Top Prospect Seth Jones
The fortunes of hundreds of young hockey players from around the globe will change following the 2013 NHL draft.
But even with the advanced metrics being used by NHL scouting staffs, selecting teenaged hockey players at June’s draft remains an imperfect science.
There are very few players in each draft class who are guaranteed to excel at the NHL level.
How these young men develop as professional hockey players, particularly goaltenders and defensemen, who tend to take several years longer to develop than forwards, is not much more than an educated guess.
The following list includes some well-known players, but I am labeling all of them as sleepers, as they should be higher than their final Central Scouting rankings.
Players at the top of the list are as close to a sure thing as there can be when projecting potential from this age group.
Given the above criteria, in ascending order, here are the top 10 sleeper picks in the 2013 NHL entry draft.
Michael Giugovaz had his ups and downs playing for the Peterborough Petes in the OHL this past season. The Petes were not a very good club despite getting hot at the end of the season and almost making the playoffs.
Because the Petes were so poor defensively, Giugovaz’s numbers were not eye-popping, with a 3.81 goals-against average and a .896 save percentage.
However, Giugovaz will likely continue to grow both physically and skill-wise. He was brilliant at times for the Petes and was recently named to the OHL’s all-rookie second team.
He has very good athletic skills, and with some stronger defensive support, his numbers should be much better next season.
Russian hockey fan
Vyacheslav Leschenko had his draft ranking rise more than 70 places from the midterm to the final spot. The 6’0” right winger played in his native Russia last season and improved over the course of the season.
Given the rise of the KHL, it is always difficult to predict if young Russian players will commit to playing in North America once they become pros.
Leschenko’s impressive rise in the rankings, combined with his blossoming offensive talent, points to him being a potential sleeper pick for those organizations looking for some speed and depth on the wing
Adam Tambellini will be suiting up for the North Dakota Fighting Sioux next year, so his NHL team will not see him for a few years while he develops his game.
Tambellini has not played against top competition to date, but this will change in the coming seasons. He has an excellent hockey pedigree and is the son of former NHLer and Edmonton Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini.
The 6’3” Tambellini has an excellent shot and features an impressive all-around game. He should only improve under the guidance of the excellent coaching staff at North Dakota.
Enthusiastic Swedish hockey fans
Defenseman Niklas Hansson jumped almost 50 spots and into the top 30 in the final rankings for European skaters.
The Swedish defenseman would likely be a long-term project, but he is a strong skater with some intriguing offensive potential.
While his defensive game is not as strong as many other prospects, in the right organization, this is something that could improve over time.
Dillon Heatherington has seen his final draft ranking improve, and if he continues to develop, he could be a second-round steal. He is an above-average skater and can make that important first pass out of his own end.
He has become a top-pairing defenseman with the Swift Current Broncos, and his ability to play big minutes in the WHL bodes well for the future.
At 6’4” and 200 lbs., Heatherington has the size that most NHL scouts covet in defensive prospects.
Samuel Morin is a 6’6” defenseman playing for the Rimouski Oceanic in the QMJHL who saw his final Central Scouting ranking jump from No. 76 to No. 23 among North American skaters.
Morin played for the Canadian 2013 U18 gold medal-winning team.
Morin led his team in penalty minutes this season, and while he does not project to be an offensive threat at the NHL level, his size and demeanor could be valuable assets if he continues to improve.
He is a project, but with some patience, Morin might develop into a very good NHL defensive defenseman.
The Kitchener Rangers’ Justin Bailey has a lot of potential coming out of his rookie season in the OHL.
Originally from Williamsville, N.Y., Bailey adjusted well to the OHL, posting 36 points.
Bailey is 6’3” and listed at 183 pounds. He is going to need to add some weight to continue his current style of play at the pro level.
Bailey needs to continue to improve his overall game, but his skating ability and willingness to play a physical game bodes well for his future in both Kitchener and beyond.
The Edmonton Oil Kings have built a very good team in recent years, with several players being drafted by NHL teams.
While Curtis Lazar is a household name in the WHL, outsiders may not know his game, which isn’t always flashy.
Lazar has developed a complete game, and in another draft year, would likely be a top-10 pick. Lazar is not spectacular in any one part of the game but has no glaring weaknesses, either.
He scored 38 goals in 2013 and also has above-average playmaking skills. He has exemplary hockey sense and will benefit from playing with other intelligent players at the pro level.
Lazar will be a prime candidate for Canada’s World Junior team this fall, and it will be interesting to see him working alongside other elite players.
Kerby Rychel may not be the “classic” sleeper pick, but he projects to be one of the better players in the 2013 draft, despite his current ranking that predicts him as a later first-round pick.
The son of ex-NHLer Warren Rychel had 87 points with the Windsor Spitfires and was in the top 10 in OHL scoring.
Kerby can play almost any style of game, and his versatility will be one of his most valuable assets at the pro level.
He is not likely to be ready for the NHL next season, but it will be very surprising if Rychel is not playing in the NHL in two or three years.
Max Domi, the son of former NHL enforcer Tie Domi, plays a much different game than his father.
While similar in size to Tie at 5’9”, Max has a tremendous skill set that should translate very well to the NHL game.
The London Knights star is more likely to be a winger at the NHL level, but he has been an elite center at the OHL level.
Domi tied Kerby Rychel with 87 points in the 2012-13 OHL regular-season scoring race, and both players have bright hockey futures.
It will not be surprising to see Domi get added motivation if he is drafted near his final ranking position, which projects him as a later first-round pick.