For my final profile list concerning potential seventh round picks, I’m going to look at some overage prospects who have already been passed over in previous drafts. This is a type of prospect that teams seem to undervalue in the draft. While the occasional player can get picked, teams seem content to let most of them to age out of the draft so they can be signed as free agents without requiring a pick. As a result, only the cream of the crop will actually be taken in the draft.
And that seems like there are missed opportunities. Prospects are human beings, specifically young kids when they are first eligible for the NHL draft. Their development is rarely in a straight line, where they have improvements to their skills and statistics every year until they hit their peak in the NHL in their mid-20’s. They will have seasons interrupted or limited due to injuries and other health issues. There are external stresses among their family and friends. Many of them are not even living with family as they play, they move away as teenagers. Some are foreigners in a different country, learning to speak a new language.
There’s also players in different situations on the ice. One guy might be on a bad team and gets all the minutes, all the powerplay time, and that helps him score a lot of points and look good. Others are buried down the lineup on elite teams with tons of depth, and due to their relative youth they don’t get the big opportunity yet. Some players are still dealing with literally growing up — having a late growth spurt that messes with their coordination. Others may be much smaller players who aren’t that tall, or not filled out enough with muscle to be as effective as they could be. Others don’t hit that growth spurt until even after they’re drafted (something something bone age something something). Late bloomers are a thing, for numerous reasons.
And that’s where overage prospects can have value. How many times do teams draft a guy who is first time eligible, only to have them to look like they took a step back in the next season? Or maybe they just never really develop at all, and just stagnate. Meanwhile, a guy who went undrafted in his draft year suddenly gets healthy, or plays in a better environment, or develops more physically to the point that they take off in their D+1 season. Suddenly, that guy seems like the better prospect.
For what it’s worth, Toronto has not been shy about swinging on an overage prospect that showed that kind of growth after their draft year. Nick Abruzzese is the most notable example, but Axel Rindell, John Fusco, Vyacheslav Peska, Sean Durzi, and Mac Hollowell were all also overage guys when the Leafs drafted them. But with the exception of Durzi, they were all taken in the mid to late rounds.
So I’m going to look at some overage prospects who I think could make sense as late round swings for Toronto, either for their 7th rounder or any other mid to late round picks they might acquire.
James Stefan is a 5’11” right wing who played on the powerhouse Portland Winterhawks in the WHL. His 79 points in 68 games was tied for the 15th most points in the WHL regardless of age, but by U19 players he was 6th. By even strength and total primary points, he finished 4th only behind WHL player of the year Logan Stankoven, last year’s 9th overall pick Dylan Guenther, and another undrafted overager Mikey Milne. I almost wound up writing this about Milne or Ben King, who is a year older but had a bonkers season as one of the best players in the league.
But what makes Stefan interesting outside of the point production is that he has an August 9th, 2003 birthday. That makes him almost one month away from only being eligible for this year’s draft, and despite both being 2021 eligibles, Stefan is almost a full year younger than Milne (Sep 21, 2002 birthday). And because he was on such a good team in the WHL, Stefan also played less than any of the others who produced more than him. He had around 15-16 minutes per game, starting the year on the third line but working his way up to the second line by the end of the year. Meanwhile, Milne (16-17 mins), Guenther (18-19 mins), and Stankoven (18-19 mins) all played more.
Stefan’s skating is not high level, but he has that “hockey sense” that the Leafs have said they like. He has a jack of all trades, master of none skillset as well. He has a good shot, good playmaking, good forechecking, good puck handling, but none of them individually will blow you away. I like the idea of swinging on him, since he’s already at a good spot for a D+1 player, and trying to work even more on his skating and other skills.
Morrison is the only D+2 player on this list, but it’s hard not to include him. He finished 6th in the OHL in scoring with 100 points in 60 games. He also had an absurd 17 goals and 39 points in 19 playoff games. He played as the top center on the best OHL team, until they acquired Mason McTavish who was the 3rd overall pick last year. And there’s an argument that he was still the top center as far as his performance goes. Despite his point total, he did play as much as the scorers ahead of him in the OHL did. Wyatt Johnston, Rory Kerins, Luke Evangelista, Lucas Edmonds, Brandon Coe and Brennan Othmann all played an average of 21 minutes or more. Morrison averaged under 20 minutes per game.
It’s interesting to look at some contextual information to figure out why he went undrafted the past two years. And, honestly, there are two main ones: he seems like a guy who hit a later growth spurt and filled out since his draft year, and the pandemic. Let’s start with his physical growth. In his draft year, he had a solid 45 points in 59 games, but at the time was a bit undersized. He was listed as 5’10” and 160 lbs, but now he is listed as 6’0” and 180 lbs. He also missed a month and a half at the start of his draft year due to injury, but when he returned he was surging down the stretch — he had 28 points in his final 31 games, and if the season finished he would likely have gotten his point totals closer to a point per game. He may have gotten to make a bigger name for himself in the playoffs too. But the pandemic hit in mid-March, shutting down the OHL through all of last season, until this past September.
I can helpfully read back at his old scouting reports from his draft year. He was marked as undersized, not the most skilled but had a lot of “hockey sense” (there’s that word again) and was a fast but not elite skater. So this is where I ask the question: let’s say this time next year, Ty Voit finishes his D+2 season that looks like what Morrison just did. He has 100 points, near the top of the best players in the league, plays as a center on one of the best teams in the OHL and CHL, has a huge playoff run. Are we hyped about that? Because if we are, then Morrison as a 7th round pick this year doesn’t seem so silly does it?
Wilmer is a center who played for the USNTDP last year, but moved to join the Tri-City Storm in the USHL before he joins the NCAA next year. He finished this season as the USHL’s leading point producer, with 98 points in 60 games. He finished with the second most primary points. And like Stefan, Wilmer has a later 2003 birthday (August 16th, 2003) making him to close to first time eligible for this year’s draft. Even if you don’t look at points, Wilmer was simply one of the most dominant offensive forces in the USHL. He is a brilliant puck handler and play maker, he is as smart as he is skilled, to the point that he impacts the game (offensively) in just about every way imaginable.
Now, you may have noticed that I didn’t mention Wilmer’s height like I usually do right at the start of these mini profiles. You can therefore guess why he likely didn’t get drafted last year, despite being one of the few USNTDP players to average a point per game. Wilmer is listed as 5’7” and 141 lbs, which is very very small. 5’7” players can and do play in the NHL, but it’s a long shot for them. Then again, aren’t long shot swings what 7th round picks are for?
Another fun Jeremy Wilmer clip. Great deception with his body language to fake out attackers. Cradles back and forth to maneuver the puck around an attacker. Secures the puck nicely against the attacker in the neutral zone and then passes to an open teammate.#2022NHLDraft pic.twitter.com/nbFeHeJ3DR— Josh Tessler 🇺🇦 (@JoshTessler_) April 14, 2022
Maroš Jedlička is a 6’1” Slovak winger who played this season in Slovakia’s top pro league. He put up 17 goals and 38 points in 44 games, good for 25th in the league. For U20 players, he finished first in the league by a very wide margin and earned his way up to the top line of his team. He was reportedly used as a swiss army knife at times: playing both wings, sometimes at centre, on the penalty kill, on the powerplay, as a checker and as an offensive generator. He is fast, he plays physical, and is also apparently a little agitator. I’ve seen him get the “jack of all trades, master of none” label as well. So despite being big and playing physical, he can pull off a move and an assist like this...
Maroš Jedlička od trojbodového zápasu proti Liptovskému Mikulášu, kde sa blysol krásnou akciou🎥, ťahá 4-zápasovú bodovú šnúru. Aktuálne má po 29 zápasoch 27 bodov, čo činí bodový priemer 0,93. Z hráčov čo odohrali viac ako 1 zápas je to najlepší výkon juniora od sezóny 2000/01. pic.twitter.com/MGJCBkW1pg— Peter Vretenička (@vretenicka) January 19, 2022
Despite being a D+1 player, Jedlička is an older prospect. His Oct 23rd birthday makes him almost a year older than Stefan or Wilmer, for example. But his production as a Slovak pro along with the leap in development he’s had this season is awful tempting. It’s not often you can get a winger with his combination of size, skill, and willingness to play a physical and agitating style. I really like Adam Sykora in this draft as a Slovak winger playing in the same pro league. If after next season, Sykora was in the Slovak pro league and had an almost point per game season? I’d count that as a big leap in his development, considering he scored at half the rate Jedlička did.
(6/10)— Slovak Prospects (@SlovakJrHockey) December 27, 2021
Great shift by Maroš Jedlička.
Dealed with 2 players during DZ exit, then put Drew Commesso under pressure with 3 rebounds. pic.twitter.com/0ShbEwgtnr
Buchelnikov is a 5’10” Russian winger who played this season in the MHL for the powerhouse SKA St. Petersburg team. His 41 goals and 75 points were both second best in the whole of the MHL, regardless of age. For U19 players, he was first by a wide margin. In the summer, he also played on Team Russia for the 2021 U18 Worlds, and was named Russia’s player of the game in their loss to Canada in the finals. Of course, his big point totals is partially because any D+1 prospect worth their salt would be spending at least part of their season in the VHL or even the KHL, where Buchelnikov spent the whole year in junior.
Russia answers back.— Steven Ellis (@StevenEllisTHN) May 7, 2021
Alexander Figurin somehow keeps the puck from crossing over the line, gets it to Matvei Michkov and Dmitri Buchelnikov was there to finish it off. 2-1 Russia. #U18Worlds pic.twitter.com/XfRqCG1PgU
But this is why I mentioned his team. They finished third in the MHL, and 2nd in the VHL. Their VHL team contained several high quality prospects already, like Fyodor Svechkov (2021 19th overall), Nikita Chibrikov (2021 50th overall), Ivan Morozov (2018 61st overall), Maxim Groshev (2020 85th overall). So Buchelnikov found himself in the same situation Dmitri Ovchinnikov has the last two season, where he’s too good for the MHL but there was no room for him to play at higher levels.
And Buchelnikov is also a very late birthday, born September 6th, 2003. He was only 9 days away from being eligible for this year’s draft. He has a fair amount of skill and has a good wrist shot and one timer. He’s a good skater and handling the puck, which helps him drive offensive transitions. His big issue is being 5’10”, and he’s still pretty light — he was even smaller last year. He may be a player with some of the most upside on this list, but him being Russian, smaller and already a D+1 prospect will make him almost certainly fall. I wouldn’t be surprised if he goes undrafted again, but he may be worth a swing for a 7th round pick. Let him spend more time in Russia, slowly working his way up SKA’s system and adding more muscle. If he adds another inch or two, and fills out more, he could be a dangerous offensive weapon in a few years.
With the forwards out of the way, let’s turn to defensemen. And if you read my profiles last year, this shouldn’t be a surprise. Lukas Gustafsson went undrafted last season and I wrote a profile on him. He is a smaller defenseman at 5’10”, but added a lot of muscle for this year and is up to 190 lbs. He is also an older birthday: December 16th, 2002, so while this is his D+1 season he’s a lot older than others on this list. But everything I said about him last year is still true now, but what I said would happen did. He rejoined Chicago as one of their top defenseman playing in all situations and 4th in the USHL for D+1 or younger defensemen in primary points (23).
And he still displays the same high level skills he did last year. He’s a brilliant skater in all directions. He makes great, aggressive reads defending transitions. He drives a lot of transitions offensively, especially carrying the puck. He still shows a lot of skill with the puck, is great at using give and goes to create dangerous scoring chances for himself, and at the junior level he now has the skating and the strength to just do an end to end. There’s not much more to say that I haven’t already, but I would be ecstatic if the Leafs swung on him with their 7th. I know they like him, in part thanks to former Chicago Steel GM being with the Leafs now, but also from them inviting him to rookie camp last year.
Brunet is a 6’2”, left shot defenseman who played for Rimouski in the QMJHL this year. He’s another later birthday (Aug 21, 2003) making him quite young as a D+1 defenseman. He finished with 46 points in 63 games, and by primary points finished 2nd in the league for U19 defensemen. He played top minutes for Rimouski in all situations, mostly because he had an offensive explosion compared to last season. In his draft year, he had 1 goal and 9 points in 33 games. This year he earned more playing time because he started jumping into the play more, and showcasing higher level offense than ever before. His passing is his strength, as he was one of the top defensemen in the league at completing passes into more dangerous areas. He also showed a lot of value transitioning the puck up the ice, mainly through passing it.
