26. Saint-Louis Blues: Noel Gunler LW/RW – 6’2, 174 lbs
Another winger that falls in this draft, but the Saint Louis Blues will be thrilled with their luck. He has NHL size and could be a great compliment to a top-6 or, at worst, top-6 moving forard. Gunler would certainly join their established top-6 Cs to help provide secondary scoring for the Blues down the road and he has all the time he need in the SHL to round out his game and improve his game to be more efficient in all three zones.
Gunler is a little under the radar for some folk due to his lack of participation in international tournaments for Sweden, but that has more to do with internal politics than it does talent. There have been some reports over the years in regards to certain attitude issues, but those have not inhibited him from being successful at the professional level in the SHL and the SuperElit league last season.
Playing primarily bottom-6 minutes for the top team in Sweden (Luleå), Gunler was still able to show off his great speed, strong puck possession, magic hands and killer shot. He is able to to use his speed to create separation between himself and oppositional defenders, which allows him more time and space to dangle or snipe a shot. His various offensive tools make him very deceptive, especially at high speed, and those skills are very likely to translate to the NHL.
Gunler’s shot, be it a wrist shot or a one-timer are also lethal, and what is impressive is how his shot gains so velocity on impact, despite a very quick release. He is able to create space for zone entries and unleash his monster wrist shot that always seems to go bar-down these days. He also has a good positional awareness in the offensive zone, finding holes in defensive coverage, freeing him up to release his devastating one-timer.
Yes, Noel Gunler is a hell of a shooter. I just want to see him shoot more (52 shots in SHL, averaging only a shot a game) pic.twitter.com/7O75omv91K— kyle pereira (@pereira_report) August 26, 2020
Gunler could very well prove his naysayers wrong and top out as a goal-scoring winger with size, but many question whether his sluggish start to the 2020-2021 SHL pre-season (and season) is a sign that he may be more of a project than first thought. That is most certainly a gamble teams should be taking at this rank.
27. Anaheim Ducks (via Bruins): Connor Zary C – 6’, 180 lbs
Having just addressed their defense, the Anaheim Ducks could go anywhere with this pick, but my sense is that they’ll likely go for a forward at this rank. Anaheim has always appreciated the do-it-all centres from the WHL, and so Connor Zary very much fits that mold.
Connor Zary is another one of those clutch scorers who displays great leadership and strong offense prowess. He plays a very powerful game, which is evidenced in his skating stride, as it allows him to fly at top-speed after only 2-3 strides.
He doesn’t possess dynamic, game-breaking skill, but he is an extremely effective player at putting the puck exactly where he wants to with a nice saucer pass or a precise wrist-shot. Zary has a very fluid game that many believe will translate well at the NHL level because of his mix of physicality, smarts and nose for the net.
Connor Zary has swagger pic.twitter.com/ZJGPdQf4AO— /Cam Robinson/ (@Hockey_Robinson) June 1, 2020
This selection provides Anaheim with significant long-term depth up the middle with Trevor Zegras and Sam Steel, but he also adds an element of overall toughness. I struggled mightly between Zary and a few more forwards at this rank, but felt Zary simply had the intangibles that are always held in high regard at this point in a draft.
28. Ottawa Senators (via Islanders): Marat Khusnutdinov – C – 5’11, 176 lbs
I feel like this is a match made in heaven for the Senators, who just assured the long-term depth of their centre line is addressed for their organization, especially in top-6. His playmaking skills and his speed make him an ideal fit for Ottawa’ core, as they will be full of wingers capable of finishing off some of Marat’s brilliant playmaking.
Playing in the MHL (the KHL’s junior feeder league), Khusnutdinov is not a household name for most draft enthusiasts, but he is a legit first round talent to many, including yours truly. He plays a very strong and rugged game for a smaller guy (5’11, 176 lbs), and possesses some seriously good hockey sense. He uses his good speed to get around his competition, especially in the neutral zone, and penetrate the offensive zone. The young pivot doesn’t shy against stronger competition and loves cutting to the net.
His vision is his primary asset, and his passing his his most dangerous offemnsive weapon, as he can find open lanes quickly and take advantage. His precise passing (as seen the sequence above) can help find the flaw in a defensive box formation, while also offering the shooting option as defensemen scramble to cover passing lanes. I personally see top-6 C upside, but he would have to really begin improve his shooting and goalscoring for me to see him a legit dual threat at the next level.
