All posts by Hannah Stuart

NHL Prospect Notebook: Who goes 3rd overall, Cozens or Dach?

We're well into the second half of the hockey season. The world juniors are behind us (congratulations on building a powerhouse development program, Finland) and NHL Central Scouting released its midterm rankings with Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko topping the North American and European rankings, respectively.

Some highlights: the WHL is having a strong year with three players listed among the top five North American skaters, and the U.S. National Team Development Program (USNTDP) U-18 team has six players in the top 15.

Prospect spotlight

February's spotlight is split between two players because the pair has us torn on who should rank third overall on our next NHL Prospect Big Board. They are, of course, WHL standout centers Dylan Cozens and Kirby Dach.

Cozens, who plays for the Lethbridge Hurricanes, boasts some of the best skating skills in the draft despite standing 6-foot-3. Opponents don't like him much, not only because he can get down the ice at top speeds, but because he's an intelligent and consistent player. He's got 27 goals and 62 points in 53 games this season. Cozens probably won't be the guy you look to for the flashy, creative play, but that doesn't matter. He scores anyway and he's effective in any situation.

Dach plays for the Saskatoon Blades and there's a lot to like about him as well. He's already got NHL size at 6-foot-4 and 198 lbs and brings elite hockey smarts and an offensive ceiling that draws the eyes of many scouts. Dach's 57 points in 50 games aren't as flashy as Cozens' totals, but his puck skills and ability to read and project the play around him are impressive.

Marissa Baecker / Getty Images Sport / Getty

In the minors

The Pittsburgh Penguins recently called up prospect Teddy Blueger, who has 21 goals in the AHL this season, and so far so good. The forward has two goals and an assist in six NHL games, so don't expect him back any time soon, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

The Chicago Blackhawks sent defenseman Henri Jokiharju down to the Rockford IceHogs, citing a need for him to play more minutes. Jokiharju is only 19 and the fact he made the Blackhawks out of training camp was no small feat. His assignment to the AHL will allow him to play regularly against top competition and on the power play. If the Blackhawks trade Duncan Keith or Brent Seabrook ahead of the trade deadline, though, don't be surprised to see Jokiharju back in Chicago to close out the season.

Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire / Getty

Washington Capitals forward prospect Riley Barber was named AHL Player of the Month in January, amassing seven goals and 14 points in 10 games for the Hershey Bears. Barber, a member of the 2013 U.S. team that won world junior gold, already has more points this season (41 in 43 games) than he finished with last year (38 points in 60 games).

Meanwhile, Carolina Hurricanes goaltending prospect Alex Nedeljkovic was named AHL Goaltender of the Month. Nedeljkovic went 6-0-0 in January, posting a .938 save percentage and two shutouts for the Charlotte Checkers. He also made his first NHL start with the Hurricanes in a 5-2 win against the Vancouver Canucks.

The new class

Jack Hughes missed the 2019 Under-18 Five Nations Tournament in Sochi, Russia earlier this month, but not before moving into second place in USNTDP career assists in January. He's currently at 119 helpers - three behind all-time leader Jeremy Bracco - with the potential to tie or pass Bracco when he returns from injury.

Forward Bobby Brink of the Sioux City Musketeers is back from the ankle injury he sustained and played through at the World Junior A Challenge. Brink had eight points for the U.S. in that tournament en route to a gold medal. The Denver commit, who some feel is a potential first-round prospect, has 17 goals and 39 points in 23 games with the Musketeers.

Vancouver Giants defenseman and 2019 top prospect Bowen Byram was named WHL Player of the Month for January after recording 19 points in 13 games. He's been solid in February so far, too, with two goals and six points in six games.

Marissa Baecker / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Forward Arthur Kaliyev of the OHL's Hamilton Bulldogs is one of the best - if not the best - pure goal-scorers in this year's draft. He has 42 goals and 83 points in 53 games. While some forwards who score a lot in junior aren't able to do the same in the NHL, Kaliyev's shot arsenal sure makes it seem like he won't have much trouble.

Junior leagues

New York Islanders defensive prospect Bode Wilde is having himself a season with the OHL's Saginaw Spirit. With 13 goals and 54 points in 46 games, Wilde's proving that choosing major-junior hockey over college hockey was the right move for him. It's not necessarily that he's facing easier competition than he would have in college, or that he wouldn't be able to hack it in college hockey. Rather, it's about finding the environment best suited to improving the small things in his game. He still has a tendency to take risks he probably shouldn't, but his playmaking has improved; he's learning to use his high-end hockey smarts effectively at game speed.

Dallas Stars prospect Ty Dellandrea, captain and center for the OHL's Flint Firebirds, is another player having an impressive Draft+1 year. Selected 13th overall by the Stars last June, Dellandrea was one of Canada's first cuts ahead of the 2019 world juniors. He seems to be using that as motivation in the second half of his season and has 17 goals and 53 points in 47 games thanks to his high-end skating and puck-handling skills. He could stand to develop more patience instead of continually forcing the play to the middle when he's battling along the boards, but Dallas should feel encouraged. Dellandrea's trending in the right direction, and he's doing it on a team that doesn't exactly provide the best developmental setting.

Graig Abel / Getty Images Sport / Getty

School days

Quinn Hughes is essentially the best prospect outside the NHL right now. He's got 29 points in 26 games with the University of Michigan, but even those numbers don't fully showcase how efficiently he drives play. Hughes may join the Vancouver Canucks to close out the NHL season depending on when his NCAA campaign ends, but there are still several options at play. He could potentially sign an entry-level contract beginning next season and play out the remainder of this year on an amateur tryout with the AHL's Utica Comets.

Dave Reginek / Getty Images Sport / Getty

In other news

Keep an eye on your favorite team. We're swiftly approaching the point in the season where front offices start considering signing NCAA free agents - college players who went undrafted - as well as their own NCAA prospects. Sometimes those signings are a good idea. Look at the Pittsburgh Penguins and Zach Aston-Reese, for example. Sometimes the players merely turn into depth AHL players. Half the fun is waiting to see which way your team's coin-flip lands.

Hannah Stuart keeps a close eye on both drafted and draft-eligible prospects and can usually be found trying to learn more about hockey analytics. She has previously written for FanRag Sports, The Hockey Writers, and Hooked On Hockey Magazine, and can also be found at High Heels and High Sticks. Find her on Twitter at @HockeyWthHannah.

Copyright © 2019 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.

Film Room: Hurricanes finally have a true No. 1 center in Aho

The Carolina Hurricanes have lacked a game-changer at center ever since Eric Staal's heyday, but it appears that player is here. With 24 goals and 39 assists through 56 games this season, Sebastian Aho is thriving as Carolina's No. 1 center after moving from the wing in December following Jordan Staal's injury.

So, what makes Aho so dynamic? Let's study the film.

Skating

We'll begin with Aho’s skating, because here’s the thing - it's amazing. Take this example from Carolina's matchup with Vegas on Feb. 1, in which Aho absolutely embarrasses defenseman Deryk Engelland. After carrying the puck around the perimeter of the offensive zone, Aho comes down the left side and Engelland thinks the shooting lane is cut off. Oops ...

Courtesy: NHL

As seen above, Aho stops on a dime and immediately wheels backward out of Engelland’s path, sliding over to the right and opening up a shooting lane as the defender falls to the ice. The move requires serious agility and balance, which Aho displays while controlling the puck with his backhand. It's even more impressive from this angle:

Scoring

Aho uses his dynamic skating to create scoring opportunities for himself, which are necessary on a Hurricanes team that's middle of the pack when it comes to lighting the lamp. In fact, no other player on the roster has exceeded 15 goals this season, so Aho's production has been vital following the trade of Jeff Skinner in the summer.

On Jan. 13, Aho recorded a hat trick against Nashville, with the first goal coming on a breakaway. As seen below, Aho receives the puck and takes off, showcasing the top speed that burns so many opposing defenders. He handles the puck deftly at that speed, too, and then slips it past Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne, making it look easy:

Courtesy: NHL

Playmaking/Vision

This next sequence - which leads to Aho's second goal against Nashville - features his ability to read the ice and project how a play will unfold. It's just Aho's third NHL season, but the 21-year-old already possesses incredible hockey IQ, allowing him to slow the game down, read his options, and make the best choice.

Here, Aho begins with the puck and makes a pair of passes along the right side of the offensive zone. As the play continues on the other side of the net, he finds open space closer to the crease and gets ready to receive a pass before one-timing a shot past Rinne.

Courtesy: NHL

Next, we have an example of Aho's patience and hockey sense, which lead to a goal against the Vancouver Canucks. The play begins with teammate Nino Niederreiter in a board battle, while Aho skates by the scrum at the perfect time to grab the puck and give Carolina control in the offensive zone. Aho then skates below the goal line, keeps his head up, and holds the puck until Niederreiter's ready to receive a pass in good position.

At that point, Aho passes, Nino shoots, and the Hurricanes score:

Courtesy: NHL

Defensive zone

In Staal’s absence, Aho has matched up with some of the league's top players at both ends of the ice, and he's handling his own zone like a seasoned pro. Here, we have a tiny moment against Vancouver, during which Aho shows vision in his own end by grabbing the puck and neatly sweeping it away from danger with an offensive player closing in:

Courtesy: NHL

It's a small play in the grand scheme of things, but it's a good example of Aho's hockey sense allowing him to track a play, put himself in the right place at the right time, and act quickly to limit opposing opportunities.

After playing in his first career All-Star Game last month, it would be no surprise if Aho's improving skill set leads to more appearances in the future, and to the No. 1 center job in Carolina for years to come.

Copyright © 2019 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.

Film Room: Stars rookie Heiskanen skating out of Dahlin’s shadow

The NHL's top rookie defenseman plays for Buffalo, but he has some serious competition in the Lone Star State.

Miro Heiskanen, who doesn't turn 20 until July, has been a bright spot in a tumultuous Dallas Stars season. And while No. 1 overall pick Rasmus Dahlin understandably remains the apple of fans' eyes when it comes to first-year defensemen, Heiskanen could be a franchise cornerstone too.

Through 46 NHL games, Heiskanen's numbers aren't the flashiest - he's got nine goals and 11 assists - but his puck-moving helps his Stars create offense. He's proven difficult to rattle, even when he makes mistakes. And the factors driving his success are the same things that endeared him to scouts and made him the franchise's highest-drafted player in the Dallas era at No. 3 overall in 2017.

A key feature of Heiskanen's game is his skating, which he showed off on his second assist of a Dec. 9 game against the Vegas Golden Knights:

Courtesy: NHL

Heiskanen skates down to retrieve the puck and builds speed as he carries it through the neutral zone and into Vegas' end - then abruptly pivots and changes position to protect the puck when an opponent moves into his lane. His edge work and agility allow him to shift direction in a split second. Rather than turning over the puck, he's able to stay on top of it and fire a pass to Esa Lindell, who eventually scores a power-play goal.

Stars fans likely recall the Jan. 2 game against the New Jersey Devils primarily for Miles Wood's hit on Dallas captain Jamie Benn, but it was also the second two-goal outing of Heiskanen's NHL career. He scored the first goal in the immediate aftermath of the hit and subsequent fight, with the teams playing four on four:

Courtesy: NHL

At the beginning of the play, Heiskanen displays his puck control and excellent hands. His initial shot is denied, but when he gets the puck again a few moments later, he fakes out goalie Mackenzie Blackwood and makes it count. (Heiskanen would score his second goal in the game on his backhand.)

Before Heiskanen was drafted, there was some concern that he needed to improve his shot, despite his quick release. Although some of his shots are obviously effective at the NHL level already, adding upper-body strength would help him put more power behind all of them.

Good defensive play can be harder to recognize than good offensive play; it's more often something that you notice when it's missing. Heiskanen's game is no exception. When the Stars played the Montreal Canadiens on New Year's Eve, his defensive lapse in overtime contributed to Montreal's game-winner, but he was superb during the rest of the contest, as he is here:

Courtesy: NHL

With just over a minute left in the first period, the Canadiens clear the puck. Heiskanen outraces the Montreal skater, using his body positioning to hold him off, and carries the puck up ice. He successfully blows past another Canadiens player and then makes a perfect pass to fellow defenseman John Klingberg to kick off a four-on-three rush. It's a great example of how good defense can quickly turn into offense.

Heiskanen also displayed his defensive prowess against the Devils:

Courtesy: NHL

With three minutes to go in the third period, the Devils looking for the tying goal, and goaltender Ben Bishop tied up on the other side of the crease, Heiskanen finds himself in the right place at the right time and sweeps the puck away and up the ice before it can cross the goal line.

Heiskanen's a composed, steady player. That's partly because he doesn't just see where the puck is, but he's able to project where it's going to be. Of course, he makes some mistakes - he's a rookie who's still adjusting to North American ice, never mind the NHL - but he has the skill set to be successful at this level for a long time. In the first period against Vegas, he exhibited several of his best qualities on a single play:

Courtesy: NHL

Heiskanen receives a pass and skates the puck through the neutral zone and into the Knights' end. When it looks like the defense might cut him off, he passes to a teammate. He then heads to the net to receive a pass, firing a shot at Vegas netminder Marc-Andre Fleury without hesitation.

Though that play didn't produce a goal, it does show off Heiskanen's skating, puck skills, and perhaps the most important part of his game: his hockey IQ. Heiskanen consistently knows where he needs to be in order to be the most effective. He also recognizes when he can handle a situation on his own and when it's better for him to get the puck to a teammate (and can often do so successfully). That's mature decision-making for a teenager in his first NHL season, and it should serve as the foundation for a productive career.

Hannah Stuart keeps a close eye on both drafted and draft-eligible prospects and can usually be found trying to learn more about hockey analytics. She has previously written for FanRag Sports, The Hockey Writers, and Hooked On Hockey Magazine, and can also be found at High Heels and High Sticks. Find her on Twitter @HockeyWthHannah.

Copyright © 2019 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.

Prospect Big Board 3.0: Podkolzin, Zegras climb, Hughes still No. 1

The champagne's been popped, the calendar's turned, and the world juniors are over - it's now 2019, and the next NHL Entry Draft is less than six months away.

Without further ado, here's the third edition of theScore's Prospect Big Board (player ages and stats as of Wednesday, Jan. 9):

1. Jack Hughes

C | 5-foot-10 | 168 lbs | U.S. National Team Development Program
Age: 17 | Previous Rank: 1

GP G A P
26 12 38 50

Hughes is still hockey's top prospect - and barring some dramatic, unforeseen event, that isn’t going to change. While he sat out three games at the world juniors, Hughes did produce four assists in four appearances and had moments when it seemed like his numbers would have been much better with different wingers. Regardless, his speed and electric skill set were on display during most shifts, and we should expect a big second half with the U.S. National Team Development Program and at the Under-18 World Championship in April.

2. Kaapo Kakko

Rich Lam / Getty Images Sport / Getty

RW | 6-foot-1 | 181 lbs | TPS (Liiga, Jr. A SM-liiga)
Age: 17 | Previous Rank: 2

GP G A P
27 9 11 20

Kakko's tournament-winning goal for Finland at the world juniors was just the latest example of why he's a star in the making. Though he's still behind Hughes, there's a wide gap between Kakko and the next tier of prospects, and his advanced hockey sense is a big reason. It’s not the only reason, though, as he also brings an appealing combination of composure, high-end puck skills, and physicality.

3. Kirby Dach

C | 6-foot-4 | 198 lbs | Saskatoon Blades (WHL)
Age: 17 | Previous Rank: 3

GP G A P
39 16 30 46

Dylan Cozens and Peyton Krebs are hot on his heels, but at this point we still prefer Dach. While his scoring pace has slowed down - thanks to an 11-game stretch with just one assist - Dach still has more points than games played. With a high offensive ceiling and an NHL-ready frame, he looks to be solidly in the top five.

4. Vasily Podkolzin

RW | 5-foot-11 | 165 lbs | SKA-1946 St. Petersburg (MHL)
Age: 17 | Previous Rank: 8

GP G A P
10 5 2 7

If you're wondering why Podkolzin's only played 10 MHL games ... well, he had a very busy December. The winger followed up an excellent Hlinka-Gretzky Cup performance by representing Russia at both the World Junior-A Challenge, where he had eight points in six games and won silver, and the world juniors, where he had three points in seven games and earned bronze. It's easy to like Podkolzin when you see his tenacity in these best-on-best matchups - especially against older players at the world juniors - while he's a smart, creative forward who's effective at both ends of the ice.

5. Dylan Cozens

C | 6-foot-3 | 176 lbs | Lethbridge Hurricanes (WHL)
Age: 17 | Previous Rank: 6

GP G A P
39 23 32 55

Cozens was the 2017-18 WHL Rookie of the Year for a reason. He's the full package - a complete, confident player who makes smart decisions, battles hard, and burns opponents with high-end speed. Don’t be surprised if Cozens moves up even higher as the season wears on. Keep an eye out for him - and others - in the upcoming CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game.

6. Bowen Byram

Marissa Baecker / Getty Images Sport / Getty

D | 6-foot-1 | 192 lbs | Vancouver Giants (WHL)
Age: 17 | Previous Rank: 4

GP G A P
38 10 23 33

Byram's still the top defenseman in this year’s class, as his terrific skating, excellent poise, and high-end vision make him a one-man breakout machine. He's occasionally caught out of position, but it's the type of risk that comes with young, dynamic puck-moving defensemen, and an area where Byram should improve as he matures.

7. Matthew Boldy

LW | 6-foot-0 | 174 lbs | USNTDP
Age: 17 | Previous Rank: 7

GP G A P
33 20 17 37

Boldy's improved shot and skating ability - combined with silky hands and composure - make him another appealing product of the U.S. development program. He takes advantage of every opening to create opportunities for himself and his teammates, and he managed to keep producing just fine without Jack Hughes (which is also a credit to teammate Trevor Zegras, who's one spot back).

8. Trevor Zegras

C | 5-foot-11 | 159 lbs | USNTDP
Age: 17 | Previous Rank: 13

GP G A P
32 13 33 46

Zegras is sometimes hidden behind Hughes with the USNTDP, but he showcased his high-end skills during the latter's time at the world juniors. As a crafty playmaker and an excellent skater, Zegras creates chances for his teammates and embarrasses opponents.

9. Alex Newhook

C | 5-foot-11 | 183 lbs | Victoria Grizzlies (BCHL)
Age: 17 | Previous Rank: 10

GP G A P
35 21 42 63

Newhook still possesses the raw skills we liked so much early in the season - burning speed and playmaking ability - but he needs to pick it back up in the second half following a less-than-impressive World Junior-A Challenge. On a more positive note, Newhook's only three points away from last year's point totals in 10 fewer games.

10. Philip Broberg

Marissa Baecker / Getty Images Sport / Getty

D | 6-foot-3 | 198 lbs | AIK J20 (SuperElit)
Age: 17 | Previous Rank: 19

GP G A P
28 0 7 7

Broberg, a smooth-skating defenseman with power behind his stride, has leapfrogged up these rankings, in part due to a respectable performance as an underager at the world juniors. While he's got space for growth (especially with his puckhandling skills), Broberg projects to be a solid player at the next level.

11. Peyton Krebs

LW | 5-foot-11 | 181 lbs | Kootenay Ice (WHL)
Age: 17 | Previous Rank: 9

GP G A P
38 14 33 47

Krebs is an exciting, tenacious, well-rounded player who could certainly be selected inside the top 10. He performs well under pressure, and his elite offensive production is largely due to his excellent vision.

12. Ryan Suzuki

C | 6-foot-0 | 172 lbs | Barrie Colts (OHL)
Age: 17 | Previous Rank: 12

GP G A P
37 12 28 40

While he needs to improve his game away from the puck, Suzuki's a creative and exciting forward. Teams will salivate over his puckhandling skills and his high-end vision.

13. Cole Caufield

C/RW | 5-foot-6 | 154 lbs | USNTDP
Age: 17 | Previous Rank: 15

GP G A P
33 28 11 39

Sure, he's small, but so is Alex DeBrincat. Caufield's offensive instincts and terrific skating ability - along with having virtually no quit in his game - make him a threat nearly every time he's on the ice.

14. Alex Turcotte

C | 5-foot-11 | 194 lbs | USNTDP
Age: 17 | Previous Rank: 5

GP G A P
11 6 8 14

Everyone rejoice - Turcotte's healthy once more and should display the skills that kept him high on this list even while missing time. He's a relentless player with strong offensive instincts who makes good decisions at both ends of the ice. And realistically, Turcotte's probably a top-10 talent, so don’t be surprised if he climbs back up these ranking.

15. Cam York

D | 5-foot-11 | 165 lbs | USNTDP
Age: 18 | Previous Rank: 11

GP G A P
32 2 18 20

York's a strong, mobile defenseman with a high offensive ceiling. He's also an excellent skater who's poised and continues to improve the weaker areas of his game.

16. Raphael Lavoie

Minas Panagiotakis / Getty Images Sport / Getty

C/LW | 6-foot-4 | 192 lbs | Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
Age: 18 | Previous Rank: 14

GP G A P
37 19 24 43

Lavoie scored an invite to Canada’s world junior pre-tournament camp, and that's nothing to sneeze at. The projected power forward has an accurate and heavy shot, while he's good at protecting the puck.

17. Victor Soderstrom

D | 5-foot-11 | 176 lbs | Brynas IF J18/J20 (J18 Elit/SuperElit)
Age: 17 | Previous Rank: 17

GP G A P
14 1 7 8

Soderstrom's an offensively minded puck-mover who, despite his size, isn’t afraid to get involved in the physical side of the game. He's also recorded four points, including two goals, in 22 SHL games this season.

18. Matthew Robertson

D | 6-foot 3 | 201 lbs | Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)
Age: 17 | Previous Rank: 18

GP G A P
32 5 16 21

Robertson isn't the flashiest defender out there when it comes to offense, but he's smart, plays in all situations, and is pretty mobile for a guy who stands 6-foot-4.

19. Arthur Kaliyev

LW | 6-foot-2 | 190 lbs | Hamilton Bulldogs (OHL)
Age: 17 | Previous Rank: 16

GP G A P
40 31 32 63

Kaliyev may not be at a goal-per-game pace anymore, but he's always dangerous thanks to his excellent release. He protects the puck well and isn’t afraid to get into difficult spots.

20. Connor McMichael

C | 6-foot-0 | 170 lbs | London Knights (OHL)
Age: 17 | Previous Rank: 36

GP G A P
37 25 21 46

McMichael's terrific vision, hockey IQ, and point production in the OHL make him an appealing prospect. He's also a good skater and playmaker who works hard in all three zones.

