There will be no shortage of good prospects still on the board when it comes time to make the 15th selection in the 2019 NHL Draft, with every position likely to be represented. The role the Montreal Canadiens currently need to fill the most at the NHL level is the left side of their defence. Should they want to address that at the root level to bolster it for the future, there are several players who may fit the bill.
Since we didn’t have him included in our right-side defenders article, we’ll start off with Vile Heinola, a Finnish defender who plays with a left-handed stick, but mostly on the right side at five-on-five. Oddly, when compared to how defencemen typically operate in North America, Heinola switches over to the left side on the power play, where he can help move the puck around the perimiter of the zone more easily.
He played in Liiga in his draft season, and also participated in various international tournaments at both the under-18 and under-20 levels, provided a bit of offence for every club. His offensive output was most impressive in the Liiga post-season, with four points in his seven games.
Should the Canadiens deem him to be the best player on the board and call his name on Friday night, a request will likely soon follow for his team to work on preparing him to play the left side, since that’s where his services could be the most valuable. It’s always a plus to have a player comfortable on either flank, as we saw in Montreal with Jordie Benn’s versatility throughout the 2018-19 season, and that may be a standout aspect of Heinola’s game for the amateur scouting staff.
A member of the historically great 2018-19 iteration of the U.S. National Team Development Program, Cam York was better than a point-per-game producer at every level this season, one of the players to break an offensive record on the squad.
He did it thanks to a simple game that kept the puck in the clutches of the strong group of forwards, five of whom have the potential to be selected in the top 10. York’s top skill is an aggressive approach to defending his blue line, forcing opposing forwards to turn right back around and have to deal with the elite talent of the U.S. forward corps once again.
With the play established in his own zone, York’s game is less effective. He’s not nearly as good at holding defensive position and breaking the puck out as he is at denying the blue line. Considering how often he was setting teammates up for goals, you’d expect him to be a strong puck-mover on the back end, but his transition ability was largely below average on the year.
York is one of those players whose great showing may have had more to do with the quality of his teammates than his own ability, and that may not be something you want to find out later from a player chosen as high as York is projected to go.
Broberg is the type of player who was so much better than his peers that he never had to expend much energy to be the best on the ice. He had a size and a speed advantage as he rose through the ranks, and there wasn’t much other teams could do to stop him.
Getting to the professional ranks this season, those advantages weren’t nearly so great. The increase in quality of the players he was now up against was therefore a shocking one. He was constantly put under pressure while in control of the puck and outbattled by more physically mature forwards in his own end. No longer able to just skate up to a puck-carrier and strip the puck away, his lack of solid defensive positioning was often exposed.
While it was an eye-opening year, there’s plenty of raw talent to build a more complete game on. He is a project like any player outside the first handful of picks in the draft, though needing to refine his rudimentary defensive game will be a significant task.
Harley’s defensive game is also a work in progress, something he freely admits, but he was still trusted with major minutes in all situations for the OHL’s Mississauga Steelheads. He doesn’t seem to have his defensive patterns down at this stage of his career, which is expected for one of the youngest players in the draft class.
Harley has an effective transition game, thanks to his great speed and agility as well as his stick-handling skills. Those traits are especially useful on the power play as he quickly moves along the blue line looking for passing lanes or has the confidence to pinch low in the zone knowing he can easily recover his position. His shot isn’t very effective, largely because it’s so awkward, rendering him mostly a passing option, which could limit his output in the pros.
At Eyes On The Prize, we believe that the defensive consistency and lack of a quality shot are things that can easily be improved in the next few years. His puck-carrying and -moving abilities are very intriguing, and we believe he would be a great choice for Montreal at 15th.
Which LD would you prefer in the first round?
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