Weekly Prospect Report: Lafrenière, Bracco, Pinto, Wright & More

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.

Related: Weekly Prospect Report: Groulx, Lundell, Bahl, Tuomisto & More

With the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship underway, The Hockey Writers has you covered. We’ve already published team previews and final roster analysis on every team, with more content rolling out daily!. To keep up with all of the 2020 World Junior content, you can do so here.

To recognize this grand tournament, this Weekly Prospect Report (along with the next couple), will have an extra section to take a look at some of the headlines of this tournament!

World Junior Championship News

Canada’s Lafrenière Injured, Could Return?

The headline of Canadian news on Dec. 28 was Team Canada’s best player going down with what looked like a scary injury. After rushing the net, Alexis Lafrenière fell awkwardly into the corner, clutching his knee. When he finally got up, with the help of his teammates, he wasn’t putting any weight on his leg. The Canadian team and its fans held their breath.

Alexis Lafreniere Rimouski Oceanic
Alexis Lafrenière of the Rimouski Océanic (Photo by Vincent Ethier/CHL)

Despite what looked like a tournament-ending injury, there may be hope yet.

“He’s not been ruled out yet of the world junior tournament,” Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston said during Hockey Night in Canada. “It’s obviously a big year for him his draft year, and he’s not going to risk himself, but I do think there’s a chance we see him playing for Canada again.”

While it’s still unclear if Lafrenière will return Canadians, it’s been reported that he was at the rink on Sunday, not skating of course, but not on crutches either. We may not have seen the last of the projected 2020 top-pick just yet. His MRI results furthered that hope:

In his first game of the tournament, against the USA, the Rimouski Océanic star proved that he’s an elite talent, posting three assists and a goal to help the Canadians to a victory. If he’s done for the tournament, it will be a huge blow to the team. Someone will need to step up in his absence, could it be the projected second-overall pick, Quinton Byfield?

Finnish Kupari and Lauko Out of World Juniors

Lafrenière hasn’t been the only major blow to a team in this tournament. Team Finland lost its number one centreman in Rasmus Kupari, and the host Czech team is forced to play without one of their top players in Jakub Lauko.

Kupari, a Los Angeles Kings prospect, took a hit from Team Sweden’s Philip Broberg (an Edmonton Oilers’ prospect) and landed awkwardly. Early indications are that it’s likely that he’s out long term. Since the Finnish team brought only 12 forwards to the tournament, they’ll be forced to play with 11 players up front.

Lauko, a Boston Bruins prospect, played just six seconds of the Czech Republic’s first game against Russia before suffering a knee injury himself. He Tweeted out the next day that he was done for the tournament. Since the Czech team only registered 21 players on their initial roster, the club could add two more players to their roster in case of injury. They added Karel Plasek, keeping that final spot open.

The German Trio Came to Play

One of the teams I was most excited to watch in the World Juniors was Team Germany. Why? Tim Stütze, John Peterka, and Lukas Reichel. (Alright, Moritz Seider and Dominik Bokk as well). Those three prospects are all eligible for the 2020 NHL Draft, with Stützle likely to be a top-10 (or even top-5) pick, and Peterka and Reichel very likely to be first-rounders as well.

Throughout the tournament, they have not disappointed. They, along with Seider and Bokk, have put Germany on their back and looked incredible doing it.

Peterka currently leads the three, with three goals, while Stützle and Reichel each have two points. Stützle has two beautiful assists and Reichel has a goal and an assist. Here’s one of Peterka’s goals, courtesy of a perfect Stützle pass:

Germany may not medal in this tournament, but it’s safe to say they’ve surprised a few teams. Seider has arguably been the best defender in the tournament and Bokk is one of the tournament’s top players, with three goals and two assists. With two preliminary games left, expect these five players to be very much in the mix while keeping a close eye on the 2020 trio.

NHL-Affiliated Prospects

Maple Leafs’ Bracco on the Trade Block

During the Headlines segment of Hockey Night in Canada, Elliotte Friedman reported that three Toronto Maple Leafs are on the block: Jeremy Bracco, Dimitro Timashov, and Ben Harpur. If there’s one name to keep an eye on there, it’s Jeremy Bracco.

The Maple Leafs’ second-round pick in 2015 (61st overall) has yet to make his NHL debut but has been a top player for the AHL’s Toronto Marlies. In 156 games since the 2017-18 season, Bracco has 31 goals, 106 assists and 137 points (0.88 points-per-game).

He gets even better in the playoffs, collecting 17 points in 17 games (five goals, 12 assists), including 16 points in the Marlies 2018-19 playoff run (13 games). While he only played four playoff games in the 2017-18 run, he still helped the team to the AHL Championship, the Calder Cup.

