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Catching The Torch: Kieran Ruscheinski has unique athleticism

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Once he works on his skating skills and puck control, the defenceman could end up being an exciting prospect.

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, WHL), and collegiate (NCAA) level.

Drafted in the seventh round of the 2019 NHL Draft, Kieran Ruscheinski has stayed out of the spotlight during the past two seasons while playing in the BCHL, the best Junior A league in Canada. The defenceman is quietly refining his skill with the Salmon Arm Silverbacks in preparation of his next step in hockey.

If we look at players who took a similar path to his, that next step will probably be college hockey, an environment that will provide him with years of development time under the watchful guidance of the Montreal Canadiens’ development staff. Ruscheinski is obviously a long-term project. The team didn’t acquire his rights so that he could join the Canadiens on the ice in the next couple of years, but to oversee his growth over a period of five to six years, hoping he figures out how to maximize his best asset: length.

For a 6’6” skater, Ruscheinski is relatively mobile, which speaks to uncommon athleticism. There is depth to his skating form, not as much as you would expect from a 6’0” skater with body proportions more aligned with the demands of skating, but enough to provide the defenceman with some speed, acceleration, and agility.

An optimist might even project his skating ability as close to NHL average in a few years with targeted strength training and intensive work with a skating coach. A specialist who could smooth some of the quirks in Ruscheinski’s stride, like his rounded back, wide stance, and ankle dorsiflexion, to help him maximize the added muscle.

Reaching close to that NHL average skating ability, forward and backward, would almost be enough for the Canadiens to sign Ruscheinski to a contract, as he would instantly become an asset for the organization. A player with that kind of skating and massive wingspan has an unmatched defensive radius on the ice; he can reach and kill plays in a large area of the surface in a second.

That said, it would be shortsighted for Ruscheinski’s future teams to only concentrate their efforts on his skating. As there are other skill areas where the defenceman is probably capable of making significant growth, the main one being his transition ability.

There are a few things holding it back right now, but I would agree that the most important one is his awareness and anticipation. Ruscheinski is a little too focused on his defensive responsibility, on staying net-front to block and box out threats, a role that fits his frame. He tends to recognize opportunities to jump on a loose or rimmed puck a couple of steps too late. The late read puts him in a disadvantageous position, forcing him to fight to move the puck under pressure, instead of enjoying time and space to do so.

Ruscheinski also doesn’t shoulder-check enough before retrieving or receiving the puck. It slows down his next play and reduces his confidence in his ability to execute that next play. Adding just one more shoulder check to locate a potent outlet before getting possession would facilitate his breakouts immensely.

Ruscheinski has three occasions to start a breakout in the sequence above. In the first one, he misses a middle outlet as he focuses his entire attention on the puck. In the second one, he reacts late to a loose puck coming on his side of the ice. But in the third one, Ruscheinski shoulder checks for an outlet and manages a bump pass to a teammate on the wall.

Improving his handling skills would also help Ruscheinski complete more controlled plays. Right now, his bottom hand is probably too involved in his stickhandling; he seems to make a large, chopping motion at the puck. It bounces on and off his stick and seemingly wants to escape him.

This flaw is not uncommon for someone of Ruscheinski’s size, but I think he has the innate coordination and athleticism to achieve a more efficient handling style by using his top hand more and, in turn, by creating smaller, rolling movements of the puck. The change doesn’t have to be drastic or Patrick Kane-like.

Look at this time-stamped video of Colton Parayko when he played for the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. (Video has sound) His technique isn’t perfect, but the puck stays close to his blade, which gives Parayko a better feel for it, allowing him to pull off a couple of feints and get his eyes up to locate a hole in the goalie’s coverage.

Just like in his awareness, a small improvement in handling skills could open a world of transition and playmaking possibilities for Ruscheinski. The improvements could also become exponential as they would fuel his confidence — the motor of development.

Overall, with the Ruscheinski pick, Montreal has taken on a pretty unique and exciting project. Even if the defenceman is unlikely to ever wear the bleu, blanc, rouge of the Canadiens, we will probably see a ton of growth in his game in the next few years as he rises in levels and tries to make a name for himself. He could end up surprising us in the end.

Below is the goal he scored last Thursday, a special one as it was his first in his BCHL career.

CHL Weekly stats

Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Kaiden Guhle 2020 LD WHL Prince Albert Raiders 0 0 0 0
Gianni Faibrother 2019 LD WHL Everett Silvertips 4 0 1 1
Kieran Ruscheinski 2019 LD BCHL Salmon Arm Silverbacks 3 0 0 0

CHL season to date

Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Kaiden Guhle 2020 LD WHL Prince Albert Raiders 2 1 1 2
Gianni Faibrother 2019 LD WHL Everett Silvertips 23 1 16 17
Kieran Ruscheinski 2019 LD BCHL Salmon Arm Silverbacks 20 1 2 3

NCAA/USHL weekly stats

Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Cole Caufield 2019 RW Big Ten Wisconsin 0 0 0 0
Jack Gorniak 2018 LW Big Ten Wisconsin 0 0 0 0
Sean Farrell 2020 LW USHL Chicago 2 0 1 1
Rhett Pitlick 2019 LW USHL Tri-City 0 0 0 0
Jack Smith 2020 C USHL Sioux Falls 0 0 0 0
Jayden Struble 2019 LD Hockey East Northeastern 0 0 0 0
Jordan Harris 2018 LD Hockey East Northeastern 0 0 0 0
Brett Stapley 2018 C NCHC Denver 0 0 0 0
Blake Biondi 2020 C NCHC Minnesota-Duluth 0 0 0 0
Luke Tuch 2020 LW Hockey East Boston 0 0 0 0

NCAA/USHL Season to date

Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Cole Caufield 2019 RW Big Ten Wisconsin 31 30 22 52
Jack Gorniak 2018 LW Big Ten Wisconsin 31 6 7 13
Sean Farrell 2020 LW USHL Chicago 53 29 72 101
Sean Farrell (playoffs) 2020 LW USHL Chicago 6 1 4 5
Rhett Pitlick 2019 LW USHL Muskegon/Tri-City 43 13 21 34
Jack Smith 2020 C USHL Sioux Falls 47 7 6 13
Jayden Struble 2019 LD Hockey East Northeastern 18 2 10 12
Jordan Harris 2018 LD Hockey East Northeastern 19 6 13 19
Brett Stapley 2018 C NCHC Denver 13 5 4 9
Blake Biondi 2020 C NCHC Minnesota-Duluth 25 2 3 5
Luke Tuch 2020 LW Hockey East Boston 16 6 5 11

Goalie weekly stats

Player Draft year League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Player Draft year League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Jakub Dobes 2020 USHL Omaha 0-2-0 2.10 0.923 0

Goalie Season to date

Player Draft year League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Player Draft year League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Jakub Dobes 2020 USHL Omaha 26-16-2-1 2.48 0.908 2
Jakub Dobes (playoffs) 2020 USHL Omaha 0-2-0 2.10 0.923 0