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John Farinacci: 2019 NHL Draft Profile; Harvard-Bound Center from NJ

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John Farinacci is the highest ranked New Jerseyan and American high school-based player in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. This profile goes into what he has done on the ice and what he needs to work on as he goes to Harvard next year.

After weeks of anticipation, discussion, and prospect profiles, the 2019 NHL Draft will take place this week. For the penultimate profile for this year’s class, I took inspiration from a member of the People Who Matter, the All About the Jersey community. Back in April, member alslammerz put up a FanPost about draft-eligible players from the New Jersey area. The top man on his list is from Staten Island, so I decided to include the highest ranked skater who was born and raised in the Garden State: forward John Farinacci.

Who is John Farinacci?

John Farinacci is a center who was born in Red Bank and hails from Chatham. According to his Elite Prospect profile, he was born on February 14, 2001, he shoots right, and he is listed at 6’0” and 185 pounds. Hockey has taken him well outside of New Jersey after crushing it with the New Jersey Colonials at the bantam level. It would eventually as Farinacci committed to Harvard in 2016; but he expanded his horizons in the following season.

In 2016-17, he left New Jersey and played a season with Shattuck-St Mary’s U-16 team in Minnesota. After crushing it there, he moved on to Dexter School in Massachusetts for 2017-18. He was also drafted by Muskegon of the USHL; but Farinacci spent most of his time with Dexter. For the prep school in 2017-18, Farinacci put up a massive 53 points (26 goals, 27 assists) in 27 games. He did get to dress in three games with Muskegon. His performances garnered attention from the United States National Team Development Program. He put on the USNTDP uniform for five games in USHL play and five more games with the national U-17 team, mostly at the Five Nations tourney. It was a busy season and it further highlighted Farinacci.

2018-19 was more of the same in that he played for Dexter with a few appearances each for Muskegon, the USNTDP, and the national team. Farinacci was the captain of the American squad at the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup where he put up two goals and three assists. Farinacci was also named captain of the team at Dexter too. Unfortunately, the rest of the season was not as productive for the center. He missed a significant amount of time with a bone contusion in his right knee, as noted in this NHL.com article by Adam Kimelman at the combine. Therefore, he was only able to play in sixteen games with Dexter. He only had two appearances with the USNTDP and two appearances with the U-18 National Team - he was pointless in all four games. He also only played two games with Muskegon; at least he contributed some points there. In those sixteen games with Dexter, Farinacci put up 12 goals and 21 assists for 33 points - a staggering 2.06 point per game rate. His play was still good enough to be named to the 2018-19 ALL-USA Boys Hockey First Team by USA Today High School Sports.

While it remains to be seen what will happen after June 22, it is likely that Farinacci will join the Crimson for the 2019-20 season. He has not wavered in his commitment. There is not any sign that he’ll opt for major junior hockey (Oshawa of the OHL has his rights as per EP). Harvard has become a viable school for budding professional hockey players. The family connection may have helped too; his uncle is head coach Ted Donato. But Farinacci has played in enough places to show that his game is legit at his level. College will be a good next step for what is likely the top U.S. high school draft eligible prospect for the 2019 NHL Draft.

Where is John Farinacci Ranked?

Rankings are not everything and plenty can change between now and June. Still, they can provide a general idea as to whether a prospect is worth getting excited over. At a minimum, other people and services would likely agree that Farinacci is the top U.S. high school skater for this year’s draft.

Rankings are varied for Farinacci. A couple have him going as high as the second round: Steve Kournianos, Bob McKenzie’s latest ranking, Ryan Kennedy’s final ranking, and Future Considerations’ final ranking. The CSS ranking among North American skaters can be included; presuming there will be fewer than 30 European-based skaters and any goaltenders going ahead of him. However, most have Farinacci projected to be a third rounder. Larry Fisher downgraded him over the season to the third rounder and he never really rose up in his eyes. Elite Prospects and Craig Button have the center squarely in that area. McKeen’s provided the lowest: an early-to-mid fourth round ranking.

I am not surprised there is a lot of variation. Farinacci mostly played prep school hockey and it is tough to gauge how to rate really good performances at that level. They are not as visible as major junior or junior hockey. The opposition varies in quality too in that not every team even has a draft hopeful. It is even harder in Farinacci’s case since he missed a good chunk of the season. It helped that he had limited appearances with other teams and he did make a mark in most of those games.

What Others Say About John Farinacci

This is going way back, but Kournianos included Farinacci in his preview of the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup at The Draft Analyst. This is what he wrote about the then-17 year old after a very productive 2017-18 season:

A fast playmaker who likes to possess the puck and control the flow inside the offensive zone, Farinacci is highly competitive and does not rely solely on his puck skills to make an impact during his shifts. He kills penalties, can center a top line and be the focal point on the power play. But he also can play aggressive and uses his strength to win puck battles, and his ability to spot and connect with open teammates through traffic makes opponents resort to double teams, thus leaving gaps in the defense. Farinacci, who is headed to Harvard in a couple of seasons, has very soft hands and is patient around the goal mouth to make the extra fake necessary to slip the puck home.

