31 Prospects: Red Wings' Seider, Canadiens' Caufield among top performers of 2020-21

A look at top performers from all 31 NHL prospect pools

I’d been trying to figure out the best format to keep fans updated about top prospects for their favorite teams in between rankings and I wanted to try this idea where I’ll take a look at at least one prospect from all 31 teams based on a certain theme at least once a month. This first post is free to showcase the format and get feedback from as many readers as possible. Please let me know in the comments or at hockeysensewithcp@gmail.com if you like this format for a semi-monthly prospect check-in. Also, pieces like this will be subscriber-only going forward, so consider a subscription so you won’t miss the next 31 Prospects column.

In this most unique of seasons, not every drafted prospect has had the same opportunities as his peers. The seemingly simple act of playing games has never been more complicated, no matter where in the world players are. We do, however, have a good chunk of players that have played a significant-enough amount of games to get a feel for how they’re progressing.

While the NHL isn’t quite at its halfway point, the OHL is still in a holding pattern, and the WHL is just getting off the ground, many leagues around the world are on the way to wrapping up their seasons.

So I wanted to take a look at the players that have performed at an especially high level so far this season, taking stock of the players who have been able to get the most complete seasons in to date, considering their production, role and overall developmental progression from last season to this season.

So let’s get started with the first ever “31 Prospects” column.

Anaheim Ducks - Lukas Dostal, G, Ilves/San Diego (Liiga/AHL)

I’ve really liked Dostal since his draft season. He was my No. 1 ranked goalie for the 2018 Draft and his progression continues to impress. He won the Liiga’s best goaltender last season for going 27-8-6 with a .928 save percentage, 1.78 goals-against average and three shutouts. This year, he started the season on loan with Ilves and appeared in 11 games over which he posted a .941 save percentage and went 10-1-0.

He’s since moved to San Diego for his first North American pro season in the AHL. Dostal hasn’t missed a beat, though the last few weeks or so has been a little tougher for him. He still has a .918 save percentage in nine appearances. He was stellar in his first five starts in North American pro hockey, earning wins in each game before going on a four-game skid where he wasn’t as sharp. Still, the overall body of work suggests a goalie trending positively.

What I’ve always appreciated about Dostal’s game is that he never ever gives up on a play. He has below-average size for a goaltender despite coming in at 6-foot-1, but the quickness is there. The Czech netminder is good down low and fights traffic well. Not a ton of his game is technically beautiful, but he finds ways to make stops and has put up really impressive numbers most of his career. The Ducks don’t have an immediate need in net, but when Ryan Miller moves on, there could be a chance for Dostal to be a really good No. 2 for John Gibson with the upside to be a starter down the line.

Arizona Coyotes - Matias Maccelli, LW, Ilves (Liiga)

After earning rookie of the year honors in Liiga last season, Maccelli followed that up by slightly improving his scoring rate. He is top 10 in league scoring and has the most points for players under the age of 21 across the league with 34 points in 43 games.

His skill, creativity and skating all continue to make him a threat in a tough pro league to score in. He’s been a top producer pretty much at every level he’s been at and though he’s not the biggest guy, his physical strength keeps improving to make him tougher to knock off the puck. He should be on his way to North America next year and he may yet challenge for an NHL spot out of camp. Perhaps he’ll come to North America to get a test of the AHL this season after his Liiga duties are complete. The Coyotes prospect pool is fairly shallow, but having a player like Maccelli continually improving at this rate as a fourth-round pick is a nice bonus.

Boston Bruins - Mason Lohrei, D, Green Bay (USHL)

The Bruins using their first pick of the 2020 draft on second-year eligible Lohrei was a bit of a surprise, but Lohrei’s been a surprising player over the last two seasons in the USHL. A 6-foot-4 defenseman who can score is often a hot commodity and Lohrei is scoring at an even higher clip this season. Though he’s one of the older players in the USHL at 20 years old, Lohrei has a substantial lead on all defensemen in the league with 46 points. That also puts him fifth in the league overall. That level of production is pretty special, but I’m still seeing a lot of room for refinement.

