FanPost

2016 NHL Entry Draft Sleepers: North American Forwards

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Every year there are high upside players who slip through the cracks into the later rounds and are dubbed the "steals" of the draft. Even in a shallow draft year such as this one, there are many intriguing players ranked in the late second round onward. This is a list of forwards playing in North America that Montreal should take a hard look at with their later round picks.

Dmitri Sokolov

Sudbury Wolves, OHL

A rookie to the OHL and taken 3rd in the 2015 CHL import draft, Sokolov is a big player who loves to play a heavy game. He uses his large frame to his advantage when battling for pucks, and essentially goes where he wants with his bowling-ball style of play. However, his size has also become a red flag for scouts, as he came into camp at 222 lbs; way overweight for a player of his height and age. This translated to poor conditioning and stamina on the ice. Sokolov and his training staff clearly took note of this, as he was able to shed 14 pounds over the course of the season, finishing at 208 lbs.

Perhaps Sokolov’s most impressing skill is his shot. He possesses a hard, heavy wrist shot with a very quick release. He is patient with the puck, often out-waiting the opposing goalies on dekes before he deposits the puck into the virtually empty net. He combines his scoring touch with great playmaking ability, making him a dangerous power forward. He uses his size and vision along with high hockey IQ allow him to make sneaky passes to set up his teammates. He also has quick hands, allowing him to thrive in tight.

Sokolov’s skating ability is not one of his highlights, but it isn’t terrible either. He has good mechanics and edgework, which allow him to be shifty in closed quarters. However, he isn’t very fast, and his poor conditioning makes his skating worse as the game, and season, goes on. Also, like many other Russian prospects, Sokolov’s defensive abilities and consistency remain a question mark. He does not completely neglect his defensive responsibilities, but his tendency to get winded forces him to not back check as hard as some scouts would like.

The situation Sokolov was put in this year also makes him hard to project. He was a rookie playing on one of the worst teams in the OHL, which likely hurt his numbers. He also has a chronic shoulder dislocation, which caused him to constantly pop it back into place, whether on the bench or during play using the boards. While this goes to show Sokolov’s toughness and resiliency, the shoulder issue could also make NHL teams warry of him, dropping him farther in the draft. He is supposed to have surgery to hopefully fix the issue, but it will certainly be something for his future NHL team to monitor.

Overall, Sokolov is a very interesting prospect who came into the year as a possible 1st round pick (ranked 12th overall by Bob McKenzie in September), but numerous red flags have caused him to tumble down the ranks. Whichever team is willing to take a gamble on him could be receiving a very good power forward, which makes him a high upside pick in the middle rounds.

Born: April 14th, 1998; Omsk, Russia

Shoots: Left

Position: Forward

Height: 6’1"

Weight: 205 lbs

Style Comparison: James Neal*

*Style comparison is a comparison of the player’s style, not skill.

Ranking: 129th (NHL Central Scouting NA skaters), 93rd ISS, 88th Future Considerations, 94th Craig Button, 150th McKeen's, 27th Corey Pronman; 3rd - 4th round.

Potential: Middle 6 Forward

Season Highlights:

  • · 1st on Sudbury in points
  • · 1st Sudbury player to score 30 goals since 13-14, 1st rookie since 96-97
  • · 1st in OHL rookie goal scoring (30)
  • · 3rd in OHL draft eligible shots (231)
  • · T-3rd in OHL draft eligible goal scoring (30)

Regular Season

Team

GP

G (ES G)

A (Primary A) [ES Primary A]

Pts (Primary Pts) [ES Primary Pts)

PPG

SH%

Sudbury Wolves

68

30 (20)

22 (13) [8]

52 (43) [28]

0.76

231/

12.99

International (2014-15)

Team

Tournament

GP

G

A

Pts

PPG

Russia

WHC-17

6

6

3

9

1.5

Russia

WJC-18

5

2

3

5

1.0

Video: Dmitri Sokolov All Goals

Vladimir Kuznetsov

Acadie-Bathurst Titan, QMJHL

Despite having the same last name, Vladimir Kuznetsov is in no way related to the Washington forward. However, he is a very talented Russian prospect selected 1st overall in the 2015 CHL import draft, although that was likely due more to his willingness to sign than to his skill.

