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Catching The Torch: Cracking the mystery of 2019 seventh-round pick Kieran Ruscheinski

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The Canadiens went well off the board with their final pick a year ago. How is the 6’6” defenceman doing?

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Each week we take an in-depth look at young members of the organization while providing an overview of Montreal Canadiens prospects playing at the Junior (OHL, QMJHL, WHL, BCHL, USHL) and collegiate (NCAA) level.

At the 2019 NHL Draft, the seventh-round selection of the Montreal Canadiens was a bit of a curiosity. Even considering the unexpected nature of the last picks made, the scouting staff still came out of the left field to choose Kieran Ruscheinski, a 6’6” Western Canadian Midget defenceman, the first player drafted out of the AMHL since its inception.

With that selection, the Canadiens departed a bit from their choices of recent years of players like Cayden Primeau and Brett Stapley. In 2017, the Habs banked on the development of a goalie with athletic ability and pro lineage, whose difficult draft-year situation hid his potential. In 2018, they took under their wing a player with offensive qualities and a record of success in tier-two Junior, one headed for the long college development route.

The 2019 pick, comparatively, represented an abrupt return to some of the projects that fascinated the Habs in previous draft years.

Ruscheinski is a choice that more closely ressembles the selection of Arvid Henrikson, a Swedish defenceman who found a home with Lake Superior State University (NCAA Div. 1) after limited minutes in Sweden’s pro hockey leagues over two years. Both defencemen share a main quality: towering size. Montreal hoped Henrikson could develop a strong defensive game around his impressive range, and it is the same ambition with Ruscheinski.

While he also remains an incredibly long shot to ever make the NHL — or play professional hockey, for that matter — the advantage Ruscheinski has over Henrikson is a much better skating ability. The newest seventh-rounder has an unusual mobility to go along with his high radius of impact on the ice, which makes him a player capable of better adapting to the modern game.

Backward and forward agility are still works in progress for Ruscheinski, but his game will never be based on his lateral cuts. His long body won’t allow him to drive his hips into crossovers or reach very far under him with an outside edge to accelerate up ice. Speed and quickness will always be far more important for the defenceman, because his wingspan will take care of the skaters trying to go around him.

In a straight line, the defenceman can match the momentum of most players in his current league. He can move up and down the ice ahead of the opposing attack. His acceleration from a stop also allows him to win some puck races, and even if he doesn’t get there first his range again acts as a corrective tool. His stick can cross the finish line ahead of opponents to connect with the puck, poking it away before the opposition runs away with it.

Ruscheinski will continue to develop the necessary tools for an effective defensive game in Junior hockey over the next few years, which should make him more aggressive and pro-active. He already looks engaged in his play away from the puck, positioning himself well, shoulder-checking, acting as a large wall against shots, and generally taking pride in this side of the game. But his length means he could close gaps earlier, off the rush and in-zone, stopping opposing plays before they come even close to turning into scoring chances.

It will come with time.

Kieran Ruscheinski wears #3 with the Salmon Arm Silverbacks

In his play with the puck, Ruscheinski is understandably further behind his counterparts. He isn’t as coordinated and shuffles the puck with a heavy use of his forearm, making his touches less precise.

That being said, he still has the right ideas when moving the puck, showing a foundation that could lead to a better puck-moving game down the road. He joins the rush rapidly, takes available space in front of him, only passes when he meets opposition, and drags defenders out of passing lanes with his skating route to open space for teammates.

Most plays are aborted in the video below, but again, the intentions are correct. They will turn into better plays with work on passing accuracy and puck control.

Since coming back from an injury that sidelined him for more than a month, the defenceman has picked up three assists in five games, contributing a bit to the offence even through his more defensive role. One of his assists came from attacking down the blue line after an offensive faceoff. He launched the puck at the net, and it bounced to a teammate after a save, and was placed behind the goalie.

Ruscheinski will likely stay at least one more season in the BCHL before he reorients his hockey career toward the next level, probably taking the college route like many of his Junior A counterparts.

Prospects are always projects, but Ruscheinski is an even larger ones. Players 6’6” and above are a rarity, and only a few of them make it to the NHL, and only one of them ever became Zdeno Chara. The path ahead will be a long one for the BCHLer, and the Montreal Canadiens will likely not see a professional product from their selection until years down the road — if there even is one. It would be a great story of development if Ruscheinski beats the odds to play games in the top league in the world.

CHL Weekly performances

Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Rafaël Harvey-Pinard 2019 LW QMJHL Chicoutimi 2 0 1 1
Samuel Houde 2018 C QMJHL Chicoutimi 3 1 2 3
Cam Hillis 2018 C OHL Guelph 3 0 2 2
Allan McShane 2018 C OHL Oshawa 2 0 1 1
Jacob LeGuerrier 2019 LD OHL Sault Ste Marie 2 0 0 0
Cole Fonstad 2018 LW WHL Everett Silvertips 3 1 1 2
Gianni Fairbrother 2019 LD WHL Everett Silvertips Injured
Kieran Ruscheinski 2019 LD BCHL Salmon Arm Silverbacks 4 0 1 1

CHL Season to date

Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Rafaël Harvey-Pinard 2019 LW QMJHL Chicoutimi 55 31 40 71
Samuel Houde 2018 C QMJHL Chicoutimi 43 19 31 50
Cam Hillis 2018 C OHL Guelph 61 23 58 81
Allan McShane 2018 C OHL Oshawa 62 23 44 67
Jacob LeGuerrier 2019 LD OHL Sault Ste Marie 60 6 25 31
Cole Fonstad 2018 LW WHL Everett Silvertips 60 15 59 74
Gianni Fairbrother 2019 LD WHL Everett Silvertips 37 5 20 25
Kieran Ruscheinski 2019 LD BCHL Salmon Arm Silverbacks 36 0 6 6

NCAA/USHL Weekly performances

Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Jack Gorniak 2018 LW Big Ten Wisconsin 2 0 0 0
Cole Caufield 2019 RW Big Ten Wisconsin 2 0 0 0
Brett Stapley 2018 C NCHC Denver 2 0 3 3
Jayden Struble 2019 LD Hockey East Northeastern Injured
Jordan Harris 2018 LD Hockey East Northeastern 2 0 0 0
Rhett Pitlick 2019 LW USHL Muskegon 2 1 1 2

NCAA Season to date

Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Jack Gorniak 2018 LW Big Ten Wisconsin 28 2 5 7
Cole Caufield 2019 RW Big Ten Wisconsin 36 19 17 36
Brett Stapley 2018 C NCHC Denver 35 5 25 30
Jayden Struble 2019 LD Hockey East Northeastern 21 3 7 10
Jordan Harris 2018 LD Hockey East Northeastern 33 3 18 21
Rhett Pitlick 2019 LW USHL Muskegon 45 17 25 42