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In this week’s Prospect Report we wanted to give our readers a taste of some of the content that can be found on our website www.mckeenshockey.com from our Video Team led by Will Scouch, and ably supported by Sam McGilligan and Greg Revak. Will is well known in the prospect community for his Scouching YouTube videos of NHL Draft prospects and his proprietary analytical tracking. Each Scouching video is accompanied by a McKeen’s feature article that goes even further in depth. This season, he and Sam and Greg are doing some deep dives on some intriguing NHL rookies and their early play this season, including analytical data, and of course, lots of video. We have made the accompanying articles free for the next couple of weeks so you can take a look for yourself (links below) if you are not a subscriber yet. They will be providing lots more content on both young NHL prospects and for the NHL Draft throughout the season.
This week’s 2022 NHL Draft prospect, Slovakian Juraj Slafkovsky, currently playing in Finland’s professional Liiga, is profiled by a recent addition to the McKeen’s staff in Sam Happi. He introduces the #4 ranked prospect in our preliminary ranking found here.
We are planning an update to the rankings prior to the World Junior Championship which we will cover extensively on the site.
The McKeens team are scouting and writing about prospects all season long and provide in-depth reports on our website: www.mckeenshockey.com
Prospects in the News: McKeen’s Video Squad Rookie Watch Highlights
By Will Scouch
Every NHL season brings a fresh crop of young players looking to make their mark on the league in their own way. Sometimes it happens immediately, sometimes it can take years, but I and the rest of the McKeen’s Video Team are always fascinated exploring the impact these new players have in their first few games of their careers. The traits that made them special at lower levels, and the traits that may still need work can be diverse and understanding these traits can help guide the player to being the best NHL player they can be. The 2021-22 NHL Rookie crop seems remarkably strong, and our first profiles looked at a few individuals who fall all across the spectrum. Detroit’s Lucas Raymond, Vancouver’s Vasily Podkolzin, and Columbus’ Cole Sillinger have had seasons that very much run the gamut of possibility for a young NHL player. The full profiles containing exclusive data and video analysis can be found unlocked at McKeens Hockey for a limited time, but we felt it was prudent to give a teaser here on NBC Edge for all of you!
Starting with Lucas Raymond, well, where do I start? Since the time of writing the original piece, Lucas has vaulted himself into Calder favorite territory. All three of us on the team have been enamored with Raymond’s intelligence-first approach to the game. At 17 in the Swedish Hockey League, Raymond shined in a bottom six role, driving excellent defense-first analytics in my tracking with blatant potential for offense with time. He was relentless and anticipatory away from the puck and attempted to create and finish play in the offensive zone when he could. His shot is electric, and his work rate couldn’t be denied, and we all felt the Red Wings landed a heck of a player with a strong floor in 2020. Less than two years later, Raymond has translated beautifully to the NHL. While Detroit got shelled in the games I tracked, Raymond drove strong offensive transition data and was a significant contributor to Detroit’s limited offense with him on the ice. His separation ability away from the puck gave him opportunities, and his anticipation, quick thinking, and confidence under pressure indicated an extremely strong small area game that young players desperately need to make plays at the NHL level. He’s only improved since, with increasing productivity and cohesion with the Detroit roster.
On a bit of the other end of the spectrum, we have Vasily Podkolzin. Once again, the three of us were largely on the same page. His play in Russia indicated strong team play and an absolutely absurd work rate and willingness to work defensively and turn play around. My question has always been about how far raw hard work can take a player. While Podkolzin has a quick wrist shot release that can be threatening around the offensive zone, he preferred to drive to the net and either bash pucks in or make a last second cross crease pass to a streaking linemate. In the NHL, Podkolzin does show some bright signs surrounding that defensive work rate and ability to adapt to pressure to make a play, but his lack of quickness and footspeed significantly limited his impact on the game at both ends. Granted, the 2021-22 Vancouver Canucks have been a bit of a mess, and Podkolzin did score his first career goal in the games tracked for his piece, but we all still remain concerned about just how much upside there is with Podkolzin. A strong, hardworking power winger in the middle of your lineup that teammates would die for seems perfectly reasonable, but the overall impact on the game at both ends outside of strong defensive and puck support play may be somewhat limited. There’s still plenty of time in his career, Vancouver is undergoing significant changes, and Podkolzin has weapons in his tool chest, but we all felt there was a ways to go early in his career.
