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2024 NHL Draft: Realistic Options

Earlier this week, we looked at “the hopefuls”, i.e. players likely to be picked before the Washington Capitals get to their pick at 17… but you never know, right? Assuming one of those three don’t fall into the Caps’ lap, however, let’s look at some more realistic possibilities for their first-round pick.

(Scouting reports and profiles courtesy of EliteProspectThe AthleticScouchingMcKeen HockeyNHL Draft Pros, and Hockey Prospecting.)

Trevor Connelly, LW

  • 6’1” 161lbs
  • 18yo 2/28/06
  • USHL: 52GP – 31G – 47A

The Good: In terms of pure talent, Connelly is a top10, some think even top-5 talent, in this draft. He has elite hands, speed, and an above-average shot and passing ability. It’s a full package that can turn him into a top-line NHL player. He looks like a mini Mitch Marner, specifically like a Troy Terry or Jordan Kyrou. Those are all names you’d love to have a player mimic. 

He literally carried his USHL team into the playoffs, scoring 78 points in 52 games. That led his team by 29 points, no one else on his team was even a point per game player. It’s just crazy production; imagine if he was on an actual good team. Those 78 points were also second in the USHL, but he played 8 less games than the top player who won the title with just 5 more points. Trevor’s 1.5 points per game also led the whole USHL besides James Hagens who could arguably be the number one overall pick next season.

The Bad: The only bad thing about Connelly on the ice is his size, he simply gets pushed off the puck a bit too often, though you have to catch him to even touch him. The older he gets, the more he works out and bulks up, he’ll be able to win more puck battles and improve his already impressive shot. He could even get a bit quicker.

The main reason Connelly isn’t an automatic top-5 pick is all the off ice issues. He’s been kicked off most teams he played on with reports he’s an incredibly difficult teammate to deal with (although there are also reports he’s a good teammate…but still, being on so many different teams in such a short time doesn’t feel like a good thing). Then you have the incident where he took a picture on Snapchat of a swastika that he and a friend made out of building blocks in a library at the age of 16 (granted he’s stated his deep regret in that incident). He was also accused of using a racial slur, though he vehemently denies that. Then add his unneeded hit to the head of a Canadian player in the third period of the gold medal game for the World Juniors when the USA had a 3-2 lead. USA was scored on three times during the major penalty and lost the gold medal. Basically, his attitude and mentality are huge red flags.

Caps Take: The Caps have been more willing the last handful of years to take gambles on players teams pass up on like Hendrix Lapierre, Ivan Miroshnichenko and Andrew Cristall that have paid off huge, but those were either health-related or speed/size issues. Connelly is a whole other can of worms entirely. But the Caps know they desperately need skill, speed and youth and finding a potential top five player at 17 might be too tempting to pass up on. If he can improve his character and strength, he could be a top line player and him on the off-wing of Ryan Leonard could devastate the league. 

Michael Hage, C

  • 6’1” 190lbs
  • 18yo 4/14/06
  • USHL: 54GP- 33G – 42A

The Good: If Hage was faster, he could almost be compared to Connelly. It’s not that he’s slow, exactly, but his first couple steps are average before he starts to get going. Even if he isn’t the fastest, he has great edges and hands to get him out of trouble quickly. He does a better job at protecting the puck than Connelly, so if players do catch up to Hage, he can deal with it better. He also has really good hands that he combines well with his above-average shot and passing. It’s a really strong offensive package to have as a center.

He led his team by five points while also playing five fewer games than his teammate with the second-most points. He did get off to a slow start due to injury but went on a tear after December, scoring 61 of his 75 points in the last 38 games, meaning he only scored 14 points in his first 16 games as he was getting back to full health. Another bonus is he’s quite young, having just turned 18 in April, and he’s also a right-shot center, which can be quite rare. 

The Bad: The hit on Hage has always been his defensive game, but according to scouting reports, he did get better and better throughout the season, particularly as he decided to get more physically engaged. Overall, it seems like Hage just improved overall as the season went along, which definitely could have been due to his injury to start the season. He could also drastically improve his game if he can speed up his first step. He has edges and puck protection, but adding the separation speed could do wonders. 

Caps Take: As mentioned in Part 1, the Caps need anyone that can potentially be a number-one center. The odds aren’t super-high that Hage will be one, but he does have the ability if everything hits right, so it can’t hurt the Caps taking that chance at 17. Hage also looks like he has a pretty high floor so even if he doesn’t work out as a top-six center, maybe he could move to the wing in the top six or shift to a third-line center position. Again, not ideal, but it’s better than completely missing on the pick. 

Cole Hutson, LHD

  • 5’10 159lbs
  • 17yo 6/28/06
  • NTDP: 51GP – 15G – 36A
  • USHL: 19GP – 3G – 9A

The Good: If you know anything about Canadiens prospect Lane Hutson, you’ll basically see the same player profile in his little brother. Cole has top-tier vision with passing ability that can pick defenses apart. He isn’t the fastest skater but is quick on his feet and edges, able to deke around players and put pucks through skates. For a smaller guy that’s known more for passing he has a good, accurate shot, much like we say with Cristall. This makes Hutson a dual threat. So once he gets around that first layer at the blue line and gets in close, it’s hard to predict what he will do.

