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Color of Hockey: NHL Draft preview

Robertson, Suzuki among top players likely to be selected

by William Douglas @WDouglasNHL / Staff Writer

William Douglas has been writing The Color of Hockey blog for the past seven years. Douglas joined in March and will be writing about people of color in the game. Today, he profiles players of color who could be selected in the 2019 NHL Draft, which will be held Friday and Saturday at Rogers Arena in Vancouver.

Jayden Struble sums up his feelings heading into the 2019 NHL Draft in two words: Nervous and excited.

"Nervous because it's kind of nerve-racking, having that thought of where you're going to get picked," said Struble, a defenseman at St. Sebastian's School in Needham, Massachusetts, "but excited about going to Vancouver and obviously hearing your name at some point."

Struble is one of at least seven players of color who could be drafted at Rogers Arena in Vancouver. The first round is Friday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVAS). Rounds 2-7 are Saturday (1 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN).


[RELATED: Full 2019 NHL Draft coverage]


Minority players populate NHL Central Scouting's rankings of skaters and goalies eligible for the 2019 NHL Draft from top to bottom. Here's a look at some of the top players of color available:


Nicholas Robertson, LW, Peterborough (OHL)
NHL Central Scouting: No. 17 (North American skaters)

Robertson, 17, is a small (5-foot-9, 162 pounds), highly skilled forward who rose from No. 30 in NHL Central Scouting's midterm ranking of North American skaters.

"It doesn't really affect how I play, I think it supports it," he said of his height. "Lower center of gravity; it's easier to be shifty. People may question my size, but I think there are a lot of players who succeed in the NHL at my height and my weight. Players like [Calgary Flames forward Johnny] Gaudreau, they're effective."

The Pasadena, California, native had 55 points (27 goals, 28 assists) in 54 games for Peterborough in the Ontario Hockey League and had five points (four goals, one assist) in five games with the United States at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup in August 2018.

Robertson, who is of Filipino heritage, is the younger brother of Jason Robertson, a 19-year-old left wing with Niagara of the OHL who was selected by the Dallas Stars in the second round (No. 39) of the 2017 NHL Draft. Jason led the OHL in scoring this season with 117 points (48 goals, 69 assists).


Ryan Suzuki, C, Barrie, OHL
NHL Central Scouting: No. 18 (North American skaters)

Suzuki credits a healthy sibling rivalry for pushing him toward the top of his draft class. Older brother Nick Suzuki was a first-round pick (No. 13) by the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2017 NHL Draft, then was traded to the Montreal Canadiens on Sept. 10, 2018, as part of the package for forward Max Pacioretty.

"We always battled each other growing up, and I think we get our competitiveness from each other," the 6-foot-1, 180-pound 18-year-old said of his 19-year-old sibling. "It's just helped me a lot through my career."

Ryan, who is one-quarter Japanese, is considered a more polished player than his older brother. He led Barrie in scoring with 75 points (25 goals, 50 assists) in 65 games. Ryan played for Canada and was third among players in scoring at the 2018 Gretzky Hlinka Cup with eight points (one goal, seven assists) in five games.

"I would say Ryan is just figuring out how good and how smart he is; he can play with good players because he knows how to distribute the puck," Karl Stewart of NHL Central Scouting said. "Ryan could be the smartest CHL draft-eligible player."


Marcus Kallionkieli, LW, Sioux City, (USHL)
NHL Central Scouting: No. 47 (North American skaters)

The son of a Finnish father and Brazilian mother, Kallionkieli (6-2, 195) led United States Hockey League rookies in goals with 29. The 18-year-old finished 20th in the league in scoring with 53 points (29 goals, 24 assists) in 58 games.

"For a first-year player to come over here and put up the numbers, the goals he scored, adjust to North America, adjust to the whole North American style of game but yet have the success that he had is a tribute to him," said Luke Strand, Sioux City's coach and general manager. "The biggest [thing] for Marcus is when the game becomes rumble-tumble, can he hang in there now that he's more used to North America."


