Saskatoon Wild Scouting Center, Saskatchewan – Hunter Hearst Helmsley. Shane Mars. Kari Jurri.
Long ago, the four nations lived toge – uh, wrong intro. My bad.
These three prospects are ostensibly the most talented and highly-sought after players in a draft that is nearly (if not already) 90 players deep. As expected, they (among maybe a half-dozen other prospects) have received plenty of airtime and speculation: we’re used to hearing the pro comparisons and possible career trajectories, fans clamoring for lower-ranked teams to ‘tank’ their season to get the next most valuable prospect, and so on.
To put this in perspective – the last several dispersal drafts have had between forty and seventy draftees; aside from last season’s dispersal (67 players) the next most comparable was a 51-man dispersal ten seasons ago, in Season 56’s draft. When compared with Entry drafts, it’s still potentially the largest field of selectable players in recent history.
The lowest TPE pick from S65’s entry draft was Billy Kimber, the thirty-first (although not the last) overall pick of the draft, who had 32 TPE with the season’s live draft rankings; there are 87 players this season with at least that many points waiting for their chance at the pros. Overall, the Season 65 draft had 38 drafted players – this season’s pool would have half of its players go entirely undrafted if the same were to happen this season.
Make no mistake – recruiters have been putting in their work and it’s been paying off. But because this season’s draft pool is so apparently deep, players with the potential to make it as World Juniors, World Cup players, or first-round fantasy picks may go without being mentioned until draft time.
“We’ve got enough first-round quality wings alone to make up most Entry drafts by themselves,” one anonymous scout commented at a Week 2 VHLM game, “Mars and Jurri are the obvious, but Aaltonen, Volosenkov, Freeman, Sigurdsson, Jagr, Meyers…”
“That would have been your average first round in most previous entry drafts. This year? Those are just the top eight prospects between two positions.”
General Managers and AGMs make it their job to look into each year’s eligible player list – so let’s take the dive for ourselves and try to find a few hidden gems, why don't we?
(1) S66 Draft Class; currently included in @Tagger‘s most recent Scouting Center rankings.
(2) As of the Week 2 VHLSC rankings, currently ranked below rank 20 (based strictly on TPE, likely to be drafted in Round 3 or later of the current draft)
(3) Early bird gets the worm – draftees with large TPE claims this week will be more highly considered. Last three weeks’ TPE gain will be the main inclusion criterion.
(NOTE – some of these TPEs may be reported several hours before article posting, and may not match current TPEs)
D Jerry Garcia – Houston Bulls
Current Projection – Mid-Late 3rd Round (23/88)
TPE – 144 (+56 after 3/3)
Garcia is a hybrid of the old-school defensive defenseman with a new-school prototypical skillset. He’s one of the more skilled defenders on a VHLM roster, with the ability to make it to loose pucks and stop many forwards in their tracks. In recent weeks, he’s been hitting the gym and working on his playmaking skills, but he’s still certainly most effective on his team’s half of the ice. The defenseman’s agent (@GustavMattias) has experience in a number of arenas – the most recent being a stint as Team Asia’s World Juniors GM. He’s been cited as an “incredible force for good” in the locker room by his own GM, and one of the prominent voices interfacing with the media for his minor league squad.
Perhaps most importantly, Garcia has been putting in plenty of work on the ice and in the gym; many scouts have noted diversification in the defender’s skills in the last couple of weeks alone. His plethora of proficiencies leave him most likely to continue along the defensive defenseman or enforcer route – but we’d be remiss to count out the possibility of development into a two-way defenseman. Regardless, Garcia’s rapid and recent improvement is a sign that GMs in the majors ought to take note of – he’d be a steal in the fourth round and wouldn’t be out of the question for the early third.
“He’s well-rounded and is a threat on both sides of the ice because of his passing ability. Something of a black hole for errant passes and chasing the puck down after a big hit.”
“[Jerry] has a penchant for making big hits and blocking big shots. He’s probably your goalie’s best friend.”
“He played guitar for the Grateful Dead and has an ice cream flavor named after him, I mean come on.”
“If I’m a team in need of multiple positions, I’m looking to steal Garcia in the late third, or pick him for value as early as the second.”
ABOVE - Hans Gruber, seen here definitely not scheming.
C Hans Gruber – Saskatoon Wild
Current Projection – Late 3rd, early 4th round (29/88)
TPE – 125 (+46 after 3/3)
This promising young forward from Germany was traded from Philadelphia in exchange for picks just last Saturday (3/16) with teammates DWin Championship, Cody Parkey, and Brian Strong. Wild GM @Peace made the massive exchange of picks – including what may be over half of the team’s S67 dispersal selections – for a chance to win now.
