No. 20: Christian Wolanin (Reader rank: 20, Last year: T-34)
I’ll say this up front, I think Christian Wolanin was one of the more undervalued player in this year’s vote. I’ll explain why, but first let’s take it back a few seasons to 2013-14.
Playing for the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL, Wolanin was struggling with 5 points in 23 games, while playing as a forward. It prompted a trade to the Muskegon Lumberjaks, where he not only transitioned to being a defenceman, but he broke out offensively as well (62 points in 88 games over two years). His past as a forward can already give you hint of the style of hockey Wolanin plays.
The Senators drafted Wolanin 107th overall in 2015, which at the time seemed high for a prospect who was questionable to even get drafted. Because of his training as a forward, his hockey IQ in the offensive zone is his biggest strength, while his positioning in the defensive zone still needs improvement.
Wolanin is an offensive minded defender. He has good offensive instincts. He is willing to carry the puck up the ice and drive the net off the rush.
His passing is efficient and simple. He looks to attack when moving the puck. A clear or dump out of the zone is only a last resort.
Wolanin is still learning the defensive side of the game. His few years on D show when trying to defend zone entries. His 1v1 and gap control needs improved timing.
He has the skating ability and strength to play in the NHL. He is a long shot to play in the NHL. In order to play his hockey sense will need to improve. He will need to produce on the power play in order move up the depth chart in Belleville.
If Wolanin an offensive defenceman, then how are his point totals? In 2016-17 he posted a points per game rate of 0.59, up from 0.47 the previous season. Although it may not be the stats sheet dominance you would hope for, it’s worth remembering that his NCAA division (NCHC) is the most difficult when it comes to scoring. Using Rob Vollman’s translation factors, that would roughly equate to 21 points in a full NHL season. Pretty impressive for a 22-year-old 4th round pick.
Wolanin seems to have stepped into the University of North Dakota at the right time, as they’ve been treated the past few seasons to the likes of future stars Tyson Jost (Colorado) and Brock Boeser (Vancouver). The team has been a dominant force capturing the top seed in their NCAA division two years in a row (2015 and 2016), and going all the way to become the 2016 NCAA champions. Although they failed to qualify for the playoffs in 2017, the championship made for a fantastic development atmosphere for Wolanin as a rookie.
To even further supplant Wolanin as a player to get excited about, he had a fantastic showing at the Sens’ annual development camp. He played a key part in helping Team Camo win the annual 3-on-3 tournament, an event that allowed him to showcase his natural skills inside the blue line (video here).
On a side note, Andrew Peski, an Ottawa native and defence partner to Wolanin, was invited to the Sens’ development camp in June/July.
Now at 22 years old, Wolanin will be entering his third year at UND, which could potentially be his final should he prove to be worthy of an entry-level contract. Considering he shoots left, it may be an uphill battle as he’ll be competing for future roster spots against the likes of Thomas Chabot, Ben Harpur, Andreas Englund, Patrick Sieloff and Max Lajoie. If Wolanin can pick up his defensive work while maintaining his offensive prowess, the goal of playing in the NHL seems very attainable.