Welcome to another installment of 'Names To Know', a look-ahead at prospects who the Columbus Blue Jackets could select in the upcoming NHL Draft.
With two of the first dozen selections — picks #6 and #12 overall — the Blue Jackets have a chance to grab two players (for the second straight draft) that could become mainstays on the roster for years to come. There are plenty of names to be considered ahead of the July 7 date in this wide-open draft.
In a draft that looks to be loaded with offensive defensemen, one of the most skilled is Denton Mateychuk. He has progressed into a dynamic playmaker.
The Winnipeg native has propelled himself up many draft boards with his strong play for the Moose Jaw Warriors of the WHL, this season. This was his first full season playing in the WHL, and he had 64 points in 65 regular-season games, just missing the point-per-game mark. However, he was able to hit that mark during the playoffs with 10 points in 10 games, including three points on the powerplay. He also led his team in +/- with a +20 for the season.
As with the majority of first-round prospects in this draft, there isn't a complete consensus on where he ranks compared to the other players. Mateychuk has ranked anywhere from the 8th to 29th best prospect in this draft, with his mock draft projections being a little less volatile, as he is projected to go anywhere from 12th to 19th.
Though, one common theme for the left-handed defenseman is that he has moved up in a lot of the rankings, throughout the course of the year. One example of this is Dobberprospects, and this is what they had to say.
Evan Pace: Mateychuk has continued to shoot up draft boards this season with his stellar play for Moose Jaw in the WHL and he cracked the top-10 for our spring rankings after he was our 16th ranked prospect back in December.
His offensive activation and smooth, agile skating draw eyes to his every move. Great offensive performances are the standard for Mateychuk as he currently sits at 14 multi-point games on the season, including an incredible six-assist night. He is able to turn with ease and stop on a dime while maintaining good balance and keeping his head up. His elusiveness with the puck is shown on nearly every shift, as he loves to jump in the rush and keep defenders on their heels. Besides his skating, Mateychuk makes tape-to-tape passes at high speed and handles the puck extremely well.
Not only are his physical tools high-end, but his IQ keeps him two steps ahead of the play and helps him with his defensive reads as well as his offensive bursts. Defensively, he is able to attack at the right times and manipulate opposing players into a turnover or forced play. He is able to play both sides of the ice, typically playing on the right side as a left-handed shot, which adds to his versatility. As an excellent powerplay threat, he can be used as both a quarterback on the point and as a facilitator or bumper.
With the way the game is growing, Mateychuk is a prime example of the new-age offensive defenceman who loves to jump into the rush, yet is defensively reliable.
DobberProspects April Rankings
Mateychuk is seen by many as a prime example of a modern defenseman. This is The Athletic's Scott Wheeler's take on how the blue liner's skill set and style fit into the modern NHL.
"He’s already a plus-level skater, which helps him escape pressure with his feet, walk the line, and steer opposing players into tough spots despite not being the biggest guy. He’s the definition — or close — of the modern defenceman."
Amazingly, according to EliteProspects, 71.4% of his total offensive output was from primary points, something that is almost unheard of for a D-man. He can be found right in the thick of it, putting the puck in the back of the net or coming up with the primary assist.
Coming in at 5-foot-11, 188 pounds, he is not the biggest defenseman in the draft, but as one of the youngest prospects at only 17 years old, he will continue to bulk up. He does have his limitations defensively, but he also knows how to use his cerebral play, speed, and aggressiveness to be an asset on that end of the ice.
This is what Austin Garrett of SmahtScouting had to say about his Mateychuk's defense.
Mateychuk is just simply not a passive player. In the neutral zone he looks to break up passes and stop transitions before they even get to the defensive blue line. His intelligence in reading passing plays allows him to patrol the neutral zone from behind center ice to move up and defend opposing rushes.
His gap control on defensive blue line rushes can be inconsistent, but he’s still allowing controlled entries into the defensive zone at a very good percentage through two games tracked. Most of the uncontrolled defensive zone entries I’ve seen him deny are because he’s been aggressive with his gap right above the blue line, but he can give too much space and not dictate opposing forwards to the boards which has led to some forwards being able to penetrate medium-danger areas to get a shot off on the rush against him.
In the defensive zone he is able to play passing lanes and able to separate players from the puck, albeit he is still undersized to do so at a highly efficient level physically and his stick checking can get lazy. In front of the net his size can be limited in clearing players out of dangerous areas, but he is active in tying up sticks and moderately effective in preventing high-danger chances.
His most limiting defensive trait is his backwards mobility and the oft-times he tries to stick check instead of moving his feet to remove a player from the puck. He can get beat by shifty, fast-paced forwards on a tight gap too often for an undersized defensemen, and he can be over-reliant on a stick check that leads to highlight reel goals against.
The NHL seems to be going more towards offensive-minded blue liners and Mateychuk is one of the best of those prospects, in this draft class.