With the draft a little more than a month away, I wanted to take a quick look at some lesser-known prospects that still have the potential to make an impact at the NHL level.
I will make a post in a little bit on who I feel the Devils should take with their 6th overall pick this year, but for now I would like to take a general view at some potential late round steals.
My list of draft Darkhorses (in no particular order):
Austin Wagner - LW/C - Regina Pats (WHL) - 6'2" 182 lbs
While not entirely a "late round steal" per say since he's projected to go anywhere from mid-2nd to 4th round, Wagner brings a strong power forward game to an already strong power forward draft class (Crouse, Rantanen, Bittner just to name a few projected to go in the first round). Wagner scored 39 points (20G 19A) in 61 games in his second full year for Regina this year. This is a massive growth of progression for Wagner, scoring 2 points (1G 1A) in 42 games last season for Regina. He plays a solid, physical game and is incredibly fast. His offensive production is still a work in progress, and there is still, as Dub From Above Scouting Blog puts it, "major untapped potential" for growth. Wagner does have a deceptively good wrist shot as well. His frame is also massive, so he has the potential to put on at least 15 pounds more of muscle. He is still a work in progress though, as he needs to continue to progress his offensive capability and how fast he processes the game (and moves his feet). Not afraid to throw the body around, and defensively responsible (logging plenty of PK minutes), and with the combination of size, speed, ferociousness, and defensive responsibility, he's a guy to keep an eye on.
Reminds many scouts of an Erik Cole - type player
Robin Kovacs - RW/LW - AIK (Allsvenskan) - 6'0" 170 lbs
Projected to go late in the 3rd round is the speedy winger from the 2nd highest league in Sweden, Robin Kovacs. Kovacs put up 28 points (17G 11A) in 52 games, which was highest on his team, which is quite good considering the second and third highest scorers on the team are 6 and 7 years older than him, respectively. Future Considerations describes Kovacs as "A skilled forward who has a strong understanding of the game…very fast on his feet and quick agility make him dangerous both in the offensive zone and in defensive situations…impressive offensive instincts…creative and quick hands with the puck… has a great shot that can turn into a goalie’s nightmare…sees the ice well and makes some impressive passes…likes the puck on his stick and will go to the net…skating and instincts make him a dangerous penalty killer…can be hot-tempered and takes undisciplined penalties…willing to talk and get under his opponent’s skin, but is not overly physical or strong. (December 2014)" I believe Kovacs has some immense offensive potential, especially with his great shot. If Kovacs can work on his overall consistency, as well as his maturity in not taking as many undisciplined penalties, his quickness, strength, and awareness, he has the potential to make an impact in the NHL.
Rodrigo Abols - C - HK Riga (MHL) - 6'3" 180 lbs
Unranked by Central Scouting, I believe Abols in the very definition of a darkhorse draft candidate. Scoring 38 points (20G 18A) in 35 games for HK Riga last season, and getting 14 games of KHL experience -scoring 5 points (1G 4A) during that stint - Abols has a good raw frame to grow into and build more muscle upon. He has some incredible hands and some tremendous offensive potential. Played recently in the IIHF World Championships for Latvia, did not put up any points, but got very good international experience playing against men much older than himself. Abols was also recognized for his talent by playing in the MHL All-Star Game this year. I really do look forward to seeing what Abols can do next year. I think he certainly has the potential to be a solid impact player once he refines his game further. I'm not sure if he will be drafted, but definitely deserves a good look.
Kevin Stenlund - C - HV71 J20 (SuperElit) - 6'3" 205 lbs
Ranked #21 for Euro Skaters by Central Scouting, and projected to go around the 5th round is the big Swedish center who captained his team. Stenlund scored 36 points (14G 22A) in 36 games and got a good stint of experience playing 17 games with the big club in the SHL. While Stenlund has very good size, I believe his best asset is his mind and how he processes the game. In addition to this, Stenlund has excellent puckhandling skills and plays a simple, yet complete game. He has soft hands, a quick release, and already a good frame. While a good passer with a good shot, he needs to play more physically in his own end and improve upon his skating and acceleration strides. He is certainly a good long-term project pick because the style of game he plays would transfer well in the NHL, in my opinion.
Veeti Vainio - LD - Blues U20 (Jr. A SM-Liiga) - 6'2" 172 lbs
Ranked #25 for Euro Skated by Central Scouting, projected to go in the 7th round, Veeti Vainio is a highly-offensive defenseman working in the Finnish top-level, Liiga, and it's junior leagues. Vainio has some incredible skating ability and is very agile. He is very willing to jump into play in the offensive zone, and has some top notch vision, passing ability, and instincts. He has some concerns with his positioning and decision-making in his own end. Vainio was able to score 44 points (13 G 31 A) in 42 games last season, and was the 5th highest scorer on his team. After a disappointing U18 tournament for him, next season will be very important as he is set to play in the Liiga full time. In his 2 game stint last season he scored 1 assists. He can check hard, but as mentioned before, has trouble deciding when to do what when he is in his own zone.
Brad Morrison - C - Prince George Cougars (WHL) - 5'11" 163 lbs
Projected to go in the 6th round this year, and ranked #124 in North American skaters by Central Scouting, is Brad Morrison of the Prince George Cougars. Scoring 49 points (23G 26A) in 67 games in his second full season of the WHL is a good mark of progression. Morrison is very speedy and works very hard. He is able to work in the corners and other tough areas of the ice despite his smaller weight. Morrison has great vision and is able to finish. His big concerns surround his defensive zone play (which has improved over the past year) and his size with the potential for getting knocked off the puck. Plays a very creative game and drives well to the net through traffic.
There are several others, but these are some of my favorites. I hope you enjoyed this quick look at these players.
If you have any comments or suggestions for any other players feel free to comment or send me a message. Follow me on Twitter @DTJ_AHockeyBlog for more updates!
Thanks for reading!