NHL Prospects

AHL Prospect Analysis (North Division)

Jon Litterine   |  @JonLitterine  |  2/3/2021  |  [hupso]

NASHVILLE (The Draft Analyst) — The American Hockey League — the NHL’s premier development circuit — is beginning its season on Feb. 5 after an 11-month layoff due to the global pandemic. Twenty eight of the league’s 31 teams will participate, with three franchises — Springfield, Charlotte, and Milwaukee — opting to sit the season out due to health concerns.

Last season, the AHL was forced to shutdown on March 11 and was therefore no longer an option for NHL teams to stash their notable neophytes. The eventual result was a mass exodus of players, mostly to European leagues which resumed play last August.  Now that the AHL  season is a go, training camps have begun in preparation for next week’s opener, meaning dozens of notable NHL prospects can converge on their team’s respective camp locations to allow the parent club visibility and oversight on their development.

Below is a season review and update on most of those aforementioned prospects, who have either not played in an official hockey game at any level for 11 months, played in Europe, or are currently on an NHL roster. Each of the league’s four divisions from last season’s format will be covered.

Realignment for 2020-21

Atlantic North Canadian Central Pacific
Bridgeport (NYI) Binghamton (NJD) Belleville (OTT) Chicago (CAR/NAS) Bakersfield (EDM)
Hartford (NYR) Lehigh Valley (PHI) Laval (MTL) Cleveland (CBJ) Colorado (COL)
Providence (BOS) WB/Scranton (PIT) Manitoba (WIN) Grand Rapids (DET) Henderson (VGK)
Utica (VAN/STL) Stockton (CGY) Iowa (MIN) Ontario (LAK)
Rochester (BUF) Toronto (TOR) Rockford (CHI) Tucson (ARI)
Syracuse (TB/FLA) Texas (DAL) San Jose (SJS)
Hershey (WAS) San Diego (ANA)

Belleville (OTT)

2020-21 Camp Roster

Vitaly Abramov (RW, 5’10, 180 pounds, acquired: Trade with CBJ): Abramov is a former QMJHL scoring champion and MVP who finally found his footing in his second pro season. Drafted 65th overall by Columbus in 2016 but later traded to Ottawa in the Matt Duchene deal, Abramov finished with 18 goals and 41 points in 51 games for Belleville a season ago, in addition to scoring a goal in his two NHL games with Ottawa. Abramov is on the smallish side but he is a talented offensive player who probably deserves a full-time look at the NHL level, albeit on a rebuilding team like the Sens. He was injured playing in Europe during the offseason and is now a non-roster player during his rehabilitation.

Drake Batherson (RW, 6’3, 197 pounds, acquired: 4th Rd {121st overall} 2017): Batherson has been an AHL All-Star each of his first two pro seasons and on occasion has distinguished himself in the NHL. He was one of the AHL’s best players in 2019-20, posting 54 points in 44 games. He also tallied 10 points in 23 games with Ottawa. A well-rounded forward who possess a nice mix of both skill and grit, Batherson has quickly developed into one of Ottawa’s most coveted assets. He made Ottawa’s squad out of training camp and has appeared in all 10 games through Tuesday, notching a goal and four assists while averaging nearly 17 minutes a games.

Erik Brannstrom (D, 5’9, 181 pounds, acquired: Trade with LV): The key piece of the trade that sent Mark Stone to Vegas, opinions on Brannstrom tend to be all over the map. I fall somewhere in the middle. Selected 15th overall by the Golden Knights in 2017, Brannstrom lacks size and while talented, the dynamism he’s shown at the junior and AHL levels has been missing during his 33 NHL games. He was expected to play in a bottom-pairing role this season but was forced into a month-long quarantine after returning from his offseason stint with Lagnau in Switzerland (eight points in 10 games). He’s set to go as of today, and it’s just a matter of time until the struggling Senators put him into the lineup, especially since Belleville’s season is delayed further because of COVID.

