An absolutely thrilling World Junior Championship concluded with the two strongest teams meeting in the final. Canada won gold in a heartbreaking loss for a strong Russian team as Canada overcame a 3 -1 deficit in the third period to grab victory. The tournament showcased some excellent hockey featuring the next generation of NHL stars. We hope you have enjoyed our coverage of the WJC we have provided in this weekly column. We will conclude with a look at the six players who were voted to the Media All Star team with outstanding performances that shone a very bright light on their potential. They will make up our ‘prospects in the news’ feature this week as we return to our regular format for these columns
Our featured prospect for the 2020 NHL Draft is Dawson Mercer, who made headlines yesterday in a blockbuster QMJHL trade. Mike Sanderson provides a profile below. We will be publishing a longer version of Mercer’s profile by Mike on www.mckeenshockey.com in the next couple of days if you want to dive deeper into this emerging prospect who is climbing draft boards as we write. We will be releasing our mid-season 2020 NHL Draft ranking in the next few weeks on the site.
The McKeen’s team are scouting and writing about prospects all season long and provide in-depth reports on our website: www.mckeenshockey.com.
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2020 NHL DRAFT PROSPECT
Dawson Mercer, RW
2019-20 Stats: 18 goals, 24 assists in 26 games for Drummondville (QMJHL) – traded to Chicoutimi on Monday, January 6th, 2020
Hockey Canada’s newest favorite Newfoundlander has been making a name for himself by doing the little things right, but it was a big thing to be named to Team Canada at the World Junior Championships. Winger Dawson Mercer was the first player from the rock selected to the national junior team since former Buffalo Sabre Luke Adam made the squad a decade ago.
The little things also added up to a big bounty from Mercer at this year’s QMJHL trading period, as Mercer netted his former team, the Drummondville Voltigeurs, six draft picks in the next three years, including three first round selections, solely for his services. Mercer now joins the Chicoutimi Saguenéens, who flaunt five NHL prospects in their top-six cavalry of forwards. The Sags also picked up Mercer’s Canadian teammate Raphaël Lavoie to run the right flank for the team, as they load up for a massive run to the President’s Cup title and a berth in the Memorial Cup tourney in Kelowna in 2020. The rocky winger from Bay Roberts, NL, will be a big factor with les bleuets for their upcoming playoff run.
While Mercer was a bottom-six player for the golden Canadian squad, he made the team by being his useful self – a strong two-way winger who is responsible with the puck and without it. Mercer is a coach’s dream and a fan favorite with his attention to detail and his lunchpail attitude. It’s why he was off the board earlier than expected in his QMJHL draft year in 2017, when the 12th-ranked Mercer was taken at eight by the Voltigeurs.
Mercer was a contributing factor to a good Drummondville team in his rookie season, taking a regular shift and playing some special teams on both sides. His hockey sense was a natural fit right away at the QMJHL level, as he can anticipate and read plays extremely well.
Mercer’s second season (2018-19) in the Q was a big jump in his confidence, his usage and his boxcar numbers. He would finish with nearly a point-a-game with a top-scoring Drummondville squad, contributing 30 goals to a league-leading 338 from the Volts. Mercer showed his offensive instincts much more in his second season, demonstrating strong hockey sense in the attacking zone and setting up plays for himself and his teammates. He is one of the strongest players available in this draft class at using his space to his advantage, with his hands, his shot or his passing ability.
Mercer has seen his game jump to another level this season. He has the innate ability to generate chemistry with any forwards he’s playing with and demonstrates a strong counter-attack punch in the neutral zone. There are no weaknesses to Mercer’s game, and while the top end may not grade out to being a top-line forward offensively, Mercer will prove his use at the NHL level as a hard-working line fixer who will generate positive impacts on every game he plays and put points up on the board. He is climbing up draft boards this season for good reason – it’s so hard to find a weakness in his game. - Mike Sanderson, QMJHL
PROSPECTS IN THE NEWS
Following the gold medal game of the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship the IIHF Directorate Awards were announced confirming Alexis Lafreniere (Canada) as the Best Forward, Rasmus Sandin (Sweden) as the Best Defenceman and Joel Hofer (Canada) as Best Goaltender. All three were included in the Media All-Star team (by vote) and Lafreniere was name MVP of the tournament. He is the only 2020 NHL Draft eligible player named and only cemented his status as the consensus number one overall pick. The other picks are all property of NHL teams and with their surging profile following the tournament, have caught the attention of their respective fan bases who hope to see them in the NHL soon.
