The first round of the draft is the best place to snag a highly skilled player, but those picks are also usually a gimme (in most cases—looking at you, Don Sweeney). In the seventh round, if a team uses its pick rather than trading it, often the player chosen is someone left on the board who is rated highly by one of the team’s scouts.
Where a scouting staff really has to dig in and work to get the most value for their pick are the middle rounds. This year, in the third and fourth rounds, a few teams were able to snag some real talent. Here are the standouts.
Vitalii Abramov (Right Wing) — Columbus Blue Jackets, 65th overall
Abramov was considered a first-round talent by many, including NHL Central Scouting and ESPN’s Corey Pronman. The Blue Jackets managed to snag this talented, agile forward at the top of the third round, after drafting top talent Pierre-Luc Dubois and overage defenseman Andrew Peeke.
Not a bad weekend at the office for Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen, even when you factor in his passing over Jesse Puljujarvi.
A common knock on Abramov is that he is “undersized”, but it is precisely that size that allows him to slip through opposing defenders. His puckhandling is terrific, he’s creative, and the offensive ability he brings to the table is consistent — he’s not a flash in the pan. Give him some time to improve the defensive side of his game, and this pick will look even better for the Blue Jackets.
Cliff Pu (Center/Right Wing) — Buffalo Sabres, 69th overall
A member of the London Knights’ Memorial Cup-winning squad, Pu’s stock rose throughout the season as his playing time increased. His point totals weren’t overly impressive for a player in his first draft-eligible year, but look at it in context — his ice time wasn’t as high as many of his peers due to how stacked the Knights were up front this season.
Still, Pu made the most of the ice time he did have, particularly in the latter half of the season as he played with the draft-eligible Max Jones, and the Sabres took notice. Pu will add to their ever-growing crop of forward prospects, and after a couple more years development in the OHL, expect to see him slotting in alongside someone like Jack Eichel.
Luke Green (Defense) — Winnipeg Jets, 79th overall
For a team that may have botched its second first-round selection by trading up to take Logan Stanley, the Winnipeg Jets did alright for themselves later in the draft. Green’s rankings were a bit contentious, with Bob McKenzie ranking him at 60th, NHL Central Scouting slotting him in at 37th, and Pronman having him listed at 63rd, but whichever source you agree with, all of them say that Green dropped at least a bit farther than he should have.
Green’s offense has been consistent over his past two QMJHL seasons — 36 points (6 goals, 30 assists) in 60 games in 2014-15 and 35 points (10 goals, 25 assists) in 59 games this past season — and this year, he renewed his focus on the defensive side of his game. His defensive positioning and situational awareness improved, and if he continues on this path he may find a way to meld the two sides of his game and become a solid choice for the Jets’ blueline.
Jonathan Ang (Center/Wing) — Florida Panthers, 94th overall
Ang is another who was taken approximately where most rankings had him listed—95th by both NHL Central Scouting and Pronman—but the Panthers are definitely getting a prospect to keep an eye on with this pick. While Ang hasn’t been as impressive as many of his peers since being drafted into the OHL, he had a very strong end to this season that hints of good things to come in the future, and that clearly caused the Panthers to sit up and take notice. Add to that their newly acquired prospect evaluation model, and you’ve got to think they know they’re getting something good with this pick.
Ang is a great skater, and a smart one who saw more success on the wing that at center this season. His speed is among the best of prospects drafted this year, and he can utilize it to obtain and protect the puck. If the Petes play him at wing for an entire season next year, we’ll get a better sense of exactly what kind of player he could shape up to be.