We remain focused on the 2020 NHL Draft in this week’s column with a report from Russia by Alessandro Seren Rosso on projected first round selection, winger Rodion Amirov. Vince Gibbons looks at the top four defenseman on our most recent 2020 NHL Draft ranking here. Last week’s column by Ryan Wagman provided a detailed look at Jake Sanderson, ranked 10th on our board, behind Jamie Drysdale at #4. Vince is our WHL based analyst and brings some insight into the next two defenders, Kaiden Guhle and Braden Schneider. In a light draft year on the backend, they could both see their stock rise as a result.
We will begin to provide our previous NBC/Rotoworld columns with links at the bottom of this article on the 2020 eligible prospects we have already covered in features in this space. We will continue to update that list weekly going forward and have now covered the top 17 prospects in our ranking and 21 in total. Full profiles and scouting reports will begin to arrive at https://www.mckeenshockey.com/ regularly at this point in the season with our analysts/scouts having now had multiple viewings. In 2018-19, we published over 170 draft eligible prospect profiles along with feature articles. Join us on the site as we work our way toward Montreal in June.
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2020 NHL DRAFT PROSPECT
RODION AMIROV, LW, SALAVAT YULAEV UFA
2019-20 Stats: Salavat Yulaev Ufa (KHL), 21GP-0G-2A-2PTS, Tolpar Ufa (MHL) 14GP-5G-11A-16PTS
A capable offensive player with smooth hands and a great touch around the net, Rodion Amirov started making a name for himself on the international scene in 2017, when he played at the traditional U16 Four Nations Tournament in the Czech Republic. After playing with the U17 national team for a further year, Amirov and the U18 team finally had their first showing on the big stage in 2018, when they played at the Hlinka Gretzky Tournament. In Canada, the stage was stolen by Vasily Podkolzin and his breakout performance, with Amirov playing some decent hockey but struggling to hit the score sheet, amassing only two helpers as Team Russia returned home with a bronze medal.
Amirov played better at the WJAC-19 in November, but he exploded at the U18 World Junior Championship in April, where he scored six goals in seven games, making the post-tournament All-Star team and helped the Russians capture a silver medal. Meanwhile, he was enjoying a very good season in the MHL; scoring 13 goals in 31 games while skating against players two or three years older than him.
At the U18 WJC, Amirov was particularly noticeable in the medal round. In the semifinals, he scored the opening goal in the second period against the USA and netted the game-winning shootout goal. The following day Russia lost 4-3 OT to Sweden in the gold-medal game, with Rodion first assisting on Podkolzin’s second-period goal, then tying the game at two in the final stanza as his line with Podkolzin and Marat Khusnutdinov started clicking when it mattered. Unfortunately for the Russians, however, Sweden’s Lucas Raymond was having an even better day scoring a hat-trick in a great battle between 2020 draft eligible forwards.
Amirov is a typical product of the modern-day Russian school. He exhibits good skating ability, fast and smooth hands, and an excellent reading of the game. He can make things happen with his speed for a fast transition and breakout, or he can target a goalie’s soft spot with his fast snapshot and wrist shot in the offensive zone. Not a sublime passer, Amirov’s game is more about creating plays with his skating for a fast dialogue with a linemate; or seeking the best position to unleash his quick hands around the crease.
As a late-2001 born prospect, Amirov wasn’t eligible for the 2019 draft, and considering how the selections went, it’s not unreasonable to consider that he would have been picked in the late first round. You can anticipate pretty much the same concerning the 2020 draft. If his contract in the KHL scares a few teams and he drops on draft day, he can become even more valuable for the team that calls his name next June.
After a successful 2018-19 season, Amirov was called up to the big team in the KHL, but after a successful preseason he’s yet to score his first goal, having only collected two assists so far. In December, he was called to the WJC camp, but he didn’t make the squad. Next year, he is expected to have a scoring-line role as he continues his development. Amirov is currently serving the second year of his entry-level deal with Salavat Yulaev of the KHL, thus his contract in Russia will run out next April 2021.
PROSPECTS IN THE NEWS – TOP FOUR DEFENSEMEN IN 2020 NHL DRAFT – DRYSDALE CLEAR #1, SANDERSON #2, WITH THE WHL’S GUHLE AND SCHNEIDER IN DEAD HEAT FOR #3
By Vince Gibbons
2019-20 Stats: Erie (OHL), 38GP-7G-32A-39PTS
2019-20 Stats: USNTDP, 37GP-4g-15A-19PTS, USNTDP JRS (USHL), 13GP-2G-9A-11PTS
2019-20 Stats: Prince Albert (WHL), 50GP-9G-25A-34PTS
2019-20 Stats: Brandon (WHL), 47GP-5G-27A-32PTS
This year’s draft looks to be a little light on high-end defensive help compared to most drafts. Over the past five drafts NHL teams have taken a total of 49 defenseman in the first round averaging out to just a hair under 10 defenders per first round. McKeens’ midseason rankings only have seven defensemen in the top 31. Due to this scarcity there is a real possibility that this group of defenders all become risers on draft day compared to their current draft positions. Let’s dig into our top four defenseman this week.
The top two are each in separate tiers with Jamie Drysdale (6th by McKeens) from Erie in the OHL as the clear top defensive prize. He had tremendous growth in his game and at the World Juniors this year. Drysdale started as the 7th defenseman forced Team Canada’s management to play more than a bit role as the tournament moved along. He is over a point per game in the OHL and is all but a lock to be the top defender next June. He is poised with the puck in all three zones and has all the tools to be a number one defenseman. It is entirely conceivable to see Drysdale go as high as four on draft day. Jake Sanderson (10th by Mckeens) has shown well this season with the USNDP. He is a very good skater and reads the game as well as anyone. His offensive tool kit is not quite as stocked as Drysdale’s, but he is also an excellent skater who can move the puck very effectively and will likely be gone by the 10th pick. Intelligent play is a big part of what defines this group of defenders and these two have shown to be at the top of the class.
The WHL has two intriguing defensive options currently sitting at #18 and #19 on our list. Both Kaiden Guhle and Braden Schneider are in a dead heat at this point in the season to be the third defender taken in this year’s draft. These two could both outperform our current draft rankings and go in the early teens this June.
There are some striking similarities between the two particularly in terms of their physical attributes. Each stands over 6’ 2” with a solid frame over 190 pounds. Both have very projectable frames, meaning they can add 10-15 more pounds of muscle without compromising their overall game. They will likely both be effective players at over 200 pounds. Each of them has a very long reach which allows them to really influence opponent’s routes to danger areas. Both are almost throwback style defenders in that they are physical open ice hitters. They don’t just strip the puck off you, they punish you for holding the puck too long, or letting them close the gap on you. They are hard to carry the puck against as they can close gap with just their reach and active stick.
The pair of defenders are also very effective in shutting down opponent’s cycle game. They can pin opponents against the wall, then move the puck and transition as well as any two defenders I have watched in the WHL. In addition to this both are above average skaters, not just for big men. Their edgework and acceleration are impressive. Both have shown very good transition ability either passing the puck or skating the puck out of their own zone.
Offensively the pair are similar in that they aren’t spectacular but more than capable. Both have hard shots, and effective one timer’s but often rely on a quick wrist shot or half slap shots to move the puck towards the net. Guhle has scored more (9 goals), in part because he shoots more (2.3 shots/gm) whereas Schneider (25 assists) has more assists; but neither is as dynamic as Drysdale or Sanderson. Both tend to make simple and sound choices with the puck which doesn’t scream elite vision or puck handling skills. They don’t get caught too far up ice, they don’t push too far down the wall and they are always in a position to make a stop. These are the types of players that help you team win a championship but may not be first power play quarterbacks at the next level.
Both Schneider and Guhle have the potential to be a modern version of Chris Pronger in that they play a robust physical shutdown game, skate well and are highly intelligent players. The challenge is how to project their offensive games; neither of which is at a Pronger level. In an era of hockey where handedness matters in terms of defensive position Schneider is the unique and substantially rarer, right-handed defender which is something that may impact a decision between two players that are so similar. On draft day it is entirely possible that by the 15th pick all four of these defensemen have been selected and the next tier of guys start to move up.
PAST ROTOWORLD MCKEEN’S 2020 NHL DRAFT PROSPECT REPORTS – In our weekly columns we cover an NHL Draft prospect. Check out what we have written to date here listed by our most recent ranking. Please click on the date to read.
#1 Alexis Lafreniere (October 15th, 2019)
#2 Quinton Byfield (October 8th, 2019)
#3 Tim Stutzle (January 21st, 2020)
#4 Lucas Raymond (October 8th, 2019)
#5 Alexander Holtz (October 15th, 2019)
#6 Jamie Drysdale (October 29th, 2019)
#7 Marco Rossi (November 19th, 2019)
#8 Cole Perfetti (October 22nd, 2019)
#9 Connor Zary (November 5th, 2019)
#10 Jake Sanderson (January 28th, 2020)
#11 Anton Lundell (October 22nd, 2019)
#12 Yaroslav Askarov (November 5th, 2019)
#13 Rodion Amarov - Today
#14 Noel Gunler (January 14th, 2020)
#15 Dawson Mercer (January 7th, 2020)
#16 Jack Quinn (December 17th, 2019):
#17 Dylan Holloway (November 12th, 2019)
#20 Carter Savoie (December 10th, 2019)
#27 Ty Smilanic (January 28th, 2020)
#29 Emil Andrae (November 26th, 2019)
#32 Hendrix Lapierre (December 3rd, 2019)
57 Michael Benning (December 10th, 2019)