It’s early days still, but the 2020 draft year is ramping up and prospects are getting up to speed.
They may not be in midseason form yet and some will come on stronger in the second half — and into playoffs — but there is enough of a sample size through approximately 10 games to highlight some risers and fallers.
1) Kasper Simontaival (F, Finland, Tappara Liiga)
PRESEASON RANKING: 16
OCTOBER RANKING: 25
ANALYSIS: First off, I’m still a big fan of Simontaival and I don’t particularly like highlighting fallers so early in the season because a lot of these “falls” are more so due to shuffling the deck on my end than poor performance by the prospects. Simontaival is performing just fine in Finland — continuing to produce around a point-per-game pace in the junior league — and sure to get into his share of Liiga games as the season progresses. How he performs at the pro level will probably determine how high Simontaival goes in 2020 — be it the teens, the twenties, or the second round. He missed this year’s Hlinka showcase, but most scouts were already well aware of Simontaival’s offensive upside and high ceiling. He played in that tournament as an underager last year and put up seven points in four games — all assists — so he presumably would have been pretty dominant this time around. Simontaival is on the smallish side, but he’s got big skill and could totally be taken in the teens come June — as could fellow Finnish forward Roni Hirvonen (No. 26).
2) Jan Mysak (LW, Czech Republic, Litvinov Czech)
PRESEASON RANKING: 18
OCTOBER RANKING: 27
ANALYSIS: Mysak is more of a faller in the traditional sense, with his stock trending down to some degree after a mediocre showing at the Hlinka. Considered a top-10 candidate heading into that tournament, Mysak shockingly got a C grade on NHL Central Scouting’s initial watch list released last week. That grading system goes A for first-round prospects, B for second- and third-rounders, then C for fourth- to seventh-rounders. Mysak hasn’t fallen that far in my eyes — he’s still an A-level talent — but he’ll need to win back the scouting masses with a solid pro season and a better performance at the World Juniors, assuming he makes the cut for the host Czechs.
3) Dylan Peterson (RC, USA/Canada, NTDP U18)
PRESEASON RANKING: 37
OCTOBER RANKING: 58
ANALYSIS: Peterson was a victim of my reshuffling and a lack of early-season exposure with the NTDP starting a little later despite skipping the Hlinka. Peterson is a big kid with lots of tools to be a good pro, so he may not stay down my rankings for long. He’s still within my second-round range, but some see Peterson as a first-round talent. I’m hoping to get more viewings of the NTDP in general over the next month, so I’ll hopefully have a better read on Peterson and his teammates come November.
4) Jacob Perreault (RC, Canada/USA, Sarnia OHL)
PRESEASON RANKING: 38
OCTOBER RANKING: 50
ANALYSIS: Perreault missed the cut for Canada’s under-18 team at the Hlinka — a surprising omission coming off a very impressive rookie season in the OHL (30 goals and 55 points in 63 games as a 16-year-old) — but he’s taken that snub in stride, picking up where he left off with Sarnia this season. He also has NHL bloodlines, the son of former NHLer Yanic Perreault. That doesn’t sound like a faller, does it? Perreault slid down my second round as part of that reshuffling, but he’s a lot closer to the first round than this October ranking might indicate. It’s a deep draft class for OHL forwards and overall for 2020, which might also be holding Perreault back a bit, but don’t be surprised if he’s on the rise for November. Morgan Frost didn’t make the Hlinka team in his draft year either and still climbed into the first round in 2017. There could be some similarities in Perreault’s upside.
5) Kasper Puutio (RD, Finland, Swift Current WHL)
PRESEASON RANKING: 42
OCTOBER RANKING: 69
ANALYSIS: It would appear that I had it out for prospects with P surnames this month — Peterson, Perreault and now Puutio among my October fallers. Puutio is one player that I was perhaps a little too high on in my preseason rankings. He was the first overall pick in this year’s CHL import draft, but it’s important to note that order is not always indicative of talent level — since that draft is largely controlled by the agents. That said, Puutio received rave reviews at the time and I’m looking forward to my first live viewing this Wednesday with Swift Current here in Kelowna. The Broncos have a few 2020 prospects to watch, including sophomores Joona Kiviniemi — a fellow Finnish import — and Ben King, both forwards, in addition to Puutio, a puck-moving, modern-day defender. I’m hopeful that Puutio will have a strong showing, with the potential to get back into my second-round range for November once I get to lay eyes on him.
6) Noah Delemont (LD, Switzerland, Acadie-Bathurst QMJHL)
PRESEASON RANKING: 59
OCTOBER RANKING: 96
ANALYSIS: Delemont is a slick skater and a flashy player, but his size and hockey sense are among the concerns. He can be a turnover machines at times and he’s not overly strong on the puck. The adjustment to North America is proving challenging, but Delemont is talented enough to figure it out in the Q. Once he does, the points should come and perhaps in bunches. Until then, his stock will be down because defending has never been his forte. That area of his game will be a work in progress throughout his draft year and must improve to get back into that second-round range — or even the third round.
