Bell’s 10 Takes: World Juniors, Beniers, Raty & 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.
While there may be more leagues underway since the last edition of Bell’s 10 Takes, hockey across the globe is feeling the effects of forcing hockey in a pandemic.
Despite this, the 2021 World Junior Championship is marching along, albeit with players and coaches being forced out due to COVID-19. But we’ll get to that.
Here are my 10 takes for December:
Leagues across the globe being put on hold, video scouting crucial
The OHL and WHL have yet to drop the puck. The QMJHL extended its holiday break. USHL and NCAA games are being postponed. Junior Finnish and Sweden hockey are on hold. In a season like no other, we’re seeing cases of COVID-19 across the hockey world, disrupting games and entire seasons. This season, video scouting is king with access to rinks extremely limited depending on where you live. But when those games stop, going back and watching the tape is your next best option.
There’s an ongoing battle between video scouting and live views. I do believe that both have their value though, it shouldn’t be a “one or the other” situation (in a normal year). Live views allow you to see more, including play away from the puck and reactions on the bench. But video scouting allows you to really dial into the finer details of a player’s game and pinpoint their skills. The two go hand in hand. This year is going to be interesting, with video scouting largely being the only option for many. Time will tell if that positively or negatively impacts long-term evaluation. But it will be an interesting case study.
2021 World Junior Championship seeing COVID impact
I can’t even imagine what it’s like to head to your country’s World Juniors Selection Camp, just to be cut from the team, not because of your play, but because you tested positive for COVID-19. These are teenagers who have dreamt of donning their country’s crest, worked hard their whole lives, just to be sent home due to reasons out of their control. We’ve seen top players like Germany’s Lukas Reichel, the USA’s John Beecher and Thomas Bordeleau, Sweden’s William Eklund, Karl Henriksson, William Wallinder – and their head coach – and Canada had two players test positive, resulting in five cuts.
The mental health and long-term physical health of these players is at risk and I’m very skeptical of the entire tournament continuing. Granted, I was for the NHL bubble too, and that was a success once they were in the bubble. But they didn’t have to be cut from their team if they tested positive.
Raty excluded from Team Finland’s World Junior Selection Camp
Sticking with the World Juniors, Aatu Raty was left off of the Finnish roster, one of the biggest surprises so far. Raty played on the team last year in the tournament, collecting two goals and an assist in the seven games played. He was the youngest player in the tournament. Entering the 2020-21 season, the young Finn was at the top of many draft boards and some had him pegged to spend the entire season in the Liiga.
But that hasn’t been the case. Instead, he’s been bouncing between the Liiga and U20 SM-sarja for Karpat. He’s fallen from that top spot in the draft and has struggled to not only find consistency but take that step forward that was expected – and needed – in his draft year. Even so, he has a ton of talent and could still be a top-10 pick. I’m surprised to see him cut as early as he was.
Gauthier lone draft-eligible on Team Canada
On arguably the top team heading into the World Juniors, draft enthusiasts and scouts won’t have much to see on Team Canada. After having five draft-eligibles on the team last year (one overage in Nico Daws), this year’s squad has just one draft-eligible player, who might not even see playing time, in double-overager Taylor Gauthier. The goaltender has spent the last three seasons with the WHL’s Prince George Cougars, looking better each season.
While NHL teams have passed on him in two drafts now, Team Canada seems to love him, picking him for the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, the Hlinka Gretzky, the World Under-18 Hockey Championship, and now the World Juniors. Granted, it remains to be seen if he sees any ice time with Dylan Garand and Devon Levi also making the cut.
Beniers entering the first-overall conversation
Matty Beniers has always been impressive. Last season, he was a leader on the United States U18 National Team. The year before, he played 20 games with the U18 team and 42 games with the U17 team. Now with the University of Michigan, he’s continuing to stand out. But now, it’s not just standing out on his team. He’s standing out in this entire draft class. I think he’s still on the outside looking in, but he’s at the doorway to first overall and the door is wide open. From my recent scouting report on Beniers:
“He’s so active all over the ice and is a disruptor of the play. His compete might just be second to none in this class. He’s constantly battling for the puck and is extremely creative in how he fights off defenders when he has it… He’s already an elite, well-rounded prospect. He will be in that top-tier conversation of this draft class as the top two-way forward.”
Steel’s Coronato looking like the real deal
He wasn’t really talked about coming into the season, but Matthew Coronato is demanding attention. The Chicago Steel’s Matthew Samoskevich and Ryan Ufko were the big names on the team, but Coronato is now right there with them – if not ahead. The left winger is leading the league in all major statistical categories with 10 goals, 14 assists, and 24 points in just 10 games. From my recent scouting report on Coronato:
“When he’s on the ice, you’ll notice the fact that he never takes his foot off the gas, he might have the highest competitiveness of any player I’ve watched this season…He’s hard on puck carriers, using poke checks and stick lifts to force turnovers and make it hard on the puck carrier… I think Coronato may push to be the top player taken from the Steel in the 2021 NHL Draft.”
Robidas turning heads in the QMJHL
While there are some big names in the QMJHL, it’s been Justin Robidas capturing the attention of scouts and fans recently. The Val-d’Or Foreurs centreman finished November with 14 points in nine games, bringing his total on the season to weight goals, 12 assists, and 20 points in 15 games. That leads all 2021 NHL Draft-eligibles in points and points per game. I caught a recent game of Robidas and was extremely impressed with his two-way play. I did find that he tends to work the perimeter a little too much and doesn’t drive the net, but it’s just one game. The team’s alternate captain has some very intriguing traits along with some red flags. Keep an eye on FCHockey for the full report.
Kapanen looking like a top Finnish prospect in U20 SM-sarja
Another player I’ve recently watched and been drawn to was Oliver Kapanen. The cousin of Pittsburgh Penguins forward Kasperi Kapanen is playing in the U20 SM-sarja has racked up 17 goals, 11 assists and 28 points in 24 games for KalPa U20, while sporting the “A” on his jersey. That leads all draft-eligibles in the league so far. His distribution of the puck is excellent and his puckhandling is high-end. He’s a very competitive player, jumping into board battles and getting in front of shots, blocking three in this game. Like Robidas, keep an eye out for this scouting report.
United States Under-17 National Team is must-watch hockey
Last but certainly not least, how about that United States Under-17 National Team? The team currently has 11 players playing at over a point-per-game pace, with Isaac Howard leading the way with 14 goals, 11 assists, and 25 points in 13 games. Behind him, Rutger McGroarty, Frank Nazar, Maddox Flemming, and Cutter Gauthier have all stood out on the ice and on the score sheet.
This group may not have the first-overall talent of the 2001-borns (Jack Hughes), but the depth and high-end talent on this roster is evident. We may see a large number of first-round selections from this squad in the 2022 NHL Draft. I can only recommend starting to get your views in on these guys now. It’s well worth it.