When it comes to the NHL Entry Draft, we always focus on the players who will be selected int he first round - and rightfully so as they’re the ones who are most likely turn into impact players at the NHL level. That said, the best organizations are the ones who are able to turn their picks outside of the top-31 into prospects who one day end up playing in the NHL. The Colorado Avalanche have had trouble doing that over the last decade but in recent years have started to turn around their drafting in rounds two and beyond.
Here are three prospects who are expected to be drafted after the first round who we should keep an eye on:
Jake Neighbours – LW – Edmonton Oil Kings, WHL
Bob McKenzie Ranking – 31
A 5’11” 200lb power winger, Neighbours does a little bit of everything and he does it all well. He has solid vision and hockey IQ, while playing a very physical game. Jake scored 23 goals and 70 points in 64 games for the Oil Kings this past season, helping them become one of the best teams in the entire CHL.
After a disappointing D-1 season, Jake came in and really established him self as a 200ft player this year. He backchecks with purpose, blocks shots and is a great board player. Going into the offensive zone, he doesn’t have the elite hands to deke around defenders, but he will use is body and stutter step to fool defensemen. And if that doesn’t work he will just power though them.
Because he plays an aggressive, physical game, he controls the play very well. Slowing things down to a pace where he can use his quick shot or make a quick pass into the slot. He is a puck possession hog. Many of his chances come from winning board battles and moving the puck quickly.
If the Avalanche selected him in the first, it might feel like a bit of a reach. That said, he won’t be around when they’re picking again in the third. He plays a type of game and has the skill and IQ that would fit the middle-6 very well. He is two years away from an ELC, and probably will need a season in the AHL to develop with the pace of the pro game. Lots of what he does now will translate well. The unafraid board battle play, quick transition and the effort he puts into everything. He will need to work on his skating. Keep on improving his first step, which is solid and over all speed. But that will come once he stops growing.
Carter Savoie –LW –Sherwood Park Crusaders, AJHL
Bob McKenzie Ranking – 84
Carter Savoie has dominated the AJHL over the last two seasons. In 112 games, he scored 84 times and finished with 172 points, earning top rookie honors in 2018-19, and top goal scorer honors last year. Carter had 53 goals and 99 points in 54 games - an historic goal scoring pace before the league shut down. But Cater isn’t a one trick pony. His elite hockey IQ and vision allow him to read the play at a high level. He is so good and just reading the game, putting himself in to positions to succeed.
Savoie does have an elite wrist shot and uses it very well, even when given very little space. He has very high-end puck skills and is a battler. You don’t expect a smaller guy to lay hits and be that physical battling for pucks - which he often wins - but he does it. Everything happens quickly with him in the offensive zone.
Since he is very dominant in one area of the ice, it has made him look lackluster on the defensive side of the puck. Once he gets the puck he is fine. Breakouts and transition are crisp and quick. When he doesn’t have the puck, he seems to just hang out and wait for the puck to get to him. I would like to see more urgency in that area of his game. Perhaps it’s just because he is the best player in the league and he looks bored some nights. But I would’ve loved to see him dominate all the time. That would have pushed him up more draft boards.
If the Avalanche took him they would be going back to a league they know well. Projecting anywhere from the middle of the second to the fourth round, he would probably be selected 75th if the Avalanche would take him. If he’s drafted by the Avs, they will get to see him a lot because he is headed to the University of Denver. - whenever NCAA seasons resume. There we will see if he can learn to play every shift with purpose. Everything is there for Savoie to succeed and if he can put it together, he will be a great value get in the third round.
Sean Farrell - LW – Chicago Steel – USHL
Bob McKenzie Ranking – 85
Sean Farrell was part of the dominant USNTDP U-18 squad from last year, before joning the Chicago Steel of the USHL. Only standing at 5’9, 175lbs, Farrell is an elite playmaker and high-end passer. He scored 15 goals and 41 assists in 44 games for Chicago last year. Thanks to a November birthday, he just missed being eligible for the 2019 draft and given the opportunity to shine in the USHL this year. This extra year has really helped him develop, and he broke out in a big way. Heading to Harvard for next season, he will continue to work on his game at the next level.
Farrell is a great skater. He has an explosive first step and can move like the best of them. Edges and quickness also stand out. While being labeled as a playmaker, his shot is also very good. He works hard in both ends of the ice, always putting pressure on the opposing players. While he doesn’t win all the board battle, his pressure and puck tracking does cause other players to make mistakes with the puck, allowing Farrell to takes over.
Being small is something that won’t change, but the smarts and ability to skate really help him out. At Harvard, like all prospects, he will have to get stronger on his skates and lower body so he won’t get pushed around at the next level. He did get pushed around in the USHL a bit which caused turn overs. A other smaller/quick guys (Mitch Marner comes to mind), Farrell is a very good penalty killer thanks to a quick stick and an ability to get into passing lanes while putting pressure players.
I would be surprised if he is available at 75. So if the Avalanche were to draft him, it would be because they acquired a 2nd round pick. With the Avalanche, he would stay in university for at least two or three years before getting his ELC. He would be more of a bottom-6 player, who can kill penalties. He has a very Alex Kerfoot type of game, except he plays wing.