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Ottawa Senators Draft Profiles: Pick #22 Defencemen

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Taking a closer look at four blueliners who could be potentially selected with the Sens’ second 1st round pick.

Guelph Storm v Windsor Spitfires
Guelph’s Ryan Merkley is one of the more likely top players to fall in the draft.
Photo by Dennis Pajot/Getty Images

Welcome back to the fourth installation of our draft profiles! Draft day is less than a week away, and the hype is building up.

Yesterday, we looked at which forwards could potentially be available with Ottawa’s 22nd overall pick, the pick acquired from Pittsburgh as part of the package for Derick Brassard. While there will definitely be great forwards available at #22, 2018 is the year of the defencemen, with more high-end blueliners than we’ve seen in years. This position imbalance could see some talented players slide through the cracks a bit, right into the Sens’ hands in the back half of the first round. This post will look at four players who are projected to go around that range.

Of course, not everyone will fall this far, and we anticipate that players like Ty Smith and Noah Dobson will be gone by the time Ottawa’s pick rolls around. Hence why they’re not included.

Bode Wilde (RD)

Player Pronman Wheeler Scouch Robinson Davis Kournianos McKenzie Button Cosentino McKeen's HockeyProspect ISS Future Considerations NHL Central Scouting
Player Pronman Wheeler Scouch Robinson Davis Kournianos McKenzie Button Cosentino McKeen's HockeyProspect ISS Future Considerations NHL Central Scouting
Bode Wilde 19 25 37 23 39 16 NR (16) 16 14 17 31 23 12 17 (NA)

A dual citizen of Canada and the United States that decided to suit up for the latter and star for the U.S. Development Program, Bode Wilde is a talented right-shot defenceman that is committed to Quinn Hughes’ University of Michigan for next season. Generally ranked in the late teens, Wilde has been highly thought of for quite some time, and has featured prominently for the U.S. internationally. He co-led his U17s team with 6 points in 5 games alongside Joel Farabee last season, and although he went pointless at the U18s for the silver medal-winning Americans, he was a standout in the team’s development program — playing top-pair minutes in all situations.

Wilde has a strong physical toolkit. He’s 6-foot-2, 196 pounds with a rangy wingspan. He’s got quick feet, isn’t shy to play physical, and when he’s confident, he’s able to transition the puck with either his hands or his skating ability. He’s got the swagger to play the game with pace, and generally speaking, the tools to rescue himself when he gets caught doing “too much” with the puck. Where Wilde has drawn some criticism is his inconsistency, with his performance at the U18s being a worrisome sign for some scouts. Moreover, he’s been surrounded by quality teammates at the USDP, so some aren’t buying his gaudy point totals (57 points in 86 games) when all he has to do most nights is get the puck to his talented forwards and sit back. This can be seen in his USHL numbers, with Wilde’s 16 points in 25 games good enough for 10th in points per game among regulars (min. 20 GP), but dropping to 18th when it comes to primary points. He does shoot a ton though (2.36 shots per game ranks fourth among regular defencemen) and ranks well in terms of points at 5-on-5, meaning that he’s not just taking advantage of the USDP’s deadly powerplay.

The Sens haven’t been shy in taking collegiate defencemen under Pierre Dorion. Patrick Wiercioch was a high pick, and they’ve been pleased with the development of Christian Wolanin. Wilde had initially committed to play at Harvard, a powerhouse in the NCAA’s ECAC conference, but switched to UMichigan’s strong program under Mel Pearson. With a strong reputation of developing NHLers, and a track record of giving freshmen top minutes, Wilde will have ample opportunity over the next two to three seasons to round out his offensive toolkit, strengthen his lanky frame, and improve his game-to-game consistency so that he could meet his ceiling of a top-four defenceman.

