Before the Philadelphia Eagles hired Naminta Nandakumar as a quantitative analyst, she authored a number of articles related to the National Hockey League (NHL) draft. Her research paper, “What Does It Mean To Draft Perfectly? An Evaluation Of Draft Strategy In The National Hockey League,” can inform hypothetical decisions about draft picks. Essentially, the paper argues that the way to get the best value out of a draft pick is to not pick a player until the last possible opportunity to do so.
Using her work as a guideline for this exercise, we can take a look at who might be available at pick No. 91 based on this seven-round mock draft. This mock draft isn’t perfect, but its author has performed the exercise a number of times this spring, and it’s the only site with a full seven-round mock available.
The Sharks’ pick at No. 91 — at the end of the third round — and then not again until pick No. 153, at the end of the fifth round. To simulate the group of players that might be available to the Sharks at 91, we will look at the group of players that begins with those mocked 16 and later in the third round, up until those mocked through the first 15 picks of the fifth round.
This table shows a few basic pieces of information about each player. While teams have been drafting smaller players at a higher rate than in years past, guys of Henriksson and Pasic’s stature are still fairly likely to slip farther than they should. NHLe stands for NHL equivalency. NHLe calculates how much of player scoring is retained when they jump from their league to the NHL. “%Chance” and “WAR/82,” Emmanuel Perry’s prospect model calculations, based on adjusted scoring rates. The first reading refers to the likelihood a player reaches the NHL, and the second mark is his projected impact on the NHL game in a wins above replacement format.
For comparison’s sake, Kaapo Kakko, the player projected to go second overall, has a 96.05 percent chance of making the NHL with a WAR/82 projection of 0.76. A WAR/82 of 0.76 would have ranked 246 out of 788 NHL players with at least 200 minutes of ice time accumulated during this past season.
Now that we’ve set the stage, we can dig into what may set apart these players from their peers.
Spiridonov is ranked 18 among European-league skaters by Central Scouting. Scouting organizations that do not separate European skaters from their North American counterparts have the center ranked anywhere from 38 to 63. Though Spiridonov put up a solid 44 points in 46 games in the MHL — Russia’s version of U20 junior hockey — he didn’t make Russia’s U20 squad, unlike his more highly touted countryman Vasili Podkolzin. His 0.96 points per game scoring rate wasn’t enough to put him in the same orbit as Nikita Kucherov or Evgeni Kuznetsov. But it’s more than enough to put him in the company of current NHL player Pavel Buchnevich and in the same tier as former first-round picks Valeri Nichuskin and Evgeni Svechnikov. That certainly isn’t the headiest cohort, but scouting reports see a player who will be able to elevate above the career arc his statistical projections have carved out for him.
Scouting reports seem to coalesce around a few factors. His skating needs work, he’s good defensively, and while he his high hockey IQ and vision allow him to be effective in the opponent’s end of the rink, his offensive upside is limited. If there’s anything to get excited about that seems to belie scouting reports, it’s assertions that he, not his more hotly anticipated linemate, Pavel Dorofeyev drove the fantastic line on Russia’s U18 team.
Henriksson is an oft-talked about “underrated” prospect most expect to go in the middle rounds of the draft. San Jose should hope his draft stock rise due to “good at World Junior” is counterbalanced by the “small European forward” trope that seems to so often dissuade teams from picking skilled players like the 5-foot-9 Henriksson in the first and second rounds of the draft. Unfortunately, the Sharks might find themselves at the beginning of an era where teams no longer care about size over skill like they used to.
prospects selected in the 2018 NHL Draft were on average an inch shorter (!) and 15 pounds lighter (!!) as compared to 2005 pic.twitter.com/vVVI1hJvZA
— Namita (@nnstats) June 9, 2019
Henriksson is still off the charts in this capacity, down and to the left of even the smallest NHL draftee pool yet. The center’s playmaking ability and impressive scoring rates should come long before anyone considers his height, though. Henriksson was seventh in point-per-game scoring among U18 skaters in SuperElit, and his impact on his team’s even strength scoring network was in the 97th percentile of all SuperElit skaters back in December. That Henriksson didn’t rely too heavily on the likes of top 2020 pick Lucas Raymond for his scoring is a positive sign.
The playmaking center’s eye-catching numbers aren’t the only part of his game to turn heads. Scouts viewings support the idea that Henriksson’s scoring rate matched his on-ice performance. Steven Ellis of The Hockey News writes of Henriksson’s U18 Worlds performance, “created havoc, both with and without the puck, and showed he can be more than a great playmaker, showcasing his strong defensive play at the tournament.”
Over at EliteProspects Rinkside, Christoffer Hedlund describes the play of Henriksson and teammate Raymond that both are “good skaters, can put the puck into the net and they are also good passers with above-average playmaking skills.”
Magnus Hävelid, the head coach of Team Sweden for the U18 Worlds tournament, commented to EliteProspects columnist Rasmus Kågström that Henriksson “is a great distributor of the puck who moves his feet and has great composure out there.” The coach also mentions that Henriksson plays well at both ends of the ice, not the first onlooker to recognize the center’s defensive abilities. Comments from coaches should be taken with a grain of salt, but Hävelid’s assessment of his first-line center seems to match that of more objective observers.
Henriksson’s size is likely to send him slipping down player rankings, even despite the league’s growing affinity for skill over body mass index evaluations. If he falls to pick 91, the Sharks will find a true two-way center whose production is not as tied to his more highly praised linemates as it would seem. As far as his size, the following sub-5-foot-10 players were among the top NHL players in point-per-game scoring this past season:
- Brad Marchand
- Johnny Gaudreau
- Alex DeBrincat
- Cam Atkinson
- Torey Krug
- Mats Zuccarello
- Viktor Arvidsson/
Struthers is the only overage player on this list. He has a late (December) birthday to begin with, so his age has probably played a factor in him being looked over by teams. The center struggled to score much during the first half of his draft-year season with Owen Sound Attack. After being traded to the North Bay Battalion, Struthers’ production jumped to a near-point-per-game level despite despite his playing for an inferior team. It seems that when put in a position to be “the guy,” Struthers answered the call with aplomb.
Last year, Canucks Army’s profile of Struthers lent some validity to this line of thought. Players with similar statistical profiles have gone on to make the NHL 22 percent of the time, with an expected 82-game scoring rate of about 34 points.
According to Evan Oppenheimer’s Betweenness metric, which measures a player’s impact on his team’s primary-point scoring, the combination of Struthers’ draft-year individual scoring rate and impact on his team’s scoring should have made him a 2018 draftee. He doesn’t keep a lot of NHL company in that regard — Brendan Perlini, Anthony Duclair, Jarret Stoll, Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau, Tobias Rieder and Nick Foligno round out his cohort — and his comparisons are depth players who look better by underlying metrics than they do by raw scoring rates, but finding a solid bottom-six forward at the end of the third round is a more than acceptable outcome.
In a rare occurrence for a draft-eligible skater, Struthers signed an AHL tryout contract at the end of his OHL season. Struthers scored once (a power play deflection) in five games for the Laval Rocket (the best team name in sports). More important than his goal, it seems that Struthers began his first game on the team’s fourth line but finished as one of the extra skaters in the dying minutes. Of his play, Laval coach Joel Bouchard said Struthers “He has a flair for the net” and leveled after what was a nerve-filled first shift.
Of his pre-AHL play, Dominic Tiano of OHL Writers describes a big forward whose sound play is more likely to result in a bottom-six NHL forward than it is a surprise scorer in the pros. Struthers “relies on his hockey smarts and very good vision,” rather than exceptional skills “to make plays or to put pucks in areas where his teammates are more likely to retrieve them,” and endears himself to coaches with good defensive awareness.
Struthers isn’t going to flip and switch and suddenly blow everyone away at the professional levels. But he can play in the AHL immediately and may find himself capable of an effective bottom-line role in the NHL.
