Photo Credit: Rena Laverty
Scouting Report written by Josh Tessler
Isaac Howard is an American 2022 NHL Draft eligible prospect and he hails from Hudson, Wisconsin. For those unfamiliar with Wisconsin, Hudson sits on the Minnesota/Wisconsin state line and is a suburb of Minneapolis-St. Paul.
Howard’s older brother, Anthony Howard is a former goaltender, who played high school hockey for their hometown high school, Hudson High School. Anthony won the Kirk Daubenspeck Award / USHS – Wisconsin Best Goaltender Award for his play in the 2016-2017 season.
Before joining the USNTDP U17 squad in 2020, he played prep school hockey for Shattuck St. Mary’s and played U15 hockey for MN Kings 15U AAA squad in the Minnesota Bantam Elite League 15U. Throughout his time with the MN Kings 15U AAA and at Shattuck St. Mary’s, he played alongside current USNTDP teammate Ryan Chesley.
Last season (2020-2021), Howard was the second highest point producer for the USNTDP U17 team. His teammate Frank Nazar had slightly higher production rates. This season, Howard again is one of the top producers for the USNTDP, but this time he is on the U18 squad. Howard, Nazar, Jimmy Snuggerud and Logan Cooley all have high point totals and have been instrumental in the USNTDP U18’s success this season.
Howard is committed to the University of Minnesota-Duluth and will be joining the Bulldogs next season (2022-2023).
Should he choose to go play in the CHL (Canadian Hockey League) at any point, he would report to the OHL’s (Ontario Hockey League) Owen Sound Attack. The Owen Sound Attack obtained his CHL rights when they selected him in the fifth round of the 2020 OHL Priority Selection draft.
D.O.B – March 30, 2004
Nationality – USA
Draft Eligibility – 2022
Weight –183 lbs
Position – Left Wing
Handedness – Left
Howard’s Style Of Play
When you look at Howard’s puck movement in the offensive zone, he appears to be very inconsistent with puck control. There are tools in the toolbox that he uses every now and then to create space for himself, but he doesn’t always use those tools. With that said, Howard has the ability to be slippery and deceptive with his puck movements. There are situations in which he will appear as if he is looking to take a wrist shot from the perimeter, fakes out the defender and then cuts to the net. Howard has quick hands that allows him to adapt well to pressure and that allows him to claim open ice quickly after being deceptive. But, he does struggle with consistency as mentioned earlier. When pivoting on the fly, in the offensive zone, he will struggle to retain control of the puck. He typically plays the puck closer to his body and doesn’t extend the puck further out. The puck control and reachability issues hurt his ability to swing the puck from left to right around defenders. There have been plenty of sequences in which Howard is facing a defender dead on and simply can’t shift the puck far enough to cut around pressure. His lack of reachability isn’t only present when controlling the puck, but it also present when he looks to gain control of loose pucks. He has a limited wingspan and his reach doesn’t allow him to net possession of pucks that are slightly further out from his body. That also means that when passes are coming slightly wide of him, Howard’s reach prohibits him from trapping possession of the puck. Howard seems to be well aware of his puck control issues and tends to find open ice in the slot instead of cycling the puck himself. Usually, he is paired with Frank Nazar and Logan Cooley. Both, Nazar and Cooley are stronger at puck control and stick-handling then Howard, so it makes sense that Howard is instead looking to find an open ice to set up Nazar and/or Cooley with passing lanes to high danger.
From a positioning perspective, Howard likes to go to the low slot and once he has open ice, he then communicates with his teammate by raising his stick. The goal is to generate one-timer passing opportunities for his teammates to exploit. Howard does a good job of identifying where the attack is and if they are puck watching. If he sees that attacker are paying attention down low or puck watching one of Howard’s teammates, he will react quickly, skate to the slot and find unattended ice. For instance, check out this clip from a game against the Madison Capitols on January 22, 2022, in which he observed that the defenders were not paying attention to Howard’s movements and thus he captures open ice towards the net and scores on a quality cross ice pass.
