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.
The NHL Trade Deadline is approaching, and there are rumours surrounding a few prospects in the league. I’ve already touched on Toronto Maple Leafs’ Jeremy Bracco, but there are a few more to note – and a couple who have already been sent packing. For all of your trade deadline news, you can check that out here. If the rumours are more your style, here they are.
Addison Bolsters Wild’s Prospect Pool
On Feb. 10, the Pittsburgh Penguins traded their top prospect, Calen Addison, to the Minnesota Wild, along with Alex Galchenyuk and a conditional 2020 first-round pick, in exchange for Jason Zucker. There’s lots to discuss about this trade, but this is a prospect column – so you know what we’re going to talk about.
The Penguins have become rather famous for trading away the top pieces in their system. They’ve been one of the best teams in the NHL over the past decade and have no intention of slowing down anytime soon. To maintain this, they’ve sent away a number of great prospects, with Addison being the latest in a long line.
I’d argue that Addison is one of the best that they’ve moved on from. He’s a great skater and a solid playmaker, and I have no questions that he will be a top-four defender for the Wild. Minnesota has some work to do on their prospect pool and this is a solid first step. With Kaprill Kaprizov, Matthew Boldy, Adam Beckman, and Vladislav Firstov the future of their forward corps, their defensive prospects were lacking significantly.
Enter Addison. He immediately becomes the club’s top defensive prospect, and it could be argued that he’s a top-three prospect for the club. In the midseason update of my top-100 NHL prospects, Kaprizov was the top at eighth, Boldy was second at 49, and Beckman was third at 77. Addison was right there, at 79. The Wild still have work to do, but there are some very good prospects in the system.
Avalanche Shouldn’t Move Byram – And Won’t
There are always some crazy trade rumours ahead of the NHL Trade Deadline. One of this year’s rumours includes Colorado Avalanche top-prospect (and in my opinion, the top prospect in the league right now – out of affiliated prospects), Bowen Byram.
Mike McIntyre of the Winnipeg Free Press wrote about the Winnipeg Jets and a potential Kyle Connor trade to the Avalanche. He includes Byram as a potential target for the Jets (from: “Could Connor be a goner?” – Winnipeg Free Press – Feb. 7, 2020).
At the beginning of the piece, he writes “Grab some popcorn, folks, we’ve officially entered the NHL’s silly season.” The article is simply speculation of what the Jets would want in return for Connor. Of course they’d want Byram – everyone should. He’s an elite prospect. But don’t worry Avs’ fans, he’s not going anywhere. It’s just a rumour.
In Elliotte Friedman’s 31 Thoughts, he points out that he heard a rumour of Connor for Byram and Vladislav Kamenev. He notes that while Kamanev would like more playing time, those he reached out to about this rumour denied it.
I don’t see any way the Avalanche move on from Byram less than a year after drafting him. Having both him and Cale Makar as your defensive cornerstones for the foreseeable future? There are very few deals that would convince me to move away from that promising future.
Senators’ Veronneau on Trade Block
The ever-changing Ottawa Senators are entering the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline with much less star talent compared to last season, but expect them to still be big-time sellers in this year’s edition. Again in Friedman’s 31 Thoughts, he mentions prospect Max Veronneau could be the target of teams around the league.
Last season, Veronneau was the target of many NHL teams last season, as many as 25, as a free agent in the NCAA. Just one year later, there’s no reason why that interest won’t still be there on some level. Veronneau got a taste of the NHL in 2018-19, collecting two goals and four points in 12 games. He’s gone pointless in four NHL games this season but does have five goals and 10 points in 33 games with the Belleville Senators.
With the growth of the Senators prospect pool, it seems that there’s no longer a spot for the undrafted college free agent anymore. It’s a good problem to have for the Senators, and at 24-years-old, Veronneau could still have an impact as a bottom-six player on another club.
No matter the return of a potential trade, the Veronneau signing could be an extremely savvy move for general manager Pierre Dorion. The team gave up nothing to sign the right-winger, and now it looks like they could get a draft pick in return for him. I’d take that deal anytime.
Commesso Might Be Second-Best Goalie in 2020 NHL Draft
Heading into the 2020 NHL Draft, there’s lots of discussion around the top-eligible goaltender Yaroslav Askarov. He’s a potential franchise goaltender, with elite, elite talent. There’s quite a drop off after him, but there’s still very good talent in net for this draft. Drew Commesso is one of those goalies.
The USNTDP backstop has put together a 1.96 goals against average (GAA) and a .924 save percentage (SV%) through 23 games, adding a 1.69 GAA and .928 SV% in seen USHL games. For comparison, you may remember a certain top-2019 goaltender by the name of Spencer Knight – he was drafted 13th overall by the Florida Panthers. In his draft year with the USNTDP, playing on a much better team, he had a 2.36 GAA and .913 SV% in 33 games in the NTDP, and a 2.21 GAA and .903 SV% in 16 USHL games.
If I had to bet, I’d say Commesso doesn’t get taken as the second goalie. He’s up against goalies like Joel Blomqvist, Nick Malik, and Jan Bednar – all of whom are also in the discussion and all of whom have already had experience in men’s leagues. However, goaltenders are a rare breed, and you never really know what you’ll get out of a prospect.
I have no questions that Askarov will be a star, but after him in anyone’s guess. Need I remind you that Henrik Lundqvist was drafted in the seventh round? Even in Commesso goes near the end, that doesn’t mean he won’t be the second-best goaltender from this draft. We’ll have to put a pin in this for a few years though.
Bourque Out 4-6 Weeks
Right after I write about what a great season Mavrik Bourque is having and that he’s a first-round talent… it’s reported that he’ll be out for four-to-six weeks. Even so, he’s still a first-round talent, I believe he has top-six potential, and he’ll be back and still be the exciting player that he is. That is all.
Lambert Makes History
I’m so excited for the 2022 NHL Draft. I’ve written about Shane Wright, my number one for that draft, numerous times. I’ve also written about my number two in that draft, Brad Lambert. Well, now it’s Lambert’s time again after a historic week for the 16-year-old.
Playing in Finland’s top league with HIFK, Lambert collected two points in (both assists) in a Feb. 12 match, making him the youngest player in Liiga history to collect multiple points in a single game.
As the video above shows, he collected the secondary assist for his first point, collecting a primary assist for his second point later in the game. What has been most fascinating to watch about Lambert’s call-up to the Liiga isn’t that he’s producing points, it’s how good he looks doing it. At just 16, to fit into a men’s league is truly remarkable. As I mentioned, Wright is currently my top choice for the 2022 Draft, but Lambert has the potential to make that interesting – as does Matthew Savoie. It’s not too early to start paying attention folks. Trust me, it will be worth 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.