Photo Credit: Matti Raivio / All Over Press

2018 NHL Draft: Some Early Overrated and Underrated Players

A few days ago I published our first industry consolidated rankings for the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, and in that article I promised that some more draft related material was forthcoming. Well, here’s one.

I still plan to have my personal draft list for December coming up shortly, and this article will do a good job of bridging the gap between the consolidated list and my own. In this article we’ll look at some prospects that I have perceived to be overrated or underrated on the public rankings thus far. I’ve pegged three of each category, and we’ll alternate back and forth, just to keep you on your toes. We’ll start with overrated.

Overrated: Rasmus Kupari

Finnish centre Rasmus Kupari is held in pretty high esteem by the scouting community. He was ranked by all ten of the lists used in our Consolidated Rankings, appearing as high as sixth (HockeyProspect.com) and no lower than 16th. It’s a little curious that he’s ranked so high, when you peer at his statistics. Four points in 19 games in the Finnish Liiga, and under a point per game in the Nuorten Finnish junior league. Most recently, he’s been loaned to the second tier pro league, Mestis, where he’s collected four points in five games. Nothing that really jumps off the page.

But then you get to his Hlinka numbers.

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At the under-18 Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament in August, Kupari dominated, putting up seven points in four games. Virtually ignored by early 2018 rankings in June, Kupari was suddenly a first round lock. This is no isolated incident – big performances at international tournaments tend to have a major effect on perceived value, even in the face of much larger sample sizes elsewhere. So let’s dig a little deeper.

First of all, it’s interesting to note that five of Kupari’s seven points at Hlinka came in a single game: a 6-1 drubbing of the Slovaks on the opening day of the tournament. You can see all the points here:

Some of these plays are nice, no doubt, but it certainly was Finland’s weakest competition of the tournament. In other three games, he managed two assists (one against Canada and one against the U.S.), which is considerably more pedestrian. The imbalance of his results in these games lead me to believe that his Hlinka performance has been overrated – let alone what he’s managed to do elsewhere.

I mentioned the points (or lack thereof, as the case may be) that Kupari has put up in other leagues, but we can go beyond that. Liiga does an excellent job of tracking and posting a variety of statistics, including on-ice stats such as Corsi and PDO contributors.

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Kupari’s Corsi-for percentage of 47.6% isn’t terrible by any stretch, especially for a teenager in a pro league. It’s not exactly good either though, and among the five draft eligible Finns that have played in Liiga this season, it ranks fourth.

As per usual, this is all relative. Kupari is still a legitimate prospect, and I’m certainly not saying that he isn’t worthy of being drafted. He still has appeared in, and produced in, professional hockey games, and that it no small feat. That being said, it isn’t a feat worthy of a top-15 ranking in my opinion, and I’d wager that his listings so far have been strongly influenced by an international performance that is in and of itself overrated. Closer to home, Kupari hasn’t even been the best draft eligible player in Liiga this season – which leads directly to our next player.

Underrated: Jesperi Kotkaniemi

Jesperi Kotkaniemi hasn’t been forgotten by scouts, but he certainly does appear to be in the shadow of Rasmus Kupari at this point, after spending most of last season as the predicted top Finnish player for 2018. Kotkaniemi appears in eight of the ten top-31 lists from out Consolidated Rankings, but not one of them has him listed higher than they’ve listed Kupari, which is a little odd considering that, from a statistical perspective, he’s superior to Kupari is virtually every way.

Let’s start with Liiga. I mentioned that Kupari was fourth in Corsi-for percentage among NHL draft eligible players in Liiga; Jesperi Kotnaniemi is second on that list, with a CF% of 50.6 (only Niklas Nordgren’s 53.9% is better). Kotkaniemi also has a substantially higher shot rate (a full three per game, and 99 on the season), and more than three times as many points. He’s played the most games of any NHL draft eligible player in Liiga (33), and averages the most minutes (15:20). One could suggest that he’s benefitted from that extra time, but a couple of counterpoints who be that, a) he still has better shot and point rates after accounting for playing time, and b) he’s done more to earn the minutes that he’s received.

