Welcome to my May ranking of the top prospects eligible for the 2024 NHL Draft.

After two weeks at U18 worlds in Espoo and Vantaa, Finland, this updated ranking includes full scouting reports on the top 32 prospects and 11 additional honorable mentions. It follows my way-too-early top 24, preseason top 32, preliminary top 64, midseason top 64, and March top 64, and will be followed by my final top 100 (released in early June).

The class of 2024 is led by Hobey Baker-winning Boston University center Macklin Celebrini, a legitimate A-level prospect, but will be defined by its number of high-end defensemen. Five of the top-10 prospects on my list are D, and I’m higher on each of them than I was on the two defensemen taken in the top 10 in 2023 (David Reinbacher No. 5 to Montreal and Dmitri Simashev No. 6 to Arizona).

The ranking, now completely customizable and searchable, is also broken down into tiers to give you a better sense of the proximity within groupings and the drop-offs between them. This ranking is divided into five tiers, with a clear top-17 that has emerged for me. They are: 1, 2-3, 4-11, 12-17, and 18-32+. The honorable mentions are sorted alphabetically.

Note that while I consult scouts, coaches, general managers, and team staff, the following evaluations and rankings are strictly my own.

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Tier 1

Celebrini was the youngest player in college hockey this season and became the youngest player in college hockey history to win the Hobey Baker Award. He entered his freshman year at BU as the presumptive No. 1 pick in the draft, coming off the most prolific 16-year-old season in USHL history, where he led the league in scoring and won USHL player of the year. And he still exceeded expectations, elevating his play again and again for the Terriers to drive them into the Hockey East Tournament final and eventually the Frozen Four. He did it all coming off of shoulder surgery — which he played through at U18s. What he has accomplished to date would be extremely impressive even if he were on the older side of the 2024 draft. It’s even more impressive because of his June birthday.

He has shown, again and again, that he has pretty well everything you look for in the mold of a center and has looked like a true star-forward prospect domestically and internationally (where he has been Canada’s best player as an underager at U18 worlds and the world juniors).

Celebrini can impact and drive play in so many different areas, too. He plays with confidence and presence that is rare in a player his age, consistently looking to attack and dictate with the puck. He’s also an intelligent off-puck player who understands timing, routes and how to get open and make himself available without the puck in his hands. He’s a plus-level skater and excellent transition puck transporter who has an impressive ability to giddy up and drive the middle third. He’s quick and hard to track on turns and off the wall. He’s a hardworking player defensively, and into battles and races for pucks. He’s got dynamic puck skills that allow him to break down opponents and coverage at speed. He’s a tactile shooter and finisher who can get pucks off in a variety of ways, from a variety of stances, and without needing to tunnel vision for it (plus he has a hard and comfortable one-timer). He’s consistent in approach. He sees and executes through seams with a lot of crispness. He is sturdy and thick for his age and absorbs and plays through bumps extremely effectively, staying over pucks and extending sequences through a strong lower half. He’s a quietly powerful player for a 6-foot kid, and while he’s not going to bully his way around the ice, he commands play and imposes himself on games. Those tools, combined with excellent puck-protection skills and an aggressive approach, allow him to play a heavy-skill game. I expect him to become a frontline, star-level center.

Photo:

Richard T. Gagnon / Getty Images

Tier 2

Artyom Levshunov was No. 2 on my list for most of this season, but Demidov’s play during the MHL playoffs (which unfortunately ended due to a lower-body injury just prior to SKA winning the championship) crystalized him behind Macklin Celebrini down the stretch. He’s got the most individual puck skill in the class but I’ve also heard good things about his work ethic on and off the ice and he has developed some layers to his game so that he’s not a one-trick pony as a dancing offensive zone player.

Demidov is a skill-first playmaking forward who finished third in the MHL in scoring last year (extremely rare for a player that age in a league typically dominated by 19- and 20-year-olds) and played at a higher point-per-game pace than the two players in front of him alongside his older brother, Semyon. This season, after a strong preseason with SKA, he won a KHL job out of camp but played little and then, after bouncing between levels trying to rediscover his game, injured his knee and missed a month and a half. After returning, he tore up the MHL with one multi-point game after another and five to 10 shots a night, putting together one of the most productive extended stretches of play ever at Russia’s top junior level and making pretty goals look casual.

He’s on the older side as a December 2005, but it sounds like he’s dedicated to getting stronger, he’s a true play creator and you want the puck in his hands so he can slip around the ice to make things happen for himself or his linemates. His ability to get off the wall to the middle, either with the puck on his stick into traffic (though I think he falls back on his heel-to-heel skating a little too much), his manipulation one-on-one, his knack for dodging sticks and checks, and his passing through layers to the weak side of coverage are all very unique. And while his skating in straight lines doesn’t always look smooth, he’s still a fast skater and very shifty side to side. He’s got elite handling (though he can get himself into trouble trying to beat two or three guys in a crowd, he also often beats multiple guys in a sequence) and made more one-on-one skill plays this season (including, unabated, in the postseason) than almost any prospect I’ve scouted for any draft. He’s also a pretty engaged off-puck player who keeps his feet moving, hunts pucks on the forecheck, and can turn a steal into a game-breaking play in an instant. Demidov’s one of the most purely talented prospects to come out of Russia in recent memory (his game also has more of a pro style, competitiveness and roundedness to it than Matvei Michkov’s had at the same age) and scouts really like him. He profiles as a point-producing star winger and PP specialist.

Photo:

Maksim Konstantinov / SOPA Imagest via Getty Images

The top D prospect in a stellar crop for me, Levshunov finished second on the Big Ten-champion Spartans in scoring (35 points in 38 games) and first in goal differential (plus-27) as a freshman defenceman and is going to become the highest-drafted player ever out of Belarus, besting Ruslan Salei (No. 9 in 1996) and Andrei Kostitsyn (No. 10 in 2003). He had a stellar rookie season in the USHL (and in North America!) last year, registering 43 points in 65 combined regular-season and playoff games with Green Bay to fast-track his way into college hockey, and has continued on his steep upward progression since. It’s not easy to play big minutes to excellent two-way results, or produce at a near point-per-game rate as a teenaged D in college hockey, let alone one with a language barrier in a new culture who just two seasons ago had only ever played in Belarus. While he’s on the older side of the first-year eligibles for 2024 because of his October 2005 birthday, I don’t think he’s on a track that’s far off the one Owen Power and his November birthday took.

Levshunov’s profile checks a lot of the boxes that teams are looking for in a high-end defenceman. He’s a righty with an extremely imposing and physically mature build already. He’s a smooth skater with plus-level four-way mobility (including a long, gazelle-like stride the length of the ice). Though he was a little green defensively when he arrived in the USHL, he has made fast progress and has really figured it out over the last two years (which included becoming a top penalty killer with the Gamblers after not starting there last year, and leading the Spartans in time on ice this year). His ceiling defensively is sky-high with the right development. That ceiling is led by a physical nature that regularly sees him bowl over opposing players (even on reverse hits) and outmuscle in 50/50 battles.

Offensively, he’s a heady passer and shot shaper but mostly impacts games offensively with how eager and loose he plays as a carrier and activator who confidently leads exits and entries and loves to hop off the line (including deep into the O-zone) and join the rush whenever he can with his skating. He also walks the line proficiently and can escape and control the puck against pressure, which allowed him to produce very high shot totals at MSU this year. And after beginning to take over games offensively and show a more dynamic element over the second half of last season in the USHL, he played with an abundance of confidence and identity in college hockey this season (even if that identity is a little haywire at times). He already possessed all of the tools he needed to become a stud, and he just keeps getting better and better. The decision-making is a little raw, but he’s very much still learning it in real time, and the raw tools are incredibly appealing. With continued fine-tuning, I believe there’s first-pairing upside there. I was very high on him coming into this season, and he still exceeded my expectations with his ability to impact play all over the ice and jump in and out of plays. The Spartans won his 22-23 minutes a game handily most nights. He’s a force.

Tier 3

Buium put together one of the better seasons by a teenaged defenceman in recent college history this year, producing at or above the rates of some established NHL stars and elevating again and again in big moments (the world juniors, the NCHC Tournament and finally for the national championship) to stamp himself as a top-10 pick. Because of his December 2005 birthday, Buium (the younger brother of Red Wings prospect Shai, who he got to jointly win that natty with at Denver) entered the national program a year ahead of Cole Eiserman and company. Last year, in his second season at the NTDP, he really hit his stride, becoming a driver for the U18s. But this season, after growing a little (he was listed at 5-foot-11 last year and is now listed at 6 feet by NHL Central Scouting), he not only maintained his identity in college but really expanded on it, playing leading minutes and impacting play in all areas with his very active brand of hockey.

He’s a plus-level skater and handler who plays an extremely involved game in all three zones, whether that’s activating into the rush or off the point, shaking pressure on exits or across/off the blue line (which he does extraordinarily well, making opposing players miss), working in and out of give-and-goes, or playing tight gaps against the rush. He’s a very busy player on both sides of the puck and he gets in and out of his transitions and footwork so quickly that he can play that style. When he’s dialed in, applying pressure on and off the puck and using his feet and his skating to influence play, he can really impact a game in a lot of ways. His skates and deception have gone from a strength to a game-breaking (or darn close) quality. His head is always on a swivel. He opens up and walks the line to create lanes for his shot and pass so well, even working off of his off-side. He side-steps past opposing players with ease. He’s got great hands (complemented by those inside edges and shoulder fakes). Some questioned his lack of physicality (with one scout even calling him soft) early on in the year but those questions were emphatically put to bed with the way he defended in the second half, going to work on some of the more talented forwards in college hockey defensively. He learned that the faster he cuts off plays the more he can play offense, and really began to take space more assertively defensively (on top of all of his stickwork and footwork).

He has played some very good hockey for a while now (last spring to finish strong at the NTDP, again at the World Junior Summer Showcase, again at the world juniors where he was pretty clearly one of USA’s four best D as its youngest, and then all year as a big-time freshman with the Pioneers). He was viewed as a late first-/early second-rounder coming in and turned everyone into a believer with his play. He projects to be a top-four, playing-driving, offensively involved defenceman with a chance at stardom.

