2022-23 Team: Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
Date of Birth: Nov. 29, 2004
Place of Birth: Washington, MI
Ht: 6-foot-0 Wt: 187 pounds
NHL Draft Eligibility: 2023 first-year eligible
NHL Central Scouting: 33rd (amongst NA skaters)
FC Hockey: 45th
TSN/Bob McKenzie: 44th
Elite Prospects: 44th
The Hockey Writers (Horn): 43rd
Every year, there are a couple of players who spend all season ranked in the early-to-mid second round, even though they’re probably a first-round talent. I believe that Hunter Brzustewicz is one of those players. For a draft class that’s as deep as this one appears to be, there’s a bit of a lack of top-end defensive prospects, which makes it more puzzling that Brzustewicz isn’t ranked higher.
Hailing from Washington, Michigan, a suburb about 45 minutes north of Detroit, the 6-foot right-hander wasted no time establishing himself as an offensive-minded defenseman, specifically a master of the first pass. In his age-15 AAA season with the Oakland Jr. Grizzlies, he tallied a whopping 96 assists and 111 points through 55 games. His performance earned him a spot with the U.S. National Team Development Program (USNTDP).
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Along with the state of uncertainty that many prospects faced between 2020 and 2022 due to COVID-19, he missed almost the entirety of the 2020-21 season playing in only three games with the USNTDP U17 team. He got a proper shot with the U18 team in 2021-22, totaling 29 points in 80 games. He was originally drafted by the Barrie Colts in the 2020 Ontario Hockey League (OHL) priority selection, but his rights were traded to Kitchener in January 2022. And, when the time came for Brzustewicz to pick an avenue for his draft year, he decided to commit to the Rangers.
So far, the decision appears to be paying off for Brzustewicz. He’s currently leading all draft-eligible defensemen with 57 points in 68 games, and sits eighth in the league in scoring among defensemen in general. In what’s been an up-and-down season for the Rangers, who were slow to pick things up after a massive trade deadline, he’s been a consistent source of offense from the blue line all season.
Watching Brzustewicz play, he reminds me a lot of a watered-down version of Colorado Avalanche star defenseman Cale Makar. Now, whoever drafts him should not assume they just drafted a clone of Makar, given the number of accolades he has, but when you watch the way Brzustewicz patrols the blueline on the power play, there are some striking similarities in their edgework and the way they’re able to open up space for themselves when their team is running the cycle in the offensive zone. He doesn’t really have one offensive quality that sticks out, but he’s reliable at both ends of the ice and plays the type of mature game that teams look for outside of the first round.
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Hunter Brzustewicz – NHL Draft Projection
Brzustewicz is the perfect prospect for a contending team with a late first-round pick, or for a rebuilding team to pad its prospect pool with. He’s likely going to go somewhere between the late first round and early second round, making him a prime target for teams that fall into either of those categories. If he goes in the second round, he’s got the tools to be a steal, and if a team reaches for him in the first round, we could be looking back at it as a demonstration of good scouting years from now.
“Brzustewicz is the exact type of player a contending team will rush to the podium to draft in the back end of the first round in the 2023 draft. He is a smooth-skating, intelligent right-shot defenseman who is calm under pressure and should be able to play an NHL role sooner than most other defensemen in the class. While he lacks high-end puck skills, a threatening shot, and aggressive transition defensive habits – such as a tight gap – he does a lot of things very well and simplifies the game, which makes him a valuable diffuser of play under forechecking pressure.” – Sebastian High, Dobber Prospects
“Passes it like a pro, with pace and accuracy. Can run a PP1 in junior, but will that skill project to the next level?” – Sam Cosentino, Sportsnet
“He’s the perfect blend of skill and strength. He’s got a relatively small frame but makes up for it in muscle. One of the more impressive aspects of his game is his ability to use his upper body strength to shake off his opponent, freeing up lanes to break out the puck.” – Ben Jordan, Smaht Scouting
- Breakout first pass
- Defensive Awareness
- Hockey IQ
Under Construction (Improvements to Make)
- Shot Power
- Gap Control
While it’s hard to see Brzustewicz blossoming into a top-pair defenseman at the NHL level, he has the smarts and enough tools in the toolbox to see him cap out as a second-pair defenseman. If you can draft a top-four defenseman in the second round, you’re laughing, so there’s some great value waiting on the table for whoever announces his name in June.
Risk 3/5, Reward 3.5/5
Fantasy Hockey Potential
Offense – 6/10 Defense 7/10
Brzustewicz won a silver medal at the 2022 U18 World Juniors representing Team USA.