Editor’s Note: Now, all our premium tools for Fantasy, DFS and Betting are included in one subscription at one low price. Customers can subscribe to NBC Sports EDGE+ monthly ($9.99) or save 20% on an annual subscription ($95.88). And don't forget to use promo code SAVE10 to get 10% off. Click here to learn more!
Our Swedish scout/analyst, Patrik Bexell writes about the highest ranked prospect playing in Sweden on our McKeen’s mid-season 2022 NHL Draft ranking in Marco Kasper at #15. He reached out to Kasper as well as his coaches to get the story behind his decision as an Austrian to skate in the SHL, a men’s professional league in Sweden in his draft eligible year.
Ranked at #10 on our mid-season list is Ivan Miroshnichenko, a prospect drawing a wide spectrum of opinion from the scouting community. Our Russian scout/analyst Fomich takes you into his game to provide some perspective on why there are such diverse viewpoints and the continuation of the cliched enigmatic Russian narrative at the NHL draft.
The McKeen’s team are scouting and writing about prospects all season long and provide in-depth reports on our website: www.mckeenshockey.com
Marco Kasper: A career path chosen with then NHL in mind
By Patrik Bexell
2021-22 Stats: Rögle BK, SHL 33GP-5G-2A-7PTS
It is not always easy for a young Austrian hockey player to know the right path forward for their career, but Marco Kasper thought things through carefully before choosing Rögle in Ängenholm as the next step forward. There were plenty of options but Ängelholm made sense, not least from the team’s success with Nils Höglander and Moritz Seider, who have gone on to play in the NHL the last two seasons.
While time on ice might be limited in Rögle, the education he will gain is incredibly important; it was the development angle that was of utmost importance to Marco and his dad, former Austrian ice hockey professional Peter Kasper, when they decided on Rögle. "I can develop here really good. It is a big step to get here. It has been a big step [going to SHL], because it is just way faster hockey, everybody is so good. Austria is up and coming and are getting better, but here everything is a step faster, but I think it works out well. I think I can develop my game here."
Rögles General Manager Chris Abbott explained it from the other side of the table, "Awesome kid, he is a very motivated, driven, mature, talented young man. Right from day one, meeting him, speaking with him and his father, it is not surprising where he is at his career already. Don’t bet against a kid that is 17 and is doing what he is doing. I wouldn’t. He is another example of what we try to build here; and that’s a place where young guys want to come to and trust our development."
Kasper has taken to his new environment like a fish to water. Coach Cam Abbott says that he has to reel the player in at times "You coach him through practice and then by himself after, you have to pull him back sometimes - which is a good problem to have. Passionate about getting better, he is not known to mess around. He practices with a purpose, he is obviously in his second pro season as a 17-year-old which is pretty unique"
Kasper's skating is very good, he pivots fast, and can use his edges to generate acceleration and tight turns. In addition to his skating, his hockey IQ ranks among the top of draft prospects coming out of the SHL. However, there is another thing that Cam Abbott thinks speaks to Kasper's advantage; "He plays for me, in a way, to help us win hockey games, which sometimes is a contradiction for guys [in their draft year]. It is a risk reward kind of thing. He understands that he is willing to take the long road to get better as a hockey player. To understand the game defensively, making better reads off the puck. He is spending less time doing the things most very highly talented seventeen-year-olds are doing in J20 leagues, which he can’t do in the SHL."
This is usually the conundrum for draft eligible player in the European leagues, there isn't anything that comes easy, you play against men, seasoned professionals and you have to earn goals, assists, and time on ice the hard way. Kasper is well aware of that and is spending a lot of time in the gym and in the video room. First to build up muscle, and secondly to study his own play as well as looking at other players and learn from them. One player he watches in particular is Nathan MacKinnon, someone he is trying to model his game after.