As one of the Maple Leafs top prospects, general manager Kyle Dubas won’t let him go for cheap. But expect to see him packaged in a larger deal – perhaps for a new defenseman? As the NHL Trade Deadline nears, this will be an intriguing story to keep an eye on.

Canucks’ Höglander is the Real Deal

Could Nils Höglander be the steal of the 2019 NHL Draft? It’s looking more and more like that – he’s at least one of them. He’s now showing why at the 2020 World Juniors, so far collecting two goals and two assists. If you haven’t seen it already, here’s his best goal so far:

The Vancouver Canucks prospect has been playing in the SHL this season, collecting six goals, three assists and nine points in 19 games. He’s looking more and more like one of the best prospects taken in the 2019 Draft. Keep an eye on him for the rest of the tournament – I have a feeling he’s just getting started.

Senators’ Pinto Proving Draft Pick

Another pick in the 2019 second round, Shane Pinto has been on full display during the World Juniors. The Ottawa Senators pick (32nd overall) has been the USA’s top centre in the tournament. Through three games, he has three goals and three assists for six points. That total is third out of all skaters at the World Juniors, entering Monday’s games.

But it’s not just this tournament that Pinto has stood out. As a freshman at the University of North Dakota, the centreman has eight goals, six assists and 14 points in 17 games. And let’s not forget that he’s coming off a 59-point campaign in 2018-19 in the USHL – in 56 games.

I fully expect Pinto to continue to surprise people who were questioning his selection, which will likely follow him for years to come. But, let’s not overlook that Pinto continues to develop into a solid player. At this point, there’s no question to me that he will be an NHLer.

Draft-Eligible Prospects

Chromiak Reporting to Frontenacs

After being drafted second overall in the 2019 CHL Import Draft, Martin Chromiak is finally coming over to the Kingston Frontenacs. The 2020 Draft-eligible player has been playing in the top Slovakian league for HK Dukla Trencin, scoring five goals and adding an assist in 32 games.

Last season, Chromiak played in the U20 league, scoring 22 goals and 24 assists for 46 points in 39 games before collecting another 17 points in 15 playoff games – as a 16-year-old. He helped the Dukla Trencin U20 team to a league title, after helping the U18 team to the same the season prior.

Chromiak was one of the most surprising cuts from the World Juniors rosters, as he would have easily been one of Slovakia’s best players. Instead, he was sent home, with the news that he was coming to Canada soon following.

The Slovakian left-winger will play his first game on Dec. 30.

Wright Becomes Youngest CHL Player With a Letter

Sticking with the Frontenacs, there’s more news coming out of Kingston this week, with 15-year-old Shane Wright being named an assistant captain. The Exceptional Status player, and top prospect ahead of the highly-touted 2022 NHL Draft, is now the youngest player in CHL history to be named to a part of a team’s leadership group.

After a slow start to the season, Wright has found his groove, currently sitting with 17 goals and 13 assists for 30 points in 29 games.

General manager Darren Keily touched on Wright’s new letter, “Although Shane is a young player, he has earned the privilege of having a letter on his jersey. He has been a leader since joining the Frontenacs in September.”

That’s big praise for the young player, and it’s hard to remember he’s a year younger than everyone else in the league. Just wait until he’s the same age as his peers.

Name to Know: Aito Iguchi

Playing in the D2A division of the World Juniors, Team Japan announced their roster and there is one surprising addition: triple underager Aito Iguchi. Some might remember Iguchi as the 15-year-old who has gone viral for his stickhandling videos:

Te stickhandling wizard may just be Japan’s first chance at a solid NHLer – the first of what could be many. This year, he was drafted 49th overall by the London Lakers in the Greater Metro Jr. A Hockey League Draft, and 104th overall in the United States Hockey League draft. The paths are there for Iguchi, only time will tell which he takes.

Longtime NHL scout Rob Pulford (who discovered Clayton Keller and Johnny Gaudreau) had this to say of the potential star:

“He’s a talented little player, there’s no doubt about that. Obviously, his stickhandling is outstanding, his ability to control the puck – he’s got soft hands, a quick stick, he can really dazzle you with his puck skills. As a skater, really good quickness and agility, great edgework.”

There are a number of Japanese players that are on the brink of cracking the NHL and Iguchi could very well be leading that pack. The D2A World Juniors kick off on Jan. 6, with Japan easily considered the favourite. Keep an eye on Great Britain as well, where Peterborough Petes’ Liam Kirk will be competing as well. It just so happens that the two teams will be the first to play on opening day.

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.