Welcome back everyone for another exciting season of NHL Draft tracking and analysis here at McKeens! McKeens granted me the opportunity to build a small team of video analysts to build on the work I’ve been able to provide here over the last year and a bit. Sam McGilligan, my co-analyst is a rising name in the prospect game that I’ve greatly enjoyed working with, and Greg Revak, our resident tactical consultant is a youth coach and host of the Hockey IQ Podcast. I’m extremely happy to have them aboard, and you can look forward to pieces throughout the year exploring tracked data, regional analysis, and other topics worth exploring. To get things started, we’re going with names off the beaten path a little who have stood out at times from multiple areas of the world that may need more attention. We’ve all provided our personal viewpoints, where we may disagree and why, so stay tuned for more over the season!
Jani Nyman - LW - Ilves Tampere (Finland)
- Will - This was a name completely out of nowhere for me coming into the season. Nyman was one of the more impressive 2022 eligibles at the Hlinka tournament this summer, bringing an impressive combination of size, skill, and resilience with the puck to drive into the offensive zone often, and create under pressure. He’s 6’3”, evades and fights off pressure well, and is already off to a solid start over a point per game with Ilves Tampere’s junior team. Unfortunately, Nyman was injured in the early games of the season and will miss over a month, but I’ll have my eye on him for when he comes back.
Nyman (#12 in blue) uses a combination of a strong pivot to receive a breakout pass, adaptive skill to gain control of the puck, with strength and reach to escape pressure into open space, cutting inside to attack the middle for a scoring chance.
- Greg - I went back and watched his last two seasons worth of points and in that time, it seems like Nyman grew a ton and put on a bunch of weight. He went from a smaller kid into one that is big. Competes hard and has signs in his game that he’s still figuring out his new body, particularly with his timing. Right now, you see glimpses, but there is a bunch missing. I’m really excited to see how his skills catch up with his growth throughout the season. If they catch up, we’re onto a nice player.
- Sam - Jani Nyman is a very intriguing player. His combination of hustle and physicality is amplified to great effect by having a good sense for incoming pressure. I wouldn’t describe him as a speedster, but he moves around open-ice surprisingly well for a player with a 6’3, 210lbs frame. He lacks explosiveness from a lull, and his 360-degree mobility can stand to be improved, but Nyman overcomes this problem by understanding the fundamentals of how to protect the puck from incoming pressure, fully utilizing his elongated wingspan in the process. More than his ability to handle pressure, what’s earned Nyman his spot on this list is his identification of short-distance passing lanes, his deception when passing through these lanes and that the accuracy of these passes does not decrease when he and/or his target are in-motion. Combine all of this with a motor that doesn’t quit, and you have the foundation of a player that really excites us. There are growing pains with Nyman that sometimes limit his skill/execution on plays, but that’s to be expected after growth spurts. The fundamental details that make up Nyman’s game are what caught our eye, and we are excited to see what happens over the course of a full season.
Filip Mesar - F - HK Poprad (Slovakia)
- Will - Everyone and their various pets seem to be unable to get enough of fellow countryman Simon Nemec, and while Nemec is a perfectly fine player in his own right, don’t sleep on Filip Mesar. In preseason play, he’s had multi-point performances playing down the middle against professional competition in the Tipos Extraliga. Mesar brings evasive skill, off-puck smarts, a great release in tight, and creative playmaking that could make him a solid offensive weapon. With a strong Hlinka tournament on a strong Slovakian team, Mesar is a player who I think could be more on Simon Nemec’s level than we may think.
An example of the potential in Mesar’s offensive game (#10 in blue). He receives a pass with momentum carrying him to the boards, taking advantage of the defender’s feet pointing towards the boards to cut inside with tons of space, hiding a dangerous pass attempt behind what could’ve been a shot on net.
- Greg - Set eyes on him for a shift and you can see his smarts. He’s a smooth and cerebral player. Really nice hands and skating to make it look as if the game is easy. He can make plays within tight spaces, but never engages physically. His routes and timing could use some work. He rarely is F1 or first player in the battle, doesn’t engage physically, and routinely breaks off a route to become F3 high. Adding more physicality and discipline into his game will be a huge boon in his play driving too often he’s outside of the game or over skates plays and battles. He will be a winger in the NHL. My guess, he will always be more skilled than his production would indicate as he struggles to manufacture offense beyond what is given. I can see some people becoming very high on his potential given his pieces.
