Talent Left Behind at the 2016 Draft

Draft Review - undrafted

On the third day of what I’ve deemed Draft Review Week, I thought I’d take a look at some draft eligible players that were left behind at the 2016 NHL Draft, in the vein of a Josh Weissbock post from last year. I was impressed by the idea behind this sort of thing: how great must one’s prospect knowledge be if they can pump out a bunch of names beyond the 211 players that had their names called at the draft two months ago?

Well it turned out to not be as hard as I thought it would. Maybe this is just a weird year (I’m pretty sure it was), but there were an odd number of players that went unselected after being ranked by several services in the top 90, for crying out loud. I’m not entirely sure what the deal is with that, but here are eleven players left over after the 2016 NHL Draft.

Simon Stransky

WHL Prince Albert Raiders 62 19 43 62 8.6% 27.9% 22 29% 49 17.6

Stransky’s omission from the 2016 draft might be the most egregious oversight. Taken 24th overall in the 2014 CHL import draft, the Czech native is an offensively talented winger that put up 62 points in 62 games this season in Prince Albert. Of 79 statistically comparable players, 29 percent went on to play at least 200 NHL games, averaging about 49 points per 82 contests.

Scouts Take:

“A winger with great puck-skills. His deking ability is high-end and he has good deception with the puck. Both his shots and his passes are difficult to read. His wrist shot, in particular, can be challenging to stop as he’s capable of shooting lasers while looking in a different direction or while in his mid-stride.”

Left Behind Because…?

His skating is only average, and he’s been know to disappear defensively. When games get physical, he can be rubbed out easily and doesn’t give much pushback. All of these issues can be corrected over time, so taking a chance on him would be well worth the offensive gifts he possesses. It’s seriously weird that he didn’t get drafted, and it does make you wonder a bit if there is another facet to this story that we aren’t privy to.

Vladimir Kuznetsov

QMJHL Acadie-Bathurst Titan 68 25 33 58 11.2% 25.9% 18 12% 40 5.9

I followed Vladimir Kuznetsov fairly closely last season due to the fact that he played with Guillaume Brisebois (who I spent some time hand tracking) on the Acadie-Bathurst Titan. Kuznetsov stood out fairly frequently due to the fact that he was a competent player on a very bad team. He arrived in Bathurst with high expectations, after he was taken first overall in the 2015 CHL import draft.

Though he might have fallen a bit short of what was hoped of him, he still managed to pot 25 goals and 58 points in 68 games in his first season in the QMJHL. Between that and his age and stature, Kuznetsov garnered a pGPS score of 11.2 percent. A bit low for the fourth/fifth round projections, but he did have the disadvantage of being compared against QMJHL players, which have been producing less NHLers than any other North American top junior league of late, including the USHL. It’s likely that Kuznetsov is capable of more than either his point totals or his pGPS scores are suggesting.

Scouts Take:

“Kuznetsov is a tank. He’s big, strong, and tough to knock down or take the puck away from. He’s very strong down low, doing a lot of work below the hash marks. He has good positioning in the offensive zone and knows where to go to receive passes, getting his nose dirty in front of the net if there’s a rebound there.”

Left Behind Because…?

Kuznetsov’s skating needs plenty of work – he lacks explosiveness and his top speed is below average. He needs a playmaking centre to succeed, as he knows where to go but he has a tendency to go there early and just wait, rather that create plays himself. Though his size and strength is impressive, it actually becomes a bit of a worry that he’s almost reached peak maturity, while many of his QMJHL peers have not, and he’s still scoring below a point per game.

Still, as is often the case on this list, his offensive tools are tantalizing, and there may be some incentive to take him following his draft-plus-one season if he can build upon his first season in North America.

Benjamin Gleason

OHL Hamilton Bulldogs  66 7 26 33 3.6% 16.2% 13 10% 32 4.1

Ben Gleason was a teammate of Canucks draft pick Cole Candella on the Hamilton Bulldogs in 2015-16. Also a defenceman, Gleason put up 33 points in 66 games. He was ranked 58th among North American skaters by Central Scouting, 64th by Future Considerations, and 90th by Hockey Prospect. He is also the cousin of former Carolina Hurricanes defenceman Tim Gleason.