The knock on him is that his skating is just average across the board. He’s not very fast in terms of top speed, he’s not very explosive for having a quick first two steps, and he’s not the most agile or elusive. He has enough skill and manipulation to be a dominant force in junior, but he’ll have to improve his skating in the future. He could stand to add some strength as well, both to help add some explosiveness to his skating and to his average defense.
Dorey is a 6’3”, 192 lb defenseman who played on the Kelowna Rockets this season, who worked his way up his team’s depth chart this season thanks to his superlative play. He is a very strong two-way defenseman, who may not ever put up a lot of points but helps drive offense through transitions and moving the puck up the ice. His biggest strength will be his defense. He can shut down transitions and break up the cycle, and he’ll do it physically without chasing big hits. He’s an effective, above average skater.
Despite being an older D+1 player, Dorey is still pretty unrefined. He flashes a lot of tools that appear high end, but lacks consistency and structure to his game. A lot of his plays are done instinctually, to the point that he can appear pretty chaotic instead of in control. Considering his size and tools, it is tempting to swing on him with a later pick, but it’s harder to bet on future development when he’s already an older D+1 defenseman. I still like him, and if the Leafs or someone else took him late I would know why.
Jimmy Finland is a 5’10” left-shot defenseman in Finland who had a breakout season for TPS. He started the year with 15 points in 12 games in the U20 junior level, then was called up to the Liiga and didn’t look back. He had 6 points in 30 games, averaging 12:19 minutes per game on their third pair. He also played for Team Finland on the international stage, though not as much as he would have liked thanks to the pandemic cutting the World Juniors short. Here’s a good highlight showcasing his footwork and passing. He’s #20 in black.
Jimi Suomi recorded five points (1+4) in two games with TPS U20 this past weekend. He's a fun player to watch — great skater w/ speed & mobility, accurate passer, excels on the PP. Here's a royal road pass from Samuel Knazko to find Suomi for the 1-timer finish. #NHLDraft #HCTPS pic.twitter.com/PhtGTaasAC— Finnish Jr Hockey (@FINjrhockey) September 28, 2021
His biggest strength is his skating, which was high end last year but reportedly even better this season. He is also a good passer, both in the offensive zone and pushing it up the ice through the neutral zone. He has a fair amount of hype to him, and a lot of outlets mark him as a worthy overager to take this season. The main reason for him having more hype this year than last is because he appears to have made big improvements defensively. It could still use some improvement, but it’s gotten to the point that you can project it as being not a huge weakness, like it appeared last season. Despite his size, he’s strong on his feet and can protect the puck well, making it difficult for bigger players to knock him off balance or steal the puck from him. He’s #42 in the video below.
Here's a very good shift from Jimi Suomi in today's Liiga preseason game. He fires a quick one-timer from the right side, gets the puck back and holds on to it, drawing a hooking penalty to Lukko. He then finds the open man with a backhand pass from the circle. #HCTPS #NHLDraft pic.twitter.com/FEB8FpCMUR— Finnish Jr Hockey (@FINjrhockey) August 18, 2021
Hanzel is a 6’1”, left shot defenseman with a February 2003 birthday. That makes him one of the older D+1s on this list. He played for the powerhouse Seattle Thunderbirds in the WHL, so he didn’t have the same huge minutes of other top defensemen. Seattle seems to have played their top defensemen more equal. He put up 33 points in 63 games, and added another 13 in 25 playoff games. His greatest strength is his passing, not just hitting his passes to set up good rushes or dangerous shots but also his off-puck play to give passing options to teammates and using give-and-go’s to create better chances.
Hanzel saw big improvements this season in two important areas: his skating and his defense. Reading his scouting reports in last year’s draft guides, Hanzel was always a good passer and playmaker, though he did appear to improve in those areas as well. But by all accounts he had more significant improvements to his skating and defensive reads that he now drove solid two-way results.
Which of these overage prospects would you prefer to be taken in the 7th round?