Photo:

Jari Pestelacci / Getty Images

Parekh has turned me into a total believer over the last two seasons, even though that’s not the case for everyone. He might even be in a special tier offensively. Last season, despite playing in just 50 of Saginaw’s 68 games after missing three weeks due to injury from the end of February into March and another couple for the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge (where he scored three goals and five points in seven games as the highest-scoring defenseman on the fourth-place-finishing Canada Black), he still broke the OHL’s all-time goals record by a U17 defenseman, scoring 21 times and regularly looking dynamic on the puck as a rookie. An OHL Cup All-Star and first-round pick into the OHL before that, Parekh was then the most talented offensive defenseman in junior hockey this year, winning the OHL’s defenceman of the year award and scoring and producing at an all-time great draft-year rate, breaking the 30-goal and 90-point mark as the leading scorer on the Memorial Cup hosts by more than 20 points. Though he has missed some playoff games due to an upper-body injury I’m told he has played through in the games he has been in, he has been a difference maker for Saginaw in the postseason when he has played as well.

He plays an aggressive and natural offensive style that looks to attack off the line into the slot or even the front of the net or below the goal line. He’ll also regularly involve himself in the rush, much like a winger does, driving down the wall in control to look to challenge defenders and attack into his shot or create an odd-man rush. He’s extremely confident on offense and opening up his feet (where necessary) around the zone without going to his heel-to-heel by default. He’s got great hands and a balanced, almost casual-looking skating posture, which helps him carry pucks and beat the first layer of pressure to get to his spots. When the puck arrives on his stick, it just seems to stop and glue to him through his movements — a very rare quality that almost makes him look lackadaisical with the puck because it’s settled so easily into his pocket and upright stance. He likes to roam, but he’s also learning to pick his spots better and his head is constantly on a swivel to identify where he is in relation to his teammates. When he plays freely, which is almost always, you’re drawn to him whenever he touches the puck because he’s always a threat to make something happen. He protects the puck extremely well with players leaning on him, escaping situations you wouldn’t expect him to. He’s got great footwork and edges to manipulate across the line and stop up along the boards to change directions or maintain gaps.

I know some scouts were interested to see how he’d do at the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game on-ice testing and he performed well (he’s not the fastest going forward but his maneuverability compensates). And I also believe he defends at a high enough level to be given free rein to go out there and look to make plays. Though his defense is a common criticism among scouts, I’d argue he’s got a great stick and reads the play quite well. I’ve liked what I’ve seen from him on the penalty kill, and even though he definitely doesn’t play a physical style and can get exposed for not being hard enough in engagements, I think he’s made important progress in his own zone. There are times when his posture will look disengaged and upright, and you’d like him to really get low and battle, but he’s playing to win pucks with his stick and does so fairly well (he’s never going to be a staunch defender). Add in a frame that is a little more mature than I think people realize/give him credit for, that he’s a very good communicator (he’s constantly talking on the ice), passes that are almost always tape-to-tape and perfectly flat, an ability to draw penalties escaping pressure as well as just about anyone in the draft (he’s never in trouble), and a want to have the puck and make a difference, and there’s a very high-end package. He has played huge minutes for a top team this season and if he can defend at a reasonable level in the NHL (which I believe he’ll be able to) he’s got star power offensively. He won’t be for every team, but I’d pick him early without much hesitation and bet on the rare skill.

Photo:

Dennis Pajot / Getty Images

A dynamic goal scorer in the truest sense, Eiserman possesses an exhilarating ability to cleanly pick his spots in the net and regularly beat defenders and goalies one-on-one. He can score in every way: long-range, mid-range, jam plays, rush plays, quick hands in tight, the one-timer, a lethal catch and release (there isn’t a pass he can’t take and get off). Last year, he showed one of the better shots and sets of hands I’ve seen in a player that age. This year, he chased down Cole Caufield’s all-time NTDP goal-scoring record. He’s one of the younger players in the draft because of his late August birthday as well, which I think sometimes gets lost in evaluations of him because of how scrutinized he’s been over the last two years.

Eiserman is a shot creator and finisher who, against his peers, usually takes whatever he wants and seems to score at will (there have been big games where that has been tougher, causing some to question him, but I’ve also seen him come up big).

I actually think he’s a better skater than he has been given credit for in conversations I’ve had with folks about him, too (it’s above-average), but it’s his puck skill, quick release, shot variety (he can rip it in motion, off catch and releases, standing still and from a one-timer, and he’ll make goalies guess wrong in alone because of how fast his hands are) and sneaky strength (when he uses it, which he has started to do more of) that have allowed him to create with relative ease against his peers — though how easy that part of the game has always been to him has also created some bad habits. He can frustrate though, too, and scouts desperately want to see him round out his game and improve his play selection. He can be a little careless and selfish with the puck. He can get carried away trying to do too much, stickhandling into trouble or shooting into shin pads/forcing shots from bad spots on the ice/trying to be too cute. The play selection and habits definitely need some work, and have led to many understandably lowering him outside of the top-10 range I still have him in. He doesn’t miss when he’s got an opportunity, though, and it’s so, so hard to find goal scorers like him outside of the very top of the draft. I have seen him play pretty complete, competitive games too, so it is there. I’ve also seen him zip passes around and show a playmaking tilt and think he’s an underrated passer who actually identifies second and third options quite well even if he doesn’t always give the puck to them.

But where he goes will ultimately come down to which team believes the way he produces that “he’s about to score here” feeling every time the puck comes to him in a good spot supersedes the real work he needs to do in other areas. It’s cliché, but you can’t teach that. He looks to me, with a little coaching, like he’s capable of becoming a high-scoring winger and PP1 focal point. But I understand the reservations many have about him and his game. He’s a complicated player and kid.

Photo:

Jari Pestelacci / Getty Images

Dickinson is a very complete, projectable top-four defenceman who has size, high-end skating and a developing offensive game that has really rounded into form this season. Last year, he stepped right onto a deep Knights blue line at 16 (rare) and played bigger minutes by year’s end than some drafted guys (rarer), including in key situations in the playoffs. This season, he has played a leading role in all facets of the game on another strong London team (which has included successfully quarterbacking one of the power-play units and developing his shot into more of a weapon to nearly hit 20 goals).

He’s a strong 6-foot-3/4 defenseman whose skating is a major strength (forward, backward, four-way mobility, the full package for a defender his size). He plays firm and with confidence in who he is and what makes his game so successful. He defends at a very, very high level for his age both man-to-man, down low and positionally in his own zone. He has skill and poise with the puck (which began to reveal itself more at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup last summer and has stamped itself for the Knights this season) and has started to make better and more consistent reads under pressure (he’s showing real comfort and even deception past opposing forwards these days, and has shown some nice vision and touch as well). He’s not the most dynamic player with the puck, and some have concerns about his IQ (concerns I’m not sure I share) but he has all of the physical tools you look for, he can really shoot it (which I know he has worked on), he comfortably moves it, he has a high floor, and he could have a very high ceiling (at both ends) with continued development along the path he’s on. There are some who want to see him play a little meaner but he’s a dominant defender at the junior level and he competes/plays hard. He’s also helped by a June birthday that gives him some runway to continue to find new levels/layers. Scouts are extremely excited about his toolsy game and potential upside, and I am too. He can dominate a game in all three zones and four corners of the rink and there aren’t really any major holes, which is saying something for a defenseman his age. His size, skating and defence make him a top prospect. He’s got some offence, too. He looks like he’s going to be a two-way stud in the NHL. He is also by all accounts a great kid who has twice worn a letter for Hockey Canada already and could in London next year.

Photo:

Natalie Shaver / OHL Images

The WHL’s fourth-leading scorer this season, Catton registered 54 goals and 120 points in a combined 72 regular season and playoff games on a Spokane team that lost more games than it won. He had real pedigree even before this season, too, as a No. 1 pick into the WHL who was an offensive catalyst on a bad Chiefs team in his rookie season who also led Canada Red to a silver as captain at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge with 12 points in seven games and then again captained Canada at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup with a tournament-leading eight goals and 10 points in five games.

He’s dangerous whenever he’s on the puck and shines with his knifing, slippery game. Inside the offensive zone, the way he baits and shades, drawing players to him and then playmaking past them with a pass or a cut, is pretty impressive to watch. Catton is a heady playmaker who uses spacing to his advantage and sees the ice at an advanced level, regularly executing quick plays through coverage or delaying into a pre-planned play. He’s got multi-dimensional skill, with an ability to play both with speed on the rush (he’s a smooth, fast and nimble high-end skater) and more slowly inside the offensive zone when the pace ramps down and he has to spin away from pressure (which he does so well). He’s got great instincts offensively. He tracks back consistently and will get up and under sticks to win his fair share of battles, with more room to round out his game defensively (mostly inside his own zone). He thrives in tight spaces and on cutbacks, he can play on the perimeter or take it to the net, and he’s got a dangerous and quick release while moving. He does such a good job losing defenders with his back to them to avoid getting pinned down because of how adjustable his skating is through stops and starts and tight turns. He draws a lot of penalties with his skating. Catton went from fitting right in as a rookie who was asked to play center on a top line and handled it extremely well (he even won the majority of his draws last year) to constantly threatening as a deceptive and dangerous player offensively has positioned him as one of the top forward prospects in the draft. He was also a top penalty killer in the WHL this year. He’s got some very translatable top-six elements with his skating and skill set type. I believe he’s got the chops to stick as a center despite being on the smaller side, as well, because you want him getting touches lower in the zone so that his skating can lead in transition. He’s got a bit of an injury history which has impacted a couple of offseasons and led to him sitting out U18 Worlds, but he’s an exciting talent.

