Neutral Zone’s NHL Draft staff will be releasing 60 players over 6 days leading up to the NHL Draft on October 6 where we break down players our scouts like from the WHL, OHL, QMJHL, NTDP/USHL, Europe and Junior/HS/Prep. Each of those 6 divisions will get 10 players that our scouts will highlight, breakdown their game and provide some background information on the prospects all for free. We will include their NHL Draft Grade off our most recent NHL Draft Final Rankings.
To start we will look at the Junior/HS/Prep division and analyze prospects from across the US and Canada from MJHL to NAHL to Prep School to Minnesota High School to BCHL, etc. These are not necessarily the top 10 players who played in these leagues rather prospects our scouts were impressed with and felt compelled to write about as a primer for our upcoming draft coverage. Scouts can click on the players names below and get redirected to their player profile where subscribers can read scouting reports, draft rankings, amateur reports and rankings and other useful background infromation on these prospects.
Ethan Edwards (LD, 5’10”, 165lbs, Spruce Grove, AJHL)
Amateur Grade: 4.5/5 NHL Draft Grade: C+
Ethan is a skilled, puck moving, savvy defenseman with a quick first step and high hockey IQ. He was a mid to late round pick in the both USHL and WHL drafts and didn’t really break out until his U18 prep season for NAX where he helped lead them to a CSSHL Championship. This past season was his rookie year in junior hockey and was an immediate impact player for Spruce Grove (AJHL) as a quick, shifty, playmaking defender who can stretch the ice and is also aware in his own end picking off passes and breaking up plays with an active stick and smart body positioning. He’s a gifted skater not only in speed and balance but his agility and lateral quickness which allows him to play tight gaps through the neutral zone and give up very little space on zone entries keeping opponents to the outside and low percentage areas. He takes smart steps, he can strip pucks cleanly and is brilliant in transition game able to stop and accelerate the other way instantly and have his head up, survey the ice and move it quickly to the right option. He earned an “A-” grade at the AJHL Showcase as one of the younger players on his team and then really shined in January at the CJHL Top Prospects game in Ontario where he was the best player on the ice for Team West. His improvement year to year, particularly this past year earning AJHL All-Rookie team, points to a promising upside. He’s verbally committed to Michigan for the Class of 2021 and with the success of recent AJHL defenders recently in Cale Makar and Jacob Bernard-Docker it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Edwards fall in the top half of the draft.
Wyatt Kaiser (LD, 5’11”, 170lbs, Andover HS, Minnesota HS)
Amateur Grade: 4.25/5 NHL Draft Grade: B
Kaiser is a smooth, balanced, highly mobile defender who can accelerate in every direction and has the lateral agility to stay tight on gaps and take away opponents time and space. He always had offensive ability throughout his bantam and high school career but after starting the year with Dubuque in the USHL he’s really rounded out his game and now takes pride in his defensive game. He is so strong on his skates he can ride opponents to the wall and knock them off the puck, he has a quick stick to poke pucks and stick check and keeps his head on a swivel around the net to pick up weakside and backdoor options and break up passes into the slot. He can close quickly against the rush and win races to pucks in the corner and at the high school level he’s got a ton of possession time and controls the play from the backend. He quarterbacked their power play, he led rushes up the ice and could go coast to coast whenever he wanted. Given his skill and talent mismatch at the high school level he was able to shake off forecheckers and have plenty of time and space to make plays up ice but when we saw him with Dubuque and he had less time he could make smart and quick decisions and move the puck up to his wingers and swinging center on the breakout. He can make plays if needed or make the smart, simple pass and he doesn’t turn pucks over or chase the puck, he lets the play come to him and is disciplined and well-positioned in his own end. Always hard to predict a player out of high school hockey on their NHL potential but he’s got as good of footwork and stride as any defender outside the top round and he is versatile and athletic to play any role at the higher levels. We had him as our best defenseman in the state of Minnesota and should be a consideration among NHL teams in the bottom half of the draft.
Ian Moore (RD, 6’3”, 173lbs, St. Mark’s School, NE Prep)
Amateur Grade: 4.25/5 NHL Draft Grade: B
Moore is a highly athletic, smooth, fluid skating defender out of St. Mark’s School in Massachusetts who has gotten better and better and better in his young career. The defenseman is tall, long mobile defender with reach and sound defensive instincts. In his first season with St. Mark’s he showed flashes of skill and obvious skating ability but he was indecisive, forced passes and lacked confidence. He took another step his second season and was taking pucks coast to coast, he was using the body and stepping up in the neutral zone and running the power play averaging just over a point per game. This past year however he really shined as he’s gotten stronger on his skates and more balanced; he trusts his feet and backward acceleration from a standstill to maintain tight gaps and shadow opponents hip to hip in his own end. Last spring when he played for Cape Cod at U18 Nationals he showed what he was capable of on a national stage where he handled the puck around forecheckers, made defenders miss in the neutral zone and was able to carry with his head up, find the seams and float passes up to his forwards on the tape.He has great touch and can thread the needle when needed and stretch the ice through the neutral zone to create odd man rushes. He also can skate it and likes to play a possession game and jump up into the rush as a fourth forward. On the power play he’s become a two-way threat as he used to rely on his passing and playmaking ability but now has a heavy slap shot and can blast a one-timer. He reads the defensive structure and knows when to sink down from the blue line and when to lure killers to him and exploit the seam with precise passing. He’s a bit light at this point and needs to get stronger and he’s not overly physical and will need to get tougher to play against but for scouts who have seen this player, they’ll be impressed with his footwork, his brain and his instincts to get spots, anticipate where the puck is going and be in position to breakup plays. He’s been trending upwards for the past three seasons and we don’t see anything slowing that down in the future for this 6’3”, athletic, skilled defender.
Ethan Bowen (LF, 6’2”, 170lbs, Chilliwack Chiefs, BCHL)
Amateur Grade: 4.5/5 NHL Draft Grade: C+
Bowen is a tall, lanky, long stride forward who has soft hands and vision carrying the puck through the neutral zone and on zone entries. He needs to get stronger on his stick and on his skates but he has speed up the wall and uses his length and reach to keep pucks away from defenders and get to the net. He has touch on his passes and can sauce it over sticks effortlessly in stride and he has a good eye for reading the defenders positioning and feet to know how to beat them whether it’s cutting inside, using them as a screen or going wide with speed. He’s poised and plays a possession style looking to make a play before dishing it and he is able to activate his points in the offensive zone and create off the wall, from behind the net, out of the corners or off the rush. As he gets stronger he’ll be able to add a power element to his game which is missing right now as he’s more of a tall, finesse forward with a high IQ. He has deceptive acceleration especially for his size and he gets shots off quickly and in stride but he’s more of a distributor at this point than a net front scorer. He earned back to back A- grades at the BCHL Showcase in 2018 and 2019 and was also an A- rank at the WHL Cup in 2017 as a Bantam after committing to North Dakota. He’s still a project but has exciting upside given his frame, his athleticism, his skating ability and hockey sense. A solid late round consideration who after a few years in the college ranks could make a scout look smart.
Ryan Alexander (LF, 5’10”, 180lbs, St. Michael’s Buzzers, OJHL)
Amateur Grade: 4.25/5 NHL Draft Grade: B-
We first saw Alexander as a minor midget playing with the famed Toronto Marlies and finished the season as our #32 ranked OHL Draft prospect but slipped to the third round because of his NCAA commitment to Arizona State. Since then he’s gone onto the OJHL and played a first line role with the St. Michael’s Buzzer notching an impressive 58 points in 48 games played this season which earned him our #1 ranking in the OJHL and #40 ranked among NCAA Eligible 2002 birth year prospects. What makes him a special talent is that he plays a complete 200ft game and is used in every situation. He has a selfless approach, he blocks shots, he finishes checks, he’s a dog on a bone on the forecheck, he battles in the corners, he wins draws, is hard on his stick and balanced on his edges. He has no quit, he gets off checks and has a rare combination of power and skill. He backchecks with authority through the middle of the ice, he is disciplined in his own end supporting his defenders down low and taking care of his net front coverage with physicality and body positioning to box out streaking forwards. He can play high on the power play, he can play off the wall and snap passes to the slot and he can play net front and get quick shots off or re-direct and fight for loose pucks. He is tough to move off the puck both with his lower body strength and edges but also his compete level he’s the kind of forward who gives it back when taking contact instead of just absorbing it. He stops on pucks, he gets open on the breakout swinging and presents a clean target and he can slow it down and pull on the rush or he can go wide and cut in to the post. He’s not a burner but has enough speed to get by opponents and he’s got a dangerous release and can score in tight and from the outside. He earned an A- grade at the OJHL Showcase earlier this season and followed that up with an A- grade mid-season at the CJHL Top Prospects game where he was arguably Team East’s best player. Likely a late round pick but his versatility to play up and down the lineup and his honest, consistent, selfless approach make him a valuable pick.
