Weekly Prospect Report: Smith, Timmins, Lafreniere & More

Welcome to the first edition of 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. That being said, the occasional rookie may require some notes!

Weekly Prospect Report

There’s been lots of prospect news lately as the NHL season kicked off last week. Some young players were sent down to the minors who many thought should stay in the big leagues and some made the cut that no one thought possible. We’ll touch on both of these categories below.

Junior leagues are underway as well and boy have the top draft-eligible dogs shown that they belong where early rankings have them. Ahead of the ridiculously stacked 2020 NHL Draft, there’s going to be a ton of excitement. But even some younger players are turning heads early and drafted players are making their mark as well. It’s stacking up to be a wild season for prospects, so let’s dive in.

NHL-Affiliated Prospects: Roster Moves

Farabee, Smith & Zadina Highlight Prospects in NHL Roster Cuts

With the new NHL season comes the annual handful of prospects that everyone was surprised they were cut. It seems that this year there were more than usual. Here are some of the most notable prospects sent to the AHL or junior leagues.

Among the big-name cuts were Philadelphia Flyers’ Joel Farabee, New Jersey Devils’ Ty Smith, Nashville Predators’ Eeli Tolvanen, and Detroit Red Wings’ Filip Zadina. Personally, I had all of these players pegged to make the jump this season, but it seems it just wasn’t in the cards. Ty Smith is especially head-scratching since he has to go back to the WHL rather than the AHL. He seemed to get all he can out of the AHL, but not quite ready for the NHL. Still, how much can the WHL offer the young defender?

Ty Smith New Jersey Devils
Ty Smith, New Jersey Devils (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Edmonton Oilers had a few prospects they cut that surprised some people. Not necessarily that they were cut, but the timing seemed premature. Caleb Jones and Tyler Benson were two of these players. It could be argued that Benson could have benefited from some NHL time, but overall it makes sense that they were sent down. However, they were sent down early in training camp which puzzled some people. Why not at least keep them up for more of the preseason to get some experience? It’s a strange move.

New York Rangers Vitali Kravtsov and Filip Chytil, along with Detroit Red Wings Joe Veleno and Michael Rasmussen were a few other names that surprised some hockey fans.

The important thing to remember with all of these players is that for the most part, time in the AHL or juniors will only benefit them. Better to get top minutes in a league below than to play bottom-six minutes, or on a potentially losing team.

Brown, Ho-Sang Not Happy With Demotions

Most of the time, players are sent down to the minors, they go where they need to go and play their best. They work hard, keep their heads down, and keep battling for their spot in the lineup. For New York Islanders’ Josh Ho-Sang and Ottawa Senators’ Logan Brown, that wasn’t quite the case.

Let’s start with Ho-Sang. Drafted 28th overall back in 2014, the young player has yet to crack the NHL. He’s seen NHL time in parts of three seasons, never playing more than 22 games. In 53 career games, he has seven goals, 17 assists and 24 points. Many thought this was the year he’d finally stick with the big club, yet they sent him down through waivers to the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers.

Following the demotion, it’s been reported that he’s asked the team for a trade. General manager Lou Lamoriello says that he’ll try to accommodate, but if the right deal doesn’t come along, Ho-Sang will need to report to the Tigers.

Related: Islanders’ Ho-Sang Asks for Trade

Brown hasn’t asked for a trade from the Senators – yet. Instead, he was sent down once again following a breakout season in the AHL. While general manager Pierre Dorion preached patience with the young player, Brown’s agent, Andy Scott, took a different approach.

This is not a good look for Brown. The AHL is completely the right choice. Let him be down with a stacked Belleville Senators team that could contend this season, rather than on a losing team in Ottawa where he won’t get nearly as many minutes and risk damaging his confidence. Frankly, Dorion is right.

He explains, “We don’t want Logan Brown coming into our lineup losing his confidence and not being the player we want him to be in a year from now – when we really need him.”

Enough with the demotions though, let’s get into the happier headlines from around the league.

Timmins Comes in Cold, Cracks Avalanche Roster

One of the feel-good stories of the preseason has been Colorado Avalanche prospect Conor Timmins. After missing the entire 2018-19 season (he did practice a bit near the end, but didn’t play any games), Timmins came into training camp and impressed, stealing a roster spot and completing the heart-warming story.

Conor Timmins Team Canada Getty
Conor Timmins, Team Canada, 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship, December 26, 2017. (Photo by Kevin Hoffman/Getty Images)

Head coach Jared Bednar explained the reasoning behind the Avalanche keeping the young defender up with the club, “He’s a real intelligent player. He’s smart with the puck. His first pass is going to the open man. He has the ability to find the middle of the ice, which sets you up for controlled exits.