Cole had the best U17 season ever in the NTDP, putting up 68 points in 61. He followed up this last U18 season with 51 points in 51 games the following year. You want to see players improve every season but what Cole did as a 16 year old was record-setting and it’s hard to follow that up – but that shouldn’t take away from what he did in 2023-24. He was good for the sixth best season ever in the league, fourth best if you switch to points per game. That’s better than players like Adam Fox, Luke Hughes, and Quinn Hughes. Another huge positive is that Cole won’t be 18 until the day of the draft, so he could have been even better if he was older (and has room to grow). 

The Bad: With most players his size, especially defensemen, height, weight, and strength are an issue. The good news is that while he’s small and isn’t the strongest, the effort and smarts are there. For now, he can at least hover around average defensively, which is great if he can keep up his elite offense. Also, remember, he’s incredibly young so he still has time to add the much needed strength. 

Caps Take: I have not seen anywhere where Cole is ranked as high as 17, so this could be considered a reach. In fact there’s an outside chance he’s there for the Caps in the second round! But as we know, the Caps desperately need offensive skill from their defense. There’s no offensive defensemen in their system and Cole would be a huge addition. His brother Lane went 62nd two years ago and how many teams are regretting not taking him earlier (including the Caps)? Maybe the Caps could trade back to feel better about the pick, but it would not surprise me if in five years Hutson is re-ranked around 10-15. 

Michael Brandsegg-Nygård, C/W

  • 6’1” 198lbs
  • 18yo 10/5/05
  • J20 Nationell: 7GP – 5G – 7A
  • HockeyAllsvenskan: 41GP – 8G – 10A

The Good: Outside of Macklin Celebrini, Nygard might be the most NHL ready player in the 2024 NHL draft. The dude is a machine with a motor that never turns off. He mixes his strength and speed to just pummel players all over the ice, retrieve the puck, get it up the ice and help finish off chances. What ties it all together is his brain. He’s so good at anticipating that no one can escape him. He is going to be the ultimate power forward complimentary player in the NHL.

He reminds me a lot of JJ Peterka, a Buffalo Sabres 24th overall pick in 2020. Both stocky fellas that have a motor that won’t quit, go to the dirty areas to win battles, and have hard wristers that help them capitalize when they get their chances. I remember not being high on Peterka back in 2020, thinking his motor wouldn’t translate into the NHL and boy was I wrong. Peterka just put up 50 points (28 goals) in a full 82 game season as a 22 year old and is only going to get better. If Caps can get that from Nygard that would be huge. 

The Bad: In terms of actually playing hockey he has no weaknesses. He’s fast, physical, has size, and has a ripper of a shot. His playmaking is the weakest part of his game but he’s not terrible. The only bad thing about his game is his lack of ceiling. He’s not going to be a guy that’s ever a point per game player and his production will always be directly tied to his linemates. But that isn’t terrible because there are a lot of players that can’t produce even with good linemates. As long as Caps keep adding forward talent, and they are looking good with Miroschnichenko, Leonard, and Cristall, then Nygard shouldn’t have a problem producing. 

Caps Take: In two years imagine throwing out a first line with Leonard, then Nygard comes out on the next line, then Tom Wilson comes out on the line after that. Teams will never catch a break. Nygard could possibly play in the NHL instantly which helps the Caps now, though he will probably still play at least one more year elsewhere, but after that he could be playing in red for Alexander Ovechkin’s last season. Imagine a line with Miroshnichenko as the shooter, Hendrix Lapierre as the setup man, and Nygard as the puck hound. That could be an incredibly deadly top six line.

Liam Greentree, RW

  • 6’2” 198lbs
  • 18yo 1/1/06
  • OHL: 64GP – 36G – 54A

The Good: I originally had Beckett Sennecke on this list, then moved him up to the long shot list, but with the hype he’s been getting over the past month there’s no way he’d fall to the Caps at 17. So look at Liam Greentree as the Beckett Sennecke “we have at home”. Liam is a big boy with elite vision and playmaking that also has a hell of a shot. He’s uber smart, competitive and reliable at both ends of the ice as well, and with his body it’s hard to ever take the puck away from him or keep it away from him.

He was on a horrendous Windsor Spitfires team last season, scoring 24 more points than the next player on his team. If he was even on an average team he’s probably hitting over a 100 points and when you consider what his weakness is, if he didn’t have that, he’d easily be a top 10 pick with his size and skillset. He would have torn apart the OHL.

The Bad: I mentioned Sennecke earlier. Sennecke kind of bucks the trend of big boys that can’t skate. If Greentree had Sennecke’s skating ability he’d be nearly unstoppable. Greentree has little to no speed, making it a miracle that he put up the points he did. That just goes to show just how talented he is. Outside of speed he checks about all the boxes you want in a player. If a team can somehow unluck his skating, they’ll be getting a steal.

