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2020’s best undrafted prospects to consider in 2021

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Looking at 17 prospects who went undrafted this year that I’ll be following for 2021

2020 NHL Draft - Round One Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

In my draft thoughts article, I mentioned how I was a bit disappointed with who the Toronto Maple Leafs picked in the 7th round. Their final four picks were... well I had no idea who they were, even after some initial research. Meanwhile, I mentioned how there was a lot of prospects I did know about who I was hoping the Leafs would swing on.

Well not only did the Leafs not swing on them... no one did. There is a pretty sizeable list of prospects I thought were quite interesting who went undrafted this year. The good news is that means that most of them will be available in the next draft, if they have a good season this year and show they deserved a pick. There were some overagers who will now become free agents after this coming season.

Why is this interesting? Because the Leafs (and other teams) have shown that overaged prospects still have value. And for undrafted prospects, they actually make up a good chunk of the current NHL:

FORWARDS

It will be easy to see a pattern with all of these forwards, as none of them are taller than 5’10”. There are other biases aside from size that can work against a forward going undrafted, but they usually come back to size. A junior player can have a good points total but have not great skating or defense, which would be overlooked more if they were 6’0” or taller. You can do well in a European junior league, but without team/league leading point totals you’d better also be big.

  1. James Hardie (LW)
  2. Ethan Cardwell (C)
  3. Brady Burns (C/LW)
  4. Josh Lawrence (C/RW)
  5. Pavel Tyutnev (C)
  6. Xavier Simoneau (C)

James Hardie was a top producer for the Mississauga Steelheads in the OHL this year, scoring 34 goals and 63 points. As you might expect for a 30+ goal scorer in a shortened season, he has his flaws. Hardev saw him a lot as a local Mississaugian, and remarked that he was never very impressed with what he saw in Hardie. Either his play away from the puck, his shot selection, or defense. That said, a lot of people have Hardie as their top ranked player who didn’t get drafted. If he can iron out the kinks of his game and have a big season next year, he may be a top candidate for being taken as a D+1 overager in 2021.

Ethan Cardwell was ranked as a 3rd round pick by a lot of public scouting outlets, so it is pretty surprising to see him go undrafted. He struggled to start the year on Saginaw, with only 21 points in 37 games. Then he was traded to Barrie and became their 2nd line center, where he had 26 points in 26 games to end the year. He’s a bit on the smaller side, which didn’t help I’m sure, but the NHL didn’t seem to rate late risers very well if they started the year poor enough. Playing behind Tyson Foerster and Evan Vierling probably didn’t help either.

Brady Burns and Josh Lawrence are both listed as centers/wingers, and both are on William Villeneuve’s team in Saint John (QMJHL). They’re both smaller, and had the problem of playing on a mess of a team. Burns at least was on pace to be a 30+ goal scorer and nearly a point per game player, so him going undrafted puts him in the same mysterious category as James Hardie. Lawrence is smaller and didn’t have the gaudy goal or point totals, but was rated as a better two-way player.

Pavel Tyutnev is a small (5’9”) center from Russia, who had solid numbers internationally for Team Russia’s U18 squad (8 goals and 12 points in 15 games) and decent but not eye-popping numbers in the MHL (13 goals and 22 points in 36 games). The size combined with the league he played in without gaudy point totals is why he went undrafted, but its worth noting that so far this year he has 8 points in 7 games. You can see a short breakdown on Tyutnev starting at 8:13 in the video below for more context, stats, and a scouting breakdown.

Xavier Simoneau was a guy who was already an overager and went undrafted again this year, despite finishing 5th in the whole QMJHL in points. The issue is, of course, likely due to a two-pronged bias of his size (5’7”) and being an overager. He’ll be eligible for next year’s draft again, although I assume he’d have to lead the QMJHL in scoring this time to get any consideration at all at this point. For what it’s worth, he currently has 5 points through 2 games, so maybe...?

DEFENSE

This is a much longer list, and I culled others from it so it didn’t get too long. When you combine the same sort of biases that factor into a forward going undrafted (size, league, overager, etc) with the greater unknown for how to really analyze defensemen, it leads to a wider swath of defensemen going undrafted.

This is especially true for prospects who have more of a defensive-focus and don’t have many points, despite that sort of player being what NHL teams want. Every NHL team wants a John Marino, Jason Demers or Niklas Hjallmarsson. Not many really know how to find them in the draft. On the other hand, even a defenseman who has a lot of points can go undrafted if he checks any of the other boxes (small, obscure league, etc) if their defense is rated bad enough.

  1. Victor Mancini (RD)
  2. Ruben Rafkin (RD)
  3. Charlie Desroches (RD)
  4. Jacob Dion (LD)
  5. Christopher Merisier-Ortiz (LD)
  6. Billy Constantinou (RD)
  7. Måns Forsfjäll (LD)
  8. Karri Aho (LD)
  9. Ivan Zivlak (LD)

Victor Mancini is the guy I like most on this list, and I am genuinely surprised no NHL took him even in the 7th round. I wrote a profile about him back in August, and he ticks a lot of boxes I would have thought NHL teams would covet — he’s big (6’3”), he’s a right-shot defenseman, he can score and jump into the play, and he’s a good skater. He has good transition defense, and while he did have his flaws there was enough tools there to be worth a roll of the dice at least. He has only played in Sweden’s U20 junior league, however, and didn’t have gaudy points. Being an American playing in Sweden may have been what killed his chances — being a big RHD playing in America is an almost guarantee to be picked when you have that profile.

