The Journey examines Dobber’s Top 200 Forward Prospects list, and assesses the fast risers in the April rankings. A couple recent college free agent signings make their first appearance in the rankings this month, while Jake Guentzel remains in the top spot. Check back next week when we take a closer look at the fastest rising prospect defensemen for this month.
Brock Boeser – Vancouver Canucks – Up to 10th Overall, from 28th Overall
Vancouver’s first-round pick from 2015 decided to forego the remainder of his collegiate career at North Dakota after being eliminated in the regional semi-final. The next day, in front of his friends and family, he made his NHL debut for the Canucks, scoring a goal on four shots in just under 13 minutes of ice time. All-in-all, he finished his NHL trial to finish the season with four goals and an assist in nine games with 25 shots.
Boeser has been a prospect marked as a difference maker for some time now, so it should come as no surprise that the Canucks worked hard to get him signed and in the lineup as quickly as possible. His jump in these rankings is more for being under contract as much as it as what he showed in his stint at the end of the regular season. He’s a Calder candidate for next season.
Evgeny Svechnikov – Detroit Red Wings – Up to 28th Overall, from 60th Overall
Taken four spots before Boeser was Svechnikov, who was one of the most skilled offensive players in his draft year. Unlike other Russian prospects, the young winger played his final two years of junior for Cape Breton (QMJHL) and was eligible to jump to the American Hockey League this season.
In his rookie AHL season for Grand Rapids, Svechnikov finished fourth among rookies with 51 points in his 74 games for the club. He earned a call up to play in two of the Red Wings final three games of the season, spending the majority of his shifts with Justin Abdelkader and Dylan Larkin but failed to record his first NHL point. He will get a long look in training camp to potentially draw into what should be a young Detroit lineup moving forward.
Sam Steel – Anaheim Ducks – Up to 38th Overall, from 70th Overall
Steel’s post draft year jump for the Regina Pats this season was a thing to behold. He increased his point-per-game rate from .97 points-per-game to 1.98 points-per-game this season, putting together a Western Hockey League leading 131 points during the regular season and another 19 points in the WHL playoffs.
The 2016 first rounder doesn’t turn 20 until February of 2018, and still will need some seasoning before making his way into an NHL lineup. His team in Regina, who was the best team WHL during the regular season, is currently in the semi-finals of the playoffs and is the favorite to take home the Ed Chynoweth Cup.
Max Jones – Anaheim Ducks – Up to 53rd Overall, from 91st Overall
The last two seasons for the London Knights have shown that Max Jones has a future as a multi-category fantasy asset for those that drafted him in the first or second round of their dynasty draft last season.
Jones has been more offensively relevant this season despite missing time due to injury and suspension. His play at times straddles the edge of being of being too aggressive, but he has shown that that is not his only calling card. He does have the offensive ability to be an impact forward at the NHL in the near future. Anaheim is a great landing spot for Jones, as he still will be able to be a physical forward, but can help the team with his offensive ability as well.
Alexander Kerfoot – 104th Overall, from 179th Overall
The captain of the Harvard Crimson finished his senior season with a loss in the Frozen Four in Chicago two weeks ago. Drafted by the New Jersey Devils in 2012, Kerfoot has progressed as a player who at the time was a potential shot in the dark as a fifth-round pick and the 150th player drafted overall in his draft year. In his senior season at Harvard, Kerfoot posted a career high in both goals (16) and points (45).
To this point, the Devils have not been able to sign Kerfoot to a free agent contract after being drafted multiple seasons ago. He has until August 15th to sign with New Jersey, until he is free to become a free agent the way the former Harvard player Jimmy Vesey did a season ago. Kerfoot is by no means the player that Vesey was a year ago, but still would draw interest from many NHL teams if he was to opt for free agency.
Joseph Gambardella – 128th Overall, from Not Rated
Gambarella is the first of two undrafted college free agents that are to be highlighted on this list. The assistant captain of UMass-Lowell took a step forward in his senior season for the River Hawks, posting 52 points in 41 games, UMass-Lowell had a terrific season, finishing in the top five of NCAA teams in the final USCHO Top 20 Poll.
At the end of March, after UMass-Lowell was eliminated from Frozen Four competition, Gambardella exercised his free-agent right as an undrafted player and signed with the Edmonton Oilers. Obviously any player who has the ability to eventually play in the lineup with Connor McDavid deserves a bump in prospect rankings, but Gambardella’s future will take some development. He has two years in the Oilers organization in order to prove his worth and work his way into the lineup, so watch closely his time in Bakersfield of the AHL.
Mike Vecchione – 155th Overall, from Not Rated
At the end of March, after the majority of the top NCAA undrafted free agents had chosen their contract destination, Vecchione settled on the Philadelphia Flyers organization. The Flyers has already had success with former Union Dutchman Shayne Gostisbehere, and has a forward group that although talented, is not the group that has the most depth in the NHL.
Vecchione, who is already 24 years of age, and behind the curve of when most drafted prospects with high ceilings break into the NHL, has been terrific offensively over his college career with 176 points in 149 games. He finished the season in Philadelphia, playing two games for the Flyers, although he recorded no points. Starting next season, he will be considered for a role with the NHL club, and could provide secondary scoring at five-on-five for a team that desperately needs it.
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