Columnist image
Frank Seravalli

TSN Senior Hockey Reporter


If you’re a fan of an Eastern Conference Canadian club, it probably wouldn’t take many guesses to nail the Core 4 for your squad. The slotting of the players might vary, but the core would be the same.

But you might want to know: Who is next? Which players have a chance to crack the 2020 version of the Core 4?

With the help of TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button, let’s take a deeper dive into the Canadian cores:

Methodology: We went through every organization, from top to bottom, isolating the top players 23-and-under who are now Core 4 players or are authentic candidates to become Core 4 players. We then graded each eligible player, which came with a corresponding point value that aided in team rankings. In the case of closely graded teams, the edge was given to teams with a stronger total core. With closely graded players, those currently in the NHL earned the edge over prospects in the minors or junior. To be eligible, a player must be 23 or under on Oct. 1, 2019.



Embedded Image Team moved up from 2018 Ranking

Embedded Image Team moved down from 2018 Ranking

Embedded Image Cream of the Crop

Embedded Image Elite Star

Embedded Image No. 1 goalie, 1st pair defenceman, 1st line forward

Embedded Image No. 1 goalie, 2nd pair defenceman, 2nd line forward

Embedded Image Depth goalie, 3rd pair defenceman, 3rd/4th line forward


Embedded Image3. Toronto (2018: No. 2)

Embedded Image

The Core Four...Plus Four

Player Rating 2019-20 Age GP G A PTS
1. Auston Matthews, C Embedded Image Toronto (NHL) 22 24 15 13 28
2. Mitch Marner, RW Embedded Image Toronto (NHL) 22 18 4 14 18
3. William Nylander, RW Embedded Image Toronto (NHL) 23 24 8 10 18
4. Kasperi Kapanen, RW Embedded Image Toronto (NHL) 23 24 6 6 12
5. Rasmus Sandin, D Embedded Image Toronto (AHL) 19 9 2 7 9
6. Travis Dermott, D Embedded Image Toronto (NHL) 22 11 1 1 2
7. Nick Robertson, C/LW Embedded Image Peterborough (OHL) 18 17 19 9 28
8. Timothy Liljegren, D Embedded Image Toronto (AHL) 20 14 1 8 9

One big question: What is Rasmus Sandin’s ETA for the Leafs?

Toronto is undoubtedly focused on the present, but GM Kyle Dubas has to have one eye on the future on the Leafs’ blueline. Morgan Rielly is the only defenceman on the current roster under contract for next season. Travis Dermott is an RFA, but Tyson Barrie, Jake Muzzin, Cody Ceci, Justin Holl and Martin Marincin are all pending UFAs. That would make next season (2020-21) an ideal start date for Sandin, who is being seasoned with the Marlies right now, because the Leafs might need cap-friendly bodies for the blueline.



Embedded Image12. Ottawa (2018: 10)

Embedded Image

The Core Four...Plus Four

Player Rating 2019-20 Age GP G A PTS
1. Thomas Chabot, D Embedded Image Ottawa (NHL) 22 22 1 11 12
2. Brady Tkachuk, LW Embedded Image Ottawa (NHL) 20 22 8 5 13
3. Erik Brannstrom, D Embedded Image Ottawa (NHL) 20 19 0 2 2
4. Drake Batherson, RW Embedded Image Belleville (AHL) 21 15 6 11 17
5. Lassi Thomson, D Embedded Image Ilves (SM Liiga) 19 15 3 3 6
6. Alex Formenton, LW Embedded Image Belleville (AHL) 20 15 4 4 8
7. Colin White, C Embedded Image Ottawa (NHL) 22 15 2 2 4
8. Jacob Bernard-Docker, D Embedded Image N. Dakota (NCAA) 19 11 1 8 9

One big question: How deep is the Sens’ prospect cupboard? 

What makes Ottawa’s Core 4 plus Four so intriguing is the breadth and depth of the group. There are four defencemen, three wingers and one centre. If you go beyond the four, we are projecting five more players with ‘B’ grades as second-line or second-pair players, including Josh Norris, Rudolfs Balcers, Shane Pinto and goaltenders Mads Sogaard and Filip Gustavsson. If the Sens can successfully groom one of Sogaard or Gustavsson to be the long-term future in net, they’ll be well positioned at every position.



Embedded Image15. Montreal (2018: 18)

Embedded Image

The Core Four...Plus Four

Player Rating 2019-20 Age GP G A PTS
1. Cole Caufield, RW Embedded Image Wisconsin (NCAA) 18 12 9 6 15
2. Alexander Romanov, D Embedded Image Moscow (KHL) 19 28 0 3 3
3. Nick Suzuki, RW Embedded Image Montreal (NHL) 20 22 6 4 10
4. Jesperi Kotkaniemi, C Embedded Image Montreal (NHL) 19 15 2 1 3
5. Ryan Poehling, C Embedded Image Laval (AHL) 20 16 3 2 5
6. Victor Mete, D Embedded Image Montreal (NHL) 22 22 3 3 6
7. Cale Fleury, D Embedded Image Montreal (NHL) 21 17 1 0 1
8. Cayden Primeau, G Embedded Image Laval (AHL) 20 9 6-2-1 1.87 .934

One big question: Is Jesperi Kotkaniemi coming down with Victor Mete syndrome? 

Mete seemed to land in Montreal out of the clear blue sky, stepping onto the NHL blueline at age 18 in 2017-18 after being a fourth-round pick (No. 100 overall) that June. It’s been up and down since then, with Mete needing time in the AHL again, as he’s settled into his role as a depth defenceman. Kotkaniemi was the No. 1 player in the Habs’ Core 4 last year with an ‘A’ grade as a projected top-line centre. This year, Kotkaniemi is down to the fourth slot in the Core 4. The argument could’ve been made to swap Kotkaniemi and Ryan Poehling. Kotkaniemi is still just 19, but Montreal’s search for that elusive first-line centre may not be over.