I’m excited for this one, the first edition of the new-look prospect reports. Thank you to everyone who sent in a question! I did have to edit some of the lengthier ones, but I tried my best to keep the full questions in.
General questions (not player-specific) will be answered at the end of the report. If there were questions asked about a specific player, I included them under the player’s name. I answered as many as I could, but I did have to save some for next week, so don’t worry if I didn’t get to yours for this one. Leave your questions for next week’s report in the comments, or in the replies to the MHH tweet!
Canadian Hockey League
#44 - Bowen Byram (D)
Vancouver Giants (22-20-5)
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that as soon as Byram started putting up points again, the Giants started winning. They climbed back into sole possession of third in the division over the last week. Byram had a goal and three assists in two games and now has 25 points in 33 games.
More on Byram at the end of the post.
#34 - Sasha Mutala (RW)
Tri-City Americans (15-27-5)
Three assists in three games for Mutala this week with Tri-City. He continues to put up points. Mutala is now up to 52 points in 46 games, becoming the third Avs prospect to eclipse 50 points this season.
“I see that Mutala has been doing well this season point-wise. I heard that he had a bad year (had some family stuff) and fell in the draft. Is he outplaying his current draft position or is he just getting lucky grabbing points?” — bpita0202
Gosh, Mutala had an absolutely brutal draft year season with what was going on in his personal life. His parents battled life-threatening health issues for the last two years (his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and his father suffered a stroke), and it couldn’t have been easy for Mutala to continue playing hockey so far away from his family. But things have seemed to turn around for everyone involved, which is really relieving to hear.
Mutala is the only Tri-City player who is over 50 points right now, 20 points higher than the next. He is the offensive catalyst for the Americans, there is no denying it. Tri-City has not been good this season, and they’ve really struggled to keep the puck out of the net — they’ve allowed the second most goals in the entire WHL this season. Mutala is shining on a bad team, and a large part of why Tri-City is still in the hunt for a wildcard spot in the Western Conference.
#27 - Luka Burzan (C)
Brandon Wheat Kings (27-19-4)
Brandon played four times this week, and Burzan scored four goals and added two more assists. That pushed him over the 50-point mark on the year, as Burzan has 53 points — and he hit the 30-goal mark as well. Burzan has five game-winning goals in the last 13 games.
#WHL BDN/RD: @bdnwheatkings are a point back of 2nd spot in Division as they pick up the road win, despite being out shot by 19 (4th time this year and 2nd most). Hold on from a late Tiger charge for the 1-goal win. Luka Burzan (30) and Ben McCartney (20) hit goal milestones.— Geoffrey Brandow (@GeoffreyBrandow) February 2, 2020
#16 - Alex Beaucage (RW)
Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (24-22-4)
Beaucage had two goals and an assist in two games over the past week, which was enough to see him reach the 60-point mark in the Q. The league is ridiculously high-scoring this season, so Beaucage sits 13th in league scoring with 34 goals and 26 assists in 50 games.
#18 - Alex Newhook (C)
Boston College Eagles (16-7-0)
I’ll just say this and get right to the question after:
“What is your analysis on Newhook’s 200 foot game? He seems to score near a point per game, but how are his possession and defensive abilities? Does he get any PK or PP time for Boston College?” — McGeorge
This took some time to look into, because I’ve only watched Newhook at BC three times this season. The Eagles have been giving Newhook opportunities on both special teams — he has two power play points and one shorthanded goal this season. It’s worth noting that Newhook is producing predominantly at even-strength. Boston College has excellent special teams this season — their penalty kill has a 84.8% success rate since the beginning of December, and their powerplay has been the best in the entire NCAA in the last 16 games at 32.8%.
I was blown away by Newhook’s ability to read plays and kill penalties at the Canadian World Junior selection camp, and I think a large part of his success against USports (Canadian colleges) was because he had been playing against that age group all season in the NCAA. The fact that he’s getting shorthanded ice time as a freshman is a really good sign of how he’s earned the trust of his coaches, and it’s only going to benefit him and the Eagles in the long run.
