November 25, 2021

Holmes Report: 2022 NHL Draft re-entries to know

The Holmes Report is a monthly column from Brandon Holmes, one of FCHockey’s video scouts. This column will highlight Holmes’ analysis of 2022 NHL Draft-eligible prospects and reaction news in the prospect world.

The 2020-2021 season was unlike any season we’ve ever seen before in the scouting world, and, hopefully is not likely to be a situation we’re going to see again for a very long time.

With season cancellations, condensed schedules, fewer international events, and a multitude of other factors, views on certain groups of prospects were difficult to come by for scouts both in the public and private spheres. With normalcy somewhat returning around the globe in the world of hockey for the 2021-22 campaign comes an opportunity for prospects who received the short end of the stick a year ago to showcase their abilities to scouts who may have missed them for their first or second trips through the draft in 2021.

Every year there are overage prospects who warrant consideration with premium draft picks and with the unique circumstances in the hockey world a year ago, and that may be even more true this season.

Here are some of the top re-entry candidates for the 2022 NHL Draft.

Tucker Robertson, C, Peterborough Petes (OHL)

Tucker Robertson has gotten off to a very strong start this season after losing the entirety of his 2021 draft-eligible campaign to COVID and in turn, I feel is one of the top names to know this year when it comes to the re-entry conversation. Robertson has been heavily relied upon by Peterborough’s coaching staff to this point in the season, averaging almost 25 minutes a night while skating as the team’s top-line center as well as being a focal point on both special teams units. Only five players in the OHL have scored more points than Robertson (11 goals, 24 points) to this point in the season, four of whom have already been drafted into the NHL.

Robertson’s high-motor, two-way style of play is surely what has gained the trust of the Petes’ coaching staff to this point in the season. Robertson’s commitment on both sides of the puck, willingness to go to hard areas, and display of above-average offensive skills is sure to be a combination of traits that is bound to catch the eye of pro clubs throughout the year if he is able to continue his high level of play. From my recent report on Robertson:

“The hallmark of Robertson’s game is his high motor and work ethic, he doesn’t shy away from hard areas of the ice in the offensive zone and willing to drive to the goalmouth to make himself available for high-danger scoring opportunities, and is constantly looking to hound pucks on the forecheck to generate turnovers.”

Ilya Usov, C, Dinamo Minsk (KHL)

Ilya Usov has taken great strides in his game to become a reliable pro contributor at the KHL level. Usov has seized a significant role for Dinamo Minsk as a young player, averaging nearly 16 minutes of ice time per game and being trusted by Minsk’s coaching staff in all situations. Usov, in his final year of eligibility, has skated in all 28 of Minsk’s games so far this season, registering 18 points (seven goals, 11 assists), which currently leads all U21 KHL skaters in scoring. What has stood out with Usov to this point in the season is his engagement in all three zones and his ability to read the play away from the puck, allowing him to retrieve pucks and quickly counterattack to utilize his pre-existing skill game.

Usov is a skilled puck handler who can handle the puck in traffic and beat checks to prolong offensive zone possession. He reads off his teammates well to find pockets of soft ice to get himself into scoring position while also showing strong playmaking ability, and these natural offensive instincts combined with growth in his 200-foot game may be worth a look for NHL clubs after proving in the KHL he’s capable of pro-level production.

Mikey Milne, LW, Winnipeg Ice (WHL)

The Winnipeg Ice have come hot out of the gates in the WHL this year with a 17-1-0 record, and Mikey Milne, — the WHL’s current co-leader in points — has been a big part of Winnipeg’s dominant start. Milne has settled nicely into Winnipeg’s top six, commonly alongside top draft-eligible center Conor Geekie and overage forward Jakin Smallwood, and has brought pure work ethic and motor to that group to complement Winnipeg’s high-end skill. Milne’s 14 goals and 29 points tie him for the WHL lead in both categories alongside two of his teammates and currently puts him on pace to break both the 50-goal and 100-point plateaus as long as he is able to play a full season for the Ice.

Milne is a blend of speed, energy, and north-south aggression that NHL clubs are bound to love, especially as teams look to replicate the success of Tampa Bay’s third line from their back-to-back championship runs.

James Hardie, LW, Mississauga Steelheads (OHL)

As long as I am allowed to beat the James Hardie draft drum, I’m going to, as the Mississauga winger has developed into one of the Ontario Hockey League’s top goal scorers as he enters his third trip through the draft and his fourth OHL season for the Steelheads. Through 13 games, Hardie’s 10 goals place him tied for ninth among OHL skaters, while his 15 points lead his team– where he has stepped into a leadership role with an ‘A’ on his sweater.

Hardie possesses a goalscorer’s tool kit with a strong and accurate shot, the ability to read space and find soft areas of ice in the offensive zone, and has developed his play away from the puck in order to generate turnovers which enhances his quick-strike ability with above-average mobility and straightline speed. For clubs looking to add goal scoring at the draft table, Hardie fits the bill.

Gavin White, D, Hamilton Bulldogs (OHL)

Gavin White is a highly mobile offensive defenseman who was robbed of his draft-eligible season a year ago. To start the 2021-2022 season he has stepped into a top pairing role alongside Nathan Staios for the Bulldogs. Regularly averaging over 20 minutes a night, White has been a heavily relied-on player for the Bulldogs and has not looked out of place in his role, as his mobility, skill, and puck-moving ability have allowed him to positively impact play, evidenced by Hamilton’s 57 percent share of shot attempts with White on the play.

Where White excels is in his ability to transition pucks out of his own end and through the neutral zone with speed, able to beat forecheckers with skating while also having the ability to make clean and crisp passes to teammates. White is constantly looking to generate offense from the blue line, able to beat checks at the blue line with good agility with the puck on his stick and also displays strong playmaking vision. Teams looking for puck movers and offensive contributors from the blue line may be inclined to look White’s way come draft day. 

Mitchell Smith, D, Saginaw Spirit (OHL)

Yet another player whose prior season was wiped out entirely by COVID, Mitchell Smith has stepped into a significant role with the Spirit and has stood out positively during the early goings of the 2021-22 season. Smith, who has been skating in Saginaw’s top-four and has been wearing an ‘A’ for the club, brings two-way ability and above-average mobility and smoothness on his skates, which lends itself nicely to his capability as a puck-mover at the OHL level. Smith is a very good transition defender, able to control his gaps on opposing attackers, and is willing to use his body to separate carriers from the puck when appropriate.

Smith’s mobility allows him to activate from the point and join the attack when opportunities present themselves as well. Smith was born right on the Sept. 15 cutoff between the 2020 and 2021 draft classes and in turn, was very nearly a first-year eligible player in last year’s draft, and will be a player that I believe almost certainly will receive attention from NHL clubs in the coming months.

Graham Sward, D, Spokane Chiefs (WHL)

Graham Sward was one of the youngest players available in the 2021 NHL Draft with a mid-September birthday, just narrowly missing the cutoff for the 2022 Draft as his first draft-eligible season by three days. To start the year on his second go-around through the draft process, Sward has shown strides taken in his skill and offensive game to complement his steady defensive style of game.

Through 11 games , Sward ranks in the top-20 among WHL defensemen scoring with nine points (two goals, seven assists), all while controlling 55 percent of shot attempts while he is on the ice for Spokane. The former first-round pick in the WHL Bantam Draft has developed a well-rounded set of skills, including above-average mobility and puck carrying ability, poise with the puck on his stick, and a prototypical pro frame that may make him an attractive option for NHL clubs at the draft table this coming summer.

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