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A look at the 2020 draft eligible players at the WJSS

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Never too early to start draft research, right?

Canada v Slovakia: Exhibition - 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Kevin Light/Getty Images

Wait wait wait. Did I read that headline right? Didn’t we just have a draft? How soon is too soon to start talking about next year’s? The humanity! What is going on!

Yes, you did read that headline right, and yes, we are already starting our talks about the 2020 draft, but we’re doing it at sort of a leisurely pace. Because digging into draft rankings and prospect profiles at this point can be tough and weird and also in some ways useless, if you’re putting a lot of stock into the early rankings being The Definitive Rankings, subject to absolutely zero change because, well, that’s exactly what they do. So much of these rankings depend on how players fare in their draft seasons, making the rankings incredibly fluid, even during the season.

And for doing team specific prospect watching—that is, looking out for players who the Flyers should have on their radar—it gets even trickier, of course, because we don’t know where they’re going to be picking. Although it does feel pretty safe to pencil them in somewhere in the 13-18 range right? Dead middle? That’s how this works? Okay, yep, I’ll see myself out.

But with all of this said, it is still worth keeping tabs on what some of these draft eligible players are up to, out in the world. So we picked out a couple of draft eligible players who appeared at the World Junior Summer Showcase who are currently projected to go at some point in the first round (based on the lists by Corey Pronman at the Athletic, Dobber Prospects, and Future Considerations), as well as some honorable mentions, and we’ll be recapping their performances at this tournament.

We should also caution you (and ourselves) against putting too much stock into a performance at a short tournament in the middle of the summer, because small sample size and all that, but an invitation to this sort of thing means that the national teams are seeing something in these prospects. And it helps to have a couple of names already on the radar, as we head into the regular season draft prospect watching.

Alexis Lafreniere. Left Wing. Canada. 2 GP, 0 G, 2 A, 2 P, 4 SOG

Rankings: Pronman (1), Dobber Prospects (1), Future Considerations (1)

If you’re of the opinion that the Flyers are going to be absolute trash next season and might suck bad enough that they could get themselves the first overall pick, either purely by virtue of their record, or just by winning the draft lottery, listen up, because this is who they’d be in the running for. Indeed, Lafreniere has been the consensus first overall pick for, well, as long as we’ve been talking seriously about the 2020 draft. And for good reason! He had a monster season with Rimouski in the QMJHL last season, registering 37 goals and 105 points in just 61 games. He had himself a pretty solid showing at the WJSS, albeit in an extremely limited showing, picking up an assist in each of his two games played. And here is where we might break into a detailed description to dazzle you with his skill, but we figured we might just show you.

Lanfreniere found some pretty immediate chemistry with his linemates Kirby Dach and Joe Veleno, and the three were able to combine for a pretty nifty goal here, and Lafreniere’s smooth skating and effortlessly precise passing is on display. I mean. That no look pass to Veleno. Come on.

And here we see not just more of that crisp passing, but also how calm Lafreniere is under pressure, as well as his nose for getting to the net for chances. In short, Lafreniere is bringing a pretty complete skillset and a lot of high-end skill to boot, and it’s not a mystery why he’s comfortably projected to go first overall.

Lucas Raymond. Right Wing. Sweden. 5 GP, 0 G, 1 A, 1 A, 12 SOG

Rankings: Pronman (3), Dobber Prospects (6), Future Considerations (3)

And if you’re of the opinion that the Flyers might be slightly less bad than last in the league (but close!), or just average enough to win the lottery and make a big jump up in the draft (as in 2017), then these next couple of players might be occupying the space in the front of your mind.

The stat line for this tournament might look a little underwhelming, but it’s also important to contextualize it—Sweden struggled mightily in the early part of the tournament to establish much in the way of offense, and only scored four goals in their first three games before sort of figuring things out for the last two (Raymond’s assist game in their fourth game). But despite the lack of points on the board, Raymond did well to generate chances, registering seven shots on goal between his first two games. So the underlying process, at least, was sound.

To borrow a phrase from Craig Button on the TSN broadcast, what stands out about Raymond is how he’s very “comfortable in traffic,” he doesn’t panic when pressured and try to force a play, he’s patient enough to wait it out for the right play to develop (and strong enough to fend off the physical pressure, to boot). His patience and his playmaking is where he really shines, the ease with which he’s able to make plays through traffic, even if his linemates don’t convert on them.

Alexander Holtz. Right Wing/Left Wing. Sweden. 5 GP, 0 G, 1 A, 1 P, 14 SOG

Rankings: Pronman (2), Dobber Prospects (9), Future Considerations (5)

We’re talking a lot about Raymond and Holtz in virtually the same breath, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that they’ve been linemates pretty consistently during international play over the last year, and their seasons in Sweden’s SuperElit last season has their draft rankings pretty even (indeed, Pronman noted that he has them pretty much in a dead tie in his personal rankings, at present). And Holtz also fell victim to the same slow start woes as Raymond, even while contributing well to the team’s shot share during those early games. He even picked up his point (a secondary assist) on the same Philip Broberg goal as Raymond did.

But where these two diverge is in style—where Raymond is more of the playmaker, Holtz is a truer goal scorer. He has very good hands in tight, and knows to get to the front of the net to get higher quality chances and test goalies.

Holtz also served as something of the volume shooter for Sweden, registering a team-high 14 shots over his five games played, putting in the work to generate offense for his team, even if they goals weren’t coming early on. It would have been interesting to see if, over a longer tournament and a larger sample, how he would have regressed upward towards the mean and seen a bump in his scoring numbers, but such is the nature of these short tournaments. All the same, his overall play was solid and it was a strong audition for a spot on the team come WJC time.