#4 - Drew Helleson (D)
Boston College Eagles (16-7-0)
Helleson didn’t record any points in BC’s win over UMass. The Beanpot begins today, and BC will take on rival Boston University in their first game of the tournament.
“Drew Helleson. I liked the pick and like the prospect, but it seems I am much higher on him than most. In your view, how has his transition been, and what kind of prospect do the Avs have in him?” — SuckMyAvs
I watched BC’s first game of the season, and the only time I really noticed Helleson was when a puck hit his skate and deflected out of harm’s way in the slot. Since then, I really haven’t noticed him on the ice, but that’s not a bad thing at all. When Helleson is playing well, he’s going to fly under the radar. He’s been playing on BC’s second pair with Luke McInnis, and they haven’t been on the ice for too many goals against, which is good.
Helleson is a mobile, shutdown defenseman. He’s a cerebral player — he waits to see what’s happening in front of him before he reacts. Helleson can also skate the puck out of harms way, and his accurate outlet passes have sent more than one forward in alone on a breakaway. He should get more time on special teams with BC with every coming year (depending on how long he stays there).
The best case scenario for Helleson, I think, is a second pair shutdown defenseman. He doesn’t rely on playing the body to separate opponents off the puck, but he’s positionally sound. He’s got excellent puck-handling and carrying instincts, and is calm under pressure. He can walk the blueline confidently with the puck and shows enough promise in that regard that he could quarterback a second powerplay unit (though maybe not with the Avs, since they have Cale Makar, Samuel Girard, and eventually Byram). Helleson’s biggest task now is to work on getting stronger.
#26 - Cam Morrison (LW)
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (12-11-5)
One goal and one assist for Morrison this week as Notre Dame beat and tied with Penn State over the weekend:
I say it in Monday's report, but Cam doesn't get enough love from Avs fans. This guy is ready for pro hockey. https://t.co/0AHILlVpla— ♀️Lauren Kelly ♀️ (@laurkelly24) February 1, 2020
More on Cam further down in the report.
#4 - Nick Leivermann (D)
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (12-11-5)
I’m still not sure why Leivermann missed the last five games, but he returned to game action for Notre Dame’s second game of the weekend.
Missed this earlier because I'm actually working tonight, but Nick Leivermann returned to the Notre Dame lineup after a five game absence. Denis Smirnov missed his second straight game for Penn State. #GoAvsGo— ♀️Lauren Kelly ♀️ (@laurkelly24) February 2, 2020
#2 - Nate Clurman (D)
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (12-11-5)
Clurman added an assist in the two games against Penn State. Notre Dame will have next week off before returning to action February 14th against Minnesota.
#58 - Sampo Ranta (RW)
Minnesota Golden Gophers (12-10-4)
Ranta contributed two assists as Minnesota cruised to two wins over struggling Wisconsin. The Gophers will play Michigan State next weekend.
#25 - Denis Smirnov (RW)
Penn State Nittany Lions (17-9-2)
Penn State was hit hard with injuries over the weekend, and unfortunately, Smirnov was one. He missed both of their games against Notre Dame with an undisclosed injury. Penn State’s next two games are against Ohio State next weekend.
#40 - Tyler Weiss (LW)
Nebraska Omaha Mavericks (12-11-5)
Weiss landed on the scoresheet once again this week with an assist in two games against Western Michigan. Omaha will play Minnesota-Duluth next weekend.
#20 - Matthew Stienburg (RW)
Cornell Big Red (15-2-4)
Cornell was shut out in their first game of the weekend by Quinnipiac, but rebounded well to beat Princeton. Stienburg was moved around a couple of times — from third line center to second line center, then to second line wing — but didn’t put up any points.
“Stienburg. He seems like the forgotten guy of last year’s draft class, which is weird since he was drafted ahead of Beaucage, Mutala, and Burzan. How has he looked at Cornell? Not racking up points obviously, but he’s playing for a championship contender at Cornell.” — mossdismossdat
I think Stienburg has a ton of raw potential, but it’s been a bit of a struggle for him to start. Cornell gave him every opportunity to succeed off the bat, putting him on the top line. That didn’t really work. Then came the thumb injury, and Stienburg missed some games right before the holiday break.
