2022-23 Team: U.S. National U18 Team (NTDP)
Date of Birth: Apr. 1, 2005
Place of Birth: Wausau, Wisconsin
Height: 6-foot-4, Weight: 210 pounds
NHL Draft Eligibility: 2023 first-year eligible
- NHL Central Scouting (NA Skaters): 64th
- Bob McKenzie (TSN): 66th
- Logan Horn (THW): 99th
- Andrew Forbes (THW): 115th
- Smaht Scouting: 97th
- EliteProspects: 120th
- FC Hockey: 257th
Every team wants to find the next Cale Makar – a fast, puck-moving defenceman who can control the play and create offensive chances every time they’re on the ice, regardless of size. It’s led to a minor revolution on the draft floor where smaller defencemen with incredibly high hockey intelligence are getting picked much higher than ever before. Last year, the 6-foot-1 Simon Nemec went fifth overall, while the 5-foot-11 Denton Mateychuk went 12th. Two years before that, 5-foot-11 Jamie Drysdale went sixth overall to the Anaheim Ducks.
Brady Cleveland is not the next Makar. Measuring nearly 6-foot-5 and 210 pounds at the NHL Draft Combine, he is a lumbering behemoth on the National Team Development Program’s (NTDP) blue line. Although he moves well for a big player, he’s a below-average skater in his draft class, and his puck skills are limited. In 55 games with the NTDP, he picked up six assists and registered just 14 shots on goal. He didn’t score at all last season, either, making his goal drought 144 games across all levels of play.
But if the Vegas Golden Knights’ Stanley Cup win taught us anything, it’s that there’s still a place for big, bruising defensemen who can wear down the opposition, and in the 2023 NHL Draft class, there isn’t a player that can do that better than Cleveland. Known for being a punishing hitter, he’s one of the toughest players at the United States Hockey League (USHL) level. This season, he led the NTDP with 106 penalty minutes, 30 of which came in a single game after he removed his helmet in a fight. He doesn’t do anything halfway, so when he commits to a hit or a fight, he gives it his all. It’s made him one of the most feared players on the National Team, even though he is usually the seventh defenceman on the roster.
But Cleveland is far from just a goon. He possesses a strong stick that he can use to break up plays, stopping the opposition dead in their tracks simply because they can’t get around him. On the off-chance they do beat him, he can bust out some surprising lateral mobility; at the Draft Combine, he ranked third in Pro Agility Test to the right. Those skills, along with a willingness to get down to block shots, made him one of the U18’s best penalty killers. It also made him one of 23 players to join Team USA at the U18 World Championship, where he played all seven games en route to claiming the gold medal. Pure shutdown defenders rarely end up on international teams, proving that he is a special player.
Other THW Draft Profiles
Brady Cleveland – NHL Draft Projection
Cleveland is currently ranked around the 100th pick, which would slot him in the fourth round, but there’s a good chance he’ll go much higher than that. Tyler Kleven, who stands 6-foot-4, was ranked generally near the end of the third round before he was selected 44th overall by the Ottawa Senators in 2020. Nolan Allan was another defender who jumped up in the draft thanks to his 6-foot-2 frame, going 32nd overall in 2021 to the Chicago Blackhawks. NHL scouts love big, imposing players, and there are few that are bigger than Cleveland.
But there’s one more aspect that could boost his ranking even further. In a survey conducted by The Score’s Josh Wegman and John Matisz, Cleveland said that if he could have any trait from any active NHLer, he’d take “Brady Tkachuk’s swagger and physicality.” That’s a bold statement, especially with Brady and his brother Matthew quickly becoming the face of the NHL thanks to their attitude. He already has the physicality down, but if teams believe he has a Tkachuk-level of passion, he’ll be an easy second-round selection.
“Cleveland is the type of big, hyper-physical, “mean as hell” type of defenseman that NHL teams covet. He skates quite well for a big man too. He would be a highly-rated prospect if he had any offence, but he has very little puck game. He struggles to consistently execute outlet passes or provide any type of secondary offence. I get the temptation to compare him to former U.S. NTDP defenseman Kleven. They are similar in some regards, and Kleven currently looks like a very good pro prospect, but I think Cleveland has less puck game than Kleven and it’s why his coaches limited his ice time in games this season. He’s a unique and highly coveted player type if he hits, but the path to him getting there is a bit of a longshot.” Corey Pronman, The Athletic (from “2023 NHL Draft ranking: Connor Bedard leads Corey Pronman’s tiers of the top 142 prospects,” The Athletic – 05/30/2023)
Latest News & Highlights
“A massive 6-foot-5 defenseman with tremendous physical strength and toughness, there can still be a place for players like Cleveland in the NHL. He’s a fierce competitor and can deliver punishing checks. Offensively, however, Cleveland offers very little in terms of notable upside. You’re drafting size, but his athleticism and competitiveness make him more than just a big body.” – Chris Peters, FloHockey
“The best word I can use to describe Brady is tough. He’s a crazy tough kid and if you’re ever on the ice when he is, you have to keep your head up. Whether you’ve played against him before or it’s your first shift, you find out pretty quickly who he is because he doesn’t shy away from that physical element. You just don’t see many kids play like he does in today’s game and when you do have someone like Brady, it impacts the entire lineup. But I think the other big thing with Brady is his play in his own end. He’s got a great stick, he kills plays, he can skate and I thought he did a really good job moving pucks up for us. Plus he was someone we trusted a lot on the penalty kill. So with all of those and his physical element, he can add a dynamic that not every team has.” – Dan Muse, NTDP Head Coach
- Defensive presence
Under Construction – Improvements to Make
In The Score interview, Cleveland made an interesting comparison, stating, “I like to watch a lot of Jaycob Megna…He’s a good comparison for me, just with his size and ability on the ice.” Megna, a 6-foot-6 defender, put up 12 points in 52 games between the San Jose Sharks and Seattle Kraken but has struggled to find a permanent place in a lineup since breaking into the NHL in 2016-17. The hope, of course, is Cleveland emerges into a Chris Phillips or Zdeno Chara-type of shutdown defender, but he was more honest with his assessment and saw that, at the very least, he’ll be an effective depth addition to any team.
Risk – 2/5, Reward – 2/5
Fantasy Hockey Potential
Offence – 3/10, Defense – 8/10
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