Ottawa can afford to be patient while the youngter’s remaining 2 years of his KHL deal expire (a deterent for some teams who prefer not to wait or risk the player not signing). Most teams would be scared of waiting for such a player, but, when you have as much depth coming up as Ottawa does, you can afford to be patient. Meanwhile, he’s tearing up the MHL and will likely be playing sooner rather than later.
29. Vegas Golden Knights: Topi Niemelä RD – 5’11, 156 lbs
When I think of Vegas, I see a team that is stacked offensively with long-term contracts to key players, but a little too thin on defense, especially on the right side. At this point in the draft, I would have normally considered Justin Barron, but do to his continued health issues, the next best thing was Topi Niemelä, and what a selection that would be.
Topi Niemelä plays a very smooth and aggressive style that is predicated on moving the puck and transitional play. Playing the whole year with men in the Finnish Liiga for Kärpät, Niemelä showed good poise and a penchant for pushing the pace of the game in the offensive direction.
As evidenced by the sequence above, Niemelä is the type of defenseman that likes to attack open ice in the offensive zone. He’s the kind of defenseman that will take advantage of every inch of open ice in order to increase the danger of his precise and powerful wrist shot. Furthermore, Niemelä can be quite a playmaker, often getting the defense to bite on his shot attempt, only to make a pass to an open player for an offensive opportunity.
Solid hit from Topi Niemela.. Hugo Styf was not styf enough.— Yannick St-Pierre (@DraftDynasty1) February 8, 2020
*I still like Hugo Styf. He had a few very solid games when I was watching Wallinder. One of the youngest player in the draft too. Could be a decent late 3rd, 4th round pick. pic.twitter.com/jHxEBpH6gp
Although many believe he still needs to work on his defensive zone coverage and gap control, I found that Niemelä improved in this department as the season went on, and it became extremely apparent against players of his own age. Niemelä is also pretty physical for a smaller D, which reminds many people of a young Ryan Ellis, which is great value at this point in the draft.
Vegas desperately needs right-handed defensemen in this prospect pool and on their roster (they are littered with LD). His potential as a top-4, RHD defenseman is undeniable and it really is going to be about him continuing to challenge himself and improve the defensive side of his game.
30. Dallas Stars: Jan Mysak C/LW – 5’10, 175 lbs
Jan Mysak was a well known commodity in Europe, as many believed he had the speed and skill to rank among the best of his draft class. However, his strong World Junior Championships and move to the OHL mid-seasons (Hamilton Bulldogs) really put the spotlight on the young man, and he ran with it.
He is a speedy and talented forward that creates scoring chances off the rush when entering the offensive zone with speed. He possesses good vision and very soft hands, which make him very slippery and hard to predict. However, above all, Mysak possesses a very hard and accurate wrist shot, capable of popping water bottles for days.
Mysak also has exceptional skating to go with his great shot. We can see in the sequence below that he is able to quickly get up the ice, and can easily slow down the play to dangle his way into the high danger scoring areas for a beauty goal. That is Jan Mysak in a nutshell! A fearless speedster with a killer shot and some excellent hands.
Sick goal by Jan Mysak from February. pic.twitter.com/28nQtDFwBT— Sam (@DraftLook) April 9, 2020
Mysak would be able to come in and compliment an established and strong centre line and could likely slot on the 2nd line with Roope Hintz or Ty Dellandrea down the road. Could very well be one of the biggest steals in this draft.
31. San Jose Sharks (via Lightning): Ridly Greig C – 5’11, 162 lbs
Ridly Greig is one of the most relentless forwards in this draft, and that fits the style of play that Doug Wilson has always preferred for his clubs in San Jose. He adds the necessary grittiness and has the never-ending motor of a future forechecking machine at the NHL level, while possessing a very underrated shot and some deceptively good vision.
Greig has a very underrated skating stride and top-end stickhandling, which help him attack open space on the ice and force defensemen to back off. He then uses his vision to find an open man entering the offensive zone for a quick scoring chance. Greig thinks the game very quickly and already has a solid speed of execution when it pertains to plays in tight or on open ice.
Ridly Greig goal pic.twitter.com/Zw1uh0OAQB— Rink Rat Report (@RinkRatReport) August 5, 2019
These skills look to translate well and has many scouts questioning whether he had top-6 potential all along (spoiler: he does). He was my darkhorse candidate to jump well into the 1st round and I feel he can bring some serious value to the Sharks, as his growth potential is quite high, as one of the youngest players in this draft.