MONTREAL — Fans and media will focus on Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, the two can’t-miss, hotshot NHL prospects who’ll go head-to-head with each other on New Year’s Eve when Canada plays the United States at the world junior hockey championships.
Scouts, however, will be looking elsewhere.
“There’s other guys (beside) Jack and Connor,” said a scouting director of an NHL team. “There are probably 20-plus guys at this tournament who will get drafted.
“It’s certainly worth it. You never know who can slip and slide up or down the draft. You better be in a position to make the right decision.”
This tournament is chock full of draft-eligible prospects, none of whom are particularly concerned that McDavid and Eichel are getting all the attention.
“I like it,” said Team USA defenceman Noah Hanifin, generally regarded the third-best pick in the upcoming draft. “I don’t like all the attention. I just want to focus on getting better every day. Stay out of the spotlight. That helps me personally. It motivates me.”
One of the best draft-eligibles in the first round has been Finland’s Mikko Rantanen, with two goals. He only has one goal back in the Finnish men’s league.
“This is a big year (for me),” said Rantanen. “It’s the time to show (scouts what I can do) but if the team is playing well, then that means the players are playing well. I just play for the team and try to do my best.”
He doesn’t mind that the focus has been on Eichel and McDavid.
“Everybody is speaking about them and I kind of like it because then other players can go a little bit of the radar,” said Rantanen. “It’s not bothering me. I don’t worry about where I’m going to be drafted. It’s a summer thing.”
Here’s what some scouts say about some other top prospects here (scouts that work for NHL teams asked not to be identified):
Noah Hanifin, defence, United States (Boston College, NCAA): “He gets up the ice as good as Scott Niedermayer. Phenomenal acceleration. Tremendous decisions in the offensive end. Uses good technique defensively. I’d still like to see him get meaner.” — Mark Seidel, chief scout scouting for North American Central Scouting.
Zachary Werenski, defence, United States (University of Michigan, NCAA): “Keeps getting better. He made the smooth transition as a 17-year-old into college hockey, which is very uncommon. He’s got a lot of puck poise for a young guy. He’s got a good head for the game.” — Scout from an Eastern Conference team.
Pavel Zacha, centre, Czech Republic (Sarnia Sting, OHL): “Phenomenal skater. Loves to beat guys off the rush. Has a surprisingly nasty streak in him as evidenced by his suspensions. Excellent team-first mentality. Dynamic offensive player. Still needs to get better away from the puck but he is improving. Reminds of Marian Gaborik.” — Seidel.
Lawson Crouse, winger, Canada (Kingston Frontenacs, OHL): “Big body that gets up the ice very effectively. Smart and high hockey IQ. Very effective on the penalty kill. Has fought and will fight and isn’t shy. Hard to play against. Complete game. Reminds me of Brendan Shanahan.” — Seidel.
Ivan Provorov, defence, Russia (Brandon Wheat Kings, WHL): “Speedy. He’s a talented kid. Calm for his age. There’s lots of upside with him.” — NHL scout.
Mikko Rantanen, wing, Finland (TPS Turku, SM-liiga): “Big kid with hands. He’s got good hands for a big guy. He sees the ice real well. He’s an interesting guy. He’s pretty skilled for a big winger.” — NHL scout.
Timo Meier, wing, Switzerland (Halifax Mooseheads, QMJHL): “He lost some weight over the summer. He’s having a real good year in Halifax and he’s got the ability to play a bit of a power game and still play with some skill. Good shot. He’s got the ability to chip in offensively and play a bit of a physical game.” — NHL scout.
David Kase, forward, Czech Republic (KLH Chomutov, Czech2): “He’s tiny. But he’s really smart really smart with the puck got really good hands but is just tiny.” — NHL scout.