One of my favourite parts about covering the NHL draft is projecting the sleeper picks — the potential steals.
These are the kids that are likely to be selected outside the top two rounds but possess the raw upside, tantalizing ability or specific tools, and enough overall promise to outperform their draft position in the years to come. Many of them are, admittedly, boom-or-bust types — but sleepers and potential steals, nonetheless.
As is the case with many of my projects, this started out as a small list of approximately 10 names that I’m really high on but grew into a big list of 152 total names. I know that sounds crazy, 152 potential steals in a draft of 217 prospects, but there are a ton of talented teens worthy of this attention, so I’m going the extra mile again.
I realize that is suggesting more than half of this draft class could be steals, but I will still highlight my Top 20 at the end — no, I couldn’t keep it to a Top 10 — along with the prospects that stand out to me above their peers within the following 11 categories: First-Year Imports, WHL Forwards, Finnish Forwards, Swedish Forwards, High-Schoolers, USHLers, Tier-Two Talents, Little Guys, Big Guys, Injured Guys, and Under Exposed.
Almost all of these kids will be drafted outside the top 50, many will be selected outside the top 100 in the mid-to-later rounds, and some probably won’t get picked but could still prove to be steals in the long run as their careers play out.
I have included three numbers for each prospect on this list: their final ranking from my top 350 on June 3 and where I have them mocked — both in my personal mock, who I would have taken for each team as of June 5, and my consensus mock, based on feedback from fellow scouts, media and trusted sources as of June 17. Three numbers in that order: my final ranking, my personal mock, my consensus mock.
This big list should be fun to track during this weekend’s draft and to look back on — a year from now and in a decade’s time. Enjoy!
Related: Our Free NHL Draft Guide
First-Year Imports (11)
I’m a sucker for this category, I have a thing for these kids every year — knowing, or at least imagining, how hard it would have been to move to a foreign country as a teenager, adjusting to the culture changes as much as the smaller ice surface.
Returning to the same place or at least the same league for their draft-plus-one campaign, there is a good chance some of these prospects will explode statistically and blow up into huge steals.
Starting in the QMJHL, the two that I’m highest on are Yaroslav Likhachyov (91, 89, 118) and Mikhail Abramov (105, 115, 115). They both looked like first-round talents going back to the Hlinka Gretzky Cup but will now likely be available outside the top 75. Likhachyov, who has been traded from Gatineau to Blainville-Boisbriand for next season, is also one of the youngest prospects available for 2019, which could still help his stock if a team is willing to reach for that projected growth.
In the OHL, the obvious one is Matvei Guskov (95, 79, 103), who will be taking on a bigger offensive role for the powerhouse London Knights — a team that produces more NHL talent, under the Hunter brothers, than any other CHL program. Guskov is a good bet to be a top-100 pick.
In the WHL, in my wheelhouse, there are three imports of significant appeal in Oleg Zaytsev (128, 116, 144), Vladimir Alistrov (129, 135, 193) and Martin Lang (179, 187, 153). The latter, Lang, is the youngest prospect available in 2019 — born right on the Sept. 15 cutoff, like fellow Czech forward Jan Jenik, who still went in the third round (65th overall) of the 2018 draft. I wouldn’t be shocked if one or more of these WHL imports cracked the top 100 and all three should get drafted in my opinion.
Here are four more names of note among first-year imports, though they aren’t locks to be drafted and wouldn’t likely go in the top 150: Marcel Barinka (151, 155, 155), who played a partial season in the QMJHL; Phillip Schultz (258, undrafted, undrafted/246), a Danish overager out of the WHL; Filip Prikryl (336, undrafted, undrafted/338), also from the Q; and Tim Fleischer (unranked, undrafted, undrafted/unranked), a German forward developing in the OHL.
Last but certainly not least, I don’t consider these three to be sleepers but they could be steals outside the top 50: Maxim Cajkovic (59, 57, 74), who gets a shout-out as a top prospect stuck on such a bad QMJHL team that he could really fall as a result; Artemi Knyazev (58, 54, 72), a high-skill Russian defender from the Q; and Nikita Okhotyuk (108, 106, 114), another Russian rearguard who plays a safer game but appears to have untapped potential. Okhotyuk would have been mentioned higher here if not for a technicality — the fact he’s actually a second-year import for OHL Ottawa.
WHL Forwards (9)
Again, this is my wheelhouse and these are kids that I’ve been tracking quite close since their 2016 bantam draft year.
These first five should go in the top 150 and could crack the top 100: Josh Williams (92, 100, 100), who had an underwhelming draft year as a sniper that didn’t snipe enough despite looking poised to fill the net coming out of the Hlinka; Luke Toporowski (111, 108, 95), who has some Brendan Gallagher in him and could keep growing based on his dad’s size; Sasha Mutala (110, 101, 89), a very projectable pro with a high floor as a safer pick; Logan Barlage (134, 141, 145), the fourth overall pick from that 2016 bantam draft behind only Peyton Krebs, Kirby Dach and Bowen Byram, who hasn’t developed as hoped but still has upside while also fitting the Big Guys category; and Reece Newkirk (135, 139, 134), a two-way forward that should continue to improve and produce offensively under Mike Johnston’s coaching in Portland.
These last four are late-round candidates but may be passed over this year: Henry Rybinski (180, 200, 176), a Little Guy with big skill; David Kope (259, undrafted, undrafted/247), a Big Guy with more than a little skill; Tarun Fizer (304, undrafted, undrafted/309) and Jakin Smallwood (305, undrafted, undrafted/310), who are both on the smaller side with above-average skill at the WHL level.
For the record, I didn’t feel the need to mention Brayden Tracey and Adam Beckman here since they are no longer sleepers — their impressive stat-lines have helped their stock to the point they could both be top-50 picks.
Finnish Forwards (5)
These next two groupings aren’t my area of expertise by any means, but everything I’ve seen and heard about these prospects has me intrigued by their upside: Tuukka Tieksola (72, 59, 111), who could go almost anywhere as evidenced by those placements; Aku Räty (171, 137, 121), who should have been a bit higher in my rankings despite playing in the shadow of his younger brother Aatu, a top prospect for 2021; and Matias Mäntykivi (205, 206, 159), who is the definition of a true sleeper and thus might get slept on this year.
Two other Finnish forwards that caught my eye at times throughout the draft year but may not have shown enough to get selected: Wiljami Myllyla (206, 210, undrafted/226), whose flashes sure made him look like a sleeper; and Valtteri Ojantakanen (327, undrafted, undrafted/332), a real long-shot with a good shot.
Swedish Forwards (6)
These Swedes are in three tiers for me, with the top two being Lucas Feuk (149, 138, 138) and Nikola Pasic (150, 159, 143) as mid-round candidates; the next two being Arvid Costmar (222, undrafted, 158) and Max Wahlgren (223, undrafted, undrafted/227) as late-round candidates; and, lastly, two USHL imports in Travis Treloar (322, undrafted, undrafted/327) and Andre Lee (323, undrafted, undrafted/328) as prospects that could be on the radar for some teams.
For the mocks, I had Feuk to Montreal and Pasic to Detroit in both, but I was tempted to flip them, with Feuk to Detroit and Pasic to Montreal. I could see those two teams having interest in both.
This grouping was the hardest to rank and to mock for me, simply because my viewings were very limited and my connections in the U.S. high school scene are also lacking. So I was erring on the side of caution, which is sounding like an error on my part.
These top two defencemen are gaining a ton of momentum as the draft approaches and could be taken in the top 50, perhaps even becoming first-round picks: Jackson LaCombe (121, 153, 82), an offensive catalyst who can quarterback a power play; and Jayden Struble (120, 133, 86), a physical specimen who shined at the combine and also has significant offensive upside.
I had them mocked as fifth-round picks and bumped them up to third-rounders for the consensus mock but probably should have pushed them even higher — it is sounding like both will be gone by the end of the second round. Corey Pronman of The Athletic had Struble to Boston in the first round (30th overall) for his last-minute mock and also mentioned LaCombe as a Montreal target, albeit for the second round more likely than at 15th overall.
