2022-23 Team: Saskatoon Blades (WHL)
Date of Birth: Feb. 3, 2005
Place of Birth: Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada
Height: 5-foot-11, Weight: 176 pounds
NHL Draft Eligibility: First-Year Eligible
- NHL Central Scouting (NA Skaters): 36th
- Elite Prospects: 40th
- Craig Button (TSN): 52nd
- FC Hockey: 28th
- Bob McKenzie (TSN): 62nd
- Smaht Scouting: 37th
- Logan Horn (THW): 33rd
- Peter Baracchini (THW): 33rd
For a draft class so heavy in forward talent, it may surprise some to learn that few defencemen are considered easy first-round picks in 2023. One player that is hoping to hear his name called on Day 1 is Tanner Molendyk, a smooth-skating offensive defender with the Western Hockey League’s (WHL) Saskatoon Blades. In 67 games, the 5-foot-11 blueliner put up nine goals and 37 points, finishing third among the team’s defencemen in scoring.
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Now, those aren’t numbers that you generally see in offensive defencemen; Lukas Dragicevic, a defenceman with the WHL’s Tri-City Americans, finished the season with 15 goals and 75 points, which ranked fourth among defencemen league-wide. Those are offensive numbers. So, why are Molendyk’s so low? It’s a concern that has popped up as the season progressed, causing him to slip down into the second round in many draft rankings.
Yes, it’s concerning that a blueliner described as a skilled puck mover hasn’t been able to score, but as with most prospects, numbers only tell half the story. Firstly, Molendyk did not get top-pairing minutes with the Blades; those went to 19-year-old Charlie Wright and 21-year-old captain Aiden De La Gorgendiere, the latter of whom led the team’s defence in points with 65. Saskatoon also acquired 20-year-old Blake Gustafson from the Red Deer Rebels early in the season, pushing Molendyk further down the depth chart. It’s tough to produce when you don’t play as much.
Related: The Hockey Writers’ 2023 NHL Draft Guide
But the bigger reason for the dip in Molendyk’s emergence as a capable two-way defender. He’s a fantastic skater, moving so effortlessly across the ice that it looks like he’s simply gliding, and he can keep up his speed and agility while carrying the puck, pulling off deft moves to maintain possession. He also plays a strong transition game full of confidence and patience and is rarely caught off guard. With a hard, accurate point shot, he is always a danger when in the offensive zone.
Many assumed after his rookie season that those skills would translate well into a dominant offensive presence, but head coach Brennan Sonne saw a different opportunity for the young defenceman. With his incredible patience and ability to get into position quickly, along with developing confidence in his physicality, Molendyk has emerged as one of Saskatoon’s go-to guys to shut down their toughest opponents, including Connor Bedard on multiple occasions, who went goalless twice this season against the Blades thanks to him.
“There’s a couple of things we’re just trying to make sharp for him, but, man, can he skate. He’s faster. He’s bigger, too. So he kind of has it all. He plays physical. He defends. He skates. He’s got the offensive side, too.”Blade’s head coach Brennan Sonne (from “‘Faster, bigger:’ Molendyk looking for breakout season with Saskatoon Blades,” Saskatoon Star Phoenix – 22/09/2022).
With both De La Gorgendiere and Gustafson graduating from the WHL, Molendyk will have ample opportunities to flash his offensive side next season, and he could emerge as a point-per-game defender. There are concerns that he doesn’t have an elite top gear and will get out-paced against higher competition, but so far, he’s continued to improve all areas of his game and looks like he’ll become the next top defenceman out of the WHL.
Other THW Draft Profiles
Tanner Molendyk – NHL Draft Projection
Molendyk started the season as a first-round selection, falling in the 20-30 range, but as the season has gone on, he’s slowly fallen out of the top end of most popular rankings. Much of that has to do with his limited offensive production, and for a defender described as someone who can create offence, he’s been underwhelming in that area. However, with the lack of top-end defencemen available, he could earn a longer look from teams who have weaker blue lines in their farm system and especially from those who have multiple first-round picks.
“Mobile defenceman who has an eye for creating offence. Plays with more bite than your typical offensive-minded d-man.” – Sam Cosentino, Sportsnet
“Molendyk was the best defender in the CHL Top Prospect game in my opinion, and he has continued to be one of the best CHL defenders since the preliminary rankings. He’s been great at defending the blue line with his gap control and I’ve really liked his activation strategy this past month. Given his strengths in the defensive zone and his continued development in the offensive zone, he remains one of the best North American defenders in my opinion.” – Austin Garret, Smaht Scouting
“Moldenyk is a strong two-way defenseman despite not being the biggest defender. This is because of his excellent skating ability and strong work ethic. Molendyk’s edge work is very good. He closes on checks like a pro and is able to evade pressure at a high level. His top speed is good, not great, but he can lead a rush. Molendyk has strong offensive instincts and skills and can make plays from off the blue line and on the move. His size will be an issue as a defenseman in the NHL, but he plays hard and doesn’t shy from physical play” – Corey Pronman, The Athletic (from “2023 NHL Draft prospects: Connor Bedard leads Corey Pronman’s midseason ranking,” The Athletic – 31/01/23).
- Skating and mobility
- Gap control
- Puck control
Under Construction – Improvements to Make
- Defensive pressure
Molendyk may not emerge as a top offensive defender, but he can log a ton of ice time and shut down opponents, leading me to believe that he may have a future like the similarly-sized Kris Russell. In his draft year with the Medicine Hat Tigers, Russell was third on the team with 61 points in 72 games, but in the NHL, he became a reliable defensive defender who has the second-most blocked shots of all time. If Molendyk can find his niche in the NHL, he could become a valuable second-pairing defenceman.
Risk – 3/10, Reward – 7/10
Fantasy Hockey Potential
Offence – 7/10, Defense – 7.5/10
- PIPELINE: TANNER MOLENDYK FINDING HIS STRIDE IN THE 2023 DRAFT CLASS
- Saskatoon Blades’ Molendyk impresses at Top Prospects game