Photo:

Jonathan Kozub / Getty Images

Helenius put together one of the most productive under-18 seasons in Liiga history this year, entering into similar territory as names like Patrik Laine, Kaapo Kakko and Mikael Granlund without quite chasing down record holder Aleksander Barkov. He wasn’t just one of the better young players in Liiga, or one of the better players on Jukurit, either. He became one of the top players in the league, period — cemented by an excellent Liiga playoffs. He did while sticking at his natural center position despite being a 5-foot-11 17-year-old who won’t turn 18 until next week. At year’s end, he was also excellent in his debuts with the Finnish men’s team, earning a spot on their senior world championships roster. He was also Finland’s top player at U18s, though he didn’t completely take over in the way many expected and hoped he would. All this, after impressing at world under-17s (where he capped off an 11-in-seven tournament with a four-point performance in the bronze medal game) and last year’s U18 worlds (where I thought he really drove the bus on an otherwise disappointing team). All this, after playing 33 Liiga games as a 16-year-old last season (as the league’s youngest player and still registering 11 points). All this, after impressing at the World Junior Summer Showcase last summer months after his 17th birthday and still as the youngest player invited. All this, after centering a top-six line as an underager at the world juniors (where he wasn’t a star but I thought played better than his two points in seven games indicated).

There were some who wondered for a time if he’d be a center or winger at the NHL level, but he’s solid in the faceoff circle, his defensive play is where it needs to be and then some (it’s a real strength of his game), and he’s got an impressive understanding of how to forecheck, track, and engage for pucks with his body and stick

Helenius is a joy to watch navigate, manipulate and pass the puck with his smarts and intuition. He’s got an ability to find his teammates in space and then get pucks to them with the perfect weight and timing, even while he’s well covered. He also stirs the drink through his effort level, regularly coming up with pucks when you don’t expect him to while quietly and efficiently impacting play at both ends of the rink and coming up with a ton of steals and lifts. He’s both a driver and a playmaker. He does such a good job identifying lanes and taking what the defense gives him. He’ll look for his own look when it’s there or play in a quick give-and-go when spacing tightens up. He seems to create constantly. He’s a good though not great skater (which has led to some ranking him outside their top 10s). He anticipates the play at a very high level off the puck (the puck just seems to find him again and again inside the offensive zone). He shields pucks extremely well and can play keep away to wait for his options to open up. He’s got a sixth sense for timing and spacing. He’s always in good support positions and always seems to make the right decisions with the puck. He’s got vision and finesse and a real east-west game. He’s a problem-solver.

He looks like a top-10 pick to me. He has looked pretty clearly like one of the draft’s most intelligent forwards in my viewings. I like the determination he plays with, too. He has already proven to be a pro play driver as well. I think he’s got real top-six prospects as a centre, which is hard to come by.

Photo:

Mikko Kankainen / Jukurit

Silayev is a unicorn 6-foot-7 defenseman who surprised some people with a hot start offensively in the KHL and rose to the top of the class playing legitimate minutes for one of the KHL’s better teams for most of the year (including in the playoffs) — an extremely rare feat for a 17-year-old. His 11 points in 63 games broke the league’s under-18 scoring record (Vladimir Tarasenko had 10 points and Kirill Kaprizov and Evgeny Kuznetsov each had eight at the same age). He played on the power play, consistently registered multiple shots per game and even played both sides.

Silayev is an excellent skater who walks the line with ease, drops back onto his heels comfortably, and pushes forward to either carry pucks up ice, close gaps, or disrupt a carrier with an active stick. Despite how prodigious his play has been, he looks like he’s only scratching the surface of his true potential as well and impressed again in the playoffs (though he didn’t take over and produce in the MHL playoffs after his KHL season was done quite like some were hoping he would). He’s got more steps to take in his decision-making on the puck (I find he’s a little too trigger-happy — he actually shows good poise and comfort when he doesn’t rush), his shot (which he gets off in volume and does a good job putting on target, but will definitely add power as he gets stronger and works on it), and his ability to really impose himself with his size (which he really learned to do this year, leading Torpedo in hits). He has shown some soft skill for a big man, he’s disruptive in zone defense and hard to beat off the rush because of his length, and there’s plenty of room for continued growth and development within his game. Many scouts think he’s the top D prospect in the draft. I’m still partial to Levshunov but I see the appeal of Silayev and the projection some are making on him (though I don’t think he has as much offence as some thought he might out of the gate this season, largely due to average smarts). His upside is obviously extremely high though, especially if he can get stronger (without losing his mobility) and continue to develop his offensive game. I’m just not sure I’d bet on it in the top five (which at points this season I would have).

Photo:

Maksim Konstantinov / Getty Images

Lindstrom is a big, strong center with prototypical power forward tools as an excellent skater who already uses his size to his advantage, whether through finishing his checks, shielding pucks, pushing through contact or going to the net front to provide screens. He’s also got decent-to-very-good skill and quick hands, both in flight and around the net and the wall. He can play off of the puck, take up space in front and make plays in tight, or jump into space off the rush with his skating, play on the cycle and stay over pucks to help his team maintain possession inside the offensive zone, create in transition — putting defenders on their heels with a head of steam — and even make skill plays from a standstill inside the offensive zone. He’s a strong, powerful skater who can pull away in open ice and win races. He’s also strong in the faceoff circle and distinctively competitive. He looks like a safely projectable second-line center, which at his height and with his skating would make him a pretty rare player type in the league. There are some who believe he might even have first-line upside as well.

After undergoing a minor hand operation and dealing with a bit of a back issue, he didn’t look himself in the WHL playoffs and skipped out on U18 worlds to get healthy, though, limiting his second half viewings with scouts. He’s an easy player to like and one most scouts see a lot of potential in. The expectation is still that he’ll be picked higher than where I have him here, but a lack of second-half viewings and the injuries do complicate his projection and will be a talking point as teams debate him as a top-5 talent or more of a top-10 guy. In the front half of this season, though, it was really easy to see why so many were excited about him, given his makeup, size and position. I’d certainly sooner slot him higher than lower here considering everything.

Photo:

Jonathan Kozub / Getty Images

Tier 4

After playing his rookie season in a limited role with the WHL champion Seattle Thunderbirds — at times even scratched — Tij, the son of Jarome Iginla and the No. 9 pick in the 2021 WHL Bantam Draft, was traded last June to Kelowna and took off with the Rockets in his draft year, regularly looking dangerous both off the rush and attacking inside the offensive zone.

He’s an excellent skater who can beat you in a straight-out race, cut past you laterally with quick weight shifts, or build speed through tight crossover patterns around the offensive zone. On the puck, he’s a threatening individual creator who can create in knifing bursts and works quickly to put defenders on their heels, attacking on angles and jumps. Off of it, he’s got great instincts for jumping into gaps in coverage to get open for his linemates. His snapshot, which has a traditional look to it and is more wrists and leverage than the curl-and-drag you commonly see now, is a major weapon, consistently beating goalies cleanly with both its pop and how quickly it comes off. He’s got high-end handling (he’s got impressive hands in tight and always seems to handle his first touch at speed, even when pucks are put into his feet) and adjustability, which blends with real creativity to create an often-dynamic one-on-one player. He’s also a fan-favorite type who gets after it on the forecheck and involves himself in the play often with some sneaky strength (though I think his defensive awareness and consistency still need to come). Add in NHL puck skill and a dangerous and heavy wrister from midrange, and you’ve got a fun player and prospect. Add in the emergence of a power game that has seen him really begin to see him take pucks to the inside and drive the net and suddenly you’ve got a perimeter and interior offensive threat who has strength, speed, skill, and scoring in his profile. He’s got a top-six, scoring-skill-jump profile. Some NHL scouts may not be as sold on him as many in the public sphere are, and he didn’t dominate at U18s like some hoped he would (though he was impactful), but he’s got a ton of tools and they’ve come along at an exciting rate. He’s going to score goals and make plays in the NHL.

Photo:

Steve Dunsmoor / CHL Images

One of the highest-scoring and most penalized draft-eligible WHL defensemen in recent WHL history, Yakemchuk broke the rare 30-goal and 70-point benchmarks, and also sailed past 100 penalty minutes with the Hitmen (who missed the playoffs) this year. That’s a year after he scored 19 goals (third among WHL D) on a middle-of-the-pack team and was the only 2024 draft-eligible to make one of the WHL’s All-Star teams when he was named a Central Division Second All-Star last season, which was important considering he was only a couple of weeks away from being eligible for the 2023 draft. I thought he was mostly unnoticeable at U18 worlds for Canada a year ago, but part of that was his role/usage and he looked completely himself in an even greater role on another lackluster team this season.

Led by his instincts, plenty of confidence and legit skill for a D his size, he generated a lot from the back end for a Hitmen team that generated little. While his game in the WHL does come with some give and take, he’s got pro size, a pro shot (maybe an understatement given his gaudy goal totals) and an attack mentality that is complemented by an active disposition to eagerly jump off the line or into the rush — and also a developing sense for when to hold it (or back) or outlet it. He also protects the puck extremely well for a defenseman, which allows him to make the most of his decisions to involve himself in the play around the offensive zone, holding pucks past and away from reaching defenders and sometimes dazzling one-on-one. It’s not uncommon to see him take a puck to the inside off the wall. And while I’d say he’s a good-but-not-great defender, he’s got the size and tools (it never hurts when you’re a 6-foot-3 righty) to take the steps he needs to there and he plays really hard at both ends. I would like to see his skating, which is fine but not a strength, improve, particularly from a standstill (where he can be a little slow out of the blocks). There were games this season in which he dictated terms with his offense and physicality, really taking charge on the ice. If he can get a little quicker and continue to mature in his decision-making, he’s got real upside. After bouncing between the back of my second tier and the front of my third one throughout the season, though, I ultimately settled on the latter. There’s a clear group of six in this draft for me but he’s also clearly the sixth for me. His handedness might help him go a little earlier than one or two of those I have in front of him, though.

Photo:

Jari Pestelacci / Getty Images

Brandsegg-Nygard is one of the most well-rounded and projectable forwards in this class and the best of a strong wave of Norwegian players now playing around Europe. He’s an October 2005 with a pro frame who played to above a point per game at the junior level and scored his first pro goal in HockeyAllsvenskan last season. He lost out on playoff action and a chance to play for the senior men’s national team at worlds after undergoing knee surgery last March, but he was healthy in time for his draft year and got off to an excellent start, registering nine points in his first three J20 games and quickly establishing himself back with the pro club, building as the season progressed toward a standout postseason that saw him register 10 points in 12 playoff games at Sweden’s second-rung pro level.

Brandsegg-Nygard’s game is built upon his work ethic and drive. He’s a multifaceted shooter who can score from the top of the circles with his wrister but also gets down to one knee and really powers through a good one-touch shot — skills that have helped him excel on both the flank and the bumper on the power play across domestic and international levels. He’s not a dynamic individual play creator but he’s got pro size, he works extremely hard and engages himself in the play, he plays well off of his linemates, and he’s got good all-around skill. He also plays the game with a physical tilt even against pros, constantly engaging in battles and keeping his effort level ramped up. He’s got a commitment to staying on pucks and finishing his checks, and uses a long stick to protect pucks well out wide to his body. He’s got good straight-line skating. He looks like a projectable middle-six driver to me, and potentially a solid top-sixer as the third guy on a more talented line with the right development. There are some who aren’t sure he’s quite skilled enough for the front half of the first round, but those numbers dwindled after his playoffs (and a four-goal game with the men’s team in a 4-3 win against Denmark in a world championship tune-up) and you won’t find any who don’t at least like his game/style. I thought about ranking him a spot or two higher here.

Photo:

Bjorn Larsson / AFP via Getty Images

RW

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Tier 4

HockeyAllsvenskan

A star prospect who would have gone at the very top of the OHL draft had he not chosen to go to the Chicago Steel and commit to the University of Michigan, Hage was limited to 13 games last season (five goals, five assists and 10 points) after undergoing shoulder surgery from an injury suffered in an early practice as a 16-year-old rookie with the team. There are some USHL and NCAA circles who believe that had he not lost that time, he might have been in the top-10 conversation in this draft class. Then, for a time, some viewed him as more of a late first. And while I expect him to go 15-25, I really believe in his top-15 merits at year’s end. The Steel really struggled out of the gate this year but both he and the team found another level in the second half and there was a multi-month stretch in the New Year where he was debatably the USHL’s best forward.

Hage is a natural center who has it all. He’s got pro size and skating, he’s got dual-threat skill as a shooter and passer, he’s naturally talented as a handler, he can create for himself or elevate a line, he plays hard, he stays on pucks, he battles, and he reads the game at an advanced level with an intelligent approach to the way he maneuvers around the ice. I like him in puck control/protection. He’s got detail and work ethic. He’s also, I’m told, taller by an inch or two than his NHL Central Scouting listing, with room to fill out his lean and athletic frame after lost time in the gym. And he has driven and produced offensively to stamp himself as one of the draft’s top prospects despite there being little around him with the Steel and after missing most of last season. I could see him following a path similar to the one Joshua Roy has followed in Montreal as a star minor hockey prospect who wasn’t drafted in the first round but worked his way back into that kind of cachet after the draft (Hage is going to be a mid-first round pick, though). He should have been on Team Canada at U18 worlds, but it’s my understanding that he wasn’t invited. With a good summer in the gym, I expect him to make an immediate impact as a freshman at Michigan. His blend of size, skating, skill, drive, scoring, playmaking and sense is hard to come by in a center.

Photo:

Alina Nelson / Chicago Steel

Sennecke is a high-skill individual player with size who, after an up-and-down start to his draft season, became a game-changer from the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game on and finished on an emphatic note with an excellent playoff performance with the Gens, regularly pulling people out of their seats. He’s got one of the most exciting pure skill sets in the draft. One of the more productive rookies in the OHL last year, Sennecke was a standout on a young Oshawa team, earning Second All-Rookie Team honors and playing both wings successfully (he’s a right-handed shot but often played the left wing with would-be Avalanche draft pick Calum Ritchie, although he played mostly right wing this year). He looked a little skinny when I first went to see him play last year, and he has still looked that way in repeat viewings in Oshawa and also Moncton (where I know scouts were keen to watch him closely at the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game and where I thought he was one of White’s most noticeable players with the puck and worked hard, which was the start of a positive trend in his game), but his stride and shot, which both lacked power a year ago, have made clear progress. His release, which has always been naturally quick, now has some oomph, and his skating has really smoothed out and looks like a borderline strength, which has helped his dynamic rush game.

Sennecke can definitely handle the puck. He’s got extremely soft hands and a confidence on it, even under pressure spinning and weaving off the wall or attacking right into defenders with his stick skill — regularly finding his way out of tough spots and traffic with craft and creativity. The puck just sticks to him. He also moves well in control, side-stepping checks and sticks nicely. He’s impressively dexterous and does a good job catching bad passes and handling the puck in his feet. But he does have a habit of playing one-on-one a little too much at times (though the staff in Oshawa has learned to live with it), which has frustrated some but also often thrills in sequences. He’ll dangle past a defender multiple times a game, but turn the puck over trying to be a hero when there are better plays. There are also times when he needs to empty the tank on the backcheck, but he’s made more of an effort to finish his checks and battle through contact as this year progressed (I’ve seen some games in which he has battled and others in which he hasn’t, and I know that frustrated some scouts for a time because it is there, but he seemed to elevate in the playoffs). He has legitimate high-end talent on the puck, he was one of Oshawa’s only real play creators, and his feet and stick move in and out of unison to shade away from opposing reach-ins niftily. He also sees through coverage well and — when he’s not so focused on making the individual play — can really pass it through gaps in coverage. He’s one of the only players likely to go in the middle of the first round with clear top-six upside. He comes with some questions, but the potential reward is obvious. With a little more muscle and maturity, his game could continue to take off.

Photo:

David St. Louis / CHL Images

Connelly is a talented playmaking winger who has been highly productive and consistently flashed exciting individual skill over the last two seasons, with Tri-City in the USHL and for Team USA at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup (where he led the Americans in scoring with 10 points in five games on route to a bronze medal), the World Jr. A Challenge (where he again led the Americans with 11 points in six games on route to a bronze medal), and then at the under-18 worlds (where he made some pretty plays and scored a Michigan goal, but also had extended shifts of offensive zone time in a good pairing with L.J. Mooney) before he was ejected from the gold medal game for an illegal check to the head. He’s committed to Providence.

Teams have expressed character-based concerns, though, further detailed here.

Connelly’s a high-end talent who has room to develop physically and add strength, and whose slight build doesn’t hold back his shot (which uses a quick release to fool goalies, although his one-touch shots in the slot do often lack power) or his skating (which is really fast and pretty fluid even without the muscle/power that’s coming). I like his work rate off of the puck. He might possess the best hands in the draft after Demidov, and his on-puck movement at speed, offensive-zone problem solving, and touch as a passer all also get high grades, regularly making difficult skill plays in tight coverage and finding his way out of trouble or through traffic. He’s a dynamic one-on-one player who can turn defenders and goalies inside out with his hands and uses quick crossovers and a light skating stride to be agile on cuts, jumps and changes of direction. He’s creative. He seems to have a really good understanding of how to deploy his skill and outsmart opposing structures. He’s as comfortable playing off of his backhand as his forehand. He plays pucks under sticks and into space as well as anyone in his age group. And while he can try to do too much, or force one-on-one plays into congested areas, or be too cute, you live with it because of all of the times he also makes something out of nothing. He’s not going to always be able to look for the pretty play as he progresses up levels but Connelly’s ability to beat players laterally and shake around and through coverage, combined with his playmaking sense, gives him top-six, PP1 NHL upside as a player.

Photo:

Steven Ellis / Daily Faceoff

Tier 5

Hemming is very interesting prospect who has battled inconsistencies in his play at times but has also often shown real skill and upside/pro tools offensively.

Last year, his deployment at Finland’s U20 level fluctuated with TPS after showing so much promise early on (which included a strong showing at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge before an illness kept him out of Finland’s last two games, and a six-point hat trick with TPS’s junior team). Then, after hitting a bit of a wall late in the year, he was dangerous again internationally at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, where his four goals and nine points in five games led the Finns to a bronze medal. This year, Hemming turned heads with his skill when at the junior level and had some really nice stretches of play in Liiga as well, scoring his first seven pro goals as a 17-year-old (he won’t turn 18 until next summer). But again, after making the Finnish world junior team, bouts of careless play in his own zone resulted in a minutes reduction. He finished on a high note for me at U18 worlds, though, consistently (key word) looking noticeable on the puck and dangerous in the slot where he got a ton of looks for himself.

Hemming has clear tools as a 6-foot-1, 200-ish-pound winger with real individual skill as both a handler and a shooter and good skating. His fitness has at times been a question (sounds like he’s the kind of player who adds weight more easily than others, so he has to watch his nutrition carefully) but he’s a very strong kid who looks like a pro athlete already. I’d like to see him use his size a little more, but that’s not uncommon for a player his age and he does go to the interior for his looks, so that’s more a commentary on my wanting to see him knock some guys over physically. He’s got high-end (or close) skill, a dangerous wrister on the power play (from the flank and the bumper) and a quick, one-touch release and catch-and-release motion. When the puck comes off of his blade, it rattles. There were games at U18s and the junior level this year in which he had 10-plus quality looks from the home plate and all of them required good saves to stop. When the puck lands on his stick and he looks to attack and keeps his feet moving, he can create looks and beat defenders and goalies. Every time he gets a chance, it feels dangerous. He’s got a powerful one-timer now. His skating looks fast and sees him gain steps on D when he plays against his peers. He can be a lot to handle. There are the makings of a potential top-six player in there, but he does have work to do to round out his game (I’d like to see him develop more of a passing game too, which could really open up his offense even further), and he comes with some risk as a result.