I really liked the little I saw of LaCombe with the famed Shattuck St. Mary’s academy — he racked up 22 goals and 89 points in 54 games — but I was also fond of Jack Lagerstrom from the same program last year and he went undrafted after producing 15 goals and 49 points over 54 games. Both are Minnesota products, LaCombe from Eden Prairie and Lagerstrom from Edina, with Lagerstrom having a slight size advantage. I had Lagerstrom mocked as a sixth-round pick (161st overall) in 2018 and the fact he was overlooked left me a little down on LaCombe’s stock. Poor excuse for a scout, I know.
Here are the other seven high-schoolers of note: Ryder Donovan (118, 105, 99), a Big Guy and budding power forward that can play centre or wing; Rhett Pitlick (158, 166, 139), a Little Guy with big-time speed, skill and bloodlines; Mike Koster (122, 154, 141), Braden Doyle (170, 164, 133) and Thomas Schweighardt (252, undrafted, undrafted/243) as undersized defencemen with offensive tools; plus Garrett Pinoniemi (250, undrafted, undrafted/241) and Matthew Stienburg (251, undrafted, undrafted/242) as promising forwards that might just get picked.
The USHL is a league that I attempted to keep a closer watch on this season, largely to see the games against that NTDP juggernaut. The USHL is starting to rival the CHL — that being the WHL, OHL and QMJHL — at least in terms of developing NHL talent.
Three forwards really separated themselves from a pack of potential steals: Shane Pinto (61, 51, 62), Trevor Janicke (94, 102, 101) and Aaron Huglen (117, 119, 102). They should all go in the top four rounds but could still be steals at their respective draft spots anywhere outside the top 50.
Two defencemen flying a bit under the radar: Zac Jones (123, 113, 132), a Little Guy with legit skills; and Ryan Siedem (312, undrafted, 199), a Big Guy that put up a pretty big point total as a coveted righty. I’ve obviously been sleeping on Siedem, getting him into my consensus mock as a seventh-rounder but some believe he could crack the top 150.
Ryan Johnson is another kid — like Tracey and Beckman — that I no longer consider a sleeper after playing a key role for USHL champion Sioux Falls and also shining at the World Junior A Challenge. I had Johnson ranked 44th and mocked at 62nd and 51st, but it sounds like he’s getting some first-round consideration and could be a candidate for Anaheim at 29th overall as a California kid.
Now for seven USHL forwards that are more so sleeper candidates: Anthony Romano (177, 177, 175), Grant Silianoff (146, 147, 185), Josh Nodler (238, undrafted, undrafted/236), Austen Swankler (244, undrafted, undrafted/237), Jack Malone (245, undrafted, undrafted/238), Trevor Kuntar (246, undrafted, undrafted/295) and Lynden Breen (293, undrafted, undrafted/296). All names to keep in mind, listed in the order that I like them as of today.
Last but not necessarily least again, three more forwards that fit this category: Patrick Moynihan (144, 122, 122), from the NTDP, who Jack Hughes and others touted as their most underrated teammate when asked at the combine; Jami Krannila (160, 148, 148), another member of that Sioux Falls championship team who could have also fit under the Little Guys, First-Year Imports and Finnish Forwards categories; and Nick Abruzzese (247, undrafted, undrafted/239), an overager who formed a dynamic duo with first-round candidate Robert Mastrosimone for runner-up Chicago.
Let’s not forget this goaltender either: Logan Stein (298, undrafted, undrafted/301), who had some standout moments throughout the draft year and strikes me as a real sleeper.
Tier-Two Talents (11)
I didn’t watch as much BCHL as I probably should have this season, with another quality draft class set to hear their names called — a few likely higher than I have them ranked and mocked.
These three in particular: Layton Ahac (115, 109, 75), who some scouts like nearly as much as Dante Fabbro and Dennis Cholowski during their draft year as first-round picks out of the BCHL in 2016; Alex Campbell (138, 156, 78), who rode shotgun with top-10 candidate Alex Newhook but may have been more of an offensive driver than many give him credit for, myself included; and Harrison Blaisdell (137, 123, 105), whose strong showing at the aforementioned World Junior A Challenge may have done wonders for his stock.