While this might seem like small potatoes, it isn’t. I’m quite impressed that he was able to pick up on facial cues and at that moment he quickly decided to skate up and net open ice for himself. Not every draft eligible prospect does that.
But, in general, Howard looks to create passing lanes in medium danger for his teammates who are behind the red line, in the corner or stuck in puck battles along the half-wall. He likes to position himself further back past the last defender to have as much open as possible and ultimately that keeps the goaltender on his toes as when Howard receives the puck from a teammate, it’s just the goaltender and him.
Howard is a very quick decision maker. Once he receives the puck, he doesn’t hold onto it for way too long. However, there are plenty of shifts where his quick decision making leads to turnovers. Howard will struggle with identifying teammates and passing lanes. But, it is more than that. He will struggle at reading the route / path that his teammates are taking and thus will miss the mark when attempting a pass. Howard will mistime cross ice passes and will send passes that go slightly behind or wide of intended target. From a pure vision standpoint, there are plenty of pass attempts in which he had no teammate in the vicinity, but still attempted a pass. For instance, I’ve seen him attempt a pass when he had an attacker keeping him at bay along the boards. Instead, of targeting a teammate, the puck went right to the attacker and bounced off of the attacker’s skate.
Even though there are issues with mistiming passes, Howard is constantly looking to attempt dangerous passes. If he spots a teammate in the slot and he has the puck beyond the perimeter, he will attempt to pass to the teammate in the slot. He knows that his teammate has a far better chance of generating a scoring chance based on his positioning than him when he has at the perimeter. If he doesn’t have a teammate in the slot, but has a teammate in medium danger, you can expect him to deliver passes to his teammates in medium danger. Howard knows that it is all about where he is on the ice in comparison to where his teammates are. Even if his teammates aren’t in the slot and are in medium danger, they are still closer to net-front then he is.
We will touch on his forechecking in a bit, but one of the things that makes Howard so appealing is his ability to jump on loose pucks behind the net, get himself in position behind the opposing net and then attempt passes to the slot. As mentioned above, he loves getting pucks to the slot and his forechecking allows him to do so.
In situations where he is the F1 and carries the puck into the zone, but doesn’t have a clear skating lane to exploit. You will see him shift laterally over to one direction once he has entered the zone to buy time for his F2 to enter the offensive zone. Once his F2 has entered into the offensive zone, he will look to complete drop passes to get the puck to his teammate and then skate towards the slot to net open ice and a passing lane for the F2 to utilize.
When it comes to Howard’s shot, he prefers quick shot. He doesn’t like to hold onto the puck for long and thus he looks at create a lot of one-timer opportunities. With that said, Howard does struggle when following through on his one-timer. He will struggle with his one-timers no matter where he is in the offensive zone. There have been opportunities where he sets himself up backdoor at net-front and cant connect on a one-timer feed that came right to him. There have also been plenty of one-timer opportunities from range in which he struggles with.
On routine wrist and snap shots from range, Howard will struggle to raise his shots from range. There will be shot attempts where he struggles to get enough height on his shot and goaltenders nab the puck with their glove cleanly. But, then Howard will scored long range bar down goals. Ultimately, when you look at his shot mechanics there are reasons why he struggles with accuracy. For instance, he needs to work on his weight transfer. On quite a few shots from range, Howard struggles to push his body over his knee for maximum power. Howard also needs to work on where his stick blade is in comparison to the net. If his stick blade aligns with the net, then he has far better chance of getting a quality shot on net. But, there are plenty of situations in which he is preparing to take a shot but the stick blade isn’t aligned with the net and thus his accuracy is off.
Howard has good presence on the forecheck. The Wisconsin native uses his speed to bolster his forechecking game. He keeps good pace on the puck carrier and uses quality crossovers to keep his motor running. Off the draw, he will jump up/hop up and extend out his stick blade to force the attacker to lose possession of the puck, pushes the puck towards the boards behind the red line, skates to the puck and attempts a pass to the slot. If he is hunting from a loose puck in the corner and skating toe to toe with the attacker, he goes for the inside lane, pushes the attacker out, but he doesn’t forget that the attacker has good presence on him, so he does a backhand tap pass to a teammate coming down towards the corner. He does so to keep the cycle alive. When engaging in a puck battle in which the attacker his possession of the puck, he will extend his stick blade out when he sees that the attacker has pushed the puck all the way to his limit. If he is skating from behind on the forecheck, Howard will try to stick lift attacker’s legs to disrupt them when skating from behind on the forecheck.
