Friday, June 26, 2015

Prospect Game Notes: NLA Championship Series Game 4 - Siegenthaler and Malgin

Happy Draft Day! Today is a big day for every team to try and snag a strong, young talent.

So what does one do when he's finished with his schoolwork and has the rest of the day off? Well, before the Draft begins tonight, I thought I would take a look at some archived games to get one last look at some draft-eligible prospects - mainly European ones.

This particular game was played on April 9, 2015. It was the 4th game in the series between HC Davos and ZSC Lions of the Swiss National League A. This game featured two very talented European draft-eligible players, (LD) Jonas Siegenthaler and (C/RW) Denis Malgin.

These are some of my quick notes of what I saw during the game from the two. I wanted to do this to not only get another look at these players, but to make sure my initial assessment of these players was correct.

#97 in white - Jonas Siegenthaler -
Jonas Siegenthaler plays a very mobile, yet not risky shutdown-defenseman role. He is not a very offensive player and is used almost only in defensive situations. He mostly stays in front of his own net and clears the way for the goaltender to get a better channel of vision. He does this by fighting for position by using his big, solid-framed body (6'3" 220lbs). When he's not in front of his own net, he is pursuing the puck in a calculated decision. His frame and his very long reach enable him to do well in board battles. When he gets possession of the puck in his own end, he can either make an accurate outlet pass to a transitioning forward, or move the puck himself. I know there is a bit of a cliche saying of "good skater for his size", but Siegenthaler is actually quite a good skater overall. He's very mobile and rather agile. Siegenthaler can take a hit and can also dish it out as well. I would project Siegenthaler to be a #4 or #5 NHL defenseman if he can continue his progression as a stay-at-home defenseman. It would be nice if he can improve his offensive game, but his emphasis is on defensive capability.

#13 in white - Denis Malgin -
Denis Malgin plays a speedy playmaking game. His offensive instincts are very strong, and he can gain the offensive zone with possession very well. In this game he received a pass in the neutral zone and gained the zone on his possession forehand, and sped around the back of the net, rushing past the defensemen. On this same shift he actually scored a goal (the first of the game). It was off of a rebound that he was able to put the puck in the back of the net. While not necessarily a hard shot, it was accurate. Throughout the entire match, Malgin was creating chances and taking shots on net. Malgin is not a very large player, only about 5'9" 175lbs, so it's difficult to make oneself seen at that size, especially on the larger European ice. However, Malgin does seem to make himself known rather well. I am not sure as to whether or not Malgin will make a good NHL player yet, simply because he needs to play a Top-6 game and does not have the physical toolset to play in a bottom-6 role. Does he have enough offense to maintain a top-6 role in the NHL?

These are just from one game's viewing and are similar to my initial assessments of them. I think it's fair enough to assume that Siegenthaler could be as high as a second round pick, with Malgin being as high as a third round pick. Unless there is an absolute shock of a reach pick, I don't expect these two gentlemen to be picked in the draft until tomorrow. While Davos wenton to win the game 4-3 in OT, I was happy with what I saw from Jonas Siegenthaler and Denis Malgin.

On an off-hand note, the atmosphere in the arena in Davos looked amazing. I've already had the tremendous privilege of seeing a game in Bern, Switzerland, but I would absolutely love the opportunity to go see a game in Davos or in Zurich to be able to not onlysee these players live, but to experience such an incredible atmosphere.

Tonight I will be watching the draft attentatively and hoping for the best for the Devils. If you have any suggestions or comments please let me know!

Follow me on Twitter @DTJ_AHockeyBlog for more articles, profiles, and reports.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, June 22, 2015

2015 NHL Draft Preview: Kyle Connor Write-Up

I apologize for the long time since the last update, my computer decided it wasn’t going to cooperate with me…it actually broke down but I’m still working on accepting that. I got the chance to go to Toronto and visit the Hockey Hall of Fame, among other things, in the beautiful city for the week. It really is a wonderful city. Below are the links to my previous player write-ups:

