The Journey: Top Rising Defender Prospects in May
Welcome back, folks. I hope everyone is keeping well and finding ways to stay occupied. For the past few weeks, I have dabbled in a few upcoming draft-eligible prospects for all of you fantasy owners who are looking into the future. For the next few weeks, I will be focusing my attention on those already drafted. Even though hockey is not taking place anywhere around the globe, the prospect rankings continue to see changes.
In case you missed it, Dobber released its May edition of the Top 50 prospect defenders, and as always, there we a few major jumps and falls over the past few months. For this week's feature of The Journey, I will be focusing on a few of the lists top risers, dating back to March.
Ian Mitchell – Chicago Blackhawks (May: 27, April: 27, March: 40)
The now captain of the University of Denver keeps progressing in the NCAA, all the while jumping up the Dobber rankings. In 36 games, he posted a career-best 32 points (10G + 22A), finishing seventh across the country for defenders. He also added a goal and two helpers en route to a gold medal with Team Canada in this year’s WJC. After recently signing his ELC, Mitchell was poised to join the Blackhawks at some point before the season's end. Of course, that will now have to wait until training camp.
At 5-10, 163 lbs., he is slightly undersized but makes up for it in many other aspects, most notably his skating. Like many of the great young rearguards in this day and age, Mitchell carries a tremendous skating touch. He’s quick, slippery, and blasts off with a great first step. He can move the puck well and makes smart decisions at both ends. He is in an all-around offensive threat and should have no issues developing into a strong offensive d-man in the NHL. While his shot placement is solid, his power could use a boost. Although, hopefully, that will come with some added bulk in his size.
Yes, size is a small concern, but if you think about the direction this game has headed, is it really? Also, with the Blackhawks backend only growing older, Mitchell could find himself slotting into a role sooner rather than later.
Nils Lundkvist – New York Rangers (May: 19, April: 19, March: 35)
It was a stellar breakout season for the 19-year-old Swedish defender. Playing in his sophomore season with Lulea HF of the SHL, Lundkvist posted a cool 31 points (11G + 20A) in 45 games. Not only did he lead all U20 skaters with points, but he also sat seventh among defensemen in the entire league.
The Rangers’ 2018 first-rounder is oozing with talent. He skates very well and shows excellent composure with the puck. His defensive game still needs some work, but his offensive talents will be what makes him shine at the NHL level. He has a terrific release, capable of scoring from all ranges and forms. He is very ambitious and loves to jump up in the play if it means creating a chance. He's a constant threat on the power play and could easily grow into the Rangers’ PP1 quarterback in the future. Sure, he is on the smaller end of the spectrum in regards to his size, meaning he will need to grow into his body. However, with his deceptive and fluid game, he may be able to get by regardless.
If you are on the lookout for a puck-moving and all-around offensively gifted rearguard, you should be highlighting Lundkvist on your lists. He has yet to sign an ELC in Broadway, however, it will likely be on the organization's to-do list over the summer.
Conor Timmins – Colorado Avalanche (May: 16, April: 16, March: 33)
His journey to the pros has been a tough one, filled with staggered and lingering injuries. However, the former Soo Greyhound finally took part in his first full pro-season as a rookie for the Colorado Eagles (AHL). Due to ongoing concussion issues, Timmins was forced to miss an entire season last year which placed a hold on his anticipated debut. Luckily for Avs fans, if his impressive inaugural campaign was any indication, he hasn't missed a beat. He sat second on the team in points by a defender with 27 (3G + 24A) and sixth in the league among those under the age of 22.
He is yet another gifted two-way defender who can move the puck with ease. He has tremendous hands, capable of beating out opponents in high-pressure situations. He is a smooth skater and loves to jump up in the rush for an offensive scoring chance. He shows high IQ and can read plays both with the puck and without. Opposing forwards must keep their heads on a swivel when the 6-1 rearguard is on the ice, as he loves to deliver giant hits.
Overall, Timmins brings a little bit of everything to your fantasy squad and is undoubtedly one of the best young defenders in the game. As a right-handed shot, he is even more valued among the ranks. Unfortunately, there only one issue that may slightly stunt his development, that being his spot on the depth chart. The Avalanche are blessed to have such a strong candidate on the backend, and even more so to have two others who may be even stronger. He will have to fight and claw his way for minutes, and without a trade in the future, this could pose a small problem for his ceiling.
Moritz Seider – Detroit Red Wings (May: 15, April: 15, March: 27)
For those who weren’t aware of Seider heading into the 2019 draft, you were likely stunned by his sixth overall selection. However, if you followed him closely, you knew there was some serious upside to his game that could help the Red Wings down the line. He definitely silenced the naysayers this season, turning into one of Grand Rapids' top point guards, in basically all aspects. Not only did his 22 points (2G+ 20A) sit tops among U20 defenders, he actually sat just one point behind all (U20) skaters.
Red Wings, as well as fantasy owners, should be very excited about the progression shown by the German-born defender. He displayed fantastic two-way ability throughout the year and was playing heavy and important minutes for the team by the season’s end. Seider sees the game better than most, in fact, at times it seems like he knows what will happen two plays before it happens. He is a surprisingly mobile skater, despite his 6-4 stature and skates just as well heading backward. He closes gaps very well and loves to throw his weight around to do so. While he likely won't score a large number of goals, his shot is strong and is capable of finding the net through high traffic zones. He brings almost every intangible you are looking for in a fantasy defender, he shoots, he hits, he blocks, he passes well and as a right-handed shot, also plays power-play minutes.
There is a lot to like about Seider and with Detroit in a clear rebuild situation, he should be given a great chance to make the team out of camp next season. At the ripe age of 19, there are still a few kinks to work on, but overall he is a very intriguing prospect with a lot of added benefits. I know what you are thinking: Detroit is a very weak team right now. However, with some young talent already proving their worth upfront, just remember…Alexis Lafreniere may be added to the mix.
Thomas Harley – Dallas Stars (May: 12, April: 22, March: 26)
Playing in his third season as a Mississauga Steelhead, Harley was just one point shy of his 58 point total he posted just one year ago. Of course, due to the stoppage, he did play nine fewer games. He sat top-10 in almost every offensive statistic among OHL defenders this season, including goals (18, T-fifth), assists (39, ninth), points (57, seventh), PPG (9, third), shots (182, sixth) and point per game (0.97, ninth).
Harley has been eating up minutes over the past two years, and it shows in his progression. His shot has improved immensely and has grown into one that he can deliver with great power and accuracy. He doesn't force his shooting opportunities and takes his time to outwait defenders in order to find a seam. The same can be said about his vision, he keeps his head up and makes plays even with little room. His skating has developed well, and he’s able to move up and down the ice with ease and loves to create plays off the rush. He's shown he can run a power play and should be able to translate that experience into his professional career.
Overall, the Syracuse native comes as a sturdy, two-way rearguard who should blossom nicely into a top-4 role over the next few seasons. Standing at 6-3, Harley has great size which should make his transition a little bit easier. Consider him a few seasons away from making an impact, but a very good asset to have in the chamber.
These are just a few of the very talented crop that is breaking into the league over the next few years. Please keep an eye for next week's edition, where I will be covering some of the top goaltending prospects.
As always, find me on Twitter @hall1289. Until next week!
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