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Learning about 2018 NHL Draft prospects: Volume 2

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The draft will be here before we know it; let’s know some guys!

Spokane Chiefs v Edmonton Oil Kings Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images

With the 2018 NHL Entry Draft just a few weeks away, General Manager Ron Hextall and the Philadelphia Flyers could be adding up to nine prospects to the organization. There’s already a lot out there on those who are expected to be drafted in the top 31 to 62, but what about the guys who are supposed to go anywhere from 63rd to undrafted? In a series of articles before the draft, I’m going to try and analyze both the well-known prospects and some of the lesser-known prospects who aren’t expected to go relatively high next month. Let’s know some guys.

Vitali Kravtsov
A 6’2”, 183-pound right winger from Vladivostok, Russia, Vitali Kravtsov owns a wide range of tools that will make whatever team that takes him and its fans happy later this month. Following a 36-point campaign in 41 games with Belye Medvedi Chelyabinsk in the MHL last season, Kravtsov spent most of the season with Traktor Chelyabinsk in the KHL this season and accrued seven points in 35 games. His ability to spend most of the season in the KHL (his second season with games in the league) and the fact he held his own against that competition helped Kravtsov jump from 10th at the Central Scouting’s mid-term rankings for European skaters to third in their final rankings.

With a ton of upside and already performing well in the KHL, Kravtsov could be a steal in the late first round. Tim McKinnon of The Hockey Writers explains the forward’s potential:

“Kravtsov is a very fast skater with the ability to gain zone entries with ease, but he’s not very strong on the back-check – an area in need of improvement. However, he’s good in his own end and is capable of taking away passing lanes. He has quick hands and possesses a lethal wrist shot. Terrific play-making abilities allow him to see time on the power play as well. Simply put, Kravtsov has the potential to become a top-six forward in the NHL.”

Kravtsov’s offensive production, playing style, and the fact he plays for Traktor Chelyabinsk has gotten him compared to Evgeny Kuznetsov quite often. The comparison to Kuznetsov makes a lot of sense once you watch these highlights, as he’s a dynamic offensive presence who utilizes his hands and vision to create a clear path for himself or teammates to get into scoring position.

Kravtsov, who is projected to go 17th overall on DraftSite’s mock draft, is slated to return for Traktor Chelyabinsk next season.

Tyler Tucker
As a stay-at-home defenseman who didn’t average half-a-point per game, it’s understandable why Tyler Tucker saw a drop from 104th to 171st in Central Scouting’s mid-term and final rankings for North American skaters. Although he isn’t known for producing points, the 6’1”, 205-pound Longlac, Ontario native did have six points in 12 games for the Barrie Colts in their pair of six-game series’ against the Mississauga Steelheads and Kingston Frontenacs after he had just three goals and 20 assists in 59 regular-season games.

Tucker will never have the gaudiest point totals (this season was his highest point total over the last three seasons between the GTMMHL, OJHL, and OHL), but a few other numbers do help his case for being a helpful player. Of the 83 OHL d-men who participated in 59 games or more this season, Tucker recorded 95 shots at 5-on-5 (20th of the 83) and a 2.09 relative goals for percentage (33rd). Again, maybe not the most dazzling numbers, but nothing to look down on.

With the game moving towards wanting defensemen to act more like extra forwards on the ice, Dominic Tiano of the OHL Writers makes a good point that Tucker’s drop in the rankings might be for just this reason alone. Although he isn’t the fast skater, Tiano talks about what could be appealing about Tucker’s game heading into the draft:

“Tucker will never be accused of being an offensive defenseman that will rack up a lot of points. What he is, is a stay-at-home-defender who can take care of business in his own zone against top players. He is a bruising blueliner who relishes the physical part of the game. He is not the world’s fastest skater, but he possesses a powerful stride that allows him to keep his gaps closed or close them sufficiently. He is hard to beat one-on-one and rarely gets overpowered in the physical department.

Tucker will also never be known for making end-to-end rushes or skating the puck out of danger and up ice. What he does do because of his never-ending work ethic is do what ever it takes and outwork his opponent to get the puck back onto his stick and then make a smart heads up pass to clear the zone.”

