Welcome back to our weekly column exploring the world of hockey prospects. It is our first season here at NBC/Rotoworld and as we enter the new year, we want to thank you for being a part of this journey. McKeen’s has been scouting hockey prospects for decades and have produced NHL Draft rankings for a long time. What we have learned is, that it is exactly that .. a journey. So far, we have introduced you to a number of high-profile NHL Draft prospects. That path leads to the NHL Draft in Montreal in June – and our Draft Guide – a commitment of thousands of hours in rinks and reviewing tape. We have also covered the major tournaments and highlighted the NHL-affiliated prospects that are making news and that you will see in the NHL soon.
In the next week or so, we will release our mid-season McKeen’s NHL Draft Rankings. That is product of a team of analysts/scouts in rinks around the world led by Ryan Wagman, our Prospects Director, with some insight from founder and publisher Iain Morrell. Using our own OFP (Overall Future Projection) rating system, with input from the team, we produce our ranking. Many of our scouts have been following these players for years, and the experience that Iain and Ryan bring in providing context provides a glimpse of what to look for on draft day.
This week Jimmy Hamrin looks at Noel Gunler; a top ten for some analysts, but definitely first round for most. Brock Otten looks at the trade deadline for the OHL and Mike Sanderson explains and breaks down a complicated QMJHL trade deadline. Subscribers can find a more in-depth article on www.mckeenshockey.com.
Stay with us for the journey – top risers in the draft next week. We have a huge database of player profiles on our site at www.mckeenshockey.com – check out any player you are curious about.
Editor's Note: Drafting is only half the battle. Dominate all season long with our Season Pass! Use our NEW Lineup Adviser, get our Weekly and Rest-of-Season rankings and projections, track all of your players and more on your way to a championship! Click here for more!
NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues Tuesday with a clash between the Minnesota Wild and Pittsburgh Penguins. Coverage begins at 6:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here!
2020 NHL DRAFT PROSPECT
NOEL GUNLER, SWEDEN (Lulea HF 32 GP 1G 7A)
By Jimmy Hamrin
Gunler is probably the hardest top ranked player to scout in Sweden so far this season. He’s a top six talent who almost exclusively plays bottom six minutes in the SHL. He also has had a history of getting cut from international tournaments by national team coaches. This means that we don’t get to see him in the role he’s auditioning for at the NHL level. Gunler is a smart offensive winger who can create scoring chances out of nothing and finds open spaces like few players can. If he was a runner, he’d be the guy who runs quietly behind the leaders for the whole race just to find the exact right opportunity to sprint ahead of them near the finish line. Gunler uses most of his energy on the ice to score goals and to create scoring chances.
He can successfully run a power play, providing both good playmaking and proficiency as a shooter. He moves around to get to open lanes or shooting lanes and is hard to contain in that way. His shot is accurate with a fast release, as he’s always ready to shoot. Gunler has a quick first step on his skates which helps separating from opponents in short distances. He reads and processes the game well offensively. The weaknesses of his game are on the defensive side. His mind is on offense in most situations and he needs to learn the game away from the puck. He owns a smart offensive mind, and I expect him to able to also learn the defensive side of the game with time. He’d also be more successful offensively if he were a better checker and able to win pucks and create more turnovers. The fact that he’s mostly a one-way player will probably lower his draft position in the end; as there are a lot of good winger in this year’s draft. I see him as a good pick in the 10-20 range.
PROSPECTS IN THE NEWS
SIX IMPACT PLAYERS FROM THE OHL TRADE DEADLINE
By Brock Otten
Akil Thomas - Peterborough Petes (2GP 1G 4 A Peterborough, 27GP 15G 29A Niagara)
Fresh off his gold medal winning goal for Team Canada at the 2020 World Junior Championships, the rebuilding Niagara IceDogs shipped Thomas to the Peterborough Petes who are hoping to push the Ottawa 67’s for the East Division title. Thomas will line up down the middle on Peterborough’s top line, where he will be flanked by Maple Leafs prospect Nick Robertson. The two should make a dynamic duo, especially on the powerplay. Thomas’ high energy level and ability to put pressure on puck carriers is similar to that of Robertson, which should make the two very difficult to play against. Additionally, Thomas’ vision and playmaking ability will help Robertson, who is one of the top goal scorers in the OHL. Look for both of them to average near the 2 point per game mark down the stretch.
