In the second installment of the Prospect Report we look at prospects on the teams playing on NBC Wednesday Night Hockey, including two organizations, Colorado and Edmonton. with impressive defensive depth in the pipeline. We continue our look at highly regarded prospects for the 2020 NHL Draft, including the consensus number one overall pick for some time, Alexis Lafreniere of Rimouski in the QMJHL. In our ‘Prospects in the News’ section, the New York Islanders have just promoted Oliver Wahlstrom and he joins Noah Dobson on the roster as key pieces of the future for the team. They were drafted back to back at numbers 11 and 12 in the 2019 NHL Draft. 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 prospects
North American Prospect
Alexis Lafreniere - QMJHL
2019 Stats: eight goals, 17 assists with Rimouski
The name of Alexis Lafreniere has been well known in prospect ranks since he was picked first overall by the Rimouski Oceanic in the 2017 QMJHL draft, and he has lived up to the hype thus far in his junior career. The just-turned-18-year-old forward has seen his point totals climb from 80 to 105 to now leading the league with 25 in the first 10 games of this season. Lafrenière is an offensive force of a winger who takes over games and controls the play with the puck on his stick. He is already at an NHL size at 6’1” and 203 pounds, and doesn’t shy away from the danger areas with the puck, finding success with his feet, his hands, his shot or his smarts. He is a full-deal do-it-all offensive player.
Anytime a draft prospect is outplaying the two drafted players on his line by a good amount, it is a good sign for his potential. Lafrenière is doing just that, with Boston’s Cédric Paré and Calgary’s Dmitry Zavgorodniy at his disposal, and outscoring them both. Lafrenière is using both Paré’s scoring ability and Zavgorodniy’s playmaking ability to their advantages, as the young winger is comfortable as facilitator and scorer on the ice. It’s provided a big boost to the Rimouski offence.
Most top prospects in this space will have had experience the summer before their draft year at the Hlinka Gretzky tournament, seen as an important tournament for a draft-eligible player. Lafrenière was considered graduated from that team and did not participate this past summer, as he already has world junior experience from his draft-minus-one season. With a team as deep as the Canadian world junior team, it’s a nod to his talents that he made the team as a young 17-year-old in what is commonly known as a 19-year-old’s tournament. Lafrenière’s name is written in pen on Canada’s roster this coming holiday season for a second tour of duty for the nation.
While there is considerable competition at the top end of the 2020 NHL Draft class, Lafrenière’s position at the top of the list is seen as relatively secure at this point, and for good reason. He has every tool needed to be an offensive superstar at the NHL level. - Mike Sanderson, QMJHL
Alexander Holtz - Sweden
Holtz has adapted amazingly fast to the SHL in the early part of the season. He has shown great ability to create chances and has already scored three goals in eight games as 17-year-old. His four points are a very promising start as the SHL record for points by a U18 player is 21 points. Holtz has gotten a chance in an offensive role and looked comfortable. He uses his body (which is getting bigger) and covers the puck well. He’s a big threat from the circles with his shot and he can create separation with his skating to produce breakaways.
He has been a junior superstar in the big city of Stockholm for many years and already has a lot of experience with media and commercial attention. He is a product of his training with a lot of skills and conditioning training in his background. First above all, he is a great goal scorer. He went down and played a junior game this weekend and scored a hat trick in a come-from-behind 4-3 victory. He’s kind of underrated as a playmaker as he has mostly scored a tremendous amount of goals. He has the ability to be both the setup guy, as well as the trigger man on a power play. Holtz is also a solid two-way forward who works hard all over the ice, comparable to Filip Forsberg. The knock I might (not sure yet) have on Holtz is that I wonder if he’s too much of a training product and might lack high end, elite creativity as a result of that process.
All in all, Holtz has elite forward NHL potential and is a strong candidate to be a top five pick for next year’s NHL draft. – Jimmy Hamrin, Sweden
Prospects in the News/On the Rise
New York Islanders
Oliver Wahlstrom, RW, NYI
With only 12 goals through their first five games, the Islanders needed to add scoring punch to the lineup. So they turned to Wahlstrom, with his 14 games of professional experience under his belt. Despite his relative struggles to produce in his single season at the NCAA level, Wahlstrom hit the ground running in AHL Bridgeport. If his NHL debut is any indication, he will receive prime offensive opportunities for the Islanders, including regular power play shifts. The main remaining question is whether he sticks on Long Island after Casey Cizikas returns from his injury.
’Two years after selecting Kieffer Bellows in the first round, the Isles tapped a similar well in drafting Wahlstrom, a sniper from the USNTDP who put up great numbers in the Program, but was seemingly conflicted about the college track. Also like Bellows, Wahlstrom had one underwhelming season on campus before he turned pro. To Wahlstrom’s credit, he shows willingness to work in his own zone, but it will always be the quality of his shot, and his ability to get it off cleanly, that will determine his path to the NHL. He has slick mitts that aid in the shot preparation and release, as well as maintaining puck possession. The Isles should be patient with him, letting him round out his game in the AHL, but his upside is still first line. The hope is that he does not develop as a top six or bust player.’ - Ryan Wagman, McKeen's 2019-20 Yearbook
Noah Dobson, D, NYI
Despite only playing in two of the Islanders first six games, the decision on his immediate future is not an easy one for GM Lou Lamoriello. Still 19 years old, the team is limited to keeping the phenom up in the NHL, or sending him back to Rouyn-Noranda in the QMJHL. Having won consecutive Memorial Cups, with two different teams, there is nothing left for Dobson to accomplish at the junior level, and his personal production was also exceptional for a blueliner. In limited time as an NHLer, he has held his own, although his work in the offensive end has been more impressive than in his own zone. More than anything, he needs more ice time and less time in the press box.
’Dobson has everything you love in a defenseman as a prospect – great skater, great hockey sense on both ends, great puckhandler and passer, contributes offensively and defensively, and has the ideal size for the NHL level. He has the potential to make the Islanders as early as this coming season, and he has all the tools to make that happen. His skating, hockey sense and positioning could put him into the NHL right now without skipping a beat, and he has played a lot of hockey in the last two years – two Memorial Cup titles while playing 30-minutes-a-night, two Team Canada summer camps and a holiday season with Team Canada at the world juniors. Dobson only needs to fill out his frame to have a true impact at the NHL level, and he is set to be a top pairing defender for a long time.’ - Mike Sanderson, QMJHL, 2019-20 McKeen's 2019-20 Yearbook.
Colorado traded away their top defenseman in Tyson Barrie in the offseason for Nazem Kadri to provide much needed secondary scoring to their elite top unit. The bet they made with that trade is that the arguably best defensive prospect pool in the NHL would be ready to make an impact sooner rather than later. The only Avalanche prospect at the start of the season in the line up regularly is defenseman Cale Makar, and he has stepped into the role left by Barrie both at regular strength and on the power play with authority. Skating with 24-year old Nikita Zadorov he has opened the season with a five-game point scoring streak, with six assists, four of them on the power play.
Bowen Byram was widely believed to be the consensus third pick overall in the 2019 Draft and the Avalanche, who were likely looking at adding a forward, could not resist adding him, and even more justification for trading Barrie. The 18-year old impressed in training camp and should dominate in the WHL this season and looks NHL-ready now. He opened his season with 10 points in nine games with the Vancouver Giants. Both players profiles from McKeen’s 2019-20 Yearbook are below.