Some suggest Gruber’s something of a grinder or playmaker – and this early in his career, he could probably opt to go either way. It’s hard to pick out one specific strength for the winger, who has shown glimpses of excellence in defense and puck handling in addition to the positional mainstays of passing and scoring. In 34 games in the minors, he’s accumulated 6 goals in 68 shots, and a total of 24 points. He’s presently second on the depth chart – which means he’s quite likely to run into other more-developed forwards and defensemen whenever he’s on the ice. Though his performance does not yet top the league, the Wild GM can rest easy: the young German scored an overtime-winning goal just earlier today in one of his first games with the team.
“Sure, I see why he could be easy to sleep on. Plus-minus isn’t too flashy – but take a look at his last couple of games and tell me he can’t at least hold his own with the best.”
“That screamer to clinch today’s game against the Reapers should at least catch your eye.”
“Didn’t this guy steal like $640,000,000 or something?”
ABOVE - Clayton Park playing goalie for the Vienna Thunder, Midget AAA team (per biography)
G Clayton Park – Yukon Rush
Accolades – 1x WJC Team World (S65)
Current Projection – Early 4th round (32/88)
TPE – 119 (+68 after 3/3)
Buried underneath the (well-deserved) hype for Kandee Cain (@SlashACM) and Owen May (@FacebookFighter) is Austrian netminder Clayton Park, a top-four prospect for this season’s draft. Taken 49th overall (7th round) in the S65 Dispersal Draft, Clayton has stepped up his game considerably and may merit consideration for a pick as high as the early third round depending on how the rest of this season plays out.
He sits only behind the newly-reinforced Juan Jaundice in shots against but has managed an 86.6% save percentage in spite of the volume of shots against him, good for third in the minors behind the aforementioned Cain (89.2%) and S65 New York draftee Chase (90.0%). He’s currently in the bottom half of the table for goals allowed (3.39) – but many scouts believe that’s simply a function of the number of shots he’s had to defend this season. Park takes on the style of a classic butterfly goalie; though slightly undersized at 5’ 10” and just 150 lbs. (68 kg), Park has shown solid reaction time, positioning, and rebound control.
And don’t worry, even when he’s not playing hockey he finds a way to keep in the cold: he has a long history of downhill skiing in his free time.
“Second-best butterfly goalie behind Cain… probably won’t see a ton of ice time in the pros next season but has potential through the roof.”
“Excellent support system, a lengthy history on the ice; if he sticks around he could be pretty good.”
“Clayton Park, eh? You talkin’ ‘boot the one in Halifax?
RW Mat Tocco – Philadelphia Reapers
Current Projection – Early 6th Round (43/88)
TPE – 98 (+68 since 3/3)
We’re fourteen games (sort of) into the young career of Czech/Italian forward Mat Tocco, and in spite of limited ice time (19.7 mpg, 67th in the minors) he’s racked up a nice plus-minus of +9 with 9 points – not too shabby for a brand-new entry. He has elements of the prototypical sniper-style forward, but with a nice added bonus of being able to skate around slower defenders. As with many of the prospects on the board thus far, Tocco is very moldable – but his strengths right now are mobility and scoring.
Though he’s recently had to move to the States, Tocco comes from humble origins. Born of an Italian immigrant and a butcher’s daughter, he’s proven throughout his life that hard work is just part of the process for him; his rapid improvement on the ice over the last few weeks certainly corroborates that. He faces an uphill battle, with nearly twenty wingers above him on most draft boards. If his past is any indicator, however, he’s ready for the test.
“Pretty raw, but the scoring potential is there. We can always use another high-quality sniper in the league; the sky’s the limit for him.”
“Built like a brick sh*thouse for a guy his height. Not surprising to see the number of hits he’s laid out so far.”
“Glad to see all of his hard work pay off. Seems like he’s in for the long haul.”
“I’d like to see a GM reach a little for him. Might not be out of the question to see him late third, early fourth round by the time all’s said and done. Guys that improve as fast as him go on to either have damn good careers or flame out.”
Other unlinked references in this article: @Sonnet, @TheFlash, @leafssteen, @Matmenzinger
[if possible, I'd like to use this for three weeks' worth of media spots (weeks ending 3/24, 3/31, and 4/7); currently sitting just under 1,700 words.]