21. Nolan Foote

Marissa Baecker / Getty Images Sport / Getty

LW | 6-foot-3 | 187 lbs | Kelowna Rockets (WHL)
Age: 17 | Previous Rank: 24

GP G A P
37 20 15 35

22. Anttoni Honka

D | 5-foot-10 | 170 lbs | JYP (Liiga)
Age: 18 | Previous Rank: 22

GP G A P
15 1 3 4

23. Jakob Pelletier

LW/RW | 5-foot-9 | 161 lbs | Moncton Wildcats (QMJHL)
Age: 17 | Previous Rank: 27

GP G A P
39 21 34 55

24. Maxim Cajkovic

LW/RW | 5-foot-11 | 187 lbs | Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)
Age: 18 | Previous Rank: 26

GP G A P
33 8 14 22

25. John Beecher

C | 6-foot-3 | 203 lbs | USNTDP
Age: 17 | Previous Rank: 25

GP G A P
32 4 14 18

26. Moritz Seider

D | 6-foot-4 | 183 lbs | Adler Mannheim (DEL)
Age: 17 | Previous Rank: 21

GP G A P
24 1 3 4

27. Robert Mastrosimone

C | 5-foot-10 | 170 lbs | Chicago Steel (USHL)
Age: 17 | Previous Rank: 28

GP G A P
22 12 10 22

28. Samuel Poulin

LW | 6-foot-1 | 207 lbs | Sherbrooke Phoenix (QMJHL)
Age: 17 | Previous Rank: NR

GP G A P
39 15 26 41

29. Bobby Brink

C/W | 5-foot-10 | 165 lbs | Sioux City Musketeers (USHL)
Age: 17 | Previous Rank: 34

GP G A P
19 15 18 33

30. Mikko Kokkonen

D | 5-foot-11 | 190 lbs | Jukurit (Liiga)
Age: 17 | Previous Rank: 20

GP G A P
34 1 11 12

31. Albin Grewe

Dave Reginek / Getty Images Sport / Getty

C/RW | 6-foot-0 | 176 lbs | Djurgårdens IF J20 (SuperElit)
Age: 17 | Previous Rank: 23

GP G A P
19 11 17 28

32. Phillip Tomasino

C | 6-foot-0 | 181 lbs | Niagara IceDogs (OHL)
Age: 17 | Previous Rank: 37

GP G A P
38 19 22 41

33. Alex Vlasic

D | 6-foot-6 | 192 lbs | USNTDP
Age: 17 | Previous Rank: 33

GP G A P
31 3 10 13

34. Nils Hoglander

LW | 5-foot-9 | 185 lbs | Rogle BK (SHL)
Age: 18 | Previous Rank: 29

GP G A P
28 4 3 7

35. Spencer Knight

G | 6-foot-3 | 198 lbs | USNTDP
Age: 17 | Previous Rank: NR

GP GAA SV% SO
16 2.45 .921 0

36. Valentin Nussbaumer

C | 5-foot-11 | 165 lbs | Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL)
Age: 18 | Previous Rank: 42

GP G A P
30 7 11 18

37. Ben Brinkman

D | 6-foot-1 | 181 lbs | University of Minnesota (NCAA)
Age: 18 | Previous Rank: 40

GP G A P
19 1 4 5

38. Thomas Harley

D | 6-foot-3 | 183 lbs | Mississauga Steelheads (OHL)
Age: 17 | Previous Rank: 45

GP G A P
39 6 27 33

39. Tobias Bjornfot

D | 6-foot-0 | 187 lbs | Djurgårdens IF J20 (SuperElit)
Age: 17 | Previous Rank: 44

GP G A P
24 6 6 12

40. Pavel Dorofeyev

LW/RW | 6-foot-0 | 163 lbs | Stalnye Lisy Magnitogorsk (MHL)
Age: 18 | Previous Rank: 41

GP G A P
15 13 11 24

41. Marshall Warren

Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire / Getty

D | 5-foot-11 | 168 lbs | USNTDP
Age: 17 | Previous Rank: NR

GP G A P
27 5 11 16

42. Sasha Mutala

RW | 6-foot-1 | 198 lbs | Tri-City Americans (WHL)
Age: 17 | Previous Rank: 32

GP G A P
35 9 13 22

43. Blake Murray

C | 6-foot-3 | 185 lbs | Sudbury Wolves (OHL)
Age: 17 | Previous Rank: 39

GP G A P
37 14 10 24

44. Lassi Thomson

D | 6-foot-0 | 187 lbs | Kelowna Rockets (WHL)
Age: 18 | Previous Rank: 48

GP G A P
38 7 18 25

45. Simon Holmstrom

RW | 5-foot-11 | 172 lbs | HV71 J20 (SuperElit)
Age: 17 | Previous Rank: 31

GP G A P
9 4 2 6

46. Ryan Johnson

D | 6-foot-0 | 161 lbs | Sioux Falls Stampede (USHL)
Age: 17 | Previous Rank: 43

GP G A P
23 2 9 11

47. Cole Mackay

RW | 5-foot-11 | 185 lbs | Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)
Age: 17 | Previous Rank: NR

GP G A P
39 14 22 36

48. Egor Afanasyev

LW | 6-foot-3 | 203 lbs | Muskegon Lumberjacks (USHL)
Age: 17 | Previous Rank: NR

GP G A P
28 16 20 36

49. Matvei Guskov

C | 6-foot-1 | 172 lbs | London Knights (OHL)
Age: 17 | Previous Rank: 49

GP G A P
29 7 13 20

50. Dustin Wolf

G | 6-foot-0 | 161 lbs | Everett Silvertips (WHL)
Age: 17 | Previous Rank: 50

GP GAA SV% SO
37 1.80 .929 3

Hannah Stuart keeps a close eye on both drafted and draft-eligible prospects and can usually be found trying to learn more about hockey analytics. She has previously written for FanRag Sports, The Hockey Writers, and Hooked On Hockey Magazine, and can also be found at High Heels and High Sticks. Find her on Twitter @HockeyWthHannah.

Copyright © 2019 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.

5 players who have shown the most upside at the WJHC

For many players, the World Junior Championship is the first time they’ll play in front of an international audience. The stakes are undeniably high. While one tournament shouldn’t be enough to completely tank or skyrocket a player’s stock, it is a great opportunity for them to showcase the work they’ve put in and the growth they’ve achieved.

Here are some players we feel really showed off their skill at this year’s WJHC.

Tyler Madden - USA (Vancouver Canucks)

Madden, a 2018 third-rounder (68th overall) of the Vancouver Canucks, has certainly made an impression during his first games in front of his potential future team's fans. He’s been one of the United States' most aggressive players offensively, driving the net and pushing play forward. Madden has great hockey sense, but he's a pretty small guy in his draft year - listed at 5-foot-11 and 152 pounds - so it makes sense that he was lower on some of the more traditional scouting lists. Still, this tournament has made it clear that, at least against his peers, Madden has what it takes.

In the quarterfinal, he had the most ice time among American forwards with 18:17. He was named player of the game in the USA’s round-robin win over Finland. It took time for his efforts to show up on the scoresheet, but anyone paying attention could see that Madden was continually making life difficult for opponents. He makes great plays and he’s starting to adjust his game to a faster pace. While he’s still got some work to do, signs point toward a future as a solid middle-six NHL forward.

Alexander Romanov - Russia (Montreal Canadiens)

Rich Lam / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Romanov, the 2018 Montreal Canadiens second-round pick (38th overall) impressed everyone from the word go at this year’s tournament. On a team that doesn’t have a lot going for it defensively, he’s consistently impressed. And he’s not just doing his best to shut down opponents - he’s been contributing at the other end as well.

Going into the medal games, Romanov is behind only Grigori Denisenko for the team lead in points with seven in six games, including one goal. He’s been playing heavy minutes for Russia, taking on difficult competition, and while it took the team a while to get clicking, Romanov was playing well from the start.

Ryan Poehling - USA (Montreal Canadiens)

People wondered how the USA would replace Brady Tkachuk offensively. Poehling seems to have taken that as a personal challenge. With eight points, including five goals, going into the gold-medal game, the Canadiens' 2017 first-rounder is tied for the tournament lead in points with Morgan Frost (CAN) and Artur Gatiyatov (KAZ), both of whom are no longer playing.

While the U.S. eventually fell 5-4 to Sweden, Poehling’s natural hat trick in the round-robin game drove the Americans' comeback to force overtime. He’s been an offensive force, driving the pace of play and searching for opportunities every time he takes the ice. He has shown significant growth as a player over the past year and has made a great case for himself as a tournament MVP candidate.

Philipp Kurashev - Switzerland (Chicago Blackhawks)

Rich Lam / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Kurashev has, perhaps, made the biggest impression at the world juniors. He leads the tournament in goal-scoring with six goals going into the bronze-medal game and was the engine behind Switzerland’s offense for the majority of the competition. His seven points should see him finish inside the top 10 in scoring.