It doesn’t stop there though. Kotkaniemi also had a higher point rate in junior last year than Kupari has had this year. He outscored Kupari at the World Under-18’s last year, and had much better international results across the board. That’s not even to mention that Kotkaniemi is three inches taller, 25 pounds heavier, and three and half months younger than Kupari. The only thing that Kotkaniemi hasn’t done is have an explosive performance against Slovakia at the Ivan Hlinka tournament. Even then, Kotkaniemi still accumulated four points in four games there.

At last year’s draft, we had a similar situation with a pair of Czech players, Martin Necas and Filip Chytil, who were typically ranked further apart than I thought was warranted. I said at the time that I wasn’t advocating for Chytil to be ahead of Necas; just that the gap should be much smaller.

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Well I’m going to be much bolder this time. Since the statistical evidence isn’t merely suggesting that the two are close, but rather that Kotkaniemi is superior, I am declaring that Kotkaniemi should be ranked higher than Kupari, and that will be reflected in my rankings when they are published in the coming days.

Overrated: Bode Wilde

Bode Wilde is a big, tough defender with the US National Team Development Program. He’s in his second year with the program, and is getting a lot of attention in his first year of draft eligibility. He sits 13th in our Consolidated Rankings, ranging from sixth to 26th on individual lists.

The case for Wilde being overrated isn’t as strong as it used to be. Back in June, he appeared above fellow NTDP defenceman Quinton Hughes on some lists, which seemed egregious given their respective seasons in 2016-17. Now, of the ten lists that comprise the Consolidated Rankings, only Craig Button still has Wilde above Hughes (6th and 7th, respectively). Wilde is, however, still a top-15 prospect in the eyes of seven of the ten list-makers. That’s a bit too high in my view.

Wilde has been on the scene for years, and was once thought of as a potential top-3-to-5 pick for 2018, and some of that residual pedigree could be what’s keeping him high on a few lists. He’s a big kid (6-foot-2, 194 pounds), who skates very well and possessing a booming slap shot. Described as a two-way defender, his offensive upside has wilted over the past couple of years. He struggled to put up points with the US U-17 squad last year, aside from the World Under-17’s where he generated six of his 19 points in just five games.

Now on the U-18 squad, Wilde’s 16 points in 24 games this season are not insignificant, but there are more than a dozen defencemen with better adjusted point rates. He’s managed to keep his head above water from a goal differential perspective so far this year (in the USHL at least, where I have game sheet data from), after getting snowed under last season: he operated with a 31% goals-for ratio, and a minus-16.5% GF relative percentage, over a 34 game span.

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Aside from flagging production, Wilde’s decision making has been an occasional criticism, which is a factor that doesn’t bode well for the upper levels of competitive hockey. Many of the skills that made him a highly touted prospect are still present and still impressive, but he’s having more difficulty keeping it all together as he advances up the ranks.

Wilde is still a solid bet to turn into an NHL defencemen, but he’s starting to look more than a back-half of the first round type prospect, or even approaching the second round.

Underrated: Cole Fonstad

I don’t have any shame in admitting the fact that I find a lot of these underrated players simply by plugging players into spreadsheets and seeing names pop out where I don’t expect them to be. Both the pGPS cohort model and the SEAL adjusted scoring model are capable of generating plenty of surprises in this fashion: Elias Pettersson, Aleksi Heponiemi, and Nick Suzuki were all players that SEAL had much higher than the industry average.

Then there are some players that the models really like that the services not only don’t have very high, but they’ve mentioned them at all. Cole Fonstad is one such player. The Prince Albert Raiders forward is on only one list so far – Future Considerations – and he doesn’t show up until 55th. From my perspective though, he looks more like a back-half of the first round type of player.