Highlights

Jared McIsaac (LD)

Player Pronman Wheeler Scouch Robinson Davis Kournianos McKenzie Button Cosentino McKeen's HockeyProspect ISS Future Considerations NHL Central Scouting
Player Pronman Wheeler Scouch Robinson Davis Kournianos McKenzie Button Cosentino McKeen's HockeyProspect ISS Future Considerations NHL Central Scouting
Jared McIsaac 51 48 42 45 31 34 NR (16) 26 18 24 NR (31) 21 27 13 (NA)

Looking at the rankings above, you may wonder why we decided to include McIsaac in a post dedicated to the 22nd overall pick. While some may be lower on McIsaac than others, he’s worked his way into conversations as a potential late 1st round pick, along the likes of some of the other players we’re covering today. NHL Central Scouting went the boldest with their assessment, ranking him above players such as Ty Smith, Bode Wilde and Akil Thomas. While I personally disagree with their ranking, it’s a good indication that McIsaac may be more valued by scouts than by the general public.

McIsaac started as an even more highly regarded prospect at the beginning of the season. His stock started to fall off a bit, then treaded back up in the last few months. He comes with some pedigree, being selected second overall in the 2016 QMJHL draft. Scouts have since become a fan for his smooth skating, and calculated reads in the defensive zone. While his skating is his strongest asset, the defensive zone play didn’t produce quite as positive results, as he found himself on the ice for a sizeable amount of shots against. Although he finished at a net positive, looking at the chart below, that’s a lot of red for someone widely considered a low-event player.

Ryan Biech, Canucks Army

McIsaac benefited from playing on a strong Halifax Mooseheads roster, that featured offensive juggernauts Filip Zadina and Otto Somppi. It helped bump up his offence, as he led the team’s defencemen in scoring with 47 points in 65 games. So although he didn’t quite achieve top defensive results, he was able to make up for some of that with a bit of offence. He knows how to transition the puck through the neutral zone and hasn’t shown hesitation in carrying it. Mix that in with his strong skating, and his stock has risen just in time for the draft. While we may not personally be as high on McIsaac as many of the pundits, he could be a potential candidate to be selected 22nd overall.

Highlights

Jonny Tychonick (LD)

Player Pronman Wheeler Scouch Robinson Davis Kournianos McKenzie Button Cosentino McKeen's HockeyProspect ISS Future Considerations NHL Central Scouting
Player Pronman Wheeler Scouch Robinson Davis Kournianos McKenzie Button Cosentino McKeen's HockeyProspect ISS Future Considerations NHL Central Scouting
Jonny Tychonick 49 17 43 28 49 37 NR (16) 54 NR (31) 44 NR (31) NR (31) NR (31) 36 (NA)

Tychonick is likely to be around at 22, and is a bit of a gamble pick by Colin and I over players like Rasmus Sandin and Calen Addison. There’s a couple things that stand out to me about Tychonick’s play. First, Tychonick absolutely erupted in the BCHL playoffs this year, putting up 17 points in 11 games for the world-class Penticton Vees. Yes, it’s a small sample, but his production led all Penticton skaters in scoring and is the highest mark among U18 defencemen. It outranks the best defenceman the league has ever produced, Chicago’s Duncan Keith, and is better than recent first round picks Dante Fabbro (NSH - 0.71 PPG) and Dennis Cholowski (DET - 0.75). Tychonick’s regular season was no slouch either, with his 47 points in 48 games finishing third among all U18 players, and the sixth highest mark among U18 defencemen in BCHL history — behind Keith and Fabbro. Furthermore, Tychonick is committed to one of the best collegiate programs at producing NHL ready defencemen, with North Dakota churning out names like Troy Stecher, Paul LaDue, Keaton Thompson, Tucker Poolman, and Christian Wolanin in recent years. He’s also suited up internationally for Canada at the World Junior A challenge, and at the U17s and U18s — a rarity for non-CHLer.

How does Tychonick do it? He’s got great offensive awareness, capable of making attacking forwards miss at the point and superb lateral movement to walk the line and get an accurate snapshot through. Of course, the rankings vary on Tychonick because there are some obvious faults. He’s a smaller defenceman at 6-feet, 174 pounds, has trouble containing larger forwards on the cycle in tight coverage, and could work on his defensive positioning when defending off the rush. Learning to utilize his feet to keep proper gap control from onrushing forwards will help him immensely in utilizing his quick stick to separate player from puck and quickly transition the other way. If he gets the puck in the defensive zone, he’s a safe bet to exit the zone cleanly; the issue is when he doesn’t have the puck.

