The Journey: Fastest-Rising Prospect Defencemen

by Brad Phillips on March 31, 2018
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  • The Journey: Fastest-Rising Prospect Defencemen

This month’s top 50 prospect defenseman list is a bit atypical with some big moves being made up the list. You can check out the whole list here

 

Lucas Johansen – WAS, up to 48 from 84

The most recent first round pick by the Capitals, Johansen has just wrapped up his first pro campaign with the AHL’s Hershey Bears and it was a pretty successful one, hence the 36-spot jump in the rankings. A first rounder back in 2016, Johansen in a product of the Kelowna Rockets system who have a deep and established history of churning out high-quality NHL defenders with the Port Moody, BC native looking like he might be the next one. Jonhansen skated three seasons with the Rockets

 

As a 17 year-old rookie Johansen was buried on a deep defensive corp of the eventual WHL champions  behind the likes of fellow Capitais property Madison Bowey and, later in the season, current Winnipeg Jet Josh Morrissey. The rookie played in 65 contests but was limited to just a solitary goal and added only seven assists for a measly eight points which made him the least productive regular on the roster. With any young player though it’s all about seeing progression year-over-year and he took a big step forward in junior season number two. With both Bowey and Morrissey departing for the pro ranks, Johansen was given a bigger role to play and he took the reigns and ran with it. He increased his point total by 500% by racking up 10 goals and 49 points, 55% of them coming as primary points, to lead all Rockets defenders in points and finished 16th in the WHL in defenseman scoring. Year number three in Kelowna saw his offensive number dip slightly with half a dozen goals and 34 helpers in 68 games with 53% of his points being of the primary variety. With his junior career over Johansen signed his entry-level deal with the Caps and headed to the Hershey Bears in the AHL. Fair to say that his professional career got off to a rocky start as he went minus-four in his first professional game. Thankfully he got that ugly game out of his system early as he was one of the better Bears over the course of the season. He led all Bears d-men in scoring with 25 points and that mark placed him in fourth among AHL rookie defenseman.

 

One of the more impressive aspects to his game is his ability to stay on the ice as he’s proven to be remarkably durable thus far in his career missing only a few games a season over the last four years.  

There’s still some work to do in terms of adding strength and tightening up his play a bit in his own end. And he could stand to shoot the puck some more having fired just 79 shots on goal. But Johansen is knocking on the door of NHL action and with both John Carlson, Jakub Jerabek and Michal Kempny all slated to become UFAs at the end of the year there might be opportunity for Johansen come the fall.

I’m personally a bit skeptical that he will ever be a significant point producer at the NHL level but another year or two in the minors could go a long way in rounding out his offensive arsenal.

 

 

Filip Hronek – DET, up to 38 from 79

The top defensive prospects in the Detroit Red Wings system, Hronek has advanced pretty quickly since being selected towards the tail end of the second round in 2016. Just a couple weeks after being drafted, the Wings locked up Hronek with an entry level deal and brought him over to the OHL where he suited up in Detroit’s own backyard with the Saginaw Spirit. Hronek had no trouble transitioning to the North American ice game

 

Hronek finished second on the team in scoring with 61 points coming in the form of 14 goals and 47 helpers, which were a team high. At a rate of 1.03, he was one of only two players on the team to average better than a point per game however the other one, Mitchell Stephens played just 22 games. He also set a team high mark of plus-15 and was one of only a handful of players to finish in the positive.  Deeming him ready to try his hand a pro hockey, the Red Wings brought him to Grand Rapids when his junior season ended and got into 10 games with the Griffins registering a goal and an assist. Graduating to pro hockey this season, he’s one of the youngest defender in the AHL but is more than holding his own. The season started out with Hronek viewing the first few games from the press box, but once he drew into the lineup it’s was impossible to take him out. He leads all Griffins defenders in scoring with 33 points in 61 games and sports a team best plus-22. Of these 33 points, 20 of them have come as either goals or primary assists which gives him the 12th highest mark in the AHL among d-men.

 

I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get a taste in these last few games and could be in line for some cups of coffee next season. If he is, by chance, still available in your league now would be the time to grab him.

 

 

Libor Hajek – NYR, up to 32 from 72

I covered Hajek in a previous column back in January but since then he’s been traded twice! Upon his return from a standout WJC in early January, Hajek had to pack and bags and move from Saskatoon to Regina where he’s assimilated nicely. In 25 regular season games with the Pats, the Czech defender registered four goals and 10 assists and has been held pointless in a trio of playoff contests. A couple months after the WHL deal, his rights were traded to the New York Rangers as part of the return that Tampa Bay sent back in the Ryan McDonagh deal. His ascension up the list is primarily a product of the change of scenery. His move to the Big Apple bumps up his arrival times by at least a year or two. But even when he does arrive on the scene, he’ll be a more valuable asset in pools that factor in defensive categories as opposed to just a straight points league.

 

As always thanks for checking out this week’s edition of The Journey. Give me a follow on Twitter @BradHPhillips. Enjoy your weekend!

 

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