Now that my final ranking has been released for the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, I’ll be spending the next week on Nashville-specific targets. For each of the Predators’ seven picks, I’ve constructed a specific draft board based on players I think will be available, players who fall in line with the team’s draft biases, and—occasionally—players I’ve heard linked to the team.
It’s very possible Nashville makes a trade at the draft. These lists do not account for that potential, so, for now, I’ll take a look at the 166th overall pick.
Draft Board - 166th Overall
|Petteri Puhakka||F||Kärpät U20||Jr. A SM-liiga||52||26||27||53||DY+1|
|Matias Rajaniemi||D||Pelicans U20||Jr. A SM-liiga||39||2||15||17||DY|
Kärpät U20 [Jr. A SM-liiga] / F / 5’11” - 170 lbs.
I’ll be the first to admit I’m not always the highest on overage players, but Puhakka really stands out to me. He wasn’t limited to the U18 level in 2018-19 due to (mostly) his own shortcomings and made up for it with a point-per-game season in his DY+1. In 2019-20, he was second on Kärpät in scoring behind Hurricanes prospect Tuukka Tieksola, but his 0.6154 even-strength primary points per game were 11th among all skaters at the Finnish U20 level.
Puhakka plays bigger than his stature and has showed that in preseason Liiga showings this season. His skating mechanics are largely sound, but he doesn’t possess breakaway speed most shifts. His leg extension is solid and rotational power in his edges is up to par too, but his stride recovery could be cleaner. Puhakka is an excellent shooter equipped with a diverse arsenal and chases puck battles well. Moving forward in his development, I’d like to see more intentional puck support positioning and better awareness (in all four directions) in transition.
Baie-Comeau Drakkar [QMJHL] / LW / 6’1” - 185 lbs.
Ansons is a hard player to project: there are evaluators I’ve talked to who love his potential and wouldn’t let him drop past round five, and there are some who don’t even think he’s worth a selection next week. Consider me in the former camp. As a freshman in the QMJHL, Ansons finished fourth on the Drakkar in scoring, but just four of his goals were at even strength paired with just 13 primary points at five-on-five.
Ansons made a living in the bumper spot for Baie-Comeau’s power play this season but flashed potential as more of a play-driver at even strength. He has good vision and patience with the puck to let defenders commit unforced errors, and the mechanics of a good skating stride are there. He stands up too straight in hockey position and could muster a longer leg extension, but those are teachable aspects of his game. To me, Ansons stands out on defense, where he thrives at turning physical contact into takeaways and maintained possession for his team.
Halifax Mooseheads [QMJHL] / C / 6’0” - 179 lbs.
A rare Belgian prospect, Peeters is another European who had a quietly solid QMJHL debut in 2019-20. His 33 points were fifth on a Halifax team even worse than Baie-Comeau, and he led the team with 23 goals. Even better, 13 of those goals came at even strength, and 19 of his total points were primary ones at five-on-five. Peeters’ 0.5088 primary points-per-game ranked 13th among all draft-eligible QMJHL forwards.
The data visualization from Mitch Brown (above) doesn’t inspire much awe, and that’s fair. Peeters didn’t shoot (107 EV shots) and relied too heavily on perimeter, low-danger chances to put the puck towards the net. But Peeters cleans up high-danger chances well due to creative use of his stick and rebounding ability. He positions himself well with the puck, creating two layers of protection with his frame, but either buries his head in transition, isn’t quick enough with his decision making, or lacks pace to beat defenders. An excellent shooting release, however, helps show promise of a good depth prospect.
Pelicans U20 [Jr. A SM-liiga] / D / 6’4” - 205 lbs.
As a 17-year-old until a few weeks ago, Rajaniemi led his team and was eighth among all draft-eligible defenders at the Finnish U20 level with 0.1795 primary points-per-game despite putting just 20 shots on net all season. It’s clear offense isn’t his calling card.
The most noticeable thing about Rajaniemi is his size. For a player his age, his 6’4” frame and right-hand shot are tempting to anyone. Defensively, the biggest flag in his game is skating. His mechanics are fine for someone his size, but he doesn’t have enough control of his edges, so extensions and stride recoveries can flare out at times.
However, Rajaniemi pitches the puck well from his defensive zone, avoiding reckless plays, and can move well with his head up ice. He manages his gaps and lanes to the net well, simply running opponents out of room to operate, but probably requires additional puck support in transition from takeaways.