Gleason has speed to burn and loves to rush the puck. He has plenty of confidence and isn’t afraid to make risky plays, knowing that he has the wheels to recover and chase down opponents if he gives up the puck. In his own zone, he struggles a bit more, as he doesn’t always make good reads. Gleason had a pGPS percentage of 10.3 percent after the 2015-16 season, with matches that included Ryan Wilson, Steve Montador, T.J. Brodie and James Wisniewski.

Scouts Take:

“Gleason has excellent skating ability and can get pretty fancy with the puck. Unfortunately sometimes he’ll get a little too fancy and won’t complete the play he’s attempting to make. At his best when using his quick hands and feet to exploit lanes, as he is very capable of completing an end to end rush. His passing ability is inconsistent. He has a lot of skill to his game, but he is extremely inconsistent from shift to shift. He will be a project, but one who has the tools and the upside to possibly make the NHL one day.”

Left Behind Because…?

Gleason stands at a clean six feet tall, has excellent skating ability and is productive in the offensive zone. That’s usually a combination that gets you drafted, and drafted early. HockeyProspect.com went so far as to say: “We fully expect Gleason to hear his name called at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft”. Why that didn’t happen is a bit of an unknown.

Likely his inconsistency and questionable defensive reads played a role, but that usually isn’t enough for teams to pass on a player altogether. Perhaps there’s more to this story, or perhaps he was just overlooked. If he can gain some consistency, then maybe we’ll hear his name called at next year’s draft instead.

Brayden Burke

WHL Lethbridge Hurricanes 72 27 82 109 8.9% 35.9% 34 39% 50 23.7

Brayden Burke was eligible for the second time during the 2016 draft, and once again his name was not called. Given that he was an over-ager in that regard, it’s not surprising that Burke’s 109 point season was viewed with skepticism. It is surprising however that he was overlooked entirely.

Of all the players on this list, Burke’s pGPS score is the most impressive, with 39 percent of his statistical matches finding NHL success. Unlike the standard box scores, pGPS is not swayed by Burke’s age, given that it uses exact ages only, and is thus finding matches among players that produced at the same rate while they were within a few months of Burke’s age.

Scouts Take:

“Burke is quick-footed and slippery around the net. To call Burke a playmaker would be an understatement. He’s so first-pass by mentality that there are games where it seems like he hardly even considers to shoot. Another specialty is Burke’s zone entry ability. Strong crossover technique gives him advanced east-to-west quickness and allow Burke to put opposition defencemen off balance.”

Left Behind Because…?

Diminutive stature and an underdeveloped defensive game will likely require Burke to be on a scoring line to succeed at higher levels. Luckily, most NHL teams are rolling three (if not four) scoring lines these days, making that obstacle a little easier to overcome than it might have been in the past.

Dawson Davidson

WHL Kamloops Blazers 59 6 33 39 2.5% 16.5% 15 17% 27 5.6

Davidson is another offensive defenceman, in the same vein as Benjamin Gleason. Like Gleason, his best attributes are his skating and agility, though he was even more productive: Davidson put up 39 points in 59 games with the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers, which put him fourth in scoring among draft eligible WHL defenceman, and first in scoring among those in that group who were eligible for the first time.

Davidson has one of the highest pGPS projections among undrafted defenceman, with 17 percent of comparables going on to play 200 NHL games. Andrew Ference, Tyson Barrie and Barrett Jackman are a few players who had similar draft seasons.

Scouts Take:

“Speed and skating are the strongest part of Davidson’s game, he shows agile footwork and strong opening strides that explode from a standstill. Mobility is obvious and shifty, works up the ice with ease and uses sharp lateral cut to avoid traffic. Not the most physically engaging player in front of the net, prefers to use his stick to pick pucks and tie up attackers. He is quite good at relieving pressure and starting transition through open ice.”

