The annual NHL Entry Draft is an event which draws the interest and imagination of the hockey world.
With an arsenal of incredible young talent eager to make an impact at the NHL-level, one single selection can hold the power to influence both the immediate and long-term futures of a given franchise.
However, it is often the prospects chosen by an organization outside of the first-round who are the most important. Although viewed as long-term projects, these late-round gems are often far more determined to reach the NHL-level having been passed over time and time again in the Draft. Whether they were physically immature at the time or fresh off of a substantial injury, it is these young yet overlooked stars who regularly come to dominate their peers.
Now, with the 2019 NHL Draft just around the corner, Prospect Pipeline has set out to profile and analyze five of this year’s most underrated young prospects.
While you will likely have heard the names of the players listed below before, the time has come to learn why each of these prospects stand poised for immense success in their respective leagues in 2018-19.
5 Underrated Prospects to Watch
Height/Weight: 5-foot-6, 160-pounds
2017-18 Team: U.S. National U18 Team, NTDP
Cole Caufield scored 54 goals in 59 games played for USA Hockey’s NTDP in 2017-18 — a goal total which now stands as the storied program’s second-greatest ever, and just one tally behind Auston Matthews’ record of 55 established in 2014-15.
A lethal scorer who can pot the puck in a variety of ways, Caufield is a dangerous player every time he takes to the ice. Boasting a strong shot, Caufield can hammer the puck past opposing goaltenders from a distance or bury a loose puck laying in the goal-mouth in the blink of an eye. Always close to the puck and extremely potent with it on his stick, Caufield is a natural offensive player who always seems to be in the right place at the right time.
However, despite his goal-scoring exploits, many scouts and analysts remain unable to see past Caufield’s size. Standing 5-foot-6 and 160-pounds, Caufield is regularly one of the smallest players on the ice — a fact which has undoubtedly impacted his perceived value as a prospect over the years.
Yet, in spite of his size, Caufield has continued to produce with remarkable consistency — a fact which should shatter common misconceptions and establish the native of Mosinee, Wisconsin as a prospect of first-round calibre in the 2019 NHL Draft.
Height/Weight: 5-foot-10, 170-pounds
2017-18 Team: JYP U20, Jr. A SM-liiga
Speed, skill, and confidence have come to define Anttoni Honka’s game, and are a major reason why the nimble Finnish defenceman will be a first-round choice in the 2019 NHL Draft.
However, Honka should — realistically — be able to crack the top-15 in the coming Draft, as the younger brother of Dallas Stars prospect Julius Honka is a dynamic offensive-defenceman who can also play a sturdy defensive game.
In 2017-18, Honka skated primarily for JYP U20 of the Jr. A SM-liiga where he recorded an impressive 17 points in 28 games played. What’s more is that Honka played well enough to appear in 20 games for JYP at the Liiga-level, where the native of Jyväskylä, Finland potted two goals and nine points while competing against a much tougher and developed form of competition.
Honka is a smart player who compensates for his lack of size with his skating and offensive instincts; he has an excellent understanding of the game. – Goran Stubb, NHL Director of European Scouting
Known for his offensive flair, Honka is a shifty and mobile skater who uses his mobility to his advantage. Capable of burning opposing players as he darts up the ice, Honka can lead the rush or join it in progress in order to provide a secondary outlet during odd-man rushes — he loves to unleash his wicked one-timer whenever possible.
Ultimately, Honka boasts the ability and poise of a terrific two-way defender. If able to add greater strength to his frame, Honka could work his way into the top-10 in the 2019 NHL Draft rather than simply the first-round.
Height/Weight: 6-foot-2, 180-pounds
2017-18 Team: Sudbury Wolves, OHL
Despite yet another dreadful season for the Sudbury Wolves in 2017-18, the franchise’s first-round choice from the 2017 OHL Priority Selection presented the organization with a glimmer of hope for their future.
In his rookie campaign with the Wolves, Blake Murray established himself as a dynamic offensive player and prospect of immense value ahead of the 2019 NHL Draft. Although his skating will need to improve in order to attain success at the next level, Murray’s hockey I.Q. and ability to process the game at a high-pace allowed the native of Uxbridge, Ontario to pot 21 goals and 44 points in his inaugural OHL campaign.
Now, with greater offensive help on the way to begin the team’s 2018-19 season in the form of Quinton Byfield — the first overall selection in the 2018 OHL Priority Selection — Murray will have a much stronger supporting cast to skate alongside this coming campaign. Given his impressive size, understanding of the game, and a strong shot defined by its unique release, Murray owns all of the tool necessary to inflate his draft stock this coming season.
If able to earn his place amongst the OHL’s scoring leaders this season, Murray could come to be viewed as a potential top-15 selection in the 2019 NHL Draft.
Height/Weight: 5-foot-10, 175-pounds
2017-18 Team: Sarnia Sting, OHL
If you’re searching for a driven competitor with a workhorse mentality, look no further than Jamieson Rees of the Sarnia Sting.
Nabbed by the Sting with the ninth-overall choice in the 2017 OHL Priority Selection, Rees collected five goals and 20 points in 46 regular season games played with Sarnia in his rookie campaign. Unfortunately, Rees fell victim to a pair of ankle injuries during the 2017-18 season which not only limited his on-ice effectiveness but also impaired his confidence as he transitioned to the OHL-level.
Now, with injuries behind him and a Gold Medal in-hand from his recent play with Team Canada at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, Rees enters the 2018-19 OHL season as a reinvigorated player with plenty to prove. As a terrific skater who is relentless in his pursuit of the puck, Rees should develop into a dependable offensive force for the Sting this coming campaign and one capable of producing on a nightly basis.
Although he stands as a potential second-round selection in the 2019 NHL Draft as the 2018-19 season approaches, Rees could ascend high into the first-round if able to piece together a healthy and strong offensive season for Sarnia.
Height/Weight: 5-foot-9, 170-pounds
2017-18 Team: Windsor Spitfires, OHL
It’s hard to believe that the Windsor Spitfires were able to select Nathan Staios with the 17th overall choice in the 2017 OHL Priority Selection.
In captaining the GTHL’s Vaughan Kings in his minor midget season, Staios had proven himself to be a dynamic two-way defender capable of making an impact at both ends of the ice. As a strong and agile skater, Staios’ ability to move the puck to his teammates before joining the rush allowed him to secure his own zone before providing an added dimension to his team’s attacking game.
He (Staios) is a real good kid. He moves the puck, he keeps his head up, and he has a hard shot. – Warren Rychel, Windsor Spitfires General Manager
In his rookie season with the Spitfires, Staios netted three goals and 12 points in 54 games played — a relatively meagre total which was not accurately reflective of his lethal abilities on the ice. Heading into the 2018-19 OHL season and his first year of NHL Draft eligibility, expect Staios to significantly increase his offensive totals from one campaign ago.
Boasting great wheels, excellent vision, and a booming shot, Staios’ skill set is simply too powerful to be contained. Long a quality defensive player, if Staios can improve his attacking game, the native of Oakville, Ontario will surely creep into the middle of the first round come the 2019 NHL Draft.