Photo:

Steven Ellis / Daily Faceoff

RW

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Tier 5

Liiga U20

Greentree’s an interesting one because he was just OK at last summer’s Hlinka Gretzky Cup and played his way to a diminished role at this spring’s U18 worlds (after he stood out in pre-tournament he seemed to struggle with the pace against the better teams) for Canada, but he was tremendous all year long for Windsor and one of the most consistent game-to-game players in the OHL. Last year, on a deep Spitfires team, his consistency made him a regular factor, he scored 25 goals, and he was named to the league’s First All-Rookie Team. This year, he was named captain of the Spits as they began a rebuild and led the team in scoring by a wide margin (his 90 points were 24 more than his nearest teammate) to prove he could drive offense himself. But despite having a makeup (size, strength, shot, secondary skill, work ethic, habits, etc.) that usually lends itself to being universally well-liked, and despite a strong showing at the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game (in which he scored, was robbed and had multiple looks) in a measuring-stick game against other top prospects, he has some skeptics.

Greentree’s a big, strong kid whose game is all about being around it. He finds his ways onto pucks inside the offensive zone, stays on them, wins battles, keeps his feet moving (though a little slowly from a standstill) even though he’s not the quickest player, plays an opportunistic style, and then has decent skill and an NHL release (the puck comes off of his stick hard and quickly, and hits his spots). I haven’t seen a dynamic quality, and his skating needs work (though his speed is decent when he gets going and it’s more through his first few steps), but he’s got pro size and a well-rounded toolkit and showed more and more individual skill to build out a nice statistical profile to complement the completeness of his game this season. Nobody was surprised when he was named Windsor’s captain, either. He’s not going to be a front-line guy but he looks like he’s got the makings of a solid NHL forward who can play up and down a lineup. When one part of his game isn’t working, he has typically had a B game to fall back on. Concerns about his pace of play and lack of a dynamic quality have left some believing he’s more of a late first or second than a top-20 guy but I think a team could benefit from not reading too much into his U18s.

Photo:

Tim Cornett / OHL Images

Parascak was a fourth-round pick in the WHL Bantam Draft who played at Edge School last year and went scoreless in five WHL games before bursting onto the scene this season, quickly climbing the lists of NHL scouts. He broke 40 goals and 100 points and finished top 10 in the WHL in goals, assists and points while also finishing tied for second in short-handed points with eight. He’s also had a respectable playoffs for the Cougars, producing above a point per game. And while he has certainly benefited from playing primarily on a line with veterans Ondrej Becher and Zac Funk (the league’s goal-scoring champ and now a free-agent signing of the Washington Capitals), he has fit in perfectly with Funk’s power-scoring game and Becher’s play-driving.

Parascak’s off-puck timing and spatial awareness have defined his game, as he regularly gets into the right spots at the right time to bang home rebounds, tap in backdoor passes or get out in transition to give his D a stretch option on outlets (without really cheating for it). He anticipates play offensively and defensively at a very high level, knows how to get open and play to his linemates’ strengths, has a great wrister and one-touch shot from midrange, always goes to the net when the play funnels there instead of hanging out wide, and has skill around the net and in tight to his body when challenged by defenders. He also uses his linemates extremely well, has shown nice touch as a passer, and has easy handling ability. He’s not a flashy skater (though I think he’s a better, more controlled skater than I and others realized after earlier viewings) or individual play creator off the rush, but with timing and good skill, he makes things happen offensively. He always seems to be around chances and certainly knows where to be and how to get lost in coverage/use spacing to his advantage. He has had some big point-total/shot-total nights this year where he has gotten or set up looks on a shift-to-shift basis with his timing and game sense. Scouts have to decide whether his smarts can carry him into a top-nine role with dual special teams value in the NHL, and how high they’re prepared to bet on it. I like him in the early 20s but wouldn’t balk at late-teens.

Photo:

James Doyle / CHL Images

Adam Jiricek, the younger brother of Blue Jackets top prospect David, is a summer birthday who worked his way from junior into Czechia’s top pro rung as a 16-year-old last season. He lost this season to a pair of knee injuries (one right before the world juniors and then another almost right away in the tournament, the latter of which required surgery and ended his season) though and even before he went down, I didn’t think his draft year had gone as well as he would have hoped for and I was starting to question why some were as high on him as they were. Still, it’s not a coincidence he played atop Czechia’s defense alongside Los Angeles Kings draft pick Jakub Dvorak, even as an underager, at last year’s U18 worlds, and it’s not a coincidence he made the early jump to the pro game (he was also excellent at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup).

He doesn’t have quite the presence his brother has, but Adam plays the game with confidence and intention and has shown real ambition at times against his peers. He’s got good four-way mobility, an active disposition (he has also shown at the pro level that he can simplify and play a more effective game), balanced shooting mechanics, and an eye for spacing and for identifying opportunities to jump on both sides of the puck, plus legit skill with the puck to build upon. There are definitely tools and room to grow his game and fill out his frame. He’s also competitive, I like his defensive habits and he’s got size and ability. I remain a little more cautious in my evaluation of him than most scouts because he feels a little rawer than the defensemen in front of him here to me, though. And the injury is a setback. I thought about ranking him one or two spots lower here.

Photo:

Vaclav Salek / Associated Press

Chernyshov is a November 2005 who has progressed in line with his older age. He established himself as a point-per-game MHL player and scored his first KHL goal (at 16 years and 352 days, he was actually the 11th-youngest player to ever play in a KHL game) last season and bounced between the MHL and KHL this year, showing mostly well in limited usage with Dynamo Moscow’s pro team and registering 28 points in 22 games when he played with his peers. At the junior level, I felt he created more looks than his production suggested in the first half of the season. Then, in the second half, the points really started to fall and his production elevated back to where it belonged to reaffirm his clear first-round merits.

He’s a big, strong winger and modern power-forward type where driving is a part of his identity but not to a bullish fault as his only focus. He plays a straight-line game and has the individual skill and a quick release to go at defenders and make plays off the rush or finish from the slot with a quick, one-touch shot in zone. He’s a smooth enough skater, which complements his impressive rush package without needing dynamic burst. Add in a relatively committed game off the puck and there’s a lot to like about his mold. He can attack at defenders in a variety of ways, threaten on the puck or get open off of it, and he works hard enough. With his tools and versatile skill, he profiles like a pro; a future top-nine NHL winger and secondary creator on a line. Patience will be important as he builds his game up in the KHL over the next couple of years but he’s got the makings of a solid contributor.

Photo:

Vladimir Fedorenko / Associated Press

Kiviharju is the player on this list who has been on the scene the longest. Due to the time he has lost in his draft year following ACL surgery, his past context is also particularly relevant because of the role it will play when he’s selected.

He made the leap to Finland’s top junior league at 15 and didn’t just play but excelled, immediately becoming one of its most productive defensemen and even wearing a letter on his jersey. He then played and starred at the U18 worlds three times — first in Germany at 16, topping Finland’s blue line with six points in six games to help steer them (figuratively, but also literally steering the game on the ice) to a silver medal; again in Switzerland (still as an underager), where he was the best defenseman on a team that disappointingly lost in the quarters; and now once more in his return from injury on home ice in Espoo as captain. He also led the Finns to bronze at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, again as an underager. Last season, after an excellent preseason with TPS, it looked like he might play his way into becoming the youngest full-time player in Liiga and at the world juniors. But then he struggled to establish himself, bounced between levels and was one of the final cuts for Finland’s under-20 national team. This season, after making a move away from TPS to join HIFK for his draft year, he established himself as a top-six D, played on both special teams, scored his first pro goal, and then got hurt (he would have been a top player for a Finnish world junior team that could have used him on the back end, too).

He was always going to need a big year in order for teams to use a high pick on a diminutive defenseman, which makes the time lost that much more impactful and added pressure for him to perform at U18 worlds (where he was good and played a huge role but didn’t dominate). I still like him in the late first round, but even then, many NHL scouts would be hesitant taking him there.

I’m a fan of the way Kiviharju plays the game and he’s undeniably one of the smartest players in the draft. He manages play in front of him with impressive poise and comfort, directing and influencing play all the way down the ice. He effortlessly advances play under pressure inside his own zone, side-stepping forecheckers to headman pucks. He walks the line beautifully, with a knack for shaping shots through to the net. His first touch on the move is always perfectly caught. He’s clever. He processes the game faster than the opposition and sees things that others don’t see. And he’s a intelligent defender who gaps up well and gets pucks going the other way quickly with little bump passes and exits in order to offset some of his size limitations.

He’s definitely most noticeable breaking the puck out of his own zone, where his little carries and outlets make a big difference. He shows deception across the line though as well, although there are times when I’d like to see him look to attack and take charge himself in the offensive zone a little more. It can look like he’s always trying to set up the next heady little play instead of just commanding it. When he does really attack, he usually accomplishes what he’s looking to as well because he’s hyper aware out there of the way the play develops. Cerebral is the perfect word. He can lack a separation gear and quickness in straight lines, which can result in a lot of resets and concerns about the translatability of his game at his size, but he’s quick and comfortable through his crossovers and usually makes the right play when he does have to turn back and regroup. He reads the game well defensively to break up plays with good timing, too. He also plays his off-side comfortably. I still like him and think his tactile game (eyes always up, picking teams apart) and high IQ will win out. He’s quietly competitive, too. But the lost year could hurt his development, projection and status. He’s going to need to add another gear as well, probably.

Photo:

Daniela Porcelli / Associated Press

It’s not easy to score 30 goals in the USHL in your draft year, let alone 35-plus, and this year’s Muskegon team has had two players do that in Boisvert and Matvei Gridin. It’s even harder to do as a center who is counted upon and keyed in on. But as one rival USHL coach put it to me: “Sacha Boisvert is a really good player.” Boisvert, a top prospect in Quebec growing up who was a first-round pick into the QMJHL even after he’d gone to the U.S. for the final two years of his minor hockey, is a North Dakota commit who was named to the USHL’s All-Rookie Second Team last year after he finished third on the Lumberjacks in scoring as a 16-year-old. As a 17-year-old, he was named an alternate captain for Muskegon and has played big minutes, often playing 20-24 in the second half of the season before finishing fifth in the league in goals (36) and 11th in points (68 in 61).

