The New Jersey Devils will have plenty of picks in the mid to late rounds of the 2020 draft where they can look to acquire prospects that are undervalued. The Devils have had some success in later rounds, most notably the 2016 draft when they took Jesper Bratt in the 6th round. As we all know, he has quickly become a regular for the team and is an important part of their future. That same year they took Jeremy Davies who developed into one of the top college defensemen and helped the team land P.K. Subban via trade. The jury is still out for some of their later picks from 2017 onwards but there is some optimism that some of those forwards like Tyce Thompson, Aresni Gritsyuk, Patrick Moynihan, Nikola Pasic, Eetu Pakkila, Marian Studenic, or Aarne Talvitie could become contributors someday. In today’s post, we will focus on three small but skilled forwards that figure to fall to the 4th round or later in the draft. These players lack size but have plenty of offensive skill with high end potential that make them interesting prospects to perhaps take a flier on late in the draft. Two of these players play in Russia’s junior league, the MHL, while another is an overage prospect that has already made the move to the OHL. Let’s get to know these three prospects.
Alexander Pashin - RW - Tolpar Ufa (MHL)
Per his Elite Prospects profile, Alexander Pashin is a 5’7”, 154 lbs. forward that shoots left handed. According to the Elite Prospects Draft Center he is among the shortest prospects available in this draft class. The native of Priyutovo, Russia was born on July 28, 2002 so he spent his entire draft year as a 17 year old player. Pashin came up through the Salavat Yulaev Ufa system, excelling at the U16, U17, and U18 levels during the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons. He has also represented Russia at the U16, U17, and U18 levels through the years, notably winning a U17 WHC Gold Medal and a Hlinka Gretzky Cup Gold Medal. Pashin was a contributor on those teams putting up 2 goals and 3 assists in 6 games for the U17 Gold Medal and 7 goals and an assist in 5 games to earn the Gold at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup.
This past season he excelled in the Russian junior league (MHL) with 17 goals and 22 assists in 37 regular season games for Tolpar Ufa. Pashin also made a couple of professional appearances, playing in 2 games at the second tier VHL level for Toros Neftekamsk and one game at the top tier KHL level for Salavat Yulaev Ufa. Pashin finished 4th on his MHL team in scoring despite playing in a lot less games than the players that finished in the top 3. Pashin was 9th in scoring in the MHL among all draft eligibles (minimum 35+ games). If you look at his Pts/GP rate of 1.05 then he was 2nd in the MHL among all draft eligibles. Historically, Pashin’s 1.05 Pts/GP rate in his draft year ranks 7th among MHL players all time (2009 - present). Notable players above him include Nikita Kucherov at #1 (1.41 Pts/GP in 2010-11), Nikita Gusev at #2 (1.19 Pts/GP in 2009-10), and Artemi Panarin at #4 (1.16 Pts/GP in 2009-10). According to Pick 224, Pashin’s 0.70 Primary Pts/GP ranked 3rd among draft eligibles in the MHL while his 0.54 EV Primary Pts/GP ranked 5th. Now all of these stats are essentially a way to say that Pashin was highly productive despite his small frame. I should note that Tolpar Ufa finished 1st in the Eastern Conference with a 44-9-3-8 record and +139 goal differential so Pashin had plenty of help. Still, according to Pick 224, Pashin’s 1.49 EV Goals For Relative% at least shows that he made the team better when he was on the ice.
Thanks to Elite Prospects, we can get a quick view on some rankings. Future Considerations ranks him 75th, TSN/Craig Button has him 47th, McKeen’s Hockey has him 184th, NHL Central Scouting has him 22nd among European skaters, and TSN/Bob McKenzie has him 89th. Now let’s see what others have to say about Pashin.
Over at Last Word on Hockey, Ben Kerr has this extensive scouting report. Below are some things that stood out to me.
Regarding Pashin’s skating:
Pashin’s outstanding edge work and agility also help him to evade defenders both with and without the puck. He can turn on a dime and his lateral agility is excellent. His ability to change speeds is also a weapon that can fool defenders.
Regarding Pashin’s offensive game:
His hands are very good and he can make moves while skating at top-end speed. His ability to avoid defenders allows him to skate the puck through the neutral zone and create effective zone entries.
He also can make a quick move to create a passing lane when he is cycling the puck or working off the boards. With excellent vision, he can find open linemates and make a pass through a tight area.
Regarding Pashin’s defensive game:
His size is also a liability, as he can get pushed off the puck and beaten in battles. If his man has the puck, he can steal it with a quick, active stick. His engagement level in his own zone can be improved though, especially away from the puck.