- Sam - If skating is what you are looking for first and foremost, then Mesar is near the top of this list. Top speed, acceleration, directional changes, clever footwork, 360-degree mobility - Mesar has it all. What few criticisms you can find in his skating are in the biomechanical details and it wouldn’t come as a surprise to see those ironed out by this time next year. The Slovakian forward has built his game around his beautiful skating so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see continued development as the year progresses. Mesar combines all of this with superb stickhandling abilities in-motion, as well as a somewhat strong understanding of support routes throughout all three zones. What excites the Video Team about Mesar is his potential ceiling as a transitional weapon. As of now, Mesar is a high pace rush attacker when carrying the puck. He’s deceptively shifty in open ice, luring defenders one way before cutting right through the middle with a well-timed cut. He frequently blitzes down the dotted line, blending in crossovers for lateral movement to give defenders pause. He passes the puck with an eagerness to push play as much as possible - almost to a detrimental extent. While his transitional tools are undeniably elite, he has some tendencies that currently limit what he can be. His scanning habits are inconsistent when driving through the NZ, resulting in potential turnovers when trying to move the puck for controlled zone entries. It’s worth pointing out that some of these passes are good reads and are reliant on look-offs and other deceptive weapons in order to reach the intended target; however, his linemates aren’t positioning themselves accordingly because they didn’t track play as well and identify where the open space will be. That being said, there are quite a few turnovers that result from hasty decision making that we hope will iron out with more experience. I’m not particularly sure whether Mesar will ever be the point producer that a player of his archetype is expected to be, but the right refinements can turn him into an efficient transitional monster.
Justin Côté - C - Drummondville Voltigeurs (Canada)
- Will - Every year, I’ve got to find a little buzzsaw player that earns everything he gets, all while having a ton of skill to go along with that style of play. Justin Côté is probably that guy as of right now. He’s only 5’6”, but he caught my eye looking back through some tape of the Youth Olympic Games. While he was somewhat quiet on the scoresheet at that tournament, you could see the signs of an aggressive goal scorer with shifty skill. Checking his tape with Drummondville, these instincts were clearly rewarded often as he tied for the goal scoring lead on the Voltigeurs. I’ll have my eye on Côté to continue to score goals, while looking for a bit more escape velocity and resilience with the puck to see him create space for himself more often and create for linemates. He may be a crash and bang type with a knack for goal scoring, but I believe with the motor and agility, there’s room for growth with Côté.
I usually don’t like to analyze special teams play, but this is just a really nice series of plays Côté makes that results in what he does best, a goal. A beautiful fake slap shot into a pass to Jacob Dion only to get the puck back shortly after and Côté gets all of it, getting to one knee with his foot pointed and the net putting one low on the goaltender.
- Greg - Will put it well… crash and bang. He’s a player who is a grinder of the 5’6” variety. I don’t see explosive first few strides to make it to the NHL and just hanging around the net to get goals is a strategy that won’t translate to the professional game. Has a nice set of hands, battles hard, but I cannot see his offense translating to the professional game in its current state.
- Sam - I want Justin Côté to be a thing so badly, but it’s extremely difficult for any 5’6 player to make the NHL. It requires an unbelievable sense for incoming pressure, extremely high-level tools and a game built around minimizing physical contact to the best of your ability. That doesn’t describe who Côté is now, but I do wonder if it could describe him next year. He moves around in the slot well to position himself for open catch and shoot opportunities. There’s no denying the hustle as he’s always moving around the ice with heart. There’s a certain audacity to him that is not often found in players of this size. He attacks through the middle of the ice, both in transition and in the offensive zone. Improvements are required regarding the projectability of these attacks, as he currently does not have the separation gear required to play in such tight spaces at higher levels. Still, his skating notably improved over the course of last year and further improvements could unlock one of the more exciting forwards to watch in the loaded 2022 class.
Alexander Suzdalev - LW - HV71 J20 (Sweden)
- Will - Suzdalev was a glitter player for me last year. Watching HV71’s junior team, #66 always stuck out for crafty, smart, no-nonsense plays on puck touches that constantly moved play in the right direction. He’s not the fastest, most skill, or most physical guy, but Suzdalev’s ability to read play, step in, when necessary, problem solve through pressure and create scoring chances is impressive. While he didn’t make an appearance at the Hlinka, his preseason tape I’ve watched in Sweden showcases a number of skills that could bode well for his season in Jönköping.
A great example of projectable skill, especially under pressure, Suzdalev also scored two primary points in this exhibition game driven through quarterbacking offensive rushes with speed, skill and resilience, pulling the puck into open space across Rogle’s #14 on the breakout, and moving the puck into space when the opportunity presented itself as #24 bears down on him.
- Greg - Lacks awareness so decision-making can be slow and bad. It’s a large stain on his game that will need to be overcome. He doesn’t read the game ahead either. On the puck he can be a wizard and you can tell he’s had success in past. There is an on the puck confidence to try to make something happen. That being said, he goes back to that well way too often and is a turnover machine. At first watching him I thought Will was crazy, but the more he grew into the game and got puck touches i could see the intrigue there. Would make a great center given his hands and shuffle skating. Given his terrible off the puck play and awareness, you can see why a coach would have 0% to put him there though. Massive project but could have a big payoff if he develops well.
- Sam - I’m stuck in the middle with Suzdalev. I don’t think he can be the guy on a line, but I think there is potential for him to be a good supporting player. His two traits that standout for me are his hands, most notably in small-area situations, and his practical intentions to advance play, the key word being italicized. Suzdalev’s intentions are almost always practical despite his decision-making being inconsistent, leaving open questions going into the year. There is clear purpose with a lot of his misplays, but they become misplays because of hesitation, forcing a lane that doesn’t exist, a lack of pace or an over reliance on his puck skills as his escape tools. If his decision making improves, then Suzdalev can become something exciting, and you can see that in the moments where Suzdalev properly evaluates how play is unfolding in front of him. His touches are brief but effective, clearly advancing macro play for the team. His ceiling is limited without improvements to his mobility, so that’s something else to keep an eye on as he develops over the course of the season.
Tyler Duke - LHD - Team USA NTDP (USA)
- Will - Yeah, I know, I can see your head shaking on the other side of this computer screen. “Here goes Will with his 5’9” offensive defender way up near the top of his board”, and such. Well, Lane Hutson may be small, a ton of fun and excellent, but the potential I’ve seen in Tyler Duke’s game is immense. His agility, shifty skill with the puck, offensive aggressiveness, and lateral mobility on defensive rushes is a ton of fun. Yes, he’s small. Yes, his defensive awareness is not particularly great, and he can be tempted to jump in looking for offense, but he was a strong net positive goal impact player for the NTDP last year, a rarity for D-1 prospects, and I’m extremely excited to see what Tampa Bay draft pick Dylan’s brother can do this season.
There are lots of examples of Duke’s skating and offensive potential I could show, but while his defensive game is still a work in progress, this clip from last season indicates what Duke (56 in white) may be capable of with the mobility he presents. Deep joint flexion and quick hips gets Duke turned the right direction quickly, covering ice efficiently to close off a decent distance on the defensive entry, stepping up to erase Green Bay’s #10 from the rush and getting the puck to safety.
- Greg - Aggressive, smart, and clean skating. He has all of the tools you’d look for in a modern defenseman. Shifty in at the point to find shooting lanes. Creates separation in the defensive zone with quick strides once he wins a battle. He’s willing and able to lead the rush. Duke has a good foundation and should be NHL player given skills have a good trajectory. Throws too many point shots on net for my liking. Personally, I’m highest on Seamus Casey who shows more elite flashes and desire to improve the conditions of the puck. Tyler is steady and plays a simpler game.
- Sam - There is a lot to love with Tyler Duke. His skating unlocks a ton of opportunities that he makes the most on. Lateral shiftiness and the tendency to mirror attacking footwork provides Duke with the tools he needs to be an effective blue line defender, which he proves true more often than not. His brother was notable for having a second, third and sometimes fourth motor on any individual play which snuck up on unsuspecting forwards and created opportunities through sheer hustle. The same tendencies can be found in Tyler, albeit more reserved (which is a good thing considering he’s a defensemen and not a forward). He’s a deceptive puck handler, equipped with the ability to bait people in with just his hands before applying body/skate fakes to escape pressure. His transitional upside is more notable than the vast majority of defenders in this class, as he attacks with dynamic routes and a wide passing arsenal. Duke is comfortable making plays in-motion which is highly projectable. His size limits him in physical encounters, but I believe that being able to control zones of space with proper stick work and high-level agility is more valuable than engaging attackers one on one. Duke is likely to come up short against larger opponents, but he makes the most of it by entering with the right engagement angles providing him the means to gain leverage on bigger players. His blue line defense coupled with proper zone defense lay the foundation of how Duke can impact play in his own zone to great effect in the NHL.