Fonstad is currently seventh in SEAL adjusted scoring, with an adjusted rate of 1.46 points per game (SEAL is designed so that 1.00 adjusted point per game represents 1.00 point per game in the OHL by a player who turns 18 on September 16th prior to his draft season, i.e. the oldest possible age of first time eligibility).

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When a player’s production jumps up like Fonstad’s has, there’s always a worry that it could just be a flash in the pan, especially at this point in the season. So, we have to dig around for some extra context. One good sign is that Fonstad is a former fifth overall pick at the WHL Bantam Draft, meaning that he has some pedigree built up. He’s a highly skilled, and highly intelligent player, and that has shone through before, even when he wasn’t playing or producing much.

HockeyProspect.com scout Cass Bruni had this to say in 2017’s NHL Black Book:

Fonstad took some time to adjust and didn’t have confidence in the first half of the season. Towards the end of the year, it was clear that his skill level is extremely high.

Fonstad played primarily in the bottom six with Prince Albert last year, slowly working his way up the lineup. Using eTOI, we can estimate that he averaged under 10 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time per game for most of the year, supplemented with some power play time as the year went on. His 26 points in 69 games in his draft-minus-one season might not look like much, but after accounting for low ice time, he ends up with just over 3.0 points per hour at evens, which is excellent. Multiple signs indicate that Fonstad was poised for a breakout once he got the opportunity.

So why isn’t he getting more attention? His size might have something to do with that. At 5-foot-10 and 160 pounds, he certainly fits the bill of “undersized”, but his quickness and agility, combined with his smarts and work ethic, have allowed him to avoid being pushed around by larger players. His vision and soft hands have aided in his 30 assists – only Ryan Merkley has more among all first time eligible players.

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Fonstad will be in the spotlight next month at least, as he was named to the CHL Top Prospects Game that will take place in Guelph on January 25th. That’ll be a good opportunity to make an impression – a lot of scouts seem to place a lot of weight on these spotlight-type games.

Provided Fonstad’s season production doesn’t fall off into the abyss, I think we’re looking at a first round prospect here, and I think we’ll see more services come around on that as the season progresses.

Overrated: Jared McIsaac

I’m labeling Halifax’s Jared McIsaac as overrated at this point, but only slightly so. I had McIsaac ranked 15th on my personal list when I released it in July, which isn’t that far off of the 11th that he sits on the Consolidated Rankings list now. However, McIsaac has gotten off to what I perceive to be a pretty underwhelming start, especially considering the team that he plays for, and I think there are plenty of other defencemen that have shown better so far. As a result, I think McIsaac is now sitting a little higher than he ought to be on a lot of lists.

McIsaac has 18 points in 34 games so far this season. His SEAL adjusted scoring rate (0.48) is 30th among first time eligible defencemen, despite playing on one of the Q’s most offensively charged teams. The Mooseheads have scored the second most goals in the league (122), and boast some of the QMJHL’s most dangerous forwards, including Filip Zadina (second in league scoring) and Maxime Fortier (eighth in league scoring), both of whom McIsaac shares the ice with frequently. Despite being on the ice for a large portion of Halifax’s even strength goals, he gets credit on very few of them.

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In terms of goal differential, McIsaac is in the black (52%), which is of course a good thing. However, the Mooseheads are a dominant team at evens, with a 57% goals-for ratio as a team, and a 61% goals-for ratio when McIsaac is on the bench, giving him a minus-9.3% relative GF%. This red flag is further demonstrated by his GF% WOWY chart:

Those red bubbles on top indicate that McIsaac’s teammates are constantly doing better without him compared to with him, in terms of goal differential.

If there’s a silver lining here, it’s that it’s still early. The season isn’t even half over yet, and McIsaac has plenty of time improve these numbers. He’s still got first round potential in my book, and I’d bet that most NHL teams feel the same way. But his chances of becoming a top-10 or top-15 pick will dwindle if his production doesn’t pick up a little.

