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2024 NHL DRAFT: EARLY SEASON FAVOURITES – United States – Cole Eiserman, Zeev Buium, Max Plante, Hagen Burrows

Time for another series at McKeen’s from our scouting staff. The 2024 NHL Draft season is well underway and our scouts have been busy soaking in the action around the globe. Analyzing early season play can be difficult; perhaps even a bit of a ruse. Hot starts aren’t always sustainable and cold starts are not always indicative. However, players can still catch our attention in positive ways and that’s what this series intends to highlight.

Ethan Hetu - U.S. Region Scout

Cole Eiserman. Photo Courtesy of USNTDP: Rena Laverty

Cole Eiserman - LW - U.S. National Team Development Program

6’0, 196 lbs - 2006-08-29

Leading up to the start of their respective draft campaigns, Eiserman had been viewed as perhaps the player best fit to challenge Boston University’s Macklin Celebrini for the title of presumptive 2024 first-overall pick. Eiserman starred at the U18 level last season at the age of 16, scoring at above a goal-per-game rate against competition routinely years older than him. His nine-goals-in-seven-games performance at U18 Worlds further cemented his status as a legitimate number-one pick contender, with many assigning him the potential to snipe more than the 72 goals potted by NHL star Cole Caufield did in his NTDP draft year.

So far this season, Eiserman’s goal scoring has been advertised, although his grip on the title of “biggest Celebrini challenger” has admittedly shaken. While Eiserman has been as electric a goal scorer as ever, rare talents (such as the KHL’s Anton Silayev and Ivan Demidov)  or potentially more well-rounded players (such as the WHL’s Cayden Lindstrom)  have emerged and challenged Celebrini for his spot in the pecking order.

For the rest of the season, it appears one thing will be key for Eiserman to maintain his spot as one of the true cream-of-the-crop talents in this draft class: proving he’s more than just his shot. Nobody doubts how Eiserman’s best tool will translate to higher levels of hockey, but there are those who want to see him show he can be a more well-rounded, complete player. His impact as a playmaker, as well as his NHL projection in that area, is far more cloudy than his projected impact as a finisher.

As a goal-scoring threat alone, Eiserman merits consideration at the top of this draft class. He’s that lethal. We have years of evidence that paint Eiserman as among the most naturally gifted goal scorers to ever come through the program. But the key to Eiserman’s evaluation this season will be in the other aspects of his game, and I think that there are some intriguing areas to build on, such as the edge he often plays with.

He’s an exhilarating player to watch, but in order to reach his highest potential he’ll have to build out his secondary toolkit behind his otherworldly abilities as a sniper. When an NHL team spends a top pick on Eiserman, and the inevitable questions are raised as to whether he’ll forgo his commitment to Boston University and head to NHL training camp, it’ll be the depth of Eiserman’s efforts to play a more well-rounded game that determines the answer.

Bring On the Videos!

While this first clip admittedly does not feature the strongest competition for Eiserman (he’s playing Division-III Utica College) this is simply a shot that most goaltenders would struggle to stop. This clip showcases some of the things that make Eiserman’s shot such a thing of beauty. He’s able to unleash it while in motion on the rush, and with a defender whose stick looks poised to interrupt his follow-through. Only it doesn’t, and Eiserman places the point inside the post with pinpoint accuracy.

Another example from the game against Utica, but again it’s such a well-placed shot that most goalies would likely struggle to stop it. Just another example of how lethal Eiserman’s shot is in a variety of situations, these past two clips being on the rush.

This clip illustrates two things. First and foremost, Eiserman clearly shows here that he’s as lethal from a stationary position, receiving the puck for a one-timer as he is on the rush. No matter the situation, Eiserman is going to absolutely rip the puck. This shot was such a strike of lightning that the on-ice officials needed a quick pause to confirm that the puck did, in fact, go into the net. My favorite part of this clip is something that I am so consistently impressed by when watching Eiserman’s tape: his ability to quietly slink into the most lethal scoring position. This is on a power play, where he’s obviously able to take advantage of a numerical advantage, but even at 5v5, Eiserman does this exact thing: place himself in the best possible positions to score, oftentimes with his opposing defenses realizing only when any efforts to stop him would be too little, too late.

I find Eiserman often operates in the offensive zone like a shark circling in shallow water and carefully stalking its prey. Late in a one-goal game, the NTDP’s dump-in draws the focus of the Cornell defenders. As the defenders appear fixated on their teammate’s collection of the puck, readying themselves to assist with the zone exit, Eiserman takes advantage of their momentary distraction. He slowly paces his way into a prime scoring area, understanding that his teammates are likely to look to him if they manage to recover the puck. Teddy Stiga finds a way to come up with the puck and by the time it lands on Eiserman’s stick, it’s already too late for Cornell’s defenders.

