Photo by RvS.Media/Basile Barbey/Getty Images
The offensive-minded Swede could be an option at 11th overall.
We’re finally under a month out from the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, which was recently moved up to October 6 and 7, where the Nashville Predators will be drafting five times in the first three rounds. As we get closer to the first overall pick, I’ll start to focus more on potential selections for the organization in all rounds they plan to pick.
At 11th overall, the team has the opportunity to draft a true difference-making forward, and Noel Gunler fits that description perfectly.
Previous profiles of entry draft prospects can be found above, as well as my initial top-31 ranking of eligible prospects.
Noel Gunler – W
Luleå HF [SHL] – 18 – Luleå, Sweden
An older skater in this year’s draft class, Gunler exploded onto the Swedish junior scene with one the best DY-1 seasons of all time in 2018-19, where he scored nearly a goal-per-game for Luleå’s J20 team at the SuperElit level. His 27 goals in 31 games that season rank as the best goal-per-game rate in SuperElit history for a player his age, and his points per game (1.48) ranks fourth all-time.
Playing primarily bottom-six minutes for Luleå at the pro level this season, Gunler scored a respectable 13 points in 45 games. That 0.29 points-per-game rate ranks similar to draft-eligible seasons from Calle Järnkrok, William Nylander, and Lucas Raymond (all at 0.30).
Among draft-eligible skaters in the SHL this season, Gunler was a touch behind Alexander Holtz in even-strength primary points-per-game (0.2857 to 0.2000) but a spot ahead of Raymond (0.1818).
Per the fantastic tracking work of Will Scouch, we’re able to see that Gunler wasn’t out of place at the pro level when it came to driving play. While his reduced minutes led to less opportunity to control pace than peers at junior levels, Gunler made his offensive transitions matter, executing over 63% of them with possession.
That statistic is key for draft-eligible players competing against men. It’s easy to question strength and protection ability at that level, but controlled transition skills are something I find transferable to higher levels.
Gunler (#8, yellow) is a high-skill player who makes his way up ice with a) his head up, b) good pace, and c) great puck support to his teammates. Not only does he have an excellent understanding of the game at the pro level, but he’s able to execute too.
Take this clip above. As the puck is rimmed around the boards, Gunler moves into excellent position for a breakout, receiving a pass from his teammate before attempting a zone entry two-on-three. As he approaches the blue line, most players his age would simply dump the puck in. But Gunler recognizes he has the two outer defenders beat, so he attacks the one remaining. This defender does a good job keeping the play in front of him, but nevertheless, Gunler is able to launch a sneaky high-danger attempt off his backhand—something not many could execute in that position.
This clip highlights Gunler’s puck support play in the offensive zone. He’s almost never stagnant—shifting between the slot, below the goal line, and the wall—and constantly in a position not just to receive a pass but to make a play from that pass. This ultimately translates into a solid screen that helps his teammate beat the goalie from the point.
Here we get a sense of Gunler’s transition game; he’s moving up ice with great quickness and solid puck touches to navigate the defense. Despite getting held up, he maintains the forecheck and helps initiate a takeaway before recording a primary assist to cap things off.
I greatly appreciate how Gunler attacks the point in the defensive zone. He doesn’t tunnel himself into one lane hoping for a shot block, but attacks from multiple angles often leading to takeaways as shown above. Once he’s off on the odd-man rush, there’s almost no question he’ll bury this goal with his lethal wrist shot.
Here’s another example of that wrist shot and his ability to pick nearly any corner off the rush.
Although the play in the clip above ultimately goes nowhere, two things stand out to me. First, Gunler is constantly launching into transition. I’ve rarely seen him still along the boards and having to accelerate into a breakout; he’s always anticipating that play and therefore generates tons of speed through the neutral zone, pushing the defense back. Second, most players would dump this puck in the second they hit the blue line. I love how Gunler holds for a second, pulls the defender over, and then chips it past him for an unobstructed path to recovery.
Likely the biggest knock on Gunler is his defensive skills. They aren’t bad per se, in fact, I often think his defensive zone positioning is quite good. What I would like to see is more consistency in attacking loose pucks and winning board battles. Too often this season I saw plays like the one above, where a floating Gunler gets beat to a puck by the pinching defender only to keep their possession alive.
All in all, Gunler is an underrated, next-level talent in this draft. He’ll likely be picked in the teens but could wind up as a top-ten NHL player from this draft. If Nashville is looking for a play-driving finisher, the organization can’t go wrong with the Luleå forward.
Expected Pick Range
Colin Cudmore (@CudmoreColin) over at silversevensens.com has done remarkable work compiling draft rankings and establishing an ‘Expected Pick Range’ from a variety of different sources. You can read about his methodology here, track the compiled rankings here, and use his data viz (embedded below) here.
Gunler’s Expected Pick Range: #11 to #22 Overall – Round One
Gunler is a guarantee in the first round, in my opinion. Should he slip, a number of teams would be making a huge mistake passing on a potentially elite offensive player. Depending on how the top ten shakes out, Gunler should force Nashville to make serious consideration of him at 11th overall.