Every year it’s a discussion that can be had prior to the NHL Draft and even more so looking back on past years and which players exceeded the initial expectations that came with them. They are the diamonds in the rough. The needles in the haystack. They are the steals of the NHL Draft.
While it’s much easier to look back on past years and discuss the success of former mid to late-round picks, it can be much more difficult to peg which players will be potential steals for teams ahead of the an upcoming draft. Still, while OHL centric in this case, we will be looking at a handful of players that could be later round picks that could far exceed where they are selected in the 2020 NHL Draft.
Tyson Foerster, C, Barrie Colts (OHL)
He has been ranked all over the map. Some have him listed as a late-first round pick, while others have him coming in somewhere between a late-second and early-third round selection. While he could definitely still find his way closer to the top of my list, Barrie Colts’ forward Tyson Foerster was ranked 53rd on my March rankings – a late-second round pick.
Sure, some might not consider that a steal, but consider what teams would have to pass on him 52 times for him to fall to where he is currently ranked. Now consider this, Foerster had a breakout year with the Colts jumping from 23 points in 64 games in 2018-19 to 80 points in 62 games this season prior to the cancellation. What if a team could take that and develop a top-six forward?
The hockey IQ is there. The playmaking ability is there. What drove the major offensive increase for Foerster this season may drive teams to question if it’s just a surge in his numbers, but he could develop into quite the player if he can reach his ceiling. That said, I’d be shocked to see him passed over 52 times when the NHL Draft does roll around, but even if he falls to the middle of the second round, that would be considered an early steal in my books with what he has to offer.
Martin Chromiak, LW, Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)
NHL Central Scouting: 35th (among European Skaters)
THW Josh Bell’s Rankings: 54th
THW Andrew Forbes’ March Rankings: 59th
THW Larry Fisher’s March Rankings: 32nd
Fast-forward a few picks in my rankings and I have Kingston Frontenacs’ forward Martin Chromiak going 59th overall. Again, another player who has found himself ranked early in the second round to some thinking he could drop to a late-second or early-third round pick, Chromiak has the size and the potential to be a legitimate offensive threat at the NHL level.
Having started the year with HK Dukla Trencin in Slovakia, he started the season off extremely slow with just six points in 32 games. While the rough start didn’t help his early season rankings, a move to the OHL came with a real bump in offence for the 17-year-old winger. In 28 games with the Frontenacs, he tallied 11 goals and 33 points and really started to showcase his ability as a playmaker on North American sized ice.
Surely his playing with Shane Wright and Zayde Wisdom helped his offensive rebirth in Kingston, the opportunity to play with some legitimate weapons gave Chromiak the chance to show what kind of ceiling he has as a player.
His size and positioning make him a force in the offensive zone and if he can build on his defensive responsibility, a team could get a solid second-line winger in Chromiak as a late pick in the second round of the 2020 NHL Draft. That said, if a team truly believes that he can reach his ultimate potential, he could come off the board even earlier that 59th overall.
Blake Biondi, F, Hermantown High (USHS-MN)
NHL Central Scouting: 91st (among NA Skaters)
THW Josh Bell’s Rankings: 62nd
THW Andrew Forbes’ March Rankings: 71st
THW Larry Fisher’s March Rankings: 74th
Sometimes overlooked, there are a number of interesting prospects playing for American high schools – many like Blake Biondi who played the 2019-20 season at Hermantown High. The 17-year-old forward spent the majority of the year playing for the high school as a forward with 10 games spent with the USHL’s Sioux City Musketeers.
Biondi is the 91st ranked North American skater by NHL Central Scouting and amongst the team at The Hockey Writers shows up just outside of the second round in the mid-70s range.
While he only suited up for 10 games with the Musketeers, he finished with a goal and three points before returning to Hermantown where he captained the team and finished the year with 37 goals and 76 points in just 25 games played during the regular season. He added another 10 goals and 19 points in six playoff games for his high school team.