Four more forwards that warrant mentioning as sleepers: Quinn Olson (182, 214, 214) and Zachary Okabe (308, undrafted, undrafted/313), both out of Alberta (AJHL); Spencer Kersten (243, undrafted, undrafted/235), an overager from Ontario’s top Junior-A league (OJHL); and Keighan Gerrie (unranked, undrafted, undrafted/unranked), also from Ontario but one of the draft’s biggest wild-cards after playing for his hometown team in the little-known SIJHL, which is more of a tier-three league — making his talent even tougher to evaluate.
There are also four goaltenders that could very well get drafted out of tier-two leagues this year: Matthew Davis (261, undrafted, undrafted/250), a Little Guy who stood tall at the biggest moments; Carter Gylander (346, undrafted, undrafted/303), a Big Guy possessing big upside while backstopping one of the projected top Junior-A teams for next season, with those two being first-year eligibles from Alberta; Jett Alexander (242, undrafted, undrafted/234), another Big Guy who has been a wall at his current level of competition; and Logan Neaton (345, undrafted, undrafted/343), an American kid who willingly made the move to Prince George, winning a league championship there and finishing as a Canadian national runner-up, with the latter two being overagers from the OJHL and BCHL, respectively.
Little Guys (36)
This is, ironically, the biggest category for this big list — featuring 22 forwards, 11 defencemen and three goaltenders.
Most of these prospects are both short and slight, but some have decent height and are just a little light in the present, while others are vertically challenged despite a solid build.
There has been more room in the game for smaller players in recent years, but the St. Louis Blues won the Stanley Cup with a bigger, heavier team. All things being equal or relatively close, scouts and NHL teams still prefer size, so some of these Little Guys could very well go undrafted.
Ethan Phillips (93, 120, 80), 5-foot-9, 146 pounds from the USHL and bound for Boston University.
Xavier Parent (132, 125, 120), 5-foot-7, 168 pounds from the QMJHL and Memorial Cup host Halifax.
Xavier Simoneau (131, 136, 136), 5-foot-7, 172 pounds from the QMJHL, sturdy with dangles for days.
Leevi Aaltonen (99, 81, 117), 5-foot-9, 168 pounds, a Finn who puts all of his weight into his shots.
Dmitri Sheshin (90, 86, 135), 5-foot-8, 143 pounds, a Russian waterbug with slippery skills.
Arseni Gritsyuk (142, 178, 123), 5-foot-10, 168 pounds, another Russian winger who could be a riser.
Vojtech Strondala (101, 117, 154), 5-foot-7, 154 pounds, a Czech catalyst with creativity.
Evgeny Oxentyuk (153, 151, 167), 5-foot-7, 154 pounds, a Belarusian sensation from the under-18 worlds.
Yegor Chinakhov (143, 143, 178), 5-foot-11, 157 pounds, an enigmatic Russian that can explode.
Jonathan Brinkman (178, 215, 215), 5-foot-11, 165 pounds, a Dane that dazzled at the World Juniors.
Kristian Tanus (161, 173, 170), 5-foot-8, 159 pounds, a Finnish overager with no lack of skill that would have been drafted in 2018 if he was bigger.
Eli Zummack (199, 181, 188), 5-foot-9, 179 pounds, a Canadian with dynamic skill as a playmaker.
Artur Gatiyatov (189, 195, 195), 5-foot-7, 130 pounds, a tiny but talented overager who thrilled fans for Kazakhstan at the World Juniors.
Kirill Tyutyayev (211, 209, undrafted/262), 5-foot-9, 146 pounds, a Russian overager that turned heads at times.
Jeremy McKenna (236, undrafted, 200), 5-foot-10, 174 pounds, a Canadian overager that hasn’t been held back by his lack of size in putting up big goal and point totals.
Jere Innala (202, 193, undrafted/232), 5-foot-9, 172 pounds, a Finnish overager that set offensive records in the Liiga.
Jacob Tortora (235, undrafted, undrafted/267), 5-foot-8, 161 pounds, an American overager now developing in the OHL that I’ve liked for years in likening him to Jeremy Bracco.
