I am very much not perfect, especially when it comes to giving my opinions on the future of teenage hockey players. I make a lot of mistakes, and I will continue to do so in the future.
Therefore, every year I look at some key player evaluations and got wrong. I’m not just looking to provide a chuckle to my readers — I’m looking to take away key lessons and share them with the audience.
There are two criteria I use to define a mistake. The first is that it must be a mistake you can learn from. If all the information points in one direction at the time of an evaluation and there’s no convincing argument that I missed something essential at the time, then it might just be chalked up to the inherent high rate of error involved in projecting teenagers.
The second is the magnitude of the error. If I project a player as a third-pair defenseman and now he’s a second, that’s not really worth discussing in this forum.
I urge you to reference previous articles where I have likely already discussed a player I got wrong before you comment that he should have been included:
NHL prospects I was wrong about: 2021-22
NHL prospects I was wrong about: 2021
NHL prospects I was wrong about: 2019
NHL prospects I was wrong about: 2018
NHL prospects I was wrong about: 2017
NHL prospects I rated too low
K’Andre Miller, LHD, New York Rangers and Mattias Samuelsson, LHD, Buffalo
Why am I listing these two players on different NHL teams together? Miller and Samuelsson were on the same US NTDP team, in the same draft year, and have similarities in their styles of play, so I thought it made sense to talk about them collectively even if I have Miller rated a decent amount higher as a player .
I wasn’t particularly high on both players going into their draft and even a year or two after it. I just saw big defenders who skate well with some physicality, and I thought they were heading for an NHL third pairing if they made it. That couldn’t have been more off. Both look like quality top-four defensemen and Miller was an absolute rock in the playoffs for the Rangers last spring.
While neither of them will be true PP1 types in the NHL, I underestimated their offensive potential. Miller has skill and a big point shot, while Samuelsson is smart enough to provide secondary offense on his outlets and blue-line play.
In general though, over the last few years I’ve felt I’ve systematically undervalued big, mobile, physical defensemen like those two in favor of smaller players with a flashier toolkit. I’m going to need to recalibrate that going forward, given how few of the latter type of players play major minutes on a blue line.
Sean Durzi, RHD, Los Angeles
When I saw Durzi as a junior I thought his hockey sense was excellent. He made so many tough plays with the puck, displaying high-end vision on his outlets and in the offensive zone. It was a clear NHL puck game, but I thought his skating wasn’t NHL caliber to go with an average-sized frame. I saw a fine prospect, but you see so many average-sized, average-skating players in junior with good offense who go straight to the AHL and never leave. I didn’t see a guy who could defend as a pro and was going to have good, but not incredible offense. I may have even dinged him for going back to the CHL as an overage despite him being young for the AHL as a late birthdate. I saw a likely AHLer who would maybe get a couple NHL games.
Since then, Durzi has made the NHL and has shown that he can help a team at that level. He played 22 minutes a night in the playoffs for the Kings last spring. His skating and defending still don’t inspire, but that excellent hockey IQ has allowed him to help an NHL team and make plays at that level. Super smart defensemen are always highly enticing, and while not every one of them makes it with so-so athletic traits, I should have bet more on a defenseman with hockey sense who looks different than other players.
Kaiden Guhle, LHD, Montreal
Guhle was a player as a junior whose physical tools jumped at you. He was this big, rangy defenseman who had excellent gap control and was highly physical. Forwards didn’t get by him and he regularly punished those who tried. I saw all of this, but I was quite hung up on his offense. I saw a guy who was just OK with the puck, when I watched his Prince Albert team he was at times not on the first power-play unit, and I just didn’t see him make many plays with the puck.
Even if all that was true, and I still think it mostly is to this day, he didn’t have zero offense. Guhle still scored 11 goals and 40 points in 64 WHL games. That’s been an adjustment to my process I’ve made after Guhle, Samuelsson, Miller and other similar cases over the last few years where I’ve been underrating the big defensemen and overrating the smaller ones. For the big, mobile, physical defensemen, if they even have some offense, that’s enough, given all the great things they can do defensively and in transition. You saw a first glimpse of this change in my process in the first 2023 NHL Draft list I put out.
I thought Guhle was just a third-pair defenseman in the NHL, but it’s clear he has the ability and competitiveness to be a good top-four guy for a long time.
Janis Moser, LHD, Arizona
Almost a little more than a year after being drafted, Moser is playing half the game for his NHL club. Yes, it’s on a thin Coyotes roster, but it’s still impressive nonetheless, especially for a guy who I listed as “having a chance to play” in his draft year. Part of how good Moser has become so quickly was his age — he was drafted in his third eligible season. I don’t know if there was evidence that he would become such an important player for his club right away, but in his draft year, Moser was very good against men. He captained his NLA team playing a major role and then went to the world championships for Switzerland as a 20-year-old and more than held his own. Moser went undrafted twice because he was, and still is, a so-so skater. But he spent over time versus pros that he was so smart and competitive with decent enough size to overcome those skating issues. Given what he showed in that third draft-eligible season at high levels of competition, he should have been rated higher.
