Welcome to the Weekly Prospect Report. Here, we’ll take a look at some key names over the past week that are a big part of the next wave of NHL stars. This column will dive into both NHL-affiliated and draft-eligible prospects, focusing mainly on those outside the NHL.
Maple Leafs’ Abramov Looking Like a Steal
The Toronto Maple Leafs may have quietly had one of the best drafts in 2019. And they did it without their first-round pick. Their first selection of Nick Robertson (53rd overall) is the poster boy for their draft, but Mikhail Abramov has been raising his stock in 2019-20 and seems to be only getting better.
In 2018-19, the Russian player impressed in his rookie season, and first in North America, putting up 16 goals, 38 assists and 54 points in 62 games. He was great in the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, with seven points in six games, and played well in the World Under-19 Challenge, collecting three points in five games. This all added up to him being selected in the fourth round by the Maple Leafs, 115th overall.
Well, it looks like the 5-foot-11, 154-pound player was just getting accustomed to a new league last season, and 2019-20 has been his coming-out party. The Victoriaville Tigres’ star has been on fire, already surpassing last season’s points. He’s up to 32 goals, 30 assists and 62 points in just 50 games so far.
He leads the team in all stats and has 22 more points than the second-place player. He’s also contributed to 41% of the team’s goals this season. Even more impressive is that Abramov seems to be getting better as the season goes on. He’s currently riding a six-game point streak where he’s collected 11 points. The Maple Leafs may have found a steal in the fourth round.
Flames’ Wolf Continues to Dominate WHL
I’ve written about Wolf before. He was one of my favourite goaltenders ahead of the 2019 NHL Draft and then nearly went undrafted, being selected by the Calgary Flames 214th overall in the seventh round (there are only 217 picks for those wondering). Well, that pick is looking very good for the future of the Flames.
Wolf is absolutely dominating the WHL. Yes, the Everett Silvertips are a very good team, currently holding a record of 32-11-3-1 and are second in the U.S. Division. But would they be without Wolf? The Californian goaltender is 23-8-2-0 and is leading the league in goals-against average (1.98), save percentage (.936), and shutouts (seven).
Wolf continues to impress. He’s played well above what his draft selection shows, and I have no questions that he will continue to do so. The Flames’ prospect has become one of the top goaltending prospects in the NHL and if there are still nay-sayers, Wolf will be proving them wrong soon (Spoiler: he already has been).
Sharks’ Merkley Silencing Critics on the Ice
Entering the 2019-20 season, there were many questions about San Jose Sharks’ prospect Ryan Merkley. There’s no denying that he’s a very talented player, but rumours of his off-ice attitude and poor sportsmanship followed him where ever he went. At the beginning of the season, that included the London Knights, where he was traded to from the Peterborough Petes.
The best thing to do when you have negativity following you around? Just do what you do best, and that’s exactly what Merkely has been doing this season. The Sharks’ 21st-overall pick in 2018 has put up 12 goals, 45 assists and 57 points in 45 games so far, for a point-per-game rate of 1.27. Last season, his rate was 1.06. Still very good (especially for a defenseman), but he’s definitely taken his game up a notch on his third OHL team.
That being said, there are still questions surrounding Merkley’s attitude. For example, why wasn’t he even invited to Team Canada’s selection camp for the World Juniors when Mark and Dale Hunter, the Knights’ general manager and head coach, were Team Canada’s general manager and coach as well?
It’s very likely that Merkley will have questions surrounding him for a large part of his career. But, if he can continue to play as he has been, the conversation will be more about his performance on the ice and less about his demeanour off of it.
The Rossi-Perfetti Scoring Race is On
Marco Rossi: 30 goals, 58 assists and 88 points
Cole Perfetti: 29 goals, 56 assists and 85 points
These two 2020 NHL Draft-eligible players are tearing up the OHL. Yes, Rossi has played 40 games to Perfetti’s 48, but Rossi is also playing on the better team, with better linemates – although the Saginaw Spirit adding Ryan Suzuki certainly helped that for Perfetti.
The players are currently the top two in the OHL scoring race, and among all draft rankings out there, they seem to be neck-and-neck there as well. They both seem locked in that 5-10 range, which at this point is really anyone’s guess. As the season continues, these players are battling for the scoring title, but they may be battling for a higher draft selection as well.
Personally, I give Rossi the edge in the draft, but he and Perfetti are very close. I think that if the roles were reversed, with Perfetti on the Ottawa 67’s and Rossi on the Spirit, Perfetti would be running away with the scoring race. But, I’d still have Rossi higher. I just like his game a little bit more. Perfetti could very easily go above Rossi though and I’d understand it.
No matter where they go in the draft, right now they are leaving it all on the ice. They lead the league in assists and points, and with both teams very much in the playoff race (both teams are leading their divisions), the scoring race is very much a topic to keep an eye on as the season rolls on.
My guess: Perfetti takes the scoring title, but Rossi holds on to the higher point-per-game pace. And Rossi goes higher in the draft.
Jarvis is on the Rise
Among the many changes in 2020 NHL Draft rankings up to this point, one name to highlight is Seth Jarvis. The Portland Winterhawks’ right-winger has been shooting up draft boards – and for good reason.
Last season, Jarvis put up 16 goals, 23 assists and 39 points in 61 games as a rookie in the WHL. It’s a good stat line, but nothing to shock anyone by. Fast forward to this campaign, with his draft spot on the line, Jarvis has hit another gear. He’s up to 26 goals, 38 assists, and 64 points in just 43 games.
He’s entered first-round territory this season, and it looks like this is exactly where he belongs. He’s a great skater with a wonderful shot, and he’s been showing the WHL that all season. In fact, Jarvis is just coming off of a 10-game point streak that saw him collect 29 points. That run is a 2.90 point-per-game pace! As the season’s gone on, he continues to get better and better. If it continues, there are going to be many teams calling on June 26.
Nybeck One of Many Polarizing Prospects in 2020
TSN’s Bob McKenzie knows his stuff. This week, he released his midseason draft rankings, a ranking that is known to be very close to what the actual draft will look like. Well, there were some surprises for sure, and the biggest one to me is Zion Nybeck.
Nybeck is a top-20 talent for me, but in McKenzie’s rankings, he’s not even in the first two rounds. In Colin Cudmore’s consolidated draft rankings, Nybeck is currently 19th. However, he’s also not ranked on a few of the rankings that Cudmore tracks. Why is this?
In my eyes, Nybeck is an offensive threat (17 goals, 33 assists, 50 points in 34 games in the SuperElit – which leads the league) who battles for the puck. He’s got it all offensively, great hands, vision, and I love his shot. I have no questions that Nybeck will be a very good NHL player.
If I was an NHL scout (which I will listen to offers for), I’d highly recommend Nybeck. He wasn’t in the World Juniors, and I believe that people have started to forget about him a little bit and leave him behind. If McKenzie’s rankings are accurate and Nybeck slips past the first two rounds, it will be very easy for me to know where the biggest steal of the 2020 NHL Draft will be. Draft Nybeck, NHL teams. You won’t regret it.
Thanks for checking out this edition of the Weekly Prospect Report. Throughout the season, I’ll keep you updated on all of the players not yet in the NHL that you should be keeping an eye on. If ever you’d like me to write about a specific prospect, have any questions or anything else, leave a comment below or send me a message on Twitter: @JoshuaBellTHW.
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Starting out as an Ottawa Senators contributor for The Hockey Writers, Josh is now an editor and at-large contributor, focusing on prospects, the NHL Draft, hockey history, and breaking news stories.