Ruben Rafkin is a Finnish defenseman who played in the OHL, and was named to the OHL all-rookie team as a RHD. He had a good, not great points total but his calling card was more his defense anyways. He’s an average height of 6’0”, he played in the OHL, and he played for Team Finland at all the major international tournaments. I’m still scratching my head over how he went completely undrafted since he doesn’t check any of the usual boxes to explain it. This year he’s back in Finland playing at their top level in the Liiga, and has 2 points in 2 games. He’s a guy I almost assume will go drafted next year.

Charlie Desroches (5’10”) and Jacob Dion (5’9”) are both smaller defensemen with offensive upside who played in the QMJHL. Dion is the smaller defenseman, but also had more impressive offensive production (17 goals and 51 points in 63 games). Desroches has better two-way capability, and was used as his team’s shutdown defender. Unfortunately for him, that team was Saint John... and they had a lot of guys who consideration was hurt sorely by how messy the team was.

Two guys who were already overagers and went undrafted again despite some hype are Christopher Merisier-Ortiz from the QMJHL and Billy Constantinou from the OHL. Merisier-Ortiz (LHD) has more of a defensive focus despite being a tad smaller (5’11”), and turned into one of the league’s better shutdown defenders who also put up 45 points in 64 games. Constantinou (RHD) went into the last draft year as a top rated defenseman who could put up points and move the puck well, but had a bit of a disastrous year after being traded to the worst team in the OHL — Kingston, who tanked to draft phenom Shane Wright. He had a bounce back this year after being traded to the Soo Greyhounds, but it wasn’t enough to get drafted this year either. On a more experienced and better Soo team, he could have a big season (assuming there is one) and get taken as a later round guy, like Axel Rindell was this year.

Finally, there is a trio of defensemen from Europe who all get rave reviews as modern defensive defensemen — mobile, good anticipation, ability to shut down transitions, etc — who were passed on. Måns Forsfjäll is a 5’11” LHD from Sweden who had 21 points in 42 games in U20 junior, and had 4 points in 8 games for Team Sweden. Ivan Zivlak is a 6’2” LHD who had 8 points in 35 games at the same level, but didn’t have any international play to boost his exposure. He may have even greater defensive utility. The final player, Karri Aho, I wrote about back in July. He was one of the youngest players in the draft, not a small kid (6’1” LHD), played well for Team Finland, and did so well defensively in the U20 Liiga that he was promted to the Mestis level (Finland’s sort-of-AHL equivalent). If he gets a promotion to the full Liiga and does well in a defensive role, that would go a long way towards him being drafted as an overager next year.

GOALIES

Goalies, voodoo, yada yada yada I don’t think I need to make much explanation as to why a goalie can go undrafted unless they’re the cream of the crop (e.g., Askarov). There are two goalies in particular I want to call out...

  1. Fabio Iacobo (G)
  2. Vsevolod Skotnikov (G)

Fabio Iacobo has a great name, with okay but not great stats last year in the QMJHL (.905 sv%) on Victoriaville — Mikhail Abramov’s team. He’s 6’1”, which is an average or acceptable height for a goalie it seems. He’s an older birthday at October 26th, 2001. Reading scouting reports on him, he is marked as being very good and agile in his crease, which helps him get in front of shots more easily. The question mark on him was being able to read the play developing in front of him, but that could be something he improves as he matures, since it didn’t seem to be extremely poor. So far this year he seems to have improved something, as in 5 games combined between the pre-season and regular season he has a .960 sv%. Small sample, and he won’t maintain that level all season, but it’s a good start for him. If he becomes one of the QMJHL’s leading goalies, he could become one of the leading goalies in the next draft — especially if the other CHL leagues don’t play.

Vsevolod Skotnikov is one of the Russian goalie I wanted the Leafs the take in this draft with a later pick. Like Iacobo, he was an older birthday (Sept 28, 2001) and about average size for a goalie at 6’0” — maybe a bit shorter than average, actually. Like Akhtyamov who the Leafs did take, Skotnikov has had solid numbers every level he’s played. He’s also had some international experience before with mixed results, and no games for Team Russia this past season. He’s also already had games in the VHL and KHL between last season and the early season now. If he puts up good VHL/KHL numbers this year, he’s a guy I can see having some hype and being a later round pick like Amir Miftakhov was this year (6th round pick).

Poll

Which of these undrafted prospects did you most wish that the Leafs had drafted?

This poll is closed

  • 11%
    James Hardie
    (40 votes)
  • 2%
    Pavel Tyutnev
    (9 votes)
  • 45%
    Victor Mancini (RHD)
    (163 votes)
  • 6%
    Ruben Rafkin (RHD)
    (24 votes)
  • 9%
    Billy Constantinou (RHD)
    (34 votes)
  • 7%
    Karri Aho (LHD)
    (26 votes)
  • 6%
    Fabio Iacobo
    (23 votes)
  • 10%
    Other
    (37 votes)
356 votes total Vote Now