From a skating and offensive skill-set perspective, it seems that Pashin knows how to create chances and make plays despite his size. He understands his size disadvantage and so far at the MHL and junior international levels has been able to overcome that with excellent skating, hands, and vision. Unsurprisingly, his defensive game still needs a lot of work, especially as he goes up against bigger, stronger competition. That doesn’t worry me too much since that can be taught while a lot of his talent on the offensive side seems natural. For other scouting reports on Pashin, check out Dobber Prospects and The Draft Analyst. Finally, let’s look at his NHLe Player Comparison courtesy of Hockey Prospecting.
We can immediately see that he’s made a nice jump from his pre-draft season to his draft season. His star probability (0.70+ Pts/GP career) is 27% while his NHLer probability (200+ NHL games) is 69%. There are some interesting names on his closest comparison most notably Marty St. Louis. I would absolutely be interested in him in the later rounds of the draft.
Dmitri Ovechinnikov - LW - Sibirskie Snaipery Novosibirsk (MHL)
Next up we have Dmitri Ovechinnikov whose Elite Prospects profile let’s us know he is a 5’10”, 161 lbs. forward that shoots left handed. He is from Chita, Russia and was born on August 19, 2002 so he spent his entire draft year as a 17 year old. He’s come up through the Sibir Novosibirsk system and played his first MHL season at the age of 16 in 2018-19 when he had 2 goals and 5 assists in 40 games. That season he also saw some action for Russia’s U17 team in international competition. He would fallow that up with 2 games for Russia’s U18 team this past season where he had 2 goals and an assist.
This past season he excelled at the MHL level with 24 goals and 31 assists in 54 games. That strong play led him to make 2 appearances for Sibir Novosibirsk at the KHL level. His 55 points in 54 games were good enough for 3rd on his team in scoring and 1st among draft eligibles in the MHL. His 1.02 Pts/GP ranked 3rd among draft eligibles in the MHL (minimum 35+ games), just .03 behind Pashin but in 17 more games, so he had to keep up his pace on a lesser team (Sibirskie Snaipery Novosibirsk was 6th in the Eastern Conference). That 1.02 Pts/GP also ranks tied-8th all time among MHL players in the NHL draft eligible season. According to Pick 224, Ovechinnikov had a 62.5 EV Goals For% and 18.6 EV Goals For% Relative so he was clearly a driving force behind his team’s success.
Thanks to Elite Prospects, we can quickly see that Ovchinnikov is ranked 121st by Elite Prospects, 172nd by Future Considerations, and 160th by McKeen’s Hockey.Now let’s see what others have said about the prospect.
Dylan Griffing is a great source of information when it comes to prospects playing in the MHL. He has this in-depth report on Ovechnnikov over at Dobber Prospects. Some interesting things that stood out to me:
Regarding Ovechinnikov’s offense:
Despite his size, he is most dangerous when driving towards the net in the offensive zone, which only exemplifies his skilled shooting. He uses a mixture of speed and stickhandling to drive into high danger areas, and has no issues beating defensemen and goalies with smooth stick work.
His most noticeable attribute is his pure speed which allows him to quickly move up and down the ice using long, effective strides. He has a high-level ability of switching gears, so he can quickly go from zero to 100. When driving play forward, he rarely found issues evading physicality at the MHL level, and he used his quick feet to out-pace the defenders.
Regarding Ovechinnikov’s defense:
He applies pressure to opponents and uses an active stick to get the puck effectively. Taking advantage of his speed is what he does best on defense, as well. He quickly moves across the ice to block passing lanes and force turnovers.
Regarding Ovechinnikov’s potential:
How he trains is going to make or break his future career in the professional North American leagues. As it stands, his size and strength are not going to cut it in a more physical league.
Like Pashin, it seems that Ovechinnikov understands what he has to do as a smaller player to be effective. I find his offensive game intriguing and it seems like he has a good enough base to keep improving his defensive game. As Griffing notes, it will be up to Ovechinnikov to really improve his strength with off-ice workouts to make him able to compete against bigger, stronger defenders going forward. For other reports on Ovechinnikov check out Last Word on Hockey and The Draft Analyst. Finally, let’s look at his NHLe Player Comparison from Hockey Prospecting.
It’s clear from the chart that Ovechinnikov made the most of his opportunity in his 2nd MHL season and really improved his draft stock. Hockey Prospecting has his Star Probability at 8% and his NHLer probability at 53%. His comparables aren’t as impressive as Pashin’s but do reveal a group that has some solid NHL talent. I would still rather see the Devils target Pashin more later in the draft but I would have no problem with them going after Ovechinnikov (or both).
