Should the Canucks draft Alex Newhook at the 2019 NHL Entry Draft?

Pass it to Bulis

There is some incredible talent coming out of the US National Team Development Program in the draft this year, including expected first-overall pick Jack Hughes and potential top-10 picks like Alex Turcotte, Trevor Zegras, Matthew Boldy, and Cole Caufield.

There’s just one region that rivals the US when it comes to the top of this year’s draft: Western Canada. Judd Brackett specifically spoke to that in the Canucks’ scouting meeting video: “This is a strong draft class. By region, I think certainly out here in the west of Canada it’s a strong year, big pool in the US too, I think it’s no secret that the US National Development Program has maybe the best team they’ve had.”

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Those west Canadian players include some of the top talent in the WHL: top-defenceman in the draft Bowen Byram, potential top-five picks Dylan Cozens and Kirby Dach, and possible top-ten pick Peyton Krebs. There’s one player out of Western Canada that didn’t play in the WHL, but is still expected to be a top pick in this year’s draft: the BCHL’s leading scorer, Alex Newhook.

The question for the Canucks is whether Newhook makes sense for them at tenth overall. Heading into the season, there was talk that Newhook might be a top-five pick, with some ranking him as high as third overall, but he’s since slid down draft rankings into the 11-16 range. There are some outliers: TSN’s Craig Button has him ranked all the way down at 27th, while J.D. Burke at Elite Prospects still sees him as a top-ten talent at 9th. Where will he land on the Canucks’ list?

“How are things on the west coast?” asked Interpol’s Paul Banks. “I hear you’re moving real fine.”

Clearly, he was talking about Newhook, whose most stand-out skill is his elite skating ability, that allows him to move real fine through all three zones. Newhook can flat-out fly and is dangerous when given the opportunity to wind up in the defensive zone. He can burn through the neutral zone and catch even prepared defenders on their heels at the opposing blue line.

“His ability to explode from a standing start is excellent,” said Will Scouch in his Scouching Report on Newhook. “and once he hits his top speed, he’s really, really hard to catch and his ability to handle pucks at that high speed is also very, very good...When Newhook sees a loose puck, he’s in there, and when he gets it, he’s gone.”

Beyond his easily-noticed skating, Newhook brings a lot of other talent to his game. He’s a creative playmaker with great vision, passing, and decision-making with the puck. He can make plays at top speed and find passing lanes that others might not see. His awareness of where everyone is on the ice is impressive.

That’s a nice positive for a speedy player, as he doesn’t depend on doing it all himself with his feet, trying to burn past defenders, but uses his teammates effectively. That combination makes him a nightmare in transition, as Newhook can be unpredictable: one rush, he’ll bank the puck off the boards and skate onto it; another he’ll tuck the puck under the triangle created by your stick and jump past you; another, he’ll find a teammate across the ice and thread the puck through several sticks to get it to him.

In addition, Newhook has plenty of finish, with an ability to get into strong scoring positions to get shots. He can finish in a variety of ways and has a knack for getting to rebounds around the crease. Given time with the puck, he can pick holes in goaltenders with his wrist shot, though it lacks a little velocity, which could result in fewer goals at higher levels.

Newhook was outright dominant in the BCHL. He had 38 goals and 102 points in 53 games with the Victoria Grizzlies, which lead the league in scoring, with 18 more points than the next best player. He also added 11 goals and 24 points in 15 playoff games, which also led the BCHL playoffs in scoring.

When Newhook had a chance to play with and against his peers at the Under-18 World Championship, he excelled, tallying 5 goals and 10 points in 7 games, tying with Peyton Krebs for the team lead in points. He was particularly dangerous at the right faceoff circle on the power play, where he both sniped goals and set up teammates.

I particularly like his goal against Sweden near the end of the above highlight reel, as he gets open in front of the net, then smartly kicks a rebound up to his stick to tuck it around the sprawling Swedish goaltender. The presence of mind to attempt that move and the skill to pull it off both bode well for his future.