I’m cheating a little here by including two clips, but they’re short and just quick examples of something that I think is so crucial to Eiserman’s projection. I can say with confidence that he’s going to be able to rack up goal totals at higher levels of hockey. What I can’t say with nearly as much confidence is what his overall value at the NHL level is going to be, especially beyond goal-scoring. That being said, he does show at least the foundation of something of a “B” game, specifically in his physicality. Eiserman isn’t an overwhelmingly physical player, and that’s okay. He’s a sniper, it’s good that he’s focused on that aspect of the game rather than less valuable things. The team that scores the most goals wins, after all. But these two quick clips are emblematic of something beyond just goal-scoring that I really like in Eiserman’s game, which is his edge. He’s a genuine competitor, and he doesn’t shy away from dealing out physical punishment when he deems it appropriate. I’m not saying he’s going to become an NHL power forward, but there’s something there, there’s a bit of sandpaper to Eiserman’s game that I think wil be one of the more compelling things to track as he develops.

PROVIDENCE, RI - OCTOBER 20: Denver Pioneers defenseman Zeev Buium (28) skates with the puck during a college hockey game between the Denver Pioneers and the Providence College Friars on October 20, 2023, at Schneider Arena in Providence, RI. (Photo by Erica Denhoff/Icon Sportswire)

Zeev Buium - LHD - University of Denver

6’2, 180 lbs - 2005-12-07

Despite the fact that Shai Buium was the 36th overall pick at the 2021 NHL draft (a remarkable achievement on its own) and is an NCAA National Champion, it’s his brother, Zeev, who could end up the best hockey player in his family. The younger Buium, now in his freshman year at the University of Denver, has stormed out of the gate so far this season with six points in eight games at the time of writing.

While his brother anchors Denver’s second pairing, Buium has been slotted in as a top-pairing defenseman as a freshman. That’s an impressive feat regardless of the circumstances, but for Buium he happens to be playing a major role so early in his career on a team that’s a genuine National Championship contender.

Buium’s game has many strengths. First and foremost, it’s Buium’s IQ that stands out as his signature tool. He’s an exceptionally smart defenseman, with a keen understanding not only of the offensive game but also an ever-improving grasp of the defensive side as well. Watching his tape, I was consistently impressed with the choices Buium made under pressure, a trait that projects very well to the pro game.

Beyond his smarts, Buium is also a quality skater. His edgework in particular is worthy of commendation, and when he combines his intelligence with his skating ability, he can routinely find ways to separate with the puck and create space to make plays. His straight-line speed isn’t as impressive as his edgework, though it is decent nonetheless.

One other aspect of Buium’s game that I’ve grown to really like has been his physicality. While not as big as his brother, Buium is physical, engaged defenseman who isn’t afraid to use his body to kill chances and gain possession of the puck.

At this moment, Buium is excelling in a challenging environment on what looks to be one of the best teams in college hockey. There are a lot of exceptional blueliners in this class, and it’s true that Buium doesn’t jump off the page like some of them. He doesn’t have the “unicorn” size-and-mobility combo of Silayev, nor is he as dynamic as Artyom Levshunov. What makes Buium special as a prospect, his brain and his well-roundedness aren’t quite as immediately obvious and easy to appreciate. But that doesn’t mean Buium doesn’t belong in the first-round conversation as one of the best defensemen in this class, alongside those other names.

Bring On the Videos!

This is far from a special play, but it’s one that I think illustrates so well what makes Buium a great prospect. Here he’s recovering a cleared puck, and as he makes his way to it he’s careful to scan the ice to see who will be forechecking him and where those forecheckers are in relation to him. Buium often does something like this, he likes to always have a mental picture of the game unfolding around him. Then once he makes one here, he fires a crisp stretch pass into the neutral zone, entirely undeterred by the forechecker closing in on him. It’s a really poised play and an example of something really valuable defensively: the ability to deliver efficient, clean zone exits.

This clip comes from the same shift, and it’s a very small, subtle play. Buium is deep in the offensive zone, and he needs to create some space to cycle the puck and get back to his defensive position. In a show of some real hockey smarts, Buium takes advantage of the opponent covering him assuming that he’d look to move up along the boards back to the point, faking a turn in that direction. He fakes out the opponent, creating enough time for him to move into the corner and get a pass across to an open teammate. It was a very crafty heads-up move, and once again highlights how Buium’s intelligence translates into deception.

This short clip showcases some of Buium’s skating tool, specifically his edgework. Those are some difficult, on-a-dime turns he makes to cry to create space along the blueline before deferring to a more open teammate.

This play might be my favorite of any clip in this entire piece. It’s just a zone exit, but what a zone exit it is. Buium, sensing a forechecker likely to hit him in an attempt to disrupt his possession of the puck, acts quickly and fires a jumping, between-the-legs backward pass up the boards to an open teammate, allowing for a rush attack in transition. Again, this isn’t an Earth-shattering play, ultimately it’s a zone exit. But for me, it’s another example of Buium’s intelligence and creativity, as well as his ability to just find a way to do what needs to be done under pressure. I prioritize a defenseman’s ability to facilitate zone exits as one of the most important defensive traits I look for in blueliners, so seeing a play like this made by Buium is a massive green flag.

In this clip, Buium displays impressive poise and confidence with the puck. He’s holding onto it as long as he possibly can in the neutral zone in order to bait in a forechecker, and once he feels he has created sufficient space he fires a perfect, lightning-quick pass to a teammate to begin a rush attack.

Max Plante - C/RW - U.S. National Team Development Program

5’10, 170  lbs - 2006-02-20

The son of 450-game NHL veteran and current Chicago Blackhawks assistant coach Derek Plante, Max Plante looks poised to pass his brother, Zam, as the highest-drafted member of his family next year. Zam was drafted in the fifth round by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2022, while Max stands a chance of potentially becoming a first-round pick for the 2024 class.

Plante is a playmaker at heart. He has advanced passing instincts and a deft ability to deliver the puck to the right place at the right time. Often placed on a line alongside Eiserman, Plante’s overwhelming pass-first tendencies mesh well with Eiserman’s “open fire” mentality as a sniper. En route to the NTDP, Plante ripped apart his high school competition and then impressed with the U17 team.

As far as his outlook moving forward goes, Plante has a lot going for him. He’s committed to the University of Minnesota-Duluth, where he’ll likely quickly become a top-of-the-line offensive player. Moreover, getting to play his draft year often alongside a player who very nicely complements his skillset should allow him to put his best foot forward in front of NHL scouts.

That being said, there are some question marks that he’ll need to address. Firstly, Plante doesn’t offer overwhelming size, nor is he an exceptional skater. He’s a good skater, to be sure, but not one of the players in this class for whom skating is a notably advanced tool. As a result, there will naturally be questions over whether someone with his size/speed profile will be able to translate offensive production from lower levels to the pro game.

Additionally, Plante is a great playmaker, but one would like to see him show more of a goal-scorer’s touch at this level. The NTDP encourages creativity, and Plante can often be seen on tape making these impressive, highly creative plays to set up teammates. But in order to show scouts he can be a more complete offensive weapon, he’ll need to show he has more in his arsenal than playmaking.

There are a few times on tape when Plante makes an ill-advised pass from a prime scoring position when any coach or scout would really just like for him to shoot it. That’s to be expected at this stage — Plante is still very much in the earlier stages of his development — but as we get closer to the draft you’d like to see him get more decisive and add a dimension of lethality as a shooter to his offensive toolkit. If he can do so, he could see himself drafted in one of the early rounds of the 2024 class with a chance to become a first-rounder.

Bring On the Videos!

This is the first of two clips from one shift. This first one shows what I believe to be a key area to improve for Plante. Here he’s on the powerplay and in a position to take a deadly shot on net. The puck bounces right to his stick with more than enough room to shoot, and while there is a defenseman placed directly in front of him, there’s still more than enough room to get a puck on net. Instead, Plante quickly defers to Brodie Ziemer, who is not expecting the pass. No shot is made, and the NTDP is forced to regroup and punt on what could have been a quality slot shot.

But then just a short time later on that power play, Plante’s patience and heavy pass-first preference does benefit the NTDP. Here, Plante receives a James Hagens pass and has a pretty wide-open shot at the net, albeit from a more distant position than before. Undeterred by the failure of his previous pass attempt, Plante still does not elect to shoot. Instead, understanding that the two defenders previously covering Hagens would be pulled to him, sends the puck directly back to Hagens. What could have been a mid-range one-timer between the two players turns into an excellent give-and-go, a maneuver that frees Hagens to make a cross-ice pass to Eiserman that was previously unavailable. Eiserman does what he does best, and the NTDP put an eighth goal past a very strong Boston University team. This clip is notable to me mostly in that it shows the double-edged sword of Plante’s pass-first tendencies. Yes, earlier in the shift, he passed on a shot he really should have taken. But with how smart and skilled Plante is, another great pass could just be a few seconds away.