Generally speaking, he isn’t a physical guy, but he will lay a hit if he has kept good pace and he can follow through on the check. If he does go in for a check, he likes to lean on shoulder checks.
In the defensive zone, he drops to the face-off hash marks when the puck is being moved about down low. Howard will position himself near puck battles down low in the corner to provide a passing lane and stay on guard incase the attack nets possession. When there are puck battles along the other half-wall, he moves to centered ice to man the slot. He implements good presence at the point, skating towards the puck carrying defenseman and forcing them to make a rash puck movement decision.
Routinely, Howard keeps an excellent eye on the puck and aligns his positioning to where the puck is. In addition, he has the speed with his crossovers to keep quality pace with his puck carrying attackers. His vision and speed compliment each other nicely as he is always on the move, attentive and puts himself in a position where he can be impactful.
Howard has quite an active stick. He will extend his stick out towards the attackers stick and fight for the loose puck with his stick blade at open ice. He can be rather quick to loose pucks, extends his stick blade out towards the puck, tries to cut inside and box the attacker away. If a zone exit pass from a teammate comes slightly wide of where he is and the puck becomes loose when he is skating towards the blue line, he will extend his stick blade out and win the puck battle before the attacker grabs a hold of the puck.
When it comes to generating the rush, Howard likes to pass the puck to teammates further up in the defensive zone, but he does have similar vision struggles that we talked about with his offensive game. Howard will attempt centered breakout passes when looking to instill a rush, but never truly looked for his teammate and just assumed he was there, missed the mark. There are also situations in which he had an attacker skating towards him when he was almost at the blue line, Howard then tried a pass between the attacker’s legs. But, he didn’t realize that the attacker was going to extend his stick blade out towards the puck to shut down the pass. That led to a turnover. Ultimately, Howard needs to be more cautious when identifying passing lanes.
While there are plenty of situations in which Howard doesn’t get a clean pass off, there are plenty of other situations in which he does. If he has a clear stretch passing lane to a teammate at the offensive zone blue-line, he will pass along the boards to his teammate. Howard will look to complete route / trajectory zone exit passes at the blue line if he spots Logan Cooley and Frank Nazar (his regular USNTDP line-mates) with open ice and he doesn’t have much open ice to use. If he has traffic in front of him when he is skating along the half-wall, but he sees a teammate slightly further down the boards, he passes the puck along the boards to the teammate to help create a zone exit.
When capturing possession of a loose puck and he is facing the direction of his goaltender, he will feed a backhand pass to a teammate who is skating up towards the blue line. He doesn’t like to hold onto the puck for too long, so if he sees a teammate with open space and it appears that he has a good route to the neutral zone, Howard won’t hesitate. He will pass the puck.
In the neutral zone, Howard does a good job of finding open ice for himself towards the blue line. He establishes a passing lane at the blue line and that allows his defensemen to use stretch passes to facilitate the rush. His ability to identify passing lanes has led to breakaway goals this season with the USNTDP.
If he hasn’t created a passing lane at the blue line and is skating slightly behind his puck carrying teammate, he does a good job of finding separation for passing lanes and can motor up to those passing lanes. Howard uses his speed to skate past traffic and open up cross ice passing lanes for his teammates to use.
Similar to his puck control in the offensive zone, he has limited reach and that leads to inconsistent puck security. He struggles to push the puck slightly wide/further up to avoid an attacker stripping the puck from him. From time to time, he will bobble the puck but as long as the attack isn’t glued to him, he can maintain possession. When he faces stronger pressure, that is when his limited reach hurts his ability to move the puck up through the neutral zone with ease.