The McKeen’s team that produced detailed previews on their respective nations in our 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship magazine, deliver profiles below. Subscribers can find full scouting reports, more expansive profiles and features on them all at www.mckeenshockey.com
Alexis Lafreniere, C, 2020 Draft Eligible
2019 Stats: 23 goals, 47 assists in 32 games for Rimouski (QMJHL)
WJC: 4 goals, 6 assists in 5 games for Canada
What a difference a year can make for a young player at the World Junior Championships. A year ago, Lafreniere was a depth player for a Canadian team that was ousted in the quarterfinals, posting a single goal. Fast forward to 2020 and he is a gold medalist and the tournament MVP. To think, all of this was perhaps not thought possible at the end of December when he suffered what was believed to be a serious knee injury in the round robin game against Russia. A quick healer, Lafreniere bounced back quickly, returned for the quarterfinals, finished the tournament averaging two points per game, all the while making a significant impact every time he touched the ice.
His performance in the Czech Republic was nothing short of dominant, meeting the lofty expectations placed upon him. Perhaps the most surprising component to Lafreniere’s game was the physicality that he brought. His aggressiveness on the forecheck and in puck pursuit helped team Canada establish possession in the offensive zone. His high level of skill and his elite hockey IQ were on display too, but it was his engagement level without the puck that truly separated him from some of the other highly skilled players at the tournament. He now heads back to the QMJHL where he still leads the league in scoring and seems to be the odds-on favourite to repeat as CHL Player of the Year. Additionally, it would be shocking if he is not the first player selected in Montreal at the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. – Brock Otten
Barrett Hayton, C, Drafted 5th overall, 2018 (Arizona Coyotes)
2019 Stats: 1 goal, 3 assists, in 14 games for Arizona (NHL)
WJC: 6 goals, 6 assists in 7 games for Canada
The definition of perseverance is “persistence in doing something despite difficulty in achieving success.” In this instance, Barrett Hayton persevered through a grade 1 shoulder separation that many believed would keep him out of the gold medal game against Russia. However, the Canadian captain could not be held down, as not only did he play against Russia, but he scored a massive third period goal to tie the game at three on a howitzer of a wrist shot that found the top corner, blocker side. Loaned from the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes, Hayton was an impact player for Canada throughout the entire tournament, finishing second in tournament scoring (behind Samuel Fagemo) and ending up as a tournament all-star.
At the heart of Hayton’s game is his play below the hash marks, and his ability to control possession in the offensive zone. He attacks the offensive zone with ferocity, consistently first to dump ins, where he can use his strength along the wall to establish possession. Equal part playmaker and goal scorer, Hayton excels playing through traffic because of his quick hands and equally quick release. All of this was on full display at the World Junior Championships. Hayton will return to Arizona. Once his shoulder fully heals, the Coyotes have to be hoping that he can carry over some confidence from the tournament and establish himself as an NHL regular who can provide energy and secondary scoring as they push for the playoffs in the second half. – Brock Otten
Samuel Fagemo, RW/L, Draft 50th overall (2nd round), 2019 (Los Angeles Kings)
2019 Stats: 6 goals, 5 assists in 20 games for Frolunda (SHL)
WJC: 8 goals, 5 assists, in 13 games for Sweden
Fagemo was the favorite to be the top scorer on the Swedish team, but he didn’t just achieve that, he became the top scorer for the whole tournament with an impressive eight goals and 13 points. Fagemo and his linemate Nils Hoglander provided the offensive star power Sweden needed to be competitive in this tournament. While Fagemo clearly has taken a step as a WJC scorer, his numbers in SHL league play haven’t picked up this season over last year. In the WJC he can beat players with his speed, opportunistic smartness in the offensive zone and drive to create chances. At the senior level the opponents are smarter defensively and that’s where the weakness of Fagemo’s game is revealed. The way he plays the game requires speed, smartness and a lot of skill and it gets tougher the higher the level of play it is.
