Holmes’ 10 Takes: Guenther, Lucius, Rosen & more
Holmes’ 10 Takes is a monthly column from Brandon Holmes, one of FCHockey’s Video Scouts. This column will highlight Holmes’ analysis of 2021 NHL Draft-eligible prospects and reaction news in the prospect world.
The WHL is back in the swing of things – sort of. We’re still waiting on a vast majority of the league to begin play, but I think I speak for a large majority of us when I say it’s great to see one of North America’s top junior leagues back in action.
From hot starts in the WHL to standouts in the USHL, and a young phenom making a name for himself over in Russia, it’s all covered here for you this week.
Here are my 10 Takes for the beginning of March:
WHL Resumes Play
On February 26, the WHL finally made its long-anticipated return to play with four clubs kicking off play over the weekend – the Edmonton Oil Kings, Lethbridge Hurricanes, Medicine Hat Tigers, and Red Deer Rebels. With more teams set to begin their seasons throughout the week and into the coming weekend, it’s certainly a breath of fresh air in the prospect landscape to have one of North America’s top junior leagues back in action. In addition to having the league itself back, certainly many scouts will be excited to get viewings on this year’s draft-eligible skaters, although we may need to wait a little longer for prospects such as Carson Lambos and Logan Stankoven to make their WHL debuts this season, as their clubs have not yet opened play in their respective hubs.
Former WHLers Staying Put
While some players are returning to western Canada to resume play for their WHL clubs, other top players have elected to stay put in their once-assumed temporary homes, none more notable than Cole Sillinger. Sillinger, who decided to head south of the border to play for the Sioux Falls Stampede, will be staying in the USHL for the remainder of the 2020-2021 season, which is a major coup for the USHL in retaining some of its high-end talent. Since arriving in Sioux Falls, Sillinger has been one of the most dangerous scorers in the league, posting 14 goals and 24 points in just 15 games played, placing him among the league leaders in scoring pace. Some scouts may be disappointed that we won’t get to see Sillinger in the WHL this season, but his play thus far in the USHL has only solidified his standing as a potential first-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft.
Dylan Guenther Starts Hot
As mentioned earlier, the Edmonton Oil Kings were one of the four teams to open play in the WHL over the weekend, and no player shined brighter in Edmonton’s two games than forward Dylan Guenther. Skating on the team’s top line, Guenther was deadly while skating on the right wing, putting up four goals and seven points over the course of the weekend to take the early lead in the league’s scoring race. When discussing the draft’s top available goal scorers, Guenther needs to be brought up near the top of that list, as the deceptive release on his shot remains as deadly as ever and his ability to drive high-danger areas with pace has made him very successful in the early going.
Chaz Lucius Returns
Speaking of the draft’s most dangerous goal scorers, Chaz Lucius made his long-awaited return to the USNTDP after a knee injury had kept him out of commission since the beginning of the season. Upon his return, Lucius got directly back to what he does best, scoring five goals in his first four games of the season. Being sidelined with a knee injury, Lucius may not have had as much time to make the improvements to his skating game that many scouts have wanted to see, however, his quick shot release, ability to control the puck in tight areas, and willingness to drive high-danger scoring areas makes him one of the most dangerous goal scorers among his peers. The University of Minnesota commit has long been one of my personal favorites in the class and will be someone I’ll be keeping a close eye on for the rest of the season.
Luke Hughes, first Overall?
In 2019, Jack Hughes was selected first overall in the NHL Draft, and there may be a path opening up for younger brother Luke to do the same in 2021. Ranked No. 1 on FCHockey’s most recent draft rankings, Luke Hughes has solidified himself near the top of most draft boards with his play this season, as he has been a consistent and dominant force for the USNTDP this season. Luke, though not as dynamic as his brothers, does share some key attributes with Quinn Hughes and Jack, as his game is highlighted by an effortless and smooth skating stride and high-end hockey sense at both ends of the rink, contributing to the offensive game by finding lanes to attack the net from the blue line with elite vision and athleticism. In 36 games for the program this season, Luke has posted 32 points from the blue line, pacing the team’s defensive core in scoring and laying to rest many concerns regarding his offensive upside.
Ayrton Martino in the USHL
Among those who found their way to the USHL this season, Ayrton Martino is one of the names that may have flown under the radar for some. One of the top players in the OJHL a season ago while playing for the St. Michael’s Buzzers, Martino found his way to the Omaha Lancers this season and has been the team’s most consistent offensive threat during his 20 games with the club, posting 11 goals and 28 points in the process. Martino’s offensive game has stood out to me during his time in the USHL thanks to his ability to read defensive coverage and find quiet spots on the ice in the offensive zone as well as possessing quick and deceptive puck skills to beat netminders one-on-one. Committed to Clarkson University in the NCAA for next season, Martino will be someone to watch as a potential top-64 selection in the upcoming draft.
Francesco Pinelli In Slovenia
One of many OHL players who continue to ply their trade in Europe, Francesco Pinelli has gotten off to a strong start with HDD Jesenice, an AlpsHL team based out of Slovenia. In nine games with the club, Pinelli has looked very comfortable at the pro level, producing just short of a point-per-game pace with four goals and eight points, including an overtime winner in a recent game. Pinelli is among my favorite centers in the 2021 class; the young Canadian can contribute in the offensive zone in a multitude of ways with his ability to attack with both skill and sense, always doing a superb job in the offensive zone at reading and reacting to space and finding lanes to attack the net. When the OHL eventually returns to play, watch for Pinelli to be a dangerous offensive force on a nightly basis for Kitchener.
Wealth of Swedish Wing Talent
Throughout the season, I’ve found it difficult to ignore just how much high-end talent there is on the wings in this year’s Swedish class. William Eklund, currently rated as FCHockey’s No. 5 prospect, has continued to be a reliable force for Djurgardens in the SHL and at this moment highlights this class of Swedish forwards, though he is not alone in the top-10 conversation with Fabian Lysell of Lulea. Simon Robertsson and Oskar Olausson remain favorites of mine in the mid-to-late first-round discussion, but someone who has been drawing more and more attention has been Isak Rosen of Leksands.
Isak Rosen Generating first Round Buzz
Though Rosen’s counting stats of one assist in 18 games played at the SHL level may fly under the radar, his play and production at the junior level tell a different story and paint the picture of what could be a dangerous offensive producer at the next level. In a recent set of friendly matches between Sweden’s U18 and U19 international teams, Rosen was consistently noticeable on the ice as an offensive threat, using a combination of speed and skill to open up shooting lanes and create offense for his team, securing two goals in one of the matches. As the season moves along, I would love for Rosen to receive more opportunity with Leksands in the SHL, as his ice time at the pro level has hindered his ability to contribute on the score sheet, though there may be a dangerous pro-level scorer lurking here as he continues to mature physically.
Matvei Michkov Breaks Records
Checking back in with Matvei Michkov, one of the top prospects eligible for the 2023 NHL Draft, the young Russian has set the new gold standard for U17 players in the MHL. In SKA-1946’s final regular-season game, Michkov surpassed Nikita Kucherov’s record for points scored by a U17 player in the MHL, setting the new mark with 55 points in 54 games, 37 of which being goals. Michkov is a truly rare and special talent, although the new points record is not the only piece of news the 16-year-old made over the past week, as it was announced Michkov has re-signed with SKA St. Petersburg all the way through the 2025-2026 season. Whoever drafts Michkov in 2023 may have to wait a few years to get him, but based on what we’ve seen this past season, the Russian winger looks like he will be well worth the wait.