While the Hershey and CV series rages on; now tied 2-2, we still have much of our offseason to go through. Namely, the first big true event known as the NHL Entry Draft; where teenagers get bet on to become meaningful NHL players anywhere from six months to six years down the line.
Hey, it’s only weird if you’re wrong!
But the Draft always comes with a load of questions that can plague the doubt of any NHL General Manager. So where do you start?
Well, if you’re an NHL GM…you have an army of scouts who watch hockey all day and watch these youths do their thing. But if you’re the average fan, you’re kind of at the mercy of the people who cover the draft, and the five hundred plus available players, and they’re all very smart cookies who know how these teenagers generally trend.
So! Let’s take a look at who they like, and why they might like them?
EliteProspects.com’s #20: Smart and Steady Slovakian Sam Honzek
- Position: Center
- Height: 6’4
- Weight: 185 lbs.
- Hometown: Trencin, Slovakia
- Current Team: Vancouver Giants (WHL)
- Last Year’s Point Total: 56 points in 43 games (23-33-56)
A major thing you should know throughout the late-teens and into the 20s on the draft board is that there are a ton of big boys at this point, and Honzek is no different. What makes him different however, is his exceptional work with the puck. Honzek’s frame of course makes him a man difficult to knock down or knock the puck away; what makes him interesting is just how hard he makes it with his exceptional stick-handling.
Honzek’s skill with a stick is mind-bending; able to move the puck around backcheckers with ease and poise well beyond his years. He’s more than willing to absorb punishment in order to keep the play going, but prefers to use his size to create leverage against his opponent rather than impose his will, allowing his Giants plenty of ample opportunity to score from an assist off his stick, or finally catch him in the cycle and let his ruthless snapshot take care of the rest.
Points of Improvement
Where he falters a bit is in skating. While he has decent speed, the physical motions of moving on the ice is a bit raw, and as a result he sometimes robs himself the full acceleration and explosiveness he could absolutely use when he goes pro. It’s a shame because, had been able to clean that up…he’d probably be in the top 10. His story is incredible; he’s bet on himself while coming to a brand new country and overcame a pair of injuries to be 2nd on the Giants in scoring, and proved himself to be more than worthy of praise at the international level. It will just rely on him spending a lot of time with Vancouver/Seattle’s skating coaches if drafted.
Oh yeah, and being 180 lbs as a 6’4 dude is a bit thin, so it may be time to introduce him to american cuisine.
Should the Kraken Draft him?: Sure!
I like Honzek’s game; he’s got a lot of what the Kraken would probably consider major strengths: he won about 55% of his faceoffs, he has excellent stick-handling skills and puck possession know-how…but he’s a project thanks to his skating being just a little behind everything else, and Ron will have to be patient with him as a result. That said, a Center with his skillset is sorely needed in this organization right now, and I would like to see him grow into a really good player.
DailyFaceoff.com’s #20: UConn’s Wunderkind Matthew Wood
- Position: Center/Wing
- Height: 6’3
- Weight: 190 lbs.
- Hometown: Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada
- Current Team: University of Connecticut Huskies (NCAA)
- Last Year’s Point Totals: 34 points in 35 games (11-23-34)
A lot of players might not take the kind of risks that Matthew Wood took in getting to this point: there was not much room for him in the Canadian side of the WHL, so he took a bet on himself to go from Junior AA in the BCHL to play in Mansfield, Connecticut for a non-traditional power in NCAA’s vaunted Hockey East.
Or so you’d think! UConn has gone from afterthought to contender over the last five years, finishing their season 4th in division, though they bowed out in the quarterfinals. They got there, because Matthew Wood was the foundest of found money; being their leading point-getter throughout their 2022-23 campaign!
Wood’s sheer volume of shots was something to be believed over his freshman year; being the nexus on which a lot of UConn’s offense was born; distributing pucks in sensible, dangerous parts of the ice while putting on a hailstorm of pucks on the opponent’s net, and what a shot he has. 11 goals doesn’t sound like a lot on the surface, but remember that this is not Canadian Junior; he was an 18 year old playing against real life men in some cases, and the style of hockey is much stingier. 11 in your freshman year, as well as being your team’s leading points guy, is really good if you’re playing BU and Lowell in-conference.
