The Chicago Blackhawks are one of the more intriguing NHL teams going into the 2022 NHL Draft because they do not have a first-round pick. It is unclear whether they will be able to trade into the first round come Day 1 of the draft on July 7, but it does not look promising at this point. Therefore, they have to focus on the picks that they do have, as they currently have eight draft picks spread across the second, third, sixth, and seventh rounds. “Later” round picks don’t get the most attention, which presents the perfect opportunity for them to find some hidden gems. One of the prospects that could fall into the Blackhawks’ lap is 18-year-old forward Nicholas (Nick) Moldenhauer.
Moldenhauer is currently playing for the Chicago Steel of the United States Hockey League (USHL). Although he faced some health issues this past season that forced him to miss 21 games, he returned stronger than ever, as he finished with 18 goals and 43 points in 41 games and was a plus-16 in the plus/minus column. Come playoff time, he had a goal and two points in three games. Furthermore, he was able to help the Steel set a franchise record for most points in a season with 88 (39-13-9-1 record). He has been a staple on the team’s top-six and special teams, and the potential is even higher with him returning to the team next season.
Brock Sheahan is the current head coach of the Steel and the winningest coach in franchise history. He was kind enough to answer some questions about the type of player that Moldenhauer is and what he could bring to a team like the Blackhawks. Here are some highlights from the conversation.
What Type of Player is Moldenhauer?
Sheahan: First off, Nick is an unbelievable kid. He had a very adverse year. I’m not sure if you read the article about him in The Athletic (from ‘After facing down ‘devastation’, 2022 NHL Draft prospect Nick Moldenhauer is making up for lost time’ – The AthleticNHL – 04/28/2022).
Yeah, he’s a high-level player. He thinks the game at a high level. He’s got a high motor. He’s got a 200-foot game, I would say. He’s not just a goal-scorer; he can make plays, he can score, and I feel like the year didn’t go his way to start. He was in the hospital for 10 days or something like that, and he was away from the team for over a month. They didn’t know what the ailment was.
They did a bunch of different tests, and he lost around 10-15 pounds. When he came back, we had him on like a return to play. He almost scored 20 seconds into his first shift, and then took a skate to his jawline, a couple of centimeters away from his carotid artery. Really scary situation. He had to have, I can’t remember how many stitches [175 stitches inside and out], had to have a three and half hour surgery at the University of Michigan and missed another two and a half to three weeks. So it was a trying start to his year for sure, but he’s a big-time player, and I think he’s actually undervalued because of the year that he had.
What are Moldenhauer’s Biggest Strengths as a Player?
Sheahan: I think his [hockey] sense is so high. He has a good feel both defensively and offensively. He just makes players around him better. A lot of scouts I talk to get hung up looking for an elite trait, but I think it is a sum of all his parts. That’s what makes him elite. His skating is not high, high level, but it’s above average. As he gets stronger and more explosive, it will continue to get better because his motor is well above average, if not elite. I think he has the unique ability to be able to shoot the puck, but he doesn’t just score in one way; he can also make plays. So, there is a lot to his game. I always say, “he’s a hockey player.” He is a guy you want on your team. He is a guy who will help you win games, and he has a true understanding.
I only see him getting better with his approach. Just the way he watches video and sees the game, he is a student of the game and asks questions. He’s a bright person to go with his talent. I just see him continuing to grow his game.
Expound on What Kind of Character Moldenhauer Has – What is He Like?
Sheahan: He’s the type of kid that will do whatever it takes to get better. He shows up to the rink every day and is a great teammate. He is very self-motivated, he’s a very intelligent kid. He has not picked a school that he’s going to yet, but from an academic standpoint, he could go anywhere. He is really dialed in and has, in my opinion, a very mature approach for a kid his age. I just think of some of the experiences he had; he has a brother with special needs. Seeing how fortunate he is to do the things at the level he is able to do; he has a true appreciation, where a lot of kids have not had the adversity. I feel like by seeing his brother, Matty, just the adversity he has gone through in his life; I think he has a true appreciation for the gifts and talents he has.
We’ve had a lot of great kids [on the Steel] and he’s one of the guys that I’ve really enjoyed coaching. I just think that there’s a lot of good in front of him.
What Do You Think Moldenhauer Could Bring to a Rebuilding Team Like the Blackhawks?
Sheahan: I think it’s hard to find players that think the game at the level he thinks it at with his competitiveness and skillset. I feel like he’s going to bring that at a minimum. This upcoming season will be his third year as part of our program, and he has bought into development. What he is right now isn’t what he is going to be. He’s going to improve. I think he is going to bring those elements and just that drive to continue to get better.
I feel like whoever gets Nick and wherever they get him, Nick is going to get drafted, and I think the biggest thing that we try to teach our players is that draft day is just another day. It’s obviously important, but what you do after your draft day is much more important. So, wherever he goes, I think that he’ll progress from there.
What Do You See Moldenhauer’s Potential Being as an NHL Player?
Sheahan: I think he has the potential to play a top-six role in the NHL, for sure a top-nine role if he reaches his potential. I feel like at a minimum, in today’s NHL, he can play in your top-12 because of how smart he is and how hard he is. I think he can play throughout your lineup. Whereas some guys you draft, if they hit, they might have elite skill, they might be a top-three player for you, but they can’t play in your lineup if they’re not playing there. With Nick, he will be able to play for you, play for whatever organization. He can be a power play player, he can score, and he can play with the elite. At our level, he can drive a line. In college, I think he’s going to be a driver. I project if he continues to go, he will be able to drive a line at the NHL level, as long as his body continues to get stronger and he grows in that way.
But again, at a minimum, I think he can play that depth role because of how smart he is, how responsible he can be, and his understanding of the game, to go along with his skillset.
The way coach Sheahan described Moldenhauer is a player that every NHL team would benefit from having. When it comes to the Blackhawks, his character alone is a high selling point in that he won’t stop working and positively impacts his team. He seems to be a player that will give his team his all on every shift he takes. That aspect alone is excellent for a rebuilding team as it helps create a winning culture. As far as his play goes, his versatility is a bonus as he plays right wing and center. If he were part of the Blackhawks’ pipeline, he could be an option for the future to solidify the power play and penalty kill and be a scoring threat throughout the lineup. He is a playmaker, and the team doesn’t have many prospects that fit that mold. He looks to have all the qualities that the Blackhawks are looking for, and he would make them better in the long run.
The concept of Moldenhauer pairing up with Blackhawks’ top-prospect Lukas Reichel would be fun to watch down the line as well. His draft projection is second to third round and Chicago has two second-round picks and three third-round picks. If he is still around when the Blackhawks are on the clock, they should highly consider selecting him.