For reasons mainly out of our control, scouting has become much more difficult the past few years.
You may have heard of this small little thing called COVID-19, which prevented a bunch of players from even playing for an entire season. There’s also the Russian invasion in Ukraine, which has prevented a lot of scouts and general managers from going over to Russia to get in-person viewings.
Sure, there’s video available. But it’s not the same.
So, for many prospects, it’s been difficult. And scouts have been spending more time watching potentially overlooked players to make up for it. It’s tough to lose a large chunk of your developmental period, leaving some guys to have to play catch-up instead of building upon their skillset. And this year, there’s good depth in the overage market at every position – maybe more than average.
With just over a month to go before the 2023 NHL Draft, here’s a look at 15 of the top overage prospects available when all 32 teams head to Nashville for June 28-29:
Luke Mittelstadt, D, 20 (University of Minnesota, NCAA)
It’s hard to really put into words just how good Mittelstadt was this year. The youngest of three hockey-playing brothers, Mittelstadt was the best player in the game that sent Minnesota to the NCAA national championship game, only to come up short against Quinnipiac. He has solid offensive instincts, putting up 16 assists and 21 points as a freshman playing some key minutes with the Golden Gophers – and his college journey has only just begun. Mittelstadt had a good USHL season last year but nothing out of the ordinary for a 19-year-old skilled defenseman. His adjustment to the college game definitely turned some heads as a potential third- or fourth-rounder.
Adam Gajan, G, 19 (Chippewa, USHL)
Some scouts think Gajan might be the best goaltender in the draft. I disagree, but you can’t ignore the impact he has had this season. An unlikely hero for Slovakia at the world juniors, Gajan started as the third goalie before nearly shocking Connor Bedard and Canada in the quarterfinal. He was overlooked last year after bouncing around in Slovakia, but his play in the USHL and NAHL, as well as the WJC, will make it tough to ignore him now. Scouts especially love his 6-foot-3 frame and his competitive fire. He’s headed to the University of Minnesota-Duluth, which will buy some time for the team that drafts him and allow him to play against some high-quality competition. There are still some unknowns about a guy who really came on everyone’s radar in the winter, but the reward potential here is insane.
Kocha Delic, C, 19 (Sudbury, OHL)
Count me as one of the many that were surprised to see Delic overlooked a year ago. After missing the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 shutting down the OHL, he had a decent 46-point season with Sudbury. Nothing overly special there, but given his track record with the Toronto Titans of the GTHL before that, there was no doubting his skill. He’s always moving, giving a full-out effort every night. He missed about 20 games this year, but still scored 22 goals and 52 points in 46 games. Sure, he’s, at best, a bottom-six forward, but he has the skill set to make it work.
Egor Sidorov, RW, 19 (Saskatoon, WHL)
The Belarusian forward had a total glow-up in Saskatoon last year, going from 35 points a year ago to 40 goals and 76 points this season. He then put on a clinic in the postseason with 19 points in 16 games, but the Blades fell short against a loaded Winnipeg Ice squad in the third round. Slotted 81st in the NHL’s Central Scouting Rankings, he’s a volume shooter with an excellent, deceptive release. But, like many players on this list, his skating needs work and can play a bit of an unstructured game, at times. The raw talent is there, but it’s about putting it all together.
Matt Copponi, C, 20 (Merrimack, NCAA)
Copponi, a third-year eligible prospect, has had a solid sophomore season with Merrimack, becoming one of the team’s most vital scoring forces. Copponi is consistently effective and highly competitive, giving it everything he has every shift. He’s projected to go in the later rounds of the NHL Draft, but given he’s still early in his college career, he could be a decent long-term project.
Thomas Milic, G, 20 (Seattle, WHL)
It’s been one heck of a season for the 20-year-old. He led Canada to gold at the World Junior Championship with a perfect 5-0-0 record with a .932 save percentage, including some huge performances in the medal round against Slovakia, USA, and Czechia. He then finished off by helping Seattle win the WHL title, earning playoff MVP honors and taking home the league’s top goalie trophy. You expect huge performances from a 20-year-old, but with just six losses between the regular season and playoffs, Milic truly deserved all the praise he received. One of the biggest knocks against Milic is his small six-foot frame, but from an athleticism and competitiveness angle, there’s no reason for him to go unselected this time around. The raw potential is there, and Dustin Wolf has shown it might be worth throwing a bone to a smaller goalie.
Tomas Suchanek, G, 20 (Tri-City, WHL)
What a whirlwind year it’s been. Suchanek took the starting role over at the summer WJC, and while his stats weren’t pretty, he was easily one of the team’s most important players. He then joined the Buffalo Sabres for development camp, turning some heads, before embarking on a fantastic campaign with the Americans. Suchanek had the best stats at the 2023 World Junior Championship, bringing the Czechs within one goal of the gold. He was a workhorse with Tri-City, facing 40 or more shots in regulation 10 times. His best was a 48-save victory in an 8-2 win just a few weeks after returning home from the WJC. The harder the challenge, the better Suchanek plays.