This clip showcases Plante’s offensive IQ. After giving a teammate behind him a pass while drawing players away from him, BU defenders all angle towards the puck so Plante sneaks into prime scoring position and nets a goal.

The defensive side of Plante’s game isn’t nearly as polished or exceptional as his playmaking abilities, but there’s a basic foundation to work off of. In this clip, Plante does what every coach hopes to see a player do: backcheck through the neutral zone to keep pace with an opposing attacker, putting in the hard work to not only neutralize his man as a passing option, but also be close to the net to be able to interrupt a shot attempt.

Hagen Burrows - RW - Sioux City Musketeers / Minnetonka High

6’2, 165  lbs - 2005-10-189

Hagen Burrows isn’t the easiest player to scout. On one hand, there are a ton of things to like. He makes it easy on you when you flip on his tape, he’s got size and a ton of skill, and he appears to just have a knack for getting his name onto the scoresheet. And yet while watching him, despite the fact that he really looks the part, it’s hard to escape this underlying wonder of how his game will translate to the NHL level.

But assessing him based on his tools, first and foremost, there really is a lot of promise here. Burrows is a natural playmaker, with solid puck skills. He makes the most out of his teammates, often acting decisively to set up his linemates without much downtime holding onto the puck. There’s a decisiveness to his offensive approach that really sticks out, he makes his reads and he acts upon them, without much second-guessing.

But on that same note, there are downsides to his offensive approach. Despite his large frame, he’s still yet to really fill out and become a physical player. Sioux City likes to use him closer to the net on their lethal power play, and his skill there really shines. But he’s more of a down-low playmaker in that role rather than someone who’s going to be a menace in front of the net, grinding for position as a screener.

You’d like to see him become less of a perimeter player, but given his red-hot start to his USHL career, it’s hard to really recommend he change aspects of his approach. One would assume that he’s going to add more pro-ready elements to his game at the University of Denver, and if he can do that his pro projection will be a lot cleaner.

As of right now, there’s still a lot of work to be done, especially on the defensive side of things where he can stand to be more engaged. That being said, there really is a ton of skill to work with here alongside Burrows’ NHL frame.

Especially seeing as he’s slated to return to Minnetonka High rather than remain with the Musketeers, Burrows is overwhelmingly likely to be selected on the second day of the 2024 draft. But as a developmental project, Burrows has a lot of things to offer.

Bring On the Videos!

This clip is a decent example of some of what Burrows has in his offensive toolkit. At first glance, this looks like a pretty regular, unimportant play, just a pass down low to a teammate at the goal line. But what’s notable here is how Burrows is able to look off defensive coverage to keep his intended passing option clear.

This clip shows off two notable aspects of Burrows’ game. Firstly, he’s stationed right around the net, which is where he often finds himself and where he has become more and more comfortable. Additionally, Burrows here makes a cross-crease pass directly in front of the net, rather than attempting to put the puck past the goalie himself. Burrows truly is more of a playmaker at heart, someone who is always looking to make the best pass to a teammate, and it shows here.

This is an aspect of Burrows’ game that I’d like to see him improve. Here, rather than proactively read the defensive zone Burrows appears occupied with watching a puck battle unfolding along the boards. While an opposing player is placed relatively close to him, he does not engage with that player either. As a result, the closer player is free to fire a pass to a teammate wide open in the slot, who scores a relatively easy goal here. This is an example of a trend I noticed in Burrows’ game, which is a lack of true engagement in the defensive zone. You’d like to see him be less passive here and more proactive in reading the defensive zone in order to put himself in the right position to make stops. This is an area for Burrows to focus on in terms of his development (his defensive game) but one wonders if he’ll get the chance to truly do that at Minnetonka, where he’ll likely be a high-flying offensive dynamo.

But even with those areas for improvement on the defensive end, the package of tools to work with here offensively is enough to make me confident in his viability as an NHL Draft prospect. There’s a level of composure to his offensive game that is really showcased in this clip, where Burrows is able to knife a puck past defenders on the forecheck and get a pass across to a teammate (despite an opponent backchecking on him), a pass that leads to a somewhat lucky goal. Burrows’ offensive skill routinely translates into production, something other players can struggle at, and whether or not he’s able to continue that at a higher competition level at the University of Denver will likely be the biggest factor in determining what future in professional hockey he has.