I spent some time watching Lohrei’s shifts with InStat and he’s got some nice tools. He’s extremely aggressive about jumping into plays, sometimes overly so and I think his reads could use a little work. His footwork has improved, but I still think his north-south skating is going to need to come along a bit more. Defensively, he’s only OK. In the games I watched of him, he didn’t kill a ton of plays. His gaps were fine and he stayed with players, but being as big as he is, I think he can be a little too easy to get around.

Lohrei is a bit of a project, but the season he’s having is no fluke. He does a lot of things right, he has a good shot, he can make plays in the offensive zone. A few years at Ohio State is going to do him good, so patience is still required to allow him the room to grow his game.

Buffalo Sabres - Arttu Ruotsalainen, C/W, Ilves/Rochester (Liiga/AHL)

The Sabres actually had several good options to include in this slot. Ultimately, I chose Ruotsalainen because of just how big a scoring jump he experienced in Finland before coming over to NHL camp and ultimately getting sent to the Rochester Americans where he’s looked pretty solid as well. Before coming back over to North America, the undrafted free agent dominated Liiga with 1.42 points per game which is still tied for the league lead even though he’s been gone a few months. Ruotsalainen had 16 goals and 11 assists in just 19 games.

Since starting his North American pro career, Ruotsalainen has seven points through his first nine games with Rochester. As a smaller player, he still can find different ways to impact the game and has decent enough quickness to challenge AHL defenders. Rochester is giving him a chance to play in all situations, too, which will help round out his game. It’s hard to say if he’s going to be an impact player at the next level, but he’s got a chance to be a quality scoring depth piece.

Calgary Flames - Jakob Pelletier, RW, Val-d’Or (QMJHL)

With only 22 games under his belt in the QMJHL, Pelletier has made his presence felt in a major way for Val-d’Or. He’s top-10 in the league with 31 points, including 23 assists. He also was a key player for Canada in their World Junior Championship, scoring seven points over the seven games while being a bit of a Swiss Army knife kind of player.

Pelletier’s tenacity is such a standout trait in addition to quality skill level. I think his skating improves with each passing year as his short-distance quickness makes him a lot tougher to play against. The size doesn’t really bother me at all because of how he plays and he’s become one of the most respected players in the Q as a veteran. I don’t know if he’ll challenge for a spot in the NHL right away next year, but he’s not far off.

Carolina Hurricanes - Jack LaFontaine, G, Minnesota (Big Ten)

The Hurricanes have a lot of good options, but when one of your prospects becomes one of the best goaltenders in college hockey, that can be a huge boost to a prospect pool. LaFontaine has appeared in 24 games, playing in 89% of the possible minutes for a goaltender to play for the Gophers this season. With the regular season wrapped up, the Mississauga, Ontario native has a .935 save percentage and is second in the country with five shutouts. Minnesota went 18-6-0 with the senior netminder between the pipes.

After starting his NCAA career at Michigan and not really being ready, he went back to junior, got himself right and over the last two years has built up enough of a track record to be considered a legit goaltending prospect again. Patience is always required with goalies, but LaFontaine needed even a little more. He can sign with Carolina after his season or he can become a free agent, but either way, he belongs in an NHL system. You couldn’t say that just a few years ago.

Chicago Blackhawks - Lukas Reichel, C/W, Berlin (DEL)

The Blachkawks’ most recent first round pick is off to an incredible start in the DEL this season. Reichel already has 18 points through his first 22 games. He had 24 points over 42 games during his draft season. Perhaps most notably, however, is that Reichel has been playing center recently for Berlin and his production isn’t really dropping off. In fact, his ice time and responsibility is increasing.

Reichel’s points-per-game rate (0.82) currently ranks fourth highest for a U20 player in DEL history (min. 20 GP). It’s such a shame that he was unable to participate in the World Juniors this year as he tested positive during the team’s training camp before departing for Canada. He would have been a significant difference maker on that German team that reached the playoff round for the first time. His skill level would have really shone brightly for that team, but the Blackhawks can at least be happy that there’s been no letdown from him at all as he returned to action in Germany’s top pro league.

