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We Can Learn From NHL Draft Prospects & the Paths They Have Taken Photo


By Scott Lowe – 

Every kid who puts on a pair of ice skates, adds 10 pounds worth of pads and takes the ice to play hockey dreams about something.

For some, the dreams may be short term – recording a hat trick, playing on the top line, scoring a game-winning goal in overtime or winning a championship. There are longer-term dreams such as playing on the best AA or AAA team for their club or in their area, playing for a top prep school or simply making the local high-school team.

Many young players also dream about playing in the best North American junior leagues or playing college hockey, but it’s safe to say that every kid who ever played the sport, at one time or another, dreamed about making it to the National Hockey League.

Over the next two days, more than 200 players will take a huge step toward realizing that dream when the NHL Draft is held in Nashville, Tenn. The draft begins at 7 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday, June 28; the first round will be completed that night, with rounds two through seven taking place June 29. 

The first round can be viewed live in the United States on ESPN, while Day 2 can be seen on NHL Network. Complete draft coverage is available in Canada on SportsNet and TVAS. Thursday’s coverage begins at 11 a.m. Eastern.

Every hockey player who advances to the sport’s higher levels seems to carve his or her own unique pathway. We hear that all the time to the point that it almost becomes cliché, but upon further investigation the statement rings true. Anyone who goes to one of the online hockey player databases and examines the careers and pathways of successful players in the top junior leagues, at the NCAA collegiate level or playing professionally likely will be surprised to see how many twists and turns the careers of these players have taken.  

That’s why many of us who are involved in youth and junior hockey preach patience and try to get parents and players to just enjoy the ride and not stress out about every shift, every turnover, every loss and every disappointment along the way. Another cliché we often hear and that also holds true is that participation in sports builds character. Nothing that builds character ever is easy.

Hockey is a game and should always be fun. Too many young players are miserable and stressed out about the sport, worrying about where they will play next and where their teammates are committing to play next year instead of just enjoying the moment. A stressed out or anxious player never will play well, which leads to more stress and anxiety and a downward spiral mentally and emotionally than can be nearly impossible to overcome.

Kids initially play a sport because it’s fun and exciting; they continue to play and want to be the best because they love it. Those who advance to the highest levels continue to love the sport until they achieve their goals and dreams. If we truly love something, the hard work necessary to be great doesn’t really feel like work, and the challenge of competing and proving you are better than someone else or proving others wrong is something we embrace.

In reviewing the careers of the skaters who are rated among the top-20 North American draft prospects, there is one theme that is common among most of them. Many of these players showed tremendous promise at a very young age.

Thirteen of the 20 played in the world-famous 10U Brick Invitational Tournament in Edmonton when they were squirts. One of those 13 played in the 2013-14 tournament, while the other 12 played in the 2014-15 event. Each of the top-five prospects played in the Brick, with four of the those five playing in ’14-15. At that tournament, four of this year’s top-20 North American forward and defense prospects played on the same B.C. Canucks team. 

While genetics no doubt play a part in the advancement of these players – they stood out at a young age and likely were afforded opportunities to play and progress in the sport that the average player does not receive – it still takes a ton of hard work, dedication, commitment and sacrifice to advance to where they are.

Many players who are dominant at very young ages get pushed too hard too early and burn out long before their potential is realized. The one characteristic each of the players who will be drafted in Nashville possesses is a love for the game that was fostered and allowed to grow to the point that all the hard work necessary to get to this point never really seemed like work at all.

They fell in love with the game, fell in love with being good, fell in love with being the best and thrived on the competition and challenges they needed to tackle to get to the highest levels. These players are different and have soared to the very top echelon of the sport at a young age.

What other players who may be late bloomers and still want to pursue their hockey dreams should learn from these players is that even though they have been considered among the best players in their age groups for a very long time, they never stopped dreaming or working and everything they did on and off the ice was calculated to help them move one step, one foot or one inch closer to their ultimate goal. 

And they never gave up, even when their pathways were blocked by obstacles or the road took unexpected twists and turns.

The great news for all young players is that, even if the NHL dream is no longer realistic, there are more opportunities now than ever to continue playing hockey as long as possible and to ascend to the highest level a player can achieve.

In the United States, for instance, nearly 90 percent of the players who advance to play NCAA college hockey don’t get there until they are 20 or 21 years old. And that goes for both the Division I and Division III levels.

In addition, many players who advance to play at the ACHA or AAU club collegiate levels in the U.S. also do so after playing a year or more of juniors once they have completed high school or played for an 18U team. And for those who prefer not to put off their first year of college and want to go to a school they love and still play a high level of competitive hockey, there are more opportunities to do that than ever before.

These days it seems like more players are developing later, playing college hockey in the U.S. or Canada at one level or another and finding that there are in fact opportunities to continue playing competitively or even professionally after graduating. When it comes to hockey, there is no rush, and there are no shortcuts to the top.

If you’re 14 and are still playing on an “A” level team because you haven’t grown yet, keep working because when your body does eventually fill out you will bypass the competition. If you are 16 and haven’t made the local AAA team or haven’t gotten a chance to play on the first line, keep pushing yourself and doing whatever your coach asks. Be the hardest worker, compete on every shift and be a great teammate. When your time comes, you’ll be ready for it.

That’s what all the players you will see drafted this week have continued to do even after it became clear they had a chance to advance to the highest level. They have bypassed players who were as good or better than them along the way because of that approach.

Learn from them and keep grinding and putting in the work. It will pay off, maybe not with an opportunity to play in the NHL, but the proper approach can take you farther than you ever thought you could go.  

Here is a look at the top-20 North American NHL skater prospects, according to NHL Central Scouting, and a summary of the paths they have taken:

Breaking Down the Top 20 North American Skater NHL Draft Prospects


2004 – 3

2005 – 17

All three 2004s are ranked among the top nine.



Forward – 17

Defense – 3

The top-17 prospects are all forwards.


Nation of Birth

Canada – 14

United States – 5

Slovakia – 1

No. 9 prospect, forward Samuel Honzek, was considered a North American prospect because he played in the WHL with Vancouver. He was born in Trencin, Slovakia, and has played for the Slovakian U18 and U29 national teams in world championships.


Home Provinces
Ontario – 4

British Columbia – 4

Quebec – 2

Alberta – 2

New Brunswick – 1

Saskatchewan – 1


Home States

Massachusetts 2

Minnesota – 1

New York – 1

Arizona – 1

The player born in Arizona, No. 16 prospect Ethan Gauthier, a forward, is the son of former NHL player Denis Gauthier and was born in Arizona while his father played for the Coyotes. Pretty much all of his minor and junior hockey has been played in Quebec.


Home Regions

Western Canada – 7

Ontario – 4

Quebec – 2

Eastern Canada – 1


New England – 2

Northeastern U.S. – 1

Upper Midwestern U.S. – 1

Southeastern U.S. - 1


Birthplace of the Top 6 Prospects

British Columbia – 2

Massachusetts – 2

Ontario – 1

Alberta – 1



6-feet or taller – 12

5-11 or shorter – 8


Leagues Represented

NCAA – 2

WHL – 7

USHL – 5

OHL – 4


BCHL – 1


New England Prep – 3

Minnesota High School – 2


International Experience

WJC U20 – 3

U18 Team Canada – 10

U18 Team USA – 5


Youth Competition

2013-14 Brick Invitational – 1

2014-15 Brick Invitational – 12


B.C. Jr. Canucks – 4

Montreal Ice Storm – 2

Boston Jr. Bruins – 2

Toronto Pro Hockey – 2

Saskatoon Jr. Pats – 1

Toronto Bulldogs – 1

Team Minnesota – 1



Top 20 Central Scouting North American Skater NHL Draft Prospects

  1. Connor Bedard – C – 2005 – Regina Pats WHL – 5-10, 183
  2. Adam Fantilli – C – 2004 – University of Michigan NCAA – 6-2, 195
  3. William Smith – C – 2005 – USA NTDP – 6-0, 180
  4. Matthew Wood – RW – 2005 – University of Connecticut NCAA – 6-4, 197
  5. Ryan Leonard – RW – 2005 – USA NTDP – 6-0, 190
  6. Zach Benson – LW – 2005 – Winnipeg Ice WHL – 5-10, 170
  7. Nate Danielson – C – 2004 – Brandon Wheat Kings WHL – 6-2, 186
  8. Oliver Moore – C – 2005 – USA NTDP – 5-11, 188
  9. Samuel Honzek – LW – 2004 Vancouver Giants WHL – 6-3, 195
  10. Gabe Perreault – RW – 2005 – USA NTDP – 5-11, 163
  11. Brayden Yager – C – 2005 – Moose Jaw Warriors WHL – 5-11, 170
  12. Colby Barlow – LW – 2005 – Owen Sound Attack OHL – 6-0, 195
  13. Calum Ritchie – C – 2005 – Oshawa Generals OHL – 6-2, 184
  14. Quentin Musty – LW – 2005 – Sudbury Wolves OHL – 6-2, 200
  15. Andrew Cristall – LW – 2005 – Kelowna Rockets WHL – 5-10, 175
  16. Ethan Gauthier – RW – 2005 – Sherbrooke Phoenix QMJHL – 5-11, 175
  17. Bradly Nadeau = LW – 2005 – Penticton Vees BCHL – 5-10, 160
  18. Lukas Dragicevic – D – 2005 – Tri-City Americans WHL – 6-1, 196
  19. Etienne Morin – D – 2005 – Moncton Wildcats QMJHL – 6-0, 180
  20. Olivier Bonk – D – 2005 – London Knights OHL – 6-2, 180


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