You know the kind: they weave through the neutral zone effortlessly, puck on a string, and hit a streaking winger with a pinpoint pass as he’s hitting the blue line. Or they hold the puck with poise, using their vision to wait until a lane opens up before hitting a forward on a home-run pass down the middle. They are the brains behind the quick transitions that catch opponents flat-footed, and better than any other players they somehow manage to keep one eye on their own zone and the other on opportunities to break the other way. Puck-moving defensemen contribute more to any given hockey game than any other player, and are esteemed by teams and fans alike.
This year’s Entry Draft seems stacked with several examples of every type of player you can imagine, and puck-moving defensemen are no different. Here are five such players not widely seen as first-round picks who are sure to be coveted by GMs on draft day.
Mitchell Vande Sompel
Called the most explosive defenseman in the OHL, ‘MVS’ tallied just over a point-per-game this past season with eventual Memorial Cup champions the Oshawa Generals, scoring 12-51-63 points in 58 regular season games. A skater with elite top-end speed with or without the puck, he can dangle through the neutral zone and quarterback a power play. He can’t however seem to stay healthy; injuries are an issue.
Dan Stewart of Future Considerations says the best part of Erie Otters defenseman Travis Dermott’s game is his ability to process the game unfolding in front of him, and Anthony Mauro of Draftbuzz says that that processor could “handle the pro game now.” He scored 8-37-45 points in 61 games for the Otters and put up nearly a point per game in the playoffs, registering 5-12-17 points in 19 games.
One of the more agile and mobile skaters among this year’s crop, Niagara IceDogs defensemen Vince Dunn is the subject of some of the most effusive scouting praise around. They are unanimous about his puck management, his ability to elude pressure with the puck, his sharp passing, and his efficiency running the power play. They also seem unanimous on the fact that his defensive game could use a tune-up.
Finishing his third season with the Gatineau Olympiques of the QMJHL, Alexandre Carrier is the most complete defenseman on this short list, having shown a ‘do-it-all’ ability this season and a consistency from game to game, shift to shift and zone to zone that you rarely see at this level. While hardly the most hyped defenseman in this year’s draft, he never leaves spectators underwhelmed, and his 12-43-55 points in 68 games was good for third overall among defensemen in the Q.
With a high hockey IQ, elite skating ability, top-notch puck management and 10-30-40 points on the year, Kyle Capobianco should be getting more attention, but even the best individual skills can get lost when you play on a bad team. Some players elevate the players around them, other players can’t elevate those players no matter what they do. Capobianco plays for the Sudbury Wolves in the OHL, a league in which every team won at least 24 of 68 games this past season — except Sudbury, which won just 12. Capobianco’s -49 rating will shock some, but only out of context; a half-dozen teammates were even worse. Capobianco’s stock will be low in the draft, but it should help make him a steal in retrospect.
For extensive insight into 150 players eligible for this year’s NHL entry draft, check out THW’s NHL 2015 Draft Prospect Guide, available for the Kindle and soon available for all e-reader formats.