The first round of the 2020 Draft has come and gone and there were some very interesting choices made by some teams. Good prospects were found, but there was a lot of talent still left on the table. The Toronto Maple Leafs, picking at #44, have a chance to take advantage of that talent starting on Wednesday morning.
Here are 10 players who either fell out of the first round or who should be in the top half of the second round.
John-Jason Peterka, LW, DEL (Munich)
Ranked in the early 20s by Bob, I’m shocked JJ Peterka didn’t get drafted in the first round. He’s a hardworking player with good shooting and an effective, smart two-way game. He’s the kind of forward Kyle Dubas definitely targets particularly due to his work-ethic and natural athletic talent — Nick Robertson and newly acquired Rodion Amirov are prime examples. He’s one of the Red Bull Hockey Academy early graduates, a system that is gaining recognition as an impressive program. Fun fact on the Red Bull Academy: new Marlies prospect Jeremy McKenna led their 2015-16 team in scoring.
“His unrelenting motor is a force multiplier in every zone. He’s hard on every puck. He’s an eager, willing combatant in board battles. He’s violent, disruptive — a real pain in the ass. He’ll make second and third efforts where other players generally relent. He’s rarely, if ever stationary, constantly scanning the ice when the puck isn’t on his stick.” - EliteProspects
Noel Gunler, RW, SHL (Lulea)
Another player a lot of people were shocked made it out of the first round, but for others, he’s someone whose inconsistency at being an effective player pushed him down. He’s got a lot of talent and potential top-line upside in both scoring and playmaking. He’s definitely someone who will benefit from playing in a men’s league that forces players to work hard on and off the puck. His offensive upside is very hard to pass up, especially in the second round. He’s also teammates with new Leafs prospect Filip Hallander, so you know Dubas has watched him.
“Gunler wrapped up a very strong draft-eligible season that saw him play primarily in the SHL and in a respectable role for a player his age. His 13 points in 45 games were third-most amongst U19 skaters and trailed only Alexander Holtz for draft-eligibles. Gunler is an offensive weapon. He knows where to be on the ice, how to find the soft spots, how to enact the most potential from space. His shot is very good. He has a nose for distributing as well. The off-puck effort remains concerning, but if you can focus him, his upside is very real.” Dobber, Cam Robinson
William Wallinder, LD, Swe J20 (MODO)
Our Mock Draft pick, Wallinder is a classic boom or bust pick that could turn into a big, smooth-skating, puck-moving defenseman. Some Leafs fans really want a big defenseman, ao picking Wallinder would be both a great pick and make so many people mad.
“Wallinder is a puck-rushing defenseman with great size and a left-handed shot. He loves to join the rush and he’s often times even leading the rush. He is a great skater and has good puck skills which allow him to play that type of a role. But sometimes he has a tendency to keep the puck on his stick for too long. His strengths are mostly in transition and on the rush attack, though, as he isn’t the most natural offensive threat in the offensive zone. His biggest weakness can be found at the other end.” Dobber, Jokke Nevalainen
Helge Grans, RD, Swe J20 (Malmo)
The right-shot two-way defenseman with good puck moving ability and upside that no one rated. I would argue he has a better case for the third best defenseman in his draft class than some of the other guys drafted in the first round. He’s playing in the SHL right now and doing pretty well.
“Grans is an offensive defenseman with great size and a right-handed shot which is always valuable. He is a great skater who glides very smoothly and is very good at using his edges. Grans makes very good breakout passes and he loves to join the rush. His passing skills are very good but he also owns a good shot, although he should use it more and work on his accuracy as well.” - Dobber, Jokke Nevalainen
Marat Khusnutdinov, C, MHL (St. Petersburg)
A talented, fast, and smart puck distributor with top-six upside as a centre in the NHL. He’s been ranked around the end of the first round by most rankings, so it’s not unsurprising he’s still around but definitely someone we’ll hope is available at 44. He’s a high-energy player who is so annoying to play against because he’s great at managing the puck, making it really hard for his opponents to keep possession. He’s one of the youngest players in the draft so there’s lots of room to smooth out his raw game.
“As one of the youngest players eligible for the 2020 Draft, Khusnutdinov had a lot to do to prove himself. No matter which way you cut it, he did it all. His main upside is displayed when his team isn’t in possession of the puck. Marat is a hound on the ice and he plays with a high-energy, high-event style. He uses his quick skating to shoot around the ice and pressure puck carriers as soon as they gain control. On offense, he thrives in transitional play, as he can use his speed as well as his low center of gravity to weave through defenders and create space to make things happen.” - Dobber, Dylan Griffing
"some question marat khusnutdinov's offensive potential"— Will Scouch (@Scouching) September 28, 2020
Jan Mysak, LW, OHL (Hamilton)
A rookie in the OHL after spending half a season playing in the Czech league, Mysak is an explosive skater with a great shot to boot. A reliable player with top-six upside as a complimentary winger, definitely something the Leafs wouldn’t mind throwing into their system. And again, he’s on the younger side of this draft class so there is more room to grow compared to his class.
“He was able to show off the tools that we saw glimpses of in his native Czech Republic when he played in the men’s pro league there. His shot is lethal and he has some explosion is his game. He finds his teammates well and looked more efficient in his skating stride as the year wore on. He still needs to work on being a bit more efficient with his stride but a noticeable improvement has been made. He thinks the game at a high level and he could find a role in an NHL top-six at some point in the future. He may not be a true line driver but he pushes play in the right direction and he has the skill to be a productive scoring winger.” - Dobber, Tony Ferrari
Topi Niemelä, RD, Liiga (Karpat)
Another underrated two-way defenseman who got really good results in a men’s league, having won a job early as a 17-year-old last season when his team expected him to not stick. He’s always played in leagues where he was the youngest player and he’s always succeeded and moved up. He needs a little work on his skating from a standstill and improving some skills, but his natural upside is very encouraging. He’s a right shot and competent defensively, that’s exactly what we want!
Prospect Deep Dive: Topi Niemelä
“He takes phenomenal care of the puck, can distribute through layers in the neutral zone, isn’t afraid to use the centre of the ice, and just displays a high level of competence with the puck on his stick. Niemela smartly scans the ice with shoulder checks as he skates to collect the puck, then smartly and decisively acts in a way that quickly moves play in the other direction.” - EliteProspects
Jean-Luc Foudy, C, OHL (Windsor)
Foudy is a personal favourite prospect of mine, someone who didn’t play on a great team, had to drag his linemates all season, and still got really good results on the scoresheet and in the underlying numbers. He’s got great vision as a playmaking centre whom I would argue could put up major numbers if he had Nick Robertson on his left wing. He works hard, plays annoying, and focuses on winning the puck at every opportunity. He still needs work on the defensive end, but I think he can get there with some years in the AHL. The tools are all there.
“The reality is that Jean Luc Foudy had a less productive season that he likely hoped for prior to his draft year. His skating remains elite and he can dazzle at times in transition and as he works his way through the offensive zone, zigging and zagging around the attacking zone. The skill and potential are still very high for Foudy. He passed the puck to the middle of the ice in the offensive zone at a near-elite level and he understands that funneling the puck to the slot and net-front area creates the most dangerous chances.” - Dobber, Tony Ferrari
Roni Hirvonen, C, Liiga (Assat)
A small centre who knows how to use his body effectively in puck battles with good speed and projectable skill with middle-six upside. He played as a winger in the Liiga last season and was a top player for Finland in their junior tournaments. I think there’s a lot to like with Hirvonen, especially when you want to look for players with a strong work rate that are reliable at both ends of the ice. He had comparable numbers to Anton Lundell, too. How’s that, Brigs?
“Hirvonen is primarily a playmaker but he also has a decent shot and a good nose for the net. His skating is good but there’s room for improvement. He doesn’t necessarily have high-end skill in any area but his effort level is great and he plays a reliable two-way game. He battles for pucks in the corners and goes to the dirty areas of the ice. He put up a lot of points in the junior league a year ago but I wouldn’t read too much into that. He is on the older side for this draft class and very mature for his age. Hirvonen is currently projected to be drafted in the second round of the 2020 NHL Draft but he could potentially sneak into the first round if he has a strong second half.” Jokke Nevalainen
Daniil Gushchin, RW, USHL (Muskegon)
A very small but very dynamic, tenacious winger with buckets of skill and a gifted offensive creator. He struggled on a bad USHL team and ended up being more of a solo player in the second half of the season. This year, he’s on the OHL Niagara Ice Dogs so he’ll have a much better chance to produce and round out his game on a better team. I would absolutely take the swing on Gushchin because of all the upside and there’s a projectable path for his development. Also, selfishly, I really want to see him in the AHL.
“Daniil Gushchin is one of the most fun players to watch in this year’s draft class. That comes from both a good and bad place. On the good side of things, the Russian import forward is a speedy, skilled winger who has the predatory instinct of the best offensive players in the game. His puck skills are impressive, juking and dodging through traffic as if he were a shifty NFL running back. It can be incredibly fun to watch when he is successful and devastating for the mentality of his opponents as they are often left reaching for air as he maneuvers the ice.”