His shot is good enough to be a scorer on any level from the circles and in and he can score in tight situations. He shoots fast and doesn’t need much time to release it. Fagemo wasn’t drafted in his first draft eligible year and although he has worked on his skating, I don’t see him being a strong goal scorer with the help of his speed, which is mostly how he creates chances now. But in this tournament, I also saw him in the role of strictly ‘the finisher’ and letting a teammate set him up. Fagemo used good hockey sense to detect where the play was heading and acted fast on the chance when it arrived. That type of offensive play could translate well to higher levels if he plays with strong and skilled linemates that do some dirty work for him. – Jimmy Hamrin
Alexander Romanov, D, Drafted 38th overall (2nd round), 2018 (Montreal Canadiens)
2019 Stats: 0 goals, 4 assists in 33 games for CSKA Moscow (KHL)
WJC: 1 goal, 5 assists in 7 games for Russia
CSKA’s D-Man Alexander Romanov was one of the best blueliners at the WJC for the second year in a row – there are not many players that have been selected to the post-tournament all-star team twice in a row. His 14-point performance at the WJC level puts him in top-20 all-time for scoring among defensemen, and only the former Chicago Blackhawks prospect Ville Pokka performed better than him with a plus-20 rating, compared to Romanov’s plus-18. Other than a better plus/minus rating, Pokka also helped Finland win the gold medal, while Romanov had only to be content with silver hardware.
At this point, the Hab’s prospect is entitled to be considered a real steal for a second rounder – he certainly made a better impression than some of the defensemen picked in front of him in 2018. His poise, physical game, and reading of the play were at a very high level throughout both the 2019 and 2020 tournament. Romanov is also in his second full year in the KHL with CSKA Moscow, and it certainly helped him in developing and cementing his status as one of the best young blueliners on the global arena. The defenseman is now on the final year of his entry-level deal in the KHL. He looks ready for the big jump, but if he chooses to play a year or two further in Russia to hone his game, there will be nothing wrong with that decision, especially considering his team’s situation, where many players are also in their contract year. – Alessandro Seren Rosso
Rasmus Sandin, D, Drafted 29th overall, 2018 (Toronto Maple Leafs)
2019 Stats: 0 goals, 2 assists in 6 games for Toronto (NHL)
2 goals, 10 assists in 19 games for Toronto (AHL)
WJC: 3 goals, 7 assists in 7 games for Sweden
Sandin showcased his talent at the WJC and was arguably the best defenseman going into the tournament and the best defenseman coming out of it. Sandin’s hockey IQ is impressive and plays well on both sides of the puck. One particular asset in his game that’s stands out is the way he can adjust his game and makes his partner better. Victor Soderstrom also had a great tournament and Sandin was a big part of that. Sandin ran Sweden’s first power play unit and was trusted to play in all situations. In the big game, the semifinal against Russia, Sandin scored two goals and had two helpers in the 4-5 overtime loss.
From being the dominant defenseman at the WJC to becoming a regular NHL defenseman is not a far step for him. But where do we see Sandin’s ceiling? One asset that will lower that ceiling is that his skating speed isn’t elite. He relies on his smarts and good puck skills. I like Sandin as a top four or maybe even a top pair defenseman, but not as a number one/Norris caliber defenseman. For that I’d like to see even more skill and speed to his game. He should make the Maple Leafs roster soon though. There he can be useful in any pairing, but I can see him fit well with a defenseman like Tyson Barrie. He can cover up defensively without being the big shutdown defenseman. Instead Sandin uses hockey sense and strong puck-moving to defend and to give room to his partner to play his game. – Jimmy Hamrin
Joel Hofer, G, Drafted 107th overall (4th round), 2018 (St. Louis Blues)
2029 Stats: 1.81 goals against average, 0.937 save percentage in 27 games for Portland (AHL)
WJC: 1.30 goals against average, 0.946 in 6 games for Canada
Would you believe that it had been twelve years since a Canadian had been named top goaltender at the World Junior Championships? Hofer breaks the streak becoming the first team Canada netminder since Steve Mason in 2008 to take home the honor. And it was well deserved. Entering the tournament, Hofer was not even the starter for the gold medal winning Canadians. OHL’er Nico Daws was given the first two starts against the United States and Russia during the round robin. But he was pulled after a poor performance against Russia and Hofer never relinquished the crease from there on out. His steadiness and confidence in the net was a huge reason Canada was able to end their twelve-year gold medal drought overseas; ironically enough the same year that Steve Mason captured that top goalie award.
Standing at 6’5, Hofer eats up a ton of space in the net. When he is aggressive in challenging shooters, he is very difficult to beat. However, Hofer is also a terrific athlete who moves well post to post, using his long legs to get strong pushes to track the play. Perhaps most impressive was his ability to control second chance opportunities, something that larger goaltenders can have difficulty with. He swallowed up most initial shots, and the ones that he did not, were directed to the corners and away from his crease. His composure was remarkable. The St. Louis Blues 4th round selection (in 2018) returns to Portland of the WHL following the tournament. The Winterhawks are fighting for top spot in the WHL and Hofer currently sits first in GAA and second in save percentage, making him a serious candidate for WHL and CHL goaltender of the year. – Brock Otten