Kuznetsov definitely plays the game like a power forward. He uses his big frame to protect the puck and drive the net. When he doesn’t have the puck in the offensive zone, he is most comfortable in front of the net, where he likes to cause trouble for opposing defenders and goal tenders while looking for a backdoor pass or rebound. He uses his size to his advantage along the boards, making him good on the cycle. Kuznetsov is a good playmaker, using his grittiness and good saucer pass to make plays. He has good hockey IQ which allows him to find open ice in the opposing zone. He also possesses a hard shot and quick release.

Kuznetsov’s biggest weakness, by all accounts, is his skating. He has a choppy stride and a hunched stance, which causes him to have poor acceleration and speed. He can easily be caught by opposing defenders, at which point he must make use of his frame to shield the puck. Defensively, Kuznetsov actually dispels the typical Russian stereotype as he works hard, positions himself well and employs an active stick to cut off passing lanes. However, he can get caught lagging behind the play due to his speed, so this will certainly be a main focal point of his going forward if he plans to be successful.

Overall, besides his skating, Kuznetsov has all the tools to become a successful NHL power forward. His stats will likely continue to improve as he adjusts to North American hockey, develops his skills and as his young Acadie-Bathurst teammates improve as well.

Born: February 18th, 1998; Yekaterinburg, Russia

Shoots: Left

Position: Winger

Height: 6’1"

Weight: 214 lbs

Style Comparison: Mark Stone*

*Style comparison is a comparison of the player’s style, not skill.

Ranking: 55th (NHL Central Scouting NA skaters), 99th ISS, 86th Future Considerations, 99th Corey Pronman, 101st Hockeyprospects.com, 127th McKeen's; 3rd-4th Round

Potential: Middle 6 Winger

Season Highlights:

  • · 3rd on Acadie-Bathurst in points (58)
  • · 4th in QMJHL rookie points (58)
  • · 5th in QMJHL draft eligible shots (209)
  • · 6th in QMJHL draft eligible goals (25)

Regular Season

Team

GP

G (ES G)

A (Primary A) [ES Primary A]

Pts (Primary Pts) [ES Primary Pts)

PPG

SH%

Acadie-Bathurst Titan

68

25 (17)

33 (13) [10]

58 (38) [27]

0.85

11.96

Playoffs

Team

GP

G

A

Pts

PPG

SH%

Acadie-Bathurst Titan

5

0

1

1

0.2

N/A

International

Team

Tournament

GP

G

A

Pts

PPG

Russia

WJC-U18

5

0

3

3

0.6

Video: Vladimir Kuznetsov two goals

Alan Lyszczarczyk

Sudbury Wolves, OHL

Alan Lyszczarczyk has certainly had an interesting story so far in his hockey career, but what else would you expect from a Polish player, born in Wallington, New Jersey, who has played most of his hockey in Czech leagues? Coming into this season, Lyszczarczyk was a complete unknown, despite his dominance in the Czech U16 and U18 leagues. He was not eligible for the import draft because his parents had been living in the United States for a few years, so he was brought onto Sudbury as an undrafted free agent. Regardless, his coaches were excited about what he could bring to the team, as they should have been. He led the Czech U18 league in points last year (66 pts in 42 GP), and the year before that he scored 20 goals in 19 games in the same league.

Lyszczarczyk most defining traits are his skating and non-stop motor. He has very good speed and a great work ethic, never backing down and always competing for space. His nifty hands allow him to make moves in tight. He seems to have good hockey IQ and vision, making him a good playmaker. He is also sound defensively, and is very good at stripping opponents of the puck before transitioning it up ice to one of his teammates.

Being an undrafted free agent signing to one of the worst OHL teams, everything was against Lyszczarczyk heading into the season. It also didn’t help that he started the year off on the 4th line, going pointless in his first 6 games, and then being a healthy scratch in favour of other fringe youngsters. However, as the season went on, Lyszczarczyk impressed his coaches enough to earn a spot on the team’s top line, and eventually finished just 2 points behind Dmitri Sokolov for the team lead. The uphill battle won’t stop now, as Lyszczarczyk must still continue to impress NHL teams as he develops. However, if there is one thing Lyszczarczyk has proven, it’s that he thrives as the under dog. Montreal loves players with character, and Lyszczarczyk has no shortage of that.