Points of Improvement
Wood’s biggest knock is, like Honzek, his skating. His acceleration in either zone is a bit sluggish, and he can be blown past quite worryingly frequently in one-on-one confrontations while backchecking. Big players tend to get away with that kind of thing as they age due to the sheer size and strength their frame affords against teenagers, but Wood has been nothing if not a hard worker. It’s just that this one flaw is severely limiting his abilities right now. His game is also largely built on volume shooting, which given his size is kind of surprising; if he gets more aggressive in front of the goalie, he could be so much more dangerous with how good his offensive instincts are. Just hasn’t come together for him yet.
Should the Kraken Draft Him: Sure!
Look, Wood’s got one big thing holding him back and frankly if he can’t get that part of his life under control, he may top out as a Coachella Valley Firebird. That said, what Wood brings to the table is very much something a team like the Kraken could use; especially if his offense has yet to be truly tapped. I wouldn’t mind him in Deep Blue at all!
Hell, it wouldn’t even be that big of a change for him. UConn’s blue is already pretty deep.
TSN’s Craig Button and Bob McKenzie’s #20: Austria’s blueline wonder David Reinbacher
- Position: Defenseman
- Height: 6’2
- Weight: 187 lbs
- Hometown: Hohenems, Vorarlberg, Austria
- Current Team: EHC Kloten (Swiss National League)
- Last Year’s Point Totals: 22 in 49 games (3-19-22)
So imagine if you will you’re me; picking through hours of prospect content and looking at lists of names. Then suddenly, out of a hail of canadian, american, and scandinavian prospects…here comes an Austrian. I even had to check because I thought he was a misplaced Latvian at first. TSN likes him, a couple of other major prospect websites were in line with them, some liked him so much they thought he could go in the top 10. The Top 10! Some blueliner in the Swiss League from relative hockey desert Austria!
What on earth could this kid be doing to get such praise?
So, I went and looked for it.
Reinbacher is 18 through most of those clips, and it’s important to remind yourself of just how important that is for European players. This kid is doing things at a level with grown-ass, hair on chest, mortgage having, second child-and-third-on-the-way having, Former-NHL-Playing, Capital-M Men and excelling. His point-total isn’t anything to write home about, but to be in the top 10 of team scoring at 18 is a great first season in the Swiss League.
Reinbacher’s major strengths as a player all come from just being sensible. He makes smart, safe plays with the puck and his ability to skate with and against dudes with years’ more experience is a vital asset. He can block shots with the best of them and when he finds a lane from which to be a productive skater, he can surprise with how quickly he can cut in and find a shot. He’s still raw; particularly when it comes to breaking out of his own end and getting offense moving the right way, but at all aspects of the defensive side of the game, he’s only going to improve.
He’s done so well as just a strong foundational player there’s been legitimate discussion that he might be picked well before Seattle ever gets a chance.
Points of Improvement:
Really, with how good of a player Reinbacher’s offense was…kind of anemic? 22 points at 18 in the professional level is good! But he could’ve had more. Reinbacher’s game is effective, sensible, and safe…but that isn’t always a good thing. Safe can sometimes be predictable, and that limits his effectiveness. He needs to figure out how to use his skills into creating offense through what he knows how to do, or he could merely find himself pigeonholed as a defensive defenseman, which he is so much more than.
Should the Kraken Draft Him?: Honestly? No.
Look, Reinbacher is good. Really good. I absolutely could see him being an NHL blueliner in the near future.
But so are guys like Ryker Evans and Ville Ottovainen.
The Kraken as an organization are awash in defensemen, and have their young lads either playing in professional leagues abroad, or are expected to make their first steps into becoming Kraken as part of the Firebirds. Reinbacher plays great hockey, and at a position of strength for Seattle, but Seattle needs to work on things like finish and forechecking organizationally, things they haven’t been able to do for awhile. While I like him…I just don’t see him as a need.
TheHockeyNews’ #20: Prince George’s little ball of nasty; Riley Heidt
- Position: Center
- Height: 5’10
- Weight: 178 lbs
- Hometown: Saskatoon, Sasketchewan
- Current Team: Prince George Cougars (WHL)
- Last Year’s point totals: 97 in 68 games (25-72-97)
At 5’10-5’11, Riley Heidt is one of the many smaller guys who are in the top 20 of the 2023 NHL draft. Riley Heidt on the other hand, does not play as though he is under 6-foot. He plays hockey like he is being fired out of a cannon.