Kurashev was selected by the Chicago Blackhawks in the fourth round (120th overall) in 2018 and is producing in the QMJHL regular season as well, with 18 goals and 25 assists in 33 games. During this tournament, he’s shown that his club numbers aren't just a product of playing in the Q. His offensive instincts have been on full display as he's played big minutes and scored in big moments, including a hat trick to lead Switzerland over Denmark and the only Swiss goal against Finland in the semifinals. His overall game is more solid than it was last season, and that has to have the Blackhawks feeling good.

Nando Eggenberger - Switzerland (2019 eligible)

Eggenberger, who captained the underdog Swiss team to almost unbelievable heights in this year’s tournament, has used the world juniors to show exactly why he should’ve been drafted - not passed over - in 2018. Going into the bronze-medal game against Russia, Eggenberger has four points in six games in his third WJHC appearance. It’s a solid addition to his performances with the OHL's Oshawa Generals so far this season.

Along with Kurashev, Eggenberger has been a critical part of Switzerland's attack, consistently pushing the pace. He’s a good skater, is deceptively speedy, and has a great release and solid hockey sense; he clearly came into the tournament with a drive to put all of those skills to work.

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5 burning questions for the 2019 world juniors

Here are five key questions about the 2019 world junior hockey championship, which begins Dec. 26 in Vancouver.

Who are the favorites?

On paper, four countries stand out: Canada, Finland, Russia, and the United States. You can read more details in our team-by-team previews, but these rosters appear to be the deepest, especially when it comes to goal-scoring threats.

Out of that group, Canada's likely the favorite to repeat as champion, but will be without talented forwards Gabe Vilardi and Alex Formenton due to injuries. Finland's filled with some serious skill, but is also missing several of its best age-eligible players, including Kristian Vesalainen and Jesperi Kotkaniemi. Russia has a deep roster, but it's a green one in terms of experience at the world juniors. Meanwhile, the Americans pack a lot of firepower up front, but will have to face both Finland and Sweden in group play.

There are also potential contenders outside that top four. The Czech Republic - with AHLers Filip Zadina, Martin Kaut, and Martin Necas - is surprisingly deep up front, while Sweden's always a factor, even with a less impressive roster than usual this year.

How will top NHL prospects Jack Hughes (U.S.) and Kaapo Kakko (Finland) fare in their head-to-head matchup?

Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire / Getty

It'll sure be fun to find out.

Hughes and Kakko - the top two prospects for the 2019 NHL draft - will meet when the United States and Finland face off on New Year's Eve. Here's how both players are faring in their respective leagues this season:

  • Hughes: 10 goals, 38 assists in 25 games (U.S. National Team Development Program)
  • Kakko: 9 goals, 11 assists in 27 games (Finnish Liiga)

It's also important to put those numbers in context. The U.S. National Team Development Program plays against college and USHL opponents, while Kakko is facing men in the Finnish Liiga - a much more difficult situation for a 17-year-old. In both cases, the production is very impressive.

And of course, a player's performance in a short tournament can only affect their draft stock so much. It would take an overwhelmingly good tournament from Kakko (and a pretty bad one from Hughes) for the top-pick conversation to shift significantly in the former's favor. Even then, it's unlikely Kakko would overtake Hughes, but that doesn't mean we can't enjoy watching them battle it out.

Can the Americans replace Brady Tkachuk?

Tkachuk was a big reason that Team USA claimed bronze at the 2018 world juniors, but he'll be sticking with the Ottawa Senators this time around. So, who can help replace his combination of point production and tenacity?

From an offensive perspective, the Americans have serious forward depth. Contributions from guys like Joel Farabee, Ryan Poehling, Jack Hughes, and Oliver Wahlstrom, among others, should lead to plenty of goals.

But how about replacing Tkachuk's feisty, irritating nature? One possible answer might surprise you. In Team USA's final pre-tournament game against the Czech Republic, defenseman Quinn Hughes (Jack's brother) decided he didn't like a hit from Jakub Lauko, and the gloves flew.

"I think me and him were going at it the entire game, and I saw him hit a couple other guys a little dirty, so I just didn’t really appreciate that too much," Quinn said afterward.

When it was pointed out that fighting isn't usually part of his game, the defenseman noted that "it can be." Maybe he got some tips from Tkachuk, his old roommate with the U.S. National Development Team.

How will Kazakhstan stack up against heavyweights?

Laszlo Szirtesi / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Kazakhstan's back in the top division of the world juniors for the first time in a decade, but finds itself in a difficult group that includes the Americans, Sweden, and Finland. One good sign? The Kazakhs won all their pre-tournament games against Canadian university teams, which should at least boost their confidence level.

Their best chance for a win in group play is likely against Slovakia, and even that would be tough to pull off. It's likely we'll see the Kazakhs in the relegation round - will they survive and return in 2020, or end up being a one-and-done?

Meanwhile, Germany won the lower-level tournament earlier this month, earning a spot at the world juniors in 2020.

Who will be the top scorer?

In short tournaments, a wide range of players can end up with the most points. And the scoring race will be impacted by how often players see the ice and whether they're given power-play opportunities - those on deeper rosters will face more competition for minutes from their star teammates.

Meanwhile, the top scorer will likely come from a team that goes deeper into the tournament, which is no guarantee for anyone - even the favorites. From a viewer's perspective, that unpredictability is fun.

For now, these names jump to mind:

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list. And every edition of the world juniors also winds up featuring an under-the-radar player who lights it up.

That's the beauty of a short tournament - almost anything can happen.

Hannah Stuart keeps a close eye on both drafted and draft-eligible prospects and can usually be found trying to learn more about hockey analytics. She has previously written for FanRag Sports, The Hockey Writers, and Hooked On Hockey Magazine, and can also be found at High Heels and High Sticks. Find her on Twitter @HockeyWthHannah.

Copyright © 2018 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.

World Junior Championship preview: Canada still the team to beat

The arrival of the holiday season has an additional meaning for hockey fans, even as NHL arenas go dark for a three-day stretch.

It's officially time for the world junior hockey championship. Close friends become fierce rivals. Rivals become teammates and brothers in arms. And while the games should provide plenty of drama, fans shouldn't be shocked if it's an all-North American showdown for gold.

Here's a team-by-team breakdown of this year's World Junior Championship (2018 results and team stats included).

Canada (Group A)

Kevin Light / Getty Images Sport / Getty
W-L-OTL PTS GF GA RESULT
6-0-1 19 39 11 Champion

Head coach: Tim Hunter

Strengths: Forward depth is always a strength for Canada, and this edition of the tournament is no exception - especially since roster selection, for the most part, favored skill players over role players (which hasn't necessarily been the case in recent years).

Weaknesses: Canada's defense and goaltending are good but green. Opponents would be wise to exploit this. Though the Canadians should have the depth to recover, they've got some injury concerns: It's yet to be determined whether Jaret Anderson-Dolan, recovering from wrist surgery, will be able to play center and take faceoffs, and they're still waiting on the status of forward Brett Leason, who injured his hand in a game against the U SPORTS All-Star team.

Notable draft prospect: F Alexis Lafreniere, Rimouski (QMJHL)

Outlook: Setting out to defend last year's gold-medal win with just one returning player (Maxime Comtois) from the championship squad, Canada's chances are good. Keep an eye on players like Cody Glass, Owen Tippett, Evan Bouchard, and Ty Smith, and enjoy getting your first look at Lafreniere on the big stage. One thing to keep in mind: Beating Canada will be a battle as always - especially with this lineup - but this tournament is no longer theirs for the taking. That's good for hockey.

Sweden (Group B)

Marissa Baecker / Getty Images Sport / Getty
W-L-OTL PTS GF GA RESULT
6-1-0 17 28 14 Runner-up

Head coach: Tomas Monten

Strengths: The mobile, skilled blue line ranks among the best in the tournament and features recent first-rounders such as Rasmus Sandin, Erik Brannstrom, Adam Boqvist, and Nils Lundqvist.

