It's not very often that you see a hockey prospect born in South Africa, but that's the case with Harrison Brunicke. His family moved to Calgary when he was two years old, and he has played for Canada internationally as he grew up. While he's been part of the Canadian junior system since then, suffice to say that Brunicke has taken more of an usual path than many of his peers in Canada.

I mentioned that we're at the point of these profiles where I'm not talking about prospects who are clearly worthy of first round picks anymore. This is still true for Brunicke, but honestly not by much. He has yet to really have major draft hype until very recently, but his profile is one that NHL teams usually really like.

So let's talk about him.


  • Position: Right-shot defenseman
  • League(s): WHL
  • Height: 6'3"
  • Weight: 187 lbs
  • Birthdate: May 8th, 2006

Here are his draft rankings, as of writing this:

  • Bob McKenzie: Unranked
  • Will Scouch: 70th
  • Elite Prospects: 27th
  • Scott Wheeler: 56th
  • Dobber Prospects: 31st
  • FC Hockey: 90th
  • McKeen's Hockey: 22nd

So I mentioned that Brunicke has had an interesting history. He was drafted in the third round of the WHL draft by the Kamloops Blazers, as a 6'1" but lanky 165 lb defenseman. This was the full pandemic year where most leagues barely played, if at all. Brunicke got into 5 games in a Calgary AAA league, after having the third most points by a defenseman in his league the previous year. None of his peers in that league, however, are big names in the WHL even, much less the NHL draft radar. He was not playing in the big academies or main feeder leagues for the WHL.

The following season, Brunicke played in an U18 AAA league still in the Calgary area, and was 14th among 16 year old defensemen in points. He also got into one game in the AJHL, and two games for Kamloops in the WHL. He wasn't really playing much among top competition for his age, but he was doing well – he just wasn't doing spectacularly.

In this time, leading up to the real start of his WHL career, Brunicke grew another couple of inches and slowly bulked up by about 20 lbs. He's still pretty lanky at 187 lbs, considering he's 6'3", but it has been enough for him to hang with other major junior players.

His rookie year in the WHL, Brunicke was on the powerhouse Kamloops Blazers – same team as Fraser Minten and top prospects like Olen Zellweger, Logan Stankoven, and others. They lost in the WHL finals but played in the Memorial Cup as hosts. Brunicke had 8 points in 59 games for them in a third pairing role as a 16 year old. He added 2 points in 14 playoff games, and 1 point in their 4 Memorial Cup games. The fact he was getting that much of a role on such a top team at his age is noteworthy, for me. And he had some highlights even on the biggest stage of the CHL season.

This year, Kamloops was a decimated roster. They pushed all their chips into their Memorial Cup hosting basket, and all of their top players were off the team. Brunicke became a top player for them, and one of their lone bright spots. He averaged over 22 minutes per game, reportedly, and had a respectable 10 goals and 21 points in 49 games before suffering a season-ending injury due to a late, dirty hit. That point production per game rate is good for 6th in the WHL among U18 defensemen, and he actually had the most goals despite playing around 20 fewer games than the others.

Brunicke's point production is nice, especially since he was on an awful team, but the other thing to note is that he was not their top PP defenseman. He seemed to be their second unit guy, where he had only four points come with the man advantage. If you rate out his even-strength point-per-game rate, he is right behind the best point production U18 defensemen in the WHL. Next year, with their main PP guy this year aging out of junior, there's a very good chance that Brunicke inherits that role and could have a big offensive explosion in point production. This is basically the exact same thing that happened with Noah Chadwick from last season to this one.

Thankfully, Brunicke did get healthy enough to join Team Canada at the World U18s where he performed very well. He had 4 points in 7 games, but his play became increasingly good as the tournament wore on – likely because he was still working off some rust from missing the previous three months. The better he got, the more of a role he was given. He started as a second pairing guy at even strength, and one of the top PK defenders. By the end of the tournament, he and his pairing got the most ice time in three of their final four games, including the semi-finals vs Sweden and the finals vs the USA. He outplayed other top defense prospects like Charlie Elick, Henry Mews, Frankie Marrelli and Spencer Gill – all eligible for the 2024 NHL draft.

Brunicke's point production was third for the team's defensemen, and well down the tournament's overall leaderboard. But that's not what really matters when it comes to the strengths of his game and how much of an impact he can have.

From Mitch Brown's CHL tracking data:


When reading initial scouting reports this year about Brunicke, once he started building a bit of hype, I had the impression that he is the kind of player that's very good at many things, but not necessarily elite at any of them. Watching him confirmed a lot of this to me, but I didn't appreciate just how good he can be at all of these things. Even if none of them are "elite", he looks damn good to me right now and I can see potential in his development given the tools and abilities he already has to work with.

Let's start with the offensive side of things. In the offensive zone, Brunicke displays some very high level instincts. He has a good amount of skill handling the puck, using dekes, changes of direction, fakes, and a bunch of other tricks to get the puck off the blueline and into more dangerous spots on the ice. He has a good shot for a defenseman that can work pretty well, especially when he can get a clear shot from closer in than the blueline.

Brunicke also has good vision and playmaking to distribute the puck off to his forwards to do the actual shooting and scoring. He also has good judgment for when to jump into the play and act as an extra forward, rotating with someone else so there is coverage at the blueline he just vacated. He helps keep plays alive and facilitate the team's offense to create better scoring chances. While he does have a decent shot, he doesn't spam it from everywhere. He is actually pretty selective, averaging less than two shots on goal per game. He operates mainly as a playmaker, but his shot is good enough to be a threat that has to be respected.

From Elite Prospects' group scouting video:

He's a pretty exciting defenseman. 6'3", mobile, jumps into the play a lot. He's in a little bit of a tough situation – Kamloops is the worst team in the WHL, but he's everything for them... He jumps into the play, he can dangle guys off the point. So I think – he's a little bit on the raw side, it's not always going to be pretty with him. There are lots of turnovers, but I think history shows that this type of defenseman tends to work out.

Now let's talk about his transitions, which for me is even more important for a defenseman to be good at than being good in the offensive zone – I'm a Leafs fan, we should all understand what I mean here. That same kind of puck handling, elusive skating and passing ability helps him a lot when it comes to this, and if there is one thing that Brunicke is arguably elite at, it's getting the puck out safely and under control. Use his skating and dekes to elude forecheckers once he can get the puck in his own end, then use his skating and/or passing to move it up and out of the zone without just dumping it out and giving up possession.

Brunicke is also very good at getting the puck into the offensive zone with control, using the same foundation of skills. He's shifty enough to break through the initial layers of neutral zone defenses that are set up in front of him, create odd man scenarios or mismatches, and then make the pass needed to spring a teammate for an easier zone entry with less pressure to dump it in. I know there's the whole "don't draft for need", and most prospects take years to really become impact players in the NHL (assuming they do at all), but man... reading and watching him, he just seems like exactly what Toronto needs. And his skillset is so valuable that it's not like they won't need it in 4+ years if it takes him that long to get to the NHL.

From Luke Sweeney at Dobber Prospects:

Harrison Brunicke is a heady, smooth-skating, 6’3 RHD, qualities that show up in every area of his game. In the offensive zone, Brunicke scans well and makes quick decisions while also showing a willingness to get off the boards and evade pressure through creativity and confident puck-handling. While Brunicke has the skill and inclination to activate as the weakside defenseman, Brunicke’s transition abilities are more frequently demonstrated through his zone exits. Brunicke is poised in his own end and makes a lot of smart reads to use his mobility and passing to create clean breakouts.

Lastly, but certainly not least, there's Brunicke's defense. If I were to rank the strength of his skills into the three zones I would have his defensive zone play second and only just behind his transitions. He has a great set of physical tools (size, reach, skating), and he has a good sense of judgement and ability to read plays so he can act to shut them down. This is another reason why his zone exits are so good, because he also is quite good at getting the puck back from the other team in his own end. This all includes killing penalties, where he really shined during the World U18s even against the very best that the likes of Sweden and Team USA could throw at him.

Brunicke isn't just good at defending in his own end and being that "stay at home" defenseman. He's also quite good, using that skating and sense of judgement, at preventing the other team from entering his zone with control. He can be aggressive, without being overzealous, at closing on puck carriers on his side of the ice. If they try to dangle him, he's good at knocking the puck away or suffocating them against the boards. He forces them to dump it in past him or pass it away, with a good success rate at preventing dekes past him. He doesn't get beat very often, even against top prospects in his age group.

From Scott Wheeler at The Athletic:

His statistical profile doesn’t pop but he’s got good size, skating and sense and he has shown a real willingness to join the rush and look for opportunities off of the offensive zone blue line on a rebuilding Blazers team this year. He makes good reads around the ice, can defend with any of his active stick, length, feet or physicality, can lead exits and entries with his skating or an outlet, and progressed quickly this season after playing limited minutes for the Memorial Cup hosts last year (he averaged 22 minutes a night this year).

I'm also going to add this snippet from Scott about Brunicke at the recently completed World U18 Championship:

Brunicke and Marrelli were outstanding on the penalty kill and both played hard at the net front and on box-outs/defensive zone draws, blocking shots, removing opposing players from pucks and helping clear the zone.


As always, the general flaw for players that fit Brunicke's profile is that since none of his skills seem like they are elite – at least not as of right now – he may have a limited ceiling. You're not going to get an all-star, top pairing defenseman. His ceiling is far more likely to be a competent, minutes-eating guy that can lock down a second pairing and kill penalties. But there's no guarantee he can be even that. So if you're really hunting for that 'home run' swing in the first round, Brunicke may not be the guy for you. I say this for a lot of these 'jack of all trades, master of none' sort of prospects that I profile – and I usually quite like that type of player.

Another, potentially more glaring, problem with Brunicke is that he can be inconsistent when handling the puck, especially in the offensive zone. He can be turnover-prone at times, in that manner that may be familiar to Toronto fans. More often than not, he'll try a dangle or a fake and it will work. But it's not at a consistent enough level yet where you could count him as elite in this area of his game. This is the main reason why I wouldn't call him an elite offensive defenseman yet. He'll need to play more, improve his judgement on what to try and when, and increase the success rate of these plays first.

This is something that can drive a lot of people crazy, including coaches and NHL teams. It is something I've seen quite a few scouts remark on, even during the World U18s when he was overall pretty great – but some noted that his start to the tournament was slow, and he wasn't getting that much ice time while pointing to his sloppiness and turnovers as a main reason.


Brunicke is a wild card to me. He reminds me of a slightly lesser version of Adam Jiříček as far as his tools, skills and potential. They even both had serious injuries that caused them to miss a lot of the season! Brunicke didn't miss as much time, but he also does not project to be as good of a defenseman overall. As far as NHL comparables, I recently heard one of my favourite public scouts – Joel Henderson with Puck Preps – and he talked about Brunicke being comparable to someone like Justin Holl. Good skater, good size, good defense with some shaky puck management.

Quite frankly, I don't care as much about the turnovers at this age. Brunicke feels to me like a guy who simply has room to develop, and I've come to like prospects that try a lot of things when they're younger. It helps them develop more skills and either get confidence they can do things in games, or they learn what they can't get away with. He got a big jump in responsibility this season, after being pretty sheltered around an elite team in his rookie year. But he's elevated his play when he's needed to, and showed and more than other prospects who I have watched and written off because their turnovers and risky play styles scared me. In the past, I didn't think they could fix it enough for them to be viable prospects.

I get the opposite impression from Brunicke. Not only does he have such a strong foundation of other skills that would still make me want to draft him, maybe just later on, but I also just think that he has more room to improve and develop his game. I think his judgement in that area can get better, even if it's just learning to play more safe at higher levels.

In his most recent full ranking, Bob McKenzie did not have Brunicke ranked at all. Not in his top 80, or in his list of 15 or so honourable mentions. In theory, that could make him a potential fourth-round steal. But I don't think he'll stay ranked that low. When that last ranking came out, the hype for him just started to build before he had that serious injury and missed the rest of the WHL season. Since then, he finished as arguably Canada's top defenseman at the gold medal winning World U18s squad that defeated a very strong American team.

Brunicke's pair was a big reason why James Hagens, the tournament MVP on Team USA that beat Kucherov's points record at the World U18s, was shut down and held pointless in the gold medal game. At this point, I would be shocked if he doesn't wind up ranked closer to the first round than the fourth round. It may seem like a reach to take him with a first round pick, but given his size, tools and skills I don't think it would be a major one. If he does wind up being considered more in the second round, that's 100% a guy I'd think should be traded down for. But I honestly like him as much as some of the other defensemen I already profiled for Toronto's first round pick. He may have more risk, but I see more potential reward as well. If Toronto takes him straight up with their 23rd overall pick, I would understand why and I would love it.

Thanks for reading!

I put a lot of work into my prospect articles here, both for the draft and Toronto's prospects. I do it as a fun hobby for me, and I'd probably do it in some capacity even if PPP completely ceased to exist. But if you like reading my work, some support would go a long way! I pay for a few streaming services (CHL, NCAA, USHL, the occasional TSN options for international tournaments that are broadcast) to be able to reliably watch these prospects in good quality streams. I also pay for some prospect-specific resources, such as tracking data and scouting reports from outlets like Elite Prospects, Future Considerations, McKeen's Hockey, The Athletic, and more.

Being able to get paid for this helps me dedicate more time and resources to it, rather than to second/third jobs. And whatever money I make here, a lot of I reinvest back into my prospect work through in those streaming and scouting services. Like I said, I'd be doing whatever I can afford for this anyway, so any financial help I get through this is greatly appreciated!

PPP Leafs Runs on Your Subscriptions

Consider making a commitment today.

Support PPP