NHL Prospect Notebook: Kirby Dach making his case to be a top-5 pick
As the season stretches onward, we start to get a better sense of who players are - not just first-year draft-eligible prospects waiting to hear their names called in June, but those already in the NHL as well. Here's a look at the prospects making headlines so far this season:
One player worth your attention: Kirby Dach of the WHL's Saskatoon Blades.
The towering center kicked off the year with a gold medal at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, where he finished fourth in scoring with two goals and seven points in five games. He has carried the momentum over into the WHL season, racking up 11 goals and 21 assists in 19 games while making a compelling case for being selected inside the top five.
Dach is a strong skater, elusive despite his 6-foot-4 frame, and has the skill to match his size. He's a gifted puck-handler and might be the best passer in this year’s forward class. His hockey sense is high-end, allowing him to read the ice and make decisions that get opposing defenders out of position. He passes more often than he shoots, but he does have a powerful wrist shot.
Dach, named an A-rated prospect by NHL Central Scouting, is also part of Team WHL for the ongoing Canada-Russia Series.
In the minors
Several top prospects have recently made their way to the AHL.
The St. Louis Blues sent Jordan Kyrou to the San Antonio Rampage on Oct. 30, and the Anaheim Ducks reassigned Sam Steel to the San Diego Gulls the following day. Kyrou scored his first AHL goal - a shorthanded empty-netter - Saturday against the Stockton Heat.
Erik Brannstrom, one of the Vegas Golden Knights’ best defensive prospects, is racking up the points with the Chicago Wolves. Brannstrom, who won't turn 20 until next September, has nine points in nine games, including two goals.
Jordan Greenway was sent to the AHL by the Minnesota Wild and made an immediate impact, scoring three goals while adding an assist in his second game against the Colorado Eagles. The Wild called him back up almost immediately, and he scored in the team's next game against the Vancouver Canucks.
The New York Rangers assigned defenseman Sean Day to the Maine Mariners of the ECHL on Monday. It’s a disappointing demotion for the former OHL exceptional status player, but could also be an opportunity for Day to get his game back on track.
The class of 2019
Left winger Jakob Pelletier of the QMJHL's Moncton Wildcats is off to a hot start of his own with 25 points, including nine goals, in 16 games. Pelletier, who was named QMJHL Forward of the Month for October, stands at 5-foot-9 and 160 pounds, but his vision, puck skills, and skating are outstanding.
After missing most of the beginning of the season with injury, top prospect Alex Turcotte is back with the U.S. National Team Development Program. Turcotte had a goal and an assist in his first three games.
Arthur Kaliyev of the Hamilton Bulldogs continues to terrorize OHL opponents, scoring his 15th and 16th goal of the season on Sunday against the Owen Sound Attack. He's already more than halfway to his rookie tally of 31 goals in 68 games.
Current top-ranked prospect Jack Hughes has 20 points, including three goals, in 14 games with the USNTDP. Whether Hughes still has a lock on the No. 1 spot over second-ranked Kaapo Kakko remains to be seen.
While it’s unlikely that Kakko will ultimately supplant Hughes, he has still made a strong argument for himself with his start in the Finnish Liiga. Through 16 games with TPS, he has 10 points.
Around the CHL
San Jose Sharks prospect and Baie-Comeau Drakkar (QMJHL) forward Ivan Chekhovich was named CHL Player of the Week for the period ending Oct. 28. Chekhovich had eight points in three games, including a five-point night against the Quebec Remparts. Bolstered by a hat trick, it was the second time this season that Chekhovich tallied five points in a game.
Fellow Sharks prospect Ryan Merkley is also off to a fast start. The Guelph Storm defenseman has 22 points in 15 games and is third in the OHL in assists (19), and inside the top 20 in points (22).
Undrafted right wing Justin Brazeau, captain of the North Bay Battalion, leads the OHL in points with 36. Brazeau, 20, could catch the eye of an NHL team and win an entry-level contract as an overager.
The Boston University men’s hockey team earned its first win of the season on Saturday, marking the first victory for new head coach Albie O’Connell. Defenseman Dante Fabbro (Nashville Predators) scored two goals in the Terriers’ 4-1 defeat of Northeastern, with forwards Bobo Carpenter and Patrick Curry - both undrafted - each scoring a goal.
Rangers prospect K’Andre Miller is off to a terrific start at the University of Wisconsin, kicking off the campaign with seven points in six games. That was enough to earn the Hockey Commissioners Association National Rookie of the Month award after leading all NCAA first-year defensemen in scoring in October.
While Harvard University suffered a 7-6 overtime defeat at the hands of Dartmouth University on Oct. 27, Carolina Hurricanes defensive prospect Adam Fox was a bright spot. Fox, acquired as part of the Dougie Hamilton trade, had a goal and four assists in the loss.
In other news
It’s early yet, but countries playing in the World Junior Championship may be missing a few key players due to their NHL success. Finland’s blue line could potentially see a significant impact if Henri Jokiharju (Chicago Blackhawks) and Miro Heiskanen (Dallas Stars) are still with their NHL teams. Finland might also have to do without Jesperi Kotkaniemi should the Montreal Canadiens decide not to release him.
Vilardi, still recovering from a summer back procedure, recently started skating with the Kings but was sidelined again with hip flexor tightness. The injury doesn't appear to be serious and he should return in a few days, but whether he’ll be back in full game shape - and playing at a level that satisfies Hockey Canada - remains to be seen. Anderson-Dolan is also back in Los Angeles (he was recently reassigned to the Spokane Chiefs of the WHL) for wrist surgery. He’s expected to be sidelined for six-to-eight weeks.
Two players Canada will most likely have on its roster are Alex Formenton (Ottawa Senators) and Evan Bouchard (Edmonton Oilers). Both players are currently with the London Knights of the OHL, so it’s not unreasonable to think you’ll see them donning the maple leaf in Vancouver come Boxing Day.
Hannah Stuart keeps a close eye on both drafted and draft-eligible prospects and can usually be found trying to learn more about hockey analytics. She has previously written for FanRag Sports, The Hockey Writers, and Hooked On Hockey Magazine, and can also be found at High Heels and High Sticks. Find her on Twitter at @HockeyWthHannah.