Last week, Sami Vatanen appeared in three games for Carolina as they knocked Our Hated Rivals out of the NHL Qualifying Round. Due to the league’s modification of the conditional pick from the Vatanen trade earlier this year, this meant that the Devils now own Carolina’s fourth round draft pick in 2020. Depending on how often Vatanen keeps playing, then it could be upgraded to a third. Either way, the Devils currently have three fourth round picks. Now is a good time as any to get a little more familiar with who could be in this range of the draft.
From my past experience of writing prospect profiles and paying attention to the draft, there is a lot of fluidity from the third round onward. Some players who get tagged as potential third rounders may end up actually being sixth or seventh round draft picks - if at all. Therefore, we need to cast a wide net in terms of understanding who could be there. From the open post about the Qualifying Round, reader dr(d)evil had this suggestion:
There are so many players who could potentially go in the fourth round, I’m less inclined to invest time reading a whole profile on a single prospect who will likely not end up with the Devils and who I’m fairly likely to never see play an NHL game.
If I may, I’d suggest profiles that group them by type with each prospect getting a quick rundown of stats, measurables, rankings (no more Hockey Writers please) and a short write-up highlighting a few of the author’s favorites. For example, a post on undersized scoring forwards that could go in rounds 3-5, and another post on moderately skilled forwards with size or strong defensive qualities.
I have decided to agree to dr(d)evil’s suggestion. For today through Saturday, we will have mini-profiles for three players per day with a common theme.
Today’s theme are hard working skaters. The kinds of players who, if they make it, become favorites of the coach, favorites of the teammates, and favorites of the fans. Their skill may be limited at the NHL level, but as they continue to give 110%, they could still carve out a career. These three are not the only such prospects in the draft, but these are three I picked out to highlight.
Zayde Wisdom - RW/C - Kingston Frontenacs
Per Elite Prospects, Zayde Wisdom stands at 5’10” and 201 pounds, he turned 18 back on May 20, and he has played his second season in the Ontatio Hockey League with the Kingston Frontenacs. Wisdom has received a lot of attention for his role with Kingston. In 2019-20, he mostly played on a line with 2020 draft eligible Martin Chromiak and 15-year old potential future superstar Shane Wright. That certainly helped his visibility as well as his production. His basic stats list Wisdom as producing 29 goals and 30 assists in 60 games. Per Pick224, 20 of those 29 goals were at even strength, 14 of those 30 assists were primary even strength assists, and he put up 148 shots at even strength and another 33 on the power play. The heatmap of his shots at Pick224 shows that Wisdom is often attacked in front of the net, in the slot, and below the faceoff dots.
This is not a surprise as that was Wisdom’s bread and butter on Kingston last season. Wisdom was constantly forechecking, constantly making space, and doing so in a productive manner for this linemates. True to his last name, Wisdom is a smart player. Per Scott Wheeler’s profile at The Athletic ($) that goes into the hardships Wisdom has gone through to get this far, this quote from Kingston head coach Kurtis Foster stuck out to me:
Though the Frontenacs didn’t know what to expect from Wisdom in his first training camp, he sold head coach Kurtis Foster from the very beginning. While the production didn’t follow, Wisdom became the player Foster turned to whenever he needed a hole plugged in the lineup.
“We need a guy to play on the penalty kill? Let’s give Wis a chance. We need a guy in front of the net on the power play? Let’s give Wis a chance,” Foster said.
Given his May birthdate, Wisdom was given special teams assignments as a 16-year old on a terrible Kingston team. As a 17-year old, he skated alongside two of the most talented skaters on the Frontenacs. More than earning his coach’s favor, he proved he had the mindset and work ethic to take on the roles.
In terms of his game, Ben Kerr at Last Word on Sports has a solid summary of the player. Wisdom’s shot is good and he is not afraid to use it. Wisdom can and does do a lot of work down low and around the net. He can be effective in his own end either at even strength or in shorthanded situations. While Wisdom is quick, he is not particularly fast in his first few strides - which could be a limiting factor. However, Kerr’s profile as well as others like Brock Otten’s estimation of the player in his OHL draft rankings, Dominic Tiano’s profile at OHL Writers, and Mathieu Sheridan’s profile at The Hockey Writers are all quite positive. There are also plenty of highlight videos, such as this 9:14 long video from Joseph Pizzimenti, where you can see that Wisdom has good pace when he gets up to speed and he can rip a good shot from in close.