A freshman playing on a really good team is never a bad thing. There are things Stienburg can take away from the success Cornell has had this season that he wouldn’t have gotten somewhere else — how to not let the pedal off the gas, for example. Cornell is also poised for a deep playoff run, and that will also give Stienburg invaluable experience.
The other thing is that Stienburg isn’t known for driving offense — his game is modelled more similarly after NHL players like Tom Wilson and Josh Anderson. Physicality first, offense second. He plays with an edge, and that can sometimes get him into trouble. It’s going to take more time for Stienburg to get up to the size and speed of the NCAA, given his playing style.
Right now, he’s bouncing between Cornell’s second and third lines. There are adjustments Stienburg has to make for a player like him to excel in the NCAA. I think the rest of his freshman season will provide a valuable learning experience, and hopefully Stienburg can take a step forward in his sophomore year.
#51 - Nikolai Kovalenko (RW)
Lokomotiv Yaroslavl (30-20-4)
Lokomotiv rattled off three wins last week, and Kovalenko scored:
#2 - Danila Zhuravlyov (D)
Ak Bars Kazan (38-11-4)
Bars also won three games this week, but Zhuravlyov didn’t play in any of them. In fact, he’s missed the last five games with an undisclosed injury. I’ll probably tweet an update if there is one on his health status before the next report comes out.
Last-Minute Mailbag Questions
“With Annunen doing well, does he have NHL potential, or is the competition just really bad and he’s just an average prospect?” — Makar Is Better Than Yourkar
I am no goalie expert by any means, but a 19-year old goalie leading the Finnish men’s league in save percentage, shutouts, and GOALIE POINTS is pretty phenomenal. Annunen didn’t have the World Juniors performance many were hoping (and expecting) he would, but Finland also didn’t help him out much defensively. Then he came back from the Czech Republic and picked up right where he left off, posting another shutout. If Annunen were putting up these numbers in a Finnish junior league, I may have more reservations about his NHL potential, but I believe he’s the real deal.
Annunen pretty much leads the league in all the goalie stats, including points (tied for 1st with 2 assists).— Jokke Nevalainen (@JokkeNevalainen) January 23, 2020
The lead he has in save percentage is quite significant. pic.twitter.com/52rDj0F9ro
“Who is our most disappointing prospect? The another question is the opposite. Who is the most underrated/underappreciated and why?” — McGeorge
I’m going to get a lot of heat for saying this, but I haven’t exactly been blown away by Byram this season. Maybe my expectations were just too high, but he was the one who said at the beginning of the season that he wanted to come back to the WHL and lead the Giants to a WHL championship. Vancouver has struggled mightily, and their success (or lack thereof) tends to directly correlate to how Byram is playing. While it’s good that he’s focusing on growing his defensive game — and that he had four points last week — the Giants need him to be that game-breaking presence offensively (because they were in free fall when he left for the World Juniors), and I just haven’t seen it from him yet. Hopefully his productive past week is what turns the tide for him.
As far as underrated prospects go, Cam Morrison doesn’t get enough credit for what he does. He’s scored so many clutch goals for Notre Dame that, at this point, I’ve lost count. The puck just has this way of finding him when Notre Dame desperately needs a goal, and Morrison has the uncanny ability to finish. He’s also a a great defensive player, can play both special teams, excel anywhere in the lineup, and I think he’s the most pro-ready of all the players on the report.
“What prospects will we see signing with the Avs or Eagles this year?” — Joseph Garcia
Morrison for sure, and also Denis Smirnov. Both are in their final years of NCAA hockey and will need to sign professional contracts before August if the Avalanche want to keep them in their system. Depending on how long their playoff runs are, I could see them make the jump to the Eagles (like Saigeon, Bowers, Henry, etc. did last season) in the spring. But Smirnov has really struggled with injuries since his standout freshman season, which has impacted his on-ice play. That may be a factor for the Avs when they decide to hand out pro contracts.
This report was compiled with information from the WHL, QMJHL, NCAA, and Flashscore. Please leave questions for next week’s prospect report in the comments below!