2020 NHL Draft: Five Underrated Prospects to Watch

The class of prospects eligible for the upcoming 2020 NHL Draft is as strong as ever. Whether you look to centre, the wings, the blue line or in between the pipes, there is a high-end prospect waiting eagerly to ascend to the NHL-level in the very near future. The names of most prospects eligible for the 2020 NHL Draft have become commonplace in the world of hockey — Lafreniere, Byfield, Raymond, Stutzle, Drysdale, etc — however, in this article, we are going to focus on a number of wildly skilled prospects whose names and talents have gone unspoken for far too long.

Related: 2020 NHL Draft Rankings

As we approach the 2020 NHL Draft, let’s take a moment to identify and discuss five prospects who — for a number of apparent reasons — have been under-appreciated to this point in their respective careers. While most, if not all, of the players listed below will be chosen in the 2020 NHL Draft, odds are they will be selected far lower than their respective skill-sets would otherwise dictate. And, in a few years time, it goes without saying that NHL franchises will regret not drafting the following players when they had the chance.

With this being said, let’s dive into the list. We’ve also listed five honourable mentions to conclude this article who could have quite easily been analyzed in greater detail as well.

James Hardie

2019-20 Team: Mississauga Steelheads (OHL)

2019-20 Statistics: 59GP – 34G, 63PTS

  • NHL Central Scouting: 163rd (NA)
  • TSN’s Bob McKenzie: Not Ranked
  • Prospect Pipeline: 62nd

Despite playing for an underwhelming Steelheads team this past season prior to the COVID-19 shutdown, James Hardie did not hesitate in establishing himself as a premier goal-scorer eligible for the 2020 NHL Draft. Across his second regular season campaign in the OHL, Hardie potted an impressive 34 tallies — a mark which stood as the OHL’s sixth-best amongst NHL Draft eligible players. However, despite this lethal output, many organizations failed to rank Hardie or projected him to be selected in the sixth-round or beyond. Boasting offensive totals greater than the likes of Will Cuylle, Jean-Luc Foudy and Ty Tullio — three players projected to be chosen in the second or third rounds of the NHL Draft — Hardie’s lack of praise is rather shocking.

James Hardie of the Mississauga Steelheads (Photo credit: Terry WIlson/OHL Images)
Hardie picked up his pace for the Steelheads this past season, collecting a team-best 34 goals. (Photo credit: Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

What makes Hardie such a valuable and intriguing prospect is his ability to score goals from numerous areas on the ice, as the native of Innisfil, Ontario can bulge the twine in a variety of forms if afforded time and space in the attacking zone. First and foremost there is Hardie’s shot, as the youngster boasts the ability to release the puck on goal in the blink of an eye with not only velocity but accuracy. When given time, Hardie rarely misses his mark. Moreover, Hardie can score goals be deflecting the puck or by cleaning up rebounds in and around the crease — abilities which make him comparable to Joe Pavelski of the Dallas Stars. These traits in turn allow Hardie to stand as a playmaker as well, as opponents who try to limit his shot make themselves susceptible to his growing on-ice vision.

Noel Gunler

2019-20 Team: Lulea HF (SHL)

2019-20 Statistics: 45GP – 4G, 13PTS

  • NHL Central Scouting: 9th (EU)
  • TSN’s Bob McKenzie: 28th
  • Prospect Pipeline: 12th

Noel Gunler is an excellent young player and one who rightfully deserves to be chosen within the first round of the 2020 NHL Draft. After scoring at nearly a goal-per-game pace last season in SuperElit, Gunler made the jump to the SHL this campaign and became a full-time player at the age of just 18-years. Although his ice time was limited given his age and lack of experience, Gunler was still able to record 13 points in his 45 games played — an output which stood as the second-best mark in the SHL amongst players eligible for the 2020 NHL Draft. Yet, despite recording just three fewer points in the SHL than Alexander Holtz this campaign, Gunler finds himself as a prospect projected by many to be selected late in the first round of the upcoming event.