Born: February 17th, 1998; Wallington, NJ, USA

Shoots: Left

Position: C/LW

Height: 6’0"

Weight: 181lbs

Style Comparison: Zemgus Girgensons*

*Style comparison is a comparison of the player’s style, not skill.

Ranking: 134th (NHL Central Scouting NA skaters), 150th ISS, 144th Hockeyprospect.com, 201st Future Considerations; 5th round.

Potential: Bottom 9 Forward

Season Highlights:

  • 2nd on Sudbury in points (50)
  • 1st on Sudbury in primary assists (21)
  • 2nd on Sudbury in shots (167)
  • 7th in OHL in rookie points (50)

Regular Season

Team

GP

G (ES G)

A (Primary A) [ES Primary A]

Pts (Primary Pts) [ES Primary Pts)

PPG

Shots/ SH%

Sudbury Wolves

67

17 (13)

33 (21) [18]

50 (38) [31]

0.76

167/ 10.18

International

Team

Tournament

GP

G

A

Pts

PPG

Poland

WJC-U18 D2A

5

2

10

12

2.4

Video (watch for #11): Alan Lyszczarczyk's Best Plays

Maxime Fortier

Halifax Mooseheads, QMJHL

In a year where the CHL lacks scoring talent into the later rounds, Maxime Fortier stands out. Having collected 77 points in 68 games, he is one of the few players not ranked in the first 2 rounds who scored above a point per game. After veteran players like Danny Moyniham, Timo Meier and Cavan Fitzgerald were traded, Fortier was forced to not only lead on the ice, but off the ice too as assistant captain. Fortier did more than was expected of him, as he elevated his game with his bigger role.

The first thing everyone seems to notice about Fortier is his exceptional skating. He has blistering speed, a smooth stride and can make turns on a dime. He also has a nice set of hands which allows him to maneuver around players during the odd times that they actually get close to him, resulting in some highlight reel goals. He also possesses a good shot with a quick release. Additionally, he can make plays with his speed and good vision. He is not a tall player, but that doesn’t keep him from playing a hard-nosed game. He loves to crash the net after making a shot to put in a rebound, and he’s sturdy enough on his skates that he doesn’t get knocked around too much by bigger defenseman.

As a small offensive player, one of his biggest areas of improvement will need to be his defensive game. He isn’t terrible defensively, but he could work on his positioning and putting in a consistent effort. However, with how bad Halifax was this year, Fortier may have also just been doing everything he could to score, and let his teammates take over more defensive responsibilities. As it was, he carried Halifax to any success that they had, but it’s hard to carry a team in both ends.

Overall, Fortier reminds me of many of the other smallish forwards Montreal has snagged in the later rounds. Fortier himself has mentioned that Montreal has shown interest in him, including being one of the handful of teams to interview the scoring forward, so it appears as though Timmins could be following that same strategy yet again. Fortier is one of my personal favourites past the third round, and could end up being one of the steals of the draft.

Born: December 15, 1997; Lachine, QC, CAN

Shoots: Right

Position: RW

Height: 5’10"

Weight: 176lbs

Style Comparison: Sven Andrighetto*

*Style comparison is a comparison of the player’s style, not skill.

Ranking: 145th (NHL Central Scouting NA skaters), 165th ISS, 70th Craig Button, 73rd Considerations, 83rd Corey Pronman, 104th Hockeyprospect.com; 5th round.

Projection: Top 6 Forward

Season Highlights:

  • · 1st on Halifax in points, 31 ahead of second place (77)
  • · 1st on Halifax in goals, 18 ahead of second place (31)
  • · 1st on Halifax in assists/primary assists (46/24)
  • · 3rd in QMJHL draft eligible points (77)
  • · 4th in QMJHL draft eligible goals (31)
  • · 2nd in QMJHL draft eligible shots (236)
  • · 4th in QMJHL draft eligible forwards in TOI (21.01)
  • · Involved in 39.9% of all Halifax goals

Regular Season

Team

GP

G (ES G)

A (Primary A) [ES Primary A]

Pts (Primary Pts) [ES Primary Pts)