Yevgeni Oksentyuk - RW/LW - Flint Firebirds (OHL)
Now we will switch gears a bit while still staying with the small but skilled forward theme. Yevgeni Oksentyuk is the next prospect we will look at but unlike the others before him in this post, he’s an overager (2019-20 was his draft+1 year) and he already plays in North America with Flint in the OHL. According to his Elite Prospects profile, Oksentyuk is a 5’8”, 163 lbs. wing that shoots left handed. He was born in Brest, Belarus on February 27, 2001 so he spent the majority of this past season as an 18 year old. He came up through the Shakhter Soligorsk system and even played in 49 games in the Belarussian top league in 2018-19 with 6 goals and 12 assists. He’s represented Belarus at the U18 level twice in the U18 WJC, notably putting up 3 goals and 3 assists in 5 games in 2019. He also played for the U20 Belarus team at the U20 WJC in Division 1A play twice, notably putting up a goal and 6 assists in 5 games in this past year’s competition. He’s earned a U20 WJC D1A Silver Medal and Bronze Medal for his efforts.
The Flint Firebirds selected him 5th overall in the 2019 CHL Import Draft and he came over for the 2019-20 season. He put up 33 goals and 45 assists in 58 games for the Firebirds, leading the team in goals, assists, and points. I should note that captain and Dallas Stars 1st round pick from 2018, Ty Dellandrea was limited to just 47 games, otherwise he would’ve led the team. Still, it’s encouraging to see a rookie like Oksentyuk take on such a big role and succeed. Overall, Oksentyuk finished 10th among U19 players in the OHL in scoring and in Pts/GP last season (minimum 35+ games). Now let’s move over to Pick 224 to see how Oksentyuk compared to his peers (draft+1 players) in the OHL. Oksentyuk’s 1.03 Primary Pts/GP ranked 6th while his 0.83 EV Primary Pts/GP ranked 4th. He had a 56.12 EV Goals For% and was 3.73% relative to his team so he was a driver of offense for Flint.
A quick look at the rankings compiled by Elite Prospects, we see Oksentyuk is ranked 69th by Elite Prospects, 81st by Future Considerations, 98th by McKeen’s Hockey, and 109th by NHL Central Scouting for North American skaters. He’s definitely put himself into a position to be a late round pick. Now let’s see what others have to say about Oksentyuk.
Dennis Schellenberg of Future Considerations had this to say on Oksentyuk in OHL Prospects 2019 CHL Import Draft Review:
Oxentyuk is a gifted offensive catalyst who plays with a lot of energy and a high work rate and compete level. Quick on skates and with explosive strides, he is an exciting player to watch who can combine speed and skill. Loves to play an active game with the puck on his stick. Can use his quick hands and good puckhandling skills to create havoc offensively. Needs to add to his frame, which will make him more effective in physical battles.
Additionally, Tony Ferrari of Dobber Prospects has this report on Oksentyuk. Here are some highlights:
He is one of the most skilled pests in the draft and engages after the whistle, even if it means cutting a goal celebration short. He is always the first to defend his teammates and doesn’t let teams take advatage of him physically. He may only be 5’8″ but the Belarusian is an annoyance on the ice for the opposition. He has improved his skating by a large margin this year and while he still has a bit of a clunky stride at times, he is able to get around the ice and find the soft spots. Oksentyuk is a crafty playmaker who can also be a thorn in the opposition’s side.
What really stands out to me is how hard Oksentyuk plays the game and how he doesn’t let his size prevent him from engaging in physical play. It’s encouraging he’s been able to do that and produce offense while playing in a league like the OHL. One advantage of drafting an overage prospect is that they are a year further along in their development so teams have a better idea of what type of player they are drafting and they are a year closer to making an impact at the NHL level should they pan out. I think he would definitely be worth taking a chance on like the other prospects mentioned. Where Pashin seems to have the highest ceiling, Oksentyuk seems like the “safest” option of the three prospects in this post. Now let’s take a look at his NHLe Player Comparison from Hockey Prospecting.
There is no data for his draft season which was spent in Belarus. Going off of his draft+1 year only from the OHL, Hockey Prospecting is pretty high on Oksentyuk. They have his Star Probability at 24% and his NHLer probability at 58%. There are some interesting names in his comparables including the great Joe Nieuwendyk.
Which of these prospects stands out to you the most? Would you want the Devils to target any of these players late in the draft? Which of these players do you think is most likely to have success and reach the NHL someday? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading!