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2020 NHL Draft: The top prospects to watch with early 2002 birthdays

So. Many. Players.

Saginaw Spirit v London Knights Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

Last week, I released my Top 31 preseason draft rankings, where I previewed the top prospects available. Prior to that, I also put together lists of the oldest and youngest players eligible for June’s draft. I mentioned that a lot of the draft’s top prospects are born in early 2002. In the third and final installment of scouting blurbs about prospects eligible for the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, we’ll be taking a look at the some of best prospects born between January and February of 2002.

Unlike the other two posts, where I stuck to a list of under ten players, I felt compelled to increase that amount for this one, for a couple of reasons. The first is that there are a lot of players born in those two months who are projected to go in the first round. The other is that I wanted some variety. I wanted more players from different countries, who play in different leagues, and at different positions.

That’s how I ended up with eighteen players. It sounds like a lot, I know, but I’m pretty happy with my list. There are eight Canadians, four Americans, two Swedes, two Russians, one Finn, and one German. I wasn’t able to get an even spread of players by position, though, as there are 14 forwards and four defensemen. But there are five players in European developmental leagues, four from the OHL, three from the QMJHL, two from the WHL, three from the USNTDP, and one from the USHL.

Last Season’s Numbers

2018-19 Season Prospect Statistics

Player (Position) Team (League) GP G A P P/GP
Player (Position) Team (League) GP G A P P/GP
Tim Stutzle (C) Mannheim (DNL U20) 21 23 32 55 2.62
Alexander Holtz (RW/LW) Djurgardens (SuperElit) 38 30 17 47 1.24
Cole Perfetti (C) Saginaw (OHL) 63 37 37 74 1.17
Kasper Simontaival (RW) Tappara (Jr. A SM-Liiga) 27 9 18 27 1.00
Hendrix Lapierre (C) Chicoutimi (QMJHL) 48 13 32 45 0.94
Shakir Mukhamadullin (LD) Tolpar Ufa (MHL) 15 7 6 13 0.87
Mavrik Bourque (C) Shawinigan (QMJHL) 64 25 29 54 0.84
Theo Rochette (C) Chicoutimi (QMJHL) 59 14 29 43 0.73
Daniil Gushchin (RW) Muskegon (USHL) 51 16 20 36 0.71
Ty Smilanic (C/LW) US U-17 (USNTDP) 54 20 18 38 0.70
Will Cuylle (LW) Windsor (OHL) 63 26 15 41 0.65
Seth Jarvis (RW) Portland (WHL) 61 16 23 39 0.64
Dylan Peterson (C) US U-17 (USNTDP) 53 8 21 29 0.55
Antonio Stranges (C/LW) London (OHL) 66 13 21 34 0.52
Donovan Sebrango (LD) Kitchener (OHL) 62 7 19 26 0.42
Emil Andrae (LD) HV71 (SuperElit) 23 2 5 7 0.30
Kaiden Guhle (LD) Prince Albert (WHL) 65 3 14 17 0.26
Tyler Kleven (LD) US U-17 (USNTDP) 52 3 5 8 0.15

Cole Perfetti (C)

Saginaw Spirit (OHL)
January 1, 2002
5’10”, 185 lbs

The oldest 2002-born draft-eligible player is an elite goal scorer who broke out in a big way at the 2019 Hlinka-Gretzky Cup:

Perfetti’s high hockey sense allows him to process developing plays faster and adapt to changing offensive or defensive situations. He possesses a lethal shot complete with a lightning-quick release, but is also a poised puckhandler. Perfetti is great at adjusting his weight distribution to get his shots off quicker and doesn’t need much space to create scoring chances. [Raw Charge]

Perfetti has the innate ability to score from anywhere. His ability to read and react to opponents quickly results in him creating opportunities on every shift. Perfetti has a ridiculous amount of poise when he carries the puck. He’s an average skater at best, but it doesn’t hold him back in transition. Perfetti will need to get stronger in order for his stride to become more powerful and explosive, but his talent speaks for itself.

Mavrik Bourque (C)

Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL)
January 8, 2002
5’10”, 165 lbs

Shawinigan was pretty awful last season, which makes Bourque’s accomplishments as a rookie all the more impressive. He finished second in scoring on the Cataractes with 54 points in 64 games. A lethal powerplay producer, Bourque favors the one-timer from the right circle and has excellent vision. He also has good passing abilities and can anticipate plays well. Bourque may be shorter than his peers, but he likes a good puck battle along the boards, and enjoys hunting for rebounds in the crease. Bourque is a decent skater, but could stand to improve his acceleration, and needs to get stronger.

Dylan Peterson (C)

January 8, 2002
6’4”, 185 lbs

Compared to the first two prospects on this list, Peterson is giant. The large forward uses his frame to protect the puck and make space for himself. He’s a good, balanced skater with solid edgework. Peterson has good all-around puck skills and hockey sense, but he can sometimes be faulted for being too patient. Often, he’ll circle the zone with the puck waiting for the right opportunity, and should take the puck to the net more often. Peterson had some difficulty adjusting to the USHL last season and needs to show that he can produce offense with the national team.