For Keppen, we’ll borrow heavily from the work of Will Scouch and Oppenheimer. Scouch created his own version of NHLe (his version is not the version listed in the above table), where he adjusts for the age of each player, the league they play in and the position they play.
Here are your 20+NHLeScores for April 8 sorted high to low. These are mostly locked in outside of the USHL guys, so we’re getting to the end.
I spy Ethan Keppen. pic.twitter.com/KElI9sj68f
— Will Scouch (@Scouching) April 8, 2019
This is a list of players who scored 20 or more adjusted points per game this season. According to Scouch’s work, an adjusted score of 20 points per game is a first-round talent (You’ll notice Matthew Struthers is also on this list). As of February 22 this year, Keppen ranked nine of all Canadian Hockey League (CHL) and United States Hockey League (USHL) skaters in terms of his involvement in his team’s primary points at even strength.
The aforementioned Betweenness metric takes scoring involvement one step deeper. Keppen graded out in the 94th percentile of all CHL skaters this season in that capacity (not including those in the 2020 draft class). Per Prospect Stats, of 114 U18 Ontario Hockey League (OHL) forwards with more than a handful of game this season, Keppen’s estimated primary point scoring rate at 5-on-5 ranks eighth.
In terms of playing style, Keppen’s rough-and-tumble ways are reminiscent of a Swiss winger the team took ninth overall during the 2015 NHL draft. Bill Placzek of DraftSite sums up Keppen’s approach to the game nicely:
Projects as power forward who uses his body along the wall, in front and down low. Displays a very strong stride and first couple steps. Will slide to the front and be a moving screen as his team sets for a shot, and spread and anchor looking for the deflection. After winning pucks in the greasy areas, gets loose and he lets loose a heavy accurate shot. More than willing to fight for lost pucks and plays hard away from the puck.
Of draft eligibles with large samples, Nikola Pasic is rocking a 59%CF in limited ice time, but is a +12.9rel over 11 games, so again, take it for what you will, but that’s worth noting for someone ranked in the 70s among Europeans playing against men in the SHL.
— Will Scouch (@Scouching) February 20, 2019
“CF” refers to corsi for, or shot share. The forward’s sample size of games in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) is small — he played just 15 games there this season — but metrics like relative shot share help explain what a player may have contributed beyond scoring. Raw shot share is a metric that probably does a better job describing a team or forward line’s effort. Relative shot share digs a bit deeper. Though it’s hard to say if Pasic is driving those results, but it’s always encouraging when the high-level view of his contribution is this impressive.
In addition to these shot share numbers, Pasic’s per-game scoring rate is also important. Former Canucks Army writers Josh Weissbock and Cam Lawrence discovered that 51 percent of skaters aged 18 and younger who put up at least 0.09 points in the SHL go on to play 200 NHL games. Pasic’s 0.13 points per game (two points in 15 games) just barely breaches that threshold. Pasic’s SHL experience is promising, but he spent most of the season in the Swedish SuperElit U20 league. At about the halfway mark of the season, Pasic’s betweenness at even strength was in the 84th percentile in the entire league. Taking a swing at a player who is basically a coin flip NHL player and did very well in junior hockey at the end of the third round seems like an astute way to use a draft pick.
Of the winger’s play on tape, Placzek writes that Pasic has “a nice skill set ability to control the action in tight spaces and dangle with the best of them. Can get his shot releases in closed quarters,” but that he doesn’t like to go into the corners. When controlling the action in tight spaces, Pasic, according to Hockey Prospect, “is a fast, skilled, shot-first winger. He shoots all the time, seems to never even consider a pass,” and is a good skater.
At EliteProspects Rinkside, J.D. Burke uses a player cohort success model as one criteria for ranking his top 93 skaters of the draft. Players with statistical profiles similar to Pasic’s have gone on to make the NHL 21 percent of the time, with scoring rates of about 37 points per 82 NHL games. To recap: skilled forward who probably has a decent shot of making the NHL and posted a strong shot differential in his brief professional experience. Sounds great.