Better Late Than Never: Top 10 2016 NHL Entry Draft Returnees
Which omissions from last year's draft deserve another look?
Scouting and drafting are, at best, inexact sciences.
No matter how much thorough research is conducted, oftentimes you're stuck with nothing but an educated guess. Of course, the more research you do the better your odds will be, but every year at the NHL Entry Draft, without fail, there are a handful of players that get completely passed up on but later on develop into successful NHLers, while there are an even greater number of players that do get picked never go on to make an impact.
There are numerous reasons why players get missed: injuries, difficult viewing access for scouts, drafting biases (such as the infamous "Russian Factor"), and so on.
And, in some cases, players are simply late-bloomers, guys that don't do enough to warrant getting their name called on draft day but eventually figure out their games at a later date.
One of the most unsung aspects of scouting is being able to recognize these kinds of players. Imagine how much an entire franchise's fate could have changed just by using a 7th round pick on a player like Martin Jones, Artemi Panarin or Tyler Johnson.
Without further ado, here is a list of players that, for one reason or another, were completely skipped at last year's draft. They might not have the potential to become superstars, but could nevertheless be shrewd targets for teams this time around.
Henrik Borgstrom: Center - HIFK U20 (Jr. A. SM-liiga)
Borgstrom is easily one of the biggest dark horse prospects in this year's draft. He's flown under the radar the past two seasons, largely because he hasn't played in Finland's top pro leagues or in any major international tournaments, but he has high-end offensive talents. He's a one-dimensional player and still incredibly raw, but because of his tall frame, silky hands and excellent vision there have been rumblings from European scouts that he could develop into a dynamic scorer at the NHL level. Keep an eye out for this guy.
Adam Brooks: Center - Regina Pats (WHL)
Brooks was an unstoppable offensive force this season, finishing as the top scorer in the WHL with an eye-popping 120 points in 72 games. Even more impressively, he did it without a ton of support, finishing with a whopping 50 points more than the next closest player on his team. He's small, at roughly 5'10" and 175 pounds, but he has good enough hands and smarts to allow him to continue to be a point-producer at higher levels.
Brayden Burke: Left Wing - Lethbridge Hurricanes (WHL)
Like Brooks, Burke is a small forward that lit up the scoring race in the WHL this past year, finishing with 109 points in 72 games. He had more help around him, playing on a pretty high-scoring Lethbridge club, but is a 1997 birthday compared to Brooks being a 1996. Burke badly needs to put on some muscle, but his ability to move the puck around is exceptional. Give him enough time and space, especially on the powerplay, and he can make defenders look silly.
Casey Fitzgerald: Defenseman - Boston College (NCAA)
Fitzgerald is a small-yet-nimble puck-moving defenseman that put up some very impressive point totals for a freshman blueliner in a great college program. Possibly the most intriguing thing about him is the environment that he's been nurtured in: his family is chock-full of hockey players, and he also gained valuable experience as a member of the U.S. National Team Development Program last year. Needless to say, he has a very advanced understanding of the game that should be a great benefit as he continues to develop as a player.
Dylan Gambrell: Center - University of Denver (NCAA)
Gambrell is a hard-working forward that just keeps getting better and better. He's earned rave reviews for his dedication and determination, constantly improving all areas of his game. He might not have enough natural ability to be a prolific scorer at the NHL level, but he is versatile and can contribute on the ice in a wide variety of ways. All 30 NHL teams could stand to benefit from adding Gambrell to their prospect pools.
Connor Ingram: Goaltender - Kamloops Blazers (WHL)
There's isn't anything specific about Ingram that makes him stand out as a goalie, but he nevertheless finds a way to stop pucks and win his team hockey games. He's been the bonafide number one netminder on a below-average Blazers club since he was 17 and was their best player this season, racking up 34 wins and a .922 save percentage. He also carried his team in the playoffs, with a .938 save percentage in a tough seven-game series loss in the opening round. Already knows what it's like to be relied upon heavily as a starting goalie.
Joseph Masonius: Defenseman - University of Connecticut (NCAA)
Sometimes it's actually beneficial to play on a bad team. Masonius saw a ton of ice time as a freshman defender for the U. of Connecticut and was by far and away their most dangerous weapon from the back end thanks to his strong skating, hard shot and crisp passing. Another former member of the prestigious USNTDP, he will get plenty of opportunity to further develop into a minute-munching impact player while at the NCAA level.
Rem Pitlick: Center - Muskegon Lumberjacks (USHL)
The USHL Player Of The Year, Pitlick is a buzzsaw that consistently makes good things happen on the ice, whether it's using using his speed and skill to produce points or using his tenacity to cause havoc for opposing teams. He's short, at roughly 5'9", but he's already filled out much of his frame, which makes him harder to push around or off the puck. If he doesn't develop into a Top 6 role in the NHL he should be able to carve out a spot in a team's Bottom 6 as an energy guy.
Dante Salituro: Right Wing - Ottawa 67's (OHL)
Like many of the players already mentioned here, Salituro is an offensive forward that was passed up initially because of his size, but what helps him stand out is that he's more of a goalscorer than a playmaker. He can fly around defenders and unleash an accurate wrist shot from distance, or use his hands and creativity to go through them to get closer to the net for a better chance. He won't contribute much defensively, but could be a highly productive complementary player with the right linemates.
Tyler Soy: Center - Victoria Royals (WHL)
One of the most surprising snubs of last year's entry draft after a 63-point campaign, Soy hasn't let that deter him, plugging away with more and more offensive production. He had 46 goals this season, the most on a Victoria Royals squad that finished as the best team in the WHL. Could really grow a lot as a player next season, as he'll likely be expected to be a veteran leader on a team that's going to lose some of it's best talent but will still be expected to be a top contender.
Sebastian Aho, Kasper Bjorkvist, Colton Bobyk, Reid Gardiner, Veini Vehvilainen.