Last month, I shared a very early watch list for the 2024 NHL draft. It listed all of the names I saw on other watch lists and rankings who will be entering this coming season with at least some hype. If you want a refresher, you can read it here:
The season is just getting started in each country, and there has been a pair of noteworthy international tournaments that contained most of the top prospects mentioned in the earlier watch list: the Hlinka Gretzky is the big one, but there were some 2024 draft eligibles also at the World Junior Summer Showcase. These tournaments, especially the Hlinka, usually create the foundations for most top prospects. Kind of a hit the ground running, kind of thing.
So with that said, here are some notes on the standouts from the Hlinka and the WJSS, plus prospects in leagues that have already begun their regular season play. I am including both prospects that I noticed from what I have watched and what I've read from other scouting outlets. I'm going to focus on players that I didn't mention in the last watch list. So let's start with some Hlinka standouts!
Trevor Connelly – Arguably the most pleasant surprise of the tournament was Connelly. He's an American winger who tied for the tournament lead in points with 10 in 5 games (5 goals and 5 assists). He's a 6'1" center/winger who played a lot in all situations, and was a constant force for the Americans in every game. He had 47 points in 57 games for Tri-City in the USHL last year, and will play there again this season. He showed some great skating and acceleration, some real nifty mittens, and the ability to execute some high skill plays while playing at a very high pace. I didn't see him have much first round hype before the tournament, but I think the tournament likely gives him a strong foundation to build on.
There is one potential caveat on him, which is his off-ice history as a younger teen. There is a report of him posting a photo of a swastika as a joke with a Jewish teammate, and allegations that were officially found to be unfounded of him yelling a racial slur against an opponent. This could be a Mitchell Miller or Logan Mailloux-like cloud over his draft season. One thing I will say is that unlike those two, Connelly at least already has some receipts that he realized he was wrong and why and done the work to both educate himself and make amends for it to the right people. Does that guarantee that he's completely off the hook and that's enough to prove he doesn't have any problematic ideas or behaviours off ice? No, but these are the things you'd want to see from a young teen with those kinds of allegations:
[Connelly]'s taken several diversity, equity and inclusion training courses and has done over many hours of volunteer community service work — several of which came during the season.
He’s also now involved with Hockey Players of Color, a group that’s geared towards making hockey more inclusive and a better place — something Connelly said he wants to do.
"Ever since Trevor came to us he's been committed to learning and helping, and I think he's really embraced that while working with the kids he has. He knows their lives might be different, but hockey can bring them together."
Connelly has committed to serving as a mentor for the group and he's already done several Zoom meetings with HPOC athletes.
So I'm of the mindset that I will all of the above – good and bad – in mind when considering him in the future.
Emil Hemming – Hemming was tied for the lead on Finland in points with 9 in 5 games (4 goals and 5 assists). Finland as a whole did pretty poorly outside of an upset win over Canada in the first game of the tournament, but Hemming did well. He's a 6'2" winger who looked like a dual-threat offensively. He has a wicked shot that they relied on a lot on the powerplay, and is definitely his biggest weapon. But he also showed some nice puck handling and deception to open up more shot opportunities, and some playmaking that wasn't as consistent but flashed high level. A strong season in Finland's U20 junior, maybe some Liiga play, could push him into borderline first rounder range.
Adam Titlbach – A 5'9" center/winger on the plucky Czech team that pushed Canada into overtime in the gold medal game, Titlbach was second on the team in scoring but was a very important player for them. He may be small, but not extremely so and could grow another inch or two. More importantly, he has the skills you'd want a smaller player to have. He was a super zippy little boy, with speed to blow by most defenders but the quickness to make some lateral cuts and dekes to create more room to handle the puck. He had 5 goals and 3 assists in 5 games, creating a lot of chances off the rush. He is set to play for the Vancouver Giants in the WHL this year, which should be a great opportunity for him to get more eyeballs on him that in Czechia's junior or even pro leagues. Given his size, it would take an extremely special season to push his way into the first round, but he could make for an interesting 2nd or 3rd round pick if he does well.
Hugo Zetterlund – Zetterlund is a 5'11" winger from Sweden with a later July 26 birthday, making him one of the younger 2024 draft eligibles in the tournament. He finished second on Team Sweden in points with 5 points in 4 games (2 goals, 3 assists). Sweden had an even harder time than Finland this tournament, but Zetterlund stood out to me a few times that I saw. He showcased a decent shot and some good playmaking, as well as solid skating. He looks like someone who's more of a mid round guy for now, but I want to keep an eye on him to see if he makes some bigger improvements through this season.
Daniil Ustinkov – A 6'0" left shot defenseman from Switzerland, he is a very strong skater and his strength comes from moving the puck – both with his feet and through some nice passing. He has a very high level of 'four way mobility', meaning he's speedy and explosive in every direction. Defensively he seems more limited for now, and his offensive skill seems to come almost entirely from his skating ability and transitions. He could use some work in the other areas but he has some real interesting tools, potentially enough to make him a borderline first rounder.
Aside from those five, there are also a couple of prospects whose seasons are underway that are already impressing.
Anton Silayev – A 6'7" left shot defenseman has begun his season in the KHL, no mean feat for a 17 year old. I know we've covered in recent months that the KHL is a declining league in terms of quality, but it's still impressive to see because he isn't just kicking around the roster. He's averaging around 18 minutes per game as his team's second pairing right defenseman (despite his handedness). He's being used on the powerplay and on the penalty kill. And he's started the season with four points in four games.
At 6'7" I'd normally have concerns about his skating, but from what I've seen so far he seems surprisingly coordinated, in control, quick and explosive. I saw another scout say something like: "He moves freakishly well for his size". I wouldn't call him an elite skater in my very amateur opinion. He also has a good amount of skill in him. I'm real intrigued by him and if he can stick around in the KHL all year with any kind of minutes like he is, I wouldn't be surprised if he winds up being another first round defenseman. He's #21 in dark blue... just watch the big guy move! He has a lot of confidence and aggression for being a 17 year old.
Nikita Artamonov – Funnily enough, Artamonov is a teammate of Silayev, but is a 5'11" and 187 lb winger. He's a late 2005 birthday, making him a bit older than Silayev. He's maybe slightly undersized, but doesn't really play like it. Plays a good skill game and, like Silayev, has been getting actual playing time in the KHL so far – though he's been averaging 13:39. He's lined up with their top line at times and gets a played on the powerplay a fair amount so far as well. He's also had a good start, with three points in four games, but he is getting only small tastes of the powerplay compared to Silayev. I haven't seen him as much as his much taller Ent teammate, but he's been added to my watch list if he sticks around the KHL beyond the usual early-season tryouts.
Luke Misa – The older brother of uber-prospect Michael Misa, who is the most recent player to get exceptional status in the OHL. Luke is a 5'10" center, and a good prospect in his own right. He was taken 9th overall in the OHL draft by Mississauga, and is coming off a 43 point season in 64 games as a 16 year old. That was good for 5th most in the league for U17 players. He has a shot to be Mississauga's 1C this season, after they tore it down last year for a rebuild. They'll be fun, young roster with the chance of being good too. So far this pre-season he's been used either as a top line winger or center, used in all situations, and has 7 points in 4 games – again, it's pre-season so the points don't matter. What matters is he is being used a lot in all situations and looks good doing it. He looks like he could wind up as an interesting two-way center/forward.