The Journey examines Dobber’s Top 50 prospect defensemen list, and assesses the fast risers in the January rankings.
Thomas Chabot – Ottawa Senators – Up to 8th from 12th Overall
For my money, Chabot was the best player at the World Juniors, so this jump is not surprising. The 2015 18th overall pick led tournament defensemen in scoring with four goals and six assists and all players in ice time, averaging 26:14 minutes per game.
Although he has only played in 16 QMJHL games this season, the two-way defenseman is averaging over a point-per-game on the year, with five goals and 16 assists. It was the correct move for Senators brass to send Chabot back to Junior this season, but don’t be surprised if he ends up on the Ottawa blueline to start next season in October.
Jakob Chychrun – Arizona Coyotes – Up to 12th from 21st Overall
Although Chychrun was the fifth of nine drafted defensemen in the first round at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, he is the only one who has spent the majority of his rookie season in the NHL.
Through 36 games, the Coyotes rear guard has three goals and six assists, and is on pace for a 20-point rookie season. All nine of his points have come at even strength as he has not yet cracked Arizona’s power play unit. Unlike most rookie defensemen, Chychrun has not been sheltered defensively, starting 57% of his shifts in the defensive zone, so with these factors it appears that there is room for him to grow offensively. He has also produced from a multi-category perspective, on pace for 75 penalty minutes, 107 hits and 118 blocked shots.
Ryan Graves – New York Rangers – Up to 14th from 24th Overall
After an offensive breakout American Hockey League season in 2015-16 with nine goals and 21 points, Graves has taken his game to another level in his sophomore professional campaign.
The 2013 fourth round selection has been a fast-riser in the Rangers organization, and is a prospect who can move through the system quickly. The 6’4” defenseman has a solid frame, and will likely transition into a defense-first prospect at the NHL level, but his offensive production at the AHL level shows he could have some scoring upside as well. Graves has a huge shot from the point, winning the Hardest Shot at the AHL Skills Competition a year ago, which can be an asset on an NHL power play. Keep an eye on the Rangers defensive group, as Graves could make his debut towards the end of the season or next.
Troy Stecher – Vancouver Canucks – Up to 26th from 84th Overall
In an up and down season for Vancouver, Stecher has been one of the bright spots and reasons for optimism moving forward. Their chance taken this offseason to sign the former undrafted North Dakota defenseman has proven to be quite a coup and could be one of the most underrated signings of the season.
Through 37 games, Stecher has played nearly 21 minutes per night, and is on pace for 25 points and 167 shots on goal. His 86 shots this season currently rank third among rookie defensmen behind Zach Werenski (110) and Mike Matheson (102). The 22-year-old has turned his offensive game up a bit over his last 25 games, with 10 points and 50 shots on goal. Stecher has played most his shifts with Alex Edler or Luca Sbisa, and is averaging over three minutes per game with the man advantage, where 38% of his point production has come from.
Charlie McAvoy – Boston Bruins – Up to 31st from 36th Overall
Although he did not have as much of an overall impact on the tournament as Chabot, McAvoy was the United States steadying force on the blue line throughout this year’s World Juniors, posting two goals and four assists while playing in all situations for the gold medal winning Americans.
In his sophomore season at Boston University, the 14th overall selection in June’s draft is on pace to match his 25 points in 37 games from his freshman season from a year ago with 14 points in his first 20 games. The New York native is a shoo-in to finish the season with the B’s once his college season is complete. Although he was the fourth defenseman drafted in the 2016 draft, he could end up being one of the best of the group, able to play big minutes in all situations.
Michal Kempny – Chicago Blackhawks – Up to 49th from 56th Overall
Since being re-inserted into the lineup just prior to the change to 2017, Kempny has put up five points in his last eight games, spending most his shifts with Brent Seabrook in Chicago’s top-four. Through Kempny’s first 24 games of the season, he only posted two points, so his offensive output recently is encouraging.
He was a sleeper pick prior to this season after being signed as a 26-year-old free agent from the KHL, a league where he put up a combined 50 points over his last his two seasons. Although Kempny had a slow start to the season, failing to reach out and grab a solid role with the Blackhawks, it appears he is gaining some momentum as the season goes on. He has yet to receive any power play time with Seabrook, Duncan Keith and Brian Campbell getting the majority of the minutes with the man-advantage.
Give Kevin a follow at @kleblanchockey for prospect talk and happenings.
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