“We just really liked what we’ve seen from him and I think he’s getting better and better, so he beats out a couple guys on the back end.” (From: “Avalanche morning-skate report: Conor Timmins to make NHL debut after long illness” – Denver Post – Oct. 3, 2019).

Timmins comes onto the Avalanche squad without playing a single game in the AHL. In 2017-18, he played for the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, putting up eight goals, 33 points and 41 points in the regular season, adding 18 points in 23 playoff games.

Heinola, Bjornfot Earn Roster Spots

Everyone knew that the first two picks from the 2019 NHL Draft were going straight into the NHL. Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko are both playing for their respective teams, the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers, but there are two other prospects from the draft that have cracked their NHL rosters as well.

Ville Heinola came into the Winnipeg Jets’ training camp with many people thinking he was just there for the experience and to give management a good look at him. Well, not only did the defenseman make the team, but through his first three games, he has two assists already.

Ville Heinola Winnipeg Jets
Ville Heinola, Winnipeg Jets (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The biggest knock against Heinola coming into the 2019-20 season was his skating, yet he improved that drastically this offseason. He’s playing on the second line and at this point doesn’t look like he’s going anywhere anytime soon.

Related: Heinola Not the First Jet to Hit Scoresheet in NHL Debut

The other 2019 draftee to crack an NHL roster is Los Angeles Kings’ Tobias Bjornfot. He seemed even less likely to make the NHL roster, but he’s been partnered with Drew Doughty on the top line. He’s had some growing pains early on, but the transition has been good. The defender has played just one game so far, as that’s all the Kings have had, but it was a solid debut.

It will be worthwhile to keep an eye on both of these players, along with Hughes and Kakko, as October and the season rolls on.

Draft-Eligible Prospects: Early Season Impressions

Lafreniere, Byfield Proving Their Spot in Early Rankings

The majority of early 2020 NHL Draft rankings that have a clear cut one and two: Alexis Lafreniere and Quinton Byfield. Early on in their seasons, they are proving that they are deserving of those spots. Also, their starts have shown that the gap between these players might not be that big.

Related: Lafrenière: Big Season Ahead for Potential First-Overall Pick

Playing in the QMJHL with Rimouski Oceanic, Lafreniere picked up right where he left off last season, scoring six goals, 13 assists, and 19 points through his first eight games. It’s fair to say that he looks like a man among boys so far into the season. In the video below, you can see that if he wants the puck, he’ll get it. And if he wants to score, he will.

He’s more than proving his early first-overall ranking is justified. Right on his heels is Byfield. The Sudbury Wolves centreman has been equally impressive early on this season, scoring seven goals and nine assists for a total of 16 points through seven games. The two are currently one and two in the CHL in points, and the race throughout the season is one that every hockey fan should be closely watching.

Related: Prospect Profile: An Early Look at Quinton Byfield

While the two are neck and neck right now, I’m willing to bet that Lafreniere will pull ahead by a big margin sooner rather than later. Through the first six games of the season, Lafreniere was shooting at a 10.26 percent rate, while Byfield is at a 35 percent rate. Byfield is likely to regress to normal numbers, as 35 percent is not a sustainable number.

Nybeck On Fire in Sweden

On the other side of the pond, Swedish prospect Zion Nybeck has come out of the gate on a mission. Playing with HV71 J20 in the SuperElit, the right winger has the Byfield stat line – seven goals, nine assists and 16 points. Granted, he’s played in 10 games so far.

He’s currently fourth in the SuperElit in points, at 17 years old in an under-20 league. He is just behind Lafreniere and tied with Byfield out of all all 2020 NHL Draft prospects in points. Make sure you’re following along with this potential first-round pick’s season.

2021 Draft Prospect Lysell Turning Heads Early

Looking even further out, Fabian Lysell is a name you should get to know. The Frolunda HC left-winger is second in the J18 Elit with seven goals, 12 assists and 19 points in just seven games. He leads all 2021 NHL Draft-eligible players. The 16-year-old has made quite the impression early on and is definitely a player to watch moving forward.

Lysell is a speedy forward with the skill to go with it. He has a quick, hard shot that can fool a goaltender but he can also dish it out for a highlight-reel assist. He doesn’t give up, always battling for the puck and usually winning. He’s creative offensively and deadly one-on-one. With his play early on, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him called up to the SuperElit to play with the U20 club very soon.

Thanks for checking out the first 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.