One weakness that is clear is the lack of goals, even taking into account the fact that Kasper plays in a men's league, Cam Abbott acknowledges that he is getting a lot of questions about Kasper's goal scoring, or lack of thereof; "I wouldn't count him out on the finishing side of the puck." the coach continues, "To score at the SHL level consistently can take time. He has done a better job recently of getting off the wall and going inside and get to the net. That's how he scored Thursday night. I wouldn't be surprised if that theory [not a scorer] will be proven wrong. He has all the tools to score goals and do it often. I think that if you play at a different level, or with more room for errors, that skill might develop quicker. It might be very effective at those levels which means that you don't learn to play the game the right way, which will serve him and any other really well when they make the jump to North America."
There is a lot to like about Kasper, the skating has already been mentioned but his defensive acumen is strong, even among men, he uses his smartness and skating to control the gap to the puck carrier, and if the puck comes a little bit out of position, he pounces like a cobra to steal it. Once more using his hockey sense to his own advantage. The Austrian center is not a top ten prospect, but it is easy to see him being picked in the mid to late teens in the 2022 NHL Draft. He has the tenacity, the brain and the speed to make it at the highest level, while he might not project as a the top line center at the moment, he is an almost sure bet to reach the NHL.
Ivan Miroshnichenko: Enigmatic Russian narrative is alive and well
By Viktor Fomich
2021-22 Stats: Omskie Krylia, VHL 31GP-10G-6A-16PTS
The "Enigmatic Russian" narrative might seem a bit outdated, but it is still alive when it comes to the draft, as every year there is a Russian player, who isn't looking too impressive to the average hockey fan but is heavily loved by the scouting community. This year that kind of player is indisputably a right-shooting left winger, Ivan Miroshnichenko, who might be not posting mind-blowing numbers, but when it comes to the NHL scouts, some are reportedly even considering him for the #1 spot. Adding to that, missing the World Juniors and then getting injured in January (and still being injured with no announced timeline as I write this) are only going to contribute to that enigmatic status. So, let's try to make it a little clearer what makes him special to draw this kind of scrutiny.
Every now and then I see players that make me want to say something like "This player is so naturally athletically gifted that he could succeed at any sport had he not chosen hockey". I strongly believe that Miroshnichenko is exactly that type of player. Even though his official measurements might seem rather modest, he is a physical beast full of power and muscle. Every move of him just oozes that power and can really outmuscle his opponents. What is more important, that power is transferred well to his skating stride, allowing him to accelerate to maximum speed in just a few steps. The power is also present in Miroshnichenko's shot: he can rip a wrister with great velocity, not to mention his trademark right-handed one-timers. Another thing that should be mentioned is that I think Miroshnichenko himself acknowledges that he is able to be physically dominant and that his shot is a weapon, which gives him confidence to just go and use these tools actively. All the described properties frequently draw a comparison to Ilya Kovalchuk and, while at first sight it might seem a bit too generous, I can't really find a better comparison in terms of what Miroshnichenko's upside can be.
From the sunny side of things to the not-so-bright one: with all that talent Miroshnichenko isn't really producing at the expected rate, not to mention that not all the scouts have a favorable opinion of him. As for the production, it is important to remember that he is not playing in the juniors this season, he is playing in the VHL, which matters, since his opponents are pro players and a different type of hockey is played at this level (It should also be remembered that the VHL is a rather low-scoring league) — that's why I'm not worried about the production itself, as it is actually pretty legit for a young player in his situation. There is something much more worrisome though, as to me it doesn't look like Miroshnichenko will be a huge fan of 200-foot game, or of doing more than what he is talented at. So, I have a notable question mark on his understanding of the modern game and that in order to be truly competitive you got to give it all and test your limits on a consistent basis.
In terms of a draft stock evaluation, it is important to understand the size of the reward and how big are the risks for the player in question. In Miroshnichenko’s case, my description might make the reader think of a "boom-or-bust" type of prospect, but here I would just partially agree. Indeed, the upside is elite level but even if looking at the risks, I think that history shows that a player with Miroshnichenko's natural athleticism, it is close to impossible to not to become a full-time NHLer. The risk here is that there can be quite a variety of development outcomes: a full spectrum from Denis Gurianov to Ilya Kovalchuk, which makes it hard to argue that this kind of value is worth a Top 10 draft pick, or are there less enigmatic, safer picks to be had.