Today’s set of rankings is the sixth of this week and our Top 100 reveal. There’s a nice mix of forwards and defencemen and players from several different leagues. Let’s dive right in.
#75: Filip Westerlund (D – SuperElit)
By Jeremy Davis
- Age: 18 – April 17th, 1999
- Birthplace: Harnosand, SWE
- Frame: 5’11” / 181 lbs
Filip Westerlund is a small, mobile defender who relies on a high level of intelligence and impressive vision to move the play in his team’s favour. He split the season between Swedish junior and professional leagues, but the fact that he appeared in 33 SHL games is an excellent sign given his age. He averaged 11:03 of ice time for Frolunda, which is 6/7th defenceman minutes, and picked up four assists in those games, without much time at all on special teams. He was on the ice for more goals for than against. With 26 shots in 33 games, he generated shots on net at a rate well above average for junior aged players in the SHL, and not that far off of better known prospects like Erik Brannstrom.
Westerlund’s rather unimpressive SuperElit cohort results are brightened by the appearance of Dallas’ John Klingberg. Taken in the fifth round in 2010, Klingberg tallied just 5 assists and no goals in 27 games in his draft year, but has since gone on to score 34 goals and 147 points in 221 games in the NHL, which is a little bit inexplicable, but sometimes players come out of nowhere.
Westerlund’s SHL cohort is a little more positive, and contains long time NHL players Ulf Samuelsson and Tobias Enstrom, as well as recent Canucks experiment Philip Larsen.
Westerlund is a speedy skater with good agility. His acceleration needs a bit of work, but the hope is that adding strength will improve his first few steps. Elusive in his own zone and deceptive in the opposing zone, Westerlund uses a combination of agility and intelligence to freeze and outsmart his opponents, creating space for himself and opening lanes for passes and shots. His passing is quick and accurate, and though his shot could use some more power, he compensates by keeping the puck low and shooting for deflections instead blowing pucks by the goalie. Knowing one’s limits and working to compensate for them can be very valuable skill, and probably one that aided Westerlund in sticking in a men’s league all season despite his age and size. That bodes well for his future as a professional.
#74: Jack Studnicka (F – OHL)
By J.D. Burke
- Age: 18-years-old, 1999-02-18
- Birthplace: Tecumseh, Ontario, Canada
- Frame: 6’1″, 170 lbs.
A second-year forward for the Oshawa Generals, Jack Studnicka steadily grew as the season progressed reaching his crescendo in the playoffs when he switched from centre to wing and took off offensively.
When I’d watch Studnicka, I’d often wonder how he doesn’t produce more than he does. He’s a good enough skater, isn’t shy about making plays in traffic and generates most of his offence in close, which is a testament to his hands — an underrated element of Studnicka’s game, in my estimation.
Whether he had the tools or not, the production didn’t reflect as much. Even with a strong second-half, Studnicka’s primary point production only ranks 17th among first-time draft eligible OHL’ers. There are several different ways a player can contribute — Studnicka’s two-way game is solvent to be certain –, but generally, you want to see a player excel in lower levels of competition and Studnicka didn’t. Well, he didn’t until the playoffs anyways — there’s hope.
As I alluded to earlier, the Generals switched Studnicka to the wing before the playoffs and given the production that followed it’s fair to suggest that might’ve played a role in his scoring taking off. Studnicka produced at .81 points per game in the regular season but raised that mark to 1.36 in the playoffs, chipping in with 15 points (five goals and ten assists) in 11 games.
When we view Studnicka’s season through the pGPS lens, it becomes apparent that he’s an uphill battle if he’s to carve out a full-time NHL career. Just under 20% of players in his cohort of went on to become successful NHL’ers and they generally produced about 36 points per 82 game season.
For Studnicka, like many first-time draft eligible players, adding strength is going to be a top priority. He’ll go to the toughest, most compact parts of the ice and battle admirably. He just doesn’t win those battles as often as one would like. I’d also hope that he tries making a full-time switch to the wing. If his playoffs are any indication, that’s where his future lies.
#73 – Lane Zablocki (F – WHL)
- Age: 18 – December 27th, 1998
- Birthplace: Wetaskiwin, AB, CAN
- Frame: 6’0″ / 185 lbs
Coming in at #73 on our consensus ranking is gritty goal-scorer Lane Zablocki. Along with fellow draft eligibles Nick Henry and Jake Leschyshyn, Zablocki was initially a tough player to get a read on, given that the Pats were such a strong, deep team. Whenever a player picks up a lot of assists on a strong team, it’s easy to worry that teammate effects are colouring our perception of a player’s skill level.
Any concerns I had about Zablocki simply riding the wave quickly dissipated after he was traded mid-season to the Red Deer Rebels, where he became a fixture in the team’s top-six and really shined in an increased role. I was also heartened by the fact that Zablocki’s goal total more than doubled with the Rebels, in just two more games.
Zablocki is a greasy goal scorer who doesn’t just go the front of the net, but treats it like a piece of annexed land that is rightfully his. He takes a ton of punishment from the opponent’s defensemen but refuses to be deterred. In some cases, scoring mainly in this manner can be a red flag, because junior players can often take advantage of size differences that simply won’t exist in the NHL. That’s not the case for Zablocki, however, who stands at six feet and gets to the front of the net through sheer determination and strength. That’s something that’s going to endear him to scouts, because he won’t have to make huge adjustments to his play to score in the NHL.