Justin Barron. Defenseman. Canada. 3 GP, 0 G, 3 A, 3 P, 2 SOG

Rankings: Pronman (19), Dobber Prospects (13), Future Considerations (9)

If you were watching the last game of the tournament on television between the United States and Canada, this name might already sound a little familiar to you, as Barron was the player who laid that huge hit on Joel Farabee early in the game. So maybe, outside of your draft list, Barron is occupying a space on another list of yours, depending on how protective you are of the prospects already in the system. Anyway…

Barron had himself a more than respectable handful of games. He was a point per game during this tournament, and led all defensemen in points, and found himself tied for third among all Canadian skaters in points.

He showed some strength in playmaking (a reassuring sight, as one of his weaknesses can be his decision making when he has the puck on his stick), and also, as we noted, asserted himself as a physical presence in this tournament, but the piece that really stood out about him was his skating. He’s so smooth and easily mobile, not just for a 6’2” player, but in general. It’s this piece that’s pushed him up in the rankings, above a number of the other defensemen in this draft class and it’s easy to see why. This strength was on full display at the WJSS, and, if nothing else, it made him a real treat to watch.

Braden Schneider. Defenseman. Canada. 3 GP, 1 G, 0 A, 1 P, 1 SOG

Rankings: Pronman (honorable mention), Dobber Prospects (did not rank), Future Considerations (31)

We’re going to close out this list, talking about one more Canadian defenseman. Unlike some of the other defensemen in this tournament, Schneider didn’t really stand out as an offensive powerhouse (and that’s okay!), even if he did have one really dazzling offensive contribution in his last game against the United States.

Schneider played a more defensive role in this tournament, and wasn’t terribly noticeable in this role, which really is more or less what you’re looking for in a more of a shutdown defenseman. His positioning was solid, and he’s smooth and mobile enough to be disruptive on the rush. His scoring numbers, we should also note, were good in his last season with Brandon in the WHL (eight goals and 24 points in 58 games), so it looks like there’s some offensive upside there, but he was just asked to play a different role in this tournament, it seems. And he did so well enough.

Honorable Mentions

Anton Lundell. Center/Left Wing. Finland. 2 GP, 0 G, 0 a, 0 P, 5 SOG

This honorable mention feels a little bit like cheating, because Lundell actually is projected to go in the first round (ranked sixth by Pronman, second by Dobber Prospects, and fourth by Future Considerations), but we’re focusing on the WJSS performances here, and he sustained a minor injury early in the tournament and was only able to play in the first two games. So we bumped him down here.

It was a pretty quiet couple of games for Lundell, but in a way, this feels somewhat in line with his overall game—he’s distinctly skilled, but doesn’t have a ton of flash to his game. He scores at a good rate (which he did well both in last year’s WJC, as well as his first season with Liiga, at 17 years old). The points weren’t coming for Lundell in those first two games, but he was doing well to get himself chances, and we saw flashes of the hockey sense that he’s been so highly praised for, as he worked to get himself into good position for those chances.

Joonas Oden. Left Wing. Finland. 5 GP, 2 G, 2 A, 4 P, 10 SOG

Oden is sort of an interesting case here because he went undrafted this year (the first year he was eligible), after a respectable season which saw him put up 11 points in his first 20 games with KooKoo in Liiga, as well as going almost a point per game (41 points in 44 games) with their U20 team, and also putting up a solid showing in last year’s World Junior’s, with three points in seven games.

We’re picking up a trend of impressive stat lines, and after watching Oden in the WJSS, it isn’t really a mystery as to why he’s been able to continue to score at a good clip, across leagues and international stages.

He really emphasized getting himself to the front of the net—whether it was coming off the rush or just parking there on the power play—to look for his chances. Both of his goals came from plays in tight, and he had a couple of other close chances there, as well.

We would need a larger sample of games to watch, but it looks like Oden may well be a player who slipped through in this past draft not because of glaring issues in his game, but rather due to many NHL teams’ scouting infrastructures not being as robust in Finland (or overseas in general) as they are in North America. Drafting overagers can sometime get dicey, but in this case, Oden may well be a player worth taking a shot on.

Jasper Patrikainen. Goaltender. Finland. 2 GP, 64 sv, .842 sv%

It was a pretty limited showing for Patrikainen in this tournament, as he only played the two games, and all in all, it was a pretty mixed bag of a performance from him. His first game against the USA Blue team was pretty brutal—the United States managed to score on seven of the just 25 shots they put up, evidently emphasizing quality over quantity, while the Finnish team in general couldn’t really find their game, and gave a Patrikainen a tough time.

But what really earned him this last spot on our honorable mentions list was his performance in his second game against the Americans. We’ve discussed already how they’re a high powered offensive team, and that was fully on display in that game. The US put up 51 shots over the course of the game, and many weren’t easy. They were crashing the net, creating traffic in front, and while they were still able to put five in the back of the net, they couldn’t get the requisite results for the effort they were putting in.

In short, the United States should have won that game—they were doing everything right in terms of generating chances, and generating dangerous chances—but they didn’t, and a large part of that was due to Patrikainen’s efforts. He was quick, his positioning was generally good, as was his rebound control, and he did well not to get himself in trouble by overplaying shots. He doesn’t seem the type of extremely high end talent to go very early in the draft—we don’t too often see this with goalies often—but he may well be another name to keep an eye on in the middle rounds.

All stats via Elite Prospects and USA Hockey