-Mathew Barzal
-Denis Guryanov
-Rasmus Andersson
-Mikko Rantanen
-Pavel Zacha

Either way, I’m here with the next prospect profile. Over time I have gotten more used to the idea of taking him with the 6th overall pick for the Devils. He is really ranked all over the place, as high as #5 and as low as in the late teens in terms of draft projections. In terms of projected players, General Manager Ray Shero said to be ready for anybody in case they are picked. This means that he is keeping the door open to selecting a defenseman at #6 overall, most likely Ivan Provorov or Noah Hanifin (if by some act of God, he falls to that point). Honestly I’m not putting too much thought into this because while the Devils are rebuilding, the defense is pretty much set, and there is very good depth in terms of defensive players and prospects at the NHL, AHL, NCAA, and now CHL levels…especially with the most recent signing of Vojtech Mozik to an entry-level deal. If anything, this could be an attempt to get a team to try and pay a little extra to move up to 6th overall. I’m sure it would be great to add another second round pick or forward prospect to a team that desperately needs youth and offense like New Jersey. I don’t think Lou Lamoriello would have hired Ray Shero if Shero didn’t want to address the team’s need for offense.

However, without any further ado, here’s the next player profile we will look at today:

Kyle Connor
Height: 6’1”
Weight:  184 lbs
Position: C
Shoots: Left
Team (League):Youngstown (USHL)
ISS rank: 13
CSS rank: 13 (NA Skaters)
FC rank: 12
THN rank: 11
Statline for 2014-2015 Season:  56 GP, 34G 46A 80P 6PIM, +3, 1.43Points/Game

I feel like Kyle Connor hasn’t been getting as much attention or hype because of the league he plays in. The USHL is overall a lesser talent team than the Canadian Hockey Leagues (OHL, WHL, QMJHL), but it is also a very difficult league to score points in overall. At scoring almost 1.5 points per game is a practically offensively-stifling league is very impressive, especially considering that he wasn’t even playing for the offensive powerhouse of the USNDP, which plays against the USHL teams. Connor outscored his second highest teammate by 16 points all while playing two less games than him (Maxim Letunov – the 2016 Boston U. commit and 2014 2nd round St. Louis draft pick).

Where should I start with Connor? He’s incredibly fast. He’s made significant progress this past season in how he developed his offensive game. It used to be only off of the offensive rush (by his speed), but this past season saw an improvement in his offensive cycle game. Connor is an exceptional talent in the offensive zone in terms of playmaking and scoring goals. He has elite skating ability and, as I mentioned earlier, very high level speed. He has a very high level of “Hockey IQ” and thinks the game through very well. It is through his combination of speed, skill, shooting, passing, and high intelligence that makes him a very dangerous player.

This season with Youngstown (his third season with the team/in the league), Kyle Connor earned the award for USHL Forward of the Year, USHL Player of the Year, most points in the USHL, and USHL First All-Star Team (he was also awarded this honor last season as well). Additionally, Connor was the second highest scoring player in the USHL last season (his pre-draft-eligible season), scoring 74 points (31G 43A) in 56 games.

Poistionally, Connor played as the top-line center for Youngstown last season, and is committed to playing for the University of Michigan next season, where he has the opportunity to step right in as their top-line center, if he can take it away from rising senior, and New York Rangers 2nd round pick in 2012, Cristoval Nieves. There are questions as to whether or not his game will be better suited as a winger in the NHL. My opinion of the matter is that he’ll make a fantastic center.  In terms of areas of improvement for him, I don’t think there are any stand-out issues to his game. If anything, the league he plays in is the biggest cause of concern, and it’s not even that big of an issue in my opinion. Like many prospects his age and progression, he needs to add more muscle to his frame to help improve his game, as well as build up more lower body strength to help propel his game forward to be NHL-ready. It’s best if he brings the same level of focus and intensity to U of Michigan that he had in Youngstown. Overall I believe the best way for Connor to improve is to build even further off of the already very impressive toolset he does have.

Defensively, Connor is excellent. He positions himself well in his own zone. He is able to balance himself between defending the man and defending a zone, and he does not lose his man defensively. His quick hands, good reads, and speed allow him to be dangerous in his own zone as well, potentially sparking a quick break-out.

