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.
Hurricanes’ Prospect Puistola Gets the Call to the Liiga
One player from the 2019 NHL Draft that I was very excited about was Patrik Puistola. The Carolina Hurricanes drafted him in the third round, 73rd overall. I had him right on the cusp of the first round, likely going in the top half of the second. Instead, he slid to the Hurricanes, and I have a feeling they are OK with that.
Puistola has been loaned to Jukurit from Tappara, both in the Liiga. Coming to his new team, the forward had played 31 Liiga games over two seasons, collecting just two assists. The biggest benefit of this move is that the prospect is given a bigger role and will see his ice time increase – and has.
In his two games so far, Puistola has seen his ice time shoot up, as can be seen in DobberProspect writer and scout Jokke Nevalainen’s tweet. This has resulted in his first Liiga goal, and you can bet there will be more to come. He’s looked good so far with his new squad, making a number of great plays and showing confidence on the ice.
Panthers’ Prospect Knight Shining in NCAA Rookie Season
The 13th overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, goaltender Spencer Knight was the undisputed number one goalie heading into the draft. Now, he just might be the best goaltending prospect in the league.
The goaltender has started the 2019-20 season very strong, especially considering he’s in a new league, the NCAA, as a rookie. Knight has played 11 games so far for Boston College, putting together a 7-4-0 record with a 1.91 goals against average (GAA) and a .936 save percentage (SV%). Those statistics are seventh and fourth-best in the NCAA, respectfully.
It gets even better though. The freshman has three shutouts to start his NCAA career. No other goalie has more than two yet. It hasn’t been all success though. Knight had a bit of a slump, where he lost four-straight starts. His response? Five straight wins, letting in just four goals over that period.
There’s always a risk drafting goaltenders, especially 13th overall. The Panthers have to be pretty happy with that pick right about now.
Golden Knights’ Prospect Dugan Early Hobey Baker Candidate
Let’s stick with the NCAA for another player. Not exactly a household name, but Providence’s Jack Dugan is doing everything he can to make a name for himself. He’s currently leading the NCAA with five goals, 21 assists, and 26 points through 12 games. That’s 2.40 points per game.
To put that in perspective of just how good he’s been, no one else in the NCAA has more than 16 points. Dugan has more assists than anyone else has points. Yeah, that’s impressive. Granted, Providence has played more games than most teams across the United States, but that doesn’t take away from the difference in points per game. Currently, his 2.40 rate is second in the league, behind Cornell’s Morgan Barron at 2.50 (five goals and five assists in four games).
The Vegas Golden Knights’ 142nd pick in 2017 has been known to put up points though. In 2017-18 with the USHL’s Chicago Steel, the Pittsburgh native put up 31 goals and 66 points in 54 games, earning him First All-Star Team recognition. Last season, as a freshman, he potted 10 goals and collected 39 points in 41 games, earning All-Rookie Team honours. This season, he’s unleashing points on his opponents and that has thrust him into early Hobey Baker consideration. It’s a long season, but it’s been a great start for Dugan.
Capitals’ Goalie Prospect Samsonov Sent to Minors – Temporarily
The Washington Capitals have sent star goaltending prospect Ilya Samsonov to the AHL’s Hersey Bears. But don’t panic Capitals’ fans, this is just temporary.
The Capitals have a combination of injury woes and salary cap issues that resulted in this move. With Carl Hagelin and Nic Dowd out, the Caps played with 11 forward against the Montreal Canadiens on Nov. 15. Not ideal. But because of their tight cap space, they didn’t have the room to call up a forward. Instead, they called up defenseman Tyler Lewington who was put into the lineup as a forward.
So the next day on Nov. 16, the Capitals sent Samsonov down with Lewington, in order to call up two forwards to help out the team. With the Capitals’ tight to the cap ceiling and Samsonov waiver exempt, expect moves like this throughout the season.
Samsonov has made quite the start in his NHL career. He became the 18th goalie in league history to win his first five starts and has collected a 5-2-1 record to go along with a 2.65 GAA and a .912 SV%. He’ll be back Capitals fan, don’t worry.
Askarov Putting Together Impressive Streak
Another goaltender is making waves to start the season, but this one is overseas. Yaroslav Askarov, the top-eligible goaltender for the 2020 NHL Draft and arguably the best goaltending prospect since Carey Price is on fire in the VHL. He’s going to make draft day very hard on teams that don’t like taking goaltenders very high – because he won’t make it out of the top-10.
Playing for SKA-Neva St. Petersburg of the VHL, the Russian goaltender has a 2.19 GAA and a .925 SV% in 12 starts. Those numbers might not jump off the page, but first of all, he’s a rookie, and second, he’s been getting better every game.
In his last three games, he’s won them all, including a 40-save shutout against top-team, Dynamo St. Petersburg. He’s only allowed two goals in that three-game stretch, repping a .978 SV%. The Montreal Canadiens took Price fifth overall in 2005. Askarov has the potential to challenge that selection in 2020.
Lundell Similar to Kakko’s Production
The Anton Lundell hype is real. My fourth-ranked prospect in my preseason rankings is putting himself in top-three consideration already ahead of the draft and his numbers so far are very familiar through his first 18 Liiga games (he’s actually played 19 games now with the same numbers).
- Lundell: 6 goals, 5 assists, 11 points
- Kaapo Kakko: 3 goals, 8 assists, 11 points
You may remember that last season, there were very real conversations about Kakko going first overall ahead of Jack Hughes. The hype around Lundell hasn’t been anywhere near that of Hughes and Kakko, or this year’s probable top-two, Alexis Lafrenière and Quinton Byfield, but perhaps he should be. If not for the top-two, he could definitely challenge Lucas Raymond for the third spot.
Novak Suspended Eight Games
Kelowna Rockets forward Pavel Novak was having a pretty decent rookie season in the WHL. He collected 10 goals, 11 assists and 21 points in his first 19 games in North America and looked good doing it. But then, a nasty hit-from-behind on Kamloops Blazer Kyrell Sopotyk changed things:
As mentioned in the Tweet, Novak was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct for the hit. He was subsequently suspended for eight games by the WHL. The price is more than fair for the hit, but it’s not good for Novak who’s looking to impress ahead of the 2020 NHL Draft.
The suspension takes Novak out for nearly a month, eligible to return Dec. 10 against the Brandon Wheat Kings. That’s a lot of time to miss for a player who was finding his footing in the league. You also have to wonder if a dirty hit like this hurts his draft projection.
Weekly Lafrenère Report: Too Good for the Q
Lafrenière is too good for the QMJHL. The Rimouski Océanic superstar is now up to 15 goals, 36 assists and 51 points through 23 games. That leads the team, leads the QMJHL, and leads the CHL. He’s built yet another point streak, going his last four games recording at least one point, for seven points over that time.
What we are seeing from Lafrenière is simply dominance. As prospect guru Cam Robinson mentions, when Lafrenière is on a break, you pretty much know what is going to happen. That’s getting to the point where when Lafrenière has the puck – watch out.
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 44.4 goals and 150.8 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.