2015 Draft: Potential First Round Targets – Part 2

Pictured (from left to right): Anthony Beauvillier, Jake DeBrusk, Jack Roslovic, Daniel Sprong.

Pictured (from left to right): Anthony Beauvillier, Jake DeBrusk, Jack Roslovic, Daniel Sprong.

The 2015 NHL Entry Draft is just around the corner. The Montreal Canadiens don’t own a bevy of draft picks unlike in 2013, nor do they have a high first round pick like 2012, but there are plenty of fantastic players available. The Canadiens hold the 26th, 87th, 131st, 177th, and 207th overall picks in this year’s draft.

This article is the first of two that will cover potential first round targets. This article focuses on 11 different forwards, all of whom could become valuable NHLers one day.

Part 1 – Defenders

 

Anthony Beauvillier
C | 5’10” 181 lbs | Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL)
Regular: 67GP 42G 52A 94P | Post: 7GP 2G 5A 7P

Photo: Vincent Ethier

Photo: Vincent Ethier

Beauvillier exploded for 94 points (30 more than second-place teammate) in his sophomore year. Much like Nic Petan or Robby Fabbri, Beauvillier possesses every desirable trait in a hockey player—except size.

Beauvillier hockey sense allows him to be a contributor across the ice. He recognizes and exploits open ice at a rate that few do. As demonstrated by his five-plus shots on goal per game this year, Beauvillier loves to shoot the puck. He’s just as lethal from the circle as he is down low. He’s a quality playmaker, with a terrific saucer pass and excellent vision. He might not be the flashiest stickhandler, but he’s incredibly effective and routinely beats defenders whilst limiting the turnovers. Although he’s relentless without the puck, with it he prefers to utilize simple, effective moves based on excellent anticipation and patience.

Despite being small in stature, Beauvillier is quite mighty. He’s a strong and balanced, and perhaps plays at his best in the tough areas of the ice. He is a quick skater, with tremendous edge work, but he doesn’t own separation speed. Defensively, he’s a quality player because of his combination of hockey sense and determination. He was nearly 59% in the dot this year.

Quotes:

“He definitely leads by example . . . There’s an infectious attitude in the way he plays. He’s similar to Robby Fabbri last year where he’s really relentless on the puck, relentless on the play. He doesn’t quit.” – Dan Marr (NHL Central Scouting)

 

Paul Bittner
LW | 6’04” 204 lbs | Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
Regular: 66GP 34G 37A 71P | Post: 17G 4G 8A 12P

Photo: Portland Winterhawks

Photo: Portland Winterhawks

This past season got off to a slow start for Bittner, but he finished off the season with 71 points. However, he spent much of the year on a line with Nic Petan and Oliver Bjorkstrand, two of the CHL’s very best.

Bittner is a big-bodied sniper with an explosive release and powerful wrist shot. He’s powerful along the boards, as he utilizes his reach and body quite well. He’s cumbersome skater, but he understands this weakness and instead uses fantastic body positioning to maintain the puck. Even though he’s often the tallest player on the ice, he has the ability to sneak away from defenders and find open ice. Furthermore, he’s a capable three-zone player and utilizes his reach to disrupt plays.

There’s clearly plenty to like about Bittner’s game, but there’s also much to not like. Although he utilizes his size with the puck, without it he prefers aimless pokes at the puck. His playmaking abilities are average at best, and he’s very inconsistent. For a player who played with such great linemates, not only is more consistent play required, but so is better play.

Quotes:

“Overall I think he projects as a top 6 winger in the NHL, possessing a similar playing style to Max Pacioretty if all things go perfectly in his development…his length, size and decent smarts will allow him to be a solid bottom 6 winger if he doesn’t ever reach his top 6 potential.” – Cody Nikolet (WHL From Above)

“The team that drafts him is going to have to be somewhat patient. If they expect him to be in the NHL two years, that’s a little bit unrealistic. Paul has some growing and developing to do. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen. I think he’s definitely on the right path.” – Jamie Kompon (Winterhawks Head Coach, quote via the Grand Forks Herald)

 

Brock Boeser
RW | 6’01” 191 lbs | Waterloo Blackhawks (USHL)
Regular: 57GP 35G 33A 68P

Photo: Brandon Anderson, BA Photos

Photo: Brandon Anderson, BA Photos

After making a solid eight-game debut in the USHL last year, Boeser’s point totals exploded, propelling to become one of the league’s top offensive threats.

