As we approach the NHL Entry draft, a lot of focus is on the top 75 or so players, and rightfully so. Those are the players that teams are hoping to build their team around for years to come. But good teams make hay in the later rounds on dice rolls and role players to provide depth.
The key is to find value outside the first few rounds that other teams can’t. The Canucks did extremely well last year with Lukas Jasek, Tate Olson, Carl Neill and Dmitry Zhukenov. Although it’s still early, the value of those players exceeded the draft picks spent on them.
Using some of the newly developed draft analytics at our disposal, we’ll try to find a few players that fit the bill going into this year’s draft.
Dmitry Sokolov (Ranked: 129th NA Skaters)
- Age: 18, 1998-04-14
- Birthplace: Omsk, Russia
- Frame: 6’0″, 208 lbs.
- Position: C/W
- Handedness: L
- Draft Year Team: Sudbury Wolves
- Accomplishments/Awards: OHL Most Goals by a rookie (15/16), U17 WHC Gold Medal (14/15)
In spite of his uninspiring 129th ranking among North American skaters, Dmitry Sokolov, the Russian winger for the Sudbury Wolves of the OHL, is the most highly regarded among this group. Sokolov, who was selected third overall in the CHL Import Draft, was expected to fall somewhere towards the end of the first round, but has seen his stock plummet due in large to playing with offensively anaemic Wolves. Concerns about Sokolov’s fitness, endurance and consistency haven’t helped matters, either.
All that said, Sokolov still had a decent first season in the OHL, as his 30 goals will attest. Those 30 goals were tied for third among first-time draft eligible forwards, with Matthew Tkachuk and Will Bitten — it should be noted, though, that among those three, Sokolov was the only OHL rookie.
When we look at the pGPS for Sokolov – a very impressive 30.8% went onto becoming NHL regulars. Which puts him in the same grouping as many consensus second round picks, and a few who may see their name called in the first.
Reservations about Sokolov are valid. If he can’t commit himself to improving his fitness and building upon his work ethic, there’s ample reason for concern. The talent is there though, so if the right coach or manager can get through to him, he could turn into a draft steal.
Wade Allison (Ranked: 62nd NA Skaters)
- Age: 18, 1998-10-14
- Birthplace: Carman, Manitoba, Canada
- Frame: 6’2″, 205 lbs.
- Position: RW
- Handedness: R
- Draft Year Team: Tri-City Storm
- Accomplishments/Awards: USHL Clark Cup Champions (15/16)
Regarded as a power forward, Allison helped the Tri-City Storm win the USHL Clark Cup championships with an impressive 16 points in 11 games. That playoff mastery was enough to help cap off a season that only get better with time, as Allison rose from 192nd among North American Skaters at the mid-term to 62nd in time for the draft. He’s not the smoothest puck carrier in transition but can use size and tenacity to create time and space when pressed. If everything goes well, Allison is expected to develop into a middle-six winger.
When looking at Allison through the lens of pGPS, 25% of his statistical and stature based comparable players went on to have successful NHL careers. The USHL is only just starting to developing into a strong developmental league though, so it’s fair to wonder if that number undersells Allison’s chances and ability. For Allison, who is committed to the University of Western Michigan next season, I would expect that he’s snagged in the middle of the draft.
Hudson Elynuik (Ranked: 68th NA Skaters)
- Age: 18, 1998-12-10
- Birthplace: Calgary, Alberta, Canada
- Frame: 6’5″, 201 lbs.
- Position: LW/C
- Handedness: L
- Draft Year Team: Spokane Chiefs
- Accomplishments/Awards: N/A
Hudson Elynuik is another among these players whose stock rose as the season waned. Elynuik, who was once ranked as lowly as 122nd among North American skaters, finished the season ranked 68th. He’s a big-bodied centre, capable of playing on the wing, just learning how to impose his larger frame on the opposition.
Hudson was limited to 27 games during the 2014-15 season due to injury, but appeared in 56 this past season posting 19 goals and 25 assists. His 19 goals were 13th amongst WHL draft eligible forwards, but he played 11 (or more) fewer games than all the players above him. His 0.339 G/PG is ranked 8th amongst draft eligible forwards in the WHL.
When we use pGPS to analyze Elynuik – an impressive 26.3% went onto becoming NHL regulars. Elynuik has all the tools and frame to make a team take the risk on him.
Ty Ronning (Ranked: 88th NA Skaters)
- Age: 18, 1998-12-10
- Birthplace: Burnaby, B.C., Canada
- Frame: 5’9″, 165 lbs.
- Position: RW
- Handedness: R
- Draft Year Team: Vancouver Giants
- Accomplishments/Awards: BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospect Game (15/16), U17 WHC Silver Medal (13/14)
A small but industrious speedster that always seeks to be engaged in the play. Skates very well and has the shiftiness to avoid being rubbed out. Isn’t afraid of physical play, but knows his role as an offensive catalyst and plays to his strengths. Excellent hands and hockey sense. Only knock is his size, but that doesn’t impede his compete level. Possesses the fundamental skills and natural goal scoring instincts that make the players around him better.
Ty Ronning, who is the son of Vancouver legend Cliff Ronning, is a player that piques the interest of many. I had the pleasure of watching him with the Vancouver Giants on many occasions and he plays like the Energizer Bunny. Ronning is a very good skater and his excellent hands are coupled with a nasty shot to make him a handful for the opposition. The only issue is his size, as Ronning measures in at 5’9″ and 165 lbs.
With teammate Tyler Benson injured for the Top Prospects Game, Ronning took his spot and did not look out of place amongst the higher ranked players. He scored the first goal of the game on a play that perfectly showcased all of his skills.
The Burnaby native finished the season with the 2nd most goals amongst WHL draft eligible forwards. His 0.881 P/GP were ranked 7th amongst that same group.
When looking at comparable players through the lens of pGPS 18.6% went on to become NHL regulars. Given his ranking, that is a relatively high amount. There is no doubt that Ronning will be selected at some point in Buffalo, the question is just when and to what team.
All of the players mentioned will likely see their names called on the second day of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, with Sokolov as a wildcard of possibly going undrafted. But all it takes is one team to feel that the talent outweighs the risk of his work ethic, something that will likely have been discussed at the NHL Draft Combine.
They all offer different skill-sets but given how they project when we use the pGPS and scouting reports, it’s fair to believe that they are solid bets to be professional hockey players.
Tomorrow we will take a look at some forwards from Europe who also stick out as good late round bets.