2022-23 Team: Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL)
DOB: January 3, 2005
Place of Birth: Saskatoon, SK, Canada
Ht: 6’0″ Wt: 165 pounds
NHL Draft Eligibility: 2023 Draft Eligible
THW – Horn: 16th
THW – Baracchini: 9th
Sportsnet – Cosentino: 9th
DailyFaceoff – Ellis: 17th
The Hockey News – Ferrari: 22nd
Bob McKenzie: 7th
Most people agree that Brayden Yager is a first round-caliber prospect in the 2023 draft. What people don’t necessarily agree on is just how good of a prospect he is and, therefore, how high in the order he should be picked. Part of that is due to the sheer number of quality prospects available in this year’s draft class. Another part of it is his own play; when considering all the highs and lows of his game, it’s hard to get a firm grasp on just how well he stacks up in comparison to some of his peers in this draft class.
The thing that jumps out at you about Yager’s game is his shot and his willingness to use it. He’s got a quick release and hits his target with deadly accuracy. He has 60 goals over his last two seasons in the Western Hockey League (WHL) and could probably have a lot more if he was asked to adopt a shoot-first mentality. His shot does not rival the best goal-scorers in the world, but it is dangerous enough that he could develop into a 30 goal-scorer in the NHL at his peak.
As a top-six center with the Moose Jaw Warriors, he regularly gets his teammates involved in the offense. While he is not the most creative prospect available in this year’s draft (and some could even argue that his passing game is a little bit bland), he knows how to identify the simple plays that maintain possession and lead to scoring opportunities. In other words, he’s more of a finisher than a facilitator, but he is more than capable of being the “tic” or “tac” in a tic-tac-toe play.
Related: 2023 NHL Draft Guide
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Overall, perhaps Yager’s best trait is how active he is all over the ice. Though he is not the best skater (his skating is average at best compared to the rest of his draft class) he does move his feet in all areas of the ice. That includes the defensive zone where he doesn’t just participate in defensive coverage, he actively pursues the puck-carrier and backchecks like a true two-way centerman. He will need to add a lot of strength over the next few years to really tap into his defensive abilities, but if he can, he’ll become an all-situations centerman at the NHL level.
Yager’s compete level is not a concern as he is always trying to contribute however he can. This will be key for him moving forward, especially if his offensive abilities do not fully translate at the NHL level. To be a top-six center in the NHL, a player has to be trusted to play a good chunk of minutes while also producing in that time on ice. This particular prospect should have no problem earning the trust of every coach he plays for, but it remains to be seen if he can score against the best goalies in the world. With playmaking not being a trademark of his game, his compete level will be what earns him a spot in the NHL, regardless of whether it’s in a top six or bottom six spot.
With that in mind, Yager may spend some time on the wing as he climbs the professional totem pole. He has all the characteristics of a high-end matchup centerman, but playing on the wing may allow him to tap into his offensive potential a bit more. This then begs the question: where do you pick him as a center versus where you would pick him as a winger?
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Brayden Yager – NHL Draft Projection
If enough teams feel that Yager has the potential to become a legitimate top six, two-way centerman in the NHL, he’ll hear his name called in the top-16. If there is some skepticism that he’ll become a scoring winger that might struggle to score, he could be one of the bigger fallers in the first round. He shouldn’t fall out of the first round completely, but it’s not outlandish to suggest that his draft range is anywhere from eighth to 32nd overall.
“I like the way he supports the puck defensively as a centreman, too, though he’ll need to get stronger to be reliable defensively at the NHL level. He is very intentional with his routes, offensively and defensively, which should help him stick at the centre position long term. I don’t think he’s going to become the kind of star that you’re hoping to get when you draft him in the 5-7 range that some expected him to land in this year, but he’s got 2C, PP1 upside if he can fill out his game and continue to add dimension.” – Scott Wheeler (from “2023 NHL Draft top 64 prospects: Scott Wheeler’s March ranking”, The Athletic, 3/1/23)
“Yager is a reliable puck mover. He doesn’t always carry the puck out of his zone. Yager will opt to distribute if he is deep in his own zone. He does a great job of identifying teammates breaking out and hitting them in stride when he is under pressure deep in his own zone. In situations in which the pressure is a bit more relaxed and he’s deep in his own zone, he will still opt to pass and look to get the puck into the hands of a winger further up in the zone. That has led to a lot of give and go transitional play as Yager will look to pass to his wingers along the boards and then skate into open ice in the neutral zone.” – Josh Tessler, Smaht Scouting
“Yager is a player with a pro-style game. He plays with a lot of speed and energy, showing the ability to carry pucks up the ice and make skilled plays with pace. He’s not the biggest center, but Yager plays hard, showing a commitment to making plays without the puck and winning a lot of battles even though he’s not overly physical.” – Corey Pronman (from “2023 NHL Draft prospects: Connor Bedard leads Corey Pronman’s midseason ranking”, The Athletic, 1/31/23)
- Compete level
- Scoring ability
- Puck movement
- Puck pursuit
- Two-way play
- High-end potential
- Average skating
- Center or winger?
Yager’s combination of a lethal shot and blossoming two-way play should pave a path forward for him to become a legitimate second line center in the NHL. His compete level and defensive play will lead him to the NHL; his offense will determine how high up his team’s depth chart he’ll climb. He should also develop into a player that logs a lot of minutes on both the power play and the penalty kill.
Risk – 3/5, Reward – 4.5/5
Fantasy Hockey Potential
Offense – 7.5/10, Defense – 7.5/10