Logan Brown, (C, 6’6, 228 pounds, acquired: 1st Rd {11th overall} 2016): Ottawa’s handling of Brown has been nothing short of baffling for a variety of reasons. The Sens seem to have no real interest in giving him a significant role on a team riddled with scoring problems, yet Brown has down nothing but produce since he was drafted nearly five years ago. He’s put up points with Belleville in each of his two combined season (70 points in 81 games) and showed flashes of promise last season during his 23 games with the big club (1 goal, 7 assists). Brown has consistency issues to work through like most young players and injuries have been frequent, but most rebuilding teams tend to provide plenty of opportunities for a 6-foot-6 former first-rounder with an above-average offense skill set. Through Tuesday, Brown has yet to appear in a single game this season, based mostly on the veteran acquisitions the Sens made this past offseason.

Jonathan Davidsson (RW, 5’11, 185 pounds, acquired: Trade with CBJ): A former sixth-rounder of Columbus in 2016 who was part of the Matt Duchene deal, Davidsson makes for solid organizational depth. He might be nothing more than an up-and-down guy but players like that have value in today’s salary cap era. His first season in North America was rather uneventful from a production standpoint — Davidsson struggled to adapt to the AHL’s speed and physicality and barely played during a six-game stint with the Sens in the fall of 2019. To be fair, Ottawa is loaded at every position from a prospect standpoint and it appears as he’s already been identified as a potential checker rather than the top-six scoring winger he was in Sweden. He went back to his homeland during the shutdown to play for Vasterviks in the second-tier Allsvenskan, where he notched a goal and three assists in 10 games before returning for to North America for camp.

Alex Formenton (LW, 6’3, 190 pounds, acquired: 2nd Rd {47th overall} 2017): Formenton (pictured) was far more effective offensively in his first full AHL campaign than I would have predicted. He was named to the All-Rookie Team after posting 27 goals and 53 points in 61 games. He’s a true burner and has a high floor because of his wheels but I may have underrated his overall scoring touch. Formenton also plays a tough, physical brand of hockey that was expected to endear him to Ottawa’s coaching staff during training camp, but he surprisingly was left off roster and is now awaiting Belleville’s season to start. Surprisingly, Formenton has not played in an NHL game since Nov. 1 of 2018.

Filip Gustavsson (G, 6’2, 182 pounds, acquired: Trade with PIT): Once viewed as one of the better goaltending prospects in the league, Gustavsson’s stock has bottomed out. He’s played 62 AHL games over parts of the past three seasons, posting a 3.28 GAA and .891 save percentage. I’m hesitant to completely give up on him but Gustavsson is clearly trending in the wrong direction. He’s expected to share Belleville’s netminding duties with 2018 sixth-round pick Kevin Mandolese now that Joel Daccord is on Ottawa’s taxi squad. Gustavsson spent the offseason in Sweden, where he posted an 11-7-0 mark and was sixth in the league with a .919 save percentage for Sodertalje in the Allsvenskan.

Josh Norris (C, 6’2, 190 pounds, acquired: Trade with SJ): Norris came over from San Jose in the Erik Karlsson deal and showed more in his one year in the Ottawa organization that at any point in his brief time as a Sharks property. Norris’ unexpected offensive explosion in his first AHL campaign resulted in him league all AHL rookies in both goals (31) and points (61). A product of the U.S. NTDP and the Michigan Wolverines, Norris already is an NHL regular for the Sens, recording six points in his first 10 games and averaging 16:01 a game.

Binghamton (NJD)

2020-21 Camp Roster

Jesper Boqvist (LW, 6’0, 180 pounds, acquired: 2nd Rd {36th overall} 2017): Boqvist spent more time in New Jersey this past season (35 games) than in Binghamton (19 games). He was inconsistent, as one would expect a 21-year-old first year North American professional to be. Boqvist’s offensive ceiling is among the highest in the system and I expect a significant step forward this coming season. Again, he was one of Sweden’s top teenage players from two seasons ago and plays with a lot of pace and won’t shy away from physical encounters. Boqvist once had a reputation for being a perimeter player but he has since carried his developing inside play over from Sweden to both the AHL and NHL

Janne Kuokkanen (LW, 6’1, 190 pounds, acquired: Trade with CAR): Seemingly locked out of a role in a deep Carolina team, Kuokkanen was shipped to New Jersey in the deal that sent Sami Vatanen to the Hurricanes. Kuokkanen is a winger by trade but can play center if necessary. Drafted 43rd overall by the Canes in 2016, Kuokkanen proved to be one of the AHL’s better young forwards in each of his three full seasons with Charlotte (120 points in 160 games). Kuokkanen went back to his native Finland during the stoppage but returned for an impressive showing at the Devils’ training camp. He’s now an NHL regular with upstart New Jersey, where he’s appeared in all nine games and notched a goal and two assists through Tuesday.

