In last weeks column Ryan Wagman previewed the BioSteel All American game which is being played tomorrow night, April 7th. Be sure to check out the article found here before the game. This week Brock Otten takes us through some key players to watch on the just announced Canadian squad for the IIHF U18 World Championship which is set to start on April 26th. Two important events for NHL Draft watchers.
One of the key players on Canada for the tournament will be Dylan Guenther who Vince Gibbons profiles in this week’s 2021 NHL Draft prospect profile. The WHL having just resumed playing again Guenther is looking to improve his draft stock to rank inside the top five. He is currently #7 on McKeen’s top 32 ranking.
A lot to read this week so let’s get on with it. Enjoy.
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: Canadian U18 Team Preview
By Brock Otten
It is happening! As crazy of a year this has been to track and evaluate prospects for the 2021 NHL Draft, scouts have to be ecstatic that the IIHF World Under 18’s are full steam ahead for a late April start in Texas. Recently, Hockey Canada announced their roster for the event, which hopes to compete for gold along with other top contenders Sweden, Russia, and the host United States.
While this Canadian roster does not include any players from the QMJHL (such as our 13th and 29th ranked players, Zachary L’Heureux and Zachary Bolduc) due to the simultaneous occurrence with league playoffs, it is still loaded with talent. Eight players currently ranked inside of McKeen’s Top 32 for 2021 will don the Maple Leaf, including Brandt Clarke and Dylan Guenther, who are ranked inside the Top 10.
This roster also includes seven players from the Ontario Hockey League who have not played in a single game this season, due to the OHL still being on hiatus and the fact that they did not go overseas on a loan like some of their league mates (Brandt Clarke, Mason McTavish, and others). Those seven players are Danny Zhilkin (2022), Jack Matier (2021), Ethan Del Mastro (2021), Ryan Winterton (2021), Wyatt Johnson (2021), Ben Gaudreau (2021), and the exceptional Shane Wright (2022). For those eligible in 2021, it will be a chance for them to truly showcase the improvements that they have made in the last year and impress NHL scouts.
Starting April 12th, the selected players will need to start quarantining at home to prepare for the event and their departure to Texas. Canada starts their tournament on April 27th versus Sweden.
As mentioned, Clarke and Guenther are the big tickets here as both are in conversation for the top five currently. In preparation for the widely anticipated event, here are five other 2021 draft eligible players to watch closely from Team Canada:
1. Carson Lambos
2020-21 JYP U18, U18 SM-sarja 2GP-0G-3A-3PTS
2020-21 JYP U20, U20 SM-sarja 13GP-2G-9A-11PTS
2020-21 JYP, Liiga 3GP-0G-0A-0PTS
2020-21 Winnipeg Ice 2Gp-0G-0A-0PTS
This one is interesting because many sources had him out for the year after a medical procedure. Following a return from Finland, Lambos played in only two games with Winnipeg (of the WHL) before leaving the bubble due to injury. The expectation was that Lambos would not be named to this team due to his injury, yet here we are.
After speaking with a few sources, the scoop on Lambos is that there is a chance that he can play in the event as his injury and procedure were only minor. Due to his talent level and the fact that Canada’s backend is the weakness for them at this event, the decision was made to name Lambos in hopes that he heals quickly and can play. If he does not and is not able to go, Canada will name a replacement for him before the start of the tournament, and likely has already informed that player so that they can quarantine just in case.
The number 11 ranked player in McKeen’s 2021 draft rankings, Lambos would unquestionably enter the tournament as Canada’s number two defender behind Brandt Clarke if he is able to play. His play in Finland with the JYP program drew mixed reviews, so he will have a lot to prove at this event and it will serve as an excellent litmus test for NHL scouts who want to compare him with the other top defensive prospects available. Lambos’ tools are certainly impressive. His skating, creativity, aggressiveness at both ends, and skill all grade out well above average. Yet, his decision making, especially in the face of pressure, has come under fire after his stint in Finland and it has caused him to fall in some rankings (like TSN’s Bob McKenzie, who had him at #17). Lambos would see action in all situations and likely pair with Brandt Clarke to form one of the top defensive pairings in the tournament if he is ready to go.
2. Corson Ceulemans
2020-21 Brooks Bandits, AJHL, 7GP-3G-6A-9PTS
A University of Wisconsin commit, Ceulemans plays in the AJHL with the Brooks Bandits. A Junior A league out of Alberta (and part of the wider CJHL), the AJHL has been quite the factory for defenders in recent years with the likes of Cale Makar, Colton Parayko, Ian Mitchell, Jacob Bernard Docker, Carson Soucy all being recent selections from the league. Makar, in particular, is someone that scouts bring up when discussing Ceulemans because, he too, starred for the Brooks Bandits and Ceulemans’ production has been at a similar rate to Makar’s thus far in their age compared timelines.
