Maksim Zhukov, Green Bay Gamblers, photo by Hickling Images

A note on the 20-80 scale used below. We look at five attributes (skating, shooting, puck skills, hockey IQ and physicality) for skaters and six for goalies (athleticism/quickness, compete/temperament, vision/play reading, technique/style, rebound control and puck handling). Each individual attribute is graded along the 20-80 scales, which includes half-grades. The idea is that a projection of 50 in a given attribute meant that our observer believed that the player could get to roughly NHL average at that attribute at maturity.

Ryan Poehling 2017 Draft Eligible
Position: C, Shoots L H/W: 6-2", 185 lbs
Stats to date (GP-G-A-PTS-PIMS) St. Cloud State Huskies, NCHC (29-7-4-11-12)
Ryan Poehling, 2016 Ivan Hlinka Tournament. Photo by IIHF/Csaba Domotor

Ryan Poehling, 2016 Ivan Hlinka Tournament. Photo by IIHF/Csaba Domotor

Skating: Ryan Poehling plays with plus pace. He is constantly moving and when he skates with intent, it is always at an impressive velocity. He turns into his acceleration. In other words, when he is drifting around and spots something to do, he curls into action, accelerating into his turns. Those first few steps are very sudden and apt to catch an opponent unaware and get them on their heels. When he has room to gain steam, his straight-ahead speed is also very impressive. He will win more than his share of loose puck races. Grade: 60

Shot: I don’t want to say that Poehling has a bad shot. He has a shot that is kept in reserve. In other words, he rarely shoots the puck. Through 29 games at the NCAA level, he has recorded a mere 33 shots on net, including tips and deflections. To his credit, seven goals on 33 shots is pretty good, if unsustainable. Part of his lack of recorded shots is his style of play, which I will delve deeper into in the next paragraph. For now, it is fair to say that he looks to pass first. Grade: 50

Skills: Poehling is not a flashy player by any means. He plays a safe game, minimizing risks with the puck. He has plus vision in the offensive zone and an hit a teammate with a sharp, clever pass with very little time to set it up. When he gets the puck, he looks to get rid of it ASAP, often within two-three touches. He has good hand-eye coordination. He does not attempt many fancy puck handling moves, leaving those to frequent linemate and LA Kings draftee Mikey Eyssimont, but he can carry the puck well when he feels tat he is the best option for his team to gain the offensive zone. This grade is mostly a reflection of his playmaking chops. Grade: 55

Smarts: As a true freshman, Poehling, whose older twin brothers are also Huskies, plays a very mature, safe and smart game. He is responsible and give s a solid effort in all three zones, backchecking and forechecking with equal vigor. He has a high enough IQ to be able to contribute in all manpower situations. As discussed above, he also has plus vision.  Grade: 60

Physicality: Poehling has a solid frame, with room for additional growth. I would be surprised if he was not topping 200 pounds by the time he turns pro. He does not try to physically impose himself on opponents, but he is also not one to be cowed. He spends a lot of his time playing along the boards or in the corners, showing no fear of being hit. This is another area where I anticipate more robustness with age and experience in the NCAA and beyond. Grade: 50

Summary: In most years, Poehling’s lack of offensive output would be a big red flag on his prospect-status. We like to see our forwards scoring, no matter the level where they are playing. The fact that he is among the youngest players in the NCAA mitigates this concern only slightly. As discussed above, his abject lack of shots on net is playing a big role in his lack of scoring, although the paucity of assists also says something. I am told that he has lined up alongside his brothers for large stretches of the season on a depth line for St. Cloud State. Neither brother has anywhere near Ryan’s inherent talent, so it seems likely that he is being dragged down by his linemates. While his production should improve with time, experience and linemates who are able to capitalize on his playmaking chops, the 200 foot game that he is already showing is already enough for him to be a useful player. His speed and hockey IQ will allow him to keep up with the increased pace in the professional game. I would not take him as a top ten pick in June, but somewhere between 15-25 is a safe landing spot for Poehling. Whichever team drafts him should be fairly certain that they are getting a future middle six center with some potential upside.

Maxim Zhukov 2017 Draft Eligible
Position: G, Catches: L H/W: 6-3", 190 lbs
Stats to date (GP-GAA-Save %) Green Bay Gamblers, USHL (22-2.45-.906)
Maksim Zhukov, Green Bay Gamblers, photo by Hickling Images

Maksim Zhukov, Green Bay Gamblers, photo by Hickling Images

Athleticism/Quickness/Speed: Although a sprawling acrobat in net, Zhukov has the ability to make quiet and controlled movements to get in the way of oncoming pucks. His body control is most evident for his lower half. The team that drafts the Russian backstopper is not doing so in hopes of getting a great athlete, but he is good enough for his size. Grade: 55

Compete/Temperament: If you see Zhukov on the right night, he is stopping pucks and looks like the proverbial duck on a pond. On the wrong night, you notice how, like the duck, he is paddling madly below the surface. It seems that Zhukov is either lights out or lights off. He was one of the better netminders in the USHL through the end of 2016, but has stumbled so much since the calendar has turned over that fellow draft eligible netminder David Hrenak has moved into a timeshare between the pipes for the Gamblers. He can lose focus during games and give up seemingly stoppable pucks. Grade: 50

Vision/Play Reading: He tracks shooters well and is a good reader of stick movement. When Zhukov is focused, he is a good tracker of the play as well and will generally be in the correct position to make the save. Many of the goals he gives up seem to be focus-related, so even if he is in the right position, on those bad nights the pucks that do not hit hi in the pads or the chest find the twine. Grade: 55

Technique/Style: The Kaliningrad native plays a hybrid style in net. It is generally an effective way to take advantage of his 6-3” frame. He tries to block as much of the net as possible, spending more time on his skates than most butterfly netminders. His movements do lend well to deadening pucks, more on which in a moment. Grade: 55

Rebound Control: Thanks to his style, Zhukov is always strong at controlling rebounds, even when he lacks focus. When he blocks pucks, he stops them cleanly, either outright holding on to the puck, or having it fall very close by, allowing him to easily cover up. When he has to kick at the kick for the save, he is again strong at kicking to the corners, leaving very few second chances for opponents to capitalize on. Grade: 60

Puck Handling: Zhukov is not a special puck handler, but he is comfortable setting the table for his teammates or pushing up the boards to ease the transition a touch. Grade: 50

Summary: When at his best, Zhukov looks like potentially the best netminder in this year’s draft. When not at his best, he is a late round flyer. He has the frame expected of a modern day goalie and some of the raw traits that coaches want to see in goaltending prospects. If the key to improving his focus could be found, he has some of the hallmarks of a starter at the NHL level. Good body movements, size coupled with athleticism, ability to read shooters and great rebound control. Still not committed to any NCAA program,  it is an open question where he will play next year. A strong finish to his season could see move back up draft boards, but even just holding pace will make him a good gamble in the third round.

Cayden Primeau 2017 Draft Eligible
Position: G, Catches: L H/W: 6-3", 180 lbs
Stats to date (GP-GAA-Save %) Lincoln Stars, USHL (22-3.18-.894)
Cayden Primeau, Lincoln Stars, photo by Hickling Images

Cayden Primeau, Lincoln Stars, photo by Hickling Images

Athleticism/Quickness/Speed: Cayden Primeau, the son of longtime NHLer Keith Primeau, has some of his old man’s natural athleticism. His limbs work well and his reactions are strong. His body is loose and agile, all the more impressive considering his plus size. Grade: 55

Compete/Temperament: On the positive side, Primeau fights nicely through screens. A mass of bodies in his way will not keep him from following the play. On the downside, he rarely only surrenders the one goal. In 18 of his 22 games this year for Lincoln, he has surrendered at least two goals. On eight of those occasions, he allowed at least four. When it rains, it tends to pour. Also, going back to traffic near the cross, that can make him more susceptible to coughing up rebounds. The pros and cons also extend to international play. He was so-so at the Ivan Hlinka, but unbeatable at the WJAC. Grade: 45

Vision/Play Reading: He reads the game well and has the understand of what is unfolding in front of him as most players who grew up with the game. He is generally in place to get to the first puck. Grade: 50

Technique/Style: Here is another area of concern for me. In spite of owning an NHL-sized frame, Primeau too often makes himself small in the crease. Instead of coming out a bit to challenge the puck holder, he sinks back into his crease, almost surrendering the blue paint. He places his trust in his reactions instead of using technique to cover more of the net. Grade: 45

Rebound Control: Primeau gives up too many second chances. I believe that a good chunk of it is related to his positioning in the net, so I don’t want to ding him twice for the same, correctable issue. Some of the rebounds are pushed to safe areas while others are nice and juicy. The latter have a disturbing tendency to end up in the net. Grade: 50

Puck Handling: Although not as comfortable playing the puck as his father was, the younger Primeau is a solid puck player for a goalie. Grade: 50

Summary: I get the sense that those who like Primeau (and there are quite a few who do) are basing their impressions on a four game stretch in the WJAC. He has had eight games with the Stars wherein he allowed more goals in 60 minutes than he did in the four games he guarded the crease for the American representatives in Bonneyville. There is enough to like in the Northeastern commit to dedicate a late round draft pick on him, not least of which are his athleticism and feel for the game. To make it to the show however, he will need to see significant improvement in terms of both his consistency and the technical side of the game.

Evan Barratt 2017 Draft Eligible
Position: C, Shoots L H/W: 5-11", 190 lbs
Stats to date (GP-G-A-PTS-PIMS) USNTDP, USHL (18-7-9-16-10)
  U.S. National U18 Team, USDP (43-13-24-37-44)
Evan Barratt, USNTDP, photo by Rena Laverty

Evan Barratt, USNTDP, photo by Rena Laverty

Skating: Barratt is not a blazer, but he has a solid stride. He gets to where he needs to be. I would like to see him keeping his feet moving more, but that is partially a function of finding an open spot before any one else and needing to wait it out for a beat or so. He is functionally quick. Grade: 50

Shot: He has a very impressive shot release. Needs only a single touch to ready the puck for firing. His wristers and snapshots have strong velocity and accuracy. He likes to set up in the mid-slot area and he can snipe from that distance. As long as he can find those soft spots in coverage in the NCAA and beyond, Barratt should continue to rack up his share of goals. Grade: 60

Skills: Barratt has very good hands. They are both nimble and quick. He can create for teammates, although he does not play a classic playmaking game. His hand-eye coordination is high end, allowing him to tip or redirect point shots from his perch in the slot. He is a strong option for carrying the puck up the ice and getting it into the offensive end. Grade: 60

Smarts: The son of a former QMJHL netminder and a longtime USHL scout Barratt demonstrates a high hockey IQ. He is a regular penalty killer for the program. He does a lot of the little things that regularly draw praise during replays and intermissions. He is patient with the puck and will not force a play. For example, if, when carrying the puck through the neutral zone and his preferred path of O-zone entry is blocked, he will circle back for a different look instead of forcing a play or dumping it in. Grade: 55

Physicality: Although a little bit undersized, Barratt is a feisty player. He plays with spunk and aggression, particularly with his stick. When on the defensive, he is more combative with his wooden appendage than most. He will also look for the big hit on occasion, sometimes even straying into headhunter territory. Grade: 55

Summary: This year’s UNSTDP squad does not have a player the caliber of Clayton Keller, or even Kieffer Bellows, but there is no shortage of intriguing NHL prospects. For my money, the most intriguing of the bunch is Barratt. His overall game is not too far removed from 2016 first rounder Trent Frederic’s, another USNTDP grad. His skill set is sometimes shielded by the roles doled out by the program’s coaching staff, as Barratt plays both left wing and center. Nonetheless, his skill set is nicely balanced and he shows the ability to handle any situation on the ice. A Penn State commit, he will likely need two-three seasons with the Nittany Lions, but will provide to which ever team that drafts him a solid, versatile middle six forward.

Josh Norris 2017 Draft Eligible
Position: C, Shoots L H/W: 6-1", 195 lbs
Stats to date (GP-G-A-PTS-PIMS) USNTDP, USHL (17-7-9-16-10)
  U.S. National U18 Team, USDP (42-17-22-39-22)
Josh Norris, USNTDP, photo by Rena Laverty

Josh Norris, USNTDP, photo by Rena Laverty

Skating: Whether skating for distance up the wing, or in short bursts to get to a loose puck, Norris is nimble, Norris is quick. Norris can get that puck on his stick. Nursery rhymes aside, the Michigan native is an above average skater. Grade: 55

Shot: Although he has found the twine more often than teammate Barratt this year when combining both USHL league games as well as the varied level of competition exhibition games played by the program, Norris’ shot is not an eye catcher. If his stick had a bumper sticker, it would say “I’d rather be passing. Grade: 50

Skills: Norris has special playmaking skills. He could be carrying the puck along the boards into the zone on another ho-hum zone entry when he will suddenly flick the puck diagonally towards a streaking linemate and this blasé rush is now in the danger zone. He has shown time and again that he can weight the puck just so to hit his teammates in stride. His hands are very smooth. Whenever he moves the puck, it can be taken as faith that his team is now in a more advantageous position than before he got it on his stick. Grade: 60

Smarts:  When the program is trying to hold on to a slim lead late in the game, Norris is one of the players most trusted to take the ice. He is also one of their primary penalty killers. In other words, his coaches, those who see him more than anyone, believe in his two-way game and defensive zone commitment.  Grade: 60

Physicality: Talking to an NHL scout, he lamented that this year’s version of the USNTDP are mostly either big guys lacking much skill, or little guys lacking the size and strength to impact the game at higher levels. Although there is some truth to that sentiment, Norris is one of the few on the squad who count as exceptions. In addition to the skills described at length above, he has a pro-sized frame and plays a strong game as well. He can impact the game with his physical presence. Grade: 55

Summary: If Barratt is not the best draft eligible prospect in the USNTDP this year, then it must be Norris. Another son of a former pro (Norris’ father Dwayne had a few NHL cameos in the mid 90s and spent 11 years playing professionally in Germany) the Michigan Wolverine commit has exceptional hockey sense and great passing ability. Further, his skating and size are both NHL fits. I could easily see him blossoming if allowed to focus more on his offensive traits, but even as a two-way center, he could find a top six role in the NHL in his future.

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