Cleaning up garbage isn’t the only skill in Zablocki’s offensive arsenal. He’s also got a quick release on his shot and the patience to get open to use it. As he develops, you’d like to see him use his creativity a bit more, but he certainly has the tools to get by even if that potential is never fully realized.
Zablocki doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses, but he could use to work on his focus a bit in the defensive zone, and on getting back more quickly when his team is stripped of the puck.
To his credit, Zablocki has identified board battles as an area he’d like to improve on, as well as working on getting more tip-ins to improve his effectiveness as a net-front player. He’s also been identified by scouts as a high-character player, which is easy to believe given the mental toughness he exhibited by jumping headfirst into an expanded role with a brand new team.
#72: Eemeli Rasanen (D – OHL)
By Jeremy Davis
The first thing that you’re likely to notice about Eemeli Rasanen is that he’s extremely tall. The Finnish blueliner is an imposing 6-foot-7 and tips the scales at 205 pounds – which is actually a little light for a guy that tall, giving Rasanen a bit of a gangly appearance. Nevertheless, when scouts see that size in a defenceman, it seems that they can’t help but salivate, with visions of the Next Zdeno Chara dancing in their heads. You hear the words “skates well for his size” too, and all bets are off.
Of course, Rasanen isn’t some coke machine out there relying on his size to knock people around. He did put up 39 points this season on a Kingston Frontenacs team that wasn’t anything special. If you crunch his numbers through a cohort model, he stacks up very nicely.
With an Expected Success rate of more than three quarters, Rasanen would seem to be one of the surer bets of the draft. Some of his statistical comparables are inspiring as well, as both Chris Pronger and Brent Burns have worked their way in there, though to be fair, Burns is a bit of a freak: I was surprised to learn that Brent Burns scored just 40 points in his draft year, and defencemen who score 40 points at 17 sure don’t turn into that very often. Nor does Rasanen have the elite eye catching talent that made Chris Pronger a second overall pick before he really became Chris Pronger.
One other thing that I noticed was this: both Burns and Pronger scored 15 goals in their draft years. By contrast, Rasanen had six. Though their point rates were similar (at least, after adjusting for age and era they were), their goal rates were way out of whack. I mentioned earlier in the week that pGPS now takes goal and assist rates into account when determining similarity, so it’s no surprise that the more statistically similar defencemen had far fewer goals. Sorting the table by similarity, this name floats to the top: Erik Gudbranson. If that doesn’t strike fear in you, I don’t know what will.
My optimism of Rasanen was tempered long before I plugged his name into a spreadsheet. I thought Rasanen struggled tremendously at the CHL Top Prospects Game, and again in the World Under-18’s, particularly in puck retrieval where he seemed to routinely make questionable routes to the puck, or run out of time before making a play against high competition. And while he can get up to a decent speed with his long, lanky stride, his first few steps need a lot of work, and has left him easy to bypass on some occasions.
Still, Rasanen has a desirable frame and a good foundation of skills that need to be fleshed out. He uses his height well to leverage very hard shots towards to opposing net, and delivers punishing hits and effective rub outs all over the ice. Though I don’t see him as a top end defenceman, Rasanen is at least likely to stick around in the NHL because of his base talents, his willingness to play physically, and because teams will pour time into developing players of his size.
#71: Scott Reedy
By J.D. Burke
- Age: 18-years-old, 1999-04-04
- Birthplace: Prior Lake, Minnesota, USA
- Frame: 6’1″, 203 lbs.
The USNTDP’s Scott Reedy is a hotly debated prospect if there ever was one. Scouts that like Reedy like him a lot. Much of the community is less certain of Reedy’s ability. Interestingly enough, opinions differ on Reedy’s strength just as often.
Take Reedy’s skating, for example. Some will describe Reedy’s skating as a strength; others see it as a work in progress, with not enough explosiveness in the first two steps especially. Most agree that his edge work is a strength, though, so there’s that.
His offensive toolkit is full-to-overflowing. Reedy can process plays at high-speed and make plays in traffic while using his NHL-ready frame to protect the puck exceptionally well. Scouts often describe Reedy as a pure goalscorer, but I tend to think he’s a more able playmaker than most give him credit for. Reedy’s vision and anticipation are his best attributes, and they have a funny way of manifesting themselves in the opportunities he creates for others as well as the ones he buries himself with his strong shot.
When we view Reedy through the lens of pGPS, only 10.5% of the players in his cohort went on to become full-time NHL’ers. I’d caution against letting that number scare you away from Reedy, though. Draft analytics, like pGPS, are based on historical principle. In that sense, I think players from the USHL look worse in this light than they probably should.
Consider for a second that of the 67 players Reedy matches to in pGPS, Ryan Dzingle and Bryan Rust are among them and they’re extremely likely to hit the 200 games played threshold we use to define NHL success. Then consider that the USNTDP is something of an all-star team, and it’s incredibly difficult for even the best players on that team to play significant minutes. If this machine was based on points per 60, I tend to think a player like Scott Reedy would look significantly better than he does.
Reedy is committed to the University of Minnesota for next season. If he can work on his defensive game (probably his most glaring weakness) and his skating, he’ll be able to find success at the professional level.