Monday, May 21, 2018

2018 NHL Draft Preview: Jonathan Tychonick

Hi everybody, and welcome back to our look at the 2018 NHL Draft coming up in June.

Today we look at Jonathan Tychonick.

Left-shooting defenseman for the Penticton Vees, BCHL

6'0" 174 lbs

48 games, 9G 38A 47 points

His draft rankings as of today are:

HockeyProspect - #29

ISS Hockey - #29

FutureConsiderations - #36

McKeens - #NR

NHL Central Scouting - #36 (NA Skaters)

Steadily rising up the rankings throughout the season is the smooth-skating defenseman from the BCHL. For anybody curious, Tychonick (pronounced TIE-CON-ICK) is playing for Penticton, an absolute powerhouse of a team in the BCHL (Jr. A) that has had players drafted recently such as Tyson Jost and Dante Fabbro. Being a Jr. A league, it means that the BCHL is not a top league where players get drafted out of. Moreso, it has been a pathway to the NCAA (generally) where players then get drafted. A prime example of this would be Duncan Keith. I say generally because players can go to the WHL afterwards for their draft-eligible year - examples would be Ryan Johansen and Scott Gomez, and additionally some players can get drafted right out of the BCHL (that means they play in the league during their draft-eligible years). Examples include Beau Bennett, and a handful of high-end players drafted in recent years. Players like Tyson Jost, Dante Fabbro, Dennis Cholowski were recent first round picks drafted while playing in the BCHL in their draft-eligible year. All three of these players were drafted by teams in the WHL, but had committed to, and decided to pursue the NCAA route. Fabbro to Boston University; Jost to U. North Dakota; Cholowski to St. Cloud State U. That brings us to Tychonick, who's committed to U. North Dakota for the upcoming season.

While the BCHL has had a slight uptick in high-end draft eligible players, for many players it's still a bit of an issue of exposure since it's tough to get to from the East coast. I think this is why Tyconick has been a bit underrated in his projected rankings, and it's a bit of an age-old issue where players in Jr. A who aren't completely dominating their competition (like Jost or Cale Makar from the AJHL), it's difficult to assess their levels of skill because of the levels of competition. This is further complicated by a draft class that is so deep with high-end defensemen that it's being defined by the defensemen available. However, one of the things about Tychonick's play is that he is putting up some incredible numbers. In fact, with 17 points (3G 14A) in 11 games, Tychonick is now the highest-scoring U18 defenseman in BCHL playoff history. Tychonick was the best defenseman in the BCHL this year and looks to have high-end offensive potential. With that said, let's take a look at what Jonny Tychonick brings to the table.

Tychonick is a smart two-way defenseman who displays elite-level skating. He knows when he should and shouldn't join the offensive rush, and uses his skating to make it happen. Whatever happens on the ice, Tychonick can go wherever he wants and use his skating to get back defensively as quickly as he got to whatever spot he went to - deep in the offensive zone, pinch at the blue line in the OZ, intercept a pass in the neutral zone, etc. His pivots, edgework, and lateral quickness help demonstrate his agility as well. What I'm trying to say here is that everything that comprises Tychonick's game is a result of his skating. One area that Tychonick will need to improve on - and this is consistent throughout his game regardless of the specific aspect - is his strength. Building more lower-body muscle will make it tougher to knock Tychonick off the puck, and while his skating is explosive (he can get to his top speed in just a few strides), adding more lower-body muscle can't hurt with his explosiveness.

The blanket labels of "two-way", "offensive", "shutdown", etc. for defensemen are not as indicative of the difference in playing styles within each category. I would describe Tychonick's game as two-way, but more on the offensive side of things. Tychonick's offensive instincts are very good and is able to create scoring opportunities as well as ensuring the puck stays in the offensive zone with his good vision and decision-making. Tychonick's game is steadily based in his skating and his stellar playmaking abilities. I think it's really interesting how he plays as well because, alluding what what was said in the skating section, Tychonick is really able to control the offensive zone blue line (and really demands respect doing so) because of his skating level and his patience with the puck/play. Tychonick has excellent puck-handling skills and isn't afraid to be aggressive on the rush. His skating speed and edgework oftentimes catch opponents off-guard in such events. Tychonick plays with his head up (as someone of his size must play, but more on that later) and his combination of vision and puck skills allow him to make crisp, accurate passes - many times through traffic. Tychnick's snap and wrist shots have sneaky quick releases, and it's not uncommon for him to sneak down to the top or middle of the face-off circles and release his shot. Tychonick does have a decently hard slap shot, but that could stand to improve (again, this could come with building muscle). I will say that Tychonick's slap shot isn't holding him back from playing hockey at a higher level, but could stand to be improved. He doesn't usually use his slap shot to find the back of the net, but rather as a means of creating rebounds. One other aspect of his offensive game that I really like is his ability to use space his opponents give him. Opponents must respect his speed so they give him space. With that space given up, Tychonick will exploit it, usually by wiring a pass or sneaking a shot through. If opponents try to play a tight defensive game then, as mentioned above, he'll blow right past them. I'm really curious to see how this aspect of his game develops as he moves up the levels of hockey to play against bigger, stronger, and faster opponents.

