Front offices in the National Hockey League withhold many secrets, none that garner more speculation than why respective member clubs pass on draft-eligible players. Whether it’s concerns over size, injuries, production, or their interest level in playing in the league, there’s always an opportunity for a player to overcome those shortcomings in order to earn a chance the second time around.
In this month’s look at “Off the Radar” players, one Kootenay Ice forward again showed why he should be considered draft material the second time around. Meanwhile, a trio of international players with different situations vie for NHL attention, each carrying their own unique skillset. In the OHL, one goaltender who struggled with injuries regained momentum this year and shined during his opportunity to show scouts he belongs.
Luke Philp, Center, Kootenay Ice
5’10”, 181 pounds, Canmore, Alberta
The Kootenay Ice were led by an unheralded player who did a little bit of everything for them this season. Third-year center Luke Philp not only led the team in scoring, but became a reliable option defensively, showing why he has again garnered NHL attention.
Philp scored 30 goals and 52 assists this season, including seven goals with the man advantage. He finished with a career high +16 rating, a noticeable improvement for a player who worked hard on his two-way game. One part of Philp’s game that scouts notice is his ability to step up when the game is on the line, as seen by his four game-winning goals this season. After going down three games to one in opening round playoff action, the Kootenay Ice turned to their most consistent performer to fight off the Calgary Hitmen. Philp produced a five-point effort in game five of the series, then added another goal in game six to stave off elimination. The team ultimately succumbed to Calgary’s potent offense, but in a transitional year, the results on the ice went further than expected in Kootenay thanks in part to Philp’s development.
Philp was undrafted last year, and attended the Toronto Maple Leafs‘ rookie camp last summer. This year, NHL Central Scouting ranked Philp 172nd in their final rankings. This time, perhaps Philp will attend a rookie camp as a drafted prospect.
Frederik Tiffels, Left Wing, Western Michigan University
6’1”, 201 pounds, Koln, Germany
While there were some talented freshman who played college hockey this season, one player who has definitely gone under-the-radar is Western Michigan’s Fredrik Tiffels. The versatile forward made a notable appearance at the 2015 World Junior Championship, bookmarked by a quality freshman season in the NCAA.
Not known as much of a goal scorer, Tiffels came to Western Michigan after a tumultuous season in the USHL that saw him suit up for three different organizations. The static schedule and stability provided Tiffels with a chance to put together an 11-goal and 10-assist season, finishing in the top 20 of all NCAA freshman. The month of November was particularly good for Tiffels, as the young forward produced his first hat trick during a stretch where he recorded nine points in eight games. Shortly after that, Tiffels left to participate in his third WJC with Germany. There, he scored two goals and two assists in six games as the Germans fought hard to avoid relegation.
Tiffels was eligible for the draft last season, but was understandably not selected after a below-par USHL season. With a quality freshman year under his belt and a solid WJC showing, Tiffels might be a late-round target in June.
Ahti Oksanen, Left Wing/Defense, Boston University
6’3”, 207 pounds, Espoo, Finland
After playing defense for the majority of his career, Boston University head coach David Quinn presented Ahti Oksanen with an opportunity to move to forward. It was reportedly met with some criticism and reluctance, but the results this season have been garnering attention.
The talented Finland native made the transition seamlessly, breaking out in a big way with a 25-goal and 13-assist season. Oksanen led the Terriers in power play goals with nine, while unleashing over four shots per game. That shot, regarded as one of the best one-timers in college hockey, may help him gain an NHL contract. Blessed with size and the ability to use it, Oksanen became a difficult task for any opponent to contain. He came up large when the season was on the line, contributing an assist against North Dakota at the 2015 Frozen Four, before adding one goal and one assist in BU’s loss to Providence College in the National Championship game.
Oksanen will have plenty of suitors looking to line up his services this summer, but it’s far from a foregone conclusion that he will skip out on his senior season.
Dmitri Yudin, Defense, SKA St. Petersburg
6’2”, 185 pounds, Nizhny Tagil, Russia
Last year, Dmitri Yudin debuted for SKA St. Petersburg, becoming the youngest player in the club’s history to play in the KHL. This year, Yudin was a stalwart on the blueline for Russia at the World Juniors and again was a regular contributor at only 19.
As a product of the fabled Sputnik Hockey School, Yudin is another big, physical Russian defenseman. Yudin’s improving offensive game led to his first KHL goal this year, to go along with six assists and an impressive +15 rating in 47 games. The rangy defender showcased his two-way game during this year’s WJC, where Yudin was a pain to play against as the Russians finished with a silver medal. Back in the KHL, Yudin played regular minutes for a team that won the 2015 Gagarin Cup.
The ever-prevalent “Russian Factor” might play a part in his status for the upcoming NHL Draft. That said, NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings ranked Yudin 30th overall among European skaters, suggesting that he might be worth a shot for a team that can get him to report.
Liam Herbst, Goaltender, Ottawa 67’s
6’3”, 181 pounds, Mississauga, Ontario
To be fair, Liam Herbst simply has not played a lot of hockey over the last two seasons. After being the only goaltender selected in the 2012 OHL Priority Selection, Herbst has battled playing time concerns and a series of debilitating injuries that held him back. This season, however, the Mississauga native has finally enjoyed a full season of hockey.
The Ottawa 67’s dealt with a run of injuries themselves this season, watching helplessly as players missed time with various ailments throughout the season. Happily for them, Herbst was among the few players who managed to make it through the year without a self-caused injury. He put up a 2.71 goals-against average, .901 save percentage, and three shutouts while running up a 24-8-3 record. As a result of his success, Herbst was named to the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game, stopping all 21 shots he faced in a game that had to elevate his draft status.
Hersbt essentially lost his first two years of junior eligibility to injury, but with his playing time this season, the 67’s goaltender has shown improvement and a reasonable projection to be an NHL-quality goaltender. NHL Central Scouting ranked Herbst 11th among North American goalies, and if teams can clear up his injury situation, he may just find himself with a professional future.
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