Holmes’ 10 Takes: World Juniors, Beniers, Sillinger & 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 to news in the prospect world.
The New Year is right around the corner, and in a year that’s been like no other, we still have one constant in the hockey world: World Junior hockey. The world’s most anticipated junior hockey tournament kicks off this year on Christmas Day, so there will be no shortage of hockey for draft and prospect enthusiasts alike to dig into. I, for one, cannot wait.
In addition to the World Juniors being just on the horizon, the 2020-21 NHL season is set to kick off on January 13th and with that, builds further anticipation for the eventual 2021 NHL Draft. Buckle up hockey fans, hockey is just around the corner!
Here are my 10 Takes as we head into the New Year:
World Juniors Underway
As the 2021 World Junior Championship has opened play, we are receiving more and more clarity on rosters and lineup configurations as the tournament progresses through the round robin stage. With preliminary games underway, we get a look into how a handful of top prospects are being deployed by their nations and what their roles will likely be in the weeks ahead. In particular, the play of top draft prospects such as Finland’s Brad Lambert and USA’s Matthew Beniers were of interest for myself and many other draft enthusiasts.
Lambert, who turned 17 years old just two weeks ago, is an early favorite to go second overall in the 2022 NHL Draft. He appears set to play a large role for the Fins as the tournament progresses, skating primarily in the team’s top six with the likes of Roby Järventie and Juuso Pärssinen. Beniers, a top prospect for the upcoming draft, could be in line for a big tournament for the Americans, as he is pencilled in as the team’s second-line center and could see a large portion of time with Matthew Boldy and Cole Caufield on his wings in the coming weeks.
Beniers Joining Top-5 Consideration
Speaking of Beniers, there may be reason to believe the freshman collegiate forward from the University of Michigan could find his way into the top 5 on draft day. One of my personal favorites in the 2021 class, Beniers has been a steady and dangerous force for the Michigan Wolverines, posting three goals and six points through his first eight collegiate games. Beniers’s blend of elite hockey sense, craftiness, and two-way work ethic has not gone unnoticed by NHL scouts, and the allure of adding a future top-six, two-way forward may be too much for clubs to pass up at the top of the draft. As noted before, Beniers will play a pivotal role for the Americans at the World Junior Championship. A strong tournament could only solidify his standing at the top of this draft class.
International Rosters in Flux Due to COVID
While some rosters managed to enter the World Junior bubble relatively unscathed, other teams were not so lucky when it came to COVID casualties. The Americans, while still boasting a strong roster overall, did take a gut punch to their center and defense depth, as John Beecher, Thomas Bordeleau, and Alex Vlasic were sent home following positive tests and exposures. Germany lost 2020 first rounder Lukas Reichel due to a positive test, with eight additional players also receiving positive tests upon arriving in Edmonton. The team had to play their first two games of the tournament with just 14 skaters. Another team struggling severely with COVID is Sweden. Sweden will look to keep their preliminary-round winning streak alive and will be up against it after losing an entire coaching staff as well as top skaters William Wallinder and William Eklund. This tournament is happening under unique circumstances and fingers crossed this is the last news we’ll have to hear regarding the World Juniors and COVID-19.
Goaltending Arms Race in Group B
Speaking of Sweden, Group B for this year’s World Juniors boasts what many would consider being the three best goaltending prospects in the world. Jesper Wallstedt, a 2021 NHL Draft-eligible who was placed No. 4 on FCHockey’s preliminary rankings, will likely battle for the starting position for the Swedes and will have plenty of eye on him when he gets between the pipes. Yaroslav Askarov, Nashville’s first-round selection in 2020 at 11th overall, will be the undisputed starter for the Russians in goal and will be a driving force in Russia’s search for gold. America’s Spencer Knight, Florida’s 2019 first-round selection, rounds out this three-headed monster, while Dustin Wolf is also no slouch. Group B will be must-see TV for lovers of great goaltending.
Wallstedt vs. Askarov
On the topic of Wallstedt versus Askarov, I was recently asked to compare the careers of the two in a recent Mailbag question. Make no doubt about it, I find Wallstedt to be in the same tier of goaltending prospect that Askarov is in and should be discussed as one of the top goaltending prospects to come through the draft in quite some time. Though they are both top prospects at their position, they are fairly different netminders in style. Askarov is the more athletic of the two, while I find Wallstedt has a fantastic degree of poise and reservation in his movements in his crease, reading offensive plays, and is seemingly always a step ahead of the offense. Wallstedt has been fantastic this season for Luleå in the SHL, with a 6-3-0 record for the club while posting a 2.06 goals against average and a .920 save percentage. The team recently ranked the netminder fourth on our preliminary rankings, and I’m quite proud of where we have him – he deserves to be in that conversation and reminds me so much of a young Henrik Lundqvist.
