In a new free feature, NZ scouting staff will be submitting 1-3 players each Monday who are on the rise; either in their star rating, league/national or draft ranking or simply a player who has shown improvement in their overall game. Our first week we are going to focus on junior hockey after our scouts are fresh off of seeing NAHL, USHL and AJHL Showcases.
Massimo Gentile (F, L, 5’8″, 170, Rochester Jr. Americans, 07/02/2003) – Gentile makes his NAHL debut after a dominant season in the CCHL where he led Ottawa Jr. Senators in scoring with 30 goals in 46 games, almost doubling their next highest goal scorer. He led his team in the Centennial Cup and also represented Canada East in the World Junior A Challenge showing he can have success against higher level competition. The NAHL is an interesting spot for the underrated prospect who was a late round selection in the QMJHL Draft in 2019 and went undrafted in the USHL because he’s undersized and not overly explosive of a skater which the NAHL is a fast and physical league. With that being said, through the first few weeks of the season he finds himself among the highest scorers in the league and his performance at the NAHL Showcase will likely earn him an A range grade. He remains uncommitted because he’s small, he’s not explosive, he’s not flashy but he’s an honest player; he plays in all situations (power play, penalty kill, offensive zone draws, defensive zone draws), stops on pucks, attacks the net, supports the puck, stays on the defensive side of scrums, changes speed through the neutral zone to pressure defenders gap. He’s smart, he makes intelligent reads, has a quick and accurate release making him a scoring threat from anywhere in the offensive zone. It will be interesting to see where Gentile lands, but as of right now he’s among the top ’03 uncommitted prospects in US junior hockey. Last year Gentile was our #1 ranked ’03 prospect in the CCHL and ranked 168th among all junior prospects in North America but will make a big move forward on the upcoming rankings in November.
Nolan Paquette (D, L, 5’11”, 185, Calgary Canucks, 02/14/2007) – It never fails, every year on the junior hockey showcase circut that is September and October for CHL/NCAA/NHL scouts, there is always a kid or two who you has the “where did he come from” type of performance. This year that was in the AJHL to the host team of the showcase the Calgary Canucks in 2007 left shot defenseman Nolan Paquette. This is a player who was the youngest player on the ice in both games and ran their power play. It is unheard of in the AJHL for someone his age to be getting the ice time he gets and even more rare to come out of U17 hockey the year prior and be undrafted in the WHL Draft. He’s got decent size at 5’11” 185lbs, and is sharp, precise passer in all three zones. He had a few stretch passes this week that sprung his teammate for clean breakaways and odd man rushes that few would even see let alone be able to make a perfect delivery on the tape in stride. His vision and puck moving aren’t his only tools; he’s defensively aware, plays positional defensive zone hockey with his stick in lanes and body between the opponent and the post and kept his head on a swivel. While he covers a lot of ice and showed good recovery speed after rushing the puck – he does have issues with his stride mechanics as his feet don’t come back to center which cuts down his speed and agility but it wasn’t a problem for him here. What stood out was his poise, especially given his age and lack of junior experience, and ability to look passes off, wait the extra second when necessary to make the best play and not the easiest play. Our last report on Nolan was from Rocky Mountain Classic in 2021 where we said he was the best prospect on the Calgary Northstars and earned a “B+” grade and was playing forward at that time.
Matvei Gridin (LW, L, 6’0″, 181, Muskegon Lumberjacks, 03/01/2006) – The USHL has an abundance of Monday Movers because the second year effect is very real; most players make a major jump from their first year to their second year in the league. This can be measured in a lot of ways; ice time, points or overall impact but regardless of the metric Matvei Gridin has taken a big step forward in his game. He made the move from Russia to the USHL as a 16 year old which is a daunting task for anyone and put up a respectable 8 goals and 13 assists for 21 points in 40 games in limited minutes. He has already exceeded his penalty minutes and is close to exceeding his goals from last year through the first few weeks of the season and more than the production is his style of play; he’s taking charge when he’s on the ice. A big, strong, direct, north-south power forward who can make plays in space and in traffic. He has a rare power and finesse combination where he can lower the shoulder, protect the puck and drive the net but he can also pull up, find the seam, make skilled passes and has touch in tight areas. He is snapping his passes off this year with authority and he’s catching them cleanly on both sides of the blade and he’s going into the hard areas and coming out with possession. He’ll earn one of the few A grades the USHL Showcase by his performance in both games and more than his offensive output, we were impressed with his work ethic, his toughness and his play away from the puck to get open, present a target and have a ready stick in scoring areas. Gridin will get plenty of attention from NHL scouts this season from what we saw at the Showcase.
Photo Credit: Dan Hickling/Hickling Images