This is the one of the few description I can find for 2018-19 where Farinacci is described as fast. However, the other points have held up. Farinacci has played in all situations, he competes hard, and his production justifies the praise for his offensive skills. This was written prior to the U-18 tournament in August, so this is more of background than anything else.

That said, Kournianos had some more detail about Farinacci in November when he put together a two-round mock draft in November. He had Farinacci going at 38th overall at the time; this is what he wrote:

A poised, cerebral playmaker with excellent vision and strong hockey sense, Farinacci is a New Jersey native headed to Harvard in the fall. He’s an outstanding stickhandler through neutral zone traffic, but he’s also capable of speeding his way into open ice and making high-percentage plays. Farinacci was Team USA’s top-line center and power-play facilitator at the under-18 Ivan Hlinka Tournament, and being an alternate add for the NTDP makes him used to the spotlight. He handles pressure extremely well and is counted on to take (and win) big faceoffs or match up against opposing top lines. Farinacci is a very good penalty killer who keeps his stick active and seems confident in making risky reads that break up cross-point passes. His straight-line speed is above average but he’s shifty and quick in tight spaces, and is proficient at snapping off quick, accurate shots through traffic.

There is a lot to like here. Kournianos confirmed that Farinacci played a significant role at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup. I appreciate his noting his tendencies to be aggressive on the penalty kill; I wonder if he was utilized as the one in a wedge-plus-one on his teams. Seems like something to try at the next level. Anyway, being good on the puck are pluses and Kournianos believes in his skating. While he dropped him to the 40s in his final rankings, he’s still a fan of the player.

Kournianos stated that on Twitter while quote-tweeting David Hofreiter’s short profile at Mayor’s Manor, a LA Kings blog. In it, it references this quote by Farinacci from Adam Kimelman’s article at NHL.com from the second day of the NHL Combine. I’m going to quote Farinacci (so this part is technically What John Farinacci Says About John Farinacci):

“I think take a lot of pride in pushing my teammates and getting the most out of them,” he said. “The most important thing for me is winning so if I can get everybody around me to be playing better and elevate my teammates it gives us a better chance to win. Not only do I take a lot of pride in it but I think it helps the team out in general.”

Basically, if you believe leadership is a desirable trait in a prospect, then this should be seen as a plus. I think it is admirable, at least. It is a good outlook and it gives some insight as to how he was named captain of both his prep team and the U-18 American squad that went to the Hlinka Gretzky Cup.

Back to analysis, David St-Louis at Habs Eyes on the Prize had a more recent analysis of Farinacci as a hockey prospect in May. There is much to digest and I suggest reading the whole thing. It is the best profile about the player that’s freely available. This section of the post stuck out to me and so I will quote it. It includes the good, the unknown, and the not-so-good about Farinacci. I suspect most who have seen him have similar concerns:

He could find teammates quickly when surrounded by the defence, showing precise and skilled passing that left teammates with plenty of room for a scoring chance, and could just as effectively create chances for himself with timely give-and-gos to get dangerous shots from the slot. Dangler, playmaker, and scorer, when he was on the ice, the whole play went through him.

The question for high-schoolers dominating their level (and really for any prospect for that matter) is: how translatable is his game to the next level?

Farinacci isn’t the most mobile forward. His skating wasn’t a weakness against his competition and probably won’t really be in the NCAA, but he will need to work on it if he wants to keep up and beat professionals to loose pucks and up the ice. Apart from his feet, the centreman’s ability to get open, use teammates, and do so quickly should have him learn to generate offence for Harvard over the next few years.

Farinacci cannot control the level of play but he did choose Dexter for two seasons and I agree with St-Louis that it inherently raises questions about what he could do in the future. While he has had a few games in the USHL and with the USNTDP, they were just a handful of games. Who knows how he would have done in a longer season with more peers set to have or hope to have their names called by June 22? I stated already that I think college is a good next step; but the decision to pick him will likely be made this month so whoever picks him will have to believe in it.

St-Louis raises the concern about his skating in that it could limit him in the future. I think that is a valid concern. I also think Farinacci understand this. This April New York Hockey Journal article by Leo Scaglione Jr. is under a paywall, but the free section had a quote from Farinacci where he acknowledges that he needs to work on his skating and he has been. Skating is a critical skill for any player to be effective on the PK, on and off the puck at even strength, and be able to utilize his playmaking skills to their fullest. It will be something he can continue to work on at Harvard, but I could it see being a red flag for teams that prefer their prospects to be good or better skaters. Especially in combination with his injury-shortened season that was largely spent playing prep school hockey.

I will leave it at that and move on to showing off a little of what he has done on tape.

A Little Video

David Hofrieter at Mayor’s Manor linked to a NHL Prospects Shift video of Farinacci playing against the Canadian U-18 team in August. This is from the Hlinka Gretzky Cup semifinal where the U.S. lost in heartbreaking fashion in OT. The equalizer came in the final seconds in a 5-on-6 situation for the Americans. Farinacci is wearing #9 and the video helpfully spotlights him as applicable.