Caps Take: Caps really need to get quicker, not slower, but the skill package might be too much to ignore when it comes to Greentree. Yes he might be missing out on speed right now but he has size and top tier skill that the Caps arguably need more than speed. And remember, Gabe Perrault fell to 23rd in last year’s draft due to his skating then went on to tear up the NCAA. I highly doubt he falls that deep in a redraft. Also worth remembering, the Caps have Aleksei Protas, a fellow big boy playmaker that couldn’t skate. Protas worked his butt off and now is an average skater. That doesn’t sound great but skilled, smart big boys like that don’t need to be super fast to get what they want done. Greentree at average speed has the ability to really thrive in the NHL.

Adam Jiricek, RHD

  • 6’2” 168lbs
  • 17yo 6/28/06
  • Czechia U20: 3GP – 0G – 0A
  • Czechia: 19GP – 0G – 1A

The Good: What Jiricek has shown up to his past season was really promising. Some even considered he was farther along than his brother David, who went sixth overall in the 2022 draft. Needless to say a lot of people were eager to see him this past season, but things didn’t go well as we’ll see in the next section. What made Adam so intriguing was his ability to always make the right decisions on the ice, especially defensively. He rarely made a mistake. Then he takes the same brain to read plays in the offensive zone to zip some beautiful passes. At 5v5, he’s just very steady and above average at both ends of the ice, with flashes to do even more offensively. 

It’s odd because he has good speed but a very weird stride that a lot of scouts are a little concerned about. Is that something that will translate into the NHL well or will teams take advantage? Many people think it is something that can be figured out because his brother David also suffered from it but no one seems concerned about it anymore. If Adam can smooth out his stride he’ll be even better. It’s also worth noting that Adam will be turning 18 on draft day, so that’s very promising, because he has even more runway to work with.

The Bad: So all of that sounds great, so why has he fallen out of the top 10, maybe top 5 potential pick everyone thought he’d be? Jiricek, physically, had a very rough season. He was predicted to be a top 10 pick in this draft but after a head injury that kept him out a month then a torn ACL in the first game of the World Juniors, missing the rest of the season, he had a very rough go of it. And even before that, he didn’t look great in the Czechia league among men (but remember he’s 17). Anything that could go wrong basically went wrong for him. He only played 22 games between two leagues and didn’t play in the World Juniors or World Championship so scouts don’t have lots to go off of him and what they do have is concerning.  

Caps Take: Like I mentioned before, the Caps have taken chances on players with injury histories in Lapierre and Miroshnichenko and those paid off big. Could they do the same thing with Jiricek? He has a lot of great tools and he is still incredibly young. If he can put it all together he’ll be a legit top four defensemen, maybe even top pairing. He’s been drawing comparisons to a guy like Devon Toews. That would be an incredible player to grab at 17. You just have to hope he stays healthy and continues to fill out and strengthen his game. If so, you’re going to get a legit 5v5 and PK defensemen that can eat big minutes. 

Igor Chernyshov, LW

  • 6’2” 196lbs
  • 18yo 11/30/05
  • KHL: 34GP – 3G – 1A
  • MHL: 22GP – 13G – 15A

The Good: We talked about Nygard earlier and his motor, Chernyshov isn’t that much different of a player. Both players work their asses off and will do anything to help their team win. They will do the dirty work that no one else wants to. I think Chernyshov has a bit more offensive capabilities to bring to the table but doesn’t have the speed or pure hitting potential that Nygard brings, but it’s hard to go wrong with either. Chernyshov also has a great build for a future top power forward with his size. He’s reported 6’3” in some places and is about to hit 200 pounds. It’s hard to teach size!

He spent most of his time in the KHL this past season where he didn’t produce much but that’s what happens to kids that go to the KHL. Just look at what Miroshnichenko and Bogdan Trineyev went through, playing mostly bottom six time in the KHL. It’s a great sign that a coach would even trust those players in the KHL to start with, though it’d be nice if they got more time. 

The Bad: Like Nygard there aren’t any real weaknesses with Chernyshov, but nothing truly elite either. Though he has a nice offensive toolkit, neither his shot or passing are top tier, so he truly is just a complimentary player. Again, that’s not a bad thing, it’s hard to find play drivers outside the top 10 picks anyways. It is worth noting he’s projecting slightly better than what Pavel Buchnevich was doing at the same age in the same league. Pavel never looked like he’d turn into anything special and look at him now, his last three seasons he’s has 206 points his last 216 games, averaging over 70 points in 2 of those seasons.

Caps Take: What I said about Nygard above, you could put the same thing here. The Caps love their big boys and Igor fits that for sure. His brain and body are almost, if not already, ready for the NHL. As long as Igor won’t get held up in Russia logistics, and that’s always a crap shoot, he could make his way over to North America in a year or two and probably not miss a step.That has to be appealing to the Caps to want to get better faster than a rebuild.

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