January 17, 2021

Bell’s 10 Takes: Beniers, Wallstedt, Sillinger & More

Bell’s 10 Takes is a monthly column from FCHockey’s crossover scout Josh Bell. This column will highlight Bell’s analysis of 2021 NHL Draft-eligible prospects and reaction news in the prospect world.

The World Juniors are done, the NHL season has started, and the hockey world keeps turning – sort of.

The 2020-21 season has been in constant flux, with players being diagnosed with COVID, games getting postponed or cancelled, and entire seasons hanging in the balance.

Still, at some point there’s going to be an NHL Draft, so the scouting must continue, however possible. Some players are switching leagues, making their case for a selection in the 2021 NHL Draft. Others are still on the sidelines, waiting for action.

With hockey news swirling, here are my 10 Takes for January.

World Juniors wrap up

In case you missed it, FCHockey wrapped up the content on the World Juniors last week, taking a look at overagers, first-year draft eligibles, and the 2022 eligibles. Plus, I had a column on how the 2022s outplayed the 2021s. There isn’t much to add to what’s been said, so I highly recommend checking those pieces out:

Review of December’s 10 Takes: Beniers first overall?

In my December 10 Takes column, I considered the fact the Matthew Beniers may very well have entered the first-overall conversation. This was before the World Juniors, where he received widespread recognition for his play. If he was on the edge of that conversation, he’s all in now thanks to more eyes seeing what he can do. He may not be a superstar at the NHL level, but he could be a stellar two-way presence that fits the mould of a Patrice Bergeron. From my scouting report on Beniers at the World Juniors:

“He’s an absolute force, getting the puck deep and winning the race to it. Finds the lanes so well, using change of direction to find open ice for himself and create space. Is so good at jumping on the loose puck thanks to stellar positioning. Excellent awareness in the offensive zone for some no-look passes. Drives the play, looking to funnel the puck to the slot.”

Will Elias get drafted?

Another draft-eligible that turned heads at the World Juniors is German centerman Florian Elias. From my article on overage standouts:

“Elias collected at least one point in all five of his games, racking up four goals and five assists for nine points. Three of those assists were primary. The DEL’s Adler Mannheim forward played on both the power play and the penalty kill, won 59% of his puck battles, and averaged 5.4 takeaways a game. He also steadily improved his passing in the tournament, from a 69% accuracy in game one to a 93% rate against the Russians in the Quarterfinal. He finished the tournament completing 79% of his passes.”

Being an overager and not yet a regular in the DEL will keep Elias from being in the top half of the 2021 NHL Draft, but his performance in the DNL last season (26 goals, 23 assists, 49 points in 30 games) and World Juniors play have put him on the draft radar. He’s played three DEL games this season, and should that continue and he can prove his skill for the remainder of the season, he could be an interesting pick in the later rounds of the draft.

Sweden cancels J18, J20 seasons

With the COVID-19 pandemic in full force around the globe, Sweden made the difficult decision to cancel the remainder of both the J20 and J18 hockey seasons. If finding spots for players to play were tough before, it will definitely get interesting moving forward. Some of the higher-end prospects have gone up to the SHL, where they likely won’t see much playing time. Others have moved to the HockeyEttan, where some Canadian prospects have been loaned as well. With less hockey being played, there are fewer and fewer opportunities for players to get in competitive ice time this season. For those who have been waiting for their seasons to start, time is running out to find another league.

At least for the Swedish J20 and J18 players, there is tape from this season to get a look at these prospects. That’s better than nothing and more than some other leagues struggling from the COVID-19 impact.

Wallstedt stock rising with dominant SHL season

After talking about the World Juniors and the SHL, it only seems right to talk about a star of both – Jesper Wallstedt. Ranked No. 4 in FCHockey’s preliminary rankings, Wallstedt has been steadily making a case to go higher than that by the time the draft rolls around. Playing full-time in the SHL is extremely rare for a netminder, and those that do play in a men’s professional league tend to transfer very well to the NHL. Just look at what he’s been doing in arguably the third-best league in the world:

This is on top of a stellar – albeit, short – World Juniors performance where in 90 minutes he showed the world why he’s considered in the tier of Spencer Knight and Yaroslav Askarov. On my personal board, Wallstedt is a top-two pick.

WHL targeting 24-game season

While Sweden has cancelled its junior seasons, the Western Hockey League is looking to push and have a season, announcing that they are committing to a season in 2021. While there is still no start date as the league works with health authorities, this is going to be crucial for draft eligibles who are looking to boost their stock before the 2021 NHL Draft. While is still seems early in the process, the league is targeting a 24-game season.

What’s the OHL doing?

The OHL on the other hand is still in limbo on whether or not the season will push on. In December, the league pushed their February 4 start date, postponing indefinitely. Just like the WHL’s draft-eligibles, there are players that will need ice time in order to boost their stock. With options in other leagues dwindling and an OHL season looking less and less likely, some players (and agents) may need to get creative to show how far their game has come since 2019-20.

2020-21: The year prospects fled Canada

Meanwhile, players from both the WHL and OHL, plus the BCHL, continue to find places to play elsewhere. The 2020-21 season is extremely interesting compared to past seasons. While typically, we’d see Europeans flock to North American to play, this season has seen an exodus of players for Canada looking for ice time. Recently, Brandt Clarke, FCHockey’s No. 1 ranking prospects, travelled to Slovakia to tune his craft. As the picture of the WHL and OHL seasons becomes more clear, even if that means cancellation, expect more players to look elsewhere for ice time. As mentioned earlier, spots are getting harder and harder to find, but ice time is crucial for those looking to hear their name called in the NHL Draft.

Bar, Latkoczy join Chicago Steel

Speaking of players leaving Canada, defenseman Jack Bar has left the BCHL’s Penticton Vees for the USHL’s Chicago Steel. The Steel have become the development king of the USHL and Bar is looking to take advantage in his draft season. Not only is he an upgrade on their back end, but he’ll get that valuable ice time on a team that draws in a ton of eyes.

Joining him is goaltender Simon Latkoczy, who put on a show for Team Slovakia in the 2021 World Juniors and was named to the USHL’s All-Rookie Team in 2019-20. Latkoczy is another upgrade for the Steel and will look to boost his draft stock further behind a strong Chicago team.

Sillinger headed to USHL

Another player heading to the USHL is the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers forward Cole Sillinger. Sillinger may be one of the most talented players in this draft class, which he’ll be showing off with the Sioux Falls Stampede. In three games so far, he’s already up to two goals and has shown his offensive flair. His skating is a knock against him, but we’ve seen in the past players get drafted higher. Skating is something that can be improved through development, so he could very well be a player worthy of a top-10 selection in this draft. In a wide-open draft as 2021, he could go even higher.

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