In the third installment of the 2012-13 Dean’s List featuring talented prospects of the 2013 NHL Draft class, it is time to showcase the defensive gems lining up on the blue line in the Ontario Hockey League. Back a few weeks ago, The Dean’s List profiled five early forward favourites to be selected first round next June in New Jersey. Now, we shift the focus to the defensemen of the OHL. At the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, the Ontario Hockey League produced three first-round selections (10th - Slater Koekkoek , 15th -Cody Ceci, 22nd - Olli Maatta) and early signs are showing that we could expect about the same from the OHL again in 2013. Let’s take a peek at three defensive prospects playing in the OHL that may well end up as a first round selection.
NOTE: This list only considers first time draft eligible defensemen.
Nikita Zadorov (D, London Knights)
The defending OHL Champions lost their captain and rugged blue liner this past off-season when Jarred Tinordi (Montreal Canadiens) graduated to the American Hockey League. The easiest solution for losing such an impactful defender is to draft another one – this time, Nikita Zadorov was the answer becoming the London Knights’ 9th overall at the 2012 CHL Import Draft. Transitioning to the North American game is not always easy but Zadorov came across the pond playing a similar Canadian-style rough-and-tumble game, making the transition a smooth one Immediately upon suiting up for Knights’ training camp, Zadorov impressed The Dean’s List. Zadorov is a massive defender skating fairly well at 6-foot-5-inches and 230 pounds and shows a willingness to get down and dirty dropping the mitts in pre-season action in his first two games of the season.
Scouts definitely took notice of this hulking defender and his readiness to defend his team with his defensive game as well as his physical play. Size doesn’t always guarantee physicality and toughness but with Zadorov, he plays exactly the way one would expect of big imposing defenseman. He operates a good stick and shows strong positioning with the gap control that makes it almost impossible to elude as an attacker. Zadorov’s offensive skills are slowly coming along but he certainly owns a cannon of a point shot with good accuracy. If Zadorov can improve his lateral mobility and mid-ice transitions his skating will improve drastically and it will significantly impact his draft status.
Zadorov currently has four assists, 18 penalty minutes and an impressive plus-12 rating (showing his value defensively) through London’s first 12 games.
Early Professional Projection (Upside): Top shutdown defender
Darnell Nurse (D, Sault Ste Marie Greyhounds)
Early in the season, Darnell Nurse’s Sault Ste Marie Greyhounds lost their top puck-moving defenseman in Ryan Sproul (Detroit Red Wings) to a nasty injury leaving their blue line depleted with Collin Miller (Los Angeles) also on the shelf. With these two crucial injuries, it meant that Nurse would need to step up in a huge way. And Nurse did exactly that, recording seven points in the following three games. Nurse is a mobile defenseman with great pivots. His four-way mobility allows him to contain the opposition easier and faster than his competition. Over the past year, Nurse has really developed a physical element to his game and while he is not “nasty” he does keep the opposing teams honest when entering the tough areas of the ice. Furthermore, when Nurse was drafted third overall by the Greyhounds in 2011 it was expected that he would develop into a shut-down defenseman but he has since shown emerging offensive qualities as well. Nurse has a good first-pass and is more than capable of leading the rush with his skating as well. In the early portion of his draft season, Nurse has shown increased confidence in jumping up into the play as an extra attacker or a player looking for a back-door pass on the attack.
With Sproul out for a while, Nurse has a great opportunity to not only show his on-ice skillsets but his intangible qualities like leadership as well. His poise and patience with the puck has improved dramatically from his rookie season and it has helped his entire game as a result. Look for Nurse to challenge Nikita Zadorov as the OHL’s top draft eligible defenseman. Darnell Nurse currently sits tied for seventh in OHL defensemen scoring with 11 points (2 goals, 9 assists) and sports a team-leading plus-6 rating.
Early Professional Projection (Upside): Top four two-way defenseman
Jordan Subban (D, Belleville Bulls)
Growing up as the youngest brother of PK Subban (Canadiens) and Malcolm Subban (Bruins) was not always easy, but Jordan Subban always seemed to rise to the hype of his family name starring for the Toronto Marlboros and now the Belleville Bulls, where each of his brothers play(ed) as well. Subban is an undersized puck-rushing defenseman who oozes the offensive instincts sought out in the new breed of NHL defensemen. His size (5’9”, 150 lbs) continues to be a concern for scouts, but if he continues his torrid offensive pace, then NHL teams will quickly push aside his physical deficiencies in favour of his rare offensive traits.
Subban is an exceptional skater with breakaway speed and the ability to make quick and precise decisions at top speed. There are plenty of similarities between PK and Jordan, as both are charismatic players who own the offensive creativity to make things happen each shift. Both are guilty of making high-risk plays that can often turn into chances for the opposition but they are at their best when attempting these risky moves. Jordan has been said to be a better player than his older brother PK at the same (and he is certainly more polished), but he certainly will need to continue to add strength and refine his defensive game to improve his chances of cracking the NHL lineup. For a smaller defenseman, Jordan Subban packs a fairly beefy point shot and it can be a weapon on the man-advantage.
At the moment, Jordan Subban is averaging a point-per-game with twelve points in twelve contests and sits as the top scoring draft-eligible OHL defenseman. Furthermore, the swift skating Subban is currently leading the entire Belleville Bulls team in scoring and sits tied for sixth in OHL defensive scoring.
Early Professional Projection (Upside): Offensive puck-rushing defenseman (PP Specialist)
Recent posts from Brendan Ross: