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2024 NHL DRAFT: EARLY SEASON FAVOURITES – WHL – Cayden Lindstrom, Tanner Howe, Lukas Matecha, Nate Misskey

Cayden Lindstrom

Time for another series at McKeen’s from our scouting staff. The 2024 NHL Draft season is well under way 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.

Derek Neumeier – Assistant Director of Scouting & Head Western Scout

Cayden Lindstrom - Center – Medicine Hat Tigers

6’4, 215lbs - 2006-02-23

One of the biggest priorities that NHL teams have with the annual entry draft is acquiring players that are special or unique — or "unicorns" as they are increasingly being called. These are the types of players that are either nearly impossible to find via trade or free agency, or the cost to acquire them is astronomical.

One of those kinds of players eligible for the 2024 draft is Medicine Hat Tigers center Cayden Lindstrom, and he has been a hot topic of discussion in WHL circles going all the way back to last season because it's hard to remember the last time someone quite like him came up through the league.

The main appeal of Lindstrom's game is immediately obvious: he is a huge, athletic forward with high-end skating ability and puck skill. He is impossible to take your eyes off of when he gets a head of steam going with possession, marvelling as he creates copious amounts of space for himself through the conjunction of his quick feet and hands. His edges are razor sharp as he shifts his weight and changes directions, while his hands are buttery soft both at a standstill and at his top skating speed. Making things even more enticing, he isn't shy about using his size and strength to his advantage, throwing thunderous hits and getting chippy when the situation calls for it. It's so rare to see a player who can leave such an impact with both his skill and his physicality, and he frequently does both within the very same shift.

Remarkably, Lindstrom wasn't selected in his WHL bantam draft until the 3rd round, 54th overall. He is a late bloomer whose stock is skyrocketing, and that makes him one of the biggest wildcards of the 2024 draft. On one hand, he's not as polished as other top prospects are, showcasing some hiccups with his awareness and decision-making. On the other hand, however, he looks like a prospect who is still far from being done developing. Just how much more is his game going to grow in the coming years?

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It's almost comical just how dominant Lindstrom can be at times. There are shifts that make you laugh and shake your head because what he's doing is so ludicrous. This is one of those shifts. He utterly obliterates an opposing player, takes the puck, and then all by himself easily transports it all the way up the ice and into the offensive zone. He also has the shrewd wherewithal to move east-west to buy his teammates a little extra time to catch up and join him, leading to some cycle puck movement and a scoring chance.

A little more of the same here. He knocks a Cougars player clean off his feet, yet still has enough energy left afterwards to scoot up the ice and casually beat the defender wide before slipping a nice shot through the goalie.

Lindstrom is truly incredible at driving possession. He starts this play off with a steal and some quick acceleration, but watch how he fakes cutting to the inside before quickly peeling off back to the outside, creating plenty of space for himself to continue the rush. There's also a nice bit of work once he's set up in the offensive zone, showing off how he uses his size and edge work to keep the play alive.

More multifaceted impact from him here, starting with a well-earned steal on the backcheck. The real beauty of this clip, though, comes from how he smartly blends puck skill, deception and timing to perfectly open up the defender a bit and get the pass through. This is some very high-end stuff.

Lindstrom has some of the softest hands in the entire 2024 draft class, when it comes to both shooting and playmaking. He gets excellent elevation from in tight on this goal. His shots can be surprisingly lacking in power at times, which is something that he'll want to focus on correcting, but the good news is that there is a lot of room for improvement in that area because of how much strength he has.


Tanner Howe - Wing – Regina Pats

5’11, 182lbs - 2005-11-28

A late 2005 birthday, Howe entered the 2023-24 year with 146 combined WHL games spread across three seasons already under his belt. However, there is a crucial difference this time around: the promotion of constant Regina Pats teammate and frequent linemate Connor Bedard to the NHL. Whether fair or not, there were definitely questions coming in about just how much of Howe's success was elevated by Bedard, and how well he would be able to sustain himself without the help of a generational phenom in his proximity.

So far, Howe has more than lived up to the challenge while largely silencing those concerns.

He is an exceptionally smart, hard-working and competitive prospect who plays with his heart on his sleeve. Someone who leads by example and sets a high standard for those around him, it was no surprise when he was named the newest Pats captain this past September. There is an existing perception of him being a highly skilled puck handler and playmaker, and while there is certainly some truth to that reputation, most of his offensive generation actually comes from his cleverness and tenacity. He earns a lot of touches through steals, 50-50 battles and winning puck races, and can then make quick bang-bang plays as either a finisher or a setup man before the opposing defenders can get themselves reset.

While Howe might not be overly high on any teams' draft lists due to his smaller stature, a lack of game-breaking offensive abilities and a limited top gear, he's still the type of guy that all 32 NHL organizations would love to add to their prospect pipeline for the right price.

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This kind of sequence is Howe's real bread and butter. Apply the right pressure, pounce on a mistake, and then quickly use the small window of opportunity to make something happen. Also make note of how willing he is to head to the net-front to compete for a screen opportunity. That's not where he or his coach would want him to be most of the time, but he recognizes the moments where it's a good idea to try it.

Here's another great example of a tenacious heads-up play from him. Not only does his perfectly placed pokecheck prevent the opponents from successfully gaining entry into the offensive zone, he immediately spots an opportunity in the broken play and jumps into action, turning over possession and breaking in alone for a beautiful breakaway goal.

