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.
Senators’ Norris Looking Like Catalyst of Karlsson Trade
On Sept. 13, 2018, the Ottawa Senators traded their captain Erik Karlsson to the San Jose Sharks. Among the returns included 19th overall from the 2017 NHL Entry Draft: Josh Norris. At the time, many were skeptical about what the American centreman could bring. Fast forward to 2020, Norris may end up being the key piece of that trade (along with the first-round draft pick in 2020).
Norris is in his rookie season in the AHL, playing for the Belleville Senators. Despite going pointless through his first four games, he’s compiled a very good stat line of 25 goals, 25 assists, and 50 points in 47 games. Those points put him fourth in the league, leading all rookies, and leading the team. He’s having a great season, and Senators fans are starting to take notice.
He’s currently riding a five-game point streak where he’s collected 10 points, and at one point this season racked up a 13-game point streak with 17 points. For his impressive campaign, he was even added to the 2020 AHL All-Star Game in his first season in the professional league.
Personally, I’ve been very high on Norris since the Senators acquired him. From the time he entered their system, I’ve thought that he could be a top-six talent. So far through the 2019-20 season, he’s showing everyone that he does, in fact, have that potential.
Should Islanders’ Holmström Have Stayed in Sweden?
One of my personal favourites of the 2019 NHL Draft, Simon Holmström was selected higher than I thought he would, but I thought it was a good pick. The New York Islanders selected the Swedish forward 23rd overall and in 2019-20, he made the jump overseas to play in the AHL with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. But, was that the right choice?
The AHL doesn’t share its player’s average time on ice, but Holmström has been playing on the bottom two lines this season. He’s put up four goals, three assists and seven points in 34 games. That’s a long way from last season’s total in the SuperElit where he was a point-per-game player in for HV71 (seven goals, 13 assists for 20 points in 21 games).
This drop in production is likely due, in part, to a drop in minutes (he averaged 17:38 in the SuperElit, and his estimated time on ice this season is 13:61). However, a bigger reason is that Holmström has needed to adjust to the North American game. Was him making the jump across the pond the right call?
Many European players that are drafted spend at least another year in the league they were drafted from, or in their country’s top league. This allows the players to continue to develop in the style of game they’re used to, and if they are playing in the top league, they are already playing against men.
Holmström had a tough campaign in 2018-19, missing a lot of time due to injury (hip surgery in the offseason, a broken thumb, and a concussion). Having that extra year in Sweden, likely playing in the SHL, could have helped him further his development before coming overseas.
All this being said, I still think Holmström is a very good player, but after an injury-riddled 2018-19 and a less-than-stellar 2019-20 season, his development process may be slower than hoped for Islanders fans. Have patience – he’ll surprise you.
Canucks’ Podkolzin Riding World Juniors Confidence
Vasily Podkolzin headed off to the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championships from his KHL team, SKA St. Petersburg, with zero points in his league-play. He then looked solid at the World Juniors, scoring a goal while adding four assists in the seven games it took to win the silver medal. Now that he’s back with SKA St. Petersburg, the Vancouver Canucks’ prospect has found his confidence.
Podkolzin has laced up for nine games since returning from the Czech Republic. In those nine games, the right-winger has collected his first KHL points -– two goals and three assists. He actually collected all of those points in his last six games, making it that much more impressive. On Jan. 27, he was named the KHL Rookie of the Week. Things are looking up for the future Canuck.
“I think that the [World Juniors] helped me on a psychological level,” Podkolzin explains. “I gained confidence, and it helped me playing well for SKA.”
He continued, “Of course, I was glad to have finally scored. The [first] goal gave me a boost of confidence, and I wanted to play more with the puck and score again. It’s hard to describe these emotions.”
After that first goal (his first KHL point), he scored again in the next game, followed by an assist in each of the next two games. His lack of production prior to this stretch hasn’t been from a lack of trying though. He hasn’t been in the position to really make an offensive impact. This season, he’s averaged 7:53 per game – but in that time he’s put up 25 shots, good for an 8% shooting rate – not a terrible number, actually pretty good considering his time on ice.