PPG

Shots/

SH%

Halifax Mooseheads

68

31 (22)

46 (24) [14]

77 (55) [36]

1.132

236/

13.136

Video:

Colin Grannary

Merritt Centennials, BCHL

Colin Grannary is one of my very favourite sleeper picks in this years draft class, but is hardly garnering any attention, likely due to several factors. First of all, Grannary plays tier II hockey in the BCHL, so unless his numbers were as ridiculous as Tyson Jost's, most teams will consider him a risky pick for now. Secondly, Colin is one of the oldest players in their first year of draft eligibility, as he was born on September 24th 1997. These two factors alone will have scouts placing Grannary in the later rounds, but I believe if a team does take a chance on him, they will be very, very pleased.

Grannary has all the traits you want in an offensive center. At 6’0", he is not short, although he has lots of room to fill out his frame at only 170 lbs. Grannary possesses good quickness and has no problem using his speed to win races or get around defenders. What really makes Grannary stand out though is his elusiveness and one-on-one (or three) abilities. There are times it seems as though the other team could put all five skaters on Grannary and he would still find a way to dipsy-doodle his way through them all. He is able to do this through a combination of very high level lateral movement, edge-work, stick handling and tenacity. Grannary can juke defenders like a running back, can make button hooks as well as any wide receiver, and could stick-handle in a phone booth. Even if a defender does happen to make contact with him, Grannary always maintains control of the puck, and he consistently makes nearly impossible plays from his knees. Grannary’s confidence allows him to make moves you only expect to see attempted during a game of pond hockey, making his highlight package one of the most fun to watch in the entire draft class. Grannary has very high level hockey IQ and vision, especially in the offensive zone. He can finish plays himself as well with his quick release. Grannary’s puck skills also help him in the face-off circle, as he is well above average in that regard.

Not much has been documented on Grannary’s defensive play, but if he is like almost any other skilled forward at his age, I’d guess that’s the area he needs to improve on most. My only other critique is that at higher levels, Grannary may get caught holding onto the puck too long. At tier II and with his skill level, Grannary can get away with holding onto the puck as long as he pleases. But against stronger and more capable opposition, I feel like he may create unnecessary turnovers. This is just a small issue however, and he will likely simply adjust to the faster paced, higher level game like other skilled prospects do.

The highlight of Grannary’s season likely came during the Canadian Junior Hockey League Top Prospects Game. Grannary played for Team West, which also consisted of highly touted prospects like Tyson Jost, Dante Fabbro and Dennis Cholowski. Despite the relatively star studded team, Grannary stole the show. Grannary scored the only goal for Team West and won team MVP honours while doing so. Kyle Woodlief said he was the "best forward on the ice all night for either team", and displayed the same work ethic and skill scouts expected from him.

Overall, Grannary would likely be ranked much higher if his birthday was a few months later and if he played in a higher league, but this ultimately doesn’t matter as long as he is selected somewhere in the draft. However, based on his current rankings, this is not guaranteed. There is a good chance he is available to Montreal as late as the 7th round, although if I was GM I’d reach for him as early as the fifth (and rank him in the third). In my opinion, Grannary could be the #1 steal of the draft.

Born: September 24th, 1997; Delta, BC, CAN

Shoots: Right

Position: Center

Height: 6’0"

Weight: 170lbs

Style Comparison: Tyler Ennis*

*Style comparison is a comparison of the player’s style, not skill.

Ranking: 178th (NHL Central Scouting NA skaters), 179th ISS, 200th Future Considerations, 156th Hockeyprospect.com; 7th round.

Projection: Top 6 Forward

Season Highlights:

  • · 1st on Merritt in points by 22 (76)
  • · 9th in the BCHL in points/assists (76/48)
  • · Team West MVP with 1 goal
  • · Committed to the University of Nebraska-Omaha for the 2017/18 season

Regular Season

Team

GP

G (ES G)

A (ES A)

Pts [ES Pts)

PPG

Shots/

SH%

Merritt Centennials

55

28 (19)

48 (37)

76 (56)

1.38

N/A

Video:

With so many players eligible for the draft, there are obviously many interesting players. Tell me your personal favourites in the comments, and come back tomorrow for the best North American overage forwards eligible for this draft.

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