Juha Jatkola, G, 20 (KalPa, Liiga)
After helping the Finns to the gold medal game of the 2022 world juniors, only to fall short, Jatkola meant business. He was KalPa’s starter in his first year in the top Finnish league, posting a 20-11-8 record with five shutouts, good for second behind Ottawa Senators prospect Leevi Meriläinen (eight) for the most among U-21 goalies. Jatkola was good in the Liiga playoffs, even earning a shutout in a game against the Pelicans, but the team ultimately fell short. The second-ranked European-based goaltender by the NHL’s Central Scouting, Jatkola has another year left on his Liiga deal, where he’ll likely be the No. 1 goalie again. Given he’ll be 21 by then, and set for another year of pro hockey, he’s already farther along the development process than most other goalies.
Isac Born, C, 18 (Frolunda, SHL)
It’s hard to play 30+ games as an 18-year-old in the Swedish league, but Born outgrew the need to play against his own age group. He has never been a big offensive contributor, but he brings energy, great skating and a high compete level. He’s a typical fourth-line caliber player, someone who can force mistakes and annoy you just enough to get you off your game. Born is also a strong puck-handler but just doesn’t shoot enough. Another few years in Sweden can help him progress more, but after underwhelming numbers at the U-20 level, he took big steps in improving his game this year.
Beau Jelsma, C, 19 (Barrie, OHL)
Jelsma was a favorite from the public scouting sphere this season, even if the NHL’s Central Scouting didn’t seem to agree. The No. 190-ranked North American-based prospect, he has fourth-line energy forward written all over him. He’s always moving, always attacking at both ends of the ice and his work ethic is as good as it gets. But, he’s 5-foot-9, doesn’t have very high-end scoring and scouts are concerned about the lack of true upside. We’ll see if a team likes his competitiveness, and he definitely deserves to get picked.
Rodwin Dionicio, D, 19 (Windsor, OHL)
An offensive defenseman standing at 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds? Sure! Dionicio had 50 points in 50 games between Niagara and Windsor this year, playing top-line minutes with the Spitfires. His play suffered last year on a Niagara team that was a total mess this year, but he was a leader on a competitive Spitfires group that unfortunately fell flat in the playoffs. He’s not a quick skater, which takes him down a few pegs, but his brain, skill and physicality make him intriguing. He’s a depth prospect at this point until he gets his own zone play fixed up.
Brady Stonehouse, RW, 18 (Ottawa, OHL)
If a late-round goal-scorer is what you’re seeking, Stonehouse can get the job done. He had 37 goals as a second-year OHLer, good for first on the 67’s. For a smallish forward, he has some good body mass that allows him to win battles and establish good body positioning. Stonehouse is a strong skater with a good shot, but his playmaking decision-making could use some work. He comes from a good hockey family, too: his father, Jeff, had a four-year run with Harvard University. His younger sister, Abby, was one of Canada’s best players at the U-18 women’s tournament and will join Penn State in 2024.
Alexander Hellnemo, G, 19 (Skelleftea, SWE-U20)
Hellnemo was the top-ranked European-based goaltender by the NHL’s Central Scouting Service all year long. It was a bit of a surprise, for sure, but with a good 6-foot-2 frame and a solid nine-game stretch with Skelleftea in the SHL, there might be something to see here. He’s your standard butterfly goaltender with good foot movement and active shoulders, good for covering shots up high. As a late-round project, there’s potential, but I’m still not sure what was up with the high ranking by the NHL’s CSS this year.
Stanislav Yarovoi, RW, 19 (Vityaz, KHL)
Could Yarovoi be a nice Russian diamond in the rough? He obliterated the Russian junior league in his short time there and had 16 points in 45 games with Vityaz, good for fourth among U-20 skaters. He was completely off the radar a year ago, but some solid stretches against pros opened some eyes this year. It’s hard to get a read often on young Russian players because goals can be hard to come by – and in-person viewings are even more difficult given the situation. But there’s some nice goal-scoring potential here.
Hudson Thornton, D, 19 (Prince George, WHL)
Thornton is the 206th-ranked North American-based skater in the NHL’s CSS rankings. So if you follow that guideline, there’s no chance he’s taken. From an offensive standpoint, Thornton had a whopping 23 goals and 74 points this year, which is incredible as a blueliner. He plays on both special teams, loves to rush the puck and is as competitive as they come. He’s also small, gets pushed around often and is prone to bad giveaways. We see scoring defenders like this all the time get passed over so it wouldn’t be surprising if that happened again due to his play away from the offensive zone. But could the risk-reward be worth it late in the draft? Hard to say no there.
NOTE: Ages are as of Day 1 of the NHL Draft on June 28, 2023
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