Over the weekend, 217 players realized their dreams when they were chosen in the NHL draft, but many more looked on with disappointment. I, for one, was shocked to be passed over. I’ve held out for the past half-decade, but perhaps my lack of skill – or that I haven’t played the sport during that time period – hasn’t helped my case.
Jokes aside, you hear it every year: you don’t need to be drafted to go on to have a good career. And it’s true that the path to the NHL is not linear. Ask Norris Trophy winner Mark Giordano. He went undrafted before signing an entry-level contract with the Flames in 2004, and 15 years later, he’s one of the best defensemen on the planet.
The draft world is tough. At times, teams will have only known about a prospect for two years, sometimes less. If the prospect is stuck playing a depth role on a good team or are sidelined with an injury, they may not have time to show their worth. Some will have to impress as camp invites. Others won’t be chosen until their second year of draft eligibility. Others yet will take circuitous routes, be it through the minors or European clubs.
Gates Jersey Gates Chargers Antonio Jersey Antonio Chargers Antonio Gates So, who could be among the group of players who will take another path to the NHL? Here are 10 of the best players who didn’t hear their names called in Vancouver:
Daniil Gutik, LW, 17 (Loko Yaroslavl, MHL – No. 19 EU)
At No. 69, Gutik was one of only two players in The Hockey News’ Draft Preview Top-100 list to not get drafted. Gutik tore apart the competition with Russia’s U-17 team last season and performed well at the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup and World Junior A Challenge, but had an average season in the MHL. Gutik will need to be more consistent if he intends on battling for a spot on Russia’s World Junior Championship team this winter.
Ludvig Hedstrom, D, 18 (Djugardens, Sweden U-20 – No. 36 EU)
Had Los Angeles Kings draft pick Tobias Bjornfot not stolen the spotlight, Hedstrom would have been Djugardens’ top defenseman. A smart blueliner, Hedstrom boasts a mix of speed and physicality and puts plenty of pucks on net. His biggest issue is clearing his own zone, but he’s got intriguing two-way skill and looked good in international play with Sweden. He just needs a chance to show himself as a go-to guy first.
Billy Constantinou, D, 18 (Kingston, OHL – No. 58 NA)
Gates Jersey Gates Chargers Antonio Jersey Antonio Chargers Antonio Gates Constantinou did little to help his draft stock after a mid-season move from Niagara, but it’s still surprising a team didn’t take a chance on him. He’s a human highlight reel, moves well and knows how to run a power play. The problem? He’s got some flaws, including a tendency to send blind passes into dangerous areas. Constantinou will have the opportunity to turn things around on an improved Frontenacs squad next season.
Grant Silianoff, RW, 18 (Cedar Rapids, USHL – No. 60 NA)
A wrist injury kept him from showcasing his full worth which led to a so-so debut for the top pick in the 2017 USHL draft. However, Silianoff will almost certainly earn draft consideration next summer. He was electric at the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup, recording five points in as many games, and finished 13th among U-18 scorers in the USHL. An extra year with the RoughRiders may be what he needs before embarking on his college career at Notre Dame.
Oleg Zaitsev, C 18 (Red Deer, WHL – No. 66 NA)
Gates Jersey Gates Chargers Antonio Jersey Antonio Chargers Antonio Gates Zaitsev arrived in North America with plenty of promise after a good season in the MHL. He scored a 43 points in 66 WHL games, but put up just one goal at the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup. A strong skater who uses his speed to get him into scoring situations, Zaitsev can get caught watching the play and he’s not great defensively. He can play all forward positions, though, and got more comfortable with the smaller ice as the season wore on. He wins a lot of puck battles and is good at locating his teammates, but he needs to find consistency.
Vojtech Strondala, C, 18 (Kometa Brno, Czech – No. 95 EU)
Whenever Strondala played for the Czech Republic, he was among the best players on the ice. But at 5-foot-7 and 154 pounds, he had a tough time adjusting to the physical game in the top pro league and was often manhandled. In the second-tier Czech League, however, he had the best points per game average (0.7) of any U-18 player despite playing fewer games than many others. His skillset is average, but he saw an overall improvement in his game this season.
Cole MacKay, RW, 18 (Sault Ste. Marie, OHL – No. 99 NA)
Though he joins Gutik as the only other player on The Hockey News’ Draft Preview Top-100 list who wasn’t drafted, MacKay exploded offensively this past season with the Greyhounds and showed chemistry with Morgan Frost and Barrett Hayton, finishing with 61 points in 65 games. That more than eclipsed MacKay’s 14 points the season prior. Mackay is a playmaking winger with a good shot, but he’s not the strongest skater and lacks creativity. There wasn’t much hype surrounding him heading into his OHL career, but he has shown enough promise to warrant a second look if he improves further next season.
Jake Lee, D, 17 (Kelowna, WHL – No. 146 NA)
Lee has had a roller coaster of a junior career since getting picked by Seattle in the first round, 18th overall, in the 2016 WHL draft. The improvements in his game over the past year are noticeable, however. He’s got the size to be a shutdown defenseman, doesn’t lose many battles and rarely puts himself in risky situations. His work ethic is often second to none and he’s not afraid to lay someone out with a big open-ice hit. His skating is below average and his offensive potential is limited, which is the reason teams weren’t willing to take a shot at him.
Xavier Simoneau, C, 18 (Drummondville, QMJHL – No. 204 NA)
Simoneau, standing at a mere 5-foot-6, has the qualities you’d look for in a 6-foot-6 beast. He’s physical, annoying to play against and wins battles along the boards. Oh, and he had 57 points in 55 games with the Voltigeurs. The ninth pick in the 2017 QMJHL draft, Simoneau has everything but the high-end speed you’d hope for from a kid his size.
Dmitri Sheshin, LW, 18 (Magnitogorsk, MHL – Unranked)
Small but energetic, Sheshin finished third among U-18 players in the Russian junior league with 43 points in 45 games. Internationally, it was a different story, as he often found himself in a bottom-six role and rarely contributed. Listed at 5-foot-8 and 143 pounds, size truly proved to be an issue for Sheshin. If he was a few inches taller, he might have gone in the draft.
Other notables: Yaroslav Likhachyov, RW (Blainville-Boisbriand, QMJHL), Ilya Mironov, D (Loko Yaroslavl, MHL), Luke Toporowski, LW (Spokane, WHL), Michael Gildon, LW (U.S. NTDP, USHL), Iivari Rasanen, D, (Tappara, Finland U-20).
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