21. Robert Hagg, Defense, MODO (SEL)
Hagg is a really gifted defenseman who progressed as the season went on, going from the junior league to playing in the SEL although his performance was up and down throughout the campaign. Hagg has a real easiness to his game. He is a high-end skater, possessing an effortless stride and quick acceleration. He appears to glide when he is on the ice, with a high amount of offensive ability. He makes quality rushes, and he displays great puck movement in every zone. He is not a flashy puck handler, but he has good subtle hands, with the ability to make open ice maneuvers. He has a big shot from the point, and several NHL sources indicate that he frequently relies on that asset. Scouts are divided on Hagg's defensive play. One thinks it is his best asset, while another calls him a very well-rounded player, and yet others say his defense needs work. From my assessment, I do not think he is an exceptional defensive player. He is quality in his own end, but he does make the odd bad decision here and there. Still, there is a lot to like about Hagg. He has a great hockey brain, mobility, and solid physicality.
22. Anthony Mantha, Left Wing, Val-d'Or (QMJHL)
Mantha made significant strides over the last year, aided by his late birthdate, which gave him an extra year of development. He is a well above-average skater for a big man. He picks up speed quickly, with a certain smoothness in his skating technique. That skating ability, combined with his 6'4" frame, makes him an intriguing physical package. He does possess some skill, but he is more of a good thinker than a fancy puck handler. He can slow the game down, and he exhibits good calmness, often finding the right plays to make with the puck. He shows above-average ability as a passer. He is a top-end finisher, possessing a bullet shot. When he gets an opportunity to one-time a puck, he winds up high, delivering a lot of weight through the shot. He could use some work defensively, as he is not the most physical of players, but he will bump opponents along the boards.
23. Madison Bowey, Defense, Kelowna (WHL)
Bowey is a gifted defenseman with a lot of upside. He still has a few kinks in his game, but there are some scouts who rave about him. He is a quality skater, if not high end, with a powerful stride, good balance, four-way bursts, and above-average top speed that enables him to close gaps quickly. He shows a willingness to engage, that along with a solid strength level, can help him erase checks off of pucks effectively. He also makes plays as a stick checker. Bowey has very good ability as a puck mover, whether he is rushing the puck out of his own zone, or moving it around on the power play. When he is on his game, his offensive hockey sense can be sterling. He has what one scout describes as a heavy shot from the blue line, adding to his multi-dimensional offensive ability. However, scouts have concerns about his defensive play, particularly in his risky decision-makinghe sometimes gambles ineffectively when deciding to pinch or rush. His defensive zone play is not bad, but he is inconsistent with his positioning. Still, it is important to note that he did improve on that skill in the second half of this season.
24. Artturi Lehkonen, Left Wing, KalPa (SM-Liiga)
Lehkonen is a good all-around offensive talent. He possesses every desirable tool except size. His skating might not be explosive, but it is quality, and he displays solid speed and elusiveness. He has above-average puck skills, with quick movements and good coordination. His best skills, however, are his hockey sense and his shot. Lehkonen shows awareness and instinctual ability when creating scoring chances. He has impressive vision as a playmaker, and he regularly makes good passes. Despite these qualities, scouts do not unanimously love him. However, all agree that he is a goal scorer. He has a high-end shot, and a good ability to put himself in positions to score. He will need to bulk up at the next level, as he is a small, slight player. In spite of his size, he works hard on the ice, and his grittiness helps him overcome his stature. One additional area of concern: he suffered from concussion issues this season.
25. J.T. Compher, Center, USA Under-18 Team (USHL)
Compher is the top prospect to emerge from the USA development program in this draft (keeping in mind that Seth Jones played for the USNTDP last year). He is a great all-around player, above average or better at just about every area of the game, despite his 5'11" frame. He is a good skater who picks up speed well, and he has a high-energy element in his play. He forechecks and backchecks with speed, pressuring the opposition, while showing no hesitation to bang bodies. He is very skilled, with above-average puck skills and offensive instincts. On occasion, he will show elements of true offensive flash. He can make individual plays, and he tends to find his teammates well. He also has a big shot, and will be able to score from mid-distance. He is quite strong for a player of his height and age, but he will need to continue to bulk up so that he can play his style at the next level.