Mikhail Maltsev (LW, 6’3, 221 pounds, acquired: 4th Rd {102nd overall} 2016): If you want an idea of Maltsev’s hands, go to YouTube and check out the goal he scored against the Rangers in the preseason last year. Then keep in mind he’s 6-foot-3 and well over 220 pounds. There are some consistency issues to work through here but Maltsev is just 22 years old, which is why he had such a tough time cracking a veteran-laden SKA roster in the KHL. His first season with Binghamton was successful, as he finished ninth in team scoring with 11 goal and 21 points in 49 games. Maltsev is both physical and a strong penalty killer, and he should be one of New Jersey’s more frequent travelers between Binghamton and Newark.

Nick Merkley (RW, 5’11, 192 pounds, acquired: Trade with ARI): A first-round pick of the Coyotes in 2015Merkley had worn out his welcome in Arizona and essentially was the third piece sent back to the Devils in the Taylor Hall deal. Merkley has had all sorts of problems staying healthy but he’s young (23), cheap, and has always put up numbers at the AHL level. Last season, the diminutive scoring winger combined for 35 points in 53 games between Tucson and Binghamton and later appeared in four games with the Devils (1 goal, 1 assist). Merkley spent about 20 games with Assat in Finland this offseason before heading back to North America to make the Devils out of training camp and appear in several games.

Fabian Zetterlund (C, 5’11, 218 pounds, acquired: 3rd Rd {63rd overall} 2017): Zetterlund came to the Devils with the reputation of a shoot-first winger but he’s developed into a more well-rounded prospect. His first AHL campaign (eight goals, 19 points in 46 games) was promising considering he played the entire season at age 20. Zetterlund returned to Sweden following the pause and posted four goals and 10 points in 21 games for AIK in the Allsvenskan. The slew of graduations from Binghamton should open the door for Zetterlund to have a bigger role this year and possibly see his first taste of NHL action.

Prospect to Watch

LW Nolan Foote

A power winger with a deadly shot, Foote (pictured) was Tampa’s first-round pick in 2019 before he was shipped to New Jersey last February. He’s finally old enough to play in the AHL after four successful seasons with the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets, but he increased his reputation by helping Canada win gold at the 2020 under-20 world junior hockey championship. His father Adam was a Stanley Cup-winning defenseman with Colorado and is he also is the younger brother of Tampa defenseman Cal Foote. Nolan dealt with a nagging lower-body injury last season but is now healthy and talented enough to be one of Binghamton’s possession drivers.

Cleveland (CBJ)

2020-21 Camp Roster

Trey Fix-Wolansky (RW, 5’6, 176 pounds, acquired: 7th Rd {204th overall} 2018): A former WHL scoring star, Fix-Wolansky produced offensively (12 goals, 26 points in 43 games) in his first professional season. The odds are firmly against him due to his lack of size but Fix-Wolansky is a legitimate prospect considering the Jackets’ thin depth pool and his ability to score above the junior level. Wolansky is a seventh-round pick who turns 22 in May and he didn’t make the team or taxi squad after an impressive camp, so one should expect him to be a force for Cleveland’s attack for the second year in a row and move closer towards his first piece of NHL action.

Matiss Kivlenieks (G, 6’2, 180 pounds, acquired: undrafted free agent): A former undrafted free agent, Kivlenieks has provided nice depth for Columbus. He got into six games with the Jackets last season (2.95 GAA, .898 save percentage) in addition to 20 games (2.96 GAA, .904 save percentage) with Cleveland. Any undrafted free agent who makes it to the NHL is a major success story and one could argue that anything Columbus gets out of Kivlenieks from this point forward is just gravy. He made the club’s taxi squad following an impressive camp, which means something considering the jackets have one of the league’s deepest goalie pools.