NHL prospects I rated too high
Cody Glass, C, Nashville
I was way off on Glass. I had him rated as one of the best players in the 2017 NHL Draft and he’s basically struggled to stay in an NHL lineup since then. The error isn’t as frustrating to me as why I made it. I saw a lot of skill in Glass’ game and loved his playmaking and hockey IQ, especially for a big center. But truth be told there were times I watched him and wasn’t over the moon about him because his game could lack pace and energy, and scouts I was talking to were questioning whether his game would work as a pro. It seems ridiculous to say, especially since I’ve never been shy to express my (at times wildly off) opinions, but I almost felt I was following the crowd a bit on Glass, who at the time was universally rated as a top prospect in the draft and was a top scoring player in the WHL. I especially thought after his U18 world championships in his draft season, where he laid an egg, that he didn’t look like an overly special player.
An NHL scout friend of mine once told me the biggest mistakes he and his team have made are following the crowd and putting a player “where he belongs” on their list even if they aren’t passionate about the player. This is a lesson I learned with Glass. I’ve learned to trust my gut a lot more in the last few years when I can tell a slotting feels off.
Jesse Ylonen, RW, Montreal
Ylonen was a tough case for me. I rated him quite highly in his draft year as a top-20 prospect. I thought he was such an excellent skater, with a high skill level who had the ability to break open a shift. I remember watching him as an underage at the U18 worlds and being blown away by his talent. His draft year was solid but not as impressive. He played second division pro in Finland, a league that doesn’t historically produce NHL players, and posted good numbers but didn’t exactly light it up.
I still rated him that highly due to the natural talent he had, even if his game lacked physicality and effort at times and scouts had questions about whether the way he plays would translate to the big league. I remember talking to an NHL executive about Ylonen at the time who said he would be hesitant to rate a player with his production that high unless “the toolkit was simply off the charts.” It wasn’t for Ylonen — it was very good, but not of that level. It was too aggressive a rating, and I learned to try not to fall in love with dynamic traits so easily if they’re not leading to actual results.
Dominik Bokk, RW, Carolina
This one is a massive whiff. I loved Bokk in his draft year. I thought he was a dynamic offensive talent who had a chance to be an upper-echelon player in the draft. Yes, his production for a draft-eligible in Sweden’s junior league wasn’t all that amazing, and yes, when he went to play with Germany’s U20 team, his compete level wasn’t very good and he laid an egg at the world juniors B pool. But look at the skill (is what I thought)! He had so much skill. Bokk’s junior games were like watching one-man highlight reels at times. This was a humbling one, an example of the limits of looking at pure offensive talent, and learning to consider a player’s effort level and ability to play up levels, more importantly.
Ryan Merkley, RHD, San Jose
Merkley has had a lot of discussion and noise surrounding him over the last few years. This is what his case boiled down to: He’s an elite passer who skates well, but not incredibly, and he’s a small defenseman who doesn’t compete that well. I still rated him very highly because of that skill and particularly the passing ability. He would make unique plays that few others could make at a high rate. I still think he’s a solid prospect and he has about 40 NHL games already, but the offense hasn’t been there as a pro like I thought it would be. You combine that with the fact that there aren’t many 5-foot-11 defensemen in the NHL who are subpar defenders and it’s clear I overshot Merkley.
Connor McMichael, C, Washington
McMichael is a funny case for me because at one point I wasn’t a fan. I didn’t have him rated as a first-round pick going into his 2018 draft and then in the seasons after I jacked up his prospect rating into a true top-tier player. I was probably wrong in both instances, and the truth was probably in the middle! I always respected that he had skill, sense and goal-scoring ability, but the debate on McMichael has always revolved around his skating, especially for his size. I initially thought it was bad enough to potentially keep him out of the league, which was probably a little harsh, but then I thought he was so dynamic offensively that it wouldn’t be much of an issue, which was probably too ambitious and I overshot the offense a bit. He’s a hard worker, but the lack of foot speed will likely keep him from becoming a true impact pro, although I think with time as he matures physically he’ll still be a good NHL player.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi, C, Carolina
Kotkaniemi’s a player whose stock kept going up as his draft season progressed. I think our minds usually associate those cases with players who tend to be highly successful, but this was a case of a stock that probably shouldn’t have gotten that high. Kotkaniemi was always highly intriguing as a big center with very good skill and vision, but he never really put up huge numbers at any level or tournament. His stock reached an apex following the 2018 U18 worlds, where Finland won a gold medal; he was their No. 1 center and played excellently. Even during his great play there were still concerns about his skating, and he was still third on the team in scoring. I still see a very good player who can be a legit middle-of-the-lineup center for a while, but I had him rated as a top-five pick, and there was probably too much recency bias built into that. I should have focused on his pure toolkit and overall track record.