It's been a while since I got to one of these prospect reports. In fact, the last one I have written and actually published was on Hudson Malinoski, and that was on November 17th – almost two months ago.
I still had plans to touch on some (but not all) of Toronto's prospects that I hadn't reported on at that point. That would have consisted of the likes of Nick Moldenhauer, Joe Miller, Mike Koster, and maybe guys not as hyped up as Braeden Kressler and Veeti Miettinen. When I finished writing about Malinoski in November, none of those other prospects were doing anything that interesting.
I'll get to larger updates on the others in time, but let's get back to Moldenhauer. I delayed making a prospect report on him because I wasn't really sure what to say. He had been performing... okay? Not terrible, not great. Somewhere in the middle, maybe a bit on the side of "good". I wanted some more viewings of him to see if I could form something firm about his game.
Then Michigan went on a prolonged break in December as many of the top players in the NCAA went off to their country's respective World Junior camps. Not all schools had such a long break, to be clear, but Michigan was off from December 2nd until January 12th outside of an exhibition game against the US NTDP's U18 squad.
So let's start talking about how he's looked.
STATS & CONTEXT
This season marks Moldenhauer's freshman year in the NCAA. He joined a powerhouse Michigan program after a successful career with the powerhouse Chicago Steel in the USHL. He finished his USHL career as one of the top players, both on the Steel but also in the entire league where he finished third in points and second in points per game.
It was a similar path followed by two of Toronto's other recent prospects: Joe Miller and Nick Abruzzese. Unlike those two, when Moldenhauer joined Michigan he did not immediately get a top role. Abruzzese and Miller, who both went to Harvard but never played together, both landed with top line and top powerplay time. Moldenhauer has mostly played in a third line role, with some second powerplay unit time.
Statistically, he's been doing good. Not great, but he's done a good job for his role as a middle six guy who assists in the generation of offense – rather than being the primary driver of it. In 20 games this season, he has 13 points. That's good for 8th on the team, but there is a very clear divide in terms of who their top players are.
- Seamus Casey (D) - 28 points
- TJ Hughes (F) - 26 points
- Gavin Brindley (F) - 25 points
- Frank Nazar (F) - 24 points
- Dylan Duke (F) - 24 points
- Rutger McGroarty (F) - 23 points
- Garrett Schifsky (F) - 19 points
And after Schifsky is Moldenhauer. He has played with some of the above players at times at even strength, but his most common linemates have been: Kienan Draper, Philippe Lapointe, Mark Estapa, Josh Eernisse, Jackson Hallum, and then a few games with TJ Hughes or Dylan Duke.
THE GOOD OL' EYE TEST
The biggest strength I've always noticed from Moldenhauer is his playmaking. He is a natural distributor with the puck, and has all of the necessary skills to support that. He is effective at seeing passing lanes, waiting for them to open up if needed, and has good puck handling to be able to delay long enough most of the time for that lane to open. He has good vision for spotting better passing options than the easy and obvious ones, and can hit those passes a lot of the time. You could see that in his first NCAA game, even if it didn't lead to any assists at the time:
But here's perhaps his best example of everything I said above: his ability to delay and buy time with his puck handling, and great vision to find the dangerous scoring opportunity.
The rest of Moldenhauer's skills I'd say make him one of those "jack of all trades but master of none" sort of players, with his playmaking being the closest to "master" status. He's a good skater, with good speed and good agility – I'd say his strength in movement is more with being maneuverable and shifty than speedy. He has some physicality and willingness to take a hit to make a play, or engage physically if the situation calls for it. But he is not a power forward and never will be. He relies more on that shiftiness to create/get to open ice.
Moldenhauer does also have a good shot, making him a bit of a dual-threat option with the puck. He hasn't been asked to be the main shooter on whatever line he's played on, or on the powerplay, and it may not look like he's that much of a shooter given his mere four goals. Both of his first points in the NCAA came from his shot.
Just like with his passing, Moldenhauer's ability to handle the puck and delay just a bit longer can also help him create shooting opportunities. I wouldn't say he has an elite shot, but it does seem good in many of the ways I can notice: he can get a wrist shot off quickly, and he has pretty good accuracy.
The issue with Moldenhauer's shot is more that he doesn't use it that often. Even last year when he had 30 goals in the USHL and was 3rd in total points, he was 35th in total shots on net. He does tend to look for a pass first, where I think he could afford to weaponize his shot a bit more. Even when he's not scoring off of it, I've already seen him get assists or create chaos in front for more scoring chances because he shot it on net.
But this is also why I think he's more of a player who can support the offense than drive it.
WHERE DOES MOLDENHAUER GO FROM HERE?
If I'm projecting Moldenhauer to the future, this year should be treated as him getting acclimated to the NCAA. He will be doing what he can to adjust to his teammates and the system, and improve his skills across the board as much as he can. He very likely is not going to get any top opportunities higher in the lineup or on the powerplay – barring a lot of injuries above him anyway. There are simply too many veterans of status, and elite draft picks, taking up the spots ahead of him.
But what Moldenhauer can do is set himself up for next year and beyond. Some of those players above him may not be with the team next year if they turn pro. Even if they don't, Moldenhauer has some youth on his side where he can make bigger improvements and show he can earn a higher role.
The most important areas of improvement he can make are the same sort of thing I say for other prospects like him: get stronger, and get more explosive. Become a more aggressive puck pursuer and forechecker, show you can impact the game even when you don't have the puck or when you're in the defensive end. Those are the things that we'll want from him as a pro, and also what his coach will love to see to give him more of a role in all situations.
All in all, I'm still waiting to see if he can take those important steps. Otherwise I'd say that while he hasn't done anything to make me think he's a better prospect than I did going into this season, he hasn't done anything to make me think he's a worse one either. Time will still tell.