Sometimes the late-rounders end up being some of the best gems in the class. So who does our prospect expert have his eye on this year?
The draft combine is in the books, so now there’s nothing left to do but wait for Dallas. Well, we can also madly speculate about what’s going to happen, so I guess there’s that, too. Last week I released my top-120 for the draft, but I’ve still got more for you. It’s time for my 2018 sleepers and dark horses.
The following is a list of players that could be late-round picks that caught my eye for one reason or another. I am not guaranteeing that all of them actually get selected, but for a team that believes in the player’s future, they could be getting a steal. And these are not kids we’re going to see in the NHL soon; they are long-term prospects, which is why they aren’t ranked as highly. But there is intrigue in all of them.
Austin Wong, C, Okotoks Oilers (AJHL): One of my favorite players in the class thanks to his tour-de-force performance at the Canadian Jr. A Prospects Game. The Harvard commit is a Wendel Clark-type who can really rip the puck. He piles up PIMs as well as points. Skating and agility are issues; he gets by on effort right now. If he can work out his mechanics, he could be Brendan Gallagher.
Liam Kirk, C, Sheffield Steelers (EIHL): I suppose it’s hard to call Kirk a “sleeper” when so many stories have been written about the British kid already, but his actual value is hard to pinpoint. He played against men, but not in an elite league. He helped his national team several times - but not against elite competitions. Nonetheless, Kirk is skilled and a great skater, he just needs to work on his defensive play. Playing major junior over here next year will be crucial for his development.
Justin Ducharme, RW, Acadie-Bathurst Titan (QMJHL): Coming off a Memorial Cup title, Ducharme will actually play for Chicoutimi next year, as he has been traded. Titan GM Sylvain Couturier raved about Ducharme when we spoke this week, lauding the kid’s speed and ability to read the play. That made Ducharme lethal on the penalty-kill. Acadie-Bathurst’s depth limited his role, but he could play on any line when called upon. He could soar with Chicoutimi next year.
Eric Green, G, Northfield Mount Hermon Hoggers (Mass. HS): A standout in the prep school circuit, the 6-foot-5 Green plays big in net and has great athleticism. A concussion ended his junior year early and he was passed over (also, the Hoggers were bad). Green had a monster senior season and is now committed to UMass-Lowell, Connor Hellebuyck’s alma mater.
Jack Gorniak, C, West Salem Panthers (Wisc. HS): Great speed and a quick stick. Gorniak is a busy player who is always in motion and brings good energy. The Wisconsin high school ranks don’t typically churn out draft picks, but Gorniak was invited to the combine and is committed to the University of Wisconsin Badgers.
Connor Corcoran, D, Windsor Spitfires (OHL): A shutdown D-man with good size, Corcoran plays against top competition and has some offense to his game. He has the bad luck of playing for a Spitfires team in the middle of a rebuild, but he’ll grow with the team and get lots of reps in the meantime.
Otto Kivenmaki, LW, Assat Pori (Fin.): Smart, very skilled and has great hockey sense. Kivenmaki is a smaller player and he might not get too much bigger. Back in the day, that would have been a death-knell, but now scouts are more open to how smaller players can contribute at the pro level and that will help Kivenmaki.
Demetrios Koumantzis, C, Edina Hornets (Minn. HS): Skill, hands, pace and vision. Koumountzis is small, but his low center of gravity helps him in battles, kinda like Max Domi. Born in Minnesota, he played a couple seasons in Arizona before returning this season to powerhouse Edina. He’s an Arizona State commit.
Riley Hughes, C, St. Sebastian’s Arrows (Mass. HS): Hughes has decent size and his strengths include his skating and shot, he just needs to bring consistency to his game. A Northeastern commit, he’s also the son of respected player agent Kent Hughes, so Riley has grown up around the game.
Damien Giroux, C, Saginaw Spirit (OHL): A hard worker with hockey sense, Giroux had to do a lot of heavy lifting with the Spirit this season, much like fellow draft prospect Blade Jenkins. Giroux doesn’t have the size of his buddy, but looks like a solid late-round pick with upside.