Blake Biondi (RF, 6’0”, 180lbs, Hermantown HS, Minnesota HS)
Amateur Grade: 4.5/5 NHL Draft Grade: B+
Biondi impressed NZ NHL Director Ian Moran by deciding to return to Hermantown HS after starting the season in the USHL with Sioux City saying “I know people gave him a hard time for choosing to stay at Hermantown rather play with the NTDP, but I look at it like it’s a positive. He stayed at home to play with his buddies and try to win the Minny State Tourney. I think it takes stones to do it. It shows what he’s made of. He’s loyal. He’s a leader. When evaluating a player I think those are positive attributes.” His stride is as strong and as balanced as anyone in the US and he is tough to play against because he can fire it, he can snap passes off, he can protect pucks in small areas and power or finesse his way to the net. He scored an impressive 37 goals in 25 games at Hermantown and propelled his team to the Class A State Finals. The winner of Mr. Hockey in Minnesota this season was first seen by our scouts at the World Selects Tournament in June of 2017 and we’ve had over 15 reports over the past 3 years tracking him throughout his high school career, his NTDP tryout, his Elite League performance, USA National Camp, Minnesota State Tournaments and USHL Showcase. Every report has a common thread; high compete, hard net front game, can make plays in space and in traffic, can work the cycle and come off the wall with quickness and skill and he can battle in the trenches and win pucks and gain positioning. There is nothing fake or phony about his game; he’s hard, direct and loves to shoot the puck and is tough in his own end, stops and starts and plays the body. He shoots to score, he can read goalies, gets shots off lightning quick and has real power and ability to bear down around the net and jam home rebounds. He doesn’t have elite speed and he’s not flashy but he’s a hockey player and what he did this past season in Minnesota HS was dominate and impressive to all who watched. He’ll head right into Minnesota Duluth which is a rarity for that program and speaks to his readiness and mature game to make the jump out of high school hockey.
Carter Loney (RF, 5’9”, 165lbs, Steinbach Pistons, MJHL)
Amateur Grade: 4.25/5 NHL Draft Grade: C
Loney is the lone MJHL representative on NHL Central Scouting and while he’s a bubble NHL Draft prospect he’s an exciting prospect nonetheless. He’s undersized but smart and skilled; he can dissect defenseman and break them down 1v1 and get to the net. He has a low center and bounce off body checks and maintains puck control in traffic areas. He plays a possession style game and likes to slow it down, find the seams, change speed and lure defenders towards him to slide passes behind them to open space. He sees the whole sheet, the puck sticks to his blade and he’s able to sneak through seams, maneuver his way to the net and get shots off with defenders on him. He’s more of a setup man at this point in his career and likes to play the perimeter and thread passes into the slot area and plays high on the power play and consistently hits the backdoor with swift passes on the tape. He’s quick but lacks the straight line sped you’d want to see of a prospect his size but his brain can’t be overlooked; he is always in the right position, he understands pressures and puts pucks into space for his teammates to skate onto and will take hits to make plays. He first caught our attention in 2017 when he was playing for Rink Academy earning a B+ at CCM Showcase and then finished the year with an A grade at CSSHL Playoffs. Since then he’s gone onto play U18 for Rink HA and then this past season in the MJHL where he earned an A- at the CJHL Top Prospects Game and an A at the MJHL/SJHL All Star Showcase. He’s likely not going to get drafted given his size and coming out of the MJHL but he’s someone who could surprise at an NHL training camp and has all the tools to be a successful NCAA player who develops at the NCAA level.