Colorado Avalanche - Daniil Zhuravlyov, D, Kazan (KHL)

This has been another strong year of development for Zhuravlyov, who has been stacking good years on top of each other since being drafted. After a breakout performance as a top defenseman on Russia’s silver-medal World Junior team last year, he’s playing a more substantial role for Kazan in the Gagarin Cup playoffs.

Zhuravlyov increased his point from eight to 13 year-over-year, saw a little more ice time and put together some solid defensive metrics. He’s pretty average sized with good mobility and defends strongly. He scored his first two career playoff points last week, including a goal where he jumped up in the play and got behind the defense. I really like his skating and his ability to move pucks. I think he processes the game at an NHL level already and should fit in very well with how the Avalanche need their defensemen to play.

Columbus Blue Jackets - Kirill Marchenko, RW, St. Petersburg (KHL)

Every year, Marchenko looks just a bit better than he was before. With size and skill, he’s a difficult player to contain. He’s still only 20, but took a big step forward in his second KHL season. Marchenko posted 28 points in 41 games. His 0.68 points per game led all U21 players in the KHL by a significant margin. He would have more impressive raw points had he not missed a chunk of time earlier this season.

Marchenko signed an extension with SKA that runs through next season, so Blue Jackets fans will have to be patient. The good news is that he’ll get another full season of top-end competition in the KHL and have a chance to become a more dominant and consistent producer. He’s an exciting talent and could do wonders for the Blue Jackets’ offense upon his arrival.

Dallas Stars - Mavrik Bourque, C, Shawinigan (QMJHL)

Not making the Canadian World Junior team surely stung, but Bourque has been making the most of whatever time he has in the uneven QMJHL season. Averaging 1.38 points per game, Bourque’s a little behind the pace of a season ago. He does, however, rank 11th in the QMJHL in that category. Additionally, his goal-scoring rate is up a little bit from a season ago.

What I like about the way Bourque scores is that he has the skill and the release to put pucks in from distance, but there’s a craftiness to how he scores from in tight. He shoots off the pass well and has a high-end release that fools goalies even when they’re square. When it comes to goals in the harder areas, Bourque uses superior hockey sense to time plays and get body position on opposing defenders. He’s always available, even when he’s under pressure. That becomes harder to do as you go up the ranks, but I really like seeing that craftiness and hockey sense employed the way Bourque does it.

Detroit Red Wings - Moritz Seider, D, Rogle (SHL)

The way he has played this year, I really feel that there’s a good case for Seider being the best player outside of the NHL currently. Seider leads all U20 players in the SHL with 26 points. That puts him just five points behind Nils Lundkvist’s record for points by a U20 defenseman in SHL history, set last season. Seider, however, has a higher points-per-game rate at 0.72.

He is 10th in scoring by defensemen in the league and sixth in points per game for a defenseman. On top of that, Seider has showcased elite defensive abilities thanks to his mobility, range and smarts. On top of that, he’s been absolutely dropping players, hardening his physical edge and showing that he will be a force in all zones. There just aren’t any noticeable weaknesses in his game. Maybe he’s not a naturally dynamic offensively, but he’s effective. His range is incredible and he moves pucks with such maturity and confidence. I can’t see any situation where he’s not on Detroit’s opening-night roster in 2021-22 and playing top four minutes in short order.

Also, I wanted to quickly recognize Jonatan Berggren, who probably would be in this slot if he were in any other organization. He’s seventh in SHL scoring right now with 40 points and by far the top scorer among players 21 or younger in the league. His skill level is simply outstanding and he’s made a huge impact this season.

Edmonton Oilers - Dylan Holloway, C, Wisconsin (Big Ten)

He’s been one of the most dominant players in college hockey over the second half of the season and has taken such a gigantic leap forward from where he was a year ago. Holloway missed eight games due to Canada’s World Junior camp, but still managed to produce enough to currently sit fourth in NCAA scoring with 34 points. His 1.70 points per game is slightly ahead of teammate and national scoring leader Cole Caufield.

Holloway was always a brilliant skater, but now he’s able to put more tools with that. He makes great reads and navigates the offensive zone so much more easily than he did a season ago. His pace of play has improved greatly and he’s become a lot tougher to play against with commitment to defensive responsibilities and renewed physicality. When he’s on the top of his game, he’s been an absolute force that the rest of the Big Ten has not figured out how to handle. I’d imagine Edmonton pushes hard to sign him as soon as Wisconsin’s season is over.

