In previous profiles of other 2020 NHL draft prospects, I’ve picked guys who I find interesting and who have different reasons that I think have made them “sleepers”. For reference, or if you wanted to read the other profiles, they are as follows:

This time, I am looking at an American defenseman who has the size (6’4” and 210 lbs), the premium position (right-shot defenseman), and the flashes of huge potential, but lacked the exposure due to a very unique choice for his development path.

Victor Mancini’s Backstory

Two seasons ago, Victor Mancini was playing in midget hockey in Detroit as a 16 year old. He had 38 points in 70 games, and helped his team win Michigan’s U16 state championship. After the midget championship, Mancini played in three games for the Sioux Falls Stampede in the USHL, then two games for the US U17 National Team. So far, everything was following a pretty typical development path for an American hockey player in one of the country’s biggest hockey hotbeds.

But then things took a strange turn. Instead of playing this year in the USHL, including potentially for the USDP’s junior team, Mancini chose to play his draft year in Sweden for Frolunda’s junior team. What’s even more remarkable about the decision is that Mancini’s father used to be the Saginaw Spirit’s head coach in the OHL when Mancini was a kid, and is now employed in long-term athlete development for USA Hockey.

When you watch, read or listen to various interviews Mancini has done, you start to see how focused he has been on his long-term development and how that factored into his very unique decision.

Mancini is also something of a baseball prospect, and part of his plan to play hockey in Sweden over the winter included returning to America in time to play in his high school’s state baseball championship. There are quotes in that article both from Victor himself and his father which shows how focused he is on his development:

Bob Mancini: “What I’m doing right now for USA Hockey is all about long-term athlete development, and multi-sport athleticism has been proven over and over again to give athletes the best chance of success at any sport later on. As a family, we discussed it, and Victor loved the idea of being able to play baseball too. I wanted him to have a multi-sport experience as long as possible. We’re figuring out through all of youth sports that there’s nothing wrong with specialization as long as there is diversification.”

Victor Mancini: “Hockey in Sweden was different … more focused on player development,” Mancini said. “They still take great pride in winning, but there’s a lot of time and effort in off-ice training, getting bigger and faster and stronger off the ice and how it relates to making you better on the ice.

There’s also this quote from Mancini in another interview, after he committed to play in the NCAA in 2021/22 with Nebraska-Omaha:

Q: What have been some of the biggest things you’ve noticed playing in the SuperElit? What are some of the differences between hockey over there and here in the states?

A: “I haven’t played this level of hockey in the United States yet, so I’m not sure I can adequately compare the two. However, hockey here in Sweden is highly skill-based. The off-ice training is intense. We get a lot of individual coaching with video review and person goal planning. Every night you need to bring your “A” game, which is the same in the United States.”

Q: I’ve heard a lot of great things about how practices are structured in Sweden. It’s a lot of skills in the morning and then team practices in the afternoon. Is that how it’s structured for you guys?

A: “Yes, three days a week our team wakes up early. We go in the weight room for an hour, then are on the ice afterwards for a skills practice. Then in the afternoon the team comes back to the rink to hit the weight room again, then get back on the ice for a team-based practice.”

Mancini began his draft year on Frolunda’s U18 team, playing in 8 games and scoring 3 goals and 6 points. After that, he was promoted to their U20 team where he scored 9 goals and 5 assists in 38 games. He led the team in goals by a defenseman, and was third in points while averaging around 20 minutes per game.

There are a few noteworthy parts of his statistical performance. First, it’s odd to see a defenseman who has more goals than assists. That might lead you to believe something about his playing style (more on that below), but he actually seemed to get little powerplay time. There were three older defensemen who got the powerplay time, while Mancini seemed to play mostly at even strength and some time at least on the penalty kill (I unfortunately can’t tell how much he played, only that he did).

And there’s a good reason why Frolunda used him so much at even strength... he was pretty great at it. He led the team in even strength GF%, which... yes that’s a fancy person’s +/-, but leading the team in that regard and only being on the ice for 27 even strength goals against in 38 games all year is nothing to sniff at.

So, he’s a big American defenseman, with more goals and assists, who played in Sweden and seemed to be his team’s go-to for even strength defense and could at least contribute to shutting down the other team’s offense.

Sound weird to you? It did to me, so I dug deep into what video clips and scouting reports I could find on him.

Victor Mancini Scouting Report

Trying to learn more about Mancini is unfortunately like when I wrote my piece about Karri Aho. There was enough out there about him that intrigued me, but not nearly as much written about Mancini as others. I think this comes back to what I’ve written about some other prospects... lack of exposure.

Mancini could have had more exposure playing in the USHL or for the USDP, maybe making their Team USA squad for international games (though he’d have been a long shot). But Europe’s junior leagues are not nearly as strongly scouted. However, almost all the people that HAVE scouted Mancini seem to all really like him.

Skating: Very Good

From what I have read and seen, Mancini is a very good skater. Not just very good for a bigger player, but genuinely very good. All reports will refer to his quick feet and that he always seems to be moving, both which seem to help him with switching between forward and backward skating. Some reports will also mention that he could still use some work, with the usual caveats you hear for most prospects — could be more explosive, improve his speed, and so on.

Here’s what scouting profiles say about Mancini’s skating...

From the Future Considerations 2020 Draft Guide (paywalled):

Mancini is a solid right-handed defender that is all over the ice with the size that you need to play a very physical game, which he does and does well. He is fast on his skates and often takes the puck himself into the offensive zone with success.

From Jakub Hromada at Recruit Scouting:

Mancini is an amazing skater, he skates very smooth, and many times it looks like he’s flying. His agility on his blades is truly incredible, he can change direction in high speed, and his strides are not too wide so he can pick up pace very quickly. He has great acceleration but he also doesn’t have to be fast to go around opponents.

From TMcGee at Die By The Blade:

Not a great skater but very smooth transitioning from forward to back, and vice versa. Lateral movement is solid but could use a bit lighter feet when he changes direction.

Want to see some of his lateral and edgework in action? Check out this beauty of a goal:

For more highlights (on his skating and in general), I highly recommend clicking on the Recruit Scouting piece as it has a lot of clips I can’t copy or embed here.

Shot & Scoring: Very Good

As far as offensive capabilities, Mancini’s stats profile as a shooter more than a set up man. His nine goals in the SuperElit led his team for defensemen, and was 3rd in the whole league. He apparently does have a very hard slapshot, but he doesn’t use it much. He scores his goals with a mix of skill, skating, good timing, and an effective/above average wrist shot. When you look up the few highlights of him available, you see him use his wrist shot more often:

Or see him score in close when he jumps into the play, such as the first highlight I shared for his skating, or this one. He’s the right-side defenseman at the start of the clip, but keep and eye on him as Frolunda pass the puck around. The other team’s defense get caught puck watching and Mancini sneaks in from the point to the very front of the net with no one covering him, so he is all alone to put home the rebound.

Now, this clip shows two things: the overall defense of that league is not great, and it’s not likely that Mancini will find himself a lot of opportunities in front of the net like that if he makes the NHL. But it does show that he is smart, and can read the play to pick his spots on when to jump into offense mode. We see guys like Muzzin do this from time to time, and if you’re smart with it you can do it well as a defenseman.

I wish there was shot data available for the SuperElit league so I could tell if he’s shot-happy like Barrie, or selective like Gardiner or Sandin. For now, the impression I get is that he might be somewhere in the middle but more towards the latter two.

Here’s what the scouts say...

From Recruit Scouting:

Mancini doesn’t have the best shot in the world, but I think it’s slightly above average. He’s using his wrist shot very often, and it’s accurate. He’s a big man, at 6’3’’, so he also has a very powerful slapshot but he’s not using this type of shot very often, in which he has to improve his accuracy in.

From Die By The Blade:

Decisive with the puck. Has an absolute bomb from the point. Finds the net with frequency, reflected in the fact he’s 3rd in the Super Elit league in goals from a D-Man.

From Future Considerations:

Once in the offensive zone, he is not easy to mark because he always keeps his feet moving and makes himself playable for passes and shots, often being unpredictable so the opposing team never knows what he is going to do next.

Puck Handling & Play-Making: Good(ish?)

Here’s where we start to see at least some of the reason why Mancini wound up with more goals than assists. In some of the clips above you can see that he is a very good skater, and very good handling the puck or finding space without the puck to receive a pass. Those are all great assets to have!

The problem is when it comes to passing or making plays. He has flashed potential with this, and there are instances of him making pretty great passes to set up a teammate for a scoring chance or goal. But the issue is that he tends to hog the puck somewhat, not making a pass when it is available and likely the better play to make.

So this is less of an issue with mechanics, because he clearly can make effective and even difficult passes. It’s more an issue with his decision making when he has the puck. It is a definite weakness to his game right now, but not something I am extremely worried about. It’s something he can learn to improve with good coaching, as long as he’ll also willing to learn. I get the impression that he is willing, given his interviews and quotes on his long-term development.

From Future Considerations:

When he turns a play away from his own zone to the offensive zone, he does it with fast and accurate passes to his teammates. He is a big blueliner who handles the puck well and isn’t afraid to skate up the ice, playing a confident game many teams covet.

