The Stanley Cup Playoffs are now set to begin on Aug. 1, and as a result, the NHL has decided to set a tentative date of Oct. 9 for the 2020 Draft. This adds in the wrinkle of some of the eligible prospects being in-season when the draft actually occurs. Up to this point we have examined the prospects at center, wing, defense and in net, now shifting the focus to the most unpredictable players in this draft. Much can change between now and then but several prospects are likely to remain polarizing in the eyes of scouts. These are some of the first-round wild cards for this draft cycle.
2019-20 Team: Modo (Sweden-2), Modo (J20 SuperElit)
2019-20 Stats: 18 Games Played, 0 Goals, 2 Assists, 2 Points (SHL), 37 Games Played, 5 Goals, 19 Assists, 24 Points (J20 SuperElit)
Weight: 191 pounds
Wallinder is a classic case of production not matching up with potential. He is a player that has some holes in his game but is redeemed by an elite trait. That trait is his skating. He seamlessly pivots from forward to backward, capable of skating end to end with the puck. The trouble is that he also lacks the offensive skills to fully take advantage of the chances he generates.
He can wow you with a strong zone exit or a fluid drive, but he also has a habit of taking risks reserved for the likes of prime-Erik Karlsson, who happens to be the young Swede’s favorite player. No one will confuse Wallinder with the two-time Norris Trophy winner, but it is too early to abandon hope that his offensive toolbox can be improved. It will need to be if he is to ever be an impact player in the NHL.
His shot lacks power and accuracy is a concern as well, particularly with his slap shot. His wind up has a lot of wasted motion, causing him to need extra time to unload and even when he can get a shot off, the results are underwhelming. His passing is fair when he has time but under duress he is prone to turnovers. Though likely to add weight to his 6-foot-4 frame, at present he lacks physical strength.
Defensively, he excels at breaking up rushes in transition; his skating allows him to cover a lot of ice quickly, he identifies plays and establishes his gaps well. However, once possession has been established in his zone, Wallinder struggles at times. He would undoubtedly be a long term project for whichever team drafts him, but the payoff could be huge should his offensive game come around. Even with an extended career trajectory, his combination of size and skating could tempt the Flyers into snagging him in the first round. Should his offensive game come around, a player I liken Wallinder to is Philippe Myers, sans the booming shot from the point.
2019-20 Team: Lulea (SHL), Lulea (J20 SuperElit)
2019-20 Stats: 45 Games Played, 4 Goals, 9 Assists, 13 Points (SHL), 4 Games Played, 4 Goals, 2 Assists, 6 Points (J20 SuperElit)
Weight: 176 pounds
The concerns surrounding Noel Gunler appear to be pertaining to work ethic rather than skill, though the case may be getting blown out of proportion. He had stretches throughout the season where he was ineffective, leading some to believe he was disinterested during those stretches, a testament to his character. The more likely scenario is that he, like many teenagers playing in a professional league, hit the proverbial wall and will grow from that going forward.
Regardless of the speculation, Gunler’s skillset is exciting. He is a smooth skater with good speed and solid edges. His habits and instincts in the offensive zone are what really stand out from his highlight tape. Gunler is a player that relentlessly gets himself into high danger areas. He is not afraid to carry the puck into the slot and makes himself available to finish plays in that area with a very good shot. He is more of a shooter than a passer, but his passing and vision are still at a decent level.
His defensive game needs work, specifically with play identification, yet he does put forth effort on that end of the ice, which coaches can work with. His style of play makes him best suited for a top-six forward role at the next level, but may not stick if delegated to a lesser role. A player that I liken Gunler to is Alexander Radulov, a potent scoring winger when put in the right situation.
2019-20 Team: Litvinov (Czech Extraliga), Hamilton Bulldogs (OHL)
2019-20 Stats: 26 Games Played, 5 Goals, 4 Assists, 9 points (Czech Extraliga), 22 Games Played, 15 Goals, 10 Assists, 25 Points (OHL)
Weight: 175 pounds
Dissenting opinions regarding Mysak stem partially from his midseason transition from playing in Europe to North American Juniors. He was the 9th ranked European player in the midseason rankings and dropped all the way to 28th in the final North American skater rankings. He scored 9 points in 26 games playing in the Czech Elite League and later 25 points in 22 games for the Hamilton Bulldogs of the OHL. Regardless of why he is ranked where he is, Mysak is a skilled player.
He is a very good skater that processes the game at a very high level, and a solid offensive weapon. He has a good shot but what stands out is his quick release; he gave a few goalies fits on his highlight reel. His stickhandling is above average, as is his passing, making for a pretty well-rounded player.
Defensively, he has the vision and mentality to make an impact. He was excellent on the penalty kill, and has the skill to do some damage on the scoreboard when shorthanded. This versatility adds to his appeal, but he is still projected to go somewhere at the end of the first round. The Flyers could be the team that swoops.
Often, scouts can get mesmerized by gaudy point totals or a single elite trait, but Mysak seems to be a well-rounded prospect with legitimate upside. For this reason, he has excellent potential to be one of the steals of the draft. A player that he reminds me of is Flyers’ young gun Joel Farabee, though with a slightly lower ceiling. Mysak may settle into more of a middle-six role with 40-50 point potential and penalty kill acumen, whereas Farabee will likely be more of a 60-70 point threat in his prime.
2019-20 Team: Ufa (KHL), Ufa (MHL)
2019-20 Stats: 27 Games Played, 0 Goals, 1 Assist, 1 Point (KHL), 13 Games Played, 2 Goals, 8 Assists, 10 Points (MHL)
Weight: 178 pounds
Defensemen are difficult to project at the tender age of 17, which has caused a rift in perception regarding Shakir Mukhamadullin. The big Russian has some very enticing traits, as well as some question marks in terms of potential. His fluid skating and physicality are evident when watching him play, and he has showcased his booming slap shot on big stages, uncorking the game-winning goal in double overtime of the gold-medal game of the 2019 World Junior A Challenge.
Another common talking point with Mukhamadullin is that he spent the bulk of the season playing in the KHL. He did not play big minutes for his club but this is something that scouts consider. That being said, solid experience is not also the best indicator of long-term potential, especially when there are subpar elements to his game.
While he does possess a heavy shot, Mukhamadullin can be a bit wild with it at times, and his overall offensive instincts are just average. This is another factor worth noting regarding his potential. If he proves unable to develop a competent offensive game, a bottom-pair defender is the most predictable outcome for him at the highest level. What differentiates him from Wallinder is that Wallinder has a few decent traits paired with a truly elite one, whereas Mukhamadullin is more well-rounded, but lacks the flash.
Defensively, he uses his skating well and is good on the boards, though he is not an especially gifted outlet passer and won’t be a counter-rush catalyst. He is a safe pick in terms of skating, physical maturity and experience but if the Flyers were to select Mukhamadullin with their first selection, they would have to buy into his top pair potential, a more daunting proposition. A player I would compare Mukhamadullin to if developed properly is Braydon Coburn.
2019-20 Team: Chicoutimi Sagueneens (QMJHL)
2019-20 Stats: 19 Games Played, 2 Goals, 15 Assists, 17 Points
Weight: 179 pounds
Of all of the projected first round picks, Hendrix Lapierre may have the most upside. In the same breath, he may also be the biggest gamble. Lapierre is a downright elite passer, his vision and execution often force you to rewind the tape to fully understand what he did with the puck on a particular play. I would go so far as to say he is the best passer in the draft.
What makes him considered a risky pick is his injury history; Lapierre has suffered three severe concussions in the last two years. To make matters worse, he was diagnosed as having twisted a few of his vertebrae at some point in the last season. This will likely be enough to scare many clubs away. He is a reluctant shooter which is concerning, and also frustrating when watching him play, but if he can stay healthy and learn to better identify when to pass versus shoot, the payoff could be astounding. He has slick stickhandling ability, which pairs nicely with his passing and solid skating.
He would undoubtedly be a more highly rated prospect if it weren’t for the injury concerns, though current contenders that don’t have obvious roster needs may be willing to gamble on his potential. If he develops properly and stays healthy, there are shades of a young Claude Giroux in his game, if he does not, he may be a first round flame-out.
The playoffs have and will continue to put the 2020 NHL Draft on the back burner. Teams and their scouts will take advantage of the additional preparation time and decide which prospects are for real. For the Flyers, all of these players could be within their grasp on draft night. It will be up to them to decide who they can get the most out of.