NHL DRAFT PREVIEW — Defenders (and a Goalie) That Could Be Available at #15

In our continuing look at the draft, here are some defenders (and one goalie) that could be available for the Islanders to take with the 15th pick tomorrow afternoon.

Defenders:

Josh Morrissey — 6-0, 183 // Prince Albert (WHL)

Morissey has been playing for Prince Albert, a team that hasn’t had a winning season in the WHL since 2004. He’s helped them start to turn things around, though. This year they did finally have a winning record with the help of Morrissey’s power play and puck moving skills. He’s your prototypical offensive defenseman with gifted passing and vision. From Jr Hockey Recruit:

Morrissey’s games revolves around his incredible skating and mobility, which is among the best for any defenceman in the 2013 draft class. He’s relied upon heavily in Prince Albert to carry the puck through the neutral zone and gain the offensive line, which he does with relative ease. His excellent vision and superb creativity also makes him an effect quarterback on the powerplay where he has shown a knack for one-touch passes and cross-seam plays which often set up his teammates for open one-time shots. His shot from the point, while not overpowering, is accurate and often creates rebounds. His elite mobility allows him to elude penalty killers and find open shooting lanes consistently.

Mirco Mueller — 6-4, 176 // Everett (WHL)

Mueller hails from Switzerland and was a part of their silver medal team at the World Championships earlier this spring. He’s one of many reasons why that team succeeded and the Swiss have been on the upswing on the international stage. This year was his first playing North American hockey and he’s been a late-comer on most of the draft rankings. Here’s Corey Pronman:

He was also impressive as a 17-year-old defenseman at the World Juniors. The most impressive aspect of his game is his hockey sense. He is a top-end thinker with and without the puck. He slows down the game on breakouts, making good decisions with the puck. He also makes a lot of defensive stops due to his good positioning and reads. He displays above-average mobility, both closing gaps well and rushing the puck up ice with solid speed. Mueller has fine size, with a sense of quality physicality about his game. He has only average overall puck skills, and he projects as a second unit power play defenseman.

Rasmus Ristolainen — 6-3, 220 // TPS (Finland)
For the past two years, Ristolainen has played in Finland’s top league and is arguably the #2 defender in this year’s draft, behind Seth Jones. He could very likely be a Top-10 pick and out of the Islanders’ reach. For such a big player, he’s got a solid two-way game, writes Finnish writer Matias Strozyk from Elite Prospects:

He is a calm player with good two-way ability and a mature style of play, though his defensive awareness still needs work. Ristolainen moves the puck with confidence and though he’s not a big-time hitter, he plays the body and likes to get physical in front of the net. He also has good mobility. Ristolainen has an excellent frame and has gained a lot of strength while playing in SM-liiga. He is good with the puck and solid defensively and has also displayed ability to work the powerplay in Finland’s SM-liiga.

Nikita Zadorov — 6-5, 230 // London (OHL)

Another huge-body defender, Zadorov uses his size a lot more than Ristolainen and is still a good two-way player, putting him right within the Islanders range at 15. The difference is that Zadorov isn’t quite as good a skater and that physiciality has a tendency to take him out of the play at times. Hockey’s Future writes that he’s worked to correct that in London this year: “…as the year progressed, Zadorov learned to reign in his physicality and became a much more effective stay-at-home blueliner. He has a solid shot, but doesn’t project as a number-one blueliner. However, he should fit very nicely on a top pairing as the defensively responsible, crease-clearer for whom so many teams are looking.”

Robert Hagg — 6-2, 200 // MoDo (Sweden)

Another European-born defender on our countdown is Robert Hagg, a Swedish blueliner who had his first shot at Sweden’s top league this past year. He had only 1 point in 21 games after being called up from the Swedish U-20 league, a league he lit up for nearly a point per game. Part of that is due to his lack of playing time as a rookie — he didn’t even skate during the team’s playoff run. Here’s Pronman:

Hagg has a real easiness to his game. He is a high-end skater, possessing an effortless stride and quick acceleration. He appears to glide when he is on the ice, with a high amount of offensive ability. He makes quality rushes, and he displays great puck movement in every zone… He has a big shot from the point, and several NHL sources indicate that he frequently relies on that asset. Scouts are divided on Hagg’s defensive play. One thinks it is his best asset, while another calls him a very well-rounded player, and yet others say his defense needs work. From my assessment, I do not think he is an exceptional defensive player.