Boisvert’s got desired height and position on his side, room to fill out his once-wiry frame (which he already added a bunch of muscle to last summer; he still looks lean with further growth to come), and NHL skill and competitiveness. Intangibles come up a lot when you speak to people about him (he even dropped the gloves a few times this year, including in the playoffs). The skill includes a quick and accurate NHL-level release, good instincts on and off the puck, above-average feet (he’s a decent skater, even if a little upright in his stance), a developing power game and great feel with the puck on his stick both at speed and in slowing the game down (though a high grip and long stick can occasionally limit him with the puck so far out in front of his body). Add in his impressive work ethic and a two-way commitment and there’s a lot to like. He’s got to put some more weight on and improve in the faceoff circle (which will come with more strength) but there’s a projectable game there with the right development/refinement and I’m confident the staff at North Dakota will do a good job with him. He’s got middle-six upside and there was some top-15 chatter about him late in the year, but after struggling to be a game-changer in tighter playoff games, I wonder if that has softened.

Photo:

Courtesy of Muskegon Lumberjacks

Mews is a player of varied opinions that scouts aren’t quite sure what to make of. I still think he belongs as a late-first rounder, though. The No. 7 pick in the 2022 OHL Priority Selection, Mews played an important role on one of the best teams in the OHL as a rookie last season and was a top prospect coming up. His draft year was up and down and a learning experience that included a lot of coaching, but he still finished near a point per game. He has also been a staple of Canada’s top fours in his age group across three different events now — first in a standout showing as the captain of the otherwise disappointing Canada White at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, tying for the team scoring lead with eight points in six games; then in another strong performance at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, again leading Canada’s defense in scoring; and more recently as a PP quarterback and more of a contributor than top player on a blue line that was more by-committee at U18 worlds (he did hit a couple of posts and was probably owed more on the stat sheet). There were times this season where he looked sloppy and unsure of himself (or like he was reluctant to play his style with the 67’s), though more so early on than in the second half (I actually think he made some important progress in the new year). Some have softened their outlook on him but I still like how his game could translate up levels, especially with a team that involves their D, and I know there are others who agree.

Mews is an athletic, right-handed shot who is capable (keyword) of consistently driving and tilting play from the back end. When he’s at his best, he dictates play by regularly looking to activate into the rush or off the line to use his skill and playmaking ability from the back end. He’s capable of defending hard, too (though sometimes I think he’s working harder than he is effectively in battles). But he has struggled at times with his positioning and seems to get beat one-on-one or on misreads a little too often (everything, as one scout said to me, is just a little too “chaotic” with him at the moment). He’s actually a good skater, too, so those things should be happening a little less than they do. I love his attack and take-instead-of-give mentality offensively, and it’s complemented by NHL skill, an NHL shot and an ability to execute against coverage and pressure to the middle third of the ice (he’s an impressive slot passer). His business inside the offensive zone, jumping in and out of the play, will occasionally catch him in a bad spot, but can also really impact play and offense when his team needs it. He’s still got some learning to do on how to mitigate risk and when to push or hold but he has shown more signs that he’s learning how to apply his game. His ceiling will be determined by the consistency of his reads and choices (there are times when he can wait too long to move his decisions with the puck and others where he’ll move it too quickly, which speaks to immaturity in his game but also maybe confidence). I understand the concerns some have but remain hopeful he’ll put it all together. He has the tools and talent.

Photo:

Luke Durda / OHL Images

I like this kid. Sahlin Wallenius is an excellent skater (one of the better-skating D in the draft) and playmaker who transports pucks through neutral ice, joins the rush, jumps in and out of lanes, and then has the cleverness needed to hold and play pucks into space with proper timing and stick and positioning needed to complement his mobility and make him a plus-level defender. He has been a leader and big-minutes player in the 2006 age group internationally for Sweden.

He takes what’s given while maintaining an eager and involved game. He can make north-south and east-west plays. He’s got good hands for a defenseman. His offensive-zone instincts are already there. And whenever I watch him, it feels like he has taken a step since the last viewing as he builds confidence and finds new ways to impact play. He’s able to get back into the play if he has jumped up into it, and competes well enough (his skating makes his defense a strength but I’d like to see him play a little harder in corners/along the boards at times). There were two legit 2024 D prospects on Vaxjo’s J20 team this season, and I was partial to Alfons Freij coming into the year but, to me, Sahlin Wallenius looked like the better prospect throughout the season. They both have first-round talent and warrant consideration in the 20s and 30s. Sahlin Wallenius, led by his mobility, looks like a clear first-rounder to me. I expect him to, with another good summer of training (he looked a little taller at U18s than he did when I last saw him at Five Nations), play pro hockey next year.

Photo:

Steven Ellis / Daily Faceoff

Massé was the first forward taken in the QMJHL’s 2022 draft (No. 3) and lived up to the selection (which was not the consensus choice at the time), playing to nearly a point per game and nearly 30 goals as a 16-year-old last season as the leading goal scorer (second in points) on a young Chicoutimi team and winning the CHL’s rookie of the year award. He has earned high praise from around the QMJHL and also performed well for Canada at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, scoring five goals and six points in five games. This year, though his production only took a modest step, he scored 36 goals and led Chicoutimi in scoring by 15 points with 75 points in 67 games. At U18 worlds, he played more limited minutes than I expected he would but played well in them (I think it had more to do with the way a couple of other lines really clicked than him) and still managed to be productive.

Massé possesses a natural and versatile shot and above-average skill across the board. But it’s the completeness of his game that really stands out for a player his age. He can penalty kill, he’ll go to the dirty areas and make plays around the net, he battles, and he’s just a well-rounded player who stays around it and goes to the right spots, whether that’s swinging to the wall to pick up cycled pucks before defenders do or popping out into the slot at the right time. With continued work on his below-average skating (which will likely mean he’s picked lower than where I have him here, as some scouts are concerned about his pace of play), he’ll be a good NHL player. I thought he had one of the better performances on a thinner Team Red up front at the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game, too, which probably helped his softening first-round stock for some. He played well from there on out, too, which included a four-goal game in January and leading Chicoutimi on one of the longer win streaks of the QMJHL season. He reminds me of recent, well-rounded QMJHL draft picks like Dawson Mercer and Zach Dean, though I think he has more skill than the latter did at the same age. I still think he’s a late first-rounder.

Basha really impressed me this season, both early on while playing on a line with Cayden Lindstrom before his injury and in the second half when he continued to manufacture offense on his own in Lindstrom’s absence as a real driver. He’s also a couple of inches taller than he was a year ago, which has helped with his projection. He just looked really good, very consistently.

He’s a good but not great skater (his skating has come a long way in the last 2-3 years) who gets off the mark quickly and attacks in short bursts but isn’t a burner. And while he has excellent hands, he doesn’t hold onto the puck too long (a common problem for players with his skill set), instead using a two-touch shot or a quick handle into a deft pass back against the grain to make the majority of his plays on the puck. His patience then becomes a utility rather than a crutch, only going to it when he needs to and relying on quick reads the rest of the time. He’s also an extremely competitive player and kid who has a real willingness to forecheck, play through bumps and fight for positioning and possession, with skill and tenaciousness in the dirty areas. He also plays the game with a bit of a chip on his shoulder and can get under guys’ skin. He makes plays under sticks and through feet and into space, he thrives moving off the puck in and out of give-and-gos, and he has legitimate skill. Once the cream of the crop is gone in this draft, he’s right there in that next cluster for me in the late-first/second round. I’ve really liked watching him play.

Photo:

Jonathan Kozub / Getty Images

Ritchie is another on a long list of summer birthdays in this draft class who excelled as 16-year-olds in their respective leagues last season. He finished third on a bottom-of-the-standings Prince Albert team, scoring nearly a point per game. I liked what I saw of him at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge as well, and he was one of Canada’s most dangerous forwards at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup to kick-start this year as a standout for scouts — play that continued early on as the Raiders’ focal point offensively to start this season before tapering off a bit until he was sidelined in mid-December with a lower-body injury. I liked what I saw out of him late in the year and into the WHL playoffs but he was just fine for Canada at U18 worlds. While he hasn’t fully met the high expectations I had for him this season, his combination of skill and skating warrants first-round consideration. He’s also now listed at 6 feet, up about an inch and a half from last season.

Ritchie’s a shifty playmaking winger who can make highlight-reel skill plays with the puck. He can play at multiple paces and adjust his tempo between them. He protects extremely well and will commonly shake past or around opposing players, building speed through his crossovers to hang onto the puck inside the offensive zone until a play presents itself. There’s also some real creativity to his game as an equal opportunity facilitator and finisher (he’s got a really nifty curl-and-drag and snap release that can cleanly beat goalies from midrange). He has a way of finding his way out of trouble, whether with a twist or turn or bit of creativity to set up an opening to pass through with a pre-planned move so that he can place a puck under a stick or between someone’s skates. He’s a crafty, talented winger who looks like he’s got top-six upside to me, even if the points haven’t popped this year. I could see him, with good health, becoming a 90-to-100-point player next season.

Photo:

Jonathan Kozub / Getty Images

When I asked two staff at the NTDP about Stiga midway through the season, one called him the most underrated player on the team and the other simply said, “Teddy Stiga is just a hockey player.” That latter line, as ambiguous as it is, feels rather fitting. Scouts had a tough time putting a finger on a projection for Stiga to start the year, because while he was a likeable and talented player, he was a 5-foot-10 winger who didn’t wow people a year ago. His progression since, though, has been among the steepest in the age group. He isn’t necessarily a mold or an archetype but he stirs the drink on the ice, whatever line he’s on is usually the one that’s clicking, and his game has just taken off. Coming into this year, there were questions about which non-Hagens/Eiserman forward would separate themselves from the other ‘06s at the program and, for me, Stiga has emerged to establish himself as a cut above Brodie Ziemer, Kamil Bednarik, Christian Humphreys and Max Plante (with Ziemer as the closest for me).

