Next up, the Minnesota Wild
Tyler Graovac - Belleville Bulls
Alas, the arrival of Tyler Graovac finally happened. 67's fans had been waiting for it for a few years now , but he finally exploded offensively this year. Of course he would eventually be dealt to Belleville, but Graovac did have a standout season. A lot of people were crediting Sean Monahan with Graovac's emergence, but those people would be incorrect since the two rarely saw the ice together. The biggest reason for Graovac's improvement this year was his increased strength, coupled with his increased desire to use his size in the offensive end. He was able to fight for positioning more effectively, and even created a lot of his own scoring chances by fighting off checks and winning one on one battles for the puck. With the added strength, his shot was also heavier. Graovac's issues had never been skating related because he's always been strong in that area. So the added strength just made him that much more difficult to contain. All that being said, I do have some reservations about his ability to adapt at the next level. While he's a big kid, he's certainly not a power forward or a guy who profiles as a checking line forward at the NHL level. He's not a physical player, nor do I ever see him developing into one. That means I view him as a top 6 guy or nothing. At the AHL level, he's going to have to work even harder for his scoring chances and could struggle initially if he's forced to play a bottom line role. I could see his situation being similar to Ryan Martindale's with the Edmonton Oilers (who has struggled to make himself an AHL regular). I think they're similar players except Graovac is a better skater. Long story short, I think the Wild are going to need to be patient with Graovac because I anticipate that he'll struggle initially at the AHL level.
Kurtis Gabriel - Owen Sound Attack
Gabriel was certainly a surprise selection in this year's entry draft (especially in the 3rd round). Truthfully, I've never viewed him as an NHL prospect (at least thought of him in that light before), so it took me off guard a bit. Gabriel is an incredibly hard worker who does anything his coach asks of him. You need a guy to stand in front of the net and take punishment. He's your guy. You need someone to kill an important penalty? He's your guy. You need someone to swing momentum with a fight? He's your guy. You need a big offensive play? Well...that's a different story. My issue is that every OHL team in the league has a guy like Gabriel. What makes him so special? My guess is that he'll be sent back to the OHL for his overage year next year. He's got a great chance to wear a letter and he'll get increased offensive responsibility. Because of his size and work ethic, I think he could definitely have a 20-20 year if he's placed on a scoring line.