Prospect Ramblings: Top Defencemen by PNHLe

Ben Gehrels

2022-11-17

Checking back in this week with NHL RankKing, which sorts NHL prospects by PNHLe, I noticed that an incredible 13 of the top 20 prospects are defencemen right now. So this week is all about defence. Given that the 2023 Draft class is considered light on high-end blue line talent, many of these will be key names to know over the next couple years.

2nd: David Jiricek (CBJ), 124

4th: Lukas Dragicevic (2023), 118

6th: Simon Edvinsson (DET), 111

7th: Alexander Nikishin (CAR), 109

8th: Lane Hutson (MON), 108

9th: Kevin Korchinski (CHI), 107

12th: Daniil Orlov (NJD), 96

13th: Artyom Duda (ARI), 96

15th: Pavel Mintyukov (ANA), 92

16th: Luke Hughes (NJD), 88

18th: Darren Raddysh (TBL), 87

19th: Ryan Ufko (NAS), 87

20th: William Wallinder (DET), 83

While the unusually high number of defence prospects may have something to do with the app’s specific formula for calculating PNHLe, these defencemen are having excellent starts to the year. I touched on several of them two weeks ago when I looked at the Top 20 Prospects by PNHLe; today we’ll look at some of the others. 

There have been a few changes at the top. Connor Bedard has ascended to first place as he continues to take the WHL by storm, bumping the former co-#1s Adam Fantilli and Artyom Duda down to third and 13th respectively. 

I wrote previously that Duda was only up there due to small sample size and would fall down the rankings before much longer, and his descent has already begun. The former second rounder might not have a blue chip-level skillset but he has increasingly learned to balance offensive rushes with defensive responsibilities while flashing high-end production in the Russian junior league. Now he is playing in the KHL as an 18 year old, which is impressive.

Duda exemplifies an important point: don’t take these rankings too seriously yet. They will become increasingly useful as game samples grow to more sustainable sizes. Duda’s play has looked quite promising this year but no one is taking him ahead of Luke Hughes just because his PNHLe is slightly higher after 11 games. 

These rankings are useful now, however, for tracking how prospects are doing without having to check multiple sources and run league conversions in your head. Anything to get an edge on the competition. When I have a spot on one of my farm teams open up, this is one of the first places I go to scan for potential replacements. 

Taken two rounds after Duda in 2022, Orlov has likewise found himself playing in the KHL this year as an 18 year old. Like many Russian prospects, he is being bumped around between three leagues: so far in 2022-23, he played four games in the MHL (one point), racked up five assists in only three VHL games, and then played six games in the top league (two points).

Of all the players listed above, however, Orlov projects to have the least offensive potential and will only ever have fantasy relevance for his hits and blocks—somewhat like countryman Alexander Romanov (NYI) who is currently over two hits and blocks per game in the NHL but with only four points.

Second-least interesting for fantasy purposes has to be Darren Raddysh. We’re talking prospects here, and if you’ve never heard of Raddysh, it’s because he’s 26 years old. Seemingly a career AHLer, he went on a tear for Syracuse alongside Alex Barre-Boulet to start the year (19 points in 12 games) and received a brief call up to the Lightning.

That kind of AHL production from a blueliner might raise eyebrows, but Raddysh has never posted much more than half a point per game over his previous six AHL seasons. I don’t know what’s in the water in Syracuse but I’m not buying a late-career offensive renaissance.

What’s more baffling to me is Alex Barre-Boulet, 25, still not getting a sustained shot in the NHL. It seemed like a bad sign when he couldn’t find a place on Seattle’s inaugural roster after being waived by the Lightning last year. Then Tampa reclaimed him, and now he seems to be on a mission to finally stick. His 20 points in 13 games so far is screaming for a call up. 

My sense is that many poolies have moved on from him, but I think ABB still makes an interesting buy low for his potential to score in droves. Given what the Lightning stars are capable of, it would not be surprising to see Barre-Boulet get called up mid-year and go on a sudden tear. If that happens, poolies will be looking back at his 219 points in 215 AHL games and kicking themselves for missing out on a sure bet.

Here is a clip of him from this past preseason. He pulls a slick move on a defender and then whips it around to the far post for an excellent scoring chance. It’s easy to imagine a player with speed and moves like this meshing well with Stamkos & Co.

Heading into the 2023 Draft, many pundits have flagged Cameron Allen as the top defender in the class. However, Allen has struggled in the early going (eight points in 19 OHL games), while Dragicevic has been absolutely on fire (25 in 18 WHL). 

Dragicevic skates well and consistently makes clean, effective outlet passes. Presumably he will slow down and Allen will pick it up to some extent but who will emerge as the top 2023 defenseman will be an interesting situation to monitor moving forward. Either way, that is absurd production for a draft-eligible defender.

While David Jiricek’s rating is also inflated by a small six-game sample size (5 assists), he is facing an intriguing situation in Columbus right now as injuries continue to mount for the Blue Jackets. After their last game, Jake Bean and Elvis Merzlikins joined a list of injured players that already includes Zach Werenski, Patrick Laine, Jakub Voracek, Adam Boqvist, and Nick Blankenburg. Given that Columbus struggled even when all these guys were healthy, things are looking pretty bleak in Ohio right now.

But Jiricek will likely see a call-up before long that should include a featured role on their depleted power play. Even though he was chosen after Simon Nemec (NJD), many saw Jiricek as the top defender in the 2022 class. Check out Caleb Kerney’s deep dive on those two here.

Two of the other top 2022 defenseman, Korchinski and Mintyukov, have taken their offensive games to the next level this year. Both went just under a point per game in their draft years and are now humming along in rarefied 1.5 ppg territory. While others will soon fall out of the PNHLe Top 10, I expect these two to finish the season there and maybe even challenge for a spot in the Top 5.

Other defenders further down the list who would not be out of place in the Top 20 by the end of 2022-23 include Olen Zellweger (currently 26th, ANA), Denton Mateychuk (29th, CBJ), and Scott Morrow (35th, CAR). 

Jordan Spence (23th) would make sense too but I’m guessing he will get called up soon and finish the rest of the year with the Kings.

After leading NCAA defencemen in goals last year, Luke Hughes only has two so far in 12 games with Michigan (10 assists). Expect more of his pucks to find the twine as the year progresses. Fellow Devils prospect Seamus Casey (10 in 12) may be cutting into his production somewhat but Hughes should again be one of the top prospects outside the NHL this year. He is another strong candidate to finish in the PNHLe Top 5.

Lastly for now, Wings prospects William Wallinder and Marco Kasper are both having great seasons with Rögle BK in the SHL. Kasper feels unstoppable in a Mason McTavish sort of way and should continue to be a high-end fantasy asset moving forward. 

Wallinder’s outlook is cloudier. He has 11 points in 16 SHL games right now—one more than Kasper—which is excellent for a 20-year-old defender in a top professional men’s league. But questions have been raised since his draft year about his offensive upside, and he has not trended like a star player to this point in his career. (Note Hockey Prospecting has not yet updated his profile for the current season.)

He is on track to take on an integral role in the Wings’ top 4 over the next few years but will likely play more of a two-way, shut down role. Fellow defenders Mo Seider, SImon Edvinsson, and Albert Johansson project to suck up all the power play time and offensive zone starts. Wallinder may be one of these “better in real life than fantasy” types but his early success in the SHL this year is certainly exciting.

Thanks for reading! Follow me on Twitter @beegare for more prospect content and fantasy hockey analysis.

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