Hockey has an interesting prospect pipeline between the CHL agreements with the NHL/AHL, the European leagues, the true farm system in the AHL, and the NCAA. The last one is unique in the sense that its duration can sometimes allow prospects to reject the team that drafted them. Multiple players in recent years have taken this option. The Devils were at the winning and losing end of this in the same year when they got Will Butcher and lost Alex Kerfoot. And it’s also why news like Reilly Walsh signing Monday is a good thing.
This fear can sometimes scare teams off otherwise encouraging prospects. It’s not going to dissuade a team from picking a top-10 player (they seldom declare for college), but if there are multiple comparable prospects available, and one doesn’t run the risk of becoming a free agent before donning your team’s sweater, it can be a bit of a tiebreaker. This give teams less disinclined to accept that challenge an opportunity to draft talent that has fallen down the draft board. Today we look at 3 such players — Alex Laferriere, Brett Berard, and Eamon Powell.
Alex Laferriere - RW - Des Moines Buccaneers
No, not that guy. Alexis Lafrenière is a QMJHL winger and the projected #1 overall pick. Alex Laferriere (no “n” in the last name) is from the USHL and is projected to go in the top 100, but seldom as high as the first. At 6’0’’ 179lbs, he’s technically smaller than the average NHLer but his size will be neither a hindrance nor a boon as a prospect. His reputation is mostly as a sniper, though his game is a little more well rounded than that. He’s committed to Harvard for the 2020-21 season.
According to EliteProspects, Laferriere led his team in scoring and was top 10 among U19s in the USHL in points per game. He put up 19 goals a 26 assists in 42 games just a year after going pointless in 12 USHL games. According to Pick224, he’s sub-50 in GF% but positive in GF% Rel, indicating that he’s one of the better on-ice skaters on the team, but wasn’t able to pull his team into the positives despite being one of the most efficient scorers in the league.
According to Ben Kerr of LWOS, one of the reasons for the early-career struggle in the USHL was skating. His shot has always been impressive.
Laferriere’s skating is a work in progress but continues to improve. This improvement is one of the biggest reasons why he struggled in the USHL in 2018-19 but found his game this year...Laferriere is a natural goal scorer and a pure sniper. His wrist shot and snapshot are outstanding. The puck explodes off his stick with tremendous power. His shot is also accurate and he gets it off with a quick release. Laferriere’s shot is already NHL-calibre.
Kerr goes on to say that Laferriere also has strong work ethic which is evident in his defensive zone performance and that his stylistic NHL-comparison is Mike Hoffman. The work ethic is something also picked up on by Bill Placzek of DraftSite who said he is a “Small guy with good skills and worth ethic who was at the top of the scoring race in the United States Hockey League all season.”
According to Colin Cudmore’s draft projection aggregator estimates Laferriere going somewhere between the 79th and 105th pick — putting him in the 3rd or 4th round.
Brett Berard - LW - USDP
Berard is a small, scrappy forward committed to Providence College. He’s just 5’9’’ 152 lbs, but was one of the most effective players on the USMNT U18 squad, putting up 16 goals and 18 assists in 41 games. He also put up 18 points in just 13 games with the USNTDP Juniors making him the highest-scoring forward in the USHL on a per-game basis, according to EliteProspects.
Not only is he a highly efficient scorer among his peers, but the on-ice results follow. According to Pick224, his team scored 77.3% of goals when he was on the ice which was 16% better than their ratio with him off the ice. The 77.3 GF% was top 5 in the league, and the +16% was top-20.
His overall impact is reflected in his scouting. In particular, Kerr repeatedly mentions his motor.
Berard pairs his strong skating with excellent stickhandling ability. He is deadly in one-on-one situations as he can make a quick dangle and also can use his feet to get around a defender...He is extremely aggressive, using his body on the forecheck and creating havoc in front of the net. Berard is always moving his feet and in the middle of the action. He can drive opponents nuts and draw penalties. Berard brings his non-stop motor and aggressive style in all three zones. He applies backpressure against the rush and is willing to battle on the boards against the cycle game.
He goes on to say that Berard could be a top-6 forward if he continutes to develop. Compensating for his size is a continuing project and adding bulk will certainly be a helpful component of that. According to Dobber Prospects, his point production reflects 1st line potential so this potential is not a fabrication. Cudmore’s aggregation projects him to go in the 46 - 89 range making him a 2nd or 3rd rounder.
Eamon Powell - D - USDP
Powell is a defender who played on the same teams as Berard, and is committed to Boston College for the 2020-21 season. At 5’11’’ 170 lbs, he profiles as a modern defender rather than a classical one — most noted for his skating and puck-moving as opposed to his shutdown physicality.
According to Kerr of LWOS, “Powell might be the best skater in this entire draft. His first step and his acceleration are dynamic. His top-end speed is elite.” He speaks in glowing terms about his skating, but clarifies that he is both undersized, and has an ineffective slapshot.
His dynamic scouting report isn’t reflected in his production in any obvious fashion. He produced 14 points in 43 games in the USDP and then 11 in 19 games in the USHL according to EliteProspects. He had slightly positive, though unremarkable on-ice impacts (60 GF%, +3.4 GF%Rel) according to Pick224.
He has an identical expected pick range to Berard landing somewhere from 46 to 89.
My Thoughts / Your Thoughts
Of these guys, my favorite is probably Berard. His production matches his scouting report and he’s the kind of high-potential guy you should be taking in the middle rounds. Powell has a high ceiling too, but his games seems a little too eye-test dependent. At a certain point, an undersized puck-mover needs to put up numbers to command attention. Laferriere is a likable pick due to his hustle, but his game, even moreso than the others, seems like a work-in-progress. Whereas the other two need to hit the gym, Laferriere needs to improve as a player — something he has done in the past.
What do you think about targetting college-commits in general? Do you not want to get burned on it, or does it seem like an opportunity? Who do you guys like of these three? Would you target any of them? Given the Devils mid-round pick situation (only having the carolina conditional pick in rounds 2 and 3), how would you go about doing so? Are any worth trading up for using out 2 4ths, or down for using out multiple 1sts?
Thanks as always for reading and leave your thoughts in the comments below.