Tucker should be going somewhere in the middle rounds, as DraftSite has him mocked at 109th overall.

Justus Annunen
There wasn’t much movement among the European goalies available in this draft between Central Scouting’s mid-term rankings and final rankings (mainly because there aren’t too many), but Justus Annunen did manage to move from fifth to fourth. The 6’4”, 207-pound Finn posted a .907 save percentage and a 2.31 goals against average in 26 regular-season games for Karpat’s U-20 team in the Jr. A SM-liiga, as well as a .935 save percentage and 1.83 GAA in 12 postseason games. Annunen also represented Finland in the U-18 World Junior Championship, where he stopped .914 percent of the shots he faced and held the opposition to a 2.00 goals against average.

Annunen uses his big frame to his advantage and focuses on his reads as well as his positioning to get the most out of his natural advantage over smaller goalies. However, as The Draft Analyst’s Steve Kournianos points out, Annunen might need to become a tad more aggressive once he starts playing against men in the Liiga. Here’s what Kournianos said about the Finnish netminder back in January after he ranked him as the sixth-best option in net from the 2018 draft options:

“Annunen is a rigid butterfly goalie who doesn’t do anything particularly flashy and relies heavily on his wingspan and flare while positioned deep inside the crease to fend off chances from below the hash marks. Being conservative all the time serves him well while playing teenagers, but he will need to increase the frequency of his risk-taking (poke checks, challenging shooters, being a hair less shooter-focused on 2-on-1’s) once he’s facing adult-aged snipers and playmakers. Being married to the posts has its advantages, as he rarely loses awareness and reveals little white space when square to a shooter from any angle. Playing the puck or actively thwarting hard-arounds is something he doesn’t seem comfortable doing, partly because he barely does it and leaves little to the imagination”

Annunen is mocked at 83rd overall on DraftSite’s most recent mock draft. He’ll be returning to the Karpat organization for the 2018-19 campaign and has a chance to see a lot of action in the Liiga. Annunen was blocked from playing in the Liiga this season by Veini Vehvilainen (a 21-year-old goalie also available in this draft) and Jussi Rynnas (yeah, Jussi Rynnas lol)

Jack McBain
Playing in a league that doesn’t provide many high-end prospects is often held against certain players, but Jack McBain shouldn’t feel the wrath of that too much since he’s considered one of the best prospects to ever come out of his particular league. The Toronto, Ontario native who weighs in at 6’3”, 196 pounds produced 21 goals and 37 helpers for 58 points in 48 games for the Toronto Jr. Canadiens in the Ontario Junior Hockey League. His drop from 29th to 35th in Central Scouting’s rankings could be because of the competition he’s facing, but McBain has been dominating whatever league he’s in for awhile now (he had 25 goals and 48 assists for 73 points in 45 games in 2015-16 as the captain of the Don Mills Flyers in the Greater Toronto Minor Midget Hockey League).

McBain is a playmaker with a high hockey IQ and never gives up on a play. Blending his smart play with physicality, McBain is strong on the forecheck and his willingness to go all out on every shift has drawn the attention of many heading into this draft. Unfortunately, when given the opportunity to showcase his abilities on a bigger stage at the CJHL Prospects Game back in late January, McBain failed to record a point or shot on goal and was handed a game misconduct for charging.

For everything McBain is credited for when it comes to his intelligence and hustle on the ice, some question his creativity. Ranking him 48th on his Top 74 Prospects heading into the 2018 NHL Draft, Corey Pronman of The Athletic had this to say about the OJHL forward:

“McBain could be one of the better prospects to come out of the OJHL in recent years. He’s a tall center who can score. His skill level is above-average and very good for a big man. He’s a coordinated puck handler, but also has solid offensive IQ, showing the ability to be a playmaker at the OJHL level as well as in international play. While I’ve seen him make plays, at times even good ones, there are times I wonder how high-end his creativity is, especially when the pace quickens. He’s a solid defensive center who can win draws at a high rate and win battles. His feet worry me. He’s a sluggish skater, especially on his first few strides, and can struggle to put defenders on their heels on zone entries.”

