The NHL Draft always contains a number of prospects who seem to have nearly limitless talent or skills, but for one reason or another cannot consistently put those talents to use. When you have as many draft picks as the Montreal Canadiens, they can afford to reach a bit on some of their picks and take a risk on a high-ceiling player.
A player who may fall into that category is London Knights forward Antonio Stranges, who is extremely talented, but lacks polish and consistency in his game. Even with a dozen picks, are the Canadiens likely to go for a player like Stranges? He’s got the talent, but with a current inability to piece it together, Montreal may opt for safer options.
Date of Birth: February 5, 2002
Weight: 170 lbs.
Team: London Knights (OHL)
Stranges is the very definition of enigmatic, showcasing outstanding edgework and skating to create space for himself all over the ice. He can create plays going end to end and making dynamic plays in the offensive zone. At the same time, Stranges can also vanish entirely for lengths of time, failing to support teammates fully outside of the offensive zone. His odd skating style and tendency to disappear drops Stranges down any draft boards, including some services not ranking him at all.
As stated above, when at his best, Stranges is a thrilling offensive player, utilizing his skating and edgework to shift his way around defenders and generate attacks in the offensive zone. His 10-2 skating style allows him to easily maneuver, while also being able to keep his eyes up and identifying targets in the offensive zone. When he’s got his game clicking, Stranges looks like one of the best players on the ice on any given shift and making life miserable for opposing defenders.
With his head up and fully engaged, Stranges has a knack for getting plays going in the offensive zone. He can keep the puck on a string, pulling up on a moment’s notice to fire a cross-ice feed to a cutting teammate for a goal, or working to win the puck back from defenders and firing a no-look pass to an open shooting option.
Despite scoring just 19 goals, Stranges has a decent nose for the net, using his agility to work into open spaces and put home passes from his linemates. At the same time, Stranges is not just an opportunistic poacher in terms of goals. When he’s got his feet moving he’s a dangerous individual threat. His edge-work and solid straight line speed allow him to break away from defenders in the open ice or in space, and when given a path to the net he gets a chance to show off slick hands and finishing ability.
While his shot isn’t his biggest asset, he loads up his wrist shot well to power it by goalies, but it could also use some work to become an even bigger asset for him. Stranges possesses really smooth puck-handling skills, allowing him to maneuver the puck around goalies in close, and easily flick home pucks on his backhand.
Now, with all those skills available one might think that Stranges was a slam dunk to be a first-round pick, and maybe he would be if he could put those skills to use on a regular basis. Therein lies one of Stranges’ biggest flaws. Despite being an incredibly talented player, he lacks any sort of consistency in production. His inability to be a regular contributor on a strong London team hurts his stock, and it could have been mitigated a bit if not for other flaws he has as well.
Chief among those issues is his weak defensive play and general play off of the puck in most areas of the ice. When Stranges lost the puck, his ability to support in the defensive zone is almost non-existent, and he looks generally lost in coverage in that regard. While physicality isn’t a make-or-break thing, Stranges doesn’t engage in almost any situation, even if it would force a turnover in the Knights’ favour. When he has the opportunity he can create breakaway chances from his own end, but overall his defensive play needs a major uptick to make his NHL potential a possibility.
Perhaps the most bizarre aspect of Stranges’ game is his stubborn insistence to use the 10-2 skating style in all circumstances. The skating style, when properly utilized, allows him to get around defenders and create space, but he uses it in almost every conceivable situation. That includes in open ice when he should be using a different technique to create separation from defenders. His use of the 10-2 style opens him up to being knocked off the puck more often, which leads to his defensive woes in turn. It’s a thing that can be coached out of him, but it remains a hugely frustrating portion of his game.
Elite Prospects: Do Not Draft
Future Considerations: #48
Hockey Prospect: N/R
NHL Central Scouting(NA Skaters): #56
Stranges is, quite frankly, an enigma of a player, but one that could very easily reward a patient team with a good development system. His offensive talents are undeniable when he’s got all facets of his game working. He’s dynamic, shifty, and a treat to watch when he’s circling around the offensive zone with the puck on his stick.
He’s also maddeningly inconsistent, with a number of flaws to his game that make him a potentially huge risk for a team to take. It all comes down to whether or not an NHL team is willing to accept Stranges as a high-ceiling project. For the Canadiens, they have 12 picks and haven’t had any qualms about selecting similar players like Joni Ikonen in the past. It would be unwise to reach for Stranges early on, but if he’s sitting on the board in the later rounds, swinging for the fences isn’t the worst idea in the world either.