There's no shame in being a late bloomer.
Not every NHLer develops the same way. Jason Demers, Danton Heinen and Tanner Pearson are some of the more notable examples of players getting drafted after their first year of eligibility. Heck, guys like Roman Cechmanek, Mark Streit and Martin Gerber weren't drafted until their late 20s. And honestly, why wouldn't you take a risk on an older player if you can? They have an extra year or more of development, and if they have what it takes to make the NHL, they'll be a season closer to that goal.
Teams are willing to take a risk on older players who might be able to step up quickly. Maybe the player had to deal with injuries, a tough roster situation or eventually grew into a bigger player, allowing for more opportunities. If not everything clicks in a player's 18-year-old season, it doesn't mean they won't thrive at 19. So, for players who were passed over in their first year of eligibility, you have a second chance to show what you have.
The overage class is impressive once again this year. Many talented Europeans, for example, have spent at least a year in pro and have excelled in their opportunities. For others, the past year has been a chance to hone the finer parts of their game and become more complete players. With that, let's look at some of the leading overage candidates this summer:
Brett Leason, C , 20 (Prince Albert, WHL)
After nearly producing triple his rate from 2017-18 this season, Leason's 89 points made him one of the WHL's top draft-eligible players and a shoo-in to go in the top two rounds this June. A potential first-round pick, Leason had a quiet Memorial Cup for the Raiders but was one of Canada's best players at the world juniors, finishing with five points in as many games. Over the past year, Leason's skating has improved and he's added more power to his offensive game.
Kirill Slepets, RW, 20 (Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, KHL)
If any player's draft status was improved at the World Junior Championship, it was Slepets. With five goals and seven points on Russia's top line, Slepets showed tremendous promise as a speedy winger who can hold his own physically despite standing at a slender 5-foot-10, 146 pounds. While he had just one goal in 10 KHL games with Lokomotiv, Slepets had 12 goals and 18 points in 17 MHL contests and you can always rely on him around the net. Any team that takes him after the second round is getting a steal.
Valeri Orekhov, D, 20 (Barys Astana, KHL)
Of Kazakhstan's 23 players drafted to the NHL since 1998, only four – Nikolai Antropov, Brandon Bochenski, Nigel Dawes and Dustin Boyd – have played at least five seasons in the NHL, and three of them aren't actually from Kazakhstan. Orekhov, however, is looking to become one of the best locally-trained players to ever have their name called. Orekhov was Kazakhstan's best player at the world juniors and represented his nation at the Division IA World Championship in April after playing top-pairing minutes with Barys Astana in the KHL.
Pyotr Kochetkov, G, 19 (SKA St. Petersburg, KHL)
Kochetkov was off most team's radars last season after an OK season in the MHL. Now? Kochetkov is the most highly-touted goalie from Europe after an explosive season with HK Ryazan of the VHL. With a .930 save percentage, Kochetkov was among the top goaltenders this season and even suited up for two KHL games with Sochi. Kochetkov will always be remembered for his incredible world junior performance, however, finishing as the tournament's top goaltender in a bronze-medal effort. He won't have to wait too long on the second day of the draft and will see time with the KHL's SKA St. Petersburg next year.
Samuel Fagemo, RW, 19 (Frolunda, SHL)
Despite a disappointing world junior effort, Fagemo displayed this season that he’s worthy of getting selected this time around. With 25 points in 42 games with Frolunda in the SHL, Fagemo adjusted to the pro game well and often let his terrific wrist shot go on display. Fagemo, who had plenty of chances to shine on a team that won SHL and Champions League titles this season, will be an immediate depth scoring addition for any team that picks him in the late-second or third round.
Kristian Tanus, LW, 18 (Jukurit, Liiga)
A dynamic playmaker who can play the wing and down the middle? Sign us up. Tanus had just six points in 17 games with Jukurit in the top Finnish Liiga, but it was his play with LeKi in the Mestis with 44 points in 33 games that really stood out, breaking the U-20 scoring record. Tanus may be small at 5-foot-8 and might lack the speed teams like out of smaller players, but he is a boy genius with the puck, rarely putting himself in situations he can’t win. An all-around talented forward, Tanus won’t have to wait long in the third or fourth round to learn his fate.
Luka Burzan, C, 19 (Brandon, WHL)
Once upon a time, there were few prospects as coveted as Burzan was. In bantam, Burzan finished with 80 goals and 131 points in 62 games for one of the greatest seasons in PCBHL history. At the 2016 Youth Olympics for Canada, Burzan was Canada's best player with seven points in six games. It took a while for him to really thrive in the WHL, but Burzan went from a 40-point campaign last year to produce 40 goals and 78 points with the Wheat Kings this time. He has shown he can score, and it may very well be worth taking a flyer on him midway through the draft.
Jeremy McKenna, RW, 20 (Moncton, QMJHL)
McKenna's rise to prominence is a unique one. Born in Canmore, Alta., he played his midget season in Saskatchewan before joining the Red Bull Hockey Academy in Austria for 2015-16. Since then, McKenna has done a fantastic job in Moncton, with the small winger finishing the season with 45 goals and 97 points to finish first among draft-eligible players in the league. McKenna has shown he can put up solid numbers, and if teams can get past his size, he could develop in a similar fashion to Calgary forward Andrew Mangiapane.
Jonathan Yantsis, RW, 20 (Kitchener, OHL)
With 50 goals, 23 assists and 73 points, Yantsis' stat line is one of the more lopsided ones in the draft. it was an unpredictable one at that, too, given he had just 17 points in his previous two OHL campaigns combined. Sure, skating beside the likes of Greg Meireles and Riley Damiani will make most players look good, but Yantsis could be a serious contender to go late in the draft after showcasing what he can do in a bigger role and how reliable he is in all three zones.
Jett Alexander, G, 19 (North York, OJHL)
There's not much more Alexander could have done this past season. Alexander, who is still seeking an NCAA commitment, starred for a North York squad that ranked inside the top 10 of the CJHL rankings all year long. Alexander's 1.67 GAA was the best since Dalton McGrath's 1.65 in 2008-09 and his .945 save percentage is the best among goalies with 20 starts in an OJHL season ever. Among the awards he won this season: the OJHL's goaltender of the year (based on stats and a league media vote), the league MVP title, the CJHL top goaltender award and finished as a CJHL MVP finalist. Oh, and his 10 shutouts this season are the most in OJHL history.
Other notables: Adam Ahman (G, 19, HV71, SHL), Marc Del Gaizo, D, 19 (UMass, NCAA), Justin Bergeron, D, 18 (Rouyn-Noranda, QMJHL), Brett Kemp, C, 19 (Medicine Hat, WHL), Yannick Bruschweiler, LW, 19 (Zurich, NLA)
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