We’re now several weeks into an NHL postponement and there is still no clear timeline on when professional hockey will return. While fans of the sport have received small tidbits of news over that time, including college signings and contract extensions, the thirst for discussion has rarely been quenched.
With that in mind, we’re happy to continue our new feature: The PHR Panel. Three times a week, our writing staff will give our individual takes on a question many hockey fans have been wondering about. If you’d ever like to submit a subject for us to discuss, be sure to put it in the comments. This series will run each Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
To catch up on the previous edition, click here.
Today, we’ll each give our thoughts on a prospect that hasn’t yet made his NHL debut.
Q: Which already-drafted prospect outside of the NHL excites you the most?
Brian La Rose:
The question of when Wild winger Kirill Kaprizov will sign with Minnesota has been ongoing for a while. The first season PHR covered was the 2016-17 campaign where his contract in the KHL was expiring and there were questions as to whether or not he’d come to North America. Fast forward to today. His contract in the KHL is expiring and there is hope that he’ll finally cross the pond. I’m excited to see if he lives up to the hype.
There is plenty of reason for optimism. In recent years, he has progressed from being a good KHL winger to a legitimate star and actually led the KHL in goals (33) and points per game (1.09) this season. A few years ago, the thought was that he could come in and play right away. Now, the hope is that he can come in and play on the Wild’s top line right away.
Over the last few years, Minnesota has been a decent team but is missing that key piece or two to prop them up from being a bubble team. Kaprizov has the ability to help them do just that. Assuming he plays next season (even this year is a possibility if regular season games resume), he could be the player to help spark their turnaround. It seems we’ll soon find out if he winds up being well worth the wait.
I find myself quite intrigued by the prospects in this upcoming draft, but that doesn’t answer today’s question. Considering that I’m German, I’ve always been fascinated by German prospects and with the continuing improvement in German-born players that last few years (very interested to see how Tim Stuetzle develops), I’m always watching prospects ready to come to the U.S closely.
The guy I’ve been most interested in the last couple of years is Carolina Hurricanes prospect Dominik Bokk. He was originally drafted 25th overall in 2018 by the Blues and was a key part of the trade which brought Justin Faulk to St. Louis. Bokk is considered to be quite the talent, joining the SHL at age 18, but has struggled to play among men, scoring nine goals in two seasons with Vaxjo. He then went over to top-ranked Rogle where he struggled even more, but after a dominating performance for Germany at the World Juniors this last year took off, scoring 10 goals since returning, while only averaging 12-13 minutes per game.
He’s expected to arrive and spend a season in the AHL where the Hurricanes already moved out a bunch of prospects out of their AHL system, including Julien Gauthier, Janne Kuokkanen and Eetu Luostarinen to give some playing time for incoming players, including Bokk. I wouldn’t be surprised if he dominates in his first AHL year and we’ll see how he develops, but I just get excited about Bokk as a prospect.
There are a number of talented future stars among the selections from the past couple of years—and even more in the upcoming draft class—but in my opinion “excitement” for a prospect peaks the closer he is to making an NHL impact.
For that reason, to me Kaprizov has to be the most exciting prospect outside of the NHL. The 2015 Minnesota Wild pick has been teasing North American fans for years with stunning numbers in the KHL for such a young player. The 22-year-old could be the second coming of Artemi Panarin and I believe he finally makes the jump this summer and takes on a top-six role for the Wild right away next year. Kaprizov is simply a dynamic offensive talent and gifted scorer who I would be surprised to see struggle with translating his penchant for points to the NHL. He would be my 2020-21 Calder Trophy favorite the minute he signs in Minny.
As for more recent picks, I continue to be impressed by Buffalo Sabres prospect Dylan Cozens. A player that I was high on when he was drafted last year, I feel Cozens was an outstanding value at No. 7 overall. For the sake of development, he was better off back in the WHL this season, where he again proved to be one of the league’s best players, rather than with a struggling Sabres squad. However, I expect the well-rounded power forward to break camp in Buffalo next season and make an impact for a team desperate for more talent, compete, and IQ in their forward corps.
There’s no doubt that Kaprizov will get the juices flowing again when he finally does come over, but the will-he-won’t-he of the last few years has me drained of any excitement.
A really good case could be made for Alex Newhook, who has just oozed top-line NHL potential while dominating his NCAA competition. The Colorado Avalanche draft pick—16th overall in 2019—scored 19 goals and 42 points in 34 games for Boston College and was just named the Tim Taylor Award winner as NCAA Rookie of the Year. Newhook was somehow left off the Canadian roster at the World Juniors this year (they won gold, so I guess it was the right choice?) but you can bet he’ll be at the next one, before making his mark at the NHL level down the road.
Still, as much as this may cause some chuckles in the back, the prospect that excites me the most is still Joe Veleno. The QMJHL star and Detroit Red Wings prospect jumped to the AHL last season and recorded just 23 points in 54 games, but that performance comes with a few caveats. First, and most importantly, Veleno played a good chunk of the season as a teenager—something that isn’t normally allowed for a player drafted out of the CHL. His case was different because of the exceptional status he was granted to enter the CHL a year early; five years of junior meant he was eligible to jump to professional hockey.
The other was the overall scoring ineptitude of the Grand Rapids Griffins. Amazingly, Veleno’s 11 goals actually tied him for third on the team, behind only AHL veterans Chris Terry and Matt Puempel. Five of those goals actually came in his final 16 games of the season, hopefully pointing to a higher level of production next year.
It’s hard to explain exactly why Veleno excites me when I watch him play, but he does. At the World Juniors I thought he was arguably the most well-rounded forward in the tournament, and perhaps that’s why I have such high hopes. I think he can be a star offensively in the NHL if he’s put in that role, but I also think he could be one of the league’s best shutdown forwards. What better organization to be in than one helmed by Steve Yzerman.