Overall, the NCAA is a good fit for Tychonick. Spending three years in the Big-10 will not only give him the practice and gym time he needs to work on his defensive game, but playing against bigger, stronger 21 and 22 year old forwards will challenge him to improve his strength and readiness for the pro game. North Dakota’s got a reputation for providing a pro-like atmosphere, and Tychonick could be a good gamble to develop into a two-way threat at the NHL level.

Highlights

(For some more isolated clips of Tychonick’s play, check out HEOTP’s profile of him here)

Ryan Merkley (RD)

Player Pronman Wheeler Scouch Robinson Davis Kournianos McKenzie Button Cosentino McKeen's HockeyProspect ISS Future Considerations NHL Central Scouting
Player Pronman Wheeler Scouch Robinson Davis Kournianos McKenzie Button Cosentino McKeen's HockeyProspect ISS Future Considerations NHL Central Scouting
Ryan Merkley 10 11 13 18 17 47 NR (16) 24 31 31 NR (31) NR (31) 25 45 (NA)

There’s a lot to like about Ryan Merkley.

His offensive skills are some of the best in the draft, right up in the elite tier with Rasmus Dahlin and Adam Boqvist. He has just as good a handle on the puck as the two aforementioned players, and is dynamite in the offensive zone at even strength and on the power play. He was the first overall pick in the 2016 OHL draft, and subsequently won rookie of the year in 2016-17.

“Then why are you including Merkley in this post?”, you may ask. Well, there’s a lot to not like about Merkley as well. His defensive play is brutal — the type of coasting back that makes coaches pull their hair out. I’d strongly recommend reading Adam Herman’s profile at Blueshirt Banter, as he did a great job breaking down his playing style at both ends of the ice using video.

Another big concern with Merkley is his attitude and maturity, which has made him a difficult player to work with for both his teammates and coaches. In the end, Merkley is the epitome “boom-or-bust” type player, which is why he’ll be ranked disparately on teams’ scouting lists. Some will have him in the top ten, while others will have him outside the first round. While teams may be hesitant to take such a big risk in the top 15, a draft spot like 22 for a team with multiple first round picks could be the perfect scenario for choosing a player with such an incredibly high ceiling.

But what do the numbers say? Well, they’d say almost exactly what you’d expect. Looking at his performance in terms of on-ice goals against, he was there for a lot. The Guelph Storm as a team didn’t perform too well in this area as a whole, with the 5th most goals against in the OHL. The following chart shows shows on-ice goals for vs goals against per 60 minutes, amongst OHL defencemen under 19 years of age.

Check out more CHL stats here.

The next chart presents the same group of defencemen on a different plot, this time showing time on ice per game versus primary points (i.e. goals + first assists) per 60 minutes. As you can probably guess, Merkley is an offensive dynamo.

Also worth considering with Merkley is that he’s one of the youngest players in the draft, born just under a month before the 2019 draft cutoff date. At 5’11” and 170 lbs, he’s small for your typical defenceman, although considering the role he plays, it shouldn’t be taken into consideration as a negative factor.

The height of Merkley’s ceiling really can’t be understated. As one of the draft’s most explosive skaters, he makes room for himself to be creative with the puck. He isn’t afraid to use his teammates to create a play, as he likes to get deep in the opponent’s end, often acting as a 4th forward.

His defensive concerns are definitely a major concern, although when evaluating prospects, I believe it’s important to shift the scale more towards offence at this early of a stage in their careers. While defence is more of a learned process, traits such as vision and offensive creativity are more so what separate prospects from others as innate abilities. Merkley is top-end in those innate abilities as a naturally gifted scorer, and although it will likely take a lot of work for Merkley to improve his backcheck, I believe that with a change in mentality, and the right coaches, he can eventually work himself up to being a #1 NHL defenceman.

Highlights


MORE DRAFT COVERAGE

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Top Defencemen
Pick #22 Forwards
Other Interesting Forwards
Other Interesting Defencemen
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