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2021 NHL Draft Profile: Cole Jordan

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He’s big and flown under the radar his whole life, but he may be an exciting late round pick

2020 NHL Draft - Round One Photo by Kyle Brown/NHLI via Getty Images

When you start talking about later round picks, you’re either talking about guys who don’t look like they have a lot of upside at that time, who have significant flaws, or a mix of both. Otherwise, they’d be ranked much higher. That makes it a lot harder to find good value from players that are drafted that late.

But sometimes you can find a prospect who has a very high-end skill who goes under the radar, for a variety of reasons. Take Veeti Miettinen. Even scouts who doubt his likelihood of making the NHL will admit that he has a fantastic shot, arguably one of the best in his whole draft year. The questions for him are that he’s small, stayed on the perimeter, and played in a lesser league his draft year. That led to him falling all the way to the sixth round.

But, you know, taking someone who arguably has one of the best [insert skill] in the draft but a lot of other areas or uncertainties to work on doesn’t seem like a bad idea for a sixth round pick. Especially when that skill is one of the more important ones in the game — shooting and scoring goals.

Which brings me to Cole Jordan. In some ways, he’s in a very similar situation to Miettinen that will likely lead to him being a later round pick. But in other ways, he’s very, very different. What he shares with Miettinen is having one very standout skill, but a whole lot of question marks to go with it. But I am absolutely hoping he falls to the Leafs in the fifth or sixth rounds.

THE BASICS: STATS AND CONTEXT

Cole Jordan is a 6’2”, 205 lb right shot defenseman playing for Moose Jaw in the WHL. As a September 21, 2002 birthday, he’s also one of the oldest players in the draft. And I’ll get it out of the way first: he doesn’t produce a lot of points, and never really has. He also doesn’t have a history of being a high profile prospect.

Jordan went undrafted in the WHL, and was an invite to Moose Jaw’s training camp at the start of the 2018/19 season. At the time, he was coming off a season in the MMHL U18 minor junior league where he had 18 points in 46 games. By comparison, Daemon Hunt, who is also a 2002 birthday and only four months older than Jordan, played on the same team as Jordan but he had 40 points in 40 games. He was drafted in the third round by Minnesota last year, a draft that Jordan missed by six days.

Moose Jaw must have seen something in Cole Jordan at that training camp, however. They signed him to a “WHL SPA” (whatever that means), but was sent back to the MMHL — where he put up 44 points in 48 games. That was good for 4th in the league for points by defensemen, behind three others born the same year. So that’s a bit nicer, but still just okay in a lesser league when top prospects his age were already in the WHL. The next season, in the 2019/20 season cut short by the start of COVID-19, Jordan broke into the WHL as a rookie. He played in 38 games and had 7 points.

17 points in 61 career WHL games is not exactly prime Erik Karlsson. So you may see a big defenseman without much offense or hype as a prospect and assume he’s nothing but a big coke machine stay-at-home defender. And you’d be sort of right, but also very wrong.

If you clicked the link above with the news of him signing with Moose Jaw as a 15 year old, you’ll see he was listed as 5’11” and 160 lbs. While it’s not uncommon for players to have later growth spurts, it is worth noting that growing three inches and 40 lbs does seem like a bit of a late growth spurt over two years. Kaiden Guhle, a 6’3” defenseman drafted out of the WHL by Montreal last year, was already 6’1” and 174 lbs as a 14 year old when he was drafted by Prince Albert.

His late birthday and growth spurt I think are some of the reason why Jordan seems to be on a slower development curve than his peers. When you’re a later birthday, you’re playing against guys who have had more time to grow and develop when it matters a lot more in your childhood years. The fact that he always seemed to have his big production jumps come a year after guys born the same year is not that surprising.

Not that Cole Jordan is likely to be an offensively gifted defenseman, but I do think his overall development has been slower as he had to adapt to being younger and smaller, but then suddenly being bigger and having to refine his coordination. And let me tell you, he seems to have started figuring all that out in a big way this year.