In the Lineup: Cale Makar, D (4th overall, 2017. McKeen’s rank: 1 Last Year: 1) Cale Makar is one of the more promising defensemen to play NCAA hockey. Last season with UMass he almost willed them to a National Championship with 16 goals and 49 points in 41 games. Everything ran through him. He was the 2019 Hobey Baker Award winner, showing that his draft pedigree was earned. He will have a huge impact with his skating and scoring in Colorado this coming season after teasing with his play for the Avalanche in the postseason. He may be able to replace the departed Tyson Barrie as the top power-play quarterback and overall #1 defenseman. It is a tall order but there is no reason to believe he can’t do that right out of the gate, barring injury. He has to work on his physical play and puck security as the Avalanche won’t let him be as freewheeling as he was in college. Makar did a lot to advance UMass as a top program in Hockey East and he seems poised to do the same for Colorado.’ – Russ Cohen, McKeen’s 2019-20 Yearbook
Top Prospect in the System: Bowen Byram, D (4th overall, 2019. McKeen’s rank: 2 Last Year: Draft Eligible) Byram stepped up his game for his draft year and elevated himself up to the 4th overall pick by Colorado. He is an elite skating defender with great offensive instincts, a solid two way game, and is a tremendous puck mover. He is the first defensemen to lead the WHL in playoff scoring, putting up 26 points in 22 games, after scoring 26 goals and 71 points in the regular season. He dominates on the ice and can do it all. He will be a top defender, a PP QB, and will certainly push for a spot on the Avalanche in training camp this season. Selecting Byram also allowed Colorado to move defensemen Tyson Barrie in the off-season, and GM Joe Sakic will look like a genius in picking him, as he will look like the steal of the draft, even after being selected 4th between his upside and his level of readiness.’ – Kevin Olexson, McKeen’s 2019-20 Yearbook
Perennial success has left the Penguins prospect cupboard shallow for a number of season from low draft position and trading promising prospects for immediate help in pursuit of championships. They have the cups to show for it, but as the Crosby/Malkin window grows smaller, the challenge in surrounding their superstars has often been met with promotions from their AHL affiliate Wilkes-Barre. With recent injuries to Malkin, Nick Bjugstad, Bryan Rust and offseason acquisition and Phil Kessel replacement, Alex Galchenyuk, the organization have called up Teddy Bleugers and Sam Laffery have fill the gap.
Both looking ready to earn a regular role they have been playing close to 14 minutes a game, including shorthanded. Lafferty is hot with three goals in four games, all in the last two. Bleugers has been respectable in the faceoff circle, taking the second most on the team (64) and winning 50%, and even dropped his gloves against a much bigger Korbinian Holzer of the Ducks.
The Penguins did hang on to their first round pick for the second time in seven years and took big-bodied, mature power winger Samuel Poulin - whom they hope can contribute sooner as a result. See their profiles below from McKeen’s 2019-20 Yearbook:
In the Lineup: Teddy Bleuger, C (52nd overall, 2012. McKeen’s rank 12: Last Year: 7) Bleuger is set to start his next professional season up with the Pittsburgh Penguins which is well deserved. He is a naturally skilled forward whose game is nothing special but fast paced and efficient enough to get the job done. His shot and quick release make him especially deadly when given the puck in a scoring position as he can adapt quickly to get quality scoring chances. Bleuger needs to make sure to keep his feet moving in the corners and not rely so much on teammates to do his dirty work below the goal line. If he can up the pace of his aggressive play in all areas of the ice to match the NHL pace then he will stand a better chance at earning a bottom six roll with the Penguins next season and into the future.’ - Shaiyena Cote, AHL, McKeen’s 2019-20 Yearbook
Sam Lafferty, C (113th overall, 2014. McKeen’s rank 17 Last Year: Not ranked) Lafferty is an enjoyable player to watch, especially as he never takes a shift off and wins a fair percentage of the draws he takes. Last season with Wilkes-Barre he did well putting up 49 points in 70 games and stepping up to stand out amongst a rather average team. He is a good playmaker and a good passer, and his creativity will certainly be a contributing factor to his success at a higher level. Although Lafferty is a great passer he could do well at shooting more and being a little more selfish with the puck to prove himself as an even greater offensive threat. He has a lot of potential at clocking a bottom six spot in the NHL and even growing from there, as his work ethic and his outside the box way of thinking will certainly get him to the next level.’ – Shaiyena Cote, AHL, McKeen’s 2019-20 Yearbook.
Top Prospect in the System: Samuel Poulin, RW (21st overall, 2019. McKeen’s rank 1 Last Year: Draft Eligible) ’One of the more complete players in the draft this past June, and one of the more pro-ready players, Poulin has many qualities NHL coaches will love right out of the box. Poulin is the son of former NHLer Patrick, and his hockey sense proves that. His ability to shoot or pass with equal aplomb and his abilities to use his teammates are all at a high level. His defensive play on the backcheck and in transition is noteworthy. His skating is strong, especially his balance, as he can anchor himself along the wall under pressure. He plays a two-way game, does not skip on the details and can carry a team on his back, like his Sherbrooke team in the playoffs with 14 points in 10 games. Poulin will be a strong winger who can play all situations and be a reliable two-way threat for a long time.’ – Michael Sanderson, QMJHL, McKeen’s 2019-20 Yearbook
Philadelphia vs Edmonton
We covered prospects Samuel Morin and Joel Farabee in last weeks column found here https://www.nbcsports.com/edge/article/prospects-report/prospects-report-opening-week
This week we will take a look at another talented forward who is a good candidate, alongside Farabee, to represent the next generation of potential stars that will be pushing for spots in the line-up in short order. Both cut late in camp with a real shot at making the opening night line-up. Frost was hampered by a groin injury keeping him to two pre-season games. It is early in the AHL season but the talent has been on display at times for both. See our McKeen’s profile from the 2019-20 Yearbook for Frost below (Farabees in last week's article):
Top Prospect in the System: Morgan Frost, C/LW (27th overall, 2017. McKeen’s rank 3rd Last Year: 3) With another 100-point season under his belt, one that saw him lead the OHL in assists, Frost is ready for the next challenge in his young career. The talented playmaking center has improved his skating and strength on the puck over his OHL career and those should allow for an easy transition to pro hockey. He generates well off the rush, using a variety of different attacks which speaks volumes to his creativity with the puck. His improved strength has also allowed him to be more effective along the wall, where he can prolong possession and keep plays alive to ensure more passing lanes open up for him. As one of the top prospects in the OHL last year, Frost is a potential first or second line center for Philadelphia and should be ready to take a regular shift by 2020-21. – Brock Otten, OHL, McKeen’s 2019-20 Yearbook
The Oilers are icing one of the youngest defense groups in the league with Kris Russell the only regular skater over the age of 26. After many years of futility and porous defense, and a perceived lack of balance with the forward group, the organization has laid a foundation with five of their top 10 prospects (as ranked in our 2019-20 Yearbook) now defenders. New management again in Alberta may mean some pieces are moved to capitalize on generational talent Connor McDavid, and a lack of secondary scoring upfront, but for now it is one of the deeper talent pools in the league on the back end.
Ethan Bear was the fifth ranked of those defensive prospects and earned a promotion with the injury to Adam Larsson. He has established himself on the Oilers blueline skating beside 24-year old Darnell Nurse on the top pairing, just shy of 20 minutes a game (19:23). The top prospect in the organization at the moment is blueliner Philip Broberg, selected eighth overall. He will continue to develop in Sweden this season.
In the Lineup: Ethan Bear, D (124thoverall, 2015. McKeen’s rank: 10 Last Year: 7) An undersized, offensively-oriented d-man with speed to burn, Bear is looking like a solid hit by Oilers scouting on a fifth-round pick back in 2015. With short, powerful strides that generate a lot of speed, and with a low center of gravity that allows him to stay balanced when cutting or getting shoved from his sides. An electric shot from the blue line was a staple of the Condors’ power play units, as well as his vision and playmaking from the top of the zone. Furthermore, he looked as solid in his own zone as any Bakersfield rearguard. Bear played the best hockey of his pro career last season (52-6-25-31), improving upon an already impressive package of offensive skills that will allow him to have a long career as a depth defenseman with power play time.’ – Tom Dorsa, AHL, McKeen’s 2019-20 Yearbook
Top Prospect in the System: Philip Broberg, D (8th overall, 2019. McKeen’s rank: 1 Last Year: Draft Eligible) In our opinion a solid choice in the top ten of the draft, even if his statistical record left some fans wanting. Broberg’s skating alone and how he uses it is a lethal weapon to have on any team. His other assets include above average but not elite hockey IQ. Combined with his reach and speed he will be a strong top four or maybe even a top pairing defenseman. When he played in Allsvenskan, he showed strong flashes but didn’t get the trust to play a role where he could play out his full game, which is not uncommon for a 17-year-old defenseman in the Swedish pro ranks. He truly shined on the international stage and is a player that can take charge of a game and shift the momentum on one shift. He has some defensive flaws that he needs to correct and should continue work on his power play game. This coming season, he will play with Skelleftea in the SHL and will have good opportunity to step up his development to be ready for the NHL within one or two seasons.’ – Jimmy Hamrin, McKeen’s 2019-20 Yearbook