Carter Savoie (LF, 5’10”, 180lbs, Sherwood Park, AJHL)
Amatuer Grade: 4.5/5 NHL Draft Grade: B
Cater is a player who has lived in the shadow of his young brother, 16 year old 5-star phenom Matthew Savoie of the Winnipeg Ice, but he’s a gifted forward in his own right. We first watched him in 2017 playing for NAX U15 in the CSSHL playoffs and he went straight to the AJHL where he earned an A at the AJHL Showcase as a rookie in 2018 where he went on to produce 31 goals and 42 assists for 73 points in 58 games played. This year he continued his development and put up 99 points and an impressive 53 goals in 54 games earning an A- grade at the CJHL Top Prospects game and a B grade at World Junior A Championships for Team Canada. He’s undersized but he’s elusive and dynamic with the puck and has an explosive first step. He is poised and savvy with the puck, he reads the play and lets it develop before making his move or forcing a bad pass. He has a rocket release, he can pick corners and beats goalies clean in the slot with power and accuracy. He has speed but doesn’t fly around the ice; he’s calculated, he uses change of speed and turns on the jets when he has to in order to pull away from defenders in tight areas and go wide on the rush. He has the sense to know where the defense is and where the soft spots are, he can thread passe into tight areas or he can float them into space with touch and smart reads and he’s not intimidated to go into the tough areas and dig out pucks. He’s more of an elusive, open ice type forward but he showed can make plays off the wall, he can dip and weave off the cycle and find lanes to the net. He always has his head up and despite his high scoring record in the AJHL, he’s not one dimensional and looks to pass when pressured or when he has a poor shooting angle. He’s gotten steadily better over the past 3 years and is making the jump straight to Denver out of the AJHL which is a rarity for his age and only happens to the very elite in the AJHL. He’s slated to be an early to mid round pick and we think that’s fair projection.
Grant Riley (G, 6’4”, 190lbs, Janesville Jets, NAHL)
Amateur Grade: 4/5 NHL Draft Grade: C
Riley is a prospect who we’ve had on our radar for the past three years and was a candidate for the NTDP squad after a dominant U16 season with Rochester Coalition and then played his first season in junior hockey with the Janesville Jets in the NAHL putting up impressive numbers in 37 starts. He’s tall, he’s athletic and has great footwork and explosive pushes side to side to make tough saves. He can be overly aggressive at times and get out of position but he tracks pucks very well, he gets set and square to the shooter, he takes good angles and plays big to take the net away and absorbs the puck leaving less rebounds and second chance opportunities. He communicates well with his teammates, he sets them up and gets them in position and he can get out of the net and play the puck making smart decisions to help break the puck out. The NAHL is a hard league for young rookie goaltenders but the recent success from netminders out of that league in the NCAA makes Grant’s success all the more impressive and could end up seeing his name called in this draft. He’s a bit raw at this point which is common at this age and his size/frame but nothing he struggled with this year is hard to fix and his ceiling is higher than he gets credit for.
Devon Levi (G, 6’1”, 185lbs, Carleton Place Canadians, CCHL)
Amateur Grade: 4.25/5 NHL Draft Grade: C
Levi is a talented netminder out of storied Quebec midget program Lac St-Louis Lions where he went in the 5th round of the QMJHL Draft to Blainville. He made a seamless transition to junior hockey where he put up jaw dropping stats in this rookie campaign with a .941 save percentage and 1.47 goals against average in 37 starts. The argument at the mid-term of the CCHL was that he plays on a great team but the backup goalie who had 25 starts had a .880 save percentage and 2.86 goals against average so not sure that argument is fair. He doesn’t have ideal size, particularly for an NHL Draft pick, but he’s got excellent hockey sense and vision to see pucks through screens and has fluid movement and positioning that he catches puck in the chest constantly because he’s square to the shooter and balanced in his stance. He has quick push offs post to post and takes away the bottom half of the net without giving up juicy rebounds off the pad. Where Levi went from a talented NCAA prospect to a potential NHL Draft pick was at the World Junior A Championship where he won a silver medal, earned tournament MVP and had several dominant performances against Team USA and Team Russia kicking out 80 of 83 shots. He looks effortless at times because he doesn’t have to sprawl out and make wild saves; he’s composed, he stays on his feet as long as he can, he can outwait his opponents on breakaways and he knows when to jump out of the paint and be aggressive and when to stay deep and be ready for the pass across slot play. He reads the play, he has a high IQ, moves well to the puck and can play pucks off dump ins and was useful this season in power play situations to set up the breakout for his defenders. Again not many goalies are taken at his size because the holes in the NHL are amplified by high end shooters but his outstanding rookie season has earned him a spot in our list and he’s a late round sleeper who is primed for success at the NCAA level.
Photo Credit: Dan Hickling/Hickling Images