When it comes to moving the puck up the ice from zone to zone, he can be a passenger at times, but it depends on who he is being paired with. This season, he has spent quite a bit of time with Logan Cooley and Frank Nazar. Both, are a bit faster, slightly more mobile and have stronger puck control. With that said, Howard is often the one looking for passing lanes for Cooley and Nazar to use, instead of driving the rush. But, in the games in which he hasn’t been paired with his regular line-mates or just one of them is absent from the lineup, he was far more involved in transitional puck movement.
Should he carry the puck into the neutral zone and drive towards the offensive blue line, it’s a mixed bag on each shift, sometimes he’ll skate up without much concern of traffic, but there are shifts where he draws the attack to him and will then look to pass the puck to an open teammate who is slightly closer to the blue line. When driving the rush but slightly behind a teammate who is closer to the offensive zone blue line, he will look to pass to that teammate. But, unfortunately, he will mistime the route and pass the puck slightly behind the intended target.
When defending in the neutral zone, he is skating behind the rush in the majority of his shifts. With that said, Howard is a winger not a center and that shouldn’t be held against him. He is being paired with Logan Cooley and Frank Nazar in most USNTDP games. At the end of the day, that line has three skaters with explosive speed. Nazar has a lovely blend of speed and being a true bulldog when it comes to fighting for the puck. With that said, Howard doesn’t have to be the guy fighting the rush in the neutral zone. Also, keep in mind that Howard loves to garner open ice in the slot, so if a turnover should happen at the perimeter in the offensive zone, it is a tall order for anyone to keep pace with the rush. With that being said, I can’t fault Howard on skating behind the rush.
Howard has good skating extensions. They are crisp and well-aligned. He has good ankle flexion. His knees sit above the toe of his skates when in stride. But, he doesn’t have a power skating stride extension. Instead, he has a standard shorter stride extension stride, but the length of the extension is consistent across the board. When beginning his stride extensions, he activates those extensions on quality hops. Howard nets his speed by implementing a blend of crossovers and stride extensions and will use that blend when skating hard after loose pucks in the corner or aiming to create passing lanes in all three zones.
Similar to when he activates stride extensions and uses a hop to push off, he also uses quality hops when activating crossovers from a stand-still position. His crossovers allow him to generate top speed and it aligns himself with his puck carrying teammate in the neutral zone and the offensive zone. That speed allows him to constantly be in position to accept a pass.
While his crossovers have been rather fruitful at generating the necessary acceleration to grab a hold of loose pucks and create passing lanes in all three zones, his crossovers allow him to shift his body from left to right when moving the puck through the neutral zone and into the offensive zone. He can depend on his crossovers when shifting away from traffic in the neutral zone.
Howard has good edges. Leans on his edges nicely and that allows him to retain speed that he built up through crossovers and stride extensions. Sometimes, he will have difficulty maintaining balance with his edges on tight turns and should look to utilize his crossovers slightly more to facilitate those turns.
Howard has good posture and bends his knees when in stride. His posture also allows him to widen his body to take up space when facing an attacker with the puck and it is especially useful in the defensive zone when he looks to keep puck carrying attackers in low danger.
Howard has a lot of the fundamentals that I love and cherish. His speed is excellent and he can play a high-tempo competitive game, especially behind the red line and the corners. In addition, he does a great job of finding open ice in the slot and keeps himself well aligned with puck movement.
Over the next few years at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, I would like to see Howard continue to grow his transitional game and work on identifying optimal passing lanes to exploit. But, I do love his ability to generate passes to high danger. At the same time, I just want to see the number of completed dangerous passes go up. So, if he can work on identifying the optimal lanes to use, you have to imagine that the dangerous passing rates will go up. In addition, I’d like to see bolster his shot mechanics.
If Howard continues to develop his game nicely, I do believe that you are looking at a top nine forward at the NHL level.
February 2, 2022
stats from InStat and EliteProspects
Prospect report written by Josh Tessler. If you would like to follow Josh on Twitter, his handle is @JoshTessler_.
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