December was a busy month. Two prospects played in the 2019 World Junior Championships, one played in the Spengler Cup, and one in the World Junior A Challenge. While league play was on hold for much of the month for prospects, there was still plenty to discuss. Welcome to the PPR.
1. Who would have ever thought I would be kicking off two prospects reports in a row with Jacob Paquette? Not me, but here we are. On January 6, Paquette scored a goal to tie the game against the Hamilton Bulldogs in the second period.
It was only his third goal on the season, but his 15th point, which ties his OHL season record he set in 2017-18. The only difference? He scored 15 points in 63 games last season; this year he’s already got 15 points in 40 games.
Paquette is riding a four-game point streak including his first multi-point performance of the season on New Year’s Eve against Ottawa. He is heating up just at the right time as he looks for an entry-level deal from Nashville this off-season and as the Ice Dogs gear up for a Memorial Cup run.
2. Nashville’s fifth-round pick this past summer, Spencer Stastney, picked up his first point of the season—an assist—in Notre Dame’s New Year’s Eve win over Boston College. I don’t think anyone expected Stastney to be a two-year collegiate player (in fact, I expect four years and who knows about an NHL future), but one point in 19 games is curious.
On the US NTDP U18 team last season, Stastney was fourth among defenders in scoring with 28 points in 57 games (behind Bode Wilde, Mattias Samuelsson, and K’Andre Miller). Miller was a first-round pick of the Rangers and has 17 points in 18 games at Wisconsin this season. Ty Emberson —who was just behind Stastney in scoring—was a third round pick of the Coyotes and has six points in 20 games at Wisconsin.
Ninth-ranked Notre Dame has been on-and-off lately with a 3-2-0 record in December and into January. Lines have been shuffled more than usual especially in the outdoor game against Michigan on January 5th. Stastney has played all over the place but hasn’t gotten big minutes yet for a Notre Dame team ranked 16th in goals per game. I’m curious to see if Stastney has a Coyotes-like second half to the season and what his sophomore year looks like. Notre Dame will likely be returning all but one or two of their current d-corps.
Note: This is Stastney’s third season as a full-time defender.
3. Nashville’s fourth-round draft choice in 2018, Jáchym Kondelík, represented the Czech Republic at the World Junior Championships in Vancouver last month. Kondelik managed one goal and one assist in five games but certainly put his name on the map.
Up to 16 points in 19 games for UConn this season, Kondelík spoke to Julie Robenhymer of EP Rinkside at the WJC about a variety of things but touched on his focus of getting stronger and improving his shot. Patrik Elias, Czechia’s assistant coach, noted how useful Kondelík can be at even strength, on the man advantage, and on the penalty kill. You can check out that piece here.
Many will remember Kondelík’s goal at the WJC for his infamous net-front presence seen below:
When drafted, there was much criticism about his puck-carrying abilities once people got over his stature, but Kondelík has exceed expectations in that department and is establishing his game at UConn as an asset on the power play and an elite puck distributor.
No projection from me, but I know there has been heavy chatter inside and outside the organization about his impressive progress this season.
4. Last weekend, Nashville prospect Eeli Tolvanen won gold with Team Finland at the World Junior Championships in Vancouver becoming the 17th Preds draftee to win gold at the WJC:
2019 - - Tolvanen— On The Future (@OnTheFutureOTF) January 6, 2019
2018 - - Fabbro
2017 - - Harper
2014 - - Juvonen, Saros, Vainonen, Maënalanen
2013 - - Jones, Vesey
2009 - - Ellis, Pickard
2007 - - Franson
2006 - - Parent
2005 - - Weber
2004 - - Suter
2003 - - Shishkanov
2001 - - Erat
Tolvanen finished the tournament with four assists in seven games, which was a far cry from the production expected of him. I know a lot of people are down on him after a ‘poor’ tournament, but there were many things I liked. I think his skating has evened out quite a bit, and he’s become much more physical along the boards. Additionally, his effort wasn’t for lack of trying. After some head-scratching mistakes early in the game, Tolvanen announced his presence against Canada but Mikey DiPietro had his number on 5-6 scoring chances in the second period. And it’s Tolvanen who sets up the game-tying play in that game by drawing the defense towards him and powering through two checks:
And it’s plays like the one below that aren’t talked about with zero goals on the scoresheet:
I think the WJC is a fun tournament that can help prospects and draft-eligible players stand out. I do not think it is any indictment of a player. It’s a seven- (or less) game tournament. Anything can happen. Including shooting 4.00% all tournament like Eeli Tolvanen did. His ice time and performance in the second half of the AHL season will be more telling.
5. With the news regarding Miroslav Svoboda (which I will get to later), all eyes are now on Karel Vejmelka, who is one of Nashville’s prospects with expiring rights this summer. Nashville now only has five goalies in the system and none of them are playing professionally in North America. Vejmelka is the oldest of the group at 22.
After a down year in 2017-18, Vejmelka has once again taken the starting reigns for Brno of the Czech league. In 22 games this season he has a save percentage of 0.914 and an 0.883 save percentage in five Champions League appearances. His career-high for starts in the top Czech league is 31 (2016-17).
There has been recent news out of Brno that Libor Kašik, who has started seven games for Brno this season, is transferring to Zlin, and it was made official today. That leaves Vejmelka and Ducks prospect Lukáš Dostál—who shone for Czechia at the WJC but has not played a game in the top Czech league—as Brno’s options in net.
Vejmelka is in the perfect spot to win himself a contract with the lion’s share of work coming his way in the second half of the season. Keep your eyes peeled for some more on him coming soon.
6. Tomáš Vomáčka spent his December representing the Czech Republic at the 2018 World Junior A Challenge. You can read more on his work at that tournament here.