Weaknesses: Sweden lacks big-name offensive talent to match the depth of its defense, though rearguards like Boqvist and Brannstrom can contribute on the scoresheet. No stars are here to save the day. The team's going to have to score by committee.

Notable draft prospect: D Philip Broberg, AIK (HockeyAllsvenskan)

Outlook: Unlike past years, Sweden isn't one of the top squads here. Still, the Swedes could well surprise people and play spoiler. The Anaheim Ducks released Isac Lundestrom to play in the tournament, joining a forward group that includes Filip Hallander (Penguins) and Jacob Olofsson (Canadiens). And Sweden hasn't lost a round-robin game since 2007.

United States (Group B)

Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire / Getty
W-L-OTL PTS GF GA RESULT
5-2-0 14 35 19 Third place

Head coach: Mike Hastings

Strengths: Forward depth. Last year's team scored 35 goals across the tournament, and this group is poised for an equally high-scoring performance.

Weaknesses: One thing Team USA doesn't have this time around is pest Brady Tkachuk. In addition to agitating his opponents, Tkachuk lit up the scoresheet, ending the 2018 world juniors with nine points in seven games.

Notable draft prospects: F Jack Hughes, U.S. National Team Development Program; G Spencer Knight, U.S. National Team Development Program

Outlook: While the U.S. is not the gold-medal favorite, it's a strong contender. Between a deep forward corps, a blue line boasting several big-name NHL prospects, and a solid goaltending trio that should be internally competitive for the starter's spot, don't count the Americans out. If Hastings keeps them together (and he should), look out for the line of Joel Farabee, Hughes, and Oliver Wahlstrom. There's significant scoring potential thanks to their history together, both at home and in international tournaments. On the back end, keep an eye out for the highly touted Quinn Hughes (Canucks), as well as K'Andre Miller (Rangers) and Mattias Samuelsson (Sabres).

Czech Republic (Group A)

Gregory Shamus / Getty Images Sport / Getty
W-L-OTL PTS GF GA RESULT
4-3-0 11 27 34 Fourth place

Head coach: Vaclav Varada

Strengths: Don't underestimate the additions of Filip Zadina (Detroit Red Wings), Martin Necas (Carolina Hurricanes), and Martin Kaut (Colorado Avalanche) - all of whom have played in the AHL this season - to the Czech Republic's already competitive lineup of forwards.

Weaknesses: For all their strength up front, the Czechs are not in an easy group - and if they make the quarterfinals, they'll likely have to get through an intimidating opponent.

Notable draft prospect: D Hugo Has, Tappara (U20 Jr. A SM-liiga)

Outlook: The Czechs haven't medaled at the world juniors since 2005, but as usual, they're an intriguing spoiler. With forwards including Zadina, Necas, Kaut, Boston Bruins prospect Jakub Lauko, and Edmonton Oilers prospect Ostap Safin, plus Jakub Skarek (Islanders) in net, they could potentially push for a medal if things go well. More than half the players they invited to camp already play on North American ice. At the very least, expect them to make life difficult for the other teams in Group A.

Russia (Group A)

Marissa Baecker / Getty Images Sport / Getty
W-L-OTL PTS GF GA RESULT
2-2-1 7 19 17 Fifth place

Head coach: Valeri Bragin

Strengths: Goaltending. Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Daniil Tarasov is Russia's projected starter with Pyotr Kochetkov and Amir Miftakhov backing him up.

Weaknesses: Russia's only returning player is Klim Kostin, meaning the majority of its roster lacks any world junior experience. But the real question about the Russians is whether all their good pieces will add up to something more.

Notable draft prospect: F Vasili Podkolzin, SKA-1946 St. Petersburg (MHL)

Outlook: After finishing fifth last year, expect Russia to come back with a vengeance. Most of the players have some professional experience, with a few in the KHL or the AHL full time. A few play in Canadian major-junior leagues. Keep an eye on forwards Vitali Kravtsov (Rangers), the 2018 KHL rookie of the year; Kostin (Blues); and Grigori Denisenko (Panthers). Alexander Alexeyev (Capitals) and Dmitri Samorukov (Oilers) are also worth monitoring.

Finland (Group B)

Nicholas T. LoVerde / Getty Images Sport / Getty
W-L-OTL PTS GF GA RESULT
2-2-1 7 18 16 Sixth place

Head coach: Jussi Ahokas

Strengths: Finland's forward corps is as solid as they come - starting with Aleksi Heponiemi, who has 26 points, including eight goals, for Karpat of the Finnish Liiga this season. The puck-moving blue line is nothing to sneeze at, either.

Weaknesses: Finland's missing many of its best eligible players. Winnipeg Jets forward Kristian Vesalainen, currently playing with Jokerit of the KHL, turned down his invitation, and the Canadiens opted to keep forward Jesperi Kotkaniemi. Chicago Blackhawks prospect Niklas Nordgren, a forward who plays for HIFK in the Liiga, was recently injured and likely won't make the trip to Vancouver.

Notable draft prospects: F Kaapo Kakko, TPS (Liiga); D Anttoni Honka, JYP (Liiga); D Lassi Thomson, Kelowna (WHL); D Mikko Kokkonen, Jukurit (Liiga)

Outlook: For a country that's perennially among the world's top hockey powers, Finland had a rough time at last year's tourney. Fortunately for Suomi fans, things are looking up. Top-two centers Heponiemi and Rasmus Kupari can hang with the best of them, and the Predators' late release of Eeli Tolvanen makes the absences of Vesalainen and Kotkaniemi sting a little less. Finland's back end is bolstered by the late additions of Blackhawks defenseman Henri Jokiharju and Bruins blue-liner Urho Vaakanainen, who's recovered from a concussion that kept him out for nearly two months.

Slovakia (Group B)

Adam Pulicicchio / Getty Images Sport / Getty
W-L-OTL PTS GF GA RESULT
2-3-0 6 12 17 Seventh place

Head coach: Ernest Bokros

Strengths: Much of this team plays together for most of the year, and should benefit from that chemistry and familiarity. Slovakia's also bringing back nine players from last year's roster, including five forwards.

Weaknesses: While Slovakia can usually hang around to make everyone else's lives difficult, the country's chances of extending its quarterfinals streak could hinge on goaltending - and all three of the team's netminders are new to the tournament (Jakub Kostelny was Slovakia's third goalie last year, but saw no playing time).

Notable draft prospects: F Maxim Cajkovic, Saint John (QMJHL)

Outlook: While their last medal was in 2015, this team has made the quarterfinals every year since 2001 - not an easy feat. One gets the sense, however, that Slovakia feels a bit like it's time to put up or shut up. The roster is good, not great, but Slovakia's always a threat to win games it shouldn't win on paper. Keep an eye on draft-eligible Cajkovic, as well as three Calgary Flames forward prospects who will likely be counted on for leadership: Adam Ruzicka, Milos Roman, and Martin Pospisil.

Switzerland (Group A)

Nicholas T. LoVerde / Getty Images Sport / Getty
W-L-OTL PTS GF GA RESULT
1-4-0 3 12 28 Eighth place

Head coach: Christian Wohlwend

Strengths: More than half the players on Switzerland's roster already play in North America, so far fewer of them will need to adjust to the smaller ice.

Weaknesses: Switzerland lacks a game-breaker. Nobody on the squad can completely take over the game like Jack Hughes or make things happen from the back end like Adam Boqvist. Any wins the Swiss achieve are truly going to be a team effort.

Notable draft prospects: F Valentin Nussbaumer, Shawinigan (QMJHL)

Outlook: Since the country's never won a world-junior medal, that's presumably the target, but to get there, Switzerland needs to score more than it did last year. Another key question is whether the team's goaltending will hold up against its opponents' offensive firepower. If it can, the Swiss should be able to make the quarterfinals. From there, who knows?