Don’t let the “low” point totals fool you. Podkolzin is one of the top prospects in the league, and he’s started putting up points in arguably the second-best league in the world. Get excited, Canucks nation.
Myšák Proving He’s a Top-15 Pick in the 2020 NHL Draft
I’m going to preface this section by saying that in my pre-season rankings and my November rankings for the 2020 NHL draft, Jan Myšák was 14th (Spoiler: he’ll be higher in my February rankings, coming soon). In a normal draft, without so many elite prospects at the top, he’d be a top-10 pick. I think there’s a chance he goes in the top 10, but realistically, he’ll be in the top-15.
Last month, Myšák committed to the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs. Prior to this, he was playing with HC Litvinov in the Czech league, the top league in – you guessed it – the Czech Republic. Playing against men, the left-winger put up five goals, four assists, and nine points in 26 games. A casual fan would look at those numbers and be unimpressed. Well, that led all U18 players in the league – and all U20 players in the league (it still does).
Since coming over to Hamilton, Ontario, he’s brought that talent to a league where people here in North America take notice. He’s put up eight goals and four assists in his first 11 OHL games – good for 12 points. He’s wasted no time getting used to his new team, yet still, some scouts out there don’t see Myšák as a first-rounder, let alone a top-15 talent.
Myšák is the real deal, and while some are taking notice, there are still doubters out there. If he does slip past the top-15 – he’ll be an absolute steal. He’s a dynamic force who really brings everything to the table. He has a great shot and arguably a better pass. His hockey IQ is off the charts, and I can’t wait to watch him make the team that drafts him very, very happy.
Bourque Needs to Be in First-Round Conversation
Mavrik Bourque is a unique player. I would call him a two-way player, but his offense is among the best in the QMJHL as well. The Shawinigan Cataractes centreman is having himself quite the draft year, putting up 29 goals, 42 assists, and 71 points in 49 games. That mark put him fourth in the entire Q, and he leads his team by 18 points.
Playing in his sophomore season, Bourque has already passed all of his totals from his stellar rookie campaign (25 goals, 29 assists, and 54 points in 64 games). Looking at the seasons totals, you can tell he’s getting better and better. As shown in the video above, Bourque recently ripped off a seven-point night (two goals, five assists). That’s a big factor in the 11 points in three games so far in the month of February.
This is nothing new though, as the speedy forward has been piling up the points all season. His best stretch (point-wise) came through November, where he brought a three-game point streak into the month, and entered December with a 16-game point streak (he racked up 30 points in that run). Bourque tends to be right on the bubble of the first round in most draft rankings, but based on his play, he’s a first-rounder. Don’t be surprised in June when you hear Bourque’s name on the Friday night of the Draft.
Joseph Garreffa Impressing with 67’s
The Ottawa 67’s are an absolute powerhouse, being led by one of the best prospects in the 2020 NHL Draft in Marco Rossi, and another top prospect in Jack Quinn. But there’s one other player that deserves mention in providing offense in bunches for the 67’s, and that’s undrafted Joseph Garreffa.
Ottawa acquired Garreffa from the Kitcher Rangers back in October, and it’s paid off dividends since. (from: “67’s add overage forward Joseph Garreffa, then edge Bulldogs in overtime” – Ottawa Sun – Oct. 20, 2019). He’s up to 27 goals, 43 assists and 70 points in just 39 games. He’s a key part of their forward group, regularly putting up multi-point nights.
At 21-years-old, Garreffa isn’t eligible for the NHL Draft anymore. But don’t let that make you believe that he won’t play in the NHL. With how his play has progressed over the years, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a team take a flyer on the skilled winger – even if it’s just an invitation to camp. The young payer has proved this season (and every season in the OHL for that matter) that he has the talent – NHL teams out there must see that too.
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.