Vomáčka has six appearances through UConn’s first 20 games. The Huskies have 14 regular season match-ups left with two sets of back-to-back games (New Hampshire & Boston). I’d anticipate Vomáčka bagging hopefully four more starts before the post-season.
7. Rem Pitlick continues to excel for the Golden Gophers. He now has nine goals and 20 points in 19 games for an average Minnesota team. After an eight-game point streak came to an end, Pitlick responding the three points in a January 5th win over rival Penn State.
Pitlick is full of impressive plays—like the one below—and has a really complete game. There are traces of Craig Smith in there, but Pitlick can be a dominant puck-carrier.
I know the focus will be on Dante Fabbro this summer, but it’s hard to imagine management doesn’t put the press on Pitlick to leave Minnesota after his junior season.
8. One prospect I don’t write often about is goalie Konstantin Volkov. The Russian drafted in 2016 was traded around Thanksgiving to Ugra Khanty-Mansiysk and has appeared in two games for them since with a save percentage of 0.944. It’s his first time outside of the St. Petersburg organization, and it appears to have hit a wall.
Volkov lost his first start with Ugra 3-2 against Dinamo St. Petersburg on December 4th, turning away 18 of 21 shots faced. He then started again on December 15th against HC Tambov but was pulled about 27 minutes into a game that would end up being a 6-0 win.
Extracting information out of Russia about the nature of these sorts of things is next to impossible. But I surmise this is injury-related, seeing as he has not appeared in-game since the 15th.
9. On Tuesday, Elliotte Friedman reported that goalie Miroslav Svoboda was being placed on waivers for contract termination.
Wilson (BUF) on waivers, as is Miroslav Svoboda (NASH), on unconditional for purposes of contract termination.— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) January 8, 2019
This is the fourth player Nashville has waived this season and the second one that they signed just in 2018. It’s an interesting scenario here. Svoboda started the season as the starter for Atlanta in the ECHL—a team that has NHL affiliation not with Nashville. It was a smart move considering he likely wasn’t going to start in Milwaukee. But, despite his best efforts, one of the worst teams in the ECHL in front of him wasn’t doing him any favors. Since then, Sean Bonar has bested Svoboda’s numbers in an equal number of starts.
Svoboda was placed on reserve on December 27th with no real indication as to why, so it seems whatever the problem was arose some time ago. I would surmise this has to do with the unhappiness of the player and am curious to see what comes of it considering Carl Persson’s earlier comments about Atlanta.
Furthermore, I’m not certain where Svoboda goes from here. The two clubs in Czechia that he has ties to are both set in net with Šimon Hrubec (HC Ocelari Trinec) and Dominik Frodl (HC Skoda Plzen) at the top of the league in save percentage.
Now, our attention turns to Niclas Westerholm and Karel Vejmelka.
10. There are some prospects I get to watch more of than others for a variety of reasons. One that I see less frequently is Hardy Häman Aktell. But, I got to catch a full game of his this past weekend.
He’s now skated in 24 games this season which is the most he has played since 2015-16 and 23 of them have been with Björklöven of the Allsvenskan (the AHL of Sweden, if you will).
But, back to the game, Aktell looked okay. Defense pairs were put in a blender for a good part of the game, so he was switching between the first and third pair with Stars prospect Jakob Stenqvist and former Blues pick Alexander Hellström.
I was impressed with several of his outlet passes across multiple lines and his ability to get them off quickly after a pivot and with accuracy. He had no glaring errors, but I noticed he liked to float a bit too much in the defensive zone. I wouldn’t necessarily consider it cheating up the ice, but kudos to him for always keeping his feet moving.
11. I touched on him earlier, but I wanted to say this about Dante Fabbro as we enter the second half of the season. First, I thought he really excelled for Team Canada at the Spengler Cup. He had three points in four games and was named to the All-Tournament team. He didn’t look out of place and made the heady plays we are used to seeing.
Now the focus returns to Boston University. It’s no secret that this season has not gone as planned for the Terriers, but they’re still just two games back of 0.500. We know exactly where the organization lies with Fabbro: they think he is ready to play pro hockey (this doesn’t rule out time in Milwaukee).
The team was respectful when Fabbro said he wanted to return for his junior season, and why wouldn’t he? Team captain, exciting new recruits, a new coach, and a chance to make a run at things. But, here we are: Boston is 6-8-3. So, what happens? The organization will make their hardest pitch yet to pull him out of school this summer, and I think it’s the likeliest scenario. The team is losing at least two seniors and likely sophomore forward Shane Bowers but does have some exciting underclassmen in Logan Cockerill, Jake Wise, and Joel Farabee, and new recruits like Liam Gorman and Robert Mastrosimone.
I don’t think Fabbro returning for a senior season means he is spurning Nashville, either. After all, this is entirely his right.
The words above are from Craig Custance of The Athletic on the forthcoming trade deadline. I think his point about Adam Fox and Carolina applies to Fabbro. The Predators will need to show there is opportunity for him—maybe not in the top four right away, but opportunity nonetheless. This is why I think the decision that Poile does not take enough heat for was signing Matt Irwin and Yannick Weber to two-year deals last January. Dan Hamhuis is in that category too, but job security for an older player is a factor in that case.
That’s it for this month. One quick note as we head into spring: there will be a lot of talk about college free agents in the next several months. My names to keep an eye on are Quinnipiac defender Brandon Fortunato, Minnesota State - Mankato forward Marc Michaelis, and Clarkson forward Nico Sturm, who Elliotte Friedman mentioned was heavily scouted last week at the Desert Hockey Classic in Arizona.