Underrated: Nathan Dunkley

My discovery of Dunkley came about much the same way as the tale I told of Cole Fonstad above. Dunkley appears on just one list so far (67th on Future Considerations) despite posting 30 points in 25 games. He sits sixth in SEAL adjusted scoring, and 11th in pGPS Expected Value, with a projected 44% chance of forging an NHL career – that’s first round value. You don’t even need complex models to see that Dunkley is having a great start to the season: his 25 5-on-5 points are second only to Filip Zadina among all first time eligible players, and is second only to 19-year old St. Louis Blues prospect Jordan Kyrou in both 5-on-5 assists and points in the entire OHL.

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OHL prospect guru Brock Otten had this to say about Dunkley in a recent article on under-the-radar OHL prospects:

Dunkley is a multi-faceted player as he uses his speed to push the pace off the rush, but is also a terrific player along the wall. Certainly not common to refer to a player under 6’0 as a power forward, but Dunkley definitely is IMO. His physical game continues to grow too. Kind of reminds of Scott Laughton, but with slightly better wheels.

If there’s a concern to be had with Dunkley’s numbers at this point, it’d be his shooting percentage. At 23.9%, it’s not outrageously high (a la Serron Noel), but it’s higher than what is likely sustainable. Most concerning here is an 18.5% shooting percentage on low danger shots, where the league average for forwards is just half that (8.8%). Still, while this seems like a big swing, even if we normalized his shooting percentage and took away half his 5-on-5 goals, he’d still be a point per game player in his draft year, and still be second in the league in 5-on-5 assists. There’s something here.

Peering at the underlying numbers, it gets even rosier. The Frontenacs are scoring 70% of the goals when Dunkley is on the ice, 17% better than they’re doing when he’s on the bench. Even with a couple of NHL drafted players for linemates (Jason Robertson and Linus Nyman), the numbers appear to indicate that Dunkley is driving the bus.

Not only are the Frontenacs scoring a lot of goals (and not allowing many) when Dunkley is on the ice, he’s factoring in on a huge percentage of them. He has a point on 32% of the the 5-on-5 goals scored by Kingston thus far, and a primary point on 19% of them, as well as collecting a point on 89% of the goals that he’s been on the ice for. Held over a full season, those would be elite numbers.

Like Fonstad, Dunkley is sure to draw more attention as the season progresses if these trends continue. He’ll need to get his shot rate up to account for a probable drop in his shooting percentage, but there’s a lot to like about this player. With speed and intelligence as two other strengths to his game, he’ll be a commodity moving forward if his numbers stay at a respectable pace.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this deeper look into a handful of 2018 eligible players. The next item on the docket is a ranked list, which will of course reflect some of the opinions divulged here. Until then, you can tell me why I’m wrong or right in the comments.

  • Chuckey

    Nice effort as usual from you Ry-man. but I’ll challenge you to up your game further with more relevance to the Canucks. How about taking an in-depth look at over and underrated Canucks draft picks over the LinBenning regime?

    For example, while the jury is still out on Demko and Petterssen, Boeser is the only pick in four years who has execeeded expectations (even though he went where draft-rated). Forsling would’ve also been an exceptional later pick .. but Benning didn’t see this while the astute Blackhawks did. Terrible decision.

    However, the list of overrated Canuck picks is bordering on ridiculous. Juolevi is clearly a massively overrated pick, being unable to crack our weak D two camps running while lower picks gave blown by him.

    Virtanen, McCann, Tryamkin, Lind, Zhukenov and Lockwood have also been all hugley overrated by an arrogant overzealous fanbase and clueless management… so, full breakdown please… over to you.

    • defenceman factory

      This site regularly and routinely evaluates Canucks players and prospects. Just because some of those articles don’t match your myopic view doesn’t mean they don’t happen.

    • Fortitude00

      Chuckey, Forsling was traded because the Canucks needed massive help on the RS and needed massive help on the PP. Two thing Forsling doesn’t offer.
      I’m not sure how you think players who haven’t played in the NHL yet are over rated.

    • sloth

      Demko was drafted 2 years before Juolevi – yet the jury is still out on Demko when Juolevi is already a bust? What lower picks have “blown by him?” Brisebois, Gunnarson, Candella, Brassard, and Rathbone are the only other D-men in his age range and none of them are doing anything special at pro or junior levels. Stecher and Hutton, the two comparables in the NHL lineup, are 4 & 5 years older than Juolevi… Players take different times to develop based on their bodies and brains and positions and playing styles, so monitoring and evaluating progress is very complex and nuanced. This site does weekly prospect reports and annual prospect rankings for the entire organization, from which we can draw myriad conclusions about any player.

      Virtanen is definitely looking like a bit of a draft bust, though lets not forget the Islanders drafted Michael Dal Colle right before him so he’s not even the biggest flop of the top 10 that year… This site has raked management for the pick since before it was even made (I definitely seem to remember some sort of “Please Don’t Draft Virtanen” article right before the draft…?), and the fanbase is certainly at least divided in its opinion of JV at this point. Management obviously need to show faith in their player if they want any return on the pick (either through his development or a trade), so overrating him is basically required once they overrated him enough to pick him.

      At this point I would not call McCann overrated. He was a late-1st rounder who always projected as more of a 2-way player than an elite producer, and has currently played more games and has more career points than 7 of the 23 forwards picked above him and 5 of the 6 picked below him (Pastrnak at #25 still stings a lot though…). Maybe he was overrated during his rookie season and in the aftermath of the trade, but for all the crying about the ideology behind the trade it’s sure starting to look like a wash…

      Tryamkin might have been be a bit overrated because of the hype around his arrival and debut, but I’d say he clearly has a very very high ceiling, and played quite well as a rookie for a coach who was truly AWFUL at deploying his inexperienced team. The culture shock and questionable handling by coaching staff drove him back to his hometown team that he’s played for his whole life, but he is scoring and seems to be playing well this season, named KHL D-of-the-Month twice straight for October and November. If he matures as a person and decides he wants another crack at the NHL he could definitely be a good top-4 guy, which would be a win for a 3rd rounder. The Canucks hold his rights for another 2 seasons I think? This year is Tryamkin’s D+4… Zdeno Chara didn’t have his breakout season until his D+6, after being traded to Ottawa.

      Lind is a 2017 pick who was in consideration for Canada’s WJHC team despite having Mono… He is putting up great numbers in the W but it’s far too early to be really judging him at all. Zhukenov was a 4th-rounder who has gotten virtually no hype that I know of – if he can become a productive AHLer that’s a draft win… Lockwood was a 2016 3rd-rounder who hasn’t scored at a point-per-game pace since his U16 season, and the pick was definitely questioned by CA at he time. He always projected as a 2-way player, but received some praise for exceeding low production expectations last year with a strong WJHC and a respectable freshman season in NCAA. To call him overrated seems excessive though – nobody is penciling him into the Canucks lineup any time soon.

      In terms of supporting your anti-management narrative you have to go deeper. On a whole it looks like drafting has been much improved from the previous regime (we should never forget how terrible the Gillis-era drafting was), and while there have been some questionable trades and contracts that haven’t worked out, there have also been some good deals and bargains that probably balance the ledger. Whether this warrants an extension for Benning I dunno, but do I think the team is in a much better place than it was when he took over.

  • Fred-65

    I watched Jared McIsaac earlier this season and like you thought his ranking were over rated. He is competent and never made many out and out mistakes but there again he never shone in any particular element. IMHO players destined for the first round need to have some particular strong asset in addition to an over all competence. In short he didn’t have a wow part to his game and I think that’s needed when moving from junior to the NHL