Related: 2020 NHL Draft Guide
He has the size and hockey pedigree to be a solid third-round pick, but has the ability to develop into a steal if he can put all the pieces together. He sees the game well and has the leadership both on and off the ice to be a reliable role player wherever he goes.
And while teams will be looking long and hard at Biondi when the draft rolls around, he has made the commitment to the University of Minnesota-Duluth in the NCAA – where his dad played four seasons in the early 1990s.
If Biondi’s skills can translate to the NHL level, he’s shown a strong defensive zone game to go along with an all-around impressive offensive skill set as well. Even if he does drop to the third round of the 2020 NHL Draft, any team that takes Biondi could be looking at a steal candidate as a mid-70s pick.
Luke Evangelista, RW, London Knights (OHL)
NHL Central Scouting: 58th (among NA Skaters)
THW Josh Bell’s Rankings: 63rd
THW Andrew Forbes’ March Rankings: 79th
THW Larry Fisher’s March Rankings: 58th
Playing his junior hockey in one of the OHL’s meccas for pumping out NHL talent, Luke Evangelista used the 2019-20 season to solidify his position as a legitimate NHL prospect for the 2020 NHL Draft. The 18-year-old came into the season with 27 regular season games and just two assists to show for it, but exploded on the offensive side of the puck playing a number of minutes with the London Knights’ top offensive threats.
The second-year forward accumulated 23 goals and 61 points in 62 games for the Knights prior to the cancellation of the season and really displayed his playmaking ability throughout the year – especially while the Knights were without Liam Foudy and Connor McMichael during the World Junior Championship tournament in late December and early January.
What he lacks in size, at five-feet-eleven and just 165 pounds, Evangelista makes up for it in pure skill. His inconsistency early in his OHL career could be what led to his early low rankings and his need to work his way up the rankings, but some would argue that he has passed teammate Antonio Stranges in the overall rankings leading into the draft.
That said, he still looks like he will be an early to mid-third round pick which would be an absolute steal for any team that’s able to add his vision and hockey IQ to their prospect pool. While we won’t be able to say for sure until he gets a stab at the NHL level, it’s safe to say that Evangelista shouldn’t fall outside the third round and I’d be shocked to see him fall past the 79th overall pick.
Tristen Robins, C, Saskatoon Blades (WHL)
NHL Central Scouting: 134th (among NA Skaters)
THW Josh Bell’s Rankings: Unranked
THW Andrew Forbes’ March Rankings: 106th
THW Larry Fisher’s March Rankings: 86th
Heading out west, Tristen Robins of the Saskatoon Blades is another candidate for steal of the draft. The 18-year-old finished his second full WHL season with 33 goals and 73 points in 62 games for the Blades and played a responsible game defensively throughout the season.
According to NHL Central Scouting, he’s ranked extremely far back as the 134th ranked North American skater in the 2020 NHL Draft, while others have him ranked as a third-round pick. With that said, I still have Robins ranked 106th overall in my March rankings and at that rate, a team will get a very capable player midway through the fourth round.
Like Evangelista, Robins lacks the size that still seems to play a bit of a role in deciding who to take at the NHL Draft, but he has the ability to make up for it in other parts of his game. While he might not be the biggest of players, he has the attitude that nothing is going to hold him back and understands that cracking an NHL roster is going to be a challenge – one that he’s looking forward to.
Regardless of size and ability, Robins will likely slip to the fourth round of the NHL Draft and could be an impressive mid-round pick for any team. If he does, in fact, fall to that point in the draft, look for him to go somewhere between 106th overall and 110th.
James Hardie, LW, Mississauga Steelheads (OHL)
NHL Central Scouting: 213th (among NA Skaters)
THW Josh Bell’s Rankings: 94th
THW Andrew Forbes’ March Rankings: 152nd
THW Larry Fisher’s March Rankings: 174th
He’s a player I’ve talked about on a number of occasions, and one that NHL Central Scouting has ranked 213th among North American skaters. But James Hardie had a timely breakout year in his second season with the Mississauga Steelheads – posting 34 goals and 63 points in 59 games.