Left Behind Because…?

Davidson is small for a defenceman at 5-foot-11 and 181 pounds, and isn’t strong enough to compensate for it. He has trouble pinning larger players on the boards and can get overmatched too easily down low. Lack of strength is certainly something that a prospect can overcome. Davidson’s speed and gap control could make him a useful player in the modern NHL, if he’s able to bulk up a little.

Alexander Polunin

KHL Lokomotiv Yaroslavl 25 7 5 12 4.5% 7.7% 32 20% 47 11.5

Polunin, who also just finished his draft-plus-one season, was the youngest player on Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, putting up 12 points in 25 games. He had a pGPS score of 20 percent, with former San Jose Shark Alexander Korolyuk being his most successful comparable player.

Notably, he stands at just 5-foot-8 and signed a three year KHL deal with Yaroslavl in May. Neither of those facts should have prevented his selection entirely, and if he continues on his current trajectory, we may be looking at another Anatoli Golyshev-type situation in the coming years. The two Russians are similar in stature, with Polunin more than tripling Golyshev’s per-game output in their respective draft-plus-one seasons.

Scouts Take:

“Plays the game at a fast pace and has a quick understanding of his options. He seems constantly ready to shoot as he moves towards the slot and it doesn’t take much time for his dangerous right-handed shot to get off. Consistently brings the effort and competes hard in puck battles, partially making up for size limitations.”

Left Behind Because…?

At 5-foot-8, he’s going to have to win over North American scouts with his compete level and above all, consistent high level production. He’ll be spending the near term in Russia in any case, so he’ll have more opportunities to show what he can do in the second best league in the world. Continual improvement over the course of next season could lead to him becoming Jeff’s new favourite player.

Kristian Reichel

Czech Extraliga HC Litvinov 15 3 1 4 2.7% 3.6% 11 36% 61 26.9
Czech ELJ HC Litvinov U20 28 17 7 24 13.5% 19.0%   2% 48 1.0

Another European leaguer, Kristian Reichel split time between the Czech Extraliga and the Czech Junior league, much like Canucks 2015 sixth round pick Lukas Jasek, but with even more impressive numbers. Reichel’s junior numbers were just under a point per game (whereas Jasek’s were just over a point per game in his draft year), but he bested Jasek at both the World Under-18’s (three points in five games compared to Jasek’s zero points in five games) and in the Extraliga (four points in 15 games compared to Jasek’s three points in 25 games).

Our own Ryan Biech tabbed Reichel (as well as the next player on this list) as potential later round picks in an article before the draft – advice that evidently went unheeded. Ryan was on point in his surprise at the time about Reichel’s low scouting ranking, as he notes, “playing against men in your draft year is a hugely positive sign”. It’s why pGPS looks so fondly on players that spend time in professional leagues as teenagers, even when production is limited. Reichel’s scoring rate in the Extraliga translated into an enviable pGPS score, with a pGPS score of 36 percent.

Scouts Take:

“A diligent center who has a decent if lanky frame-size, a big shot and plays a mature game. Strong in the face-off circles. Reichel makes smart reads when opening up for pucks and can also distribute the puck well, while not being terribly flashy. Likes to use his slapshot. On the PP he can let it rip from the left circle with his right shot… has shown good power and accuracy behind it with a slowly rising shot that gets through.”

Left Behind Because…?

He has some good characteristics and is an all around decent player, but he doesn’t have a particular feature that stands out amongst his peers. While his Extraliga numbers are quite good for his age, they don’t necessarily jump off the page, and his junior numbers are just okay. If he carries his progression forward and sticks for longer at the pro level next season, he’ll be a strong candidate for an over-age pick up.

