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2019 NHL Draft prospect profile: Nikita Okhotyuk is both mobile and physical

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The Ottawa 67’s player has the tools to become an all-around defenceman.

Terry Wilson / OHL Images

The Ottawa 67’s dominated the OHL during the regular season, only losing 12 games over the full calendar and smashing through the first two rounds of the playoffs without dropping a single contest. They are the favourites for the Memorial Cup, stacked with talent.

Nikita Okhotyuk was only used in a depth role for the majority of the season. He anchored the third pair of the 67’s, playing some solid minutes but not standing out on the scoresheet.

Birthplace: Chelyabinsk, RUS
Shoots: Left
Position: Defence
Height: 6’1”
Weight: 194 lbs.
Team: Ottawa 67’s

But as the year advanced, and his team kept playing while the seasons of many of his draft-eligible counterparts were over, the defenceman got more opportunities to shine. Now, he’s replaced the 6’6” first-pairing defenceman Kevin Bahl in the team’s third-round series against the Guelph Storm.

EliteProspects

Okhotyuk has many qualities that allow him to be effective and reliable at both ends of the ice, and also earned him his promotions as the year went on.

The defenceman likes to rush the puck when he sees an opening. He has very solid balance, and it is very hard for an opposing forechecker to knock him off possession when he decides to take the puck out of the zone. He handles back-pressure well with strong edges, and protects the puck by dropping one shoulder and using his reach.

He is capable of some great skating moves to shake off opponents. Watch him switch the direction of his skates rapidly as he retrieves the puck, confusing forecheckers to escape.

In the first clip, after getting off the boards in his zone, Okhotyuk continues his course to the offensive end while pushing back defenders, finishing his play by sliding the puck one-handed to a teammate while using the other arm as a shield. In the second clip, the opposing forward is completely knocked off balance trying to follow an abrupt edge switch.

The defenceman gains enough separation on his rushes to get his head up and find a play. He aims to do the same in his passing game. While he can be guilty of forcing stretch passes and rimming the puck to the other team sometimes, he generally has poise with the puck. Getting it low in his zone, he can hit his forwards as they cross the blue line or curl through the middle of the ice.

On offence, Okhotyuk shows flashes of a defenceman capable of a higher production than he had in his draft year (only 11 points in 56 games). He doesn’t hesitate to attack further into the offensive zone and there are hints of deceptive qualities in his game; he sometimes uses fake shots and threatens to attack inside the dots to get defenders to commit, opening better release spots or a chance at a cross-crease pass from the circles.

In the defensive zone, Okhotyuk is a physical defender who is effective in front of the net and along the boards. At 6’1” and 194 pounds, he has no problem containing often smaller opposing forwards, gluing them to the wall and letting a teammate swoop in to start the breakout. He is also aggressive in his reads more often than not, which can either lead to break-up plays early (good) or an over-commitment (not as good).

The standout part of his game is definitely the giant hits he lays. In the clip above, the defenceman has barely any momentum but still manages to knock an opponent down and stand over him like an unwavering tower. His physical play did lead to a three-game suspension earlier in this season, when he rammed an opponent while skating backward, P.K. Subban on Brad Marchand style.

Surveying Okhotyuk’s tracked stats, it’s clear the defenceman has some work to do when it comes to rush defence. He has some of the poorest gap control in the sample. Opponents tend to choose his side of the ice to enter the defensive zone as he gives up the blue line a little too easily.

But the defenceman scores reasonably well in a lot of categories, especially in his ability to get his own team into the opponent’s end, which is probably a product of his multiple carries per game.

From Mitch Brown’s CHL tracking project

Rankings (not all rankings are final)

Elite Prospects: #89
Hockey Prospect: #56
McKenzie/TSN: #57
NHL Central Scouting: #56 (NA skaters)

Okhotyuk will likely be selected in the third round of the NHL draft. It would be surprising to see him slip much further. Even if he isn’t as exciting or dominant as some of the defencemen who will be selected before him, he is a safer pick and one with upside.

He boasts an almost-pro-ready frame and isn’t afraid to use his physical advantages, which bodes well for his game when he does get to the next level. But most of all, Okhotyuk has the mobility to go with his physical element.

His developing puck-moving abilities, rushes, and the odd offensive flash (showcasing instincts in possession that not all blue-liners possess) will keep scouts coming back to his name in the construction of their draft boards.