Denmark (Group A)

Yelena Rusko / TASS / Getty
W-L-OTL PTS GF GA RESULT
2-4-0 5 10 32 Ninth place

Head coach: Olaf Eller

Strengths: Tenacity is Denmark's biggest strength. It's the country's fifth consecutive year in the top division, and despite lacking big-name players, the Danes have kept hanging around and even occasionally made things tough for their competition. Eller's coaching is part of that tenacious identity and will be important again this year.

Weaknesses: With no real standout offensive talent - they had two goals in non-relegation games last year - the Danes might have trouble scoring against the heavyweights.

Notable draft prospects: G Mads Sogaard, Medicine Hat (WHL)

Outlook: Denmark doesn't want to end up in the relegation round again. To avoid that fate, it'll need to score more in round-robin games than it did in last year's tournament while relying on its netminders to keep the goal differential reasonable. While it'd be satisfying to give some of the top teams a scare, Denmark's real objective is simply to gain a sixth consecutive year in this division and a spot in next year's tournament in the Czech Republic.

Kazakhstan* (Group B)

Laszlo Szirtesi / Getty Images Sport / Getty
W-L-OTL PTS GF GA RESULT
5-0-0 13 20 10 Promoted

*Promoted to top division by virtue of winning Division IA

Head coach: Sergei Starygin

Strengths: Many players on the Kazakhstan U20 squad have been playing together all season in the MHL, Russia's junior hockey league, for Snezhnye Barsy Astana. That familiarity benefits any team in a short tournament.

Weaknesses: Kazakhstan faces a rough road. In a group with Finland, Sweden, and the U.S., it's going to be difficult to build momentum, never mind earn a win.

Notable draft prospects: None

Outlook: For the first time in a decade, Kazakhstan is back in the top division. And while the country won't contend for a medal, avoiding relegation could be a realistic target. Players returning from the Division I win will help, including forwards Artur Gatiyatov (37 points in 38 games, including 14 goals) and Sayan Daniyar (11 goals and 27 assists). Valeri Orekhov, a 19-year-old defenseman who's spent this season in the KHL with Barys Astana, has six points in 24 games.

Hannah Stuart keeps a close eye on both drafted and draft-eligible prospects and can usually be found trying to learn more about hockey analytics. She has previously written for FanRag Sports, The Hockey Writers, and Hooked On Hockey Magazine, and can also be found at High Heels and High Sticks. Find her on Twitter @HockeyWthHannah.

Copyright © 2018 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.

Film Room: Senators rookie Brady Tkachuk has his father’s qualities

Just 21 games into his NHL career, Brady Tkachuk is drawing comparisons to another talented but truculent winger - one he knows quite well.

Brady's father, Keith, potted 538 goals in parts of 18 NHL seasons and was as well-known for his physical play as he was for his scoring prowess. And there are plenty of similarities between father and son that go beyond the No. 7 jersey they share: Brady willingly parks himself in front of the net, pounces on any opportunity or loose puck he sees, and doesn't hesitate to mouth off to anyone who gets in his way.

The 19-year-old's overall game seems more suited for his father's era when the power forward role was far more prevalent, but with nine goals and 16 points in 21 games so far, whatever he's doing is working just fine in 2018.

Prior to being selected fourth overall by the Ottawa Senators this past summer, scouting reports on Tkachuk noted he was a fixture around the net even when he didn't have the puck. And that remains the case with the Senators. He excels at reading the play and knows the ideal time to head to the goal, as shown below in a game against the Florida Panthers:

As the primary trailer, Tkachuk swoops in unchecked and converts a Mark Stone rebound, taking advantage of a gap in coverage between Panthers defenseman Alexander Petrovic - who overskates the loose puck - and forward Mike Hoffman.

Despite having a nose for the net to rival his famous father, Brady was criticized for his weak skating prior to the draft. It's still a valid complaint at times. Although he has good speed when he gets going, his first step still lacks that explosiveness exhibited by the better skaters in the league - for example, his teammate Thomas Chabot. Tkachuk would be well-served to make that an area of focus this offseason.

That said, Tkachuk's skating has improved during his brief NHL career, though that has more to do with tenacity than physical ability:

Here, Tkachuk kicks off the rush by leaving the puck for teammate Maxime Lajoie. Recognizing the opportunity to create an odd-man rush, Tkachuk barrels to the Philadelphia Flyers' blue line ahead of the play; once the puck crosses, he immediately heads for an opening to the right of the puck-carrier. The pass misses Tkachuk, but this clip still serves as a good example of what he does best. He's not a fast or fancy skater, but he knows where to be.

The 19-year-old has proven his worth on offense despite entering Wednesday mired in a seven-game point drought. The underlying metrics suggest a bounce back is inevitable; 12 of his 16 points (including seven of his nine goals) have come at even strength, while he has just four secondary assists. Advanced stats like him, too: According to Corsica, at even strength, Tkachuk's primary points per 60 minutes of play currently sits at 1.91. In all situations, his primary P/60 is 2.95. That's good, particularly when you consider the majority of his shifts begin in the defensive zone.

More significantly, Tkachuk has made an impact even when he's not racking up the points. He ranks fifth among first-year players in hits with 52 and, despite weighing under 200 lbs, is happy to tangle with foes big or small. Here's an example that would make dad proud:

At the moment, his predilection for provoking opponents isn't a problem. According to Evolving Hockey, Tkachuk is even on major penalties taken and drawn and has only taken one more minor penalty than he's drawn. So he isn't making himself a liability ... yet.

That said, it would be wise for him to steer clear of his dad's example - Keith racked up more than 2,200 career penalty minutes - and instead mimic his brother Matthew, a winger for the Calgary Flames. At one point during the 2017-18 season, Matthew had the most minor penalties drawn in the NHL over a 13-month span.

The Senators would love to see Brady become that type of player. Ottawa ranks last in five-on-five shot-attempt differential (minus-457) by a significant margin but is a respectable 12th in power-play success rate (21.8 percent) while seeing the ninth-most power-play time in the league (170:16). The ability to draw more penalties might earn Tkachuk more time with the man advantage - he's at 2:14 per game at the moment, good for 10th on the team.

But Tkachuk's contentious - and irritating - moments are both a signifier and byproduct of the tenacious, relentless nature that drives him. And that isn't about to change, especially when it leads to results like this:

Here, Tkachuk has his stick knocked out of his hands by Flyers captain Claude Giroux. He retrieves it without hesitation, spots his opportunity, and redirects the puck for the game-tying goal.

Tkachuk has shown signs he'll soon be ready to lead the next generation of power forwards. And if his skating improves, along with his discipline, he could very well wind up with the best resume in the family.

Hannah Stuart keeps a close eye on both drafted and draft-eligible prospects and can usually be found trying to learn more about hockey analytics. She has previously written for FanRag Sports, The Hockey Writers, and Hooked On Hockey Magazine, and can also be found at High Heels and High Sticks. Find her on Twitter @HockeyWthHannah.

Copyright © 2018 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.

NHL Prospect Notebook: Rangers pick K’Andre Miller dazzles

It really is the most wonderful time of the year - and not just because the holidays are around the corner.

The top under-20 prospects will soon head to pre-tournament camps to prepare for representing their countries on the world stage. Fans will live and die with every shift. Prospects' stocks will rise or decline based on a handful of games.

Consider this your three-week world-junior warning. Are you ready?

Prospect Spotlight

New York Rangers fans, rejoice.

Defenseman K’Andre Miller, selected 22nd overall by the Rangers in 2018, is killing his freshman year at the University of Wisconsin. Miller seized the team scoring lead Saturday, posting a four-point game (including the tying goal) against Penn State. Miller's got 15 points, including three goals, in 16 games, and was named the Big Ten's first star of the week Tuesday.

At only 18, Miller is a true freshman, which means he still has plenty of time to grow his game before turning pro. And he's only been a defenseman for about three years.

One of Miller's biggest assets is his skating - rare for a player of his size at 6-foot-4. He generates speed well and can lead the rush effectively. It'll serve him well in an NHL that prizes not just raw speed, but the ability to respond to and process the game at that top pace. Expect to see Miller on the preliminary USA roster for the World Junior Championship, and its final roster as well.