Defensively it's important to start with the fact that Tychonick is a bit undersized, but I think a lot of times these issues are overblown. His size and need for building muscle make themselves prevalent in his board battles and battles in the corner. There are elements to his defensive game that need to be improved, but his skating helps really nullify any "shortcomings" (I say this in quotes because it's not that he's bad at any elements defensively, it's just that his skating is so much better than his other traits). The most important thing about his defensive game is that the skating is there to not only maintain good gap control on opponents and to push attacking opponents to the outside along the boards, and his smarts are there for ensuring good positioning, staying out of the goalie's line of sight, etc. It's also important to note that he doesn't shy away from physical play either. He won't make a big open-ice hit, but he'll duke it out in the corners or around the crease. He also never stops moving his feet.

I wanted to make a paragraph to specifically talk about his ability to start the breakout. Tychonick is definitely in the top echelon of defensemen this draft when it comes to leading a breakout. He can do this by either skating the puck up himself or launching a long stretch pass up the ice to an attacking forward. There's more to a defenseman's game than just getting the puck out of the zone, but I really do think Paul Castron and crew have been keeping an eye on Tychonick because of his ability to do so (more on that later). Steve Kournianos put it best in his CJHL Top Prospects Game: Player Notes regarding Tychonick's break-outs.

He should wear No. 911 on the back of his jersey, because he’s the first player his mates call to get the puck out of the zone.

What you're getting in Jonny Tychonick, besides yet another incredible hockey name in this draft, is a good, fluid, two-way defenseman who checks all the boxes for a modern era defenseman. I believe he has high potential offensive upside and is very smart defensively (and plays bigger than his size suggests). Going to North Dakota - and the NCAA - will really help him build muscle, get bigger, and help him to play the game that he wants to be able to play at a higher level. He has beautiful skating and is an artist breaking the puck out of the zone. Why Tychonick is not projected higher is a combination of exposure playing in the BCHL, competing in a draft class chock-full of high-end (and better known) defensemen, as well as his need to build muscle on his frame...but also because of the fact that there isn't necessarily a limit on his talent capacity, but because of the question posed: is his potential upside higher than that of other defensemen in the draft? I think his upside is higher than others may give him credit for. I don't quite have a floor for his upside, but he likely slots in as a 2nd pair two-way LD. At the same time, I can also see him taking a huge step forward next year and putting up some incredible numbers at North Dakota. What I'm trying to say is that it wouldn't shock me if he ends up as a top-pair LD, but at this point it's more likely he'll be a 2nd pair guy. The skills and smarts are all there. The big question is how high the ceiling goes. This upcoming year will be very telling as to what his future entails. I can see him spending 3 years at North Dakota.

There's an air of intrigue in my mind when it comes to the Devils drafting him. He checks all the boxes of what Shero and Hynes are looking in a defenseman, and I feel that Hynes would really enjoy coaching him. I also feel that Shero could take advantage of the fact that Tychonick may not be projected to go where the Devils pick (17 OA), which would allow Shero to trade back to recuperate an asset or two and still get the guy he and Castron want. I'm not a sports betting man (but I could be now, thanks to the Supreme Court), but my gut is telling me that if the Devils trade down their pick by 2 or more spots, then we could very much be picking Tychonick. However that's just a gut feeling and there's still plenty of time before the draft for interviews, team meetings, etc.

I would love to hear your thoughts on Jonathan Tychonick! Thank you so much for reading!

Other draft write-ups:

Bode Wilde

Nils Lundkvist

Evan Bouchard

K'Andre Miller

Ty Smith

Monday, April 30, 2018

2018 NHL Draft Preview: Ty Smith

Hi everybody, and welcome back to our look at the 2018 NHL Draft coming up in June.

Today we look at Ty Smith.

Left-shooting defenseman for the Spokane Chiefs, WHL

5'10" 170 lbs
69 games, 14G 59A 73 points

His draft rankings as of today are:
HockeyProspect - #14
ISS Hockey - #11
FutureConsiderations - #7
McKeens - #16
NHL Central Scouting - #14 (NA Skaters)

I wanted to start this write-up off by saying that I'm biased here. Ty Smith is my guy in the draft...as in...if on the off chance he's still available at #17, I would have to imagine the Devils staff sprinting up to the podium.

Anyways let's get started.

Ty Smith was a former 1st overall pick in the 2015 WHL Bantam Draft by Spokane. His mobility and skating is exceptional and he is poised and comfortable when handling the puck. His skating significantly helps him and he recognizes how to use it...whether that be using his agility, edgework, and pivoting to cover large areas on the ice...or joining the attack, etc. Whatever needs to be done, wherever on the ice, Smith will be there to either get it done directly or support his teammates. His acceleration is elite and helps him gain separation when walking the blue line in the offensive zone or starting the breakout in his own zone.

