2018-19 Team: Kitchener Rangers
Date of Birth: June 8, 2001
Place of Birth: Oakville, ON
Ht: 6’2” Wt: 205 lbs.
NHL Draft Eligibility: 2019 first-year eligible
- NHL Central Scouting: 55th (among North American skaters)
- Future Considerations: 127th
- TSN/McKenzie: 73rd
Michael Vukojevic was a very highly touted prospect in Minor Midget, ranking as a first-round prospect for the 2017 OHL Draft and committing to play at the University of Michigan beginning in the 2019-2020 season. However, due to the NCAA’s amateur rules, Vukojevic’s commitment to Michigan prevented him from joining the Rangers at first, and he joined the USHL’s Green Bay Gamblers to begin the 2017-18 season.
Unfortunately, Vukojevic suffered an injury early in the season and was a healthy scratch at times after his return. After 12 games in which he produced a measly 2 points, Vukojevic decided to break his commitment to Michigan and jump directly into Kitchener’s top-six defense group as a 16-year-old.
Over the remaining 24 games of the OHL season, Vukojevic cemented himself as a key part of the Rangers’ future defense corps and was granted more minutes and responsibility through Kitchener’s late-season playoff push. With a larger role in the playoffs, Vukojevic became a key part of the Rangers’ penalty killing unit and was matched up against the opposition’s best regularly. He was also able to chip in with 10 points as Kitchener advanced to the Western Conference Final.
Vukojevic opened eyes with his advanced size and strength as an OHL rookie, using his skating ability to lock down the opposing team off the rush and transition the play back towards the offensive end. His play in the playoffs, in particular, gave fans a reason to look forward to his growth in his draft year.
While his pre-draft season didn’t show the same aggressiveness and growth that his rookie OHL campaign did, Vukojevic still showed flashes of his elite potential throughout the season, seizing his opportunity when Kitchener gave him more offensive responsibility and power play time towards the end of the season.
While some would classify his draft year as a disappointment, as he has slipped down draft boards in recent months, Vukojevic showed plenty of skill to dream on and could become a player to watch as he matures and continues to improve his offensive production.
Other THW Draft Profiles:
Michael Vukojevic – NHL Draft Projection
Vukojevic doesn’t have the same upwards momentum that he did when he first joined the Rangers towards the end of last season, but he still showed advanced awareness for his age and the potential to add more offense to his already developed defensive game in the next couple of seasons. Any team seeking a shutdown defender with good size and skating ability could look to Vukojevic in the third to fifth rounds of the draft.
“Defensively, Vukojevic gets all the tough assignments almost always going up against the opposition’s best. He is an extremely intelligent player who understands how to defend. He is one of the toughest defenders to beat one-on-one in his age group. He is capable of angling people off and taking them out of the play, uses a very active stick to defend and reads and anticipates well. It’s hard to find a lane when he is defending. And from his age group, he’s one of the better defenders on the PK.” – Dominic Tiano, OHL Writers
“His size is no doubt an asset defensively, but he also has great positioning and reads the play well. He plays fairly a simple game, making quick passes and distributing the puck from the back end. One major criticism of Vukojevic’s game is that he struggles to produce offensively. Interestingly, he seems to be taking more offensive opportunities this year, willing to jump into the rush as the 3rd or 4th man, but he still stands to use his shot more frequently.” – Caitlin Berry, The OHL Collective
“Excellent skater with long, powerful strides and good foot speed for someone as physically developed as him. Good agility on his edges and light enough on his feet to remain effective breaking up cycle plays in the defensive zone. Confidence with the puck can be inconsistent, but makes a nice breakout pass and shows the ability to carry the puck on offense to gain zone entries. Has a hard shot from the point but doesn’t utilize it often enough and takes too long to load up when under pressure from defenders. Competes hard on the defensive end and shows advanced understanding of his positioning, anticipating plays from the offense well and using his long reach to disrupt plays along the wall. ” – Future Considerations
- Size and strength
- Agility and balance
- Defensive positioning
- Breakout and outlet passing
Under Construction (Improvements to Make)
- Aggressiveness on offense
- Shot utilization
- Offensive awareness
- Foot speed and acceleration
Vukojevic is a strong bet to eventually develop into an NHL-calibre defenseman thanks to his size, skating ability, and advanced defensive awareness. If he is able to continue to gain confidence carrying the puck and jumping into the rush to chip in on offense, he could develop into a strong two-way defender who is reliable in his own end and can help out on both special teams.
Risk – 3/5 | Reward – 3.5/5
Fantasy Hockey Potential
Offence – 6/10 | Defence – 8/10
Vukojevic was a regular on the international circuit this season, participating in both the Hlinka Gretzky Tournament and the World U-18 Championships for Canada. He played a key shutdown role in both tournaments, taking on the opposing team’s best lines and helping Canada capture gold at the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Tournament.
Joseph Aleong is an At-Large writer for THW from Toronto, Ontario. He is a graduate of Brock University in St. Catharines, ON. Follow him on Twitter @josephaleong11