Boeser’s game is all about scoring goals. He has one of the best shots in this year’s draft class, thanks to tons of power, pinpoint accuracy, and a quick release. Boeser plays a power-style shoot-first game that sees him fighting through checks to drive the net and create chances. By utilizing tremendous lower-body positioning and strength, Boeser is a tremendous puck possession forward. He’s a strong and well-balanced, enabling him to appear unstoppable at times. As a playmaker, he doesn’t display much creativity, but he is fairly good.

He’s not just a gifted offensive player, either, as he’s more than capable defensively. He might not have tremendous size, but he’s quite physical, and battles every single shift. He works hard defensively and a well-rounded player.

The only real concern is Boeser’s skating ability. He’s not particularly fast, and in fact he’s probably owns below-average acceleration.

Quotes:

“He’s a power forward-type. To me, his two biggest assets are his hockey IQ and his shot. He can score from anywhere and the talent surrounding him in Waterloo is only going to help.” – Dan Boeser (Assistant Coach with Chicago Steel)

 

Jeremy Bracco
C/RW | 5’09” 165 lbs | USNTDP

Regular: 65GP 30G 64A 94P 

Photo: USA Hockey

It’s tough to believe that Jeremy Bracco, who broke Patrick Kane’s career assist record at the USNTDP might not even go in the first round.

Bracco is a dynamic forward with tremendous puck skills. He has the rare ability to create chances out seemingly nothing. Although lacking in separation speed, his incredible edge work and fantastic acceleration allow him to deceptively blow past defenders. He’s among the best danglers in the draft class–his arsenal includes a toe drag that even the NHL’s best stickhandlers would be impressed by.

He’s not a particularly impressive goalscorer, but he makes up for it by being among the best playmakers in this year’s draft class. He’s a unique playmaker in the sense that he’s highly creative and often relies on circling the offensive zone to draw attention towards himself.

However, Bracco’s size is an obvious concern. But like many players who are small, it’s not his stature that’s the problem, but rather a lack of willingness and ability to win his owns battles. Defensively, Bracco is surprisingly good. He has excellent anticipation allowing him to create turnovers but he will have to adjust his style as he advances up the ranks.

Quotes:

“Bracco’s 64 assists in 65 games for the under-18 U.S. national program this season set a new record for the club, breaking the previous mark held by Bracco and Columbus Blue Jackets draft pick Sonny Milano (58). All-time, Bracco is the best playmaker the USNTDP has seen, according to the numbers. His 122 assists across two seasons passed Patrick Kane’s record of 88.”  – Sportsnet

 

Jake DeBrusk
LW/RW | 6’00” 184 lbs | Swift Current Broncos (WHL)
Regular: 72GP 42G 39A 81P | Post: 3GP 0G 0A 0P

Photo: Yahoo! Sports

Photo: Yahoo! Sports

Despite being a late-’96 birthday, DeBrusk just finished his second WHL season. The sophomore tallied 42 goals, which led all first time draft eligible WHLers. The average-sized forward plays a powerful, aggressive game.

DeBrusk is an intelligent two-way forward that makes life miserable for the opposition. He thrives in the tough areas of the ice, where he wins battles thanks to intelligence and sheer determination. With the puck, he relentlessly drives the net. He owns tremendous hand-eye coordination and fantastic finishing ability. Below the hash marks, he‘s simply dominant. He’s a great playmaker, too. In the slot, he makes tremendous passes, including ones of high difficulty.

DeBrusk plays the game hard and is more than willing to make sacrifices. For the most part, he’s a dedicated, relentless backchecker who disrupts plays and aggressively turns the play around. In his own zone, he can make sloppy reads by being too aggressive.

DeBrusk managed to assemble a fabulous year despite being fairly average in the skill department. He’s a somewhat awkward skater; with merely slightly above-average speed. Despite potting 42 goals, he’s not a flashy player and lacks true dangling ability.

Quotes:

“He’s a 40-goal scorer who does the dirty work in front of the net on the power play. Guys have made a career of standing in front of the net and have played 10 to 15 years doing so. But he drives that car for them. I love his work ethic and his greatest strength is his compete level.” – Peter Sullivan (NHL Central Scouting)

“Has the ability to score goals (tucked 42 in the WHL this season) and brings with that a strong work ethic. Was used in all three forward positions by Swift Current head coach Mark Lamb this season. DeBrusk really took to playing the right side as a left-hand shot. Will most likely play center next season for Mark Lamb.” – Jeff Marek (Sportsnet)

 

Joel Eriksson Ek
D | 6’02” 185 lbs | Färjestad (SHL)/Färjestad J20 (SuperElit)
SHL: 34GP 4G 2A 6P | SuperElit: 25GP 21G 11A 32P

Photo: Färjestad BK

Photo: Färjestad BK

Eriksson Ek spent a large portion of the season in the SHL, a rare feat for a 17-year-old centre. He is an incredibly intelligent player, which allowed him to perform admirably in the SHL. His effectiveness at both across the rink is far beyond his years. He rarely makes a poor decision, and always works to correct it.