He always seems to be in the mix of the play offensively on his line and producing and making plays when they’re there to be made. He’s got a great feel for the game and on-ice awareness. He’s consistently noticeable. He’s competitive and engaged and will let opposing players know both of those things when challenged. His shifts always seem to be spent in the offensive zone. He’s a plus-level skater who keeps his feet moving on and off the puck. He’s got skill and craft and showed some real creativity as the year progressed, with sneaky vision. Add in gifts as a small-area player with noticeable handling and finesse skills, some spins, and a knack for finishing on the chances he gets and he’s intriguing. He has caught my eye in most of my viewings this year, plays with some jump, seems to make plays in transition and inside the offensive zone, and seems to fit with talented players. I think he might surprise some people at BC next year with the impact he’s ready to make.

Photo:

Rena Laverty / USA Hockey’s NTDP

Emery is a plus-level skater with athletic genes (he’s the son of former CFL linebacker Eric Emery) and a projectable makeup given his size, handedness and two-way quality.

His offense isn’t natural but he has taken enough steps in the way he sees the ice and moves pucks to complement his other two-way pro qualities. Emery is capable of owning his ice defensively (though there are times when scouts would like to see him be a little meaner/harder), continues to show growth handling and transporting pucks (especially in transition) and has major steps that he can continue to take in his development because of a very wiry frame that has clear room for significant gains (it’s my understanding that he has worked very hard at it, eating a ton and training a ton, but his metabolism just burns right through it). He was the best pure defender at the program this year and I think his man-to-man D in the defensive zone (which is a strength!) could still be polished even more and use a little urgency at times. He’s got a beautiful glide to his skating and can quickly jump into/gallop into his stride when he needs to pull away. He’s got a good, disruptive stick and feet defending the rush and breaks up a lot of plays in zone and in transition with his timing and reads. He has become more poised and has shown at times that he can be physically imposing (despite how slight he looks, he’s quite strong, which is exciting for what could still be ahead). He’ll block shots. And while his skill level isn’t a strength, he has shown good instincts on when to jump into the play, he was owed a little more in terms of counting stats this season, and because of how he defends and skates, he projects as an effective five-on-five defender and potential penalty killer. Though Emery was raised and developed in British Columbia and his mom is Canadian, his dad is American and he chose the NTDP-to-college route and has committed to the University of North Dakota, where he’ll be in good hands. He’s going to need time and patience to develop the finer qualities of his game and learn to impose himself more consistently on both sides of the puck, but he’s a late-first/early second-round pick all day for me and stamped his draft season with an excellent showing at U18 worlds. I debated ranking him higher here. The improved offense opens up all sorts of potential, even if it’s still not fully confident.

Photo:

Rena Laverty / USA Hockey’s NTDP

After registering just 14 points in his rookie season in the OHL last year, Luchanko got off to a good enough start to earn a ‘B’ rating from NHL Central Scouting in the fall (which indicates a second-/third-round candidate) and then rose all the way to No. 21 among North American skaters on their midseason list and No. 20 on their final list after emerging as Guelph’s leading scorer (74 points in 68 games). He was Canada’s second-line center at U18s and played his game in Finland as well, continuing to strengthen his mid-to-late-first case with scouts.

Luchanko’s an average-sized player with above-average skill and impressive skating ability, but it’s his on-ice intelligence and knowhow that defines him. He understands timing, spacing and puck movement at a very advanced level, always finding his way into good spots. He’s got good instincts on the PK. And then there are other complementary tools which come second. He protects pucks well with a wide gait. He’s got really good balance, posture and mechanics, and while I wouldn’t call his upper-echelon skating elite or explosive, it’s a definite asset and he’s got some pull-away speed (he also finished first in on-ice testing results at the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game). He plays in and out of give-and-gos. But it’s the consistency of his reads, paths and decisions that define his game. He makes the right play with the puck almost always, and he’s extremely unselfish (there are actually times when I’d like to see him hold onto pucks and attack so that I can evaluate his skill better, but he just always gives it to the open man and then gets back open). I would have liked to see him score more this year (he finished with 20 goals) as well but when there’s a play to be made, he won’t hesitate to make it. I’m not sure whether his lack of a dynamic quality will hold him back up levels, but he’s already a go-to player in all situations for Guelph and he’s got quieter tools and habits that should help him. He’s in the late-first/early-second-round conversation pretty firmly for teams now and I’m with the consensus on that one.

Photo:

Natalie Shaver / OHL Images

Tier Honorable Mention

Anton Silayev drew the majority of the attention with Torpedo, but scouts were also impressed by what they saw of Artamonov (albeit mostly on tape) this season. He had a strong draft-age season for a forward in the KHL and clicked back against his peers in the MHL playoffs once the pro team was eliminated.

Artamonov’s a skilled and spatially aware left-shot right winger who plays the game to get open and apply pressure when the puck gets to him with his quick hands and good feel for the game. He knows who he is and how to best fit into a line, he plays within himself, and he allows the game — and the play — to come to him. He’s a good skater who plays the game with decent pace, though I’d say he’s more above average than high end. He’s got above-average tools in most of the areas that matter. And I think he’s got a little more of a finishing/goal-scoring element to his game than his statistical profile in the KHL indicated. He’s a solid B or B-plus prospect, even if there isn’t a star quality to his game and he’s a sub-6-foot winger.

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Tier Honorable Mention

KHL

Badinka has followed an interesting path, establishing himself across three different levels in three different countries over three different seasons pre-draft. He played at Czechia’s U20 level at 16, was quickly one of the better young D at Finland’s top junior level at 17 (he actually led all under-18 D in scoring at that level, outproducing players from the draft class ahead of him), and after establishing himself as a top D at Sweden’s J20 level this year, played more games in the SHL than junior. While he’s a November 2005 and on the older side of the draft, he looks further along as well, both physically and in his game.

Malmo’s program has developed a bit of a reputation for how hard it has recruited players from outside Sweden, with a junior roster made up of Czechs, Slovaks, a Slovenian and a bunch of Danes and Norwegians this season. Badinka stood out within that group when he was there, playing with a presence about him at both ends. It was notable that he was cut from Czechia’s world junior team while a player like Tomas Galvas, who is also draft eligible, eventually made it and played, but I expect him to be a big part of that program moving forward. He’s got size, moves the puck and sees the ice well, likes to carry it and influence play, and plays hard and confidently. He’s a strong skater who takes space on both sides of the puck when it’s there. He missed out on playing at U18 worlds last year due to appendicitis, but I think he would have had some more buzz had he played. There’s a solid player to work with there, once you start talking about the second-round range in this draft. I don’t think I see a first-rounder, though.

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Tier Honorable Mention

SHL

The son of Eric Beaudoin, a former OHL captain and fourth-round NHL draft pick who played parts of three seasons in the NHL and had a successful career in Europe, Beaudoin plays a pro style and makes good reads and decisions around the ice. He’s a big, strong, driven, hardworking, average-skilled player who carried over his standout play at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup into his second OHL season with an eight-points-in-four-games preseason. While his start to the regular season was a little slower in production, he worked his way back to a point per game and has played well in my viewings at both ends (in Barrie, in Moncton for the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game, and in Finland for U18 worlds, where he again made himself an invaluable part of Team Canada as a go-to penalty killer and its most used centre). Both live and on tape, he has created some good looks that haven’t gone in, too.

An incredibly strong athlete in the gym, he already looks like a pro physically. Though he’s definitely not quick (which showed up in the on-ice testing in Moncton) and he needs to work on his skating and hands, he’s a strong and sturdy skater once he gets into his stride, which allows him to get after it on the forecheck (where he excels) and backcheck (he really tracks pucks) and drive play down ice. He’s also got a high-end motor that never stops, even late in games and late in shifts, constantly applying pressure and leaning on players to win pucks. Beaudoin is a very well-rounded player who supports pucks well on both sides, protects pucks well against defenders and can be relied upon defensively and offensively. He’s also got a good shot and an excellent cycle game. He’s already wearing a letter, he’s got great habits and detail, he’s already built like a pro and then some, and I could see him as an OHL captain as early as next year and a really effective bottom-six player in the NHL someday. That’s not a type I typically rank in the first round but he’s got the respect of everyone in the OHL (there’s a reason he showed up in multiple categories in the OHL’s coaches poll) and with Hockey Canada and NHL clubs. He’s a solid second-round pick with a high floor who will get the most out of his career.

Photo:

Sam Kim / Barrie Colts

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Tier Honorable Mention

OHL

Elick is a right-shot defenseman with size and an extremely impressive athlete. Though his statistical profile through two seasons in the WHL doesn’t scream first-round consideration, his game has plenty of pro quality and he has impressed alongside his peers, including in a 26-minute performance in the gold medal game at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup last summer and again as a top-four D for Canada at U18 worlds.

Led by standout physical attributes and excellent skating both forward and backward, Elick is a steady, engaged defender with real defensive upside and a developing offensive game. I like the way he defends in-zone and boxes out. He’s got a good stick and great feet defending the rush and gapping up, but can also step up and lay the body, which he does with force (he’s one of the hardest-hitting players in the draft, regularly driving through players to sit them down along the wall and occasionally even leaving his feet). He’s got a good, clean first pass that I’ve seen him stretch the ice with. He showed he can use his skating to be more involved in the rush/transition this year. There are times when his decisions can catch him out of position, and he needs to continue to develop some soft skill, but teams are high on his toolsy makeup as a staunch defender with length, athleticism (he crushed on-ice testing at the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game with the second-best overall results among the 12 defensemen) and standout mobility. His offensive intuition/IQ kept him out of a first-round ranking for me but he warrants an early Day 2 pick.