Tim Wahlgren

SHL MODO Hockey 10 1 1 2 0.8% 1.7% 10 37% 43 19.6
SuperElit MODO Hockey J20 39 20 25 45 19.2% 43.3% 19 28% 48 16.4

Continuing with the European trend, we have Timothy Wahlgren, who split the 2015-16 between the SHL and the Swedish U20 league, SuperElit. In both leagues, Wahlgren’s numbers translated into impressive pGPS scores: 37 percent (n = 27) for his 10-game stint in the Swedish Hockey League, and 28 percent (n = 25) for his 45 points he scored in 39 junior games. Both his SHL and SuperElit results contain a number of decent Swedish hockey players, including Kristian Huselius, Alex Steen, Frans Nielsen and Jakob Silfverberg.

Of course, just suiting up in the top Swedish League as a teenager bodes extremely well for a prospect. As Ryan Biech noted in his aforementioned article:

Tim Wahlgren is one such player to meet the thresholds for the 51% rule — a group highlighted by likely first-round picks in Grundstrom and Rasmus Asplund. That’s impressive company to keep, especially as the 87th ranked European skater. Then again, one could reasonably quibble with that ranking based on his showing at the U18 tournament, where Wahlgren posted six goals in seven games.

Even if he wasn’t on even footing with Asplund or Grundstrom, it’s still baffling that Wahlgren managed to slip through the draft entirely.

Scouts Take:

“Finds ways to produce though his instincts. Wahlgren isn’t a powerful net-crasher, but does a good job operating around the posts and in front of the net. He has good finishing ability and can score in those situations. Even though Wahlgren has good vision and hands, he is severely limited by his skating.”

Left Behind Because…?

While his hands and creativity make him a threat in the offensive zone, his underwhelming skating ability makes him poor in transition, as well as limiting his ability to catch up on the backcheck or forecheck particularly hard. Skating is an area where many players have been able to make great improvement even in their late teens and early 20’s if they have the right level of dedication and training. Wahlgren could become a useful offensive player if his skating improves, but he is otherwise likely to fall further behind.

Maxime Fortier

QMJHL Halifax Mooseheads 68 31 46 77 16.1% 39.9% 24 9% 46 4.9

Fortier’s pGPS percentage was just 9 percent. This is partly a product of the woeful QMJHL success rate – Fortier’s numbers greatly improve when translated across other North American junior leagues.

pGPS % 29% 19% 9% 12% 17%

Scouts Take:

“Fortier is a good skater. He can give opposing teams headaches with his speed while entering the zone, and he has the ability to blow past defenders. He does have some attributes that could make him a good penalty killer, such as his anticipation and speed that make him a threat to score shorthanded. His hockey sense is average, as he doesn’t always make the right decision with the puck and his positional game could be better in the defensive zone. He has a good nose for the net and quick hands.”

Left Behind Because…?

Fortier stands at 5-foot-10 and 178 pounds, making him a little undersized. While he anticipates plays well, he doesn’t always make the right plays himself and his positioning needs work. He’s not a particularly physical player either. Small size and sub-prime defensive ability would necessitate Fortier to be primarily a scoring winger. While he produced well this season, teams may want to see him further improve those numbers, or improve other aspects of his game, before they take a chance on him.

Kyle Maksimovich

OHL Erie Otters 68 27 44 71 10.0% 26.4% 27 11% 52 7.0

Maksimovich is a slightly undersized winger who spent the 2015-16 season with the Erie Otters, where he scored 27 goals and put up 71 points in 68 games. At 5-foot-8 (and a half, apparently), his size will cloud his potential a little bit. He has a pGPS score of 11 percent, with former Canuck Derek Roy being his most successful match.

If the name sounds familiar to you, that could be because the Canucks invited him to their prospects development camp at Shawnigan Lake in July. Unfortunately, his most memorable moment there is probably when he fell down during the shoot out. He’s also been invited to the Young Stars tournament in Penticton this weekend.

Scouts Take:

“An undersized forward with excellent speed. He is extremely shifty and very difficult to contain. Capable of both creating offense and has above average vision and good passing ability. Will take the puck to the net fearlessly when he has a seam. His skill level warrants top six upside if he can reach his potential and overcome his size.”

Left Behind Because…?

While we can’t be certain why Maksimovich wasn’t selected, it is possible that it was due to the fact that it’s 2016 and he still frosts the tips of his hair.