Veini Vehvilainen (G, 6’1, 183 pounds, acquired: 6th Rd {173rd overall} 2018): Vehvilainen emerged as Cleveland’s No. 1 goalie this past season following several professional seasons in Finland’s SM-Liiga. The numbers weren’t great (2.76 GAA, .901 save percentage) but Vehvilainen is just 23 years old and time is firmly on his side. His offseason could have gone better, as Vehvilainen’s worrisome offseason stint in Finland with JyP (.890 save percentage and 3-7-3 mark) was followed by his Cleveland backup Kivlenieks making the taxi squad over him.

Prospect to Watch

RW Carson Meyer

It’s tough to not be intrigued by a good old story about a local boy who stayed close to home to further his development, which is why the Powell, Ohio native is going to have plenty of attention sent his way as he makes his Cleveland debut. Not only was Meyer (pictured) born and raised in Ohio, but he played for the state’s two premier college hockey programs; first with the Miami Redhawks and then the last two seasons with Ohio State. It was with the Buckeyes where Meyer became one of the top wingers in the Big-10, leading the team with 17 goals. He was drafted by Columbus in the sixth round in 2017.

Laval (MTL)

2020-21 Camp Roster

Josh Brook (D, 6’1, 192 pounds, acquired: 2nd Rd {56th overall} 2017): To be perfectly honest, I expected more from Brook (pictured) in his first professional season. He led all WHL defensemen in scoring (75 points) in his final junior season and the AHL production (13 points in 60 games) didn’t carry over upon arriving in Laval. There wasn’t much room for promotion to Montreal for any of the Habs’ notable blueline prospects, but Brook was jumped by the younger Alexander Romanov a few months after Montreal drafted lefty rearguard Kaiden Guhle with the 16th pick in the October draft. It should be noted that neither Guhle nor Brook made the taxi squad out of camp but both will be starting out the season with the Rocket. Although Brook still has promise and is only 20 years old, but he also played the entirety of this past season at age 20 and it would be foolish to write him off so soon.

Jake Evans (C, 6’1, 186 pounds, acquired: 7th Rd {207th overall} 2014): I’ve always liked Evans more than most, thinking he could be a nice complementary piece who could chip in some offense here and there. He’s proven that through his first two seasons with Laval, posting 83 points in 118 games. Combine that with Evans’ ability to play both center and the wing and you have a nice bottom-six option on your hands.

Noah Juulsen (D, 6’3, 191 pounds, acquired: 1st Rd {26th overall} 2015): Given Montreal’s horrible luck with several of their recent first-round picks, it should not have come as a surprise that Juulsen is one of the few top-30 picks from the vaunted 2015 class who has yet to  live up to expectations. Juulsen was eventually claimed off waivers by Florida this offseason but still has a ways to go in his development, with being healthy the priority. A big defenseman who understood the game and was capable in his own end, Juulsen played just 91 AHL games (21 with Montreal) over the course of the past three seasons.

Ryan Poehling (C, 6’2, 204 pounds, acquired: 1st Rd {25th overall} 2017): Poehling burst on the scene in the finale of the 2018-19 season, posting a hat trick in his first NHL game. Oddly enough, Montreal never seemed to give him a realistic chance this past season. He played 27 games with the Habs, posting just one goal and one assist. Poehling’s long-term offensive upside may be somewhat limited but he’s clearly ready for NHL duty. The fact Montreal did not entrust him with a significant role this past season despite their depth issues was somewhat concerning. Now with the parent club winning, there seems to be little reason to consider Poehling anything but a minor-leaguer who may or may not be summoned as a fill-in.