Photo:

Jonathan Kozub / Getty Images

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Tier Honorable Mention

WHL

Freij is a smooth-skating, strong-on-his-feet-and-his-edges defenseman who thrives in transition both ways, handles the puck comfortably and confidently on exits and past pressure, walks the line beautifully and will roam and maneuver when opportunities present themselves inside the offensive zone (sometimes to his detriment defensively). There’s some give and take with how active his game tilts (he is highly involved off the line and in transition) but his confidence is admirable and he has learned to make his game more applicable. He’s an aggressive and skilled defenseman who learned to defend better as this season progressed and played big minutes for Sweden at U18 worlds, making plays off the line. He still needs to buckle down a little more defensively and make better decisions with the puck (I think he reads play well, he’s just a little overzealous on both sides and it comes with some mistakes) at times but his ability to be highly involved in offence, his skill level, and his confidence on when to jump in and out of space and play in and out of give-and-gos is really appealing (his on- and off-puck movement offensively is a real strength). I’d be eager to work with him because there’s some potential there.

Photo:

Vaclav Salek / Associated Press

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Tier Honorable Mention

J20

Howe was an interesting case study for folks this year. It was his third full season in the WHL and his fourth in part. And despite having been very productive in the league even before his draft year (69 points in 64 games as the league’s second-most productive under-17 player, and then 85 in 67 as the league’s fifth-most productive under-18 player), he still had to prove to people that he could do it as “the guy” because the player at the top of both of those lists was Connor Bedard, his frequent linemate. He was also largely unnoticeable in front of the NHL’s brain trust in Germany at 2022 U18 worlds, despite playing alongside Bedard (a combination Team Canada probably was a little too reluctant to move off of), and again at last year’s U18 worlds in Switzerland, where he was given more of an opportunity as one of three returnees and was fine but unspectacular, eventually getting banged up and falling out of the top-six. He did play away from Bedard more than I think most people realize (including for stretches as the team’s second-line center behind him) and did show he could be successful in driving his own line in the WHL when he did, though. This season, replacing Bedard as the Pats’ captain, he also led a poor team (which missed the playoffs) in scoring by a hefty margin (his 77 points were 25 more than his nearest teammate) to demonstrate that he can create offense for himself and make his linemates better even when he’s not surrounded by talent. Because of his average size and good but not standout skill/skating, he’s viewed as a second-rounder.

There’s still a lot to like about his game, though. He is by all accounts a competitor and leader. You can see that competitiveness (and at times scrappiness) on the ice. He doesn’t necessarily wow you with his skill level for a player with his statistical profile and size, but he makes a lot of small-area plays (little five-to-10-foot passes through feet and sticks under pressure), he always seems to be around the puck inside the offensive zone, he’s tenacious off the puck, he finishes his checks, he can play down the middle or on the wing and he’s got well-rounded skill and decent skating (which he hasn’t always been given credit for but demonstrated in the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game’s testing). I like him. He’s a hard-working player with decent skill and that can take you a long way. I won’t be surprised if he becomes an NHL player and secondary contributor.

Photo:

Jonathan Kozub / Getty Images

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Tier Honorable Mention

WHL

The most productive defenseman in NTDP history, Hutson is a highly talented offensive defenseman who doesn’t turn 18 until the day of the draft and is expected to replace his brother as BU’s power-play quarterback and play creator from the back end next season. He’s a little taller than Lane was at the same age, with a light 5-foot-10 listing that is still small but might grow a little. His point-per-game U17 season (and well above point-per-game U18 team production) set the single-season D points record at the NTDP and he set the all-time mark at U18 worlds this year, doing it while four and a half months younger than his big brother Lane was at the same age (he was the most talented defenseman on either of the NTDP’s teams last year, which says something considering what Buium has since become). This year, though the points didn’t come quite as easily for him early on and some scouts felt he had a disappointing first half, he was excellent late in the year and it was clear all season long that he was trying to really dial in his game defensively. This year’s team also didn’t have a great blue line around him, which required they pull back on him a little. His offensive gifts are extremely impressive. He was the most impressive 2024 defenseman at last year’s U18 worlds and one of them again at this year’s, too, playing 17-19 minutes per game as an underager a year ago and 20-plus this time around as a returnee and again one of the tournament’s best D.

Cole’s got more of a physical element to his game than Lane does and plays opponents really hard so that his size is less noticeable (Lane’s plenty competitive, but Cole delivers more hits if you will), gluing himself to them in order to be as disruptive as possible and really outwardly battling along the wall. He quickly identifies second and third options, often a step ahead of opposing structures. The way he shows one thing and does another is pretty unique. His little hesitations in control into quick, decisive attacking moments grab your attention and allow him to make plays past the first layer and walk off the line as well as just about any D in the draft. He has the puck on a string at times. I think he’s a better skater than his big brother was at the same age (he snakes his way through gaps in coverage so effortlessly, and his lateral agility on cuts is a major strength). He executes some beautiful stretch passes. He’s got great touch and feel on his backhand as well as his forehand. And he’s holding his own defensively for my money. His teams have been better with him out there on the back end in each of the last two seasons than without him. Some teams question whether his game will translate and progress enough to hang at the NHL level, and the consensus despite the production is that he’s not quite as dynamic as Lane, but I’m still a big believer in the talent and like him as a late-first/second-rounder even though he’s going to more likely go late-second to third or fourth. He was the final cut for this list.

Photo:

Jari Pestelacci / Getty Images

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Tier Honorable Mention

NTDP

Gridin, a Russian import to the USHL who is committed to play at Michigan next fall, got off to one of the hottest starts in North American junior hockey and continued to produce all year long, leading the USHL in scoring as a draft-eligible with 83 points in 60 games. That’s pretty uncommon for a draft-aged player and is usually reserved for first-round locks. I don’t quite have him there but he’s in the conversation for me and will be a late-first or second-rounder in Vegas.

He’s got a desirable makeup as well, including a pro build, skill on the puck and a quick, NHL look to his release. He can play a north-south direct game and an east-west one with a little more poise. He regularly tries and pulls off difficult plays on the ice. He has shown he can snake his way out of trouble or play pucks through or past defenders, but he can also play off of his linemates as more of a quick-strike option. Part of that is a credit to his ability to think and adapt quickly on the ice (I’ve seen him lift his head from a pass reception and make a number of instinctual, no-panic plays under immediate pressure in a split second). He’s got good size and skating. He has also taken positive steps away from the puck to round out his game, though some question whether he has enough of a B game/brain and he can come and go. Still, I think he’s got upside as a potential middle-six/PP2 winger who adds offence to a line with the right development.

Photo:

Steven Ellis / Daily Faceoff

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Tier Honorable Mention

USHL

Pettersson is a well-liked player in this Swedish age group who has played well and worn a letter for the national team, was the first draft-eligible player to play in an SHL game this season, and really saw his counting stats increase in the second half at the J20 level. He had a bit of a slow start at U18 worlds but I thought he got better as the tournament progressed and re-emerged as one of Sweden’s top forwards (he played significant minutes, was among their leading scorers, and was robbed several times and hit multiple posts, preventing better production but still finishing with eight in seven on a team-high 26 shots).

He’s a smart and well-rounded two-way center who has some talent and understands how to get the most out of his game. He’s a good skater (maybe a very good one). He’s patient player who protects and shields pucks well, waiting for his linemates to play off of him so that he can put them in good spots and win his shifts. He makes decisions quickly on the ice and shoots it quickly when he gets it in good spots, with an accurate snap shot and a confident one-touch shot. He’s got great hands and an ability to delay and hesitate on defenders, freezing them off the rush so that he can cut past and gain an advantage. He also uses his fairly fast skating to apply pressure and force turnovers, intercept passes and creating breaks for himself. Plus, he’s a capable penalty killer. He should go very early on Day 2.

Photo:

Steven Ellis / Daily Faceoff

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Tier Honorable Mention

J20

Surin is a talented and multi-dimensional offensive player who really took off in the second half of the MHL regular season and into the playoffs, becoming one of the most impactful forwards in the league as an August birthday who is one of the youngest players on this list. He’s a good skater who plays with plenty of pace and tempo to hunt and win pucks or push play down ice. He can play all three forward positions. He excels on the flank on the power play because of his plus-vision and a dangerously quick release from midrange. He’s very physical and plays with a real chip on his shoulder. He can frustrate with his lack of discipline though, whether by trying to be too cute at five-on-five attempting unnecessary one-on-one plays, or by constantly taking careless penalties (scrums after the whistle, interference trying to be sly, high hits, stick infractions, etc.). Some of it you can live with because he’s competing for possession and battling for pucks or looking to play the body, but there are too many instances in a game where he’s reckless in his decision-making on and off the puck. I expect there will be teams that really like him because of his skill and fire, and others that think he doesn’t have the head for the game. NHL Central Scouting did update his listing from 5-foot-10 to 6-foot-1 this season, which upgrades his projection and the likelihood that his style will translate up levels. He’s a second-rounder for me.

C

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Tier Honorable Mention

MHL

Vanacker is a player who, after he impressed me in an early season live viewing, I immediately made time for on tape and asked around about. Since then, I’ve become more and more of a fan. After a good showing in the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game’s combine testing, he found another level in the second half to finish as Bulldogs’ leading scorer after Chicago Blackhawks prospect Nick Lardis went down with an injury in January, with 36 goals and 82 points in 68 games at season’s end. I’m not reading too much into a quiet U18s, as he was banged up, but he didn’t help his case either.

Vanacker showed real confidence on the attack this season with the puck in his hands, building on his strong foundation of tools and habits to really develop his game offensively. There’s a lot to like. He’s got size, he’s a really strong skater, he’ll take pucks to the net, he protects and shields the puck well, he knows where to be and go on the ice, he’s got a solid two-way game and he works to get the most out of his above-average skill. He’s got the makings of a complementary winger and he knows who he is and what he’s going to have to be up levels. He’s just a good hockey player who will be a good pro. He was my final cut at forward for this list.

LW

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Tier Honorable Mention

OHL

(Illustration: John Bradford / The Athletic. Photos: David Berding, Richard T Gagnon, Maksim Konstantinov / SOPA Images / LightRocket / Getty Images)

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