Hello! Another draft has been completed, and with that comes a new crop of players I've added to Team Scouching. This is a project I started for fun when I first started playing with NHL Draft data in 2015, taking a step up with my manual tracking work that expanded significantly in the 2020 Draft year. If you're unfamiliar, I grew up in Toronto, and use the Toronto Maple Leafs draft slots to "draft" players I would be selecting, or at least vouching for the strongest at given picks. It's a fun exercise meant to challenge me to actually select someone to put my name behind, for better or worse as years go by, and allowing it to help me refine my processes over time. Some of the players on my lists over the years have remained undrafted, which is fine by me, as their careers are far from over, and their fundamentals and certain areas of the game can be drawn on and re-examined as time goes on and their quality of competition increases.
This year's draft started with three picks, but Toronto made a series of trades to end up with five, and ended with just their third top-50 pick since 2018, but a few depth picks that I think could lead to good value in the future. The current list of players is posted below with player with NHL experience highlighted in red. With that, I hope you enjoy this quick writeup!
Pick #38 - Lane Hutson - LHD - Team USA NTDP U18
Toronto went with a more development-minded angle with Fraser Minten, but I went with the "who could rock the hardest" here. The infamous Gleb Trikozov crossed my mind here, but my thought was that he would slip pretty far, and then the Hurricanes snagged him relatively quickly after I passed on him. Of course they did. Hutson is one of the most skilled and dynamic offensive defensemen available in the draft, and while his skating is somewhat inefficient and will need to get more effective at creating space and speed from pursuers, his puck skill, creativity and vision with his playmaking is remarkable. He was an excellent puck carrier in my tracking with potential for improvement there, and his data jumped in a positive direction as the year went on. If he grows an inch or two over the next few years and improves his strength and power skating in college, I'm more than happy adding him in the Top-40.
Pick #98 - Vladimir Grudinin - LHD - CSKA Moscow
I was sweating bullets thinking Grudinin would get picked up before Toronto's 3rd round pick, and then they traded down, and I thought there was no way Grudinin would be available at 98, but here he was. Not only that, but he could've been had significantly later, but unfortunately I make these picks live, and unfortunately I don't have a magic hockey puck to peer into and see the future with. Grudinin, again, went to the Hurricanes, and I get the feeling they're pretty happy with it. I have said since the draft that a few times this year, I looked at Grudinin's KHL minutes in one sitting, then first round pick Danila Yurov's KHL minutes afterwards and came away more impressed with Grudinin's play at that level. He needs to build a better top speed and struggles to evade pressure with his feet, but his hands, mobility, and agility are extremely high end, using it both on and off the puck to close gaps, create space and make plays within it. I felt he was one of the most impressive Russian defenders at the short-lived World Junior Championship this year, and I bet that if he had the chances on the power play that teammate Artyom Duda got, Grudinin would likely be higher on many draft boards. He was well into my first round and could end up being one of the best value picks in the draft, assuming his development is unaffected by the goings-on in his home country.
Pick #122 - Tyler Duke - LHD - Team USA NTDP U18
Tyler Duke is flawed. Yes, he went undrafted, but there's potential here I think. I was hugely excited to see him coming into the season with the skill and shooting ability I saw out of him, but over time I started to see the limits in his game. He's skilled, but not particularly evasive or deceptive with it, he's mobile, but doesn't close gaps effectively and struggles with applying physical pressure. In the offensive zone, he's highly creative with good finishing ability off his own stick that I'd like to see a bit more. I'm not afraid of aggressive offensive defenders in my ideal NHL system, but I'm well aware that Duke is a longshot. He's one I'm willing to take though, assuming more experience and time to gain some confidence and try some plays he wasn't quite getting away with in the USHL could bear fruit. I don't question the Duke family work ethic, and I'm hopeful that Duke's development is positive, even if I think his NHL likelihood is relatively low, and likely not for a longer period of time. The offensive tools and puck skill are high end, and in the middle of the draft, I'll take the chance, especially in this softer class.
Pick 135 - Joel Jonsson - RW - Mora IK J20
Joel Jonsson flew under the radar every year, and this is another one where in my tracking work I didn't quite see what some were telling me to look for, but in isolation and looking at his Pick224 data, Jonsson is an impressive little winger. He's a real jerk at times on the ice which I have time for, but he's agile, skilled and a lovely finisher with a quick release he prepares with good edges to create shooting space. He scored a ton on a mid-leveel J20 program, but I also liked his performances in the HockeyAllsvenskan and will look forward to seeing him play there more in the coming season. It's pick 135, so expectations have to be somewhat limited, but for a skilled, offensive winger, I think you could've done much worse than Jonsson here.