Yet, because he has only played in six official games this year (although, the AJHL did have a lengthy exhibition season), there has been a certain level of mystique shrouding Ceulemans as it pertains to this draft. While the quality of Junior A in Canada has certainly improved over the years, it can often still be difficult for scouts to make judgments on players when comparing them to those playing in more competitive leagues. Evaluating players from the Prep and the High School circuit in the United States offers similar issues. So, this event will give NHL scouts a great opportunity to see if Ceulemans deserves to be mentioned in line with the other top defenders available, as some scouting agencies (like us at McKeen’s) believe he is.
A right shot defender with good size and mobility, Ceulemans is likely to anchor the second pairing for Canada and be a critical player for them. As mentioned, on paper the blueline is a weakness for them heading into the tournament. If Ceulemans plays well, it will likely elevate his draft stock even further. If he does not, he likely risks falling the way another AJHL defender (Michael Benning) did in the 2020 NHL Draft.
3. Cole Sillinger
2020-21 Sioux Falls Stampede, USHL, 29GP-22G-20A-42PTS
The son of former NHLer Mike Sillinger, Cole took an interesting path this season. With the WHL late to start, he was granted a season long loan from Medicine Hat to join Sioux Falls of the USHL. This was a path that several dual citizens or American born WHL players took this year (such as Matthew Savoie, Jack O’Brien, Cross Hanas, Bear Hughes, and James Stefan). In Sioux Falls, Sillinger has been nothing short of fantastic. As of writing this, his points per game rank is 6th in the USHL and his goals per game rank is 3rd.
However, most rankings (including us at McKeen’s, who have him 15th) seem to put Sillinger in with the second tier of forwards available for the draft. The WHL’s Dylan Guenther has surged up draft boards of late, even putting himself in the conversation for the first three selections, with his hot start to the WHL season. Sillinger will try to use this tournament (where he will be a teammate of Guenther) to prove that he belongs in that upper echelon too.
A competitive goal scorer, Sillinger plays the game hard. The physical side of his game is an underrated component of his skill set and it drives him to be such a successful offensive player. However, his goal scoring instincts and high-end shot are obviously major assets as well. Where he slots in the lineup is anyone’s guess, but Sillinger should be a massive component to Canada’s powerplay unit at the very least. With a strong offensive performance at the tournament, Sillinger could certainly cement his place in the top 10.
Editor’s Note: The Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers face off Tuesday on NBCSN starting at 6:30 pm ET. Livestream all the action here.
4. Ben Gaudreau
2019-20 Sarnia Sting, OHL, 28GP-4.34GAA-.890SV%
2020-21 – Has not played yet
Who the starting goaltender will be for Canada is anyone’s guess. Thomas Milic has gotten off to an excellent start in the WHL this year with Seattle. Tyler Brennan is highly regarded and has split time with former team Canada (U20) netminder Taylor Gauthier in Prince George (WHL) thus far. Meanwhile, Sarnia’s Ben Gaudreau has not played yet this year due to the OHL hiatus and provincial lockdowns in Ontario. On pedigree, Gaudreau could certainly have the upper hand. Heading into his OHL draft year, many scouts believed him to be the best goaltending prospect to come out of Ontario in many years and this led him to become the highest goalie selected (7th overall) in nearly two decades.
His rookie season with Sarnia got off to a bit of a slow start last year, but Gaudreau did well to put up some strong performances on a poor defensive Sting team. Technically, Gaudreau is fantastic. His positioning and reads are near flawless. At 6’2, he has the size that NHL scouts are looking for too. Without the opportunity to play so far this year, Gaudreau has not had the chance to showcase any improvements that he would have made from a strength, power, and athleticism point of view.
As long as Hockey Canada is able to brush aside Gaudreau’s unsatisfactory performance at last year’s World Under 17’s, he should be given a chance to start for this Canadian team. And if he does start, expect him to perform well. With a strong tournament, Gaudreau would likely be able to put his name in the ring alongside Sebastian Cossa as the second-best goaltender available behind Jesper Wallstedt, subsequently making him a potential first round candidate.
5. Francesco Pinelli
2020-21 HDD Jesenice, AlpsHL, 13GP-5G-6A-11PTS
Another Ontario based player, Pinelli actually has seen action this year after he secured a loan in Slovenia with HDD Jesenice of the AlpsHL. Pinelli performed admirably, however the AlpsHL is not traditionally a league that is highly scouted due to the lower quality of competition. That does not mean that scouts were not utilizing InStat Hockey (shoutout to them) to watch some of his games, however how much weight was given to his performance remains to be seen.
Much like Cole Sillinger, Pinelli will aim to utilize the Under 18’s to prove that he belongs in the lottery conversation and should be part of that upper echelon of forward prospects eligible this year. Last year in Kitchener, Pinelli stood out despite inconsistent ice time and responsibility on a deep Rangers team. He was poised for a massive breakout in the OHL but was (or has been thus far) robbed of that opportunity like his fellow Ontario based colleagues and teammates.
