August 18, 2020

Overagers: Cotton worth eyeing out West

Not every NHL prospect gets drafted in their first year of eligibility.

For some, it can take until their second or third year of being eligible before being selected by an NHL team at the draft. This group of players, sometimes referred to as overagers, represent prospects who needed more development to catch the eye of NHL scouts.

Defenseman Alex Cotton of the Lethbridge Hurricanes is one of those players. Cotton, No. 89 in FCHockey’s Final ranking for the 2020 NHL Draft, the right shot defenseman stormed out of the gate for Lethbridge and finished with 67 points (20 goals, 47 assists) in 63 games.

It’s put him front and center among the minds of many a scout.

This draft will be Cotton’s second year of eligibility, though it should be noted that he was one of the younger first-time eligibles in 2019 due to his May birth month.

Cotton’s offensive leap from 2018-19 was due in large part to his great vision with the puck. He showed growth in his ability to identify shooting lanes from the point which lead to the increased goal and assist totals.

Sneaking in down low also became a big part of Cotton’s success as he was very good at filling in open areas of the high slot. Ensuring he timed this movement with the play around him to make himself an open target for his teammates with the puck was a big development in his offensive game.

Justin Froese, FCHockey’s head Western scout, offered some insight into the growth of Cotton’s game over the past year when he really was not even considered to be drafted in 2019.

“Given the fact Cotton wasn’t even on the radar in 2018-19 is a testament to how much he progressed technically to be able to become the stand out offensive player he was.” Froese said.

Sneaking into the high slot is a part of his game that he’s developed and allowed him to raise his goal total from two to 20 over one year. He’s also very good at selecting which shot is best from the point which exemplifies the patience and poise he has when in control of the puck at the point.

He’s got good hockey sense and is keen on finding passing seams by skating out of coverage, whether it be in transition or in established zone pressure and has the shot to finish off plays by pinching in to soft coverage and picking up on defensive breakdowns.

Cotton’s skating is definitely a work in progress as his agility is clearly an area he’s weaker on, particularly in transition from backwards to forward. The straightline speed is there, but he will struggle defensively at the next level if he can’t smooth things out in the skating aspect.

“His skating definitely improved year over year and allows him to be a rush catalyst and have an effective glide in his forward stride,” Froese said. “That being said, as much as skating is a part of his game, there’s tweaking to be done so that he can add more dynamism and stability to his game when defending and protecting the puck.

“Overall quickness is going to put him under the microscope at the next level and challenge him, but the improvement needed to play with that pace isn’t insurmountable.”

While the offensive numbers are what will draw some teams to him, Cotton showed that his role as a defender is still a work in progress.

Improving his overall skating ability would go a long way to making him a better defender as his lateral movement, especially the translation from backwards to forward skating is an area he struggles with.

“His defensive game noticeably lacks especially with gap control and assignment recognition,” Froese began, “but the draw to him will be the prospect of having a player with size that thinks the game well and has raw tools that are still moulding.”

Given the positive development of Cotton’s game overall from 2018-19 up through March of 2020, he seems to be a good bet to not only be drafted, but potentially inside the opening 100 picks of the draft.

The commitment he has shown to growing as a player has caught the eye of many scouts and Cotton will be an exciting prospect to track for fans of the team that ultimately takes him.

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