In the minors

Gregory Shamus / Getty Images Sport / Getty

The Detroit Red Wings announced Wednesday they'll release Filip Zadina to the Czech Republic for the world juniors. Zadina has 15 points, including seven goals, in 22 games with the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins.

The Red Wings were smart to keep Zadina in the AHL, where he plays in the top six and features on one of the team's power-play units, rather than returning him to the QMJHL's Halifax Mooseheads. The Q's often seen as a "defense lite" league, where Zadina would have faced much easier competition; throwing him into the metaphorical fire sooner is better for his development and should prepare him for the rigors of the NHL more quickly.

The class of 2019

Minas Panagiotakis / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Canada named two draft-eligible prospects to its preliminary world-juniors roster: potential first-rounder and A-rated skater Raphael Lavoie of the Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL) and C-rated skater Brett Leason of the Prince Albert Raiders (WHL). Canada also invited forward Alexis Lafreniere of the Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL), the projected top 2020 prospect.

The USA also named two draft-eligible players to its camp roster: projected 2019 first overall forward Jack Hughes and goaltender Spencer Knight.

Other notable draft-eligible prospects named to their nations' preliminary rosters include Lassi Thomson of the Kelowna Rockets (WHL), Kaapo Kakko for Finland, and Nils Hoglander for Sweden.

Around the CHL

Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire / Getty

Bode Wilde signed his entry-level contract with the New York Islanders on Monday after a great start to the season with the Saginaw Spirit. Wilde has 22 points, including five goals, in 21 games.

Vancouver Canucks goaltending prospect Michael DiPietro was the centerpiece of a blockbuster OHL trade Tuesday. After three seasons with the Windsor Spitfires, DiPietro will backstop the Ottawa 67's, though he'll likely miss a few weeks of league action while playing for Canada.

In return, the Spitfires received the rights to Russian forward Egor Afanasyev, who currently plays for the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the USHL, and four second-round picks across the next five drafts. Windsor could get three more conditional picks if Afanasyev doesn't report. (Ottawa also received two draft picks.)

Elsewhere, defenseman Evan Bouchard has played well since the Edmonton Oilers returned him to London. His 15 points, including five goals, in 11 games make that immediately clear; go deeper, though, and Bouchard's been even better than that production suggests. According to Jeremy Crowe, data and video analyst for the Mississauga Steelheads, for every 60 minutes of Bouchard's even-strength ice time, the Knights have scored approximately 5.51 goals.

On campus

Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire / Getty

Defenseman Adam Fox's terrific season at Harvard continues. The Carolina Hurricanes prospect has 20 points, including five goals, in 11 games. His numbers aren't necessarily even the most impressive part. Fox demonstrates an ability to read the ice, and to judge the time and space available to him, that some professional players don't even have. That's not even getting into his skating, which is one of the best aspects of his game. If Fox keeps up this level of play and Carolina can sign him this offseason, don't be surprised if he shows up on the Hurricanes' NHL roster next fall.

Mattias Samuelsson (BUF) is making his mark as a true freshman at Western Michigan University. He went straight to college at 18 rather than spending time playing elsewhere, and in top-pairing minutes on the Broncos, Samuelsson's showcased the preternatural poise and high hockey IQ that caught the eye of the Buffalo Sabres (and other teams). Samuelsson has six points, including three goals, in 14 games so far this season. He's also expected to be part of the USA's defense corps at the world juniors.

Penn State forward Evan Barratt (CHI) is tied with teammate Alex Limoges for the national NCAA scoring lead with 25 points. Barratt has 12 goals and recently recorded a hat trick against the University of Michigan.

Last Friday and Saturday, Boston University and Boston College played their annual home-and-home series (colloquially known as the Battle of Comm Ave). Saturday's game was the first scoreless tie in 279 meetings between the schools. BU goalie Jake Oettinger (DAL) recorded his 10th career shutout, while BC netminder Joseph Woll (TOR) posted his fourth.

Hannah Stuart keeps a close eye on both drafted and draft-eligible prospects and can usually be found trying to learn more about hockey analytics. She has previously written for FanRag Sports, The Hockey Writers, and Hooked On Hockey Magazine, and can also be found at High Heels and High Sticks. Find her on Twitter at @HockeyWthHannah.

Copyright © 2018 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.

Film Room: Canadiens rookie Jesperi Kotkaniemi looks like a future star

From the moment the Montreal Canadiens selected Jesperi Kotkaniemi third overall in the 2018 draft - bypassing highly touted QMJHL winger Filip Zadina in the process - the talented center has been under the microscope.

But through the first 25 games of the season, it's difficult to find a Habs fan who hasn't been impressed with the 18-year-old phenom.

Kotkaniemi is the youngest player in the league and the first player born in the 2000s to dress for an NHL game. Despite his inexperience, the skilled Finn looks composed every time he takes the ice.

Granted, he's made his share of mistakes, like every other first-year skater. But while some of those other rookies might scramble to recover, Kotkaniemi immediately shakes it off and jumps back into the play, minimizing the effect of his errors.

He's able to do that because of his hockey sense, which feeds into his high-end vision and positioning. Here's a great example:

In this Nov. 19 game against the Capitals, Kotkaniemi (No. 15) spots a loose puck resulting from a Washington turnover. He goes for it immediately, then makes a nifty move to elude the opposing player's poke attempt - and that's not even the most impressive part of the sequence.

After a less-than-optimal pass to Artturi Lehkonen - who overskates and misses the puck - Kotkaniemi retrieves it near the blue line and immediately makes another pass. He isn't just tracking the puck; he's already thinking ahead to where it's going to be and getting himself into position to get it back.

The next night against Vegas, Kotkaniemi used those same instincts to score his third career goal:

Kotkaniemi converts this scoring chance by knowing exactly where he needs to be. First, he positions himself to receive a potential quick pass out of the scrum in the corner. Then he notices that, as the puck drifts behind the net, the Golden Knights have left goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury virtually unprotected. Kotkaniemi gets to the front of the net just in time to receive a Lehkonen pass and tap it home.

He flashed that same awareness and hockey IQ on his first NHL goal, capitalizing on an odd-man transition rush:

It's a simple play - skate up ice, receive the pass, shoot. But it's the simplicity that makes his execution impressive. Kotkaniemi tracks the play and knows exactly where he needs to be for the puck to land on his stick so he can take the shot; he isn't overthinking it, a problem that plagues many young pro hockey players.

This play also offers a good example of his skating ability. Kotkaniemi is a fluid skater, with a good first step and a smooth stride, and he could stand to use that a bit more consistently.

Watching Kotkaniemi's shifts gives you the sense that he's a level or two above his linemates in terms of hockey sense. It's good for him to start his career at third-line center because it eases him into the NHL without the pressure of being in the Canadiens' top six and facing the highest quality of competition. It also provides him with more opportunities to play in the offensive zone (he tends to get fewer defensive-zone starts) and adapt to the NHL pace.

Francois Lacasse / National Hockey League / Getty

Given his hockey IQ, however, it's difficult not to wonder what he could do with more skilled linemates. The Canadiens' roster presents limitations in this respect, but his time on the top power-play unit with guys like Jonathan Drouin shows glimpses of what could happen if he was in a situation where his offensive ability could truly blossom.

What he needs to improve can be summed up in one word: consistency. He's still getting used to the pace and intensity of the league. He could also stand to add muscle and cut down on the number of occasions that he gets caught puck-watching, but these are things we'd ask of any player his age. With time, he should pick up the nuances of the NHL game.

And when he does - which could be soon - perhaps the Canadiens will finally have their No. 1 center.

Hannah Stuart keeps a close eye on both drafted and draft-eligible prospects and can usually be found trying to learn more about hockey analytics. She has previously written for FanRag Sports, The Hockey Writers, and Hooked On Hockey Magazine, and can also be found at High Heels and High Sticks. Find her on Twitter @HockeyWthHannah.

Copyright © 2018 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.