Glaring Flaws Top NHL Prospects Must Fix
NHL players tend to enter their prime by their mid-20s. While it's very possible to see some spectacular performances before that age—Alex Ovechkin scoring 106 points at 20, Sidney Crosby winning the Stanley Cup at 21 and so on—it's around 24 or 25 where the "kid" is fully gone and has been replaced by a grown man.
Now look at them: Kane's a two-time Stanley Cup Champion, while Weber sports some of the manliest beards ever come playoff time.
All of the aforementioned players continue to be outstanding players because of the work that they put in over the years. Sure, it helps that Kane grew into his body and has packed on 20 pounds since being drafted in 2007.
What really sets them apart, though, has been their willingness to work on their weaknesses. Crosby wasn't always good at faceoffs. Ovechkin turned into a one-trick pony on the left wing before thriving on the right side last year.
The top prospects in the game today aren't any different. Seth Jones, Nathan MacKinnon and so on all have things that they need to work on if they hope to become truly elite players at the NHL level.
Few defensemen drafted over the last few years have the same offensive upside as Morgan Rielly. He scored 54 points in 60 games for the Moose Jaw Warriors last season before making his AHL debut.
He struggled a bit with the step up in competition, but still managed three points in 14 contests.
While Rielly is a dynamo in the offensive zone and is capable of creating fireworks there, he still has some work to do in his own zone. This shouldn't be too much of an issue for the Toronto Maple Leafs prospect, though, given his high level of hockey IQ.
As per NHL Central Scouting's Blair MacDonald: "I think his creativity makes him one of the top players in the league. He's like a chess player; he's thinking one or two moves ahead. He sees stuff coming that a lot of players don't see."
Dougie Hamilton is one of the most well-thought-of youngsters in the NHL. He was called the best defenseman not currently in the league back in 2012 by Dennis MacInnis (director of amateur scouting for International Scouting Service) in an interview with the Toronto Star and hasn't fallen off one bit in the eyes of many.
While he skates like the wind—at least for someone who is 6'5" and nearly 200 pounds—and is capable of dominating the play in all three zones, Hamilton still doesn't have a dominating physical aspect to his game.
Even at the junior level, Hamilton didn't seem sure of how to use his size to his advantage. To become the elite defender he's capable of being he'll need to start leaning on people more and using his mass in the defensive zone.
With the talent and skill to eventually be considered one of the best players selected in 2012, Mikhail Grigorenko is the total package at center. As per Hockeysfuture.com:
Grigorenko’s talent level is undeniable. He is a gifted offensive center who possesses great patience with the puck and the ability to thread passes all over the ice. He is a smooth skater and has the potential to be a top scorer in the NHL.
Of course, this particular scouting report follows up the accolades with the following tidbit: "Grigorenko has been criticized for inconsistent and disinterested play in the past, though he has played through injuries."
The strikes against Grigorenko's character may or may not be fair, but he'll need to prove his consistency once and for all before taking a run at being one of the NHL's elite.
It's easy to liken Mathew Dumba to a cannonball.
He skates hard up and down the ice and loves to engage physically both along the boards and in open ice. Dumba has worked on his offensive game since being selected ninth overall by the Minnesota Wild in 2012 and plays in all three zones with something that falls just short of reckless abandon.
With Dumba, his greatest strength can also be his weakness at times. As per hockeywilderness.com:
...will need to add some muscle to play a robust style at the NHL level ... lack of size will cause him some problems down low and in front of the net ... he will occasionally leave his feet ... defensive play is a little erratic at times ... a risk taker who will cost his team some goals with his over aggressiveness...
Knowing when to push with the rush or make a big hit takes a lot of time and work in the NHL.
Niklas Kronwall is an outstanding example of what can happen when these kinds of players go right. The ECHL and other lower professional leagues are littered with players that couldn't quite figure it out.
The word that comes to mind while watching Ryan Strome play is skill. The 20-year-old has an abundance of it and is capable of making even the strongest defensemen in the OHL look silly. He made the jump to the AHL last season for 10 games and didn't struggle with the new level of competition as he popped off seven points.