Cayden Primeau (G, 6’3, 200 pounds, acquired: 7th Rd {199th overall} 2017): Primeau was named to the AHL All-Rookie Team in his first professional season after posting a 2.45 GAA and .908 save percentage in 45 games for Laval. Primeau is big, calm, and athletic, and clearly projects as the heir apparent to Carey Price in Montreal. In fact, Primeau split his two NHL starts last season, with the win being a 35-save effort in a win over Ottawa on Dec. 11, 2019. The decision to acquire veteran backup Jake Allen in the offseason means the Habs are more serious about playoff contention, so expect Primeau and veteran Charlie Lindgren to shuffle between the taxi squad and Laval throughout the season.

Prospect to Watch

C/W Jan Mysak

A lot of hype surrounded Mysak heading into the 2020 draft season thanks to his impressive Extraliga production against men the campaign prior. But he slipped into the middle of Round 2, and the reality is that he did not put forth the kind of wire-to-wire effort we’ve seen from other notable Czech prospects such as Martin Necas, Flip Chytil, and Filip Zadina — all recent first-round picks of whom are currently NHL regulars. Mysak spent half of last season with the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs so this isn’t his first foray into North American hockey. He can play center or wing and boasts a plus-plus shot in addition to being an effective penalty killer.

Rochester (BUF)

2020-21 Camp Roster

Rasmus Asplund (C, 5’11, 190 pounds, acquired: 2nd Rd {33rd overall} 2016): I thought Asplund projected as a high-floor, low-ceiling prospect upon his arrival in North America in the fall of 2018. He’s scored at a reasonably high clip (60 points in 108 games) at the AHL level but showed little (one goals, three points) in a 29-game trial with Buffalo which would lead me to believe there is more offense on the way. He’s useful in defensive-zone faceoff and penalty-killing situations, but all the moves the Sabres have made to provide Jack Eichel with center support are begging to squeeze Asplund further down the depth chart.

Casey Mittelstadt (C, 6’1, 203 pounds, acquired: 1st Rd {8th overall} 2017): I remain a firm believer in Mittelstadt’s long-term potential despite a pair of seasons that could charitably be termed as inconsistent but probably lean more towards disappointing. Mittelstadt (pictured) is a brilliant offensive player but he struggles with consistency in addition to his play away from the puck revealing the lack of a motor and acceptable foot speed. He split last season between Rochester and Buffalo, notching a respectable 26 points in 35 games with the former. The issues facing Mittelstadt beyond the lack of NHL production is that he’s now playing under his third general manager, and his last two each used their top-10 pick on a skilled forward — Dylan Cozens in 2019 and Jack Quinn in 2020. The good news is that he showed up to training camp quicker and leaner, and Mittelstatdt now has one assist in his two games with the Sabres.

Prospect to Watch

C Arttu Ruotsalainen

One of the more productive Finnish prospects in the adult-age SM-Liiga the last few seasons, Ruotsalainen is a crafty playmaker with a high hockey IQ who has already appeared in several Sabres’ training camps after he was signed as an undrafted free agent in May of 2019. He’s on the smallish side but has played in five full seasons in Finland’s premier league, including a ridiculous 19-game stretch with Ilves in 2020-21 where he was leading the league with a 1.42 points-per-game average. Nonetheless, Ruotsalainen has been ensconced in his European comfort zone and has yet to be tested in the smaller North American rinks against physical and tougher opponents.

Syracuse (TB)*

2020-21 Camp Roster

*Syracuse added Florida Panthers’ prospects after Springfield opted out of the 2020-21 season.

Alex Barre-Boulet (C, 5’9, 172 pounds, acquired: undrafted free agent): The Lightning are arguably the top organization in the NHL for a multitude of reasons, and one of them is their ability to identify and acquire players who slipped through the cracks. Barre-Boulet (pictured) – who was originally undrafted (somehow) – is a perfectly example of that. A former QMJHL scoring star, ABB has posted 61 goals and 124 points over the course of his first two AHL seasons. I am entirely confident he could fill a top-nine role for Tampa Bay right now and he may very well get the chance given how close to the salary cap the Lightning project to be in 2020-21.

