The key to successfully scouting and drafting NHL players isn’t just recognizing what an individual prospect is at the time of their draft year, but rather, accurately projecting what that player will develop and grow into.
When the Dallas Stars selected Joseph Cecconi in the 5th round, 133rd overall, in the 2015 NHL draft, what they saw at the time was fairly obvious: a big, steady, defensive defenseman, the type of guy that can reliably play on a team’s 3rd pairing. Other scouts saw it too, as Cecconi was ranked by most scouting services before that year’s draft after a very good season with the USHL’s Muskegon Lumberjacks
The Stars, however, might have been the only NHL team to envision Cecconi potentially becoming something more than just a depth defender.
Flash forward two and a half years and Cecconi is playing a much bigger role than just a 3rd pair blueliner, skating on the top defensive pairing for the University of Michigan. Lately he’s been lined up alongside the dynamic Quinn Hughes, who is a projected top 10 pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft.
Additionally, the 20-year-old Cecconi has also been seeing time on the power play, further eschewing his label as just a defensive defenseman. His offensive totals have blossomed in response, with 14 points in 24 games so far, easily eclipsing the eight points in 33 games that he recorded last year.
He picked up two assists this past weekend, one of which came on the power play after a cheeky little pass from behind the opposing net, as Michigan swept Penn State.
As much as Cecconi has grown this year, however, there is still more work to be done. His skating is a step slower than you’d like it to be, and his defensive awareness and decision-making still need to be refined (as evidenced by his -6 rating, which is tied for the lowest on the team).
It’s still far, far too early to say definitively what Cecconi will become once he’s fully developed. But the first step to becoming a 1st or 2nd pairing defenseman in the NHL is to be able to successfully do it at a lower level, and right now Cecconi is at least taking that first step.
North American Juniors
Riley Tufte continues to stay hot with the NCAA’s University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs since returning from the World Juniors, picking up his second four-point weekend in a row. Playing on his team’s top line, Tufte is now up to 19 points in 23 games on the season.
Jake Oettinger backstopped the Boston University Terriers to a weekend sweep against Merrimack over the weekend. He stopped 28 of 31 shots on Friday and then 26 of 27 on Saturday to record his 10th win of the season.
Jason Robertson picked up five points in three games for the Kingston Frontenacs. Highlights of a two-point performance can be found here.
John Nyberg had one assist in two games for Frolunda in the Swedish Hockey League while playing just under 20 minutes in both games. He also had a must-see puck rush and scoring chance, which can be viewed here starting at the 1:20 mark.
Jacob Peterson received another loan up to a professional club, dressing for two games with Bjorkloven in the Allsvenskan, the same team that Jakob Stenqvist plays for. He was held pointless while averaging 12:33 in the two contests.
The Texas Stars had a fantastic weekend, sweeping a weekend series against the Manitoba Moose, one of the AHL’s best teams, in convincing fashion. They took a 4-0 win on Friday and then followed that up with a 5-1 victory the very next day.
Landon Bow started one of the two games and picked up a 27-save shutout, the very first one of his AHL career. Roope Hintz and Jason Dickinson both continued a recent trend of strong play, with each player scoring two goals. Gavin Bayreuther and Niklas Hansson haven’t been lighting up the score sheet lately, but both have noticeably improved their defensive play since the beginning of the season.
On the flip side of things, Denis Gurianov continues to blend into the scenery. You’ll see the odd rush where he turns on the jets and makes things happen, but they’re few and far between, and the small details of his game on other shifts leave much to be desired. Among forwards on the team, he is currently tied for 7th in scoring and is 8th in shots, with just 61 in 41 games. He also holds a team-worst -12 rating.
2018 NHL Draft Watch
There’s no better combination for a hockey player than a blend of great size and high skill, and few players in this year’s draft possess that 1-2 punch quite like K’Andre Miller.
A member of the vaunted United States National Team Development Program, Miller is a 6’3” defenseman that’s built like a linebacker. What really has scouts impressed this season, however, are his rapidly growing confidence and proficiency with his skating and puck skills. Already an absolute force in his own zone, he’s also really starting to make a consistent impact in the offensive zone. He has 12 points and a +10 rating in 13 USHL games with the USNTDP.
A player that is just scratching the surface of his potential, don’t be surprised if an NHL team jumps in and takes Miller way ahead of where everyone expects him to go.