From Recruit Scouting:

Mancini is a great player but sometimes he’s holding the puck too much. He wants to shine and he wants to shine with the puck on his stick, and nobody can fault him for that as an offensive defencemen. But sometimes his selfishness is acceptable because when he’s on fire, and it’s pretty often, he does amazing things. If he’s under pressure he can easily get away from a defender with a deke or smart movements.

From Die By The Blade:

First pass is sharp, and hard, sometimes difficult to handle for exiting forwards. Decisive with the puck.

Here’s a bit more of his creative puck handling on display:

Defense: Very Good

Here’s what has me the most excited about Mancini. The combination of his size, skating and ability to anticipate play shines through on defense. He’s not really a stay at home bruiser who shoves guys around in front of the net — although he apparently can and does do that somewhat effectively as well. Where he excels is in transition.

From Future Considerations:

He always seems to make the right decision when it comes to standing his ground on the offensive blue line or knowing when to transition back into his own zone. His long reach helps aid both in this, and breaking up plays at his own blue line. When he decides to stand the line, he gives full effort and can usually get a good hit in or stop his opponents in another way. In his own end, he sacrifices himself to block shots when needed without hesitation.

He is strong on the penalty kill and uses his physicality along the boards to win puck battles and make his mark.

From Recruit Scouting:

Offensive defencemen can have struggles when defending. That’s a well-known statement. But it’s actually not that bad with Mancini. He can play tough and physical in his own zone, as he’s not afraid to throw his body into 1v1 battles in the corners. He can win puck battles here and there, and can then create offence from it.

From Die By The Blade:

Big body isn’t afraid to get physical and is always looking to move the puck out of trouble and up ice. Plays with an edge, can dominate smaller forwards down low and around the net, but isn’t just a bruiser…his understanding of defending transition and breaking up rushes is very good, both taking the body and using his stick to angle away trouble.

Advanced Stats: Very Good

With the caveat that advanced stats should be taken with a grain of salt even for CHL players, let alone junior players in Sweden, Mancini’s profile is very strong and showcases how valuable he can be through his transition defense and offense.

According to manually tracked data from Will Scouching, Mancini successfully defends around 70% of transition attempts against him, and is also successful in around 70% of his transition attempts on offense. This is a lot of the reason why he drives so much value for his time, albeit not at the most competitive junior league or level. He can be smothering on defense to prevent the other team from getting anything going, and then help push the play the other way. That’s how he has such a very high GF%, and how he has one of the best expect goals percentages among all draft eligible defensemen:

Now, one thing that Will cautions is that when he watches the SuperElit he’s noticed that their style of play is not as aggressive. Both in terms of defensemen challenging the other team on the transition, and on how the other team deals with it. He has said on a recent video stream that they tend to just try and dump it past defensemen that stand them up in the neutral zone rather than try and make a play by or fight through them. So it’s good to know that Mancini is willing to be maybe more aggressive than his peers in that league, but it’s also another sign that where he’s playing is not as much of a challenge as other leagues/levels.

Where Should Victor Mancini Be Drafted?

After looking at all the rankings for Mancini, he seems like he will be in the same area as Karri Aho — likely no earlier than the 4th round, more likely one of the later rounds. He was not on Bob McKenzie’s top 93 list, nor on his honourable mentions. Some public scouts have him as high as a mid-second round, but he is mostly ranked as a mid to late round guy. Considering that not all public scouting outlets rank him at all (though they may not do a full draft’s worth of rankings), there is an outside chance he doesn’t get drafted at all. I’d find that unlikely considering his size, skating, and the fact he’s a right-shot defenseman. But that does mean he could be had with one of the Leafs’ many 6th or 7th round picks.

He has intriguing tools and what numbers are available suggest there’s really something there, but there are some red flags. His decision making, his passing, and some other small areas of improvement combined with a lack of major exposure in a bigger league or international stage hurts his rankings. But I see his ceiling as a Jake Muzzin type of defenseman. Effective defenseman, can contribute some offense but is more known for physical and reliable defense. Newer prospects like John Marino are showing that a defense prospect who has good skating and shows defensive ability in the transition game can wind up being undervalued in the draft.

He will likely be a longer term project, which is another thing that makes it more likely he is a later round pick. He might be a bit of an earlier gamble in the 5th round, but if he’s available in the 6th round where the Toronto Leafs have three picks to spend I’d call that an excellent gamble to make.

Where would you take Victor Mancini with the Leafs picks?

4th Round - 112th overall76
4th Round - 118th overall46
5th round - 149th overall73
6th round - 174th, 177th or 184th42
7th round - 189th, 198th or 216th8
I wouldn’t pick him2