Here are some notes and thoughts on players who were drafted in the later rounds and/or may not be well-known prospects but who fans of their respective teams should become acquainted with.
Mattias Backman, Defense, Detroit Red Wings, SEL
In his 20-year-old season, Backman has been a top defensemen for his SEL team, Linkoping, and has gotten some time playing for Sweden's National Team. He is a very effective two-way player who one scout describes as a "smooth defenseman who moves the puck very well." Backman is not an overly flashy player who will go end to end, and he could be a little more physical, but there is certainly a fair amount of talent to his game, and one Swedish source believes he has what it takes to be a top-four defenseman in the NHL. Backman was a fifth round pick by Detroit in 2011 who remains unsigned and was extended by Linkoping for one more season.
Erik Gustafsson, Defense, Edmonton Oilers, Allsvenskan
Gustafsson has been a nice surprise this season, and as of this writing is in the top 10 in defenseman scoring in the SEL-2. He is a notably above-average puck mover who has a nice calmness to his game and exhibits quality mobility. He was drafted at 19 and is currently 20 years old, so he is a little farther along the age curve than your typical fourth round pick six months after the draft, but he certainly worth monitoring. He does need to continue putting work in at the defensive end however. Given a lot of Oilers prospects have had disappointing seasons so far, Gustafsson could arguably be a top-15 prospect in their system and maybe even stretch into their top 10.
Tim Heed, Defense, Anaheim Ducks, Allsvenskan
Heed was selected in the fifth round in 2010 by the Ducks. He was signed early last summer and then loaned back to Sweden, where he has bounced around between the junior and the top two pro levels. Heed is a very skilled offensive defenseman who has played forward in the past and has a lot of upside. One scout raved about Heed's great puck moving ability and hands. He has put up significant points in the SEL-2 the last three seasons, but for Heed, it has been about improving his subpar defensive game. He also isn't that physical, which isn't ideal for a slightly undersized player.
Ryan Olsen, Center, Winnipeg Jets, WHL
Olsen was a sixth round pick by the Jets last season after a very average offensive season with Saskatoon. His production has seen a significant uptick, though, averaging around a point per game for Kelowna, although he does play on one of the league's best offensive teams. He is still a bit of a work in progress but there are some tools to like with Olsen. One NHL source described him as a player who "can really skate, sees the ice well, and has good size." While I wouldn't describe him as a top of the line prospect, he is certainly a guy worth monitoring going forward.
Ondrej Palat, Left Wing, Tampa Bay Lightning, AHL
Palat was a seventh round pick by Tampa out of the QMJHL after being passed over twice. He immediately turned pro after being selected, and in his second pro season, he is at nearly a point per game and has been a quality AHLer. Palat was described by one NHL source as a great two-way player who can play all situations and brings an elite work ethic. Another source described him as a "coach's joy" because he hits everything, backchecks hard, and goes to the net, and also has the puck skills and offensive hockey sense to make plays. His only real issue is he is slightly undersized at around 5'11'' and 180 pounds.
Colton Parayko, Defense, St. Louis Blues, NCAA
Parayko was drafted in the third round out of the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) after going undrafted the season before. Parayko had barely scored in the AJHL in his first draft season; one scout told me that he was on the NHL radar really for only a handful of teams. The freshman at University of Alaska-Fairbanks is a 6'4'' or 6'5'', 200-pound defender who has been developing well but still has to put on more muscle. He currently gets a lot of responsibility for a freshman, utilized in the power play, penalty kill, and tough even strength minutes. Parayko is a smart hockey player who anticipates in his own end well and has a good shot from the point. His mobility is his main issue going forward.
Garrett Ross, Left Wing, Chicago Blackhawks, OHL
Ross was taken in the fifth round by Chicago after being passed over twice and being sent back to the OHL as an overage player. In his first two OHL seasons, he had 19 points in nearly 100 games before posting 54 points in the season he was drafted. Ross has developed very well, though, and is certainly a player to watch going forward when he eventually turns pro. One NHL source praised his on-ice work ethic and intangibles as well as the skill elements to his game. Ross will fight hard to win battles, but also has the puck skills and instincts to create chances.
Doyle Somerby, Defense, New York Islanders, US High School
Somerby was drafted in the fifth round by the Islanders out of Kimball Union Academy in New Hampshire, the high school at which he currently plays. One scout made a point to make sure Somerby was on my radar. He is a 6'5',' 220-something defenseman who that scout said, "skates at an above-average level and has offensive skill." He continued by saying there's not a coach who wouldn't want a player his size if they knew he can skate and move the puck like him. Somerby is still a significant work in progress, though, with a lot of holes in his defensive game. He will attend Boston University next season.
Corey Pronman is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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