This week’s column provides lengthy features on two prospects drawing attention this season with their offense. Brock Otten provides a deep look at 2020 NHL Draft prospect Marco Rossi, currently seventh in OHL league scoring. Rossi is ranked 11th in McKeen’s initial 2020 NHL Draft ranking which can be found here. Mike Sanderson provides the complete story on polarizing but tantalizing Minnesota Wild prospect Alex Khovanov, currently sixth in QMJHL scoring. For the teams playing on NBC’s Wednesday Night Hockey we profile the top prospect in each organization from our pre-season rankings, Kaapo Kakko (New York Rangers) and Alexander Alexeyev (Washington Capitals).
Enjoy. The McKeen’s team are scouting and writing about prospects all season long and provide in-depth reports on our website: www.mckeenshockey.com
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2020 NHL Draft prospect
Marco Rossi, C, 5’ 9”/185 lbs
2019 Stats: Eight goals, 24 assists in 16 games for Ottawa (OHL)
Once upon a time ago, Rossi was a much-hyped prospect for the CHL Import Draft, where he eventually went 18th overall to the Ottawa 67’s of the OHL. But the Import Draft is a fickle beast and predicting success of even the most hyped import prospects can be quite difficult. The Austrian born, but Swiss trained, playmaking center ended up living up to the hype with Ottawa last year in his rookie season, making the OHL all rookie second team after averaging well over a point per game during the regular season and during Ottawa’s lengthy playoff run. But with a late September birth date, Rossi would not be eligible for the NHL Draft until 2020, meaning that he would return to Ottawa for a second season. Set to lose many of the team’s star players to graduation, Rossi would need to take on a larger role and be a leader. The expectations were high and his projection as a potential top 10 NHL selection would hang in the balance.
Fast forward to now, nearly a third of the way into the OHL season, and Rossi has matched the hype and high expectations placed upon him. Even in the face of graduations (and injuries like Graeme Clarke), Rossi has elevated his game to another level, becoming one of the top players in the OHL, averaging two points per game. The 67’s also find themselves in the thick of the hunt for the East Division, even with all of their injuries, which has a lot to do with Rossi’s play and impact.
One of the main characteristics of Rossi’s game that makes him so successful is his intense nature and ferocious compete level. While undersized at 5’9, he certainly does not play that way. This sometimes gets him in trouble (like a 5-game suspension for boarding earlier this year), but it mostly fuels his success. His motor in all three zones is always firing at one hundred percent. In the offensive end, he is so difficult to separate from the puck, especially below the hash marks and along the wall. He may not be the league’s quickest skater from point A to point B (although speed is most certainly not a weakness), but his agility and stability are top notch. At times down low, he seems impossible to pin down because of his escapability. And because of this, he drives time of possession for the 67’s. But his vision is also very good, with the ability to anticipate where his teammates are on the ice and the poise to extend plays until he finds an opening he likes. When the puck is not on his stick, Rossi is hungry to get it back, something that makes him a quality penalty killer and defensive stalwart, even despite ideal size for that role.
Moving forward, Rossi should continue to operate as one of the OHL’s elite playmakers for the rest of the year. And that will, in turn, make him a candidate for a selection inside the lottery come June. With his tenacity, skill level, and IQ, Rossi should make a terrific pro player who projects as an all situations NHL center. Providing versatility, Rossi has a high ceiling, but a relatively safe floor and that will, no doubt, appeal to NHL scouts. – Brock Otten, OHL
Prospects in the News – QMJHL
The Moncton Wildcats are a contending team in the Quebec league, and their offense is a major reason why. They’re the fourth-best scoring team in the league, accounting for four-and-a-quarter goals per game through the first third of the season, and have been excellent defensively, with a team GAA of a little over two-and-two-thirds. They take a ton of shots, with the most shots collectively taken on the opponent’s net in the league, and their offense has been spearheaded by a few key veterans, none more polarizing than Minnesota Wild third rounder Alexander Khovanov.
Alexander Khovanov – C – 5’11, 195 lbs
2019 Statistics: 16 goals, 21 assists in 19 games for Moncton (QMJHL)
Khovanov has always been a heralded prospect. He was picked second overall in the Canadian Hockey League’s import draft in 2017, and largely seen then as a can’t-miss forward with dynamic offensive ability and relentless work ethic to put pucks on net. His North American debut was halted due to illness, and his first year in the Q only started in late December. Despite missing half the season, and noticeably being a half-step behind for the first half of his season, Khovanov still managed nearly a point-a-game in 2017-18.
It’s a shame that would be his draft year, as Khovanov, widely regarded as a first-round talent heading into 2017, fell hard in the draft that June. The Minnesota Wild scooped him up in the third round, 86th overall.
His second season saw much improvement with confidence to Khovanov’s game, but lots of perimeter play and inconsistent effort on both sides of the puck. Khovanov notched 74 points in 64 games, and seven in 12 playoff games, but would be benched for taking immature penalties.
By this point, teams were planning around Khovanov’s inability to control his temper, and it had Khovanov sitting in the penalty box more often than the Wildcats would like. His 94 PIMs were solely from 47 minor penalties, which put him in fifth in the league, and many of those weren’t good ones – lazy hooking or holding penalties, or offensive-zone infractions. Distracting Khovanov became a game plan, and it worked. He has been compared to Brad Marchand, and while their games are similar, Marchand is much more consistent at getting under other players’ skin than Khovanov.
