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Top-10 draft 2024 (mid-season) | Part 3: the outsiders
Credit: Capture d'écran / Screenshot
We left last week having established a solid top-10 of talented, intelligent and for the most part very alert and hard-working players, all showing great strengths and/or very few flaws in their game.

The result was this:

1. Macklin Celebrini
2. Ivan Demidov
3. Cayden Lindstrom
Artyom Levshunov
5. Zayne Parekh
6. Michael Brandsegg-Nygard
7. Zeev Buium
Sam Dickinson
9. Tij Iginla
10. Anton Silayev

Of course, many were surprised by the absence of Cole Eiserman and Trevor Connelly, among others.

Today we’ll see why, but these two – and a few others who still feature fairly regularly in some of the top-10 – could or should raise a few red flags for NHL scouts, including of course those of the Habs.

In terms of raw talent (skating ability, puck handling and confidence, creativity), Connelly is a possible top-3 draft pick. Brilliant at the Hlinka-Gretzky Cupand the World Junior A Challenge, where he scored 21 points in 11 games, he is the 2024 “darling” of Simon “Snake” Boisvert, who would currently rank him2nd on his list.

Although still frail at 160 lbs, Connelly is 6’1 and doesn’t hesitate to attack center ice. Flamboyant, even electrifying, the Californian wants the puck. Style-wise, he looks like a mix of Modano, Zegras and Barzal on the ice.

He’s thought to be harder working than Zegras defensively, but he doesn’t shoot as well. He still needs to improve the quality, selection and timing of his shots and passes. He also lacks maturity in his on-ice decisions, as he attempts far too many high-risk plays and tends to hold onto the puck too long. This undoubtedly contributes to his lacklustre -8 record on a club where many of his teammates show a positive differential

That said, he still plays for one of the worst teams in the USHL and remains his club’s leader, as well as a player truly committed to 200 feet. That’s why I’m ranking him ahead of the next hopeful on this list…

But it’s not just Connelly’s game and physique that lack maturity; there’s also his recent past, which raises doubts about his judgment and personality. For the record (which hasn’t made too much noise so far), the Californian once posted a photo of a swastika made of Lego in March 2022 on Snapchat. He was also involved in a case of racist remarks made on the ice, which he was eventually cleared of.

Realizing the imbecility of his swastika gesture, Connelly has since done dozens of hours of community service and involvement with the Hockey Players of Colors organization to rehabilitate himself. However, this kind of gesture leaves its mark on the minds of certain managers, and can cause a hopeful to slip a few, even several rungs down the ladder…

Could the Habs be interested in him between 5th and 8th? I highly doubt it. Whatever you think, the swastika story probably won’t help his case in a market like Montreal, which is still trying to shake off the “Mailloux affair”. But perhaps it’s his style of play even more that could leave Habs scouts wondering, as less risky options and more complete, NHL-ready players become available.

Connelly would add a huge dose of talent on the wing, however, and could bring his defenders to the table…

12- Cole Eiserman
If he gets his act together by the end of the season and shows a desire to do something on the ice other than score goals, Cole Eiserman, whom a majority of experts ranked second only a few months ago, could restore his reputation and move up the rankings.

But it will be a tough hill to climb, such was the abruptness of the fall.

According to our latest viewings from January and February, even after being excluded from the U.S. squad for the most recent WJC despite his exceptional scoring talent, Eiserman still shows little interest in other facets of the game, except perhaps for a few shoulder strokes here and there.

With such talent, however, it remains risky at this stage to place Eiserman outside the top-10, and we have to be aware of that. The young man still has fans among NHL scouts who would rank him in the top-5, according to Bob MacKenzie. The left-handed sharpshooter, top scorer in the U.S. development program since Cole Caufield, is also bigger than Caufield (6’0, 196 lbs) and could also one day (!), with maturity and experience, learn the importance of showing a more complete game.

A club with a little boldness, foresight among its scouts and confidence in its development staff could still draft him well ahead of this rank.

Will that club be the Tricolore and its crying organizational need for attack? Hughes and Gorton are very familiar with the American development program and undoubtedly have some inside information on the individual. Doesn’t Macklin Celebrini, his good friend and former teammate with Shattuck St. Mary’s, play with Lane Hutson at BU, where Eiserman will be playing next year? It’s an issue that’s likely to get a lot of keyboard juice flowing in the coming months.