The thing I really like about Kyle Connor is his overall ability in all three zones as well as his role as not only a creative playmaker but a goal scorer with his deceptive shot. While my computer is not quite fixed yet, I really wanted to try and get this report out there because of the possibility of the Devils selecting him. I think he really fits the bill well for GM Ray Shero’s new vision for the team being “fast, attacking, and supporting”. While Shero did not necessarily mean physical speed moreso mental speed, Kyle Connor brings both to the table. In terms of attacking, he has solidified himself as a potentially elite scoring talent. Finally he is an extremely supportive player when he does not have the puck, in any zone. Many scouts who have interviewed him describe him as a “team-first player”, which is always the types you want to build around.

It’s interesting because his game is almost a combination of Mathew Barzal and Pavel Zacha’s, in the sense of combining high-end playmaking ability (though not as good as Barzal) with an elite goal-scoring ability (though not as high as Zacha). I put the parentheses notes to make sure we don’t let all the horses out of the barn with Connor. He serves as a good balance point between the two prospects. I think Connor might be this year’s Dylan Larkin – not in terms of playing style, but relatively unknown U. Michigan commit playing in the USHL that will make many teams regret passing over to pick him.

There are questions as to whether or not he will be worth a 6th overall pick, but I believe Connor will be a top-line center at the NHL level, and I think that is worth a selection that high. In any other draft, I think Connor would be getting looks to be a top 3 pick, but he just so happens to contend with McDavid and Eichel this year. I am excited to follow Kyle Connor wherever he goes in his career, and look forward to tracking his progress at University of Michigan next season.

I hope you enjoyed my preview of Kyle Connor. Draft Day is only a few days away and I’m really excited as to what will happen! If you have any feedback, suggestions, or players you’d like to see me write about, please let me know!

Follow me on Twitter @DTJ_AHockeyBlog for more updates.

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, June 6, 2015

2015 NHL Draft Preview: Pavel Zacha Write-Up

As the week continues with the NHL Draft Combine going on in Buffalo, I am here with another write-up. Below are the links to my previous player write-ups:

-Mathew Barzal
-Denis Guryanov
-Rasmus Andersson
-Mikko Rantanen

I can’t thank you enough for reading my posts so far. I am really enjoying writing them! I am hoping you get a taste of how much I enjoy writing about hockey and prospects. With the newest report, we take a look at:

Pavel Zacha
Height: 6’3”
Weight: 215 lbs
Position: C (sometimes LW)
Shoots: Left
Team (League): Sarnia Sting (OHL)
ISS rank: 10
CSS rank: 8 (NA Skaters)
FC rank: 15
THN rank: 7
Statline for 2014-2015 Season:  37 GP, 16G 18A 34P 56PIM, +5, 0.92 Points/Game

Playing in his first season of hockey in North America, Pavel Zacha showed some major signs of offensive promise, but his game raised some questions for scouts. Let’s break down Zacha’s game play and experience. Zacha only played 37 games this past season as a result of injuries, two suspensions, and international tournaments, like the World Junior Championships. I feel like this large number of gaps in the schedule never allowed Zacha to get into a grove and further develop his game. He also did not play in the CHL Top Prospects Game because of an injury sustained prior to it. I wouldn’t say that he is “injury prone”. He’s just had some bad luck including missing 3-5 weeks with an upper-body injury. As one article put it best, he just can’t seem to get a break. So do scouts believe they want to risk a high pick on a player who they have not been able to see play much this season? (I’d say yes…also scouts have been following these prospects for at least a few years now)

Zacha is a strong and fast power-forward with an elite shot. It really is incredible. It might even best the best wrist shot out of the entire draft class…might be. This is just such a good draft! He drives to the net, and drives to the slot for a better shooting angle. He’s able to use his big body to position himself and not get knocked around, and he’s able to use his blazing speed to gain the offensive zone while still holding possession of the puck (usually with the puck on his backhand). In fact, his speed is what makes his a threat defensively, with his ability to explode from the defensive zone to the transitional game.

