With the IIHF World Junior Championship finished and the multiple prospect games and holiday tournaments now in the books the current hockey season is officially entering the final stretch run.
The time when prospects have very few chances left to show the hockey world what they can do on the ice and where they sit in the overall draft picture is nearing.
The 2015 NHL Draft truly is a mixed bag after the first dozen or so prospects come off the board, meaning teams drafting in the end of round one through the entire round two and even into round three have an almost equal chance of getting an impact prospect to develop.
We look forward to watching the battles waged and prospects games continuing to progress the rest of the way this season.
Prospects for 2015 continue to impress
Aside from those standout performances at the World Juniors, four other prospects have made our guys in the stands sit up and take notice over the course of the last month.
Travis Dermott, a two-way defenseman for the Erie Otters in the OHL has stood out even with both our No. 1 (Connor McDavid) and No. 4 (Dylan Strome) prospects also playing on his squad. He has actually been very instrumental in the games we have seen in getting those two the puck and setting them up in positions to succeed offensively.
The way he shields the puck with his average sized frame, using his skating and quickly transitions the puck up ice has pro type puck mover written all over him.
Big winger Austin Wagner of the Regina Pats has also been making noise in our last few WHL discussions as someone who is on a steep trajectory with regards to his progression.
He is described as a corner crashing, hardworking, fast-skating forward who is just scratching the surface on his overall potential. With the way he skates, a bit hunched over, and his strong heavy game he has even been said to take over a shift similar to ‘a poor man’s Milan Lucic’ at times.
Then there is defenseman Dennis Gilbert of the Chicago Steel who has been really impressing us since this past October in our regular USHL views and again at the previous USHL/NHL Top Prospects Game.
He plays a strong all-round game with impressive poise and composure, taking only what is available and riding some of the leagues flashier forwards off the puck and out of danger in his own zone. He also has good offensive instincts and moves the puck well with solid passing.
The Curious case of Pavel Zacha
Highly regarded center Pavel Zacha of the Sarnia Sting is in one of the drafts more interesting situations.
This former first overall pick in the CHL Import Draft played last year with Liberec in the Czech Men’s league with former NHL players like Petr Nedved and wanted to come over for his draft year to gain exposure, earn more playing time, play against his peers and learn the North American game.
Since his season began, however, he has had one set-back after another and it seems as though the kid can’t catch a break.
He has been suspended twice, one for a slew foot penalty and one for an illegal charge for a total of eight games missed. He then missed more OHL games as he was with the World Junior Czech entry, which underachieved and, while he looked good in flashes for his country, his efforts were not enough to amount to anything.
Scouts opinions from the World Juniors came away with mixed reviews of the two-way power forward.
His game in Sarnia has not been much better. He has been inconsistent to say the least as he looks to find a comfort level in a Sting jersey.
And his latest roadblock after he looked like he was just getting his game going for Sarnia is now a long-term upper body injury — said to be a shoulder — that will cause him to miss the next five weeks of action.
With only about a dozen or so games expected to be left for Sarnia in the regular season when Zacha is set to return from injury, time will be crucial for scouts to get to Sarnia and further assess this top talent.
While not as difficult a situation as Alex Galchenyuk faced a few years ago where the now Montreal Canadiens forward was able to play in only a handful of games during his draft eligible season because of a knee injury, you have to feel for an import kid like Zacha who came to Sarnia for the exposure and pursuit of his NHL dreams to begin with.
One thing is for sure; whichever NHL team does make Zacha their first pick come June has the chance to really add an impact player in all facets of the game.
Join me again next month as ‘Directors Cut’ continues to take a look at more NHL draft prospects and news.
Director of Scouting