In the last profile I wrote, covering Swedish defenceman Calle Odelius, I noticed how split the analysts seemed be on the player. Today’s prospect may be the polar opposite. Everyone seems thoroughly in agreement over Ryan Chesley and the fact that he should be selected either late in the first round or very early in the second.
Birthplace: Mahtomedi, Minnesota
Date of birth: February 27, 2004
Weight: 201 lbs.
Team: U.S. National Team Development Program
Every year our very own deputy managing editor Jared Book puts together a draft class sheet, where he inserts rankings from a dozen credible draft sources. This year, nine defencemen are ranked in the top 32 counting from the average.
The universally heralded top defensive talents in 2022, Czechia’s David Jiříček and Slovakia’s Šimon Nemec, are right-handed. After they are gone, likely before the eighth overall selection comes around, there are mainly left-handed defencemen who are expected to be chosen around the middle of the first round. Chesley, meanwhile, will probably end up competing with the likes of Mattias Hävelid, Seamus Casey, Tristan Luneau and Sam Rinzel to be the top right-handed defenceman available with the two Eastern Europeans off the board. Coincidentally, Rinzel will be Chesley’s teammate and/or rival in everyday life as well, as they have both committed to play for the Minnesota Golden Gophers from this fall.
Chesley is a good skater and is seen as someone who could one day make an NHL impact as a transition defenceman, while also being really solid defensively. This year, he was supposed to put it all together and demonstrate for scouts and general managers that he had true top-pairing upside. Apart from his skating and overall mobility, he has a booming shot which was underused when the USNTDP preferred two other defencemen on the power play. His physicality is also of standout quality, despite his relative lack of reach. McKeen’s describes him as an absolute ox on the ice while stating that it’s rare to see him lose a one-on-one battle for the puck.
Despite all of these positives, there was something missing in his overall game, which made Chesley stay put as a borderline first-rounder, rather than leapfrogging his colleagues. Elite Prospects speak in their draft guide about how the Minnesota native is at his best when he plays with pace and lets his instincts lead him into the neutral zone and beyond. His main flaws show up when he has to calculate his option rather than rely on those instincts. In short, his overall hockey sense and processing speed are not his standout tools.
Apart from the body type, there is something Kaiden Guhle-esque to Chesley’s game. Before you crucify me here, I want to clarify that no, I’m not talking about the monster Guhle has developed into, but rather whom he was seen as during the months leading up to his selection.
Guhle was universally seen as a well-rounded, defence-first guy with one of the highest floors of the entire draft. Anyone who saw him play was certain that he would one day find himself on an NHL pairing. The question was more if the overall upside which could turn him from a certain bottom-four option to an equally certain bona fide defenceman was in his arsenal.
There were questions about his offensive capabilities beyond his booming shot; would he ever be able to efficiently quarterback a power play? Would he perhaps be best suited to a Joel Edmundson type of role, focusing on defence and being a steady presence on the penalty kill?
Chesley’s problems are similar. Will he ever find the offensive acumen needed to be a threat in all three zones? Compared to 2020, when Guhle at 16 was but the third defenceman chosen, there are many other options available in the same range this year. Once again, if we look at Elite Prospects’ overall ranking, they have nine defencemen ahead of “chiseled Chesley”, who is ranked at number 30.
Elite Prospects: #30
Bob McKenzie (TSN): #25
NHL Central Scouting: #18 (North American Skaters)
Corey Pronman (The Athletic) #29
Scott Wheeler (The Athletic): #30
If you are uncertain about a prospect’s two-way ability and offensive output, you may want to hold out and instead use your first-round pick on someone with a lower floor but higher overall potential. Much like Marc Bergevin and his regime did in 2021, when they opposed the Guhle selection of a high-floor guy with the boom-or-bust Logan Mailloux.
What’s interesting here is that you could make an argument that there are similarities to be made between Chesley and Mailloux as well. Like I mentioned earlier, and in similar fashion to both Mailloux and fellow Habs hopeful Jayden Struble, draft analysts seemingly believe that there could be much more in the tank for Ryan Chesley if he were to put his overall tools together on an everyday basis. This begs the question: At what point do you just have to accept a player for what he is rather than what he could be if so and so happens?
Chesley will be an interesting guy to follow on the first night of the draft. How much is a team willing to pay in terms of draft capital to get a steady defensive presence with physical elements and a hard slapshot, whose processing speed is considered his main deficiency? At the very latest, we will know on the evening of July 8.