Pick 218 - Alexis Gendron - C - Blainville-Boisbriand Armada
To close things off, I took a swing on a forward that landed himself 30 goals in the QMJHL without a great supporting cast in Alexis Gendron. I was honestly a little bit surprised to see him still there at 218, and thankfully he was drafted shortly after. Gendron is a hard working, agile player that drove great offensive zone data in a few areas for me. His skill is unrefined and will need work to control and distribute pucks better, but as a finisher and offensive creator, there's a lot to like for a 7th round pick. Brandon Lisowsky is a somewhat similar profile that I could've taken here as Toronto did, but I like the energy and diversity of scoring talent that Gendron brings that I believe Lisowsky lacks somewhat in comparison. Again, this is the seventh round. Gendron doing anything in the NHL would be a win here, but I think with time, with a few good transition players on his line, he could bring a lot of positive output.
Final Thoughts and Reflections
This draft was really tough. Around 40 or 50, the number of players I was genuinely excited and willing to push for really started to dry up, especially once Grudinin was off the board. It's been pointed out to me by a few individuals that my player picks are too small, could never win Stanley Cups, or just won't work out, and in one sense, a lack of size with many of these players is a concern, but many players drafted instead in these ranges don't work out anyways, especially the ones with a lot of size. I will always, always bet on results over speculation before those results are generated though. The players that do have size often get drafted well ahead of where I would draft them in any case. For example, I'm a huge fan of Devin Kaplan, but at 38, he's a reach in my view, and he wasn't there at 95. I like Matyas Sapovaliv, but at 38, he's a reach, and wasn't there at 95. My angle has always been "draft currently good players, regardless of narratives that might hinder them, and see what happens". My idea of risk and risk tolerance is a bit different to others in hockey. What I find risky is to target size without results out of a fear of the physicality of the NHL and a search for someone who can eat minutes and maybe suppress opposing offense, rather than the perceived risk of drafting talented players that may need to get stronger and more evasive or creative to problem solve at higher levels. The NHL has been biased against smaller players in the draft for years when looking back, and I just draft the players that I think bring good value. What has become clear in my Team Prospect Tracker spreadsheet is that while I may not have the superpowered players at the top, my standard deviation of player value was significantly flatter than every NHL team last season, indicating my mid-late round picks performing better than most, while my higher picks seem to be lagging. Philosophically, I also find value in drafting from Europe, Russia or NCAA competition past a relatively early point in the draft to hold onto rights longer and significantly more flexibility to take the player along at a pace that makes the most sense for a given season, and many mid-round CHL players score significantly more than mid-round pro players overseas or NCAA players. It's a constant discussion that goes on in my head that I challenge myself, but I also firmly believe in drafting those you're willing to get behind and fully support for documented reasons.
This whole mental wrestling match also a big reason why I work alone. These are my thoughts and my thoughts alone, but in a team setting, this class is almost certainly not what the team would end up with. I wouldn't have pounded the table for guys like Duke or Jonsson in those slots, but I would be more than happy to take the chance on them. Are there others I would have done the same with more information and viewings? Probably!
I do think some interesting players went undrafted that I'll have my eye on, notably Adam Bares, Kenta Isogai, and Oscar Pantzare, with some genuinely talented players I thought would get a flyer such as Marcus Nguyen, Josh Nadeau, Beau Jelsma and Cole Knuble. Of course, my favourite type of player where I think some value could be extracted also has a few names that are eligible again next season. Undersized defenders who don't shoot the lights out such as Jakob Noren, Dario Sidler, and Team Scouching member Jiri Tichacek (even though he finished 3rd in U20 Czech Extraliga scoring, 6th when looking at points per game). I'll also be quite interested to see what Lukas Gustafsson can do with Boston College. Time will tell, but this exercise has been fascinating regardless of the outcome and significantly adds to the challenge of this work.
The 2022 NHL Draft Recap videos are coming soon after this is published, so stay tuned for those. Again, thank you all so much for your support this season. It was and will be a fascinating class to watch, and 2023 is shaping up to be a heck of a year, even looking beyond one Connor Bedard. Once the recap videos are out, I'm disappearing on the video side until the livestreams boot up closer to Christmas, so I hope you have a wonderful summer and fall, and we'll see you on the other side.