7) Ben Schoen (F, USA, Youngstown USHL)
PRESEASON RANKING: 60
OCTOBER RANKING: 77
ANALYSIS: Schoen was a buzzsaw in becoming a Hlinka standout on an American team of relative unknowns and some believe he could become the Bobby Brink of the 2020 draft. That’s entirely possible, but the reality is Schoen is really small — listed at 5-foot-7 and 146 pounds — so he’ll also need to overcome size concerns. Being small isn’t the roadblock it once was — more of a speedbump nowadays — but it still has its drawbacks when it comes to the draft. Just ask Cole Caufield — or Brink, for that matter. Nick Robertson too. Those three American forwards would have went higher in 2019 based on pure skill and Schoen could suffer a similar fate in 2020. But he’s just getting going in the USHL and if Schoen can rip it up reminiscent of Brink, then he should get back into the second round and could be knocking on the door of the first round down the road.
8) Matej Kaslik (LC, Slovakia, Malmo J20)
PRESEASON RANKING: 66
OCTOBER RANKING: 87
ANALYSIS: Playing for his native Slovakia, Kaslik emerged as another unheralded Hlinka standout, and he’s now continuing to develop in Sweden. He’s made the jump from J18 to J20 among the junior leagues there but has yet to find the same offensive success at that higher level. Central Scouting debuted Kaslik as a C prospect, which puts him in the range of my October ranking, but that didn’t influence his fall for me. I honestly don’t put a lot of stock in those letter grades — as evidenced by the discrepancies throughout my rankings, when taking the time to compare and contrast. I liked what I saw from Kaslik at the Hlinka and wouldn’t hesitate to bump him back up once he starts producing in J20.
9) Jack Finley (RC, Canada, Spokane WHL)
PRESEASON RANKING: 67
OCTOBER RANKING: 79
ANALYSIS: Finley slipped a little among my WHL forwards — in part because of a lacklustre live viewing last month — but the upside is significant for this 6-foot-5 right-handed centre who is one of the youngest prospects eligible for 2020 as a September birthdate. Finley skates well for his size, with a very long-yet-smooth stride that will become more powerful as he adds strength to his formidable frame. He’s been cast in a shutdown role for Spokane, though he’s been chipping in offensively since my live viewing. That night, he was on the top penalty-killing unit and tasked with taking a ton of defensive-zone draws — which meant a heavy dose of D-zone starts in a difficult matchup against Kelowna overager Kyle Topping. Finley was holding his own as that game went on, making adjustments and improvements. I’ve witnessed better performances from Finley as a 16-year-old rookie last season, but those were in more of a sheltered role that included more offensive opportunities. His father Jeff Finley — the former NHL defenceman — is now Winnipeg’s top amateur scout, and I can see a bit of Jets centre Adam Lowry in the young Finley, though he’ll have to do a lot of filling out to become that type of two-way force in the future.
10) Marat Khusnutdinov (LC, Russia, SKA-1946 St. Petersburg MHL)
PRESEASON RANKING: 73
OCTOBER RANKING: 88
ANALYSIS: Khusnutdinov opted to stay home instead of reporting to OHL Erie — a decision that won’t likely help his draft stock, especially after getting off to a slower start in Russia’s junior league. But stats aren’t everything and Khusnutdinov is playing in that stacked St. Petersburg program, so opportunity also factors into those numbers. By all accounts and from what I saw at the Hlinka, Khusnutdinov has the talent to potentially become a second-round pick. I have him in the third round for now and was really hoping to see how he’d fare overseas as the eighth overall pick in this year’s import draft, but I’ll get over that and get back to evaluating him from afar. I do like my Russian forwards — or tend to take a liking to them — so Khusnutdinov could trend up again for me at some point.
NOTE: Here are 10 more prospects that are notably trending down in my rankings — all falling by double-digits for October, albeit some of them due to a lack of exposure early on.
Joona Lehmus (LD, Finland, Saint John QMJHL)
PRESEASON RANKING: 80
OCTOBER RANKING: 97
Jack Smith (F, USA, St. Cloud Cathedral U.S. High School)
PRESEASON RANKING: 82
OCTOBER RANKING: 107
Brendan Brisson (F, USA/Canada, Chicago USHL)
PRESEASON RANKING: 83
OCTOBER RANKING: 108
Mark Estapa (F, USA, Tri-City USHL)
PRESEASON RANKING: 84
OCTOBER RANKING: 110
Josh Pillar (RC, Canada, Kamloops WHL)
PRESEASON RANKING: 87
OCTOBER RANKING: Not Ranked
Ben King (F, Canada, Swift Current WHL)
PRESEASON RANKING: 89
OCTOBER RANKING: 113
Jakob Brook (LW, Canada, Prince Albert WHL)
PRESEASON RANKING: 90
OCTOBER RANKING: Not Ranked
Maxim Groshev (RW, Russia, Reaktor Nizhnekamsk MHL)
PRESEASON RANKING: 96
OCTOBER RANKING: 117
Marek Blaha (RD, Czech Republic, Sparta Praha U19)
PRESEASON RANKING: 99
OCTOBER RANKING: 121
Marko Stacha (LD, Slovakia, Dukla Trencin)
PRESEASON RANKING: 100
OCTOBER RANKING: 122
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.