In the offensive zone, there really isn't anything bad to say about Strome. His vision is outstanding, and his shot is underrated at this point.
According to thehockeywriters.com, the biggest points of emphasis for Strome moving forward should be the faceoff circle and his attention to detail in the neutral and defensive zones. It's unclear where the New York Islanders plan on using Strome, and if he ends up on the wing alongside John Tavares, his work in the faceoff circle will be much less important.
Widely regarded as the most NHL-ready prospect available in the 2013 draft, Seth Jones sank to the Nashville Predators at fourth overall. The kid didn't suddenly forget how to play, and he'll still be an outstanding contributor for years to come on Nashville's blue line.
The shot is there. So is an outstanding amount of hockey IQ and a good, clean skating stride.
The only real knock on Jones is that sometimes he can be too cool out on the ice. Almost too poised. The Hockey News 2013 Draft Preview had the following to say about Jones as a player:
He fits all the criteria to be a dominant NHL blueliner: size, mobility, smarts, poise. The only thing missing is a nasty streak, though physical play doesn't intimidate him. One scout said he knows Jones can handle the rough stuff, ‘but you’d like to see him get mad sometimes.’
Maybe falling to fourth will give Jones the chip on his shoulder that would put him over the top as an NHL defender.
In Elias Lindholm, the Carolina Hurricanes drafted one of the most complete players available. It's tough not to notice when he's out on the ice as he's capable of making big plays in both the offensive and defensive zones—something that is certainly noteworthy considering most forwards need to work on things in their own end after being selected.
That isn't the case with Lindholm, though. He's just as capable of picking pockets as he is picking corners.
The only thing that could prevent him from becoming an NHL star? Size, according to Corey Pronman of the Hockey Prospectus:
As with most young players, he needs to continue to get stronger. That said, he is fairly firm on the puck, and he can muscle players off of it defensively as well. He is a tad undersized, and that is his one notable weakness.
You can't teach a player to be taller, but Lindholm is listed as 6'0", which doesn't make him terribly undersized, Still, that's the big catch for the young Swede, who will need to add some weight to play his style of hockey in the NHL.
Like Seth Jones in 2013, Ryan Murray was considered NHL-ready before being selected. He would have one NHL year under his belt already if not for a season-ending shoulder injury, but Murray will make his highly anticipated debut as a Columbus Blue Jacket in 2013-14.
As it stands, he's considered by Jacketscannon.com to be a "Scott Niedermayer clone." Murray's poise with the puck is second-to-none as far as defensive prospects are concerned, and he just drips leadership intangibles.
That doesn't mean that every aspect of Murray's game is perfect, though, and The Hockey News would like to see him bulk up a bit so that he could play a more physical brand of hockey at the NHL level.
Reading a scouting report for Filip Forsberg is like taking in a checklist of all the things you want to be said about a top prospect. From the Director of European Scouting for the NHL, Goran Stubb:
A leader who shows by example -- I would compare him to Anaheim's Corey Perry a little bit. Has a nose for the net, and often scores the big goals. He's a creative playmaker, good skater with fine straight-ahead speed. He's a right-handed forward with an excellent shot and an effective two-way player with a great winning attitude. Filip's a solid puck carrier with very good puck-handling skills; mature, good size and physically strong. On top of that, he'll sacrifice himself to make the play.
There's not a whole lot to dislike about Forsberg, whom the Nashville Predators hijacked from the Washington Capitals at the trade deadline last season. Forsberg does have a few aspects of his game with question marks, though. From Mapleleafshotstove.com:
Some have questioned Forsberg’s long-term upside down the middle, arguing that he profiles best along the wing due to his average skating and playmaking ability. At the NHL level he may be one of those players that you need to surround with talent in order to really maximize his potential.
Lost in the shuffle on draft weekend was the fact that some scouts weren't convinced that Nathan MacKinnon was the best forward available, let alone the best player. Jonathan Drouin is a dynamic talent the likes of which haven't been seen in a few years—his skating is elite level, his creativity is outstanding and, most importantly, his hockey IQ is through the roof.