In this highlight package (accompanied by Bon Scott), you can see some of the concerns Pronman is talking about. McBain is a bigger guy and you can tell he is when he skates. A lot of his plays are straightforward and don’t involve too much creativity, which is fine for now, but one can see the concern for how he’d do at higher levels with moderate skating speed and lack of extensive creativity.

McBain, who DraftSite has going 52nd overall in this draft, is committed to Boston College for the 2018-19 season.

Ryan Chyzowski
Another forward who is considered to have a high-end motor for the entirety of their time on the ice is left winger Ryan Chyzowski. The 6’0”, 190-pound Kamloops, British Columbia native improved his total of 12 points with the Medicine Hat Tigers during the 2016-17 season to 52 points in 72 games this past season, as he accrued 21 goals and 31 assists for the WHL club. Chyzowski also managed to record four goals and an assist in the Tigers’ first-round loss to the Brandon Wheat Kings in the WHL playoffs.

Similar to his point totals, Chyzowski’s underlying numbers don’t exactly draw attention. Of the 38 WHL forwards who played in just as many games or more this season, Chyzowski finished 28th with both 27 points at 5-on-5 and tied for 25th with 12 5-on-5 goals. He also finished the regular season with a -3.37 relative goals for percentage, which placed him 32nd in the same field mentioned above. When you change the comparables to the 82 WHL forwards who are under 18 years old and played in at least 50 games this season, Chyzowski looks better with his 27 5-on-5 points putting him 11th in the group and his 12 5-on-5 goals putting him in a tie for ninth.

As a 20-goal scorer, Chyzowski utilizes his shot often, but his play does leave something to be desired given his size. From Logan Fossum for Future Considerations back in January:

“Chyzowski possesses all of the tools necessary to be successful at the next level. He can fly up and down the ice and has quick boots for lateral movement. His internal motor has always been running at a high level and he doesn’t take any shifts off. Chyzowski doesn’t punish anyone with his physical play — he will lean into you on the boards, but don’t expect any major open ice collisions. His play with the puck is improving as the season progresses, as he isn’t afraid to let his impressive shot go, and he’s been making that extra move with more success and more often. He holds onto the puck for longer periods of time and doesn’t rush nearly as much with his decision-making. Holding the puck on the half-wall, he doesn’t force the pass through the penalty kill like he did on a number of times, he takes that shot to the net and it causes havoc.”

As Fossum stated and evidenced in this highlight package, Chyzowski isn’t afraid to use his wrist shot. He’s able to release a laser with pinpoint accuracy whether he’s given space or not, which paired with a knack of never giving up on a play for a speedy skater could lead to success at the next level.

The son of former NHLer Dave Chyzowski (who went second overall in the 1989 NHL Entry Draft) won’t go as high as his dad in the draft, as he’s expected to go 76th overall in the third round of this year’s draft, according to DraftSite.

Scott Perunovich
Although there are some fair reasons why he wasn’t drafted last season, Scott Perunovich has added some accolades and improved his production to support his case to drafted this time around. The 5’9”, 165-pound left-handed blue liner only had 21 points in 56 games for the USHL’s Cedar Rapids RoughRiders in 2016-17, but managed to increase his point total to 36 points (thanks to 11 goals) in 14 less games while playing tougher competition at the University of Minnesota-Duluth this season.

To go along with his big jump in point totals, Perunovich has a few other things that support his case to be drafted this time around. He jumped from 124th to 102nd in Central Scouting’s North American skaters rankings and he also played for Team U.S.A. at the 2018 World Junior Championship, where he produced one goal on seven shots and had two assists in seven games (his goal is at 3:35).

With this in mind, Perunovich’s game isn’t perfect. He shares some key traits that smaller defenseman in the NHL have, but his speed may be something that hurts his chances of being taken. Here’s how Pronman summarized Perunovich’s game in his World Junior Championship preview:

“Perunovich is the leading scorer for Minnesota-Duluth, as of this writing. He likes to jump up into the attack and has the offensive instincts to do so well with high-end creativity. He’s a flawed player as he’s small, not great defensively and not super quick, but his skating is decent. If he makes the USA team, he’ll be a power play option.”