And let’s not forget that Eiserman, 17, will be one of the youngest players drafted next June, having been born on August 29, 2006…

13- Carter Yakemchuk

A big, right-handed offensive defenseman, Yakemchuk likes to take risks with the puck. Standing at 6’3, close to 200 lbs, the Fort McMurray native has no shortage of fuel, an absolutely devastating shot and very good hands that often help him foil a few opponents in the middle zone, at the entry to the zone, or even near the opposing goal, as here :

I’m not as big a Yakemchuk fan as Grant McCagg, though. I don’t give him credit for having such a great sense of the game, or great fluidity on skates. As a power-play quarterback, he’s also more of a shooter than a skilled passer. Not a flaw in itself, but shots are more often blocked in the NHL.

The fourth-best offensive defenseman of the auction after Parekh, Levshunov and Buium, it would be somewhat surprising at this stage if Yakemchuk, rather ordinary defensively and more or less strong and sturdy for his size(despite a number of fights on his record), were to be selected in the top-10, but his value seems to be rising week by week. Stay tuned!

As far as the Habs are concerned, I know that trades can always be made later, that defensemen have a lot of value and tralali et tralala, but I don’t see what a club already counting Reinbacher, Barron, Mailloux and, in a pinch, Konyushkov among its young right-side prospects would do with a Yakemchuk this high in the draft.

Are we looking for an improved version of Barron and Mailloux?

A right-hander with a little more offense than Reinbacher?

Seems to me that would still be redundant…

In any case, there are bound to be better options in the Flanelle lineup.

14- Berkly Catton

Despite all his WHL points for Spokane, Catton leaves me wanting more with every viewing.

Showing a certain dynamism and a very good hockey IQ, the Saskatchewan native nevertheless possesses a very modest frame and an ordinary skating stroke. He doesn’t have exactly the same style as them, but his profile reminds me a lot of guys like Tyson Jost and Peyton Krebs…

In the “small forward” category, he simply doesn’t have the fire or speed of Seth Jarvis, a recent WHL star in Portland, picked 13th by the Hurricanes, who quickly established himself as one of Carolina’s offensive leaders. A player I adored in 2020 and who is now the 3rd best scorer of his vintage.

The CHL Top Prospects game had done nothing to alter my initial impressions of Catton and, if I’m going to repeat myself, if this youngster is 5’11, Nick Suzuki must be 6’2…

If his bread and butter is finding open spaces, Catton simply doesn’t cut it along the ramps and doesn’t have the speed or 5th gear to separate himself from his opponents.

At best, he’ll be this year’s Cole Perfetti. Quite agile, excellent feel for the game, good passer, good vision, good shot. But how can he become a truly dominant player in the NHL, especially in the playoffs?

And what would he add to a club like the Habs?

With Catton – still 89 points in 54 games so far with Spokane, a rather mediocre club – it’s possible that things could work out Perfetti-style (he’s mostly on the wing now), or even Jarvis-style if he adds a few strings to his bow. But the opposite is also very possible, as we saw with Krebs and Jost…

15- Konsta Helenius
Another player who doesn’t impress me much in general is Finnish right-handed center/wing Konsta Helenius. Projected everywhere as one of the top 6-7 forwards for the upcoming amateur auction, Helenius was very discreet at the most recent WJC. Pivoting the second trio for his country, his only goal came in the bronze-medal match.

Let’s just say he didn’t earn many points in the scouts’ notebooks at this competition… So, while he’s got a good feel for the game, and pretty good hands, he hasn’t often been felt to be very hungry for the puck.

Is it any different in Liiga?

You’ll notice right away that he’s doing his share of points (33 in 44 games) with one of the circuit’s good teams in Jukurit. He also has a good shot.

Now, I don’t know if it’s because I’ve just come across ordinary games from him, but even with this line-up you rarely see him controlling the game. It’s more his more experienced wingers who lead possession.

But let’s not forget that Helenius is only 17, already playing in the pros and doing pretty well overall.

Not the most committed, not very big, not very tall, and not exceptionally talented, Helenius simply wouldn’t be my favorite target if I were a Habs scout and had to decide on a top-10 pick next summer…

We don’t see anything in him other than an average third-trio center.


Unlike the individuals in the top-10, even if some possess great qualities, the five players analyzed today all have more obvious and disturbing deficiencies in their game, and perhaps even in personality for at least one of them (Connelly).

There’s still plenty of time for them to make me swallow a few words and change my mind between now and the draft. But for now, at the end of February, this is what my evaluations look like.

And that’s it! I hope you’ve enjoyed this series of three texts, and feel free to continue the discussion on Facebook!

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