Drouin has just as good of a chance to become an NHL star as any other top prospect, and the only real knock on his game is its lack of physicality due to a lack of size. From Corey Pronman of the Hockey Prospectus:
His agility and his puck skills make him a nightmare to check in open ice. That said, Drouin can be a liability when the game turns physical. He is a tad undersized, and his strength level needs to be improved in order to be effective in pro-level board battles
Despite being taken in the second round with the 47th overall pick, Tyler Toffoli could end up being one of the top players selected in the 2010 draft. Since being taken by the Los Angeles Kings, all the kid has done is put up gaudy point totals.
He scored 100 points in 65 games for the Ottawa 67's in 2011-12, and followed that up with a strong AHL debut a year later. Toffoli posted 51 points in 58 games for the Manchester Monarchs and has turned a lot of heads with his ability to finish plays from just about anywhere on the ice.
The Hockey News thinks that he could stand to put on some weight before taking on NHL defenders, but he hasn't seemed too out of place during his cups of coffee at the NHL level. As per THN.com: "Isn't strong enough yet to handle physical pro defensemen, so he needs to bulk up. Needs to become a better player without the puck."
Arguably the best raw goal-scoring forward the Buffalo Sabres have drafted since Thomas Vanek, Joel Armia is a talented north-south player who is at his best when playing in close to the net or deep below the hash marks with the puck.
There's no question that the kid can score. Armia put up 33 points in 47 games while playing in the SM-liiga last season and is capable of dominating the game down low.
The big hole in Armia's game isn't what he does when he has the puck. It's what he does when he doesn't have the puck. Brandon Worley from Defendingbigd.com puts it like this:
...when Armia doesn't have the puck, he completely disappears. And I mean completely. He is purely a one-way hockey player right now and he hasn't shown the fire or passion for hunting down the puck when it isn't on his stick.
You can watch an entire game that Griffin Reinhart is playing in without realizing he's there. That's isn't necessarily a bad thing when it comes to young defensemen, though. He's steady as can be with the puck, and doesn't make bad choices with the biscuit while under pressure.
Being quietly effective in the defensive zone is one thing. Being just quiet in the offensive zone is another thing entirely, and is much less desirable.
Thescoutingreport.com (h/t defendingbigd.com) suggests that, while Reinhart is already an outstanding shutdown defenseman, that he could be elite if he were more consistent with his offensive weapons: "He's got all the tools to be a high-end NHL defenseman, but he needs to use them more consistently."
Among the young players who made a lot of noise at the Traverse City Rookie tournament, Valeri Nichushkin has been impressive since joining the Dallas Stars. ESPN The Magazine's Craig Custance reiterated what an onlooker had to say about the first-round pick during the tourney: "He's a man-child."
Coach Lindy Ruff also compared his skating to that of Evgeni Malkin. To go along with the waves of accolades, ESPN Insider ranked Nichushkin as the fifth-best prospect in all of hockey, according to DefendingbigD.com, while Hockeysfuture.com listed him as the top prospect in the Stars organization.
Welcome to North America, kid!
It isn't all rainbows and butterflies for Nichushkin though, as there are some questions about his hockey IQ and desire to utilize his teammates (read: some feel he's a selfish player). From Corey Pronman over at Hockey Prospectus:
He can make plays to his teammates, and he has good offensive instincts, although his hockey sense is an area of division among scouts. Some question his vision, feeling he can be a little selfish. Others think his hockey sense is above average. He has the ability to skate through an entire team, so it cannot be considered surprising that he tries to do a lot.
A strong defenseman who loves to initiate contact from the blue line, Jacob Trouba has a lot of Winnipeg Jets fans excited, and with good reason. Since being taken ninth overall in 2012, few defenders have created quite as much buzz as the Rochester, Mich. native.
