2024 NHL Draft

NHL Draft Prospects With Biggest Boom-Bust Potential In 2024

NHL Draft Prospects With Biggest Boom-Bust Potential In 2024

Anton Silayev and Cole Eiserman are among the top draft prospects that could be massive hits, but also have enough concerns about their game to cause risk.

Jun 13, 2024 by Chris Peters

When looking at players for the NHL Draft, one of the most difficult things to judge is whether the player can reach the ceiling suggested by what they look like now. A player with elite athleticism, a big frame, or some skills that could make them dangerous at the next level are especially enticing. Often, however, there are other factors that have to be considered and there are always reasons why a player may not ultimately reach the lofty ceiling predicted for them.

The key is to at least look at the potential pitfalls a player could face at the next level despite those especially enticing traits. Teams take risks all the time at the NHL Draft. Sometimes the rewards are immense. Other times, the player never comes close to what they thought he could be.

With that in mind, I thought it would be helpful to point out some of the players that carry some potential risk in this draft, but also have the possibility of a massive reward with a special focus on players pegged to go in the first round.

Also, if you look at my own draft rankings, you'll see that despite some of the risks associated with players listed, I still have them pretty high on my list, which tells you that I think some of the risk is worth it.

Anton Silayev, D, Torpedo

Best Case: Top-Pairing Two-Way Defenseman
Worst Case: Bottom-Pairing Shutdown Defenseman

Silayev is such an intriguing prospect because he’s 6-foot-7 and skates especially well. He has the physical side that teams covet in minutes-eating defensemen and he just played an entire season of pro hockey at 18 and more than held his own. There’s not a lot of concern about Silayev’s floor as a player as a result.

What we don’t have as strong a handle on is how much of an offensive game he’s going to have at the next level. He moves pucks well, but the lack of a true high-skill element with the puck on his stick could make it more difficult for him to become an impactful defenseman at the next level. If he’s purely a shutdown guy, unless he is the elite of the elite in that trait, I don’t think we’d be talking about a top-pairing defenseman in the NHL and with where we think he’s going to go, you’d definitely want more of a two-way game. 

This isn’t to say Silayev isn’t capable of producing at the NHL level as he has some competent puck moving capabilities. However, in a class that features some of the most productive offensive performers to enter the draft, you wonder if Silayev will bring enough to the table to offset the things some of the others are capable of on the offensive side of things.

I wouldn't have ranked Silayev No. 4 on my own board if I didn't think the offensive elements have room to grow. I still think a defenseman at his size, with his mobility and competitiveness, is going to impact an NHL blue line in a significant way.

Ivan Demidov, LW, SKA St. Petersburg

Best Case: Top-Line Scoring Winger
Worst Case: Middle-Six Scoring Depth

The Demidov narrative has been a bit of a runaway train in terms of what he ultimately is going to be as an NHL player. If he hits the projection that some have for him, he’s going to be a perennial all-star, a top-line scorer and potential a franchise cornerstone. That’s a very, very tall ceiling.

However, as we look at Demidov’s season, his athletic profile and his skating, there’s a chance he misses that lofty projection by a fair margin. The skating has been picked apart and one of the things that teams do have some concerns about is not getting enough live views to really break down his mechanics and see if there’s going to be long-term issues with his pace at the NHL.

I personally don’t think Demidov is slow or that the skating is going to hold him back, but we’ve also only seen him against inferior competition where he has been an absolute dominant force.

NHL Draft Debate: Levshunov Vs. Demidov

The reason I’m less concerned about Demidov compared to others is that he has a great competitive drive and a motor that doesn’t quit. That can offset concerns about some of the elements of his game including the skating that create some level of concern.

I have no doubt that Demidov has some special ability and an offensive game that should translate, but I think it’s fair to wonder what his draft stock would have looked like had we seen him against tougher competition. He is very likely to be the highest-drafted player who played predominantly in the MHL in his draft season and there’s a lot of unknown that comes with that. I still think the risk is a little higher with Demidov than most of the conversation publicly would suggest. This also completely ignores any additional concerns there are about his NHL timeline and future plans with the KHL.

I still ranked him No. 3 despite that, though, and feel he could be an offensive star. 

Carter Yakemchuk, D, Calgary Hitmen

Best Case: Top-Four PP QB, Big Points
Worst Case: Bottom-Pairing Sheltered PP Specialist

I was a late arriver to Yakemchuk’s potential as a top-10 pick in this draft, but I did get there. My concerns were mostly hockey sense related as I questioned some of his decisions in defending and with the puck on his stick. The more you watch Yakemchuk, the more you see the uniqueness of his game. To be a 6-foot-3 defenseman with as much skill as he has and the fact he scored 30 goals this year, it’s just a rare commodity.

There are still some of those hockey sense concerns and I think there are elements of his offensive game that won’t translate as well to the NHL level, particularly how deep he can get into the offensive zone and sometimes struggling to get back. 

One thing I also heard coming out of the combine, and this is something Yakemchuk himself said during media availability, he’s not as athletic as you’d want to see from a top-tier defenseman. In particular, when it comes to his north-south skating, he lacks burst which makes it harder to recover.

The skill is top-tier, but there are some underlying things that still give me pause about this player topping out as a top-four producer. On my own rankings, however, I'm more than willing to take on that risk and put him No. 10 as a result.

Cole Eiserman, LW, U.S. National Under-18 Team

Best Case: Top-Six Scoring Winger
Worst Case: Third-Line Scoring Depth

Everyone knows about the goals. He’s the best pure scorer in the draft, has the best shot and he has the numbers to back it up. In the best case, we’re talking about a top-line scorer that gives you an annual 35-goal season and makes your power play lethal. However, Eiserman slipped down boards for a very valid reason.