Pinelli will likely offer the Canadian coaching staff versatility as he can play up and down the lineup and at center or the wing. A committed and competitive two-way forward, he will also likely see time on the penalty killing unit. Hopefully he is given the chance to showcase his offensive talents, as Pinelli is also a highly skilled player with the puck and a high-end goal scorer. Currently our 24th ranked prospect at McKeen’s, look for him to push to be higher.
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2021 NHL Draft Prospect:
By Vince Gibbons
2020-21 Sherwood Park Crusaders, AJHL, 4GP-3G-2A-5PTS
2020-21 Edmonton Oil Kings, WHL, 12GP-12G-11A-23PTS
Dylan Guenther comes in as McKeen’s second ranked forward in our preliminary 31 for the 2021 NHL Entry Draft and now that the WHL is back on the ice, he has solidified himself as a top tier forward prospect in this group. He is a multi-dimensional attacking player that is very difficult to defend. Production wise he is near the top of the league in nearly every category 1st in goals, 1st in points, 5th in shots, 10th in assists, and 1st in points per game. He is a player that has a high floor as his effort, game away from the puck, and skating make him a lock for a middle six forward, and his offensive tool kit shows him to have the ceiling of a 30-goal, 70-point guy in the NHL one day with all-star potential.
Guenther’s shot derives its success from his quick release. Whether his one-timer, his wrist shot from distance, or an in close deke or rebound the puck is off his stick in an instant. The speed of his release creates more of his success than either his power or accuracy, even though they are both are very good. He is very much a one touch shooter, controlling the pass and releasing the shot in a fluid singular motion. It makes him hard to square up for the goalie. He can release the puck smoothly from a variety of arm angles and foot positions that prevent defenders from getting in the way of his shot. Being a twitchy shooter forces defenses to attack his shot right away, opening quick strike passing lanes which he has shown an ability to hit.
Guenther has excellent passing skills. He can saucer pucks across defenders sticks, provide weighted passes for teammate to skate into, and is always moving the puck around within his frame to create new lanes to try and get the puck back door. Many of his assist have been easy tap ins on the back side because he is able to read a slow rotation, or anticipate his own defender coming down from the point. On the rush he draws defenders towards him and can thread the needle. Sometimes in the neutral zone his passes are a bit casual which enables opponents to generate turnovers against him but overall, it is a strength.
Guenther separates himself from his defender in the offensive zone by taking great angles, controlling his body position and being very effective on his edges. He is constantly moving into space without the puck and making himself available for his linemates. When he has the puck, he draws the defense towards him creating open space, passing lanes and seams that he can exploit. While not a large player, he is very effective around the net because he can move a few inches off a defender, keeping his stick free, to create space for a shot or pass. His body position is also part of what makes him such an effective fore checker and back checker. Guenther does both with pace but also with control; meaning he cuts off viable plays by positioning his body to prevent the preferred options. He then uses his quick hands to strip pucks, stick check or deflect pucks away from opponents.
Despite not being physically imposing he creates a lot of transition opportunities and turnovers with this effective style of play. His competitive nature further enables him to be successful in these situations. Despite being highly skilled he is willing to drive to the dirty areas around the net. He applies good back pressure and puck pursuit which allow defenders on his side of the ice to maintain a tight gap. He also presents well for his outlet pass in his own zone and uses his puck skills to corral passes that aren’t perfect.
Despite all these positives he typically is outside the top five on most draft boards likely because his preferred position of right wing rather than being the center most teams crave at the top of the draft. Guenther is one of the few wingers that has enough ability to drive a line in the WHL. Of the top 10 scorers in the WHL Guenther has the fewest powerplay points and leads the league with 10 five on five goals in just 12 games. It is entirely possible that Guenther’s name is the first name called in this challenging draft year.
PAST NBC EDGE MCKEEN’S 2021 NHL DRAFT PROSPECT REPORTS – In this weekly column we cover an NHL Draft prospect. Check out what we have written to date here listed by our most recent ranking.
#1 - Matthew Beniers C, University of Michigan, NCAA, C, 6’1” 175 lbs
#2 – Owen Power, D, University of Michigan, NCAA, C, 6’6” 215 lbs
#3 – Luke Hughes, D, USNTDP U18, D, 6’2” 175 lbs
#4 - Jesper Wallstedt G, Lulea, Sweden, G, 6’3” 200lbs
#5 – Simon Edvinsson, D, Vasteras, Allvenskan, 6’5”, 200lbs
#6 - Brandt Clarke, D, Nove Zamky, Slovakia, D, 6’1” 180 lbs
#7 – Dylan Guenther, RW, Edmonton, WHL, 6’0” 170lbs
#9 – Aatu Raty, D, Kärpät, Liiga, Finland, 6’2” 185lbs
#10 – William Eklund, LW-C, Djurgårdens IF,SHL, Sweden, 5’10, 175lbs