16. Nikita Zadorov, Defense, London (OHL)
Zadorov is an elite physical player who possesses many tools for future success. He has a 6'5", 220-pound frame, and he is unusually strong for a player his age. He uses it to his advantage, as he loves to take the body and land highlight reel hits. He skates at an above-average to plus level, which is significant for a player at his size. He can close gaps remarkably well. The rest of his game is not as impressive, but he could be a fine puck mover and positional defender. Scouting sources have divided opinion on both of those fronts. He has improved as the OHL season has progressed. He shows ability to move the puck and make good reads in his own end, but his decision making is not always perfect. He possesses some offensive upside, but it is likely more in the average range.
Ranking explanation: Prospects such as Pavel Buchnevich, Adam Erne, and Valentin Zykov all possess a slight-to-moderate talent deficit in comparison to Zadorov, making this spot a clear tier divider. The closest to infiltrating that tier is Buchnevich, as he shows flashes of a true top-level prospect with his great hands, hockey sense, and speed. Still, he is not well rounded enough for me to confidently project him as a top line player.
17. Pavel Buchnevich, Left Wing, Severstal (KHL)
Buchnevich had a quality season in Russia and in international play, despite suffering injuries during parts of the year. The obvious aspect of his game is his skill level. He has high-end puck possession skills, with top-of-the-line hands and hockey sense. He shows good offensive instincts, standing out through his reads and creative decisions. He can be a quality passer, although he is prone to the selfish play now and then. An NHL executive told me that he has the offensive ability to dominate, at times. His skating garners a mixed bag of reviews. One scout described it as average, with another saying he is very good, thanks to his impressive acceleration and ability to put defenders on their heels. Buchnevich's area of concern is his physicality. He is roughly average in height, but he needs to add major bulk. His style of play is not one of physical intimidation.
Ranking explanation: Adam Erne is a better skater with more physicality than Buchnevich, but the Severstal forward's puck skills, vision, and offensive instincts won out in the end. Erne has a better statistical record, as he notched 55 points in 64 games as a 16-year-old, with over a point per game this year in the QMJHL. Buchnevich has been a near point-per-game player in the Russian junior league the past two seasons, but there is a competition adjustment to be made. There are reasonable arguments for either player, but Buchnevich's strengths and upside make him the choice. Erne is perhaps more safe, and certainly skilled in his own right, but he does not have the potentially elite puck possession tools of Buchnevich.
18. Adam Erne, Left Wing, Quebec (QMJHL)
Erne features the ideal power forward style that NHL teams love, as his high-end north/south game is coupled with good skill. His best attribute is his skating; he frequently bursts through the neutral zone, drawing penalties, creating chances, and downright embarrassing defensemen with his speed and acceleration. His willingness to drive to the net combined with his strength are deadly when combined with his speed. One scout described him as a "horse" in terms of his raw physical attributes. Erne's hands are pretty good, and he can control the puck well in full flight. Creativity and playmaking are not his specialty, but his finishing ranks as above average.
Ranking explanation: Many decisions in this draft are tossups, particularly from this point onward. Valentin Zykov has more skill than Erne, but the skating ability of the Quebec forward stands out; he generated a horde of scoring chances every time I watched him. Both are physical, hard-working wingers who read the game well that are comparable statistically. Zykov, in his rookie season, notched 1.12 points and 3.70 shots per game. Erne's marks were at 1.06 and 3.25, respectively. There is a reasonable argument for him over Erne, but I favored the Rempart due to his impressive creation of scoring chances each time I watched him. I do not view their upsides or risk factors differently.
19. Valentin Zykov, Right Wing, Baie-Comeau (QMJHL)
Zykov was one of this season's biggest surprises. He did not come into the QMJHL as an elite scoring prospect, but he really flourished at Baie-Comeau. He is a skilled player, showing nice touch with the puck. He is able to make plays in tight spaces, flashing high-end skill at times. He can distribute the puck at a quality level, showing quick decision-making, with good offensive instincts. Zykov's intriguing element is his physicality. He is quite strong for a U-18 player, and he is proficient at shielding the puck and driving the net. He works hard, he will backcheck, and he can lay some crushing hits. His skating is an area of concern. A few sources describe him as a good skater, but a few that I trust believe he is clearly below average.
Ranking explanation: Zykov and Josh Morrissey are both talented offensive players with roughly the same value. Zykov could be a great second line winger, with Morrissey a great second pairing, power play-capable defenseman. Morrissey has dynamic offensive qualities in his skating and play with the puck, but his size keeps him from being a truly elite prospect, especially considering his position. His upside is better than Zykov's, but it is close, and this is another case of favoring the generally less risky forward in close ranking decisions.
20. Josh Morrissey, Defense, Prince Albert (WHL)
Morrissey is a dynamic offensive defenseman with a ton of plus skills. He has amassed a considerable number of points for a 1995 birthdate over his last two WHL seasons. His strongest tool is his skating, which is easily high end, if not better. He has a very graceful stride, and his footwork is precise in any direction. His top gear, agility, pivots, and gap control stand out in each game he plays. He is also a top-end puck mover, frequently making aware and accurate passes. He can run the point on a top power play unit, jump into the rush, make a good outlet, and flash a highlight reel play with the puck. His defensive awareness is solid, and he has killed penalties at times. Still, he faces a significant issue in his physicality. I would not describe him as soft, as he can make a quality hit at times, but he often is outmuscled for pucks. Coupling this aspect of his game with his undersized frame makes him a risk at the top level.
Ranking explanation: Morrissey and Robert Hagg presented another close call. Both are gifted offensive defensemen who skate at a top-end level, with good puck-moving ability. Morrissey has a little more skill, but Hagg is bigger, and projects to have more defensive value. The tiebreaker came down to consistency: this season, Hagg was not as strong as Morrissey in that area. He left more questions about his projection, which broke the tie between their similar talent levels.
Corey Pronman is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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