He led the Steelheads in goals and finished second to Cole Schwindt in points on the team prior to the OHL’s cancellation.
Yet another smaller player in the draft, Hardie showed off his shooting ability this past season making a case to climb the draft rankings at times. Still, most have him in around the end of the fifth round and into the sixth round.
While it’s not necessarily his size that is playing against him right now, the in-game attributes that he’s shown up to this point during his NHL career are somewhat interchangeable with those ranked above him. That said, Hardie has impressed a number of scouts this season and could still climb the rankings prior to draft day. Keep in mind, however, that there isn’t any more hockey for Hardie to play prior to the draft.
If Hardie can develop away from the puck and implement that into his game that already consists of top-end skating, he could be quite the catch for an NHL squad – especially if they can get him somewhere between the fifth and sixth rounds.
Grant Slukynsky, F, Warroad High (USHS-MN)
NHL Central Scouting: Unranked
THW Josh Bell’s Rankings: Unranked
THW Andrew Forbes’ March Rankings: Unranked
THW Larry Fisher’s March Rankings: 99th
Unranked by many means absolutely nothing for Warroad High forward Grant Slukynsky heading into the 2020 NHL Draft. As I mentioned before, while the American high school circuit has started to become a good development spot for NHL draft picks, it is sometimes still overlooked when talking about the league’s top prospects.
NHL Central Scouting has him unranked. I have him unranked. In fact, THW’s own Larry Fisher is one of very few that have Slukynsky ranked when it comes to the upcoming draft. While he doesn’t have much traction amongst scouts, his numbers this past season can’t go unnoticed.
Like Biondi, he’s mastered the high school game. He finished with 30 goals and 75 points in just 25 regular season games before adding another 26 points in just six playoff games. Still, Slukynsky is unranked.
But, considering his numbers and the fact that he’s six-feet tall and just under 200 pounds, it’s safe to say that this kid should be getting far more recognition than he’s received to this point. It’s safe to say he won’t be selected within the first three rounds, but even if he goes somewhere in the fifth or sixth round, he could make an NHL team quite happy.
Is Slukynsky as NHL Draft steal candidate? Well, considering he’s not being talked about much at all, regardless of where he goes his status as a steal will depend entirely on his success moving forward.
Xavier Simoneau, C, Drummondville Voltigeurs (QMJHL)
NHL Central Scouting: 211th (among NA Skaters)
THW Josh Bell’s Rankings: Unranked
THW Andrew Forbes’ March Rankings: Unranked
THW Larry Fisher’s March Rankings: 179th
My final steal candidate for the upcoming draft is Drummondville Voltigeurs’ forward Xavier Simoneau. As a draft eligible prospect in 2019, Simoneau wasn’t drafted and returned to the QMJHL for his third full season and really took advantage of the opportunity.
After two seasons of 45 points and 57 points respectively, Simoneau tallied 28 goals and 89 points in 61 games with the Voltigeurs before the season was cancelled. Now, NHL Central Scouting has him re-ranked at 211th among North American skaters while others are still unsure if he will be taken again this time around.
Like a number of the candidates I’ve spoken about, Simoneau is on the smaller side at just five-foot-seven and 176 pounds, but he plays a much more physical game than many players his size, according to The Hockey News’ Steven Ellis. One reason he might be overlooked by most teams is that he doesn’t have the same type of speed that others his size possess, but that shouldn’t take away from his hard-nosed game along the boards and away from the puck to win battles.
It’s quite possible that he will go undrafted again this time around, but even if he’s taken with the final pick of the NHL Draft, any chance he gets in the NHL could make him a possible steal candidate when we look back at this year’s picks.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.