Offensively, Smith moves the puck extremely well, and has the vision and smarts to be able to find teammates, and the ability to deliver crisp tape-to-tape passes. Smith has a good slap shot, and he has a strong tendency to not wind up too much for a shot - keeping the puck low in hopes of a deflection or rebound. He's really improved his slap shot strength over the course of the season. This and his excellent wrist shot make him a dangerous option from the point. I also really like his ability as a stick handler who can read the play. He's very versatile and can lead the rush or work in as a trailing attacker. Despite all these very speedy skills, Smith has a very calming presence on the ice. One of the things I like the most about Smith is how doesn't always make the smart play...he makes the *right play*. He's very calculating in his approach to the game, and while some others may not see elite high-end hockey IQ, I would disagree with them. I see a safe player that doesn't take many risks and whose game doesn't require him to take any risks - mostly because he knows where to be on the ice at all times.

While I'm here, before I get into his defensive game, I think the biggest area for improvement in Smith's game is the ability to handle bigger, stronger, and faster forwards on the forecheck. He sometimes struggles against junior players in this regard, so going against professional players could really cause him to struggle. I don't foresee him in the NHL next year, as he'll take one more year to bulk up in the WHL. These are really the only concerns about his game, and one of the alleged concerns is not even one I share. (Actually my biggest concern is that he'll end up playing for NYI, but that's up to the draft gods...)

Ty Smith's defensive play is as close to flawless as you can get for a draft-eligible defenseman. His positioning is immaculate and stick work are exceptional, and his ability to start the transition is fantastic. Smith's defensive play one-on-one is as good as it gets among this class.  As you may be able to see from the statsheet, Smith has some muscle to build on his lower-body, which will allow him to be better in the corners and in front of the net. The best aspect of Smith's defensive game is his skating, which helps him with gap control and allows him to gain extra space from attackers when he does get possession of the puck. While Smith is somewhat undersized, he doesn't shy away from gritty, physical play. He's not afraid to take the body, however it's not his initial instinct to do so.

For those looking for buzzwords, Ty Smith's skating and overall game is extremely dynamic. I'm really really surprised that Smith isn't ranked higher up on the main scouting draft boards, but I'll take it. I'm each team's boards vary greatly between each other, and when put up against certain scouting agencies, but Smith, while not a sure-fire NHL player, has a skillset and the IQ to be a contender for the Norris trophy through his career. His stock may be slightly dropping from a non-eye-popping U18 championship performance, but anybody who is making assumptions about his future potential based on this tournament and not his WHL season is sorely mistaken.

Ultimately I think Smith will be taken by Chicago at #8 or by NYI at either #11 or #12. However, if he were to fall to #17, what the Devils would be getting is a defenseman (one of the youngest in the draft...only 21 players are younger than Smith in the draft) with elite skating and definite top-pairing two-way potential. Smith has logged some major minutes for Team Canada at international tournaments before, and has the potential to be able to log 22-23 minutes a game at the NHL level. I try to be as unbiased as possible in my evaluations, but I can't speak enough praise about what I've seen from Ty Smith.

I would love to hear your thoughts on Ty Smith. Thank you so much for reading!

Friday, April 27, 2018

2018 NHL Draft Preview: Bode Wilde

Hi everybody, and welcome back to another look at draft-eligible players for the 2018 NHL Draft in Dallas. It continues to amaze me the amount of depth, potential, and differing play styles that the defensemen in this draft have. One of these days, I'll discuss a forward (most likely Vitali Kravtsov), but today we're going to look at another high-end potential defenseman.

Today we look at Bode Wilde.

Right-shooting defenseman for US National U18 Team, USDP

6'2" 196 lbs
59 games, 12G 29A 41 points

His draft rankings as of today are:
HockeyProspect - #13
ISS Hockey - #20
FutureConsiderations - #11
McKeens - #15
NHL Central Scouting - #17 (NA Skaters)


Today we turn to a defenseman who has one of the best set of physical tools in the entire draft class from defensemen. Bode Wilde is a big, strong defenseman who skates extremely well, has a strong shot, and is committed to attend the University of Michigan for the next season after playing in the USNTDP (just like high-end d-men like Jacob Trouba and Zach Werenski in recent years).

Wilde is projected to go right around the area that the Devils pick, so he's definitely a name to keep in mind. I know I've been wrong in my first round selection predictions for the Devils and I may regret saying this, but there are some aspects of Wilde's game that really do concern me, and I'll get into them later on. All in all though, Wilde has the potential to be the second best d-man in this draft class. The skills are there, and he's done a fantastic job putting them together. In many ways, he's a polished product.