26. Mirco Mueller, Defense, Everett (WHL)
Mueller had a quality season in his draft year after coming to the WHL from Switzerland. He took on more responsibility for the Silvertips in light of Columbus draftee Ryan Murray's significant injury. He was also impressive as a 17-year-old defenseman at the World Juniors. The most impressive aspect of his game is his hockey sense. He is a top-end thinker with and without the puck. He slows down the game on breakouts, making good decisions with the puck. He also makes a lot of defensive stops due to his good positioning and reads. He displays above-average mobility, both closing gaps well and rushing the puck up ice with solid speed. Mueller has fine size, with a sense of quality physicality about his game. He has only average overall puck skills, and he projects as a second unit power play defenseman. He will deliver very good value to his team from his work in his own zone.
27. Jacob De La Rose, Left Wing, Leksands (Allsvenskan)
De La Rose had a quality season as an amateur in the SEL-2, especially considering he received little opportunity on the power play. He is an all-around type of forward who can make plays in both ends, and play any of the three forward positions if asked. His best skill is his skating, which one NHL scout described as very good, while another called him an explosive skater. He is a strong, hard-working forward, pressuring defenders well with his speed and physical play. He lays crushing hits on occasion, while showing determination in his own end through his backchecking and shot blocking. He kills penalties effectively, making good reads. However, scouts are divided on De La Rose's offensive upside. Some believe that he has good enough puck skill and vision to score, but one head scout I talked to said he projects as a third line forward. I lean toward the former, although enough sources have concerns with his offensive projection that it becomes an issue of note.
28. Steven Santini, Defense, USA Under-18 (USHL)
Santini is a defenseman possessing several professional-level qualities. He is not a player who will wow you with a high level of skill, but he does have some impressive attributes. He is a good, if not a high-end skater, with good four-way bursts and nice technique on his pivots and footwork. His top speed helps him when joining the rush. Santini is strong for his age, and he displays physical qualities in muscling forwards off of the puck or delivering solid body checks. He defends very well, be it closing gaps, making stops with his body or stick, or positioning himself effectively. Santini's area of dispute lies in his offensive upside. He shows good abilities on the power play, but scouts have given me divided opinions on his puck moving, ranging anywhere from it being one of his best qualities to being just average. I tend to lean toward the latter, despite the occasional flashes of puck rushing Santini shows. One source praised his shot, although I am not as convinced that it is a strength. He is committed to attend Boston College in the fall.
29. Curtis Lazar, Center, Edmonton (WHL)
Lazar is a well-rounded forward, with the benefit of having one of the smallest risk factors in this draft (in terms of probability of becoming an NHL player). He is an above-average skater who can flash plus ability in that area. He covers a lot of ice due to his tremendous work ethic, as he is always moving his feet. He can change gears quickly, and he picks up speed well. Despite being a tad undersized, he is a solid, physical player who is good on the forecheck. He is not afraid to drive the net, either. He is one of the best defensive forwards in this draft, and is very good in that area for a player his age. He takes checks very well, knows how to position himself in his own end, and does not tend to hurt his own team. Similar to the prospects preceding him on this list, there is debate over his offensive ability. I see him as a player with above-average offensive skill, but one scout I talked to said that he is shy in displaying offensive creativity, and that he tends to rely on safe plays. He has solid hands, good instincts, and a very good shot, but his offensive progression will determine what kind of NHL player will be.
30. Shea Theodore, Defense, Seattle (WHL)
Theodore is an offensive defenseman who possesses many tools. He put up big numbers at age 16, and although he did not match that pace at age 17, he was still very good. He is a dynamic skater, with a powerful stride that lets him pick up speed quickly. He can be a real threat when rushing the puck up the ice. He thinks the game so well in the offensive end, displaying a high level of ability with the puck. Theodore can dangle, but he is more of an instinctual passer, whether on outlets or controlling the point on the power play. He possesses a big shot as well. Theodore's issue is not about what he does with the puck, but rather what he does without it. One NHL scout said that he needs a lot of work in his own end. He can be the victim of risky turnovers and bad defensive positioning. To his credit, he has shown improvement in that area, and he has exhibited commitment to playing defense. He needs to continue to gain strength, as he is not the most threatening physical player. He has a lot of upside, but whoever drafts him will likely have to commit to waiting a number of years for that upside to manifest itself.
Corey Pronman is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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