While he's not going to blow anyone away with his speed, he's by no means slow and loves to join the rush. Therein lays the rub with Trouba, however. According to hockeysfuture.com:
Many scouts point to Trouba’s decision-making as one of his greatest weaknesses. His decisions at times are erratic and he is sometimes slow to reacting to developing plays. Some scouts also have questions about Trouba’s hockey sense as well. But with maturity and development, Trouba should be able to improve in those areas.
If you're looking to have no fun next weekend, play the Nathan MacKinnon drinking game. Surf the plethora of scouting reports available on the kid, and take a drink every time a scout says something negative about him.
You'll end up in bed with a book, bored out of your mind by 9:30 p.m.
As was mentioned on Jonathan Drouin's slide, not every onlooker had MacKinnon ranked as the best available forward. Corey Pronman of the Hockey Prospectus boiled the difference between MacKinnon and Drouin as "a coin flip."
As for what the new member of the Colorado Avalanche needs to improve, it could just be a matter of self-awareness. As Ross MacLean, head scout for International Scouting Services, told Sportsnet.ca:
What’s perhaps scariest about MacKinnon is he still doesn't seem to actually understand what an elite goal scorer he is. The fact that he could stand to shoot more is scary considering his offensive output the past two seasons.
The San Jose Sharks took size and talent up the middle when they selected Tomas Hertl with the 17th overall pick in 2012. His two-way acumen is outstanding, and few prospects are as solid in the faceoff circle as Hertl.
He's a solid playmaker and has a knack for finding open teammates through his deliberate approach to the game. The Sharks hope he'll be a top-six contributor soon, but there are some very non-NHL aspects to Hertl's game as well
Lastworkonsports.com likens Hertl to Martin Hanzal because of the way he skates, and that's not necessarily a good thing.
Hertl certainly projects to have good defensive skills. Hertl has the potential to be a top 6 [center] in the NHL. He'll be a bit of a project as his skating and his shot need a little bit of work, but his other skills are well developped (sic).
After the top five available players in the 2013 draft, there was a bit of a drop-off in overall talent and ability (with the exception being Valeri Nichushkin, who slipped because of the "Russian Factor"). That isn't to say that Sean Monahan won't be a good top-six player within the next few years; it's just that he lacks the ability to be a truly elite center.
He's outstanding at faceoffs and was ranked the third-best draw-taker in the OHL last year, according to NHL.com. Monahan's simple north-south game will make his jump to the NHL more seamless than that of a flashy skater like Nathan MacKinnon, but the difference in potential output between the two is wide.
The biggest knock on Monahan is his skating. As per Corey Pronman of Hockey Prospectus:
His skating is fairly average. He is not a total liability on his feet, but his skating stands out as the least impressive aspect of his game. Monahan projects as a quality defensive center, capable of winning faceoffs consistently.
The Winnipeg Jets have given Mark Scheifele all the time in the world to develop his game at the OHL level, and could really see the fruits of that patience as soon as this season. A big, talented center when he was drafted back in 2011, Scheifele has done nothing but refine his game while trucking most of his junior-level competition.
He was the second-best faceoff-taker in the OHL, according to a coaches' poll, and posted a massive 79 points in just 45 games played last season.
Like many developing players, Scheifele needs to add more muscle to his frame, according to The Hockey News: "[he] Needs to fill out his 6-2 frame and get stronger in order to maximize his scoring potential at the highest level. Must also continue to work on his play without the puck.
Don't look now, but the Florida Panthers may have finally drafted their way back to long-term relevancy. With players like Jonathan Huberdeau, Jacob Markstrom and Nick Bjugstad already on board, the Cats' brass just couldn't leave the 2013 draft without Aleksander Barkov.
One of the top Finish prospects in recent memory, he's a force in the offensive one and has already demonstrated his ability to play against grown men in the SM-liiga.
While Barkov's flair in the offensive zone is without question, some scouts feel that his skating could use at least a little work. Corey Pronman of the Hockey Prospectus had this to say about Barkov's skating prior to the draft:
His skating is a tick below average. It is possible he could improve to an average skater, but his game will not be predicated on blazing past defenders. When bringing the puck out of his zone, he tends to prefer making a good pass rather than rushing the puck up.