Linus Nyman (262, undrafted, undrafted/271), 5-foot-10, 159 pounds, a Finnish overager now playing back home after a successful OHL stint that didn’t get him drafted.
Jerry Turkulainen (263, undrafted, undrafted/272), 5-foot-7, 159 pounds, another Finnish overager in his final year of eligibility that has been on Toronto’s radar, attending a Maple Leafs’ development camp.
Amir Garayev (291, undrafted, undrafted/293), 5-foot-10, 172 pounds, a Russian with debatable upside but undeniable skill.
Ty Jackson (294, undrafted, undrafted/297), 5-foot-7, 148 pounds, a Canadian USHLer that has been able to put points at every level, primarily as a playmaker.
Ryan Hughes (331, undrafted, undrafted/344), 5-foot-8, 157 pounds, a Canadian overager that could be among the WHL’s leading scorers next season.
Honourable mention to the ultimate Little Guy in Sean Dhooghe, the 5-foot-3, 150-pound double-overager who more than doubled his goal total (from six to 15) as a sophomore for the University of Wisconsin.
Domenick Fensore (66, 75, 61), 5-foot-7, 154 pounds, an underrated member of the NTDP’s stacked defence that came on strong in the second half to take on a bigger role.
Kim Nousiainen (84, 97, 97), 5-foot-9, 170 pounds, a Finnish puck-mover that performed well in the biggest games.
Mattias Norlinder (81, 149, 84), 6-foot-0, 187 pounds, a Swedish overager that enjoyed a second-half surge to emerge as one of the draft’s biggest risers.
Marc Del Gaizo (125, 127, 171), 5-foot-9, 170 pounds, an American overager coming off an impressive NCAA debut after leading all USHL defencemen in goals the previous season.
Carter Berger (169, 180, 180), 6-foot-0, 201 pounds, a Canadian overager out of the BCHL that will continue developing at the University of Connecticut next season.
Luke Bast (183, 217, 202), 5-foot-9, 170 pounds, a Canadian Tier-Two Talent that played a key role for national champion Brooks in winning as tournament host.
Christopher Merisier-Ortiz (164, 182, 182), 5-foot-11, 165 pounds, a QMJHLer with nice tools and noticeable upside.
Alex Yakovenko (214, 207, 207), 5-foot-10, 170 pounds, a Russian overager that made the most of his final year of eligbility, taking advantage of a loophole to light up the USHL.
David Kvasnicka (192, 196, undrafted/219), 5-foot-10, 185 pounds, a Czech overager that quarterbacked his country’s power play at the World Juniors.
Clay Hanus (306, undrafted, undrafted/311), 5-foot-10, 170 pounds, a WHLer with mobility and offensive instincts that could trigger a breakout next season.
T.J. Lloyd (307, undrafted, undrafted/312), 5-foot-8, 176 pounds, another Canadian Tier-Two Talent out of the AJHL that was named the nation’s top defenceman at that level as an overager and also stood out at the World Junior A Challenge.
Dustin Wolf (75, 72, 108), 6-foot-0, 161 pounds, an American kid going the CHL route in replacing Carter Hart without skipping much of a beat as Everett’s starter and one of the WHL’s top netminders.
Isaiah Saville (124, 110, 150), 6-foot-1, 194 pounds, an American USHLer from Alaska that had a stellar draft year without getting nearly enough attention or recognition.
Nolan Maier (113, 144, 211), 6-foot-0, 170 pounds, a Canadian WHLer that is also underappreciated by the masses in being reminiscent of Connor Ingram.
Big Guys (33)
As mentioned, the Blues won with size, so NHL general managers might be thinking bigger is better again at this year’s draft.
For those looking for the next big thing, these 14 forwards, 14 defencemen and five goaltenders could be worth their weight in gold as difference-makers down the road.
Ondrej Psenicka (152, 165, 152), 6-foot-5, 198 pounds, Czech needs a bigger challenge next season after torching his current league.
Elmer Soderblom (173, 160, 142), 6-foot-7, 220 pounds, Swede with offensive tools to strike fear into opponents if he can put it all together.