Defensively, Pavel Zacha plays a very physical, hard-hitting, and punishing game. As mentioned above, his physical play can get a little reckless, and he has had two suspensions for his hits this season. I do not believe he is a dirty player by any means. He just needs to better control his instincts to demolish anything that moves in his own zone. An area of improvement for Zacha would be his supporting play when not with the puck. I mean this in the sense of defensive routes taken to support defensemen, proper positioning in the offensive zone when not possessing the puck to keep the attack alive, and an overall not getting caught flat-footed in either end of the ice.

Another issue of Zacha’s play is his sometimes inconsistent in that he is caught coasting a bit, but thankfully I don’t view any of these areas of improvement as detrimental to his overall value as an offensive talent. I don’t view Zacha as a poor defensive player by any means either. I feel it’s important to give him some slack in his first year playing in the smaller rink of North America. I really liked his defensive effort as well. He has a very high hockey IQ, and once he understands his better defensive positioning, he will be a significantly better player in his own end. His physicality and hard-hitting is quite fun to watch. The Hockey Writers calls Zacha the hardest hitting player of this draft class.

Looking more at his offensive game, Zacha brings a shoot-first mentality and a rocket of not only his potential top-of-the-class wrist shot, but his phenomenal one-timer shot. Like many young, highly talented players, Zacha has a bit trouble using his linemates. I do believe these are all issues that can be taken care of through proper coaching. If Zacha does decide to pass and not shoot, he is able to make a near perfect tape-to-tape pass. If he decides to do neither, then he will drive to the net with his explosive acceleration skating and high top-end speed. He will also deke and use his long reach to protect the puck (with the power move) to keep the puck to himself.

Zacha does have experience playing in a professional league. Before he came over to North America, after being selected 1st overall in the CHL Import Draft, Zacha played 38 games for the Czech Extraliga, the highest professional league in the Czech Republic. In that time, he scored 8 points (4G 4A). Internationally, Pavel Zacha has represented Team Czech Republic for many tournaments, but most notably (and most recently) the World Junior Championships, played in Canada, and the IIHF U18 World Championships, played in Switzerland. Despite being one of the younger players on the team (Zacha turned 18 in April) and playing with players up to two years older than him (which isn’t much different from playing in the OHL), Zacha scored 2 points (1G 1A) in 5 games. That lone goal was the game-winning goal against Team Russia. At the IIHF U18 championships, Zacha scored 5 goals in 5 games for the Czechs. This was tied for team lead in points, and led the team in goals. In fact, this total was tied for 3rd best in the tournament for goals scored (about 7 players in that tied top 3 though).

Pavel Zacha is one of the more intriguing forward prospects. He’s been projected to go anywhere from 6th overall to 17th overall. His tenacious fore-checking game, size, and strong physical play make him an almost lock for a Bottom-6 role in the NHL at the very, very least. The questions surrounding his development include his ability to find a groove offensively, continue to adjust his defensive game, not take as many unnecessary penalties, and ensure that he does not get caught flat-footed. I’d say that the biggest question regarding Zacha’s game is whether or not it will be better suited at the NHL-level as a center or a left winger. I believe Zacha will be a center progressing forward if he can improve his back-checking, face-offs, and how well he reads and controls the ice. He will already be a good player for the top unit of a team's Power play, mainly due to his shot. He played on Sarnia's top Power play unit.

Despite the concerns listed, I do feel that Zacha will have a bit year next season. He is actually one of the more NHL-ready prospects in this draft. That being said, I’d like to see him play in the OHL next season to help improve his confidence and offensive consistency. The combination of skill, size, strength, speed, and IQ is too tantalizing for a team to pass up on. If Zacha is able to properly develop his skills and everything I have mentioned above, I believe he has a legitimate shot to not only be an absolute steal of a pick, but to also potentially be the third best center of this draft class.

I very much look forward to following Zacha’s career wherever he ends up, and I hope to see him in Sarnia again next season. He is an extremely promising prospect.

I hope you enjoyed my preview of Pavel Zacha. The NHL Entry Draft is now only 20 days away! I will post more prospect/player previews as the days pass.

If you have any feedback, suggestions, or players you’d like to see my write about, please let me know!

