American Olympic team full of prospects

·7 min read

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While the withdrawal of NHL players from the Olympics was a disappointment for hockey fans who have been deprived of a best-on-best international competition for quite some time, it has opened the door for younger prospects to realize the dream of playing for their country. This week in the Prospects Report Clare McManus takes you through the more notable young skaters that will form the core of the US entry.

As we finalize our mid-season NHL Draft ranking over at McKeen’s we look overseas to Russia for this week’s prospect in Danil Yurov. Our Russian scout/analyst Viktor Fomich introduces you to a solid, two-way player with a low floor for development, along with enticing skill and creativity. Indication are he will here his name early in the NHL Draft as we approach mid-season, he will be a name to keep an eye on through the stretch run of the season.

The McKeen’s team are scouting and writing about prospects all season long and provide in-depth reports on our website: www.mckeenshockey.com

PROSPECTS IN THE NEWS: NHL Prospects form core of US Olympic team.

The United States has a very young core for the upcoming 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China.

The roster includes 15 players currently playing in the NCAA.

The biggest name on the roster includes Seattle Kraken prospect and University of Michigan forward Matthew Beniers. Beniers seems to always perform well on the National stage, so his presence to the United States will be very important. At last year's World Junior event in Edmonton, Alberta, Beniers notched a goal and two assists in seven games for the Americans, also bringing his great two-way game. Beniers is currently serving as an alternate captain for the Wolverines and is tied for first on the team in points with 14 goals and 16 assists for 30 points in 25 games played.

Toronto Maple Leafs prospect and University of Minnesota product, Matthew Knies will be another name to watch for the Americans. Knies was taken in the second-round, 57th overall by the Leafs in the 2021 NHL draft, but has proven this season he should have been drafted in the first-round. The exciting power forward has eight goals and 14 assists for 22 points in 22 games with the Golden Gophers.

Jake Sanderson should make a strong impact on the backend for the Americans. The University of North Dakota and Ottawa Senators prospect suited up for the Americans last year, posting two points in seven games. He will provide a strong suite to the defensive core on the left side. His transition skills up ice will be a big factor for producing offense for Team USA. Sanderson will also provide a shutdown role on the defensive end for the team. Currently playing in his sophomore season with North Dakota, Sanderson has six goals and 13 assists for 19 points in 15 games played. He is serving as an assistant captain for the Fighting Hawks.

The Los Angeles Kings continue their draft dominance by drafting a skilled transition defenseman. Brock Faber was drafted by the Kings in the 2020 NHL draft in the second round. Another product of the University of Minnesota, Faber currently has two goals and nine assists for 11 points in 20 games played. He is known for his vision and puck-moving ability going up ice. He’s very good in the defensive zone and reads the opposition extremely well.

Philadelphia Flyers prospect Noah Cates will suit up as a forward for the team. Cates currently plays for the University of Minnesota-Duluth and serves as the captain. In 22 games with the team, Cates has notched six goals and eight assists for 14 points in 22 games.

Winnipeg Jets 2018 draft pick, Nathan Smith, will serve as a centerman for the team. The Tampa, Florida native currently plays for Minnesota State University (Mankato). He currently leads the team in points with 13 goals and 22 assists for 35 points in 24 games played.

The last prospect to represent an NHL club in the Olympics is Avalanche defensive prospect Drew Helleson. The puck-moving defenseman plays for Boston University and was drafted to the Avalanche in 2019. In 20 games this season with Boston, Helleson has notched two goals and 15 assists for 17 total points.

It will be interesting to see these young players represent the US on the Olympic stage. Most of them have played in a few World Juniors events, but this will be an even bigger moment in their young careers, it should be fun to watch.

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2022 NHL DRAFT PROSPECT: Yurov – Creativity and talent combined with exceptional work ethic and 200-foot game

By Viktor Fomich

The name of the Russian winger Danila Yurov has been on the radar for a couple of years now, as he has been finding success playing at various level of junior hockey. Last season he became one of the youngest KHL playoff goal scorers in the league's history. Since then, I've seen a lot of attempts to crack the puzzle of Yurov's game and find out his secret superpower and I must admit I wasn't able to fight the temptation to try that too. It is when you start to write down Yurov's strengths and weaknesses when you realize that there's no secret at all — he basically just has no weaknesses for a player his age. Everything you can think of —such as mobility, complete skillset, solid athleticism, good finishing touch — he has it all at a high level.

It is particularly interesting that almost everybody praises his cerebral game, and I can agree that he excels at it, although we should remember that "hockey IQ" is actually an umbrella term. Under that "umbrella", in Yurov's case, is hiding an interesting blend of a responsible game combined with creativity. Yurov is a coach's type of player: versatile and totally determined to fulfill his assigned task whatever it takes, no dirty work is too dirty for him, with pretty much a minimal number of mistakes — it is hard for me to even remember a really bad game by him. Almost automatic (in a good way) in executing his 200-ft game, he adds to that some quite creative offense, with his skill and vision allowing him to choose from a variety of attacking options. Taking all that into consideration, and if it doesn't sound impressive enough, we must remember he has just turned 18, and all of the accolades received so far become easier to understand.

Despite all that talent, Yurov is having a rather tough time this season. His KHL team is among the league leaders and their coach is known for preferring established veterans, so he can be either found filling the 13th forward role and receiving the corresponding ice time, or just sent back to the juniors. Things were looking much more promising in the games he played for Team Russia U20 in the World Junior Championship, but the tournament was cancelled. In addition, Yurov contracted COVID while there, and had to stay in Canada for some time dealing with the symptoms. If that luck weren’t bad enough, think again: as soon as Yurov was healthy and back in Russia, the KHL season was put on hold due to the epidemic, so he is once more back in the juniors. Of course, he will get a lot of opportunities there, but there's a feeling that he has already outgrown that level.

All those factors make his projection harder in his draft year, but let's try to make one, nonetheless. One of the things I can't help but think about Yurov is that he is a rather low-risk type of prospect. With his array of talent combined with his exemplary attitude, something really unfortunate would have to happen in order for him to not to become a full-time NHL player, setting a clear floor for his development. As for his ceiling, I certainly see a smart 200-ft winger playing on the top line at the NHL level. If you want a comparison, I'd think of someone like Patrik Elias. There is more development to be done to reach that level however, particularly on his attacking game, and a full-time KHL opportunity next season could refine that part of his skill set (he is contracted there through 2022/23). Despite the obstacles this season, Yurov still should be a Top 10 pick in the coming NHL draft.