Jacob Grönhagen (224, undrafted, 206), 6-foot-6, 209 pounds, another Swede with a fairly high floor in a bottom-six role but a much lower ceiling than Soderblom.
Aliaksei Protas (112, 85, 162), 6-foot-5, 190 pounds, Belarusian came on strong during WHL playoffs as a First-Year Import, helping Prince Albert to a league championship.
Krystof Hrabik (230, undrafted, 181), 6-foot-4, 209 pounds, Czech centre plays a real power game, an overager who also enjoyed success as a First-Year Import for WHL Tri-City.
Mark Kastelic (231, undrafted, 205), 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, an American overager that broke out in the WHL as a man among boys.
Brady Meyer (157, 167, 209), 6-foot-5, 190 pounds, USHLer struggled offensively but skates like the wind and looked to have significant upside in that league’s Top Prospects Game.
Judd Caulfield (239, undrafted, 151), 6-foot-3, 207 pounds, NTDP winger plays a power game, does the dirty work and is a renowned penalty-killer.
Jaxon Nelson (248, undrafted, undrafted/269), 6-foot-4, 207 pounds, USHL overager is another strong skater that more than doubled his production from the previous season but might be just scratching the surface of his potential.
Brett Chorske (321, undrafted, undrafted/326), 6-foot-6, 185 pounds, High-Schooler turned Tier-Two Talent, the son of former NHLer Tom Chorske is committed to BCHL Wenatchee for next season.
Gabriel Seger (324, undrafted, undrafted/329), 6-foot-4, 218 pounds, Swedish overager was Under Exposed as a Tier-Two Talent in the NAHL but dominated that level as the season progressed.
Colin Schmidt (340, undrafted, undrafted/unranked), 6-foot-5, 192 pounds, American overager and another Tier-Two Talent from the NAHL that could be a late-bloomer worth taking a chance on.
Jonathan Yantsis (341, undrafted, undrafted/348), 6-foot-2, 209 pounds, Canadian overager that exploded to score 50 goals in the OHL after netting just five the previous season.
Hugo Leufvenius (342, undrafted, undrafted/349), 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, Swedish overager that also took his game to another level as an import in the OHL.
Antti Tuomisto (55, 68, 66), 6-foot-4, 194 pounds, towering and multi-talented Finn that is still very raw.
Martin Hugo Has (100, 96, 94), 6-foot-4, 187 pounds, Czech developing in Finland with tools to be a two-way force similar to Tuomisto.
Simon Lundmark (82, 111, 88), 6-foot-2, 201 pounds, Swede gained momentum in the second half and could go higher than anticipated, with one of 10 scouts polled by TSN’s Bob McKenzie ranking him as a first-round talent.
Ilya Mironov (155, 190, 131), 6-foot-3, 198 pounds, Russian with ability at both ends that could rise like Alexander Romanov, a second-rounder for Montreal last year.
Cole Moberg (167, 157, 166), 6-foot-3, 198 pounds, WHLer put up pretty big numbers on a pretty bad team but his upside has been the subject of debate.
Quinn Schmiemann (166, 169, 186), 6-foot-2, 185 pounds, another WHLer that is quite a bit younger than Moberg in the same draft class and is still hitting his stride but could have the higher ceiling between the two.
Cade Webber (219, undrafted, 161), 6-foot-6, 194 pounds, American didn’t get much opportunity with NTDP before rejoining the High-Schooler category — thus also fitting of the Under Exposed category — but should play a bigger role for BCHL Penticton as a Tier-Two Talent next season.
Ilya Morozov (154, 161, undrafted/218), 6-foot-3, 207 pounds, Russian overager played a very efficient, effective role at the World Juniors where he was named one of his country’s top three players on a roster loaded with already drafted prospects.
Otto Latvala (201, 212, 212), 6-foot-6, 214 pounds, Finnish overager also stood out for the right reasons at the World Juniors, helping his country win gold in a shutdown role.
Connor Horning (271, undrafted, undrafted/248), 6-foot-3, 198 pounds, WHLer made big strides in developing a ton during draft year despite dreadful minus-77 rating over 68 games on league’s last-place team.