Here are some notes from what I saw:

  • Farinacci generally kept up in the run of play, but I can see some of the concerns about his skating. Some of his strides seem methodical; they lack a burst of speed. For example, the play at 3:47, he gave chase and applied pressure after the faceoff, but the Canadians were able to ward it off. A faster player could have been more successful then. He doesn’t seem he is running on his skates or needing to take a lot of extra glides to move to my amateur eyes. Yet, I think I see what St-Louis meant about not being the most mobile player. Another good example was his attempt to move the puck up ice quickly from the defensive zone at 5:21.
  • Farinacci does account for the movement by making a point of it to be in good positions to get where he needs to go. He did not exactly fly through the neutral zone at 4:38 but by 4:42, he was along the wall where the puck was to continue the attack. It seemed like a set play but he prepared and followed it; that is a plus.
  • Farinacci was utilized in all situations. He was involved in the play to gain the zone on the power play such as a carry in at 1:49 and taking a short first pass at 11:09.
  • USA Hockey utilized a wedge plus one and Farinacci was usually the one to chase the opposition and force activity from the opposition. I did appreciate how he hung back and became part of the wedge at 3:07 when a teammate failed to make a clearance and was caught up high in their own zone.
  • Farinacci was not shy about forechecking and pursuing players in their end. He did not win many pucks but he did draw a call at 14:26.
  • Poor Farinacci, he was in a great spot in space to shoot but he couldn’t handle a pass at 12:12. I do not think that is a fault. It is just something I noticed. Farinacci was able to get a better shot off a little later on a rush play down the wing at 12:37.
  • Farinacci made a good pass to the slot coming around the net at 14:15 but the one-timer would not go. Alas. I also liked the pass he attempted at 18:48 but his receiver failed to handle it off his first touch. Ditto for his pass on the three-on-one rush at 21:35.
  • It was a long shift but Farinacci and most of the Americans flowed to the right at 25:46, leaving the middle and left sides wide open. The puck was moved to the slot and Canada scored the game tying goal before the regulation buzzer went off. Not a smart decision by Farinacci but he was hardly alone in that error.

I would not say this was Farinacci’s best game. He was definitely utilized against some of Canada’s best. I saw plenty of Kirby Dach opposite of Farinacci. Still, it showed what he could do in a game where he was not a focus of the offense. It showed his special teams play. It showed that he can keep up and play with initiative. He had some miscues but he was not really bad or anything like that. I can see what St-Louis meant about the skating.

As one last note, this is all from a game that took place on August 10, 2018. This was way, way at the beginning of the 2018-19 campaign. It is not likely to be very representative of what he did more recently. We know Farinacci suffered a bone contusion in his right knee, so there is a question of how he played after the injury. Unfortunately, there are no other public clips of Farinacci outside of highlights of the Hlinka Gretzky Cup or from his time with Delbarton, which was several seasons ago.

An Opinion of Sorts

I am confident that in stating that John Farinacci is going to be the highest picked New Jerseyan this year. I am also confident in stating that he will be the highest drafted player out of an American high school. I am also confident in stating that he could be one of those prospects where his upside is somewhat limited but he could be very useful in the future. To that end, I am confident that taking the college route is the right choice because he could need more time to develop before going to professional hockey.

Based on what I’ve read and seen, Farinacci could be that PK specialist, that middle to bottom six center that handles multiple roles, and/or a future leader. He can have flashes of offense that make you hope he could contribute more but for one reason or another, he does not. And that most likely reason would be his skating. It was not exactly amazing in the one video from the Hlinka Gretzky Cup; he’s had an injury in one of his knees during last season; and he knows it is something that needs improvement. I think it is a concern. I would like to think the injury is now in the past, but I hope those who have scouted him saw him after he returned to see how he was moving.

Compounding the concern is that he is coming out of prep school, so it is tougher to gauge where he really is at as a prospective player. The few USHL and USA Hockey games suggest that he has real talent but those were only a couple of games. I can see how someone would be swayed by them but I could just as easily see how some would have wanted him to have longer stints with either to get a handle how he would perform across multiple games. In any case, I better understand the variation among the services and draft enthusiasts where some see him as a mid-second round pick and others see him as a mid-to-late third rounder at best.

I would not want the Devils to consider Farinacci until the 55th overall pick at the earliest. Given questions about his skating, I do not know if they would pick him at all. The team has placed an emphasis on picking players who are good skaters or adept at being mobile in recent years. Maybe something like that could be looked past if Farinacci excelled in other areas, but I do not know if those other parts of his game make up for that. If the scouts believe that Farinacci’s skating is good enough and/or could improve significantly in time, then this is a different story. Even so, if the Devils consider taking Farinacci, then I would want him to be picked near the end of the second round or at 70th overall in the third round - assuming the Devils still have all of those picks.

Your Take

You now know what I think of John Farinacci. Now it is your turn. What do you think of John Farinacci as a prospect? What would he need to do at Harvard to show he is a legit prospect for the future? About where do you think he’ll go in this year’s draft? Do you want the Devils to draft him and, if so, when? If you have seen Farinacci play, what did you think of his performance(s)? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about John Farinacci in the comments. Thanks to alslammerz for highlighting him in a FanPost about NJ and NJ-area born players. Thank you for reading.