It's 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.
Josh Bell - Director of Video Scouting
Matvei Gridin - Forward - Muskegon Lumberjacks (USHL)
6’1”, 185lbs - 2006-03-01
After being drafted 223rd overall by the Muskegon Lumberjacks in the 2022 USHL Entry Draft, Grindin made the jump overseas from Russia to join the team. He had a good rookie season with 21 points (eight goals, 13 assists) in 40 games before an injury derailed his season. Kicking off his sophomore season though, the forward has exploded out of the gate and has been among the league leaders in points.
Playing on the second line, the winger is leading the team in points, in no small part due to his high volume of shots. He's averaging six shot attempts a game through the first two months of the season and has twice hit the double-digit mark. It seems Gridin just needed that rookie season to get comfortable in the American league, perfect timing to impress scouts in his draft year.
And it’s not just NHL scouts that will have their eye on Gridin as he recently committed to the NCAA’s University of Michigan and will make the jump next season. That’s an impressive commitment after just a year and a half of play in North America.
Two key aspects stand out in Gridin’s game: his skating and his processing. He builds speed so well with crossovers and is extremely light on his feet. He has long, powerful strides that allow him to cover a long distance in a short amount of time. Whether through crossovers or his first few steps, he hits top speed quickly and ends up gliding to match his teammate’s pace. He can surprise defenders by easily catching up to them in a short amount of time. What might be most impressive, and this is a theme in his game, is how calm and effortless he makes it all look.
His processing can be seen in his offensive game. He seems to always be thinking of the next three moves, as he can receive a pass and make a quick decision on how to get the puck around the obstacle in front of him. One-on-one, he’s likely one of the best in the USHL right now. His ability to move around - or through - defenders is very impressive. His stickwork and light feet allow him to navigate the offensive zone with ease and work to get to open ice.
There are some flags though, mainly that he doesn’t always have his foot on the gas. There’s some concern as to whether he’ll be a play driver or a passenger and often it does seem like he waits for the play to come to him. Also, while the shot volume impresses, the shot selection will be something to work on. He tends to shoot from anywhere and while shots on net are great, the quality of that shot matters. He does stick to the perimeter too often and his shots tend to come from outside of the dots. With his ability to navigate defences, this is something that he has the potential to fix. At the next level, this will impact his production tremendously if not addressed.
Bring on the Videos!
This first clip gives a really good look at Gridin’s skill set. Gridin (White 92) sees his teammate get the puck along the boards with time and scans the ice twice to know where everyone is. He then steers towards the lane of least resistance. The pass is well behind him, so Gridin needs to slow down and does a really good job of opening up to the pass. As he’s turning, there’s another scan of the ice so before his body is completely spun around - he already knows where he’s going. What I like about this video is that while Gridin never hits top speed, his awareness allows him to navigate the neutral zone and entry before dropping the puck back to a teammate as he takes the defender out of his way.
That awareness is shown again next to the net with his little slide pass to the net front to keep the pressure on. Then, he gets to the front of the net himself before tipping the puck in for a goal. This is a great series of events from Gridin.
Two parts of this clip show Gridin’s awareness and intelligence. As he comes into the boards with the defender, he realizes that he has a teammate at the blue line and all he needs to do is tie up his man, which he does. It may seem like he missed the puck here, but he’s seeing the next step.
Then, when he gets the puck and has pressure on in the corner, this is a very quick, intelligent play by Gridin. He quickly spins away and then immediately cuts in the other direction, bouncing the puck off the boards to evade the opponent’s stick checks. Then, thanks to his earlier scans, he knows that he has a teammate at the blue line, sending the puck back to maintain the offensive pressure.
This is where we can see that lack of effort from Gridin when he doesn’t have the puck on his stick. Gridin is the player coming across the zone toward the close half-wall, putting pressure on White 14 at the two-second mark. White 14 doesn’t rush moving the puck, yet Gridin simply skates by without getting a body on the puck carrier or even trying to dig the puck away. Then again at about the 16-second mark, Gridin closes into the battle in the far corner. As the opponent brings the puck out of the scrum, there’s no attempt to apply stick pressure or disrupt the pass. Once the pass is by him, you can see there’s no effort to catch up either.
Here’s the next shift after that play though, where Gridin puts on the pressure behind the opposing net and forces a turnover. So while it’s an area that needs improvement, it’s largely just in need of some consistency. If this is how he played every shift, this would be a no-doubt first-rounder.
Konsta Helenius - Center - Jukurit (Liiga)
5’11”, 176lbs - 2006-05-11
After impressing last season in the U20 SM-sarja and standing out in the World Under-17 Challenge and World U18 Championships, it’s no surprise to hear Helenius’ name near the top of 2024 NHL Draft rankings. He’s been building on that impressive DY-1 season in his draft year campaign, carving out a top-six role for himself in the Liiga.
Helenius stole everyone’s attention to start the 2023-24 scouting season, starting his second season in the Liiga at a point-per-game pace through four games. While that pace has trailed off, he’s on track to well over double his output from his rookie season. While he’s around 0.5 points per game on the season, his play leads to believing that that pace will be higher before the season’s end.