Follow me on Twitter 
@DTJ_AHockeyBlog for more updates.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, June 5, 2015

2015 NHL Draft Preview: Mikko Rantanen Write-Up

While I finished my initial preview write-up for the Devils, I wanted to explore other players and get my thoughts out there for each player I will be writing about. For each write-up I will include links to my other player previews:

-Mathew Barzal
-Denis Guryanov
-Rasmus Andersson

For this next player, I expect him to go anywhere from the 6th overall selection to the 13th overall selection this year. Without further ado, let’s take a look at:

Mikko Rantanen
Height: 6’4”
Weight: 211 lbs
Position: RW (sometimes C)
Shoots: Left
Team (League): TPS Turku (Liiga)
ISS rank: 9
CSS rank: 1 (EU Skaters)
FC rank: 8
THN rank: 12
Statline for 2014-2015 Season:  56 GP, 9G 19A 28P 22PIM, -1, 0.5 Points/Game

Introducing “The Finnish Bull”, Mikko Rantanen. The first thing I noticed about Rantanen was not necessarily his massive frame, but how elegantly he uses his entire reach. He knows he’s tall and lanky, and will play keep away from defensemen when he has the puck. In addition to that, he has the size and strength to barrel through most defensemen that stand in his way. Despite his large stature as well, Rantanen is quite the mobile and nimble skater, with great top-end speed and agility to boot. Rantanen’s use of his reach as an advantage over defenders is really a staple of his offensive game. If there are two words I would use to describe his offensive game, it would be “reach” and “havoc”. If you are reading other scouting reports on Rantanen, chances are they will include the word “havoc”. This is due to a variety of things, mainly his drive to the front of the net, his physicality going through defensemen, his overall powerforward playing style, and his offensive playmaking ability.

With more viewings of Mikko Rantanen, it’s pretty clear that he’s an overall smooth player. I mean that in the way of his skating, hands, shooting, deking, passing, backchecking…they’re all smooth and almost effortless. I will include a link to a shift-by-shift video of him done a couple months ago (not by me) that shows his smooth game play. It’s this combination of smoothness and havoc that make Mikko Rantanen such an intriguing prospect for the Draft, later this month. A few things I haven’t touched on yet in this preview are just how good his forechecking, puckhandling, and defensive game are.

Rantanen is a smart player, a very smart player. He knows where he needs to go on the ice almost at all times, and his size and strength allow him to get where he thinks he needs to be. This oftentimes include putting the puck past a defender and dragging it to himself (behind the defender’s legs) as he drives to the net or the slot for a good shot opportunity. Defensively, as mentioned above, he’s stellar. This includes nearly every defensive situation. The thing I would like to see him improve upon is his physicality in the defensive zone. When an attacker is approaching I’d like to see Rantanen try to not lead with his stick as much, and try to physically separate the attacker from the puck.

One of the most exciting elements of Rantanen’s game is that he is already a full-fledged player for Finland’s highest professional league, Liiga. Not only this, but Rantanen was the leading point scorer for his team, TPS. The previous leading scorer for the team, who left after 43 for the Swedish Hockey League (SHL), registered 36 points for TPS in that time. The kicker? He’s 10 years older than Rantanen. Regardless, for 25 games, Rantanen represented his TPS team by wearing the golden helmet, which signifies a team’s leading scorer. This was not Rantanen’s first season in Liiga (with TPS) either. In fact, he had been playing in Liiga games since his 15-16 year old season. As of today, Rantanen has accumulated 108 games of playing experience in Finland’s highest professional league. Needless to say, this is extremely impressive, especially for a young man who is just draft-eligible age this year.

Adding on to his professional experience, Rantanen’s TPS Turku played in the first tournament of the Champions Hockey League since 2009. Of the 8 games TPS played in the tournament, Rantanen played in 6 of them, and he scored 2 goals in the process. Let me just take this time and try not to sound rude, but TPS was a very bad team last season. I wouldn’t use the term “dumpster fire”, but it’s a huge concern when a team’s leading scorer leaves after 2/3rds of a season to go to another country and league. That being said, Rantanen handled himself very well. He wore an “A” for the entire season as well.