So what traits combine to make Gunler a solid young player and one who should be selected in the 15-20th overall range of the 2020 NHL Draft, you ask? Well, first and foremost, Gunler is a lethal goal-scorer. Whether he is in possession of the puck from a distance or in close to the goal, Gunler boasts the high-end skills necessary to put the puck into the back of the net with authority. His shot is quick and accurate and his release is smooth and direct — an ability which allows Gunler to overpower opposing goaltenders when the puck is on his stick. Moreover, Gunler is a strong skater who can create time and space for himself owing to his agility and willingness to drive the puck towards the goal with confidence. Having already proven his willingness to do so at the SHL-level, Gunler’s abilities should translate well to the NHL-level once he has gained confidence and experience within North America.

Zion Nybeck

2019-20 Team: HV71 J20 (SuperElit)

2019-20 Statistics: 42GP – 27G, 66PTS

  • NHL Central Scouting: 29th (EU)
  • TSN’s Bob McKenzie: 73rd
  • Prospect Pipeline: 16th

Concerns regarding Zion Nybeck’s size have followed him everywhere he has played and have consumed the perceptions of many within the world of hockey. Checking in at 5-foot-8 and 175-pounds, it goes without saying that Zybeck is far from the biggest player on the ice — however, Nybeck’s apparent lack of size has not infringed upon his ability to play a dominant offensive role each and every time he takes to the ice. In fact, Nybeck blasted home 27 goals and 66 points in his 42 games played with HV71 J20 of the SuperElit League this past season. If that level of production comes across as quite significant, well, that’s because it was — Nybeck’s 66 points were the highest total the SuperElit League had seen since the 2010-11 season nearly a decade ago.

So, why is it that some scouting organizations and individuals within the world of hockey view Nybeck as a likely third-to-fourth round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft? Well, that’s a question which we may never know the answer to. Despite his lack of stature, Nybeck has long been spoken of with high regard when it comes to his ability to handle physical play at high levels of competition. Well built and strong on his skates, Nybeck can sustain the pressure forced upon him by his much larger competition and does not shy away from physical play. In fact, on most nights this challenge seems to fuel his fire, as the youngster loves to drive the puck hard to the net as well as push the pace of play. Boasting a strong shot, excellent on-ice instincts and a high level of intelligence, Nybeck regularly controls the play and forces his opponents to respond to his actions. In short, there are many reasons as to why we view Nybeck as a first-round talent — heck, if Nick Robertson can play for the Toronto Maple Leafs standing two inches shorter and twenty pounds lighter, Nybeck will do just fine at the NHL-level.

Jan Mysak

2019-20 Team: Hamilton Bulldogs (OHL)

2019-20 Statistics: 22GP – 15G, 25PTS

  • NHL Central Scouting: 28th (NA)
  • TSN’s Bob McKenzie: 34th
  • Prospect Pipeline: 22nd

It was a tale of two seasons for Jan Mysak during the 2019-20 campaign, as the highly touted 2020 NHL Draft prospect hopped across the pond to play hockey in North America for the first time. Mysak’s most recent campaign began in his native country of the Czech Republic, where he skated at the highest level for HC Litvinov. In his 26 games played with HC Litvinov, Mysak had tallied five goals and nine points before deciding that the time was right to make the transition to the Ontario Hockey League and the Hamilton Bulldogs. Once acclimated, Mysak had an immediate impact with the Bulldogs — blasting home 15 goals and 25 points in a mere 22 games played before COVID-19 forced the season to come to an end.

What makes Mysak such a unique prospect is the fact that he is capable of excelling in all three zones of the ice. Unlike many 2020 NHL Draft prospects, Mysak is a multi-faceted player who can log significant minutes on both the penalty kill and power play in addition to his efforts at even strength. When shorthanded, Mysak loves to pester his attacking opponents and will frequently steal the puck and create offensive chances for his team owing to his work ethic and high rate of speed. Moreover, on the power play, Mysak’s quick release and accurate shot allow him to bulge the twine with an impressive level of consistency. While he may not feature the skill-set to become a first-line player at the NHL-level, Mysak’s wide-ranging set of tools should allow him to develop into a top-nine player at hockey’s highest level with ease.