Here are his draft rankings, as of writing this:

  • Bob McKenzie: Unranked
  • Will Scouch: 69th
  • Scott Wheeler: Unranked
  • Elite Prospects: 56th
  • Dobber Prospects: 66th
  • Smaht Scouting: 57th

THE GOOD: SKATING, TRANSITIONS, TOOLS

If Veeti Miettinen’s standout skill is his shot, Cole Jordan’s standout skill is his skating. And that’s absolutely something I want a big defensive prospect to have, and I don’t just mean good skating for a big guy — I mean he is a legitimately good skater. How good depends on who you ask (more on that below), but everyone will agree that his skating is very good at the worst.

And skating is arguably the best skill to have as a hockey player. Being a very good to elite skater on its own is almost a guarantee to make the NHL, just ask Ilya Mikheyev. As a defenseman, I would argue its even more valuable. Being a good skater helps you in all areas of the ice. Stick with forwards, recover your position, shut down transitions, jump into the rush, skate with the puck, evade defender in the offensive zone, etc.

From the one game of Jordan’s what I saw, it definitely stood out. He looks deceptively fast, I think because of his size. But he could outpace many other players on the ice, and was also very agile and maneuverable. Here’s a breakdown of his mechanics from the Elite Prospects’ 2021 Draft Guide (pay to download):

The tools we saw from Jordan in those minutes make him among the 2021 NHL Entry Draft’s most exciting defensive prospects though. One of only four players in this guide to receive a skating grade of 7, Jordan’s stride is closer to perfection than average. He consistently achieves optimal posture, with his knees pushed over his toes and full hip flexion with his chest up. Full extensions finished with a toe snap and forward-driving recoveries with a minimal heel kick, along with knee-over-knee crossovers with inside-leg push off generate a projectable separation gear in the NHL. Not short on skating skill, he uses fully torsioned jam turns followed with an explosive crossover to separate in-tight.

“Closer to perfection than average” is high praise, and EP loves them some skating biomechanics. But for Jordan, what’s potentially very useful about his skating is not just that he’s good at it, it’s how he is able to use it. I touched on it above, but it has helped him become one of the WHL’s premier defensive-defensemen. And that doesn’t mean being a physical, stay-at-home bruiser. It means being able to break up cycles, clear the front of the net, and — most importantly of all — shut down transition attempts. According to various research, the best way to have a significant impact on your team’s defense is to prevent zone entries. And there is data, also from EP, that shows how Jordan is already an elite transition defender in the WHL.

His combination of skating and size helps him a lot in the WHL. In the game I watched, a forward with speed tried to blow past him wide. Jordan closed the gap, erased him into the boards with a good clean check, and wound up with the puck to pass it back up the ice. On a few occasions in the game I watched, he made plays like that look as easy as it was for me to write that. Here’s a more elaborate description from Joel Henderson at Future Considerations about his defensive abilities:

He forces players to the outside, protects the high danger areas, fantastic gap control, pins players to the boards well, and numerous other detail oriented things. Right away I noticed how he can close off space by the combination of his stride and the length of his stick. He disrupted quite a few rush chances by surprising players by how fast he can close on them. Most of his qualities are defense first in their approach. Not once did I think he was looking for opportunities to spring the zone which would sacrifice his positioning. I found he would angle off wingers to the outside and then when they stopped/paused their skating, he would close on them very quickly. Defensively, he is often the one who is separating the player from the puck or causing them to lose control.

On the other hand, it also helps him with transitions the other way, which can have a huge impact on your team’s offense. Even if Jordan doesn’t have a lot of points, his skating helps his team with their breakout. That not only cuts down on time in your own zone, which can lead to shots and goals against, but increase time on offense. On his pairing, he is the guy who almost always is the one to start the breakout. He’d be the first one back to the puck, then would use some good skating and deception with the puck to evade forecheckers. His passing accuracy could use work, though, and that’s why I think he relies on carrying the puck more often or just making shorter, easier passes.

Here’s a good example of him using his skating to get to dump ins quickly and evade forecheckers, so they could breakout back to offense.

