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 2020 NHL Draft is fast approaching, and The Hockey Writers has you covered. We’ll be publishing prospect profiles, rankings, mock drafts, features, and much more from now up until the draft. To keep up with the content, you can do so here. As we get ready for this exciting draft, I’ll be highlighting one 2020 draft-eligible prospect a week as the “Underrated Player of the Week.”
Avalanche’s Newhook Joins Elite Group
Colorado Avalanche prospect and Boston College star Alex Newhook reached 40 points in his freshman season, becoming one of 12 under-19 players to hit that achievement in the last decade of the NCAA. This is a list that includes Jack Eichel, Brock Boeser, Jaden Schwartz, Dylan Larkin, Jason Zucker, Clayton Keller, Johnny Gaudreau, and NHL rookie Adam Fox (the lone defenseman on the list.
Newhook’s point total puts him into the top-10 in the entire NCAA for points, leading all freshman in the league. He’s also tied for first in freshman goals, with Montreal Canadiens Cole Caufield, with 19. That total put Newhook in the top ten in the league, sitting ninth.
Starting the season, Newhook was playing well, putting up six goals, six assists, and 12 points in 15 games, leading into the World Juniors selection camp for Team Canada. He was ultimately cut from the team and headed back to the NCAA with something to prove. The result? In the 16 games played in 2020, Newhook put up 13 goals and 15 assists for 28 points. Even better? He ended his regular season riding a 10-game point streak, collecting 21 of those 28 points.
Between getting comfortable on a new team and the added fuel from the World Juniors snub, Newhook came out in 2020 on a mission and impressed every step of the way.
As a part of the “Freshman Line” with Matt Boldy and Mike Hardmen, Newhook has taken his game to another level (if that was even possible after a 102-point season in 2018-19 with the Victoria Grizzlies of the BCHL), and Avalanche fans should be sitting on the edge of their seats waiting for their future star.
Rangers’ Lundkvist Makes History
I’ve talked about New York Rangers’ prospect Nils Lundkvist quite a bit in this column. He’s blossomed into one of the best defensive prospects in the entire league and now he’s making SHL history, becoming the all-time leader for points from an under-20 defender in the league.
Playing for Luleá HF, Lundkvist has put up seven goals and 20 assists for 27 points in 40 games. This is from a 19-year-old player playing against men, in one of the best professional leagues outside of the NHL. To put it into better perspective, this mark puts the defender ahead of Victor Hedman (21 points in 43 games) and Rasmus Dahlin (20 points in 41 games). To say that this is impressive is an understatement.
Red Wings’ Kivenmäki’s Scary Injury
Scary new came out of Finland this past week when Detroit Red Wings’ prospect, Otto Kivenmäki, took a devastating hit to the head on Feb. 29 and was hospitalized. He remains in the hospital for observation and is out indefinitely.
Kivenmäki’s team, Ässät, reported that the centreman was conscious and stable, but that it will likely be two to three weeks before they will be able to comment on the prognosis and the length of his recovery. His mother also took to social media to give an update.
“The young man is doing fairly well considering the circumstances. He’s in the hospital under monitoring and even laughing already. He has no memory (of the hit) at the moment and has a big cut in his head. Tomorrow will tell more. The future will tell the rest. In any case, his season (and at worse his hockey career) is over.”
It’s an extremely difficult reality when something like this happens to a player that the game of hockey is a dangerous one. We at The Hockey Writers would like to send our best wishes to Kivenmäki and his family through this truly terrible time.
Wright Enters McDavid Territory
He’s not eligible until 2022, but this needs to be said: Shane Wright is elite. For anyone questioning that, just look at his season. He just turned 16 in January, playing in his rookie season in the OHL for the Kingston Frontenacs under exceptional status. He’s collected 39 goals, 27 assists, and 66 points through his first 54 games in the league. Let’s look closer at what the numbers mean exactly.
First, he’s leading the Frontenacs in scoring. That’s impressive in any year before a player is drafted but three years ahead of being eligible? It’s absolutely remarkable. Let’s go bigger. In the OHL, he’s 32nd in the entire league in points, and eighth in goals – again, at least a year younger than everyone else in the league. Sticking with the OHL as a whole, He leads all rookies in goals, assists, and points.
You’re impressed? Just wait. As you may know, there have only been six players to ever have been granted exceptional status in the Canadian Hockey League. This is a list that includes Connor McDavid, John Tavares, Aaron Ekblad, and Sean Day from the OHL and Joe Veleno from the QMJHL. Tavares holds the lead for an exceptional status season with 45 goals and 77 points back in 2005-06. McDavid had 25 goals and 66 points.
Wright has already passed McDavid for goals and tied him for points. With nine games remaining, he is very much on pace to become the all-time leader in goals and points from an exceptional player. It’s a long way to the 2022 NHL Draft, but it looks like Wright could run away with the top selection very early.
Barron Returns from Injury
On Feb. 24, the Halifax Mooseheads announced that defender Justin Barron was returning to the lineup. The defender had been held out of the lineup since Dec. 3, when he was diagnosed with a blood clot. Before being held out of the lineup, the defender was ranked from the mid-first round to the end of the second, and that has taken a dip over the course of missing time due to others rising up boards. Now that he’s back, it might be a struggle to see him find the spot he once held.
Barron will need to shake off some rust as he gets back to the form he once had. He’s going into the league facing off against players that are in late-season form and unfortunately has some catching up to do. That being said, the Mooseheads won’t be heading to the playoffs, so there isn’t much time left. He’ll need to rely fairly heavily on the NHL Combine to determine where he goes in June.
In his return, he’s played in four games, collecting two assists and has had 12 shots. He was undressed by Alexis Lafrenière in a highlight-reel play, but you can hardly hold that against him as Lafrenière has done that to nearly everyone in the league. He’s looked good since returning, once again playing on the team’s top line. At this point, that’s all he can do and he’s doing it well. Barron has become one of the players that I am most interested to see where he’s taken on Draft Day.
Underrated Player of the Week: James Hardie
Welcome to a brand new section of the Weekly Prospect Report that I will continue through to the NHL Draft, taking a look at an underrated player in the 2020 NHL Draft. First up? James Hardie of the Mississauga Steelheads. In my February rankings, I placed Hardie at the top of the fourth round, 94th overall. I could see the left-winger taken anywhere in the third round, and frankly wouldn’t be surprised to see him go at the bottom of the second.
Hardie has potted 33 goals this season, adding 27 assists and 60 points in 56 games. He has a sneaky, elite shot that explains the 33 goal total. He’s a player that has gotten better and better as the season has gone on, collecting 35 of his points in 2020 (his last 21 games). That’s a pace of 1.67 points per game, which would be ninth in the OHL.
He’s an offensive threat every time he’s on the ice, that has been under the radar practically all season, just getting mentioned more in 2020. His goal total puts him 15th in the OHL, a very respectable place to be. He’s been a catalyst in the Steelheads turning their season around and is a must-know for any draft enthusiast. The NHL team that selects him will be very happy with their decision.
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.