Cal Foote (D, 6’4, 220 pounds, acquired: 1st Rd {14th overall} 2017): Foote may not project to be a Norris-caliber rearguard, but he won’t have to be with the Lightning when you consider the depth they have at the position. He has size, smarts, and offensive abilities that tend to be a bit underrated. Now that he’s made the team and is solidifying his role as a rookie depth defender, I expect Lightning head coach Jon Cooper to deploy Foote properly so that he can develop into an NHL asset for the contending club in short order.

Boris Katchouk (LW, 6’2, 204 pounds, acquired: 2nd Rd {44th overall} 2016): Katchouk is a big-bodied winger with a nice set of hands. As is, he’s probably nothing more than roster depth for a loaded Tampa Bay team but I’d be interested in seeing if there was a bit more meat on the bone had he come up with another organization. Katchouk scored 14 goals in 60 games for Syracuse this past season and I think he could hit double digits at the NHL level in the right circumstance. I’m not sure he’ll get the chance.

Taylor Raddysh (RW, 6’3, 205 pounds, acquired: 2nd Rd {58th overall} 2016): I had high, high hopes for Raddysh following his brilliant OHL career, but a lack of foot speed has exposed some of his weaknesses. He’s still a solid player who has an outside shot at developing into an NHL regular, but I expected more. Raddysh had 35 points in 62 games this past season, his second with Syracuse.

Alexander Volkov (LW, 6’1, 185 pounds, acquired: 2nd Rd {48th overall} 2017): Volkov, Raddysh and Katchouk were all former second round picks and it has reached the point in which Volkov is probably the best bet of the group moving forward. Volkov isn’t Anthony Cirelli or even Mitchell Stephens but I think he possesses the all-around skill set to play up and down a lineup while not hurting his club defensively. Guys like this are invaluable to a team up against the cap.

Prospect to Watch

C Ross Colton

Colton through most of last season had the plum job of being flanked by the aforementioned Katchouk and Raddysh, but he is a critical possession diver who can execute precision cycles and give-and-goes, and his ability to slip away from coverage undetected allows him to bring his excellent shot to bear. An NCAA standout with the Vermont Catamounts who was selected in Round 4 in the 2016 draft, Colton already has two full AHL seasons under his belt, and his play at the AHL level is another example of him distinguishing himself among his peers.

Toronto (TOR)*

2020-21 Camp Roster (TBD)

Egor Korshkov (LW, 6’4, 214 pounds, acquired: 2nd Rd {31st overall} 2016): Korshkov never produced a ton offensively in his KHL days and I was surprised he managed to post 16 goals in 44 games with the Marlies. The Leafs would gladly take that production over the course of a full season but that seems like a stretch. Korshkov is a massive kid and I could easily see a scenario in which he eventually does damage as a net-front presence with the man advantage but expecting him to fill a top-six role at even strength is a stretch, even if he is still just 24 years old. He went back to Russia for a sixth full KHL season with Lokomotiv and it proved to be the best of his career — 15 goals and 30 points in 52 games.

Timothy Liljegren (D, 6’0, 193 pounds, acquired: 1st Rd {17th overall} 2017): Liljegren’s ceiling remains exceptionally high, although I would argue the odds of him ever reaching it are decreasing each year. I’m a big believer in Liljegren’s offensive abilities but I question his decision making with the puck at times and never projected as the type to log heavy defensive minutes. The Leafs could try to move him but I doubt he has the value around the league that they feel he should. Toronto is better off holding onto Liljegren (pictured) and hoping for the best. The Leafs have made it a point to get tougher on the back end so both Liljegren and fellow countryman Rasmus Sandin may have to wait a few more years until they can see a significant role. You have to think Leafs’ GM Kyle Dubas is a big believer in Liljegren, but expect him to spend the entire season with the Marlies. His five goals and 25 assists in only 40 games ranked him among the best under-21 defenders in the AHL.

Joe Woll (G, 6’4, 203 pounds, acquired: 3rd Rd {62nd overall} 2016): Woll had three excellent seasons at Boston College, which makes his dreadful play (3.75 GAA, .880 save percentage) in his first season with the Marlies all the more baffling. The Marlies were barely over .500 as a team and that must be taken into consideration but there’s really no excuse for Woll to struggle to the degree that he did. He needs a bounce back performance in 2020-21.

