With most of the chatter these days focused on the 1st round of the 2018 NHL Draft, I wanted to take the opportunity to shine some light on the later rounds of the draft. Every year for the past 3 years I have purchased the Black Book put out by hockeyprospects.com. They do a fantastic job of giving detailed scouting reports on every eligible player for the draft each year. So combined with those reports and the few highlights you can find on YouTube of these lesser known prospects, I’ve put together a long list of players that have peaked my interest.
For the sake of time (and frankly, sanity), I’ve decided to pick my favorites of my favorites, if you will, and share them with you all to ponder.
First, I’ll focus on Rounds 2-4.
Weight: 187 lbs.
Team: Okotoks (AJHL)
Bernard-Docker is a small-ish offensive defenseman coming out of the AJHL. It’s not a league that has constantly churned out NHL talent, but recently has gained more attention, particularly with Colorado’s Cale Makar bursting onto the scene. Bernard-Docker has decent size at just over 6 feet and 187 lbs. The right-shot defenseman had 20 goals and 41 points in 49 games this past season, an impressive output for a defenseman. Though he isn’t a hulking presence, Bernard-Docker is not afraid to step up in the neutral zone or get physical with you along the boards. His high hockey IQ allows him to read the play well in all three zones. He can push play up the ice fairly well due to his strong skating and speed and plus puck skills. His best quality is probably his wrist shot. It possesses accuracy and strength and he does a good job of getting it through, whether it be while walking the line or from a standstill position. Bernard-Docker doesn’t possess any “elite” skills necessarily, which is why he isn’t likely to go in the first round. However, he lacks any glaring weaknesses and plays a complete game.
Weight: 178 lbs.
Team: Khanty-Mansiysk (MHL)
Morozov is a smart, two way forward who uses his defense to jumpstart his offense. He excels in reading the play, getting his stick in passing lanes and starting the play the other way, either with his skating ability or passing ability. Not only does he possess good vision on the ice, he also brings a heavy shot to the table, be it a quick wrister off the rush or a one-timer from the left circle as a right-handed shot. As a player, he does not have any glaring holes in his game. He’s played in a middle six support role and also thrived in a top line center role, totaling 5 points in 5 games at the U-18s. Morozov took a back seat this year to Russian players like Svechnikov and Denisenko, but as a player who improved as the season went on, he’s likely to be a player to catch the eye of Hextall and the front office.
Weight: 169 lbs
Team: HIFK Jr. (FIN U20)
Nordgren is a highly productive Finnish player who displays a propensity for creativity and scoring. Another winger who likely gets drafted lower than he should due to his small stature and average skating ability, Nordgren lit up the U20 league in Finland, scoring 42 points in just 28 games. He was even given a cup of coffee in the men’s league, adding 3 assists in 15 games. As mentioned earlier, you need an elite skill to make up for a lack of size; Nordgren’s elite skill is his hockey IQ and is touted as one of the smartest players in the entire draft. Despite his lack of speed and agility, his intelligence and compete level give him the ability to find the high danger areas on the ice to either create chances for himself or others. His size and skating are obvious deficiencies, but he’s been productive at every level, including internationally. Nordgren is an exciting player that has the potential to be a steal in this draft early on Day 2.
Weight: 152 lbs
Team: CSKA2 (MHL)
Iskhakov is a small and creative winger who played in the MHL last year (Russia’s equivalent to the CHL), amassing 30 points in 33 games. Now when I say small, I mean small: Iskhakov is listed at 5’8” and just over 150 lbs. Being that small, it’s imperative that you possess some type of high level skill. Iskhakov’s skill is in his agility and puck skills. While not the fastest player in a straight-line sense, Iskhakov is very elusive with the puck on his stick. He evades larger defenders either with dazzling dekes or quick and shifty maneuvers that affords him the time and space he needs to find teammates. Iskhakov is more a playmaker than a scorer, using his high hockey IQ to stay a few steps ahead of his opponent and high level puck skills to find players in scoring position. And although small, Iskhakov’s low center of gravity makes him harder to knock off the puck than you’d envision with a player his size. Iskhakov seems to play with a chip on his shoulder as he’s always competing all over the ice. It would help his game immensely if he could improve his speed and his size is a fair concern, but given his smarts, elusiveness and playmaking skills, Iskhakov is the type of skilled player a GM should look to take a chance on in the middle rounds.
Weight: 171 lbs
Team: Benatky N.J. (CZREP-2)
Jenik is a Czech forward with a lot of raw upside. He plays a strong two-way game and drives possession well due to his high IQ and natural ability to protect the puck in traffic. Jenik has the ability to break a defenseman down one on one or work the cycle game to create offense. Jenik’s greatest downfall at this point is his skating, as he’s very lanky and lacks power in his stride that hurts his speed. That said, he has the frame to grow into a strong and powerful player with a fluid stride that shows potential for growth in this area. The most intriguing asset of Jenik is his age; Jenik is the youngest player in this draft, missing the 2019 cutoff by 1 day, giving him more time than his peers to grow as a player. While not elite at anything, Jenik is good or very good at most things and if he reaches his potential, with time and patience, could be one of the better Czech players to come out of this draft.
Weight: 165 lbs
Team: Reaktor (MHL)
The winner of my favorite name in this draft goes to this big Russian forward. Shafigullin was a monster in the MHL this season, putting up 36 points in 22 games, including 22 goals. Yes, he scored at a goal per game pace this past season. Shafigullin has flown under the radar due to not playing in any international tournaments this year despite his highly productive year for Reaktor. While he’s not filled out at the moment at just 165 lbs, Shafigullin has a frame that suggests he will grow into a strong power forward. Bulat is a strong skater who possesses great speed at full flight which he uses to blow by defenders and drive the net with tenacity and aggression. His goal scoring ability is his greatest asset, but he is not lacking in the playmaking department. Shafigullin knows where the high danger areas are in the offensive zone and can get the puck there to create for himself and at times for others. The weakness in his game lies in his aggressiveness. Shafigullin has 1 gear: fast. He plays at high speeds at all times and while it’s great he possesses that speed, it does cause him to blow by opportunities and be inefficient overall. His breakneck pace makes him tough to keep up with but also predictable in his attack. If he can learn to diversify his arsenal and expand his vision of the ice beyond just going to the net, Shafigullin could be a risk well worth taking in the middle of the draft.
Weight: 169 lbs
Team: USA U-18 (USNTDP)
Most hockey fans know players like Joel Farabee, Oliver Wahlstrom, Body Wilde, K’Andre Miller, Jake Wise, Mattias Samuelsson coming from the USNTDP. A player who’s flown under the radar in that program is Jonathan Gruden. For a player who lived in the shadow of the aforementioned players, Gruden was 4th on the team in scoring with 59 points in 56 games. Gruden may be small in stature, but he doesn’t play like it. He is fearless in board and netfront battles and is relentless on the forecheck. Gruden uses his speed to fly down the wing and wire accurate wrist shots or get to the high danger areas to create scoring chances. He’s also crafty in the dirty areas, with the ability to free himself from larger opponents to get open for teammates or cash in on rebounds. At his size, there’s a legitimate concern that his style of play may not translate well to the next level if he doesn’t bulk up. He’s been durable throughout his career, but his physical and aggressive style could lead to future injuries if he doesn’t adjust his style or start packing on the weight. Nevertheless, Gruden is a feisty player with skill that most teams love to have and hate to play against.
Team: Vancouver (WHL)
Roman has flown under the radar this year due to injury. An ankle injury only allowed him to get into 39 games this year, but he was productive in that time, totaling 32 points as well as 3 goals and 3 assists in 7 playoff games. Roman plays with speed but exhibits the ability to stay poised and under control. Roman’s hockey sense is strong and was seen as a major reason as to why he was able to jump back into the lineup so seamlessly despite missing over 2 months during the season. His skating is deceptively good and while more of a playmaker, his shot could be a weapon if he used it more often. In draft thin at center, Roman possesses the upside to become one of the better pivots to come out of this draft.
These are just a few of many names that could interest the Flyers in the middle rounds on Day 2 of the draft. In my next article, I’ll attempt to find some more gems for the later rounds.