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 time on the hockey calendar, I’ll be highlighting one 2020 draft-eligible prospect a week as the “Underrated Player of the Week.”
Canadiens’ Norlinder Named Top Junior Player in Allsvenskan
Montreal Canadiens’ prospect and MODO player Mattias Norlinder was sidelined for over a month with a concussion. Despite this, the 64th overall pick from the 2019 NHL Draft was named the Junior player of the year in the Allsvenskan. It’s looking like the Habs may have gotten a steal in the third round, as Norlinder finishes up a great season.
The defender has put up seven goals and 11 assists for 18 points in 34 games. He’s a mobile defenseman who has shown that he can put up points, whether it’s from jumping up in the play or from the point. He’s also shown up defensively, going plus-13 on the season and blocking shots when he needs to. He’s increasingly becoming one of the Canadiens’ top defensive prospects, up there with Alexander Romanov and Jordan Harris.
One important note for Norlinder is just how involved the Canadiens have been. Throughout his concussion, Norlinder said that the team checked in with him once or twice a week, telling him to take his time and not to push his recovery. As the Canadiens could just as easily leave his recovery to MODO, this is a great showing of how invested in the young player the team is.
Some Swedish outlets believe that Norlinder could be the next Nicklas Lindstrom and a perennial threat to win the Norris Trophy. That is very high praise for the young man, but he is well on his way to living up to that with this trophy added to his mantle.
Kings’ Vilardi Living up to Hype
You’ve likely heard about him over the past few weeks and if you’ve been following along you know that Los Angeles Kings’ prospect Gabe Vilardi is living up to the hype that came around his draft day.
The Kings selected Vilardi 11th overall in 2017, after being touted as a top-five pick in the draft. It hasn’t been an easy path for the centreman, as he played just four games in 2018-19, dealing with a back injury that also held him to 32 games in 2017-18 (although he did put up 58 points in those games). Well, he’s been back this season, and boy has he looked good.
Vilardi has played 32 games in the AHL with the Ontario Reign, collecting nine goals, 16 assists, and 25 points in 32 games. But where he’s really impressed is at the NHL level. He scored 10 seconds into his first NHL shift, later adding an assist in the game.
He’s played in eight games total now, putting up a stat line of two goals, two assists, and four points. The resurgence of Vilardi has been one of the feel-good stories of the season, after not knowing what would happen with him throughout his back injury recovery.
He’s back. He’s scoring. And he’s just getting started.
Maple Leafs’ Robertson Hits 50-Goal Mark
I’ve talked about Toronto Maple Leafs’ prospect Nick Robertson before. I wrote that he might be one of the biggest steals of the 2019 NHL Draft. Fast forward a few months, and that’s looking even more true, as he’s having a season that no one could have predicted.
After putting up 27 goals, 28 assists and 55 points in 2018-19, Robertson has exploded in 2019-20, collecting 55 goals, 31 assists, and 86 points in just 46 games. That’s right, he nearly has as many goals as he had points the year before.
That goal total leads the entire OHL and the entire CHL. The fact that he’s done it in only 46 games adds to the impressive streak, giving him a goals per game average of 1.20. He’s doing everything right for the Peterborough Petes and the Maple Leafs have to be happy with how he’s been progressing.
The NHL might not be ready for Robertson, but it’s looking more and more like he’s ready for the NHL.
Stützle Has Earned Top-Five Selection
He’s become a favourite of nearly everyone who follows draft-eligible prospects, and it’s likely that Tim Stützle now just has to play the waiting game until the 2020 NHL Draft. Of course, he may have the World Championships, but we’ll have to wait and see if that tournament even happens.
No matter what happens in the next few months, Stützle has put in the work and has earned a top-five selection in the draft. He just wrapped up his season in the DEL, finishing with seven goals, 27 assists, and 34 points in 41 games.
That total is the third-highest mark by a U18 skater ever in the league, behind Marcel Goc (41) in 2000-01, and Marco Sturm (36) in 1995-96. While he finishes third in points all-time, he finishes first all-time (again, for U18 skaters) in points per game at 0.83.
He’s one of the most dynamic players in the draft, and people have taken notice. The NHL has Stützle ranked first among European players, and he’s been ranked everywhere from second to eighth in various rankings (he was fourth in my most recent rankings).
Jack Quinn Joins Elite Group
Throughout the 2019-20 season, there’s a name that has been mentioned more and more as he continues to impress. Ottawa 67’s Jack Quinn was not on the radar of the first round of the 2020 NHL Draft, but now? There are some that believe he could be a top-10 talent.
He’s been a sniper all season, as those watching him have seen his goal total grow exponentially throughout the season. He’s up to 51 goals in 61 games, to go along with his 35 assists and 86 points. Last season, he had just 12 goals, 20 assists, and 32 points in 61 games. He’s broken out in an incredible way this season.
Quinn sits second in the league (and the CHL) in goal scoring, right behind the aforementioned Nick Robertson. But, Quinn is a 2020 draft prospect, and his goal-scoring has put him into an elite group. Only six other OHL draft-eligible prospects in the last 20 years have hit the 50-goal mark before hearing their name called. Those players? Patrick Kane, Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, Jeff Skinner, Alex DeBrincat, and Arthur Kaliyev.
For those who have been slow to warm up to the 67’s star, it’s time to jump on board. Quinn is one of the best goal-scorers in the draft, up there with Alexander Holtz and Cole Perfetti. In just a few months we’ll find out how much this season has impacted the way NHL teams see him.
Underrated Player of the Week: Yan Kuznetsov
Bell’s Ranking: 87th, third-round pick
Yan Kuznetsov is a player that many have seemed to warm up to as the season has gone on. The defender for the NCAA’s University of Connecticut has collected two goals, nine assists, and 11 points in 34 games of his rookie season. But Kuznetsov has been so much more than points.
The 17-year-old Russian is arguably one of the best defensive players in this draft class. He uses his stick well, easily stripping the puck from opponents and uses both his stick and his body to move traffic from the front of the net. He’s extremely intelligent and poised, something that is a rarity for defensemen heading into the draft.
He’s shown that he can be a part of a winning team, coming away with a gold medal with Russia in the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in 2018-19 and a USHL Clark Cup with the Sioux Falls Stampede later that season.
It’s hard to believe that Kuznetsov is the youngest player in the NCAA this season. He’s a physical presence, at 6-foot-3, 201 pounds, not letting anyone push him around. He’s going to be a fixture on an NHL’s defensive unit, playing big minutes and shutting down the league’s top players.
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.