My quick thoughts on a few of the 2000 and 2001 born NHL Draft Eligible Players’ performance on Saturday night.
#3 Nick Perna
I felt Saturday was Perna’s best game as a WHL player; his first multi-point night. His first assist came after he kept the puck alive at the offensive blue line. He tracked the play, showed poise as a defender quickly closed on him, and fired a low shot on net which generated a rebound for Lane GIlliss to score. His ability to make outlet pass on his backhand is one play he continues to show he can make consistently. He is often asked to play on his off side as a left-handed defenseman. More often than not, the pass ends up going tape-to-tape and Portland is able to breakout of the zone. Perna shows the ability to retrieve pucks extremely well and isn’t afraid of taking a hit to make a play. Some other rookie defensemen I’ve watched this season often will shy away, or will start to turn the puck over if they are hit early or often. Nick’s size and strength also help him control the front of the net. He was able to keep Spokane’s bigger forwards to the outside tonight and also swept away what few rebounds were available.
#12 Reece Newkirk
Newkirk continues to impress me every night, and his draft stock continues to rise. Coming into the season he wasn’t listed as a “Player to Watch” by Central Scouting. He played the first part of the season with Cody Glass and Joachim Blichfeld, but over the last several games has been on a line with rookies Jaydon Dureau and Seth Jarvis. The line is listed as Portland’s third, but is quickly making the case to be the second line. Newkirk continues to show his success this season isn’t just from playing with Glass and Blichfeld. Reece finished the evening with a three point night contributing a goal and two assists. His speed and quickness is improving as the season progresses, and he displayed it on Saturday driving wide around a defender. Newkirk’s head is always up and twice against Spokane led to an assist. His passing ability will help him in the jump to AHL hockey after he graduates from the WHL. His saucer pass on Dureau’s goal went through three defenders and landed flat on Jaydon’s stick. The more and more I watch Newkirk the higher I expect him to be drafted this summer.
#15 John Ludvig
A relatively quiet night for the sturdy defenseman, but not necessarily a bad thing for John. He was sound all night in his defensive position and blocked several centering attempts. His offensive game is not quite at the level of some of the other players the same age, but is just a solid, all-around defenseman. I still expect he will be drafted in his second eligible season.
#22 Jaydon Dureau
I’ve mentioned Jaydon’s backchecking ability before, but against Spokane it was on full display. Dureau avoided taking any stick infractions and was able to separate multiple Chiefs from the puck. Twice, his strips of players resulted in a goal for Portland. He drives to the net hard and has stick in a shooting position more often than not. His speed and acceleration will need to continue to pick up as he develops in the WHL.
#2 Luke Gallagher
Gallagher is on the smaller side of defensemen, but how he uses his stick in the defensive zone makes up for any lack of size. He reminds me a little bit of a young Jared Spurgeon, plays for the Minnesota Wild, as he knows when to apply pressure to oncoming forwards. Luke’s gap control will help him when he makes the transition to pro hockey. He also is agile enough on the breakout to avoid the body contact and also skate the puck out of the zone. This trait was on full display on the 3-on-2 goal Spokane scored. His ability to breakout and transition the puck contributed to the goal. His poise at the offensive blue line is impressive as well. Throughout the night he showed the confidence to hold his ground keeping pucks alive in the zone. When the puck gets by him his quick feet help him make the pivot necessary to turn and retrieve the puck or stop the play going the other way. While the statistic isn’t the most accurate representation of a player’s defensive/offensive ability, in a game which finished in a 8-2 defeat, Gallagher was only one of four Chiefs’ players to not finish with a minus rating.
#19 Michael King
Michael King centered the fourth line for Spokane, and I noticed him the most when there were puck battles along the wall. He plays bigger than his 6’0” 179 listing, and isn’t afraid to play the body. There were many instances throughout the game where he was able to separate the Portland player from the puck using his size. Michael’s play in the offensive zone isn’t quite polished yet. I noticed several times throughout the game where he would get caught on the outside. If he brings his physical nature to the front of the net, I would expect his statistics to increase.
#22 Luke Toporowski
This was my first live viewing of Toporowski and there is a lot to like about his game. Central Scouting lists him as a “C” skater. Overall, his game is well-rounded. His first three strides in my opinion are strong, but could improve to provide the extra separation on the breakout. Luke was in the second forward group on the penalty kill, and I could easily see him fitting into a similar role at the next level. His positioning is strong, stick in the passing and shooting lanes, and had a first-time clear. He also was able to forecheck hard and stripped the Portland defender of the puck behind the net. Toporowski’s quick hands allowed him to kill a few extra seconds of the power play. Luke also plays on the power play, and I was a little surprised to see him used as a net-front presence after taking the faceoff. He isn’t the biggest player, so not sure how well this will translate to the AHL or NHL level as bigger defenders may be able to push him out of the way. Saturday in Portland he was successful though as he was able to provide a screen leading to Filip Kral’s power-play goal. At this time I would expect Toporowski to be selected late in the fourth round or early in the fifth round depending on how he finishes out the season.
#23 Connor Gabruch
Connor was relentless on the forecheck and supported the the first forward into the zone well. His line forced several turnovers and pinned Portland in their own zone on several shifts. Gabruch also wasn’t afraid to mix it up physically and stick up for his teammates. Connor and Clay Hanus each received roughing minors late in the third period as the score became out of reach. Gabruch has yet to record a point on the season, but his ice time on the fourth line limits the amount of opportunities he receives.
#29 Eli Zummack
Zummack went undrafted last season despite being listed on the Central Scouting Players to Watch list. After seeing him in person fort the first time this season, I believe he will hear his name called this year though. Through 27 games Eli is a point-per-game player and contributes on the power play. He is asked to man the right point on the power play and does it well. His head is always up looking for a shooting lane or to bump the puck off to the wingers. Zummack’s size may be a limiting factor at the next level standing just 5’9”, but his style of play will translate to the AHL. I would expect he would need a couple of years in the minors before he could fill a bottom six role on a NHL team.
#34 Adam Beckman
Adam’s acceleration is without a doubt the best attribute to his game. His acceleration is noticable as he was able to quickly separate himself from a defender several times on Saturday. He led the breakout of a 3-on-2 rush with Jake McGrew and Luke Gallagher leading to Spokane’s second goal of the game. His center-lane drive took a defender away from McGrew allowing Jake the space needed for the goal. Standing 6’1” his size will help him as he prepares for the pro ranks. Adam isn’t the most physical player, but also isn’t afraid to get to the dirty areas of the ice. Beckman’s top speed will need to develop as the season progresses, but there is a lot to like in his game. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a team take a chance on him late in the draft.