As the Montreal Canadiens continue their slow march toward modernization in the organization, one of the biggest areas that they can grow is on defence. There’s an opportunity for the team to do so in the middle part of the first round. Enter the dynamic Pavel Mintyukov of the Saginaw Spirit in the OHL, a truly modern defender who blends the line between forward and defenceman on every shift.
Birthplace: Moscow, Russia
Date of birth: November 25, 2003
Height: 6’ 1”
Weight: 192 lbs
Team: Saginaw Spirit (OHL)
Originally part of the Dynamo Moscow system in Russia, Mintyukov never really found another level to his offensive game there, even when he earned a promotion to the MHL. The Saginaw Spirit still took the chance on drafting him in the CHL Import Draft in 2020, then had to wait an extra year to see him due to the OHL’s cancelled season.
The wait was well worth it for the Spirit as Mintyukov announced his arrival with an offensive explosion in the 2021-22 season. Despite being a defenceman, he led the Spirit with 62 points in 67 games. That also placed him third in the entire OHL, behind two over-age players on far better teams. With a year of experience under his belt, he is primed to be a dominant force in the OHL next season as well.
When we look at Mintyukov’s entire body of work it becomes immediately clear where he thrives, and what makes him such a highly rated prospect in the upcoming NHL Draft. He plays every shift like he’s a rover, a blend between a forwards and defenceman that makes him the most dangerous player on the ice at all times.
He is an incredibly dynamic skater, able to glide almost effortlessly all over the ice, and that drives his offensive prowess night in and night out. His impressive skating stride allows him to take off with the puck at a moment’s notice, and instantly create space for himself in all three zones. His willingness to be the primary puck-carrier, regardless of the situation, reminds one heavily of Erik Karlsson, and it’s not just due to skating speed. Mintyukov operates so well on his edges that he can extend plays in the offensive zone while keeping the puck out of harm’s way.
Given how often he’s handling the puck, it’s not hard to see why he was the leading scorer in Saginaw. He oozes confidence when he’s attacking opposing teams, and there is little that he won’t try in an effort to create scoring chances during his shifts. His ability to create that space allows him to use his other offensive talents to great effect.
He possesses an ideal shot for a defender: hard and accurate, and he keeps it relatively low along the ice. His puck-protection skills along with his lateral skating allow him to open up shooting lanes where he can snap off quick, hard shots with startling efficiency. Coupling this with his love of always choosing the most aggressive path with the puck available to him, he becomes an absolute nuisance for opposing defences.
His understanding of the game with the puck on his stick completes the offensive package. He sees plays develop before others can, allowing him the time and space to make things happen.
Despite all the offensive gifts, he has flaws that will likely prevent him from being selected inside the top five. Chief among them is that while he reads the play well and can create chances out of seemingly nowhere, his overall decision-making has a way to go. He’s adept at carrying the puck out of his zone, or making high-risk plays, but when they go wrong his choices often leave his defence partner holding the bag and defending odd-man attacks.
Also a work in progress is his defensive game, which while not awful is a clear area for improvement. His aggressiveness from the offensive side of the game has carried over to his defensive work, and he will step up to the blue line and neutral zone to deny zone entries. The downside to this is that his issues with decision-making can cause him to leave himself out of position if he mistimes his stick-check or when attempting to play the body.
Outside of that, the only real knock on him is that he doesn’t always engage physically along the boards. He’s no slouch when it comes to the difficult battles along the boards, but he can shy away from them sometimes. If he can continue to improve his engagement off the puck, and pick his spots better, he’s likely to develop into a true two-way threat on the blue line for an NHL team.
Dobber Prospects: #12
Elite Prospects: #7
Bob McKenzie (TSN): #16
NHL Central Scouting: #6 (North American skaters)
Corey Pronman (The Athletic) #18
Scott Wheeler (The Athletic): #25
Obviously the Canadiens aren’t going to take Mintyukov at first overall, and the chances of him falling down to the 26th overall are slim to none. There appear to be options in terms of trading up for the Habs, and if Kent Hughes felt so inclined, he has a cache of assets to use in a trade.
From what I’ve personally seen watching games, and from other videos that scouting outlets have done, taking a chance to trade up for Mintyukov is a risk worth taking. His style of play fits very well into what the NHL is becoming, in that he can play with finesse and pace in all three zones. Calling him a defenceman feels like a misnomer at the end of the day, as he doesn’t fit the mould of your typical blue-liner. He can quarterback from the blue line, but on the same shift he will pull the puck back toward his body and go on a solo charge through the offensive zone skating around an entire defence.
While David Jirírček and Simon Nemec are reigning at the top of the list for this year’s draft-eligible defencemen, Mintyukov isn’t that far behind. His high-end offensive motor, and willingness to take risks make him a potential star in waiting for whichever team selects him. Given Montreal’s lack of a true game-breaking talent on the blue line, looking to trade up for Mintyukov might make a lot of sense come draft day.