Prospect to Watch

LW Joey Anderson

A natural goal scorer with a good motor, Anderson was acquired from the Devils in a straight-up swap for former Auston Matthews’ linemate Andreas Johnsson. Make no mistake — this was no lopsided trade, as both wingers saw a decent amount of NHL action last season, although Johnsson is a few years older and already has a 20-goal season on his resume. Anderson is more responsible defensively, however, but the logjam within the parent club’s forward ranks likely keeps his down on the farm for most of the 2020-21 campaign. He did make the taxi squad out of training camp and appeared in a Jan. 26 win over Calgary.

Utica (VAN)

2020-21 Camp Roster

Michael DiPietro (G, 6’0, 200 pounds, acquired: 3rd Rd {64th overall} 2016): DiPietro started one game for Vancouver this season as a 19-year-old under emergency conditions. He was torched by the Sharks in that contest but that doesn’t impact what was otherwise an excellent season for the former Windsor (OHL) star. DiPietro played 36 games for Utica, posting a 2.79 GAA and .908 save percentage. He doesn’t have the size of most of today’s goaltenders but he’s the ultimate competitor and has a very bright future.

Jonah Gadjovich (LW, 6’2, 209 pounds, acquired: 2nd Rd {55th overall} 2017): Gadjovich’s second season with Utica (17 points in 38 games) was far better than his first (10 points in 43 games) but that’s a low bar to clear. Gadjovich (pictured) has long been viewed as a physically-mature prospect who can play physical and impact shifts with reliable board work. His ceiling is limited due to below-average mobility and quickness, but I expected much more of an immediate impact given his size. A bottom-six role would be a best-case scenario at this point but he should be a focal point on Utica’s power play.

Olli Juolevi (D, 6’3, 198 pounds, acquired: 1st Rd {5th overall} 2016): The fifth-overall pick in the 2016 draft, Juolevi finally made his NHL debut in the playoffs this season and parlayed that into an longer look to start the 2020-21 campaign. He’s dealt with multiple injury issues in the past but is finally healthy, and he did enough in camp to win a job over several quality peers. I seriously doubt he will ever provide the value of a top-five selection, and he’s already at the point where the best you may ever get is a mobile second-pairing defender. Vancouver’s acquisition of Nate Schmidt impacted Juolevi to the point where he can’t go higher than being a No. 5 or No. 6, and first career goal notwithstanding, Juolevi’s overall play has been beyond adventurous.

Kole Lind (RW, 6’1, 186 pounds, acquired: 2nd Rd {33rd overall} 2017): People were quick to write Lind off following his dreadful (17 points in 51 games) first pro season, but he rebounded in a major way (14 goals, 44 points in 61 games) this past year. Lind has decent enough size and will go to the difficult areas of the ice to make a play. He’ll start this coming season in the minors after not making the taxi squad but he’s a dark horse to play a significant amount of NHL games in 2020-21.

Brogan Rafferty (D, 6’2, 195 pounds, acquired: undrafted free agent): Had this past season been completed as scheduled, Rafferty would have been a legitimate contender for the Eddie Shore Award as AHL Defenseman of the Year. His 45 points in 57 games placed him third among all AHL rearguards in scoring. Rafferty is 25 years old and played three years of college hockey at Quinnipiac, so he has nothing left to learn in the minors. Vancouver should shop him if they don’t plan on giving him a full-time role in 2020-21, but the rough shape their defense is in likely means Rafferty will move up from the taxi squad at some point. Right-handed offensive defensemen on entry-level deals are difficult to find. Rafferty would undoubtedly have a reasonable amount of trade value.

Prospect to Watch

RHD Jett Woo

A physical defenseman with all the traits of a reliable shut-down option to match up against top lines, Woo is coming off a solid WHL career and is trending upwards the way a high second-round pick (2018) should be expected to. He’s both mobile and smart, and Woo on occasion will deliver a punishing it without giving away much in positioning. One shouldn’t be surprised if his transition to the AHL is seamless, and Vancouver’s ongoing shoddy play in their own end could translate to a quicker promotion to the big club.

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