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2020 NHL Draft prospect profile: Tyler Kleven has size, but does he have the skill to match?

The defenceman plays a throwback style but is he able to adapt to the modern game?

Rena Laverty / USA Hockey’s NTDP

Even as the NHL game is changing, big-bodied defencemen remain on the shopping list of most teams in the league. Tyler Kleven is a big defensive defenceman from the United States Under-18 team, and though the squad wasn’t as strong as it was a year ago, he is one of the top bets from the team who could have his name called early.

Birthplace: Fargo, North Dakota
Date of birth: January 10, 2002
Shoots: Left
Position: Defence
Height: 6’4”
Weight: 201 lbs.
Team: USA U-18 Development Program

He doesn’t have offensive numbers that jump off the page, scoring two goals and adding 12 assists in 62 games. He had 100 penalty minutes as well. He represented the U.S. at the World Under-17 Championship in 2018-19, but did not get a point.

Elite Prospects

Kleven is committed to play at the University of North Dakota for his university hockey. If he goes in the first two rounds, he would be the highest North Dakota prep school player ever taken in the NHL Draft.

Strengths

Kleven’s calling card is his size. He’s not a giant, but at 6’4” he does stand out. He will need to fill out his frame, but he does use his size to his advantage, and that’s something that will carry him in the NCAA and into his professional career.

With his size, the question in today’s game is whether he can move. Kleven does move well for his frame, and while it is not an asset it’s not something that holds him back. He has his good moments and not-so-good moments, but all in all, his skating is not what will keep him from success at the next level.

Size isn’t a factor if you don’t use it properly. Kleven’s biggest strength on the ice is his one-on-one defence. He positions himself well on the rush and stops attacking players. He has a mean streak and hits to separate players from the puck. He also doesn’t skate around the offensive zone looking for hits. He is positionally sound in his own end, and won’t hurt his team by being out of position because he wants to be physical.

Weaknesses

While we mentioned a couple of defensive-zone aspects that Kleven does well, he does have his struggles. His decision-making when it comes to complex defending on rushes is lacking. When things break down and he can’t play a positional game, there can be some issues. Scouts point out that sometimes even when his head chooses the right play, his mobility keeps him from executing.

Offence is not a strength of his game, and that includes his puck movement. He has the ability to skate the puck out, and can make a first pass, but the struggles come when his first-pass option is not there.

When he’s forced to circle back or change his play, things tend to go south quickly. He either just tries to force the pass anyway, puts his teammates in a poor position, or resorts to dumping the puck off the glass regardless of where his teammates are. He makes plays that aren’t good enough for the USHL, nevermind when he gets to higher levels.

He has a booming slapshot from the point, but the problem comes with how inconsistent it is. The contact he makes with the puck can be well off centre and he often misses his mark. The strength quickly becomes a weakness because of how seldom he gets it right. It simply isn’t anywhere close to reliable enough to be counted on.

Rankings

Elite Prospects: N/R
Future Considerations: #79
Hockey Prospect: #71
McKeen’s Hockey: #37
McKenzie/TSN: #36
NHL Central Scouting: #42 (North American skaters)

Kleven’s tools are his physical attributes, and how much you rely on those is the important factor in where you will have him ranked on your draft board. It should be noted that NHL scouts are among the highest on him based on where he is on Bob McKenzie’s consensus ranking.

There may be enough raw skill on the offensive side of his game that there can be room for improvement to the point where he can deliver more on that side of the puck, but teams will be calling his name based on what he does at the defensive end.

The scouts that are down on Kleven simply don’t see enough positive parts of his game to move him up their draft boards. He will need improvement on both sides of the game in order to become a contributor at the NHL level, and his draft rankings show that.

Having said that, it only takes one team to determine your draft position, and Kleven’s skill set is a throwback style that many scouts and general managers love. The mobility also is not a total loss, meaning the upside is there for him to be a contributor on a pairing, but he likely will be a player who depends on his partner rather than taking the lead.