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Preds Prospects Report: February

How development is going for the team.

2020/2021 Kontinental Hockey League: CSKA Moscow vs Traktor Chelyabinsk Photo by Gavriil Grigorov\TASS via Getty Images

As much as it seems this season just started, it’s nearly over for several prospects in the Nashville organization. The KHL and VHL playoffs have started and championship weekend for college hockey conferences are upon us, just as the WHL is getting off the ground with its 2021 season.

As different as this year has been, I’m still hand tracking as many games as possible for all players in the pipeline—data which will be featured below.

February


1... There’s been much dismay about Iaroslav Askarov’s lack of playing time since returning from the Beijer Hockey Games in mid-February. He served as SKA’s backup for five games in late February but before that, went to the VHL for two starts with SKA-Neva.

Most recently this week, he started two games for SKA-1946 of the MHL (Russian junior league), stopping 47 of 48 shots, including a 4-0 shutout win to finish their regular season yesterday. With Neva not making the VHL playoffs and Alexander Samonov taking the net for SKA in the KHL playoffs, I expect Askarov to stick with SKA-1946 as they enter the MHL playoffs as the top seed.

And, to help qualm any concerns, Askarov has never been the KHL club’s starter. He’s only recored nine KHL appearances this season between frequent international play. No need to sound any alarms.

2... If you took a quick look at his stat lines over the last few seasons, you may not think much of Marc Del Gaizo as an NHL prospect. His point total has declined from a 29-point freshman season at UMass to 15 points last season and just nine so far in 2021. But that’s nowhere near the whole story.

His sophomore season was plagued by injury and COVID has turned this season upside down for everyone. Last weekend, Del Gaizo scored his first goal of the season in his 19th game. It was unusual, just like the fact it took the defender—who head coach Greg Carvel consistently quips is, “outstanding every night,”—this long to find the goal column.

Del Gaizo should, and likely will, go back for his senior season with the Minutemen. I have to be extremely cognizant of how the pandemic has affected play in my evaluations this season. I’m still confident he’s part of an exciting class of mobile defenders in the pipeline that can make an NHL impact, including Semyon Chistyakov and Adam Wilsby.

3... Just as I was singing his praises, Alex Campbell went radio silent. He’s still had a phenomenal freshman year at Clarkson with four goals and 17 points in 21 games. But, he struggled down the stretch, finding the scoresheet just twice in his last ten games (both assists).

Clarkson was scheduled to finish their regular season with two games against St. Lawrence this weekend, but those have been canceled due to COVID spread. With a four-team ECAC this season, the Golden Knights are without an opponent to cap off their seaso

4... I’ve written this admission before, but I didn’t quite see the season Adam Wilsby is having in the SHL coming. After being selected by Nashville in the fourth round of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, I was tantalized by his skill and skating mechanics, but as an overage pick, I wasn’t sure how much of an NHL impact he could make.

His post-draft year with Skellefteå has been fantastic. In 44 games, he’s scored four goals and 15 points; He’s 23rd among all defenders in league scoring despite averaging three or more minutes less ice time than anyone in the top-20 except for Victor Berglund and Albert Johansson.

He’s really started to refine his game at the pro level and combine his skating skill, puck management, and scoring chance activation skills. In seven games tracked, he’s exited the defensive zone with possession 69.8% of the time at even-strength and allowed just 33.3% of entries against him to maintain possession.

5... Nashville’s third-round pick at the 2020 NHL Entry Draft in October, Luke Prokop, will finally hit the ice this weekend as the WHL season is now underway. Prokop and the Calgary Hitmen will kick off their 24-game schedule this weekend with a home-and-home series against the Red Deer Rebels.

Prokop will serve as one of the Hitmen’s alternate captains this season.

6... Yegor Afanasyev has also bounced around the Russian leagues since the World Junior Championship; in mid-February, he skated in two games each for Zvezda Moskva (VHL) and Krasnaya Armiya Moskva (MHL). But he’s back with the KHL club and has been skating as their extra forward with the playoffs underway.

One thing I’ve noticed in tracking his KHL games is an improvement in puck support. He’s alternated between the left and right wings, but has mastered this play featured above. Notice how he (#76, red) reads the clearing attempt from his teammate and gets a step on chasing down the puck from the far side of the ice. The possession doesn’t result in much, but he backchecks well to help contribute to the opponent’s turnover. I think there is a bit more consistency in his knee bend that’s helping him with speed, too.

In seven games tracked, he’s maintaining possession on zone entries just 50.0% of the time, but that’s not alarming for his age at the pro level.

7... Even more bewildering than Marc Del Gaizo’s goal drought is that of Jachym Kondelik’s. He’s never been a goal-scorer but the 6’5” UConn center doesn’t have a single tally in 21 games for the Huskies this season; He does have 17 assists, nine of which were primary ones at even-strength.

I suspect Kondelik will return for his senior season, but I’m less convinced than ever of the prospect Nashville may have here. Sometimes he looks engaged and unforgiving, other times, it’s obvious that he’s only attempting 10.15 shots per 60 minutes of even-strength ice time this year.

We’re a long way off, but Nashville may not get a single NHL game out of their 2018 draft class.

8... We still don’t have any finalized details on the possibility of an OHL season this year. A month ago, it seemed to me that any season at all was extremely unlikely. But now with the WHL starting and the QMJHL season resuming, the pressure is on. Nashville’s second-round pick last year, Luke Evangelista, has yet to play a competitive hockey game since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The future of the OHL season is also extremely relevant to the 2021 NHL Draft. Teams are petitioning the league to push the draft back to next summer or to only conduct one round this summer. Scouts are concerned they haven’t been able to do their job properly during the pandemic and some prospects are concerned given they’ve had no chance to improve their draft stock.

But there is push back here. The league is against it for a variety of reasons, including the CBA headache it would cause that would last for years. There’s another counterargument here too (one that I subscribe to). I certainly feel for OHL players, but teams have extensive resources and previous years of video to scout. Plus, nearly every other league has been able to put some form of a season together. Why should those prospects be punished for the sake of the OHL?

9... On the scoresheet, Gunnarwolfe Fontaine has featured prominently for Northeastern this season. As a freshman, he’s recorded six goals and 15 points in 19 games; Seven of those 15 points are primary ones scored at even-strength.

He can be electrifying with his skill, and it’s encouraging to note that he’s recorded a primary point on 63.5% of the Huskies’ even-strength goals he’s been on the ice for. But remind yourself that he is an overage, 20-year old freshman, so despite the normal adjustment to NCAA hockey, this kind of production should be expected.

Two things I’m still monitoring: defensive positioning and transition play. In the defensive zone, I see him floating too much and not in a position to best aid a potential breakout; in four games tracked, the Huskies have allowed 55.18 shot attempts against while he’s on the ice. In transition, I’ve seen too many instances of him getting squeezed out along the boards and losing momentum. He has the footspeed to beat most college defenders, but he’s losing possession on almost 10% of transition attempts.


What I’m reading:


All statistics are courtesy of eliteprospects.com, collegehockeynews.com, or my own manual data tracking.