Throughout the year, I watched dozens upon dozens of junior and college hockey games. While not my focus, I did keep track of some (not all) draft eligible players in those games. This piece is meant to be a quick introduction based on sporadic viewings of these players. As such, I won’t be evaluating their NHL future but instead will focus on their abilities.
Mitchell Hoelscher – Forward – Ottawa 67’s (OHL)
Hoelscher was a guy that showed some flashes of offensive brilliance for me. He can thread passes in scoring areas and showed hustle all over the ice. His hands are decent and he has average speed but I like his shot. He gets quick elevation with the puck and his release is good. He’ll likely be a 5th round pick or later. He has some time to develop consistency.
Sam Bitten – Forward – Ottawa 67’s (OHL)
Sam Bitten was a player that pops out at you with his hustle and effort. I didn’t see much offensively out of him (his shot is decent but he didn’t show much creativity with the puck) but he’s aggressive and has potential to develop into quite the agitator. He’ll probably be a late round draft choice or one of the first invites to a team’s prospect camp.
Kevin Bahl – Defenseman – Ottawa 67’s (OHL)
Bahl is an imposing defender that displays confidence with the puck and uses his physicality to be a problem for opposing forwards. In many ways, I thought he was a similar player to Andrew Peeke although Peeke is more offense-oriented than Bahl is. He’s a fine skater for his size but can be beat out wide when transitioning or changing directions. Defensively, he does a good job at using his stick and body to separate forwards from the puck. Many fans will attach negative connotations on him due to his size but he’s not a one trick pony. While very raw, I liked what I saw out of him in limited action.
Elijah Roberts – Defenseman – Niagara IceDogs (OHL)
Roberts is a second-time eligible defenseman that is active all over the ice. Roberts uses his skating abilities to lead the rush and jump in the play offensively. He’s a smart player offensively and can create chances at the top of the slot. I liked what I saw from him but I’m not sure if his style of play will translate to the professional level.
Akil Thomas – Forward – Niagara IceDogs (OHL)
Thomas is a good skater that displays 200-foot competency and composure. His shot and edgework are both far above average and he displayed good puck smarts. All-in-all he jumped out to me as a safe player that was very consistent from shift-to-shift.
Nick Dinofrio – Goalie – Hamilton Bulldogs (OHL)
Dinofrio is a big goalie with a quick glove hand. He does a good job tracking pucks through traffic. I think he could be a bit more athletic and could stand to improve his angle when he squares up to the shooter.
Joe Veleno – Forward – Saint John Sea Dogs/Drummondville Voltigeurs (QMJHL)
Veleno will forever be one of the most mentioned prospects of the draft given his lengthy history in the QMJHL and previous “exceptional status” granted by Hockey Canada. I saw Veleno once this year when he was with Saint John. Veleno is a cerebral player that possesses exceptional vision and good passing ability. He’s an agile skater with a fluid stride and great puck handling ability. Veleno was all over the ice in my viewing and his numbers improved dramatically following his trade to Drummondville.
Justin Blanchette – Goalie – Baie-Comeau Drakkar (QMJHL)
Justin Blanchette was one of three goalies in rotation for Baie-Comeau this year. He’s an aggressive goalie that loves to handle the puck and challenge the shooter. He can fight through traffic and does a good job at closing holes when he’s dropped to the butterfly. He does well to make the first save but has some trouble controlling rebounds. I think one of the big things holding him back is that his balance and skating abilities don’t put him in a position to save second and third opportunities. I think he’d be a solid summer camp invite for a team.
Xavier Bouchard – Defenseman – Baie-Comeau Drakkar (QMJHL)
Bouchard is a big puck moving defenseman that skates decently well for his size. He makes good decisions with the puck and maintains good gap control on the rush. His vision is above average and he walks the blue line well. However, I didn’t like some of the decisions he made without the puck and I think he has some work to do to improve on the powerplay. He’s an intriguing prospect that I have mixed opinions on but certainly has potential.
Cameron Wright – Forward – Bowling Green State University (WCHA)
Cameron Wright is an offensive-oriented, third time eligible forward that was a key piece for Bowling Green as a freshman. Wright sees the ice well and possesses the offensive instincts to score goals off the rush and through sustained offensive zone pressure. Wright’s skating and balance could stand to be improved but his hockey sense and instincts makes him a valuable weapon to have on the powerplay.
Luka Burzan – Forward – Moose Jaw Warriors/Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)
Burzan didn’t get many opportunities as a Warrior in the game I saw, but his explosiveness and acceleration are phenomenal. The last few steps of his stride are unmatched by the vast majority of players outside the NHL. While he was more of a depth player, I thought he stood out in how aggressive he was in hounding the puck. His puck skills aren’t elite but he’s a hockey player that coaches will love. I think he could really surprise people by going very early in the draft.
Jett Woo – Defenseman – Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL)
Woo was a player I had many opinions of in my viewing. He’s got great puck skills and an enticing aspect of physicality and snarl, but I’m not sold on his offensive creativity. Aside from that, I think he’s got great hockey sense and does a really good job fitting in with whatever situation he’s been put in. He has potential to thrive at the next level in one-on-one defensive situations.
Bode Wilde – Defenseman – U.S. NTDP U-18
Wilde was a player I saw a few times but wasn’t a focus. That said, it’s hard not to be excited with how tools-y he is. He’s a physically well-rounded player with great top speed, good puck skills, and a great shot. With that said, there are concerns about his decision making with the puck. Wilde will be an interesting player to track as he adjusts to fit in with the NHL game.
Oliver Wahlstrom – Forward – U.S. NTDP U-18
Much like Wilde, Wahlstrom is a player that often jumps out at you for his skill on the ice. Wahlstrom’s sensational puck skills, elite puck poise, and lethal shot all but guarantee him to be a proficient scorer at the next level. He is one of the most fun prospects to watch in recent memory largely in thanks to his puck handling ability and offensive reliability. His name will be called early on Friday.