Yegor Babenko

WHL Lethbridge Hurricanes 67 29 40 69 9.5% 22.7% 23 13% 35 5.3

Certainly the funniest name on this list, Babenko’s skills are nothing to scoff at (jokes like these are why I don’t get hired by NHL teams, probably).

Babenko plays a game that could be stereotyped as the classical Russian style – high octane offence, hard to catch, but has a tendency to neglect his defensive responsibilities. He put up 29 goals and 69 points in 67 games this season (his draft-plus-one year) with the Lethbridge Hurricanes. 13 percent of his statistical matches went on to play 200 or more NHL games.

Scouts Take:

“A hard player to read because he does everything at a high pace and switches gears in the blink of an eye. He’s very slippery coming out of the corners or off the walls. Mobility, creativity, puck skill, and pure offensive prowess are qualities that come to the forefront when watching Babenko.”

Left Behind Because…?

As we’ve seen so many times on this list, Babenko’s faults are in his size and his defensive responsibility. This was also his second opportunity to be drafted, and although he produced at a point per game, he needs to be more engaging defensively. The new NHL is more willing to forgive size concerns if players are willing to build their game in all areas of the ice, especially when they possess strong skating ability and innate offensive talents.

  • Spiel

    Advice for aspiring young hockey players.
    Unless you can score 2 points a game against the best competition, you need to be able to play at both ends of the ice.

    Being a responsible player is not really a skill, it is about effort and commitment to your team. If a young player is unwilling to put in that effort or completely sacrifices those aspects of their game for points, the scouts can see through it.

    Another consideration is how a given player scores their points. As evidenced by the discussion around Shinkaruk a few years ago, scouts are not convinced that a player’s offense will translate to a pro style game where there is less time and space, and fewer points are scored from the perimeter of the ice.

    • Spiel

      from draftsite.com “If a player is not drafted by age of 20, that player becomes an unrestricted free agent. If a player has entered the draft twice and not been selected, they then become free agents regardless of age”

  • Laxbruh15

    I like gleason, burke, davidson, and wahlgren. It would be great if we could sign burke, potential first or third liner for nothing. Gleason could be a bottom pairing puck mover. Really hoping they get signed.

      • Laxbruh15

        That’s true but in detroit’s case, with green and merchenko I think they’d be willing to make that sacrifice especially for a player like lindholm haha. He can always learn how to use a right handed stick;).

  • Laxbruh15

    kuznetsov I am not supprised at all cherry picker who waits at the blue line waiting for pass from defensive zone never back checks and is lazy. He is just big compared to his peers. khl bound never make nhl but few of the kids on list are worth a shot you can teach defence skill and smarts you cant

  • Laxbruh15

    Nice article. Thanks. I’m curious if any of the guys in last year’s article were drafted. I noticed that a lot of guys who were not drafted in their draft year were early round picks in the subsequent year. I recall the Panthers going quite off board with Borgstram.

    My take is that it is such a crap shoot with prospects. A lot of people were upset that Hamhuis was not traded to the Hawks for Pokka, yet Forlsing can arguably be a better prospect. That said, I am a firm believer that prospect development is just as important as drafting prospects – and I am seeing a significant amount if improvement on that from the Gillis years.

  • Riley Miner

    I agree with Jack, most of these guys might’ve been better than some of our later round selections but not by any egregious amount. Kuznetsov surprised me as a non-selection, Burke is another interesting one but the rest strike me as the types of guys you bring in to camps to sign to contracts or draft in the last 2 rounds. Good article though!

  • rakish

    Overall, I think is a pretty good list, I particularly like Burke, Wahlgren, Reichel and Stransky.

    Outside of your list, I like Loik Leveille more than everyone else, he’s big, he scores points, what’s not to love? I was also surprised Pethrus or Kirkunenko weren’t drafted.

  • defenceman factory

    good article

    watch for Kryski. Passed over after less than a stellar year with Kamloops. Now traded to the Rockets and expected to play a top 6 role. Already showing a scoring touch under utilized by the Blazers last year.