In January, the Wildcats made a change behind the bench, replacing coach Darren Rumble with experienced former NHL bench boss John Torchetti. The new coach has been able to motivate Khovanov to clean his game up and stick to the north-south plan, providing him with ample ice-time as long as he puts forth the effort. A renewed vigor has followed Khovanov ever since.
This season, alongside Calgary Flames prospect Jakob Pelletier and veterans Jeremy McKenna and Mika Cyr, Khovanov has been excellent. His offensive game has taken another step forward, straddling the two-points-per-game mark a third of the way through the season. Khovanov has been willing to shoot more, using his wrist shot on his off hand to cut from the right wing into the middle and fire on net, a la Alex Ovechkin. His wrist shot is a similar lever-style variety, using his whole body and opening his hips to maximize power. His passing has impressed even further this season as well, looking more for the correct pass and not forcing plays that aren’t there.
Khovanov has also shown progress without the puck, as his backchecking and puck retrieval has been more consistent, and his forechecking has proven fruitful in causing turnovers. Khovanov is a much more motivated player this season, and while he is the only Q player averaging nearly two points and two penalty minutes a game, the Wildcats will take his aggressiveness with the ferocious offensive game this season as he continues to get results. He has had his lapses into immaturity, including a biting penalty last Sunday in a loss to the Charlottetown Islanders that has earned the center a one-game ban, but his focus has been much more consistent this year.
His step forward has also caught the eye of the Russian Hockey Federation, as Khovanov was named captain of the Russian travelling team playing the three CHL leagues in a six-game series earlier this month. Khovanov responded with five points in the two games, including a four-point effort in a 4-3 win for Team Russia. That effort earned Khovanov a spot on Team Russia for the upcoming World Junior Hockey Championships, where the lights have never been brighter or the stage any bigger. Khovanov will be ready, and it will be in his court to make the best of the situation and continue his hot play. - Mike Sanderson, QMJHL
NBC Wednesday Night Hockey – Washington Capitals vs New York Rangers
Wednesday’s game feature two teams we have featured already this season. We covered Ilya Samsonov and Connor McMichael from Washington last week in our column found here and we featured K’Andre Miller from the Rangers in our column the week prior, November 5thfound here.
For this week’s column we will focus on the number one ranked prospect from both organizations in our pre-season team ranking in McKeen’s 2019-20 Yearbook (you can learn more here https://www.mckeenshockey.com/subscribe/) Full scouting reports for all of these prospects can be found on our site.
Washington is dominating the NHL this season leading the league in wins and points with its most potent offense. In a window to capitalize on one of the NHL’s great goal scorers in Alex Ovechkin, room for prospects in the line-up is limited. Despite being a season removed from winning the Stanley Cup and a low picking position for many seasons, the organization ranked respectably in our third tier of teams (18th). They picked last in this year’s draft and grabbed an intriguing prospect in Alexander Alexeyev who joined the Hershey Bears as one of three rookie defenders. He is currently tied for fifth in rookie scoring among defensemen in the AHL and fifth in team scoring along with fellow rookie blueliner Martin Fehervary on the Bears 19th ranked offense. Below is Vince Gibbons profile from the beginning of the season after watching him for three seasons in the WHL.
Alexander Alexeyev, D (31st overall, 2018. Team rank: 1 Last Year: 3)
2019 Stats: one goal, seven assists in 18 games for Hershey (AHL)
‘Alexeyev is a great story wrapped in a very good player who has all the tools to be a top four defender in the NHL. He has good size, skates very well, and has more snarl in his game then most give him credit for. Couple all that with a defender who is an excellent passer both in his own zone as well as when quarterbacking a power play, and he shows real promise. He has had some injury trouble the past couple of seasons and had a tragic loss as his mother passed away mid-season in his draft year. Despite so many ups and downs he has been one of the top defenders in the WHL since his arrival from Russia. He projects as playing both sides of special teams although maybe on second units and he could be a very solid second pairing defender.’ – Vincent Gibbons, WHL, McKeen’s 2019-20 Yearbook
New York Rangers
Kaapo Kakko, RW (2nd overall, 2019. Team rank: 1 Last Year: Draft Eligible)
2019 Stats: six goals and two assists in 16 games for New York (NHL)
Kaapo Kakko was drafted second behind Jack Hughes in June’s NHL Draft and immediately became the top ranked prospect in the Rangers organization. He is now a fixture on the roster and has produced six goals, with only two helpers, in 16 games this season. He has heated up recently scoring five of his goals in eight games on the third line with fellow young guns Brendan Lemieux (23 years old) and Brett Howden (21 years old). You can read what our Finnish scout Marco Bombino, who has watched Kakko for years, wrote at the beginning of the season and the impact he will have before too long in the NHL.
‘The second overall pick of the 2019 NHL Draft is ready to cross the pond for the next challenge of his career in the NHL. Not only does Kakko have plenty of skill and high hockey IQ, he has also demonstrated the willingness to battle without the puck and regain possession for his team. He works hard on both sides of the puck and understands the little details, making him already a complete winger at a such young age. When protecting the puck, he is often a lot for defenders to handle, but once he bulks up and gets stronger in his lower body, the task of limiting his time and space will become even more difficult. He has the complete offensive toolbox and the physical attributes to play in the NHL next season. He has the potential to be a star and a first line player for the Rangers for years to come.’ – Marco Bombino, Finland, McKeen’s 2019-20 Yearbook