2023 NHL Draft prospect profile: Caden Price is a puck-moving defenceman
The Kelowna Rockets blue-liner has the talent to be a key member of an NHL team, but can he bring that to the ice consistently?
There is only a small crop of defencemen ranked near the top of the 2023 NHL Draft class. Most of the top options are European blue-liners, and it's entirely possible that no North American defencemen will be selected on the opening day of the draft.
That is the case because few offer the complete package; the vast majority are missing at least one element a team is looking for in a first-round pick. It could therefore be Caden Price, a member of the WHL's Kelowna Rockets, who goes first, offering a game has a little bit of everything.
Birthplace: Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
Date of birth: August 24, 2005
Weight: 181 lbs.
Team: Kelowna Rockets (WHL)
His style of play all stems from a great understanding of the game and good awareness of movements on the ice. He can begin planning out his moves before he ever gains possession of the puck, which is a big advantage at the Junior level. There's a north-south approach to his game, and that makes his play look exceptionally efficient when he's at his best.
The other side of that coin is that there is little creativity in his play. His offensive game involves advancing puck to forwards in transition, and moving it from the blue line to the slot on offence.
That helps explain the relatively low point totals he's posted in his first two WHL seasons (along with being on a fairly poor Rockets team). His shot is neither powerful nor accurate, and therefore he doesn't use it often, playing a minor role on offence. There's no reason for an opposing defence to worry about his release, and just focus on his passing options instead.
His defensive game is based on smart stick-work, blocking passing and shooting lanes and intervening at the last season to thwart a chance in tight. He's not a physical player, looking to separate the puck from his man rather than vice versa.
Normally able to glide around the ice as his hockey sense keeps him in the proper position, he can hit another gear to recover following turnovers. His skating stride isn't the smoothest, but it is effective enough at getting him up to speed, chasing down attacking forwards to get his stick on the puck or his body into the inside lane to the net to limit the danger of the rush.
Nearly everything about his game is above average, with the one clear deficiency being his shot. "Above average" isn't exactly what a typical scouting department is looking for in a high pick, however, so it's difficult to project where he will be selected.
He can keep plays alive in the offensive zone and frustrate forwards on defence, but his greatest contribution to a team will be his transition play. He carries the puck with his head up, and sees the options available – if he hasn't already performed his shoulder-checks to map the other nine skaters already. He can make good decisions quickly, and therefore doesn't need to hold the puck for long. Good puck-handling skill doesn't get the spotlight it could because he doesn't make sequences of dekes through the neutral zone, but just enough to beat one forechecker and move the puck along.
In Mitch Brown's tracked stats above, you see that Price is near the top of the sample (which includes many of the players in the North American Junior system, even previously drafted players) in advantages created, a measure of "how often a player beats pressure (i.e., at least one opposing player) to create space, including for teammates." Most of that is the quick plays around his own blue line to get the transition started.
Only one other 2023 draft-eligible North American defenceman created more space for his teammates: Matthew Mania of the Sudbury Wolves. The quick decision-making will serve Price well if he gets to the NHL level, and that could give him a leg up on some of his blue-line peers.
Dobber Prospects: #27
Elite Prospects: #29
Hockey Prospect: #55
Hadi Kalakeche: #22
Bob McKenzie (TSN): #38
NHL Central Scouting: #47 (North American skaters)
Corey Pronman (The Athletic) N/R in Top 34
Scott Wheeler (The Athletic): #37
The element that Price lacks is consistency, which may be the most critical aspect of all. For many of the good plays he makes, there are poor ones from a lack of attention, usually fluctuating on a game-to-game basis. There will be NHL scouts who witnessed a few of his best outings and have him near the top of their draft boards, and others who question if he has a future in pro hockey at all.
You can teach a player to make better offensive plays, or defend better along the boards in his own zone. Consistency, however, is a decision a player needs to make on their own. Price could become the best defenceman of the North American class, or he could never reach his potential.
He would join a long list of players who couldn't assemble all the pieces of the puzzle they held in their hands if he doesn't address that issue. For someone as gifted as Price who already has the puck-moving part figured out, an NHL team will hope he can make the commitment to playing his best hockey every night.