Cole Sillinger is a player we all were a little bit divided on and confused about when heading into the draft. My viewings of him with Medicine Hat in 2019-20, and with Sioux Falls in 2020-21 were like watching two completely different players. The gifted dual threat offensive player in the WHL gave way for an individualistic power winger with a remarkable set of hands and quick wrist shot who shot the lights out in the USHL. My concerns revolved around the uncertainty of the profile, but looking back on my tape and data, it felt more and more like Sillinger was just the best player on a less than great USHL team and knew it. His pass volumes were low and inefficient, but his offensive transition rates were some of the highest in the draft, as well as his tendency to get into scoring position and create chances for himself, but the raw talent and strength were clearly on display. He remained a bit of a surprise making the Blue Jackets out of camp, but we were all highly impressed with his sample early in the year. He may lack NHL footspeed, but that’s about the only real area holding him back from being a dynamic 200-foot presence for Columbus. He showed that strength and resilience on the puck, adapting to pressure, but also displayed his skill many times, changing angles, opening up space on defenders, and creating passing lanes to trailing forwards that keep defenders guessing. Yes, he can definitely shoot, but the playmaking that was absent last season has also returned for Sillinger. To put it simply, Sillinger has looked rock solid, with clear signs of what could be on the way if improvements to his quickness come, and if more pro experience helps him understand his limitations to be as efficient as he could be. You obviously can’t judge a drafted player so quickly after being drafted, but it’s already looking like Sillinger was an excellent pickup for the Blue Jackets at 11th in the 2021 Draft.
The McKeens Video Team will be posting content regarding upcoming 2022 Draft prospects as well as previously drafted players who are still developing on their journey to the NHL, so if you’d like to keep up, be sure to subscribe, and follow the McKeens Video Team on Twitter to stay up to date with the work we do both together and as individuals. Sam McGilligan (@sam_mcgilligan) and Greg Revak (@coachrevak) on Twitter and are valuable assets in the hockey community, so be sure to give them a follow!
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2022 NHL Draft Prospect: Juraj Slafkovsky, LW, TPS, Liiga, Finland, 6’ 4”, 225 pounds
By Sam Happi
Slafkovsky has split time between Finland’s professional circuit and its top junior league thus far this season, splitting about equal time between the two. The massive 6’4, 225-pound winger has largely leant upon his physical attributes whilst playing for JYP’s professional club, with his best moments occurring in the cycle game and along the boards. Even as a seventeen-year-old in a men’s league, Slafkovsky is always one of the most physically dominant players on the ice. The Slovak’s puck skills have been more evident in junior play, where he’s outskilled and outmuscled his way to 18 points through 11 games: he’s been one of the premier forwards in that league as a 17-year-old bouncing between U20 and the pro game.
As can be expected for a player his size, Slafkovsky isn’t particularly fleet of foot: his skating probably projects to be about NHL average, it’s unlikely that it will be an asset that he leans on at that level. He’s capable of outskating some junior defenders but looks far less mobile against the faster competition of the Liiga. That shouldn’t significantly detract from his game, though, because he’s a cycle contributor that doesn’t rely on the rush as much as many other forwards. Despite not being all that fast, Slafkovsky changes direction quite well and it aids him immensely along the boards: he’s able to pin a defender on his back and keep them there through quick changes of direction. He is a very difficult player to take the puck off of low in the zone.
Slafkovsky complements his raw physical stature with a very intelligent approach to board play, ensuring to establish stick and body position on his defender before he even receives the puck. Now both positionally and physically disadvantaged, few defenders are able to stop the winger from maneuvering the puck onto his forehand and lifting his eyes towards the slot, hoping to find an open linemate with a quick pass. If the pass isn’t there, he might have a lane to barrel towards the net himself. Against junior defenders, he’s often able to find an opening using this tactic; it’s been tougher sledding against the older, more experienced defenders in the pro game and Slafkovsky hasn’t been as effective in creating offence as a result. That’s to be expected for a teenager in his first season of professional action, and the offensive game should open up as he becomes more comfortable at the level. Even in this unfamiliar role, Slafkovsky has shown promising flashes as a skillful playmaker.
Linking Slafkovsky to Edmonton Oilers winger Jesse Puljujarvi seems to be the most natural comparison. Puljujarvi has yet to fully translate the puck skills he showed in Finland to the NHL but has grown into a highly useful NHL winger because of his ability to thrive in a puck-recovery, cycle-oriented playstyle while often playing alongside Connor McDavid in Edmonton. Puljujarvi is able to extend possessions for his talented teammates by outmuscling defenders for loose pucks along the boards and can effectively finish plays from around the net, acting as one of the Oilers’ most impactful forwards despite not having a lot of self-creation ability himself. It isn’t difficult to envision Slafkovsky in a similar role, except the Slovak is even more of a physical weapon. Even if he doesn’t produce opportunities in high volumes himself, his ability to reclaim pucks in the corner, extend the cycle, and work off of his teammates low in the offensive zone could very well make him a highly useful top-six NHL forward.