Jayden Struble, D, St. Sebastian's School (HIGH-MA)
NHL Central Scouting No. 48 (North American skaters)

Whenever Struble gets overly excited before a big hockey game, he thinks about baseball. Struble (6-foot, 205) got his first taste of the prime-time national spotlight as a first baseman on a team that won the U.S. championship at the 2014 Little League World Series.

"You're 12 years old and you're playing on TV and in front of a lot of people, the stage can never be too big I guess," said the native of Cumberland, Rhode Island. "It makes you kind of love playing in front of people. The nerves are a little less rapid, you're more relaxed."

Struble, who will turn 18 on Sept. 8, had 40 points (10 goals, 30 assists) in 28 games for St. Sebastian's and was named to the USHS All-USA Hockey Second Team in 2018-19.

He was a standout at the NHL Scouting Combine in Buffalo, finishing first in five of 18 tests, including the bench press and standing long jump. Struble will play for Victoria of British Columbia Hockey League next season, and has committed to play at Northeastern for the 2020-21 season.

"I think what you see out of someone like Jayden is someone who has been put in pressure situations all his life whether it's as a young kind being asked to be the go-to or dominant player, whether it's playing in the Little League World Series, whether it's helping this team and this program become one of the top ones in New England, he's been that guy," St. Sebastian's coach Sean McCann said.


Marshall Warren, D, USA U-18 (NTDP)
NHL Central Scouting No. 61 (North American skaters)

Warren has gone from a figure skater as a child to a smooth-skating 18-year-old defenseman with USA Hockey's National Team Developmnt Program Under-18 team.

"His skating ability is second to none," NTDP coach John Wroblewski said. "He's a 200-foot player, he's tremendously active on the offensive side of things and he's such a good athlete."

Warren was fourth in scoring among defensemen with the NTDP with 34 points (eight goals, 26 assists) in 58 games despite being hampered by a lower-body injury during the first half of the season.

The Laurel Hollow, New York, native was an alternate captain on the U.S. team that won the bronze medal at the 2019 IIHF Under-18 World Championship in Ornskoldsvik, Sweden, in April. He had three assists in seven games.

Warren (5-11, 170) has committed to play for Boston College next season.


Sasha Mutala, RW, Tri-City, WHL
NHL Central Scouting No. 79 (North American skaters)

Mutala (6-foot, 200) played parts of the past two seasons while keeping an eye on the health of his parents back home in Vancouver.

His mother, Ji Young Kim, was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2017, had surgery in February 2018 and then had chemotherapy. His father had a stroke in September 2018. Both parents are on the mend.

"I thought he battled hard through it," Tri-City coach Kelly Buchberger said of the 18-year-old. "He went home almost a week to see his family and spend some time with them; there was no question it was on his mind. When he came back he was a different player. He had a little bit of a slow start, but he really did come on strong at the end."

Despite missing time, Mutala had 41 points (20 goals, 21 assists) in 65 Western Hockey League games.

"He has the whole package -- he skates well, he thinks the game OK and he's a good teammate," Buchberger said. "The biggest thing for him is it's a rebound season for him. For Sasha, for us to have success next year he's going to have to have his A-game, just like everybody else. We're going to count on him huge because of his upside and what he brings to our organization."


Isaiah Saville, G, Tri-City, USHL
NHL Central Scouting No. 13 (North American goaltenders)

Saville (6-1, 198) had a strong rookie season with Tri-City, finishing 25-4-3 with a 1.90 goals-against average, a .925 save percentage and four shutouts. He was named the USHL Goaltender of the Year.

The 18-year-old from Anchorage, Alaska, helped the U.S. defeat Russia for the gold medal at the World Junior A Challenge in December in Bonneyville, Alberta. He had a 25-save shutout in the final game despite barely eating and playing with a stomach virus.

"There are certain goaltenders who are just battlers, there are certain guys who are extremely athletic, there are certain guys who are extremely technical or just big and take up a lot of net," Tri-City coach Anthony Noreen said. "He's a little bit of a combination of everything. He competes as hard as any goalie I've been around, and he's got a knack for stepping up in big games."



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