Heidt is just a terror on the forecheck; a fast, difficult to knock down, and purposeful skater who tries to make things happen whenever he’s out there. His ability to create shots and quality chances not just for himself, but for his teammates, seemingly makes the Cougars that much better while he’s out there; allowing him to finish his season as 4th in WHL scoring, and that’s no small feat given that he tied with Logan Stankoven. Whoever gets him will get a guy who could be a major part of their offense for years to come.
Points of Improvement:
What he generally needs to work on is bulking up. Getting weight on his bones is paramount; he can use that to not just continue to hound backcheckers for pucks, but also keep him from getting mashed into paste by bigger players at the pro level. Further, while he is good at defense and backchecking, he could stand to make it more consistent; he helps out on the boards, but sometimes he backs off and plays passenger. You can get away with that at the WHL level; not so much at the NHL level.
Should the Kraken Draft him?: Sure!
The Kraken’s volume shooting ways does pay dividends most of the time. However, I feel like having somebody who can not only shoot, but potentially set up his teammate for a shot could be a dimension that Seattle really shouldn’t ignore. Size be damned; they need guys who can create goals and timely ones at that. Heidt can absolutely do that.
The longshot that the rest of the league might Galaxy Brain and the Kraken could get – Matvei Michkov
- Position: Right Wing
- Height: 6’0
- Weight: 148 lbs.
- Hometown: Perm, Russia
- Current Team(s): SKA St. Petersburg, HK Sochi (KHL)
Look, someone will pick Matvei before Seattle gets a chance to. That’s just how it’s going to be.
There aren’t enough stupid people in charge of NHL teams to pass up on Matvei Michkov 19 times. Maybe he drops out of the top 5? He’ll go 6th. Out of the top 10? Picked up at 11th and we’ll all go “oh man, the Canucks got a good one.” and move on with our lives.
But he’s going to be picked. That’s for certain.
…Unless he keeps falling. Which is becoming increasingly possible.
Michkov has an excellent story. The Perm native has always wanted to play in the NHL ever since he got his first pair of skates. He’s blossomed into a wunderkind; starting his KHL career at 17. It wasn’t long, but it’s still incredible how well he’s adjusted to the pro level of the game. He just has an extra gear for every stage of ice-time; on offense he’s a dynamo, always making things happen and when he’s the one shooting, his shot is usually finding the back of the net. In transition he’s able to rapidly break down the enemy backcheck and allow for better chances. On the back-end he’s able to break up
Which unfortunately means there’s gonna be some extra business on top of it all.
Points of Improvement, and also why he might actually fall enough to be draftable by Seattle:
Welcome back to my “it’s weird this has happened twice” theme: talking about Russia and their relationship to the NHL.
The Russian Federation is still in Ukraine doing war at them. They’re not doing nearly as well as they thought they would, but they’re still there, and still using their panem et circenses to promote it. Which includes hockey, as they have used for many many years.
You can see where this is going, right?
Michkov has been through a lot. His father died this year and under super suspicious circumstances, and his game has effectively been co-opted by the Russian government to keep people from asking “hey why are you doing this?”. A real fear I expressed about what could happen to Russian players may in fact have come true if a guy as good as Michkov is scared away from ever making the NHL due to possible reprisal.
As for actual physical things? Eh, probably needs to bulk up some, but that’s something he can absolutely do.
Should the Kraken draft him if he’s available?: YES
HOLY S#!T YES.
Do you understand how funny it would be if the Kraken establish a trend of being The Smart Team By Default at the Draft? They’re already a smart team in general imagine how good it would feel to watch division foe after division foe effectively hand them their future core. That is what you could get in Michkov. Michkov is that kind of player. If he’s available, by some miracle or disaster, he should be picked by the Seattle Kraken.
The Draft is in a mere 10 days, and there are plenty of great players worthy of wearing the Blue S. Ron Francis will almost certainly have a great choice in mind.
…But there’s always a chance someone above these stations could fall into his lap.
After all, the Kraken have experience in that!