It’s not just that Eiserman’s off-puck play has raised some concerns. Where I’ve heard more of the concern coming from is actually in the hockey sense department, which I feel becomes a bit more evident over the course of more viewings.

Eiserman has the puck a lot, which is a good thing. The problem is, there are probably as many negative plays with the puck as there are positive plays. It just so happens that 50-plus times per season, those positives end up in the net.

For a high-end goal scorer, Eiserman is an over-shooter. He forces shots a lot, often getting them blocked or redirected away from the net. There are also times where he makes careless passes for the sake of passing and lacks refined puck decisions under pressure. 

Eiserman has strength, he has skill and he can absolutely shoot. I have no doubt he will score goals wherever he goes. But I also think that as the lanes get tighter, the pressure gets greater and he has less time and space, as will be in the case in the NHL, I’m not sure he will be a top-tier scorer in the league because his style of play may not allow him to keep a job in an NHL top six. 

I've watched Eiserman for the last two years and still feel his offensive skillset is such that he's going to help an NHL team. I also think the reasons he's slipped down draft boards are valid and are reflective of the concerns that not only is his play away from the puck a concern, so too might be the way he scored a lot of his goals this season.

Adam Jiricek, D, HC Plzen

Best Case: Top-Four Two-Way D
Worst Case: Organizational Depth

Jiricek is an interesting case. He had a really strong Hlinka-Gretzky Cup, played closer to an average game at the pro level in Czechia and then got hurt in the first game at the World Junior Championship. He missed the rest of the season.

We have such a small window to see how Jiricek progressed through the season. I still believe he belongs in the second tier of defensemen in this draft, which is where I had him ranked. In speaking with some people at the scouting combine, he may slide further into the 20s, but teams still like him enough and bet on upside.

Any time you draft a player with some injury troubles in their draft season, you have to wonder how they’ll come back. It adds an element of risk, even though the player is young and you’d expect them to be able to bounce back quickly. There just aren’t enough guarantees and not enough views to really see how far Jiricek’s game has come from the start of the season.

I've been somewhat concerned when I did my evals of Jiricek that there's just not enough and that his best moments were in too small of doses. At his best, he looks like he could be an effective two-way player, but there's also so much that is unknown with a player that missed this much time.

Trevor Connelly, LW, Tri-City Storm

Best Case: Top-Line Scoring Wing
Worst Case: NHL Journeyman

I’ve said it many times and still believe it. Trevor Connelly is a top-15 talent in this draft based on skill level, but teams continue to assess what kind of risk they’re willing to take on. 

I think there are teams that believe some of the issues from Connelly’s past that saw him disciplined are issues of the past. They still want to get a handle on his maturity and how he might fit in their dressing room down the line. And that’s where some of the hangups remain in terms of where they think he’ll go.

When talking to NHL teams, two of the names frequently associated with Connelly’s in terms of precedent have been Tony DeAngelo and Ryan Merkley. Both of those players had well-known character concerns that teams were trying to assess pre-draft, despite notable talent. Tampa Bay selected DeAngelo in the first round, while the San Jose Sharks picked Merkley in the first.

DeAngelo never played a game for Tampa, but has had an NHL career that has been marked at times by controversy. DeAngelo has played for four different organizations in his career and is on his second go-around with the Carolina Hurricanes. Merkley played 39 games for San Jose before being traded away and now plays in the KHL.

Quite frankly, Connelly is a better prospect than both of those players were in terms of on-ice component. My feeling is that an NHL team will select him in the first round, even though I’ve spoken to a few teams that are steadfast in their decision not to even put him on their draft list. 

If you’re the team that selects Connelly, you may be getting a top-line winger. If it doesn’t pan out, that organization would also would bear the burden of ignoring the warning signs the same way Tampa and San Jose did.

Dean Letourneau, C, St. Andrew’s College

Best Case: Top-Six Scoring Center
Worst Case: AHL Regular

Letourneau is a fascinating prospect. At nearly 6-foot-7 and weighing in at 214 pounds at the combine, he has the frame NHL teams covet. Letourneau also has the skill that suggests he’s more than just a big man. Still, teams are trying to weigh a number of factors in the risk-reward component with a player like Letourneau.

The big man was a top performer at the Canadian prep level and saw action against many of the top U.S. prep schools as well. However, it’s not typically a level that teams are eager to select players in the first round out of. 

There are some concerns about Letourneau’s overall game as well. His skating has improved, but still not necessarily a strength and there are some questions about his overall hockey sense. The game came pretty easy to him at the prep level last year, but in his two games at the USHL level, you could tell it was a tough adjustment for him. Additionally, teams want to see him get a lot more aggressive physically and play a little meaner to maximize the size that he brings to the table.

Letourneau was supposed to go to the USHL next season, but says he will go to Boston College a year earlier than expected. I don’t think that will change his draft stock, but I do think there’s some concern that he won’t be as ready for the college game coming straight from prep and could struggle to adjust. If he does, you wonder about how that impacts confidence and ultimately if that changes his timeline any. But that’s an unknown you can’t focus too much on.

Teams are enamored with the size and the skill level, which are two big keys. Letourneau also did well at the combine and presents as a very mature, thoughtful person, which teams like as well. But the risk factors that exist, likely keep Letourneau in the lower third of the first round.

The team that drafts him will be hoping for the next Tage Thompson, but there's enough growth that he needs to show in his game over time that you'd be worried you might not get an impact player at the NHL level.

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