What’s impressive about Helenius throughout previous seasons and now in the Liiga, is that he’s always one of, if not the, youngest on the team. But he still manages to stand out always. He’s just 17 years old but standing out on the Jukurit roster and the Finnish U20 team this season (look for him to earn a spot on the World Juniors roster). Last year, it was in the Liiga as a 16-year-old, and on the U18 team. Playing against peers of the same age, Helenius has the potential to be a dominant force.
There’s not a lot to dislike in Helenius’ game. He’s a strong playmaker, he’s extremely competitive, he moves well, he’s remarkably intelligent, and his defensive game is strong. There have been questions about his size, at 5-foot-11, 176 pounds, and whether or not he can be a top-six center in the NHL but looking at his performance in the Liiga in the dot and in his defensive responsibility, those questions should be put to rest.
His game reminds me of Matty Beniers in his draft year, showing off that defensive prowess while standing out in the forecheck and still managing to impress with the puck on his stick. Helenius is relentless. He hounds the puck carrier and regularly forces turnovers. The pressure that he puts on the opposition regularly forces rushed decisions and mistakes. Despite his smaller stature, especially against men, he’s not afraid to throw his body around and get into the dirty areas. As his frame matures and he builds strength, this will be a huge aspect of his game.
Offensively, he can burn you himself or with a perfectly placed pass-through traffic. With the puck on his stick, he’s fearless in driving to the net. His footwork and above-average skating make that possible as well. He leans more to a playmaker though, reading plays so well and knowing where to move the puck to at the perfect time. Helenius is just so well-rounded with high-end traits that it’s hard not to see him as a top-10 or even top-five pick in this class.
Bring on the Videos!
This first clip, from the U20 5-Nations Tournament, shows off that playmaking and intelligence. Helenius takes the puck right down the middle of the ice, drawing in three attackers and creating an open lane for his teammate to the net. He then somehow slides the puck through that traffic he’s created and picks up an assist.
This one shows off that dual-threat mentality of Helenius. As his teammate stops an attack, the Finn can pick up the puck and build speed through crossovers. Once he knows he has earned the entry, he glides in, scanning the ice and seeing that he has a streaking man but there’s another defender right on him. He knows he’s going to fire the puck at that moment and does an excellent job of pulling the puck in closer to him, changing where the shot is coming from to throw the goalie out of position, and potting the goal. For a player known as a playmaker, that’s an excellent shot.
This clip shows off the forechecking ability that Helenius has. He follows the puck into the corner hard and does well to stick with his man despite the quick cut. He ties him up, forces the turnover, and then ends up picking it back up to maintain the offensive pressure.
Finally, this is a solid summation of Heleniues’ game (91 blue). With a 2-on-1 going the other way, he rushes back to help his D. Keep an eye on him as he helps his team defend. He tracks the puck well, maintains his positioning, and uses his stick to apply pressure as often as possible. As soon as the puck is loose, he’s on it and carries the puck out himself with good speed and his head up as he scans the ice. With the man on behind him and one not far in front, he maintains possession well, protecting the puck, waiting until the perfect moment to feed his teammate, ultimately leading to a goal. That play was all Helenius.
Zayne Parekh - Defense - Saginaw Spirit (OHL)
6’0”, 178lbs - 2006-02-15
Parekh broke into the OHL last season as a U16 defender and stole the show, breaking the league’s all-time goals record for a U17 rookie defender with 21 (!). And the fact that he did it missing 18 games during the season adds to the ridiculousness of it all. He then stood out in the playoffs with another six goals and nine points in 11 games and at the U17s with five points in seven games.
On the top defensive pairing and quarterbacking the power play, Parekh will look to top his offensive output this season and is well on his way, recording nearly an assist per game - showing off his ability to dish the puck around as much as he can find the back of the net himself. With Saginaw hosting the 2024 Memorial Cup, he’ll play deep into the spring to show how he can take his game to the next level in a high-pressure setting.
There’s no question that Parekh’s offensive game stands out as borderline elite. His hockey sense is through the roof and his ability to see not only the lanes available to him but to his teammates is extremely impressive. He seems to be able to run plays through his mind a step ahead of how they are playing out on the ice and he’s able to take advantage of that high level of processing.
He regularly jumps in the play as a fourth attacker, with his speed and skating ability on full display as he creates an odd-man rush. His mobility with the puck on his stick makes him very slippery as he navigates exits and entries, often changing speed and direction to throw defenders off his path. He then makes perfect, tape-to-tape passes or finds his lane to the net - and the fact that he can do either as a defender makes him extremely difficult to play against.
While his defensive game is often talked about as a knock-against (as it regularly is with highly offensive players), he has taken noticeable steps forward in this area. His stickwork is strong, that four-way mobility again stands out as he applies pressure on attackers, and his impressive vision and scanning allow him to break up plays before they even happen.
He does lack a certain level of physicality in his off-puck play though. And his offensive brain does get him caught sometimes as he takes risks, but that’s the cost of being the type of player he is. The benefits highly outweigh the risks here as Parekh has the potential to be a special offensive, mobile defender - a type that is extremely coveted in the modern NHL.
Bring on the Videos!