Opposing defenders have to keep their heads up when Howe is on the ice, because he is hunting them. And while his hits will rarely rattle any bones, he throws his weight around well enough to bump pucks loose, like he does to help set up this goal.

A lot of young players would pull back a little bit on a net drive like this, passing up a prime scoring opportunity to avoid taking a heavy lump. But Tanner Howe is not one of those players.

Hmm, maybe Howe did learn thing a or two from all the time he spent with Bedard?


Lukas Matecha - Goaltender – Tri-City Americans

6’4, 195lbs - 2005-03-21

Matecha was ranked 5th among European goalies by NHL Central Scouting for the 2023 draft, but he did not end up getting selected in his first year of eligibility. Nevertheless, that didn't stop the Tri-City Americans from picking him 99th overall in the 2023 CHL Import Draft and convincing him to come to North America. He made his first WHL start in his team's third game of the season, turning aside 38 of 39 shots in a victory in which he was also named the game's 1st star. He hasn't looked back since, immediately becoming the new starter for the Ams and emerging as one of the best goalies in the entire league.

The Czechia native's game is simple yet effective — and that's probably a good thing, as he's best suited playing a quiet, blocking style of goaltending, keeping his movements and technique tight while letting his huge frame do most of the work. Size alone isn't enough to make a great goalie, and Matecha supplements his natural advantages with stoic composure, refined rebound control, and an impressive ability to find pucks through traffic.

Put all the pieces together and you have a netminder who can make a lot of saves in a night without breaking too much of a sweat, and one who can do so game in and game out. He provides an immeasurably important calming presence for a Tri-City club that is not particularly sharp defensively, keeping them competitive in games where they are otherwise being outplayed.

Now, Matecha is far from perfect. He can be very clunky and awkward when opening up his form, especially when moving laterally. And there are inevitably going to be times where he'll be forced to play faster than his comfort level, so making improvements to his quickness and reflexes will be key. That said, he has a similar foundation to star NHL goalies like Connor Hellebuyck, Jake Oettinger and Thatcher Demko, and that will certainly draw a lot of attention from NHL scouts as this season moves along.

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This sequence sums up Matecha pretty well. While he doesn't do anything exciting, he makes multiple stops and stays in control of his crease to help his team manage the penalty kill. He tracks the puck well as it gets moved around, actively looking around the traffic in front of him, and by the time the shots come through he's already in position and calmly taking daylight away from the shooters.

I really like the focus and composure that he shows in this clip. He drops down for a shot that ultimately gets blocked, leading to something of a broken play, but he resets himself and is ready to neutralize the follow-up that does get through.

Not only is Matecha proficient at keeping his eyes on pucks from distance, he can also keep these plays under control by redirecting pucks to the corners. That said, he could stand to improve his glove hand by getting more clean catches.

As mentioned earlier, sometimes his movements aren't pretty. I don't think falling over is a particularly good way to make a cross-crease save...

...but hey, he's certainly not all bad in this regard.


Nate Misskey - Defense – Victoria Royals

6’3, 199lbs - 2005-01-12

The rebuilding Victoria Royals were a major mess last season, but there were times here or there where Misskey was a much-needed stabilizing presence for the team on the blueline. While scouts kept tabs on him as his draft year went along, due to some intriguing traits, he ended up going undrafted because he never quite showed enough of an ability to be a difference-maker.

Fast forward a few months, however, and those concerns have now been put to rest.

Misskey has been excellent so far this season, and he is one of the biggest reasons why the Royals are now surging out of the WHL's basement. The big, right-shooting defenseman is leaving a positive impact in all three zones thanks to his strength, reach, poise, smarts, and all-around elements of smoothness and fluidity. He is proving to be quite responsible both with and without the puck, and he is eating up more and more minutes in all situations, including both sides of special teams, because he's so trustworthy and effective.

His game is far from flashy, though, and none of his physical tools or skills grade out very highly. He's almost a little too calm and poised at times as well, creating concerns about his ability to eventually scale up his pacing to an NHL level, whether those are caused by his athletic quickness, his mentality, or a combination of both. Either way, Misskey is certainly intriguing enough overall to make him a draft-worthy talent in 2024.

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Here is a great example of Misskey smartly knowing how to utilize his size to his advantage. In this overtime he gains body position along the boards to win the puck, before correctly identifying an opening to drive it up the ice. You can see the limitations here with his speed, but he keeps the puck controlled safely out in front of him and it's hard for the backchecker to get around his wide frame, leaving him all the time and space he needs to bury the game-winning goal.

Here is another good example of how he can be a hard player for opposing teams to handle. He picks a great time to pinch down low in support of the cycle, bounces off a check to win the puck battle, and then takes it out to the front of the net to help his team score a greasy goal.

Misskey is scoring at a point-per-game clip as of this writing, and his production is coming in a variety of different ways. This play doesn't result in a goal, but watch how he assertively opens up some space for himself in the offensive zone and then finds a teammate alone in the slot.

His wrist shot from the point is a pretty unique weapon, with a very clean motion and a ton of accuracy. He's scored a few goals like this already, picking the corner from all the way back at the blueline. With aim like this it will be interesting to see how well he can start lowering his wrist shots to look for deflections, which has become a valuable ability for NHL defenders.

This is the sort of play that showcases where Misskey will need to focus on improving his game. His lateral mobility and pivots are both on the slower side, which creates some problems for him when defending the rush.