Florida Panthers - Spencer Knight, G, Boston College (Hockey East)

The odds-on favorite to win the Mike Richter Award this season as college hockey’s top goalie, Knight has been absolutely stellar. From the amazing performance at the World Juniors that led to USA winning the gold medal to basically every game he’s played but one this season for Boston College, Knight has been locked in.

The Eagles are 15-2-1 with Knight in the cage. Among goalies with at least 15 starts in the NCAA, he has the best save percentage at .937 while facing the 11th most shots against of any goalie in men’s hockey. Knight has three shutouts and looks like the kind of goalie that could win a team a national championship if they needed him to. The big question now is if he signs with Florida after the season or waits it out another year in college considering Sergei Bobrovsky and that big contract may not be going anywhere for a while.

Los Angeles Kings - Jordan Spence, D, Val d’Or (QMJHL)

With one of the deepest prospect pools in hockey, the Kings didn’t have a ton of their prospects up and going for much of the season. A lot of their key players are playing in the AHL now, but that hasn’t been up and running long enough to get a great picture of what’s happening with that group.

As for Spence, however, the reigning QMJHL defenseman of the year has played quite well over the course of his junior season. Despite missing time to join Team Canada for the World Juniors, where he was essentially an extra defenseman, appearing in two games, Spence has made an impact in the QMJHL. He was moved from Moncton to Val-d’Or and didn’t miss a beat. He’s already matched his goal total from last season in 36 fewer games and is averaging 1.20 points per game, well ahead of his 0.86 points per game rate from last season. He’s a dynamic player on the back end and while plenty of his game needs more work, he has the ability to fit into the modern NHL with his offensive capability.

Minnesota Wild - Matt Boldy, LW, Boston College (Hockey East)

If you go back to the second half of last season, Boldy has been one of college hockey’s most productive players. His first-half struggles last year are a distant memory at this point. With 24 points in 19 games so far this season, Boldy ranks eighth among eligible players in points per game nationally. Going back to Jan. 1 of last season, he’s put up 47 points in 38 games. On top of that, he remains a two-way force.

When you combine what he’s done this season so far with how he performed at the World Junior Championship where he had five goals and seven points in USA’s run to the gold medal, you’ve got a pretty spectacular season for the sophomore. I think he could really go either way in the debate on whether or not he should sign his NHL contract or go back for one more year, but he’s really progressed quite nicely over the last two seasons.

Montreal Canadiens - Cole Caufield, RW, Wisconsin (Big Ten)

The leading candidate for this year’s Hobey Baker Award, Caufield put the cherry on top of the regular season by scoring twice to help the Badgers clinch the Big Ten regular-season title Saturday. Those goals extended Caufield’s national leads to 25 goals and 46 points. Saturday’s game was a microcosm of the season where Caufield simply finds a way to impact the game.

That’s the biggest difference between this season and last for the sniper. Caufield is capable of driving play on his own more now. He carries the puck a lot, but also makes smart plays with it. His shot is simply deadly and even when it looks like there’s nothing to shoot at, he’s found the hole. His goal scoring skill is unique among his peers. Very, very few can score with the regularity and consistency he does. If the season ended today, he should be the no-brainer choice to win the Hobey.

While Caufield has been incredible, I also wanted to take a quick second to recognize the spectacular season of Habs prospect Sean Farrell, who is leading the USHL with 70 points this season. He recently set the Chicago Steel’s career assists and points records and looks poised to be the USHL’s MVP with how he has played in a season where he was supposed to be attending Harvard until the Ivy League shut down their season.

Nashville Predators - Juuso Parssinen, C, TPS (Liiga)

A big jump in scoring for Parssinen, is making Nashville’s seventh-rounder in 2019 look awfully good. Parssinen has had the size and strength in his game, but now he’s providing more reliable production while playing significant minutes for a U20 player in Finland’s top pro league. On top of that, he looked really solid at the World Juniors, scoring four points over seven games.

