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 first month is in the books. What an exciting time in the world of prospects. Young players across the globe are dominating their leagues, making for some great content for you to read! This edition of the Weekly Prospect Report is the biggest yet, jam-packed with updates on future stars. Enjoy!
Jets’ Heinola Sent to Manitoba Moose
The Winnipeg Jets decided to send 2019 20th-overall pick Ville Heinola to the AHL’s Manitoba Moose. The decision comes after the defenseman played eight NHL games, collecting a goal and five points over that time. Since Heinola didn’t cross the nine-game barrier, the first year of his entry-level deal has yet to kick in.
The young Finnish player surprised many by making the opening night roster for the Jets, surprising many more by playing very well. Despite the expected turnover here and there, Heinola stepped into the show relatively painlessly. The Jets have to be happy with how he looked in his brief stint with the club.
Ultimately, this is a good move for Heinola. He was playing well in the NHL, but the Jets’ are in no rush to keep him there. Sending Heinola down could give him a chance to not just play well, but be a number-one defenseman and a star for the Moose. He still has the option to head back to Finland, but the AHL seems like a better option at this point.
We should also see him at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship, where he’ll be given another opportunity to excel on a very good Finnish team.
Canadiens’ Prospect Caufield is Good – Really Good
I’ve already written about Cole Caufield’s start to the season with the University of Wisconsin in a previous Weekly Prospect Report. But his play so far warrants another section in this column. “Goal Caufield” is on fire to start his NCAA career, and you have to think that he’s leaving a few teams who passed on him thinking.
Selected by the Montreal Canadiens 15th-overall, Caufield is an absolute steal, and he’s proving that (although last season should have proved that too). In eight games, the young forward is up to eight goals, three assists and 11 points. That puts him 10th in the league for points and tied for first in goals – as a freshman.
Canadiens fans are already on the edges of their seats waiting for Caufield. He’s on fire to start his D+1 (season after being drafted) season, and there are 14 teams in the league that should be very, very scared – or perhaps 30.
Flames’ Goaltending Prospect Wolf Making Seventh-Round Pick Look Good
With the 214th-overall pick in the seventh round of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, the Calgary Flames select… an absolute stud in Dustin Wolf.
The WHL’s Everett Silvertips goaltender had an outstanding first month of the season, resulting in him being named the Goaltender of the Month in the WHL. He is currently repping an 9-4-0 record with a 2.07 goals against average (GAA) and a .938 save percentage (SV%). As of Oct. 27, his then-.945 SV% was leading the entire CHL.
However, this really shouldn’t be surprising. Last season, the American goaltender finished 41-15-2 with a GAA of 1.69 and a SV% of .936 through 61 games played (61!). Those stats led the entire WHL. Even in the playoffs, he had a 2.02 GAA and a .914 SV%.
Heading into the 2019 Draft, I had Wolf as my fourth-ranked goaltender. This was behind just Spencer Knight, Pyotr Kochetkov, and Mads Søgaard. In the draft, he ended up being the 22nd, and last, netminder selected – a significant drop from my number four ranking. He was the third-last player taken in the entire draft.
Wolf’s early start is not surprising to me at all. He’s a great goaltender, with great talent. He’s just 18 years old and there’s lots of development still to come, but early on, I believe the Flames got a steal in Wolf.
Future Islanders’ Star Goalie Sorokin Dominating KHL
Sticking with the goaltenders, just jumping over an ocean, there’s another goaltender dominating a league. New York Islanders’ prospect Ilya Sorokin has held the title of “goaltender of the future” ever since he was drafted 78th overall back in 2014. Since then, he’s been absolutely dominating the KHL.
Sorokin is currently holding a 1.24 GAA, a .948 SV% and has four shutouts through 15 games with CSKA Moscow. Actually, these numbers aren’t all that surprising for the 24-year-old though. Over the last four seasons, all with the same team, here’s how his numbers have looked:
- 2015-16: 28 games, 1.06 GAA, .953 SV%, 10 shutouts
- 2016-17: 39 games, 1.61 GAA, .929 SV%, 5 shutouts
- 2017-18 37 games, 1.59 GAA, .931 SV%, 8 shutouts
- 2018-19: 40 games, 1.16 GAA, .940 SV%, 11 shutouts
Yeah, he’s unreal. Islanders’ fans should start getting ready. With Sorokin’s KHL contract up at the end of this season, there’s a very good chance that the netminder makes the jump to New York next season.
