with the puck. He can carry it, pass it, and shoot it. But I really want to focus on the shooting, and by extension scoring goals, because.... well, I just love a guy who can rip it, so I’m gonna focus on gushing about how he can rip it.
He can wire a quick one timer without even needing a full wind up.
It's not easy to find forwards who are major threats as both shooters and playmakers, but Jagger Firkus of the Moose Jaw Warriors certainly fits that bill. He has such a good feel for the puck@FCHockey pic.twitter.com/CcYlC8zwpz— Derek Neumeier (@Derek_N_NHL) February 12, 2022
He can toe drag and wire a wrist shot, top corner snipe through a defender — a la Auston Matthews:
He can wire a wrist shot back across his body as he crosses the middle of the ice:
And just for good shits and giggles, he can do the Michigan.
He’s just a human highlight reel. Even outside of sniping it, he is just highly creative with the puck. He knows how to use cutbacks, delays, dangles through his legs, changes of movement, changes the angle of his shot with his hands, shoot off either foot, off balance, make no look passes, backhand passes better than most of his peers’ forehand passes, and so on. Joel Henderson above touched on his ability to cleanly receive passes that are, frankly, bad passes. His stick work and coordination is elite — the puck can be behind him, in his feet, at his side, on his backhand or forehand, and he’ll be able to corral it cleanly without breaking stride.
THE FLAWS: SIZE & PHYSICAL STRENGTH
I’m going to pull a Hockey Man card here and call out Firkus’ size and lack of physical strength as the biggest issue. Not because of any sort of virtue for being taller or heavier or stronger, but how this affects his projection in the future as a potential NHLer. Because for all of us who love to root for the small zippy winger, but smaller players face very real challenges in making the NHL beyond the “hockey man hate small guy” trope.
As I said earlier, Firkus being 5’10” is not itself an issue. There were 68 players in the NHL last year who played at least 20 games, and are either 5’10” or shorter. But there was only one player to meet that criteria who was listed at Firkus’ weight (154 lbs) or less: Kailer Yamamoto.
Here’s the number of players to meet the 20 game mark last year by weight group:
- 160 lbs or less: 3
- 170 lbs or less: 14
- 180 lbs or less: 80/
So you can see where weight, and its ties with muscle and physical strength, becomes less of a significant hurdle for a player to overcome — and that’s somewhere around 175 lbs. Think of the best “small” and skilled players in the NHL, and look up their listed weight. Elias Pettersson? 176 lbs. Jack Hughes? 175 lbs.
Because while some players can make the NHL without being that heavy or strong, it’s a very low percentage chance. And I want to make clear, this is just not “weight and muscle” for its own sake, it’s also how much it affects every area of a player’s ability to play in the NHL. The smaller players who weigh less than that are the elite of the elite offensive players (DeBrincat, Caufield, Gaudreau, etc) who have good enough skill and skating that it doesn’t matter as much.
- It affects your skating — how explosive you are to accelerate faster than defenders, to have a higher top speed to pull away from an opponent chasing them, and so on.
- It affects your shot — you can add a lot more power to your wrist and slap shots when you have the muscle to press down on your stick and take advantage of the flex.
- It affects stick battles — trying to lift sticks, steal pucks back, and fighting through stick checks from defenders. /
And then there are the more direct ways being stronger is a necessity. A smaller player can survive in the NHL by being an elusive skater, to the point that defenders can’t check them because they can’t square them up to hit. But that doesn’t work as well in certain areas of the ice, where there is far less space (along the boards, in front of the net in scrambles, behind the net, etc).
Even in the WHL, Firkus’ defensive rating suffers from a result of this. His defensive work is more along the lines of trying to poke a puck away, intercept a pass, and other things where he doesn’t have to directly physically engage a player. That limits his defensive projection. B
So Firkus is either going to have to get in that “normal” weight range, or he’s going to have to evolve his skills to the point that it isn’t an issue in the NHL. Right now, his skating is very shifty, but not that fast or explosive. It’s good enough for the WHL now, but it likely won’t be in the NHL.
On the one hand, all draft picks get at least somewhat stronger and heavier over time. By the time Firkus is ready to make the NHL, he will have plenty of time to work on a special diet and exercise routine bulk up. He will fill out and add muscle, and gain weight as a result of that. On the other hand, the question will be how much will he bulk up, and if it will wind up being enough?
He sure has a lot of skill, and he’s already shifty and elusive. But making it work in the NHL enough to be an impact forward is no easy task. He would not be the first junior star to fill the highlight reel and lead the league in goals and points who just couldn’t quite cut it as a pro.
The good news is that’s why Firkus is not a consensus top pick in the first round. If he was 6’0” and 170 lbs right now, with his production and skills there’s no damn way he’d be available when the Leafs pick in even the first round let alone the third.
I see Firkus as a guy who would make sense for a Leafs pick if they manage to get a 2nd round pick, or if he falls to the third round. In Bob’s mid-season ranking, which was published on January 20th, Firkus didn’t even crack his top 80 — although he did get an honourable mention. His production was consistent in the first and second halves of the season: 44 points in 38 games before January 20th, and 48 points in 38 games after January 20th. So it’s not like he would be riding a huge second half surge in production.
But most public lists have him just outside the first round. So when Bob’s final rankings come out a week before the draft, we will have a better idea of NHL team scouts see him any differently now than they did in January. If he’s up as a borderline first rounder, there’s far less of a chance he falls to the third round. If he’s still a late second/borderline third rounder then there is a shot. Smaller players are always one of the likely ones to fall in draft day, even compared to Bob’s rankings.
And I don’t know about you, but I for one would welcome our new smol ginger haired sniper with open arms if he were to be drafted.
Would you draft Firkus with Toronto’s third round pick?
|Hell yes, I’d do it with their first round pick!
|Depends on who else is available
|I want no part of a player that can get pushed around by breathing in his direction