This first clip does a good job of showing Parekh’s ability to read the play. This is a perfect pinch that allows his team to maintain possession, and then he uses that to create a 3-on-1, stays open and one-times a shot into the net.
This play is similar in that again, Parekh forces a turnover and leads the charge back into the zone. This time, however, he draws in three defenders and with them closing in, he causally slides the puck to the far side and his wide-open teammate for a goal. The ability to turn that puck around and then find his teammate with that pressure on is impressive.
So far this season, Parekh leads the Spirit in breakouts per game with an average of seven. That puts him eighth in the entire OHL. He often leads with a stretch pass, but here you can see him pick up the puck in his zone and skate away from the forechecker. He could stand to be a little more fluid in his crossovers (you can see him bob up and down as he steps over versus falling into his cross), but he does well building speed, exiting the zone, and then finding a teammate. He’s not done there though as he jumps into the rush as he sees an open lane and just can’t finish the play. Still, it’s a glimpse into his style of leading the breakout and jumping into the play.
While Parekh is strong in his playmaking and puckhandling, there’s a level of risk to be expected in his play. However, he does need to learn when to take those risks. In this clip, it’s overtime 3-on-3 and he carries the puck in down the wall and tries to spin away. It doesn’t work, with the defender all over him, chasing him out of the zone, ultimately leading to a turnover and a 2-on-1 against. Granted, he dives to make the block, but there were chances to move the puck earlier and avoid the odd-man rush and chance against.
Anton Silayev - Defense - Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod (KHL)
6’7”, 207lbs - 2006-04-11
Arguably the story of the 2024 NHL Draft so far, Silayev stormed the gate of the 2023-24 season and made his presence known (and felt) in his draft year. Any prospect that stands at 6-foot-7 is going to garner some attention, but the fact that he’s broken into the KHL as a 17-year-old and is playing an average of 17 minutes a night is remarkable. And that doesn’t even begin to cover what the Russian defender has been accomplishing this season.
Silayev has already smashed the KHL’s U18 defender scoring record (it was only two points) and now has his eyes set on the U18 record for any player - currently held by Vladimir Tarasenko with 10 points. Silayev’s sitting at nine points at the time of writing, already ahead of players like Kirill Kaprizov, Matvei Michkov, and Nikita Kucherov. He already has the assist record (seven) and should tie Tarasenko for the points title any day now. He’s also just two points away from the U19 record for a defender.
It’s not hard to notice Silayev on the ice - or anywhere else for that matter - thanks to his ridiculous height. But what you don’t expect is his mobility. Quite often, players of Silayev’s size struggle with their mobility and need to rely on other aspects of their game to find success (physicality, strength, stick reach). That couldn’t be further from the truth for the defenseman. He moves so well, especially considering his size. He can walk the blue line with ease, lead the transition game, and attack with the rush without notice. He uses it in the defensive end too, surprising attackers by quickly taking space away from them.
Silayev’s offensive game comes from joining the rush as an extra attacker, finding gaps, getting shots on the net (he averages 4.2 shot attempts a game), and that mobility to dance along the line or attack given the circumstances. He shows good physicality and as he continues to learn how to use his size to his advantage, he could become a dominant physical presence. His long reach is also a bonus, keeping a very active stick and disrupting plays with ease.
While there are numerous areas of his game to like, there are some genuine concerns as well. His consistency in both ends of the ice hasn’t quite been there, granted he’s a rookie in a top-tier men’s league. His processing can raise some eyebrows as well, and this will be something to keep an eye on as he develops. There are times when he seems to freeze a bit and hold the puck too long, and there are times when he ruses his decisions and gives the puck away. It is important to keep in mind the escalated development path for him to this point though and he will continue to settle and improve. The foundation of the defender is tremendous.
Bring on the Videos!
This shot shows off Silayev’s wrist shot. What I particularly like about this clip is that he doesn’t shoot from the back corner of the offensive zone. He comes into the middle and takes advantage of the open ice in front of him to get to a better shooting area. He then has great form in his shot, from the pressure down into his stick, the release of his knee, to his top hand being far away from his body and then pulling it back.
While this clip is simple, it shows a couple of aspects of the defender game that stand out. First of all, through this entire video, you can see his head up and his constantly scanning the ice, looking for the perfect pass. Then, there’s his movement. He never hits top speed here because he doesn’t need to. But watch his feet. Multiple times he pivots as he continues moving forward to throw the defender off his trail. But, his head and shoulders don’t move and his hands are maintaining control. Everything is working separately and yet together. That ability to stack multiple skills is very impressive. He was likely looking for a give-and-go here but his teammate killed that play.
In his end, he holds his own as well though. Silayev does very well here angling out his opponent, and then using that big frame of his - against another player with good size - to separate him from the puck.
Of course, there’s still work to be done here. He’s breakout pass, but there are times when he needs to slow down and not try to force a pass (this is where that processing needs to kick in). There are occasions when he tries to force a pass through traffic instead of looking elsewhere. Here, he tries to put it through the opponent, hits him with the puck, turns it over, and gives up a chance. His partner was open and there were other options available, but he does need to slow down a bit and make sure his move is the best available.