Every draft class has a few players that seem to divide the public scouting and hockey fan communities alike. Last year there were Fabian Lysell, Aatu Raty, and Sasha Pastujov, for instance. These case studies are some of my favourites to dig into because they really demonstrate what particular things different scouts value and believe to be projectable. Pastujov, for instance, had great production and goal scoring with the USNTDP, but his extremely slow pace of play and lack of defensive effort and awareness left many — myself included — skeptical of his true NHL upside. Fabian Lysell was feared to have “character issues” because he forced a switch in teams in the SHL in order to get more playing time, which I never thought was a problem, and due to the value I put into dynamism, intelligence, and pace, he landed at #4 on my year-end board, far higher than I knew he’d go.
Raty, however, was the most interesting case study. He had been the projected #1 pick of the 2021 class for quite some time heading into his draft year, but he continuously fell down boards due to his lack of production and visible frustration on the ice. Those who liked him — like me — argued that this fall represented an overcorrection to his previously high draft stock and that he had the offensive instincts, release, skill in transition, and defensive intelligence to become a really solid middle-six NHLer, and that he was on the brink of breaking out offensively in the Liiga. This is exactly what happened, which has made the New York Islanders look really good less than a year after snapping Raty up at 52nd overall. This year, the curious case studies that divide scouts include Brad Lambert, Isaac Howard, Lane Hutson, Conor Geekie, and Denton Mateychuk.
As I am covering the WHL with feature stories, only two of these 2022 case studies made sense to cover. I am, however, far more confident in my optimistic read on Mateychuk than I am in my lukewarm read on Geekie. Pair this with the enjoyment I experience every time I get to watch Mateychuk play hockey, and I’ve been looking forward to taking a deep dive into Mateychuk’s game tape for quite some time.
For the sake of full transparency, I am very high on Mateychuk’s upside and I am a big believer in his ability to translate the skills that make him dominant at the WHL level to being a highly entertaining and highly-effective offensive defenseman in the NHL. This is also why I currently have him ranked seventh on my board and as my second top defensemen of the class, behind David Jiricek — I have Nemec at eight, and he could still very easily rank higher than Mateychuk on my board by draft day.
So what makes Mateychuk so divisive as a prospect, and why is he my favourite 2022 draft-eligible playing in the WHL?
Mateychuk is a dynamic left-shot defenseman who is an extremely willing and skilled activator in the offensive zone. He plays like an F1 at times, chasing pucks chipped in by his teammates, and regularly drives the middle lane off puck, pushing back defenders and creating space for his teammates. He also excels as a playmaker from near or below the goal line. In short, he can play like a forward during offensive zone sequences before reverting to his defensive position when his team loses the puck. This style was enabled by the very fluid offensive system that Moose Jaw employed; with every player in constant motion, which not only opened passing lanes to the slot (which Mateychuk regularly exploited) but also permited Mateychuk to do what he does best. Mateychuk’s playmaking ability is among the best in the draft, and not just among defense