And here’s a good example of using a good read with his skating to jump up in the neutral zone to pick off a pass and score a breakaway goal:

Aside from his skating, his offensive game is mostly based around passing. Elite Prospect’s microstats show he had good passing numbers and expected assists, but that will likely only ever be how he gets points. He has good passing, but so far not spectacular. He also has a decent looking wrist shot, such as on that goal, but again it’s not elite by any means and he likely won’t ever be a goal scorer at higher levels when he never has been to date. However, he can sling some passes like this:

That’s where his offensive production will come from, and yet it’s probably not the most important offensive skill he has. More and more, the NHL is becoming a game of transitions. The teams that can win the battle on zone entries and zone exits are more likely to win the games. It can come from being very good at having successful exits and entries of your own, or by shutting down the other teams’ attempts. Either way, you just want to be able to come out ahead, and that’s where Cole Jordan can potentially have a big impact.

THE FLAWS: HIGH END OFFENSIVE SKILL, DEVELOPMENT

The above is all well and good, but it’s worth noting that a lot of it is about the potential that Jordan flashes. By all accounts he had a big and noticeable improvement this year, but for the most part he’s always been a guy with exciting tools that had to figure out how to put it together. Having his size and skating is exciting for a defenseman to have, but only until this season did he really start putting them all together in a way to have a positive impact on the ice.

But the big question or concern with Jordan is how much of his value is his potential for the future, that has not been fully realized yet. You can see him flash a beautiful stretch pass. You can see him flash a nice wrist shot. You can see him flash a great transition game. It can be inconsistent, and not in the typical way people mean where it’s maybe a bit inconsistent relative to other players. His passing can get wild, he can fail to evade forechecking pressure and turn the puck over, and most of his few shot attempts are not very dangerous.

From Will Scouch:

I just want to extend a note to Cole Jordan as well. He’s a quick, rangy defender with solid defensive traits, and the potential to be a remarkable offensive rush quarterback, but you just don’t see it very often. Nobody makes more pass attempts than him, but 81 players complete more passes than him on average. He defaults to dumps and weak passes to nobody far more often than he should, but taking things into his own hands and driving an offensive rush should be doable with his strength and mobility.

That’s the gamble with Cole Jordan. He would not be the first prospect who looked like he had an exciting set of tools at his disposal, but never really figured out how to use it on the ice well enough to make it to the NHL. Fedor Gordeev comes to mind for me, who was also a big defensive prospect with good skating drafted in the fifth round.

On the one hand, you may say well he’s just a late bloomer. But on the other hand, what if he’s not really blooming late but this is just the rate at which he is developing? If his development ends at the same time as others that are the same age as him, then his ceiling is lower than you may hope for.

OVERALL ASSESSMENT

Cole Jordan’s strengths and tools are why he’s an interesting prospect. His flaws and question marks are why he’ll likely be a mid to late round pick. But the former is why I am really hoping he falls to Toronto in the fifth round, although I do suspect that he might be taken as high as the third or fourth round. If he squeaks into Bob’s final rankings, which covers the first three rounds and a few honourable mentions, my hopes may be dashed. But if he doesn’t, there’s a faint hope.

I just think that if there is a team with the developmental resources that can help Jordan realize as much of his potential as possible, it’s the Leafs. He may never be a star defenseman, or even a top four guy. But he can be a valuable, affordable, impactful third liner who kills penalties and doesn’t hurt you at 5v5. He won’t be Roman Polak, but he might be in the mold of a Martin Marincin. You may groan at that, but getting a defenseman of his type has value in the fifth round, especially if he turns out to be a bit better than MarMar at the NHL.

Because I can see an NHLer in him, even if it’s a bit foggy. His ability to flash high end plays now and then tell me that he can do it, and might just be figuring out how to do it consistently. He might be a bit of a late bloomer in the case of his development, both in terms of a growth spurt but also in terms of refining his mechanics through fine motor skills and coordination.

All this said, I would say his pie in the sky hopes would be to turn out being a reliable fourth defenseman in a top four, who can use his size, skating and transitions to be the safe anchor on a middle pairing. More than likely he tops out as the anchor on a third pair, if he even makes the NHL. But man am I hoping that he falls to the Leafs in the fifth round, or maybe even that the Leafs see all that potential and trade down from 57th overall and get him with a later third/fourth rounder.