Every year, when the NHL Central Scouting releases its Players to Watch List, there are a few surprises. Prospects are ranked in three categories: ‘A’ is for potential first round candidates, ‘B’ for potential second or third round prospects, and a ‘C’ has the potential to be picked in later rounds. With this type of categorization, there are questions about where some players are placed. Here are five players who I think were classed too low.
The Swede loves to score. Noel Gunler has an excellent release that is deceptive and a threat from any spot in the offensive zone. He is not an elite skater, but it isn’t a weakness for today’s game. The winger has 1 goal and 1 assist in 10 games with Luleå HF of the SHL, one of few teenagers in the Swedish professional league.
Many scouts are very high on Gunler, which is why it’s puzzling that he was rated a B prospect. THW’s Larry Fisher’s October rankings had him at 13, while The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler had him 8th in his preseason rankings. (from ‘Wheeler: Preseason look at the top 31 prospects for the 2020 NHL Draft,’ The Athletic, 08/19/2019) I am in the majority when I say he should have been given an A rating.
O’Rourke is the prototypical Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds defenseman – a smooth skater and efficient puck-mover. The NHL prospect was 5th in scoring among rookie defensemen last season, after being selected 20th overall in the CHL Priority Draft. This season, he has seven points in his first nine games, and is being relied on to defend against the opposition’s top lines.
His ranking is up for debate, as most have O’Rourke in the second or third round range (72nd on Fisher’s List, Honourable Mention on Craig Button’s top 31). However, he has the potential to be on many first round lists before the season ends. In my assessment, he should have been regarded as an A prospect.
Despite his small stature, Nybeck is fearless. The Swedish winger is ultra aggressive and can win battles with his strength and speed. He could work on his wrist and snap shots, but he drives to the net often and with purpose, beating goaltenders in close. This season, he is second in scoring on his Swedish junior team with 17 points in 12 games.
Nybeck has moved up the ranks quickly this season after not being on many scouts’ radar previously. His style of play reminds me of last year’s first-round pick Jacob Pelletier. THW’s Larry Fisher has him ranked 17th. Sportsnet’s Sam Cosentino has him one spot higher on his October rankings at 16. It will be interesting to see where he ends up, as some scouts are torn about him. Either way, he is a first-round talent and should have received an A rating.
One of the most creative players in the upcoming draft, Kasper Simontaival uses his puck skills and vision to produce plenty of offensive chances. The 17-year-old plays in the Finnish U20 league where he is 2nd in team scoring with 14 points in 13 games.
It is perplexing to see the Finnish product classified as a B. Most scouts have him in the top 25 in their early rankings. Fisher has him at 25th, whereas Wheeler has him at 14th. If he continues to dominate the Finnish junior league and has a strong showing at the World Junior Championships, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him drafted top 12 in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft.
Connor Zary, the 6-foot centre has been extremely valuable to his WHL team the Kamloops Blazers. As a 17-year-old last season, he was a point-per-game player and trusted in all situations. This season, the Canadian has maintained his dependable two-way style, with a much-improved offensive game – 16 points in 10 games.
Zary may not have the highest ceiling in this prospect pool, but he may be the closest to a solid NHL player. Fisher has him at 21st in his October draft list and TSN’s Button has him at 18th. While he may not have enough skill and upside to crack the top 12, the star junior player should be a safe bet to be a first round pick and should be rated A.