Olausson Receiving 1st Round Buzz
In my last column, I made note of Oskar Olausson’s hot start to the 2020-21 season for HV71’s J20 program with 14 goals and 27 points through his first 16 games played. Prior to leaving for the World Juniors, Olausson has received regular playing time in the SHL with HV71, most often playing in a depth role at five-on-five while also receiving limited minutes on the power play. Olausson got off to a hot start in the SHL and currently sits at three goals and one assist in his first 11 professional games. It’s clear from the eye test that Olausson has the skill and creativity to be a dangerous offensive forward, and could also be in line for a rise in draft stock should he have a successful World Junior tournament for Sweden. From my recent report on Olausson:
“Olausson was able to show flashes of what could be a blossoming offensive talent with plenty of room to grow, as the young Swede played 12:46 of time-on-ice in a depth role for HV71…What stood out the most with Olausson was his fluid skating ability and strong puck skills, as he was able to move about the ice with a good deal of elusiveness and carry the puck with relative ease.”
Morrow Emerges as Top Draft Eligible High Schooler
While a lot of focus has been on the resumption of leagues such as the KHL, SHL, and USHL, portions of the high school circuit in the United States have also resumed play. Scott Morrow, ranked 42nd by FCHockey, has been fantastic while skating for Shattuck St. Mary’s Prep and has captured the attention of many scouts with his play. Through nine games played, the right-shot defenseman has shined, notching three goals and 13 points while playing in an all-situations, top-pair role for the team. Morrow’s offensive tool kit is undeniable and stands out immediately on every viewing, but I can’t help wonder if this kid is simply too good for the US high school level. Morrow will move to the University of North Dakota next season, but I would personally love to see him perform at a higher level of competition such as the USHL or at an international event should they take place. From my recent report on Morrow:
“Where Morrow shined was in the offensive zone and particularly in his ability to read and create offense from the blue line. Morrow was a constant offensive catalyst for his team, using fantastic vision to set up teammates in the offensive zone for shooting opportunities while also doing a great job of finding shooting lanes through traffic…”
No Consensus on the Top Forward
I’ve mentioned numerous times in the past that the 2021 NHL Draft is far more jump ball than nearly every class we’ve seen in recent memory, and I cannot help but find the debate on who the top forward in this class is to be fascinating. From scout to scout, many will bring up the same names in regards to who the top defenseman is – Owen Power, Brandt Clarke, Luke Hughes, Simon Edvinsson – but that same level of consensus does not exist with the forwards. In our preliminary ranking, we still have Aatu Räty rated as the class’s top forward. Some NHL scouts have begun to gravitate to Edmonton Oil Kings forward Dylan Guenther or been wooed by the early success of Eklund in the SHL. The Michigan Wolverines have been impressive, and Kent Johnson has been no different. The great thing about all of these camps: I cannot say that any of them are wrong or off base, it’s a fascinating debate I’m going to love monitoring all season. All I will say: sleep on the likes of Matthew Beniers, Chaz Lucius, and Cole Sillinger at your own peril.
WHL and OHL Push Back Start Dates
Due to the uptick in COVID-19 cases and the restrictions enforced by law officials, both the Western Hockey League and Ontario Hockey League recently announced they will be moving on from their previously announced start dates. Neither league has taken the ice since last March, which is likely a harrowing situation for draft hopefuls from both leagues in regards to potential draft position and exposure to NHL scouts. We will monitor the situation to see when or if the two leagues make new plans to resume play, but one thing is for certain: we cannot underestimate the importance of video scouting on this year’s draft landscape, as I’m sure many scouts will be combing through plenty of WHL and OHL 2020 film over the next couple of months.
Cole Sillinger Needs More Love
I’m someone who has taken the time to dig back on some of the top draft eligibles from both the WHL and OHL, and I cannot shake the feeling that we’re all too low on Sillinger. The Medicine Hat Tigers forward led all WHL rookies in scoring pace during the 2019-20 season with 53 points in 48 games, notching 22 goals along the way with what may be one of the best shots in the class. Sillinger may not be as flashy as some of his peers at the top of the draft, but I believe the processing speed, smarts, and dual-threat ability make him one of the top forwards available. Keep an eye out for this kid, hopefully, we will be able to see him lace up for the Tigers sooner rather than later.