More recently, Mikko Rantanen represented Team Finland in the World Junior Championship played in Canada. In the 5 games played, Rantanen lead the team with 4 goals. While those statistics don’t necessarily jump off the page, just remember that Team Finland scored 8 goals total that tournament. Rantanen scored half of the team’s overall goals.

Rantanen’s resume is very impressive, and his playing style seems to be a great fit for the NHL. It’s interesting to see how the power forward’s game will change when he is playing in the smaller-sized rinks of the NHL rather than the larger-sized rinks of Finland and Europe.

One of the many things I like about Rantanen’s game is that it is not flashy. Rantanen just does his job and moves from Point A to Point B. He is a tenacious shot blocker, and is a very impressive playmaker. He likes to make plays from behind the opponent’s net. He mostly gets there through his forechecking and from his good gaining of the offensive zone. Despite his deceptive snap shot, I’d like to see him improve on his overall shot speed. He’s good at placing his shot though. I’d also like to see him increase his consistent physicality. One last note of improvement for Rantanen would be increasing his overall lower body strength, which will only increase his overall effectiveness.

Mikko Rantanen is everything one looks for in an NHL power-forward. He has all the tools and skills, not to mention great hockey IQ. The thing I like about Rantanen’s gameplay is that if his offensive skills do not translate to North America, or if he does not further his development, which is highly improbable, his physical toolset allows him to be a capable Bottom-6 winger for an NHL team. However, I think it’s much more likely that Rantanen develops into a strong Top-6 RW. Rantanen plays a solid two-way game, and is dangerous as soon as he enters the offensive zone. I think an NHL team will be very happy with their selection when they choose Mikko Rantanen.

As said before, here is the video of a shift-by-shift (actually I’ll embed two videos). Again, I did not create these. I prefer shift-by-shift videos much more than highlight videos since they show every aspect of one’s game.

(As the title says, Rantanen is wearing #96 in white, with the golden helmet)

I hope you enjoyed my preview of Mikko Rantanen. The NHL Entry Draft is only 21 days away! I will post more prospect/player previews as the days pass.

If you have any feedback, suggestions, or players you’d like to see my write about, please let me know!

Follow me on Twitter 
@DTJ_AHockeyBlog for more updates.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

2015 NHL Draft Preview: 41st Overall Selection (New Jersey's third selection) Write-Up

Thank you for following my draft previews for the New Jersey Devils for this upcoming, 2015 NHL Entry Draft, now just 23 days away. This will be my final preview write-up for the Devils, covering the 41st overall selection. I will be writing more prospect player profiles for players after this, but it will not be related to the needs of any specific team, rather just out of pure interest. Below are links to my previous write-ups for the Devils:

6th Overall – Mathew Barzal
36th Overall – Denis Guryanov

Today we look at a facet of the draft that has become very familiar to Devils fans – drafting a defenseman in the second round. The past 6 drafts have seen the Devils take a defenseman with their available second round pick (not including 2011 since they had no 2nd round pick available). I understand and recognize the importance for adding forward prospects to the cupboard for the Devils, but this does not mean you have to stop drafting defensemen altogether. Who knows though? With a new GM in town there may be a change to drafting tendencies (although I don’t think that’s too likely since no changes have been brought to the Scouting Department). However, this player profile is a player I’d like the Devils to strongly consider at 41 overall, if they are to take a defenseman. Without further ado…

Rasmus Andersson
Height: 6’0”
Weight: 212 lbs
Position:  RD
Shoots: R
Team (League): Barrie (OHL)
ISS rank: 107
CSS rank: 93 (NA Skaters)
FC rank: 50
THN rank: 44
Statline for 2014-2015 Season: 67 GP, 12G 52A 64P 88PIM, +14, 0.96 Points/Game

Where should I start with Andersson? Any Devils fans following Joseph Blandisi for the Barrie Colts of the OHL may have been able to get a glance at Rasmus Andersson. Andersson was 3rd overall in points by defensemen in the OHL, only behind 2013 2nd round Colorado selection, Chris Bigras, and 2014 1st round Tampa Bay selection, Anthony Deangelo.  According to Future Considerations draft guide, Andersson has the 3rd hardest shot out of the entire draft class. In his play this season, Andersson scored 4 game-winning goals, which was the most out of CHL draft-eligible defensemen and was also responsible for about 23% of his team’s total points, which is 3rd best out of all CHL draft-eligible defensemen, only behind Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL) Alexandre Carrier and Sudbury Wolves (OHL) Kyle Capobianco.