Carter Savoie

2019-20 Team: Sherwood Park Crusaders (AJHL)

2019-20 Statistics: 54GP – 53G, 99PTS

  • NHL Central Scouting: 50th (NA)
  • TSN’s Bob McKenzie: 84th
  • Prospect Pipeline: 49th

To say that Carter Savoie dismantled his competition in the AJHL this past season would be a significant understatement. In his 54 games played with the Sherwood Park Crusaders, Savoie tallied 53 goals and a jaw-dropping 99 points — the highest total of a U18 player in the league since 2000-01. However, despite this immense offensive output, Savoie still finds himself projected by many to be chosen outside of the second-round of the upcoming 2020 NHL Draft — a reality which unquestionably makes him one of the most underrated prospects available. One interesting cross-comparison which can be made is between Savoie’s game and that of Dylan Holloway’s — Holloway is one of the University of Wisconsin’s best young players and a prospect projected to be chosen in the top-20 of this year’s Draft. Last season, Holloway recorded 88 points in the AJHL, 11 less than Savoie collected this season. So, why is it that Holloway is projected to be drafted roughly two rounds higher than Savoie?

Well, this question is an incredibly difficult one to answer. While Holloway plays a more physical game and is surely perceived to be more NHL-ready than Savoie, Savoie’s game arguably contains far more upside owing to his abilities at both ends of the ice. First and foremost, Savoie is a tremendous skater and features the acceleration and agility necessary to create time and space from his opponents. This speed when paired with his tenacity makes him difficult to handle on the forecheck, as he bears down on opposing defenders and often forces them into turnovers. When the puck is on Savoie’s stick is when he is most dangerous, as the youngster boasts great vision, intelligence and a deceptive shot. As a multi-faceted offensive threat, Savoie can keep his opponents on their heels and control the game at his pace. The older brother of highly touted 2022 NHL Draft prospect Matthew Savoie, Savoie will take his talents to the University of Denver for the 2020-21 campaign, where he will surely force 30 NHL franchises to regret failing to draft him.

Five Honourable Mentions:

  • Michael Benning – D – Sherwood Park Crusaders, AJHL (54GP – 12G, 75PTS)

A good friend of Savoie’s, Benning is an incredibly gifted offensive defenceman who is also set to play for the University of Denver this coming campaign. Boasting incredible hockey IQ and innate instincts with the puck, there is no way Benning should be chosen outside of the third-round like many are predicting.

  • Hayden Fowler – C – Erie Otters, OHL (52GP – 20G, 42PTS)

A late 2001-born centre, Fowler became one of the Erie Otters’ go-to players at both ends of the ice this past season. A natural leader, Fowler features tremendous poise and plays a professional style of game. Set to play for the Oshawa Generals this coming season, expect Fowler to log significant minutes for his new club.

  • Roni Hirvonen – C – Assat, Liiga (52GP – 5G, 16PTS)

Projected by many within the hockey world to be chosen in the late-second to early-third round of the 2020 NHL Draft, Hirvonen played a full season in Liiga this past season despite his young age of 17-years and collected points. While he isn’t the biggest player on the ice, Hirovonen is incredibly smart and can create plays as well as any prospect eligible for the Draft.

  • Yevgeni Oksentyuk – W – Flit Firebirds, OHL (58GP – 33G, 78PTS)

Yevgeni Oksentyuk was a relative unknown in the 2019 NHL Draft, however, odds are he won’t last long come the 2020 NHL Draft. As a 2001-born prospect, Oksentyuk exploded for the Flint Firebirds in his first OHL season in 2019-20 — collecting a team-best 78 points in 58 games played. With tremendous speed and the ability to finish, it will be a massive oversight if Oksentyuk isn”t chosen within the first three rounds of the Draft.

  • Justin Sourdif – C – Vancouver Giants, WHL (57GP – 26G, 54PTS)

Opinions regarding Justin Sourdif’s game waned greatly throughout the 2019-20 WHL season. Initially perceived as a potential first-round talent, many hockey scouting organizations have come to view Sourdif as a late-second or third round talent eligible for the 2020 NHL Draft. While his offensive output didn’t explode this past season, Sourdif does far too many things well to fall in the upcoming Draft — once he gains greater size he could become one of the best 2002-born two-way forwards in the nation.

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