There is plenty to appreciate in Wisdom’s game. So why is Wisdom not ranked more highly or considered to be a top two round player? I think it is about his overall upside. It seems limited. Is he a third/fourth liner or could he be something more? There are signs of development but how far will it take him? The consensus I took away from the profiles to how he was used in Kingston to the video clips is that he could be a complementary forward on a scoring line as much as he could be a bottom-six forward who can handle some special teams work. As much as teams can and do need these players in their system, they are not terribly uncommon and it may be wiser to “swing bigger” in the earlier round of the draft.
Would I want the Devils to draft Wisdom in the middle of the draft? Sure. If Carolina’s pick gets upgraded and he is available, then I would think it would be a good idea there too. I think it would be a solid selection with a decent chance of the player having a pro career. Finding NHL players from round three and beyond is a big success regardless of where they end up in the lineup. I think you have a better shot with Wisdom achieving that than with other players. I have no doubt he is going to work as hard as he can to make it happen. Should he do so, I can see him easily being a favorite for many.
Daemon Hunt - LD - Moose Jaw Warriors
Per Elite Prospects, Daemon Hunt stands at 6’0”, 198 pounds, and turned 18 back in May. He completed his second season in the Western Hockey League with the Moose Jaw Warriors. His first season went seemingly quite well. He scored seven goals, he played in 57 games, and he represented Canada at the World Hockey Challenge under-17 tourney and the World Under-18 Championships in 2019. He was given the ‘A’ and likely much more ice time for 2019-20 given that Jett Woo and Josh Brook were gone. However, it was not the kind of season he or anyone else would have wanted. On December 3, 2019, Hunt’s forearm was sliced open by a skate blade in a game against Edmonton. Hunt would go on to miss three months due to the forearm laceration. When he returned, the WHL season ended shortly thereafter due to the global Coronavirus pandemic. As such, Hunt never really got back into his groove and ended up only making 28 appearances for Moose Jaw.
Further, Hunt was not all that productive in those 28 games. After a promising rookie season where he put up seven goals and thirteen assists in 57 games, he only made 15 assists in 2019-20. Among those 15 assists, 12 were on the power play per Pick224. He did register 63 shots on net for an average of 2.25 per game, so there could be signs of an offensive game. But between the injury and the shortened season, you would not really see that in his production. (Quick aside: Hunt’s 15 points led the Warrior defensemen in points in 2019-20. Chase Hartje just had 14 in his time with the Warriors.)
So what is Hunt known for? Based on Kerr’s profile on the player at Last Word on Hockey, he is a smart and sound defender. He is quite mobile and he plays quickly on and off the puck. Kerr notes that he does tend to keep his shots low, which is a positive even if it did not yield any goals in this past season. Kerr also noted that Hunt is disciplined. While he is not afraid to get physical, he is not going to go around and destroy dudes and risk racking up the PIMs. This is evidenced by Hunt having just 37 PIM in 97 WHL games in his lifetime. It is a positive profile but Kerr notes the big issue: Hunt has not a played a lot as one of Moose Jaw’s top defenders so it is questionable how good he would have been in that role, much less how one could project it to the next level.
Overall, my take on Hunt is not flashy but he can be effective. Even with all of the issues, Pick224 estimated his ice time to be over 20 minutes per 60 minutes, which is significant for a defender. While his production was largely on the power play, Moose Jaw saw it fit to give him power play time on top of his other responsibilities. The passes or shots that became goals by another did look nice as per this highlight video by HSD Prospects. He works hard and smart without taking a lot of risks that could hurt his team. Given the injury, shortened WHL season, and cancelled World U-18 Championships, Hunt could be a diamond in the rough as he did not have a lot of time to shine in 2019-20. I could see teams reach for him in the latter part of the second round depending on how much they like him and believe in his future. But I think those other factors could push him into the range of the third and fourth round.
Would I mind the Devils selecting a defenseman like Hunt at that point of the draft? I do not think so. As much as I griped (and still do) at how the Devils drafted multiple defensemen of a similar type in 2019, Hunt is at least a little different from them. He is not a big body presence where his size is one of top three skills or anything like that. He may have an offensive game that could be helpful. He was played well enough to warrant international duty at 16 and 17 years old. There is something here in Hunt and it is different enough from most of the other defensemen in the Devils’ prospect pool. If he falls to one of the Devils’ fourth rounders or the potential third rounder, then I think it is a justifiable pick.
