NHL Prospect Tournaments Recap, Part 1

NHL Prospect Tournaments
Photo by: Jeffrey T. Barnes/AP

The time has come for the return of NHL Prospect Tournaments! Prospect tournaments are normally the unofficial start of the new season, but the late start of the 2020-21 season due to the Covid pandemic did not allow teams to hold these key evaluation events. In 2021, however, we are seeing a new trend. Rather than traveling to more established tournaments like the one in Traverse City, teams are opting to hold their own prospect showcase event. This year, there are five such events happening around the country. The prominent Traverse City Prospect Tournament makes its return, as previously mentioned. In addition, there were showcase events in Minnesota, Buffalo, Carolina, and Arizona. The tournaments featured teams in the region of the host club.

An Abundance of Hockey

Twenty of the league’s 32 teams are sending a squad to one of the 5 showcase events. It gives teams and scouts chances to evaluate young players in their prospect pipeline. In addition, it gives the players a chance to stand out in the eyes of their respective clubs. Each team sends not only their drafted prospects, but also players who were not drafted but have been on a scouting staff’s radar.

Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, streams of most of this weekend’s action were available. Unfortunately, not all of them posted the game video for later review. Since there was so much hockey to consume (which is a good thing!) I had to pick and choose what to watch and evaluate. In this article, I will be recapping Buffalo’s Prospect Showcase Series. This event featured prospect squads from the Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils, and Boston Bruins. I will be listing a few players from each team that stood out to me upon watching the games. These players stood out both positively and negatively.

Buffalo Sabres

Brett Murray- A 4th round draft pick in 2016, Murray stood out in a big way in both games the Sabres played. He used his large frame (listed at 6’5”, 228 lbs) to dominate in front of the net, especially on the power play. Murray netted two goals and an assist over the weekend. He showed good hands and a soft touch in the offensive zone, while mixing it up physically at both ends of the ice. Though I don’t think he will make the big club out of camp, Murray will get chances in Buffalo down the stretch. He will be one of the first players called up from Rochester. Skating isn’t great, but fine enough to get to where he needs to.

Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen- The big Finnish goaltender certainly showed why many believe he is the future in net for the Sabres. Luukkonen faced New Jersey’s prospects in his lone appearance of the weekend, stopping 22 shots. He showed composure and body control, something that needed improvement from the 2020-21 season. Add that to his big frame (6’4”) and there is a lot to be excited about. The Sabres would prefer him to be the workhorse in Rochester this season, but he just may play himself into a roster spot for Buffalo.

Linus Weissbach- Though he didn’t stand out on the scoresheet, Weissbach had an impressive weekend nonetheless. He was noticeable on the ice, creating dangerous offensive chances while still helping out in the defensive zone. Weissbach made smart passes on the power play as well, playing on the top unit. He will most likely spend this season in Rochester, but don’t be surprised if Weissbach earns a call-up should someone in Buffalo go down with an injury.

A Not So Strong Showing

Jack Quinn- The Sabres decided to experiment with their top pick from the 2020 draft. Normally a wing, Quinn was moved to center for the tournament. Jury is still out as to how that move will go, but this weekend Quinn was largely invisible. He centered the top line between J-J Peterka and Brett Murray, as well as being on the top power play unit. He didn’t make any glaring mistakes defensively that cost his team, which is good. But he also didn’t generate any noticeable plays on offense either. Quinn only played one game, the Friday tilt versus the Devils. Quinn did not dress for Saturday’s game due to load management.

New Jersey Devils

Dawson Mercer- Mercer tallied 3 points over the weekend, but it was not only the production that stood out. He was noticeable whenever he was on the ice. Mercer was making offense happen with his stellar skating and vision. He manipulates defenders with his skating to open up lanes for his teammates, then uses his vision to make plays. He is slated to start the year with AHL Utica, but don’t be surprised if he pushes for a roster spot with New Jersey.

Kevin Bahl- The Devils’ defense corps looked disorganized for most of the weekend. However, Bahl’s physical play was one of the few bright spots from the New Jersey back end. Bahl was not afraid to mix it up with opposing forwards, as well as retrieve pucks dumped in and start the transition the puck the other way.

Alexander Holtz- The highly touted 7th overall pick from 2020 showed his stuff in this showcase series. The dangerous shot he is known for was on full display, including a laser beam against Boston on Sunday that popped poor Jeremy Brodeur’s water bottle. How fast Holtz can get his shot off, and in such small spaces is frankly incredible. But more than that, he showed offensive creativity. He worked well with linemates Nolan Foote and Dawson Mercer, controlling the puck and threatening offensively whenever they were on the ice. Holtz was able to find Mercer early in the Boston game with a nice pass to the slot. 

Boston Bruins

Fabian Lysell- Picked 21st overall in the 2021 draft, Lysell did not disappoint. His trademark coming into the draft was his skating, and boy did he show it off. Lysell combined a quick burst to get through the neutral zone with great edgework to fool defenders and gain space. He made plays distributing the puck at high speeds, which is always a trait to look for in a top prospect. He does have some things to clean up though. There were a lot of drop passes made at the blue line that work against younger competition, but will get one in trouble at higher levels. Lysell is set to play for Vancouver in the WHL, which will give him time to clean up his game.
Jack Ahcan- The Bruins defensive corp was lackluster, but Ahcan stood out. He showed well skating the puck out of danger in his own end. Ahcan also made some smart break-out passes to jump-start the attack. He looked comfortable quarter backing the power play, picking up a couple assists in the process. I think Ahcan will be good in  Providence, but will have trouble cracking and staying in the Boston lineup.

Training Camp Surprise

Jesper Froden- Froden is one of the more intriguing prospects playing in this weekend’s showcase event. He is the oldest player on any team by a decent margin, turning 27 on September 21st. Boston signed Froden to an entry-level contract out of the SHL, Sweden’s top pro league.

This is Froden’s first chance to showcase himself in a Bruins sweater, and he did not disappoint. After tying for third in SHL goal scoring with 22, Froden scored 4 goals in 2 games this weekend in Buffalo. At 5’10” and 176 lbs, you would think Froden would keep to the perimeter and avoid contact. But that was just simply not the case. Froden scored all his goals from the slot, battling defenders for space before getting off a quick, accurate shot for a goal. More than that, he engaged in puck battles along the boards and often came away victorious, moving the puck to a streaking teammate. Froden was a fixture on the top power play unit, as well as the penalty kill. Given his age, it’s hard imagining Froden will crack the loaded Bruins lineup. But Froden will absolutely tear up the AHL in Providence. He will be a nice call-up option should injury occur in Boston.

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