Offensively, Wilde is absolutely stellar. Combining his blistering bomb of a shot at the point with his ability (that will transfer really well to the NHL in my opinion) to not only keep the puck low - to allow deflections and rebounds - but also finding lanes to get the shot through, make Wilde one of the biggest threats from the blue-line. Wilde also has excellent passing, both in the offensive zone and on the break-out from his own defensive zone. His good vision helps him with this. One of the areas he can improve on is his decision-making *(keep this in mind)* and not take as many risks in the offensive zone with making deep attacks past the goal line. These risks, while they may be mitigated on a more structurally-sound team, will be something Wilde needs to work on. However, that being said, when he's past the center-ice line, Wilde is about as close to a complete package as you can get.

Defensively, Wilde reminds me a lot of a Rasmus Ristolainen type player, where he's not that great defensively, but he's pretty physical so it's a bit covered up. That's not to say Wilde is bad defensively, he's just very inconsistent in that aspect. He uses his frame and physicality to shut down opponents along the boards and is quite nasty in the corners. He is strong enough to separate puck-carriers from the puck. When employed on the penalty kill, Wilde excels as a crease-clearer, and is capable of shutting down top forwards. However, his defensive short-comings have been shown a bit more. This most likely has to do with the fact that he's under a lot of scrutiny being that it's his draft-eligible year. He is committed to University of Michigan for next season, and the NCAA (generally speaking) does a good job of rounding out defensive games. One other aspect of Wilde's defensive play is that he goes for a big hit (stuff like this) pretty often, which isn't bad, but sometimes it puts him out of position. This is another aspect of his game that he'll need to work on. The good news is that his defensive game is raw as opposed to bad, and he has the tools there to improve it.

So here you have a big-bodied, thick-framed, graceful skater, with as much offensive upside as any d-man in the draft (other than Dahlin), who likes to hit, is already playing top-pairing all-situational minutes...why is he projected to go around #17? The biggest concern I have about Wilde's game is that I don't know how good his hockey sense is. He takes so many risks that I don't know if he is comfortable taking risks and needs to tone it down in his development, or whether or not he legitimately doesn't get good reads on plays. Like any young, talented player who's confident in his game, Wilde sometimes tries to do too much, and that's not really a concern I have in the long-run (I had the same concern with Hischier in his draft-eligible year). Wilde is a pretty safe pick in terms of his physical tools will get him into the NHL. Where he really becomes a boom/bust is what he can work on between the ears. I question how well he can process the game at high speeds. Now this could all be wildly unnecessary concerns if he goes out and dominates at the NCAA level next year, but there's definitely some concern on my part. The most frustrating thing is that he doesn't even need to turn into a Lidstrom-like thinker to have definitive top-pairing potential. The hope I have is that he just needs to work on his thinking and decision-making (I have no doubt that the coaching staff at U. Mich will spend quite some time with him in the film room working on this stuff, and the sky is the limit for him.

I'm being overly cautious, and possibly sounding pessimistic (or harsh) about Wilde - I don't mean to be. Players like him scare me a bit because there are games where he absolutely dominates, usually going hand-in-hand with the level of physicality he's playing with, but I'm always worried about the "all tools, no toolbox" potential players. I say this because hockey IQ is very difficult to progress in development, but decision-making can be improved, and the majority of the decision-making he displays are not deal-breakers. I'm just trying to be as honest as possible in my assessment of one of the players that we are very much in the running for at this point. In my opinion the decision-making is a weakness of his game, but if he can make steady improvements over the next few years, and turn it average, the sky is the limit for Wilde. And just to be clear again - perhaps I'm being a bit repetitive, but I'm not trying to imply that Wilde is a dumb hockey player, not in the slightest. The rest of his tools and skills are so high-level or have the potential to be really high-level that this one aspect of his game sticks out. In all reality, his decision-making is a little less than average, and he doesn't have far to go to bring it up to the level that will make him a real threat.

I can only see him needing 2 years at most in the NCAA, and he's very noticeable when he's on the ice (mostly in a good way). It's easy to see why some people are really high on him, and others aren't. Wilde definitely has potential to be a #1 d-man, but could likely end up as a #2 or #3. Some aspects of his game need to be more refined than others, but he could very much end up a top-pairing, two-way, all-situational type defenseman. The skills are all there. There are so many top-end defensemen in this draft that Wilde is a bit overlooked at this point (reminds me a bit of the McAvoy situation from 2016). I may be a bit too harsh in my tone on Wilde in this piece, but I really do think he has potential to be a cornerstone d-man for a team, he has that much potential. All in all, I think the Devils would be thrilled to pick a guy like him.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on Bode Wilde. Thank you so much for reading!

2018 NHL Draft Preview: Nils Lundkvist

Hi everybody, and welcome back to another look at draft-eligible players for the 2018 NHL Draft in Dallas.

Today we look at Nils Lundkvist.

Right-shooting defenseman for Lulea HF, SHL

5'11" 174 lbs
28 games, 2G 3A 5 points

His draft rankings as of today are:
HockeyProspect - #19
ISS Hockey - #NR
FutureConsiderations - #NR
McKeens - #27
NHL Central Scouting - #14 (EU Skaters)

Before we start getting into the more established players that folks may be hearing (guys like Bode Wilde, Jared McIsaac, and others), I wanted to touch on another quiet riser up the draft boards. At this point, Nils Lundkvist is a bit of an off the radar-type pick, but he's been steadily making himself more present in mock drafts and is becoming more of a dark horse first round pick, especially around the 20 spot. Lundkvist recently won the award for best defenseman in the J20 league for the 2017-2018 season (it's a little odd since he spent the majority of the season playing for the SHL club).

It's been interesting to watch Lundkvist's progression throughout the season, because he's been getting a lot more comfortable and confident in his play in the SHL as a 17 year old (this is his first season with the SHL), and as a result has been joining the offensive play much moreso than earlier in the season (not too surprising but it's still enjoyable to watch).

Nils Lundkvist is an excellent skating, puck-moving defenseman. In his first 13 games in the SuperElit U20, he registered 9 points. He is listed at 5'11", but he has a wide, low skating stance so he looks much shorter on the ice. Lundkvist's ability as a playmaker is excellent, and he has a good eye for finding passing lanes. I'll mention this here before I forget: I'm not sure if the points will ever be high-end. He reads the game really well and he is a smart player, but he strikes me as a Matt Niskanen type player - one who is an excellent puck mover and can help his team break out of the zone, and has some excellent offensive tools, but doesn't quite get on the scoreboard all that often. One other thing to note is that if you're on the ice, Lundkvist sees you - almost as if he has eyes in the back of his head. If he knows you're there, he'll find a passing lane to get you the puck...doesn't matter if he's below the goal or needs to make a move around a defending player...he'll get the puck to you. I love the idea of a player with this quick-thinking and quick/effective passing ability finding our big guns in the offensive zone.

Compared to another player in the draft, like Adam Boqvist, Lundkvist's high-end scoring potential is not as refined - that doesn't mean that scouts haven't taken notice of Lundkvist's game...in fact there have been some rumblings that scouts may not see much of a difference between their games in the long run (especially given Lundkvist's play at the U18 Five Nations Tournament). During the U18's earlier this year, Lundkvist took a lot of risks in terms of reads, pinches, etc. in the offensive game. This is not a bad thing, but rather it was his own recognition of his skating ability, and the two-way ability of the forwards in front of him that helped allow him to make those decisions. I'm saying this because I think he would be in a similar situation here under the "Fast, Attacking *Supportive*" system that Hynes runs.

Defensively, Lundkvist is interesting because he is a very smooth and calm defenseman. He is an average defender and relies mostly on his stick work and really good Hockey IQ to make plays. Sometimes he wanders too far away from his post, but he has performed admirably on the defensive side in the SHL this season. He averaged right around 16 minutes per game this season. This included time on ice in all situations, including PK and Powerplay time where Lundkvist continued to show progression, growth, and confidence. Undoubtedly, Lundkvist's defensive play and board/corner play will improve when he adds some lower-body muscle to his frame.

What you're getting in Nils Lundkvist is a player who doesn't need anybody else to break out of his defensive zone, and can gain the offensive zone with ease. It's not too difficult to see why he's really rising up draft boards, because he is the ideal defenseman for the direction the league is going in - great skating, fantastic edgework, high hockey IQ, alert passing, crisp breakouts, etc. The list goes on.

CanucksArmy Blog refers to a threshold called the 51% rule in regards to SHL players and their chances of getting significant time in the NHL.

>Skaters who played in the Swedish Hockey League at 18-years-old or younger with a points per game of at least .09 ended up playing 200 NHL games or more 51% of the time. Even among players with just a handful of games, the rule applied.

Lundkvist meets those standards (and even produced at a higher rate than Erik Brannstom in his draft-eligible season). Granted there are more to a defenseman than points, but Lundkvist is a player that's going to have a lot of value if he continues to progress in the direction he's headed in. All NHL teams are looking for young, right-shooting, mobile, smart defensemen, and Lundqvist is a player that will out-perform his current draft ranking. I wouldn't be surprised if Ray Shero and Paul Castron, once again, rely heavily on the European scouting department and go with what seems like a bit of an off the board pick in Lundkvist at #17. He seems to be a very safe player with very high upside.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on Nils Lundkvist. Thank you for reading!

2018 NHL Draft Preview: Evan Bouchard

Hi everybody, and welcome back to another look at draft-eligible players for the 2018 NHL Draft in Dallas.

Today we look at Evan Bouchard.

Right-shooting defenseman for the London Knights, OHL

6'2" 191 lbs
67 games, 25G 62A 87 points

His draft rankings as of today are:
HockeyProspect - #15
ISS Hockey - #6
FutureConsiderations - #10
McKeens - #6
NHL Central Scouting - #4 (NA Skaters)

With a meteoric rise up the draft boards this season, we turn to Evan Bouchard. Before looking at his skillset, the main reason behind Bouchard's rise up the boards is because of the openings left on the London blueline after departures from regulars like Olli Juolevi (went to play pro hockey in Finland) and Victor Mete (played with the Montreal Canadiens), Bouchard had significant opportunity as he found himself slotted in the #1 defenseman position for the Knights. Needless to say, he took the role and ran with it.

Bouchard is a two-way defenseman with good size and skill. He has a fantastic arsenal of shots, be it slap shot, one-timer, wrist shot, etc. He has a great knack of getting the puck to the net. I know there are a lot of buzzwords that are used in draft reports, but what really really impresses me about Bouchard's play is ho poised he is. He is able to bob and weave (not necessarily the best term to use) to open up shooting passing lanes. Bouchard is also extremely smart with his pinches and offensive zone decisions. These skills allow him to be an excellent quarterback on a team's Powerplay. His 87 points were the highest total out of any draft-eligible CHL skaters (first-time eligible), and his 297 registered shots on goal was the 2nd highest in the OHL. I should also note that while his numbers are stellar, they are likely the result of the huge minutes he plays. There is a reason he plays so many minutes, and his offensive skills are highly polished and elite, but it's important to know the context surrounding numbers, especially for defensemen.

Bouchard is no slouch on the defensive side either. He's been responsible for playing in all situations on the ice for the Knights.  In fact, while time on ice isn't an officially recorded stat in the CHL, reports have him playing upwards of 30 minutes a night for London. Defensively, Bouchard maintains good gap control and is able to keep opposing forwards out of the dangerous areas of the ice, for the most part. His defensive zone positioning is excellent. He uses his long reach to help this as well. However, this is where two of Bouchard's most significant areas of improvement are exemplified: his average skating speed and defensive zone decisiveness. Bouchard isn't a poor skating by any means - in fact his overall mobility is excellent -, but I do think that if he doesn't try to get faster, it will significantly hamper him, especially as the NHL continues to get faster. There are a few occasions where faster opposing forwards can breeze by him. He tries to limit this by using his long reach and it works for the most part, but I don't think that will cut it in the NHL, and it may even lead to penalties. His skating is good enough to keep up with the play, backskate, and maintain gaps throughout the play, but this is an area where he can definitely improve. In terms of defensive zone decision-making, Bouchard sometimes has a tendency of puck-chasing as well as knowing what to do when he gets the puck in the slot in the defensive zone, or directly in front of the goalie. I'm definitely not discounting the idea that maybe this is fatigue catching up to him, but with some improved mobility, and more refined decisions in the defensive zone, Bouchard has the potential to be a fantastic defenseman at the NHL level.

Evan Bouchard can play either defensive side, and does really well either way. I like him better on the right side, but that's just my personal preference. Bouchard is is also heralded as practically a "one-man breakout machine". He's stellar outlet passes and decision-making with the puck on his own blue-line will be the biggest asset in his transition to the professional game. Bouchard is a highly-polished offensive defenseman with a stellar defensive game. He is likely to go very high in the draft in June. I can't commend his passing and vision coming out of his own zone enough. One other components that he needs to improve include, like for any young prospect- consistency in his game. Bouchard plays a very pro-ready style game and doesn't shy away from physical contact.

Bouchard has top-pairing potential and has a very high floor as well. He will likely go in the early teens, so I'm writing about him just for the off chance the he does fall to #17. A stylistic comparison for Bouchard would be John Carlson. There are very few holes in Bouchard's game, and he is a very good combination of strength, good wingspan, offensive output, and defensive zone breakouts. What we have here is a player that could step onto an NHL roster as soon as October.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on Evan Bouchard. Thanks for reading!

2018 NHL Draft Preview: K'Andre Miller

With the Devils' fantastic season closing out, my attention now turns solely to the upcoming draft on June 22-23 in Dallas. We still have two prospects playing in their respective CHL conference championship series, and I'll keep you updated on them, but over the next few months I'll be posting write-ups about draft-eligible players. While our draft placement is still undetermined today, we should be somewhere in the 17-20 spot, so I'll go from there. My philosophy is always draft Best Player Available, and chances are it will be a defenseman, so I will focus mostly on defensemen, but there are some really interesting forwards that should be available around our pick as well.

Anyways, now to the main event...let's talk about K'Andre Miller.

6'3" 206 lbs
53 games, 8G 19A 27 points

His draft rankings as of today are:
HockeyProspect - #16
ISS Hockey - #30
FutureConsiderations - #25
McKeens - #17
NHL Central Scouting - #23 (NA Skaters)

I wanted to start with Miller because he's just such an interesting prospect. He was a forward throughout his entire career until the 2015/2016 season, and he is still a pretty raw prospect. He has some hiccups and makes mistakes with his reads regarding passing lanes and pinching up in the neutral zone, however I do chalk this up to him still learning the position.

The first thing you notice about Miller, besides how big of a human being he is, is his incredible skating. This isn't even one of those "he's a good skater for his size" type cliches either. The guy can skate. He likes to rush the puck up the ice and be a team's 4th forward in situations (per this article/interview with him). All aspects of his skating are excellent - acceleration, edgework, agility, etc. Combine this with his powerful stride and strong lower-body, and you also get a player who is really difficult to knock off the puck...as well as easily win board battles (more on that later).

Miller is committed to the University of Wisconsin for next season, which I think is an excellent development path. Should he want to go to the CHL, the Victoria Royals of the WHL own his rights - he was initially drafted by the Saskatoon Blades, but those rights were included in a trade with Victoria. Wisconsin has been rebuilding their program recently, and Miller will be the crown jewel of their recruitment class.

On the offensive side of things, it's easy to see why Miller was a forward all his life. He has excellent puck-handling skills and has settled really well into the role of playing on the point in the offensive zone. That being said, he doesn't have a cannon of a one-timer that some folks look for in their defenseman on the point. He does, however, have an excellent wrist shot. Recently, he's changed the wind-up on his one-timer, which has helped the puck move quicker (as well as giving the opposing goaltender less time to move/prepare for the shot). He's definitely not afraid to take the puck to the net himself if he feels that he has a good lane to the net.

At this point, Miller is projected to go in the 22-24 range, so if that range holds, and assuming Miller is our guy, I can definitely see Shero trading back a spot or two in attempt to recuperate some assets and keep the cupboard stocked.

Miller is an excellent neutral-zone player. He positions himself and his stick really well in the NZ and intercepts a ton of passes there, especially cross-ice passes. His skating then allows him to start a quick transition the other way. His defensive zone outlets are clean (more on his defensive zone play later), but it is his neutral zone play that makes me really think that Paul Castron and Company are really looking into him. The ability he has to be a "snake lurking in the grass" type player in the neutral zone in his fast counter-attack is really promising.

Defensively, Miller maintains good gap control, and has worked well learning to push speedy forwards to the outside of the ice. He doesn't lose his cool and really doesn't take many penalties either. Oh, and he loves to hit...he's really aggressive with his physicality. Clearing out the crease or attacking puck-carriers along the boards, Miller is one of the most physical defenseman in this draft. He's made some real punishing hits. His outlet passes are clean, and he's been improving all season with his defensive play behind the goal line.

What you'll read in a lot of places (including earlier in this write-up) is that K'Andre Miller is a very raw player. I agree, but if you look at his skating, raw athleticism, speed of play, and smarts, I really don't think he's very far off. Steve Kournianos of TheDraftAnalyst says that perhaps his learning curve isn't steep at all. It's also easy for a guy like Miller that is focusing on his defensive game to get overlooked by the other members of the USNDTP defensive corps - who are much more polished puck-movers. Miller is a bit of a boom or bust pick, but I don't think it's to a severe extent (I know this more or less nullifies the term "boom or bust"). However, I will say that those writing him off as simply defensive defenseman are looking at his floor. The biggest question regarding Miller's development is whether he can put it all together - this mainly involves his reading of the play...it's a different point of view from a defenseman, and can his instincts from playing forward all those years not only adapt to a defenseman's game, but also continue to propel his development towards the NHL level. If he can put it all together, the sky is the limit for this two-way defenseman. There is definite top-pairing upside. He reminds me a lot of Brady Skjei from the team across the river (purely as stylistic comparison). Another comparison for his play (this one from LastWordOnSports) include Morgan Rielly.


This draft is really deep on defense. If that's the direction we're going in, you have to make sure you make the right choice. Is K'Andre Miller the right choice for the Devils? I've been watching a lot of footage on him and I like him more and more, but I want to hear your thoughts! I'll have a write-up on another defenseman soon - one who's been rapidly rising up the draft boards lately.