Madison Bowey — 6-1, 200 // Kelowna (WHL)

Bowey grew up as a two-sport athlete in Winnipeg, playing hockey in the winter and pitching during the summer. He is an excellent skater, is offensively gifted and played for Canada’s U-18 team this past year. Who better to give a scouting report than the home town blog:

Madison Bowey’s biggest asset by far is his great skating ability.  His has very good mobility, he has very good top end speed and acceleration.  Bowey’s agility and skating skills are very good both forwards and backwards which allows him to be a very effective in the defensive zone.

Bowey has very good puck-moving skills, he makes a great first pass and has the ability to rush the puck or join the play.  He scored 12 goals this past season and has a cannon for a shot from the point.  Madison Bowey has the tools to become a very good offensive defenceman but this part of his game is still developing.

Ryan Pulock — 6-0, 210 // Brandon (WHL)

Pulock has almost an extra year on everyone else, as he was born in 1994. He’s also scored a ton in his three years with Brandon; 42 points his first year, then 60 and 45. Here’s Defending Big D on his huge slapshot:

Pulock’s greatest offensive weapon is his bomb from the point, as he possesses probably the hardest slapshot out of any draft-eligible player and isn’t afraid to unload it. He can keep it low to generate rebounds or take it high to find the corner of the net, and despite his age already has the offensive instincts to know when to utilize each one. His passing is also highly impressive, as he can make hard, accurate feeds and usually knows the right places to put them. He’s not the type of defender to go end-to-end with the puck, but he can still effectively navigate his way through traffic.

Darnell Nurse — 6-4, 185 // Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)

Our final defender on the countdown is another with a series scoring touch; Darnell Nurse. In his second OHL season Nurse notched 41 points in 68 games and has drawn comparisons to Shea Weber:

Nurse was relaxed, funny, and cordial, giving little hint that he is going to be a defenseman who will soon create havoc in NHL arenas with his rugged style of play. “I’ve always compared Darnell to Shea Weber,” said Dan Marr, director of NHL Central Scouting. “He’s got a little bit of a mix – he’s good at the skill game, good at the physical game. He’s got a good shot from the point.”

The answer to a trivia question somewhere is that Nurse is NFL quarterback Donovan McNabb’s nephew.

Goaltenders:

Zachary Fucale — 6-1, 180 // Halifax (QMJHL)

There’s one goaltender who is projected to go in the first round, and it’s Zach Fucale who was the goaltender on Jon Drouin and Nathan MacKinnon’s Halfiax Moosehead team. As with most goalies, Fucale is projected high on some boards and low on others. Bob McKenzie has him at #19, while Pronman has him in the Top-95 (although to be fair Pronman admittedly does not value goalies high in genreal). Here’s Pronman’s thoughts:

For a U-18 goaltender, he looks very advanced and collected in net. His movements are very subtle, and he squares up pucks well. He has quick, powerful feet that allow him to move across the crease and position himself efficiently. Fucale’s game, however, is called into question by some scouts who do not believe he has a game-breaking ability to make a high-athleticism second or third save. Some believe he has that ability, and others agree, with the caveat that it is not top end. I am somewhere in between, as I see reasonable arguments for both sides.

And here’s Defending Big D with what the hype is all about:

Fucale is a top end goaltender and has had an excellent junior career with over 100 wins in the QMJHL over two seasons. He has been a big part of the Halifax Mooseheads recent dominance in the past two years, though undoubtedly helped by two other top prospects Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin (The Halifax Three so to speak).

What is so impressive about Zach Fucale is his work ethic and also his mental coolness. During his time in the juniors he’s known to be a workhorse and to work as hard as possible all the time. When he does give up a bad goal he doesn’t let it get to him and he gets back into the game straight away. While lots of young, and older, goaltenders might be downhearted by a slipup or a mistake Fucale does just get back into the game. It might be something that I might be overemphasising but it shows a mature mental attitude which is promising in a young prospect.