Honestly, I have no evidence for this, but I think that finding 'hidden gems' in the later rounds is relatively easier for defensemen than forwards. The only real reason I think this is because of how much differently people will think about and scout defensemen. I also think defensive ability is something that's not as easy to identify, and is also something that takes longer to develop and mature than offensive skill. I could be completely wrong about these assumptions, though.

But another reason why I think this is because when making these kinds of lists or profiles for later round prospects, I've always found it a lot easier to find interesting defensemen who aren't really ranked than for forwards. So with all that said, let's take a look at some of the defense prospects that could be potentially available in the later rounds based on their current rankings.

Tarin Smith

  • Position: Left-shot defenseman
  • League(s): WHL
  • Height: 6'1"
  • Weight: 176lbs
  • Birthdate: Mar 24, 2006

Of all the defensemen on this list, Smith has the best rankings from other outlets. However, he was not ranked at all on McKenzie's latest full rankings, nor has he appeared on the rankings of other prospect writers that typically have insider information from NHL teams (Pronman, etc) that are even more recent.

The reason for that is likely because, while he has undeniable offensive talent, he is still a bit rough around the edges and could use a good deal of refinement. He has decent size but needs more muscle, his skating is good but could be better, and his defensive impacts appear to be pretty good but could definitely have improvement for his mechanics and gap control. His offensive skill is quite strong, but he has some inconsistent execution that leads to turnovers and things that can drive coaches crazy, so he'll need to improve on that.

But Smith also led all U18 defensemen in the WHL in points, with 44 in 67 games. That was also good for a tie of 19th among all WHL defensemen, while he also had fewer PP points than all but two of the defensemen ahead of him. He has some really slick hands, and a pretty darn good shot but his offense doesn't rely on him ripping it from the point. He had a very low shot rate – only 102 in 67 games – and also had fewer goals than all but one of the defensemen ahead of him in points. Instead, he is a play facilitator. He can toe drag past defenders in front of him, dangle around others and looks to make a pass more than he will trying to shoot it himself. A fourth round pick would be a nice range to snap him up, if he falls that far, but he seems to be a helium guy of late that will likely see him be a second or third rounder.

From Mitch Brown's CHL tracking data: https://www.patreon.com/user/posts?u=13951676

Noel Fransén

  • Position: Left-shot defenseman
  • League(s): Sweden U20 / SHL
  • Height: 6'0"
  • Weight: 183 lbs
  • Birthdate: Dec 7, 2005

Fransén is a bit of a glass cannon. He led Sweden's U20 level in goals (20) – which also set a league record for goals by a defenseman – and points (44) in 45 games. That seems like a lot of goals for a defenseman, but I'd say he projects more as a playmaker than a scorer even if he has a good shot from the point. The thing is, he led his team in points by 10. He led the team in goals by 5. He didn't really have a lot of offensive support around him, and often seemed to have to do everything himself. He also got into four games in the SHL, and scored his first pro goal. He also got into 8 international games for Team Sweden, with four points for their U19 team.

So why isn't Fransén ranked on that many lists, and none of the ones that are more predictive to the actual draft day results? Well, his skating is only good and he's not that big, which can be a bit of a concerning combination. Adding muscle and improving his skating to be more high level would help his projection a lot. His defense is based more on positioning and stick checking than physical – though he did have very good defensive impacts according to some of the tracking data. His defending in his own end against cycles and prolonged possessions breaks down more often.

So I can understand why his rankings are worse than some of the public outlets that tend to value offensive production more and less willing to scrutinize size and defense. However, he has a level of skill and I see the potential for improvement in some of these areas to the point that I'd absolutely swing on him with one of the three 5th round picks Toronto has. If I'm thinking of what role he could serve in the NHL, potentially, I'm thinking of him as a bottom four PP specialist who is leaned on to move the puck and drive offense. To that end, it's a long shot for him considering that PP roles for defensemen are relatively few in the NHL, so he'll really have to excel in that role. Thankfully for him, it does seem like he is pretty darn good at it.

From Lassi Alanen's European tracking data: https://www.patreon.com/user/posts?u=13951676

Timur Kol

  • Position: Left-shot defenseman
  • League(s): MHL / VHL / KHL
  • Height: 6'3"
  • Weight: 198 lbs
  • Birthdate: Aug 23, 2006

The guy that was above Siryatsky for point per game pace in the MHL for defensemen? Timur Kol. He started the season in the MHL, where he had 8 points in 14 games in the regular season, and then 5 points in 8 games for the playoffs. and was promoted to the VHL and played most of the season there, and had 8 points in 23 games. He was also called up to the KHL and dressed in 7 games, but only got ice time in 2 of them.

Still, it's a good sign for a prospect in their draft year to get into pro games, and Kol played in more thanks to his time in the VHL. Russian hockey may not be as competitive as it used to be, so the path to pro hockey for their own prospects is easier now, but it's better than being a junior only guy like others of his peers. He led the VHL in games played and points for U18 skaters, defensemen or forwards, and both by large margins. After the season was over, he was actually traded to SKA St. Petersburg which is one of the very best programs in Russia.

Kol is more of an offensive defenseman than Siryatsky, thanks to being quite mobile. He's more smooth than having blazing speed, but he uses it to good effect. It's not really elite skating though, as his stride can be awkward and choppy at times, but it comes out more when he's on defense. He has good vision and playmaking, and a decent shot. Defensively, he profiles as okay – not a liability, but not a real shut down guy either. If you draft him, it's to hope that he can turn into an average two-way guy on a bottom pair. He'll need to improve his defense, clean up his skating, and find a way to either become a good PP quarterback or, more likely, a good PK guy. I've noticed him getting a bit of mid-round hype, so it's possible he's still around come the fourth round but it won't be a big surprise if he goes in the second or third rounds.

Darels Uljanskis

  • Position: Left-shot defenseman
  • League(s): Sweden U18 / Sweden U20
  • Height: 6'2"
  • Weight: 192 lbs
  • Birthdate: Aug 25, 2006

Uljanskis is one of the more interesting guys I've followed for most of this season, with a later round pick in mind. He has a good mix of size, a really late birthday making him quite young for the draft, and interesting set of tools. He had 29 points in 45 games in Sweden's U20 junior league, which was 4th on his team and best among their defensemen. It was also good for 4th among all U18 defensemen in the league.

Uljanskis was also the best and most used defenseman for Latvia in various international tournaments. At the World U18s, he averaged the third most ice time in the whole tournament with 23:52 – he also had two points in the five games they played, though as a team they were very overwhelmed. He did get a shot for Latvia at the World Juniors as well, where he was one of the youngest players in the entire tournament, though he only averaged 8:47 per game.

Skills and tools-wise, Uljanskis right now just seems like a guy. Skating, puck handling, playmaking, transitions, defense, it all seems just okay. He has decent size, and can make good plays at times but he's not doing anything particularly dynamic – there's a reason he isn't really ranked by anyone. The reason why I'm still including him on this list is because he's quite young, has decent size, shoots right, and I can maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaybe see some flashes of a better all-around game than he's shown so far. There's enough there to make me think he could be worth a late round swing, and then hope the development team can bring out more from his skills and tools that he could be a useful depth defender down the line.

From Lassi Alanen's European tracking data: https://www.patreon.com/user/posts?u=13951676

Viggo Gustafsson

  • Position: Left-shot defenseman
  • League(s): Sweden U18 / Sweden U20
  • Height: 6'2"
  • Weight: 192 lbs
  • Birthdate: Sep 11, 2006

Gustafsson is different from the others I talked about above. He is not just an all-around okay defenseman, nor is he more of an offensive specialist. He leans the other way, and I've seen some scouts describe him as one of the better pure defenders in the draft. His problem is that he's basically a Cade Webber, Simon Benoit, or other defensive-defenseman with almost no offensive game to speak of. That combined with him only really playing in Sweden's junior league is why he is ranked very low, if at all.

Gustafsson started his season in Sweden's U18 junior level, but finished playing mostly at the U20 junior league. He had 19 points in 43 games between the regular season and playoffs. He was also used as a defensive-minded partner for Sweden's international teams, alongside guys like Alfons Freij and Leo Sahlin Wallenius. He played a combined 37 games for Sweden this year, and had 3 points in those games. He is, however, one of the very youngest players in this draft – his birthday being only 5 days away from making him ineligible until next year's draft.

As far as his defense, he makes it work with good skating and anticipation. But he's not necessarily an elite skater like, say, EJ Emery is. But he has good maneuverability and footwork to be able to defend his blueline well, and shut down puck carriers down low. He plays a physical brand of defense without being a huge hitter, like a Stian Solberg. I would take a chance on his youth, long development path and already present defensive ability with a later round pick.

From Lassi Alanen's European tracking data: https://www.patreon.com/user/posts?u=13951676

Colin Ralph

  • Position: Left-shot defenseman
  • League(s): US High School - Prep
  • Height: 6'4"
  • Weight: 209 lbs
  • Birthdate: Oct 4, 2005

Ralph is one of those interesting players that also makes you squint at him, because he played all year in high school. He was second in the US High School Prep circuit among all defensemen in points, with 66 points in 57 games. He also led the Prep Hockey Conference playoffs with 16 in 14 games, and was tied for the lead in the US 18U Nationals with 6 points in 6 games where his team won the championship. So he was arguably one of, if not the, best overall defensemen in the high school circuit. But that's something that doesn't mean a whole lot, since top prospects in their draft year are almost always playing in the USHL. Hell, '05 birthdates who are top prospects are likely to already be in the NCAA. See Zeev Buium.

But that is why Ralph is not really ranked that high, it doesn't necessarily mean he's not in any way an interesting prospect. He is committed to St Cloud in the NCAA, which has a decent track record with defensemen, even if they're not a major program like Minnesota, Michigan, or the Bostons – they've churned out guys like Jack Peart, Nick Perbix, and Will Borgen in recent years.

The thing that stands out about Ralph is his combination of size and skating, which is very good from what I've seen and read. Despite what you may think from his point production, I don't think that is what would be the biggest strength of his game. He profiles more as a defensive, maybe two-way defender who can move the puck well and not be a major liability with it. I haven't seen a whole lot of him, because watching high school games is tough, but I've seen and read enough that I'd swing on him in the later rounds if he falls that far.

Luke Osburn

  • Position: Left-shot defenseman
  • League(s): USHL
  • Height: 6'0"
  • Weight: 172 lbs
  • Birthdate: Sep 9, 2006

Osburn is another guy that's interesting as a late round swing because he's genuinely pretty good already, just not good enough to really be ranked that high. But the added bonus for him is how young he is – not quite as young as Gustafsson, but still only a week away from not being eligible until next year's draft. He played on a pretty busy blueline for Youngstown in the USHL, behind older prospects (Strathmann), other top prospects (Pitner, Boumedienne). But he was good enough to be invited to the All-American Game, which is made up of the top prospects playing in the USHL and USNTDP.

One reason why I think Toronto may be interested in him, is that he seems to fit the "late bloomer" this season. He reportedly made a lot of improvements over this season, which you love to see from a guy that young. He started the season playing on the third pair getting 10-12 minutes per game, but finished on the top pair playing around 20 minutes. The way I'd describe his game is calm and smooth. He doesn't look frantic or chaotic, which can be both good or bad, he simply goes out and does the things he needs to do. He's one of the guys you don't really notice unless you're focusing on watching only him, someone you can quietly appreciate.

From Mitch Brown's USHL tracking data: https://www.patreon.com/user/posts?u=13951676

Alexander Siryatsky

  • Position: Left-shot defenseman
  • League(s): MHL / KHL
  • Height: 6'2"
  • Weight: 159 lbs
  • Birthdate: Aug 4, 2006

Siryatsky is another guy on the younger side for this draft and he's another guy who has "late bloomer" all over him. He actually started this season in Russia's U18 level, which is below even the MHL. He got called up to the MHL for almost the entire rest of the season, where he finished with the third highest point rate among all U18 defensemen – he had 19 points in 36 games. I actually caught him a bit this year because he also got into three games for Metallurg in the KHL, which just so happened to be Nikita Grebyonkin's team. He actually played in those games as well, it wasn't the Russian thing where they have a prospect as an extra and he sits on the bench all game. He played around 6 minutes in the first two, then almost 12 minutes in the last one.

What caught my attention for him was, despite being so young, he actually did not look way over his head defensively in the KHL games I saw. He had good positioning, kept tight gaps at his blueline, and looked pretty elusive vs forecheckers when he was trying to get the puck out of his own zone. His skating looked good enough to not be a problem, but I think he has a chance to become more explosive and stronger on his feet when he fills out a pretty lanky frame – 159 lbs for a 6'2" kid may as well make him a leaf on the wind. I'd swing on him in a later round if he's available, and see if he can become a solid two-way defender with time, development, and more muscle.

Parker Alcos

  • Position: Right-shot defenseman
  • League(s): WHL
  • Height: 6'3"
  • Weight: 174 lbs
  • Birthdate: Jul 20, 2006

Stop me if you've heard this before: Alcos is relatively young for the draft, he has some good size but is a bit physically immature considering his height to weight ratio, and while he doesn't have a lot of points he did pretty well for his opportunity and looks to have some two-way promise. He also has that factor of improving by quite a bit over the season, and winning more ice time and responsibility from his team as a result. That "late bloomer" factor that Toronto seems to like.

Alcos is honestly a nice success story – he went undrafted in the WHL but was signed by Edmonton in 2022. He only played 12 games for them that year, so this season was his first, full, rookie year in the WHL. He looks to have had the least powerplay time among any of the defensemen who did get used there at all. He was one of their better defensive guys, and had the second most even strength points for defensemen on the team despite only having 51 shots on net in 67 games.

The strength of Alcos' game definitely lies more on the defensive side. He is a good, mobile skater and gets around well when defending in the neutral and defensive zones. He also has some good size and reach and uses that to his advantage. His positioning and stickwork are sound, but he does play more with his stick and positioning than he does with his size and physicality. That's something he could stand to work on, but I think that will come with added confidence and muscle he will likely add. He's a bit lanky as of now. That combination of physical projection that can lead to useful improvements, combined with the late rising development he had this year, and I think he'd be worth a late round swing if he's available. You draft him and give him to your development team to turn him into a third pair, defensive and PK specialist.

From Mitch Brown's CHL tracking data: https://www.patreon.com/user/posts?u=13951676

Marcus Kearsey

  • Position: Left-shot defenseman
  • League(s): QMJHL
  • Height: 5'11"
  • Weight: 172 lbs
  • Birthdate: Mar 17, 2006

Hey, a smaller defenseman for once! I may distrust them more now than I used to, but that doesn't mean I've completely stopped liking any of them. Kearsey is a guy that I started following pretty early in the year after seeing Will Scouch sing his praises. He led the QMJHL among all U18 defensemen in points, with 49 in 68 games. That was good for 2nd on his team in points, only one back of the leader. Like you'd expect from someone with his profile, he's a mobile and skilled offensive defenseman, who is more of a playmaker than a shooter.

There's a lot I see in Kearsey that reminds me of Topi Niemelä, both in terms of their offensive strengths and defensive ability. Both use their mobility to drive their defensive utility, and it's something that Kearsey does well in the QMJHL. He makes good reads to jump into passing lanes and either pick off passes or at least deflect it away. In his own end, his defense is more suspect because of his size issues. He was used on the penalty kill in part for that reason, though he wasn't one of their go-to guys for the top unit in that regard.

The reason why I'm still including Kearsey here is because he has a good amount of skill, has good skating and is pretty smart with his reads and anticipation. That's a good foundation to have. There are defensemen in the NHL who are 5'11" that do well, they're just rare. I'd be willing to take a swing on him and work really hard with him to pack on as much muscle as he can. This is something I said about Niemelä for years, but he never really did and it's still holding him back. He doesn't need to become a mini-Hulk, or a defensive all-star. He just needs to improve in those areas enough that he's not a liability at higher levels, and then let his skills and PP ability carry him as far as that can take him. I'm not even saying take him in the third round like they did with Niemelä, but a potential seventh round swing? I can live with that big (heh) risk with a 7th.

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!

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