Ryan Suzuki - Saginaw Spirit (2GP 3A Saginaw, 21GP 5G 18A Barrie)
The Barrie Colts decided to accelerate their rebuild by moving Suzuki, a former first overall OHL selection, and first round pick by the Carolina Hurricanes in 2019. He heads south of the border to Saginaw, where the Spirit have loaded up in order to try to take home the West division. Brother of Montreal Canadiens forward Nick Suzuki, Ryan will center top 2020 draft prospect Cole Perfetti on the first line. His season has not exactly gone according to plan this year thanks to a serious eye injury. However, Suzuki will get a great opportunity to get his game back on track surrounded by a ton of talent in Saginaw. Suzuki and Perfetti are two of the more dynamic playmakers in the OHL. Their vision with the puck is exemplary. The second winger on that line, slated to be New York Islanders prospect Cole Coskey, should reap in the benefits.
Phil Tomasino - Oshawa Generals (3GP 4G 6A Oshawa, 36GP 22G 35A Niagara)
Like Suzuki, Tomasino was another 2001 born player who moved at the deadline, perhaps as a surprise to some. The Nashville Predators first round pick was in the midst of an excellent season with the Niagara IceDogs and now suits up for the Oshawa Generals who are hoping to make noise in this year’s playoffs, on top of hosting next year’s Memorial Cup. The return has been sensational so far with Tomasino taking home player of the week honors, scoring 6 goals and 10 points over his first three games with the Generals. Tomasino is equal parts goal scorer and playmaker, who excels in transition because of his explosive first few steps and his ability to handle the puck. He has a very real possibility of ending up as the OHL’s leading scorer this year.
Serron Noel - Kitchener Rangers (3GP 0G 0A Kitchener, 28GP 13G 16A Oshawa)
A physical beast who can be one of the more dominant players in the OHL when he is fully engaged, Serron Noel heads to Kitchener, perhaps the hottest team in the OHL over the last few months. The Rangers will be hoping that Noel can find more consistency in his game, as he has struggled at times during his draft+2 season, previously with the Generals. The 6’6, 215lbs winger and Florida Panthers draft selection has gone pointless in his first three games as a Ranger, but he should become more productive as he builds chemistry with new linemates. His power and tenacity should play well in the playoffs, as he can open up space for Kitchener’s smaller more skilled players (such as Riley Damiani and Greg Meireles) and he has the potential to dominate the goal line and below.
Markus Phillips - London Knights (3GP 1A London, 20GP 6A Fort Wayne ECHL)
One of the more underrated additions at this year’s deadline was London adding veteran defender Markus Phillips. Surprisingly returned to the OHL by the Los Angeles Kings after starting the year in the ECHL, Phillips was dealt by Guelph as they had already committed themselves to their maximum allotment of three overage players. The Knights have been utilizing several OHL rookies in their regular defensive rotation this year and the addition of Phillips helps to add a more stable presence to this group. A terrific skater, Phillips is a defensive stalwart at the OHL level who does just about everything well in his own end (blocks shots, has a good stick, is terrific in coverage and along the wall). He will likely be asked to pair with San Jose Sharks first rounder, and talented offensive defender, Ryan Merkley. This will allow Merkley to play a little more aggressively offensively and should really help London push the Kitchener Rangers for the Midwest Division title.
QMJHL’s EASTERN TEAMS MAKES MOVES: WJC TEAMMATES LAVOIE AND MERCER JOIN CHICOUTIMI POWERHOUSE – MONCTON RESPONDS PUNCH FOR PUNCH
By Mike Sanderson
We will run an article with a more complete explanation of the unique Quebec league trade deadline rules on www.mckeenshockey.com with a longer version of this article for our subscribers but for this feature we will address the season’s mid-season trading period, which opened December 15th and closed on January 6th. Before December 15th, players can only be traded if they are overagers or not members of an active roster. After January 6th, teams released players for the league’s waiver wire before the rosters are frozen for the season a few days after the trading circus rolls out of town.
This year was no exception, as the Chicoutimi Saguenéens, Moncton Wildcats and Rimouski Oceanic were at the front of the pack with the wheeling and dealing. Prices were very high, and teams have those three to thank for it.
Chicoutimi leads the East and picked up a number of veteran players to bolster their roster, paying a dear price to do so. Four days before the trading period opened, they put their hands on overager Félix Bibeau from the Quebec Remparts, a strong two-way New York Islanders pick who won the Memorial Cup last season with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. Bibeau was acquired for two first round picks, which were then returned to the Remparts as part of a package for prospect Théo Rochette. Bibeau joins former Huskies teammate Raphaël Harvey-Pinard with a strong offence.
The Sags push to improve continued, adding experienced blueliner Patrick Kyte on the period’s first day, and picking up three intriguing players on the period’s final day: defender Karl Boudrias from Val-d’Or, and a pair of Team Canada players, Raphaël Lavoie and Dawson Mercer. The two first rounders used to acquire Bibeau were used to woo Mercer to the Saguenay region. The Saguenéens started the trading period with three first round picks and ended with none; they shipped out 16 draft picks in all.
The Moncton Wildcats went punch-for-punch with the Saguenéens trying to get the best players available and they captured a haul for themselves, too. They picked up Benoît-Olivier Groulx and Jared McIsaac from the Halifax Mooseheads, Gabriel Fortier from the Baie-Comeau Drakkar and depth defender Ryan MacLellan from the Huskies.
The Wildcats already boast goaltender Olivier Rodrigue and offensive depth led by Minnesota pick Alex Khovanov and Calgary first rounder Jakob Pelletier.
The Rimouski Oceanic’s moves this year weren’t as dramatic as the Sags or the Cats, but they picked up the players they need to make a long run for the President’s Cup. Rather than messing with a good thing, they picked up their needs: a backup goaltender, a number one defenseman and depth at forward. Picking up forechecker extraordinaire Andrew Coxhead from Quebec and Nicolas Guay from Saint John satisfies their forward depth; Justin Bergeron from Rouyn-Noranda Huskies adds to a solid blueline. They picked up Gatineau’s Creed Jones to back up Colten Ellis.
The Oceanic didn’t feel the pressure to make moves because they already boast the top line in the league of Cédric Paré, Calgary’s Dmitry Zavgorodniy and potential first overall pick Alexis Lafrenière. If Rimouski falters in the playoffs, fans will point to their moves at this stretch to why.
Interestingly, those three squads are all in the Eastern Conference. Behind them in the group, the Cape Breton Eagles also made moves to get better this season, picking up Tyler Hinam from Rouyn-Noranda, Shawn Element from Acadie-Bathurst and Xavier Bouchard from Baie-Comeau. Much like last season, an Eastern team or two may be going home much quicker than anticipated.
Comparatively, the Sherbrooke Phoenix were the only team to clearly make moves for this season in the Western Conference, but all teams underneath them tweaked the roster or outright sold off players for greener pastures next season and beyond. Sherbrooke, the league’s best team, picked up a couple defenders in Zavier Bernard and Samuel Bolduc and an offensive forward in Charles-Antoine Roy. They didn’t need to make major moves, with the league’s best offence led by Pittsburgh first rounder Samuel Poulin and the league’s biggest surprise, netminder Samuel Hlavaj.
Teams found prices high not only because of bidding wars at the top, but also because of a lack of desire to sell at the bottom. Teams in the Western Conference, like defending champion Rouyn-Noranda, are still within striking distance of home-ice in the first round, decreasing incentives to make moves at pennies-on-the-dollar.
Drummondville, maybe the league’s most surprising team, is ahead of Rouyn in the standings despite not being a contender on paper at the beginning of the season and with one of the league’s youngest rosters. Charlottetown, always a bridesmaid in the East, are sitting tied with the Cape Breton Eagles in the standings despite just tweaking their squad. Baie-Comeau is sitting just behind them with veterans to move.
These teams, who all had attractive players for contending teams, all held back from fully committing to a down half-season. Only on the final day of trades did many of the biggest names move, and some expected players to be on the block, like Pittsburgh’s Nathan Légaré of the Drakkar, didn’t move at all.
The name of the game that final day was draft picks. McIsaac and Lavoie moved for four picks, while Boudrias and Bergeron moved for five. Mercer moved for six, including three first rounders. The currency on the trading period’s final day was potential meal tickets for the bottom feeders.
As in past years, those meal tickets could also be sent back for more impact players at the draft or in future trading periods, but most of these deals are as advertised; Moncton’s two-part deal for Groulx and Mcisaac is the biggest deal rumored to feature some of those picks to be traded back for players at the league’s entry draft in June.