Parssinen leads all U20 players in Liiga with 29 points. Looking at U20 players in their “draft-plus-two” season in Liiga over the last 20 years, Parssinen keeps pretty good company with Jussi Jokinen and Joel Armia in terms of comparables based on points-per-game (0.71). He’s tied for second on his team in scoring, is wearing a letter and making really mature plays. It’s really been a revelatory season for Parssinen, who still needs a contract.

New Jersey Devils - Dawson Mercer, C/W, Chicoutimi (QMJHL)

The second of three first-round picks in 2020, Mercer has had his own stops and starts this season as has been the story for everyone in the QMJHL. On top of that, he missed time by leaving to go to Canada’s World Junior camp. When he’s playing, though, he’s been excellent. Mercer made his second straight World Junior roster and played well for Canada as he played more of a depth role once again. This time, however, he tacked on six points as Canada took silver.

I’ve always enjoyed Mercer’s combination of skill and work ethic. He does not make things easy for the opposition. As expected, he’s been a force in the QMJHL, ranking fifth in the league while averaging 1.53 points per game with 26 in 17. He’s also averaging 0.76 goals per game with 13 so far on the season. Mercer has a legitimate chance to compete for a roster spot next season as he can play pretty much any way you want him to. I don’t know that he’d make the final roster, but I would fully expect him to give the Devils something to think about.

New York Islanders - Robin Salo, D, Orebro (SHL)

The 22-year-old Salo has taken a nice step forward in his first full season in Sweden and fully earned his first entry-level deal with the Isles last month. He will remain on loan for the rest of the SHL season.

The Finnish blueliner ranks seventh in the SHL among defensemen with 29 points in 45 games. Meanwhile, he’s playing over 21 minutes a game. Salo looks more polished offensively at the SHL level. He walks the blue line well and makes good puck decisions with excellent passing. His first pass is strong coming out of his zone and there’s a maturity smoothness to his game. I don’t think he’s going to be a big producer at the NHL level, but he can move the puck well enough to earn minutes and potentially work on the power play. He’s at the top of the point for Orebro and does a nice job dictating things from there.

The Islanders will have the option of bringing him to North America after his season in Sweden is over, but there’s not much need to rush him at this point or waste a year of his entry-level contract if they were to put him in NHL games. He’ll be ending his season on a high note and can battle for a spot next season.

New York Rangers - Nils Lundkvist, D, Lulea (SHL)

Consistency. It’s nice to know what you’re going to get out of a player. Lundkvist is going to give you points, reliable defense and smart, confident play. While his overall points are slightly down from a season ago, he leads all SHL defensemen with 12 goals. He’s being given more defensive responsibility, playing upwards of 25 minutes per game in the latter stages of the season, too. It’s not all flash with him, it’s just effective, smart play.

Lundkvist’s next move is an interesting one. He’s still unsigned by the Rangers and could conceivably become a free agent. The Rangers have a deepening blue line that is long on young talent. The removal of Tony DeAngelo from the roster clears some more room for Lundkvist and creates a greater need for a blueliner with puck-moving prowess. However, until Lundkvist is officially signed, anything is possible. There is little doubt there are a lot of teams with less blue line depth that would love to have a player of his pedigree. Until the deal is done, sit tight.

Ottawa Senators - Shane Pinto, C, North Dakota (NCHC)

A driving force for the best team in college hockey, Pinto is in the mix to win the Hobey Baker this year. He’s also showcased a dominance offensively that has only grown over the last two seasons. Pinto is the leading scorer for the nation’s top team, posting 28 points in 23 games so far for the Fighting Hawks. He’s tied for fifth in the nation with 15 goals and makes an impact at both ends of the ice.

Pinto looks like a player ready to take the next step. The question is whether the Senators will have room for him soon enough to make the jump right to the NHL or if they’d rather park him in the AHL for a bit. Belleville has done a very fine job as a finishing school for most of Ottawa’s top prospects, but if Pinto wanted to return to UND for one more season, I wouldn’t begrudge him for it. North Dakota has had a habit of getting players to stick around a little longer than most.

