When San Jose drafted Noah Gregor in the fourth round of the 2016 NHL draft, the Beaumont, Alberta native had fallen quite a ways from his Central Scouting ranking as the 45th-best North American skater. Even when you account for the couple dozen European skaters who may have jumbled his overall ranking a bit, pick #111 felt distant.
That season, Emmanuel Perry’s draft model gave Gregor a 36 percent chance of making the NHL but a projected upside of 0.31 wins above replacement per 82 NHL games (WAR/82). That may look like a small number, but for a 17-year-old prospect it was an exciting mark. During that season — the 2015-16 season for the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors — Gregor scored 82 points in 82 games (including playoffs), good for top-5 positioning on his team. Gregor’s impact on the Warriors’ 5-on-5 scoring was the second-best on the team that year, so he did not depend on future Lightning phenom Brayden Point or first-round pick Brett Howden for his point totals.
The following season, Gregor turned in a 63-point season (in 59 games) and maintained his position near the top of the team’s primary scoring network. Despite his hard work, Perry’s model wanted a bit more of a jump. Gregor’s chances of landing minutes with the mother club fell to 25 percent, though his presumed WAR/82 impact rose slightly to 0.36.
Last year, Gregor maintained his place near the top of the Warriors’ scoring network, but he was less important to the Victoria Royals’ scoring network once they reacquired the center. This dip was disappointing considering the Royals were a team that scored 39 fewer goals and finished 25 points behind the Warriors in the league standings. A fractured wrist and adjusting to a new team likely had a hand in his lessened impact. Gregor went from scoring 1.2 points per game in Moose Jaw to just one point per game in Victoria before he joined the San Jose Barracuda in the playoffs where he was scoreless in the one game where he joined the team. By the time the season’s closing bell rang, Gregor’s chances of making the big league had dropped to just under 26 percent and his projected WAR sliced in half to 0.15 WAR/82.
This season Gregor will have a chance to rebound, even if in the middle of another change of scenery. Unfortunately for him, the Barracuda have a handful of established centers — Rourke Chartier, Alexander True, John McCarthy, and Tim Clifton — and at least one of the incoming Antti Suomela, Maxim Letunov, or Dylan Gambrell whom Gregor must compete with for his livelihood in the AHL. A strong first season in the professional ranks will do Gregor wonders, but he will likely have to scratch and claw for playing time before he can start to count the spinning lamps behind the net.
What we like
That Gregor’s draft year and subsequent season provided a glimpse at Gregor’s upside. He has been an important contributor to his team’s scoring networks, and he has exhibited the skills and speed needed to reach his upside. Gregor “is ridiculously skilled, making plays at high speed and taking advantage of his linemates’ strengths. He’s a disciplined player who makes smart decisions,” according to Steve Kournianos of the Draft Analyst. NHL scouts, vis-à-vis an interview with Ryan Kennedy of the Hockey News, cite Gregor’s quickness, compete level, and smarts with the puck as Gregor’s raison d’être. It seems he has a good shot and can weave his way through a defense pretty well. His upside is within reach, but his injury potential must cooperate with him.
Areas of improvement
Gregor has now suffered a collar bone injury that kept him away from the rink during most of his 16-year-old season, a fractured wrist, and a knee injury in his teenage hockey career. While players might be injury prone until they aren’t, we’d like to see Gregor bulk up a bit and perhaps focus on strength and conditioning with the professional resources now around him. The Barracuda have amassed a group of promising forwards, and youngsters Sasha Chmelevski and Ivan Chekhovich will likely make their way back to San Jose this spring at the conclusion of their CHL seasons. Gregor has to stand out early and often if he wants to take the next step.
Can you say, uh, “coast to coast?” Gregor receives a pass at his blueline, turns up ice with speed, quickly toe drags past a forechecker, then uses his speed to navigate around the defender before giving the puck the ole Kopitar treatment around a sprawling goalie. Gregor’s skill, speed, and skating strides are all on display here, and it’s no wonder scouts have been enamored with his raw ability.