Every season, there are a handful of prospects that burst onto the scene with phenomenal seasons that nobody saw coming. I’m not talking about guys that are having great years above expectations like Kyle Connor (leading the NCAA in points as a freshman) or Travis Konecny (tearing up the OHL since being traded to Sarnia). These guys were first round picks, and we knew that they were extremely talented.
No, I’m talking about the guys that even hardcore hockey fans had never heard of. Unless you were a fan of the NHL team that owned their rights, you had never heard of these guys. But this season, they seem to have put it all together and taken a massive step forward in their development. You can expect to hear at least a few of these names on an NHL team in the future.
Philippe Myers, D Philadelphia Flyers (Undrafted Free Agent)
When the Flyers signed Myers to an entry level contract after being invited to training camp, many called it a depth move. A lottery ticket on a 6’5″, right-handed defenseman (a very rare and desired combination). Well, that lottery ticket looks as if it’s a winner for Flyers GM Ron Hextall. Myers has added an offensive element to his game this year, and currently has 42 points in 57 games, good for 9th among QMJHL defensemen. By his 10th game of this season, he had already equaled his offensive output from last season (8 points).
Myers moves very well for his size, and is very solid in his own end. With Shayne Gostisbehere, Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim tearing up their respective leagues, Myers’ tremendous season has flown under the radar among Flyers defensive prospects. However, he belongs right in the conversation with the rest of them.
In his February rankings, Craig Button called Myers the 38th best NHL-owned prospect in the world. Button is known for having rankings that go against conventional wisdom, but he’s been right more often than not. Button also expects Myers to be in the mix for Canada’s WJC team in 2016.
Andrew Nielsen, D, Toronto Maple Leafs (65th overall, 2015 Draft)
When Nielsen was drafted by the Maple leafs in June of last year, I saw a number of comments saying “think Luke Schenn 2.0”. While Nielsen does have the size and zest for the physical game that Schenn possesses, he’s shown this year that his game has evolved into much more. It is Nielsen, not the aforementioned Provorov or Sanheim, that leads WHL defensemen in points. He currently has 67 points in 65 games, with 107 penalty minutes (second among all defensemen) to go along with it.
Nielsen is a tough, physical player in his own end with a booming slapshot in the offensive end. His skating is good, but not great for a player of his size (6’3″, 207 lbs.) Nielsen can get himself into trouble going for the big hit and taking himself out of position in his own end (like Schenn), but if he can tighten up his discipline in his own end, he could be a real impact player in the NHL.
Jake Walman, D, St. Louis Blues (82nd overall, 2014 Draft)
You may recognize Walman’s name as a member of the 2015 NCAA champion Providence Friars. Walman was a freshman on that squad, and he while a good player last year, he has taken it to another level this year. Early on in the season, Walman was leading the NCAA in goals (not just defensemen) when he jumped out of the gate with nine goals in his first nine games.
A US-Canada dual citizen, Walman was ruled ineligible to play for the US at the WJC, and suffered a shoulder injury that kept him from being named to Team Canada’s roster. Walman is one of the best skaters in the NCAA, and loves to carry the puck. He’s not a big player (6’1″, 190 lbs.), but is not afraid to play the body. He is one of only two defensemen playing over a point-per-game hockey in the NCAA this year, and he currently sits 3rd in the NCAA in points among defensemen. Were it not for that shoulder injury, he would likely lead NCAA defensemen in points.
He has what scouts like to call “wiggle”with the puck at the point. He looks a bit like Shayne Gostisbehere in the clip below.
Walman could turn pro after his sophomore season, or return to Providence and be a legitimate contender for the Hobey Baker. Craig Button called Walman the 25th best NHL-owned prospect in the world in February.
Ziyat Paigin, D, Edmonton Oilers (209th overall, 2015 Draft)
Paigin was given the dubious title of “Mr. Irrelevant” as the last player taken in the 2015 draft. However, Paigin has been everything but irrelevant this season. Drafted as a 20 year old overager, Paigin has exploded with 28 points in 37 games in the KHL this year, good for 12th among all defensemen. Paigin is a towering, lanky defenseman standing at 6’6″ but weighing only 194 lbs. When he was drafted, Paigin was billed as a possible bottom pairing, stay-at-home defenseman.
Now, he’s looking like he could make an impact on both ends of the ice playing big minutes. He was already a strong physical player and proficient shot blocker, but now has a budding offensive game to add to his repertoire. His skating is adequate for a player of his size, but could stand to improve. If he can do that, and learn how to better defend smaller, agile attackers, the Oilers may have just found themselves Mr. Relevant.
What other NHL prospects started this season in anonymity, but have made a name for themselves this season? Let me know in the comments.