Selecting him at 41 might be a reach, but I believe the potential is there. In just his first season in the OHL, he has solidified himself, in my opinion, as the second or third best draft-eligible defenseman in the OHL, arguably behind Mitchell Vande Sompel and Vince Dunn. Before coming to North America, Andersson played in Allsvenskan, Sweden’s second-best professional league, as a 16 and 17 year old, and really didn’t look his age out there. In two seasons, he played 81 games in Allsvenskan and amassed 24 points in that time. His offensive potential is very impressive, and I feel that he will only improve from this point.

Andersson is a big-bodied defenseman who has a high-end offensive game. He scored close to a Point-Per-Game in his first season in the OHL, which is a testament to his hockey sense and IQ, and ability to quarterback the powerplay. He has a great first outlet pass out of the zone, and can make things happen offensively. One thing he’s had to work on in the past year was his overall quickness, which he has made significant steps (pun not intended) towards. His skating is not the most fluid, but he is capable of keeping up with speedy forwards and is able to win board battles with his big frame. He’s actually a very exceptional skater, with good lateral movement and solid edge-work. Personally I’d like to see him work on his top-end speed and overall acceleration.

In his own zone, Andersson is alert and hard-working. Things he must continue to work on are overall consistency in his own end, his off-the-puck reads in his zone, some more physicality in his own zone and better gap control, more fluidity in his skating, and more alert making better decisions without the puck in general. Sometimes he can make an ill-advised pinch in the offensive zone which may lead to an odd-man rush for the opposition.  That being said, I don’t believe any of these issues can’t be fixed through coaching. I know it’s a little cliché, but these defensive inconsistencies can be fixed by coaching, but he has the tremendous offensive potential that cannot be taught. While he does put up some great numbers, enough to be considered an offensive defenseman, I would still call him a two-way defender. For most of his shifts in the defensive zone, he’s not very noticeable, and I mean that in a good way.

Andersson is able to make solid passes through traffic, and has the potential to be a good steal, even at 41st overall. I’m sure any Devils fan reading this is thinking something along the lines of, “Why draft another offensive defenseman? We already have É
ric Gélinas.” To that I would respond that I like Andersson’s defensive game more than that of Gélinas. Andersson does have a good hard shot and runs the Powerplay effectively, also like Gélinas. However, I believe that Gélinas has the harder shot (may or may not be semantics) and will ultimately end up as a third-pairing defenseman / PP specialist. Gélinas’ defensive game has certainly improved over the last season, in my opinion, but I think that the two are just two different players. Andersson is very active in the rush and will oftentimes join the forwards in the rush to get more numbers against the defense.

To me, the best asset for Andersson is not his offensive ceiling, but rather his professional experience. As mentioned earlier he played in the second-highest Swedish professional league during his 15-16 year old season and was very solid. He put up points in about 30% of the games he played in. In fact, the biggest reason he even came over to play in the CHL was because he felt like he wasn’t getting enough ice-time in Malmo (his team for Allsvenskan). Amassing 81 professional games at that high of a level is very promising and puts Andersson in a good class of prospects. He is a hard-working all-around defenseman that, if and when he’s able to polish up his defensive game, has some very good skills that will translate well into the higher levels of professional hockey in North America. I see his ceiling as a 2nd pairing defenseman. A good player to compare stylistically, in my opinion, is Alex Pietrangelo.

Rasmus Andersson shows a lot of promising upside to his game, combined with the fact that this was only his first season playing in North America. He’s been flying under the radar of draft lists for almost the entire season. I know this is a very good draft year, and there are a lot of promising defensemen, but I’m not sure why Andersson isn’t higher ranked.

So that was my preview for the first three selections for the New Jersey Devils at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, on June 26th and 27th. I hope you enjoyed reading it! I will continue to write about prospects for this draft that I really like.

If you have any feedback or suggestions, feel free to let me know!

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Thanks for reading!