Name: Alex Newhook
Team: Victoria Grizzlies (BCHL)
Stats: 53 games played, 38 goals, 64 assists, 102 points, 21 PIMs
NHL Central Scouting ranking: 13th (North American Skaters)
Comparable NHL player: Matt Duchene
One of the most important rules for scouting is to not base your entire opinion of a prospect on just one viewing.
Good days and bad days alike can happen to anyone, and the highs and lows can be especially pronounced when someone is playing an emotionally intense game such as hockey.
Few prospects eligible for the 2019 NHL Draft have shown the importance of this rule as much as Victoria Grizzlies center Alex Newhook.
On his best nights, Newhook looks absolutely phenomenal. He’s a dynamic offensive presence, capable of firing up end-to-end rushes, skating circles around defenders in the offensive zone and breaking opponent’s ankles with one-on-one dekes — sometimes all in the same shift. He is capable of both speeding up or slowing down the pace of play to suit his needs, and that unpredictability makes him hard to defend.
There are a lot of different tools in his toolbox that he has to work with. His skating ability is well above average, with quick acceleration, great edge work and a top gear that allows him to gain separation from opponents. He’s more of a passer than a shooter, with deceptive pre-pass body language and the vision to find seams to thread passes through. His wrist shot is also a dangerous weapon — snappy, high and accurate.
The poor BCHL was really no match for Newhook this season. The Grizzlies captain torched the league for 102 points in 53 games, finishing as the top point producer by 18 points, which is pretty amazing for a 17-year-old. He was named BCHL MVP for 2018-19, and the vote probably wasn’t close.
And yet, despite having a seemingly bottomless bag of tricks, Newhook was a hard prospect to feel confident about this season.
It all started last summer, when Newhook failed to make the Canadian roster for the Hlinka Gretzky Cup because of a disappointing showing at Hockey Canada’s selection camp. He had a chance to redeem himself at the World Junior A Challenge in December, this time successfully making the Canada West roster, but he was a disappointment in the tournament, registering just four points in six games and looking nowhere close to being one of the best players taking part. A little over a month later he went 0-for-3 with regards to playing in the spotlight, offering up a lackluster and uninspired performance at the CJHL Top Prospects Game.
Newhook did manage to salvage his big-game reputation (and his high draft status) a bit at the IIHF U18s in April, though, posting 10 points in seven games as one of Canada’s go-to forwards.
For all his talents, there are some yellow flags about his potential. His effort level is inconsistent and there are times where you question just how much hockey sense he has, and when you combine the two at the same time you get a player who can be a liability when his team doesn’t have the puck. There have also been whispers about issues with how he trains and prepares himself off the ice, which can be a problem for kids who have always been better than their peers and haven’t had to work as hard to be successful.
And despite his strong end to the season at the U18s, there’s still that lingering worry about his ability to play against better competition. The BCHL is a good league that produces NHLers, but it’s not as strong as the WHL is, and the Grizzlies were a good enough team to trounce opponents even when Newhook was having an off night.
Statistical comparisons should always be used with a grain of salt, but there is an interesting one for Newhook. The 21-year-old Colorado Avalanche forward Tyson Jost put up better BCHL numbers than Newhook did in his draft year (104 points in 48 games) and was taken 10th overall, but despite some flashes of success, has struggled thus far to become an impact player in the NHL. It’s hard to look at Jost and not wonder whether Newhook will transition to the pros in a similar manner.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that Newhook is something of a polarizing prospect, appearing as high as ninth on some published draft lists and as low as 20th on others.
Still, there’s always going to be something appealing about raw talent, which Newhook has in spades. There’s a little bit of risk to drafting him, but the reward to be had if his game develops well is enormous.
For the Dallas Stars, Newhook could be quite a worthwhile gamble if he’s still available at 18th overall. His playing style is exactly what they’re missing at forward in their prospect pool, both in terms of his puck skill and his high-end game-breaking potential. He doesn’t check off a lot of the boxes of what the Stars have targeted over the past few drafts, but maybe now is the time for them to switch gears a little and try to approach things from a different angle.