Newhook’s 102 points is seventh all-time in the BCHL from an under-18 player and the second-best in the last decade. The players ahead of Newhook on that list include an elite talent in Scott Gomez, a second-line centre in Kyle Turris, a solid NHLer in Chuck Kobasew, a tweener in Jeff Tambellini, and the little brother that never made the NHL in Martin Kariya.

The most relevant comparison, however, is likely the one player that beat him in the past decade: Tyson Jost.

The two players have a lot in common. Jost slightly out-scored Newhook in his draft year, with 42 goals and 104 points to Newhook’s 38 goals and 102 points. They’re about the same size: 5’11”, 190 lbs. They’re both speedy playmakers. At the World Under-18’s, they both lead Tea, Canada in scoring, though Jost had 15 points to Newhook’s 10. And, if the Canucks pick Newhook at tenth, they’ll both be tenth-overall picks.

Jost spent one year in the NCAA, scoring 35 points in 33 games with the University of North Dakota before joining the Colorado Avalanche. While he has yet to fully breakout, he has two full NHL seasons under his belt at 21 and looks like he’ll develop into a top-six forward. If that’s the path Newhook follows, he would be solid value at tenth overall.

It’s worth noting that, unlike Newhook, Jost didn’t lead the BCHL in scoring and was actually outscored by one of his teammates, Scott Conway. He also had Dante Fabbro on defence.

Newhook lacked similarly high-end linemates, so had to do a lot more himself, which could mean he has a higher ceiling than someone like Jost. The next best player on the Grizzlies, fellow first-time draft-eligible forward Alexander Campbell, had just 67 points.

It wasn’t uncommon to see Newhook make a fantastic play to gain the zone, then see his pass clank off a teammate’s stick instead of leading to a great scoring chance. You can see how sometimes Newhook’s passes amount to very little when the puck landed on a teammates’ stick in this power play sequence.

 

 

Given Newhook’s ability to use his teammates, his game could take a leap forward once he has more talented teammates, whether next season with Boston College in the NCAA or eventually in the NHL.

Is there any downside to Newhook? You could argue that he could be more engaged in the defensive zone. He’s not huge, measuring in a little under 5’11” at the recent Combine, though he’s stocky at 190 lbs and very strong on his skates, making it hard to divest him of the puck.

There’s also the issue that he was playing against Junior A talent. While that affected his quality of teammates as well, it’s sometimes hard to predict how a player will perform at higher levels. He seemed to be toying with his opponents in the BCHL, dancing around them with his shifty skating and soft hands, but some of those maneuvers could wither in the face of stiffer competition.

That said, Newhook has the right type of personality to take on that challenge and prove himself. Grizzlies coach and manager Craig Didmon had high praise for that aspect of his young captain.

“In my mind he’s a 20-year-old,” he said, “Even though he’s 17, he acts, skates, plays like a 20-year-old. He’s wise beyond his years. He’s certainly an intelligent young man and very mature.”

“He’s always working hard,” he added. “He’s always trying new things. He’s always trying to better his game. I think when you work that hard and you’re that intelligent and you’re that skilled, he’s showing that with his stats.”

That drive to improve also impressed Jackson McDonald at NextGen Hockey.

“Despite being far and away the most talented player in the BCHL last season, he rarely took a shift off and his tendency to force plays up the middle of the ice gradually dissipated over the course of the year,” said McDonald in his profile on Newhook. “Something I really appreciated about Newhook this season was the way he continued to improve his game in a league that offered precious few real challenges.”

For me, Newhook is one of the most intriguing players in the draft. His combination of elite speed and playmaking skill suggests a future top-six forward. While he’s a centre, it’s not hard to imagine him transitioning to the wing given his speed and some of his defensive lapses. Besides, you can never really have enough centres: moving a centre to the wing is a lot easier than vice versa.

For the Canucks, it all comes down to where Newhook ranks compared to the other forward talent that could be available at tenth overall. Players like Matthew Boldy, Trevor Zegras, Peyton Krebs, and Cole Caufield could be on the board, and there’s always a chance that a projected higher pick like Dylan Cozens, Kirby Dach, or Vasili Podkolzin could slide.

Barring one of those three sliding, however, Newhook would be a defensible pick for the Canucks. His ability to create in transition alone would make him a dangerous addition to the lineup.

 

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