Tyler Kleven (LD)

January 10, 2002
6’4”, 190 lbs

Is he Matthew Robertson 2.0? Kleven has a bomb of a point shot, solid reach, a powerful hitter, and is excellent in his own end. Kleven is an intelligent defenseman who uses his physical play to separate opponents from the puck rather than intending to bowl them over. His skating is just all right, and Kleven could benefit from working on his first-step acceleration. The other concern is that he can sometimes defer to his partners, and scouts want to see Kleven take the lead on his pair and not be so complacent.

Shakir Mukhamadullin (LD)

Tolpar Ufa (MHL)
January 10, 2002
6’2”, 170 lbs

The big, strong defenseman is patient and a star in his own end. A dominant board player, Mukhamadullin won’t force plays up the ice and instead wait for the right breakout option to present itself. He’s not offensively-minded, but he does have a heavy and hard shot from the point. Mukhamadullin is a reliable penalty killer and unafraid to block shots. However, his skating is the one area that needs focus. Mukhamadullin’s agility and footwork are major weaknesses in his game, and if he doesn’t work to improve upon them, it may hold him back from being a successful professional player.

Kasper Simontaival (RW)

Tappara (Jr. A SM-Liiga)
January 11, 2002
5’9”, 172 lbs

Sturdy would be a good word to describe the short Finn, who is an excellent puck distributor with the ability to become a one-man firing squad. Simontaival’s release is instantaneous, and although he tends to put up more assists, he can overwhelm goalies with a barrage of shots, which allows his teammates chances to score instead. Simontaival has great vision and can be a difficult player to anticipate and read because he is so unpredictable. Despite his short stature, Simotaival is not naturally quick, and will need to take steps (literally) to improve his explosiveness, fluidity, and edgework.

Donovan Sebrango (C)

Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
January 12, 2002
6’0”, 179 lbs

I think I said it all when I wrote about Sebrango’s play at the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup back in August:

The two-way defender isn’t flashy, but a strong skater with excellent vision who can rush the puck and play with an edge. Although his skating stride is a little hunched, Sebrango’s two-step quickness makes him difficult to catch on the forecheck. His ability to read and react to his defense partners allows him to develop good chemistry with anyone he’s paired with, especially defenders who like to blow the zone or pinch in on the cycle. [Raw Charge]

Along with his adaptability, Sebrango also uses his stick well and rarely overplays the puck. He can also take the puck to the open areas of the ice to generate scoring chances. Aside from fine tuning his skating mechanics, there’s not much to nitpick about Sebrango’s game and he should be a solid mid-round draft pick in June.

Tim Stutzle (C)

Mannheim (DEL)
January 15, 2002
5’11”, 165 lbs

A great skater who is fast and fluid, Stutzle is both a shooter and a playmaker. He is a confident puck carrier who likes to drive through opposing defensemen and take the puck straight to the net. He has a quick release on both his slapshot and wrist shot. Stutzle has good vision and passing abilities, but can be too selfish at times and needs to defer to his teammates more often. Although he played wing last season, Stutzle made the switch to center midway through and will continue to play down the middle this season and work on his defensive game.

Kaiden Guhle (LD)

Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)
January 18, 2002
6’3”, 187 lbs

Guhle’s role with Prince Albert was small last season, as he was a rookie on a deep veteran team that won a WHL championship. He primarily played a third pair role, but he did occasionally see time on the Raiders’ second powerplay unit. This season, the expectation is that Guhle’s ice time and role will increase. He has exceptional mobility for a player of his height and even though he didn’t play much last season, established a dominant physical presence whenever he did take to the ice. Guhle uses his body to throw massive hits, but is also fast enough to stop rushes and uses his long reach to keep players to the outsides. There’s not a lot of deceptiveness to his play, and he can sometimes be overly aggressive and take undisciplined penalties, but Guhle is a reliable defender who will only continue to blossom with a larger role.

Ty Smilanic (C/LW)

January 20, 2002
6’1”, 168 lbs

Always moving and engaged in play no matter what end of the ice he’s in, Smilanic is heralded by coaches for his work ethic. Offensively, though, his skills need some refining. Smilanic’s shot is improving but still needs more power to be effective. He has good enough hands, but sometimes Smilanic moves too quickly for his hands to keep up, which leads to him leaving the puck behind him. Smilanic is a very fast skater, but he needs to put on more weight as he is too-easily forced off pucks. Although he will play for the US national team this season, Smilanic hasn’t committed to an NCAA school and is still eligible to play major junior in Canada (the Regina Pats hold his rights).

Alexander Holtz (RW/LW)

Djurgardens (SuperElit)
January 23, 2002
6’0”, 183 lbs

The sniper half of Sweden’s Terror Twins, Holtz is an unbelievable goal scorer who can put pucks in the net at will. He has a lethal one timer and although he’s known for scoring, Holtz is an underrated playmaker who doesn’t need to rely on his teammates to create offensive chances — he can do it by himself. Holtz has brilliant hands and puck poise, and is a dangerous breakaway player thanks to his explosive skating. Holtz can sometimes cheat out of the defensive zone as a result of being too eager to create offense. Although Holtz makes a concerted effort to get back to his own end when play turns the other way, to become a more well rounded player, he needs to work on his efforts in the defensive zone.

Seth Jarvis (RW)

Portland Winterhawks (WHL)
February 1, 2002
5’9”, 165 lbs

An high energy forward who thrives in a forechecking role, Jarvis is an explosive skater who is a transitional threat and strong off the half wall. He can anticipate broken plays and capitalize on defenders’ mistakes. Jarvis almost always comes up with the puck in board scrums and loves to feed his linemates from behind the net or in the slot. He’s a smaller player (though that seems to be a theme in this list), but it doesn’t hold him back from having success against larger opponents. Jarvis had a solid rookie season, but with a lot of Portland’s offensive catalysts having graduated from the WHL, he will be counted on more for driving and producing offense.

Will Cuylle (LW)

Windsor Spitfires (OHL)
February 5, 2002
6’2”, 201 lbs

I was really impressed with Cuylle at the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup (when I wasn’t mixing him up with Kaiden Guhle):

A powerful skating winger, Cuylle has a deceptive and elite-releasing shot, and uses his size to open up shooting lanes and push past defenders in the offensive zone. It doesn’t take any time at all for him to shoot the puck and he can get the puck off his stick in any position he finds himself. He is an incredibly reliable player in his own end, using his size and stick effectively in puck battles. [Raw Charge]

Cuylle isn’t a natural playmaker but he can find open areas of the ice to receive passes cleanly from teammates. He’s a reliable backchecker and a pest along the boards, and Cuylle just has to take a further step to providing offense for Windsor.

Antonio Stranges (C/LW)

London Knights (OHL)
February 5, 2002
5’10”, 170 lbs

Antonio Stranges is a human highlight reel, there is simply no other way to put it. Here are some of his jaw dropping plays:

Anyone else mesmerized? Stranges is an elusive playmaker with the most incredible edges I’ve ever seen (demonstrated in the third tweet). His backhand is as dangerous as his forehand, he has unbelievable hands, and je loves to toy with defenders as he turns them inside out. Stranges isn’t the most consistent player, and that’s something he’ll have to work on next season, but you just can’t help but be in awe of his creativity and puck skills.

Daniil Gushchin (RW)

Muskegon Lumberjacks (USHL)
February 6, 2002
5’8”, 161 lbs

Another small, speedy forward, Gushchin’s creativity, puck skills, and skating make him impossible to contain. The Russian-born winger came over to play in the USHL last season and put up 36 points in 51 games. He’ll return to Muskegon this season, and although he doesn’t have a college commitment yet, Gushchin could head in that direction (although the Regina Pats are eager to have him bring his talents to the WHL). Gushchin is a willing backchecker with unrelenting compete level. A fluid and unpredictable skater, Gushchin is incredibly difficult to hit. Although he’s more of a playmaker, Gushchin’s release is excellent and he is an underrated goal scorer. Gushchin is the complete package that NHL teams are looking for.

Hendrix Lapierre (C)

Chicoutimi Sagueneens (QMJHL)
February 9, 2002
6’0”, 165 lbs

Although naturally a winger, Lapierre made the transition to center last season with Chicoutimi, but his faceoff skills need work. Aside from that, though, there’s a lot to like of Lapierre’s game. For one, he’s a passing machine on the man-advantage and his vision is elite. The dangerous playmaker finds easy chemistry with natural finishers (which is why he and Perfetti were such a lethal pair at the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup). The pass first Lapierre could stand to be more selfish and shoot more often, as his quick release can fool goalies (who likely think he’s going to pass the puck). Lapierre will need to get stronger in the next couple of years, but he’s still one of the best-available draft prospects from the QMJHL.

Theo Rochette (C)

Chicoutimi Sagueneens (QMJHL)
February 20, 2002
5’10”, 159 lbs

The other Sagueneens player on this list was actually born in Switzerland, but has dual citizenship and represented Canada at the 2019 Hlinka-Gretzky Cup. Rochette came over from Switzerland to play in the CHL last year and needed some time to adjust, but he had an unbelievable final two months of the season and will hopefully carry that into this year. Rochette is small and not the best skater, but makes up for it with his intelligence. He’s an effective offensive contributor with above-average hands, puck control, and a quick release. He’s a reliable player in all three zones. There’s a lot to like about Rochette, but scouts are unsure of what his NHL ceiling could be, and he’ll need a strong draft season to silence his doubters.

Emil Andrae (LD)

HV71 (SuperElit)
February 23, 2002
5’9”, 165 lbs

Although undersized, Andrae is an offensively-minded, high risk, high reward defender. Andrae is an fluid skater, with good speed and excellent edges, who handles the puck confidently in the offensive zone and on the rush. Some of Andrae’s decisions can be too risky, as he favours the long outlet pass, and he can be too confident that his plays will succeed. Andrae can play physically, but he can be too overly aggressive and take unnecessary penalties or get out of position defensively. His awareness in his own end can be inconsistent, and Andrae will have to work to improve upon his play there.

All statistics and player information from Elite Prospects.