We’re past the midpoint of the 2023-24 hockey season, with eyes already starting to look towards playoffs or in the case of some NHL teams - the NHL Draft.
Reaching this point in the campaign provides an excellent sample size to analyze which players are meeting expectations or which aren’t taking the steps forward that were hoped. There’s enough hockey left to be played that players' trajectories can still shift, but in all likelihood, the path they’re on at this point is how their season will be remembered.
I looked at prospects across the globe and highlighted 10 that have either raised their stock so far this season or have seen their stock fall. By no means is this a comprehensive list, but simply 10 that have stood out to me enough versus pre-season expectations - positively or negatively.
Stock Down: Xavier Bourgault, Bakersfield Condors, AHL (Edmonton Oilers)
Xavier Bourgault entered the AHL last season as a rookie and truly impressed, fitting in extremely well with the Bakersfield Condors. The Edmonton Oilers top prospect put up respectable numbers in his first year and all signs pointed to 2024-25 being another step in the right direction. That hasn’t been the case. Bourgault is on pace to fall below his stat totals in goals and assists this season, despite looking to play 10 extra games.
Drafted 22nd overall in 2021, there was hope from the Oilers that he would become an offensive threat in the NHL. Looking at where his points are coming from right now though, he may fall into a special-teams role in the long term. His ability to produce (especially to score) at even strength has taken a step backward if anything. There’s still potential here but right now, Bourgault is looking like a bottom-six, complementary player.
Stock Up: Oscar Fisker Molgaard, HV71, SHL (Seattle Kraken)
In his sophomore season in the SHL, Oscar Fisker Molgaard seems to be getting more comfortable with every game played. And it’s starting to show. The 52nd selection of the Seattle Kraken in the 2023 NHL Draft, Fisker Molgaard returned to HV71 this season and has seen his time on ice slowly increase throughout. After helping Team Denmark to a World Juniors (D1A) Bronze Medal, he’s back in the SHL and on fire, with points in 10 of his last 14 games.
To make this even more impressive, he’s doing it playing as a centre. Most 18-year-olds in the SHL would be slid to the wing to play with a more veteran pivot. Not Fisker Molgaard, whose intelligence and improving playmaking have been making him look like a potential middle-six centreman in the NHL. What’s more impressive is that he’s likely to continue to get better. He currently weighs in at 168 pounds. How will he play with another 10-15 pounds? Could this be a potential 2C? This is very much a player to continue to keep an eye on as he develops.
Stock Up: Nikita Grebyonkin, Metallurg Magnitogors, KHL (Toronto Maple Leafs)
He may not have heard his name until 135th overall in the 2022 NHL Draft, but Nikita Grebyonkin is not looking like a fifth-round pick right now. After being selected by the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Russian forward returned to play in the KHL, leading all rookies in points (26) and earning the honour of the league’s Best Rookie Award. Now in his sophomore season, he’s looking even stronger, getting regular minutes on the power play and playing a more complete game.
The competitiveness that the young forward brings stands out in both ends of the ice. His shot looks better, in both his power and his accuracy, which has led to him being on pace to double his goal total from a year ago. This is all while playing LESS on average this season with Metallurg Magnitogorsk than he did a year ago with Amur Khabarovsk. Grebyonkin will be an interesting name to keep an eye on in the coming months, as his KHL deal is over at the end of this season. Will the Maple Leafs be able to bring him to North America?
Stock Down: Noel Gunler, Karpat, Liiga (Carolina Hurricanes)
It wasn’t that long ago that public discussions about Noel Gunler were around whether or not he should be ranked in the top 10 of the 2020 NHL Draft. He ended up hearing his name called 41st by the Carolina Hurricanes, sliding out of the first round likely due to some off-ice issues that were discussed. Either way, the thought was maybe they got a steal. Since being drafted though, Gunler hasn’t developed into that player that many hoped. He did even head overseas to play in the AHL for the 2022-23 season but ultimately headed back to Europe this season.
Now playing in the Liiga with Karpat (he was in the SHL before his year with the Chicago Wolves), Gunler hasn’t been able to settle in, collecting just eight points in 24 games, including five goals. Not great for a player who is known for his goal-scoring. Now adding to this, Gunler hasn’t played since January 10th, due to a transfer dispute between the Malmo Redhawks and Karpat. So it seems unlikely that he’ll be able to bounce back at this point. Gunler’s future is in question at this point, and whether he’s still on a path to being an NHLer is up for debate.
Stock Up: Niko Huuhtanen, Jukurit, Liiga (Tampa Bay Lightning)
When you get into the later rounds of the NHL Draft, you’re really just crossing your fingers that you’re selecting a future NHLer. You bet on a trait or traits that your scouting department has put high value on (skill, physicality, size, etc.), and hope for the best. In the 2021 NHL Draft, with the final selection, the Tampa Bay Lighting were likely doing just that when they called Niko Huuhtanen’s name 224th overall. The next season, he led the WHL in goals for a rookie (37). In 2022-23? He led the Liiga in goals AND points from a rookie, earning Rookie of the Year honours. And now - he’s looking even better.