Jérémie Bucheler (311, undrafted, undrafted/317), 6-foot-4, 194 pounds, BCHL overager also took a big step as a Tier-Two Talent to put his name on the radar.
Noah Ganske (314, undrafted, undrafted/319), 6-foot-7, 207 pounds, American overager skates well for his size but would be more of a project pick out of the USHL.
Spencer Meier (316, undrafted, undrafted/321), 6-foot-4, 201 pounds, American overager may still be growing, literally and figuratively, as a late-bloomer in the NCAA after previously winning USHL championship with Fargo in 2018.
Lev Starikov (338, undrafted, undrafted/341), 6-foot-7, 201 pounds, Russian is one of the older first-time eligibles and failed to stick in the OHL but did a bit better in the USHL.
Pyotr Kochetkov (48, 43, 69), 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, Russian shouldn’t be a sleeper after backstopping his country to bronze in being named the top netminder at this year’s World Juniors but could be a steal if he slides into the third round because of the Russian factor.
Mads Sogaard (76, 73, 79), 6-foot-7, 196 pounds, Dane had forgettable World Juniors but rebounded at CHL Top Prospects Game and reminds some of fellow Dane Frederik Andersen.
Hunter Jones (107, 95, 91), 6-foot-4, 194 pounds, OHLer has similarities to San Jose’s Martin Jones and should be one of the top-five goalies taken in 2019.
Roddy Ross (344, undrafted, undrafted/342), 6-foot-4, 174 pounds, Tier-Two Talent turned WHLer opened eyes down the stretch as an overager with a style like Adin Hill.
Alex Aslanidis (297, undrafted, undrafted/300), 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, High-Schooler committed to Providence College that will take time to develop but possesses frame of interest.
Injured Guys (5)
These prospects missed significant time to injuries during their draft year but should still get selected at some point.
Simon Holmstrom (46, 53, 31) was Sweden’s top forward prospect for 2019 heading into the draft year and his stock was hurt by being sidelined but lately it sounds like he’s still got a good shot at cracking the top 31 — potentially as high as the 18-20 range, with Dallas, Ottawa and Winnipeg among the many teams with some level of interest. It now seems unlikely that Holmstrom will get out of the first round, but he could be a steal if he does.
Henri Nikkanen (139, 121, 90) was thought to be another first-round talent and one of the best Finns for 2019, but his season was derailed and he couldn’t get back up to speed while auditioning for his national team in getting cut from Finland’s roster for the under-18 worlds. Nikkanen is now a wild-card that could fall out of the top 100.
Dillon Hamaliuk (133, 129, 107), a Big Guy at 6-foot-3 and 201 pounds, missed the entire second half and still wasn’t healthy enough to participate in the fitness testing at the combine. But he’s a budding power forward that has been traded to next season’s Memorial Cup host team, so some team could take Hamaliuk sooner than anticipated.
Massimo Rizzo (116, 112, 130) is a Tier-Two Talent as captain of BCHL Penticton and somewhat of a Little Guy at 5-foot-10 and 174 pounds, but he could totally be a steal outside the top 100 as long as he can overcome his nagging back issues.
Tag Bertuzzi (175, 128, 190) entered the OHL with a good amount of hype as the second overall pick in that league’s 2017 draft — not to mention the son of former NHL star Todd and cousin of current NHLer Tyler — but a laundry list of injuries has hampered his development, including a dislocated shoulder that ended his draft year following forearm, groin and concussion problems the previous season. Some team will likely take a chance on Bertuzzi in the later rounds, but his stock is way down these days — making him a potential steal if he can stay healthy going forward.
Under Exposed (10)
These prospects either had limited roles for their teams or limited viewings for me.
Owen Lindmark (145, 145, 119) was overshadowed on that deep NTDP team — playing behind Jack Hughes, Alex Turcotte, Trevor Zegras and John Beecher on the centre depth chart — but his speed and puck skills were evident at the under-18 worlds to end the draft year.
Alex Brännstam (148, 142, 156) didn’t stand out for a strong Djurgardens squad but also made the most of his opportunities at the under-18 worlds where he recorded the primary assist on Sweden’s overtime-winning goal in the gold-medal game.