Philadelphia Flyers - Ronnie Attard, D, Western Michigan (NCHC)

A bit of an undersung prospect, Attard took a nice step this season as a sophomore at Western Michigan. He ranks second among all NCAA defensemen with 22 points and sits third among eligible defensemen with 0.92 points per game. He plays massive minutes and in all situations for Western Michigan and has continued his upward trend.

A late bloomer, Attard had a sensational 19-year-old season in the USHL in 2018-19, which landed him in the third round. Over the last two years, he’s become one of the best defensemen in the NCAA with prowess at both ends of the ice. Western Michigan has become a great clearing house for NHL-caliber defensemen in recent years and playing for former NHL bench boss Andy Murray has clearly helped Attard refine the defensive elements of his game. I could see him signing and heading to the AHL for the rest of the season to get pro reps, but in this weird season, I really can’t fault any player that take a more measured approach to the next step of their career. Attard will be one to watch when Western’s season ends, though.

Pittsburgh Penguins - Samuel Poulin, RW, Val-d’Or (QMJHL)

Val-d’Or has built a bit of a super team in the Q this season and really put a jolt into the system by acquiring Poulin. In the 12 games he’s played since being traded from Sherbrooke, he has 17 points — good for 1.42 points per game. It’s a little behind the scoring pace he had last season when he really broke out for 77 in 46, but it’s still a solid clip in this weird season.

Poulin did not make Canada’s World Junior team despite being in the mix and that was a tough blow. He’s still not quite there yet to be among the elite of elite prospects, but he continues to close in. The Penguins don’t have a ton of super exciting options in the league’s shallowest prospect pool, but Poulin looks like he’s going to play at the next level and at least has the potential to be an impact guy. It’s going to be a lot tougher to tell during this pandemic season than it will be once he arrives to NHL training camp next season. He should be expected to take a big step forward and challenge for a spot.

San Jose Sharks - Thomas Bordeleau, Michigan (Big Ten)

Though Jonathan Dahlen put up another 70-plus points in the Allsvenskan this season, we already knew what he was capable of at that level last year. I’m hopeful he gives the NHL another shot next year and see if he can manage to stick. So I decided to highlight Bordeleau, who has gotten more than enough love on Hockey Sense already, but deserves a showcase among his fellow draftees. He’s been the top freshman scorer in college hockey this year and has made a case that he could have easily gone in the first round in the most recent draft, as opposed to 38th.

Bordeleau’s 29 points put him seventh overall in NCAA hockey this year. If Bordeleau’s season ended today, he’d have the fifth-most productive season by a U19 player in college hockey over the last 10 seasons. The players ahead of him on the list are Jack Eichel, Clayton Keller, Brock Boeser and Dylan Larkin.

He has such creativity in the offensive zone and does a great job extending plays. Bordeleau is reliable on zone entries and finding soft areas of the ice to make a play. He still has time to develop and get stronger, but he’s taken a huge step from last year to this year already.

St. Louis Blues - Colten Ellis, G, Charlottetown (QMJHL)

The Blues just awarded Ellis with his first entry-level contract. It was well deserved for a goalie prospect that is maximizing his ability in his final season of junior hockey. Ellis is on pace for a career year in his first season with Charlottetown, going 16-1-0 with five shutouts and a .922 save percentage, which ranks second in the Q presently.

It’s hard to draw a lot of conclusions of how he’s played so far this season with such a small sample, but he’s seen a good enough number of shots this year to suggest his game is headed in the right direction. Ellis doesn’t have that prototypical goalie size that teams covet, but he’s sharp. He doesn’t get beaten from bad spots often, showing good technical skill and mechanics. I like the way he challenges shooters and gets across the crease, too. I am the first to admit I’m not a goaltending expert, but I think Ellis has the foundational elements to build off of as he turns pro and was certainly worth handing a contract to.

Tampa Bay Lightning - Sammy Walker, C, Minnesota (Big Ten)

Playing a leading role for Minnesota in a resurgent season for the Gophers, Walker has only further solidified his status as a great value pick for a seventh-rounder in 2017. From a per-game standpoint, Walker’s production is up in a significant way as he has 25 points in 26 games. He’s scored some big-time goals for the Gophers and set a career-high with 12 despit playing 11 fewer games so far than he did last season.

Walker just does so many things right. He’s committed in all zones, gives a great effort to get the puck back when he doesn’t have it and is an absolute threat just about every time he touches the puck. It’s unclear at this point what he plans to do after the season, as he can go back for his senior season and wear the C for the third straight year. Or he could turn pro and be part of a Lightning development system that has been effective at taking their prospects and preparing them well for whatever role awaits them on the big club.

Toronto Maple Leafs - Filip Kral, D, Brno (Czech)

The Leafs have a number of prospects performing at a high level this year, but Kral’s progression playing professionally in the Czech Republic intrigues me most. Kral has been a tougher prospect for me to get a read on in recent years, but consider me thoroughly impressed with the way he has performed back in his home country this season. Kral played a bit in the Czech second division, but has spent the bulk of the season playing for the club he grew up in.

Over 48 games, the 21-year-old has 21 points while taking on significant minutes. He’s the highest scoring U22 defenseman in 20 years in the league, too. For the Leafs, it’s a pretty solid situation as Kral is getting to play in a lot of different scenarios. He’s shown impressive maturity, moves the puck with confidence and his skating looks strong. The defensive elements of his game definitely still need work and he just needs to get stronger to be able to push the opposition around a little more than he can now.

Vancouver Canucks - Linus Karlsson, C/W, Karlskoga (Allsvenskan)

Averaging nearly a point per game, in Sweden’s second pro division, Karlsson is a bit ahead of where he was last season. He’s the top U22 scorer in the league by a few points, however, and has enjoyed a significant uptick in his goal scoring this season. Karlsson is still waiting on his first NHL deal.

He appears to have gotten stronger and as such has made himself a bigger threat at the net-front. He’s got good enough size and does a lot of his work near the net. His skating still needs work if he’s going to be able to be a middle-six player at the next level. A lot of the games I watched, there was a whole lot of reaching in puck pursuit because he just couldn’t get there. He has nice touch with the puck, but I also don’t think he’s exceptionally skilled. Karlsson still has enough to his game that I think it would be worth seeing where he can take things once crossing the pond.

Vegas Golden Knights - Lukas Cormier, D, Charlottetown (QMJHL)

With 24 games under his belt so far this season, Cormier is on pace for a career year in the QMJHL. He already has 11 goals and 32 points. His career best in points was 36 in each of the last two years and he played almost double the games last year.

Cormier has the green light at all times in Charlottetown and he uses it. A good number of his goals actually come from below the faceoff dots as he really gets deep into the play and jumps into rushes with regularity. He’s been caught there plenty, too. I think the offensive elements of his game are worth taking a chance on, but the defensive side still needs plenty of refinement as he can overextend himself a bit. He’s already under contract and has plenty of development time ahead of him yet.

Washington Capitals - Hendrix Lapierre, C, Chicoutimi (QMJHL)

We only have 14 games to look at from this season, but he’s already put up seven more points than he had in his injury-shortened draft season. Lapierre remains an especially gifted playmaker with elite vision and puck placement. He is averaging 1.35 assists per game and is top-five in the league with his 1.71 points per game.

Of all the players who needed reps this season, few needed them more than Lapierre. While the Pandemic had other ideas, he’s performed at an exceptional level. He’s been held off the score sheet just three times so far this season and has eight multi-point games in contrast.

Winnipeg Jets - Ville Heinola, D, Lukko/Manitoba (Liiga/AHL)

The last prospect rankings I did at ESPN left off Heinola and I pretty much immediately regretted it. The puck-moving defenseman has had a really nice season, starting it off in Finland and now in the AHL. His ability to produce at just about every stop has been a big positive after a relatively quiet loan back to Finland last season. Putting up 14 points over 19 games this season after just seven in 29 last year was a good reminder of what Heinola looks like when he’s at his best.

Heinola already has three goals since returning to Manitoba. On top of that, he put up four assists in a quality performance at the World Juniors. I think his skating at times can still get him in trouble against better, stronger players, but that’s all part of the smoothing out process. His ability to move pucks and get them up ice is a quality trait that will carry him a long way so long as he continues to build strength and experience.

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