Thank you for reading!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

2017 NHL Draft Preview: Nolan Patrick

In continuation with the theme of looking at top prospects for ¬the 2017, let’s take a look at somebody who has been on the radar of NHL teams, Hockey Canada, and various scouting services as young as 15 years old – Nolan Patrick.
To put it bluntly, Nolan Patrick is the most talented player available for the 2017 draft. Despite it being pretty close in the rankings, he's the clear cut top guy in my opinion in terms of pure talent. The big, 6’3”, 203 lb center has been playing in the WHL for 3 full seasons and has been an absolute terror to opposing defensemen in such time. When you combine the ability to excel in any situation (PP, PK, ES, etc.) & in any zone, with the IQ to process the game several plays in advance, the skill level to carry a franchise, and a game built off of strength and power, you begin to get an idea of what Patrick is capable of.
Let’s be frank, the NHL is a bit of a copy-cat league, and it’s hard not to notice the great success of big, powerful forwards like Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Johansen over the course of these playoffs. Patrick is of the same mold. Patrick is no generational talent, but certainly has 1C potential, and will step into the NHL to play next season. So, looking past the cliché buzzwords we find in prospect scouting reports, let’s get to the details about who Nolan Patrick is, and what he can bring to the team that drafts him.
Patrick is a guy that does everything at either a very good or great level…everything: from face-offs to defensive zone reads, to board battles, etc…very Toews-like – I know I’ve been throwing out a lot of player comparisons already in this post, and while I really don’t care for comparisons, I’m sharing these names to show what kind of company Patrick is projected to be near. There are no weaknesses to Patrick's game. Patrick is relentless in his game that he’s always doing something to support the play. He’s definitely not very flashy, but if you notice, every play he makes is the “smart” play. Now, there is a difference between making the “smart” play and making the “right” play – and Patrick is tenacious enough in his work ethic that if he ever makes a mistake or makes a play that was smart but ended up not being the right play, he will rectify it and make sure he doesn’t make the same mistake again. Yes, top hockey draft-eligible prospects have good work ethic and good hockey smarts, but in this particular case, Nolan Patrick was bred to be a hockey player. His bloodline is very apparent – his father, Steve, was a 1st round pick by the Buffalo Sabres; his uncles James Patrick and Rich Chernomaz were 1st and 2nd round picks by the New York Rangers and Colorado Avalanche, respectively. The rest of his family is full of professional athletes as well.
Patrick is a powerful skater and is excellent at gaining the offensive zone – I mean heck, who would want to try and stop such a big guy skating at them at high speeds? Skating is an area of improvement, most notably his ability to accelerate (despite having a quick first step). However, he is able to work past this by always moving his feet, which allows him to go wherever he needs to go anywhere on the ice. If anything, “powerful” is the best singular word to describe Patrick’s overall game.
Despite having a great shot, Patrick is more of a pass-first type center. Nobody in this draft class is a better cross-crease passer. His passes are crisp and accurate and are as hard as they are dynamic. Patrick’s wrist shot is (using the word again) powerful, with a fast release. He can score from anywhere in the offensive zone in any part of the net. He’s quite good at going short-side with his wrist shot from the circles though. Be especially aware of him right around the net. His long reach makes him lethal when knocking in rebounds. Patrick’s slap shot is just as dangerous as his wrist shot. In terms of snap shots and one-timers, Patrick really doesn’t need much room to get a shot off, and can sometimes get a hard shot on net even when the puck is passed to him at an odd angle. Combine all of this with his very high IQ, excellent vision, and very good puck handling ability, and you get a player that is extremely difficult to contain. This is a kid who scored 30 goals in his first full season in the WHL as a 16-year-old.
Defensively, Patrick has all the tools and puts them to good use. He can read plays and anticipate them. He’s strong enough to rub opponents off the puck along the boards and win battles in the dirty areas. He’s able to position himself to allow for good puck pressure and he also uses an active stick to block passing lanes and will block shots. While not explosively fast in transition out of the defensive zone, Patrick gets where he needs to, can exit the defensive zone cleanly, and can dish the puck up the ice to forwards moving up the ice. While he’s not necessarily a “speedster” he can still blow by defensemen, and – adding on to the previously mentioned note about being difficult to defend – defensemen need to respect his ability to shoot the puck or make a really good pass, so they’ll need to make a decision on how they want to play him as he’s entering the zone. If they stand still and freeze up, they’ll get run over. It’s because of this that I’m really looking forward to seeing him play in a 3-on-3 overtime period.
This is just pure spitballing, but watching Taylor Hall and Nolan Patrick play, separately, both guys seem like their type of play would complement the other. The reason I say this is because we saw so many instances during the past season where Hall would get the distribute the puck to a linemate who wasn’t ready for it. This was mostly because of how quickly it happened. Patrick can give and take the puck at a very fast level and is always ready to both receive and pass the puck back.
Continuing on with the Devils element to this, I think it’s interesting to look at what we’re trying to build. If the Devils draft Patrick, you’ll have a 1-2 punch of Nolan Patrick and Michael McLeod (I think Zacha would shift to the wing in this case, but that’s for another time) – two awfully fast, very skilled, very strong, two-way forwards (Zacha could also be listed in this too). That’s nothing to scoff at, and we’re going to be in great shape moving forward. Patrick fits the mold of your prototypical, big, strong, playmaking #1C. Just because our 2 most recent first round picks have been centers, we’re still taking a center in this case. Shero’s Penguins drafted Jordan Staal 2nd overall in the 2006 draft, despite having just drafted Crosby and Malkin. Director of Amateur Scouting, Paul Castron selected Ryan Johansen in the 2010 draft with the Blue Jackets. These are cherry-picked examples, but the crux of the issue is this: we need a 1C. Patrick is a very safe pick to get there, and if he pans out, we’ll have our #1C for the next decade-plus.
With that being said, it’s not possible to write about Nolan Patrick without talking about his injury history. Say what you will about broken bones at 13/14 years old, but sports hernias are scary, and knee/leg injuries are scary, and groin injuries are scary especially for young, growing prospects. In my opinion, there is legitimate concern about his injury history. Concerns about his game include not being as physical as he could be, and also not having a particular trait that’s “elite”. In addition to physicality, this could manifest itself into him being more aggressive on the forecheck, but as mentioned earlier, the biggest question mark that will affect where he gets drafted – 1st or 2nd Overall – will be just how much a team wants to take a risk on his injury history. Thankfully he doesn’t have a history of concussions.
Thanks for reading!