The Finn has truly taken steps forward in each season, and that has continued this year in the Liiga with Jukurit. He’s on pace to nearly double his output from his rookie year, largely thanks to his tremendous improvement in his playmaking. He’s very much a goal scorer, but his vision and ability to distribute the puck have stood out this season. With his contract up at the end of the season, perhaps a move to the AHL is next for Huuhtanen.
Stock Down: Danila Klimovich, Abbotsford Canucks, AHL (Vancouver Canucks)
The Vancouver Canucks made a fairly bold choice drafting Danila Klimovich 41st overall in the 2021 NHL Draft. After all, it’s not often that a player gets drafted playing in Belarus. But the young prospect had done enough to show the Canucks’ brass that he was their guy. He immediately came overseas for the 2021-22 season and then took a noticeable step forward in 2022-23. All signs were positive.
This season though, has been a different story. He’s been in and out of the lineup, often scratched but there have also been some injuries along the way. His point totals are way down, across the board with just four points in 17 games, a long stretch from the 29 last season or even the 18 the year prior. There are aspects of his game to love, like his pace and creativity, but the rest of his game is falling behind. If he’s going to become an NHL regular, he’ll need to show some positive steps soon.
Stock Up: Robert Orr, Acadie-Bathurst Titan, QMJHL (Carolina Hurricanes)
When the Carolina Hurricanes drafted the next Bobby Orr 136th overall in 2021, they were drafting a never-give-up prospect that plays a hard-nosed game. He was a younger player in the class, with a September 1st birthdate. Well, it looks like his development may be catching up. He’s among the QMJHL leaders in points this season with 63 in just 47 games, already setting a career-high in the league.
Orr was traded to the Acadie-Bathurst Titan last season and seems to have settled in this year. He’s been playing with a tremendous amount of confidence and is already looking like a player destined for the NHL. I was high on him in his draft year, and it’s excellent to see him coming into his own. It’s important to note that he’s now an older player in the league, so this level of play is expected of him, but it’s fantastic to see him taking those steps. Look for him to jump to the AHL next season.
Stock Up: Carson Rehkopf, Kitchener Rangers, OHL (Seattle Kraken)
I’ve already covered Carson Rehkopf’s tremendous season in a previous article, but he’s very much worth the mention here as well. The Kitchener Ranger star forward has exploded offensively this season, currently sitting second in the league in goals (37) and eighth in points per game (1.57). His play this season even earned him a spot on Team Canada for the World Juniors, where he stayed hot with four points in five games.
Rehkopf’s ability to score goals might just be enough to carry him all the way to the NHL. That’s always been a staple of his game and while it’s gotten better this year, so has the rest of his game, elevating him to another level in the OHL. He’s showing the potential to be a top-six winger for the Kraken down the line, an excellent projection for the 50th overall pick in 2023.
Stock Down: David Reinbacher, Kloten, NL (Montreal Canadiens)
When the Montreal Canadiens shocked and drafted Austrian defender David Reinbacher fifth overall in the 2023 NHL Draft, they put some lofty expectations on the defender. He was coming off an outstanding year, earning NL honours as Youngster (Rookie) of the Year, standing out at the World Juniors, and even earning a spot in the World Championships for Team Austria. To cap it off by being drafted fifth overall in a tough market, expectations skyrocketed for the young player.
Unfortunately, things haven’t gone as hoped for Reinbacher. Back in Switzerland with EHC Kloten, he’s struggled to match his rookie-year output. Part of this may be due to an injury he had to start the year, and he hasn’t exactly seemed 100% healthy. Looking at his game, it’s obvious that there are still strides needed in his development to become a potential top-four defender in the NHL. He has a lot of tools to like, such as his mobility and confidence defensively, but that two-way ability seems to have stalled. Still, I expect him to move to the AHL next season, where at least one full year would be helpful to his game.
Stock Up: Massimo Rizzo, University of Denver, NCAA (Philadelphia Flyers)
The last highlighted prospect, Massimo Rizzo has been dominating the NCAA this season with the University of Denver. He currently leads the entire nation in points with 44 in just 28 games. Drafted way back in 2019 and way down at 216th overall by the Carolina Hurricanes, this is outstanding progression for the young forward. For his efforts, he’s been nominated for the 2024 Hobey Baker Award as the NCAA’s top player.
As well, Rizzo earned a sport with Team Canada this season, playing in the Spengler Cup in Switzerland, where he looked extremely comfortable playing against men. The Philadelphia Flyers acquired Rizzo in the offseason along with a 2025 fifth-round pick for the rights to David Kase, a deal that’s already looking excellent for the Flyers. Rizzo’s rights expire in August 2025, so you can bet that the Flyers will be looking to lock him up prior to that.