Lundell Impressing in the Liiga
My fourth-ranked prospect ahead of the 2020 NHL Draft is living up to that ranking through the first 15 games this season. HIFK’s Anton Lundell has come into his second season in the Liiga right where he left off, collecting five goals and five assists for 10 points. Last season, the future start put up nine goals, 10 assists and 19 points through 38 games – he’s over halfway there.
What’s even more impressive about Lundell’s stat line, is that he’s doing this on a men’s team, playing mainly bottom-six minutes so far. He’s line was recently treated like the second line, bumping his time on ice from an average of 13:49 to a single-game 16:05. If that ice time continues to be given to the young Finn, expect him to blow past his previous point totals.
Lundell is an all-round player. He’s got a great shot, can set up his teammates, and he’s good in his own end. There’s a lot of hype around the top CHL draft-eligible players for the 2020 Draft, but don’t sleep on the Europeans. Lucas Raymond, Alexander Holtz, Tim Stützle and Lundell are just a few of the high-end talent options from across the pond.
Drysdale Proving to be Best Defenseman in 2020 Draft Class
This is a great draft class we’re heading into, mainly because of just how deep it is. When you can be known as the best at a certain position within a draft like this, it’s a big deal. Jamie Drysdale is one of those big deals. He looks to be the undisputed number-one defenseman of this class, and the way his season is going, that’s not going to change.
The Erie Otters’ star defenseman is up to five goals, 14 assists and 19 points in just 17 games. That’s 1.12 points per game – he’s good. He has elite hockey sense, is one of the best skaters in the draft, and is an elite playmaker.
I’ve seen and heard a few comparisons between Drysdale and last year’s top-defenseman Bowen Byram, and some have given the edge to Byram because of his offense. Yet, Drysdale is proving that wrong (and had been). He’s not ranked as high as Byram was, but that’s due to the other talent in this draft compared to 2019. The two are closer than some seem to think, and as much as I like Byram, I’d put Drysdale on top.
Miettinen is a Goal-Scoring Machine
Heading back to Finland, there’s a 2020 Draft-eligible prospect that you need to be aware of. Veeti Miettinen is simply a goal-scoring machine for Kiekko-Espoo U20 in the Jr. A SM-liiga. In 23 games, he’s up to 17 goals, 10 assists and 27 points in 23 games.
Last season, the right-winger put up 27 goals, 34 assists and 61 points in 48 games. The young player was my 53rd-ranked prospect in my preseason rankings but will be in the top-50 for my November rankings (spoiler: new rankings coming out later this month!). He’s committed to the NCAA’s St. Cloud State University for 2020-21, so we’ll get a much closer look at the scorer next season.
Name to Know: Rutger McGroarty, 2022 NHL Draft
Looking out further than the 2020 NHL Draft, there is a young player who has taken over his league. Rutger McGroaty, a 15-year-old forward playing for the Oakland Jr. Grizzlies U15 team, is up to 41 goals, 38 assists, and 79 points – in 28 games.
To put that in perspective, that’s 2.82 points per game. McGroarty has the perfect blend of size (6-foot, 174 pounds – reminder: he’s 15), skating ability, and skill. Despite his young age, McGroarty has already committed to the University of Notre Dame for the 2022-23 season.
The 2022 draft is going to be something special. As of right now, the top-three will some combination of Shane Wright, Matthew Savoie, and Brad Lambert – all extremely elite, potentially franchise players. McGroarty is right behind them, but not by much.
Weekly Lafrenière Report: Point Streak Ends at 5, Canada Russia Series Next
Projected first overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, Lafrenière came into the week riding a four-game, 10-point streak and added onto it in the first of his two games this week. This brought the streak to five games and 14 points with a four-assist night against the Saint John Sea Dogs.
He saw his impressive streak come to an end against the Charlottetown Islanders, where he received a game misconduct for an elbow to the head of Xavier Bernard. In 18 games, the young star has 12 goals, 31 assists and 43 points. Rimouski Océanic as a team has scored 79 goals so far this season. That means that Lafrenière has been in on 54.43% of the team’s goals.
This week, Rimouski will have a few days off with the CIBC Canada Russia Series kicking off. Lafrenière is the captain of Team QMJHL and will be looking to lead his group over Team Russia tonight (Nov. 4) and tomorrow (Nov. 5).
At the beginning of the season, I predicted that Lafrenière would finish his season with over 40 goals and in the 130-140 point range. He’s currently on pace for 45.33 goals and 162.44 points. This will continue to fluctuate through the season but there’s no denying we’re witnessing something special from the 18-year-old.
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.
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.