Ethan Cardwell - C - Barrie Colts
Per Elite Prospects, Ethan Cardwell stands at 5’10”, 157 pounds, and will turn 18 by the end of August. Cardwell finished 2019-20 with the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League after starting his OHL career with the Saginaw Spirit. The Spirit traded Cardwell in January, which turned out to be the best thing for Cardwell with respect to the draft. He only played in five games with Saginaw in 2018-19, who opted to send him down to the OJHL for additional ice time. In 2019-20, while he stayed with the Spirit, he was often behind Cole Perfetti, Cole Caskey, Damien Giroux, and Blade Jenkins among others. In Barrie, Cardwell was given more minutes and opportunities to be on a scoring line and he took advantage. After putting up 12 goals and 21 points in 37 games with the Spirit, Cardwell put up 11 goals and 26 points in 26 games with the Colts. (With four goals coming in one game with the Colts.) His shots per game rate shot up from 2.38 with the Spirit to 3 with the Colts based on the OHL’s website. It makes one wonder: What if he was in a situation like he had in Barrie earlier?
To that end, Cardwell’s overall production does not jump off of the page. Per Pick224, his primary point per game rate of 0.5557 does not make the top 100 draft eligible fowards. But there is still plenty to like about the player. In Brock Otten’s top 50 OHL prospects for the NHL Draft, Otten highlighted his hockey sense and hockey IQ in his first full season in the OHL. He thinks he will end up as a complementary winger and notes that given he is so young, there is still room for him to grow both as a person and as a player. In Ben Kerr’s profile of the player, Kerr has plenty of positive things to say about how he moved the puck in transition for Barrie, how he handles cycles, how he plays defense, and his improved skating. In fact, he credits that as something that broke out along with his production as a Colt. Dominic Tiano’s profile of Cardwell at OHL Writers notes that his time in Barrie has revealed Cardwell to be a very smart player off the puck, which contributed to how his production blossomed there. Tiano also echoes that his skating has improved and further improvement will help him. And he does note that Cardwell does work hard and is willing to play throughout the lineup. Reading about Cardwell, especially by those who saw the improvement after the trade, is encouraging.
As good as all that is, I also understood why Cardwell is set to likely be drafted in the middle of the NHL Draft. Similar to Hunt, his 26 games with Barrie are just 26 games. There is a question of how he would do over a whole season with Barrie. Would he continue what he did or would he take a step back over time or would he do even more? It is a question. Similar to Wisdom, Cardwell has a lot of things going for him and could stand to improve - especially since Cardwell is not even 18 yet - but the big issue with respect to the draft is the upside. What kind of player does Cardwell project to be? Otten stated he could be a two-way winger similar in style to former Devils prospect Mitchell Hoelscher - whom the Devils did not sign earlier this year. Tiano concluded that he could be a defensively responsible third liner. Kerr noted that Cardwell does a lot of things well but nothing is outstanding. To me, as a reader, this all points to a prospect with limited upside. Maybe with a solid floor, but expecting a lot from Cardwell in the future would be expecting a lot.
Still, similar to Wisdom and Hunt, I think he would be worth taking a flyer on in the fourth round if he is available. He works hard, he is still one of the youngest players in this year’s draft class, and his time in Barrie suggests that he really needed an opportunity more than anything else to show off what he could do. If it is a sign of things to come, then he could very well be a steal in the middle of the draft. I question if he will make it as a center; given his right-handed shot, then right wing is likely a more suitable position for him. Could the Devils use that? Sure, in the same way a team would want Wisdom. If they miss out on Wisdom and want a player with a similar upside - someone who may make a NHL career out of working hard and being easy to coach and do a lot of different things, then I think that would be fair.
I thank dr(d)evil for the suggestion of grouping some of the profiles together. I think that will help raise some awareness for some prospects that are not among the big names of the draft class and will not go early in this year’s draft. I did like a lot of what I read and seen about Zayde Wisdom, Daemon Hunt, and Ethan Cardwell. These are hard working players that I think, if they turn out as projected, that will be well-liked. And, honestly, if you can get a NHL player in the fourth (or later) round, then that is a victory in my view. The kind of player they are does not matter so much because so few prospects turn out to be NHL players from those rounds in a NHL Draft. And while those kinds of players are not uncommon in the minor professional leagues or free agent markets, having a depth player you developed is already acclimated to the expectations and culture of the franchise, possibly aware of the team’s systems, and their growth means one fewer player to go out and get to fill a hole in the back end of the lineup. There is value to be had with that, and in the middle of any draft class, finding that value makes that year’s draft class for the team that much better.
Now that you have read what I found and think about Zayde Wisdom, Daemon Hunt, and Ethan Cardwell, I want to know what you think. Would you want the Devils to draft either of these hard working skaters in the middle of the draft. Will they be available by the time the Devils get to pick in the fourth round (or if the fourth rounder from Carolina gets upgraded to a third)? Have you seen either of those players play and, if so, what do you think of them? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Zayde Wisdom, Daemon Hunt, and Ethan Cardwell in the comments. Thank you for reading.