Names To Know: Names To Know: Carter Yakemchuk's Talent Jumps Off The Tape, But Is He A Top Five Pick?

By Dan Dukart on June 3, 2024 at 10:15 am
Carter Yakemchuk celebrates a goal

Welcome to the 12th and final installment of our "Names To Know," 2024 edition, a look-ahead at prospects who the Columbus Blue Jackets could select in the upcoming NHL Draft.

Today, we're looking at Carter Yakemchuk, a 6'3", 194-pound defense prospect from the WHL's Calgary Hitmen. He tallied 30-41-71 in 66 regular season games, leading the WHL in goals by a defender.

A quick survey of most public mock drafts would lead one to question why Yakemchuk is included in this list, as he's generally listed in the 10-15 range. But he's the type of player that keeps hanging around, and, as public lists and NHL team's private lists tend to vary quite a bit, it's fair to include a player with NHL size, compete, and skill in this installment. If there is one player from this draft where teams may have a wide variance of opinion, it's Yakemchuk. Last week, The Athletic's Corey Pronman drafted him to Columbus in their annual 'If I were the GM' mock draft. Here's Pronman:

I don’t expect Yakemchuk to go this high on actual draft day, but it doesn’t deter me as I’m a big fan of this player. He’s a 6-foot-3 defenseman who has a ton of skill, scored 30 goals in the WHL this season, is competitive and skates well enough. He has the potential to be a No. 1 defenseman if he hits. He’s exactly what Columbus needs in its rebuild.

The 18-year-old is something of a foil to Artyom Levshunov, in that, while the latter is subtle, the former is loud. Everything he does jumps off the tape. He has an NHL shot, utilizing deception and power to beat goalies cleanly from all over the ice. He loves to take opponents one-on-one and is probably a bit too comfortable that he'll be able to toe-drag anyone who stands in his way (and in his defense, at the WHL level, he's right more than he's wrong). He's very active on the attack, leading the rush in the neutral zone, and is not afraid to be the lowest player on the ice, trusting his teammates and hockey sense will allow him to recover to a defensive posture if he doesn't score. On a bad Calgary team, he was the engine. 

Defensively, he's a physical player who doesn't shy away from contact. Like most junior defenders, he'll need time to adjust his gap to the professional game, and he isn't the most polished on-puck defender. But the team that drafts Yakemchuk is betting that his offense hits and his defense is good enough. The Athletic's Scott Wheeler featured him in April and noted his work ethic and commitment to detail have been impressive in his draft year.  

Pronman ranked him third in his draft rankings and is clearly more of a fan of the player than most other public draft analysts. He rated as a "bubble elite NHL player and NHL All-Star", in the same vein as Levshunov, and used Alex Pietrangelo as a player comp. He noted that his puck skills and compete are above average for the NHL, but his shot is high-end, with average hockey sense and skating.

Yakemchuk was a top defenseman in the WHL this season. There is so much to like about his game and he's often looked dynamic. He's a 6-3 right-shot defenseman who has legit game-breaking skill. He constantly breaks down opponents one-on-one and can pull off a lot of highlight reel moments. That he skates well and can attack with his skill makes him so difficult to stop as he often dances by checkers. His skating stride isn't technically perfect. It can break down at times with his legs starting to flail at the end of shifts, but it's a powerful stride and he often pulls away from pressure. Yakemchuk has a bullet shot from the point. He is more of a shot than a pass threat, and while he can see the ice, his vision isn't at the same level as his shot or stickhandling. He can make stops due to his feet, length and strong physicality but his defensive play and consistency can use work. Yakemchuk has star potential and projects to be a major minutes player in the NHL with a lot of offensive upside.

For what it's worth, I can't entirely agree with the Pietrangelo comparison. In his defense, there aren't a lot of top defenders who play like Yakemchuk in the NHL. So, if you'll allow a strange association, he reminds me of a smoother-skating Patrik Laine who happens to be a defender. Of course, it's not an ideal comparison, as Laine relies more on his shooting and lacks defensive prowess, but the big, rangy 6'3" player who loves to take players one-on-one and has loud skill is a rarity in today's NHL. That, in essence, may be why he's seen as a mid-first-round pick. If he misses, he's Ryan Merkley, a dynamic (albeit smaller) defender who the San Jose Sharks picked 21st overall in 2018. If you've never heard of him, that's my point. If he hits, he's a dynamic, top-pairing defender who runs a power play and scores at the same pace as the top defensive producers in the NHL. 

Mock Draft Results
ESPN 12th
My NHL Draft 13th
Tankathon 14th 8th, 12th
The Athletic 12th
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