The Journey: Quick Hits (April)

Welcome back to The Journey, where we follow hockey prospects and their paths to the NHL, providing fantasy predictions and analysis along the way. This week, we’ll jump around doing some quick hits—brief observations about prospects from a range of leagues who are worthy of note.

Someone to keep an eye on for next year is Alex Tuch. It feels like the 25-year-old Sabre has been around forever but he's still about 100 games from hitting his Breakout Threshold. A speedy 6-4, 217 lb forward breaking out just as the young team around him starts to gel? Sign me up. Next to Peyton Krebs, Owen Power, J.J. Peterka, Dylan Cozens, Rasmus Dahlin, Jack Quinn and company, Old Man Tuch will be this team's graybeard. He saw more time with the Sabres on both sides of special teams than he ever did with Vegas, leading to a Time on Ice (TOI) bump of about a minute twenty.

In terms of linemates, Tuch has played primarily alongside Jeff Skinner and Tage Thompson at even strength, and all three forwards have turned in career years while producing a positive CorsiFor (51%) as a unit. Tuch actually has the lowest IPP of the three (59%) but is facing on average higher quality competition and still driving play nicely. Meanwhile, Thompson's success and consistency this year are huge bonuses for Buffalo given that he's another huge guy (6-7, 218 lbs) who in theory is still just over two seasons away from hitting his BT. And if Skinner can pot another couple points, he'll remarkably tie his career high of 63 points for the fourth time.

The coaching staff will have a lot of incentive to keep this line together next year, so look for Tuch to push past his career-high of 52 points into the mid-60s with solid peripherals. He's hitting less than he used to but should provide just under a hit and a block per game while firing about three shots per game. Tuck him away now if you can.

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Remember Fabian Lysell? He was drafted 21st overall by Boston in 2021 and was considered one of the more intriguing boom-bust forwards available. Part of what made him a difficult read was his underwhelming production in junior. He absolutely destroyed his U18 regional league in Sweden in his D-1 year (34 points in 14 games) and then transitioned well to the U20 national level (18 in 22) moving into his D0. Then he was called up to the top men's league in Sweden and didn't score much (3 in 26), which wasn't a surprise given historical comparables at his age. That experience playing pro hockey against men was promising but the lack of production made it hard to project his ceiling.

Then he crossed the pond for his D+1 year to play with the Vancouver Giants in the WHL, and while his 62 points in 53 games as an overager don't necessarily jump off the page—it's not surprising to see players his age push two points-per-game in that league—there is some important context here. Those 62 points led his team and represented 43% of the Giants' total output. While the roster does boast a couple other NHL prospects (Alex Cotton and Zack Ostapchuk), it's not a strong team. They have 24 wins to their 39 losses and just squeaked into the playoffs as the eighth and final seed in a 10-team Western Conference.

Lysell is still only 19 years old, and his performance this year placed him 23rd among prospect Left Wings by PNHLe according to NHL RankKing. He is reminiscent of Brad Lambert (2022 eligible) in that he's a speedy, elusive transition machine with incredible hands who hasn't quite popped yet offensively. The goal scored by his teammate in the following clip is a bit fluky, but watch Lysell's speed and confidence to gain the offensive zone and then stickhandle in tight along the boards to maintain possession. These skills should translate well to the next level where time and space are more precious than in junior.

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After taking home an NCAA championship with Denver and leading the nation in scoring this year with 57 points in 41 games, Bobby Brink is wasting no time showing what he can do at the NHL level. He has four points over his first six games as a Flyer and has looked gooooooooood in the process. Brink fell to the second round in 2019 because he's 5-8 and there were big question marks with his skating.

But look how effortlessly he creates separation from the Sabres defence here:

Admittedly, Brink was moving against the grain in that play, so it wasn't exactly a foot race, but his skating looks very fluid these days in contrast to the "ugly stride" noted by DP's Cam Robinson back in 2019. Brink has always been known for being a cerebral, high-IQ type with excellent hands in tight. Those skills have been on display so far this year with Philadelphia along with a heavy dose of tenacity and grit. He caused the turnover in the previous clip, poking it past the defender, and here again Brink wins the battle along the boards then makes a quick, soft pass to James van Riemsdyk who eventually gets it past Carey Price for the goal:

Like Lysell, Brink's ability to make the right play with not a lot of space or time bodes well for his transition to the majors. While it's likely that he gets some seasoning at the AHL level next year before making the jump full time, it seems like the wait time won't be as long as it can be with college players. He's on the brink of stardom.

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Lucas Raymond is 20 and has had an incredible rookie year with 56 points in 79 games.

Jack Hughes is also 20 and also has 56 points but in 30 fewer games.

Both players are going to be special, and Hughes has had longer to acclimate to the NHL level than the young Swede, but hot damn the Devils have a franchise-level talent here. It's going to be fun watching him do his thing next year with a (hopefully) healthy Dougie Hamilton and Mackenzie Blackwood backing him up and the dynamic Alexander Holtz riding shotgun.

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When this column assessed Noah Dobson (NYI) as part of a 2018 Draft retrospective back in December 2021, I concluded that "Dobson’s likely more of a streamer or peripherals guy who will score a bit just to put some thin icing on an otherwise plain cake." After that article dropped, Dobson shrugged off his slow start to score 43 points in his next 61 games—a 58-point pace. On top of that, Dobson has lit it up on the power play with 19 PPP and made his owners in multi-cat leagues happy by providing two and a half shots, a hit, and a two blocks per game.


He's got the hands:

And the vision:

With Mathew Barzal, Oliver Wahlstrom, Ryan Pulock, Anthony Beauvillier, and others largely disappointing this year, Dobson and goalie Ilya Sorokin have been providing Islanders fans with a couple much-needed bright spots. He is absolutely looking like a number one, all-situations defender with excellent category coverage and solid offensive upside.

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The Mysterious Case of the Enigmatic Dylan Strome

I know I'm not alone in having avoided Strome for years in fantasy. He was drafted third overall in 2015 by Arizona after turning in a historic OHL season as Connor McDavid's linemate. When he went back to junior in his D+1 and turned in another impressive showing, it looked like he hadn't just ridden McDavid's coattails after all and was a legitimate talent in his own right.

Then the yo-yo began: a strong, point-per-game AHL season followed by a couple weak NHL seasons that ended with a trade to Chicago where he then went almost a point-per-game alongside Patrick Kane. Then there were two years of diminishing returns with a 54- and 35-point pace, and it looked like his early success was the outlier. As before with McDavid, perhaps Strome had just tagged along with Kane somehow in 2018-19 and didn't have the chops to drive scoring on his own.

But now here he is in 2021-22 lighting it up again. If we remove his first 12 games, Strome has scored 44 points in his last 53 games—a 68-point pace—again alongside Kane and Alex DeBrincat. His IPP of 66 shows that he's pulling his weight on that line and though his shooting percentage is a few points above his career average, it's not too high to be concerning. His PDO also looks good, and he's seeing over a minute more ice than ever before in his career (with room to grow). He's also getting lots of offensive zone starts, the best linemates the Blackhawks have to offer, and is driving play effectively.

Nothing in his metrics suggests impending regression, and he hit his 200-game BT at the start of 2021-22, so perhaps we can tentatively pencil in the younger Strome brother as a 60+ player with meagre peripherals who can help your team on the scoresheet and on the powerplay (16 PPP). That's certainly enough for him to be on someone's roster.

Thanks for reading! Follow me on Twitter @beegare for more prospect content and fantasy hockey analysis.

The Journey: Quick Hits (April)