Eriksson Ek’s second best asset is his shot. The puck comes off his stick in a blink of an eye with plenty of power and accuracy. By utilizing simple puck pushes and finding open shooting lanes, he is able to produce despite not being a highly skilled player. He’s strong along the boards and has a great understanding of body positioning.

There isn’t much to not like about his game. He’s not a particularly good long-range passer, but he certainly has above-average vision. Skating is arguably his biggest flaw, as he’s fairly awkward looking and possesses merely average top-end speed.

Quotes:

“He is a very competitive, powerful center with great speed, a good strong shot and excellent puck-handling. He is creative on the offense while reliable on defense. Likes to go to the net to create scoring chances.” – Goran Stubb (NHL Central Scouting)

“No one would describe Eriksson Ek as a finesse player. The ultra-competitive Swede plays physical, finishing his checks, battling hard along the boards, and driving hard to the net. He is also a capable faceoff man who excels at finding open areas of the ice. His childhood hero was Swedish legend Peter Forsberg, and he models his team-oriented style of play after the former Colorado Avalanche superstar.” – Sportsnet

 

Denis Guryanov
RW | 6’03” 183 lbs | Ladia Togliatti (MHL)
Regular: 23GP 15G 10A 25P | Post: 4GP 3G 1A 4P

Photo: mhl.khl.ru

Photo: mhl.khl.ru

Guryanov had a fantastic year, posting a point-per-game in the MHL and U-18, and playing eight KHL games. The sizeable Russian is simultaneously one of the most exciting and frustrating players in this year’s draft class.

Simply put, Guryanov has a loaded offensive arsenal. He’s a powerful skater with deceptively quick acceleration, which he utilizes to take direct routes to the net. He has a large variety of powerful shots (but not necessarily accurate), complimented with a shoot-first mentality. He owns above average passing skills and excellent vision. Guryanov has a good set of hands; he likes to challenge players one-on-one, where he often succeeds.

Without the puck, Guryanov can be quite frustrating. When he moves his feet he’s a fairly solid two-way player, but he simply doesn’t do it enough. On the forecheck, Guryanov has shown the ability to lower the boom and aggressively chase for the puck. However, in these regards he is simply too inconsistent, which makes him frustrating to watch. Perhaps he doesn’t have the hockey IQ to recognize what to do in certain situations, which, just like laziness, can be fixed.

Quotes:

“A dynamic goal scorer who is full of surprises, he is a strong, tough, power forward who goes hard to the net using his physical strength and size. He protects the puck well, is difficult to stop when at full speed and always tries to use his strong shot.” – Goran Stubb (NHL Central Scouting)

 

Jansen Harkins
C | 6’01” 183lbs | Prince George Cougars
Regular: 70GP 20G 59A 79P | Post: 5GP 0G 4A 4P

Photo: Larry MacDougal, The Canadian Press Images

Photo: Larry MacDougal, The Canadian Press Images

The former second overall pick in the WHL Bantam Draft emerged as a strong two-way threat this past season. Harkins carried the Cougars’ offence with his impressive 79 points in 70 games.

Harkins is first and foremost a playmaker. Although lacking in dynamism, he makes incredibly efficient plays with the puck on his stick. Most of his offence comes off the cycle, where works the puck until he locates a passing option. He has a fairly hard shot, but it’s quite erratic and could use improvement. Most of his goals come from quality work down low or excellent deflections.

The playmaking centre is also a tremendous two-way player. He’s a fantastic penalty killer and is always willing to blocks shots. His composure in the offensive zone translates to the defensive zone, as he’s a smart, patient player.

Harkins doesn’t have many flaws in his game. Although his skating isn’t pretty, he uses deceptive bursts of speed to beat defenders. Harkins isn’t a particularly effective stickhandler, but he still finds ways to beat defenders and create chances. Overall, he doesn’t have high-end offensive ability, but there’s certainly upside as a quality three-zone player.

Quotes:

“Jansen is a smart and tenacious player in all areas of the game. His determination is undeniable and he is always prepared to do whatever is necessary to make a positive difference in the game. Good skills and with improved speed, power and quickness, his impact will only increase. Has that completely unselfish, team approach to winning.” – Craig Button

 

Jack Roslovic
RW/C | 6’01” 182 lbs | USNTDP
Regular: 65GP 27G 52A 79P

Photo: Cathy Lachmann, WCPO.com

Photo: Cathy Lachmann, WCPO.com

Roslovic’s draft stock dramatically increased as this past season wore on. Much criticism is directed towards Roslovic for his two excellent linemates (Auston Matthews and Matthew Tkachuk), but it’s a testament to his ability that not only did he keep up, but he excelled with them.

Roslovic’s quick hands and ability to cleanly beat defenders are quite rare. He utilizes excellent edge work and a great effort level to win battles and chase after pucks efficiently. What he lacks in shooting ability, he makes up in playmaking ability. He makes passes of high difficulty look easy and finds open ice effortlessly. By no means is he a speedster, but he has fantastic agility and creates chances in flight.

As mentioned, Roslovic is also a hardworking player who can consistently be found working both ends of the ice. He gets implicated in the hard areas of the ice and is willing to play a variety of styles to adjust to the situation.

Perhaps Roslovic’s great flaw is a lack of upside as a scorer. He is neither a high-end sniper nor a high-end playmaker. He clearly possesses enough skill and work ethic to become an NHLer, but how high is his upside?

Quotes:

“He has added some muscle over the past two seasons, but still has a lot of strength to add. He looked great playing against his age group, but was neutralized too easily in some of the NTDP’s games against older college competition this past season. He’ll also need to improve his shot to be more of a complete scoring threat rather than a pass-first player.” – Chris Dilks (SBN College Hockey)

“Once Jack elevated his self-expectation to the level of his skill and talent, he got results. Usually, as a coach at this level, you find yourself having the other conversation with guys — guys who aren’t nearly as skilled as they think they are. But Jack didn’t know, and he still might not realize, how good he is.” – Don Granato (USNTDP Head Coach)

 

Daniel Sprong
RW | 6’00” 185 lbs | Charlottetown Islanders (QMJHL)
Regular: 68GP 39G 49A 88P | Post: 10GP 7G 4A 11P

Photo: Mike Carroccetto, Yahoo! Sports Canada

Photo: Mike Carroccetto, Yahoo! Sports Canada

As QMJHL rookie, Sprong tallied 30 goals and 68 points. This past year the expectations were high, and although he failed to deliver at first, his strong second half was a reminder of how dominant he can be.

Sprong is an electrifying offensive threat. He owns quite possibly the best shot release in the draft, along with power and accuracy that few players can attest to. And he knows how good his shot is, as he has recorded at least one shot on goal in 133 straight games. Furthermore, he is among the very best stickhandlers in the draft. His arsenal of one-on-one moves is continually expanding. He has excellent vision and a fabulous saucer pass, both of which he unfortunately doesn’t use enough as he simply doesn’t use his teammates enough. He has separation speed with ridiculous acceleration.

As is the case with many players of Sprong’s skill level, he’s lacking in the effort and defensive departments. He coasts far too often, showing a blatant disregard for the defensive zone. Furthermore, he is quite inconsistent. However, despite being of just average stature, he’s fairly strong on the puck and protects the puck extremely well. Unlike many highly skilled players, he will engage physically and creates most of his chances from the slot.

Quotes:

“I’m offensive-minded, and I think of that first before defence sometimes. Maybe leaving the zone too early to get a breakaway, thinking ahead a little bit. I’m working at being better in the d-zone, and my goal is to be a 200-foot player and a threat in all three zones.” – Daniel Sprong (Quote via NHL.com)

 

Colin White
C | 6’00” 183 lbs | USNTDP
Regular: 54GP 23G 31A 54P

Photo: USA Hockey

Photo: USA Hockey

White followed up a fabulous year with the U-17s with a very respectable campaign in the USNTDP’s U-18 group. White isn’t flashy, but he gets the job done everywhere on the ice.

First and foremost, White is a highly intelligent player. He processes the game and makes decisions rapidly. He plays a bullish game, utilizing deceptively feet, quick hands, and great body positions to protect the puck. White does everything in the opposition’s zone effectively: He understands when to pass and when to shoot. He rarely makes a mistake. He shoots the puck fairly hard and very accurately.

Defensively, he’s the complete package. He wins faceoffs, plays positional hockey, and is willing to make sacrifices. The fierce competitor possesses a bit of an edge to game, but rarely crosses the line.

However, White isn’t the type of player that appears to have a particularly large amount of upside. Although he understands his flaws, it doesn’t change the fact that he’s a merely average stickhandler without the “killer instinct,” so to speak.

Quotes:

“I try to make it key to play defense before offense. If you’re in the defensive zone you’re playing tight and you’re just going to break out easier. I’ve watched a lot of video with coach (Don) Granato on Toews and Bergeron, taking pieces from their games.” – Colin White (Quote via The Hockey News)

 

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