2020 Draft: Our Expert's Sleeper Picks

Not every talent is a first-rounder and hidden gems are crucial to winning the draft, so we look at some of the dark horses available.
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Kirill Steklov. Photo by Terry Wilson/OHL Images

Kirill Steklov. Photo by Terry Wilson/OHL Images

The 2020 Draft is almost here and we'll have a ton of coverage for you in the lead-up and during the proceedings themselves. Look for a host of videos and a mock draft in the near future, not to mention profiles on some of the top kids available.

Naturally, there will be a lot of talk about Alexis Lafreniere, Quinton Byfield and Yaroslav Askarov in the coming days, so right now I want to focus on some dark horse candidates for the draft. These are players that have some excellent qualities, but might also have some question marks around them. Expect these players to go a little later in the draft, but I would also caution that it is certainly possible that some of them don't get selected at all this year. That wouldn't even necessarily mean their futures are cloudy; some players just need to mature their games more before an NHL team is willing to spend a pick on them. Players are listed with their 2019-20 teams. Let's get to the list.

Kirill Steklov, D, London Knights (OHL): I see a lot of Nikita Zadorov in Steklov - though it could be because they're both London Knights imports with a ton of size on defense. Steklov isn't as big as Zadorov, but he is 6-foot-4 already and does have great reach. He moves well and plays physical, but the adjustment to North America was tough at times for him - especially when it came to handling the puck. On the bright side, London is known for developing and churning out talent and no one needs Steklov to play in the NHL right away, so the kid has time to hone his game and find some offense.

Jackson Hallum, C, St. Thomas Academy (Minn. HS): The Minnesota high school ranks have a bunch of sleepers as always (shout-out to Benilde-St. Margaret's Nate Schweitzer and Eden Prairie's Mason Langenbrunner), but Hallum holds some of the most intrigue. Possibly the fastest kid in the state this past season, the University of Michigan commit also brings some aggression and sandpaper to the game.

Anton Johannesson, D, HV71 (Swe.): A mobile defenseman with a great offensive side, Johannesson put up more than a point per game from the blueline for HV71's under-20 squad this past season, though he was limited to 20 games due to health problems (he also played five games for HV71's under-18 team, for the record). That worries scouts, as does his 5-foot-9, 154-pound frame. If an NHL team believes Johannesson can stay healthy and get stronger, he has the talent to contribute - but scouts might also caution their GMs to wait until next year's draft, just to make sure he is progressing.

Timofei Spitserov, RW, Culver Academy (Ind. prep): Playing for a prep team that often got dominated by other high-end programs, Spitserov was a bit of a one-man army for the Eagles: He led the team with 49 goals and 76 points in 40 games, while the second-leading scorer notched just 46 points. So it was tough for scouts to get a read on Spitserov, who came over from Russia and is committed to UMass. A hardworking kid who stops on pucks and has a heavy frame, Spitserov is a bit of a mystery even to NHL scouts, but there's definitely talent there. Muskegon owns his USHL rights.

Frankie Carogioiello, C, St. Andrew's College (Ont. prep): The Saints played some great competition this season and Carogioiello (say it with me: CAR-Zhallow) was always in the mix thanks to his speed. Simply put, this kid is an excellent skater and that will appeal to a lot of teams interested in a raw talent. Carogioiello didn't put up as many points as scouts would hope however and he might be better suited to the wing - where he also played this past season. Committed to Miami, the Ontario kid will spend the 2020-21 season in the BCHL with Chilliwack.


Nikita Shuidin, RW, SKA-1946 (Rus.): Overshadowed on a stacked junior team that also features Marat Khusnutdinov, Yegor Spiridonov and phenom Matvei Michkov, Shuidin is nonetheless one of those players that always catches my eye when I watch his team. He's got an all-situations Anthony Cirelli quality to him and he can certainly put up points when given the opportunity.

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