2023 NHL Draft prospect profile: Tanner Molendyk was a revelation out west

Can Molendyk put all of his tools together to reach his offensive potential?

2023 NHL Draft prospect profile: Tanner Molendyk was a revelation out west
Steve Hiscock

The 2023 draft is shaping up to be one with the best talent to be found in its forwards. It's a draft class so heavy in forward talent, calls for defencemen to come down to the stage may be few and far between in the opening rounds.

One of the players hoping to hear his name called on day one is Tanner Molendyk, a smaller, smooth-skating, offensive blue-liner with the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades.

Birthplace: Kamloops, British Columbia
Date of birth: February 3, 2005
Shoots: Left
Position: Defenceman
Height: 5’11”
Weight: 176 lbs.
Team: Saskatoon Blades (WHL)

First, let's get out of the way the number-one thing people might ask: How do 37 points in 67 games quality a player as an offensive defencemen while the top five blue-liners in the WHL had 81, 80, 78, 75 and 74 points in as many games played or less? A player such as Olen Zellweger had 80 points in 55 matches as an example. Those are offensive defenceman numbers.

Why are Molendyk's numbers so low? It's a valid concern and most likely one of the reasons why he fell from a potential first-round selection to now slotted by most as a second-rounder.

Even though he didn't put up massive numbers in his draft year, his two-way game improved drastically. He's a great skater, great passer, moves on the ice effortlessly, and can keep up his speed and agility while carrying the puck.

With good mobility and agility, he plays a strong transition game full of confidence and is rarely caught off guard. He understands how to use his body and stick for gap control and puck control against opposing players.

What's more, with his patience and ability to get into position quickly, along with developing confidence in his physicality, he has emerged as quality shutdown options versus the toughest opponents. His style evolved into more of a crease-protecting defenceman this year, while still retaining his puck-moving skills. He can still be seen as a mobile defenceman who has an eye for creating offence. But he plays with more bite than your typical offensive-minded d-man.

Mitch Brown & Lassi Alanen's tracking project

That is not to say Molendyk has no shortcomings. He still has to polish his issues with defensive pressure when attackers come in with speed or battle in the corners. He also needs to adjust his aggressiveness, knowing when to pitch, when to throw a hit, or just staying in position when guarding against his opponents. What's more, as much as he has improved his physicality, increasing his weight would help him win more battles along the boards and in front of the net.

He is an interesting prospect as he has a full toolkit and there has been a progression in his game every year. He is very much a player in the mould of the new-wave of smooth-skating defenceman that we now find in the league, capable to keeping pace as the overall skill level increases.

Preliminary Rankings

Dobber Prospects: #49
Elite Prospects: #40
FCHockey: #28
Hockey Prospect: #24
Hadi Kalakeche: #47
McKeen’s: #52
Bob McKenzie (TSN): #62
NHL Central Scouting: #61
Corey Pronman (The Athletic) #25
Scott Wheeler (The Athletic): #40

Despite the points total not being as high as his WHL counterparts; Molendyk is a lot more efficient in transitions compared to his peers. He is also very active in the offensive zone with his dangerous passes and shot attempts. He’s a fluid skater with a sound understanding of his position.

At the pro level, he will have to find a way to create his own path. If he can find his niche in the NHL, he could become a valuable second-pairing defenceman.

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