After they had him being taken last year, DraftSite has Perunovich being drafted again. This time they say he’ll go 92nd overall. Perunovich will return to the University of Minnesota-Duluth next season for his sophomore season.

Sampo Ranta
A draft-eligible player who saw a big increase in his point totals this season compared to last is Sampo Ranta. The Naantali, Finland native is a speedy goal scorer who comes in at 6’2”, 192 pounds and jumped up five spots to 18th on the North American skaters rankings for Central Scouting at the end of the year.

After just nine points in 30 games for the Sioux City Musketeers in the USHL for the 2016-17 campaign, Ranta put home 23 goals and provided 14 assists for 37 points in 53 games for them this season. Looking deeper at Ranta’s numbers, it’s pretty clear that his main skill is scoring goals. Of 147 USHL forwards who played in 50 games or more this season, Ranta finished 18th with 14 5-on-5 goals and 99th with five primary assists. His 14 goals also put Ranta in a four-way tie for first among the thirty USHL forwards who entered the season under 18 years old. Ranta also represented Finland at the 2018 WJC, where he had one goal and one assist in seven games.

He has two pretty desirable traits when it comes to goal scorers at the next level, but Ranta is already being labeled with the same inabilities that many European snipers before him have been labeled with. From Kournianos, who just ranked Ranta as the 22nd-best winger available in this draft class:

“Jersey-flapping Finnish winger with a deadly shot/speed combination who is one of the USHL’s top rookie goal scorers. Ranta at this stage of his development is a one-trick pony, but similar things were said of some the NHL’s most feared snipers. Ranta has good size and balance, and powering down the wing with a full head of steam forces defenders to mistime their step-ups or retreat into the circles. He should be a fixture on any power play and counted on to create his own shot, but Ranta probably isn’t the kid you would want on the ice to hold a lead. Now that Ranta’s got the shooting thing down, he’ll need to learn how to incorporate his linemates into the offense and make more high-percentage plays.”

DraftSite has Ranta, who is committed to the University of Wisconsin next season, going in the fourth round at 95th overall.

Filip Kral
Transitioning to the North American game this season, Filip Kral did pretty well considering the change. At 6’0”, 168 pounds, this left-handed d-man from the Czech Republic saw slight movement in his Central Scouting’s ranking, as he moved from 52nd at the mid-term rankings to 54th in the final rankings.

After he failed to register a point in a total of seven games for HC Kometa Brno in the Czech’s Tipsposrt Extraliga and SK Horacka Slavia Trebic in Czech’s 1.liga earlier this season, Kral joined the Spokane Chiefs of the WHL. He potted nine goals and had 26 assists for 35 points in 54 regular-season games and appeared in five postseason games.

Kral’s numbers look pretty good at 5-on-5, as he tied for 20th with 24 points and seventh with 0.13 goals per game out of 114 defenseman that played in 54 games or more in the WHL this season. Compared to other players who entered the season under 18 years old, Kral looks like one of the better options on the blue line coming out of the WHL. Of the 38 WHL defensemen who entered the season under 18 years old and played in 50 games or more, Kral’s 24 5-on-5 points were the third-most, while his 35 points in all situations and seven 5-on-5 goals were also the third-most, as he finished behind both Ty Smith and Calen Addison in each of these three categories. His 0.26 primary points-per-game average and 0.44 points-per-game average were second among the field, but Smith still beat him out in both categories.

Mitch Brown explained why Kral has so much success offensively in his scouting report of the d-man after the 2017 WJC for Recrutes:

“Although Filip Kral had just two points in the tournament, he was Czech Republic’s best puck mover and transitional defender. A smooth, upright skater, Kral is able to lead the join and hustle back to defend with a certain ease. Kral is also an above-average stickhandler who can beat players one-on-one and create shooting lanes. He rapidly locates passing outlets, and rarely misses his target. Kral’s defence was fairly strong throughout the tournament. His skating ability and active stick make him tough to beat one-on-one, but he was beat when attacked with speed (forcing him to pivot).”

Kral’s ability to create shooting lanes and mobility on the back end on display in this video.

The blue liner is anticipated to go 90th overall, according to DraftSite.

*All advanced stats courtesy of Prospect Stats. Graphs courtesy of The Athletic

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