This week the top performers among first-time eligible prospects for the 2020 NHL draft include a pair of forwards from the Western Hockey League and an undersized, skilled Swedish defender.
1. Pavel Novak
The 2020 Memorial Cup hosts, the Kelowna Rockets, selected Pavel Novak with the 13th overall selection in the 2019 Canadian Hockey League import draft. The forward from the Czech Republic leads the Rockets in scoring with 52 points in 51 games played. He has been on fire of late, with 16 points in the last ten games, including six this past week. Novak previously made my three stars of week 20 list.
Novak began the week with a two-assist effort versus the Victoria Royals in a 4-3 overtime loss. His first helper came just over a minute into the contest when he went in aggressive on the forecheck, stealing the puck and throwing it to the front of the net. His other helper came with four seconds remaining in the first period, giving the Rockets a 2-1 lead. Novak had received a stretch pass at the Royals’ blueline and made a terrific backhand pass to the front of the net for the easy tip-in.
The next game for the Rockets went to overtime once again. This time, however, they prevailed with a 5-4 victory over the Prince George Cougars. Novak received the third star of the game selection for his one-goal and two-assists performance. He provided the secondary assist on the game’s opening goal in the first period. Novak added a primary assist on the powerplay early in the third period before scoring a goal to give the Rockets a 5-4 lead later in the frame. On his goal, Novak displayed his stickhandling skills with a slick toe-drag move to elude the defender before snapping a quick wrist shot into the corner of the net.
The Rockets won the rematch with the Cougars one night later by a similar 5-4 count. Novak tallied the lone assist on the third-period marker that knotted the game at 3-3. On the goal, Novak stickhandled around defenders in the offensive zone before sending the puck toward the goal where it was redirected into the Cougars’ net.
2. Jake Neighbours
Edmonton Oil Kings forward Jake Neighbours scored a goal in each of the three games his club played last week. He now has goals in seven of his last ten games. Neighbours is currently second in team scoring and gains a significant amount of his production due to his willingness to get to the front of the net.
His first goal this week came in a 2-1 overtime victory over the Regina Pats. Neighbours pounced on a rebound while on the powerplay to give the Oil Kings the first-period lead.
The next contest saw Neighbours post a goal and two assists in a 10-1 romp over the Winnipeg Ice. All three points came in the first period. On his goal, Neighbours redirected the puck from just outside the crease showing his strong net-front presence.
His final tally of the week came early in the third period versus the Lethbridge Hurricanes giving the Oil Kings a 3-2 lead. Neighbours unleashed a massive wrist shot that beat the goaltender high to the blocker side. However, they ended up losing the game 5-4 in a shootout.
3. Anton Johannesson
Diminutive defenseman Anton Johannesson has undoubtedly seen his draft ranking marred by injury. However, when healthy, the offensively gifted defender has been productive. Johannesson shows the ability to walk the line with the puck enabling his shots to get through to the net, thus creating scoring chances. His mobility also allows him to dance around defenders opening passing lanes for him to find open teammates.
This week in the winner’s stage of SuperElit competition, he displayed creativity and intelligence while adding four assists for his club, HV71 U20. In the first game, Johannesson helped set up the 2-2 and 3-3 goals before adding the primary assist on the overtime game-winning goal as HV71 edged Modo U20 6-5.
In the next match, Johannesson added a late assist, which drew his team to within a goal in a 3-2 loss versus Vaxjo U20.
He created the goal by jumping in from the point, eluding defenders, then dishing the puck to a teammate in front of the net. If he manages to stay healthy and continues to impress the way he has this past week, his draft stock will undoubtedly rise.
Chicago Steel forward Brendan Brisson had five points in three games last week in USHL action.
WHL forward Ridly Greig paced the Brandon Wheat Kings with five points in three contests. At the same time, defenders Ronan Seeley of the Everett Silvertips and Aidan De La Gorgendiere had five assists and four assists, respectively.
Another performance worthy of mentioning came from Jesper Tarkiainen, who plays for Jokerit in the Finnish junior league. Tarkiainen scored both the game-tying and overtime game-winning goals, to go along with an earlier assist, in the winner’s stage of the playoffs as Jokerit U20 edged Tappara U20 6-5.
Rick Warman is a Vancouver Canucks and prospects contributor for Overtime Heroics. Follow him @statman1956 on Twitter
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