Valeri Orekhov (190, 203, 203) turned a lot of heads at the World Juniors for unheralded Kazakhstan and also had an impressive KHL season by all accounts to put himself on the draft radar as an overager.
Nikita Rtishchev (187, 198, 198) is a Russian overager that I had mocked in the seventh round for 2018 and again in 2019, believing he could be the next Nikita Gusev — also a seventh-rounder back in 2012 and now set to take the NHL by storm next season with Vegas.
Maxim Denezhkin (220, undrafted, 172), another Little Guy listed at 5-foot-9 and 165 pounds, emerged as the MHL playoff hero by scoring the lone goal in his team’s 1-0 championship victory. Some scouts see Denezhkin in the same range as fellow Russian forwards Sheshin, Gritsyuk and Chinakhov — all of whom could be mid-round picks.
Ilya Altybarmakyan (287, undrafted, 194) is the younger brother of Blackhawks prospect Andrei Altybarmakyan, flashing some of the same high-end skill and upside that made his sibling a third-round selection in 2017.
Maxim Shabanov (286, undrafted, undrafted/260) is yet another Little Guy at 5-foot-8 and 146 pounds but — like so many others on this list — boasts some big-time skill. His lack of size combined with the Russian factor might prevent Shabanov from getting drafted, but he’s fun to watch when he’s playing to the best of his ability.
Premysl Svoboda (328, undrafted, undrafted/259) is an intriguing Czech catalyst best summed up in Steve Kournianos’s profiling of this prospect — available on Twitter (@TheDraftAnalyst) and in his very affordable and thorough $5 draft guide.
Dominic Vidoli (339, undrafted, undrafted/unranked) is an American overager that started out in the NCAA but finished up as a USHLer. He put up points at the junior level, but the sample size was too small to get a great read on this kid, though he certainly seems like a sleeper prospect to keep an eye on.
Kieran Brown (unranked, undrafted, undrafted/unranked), who hails from England, briefly made my rankings at No. 350 for May — occupying the final spot for that month, his one and only appearance. Brown did finish his draft year on a high note, scoring a hat trick for Great Britain in a 5-4 triumph over host Hungary at the division-two under-18 worlds in April.
My Top 20
This wasn’t easy but — after much deliberation and internal debate — here are my Top 20 potential steals and sleeper prospects for the 2019 NHL Entry Draft:
1) Tuukka Tieksola, if taken outside the top 75
2) Domenick Fensore, if taken outside the top 75
3) Dustin Wolf, if taken outside the top 75
4) Yaroslav Likhachyov, if taken outside the top 75
5) Josh Williams, if taken outside the top 75
6) Henri Nikkanen, if taken outside the top 75
7) Alex Campbell, if taken outside the top 100
8) Mikhail Abramov, if taken outside the top 100
9) Luke Toporowski, if taken outside the top 100
10) Massimo Rizzo, if taken outside the top 100
11) Kim Nousiainen, if taken outside the top 100
12) Vojtech Strondala, if taken outside the top 125
13) Arseni Gritsyuk, if taken outside the top 125
14) Isaiah Saville, if taken outside the top 125
15) Elmer Soderblom, if taken outside the top 125
16) Alex Brännstam, if taken outside the top 150
17) Quinn Schmiemann, if taken outside the top 150
18) Evgeny Oxentyuk, if taken outside the top 150
19) Jonathan Brinkman, if taken outside the top 150
20) Quinn Olson, if taken outside the top 150
Only time will tell, but here’s hoping at least a few of those 20 and several of these 150 prospects prove to be steals and live up to my sleeper label. Do you have other potential steals or sleepers in mind leading up to the draft? Feel free to share them in the comments below.
Larry Fisher is a senior writer and head scout for The Hockey Writers, having been an at-large contributor for THW since August 2014. Fisher covers both the NHL and the WHL, specializing in prospects and NHL draft content, including his annual mock drafts that date back to 2012. Fisher has also been a beat writer for the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets since 2008, formerly working as a sports reporter/editor for The Daily Courier in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada from 2008-2019. Follow him on Twitter: @LarryFisher_KDC.