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2022 NHL Draft Profile: Christian Kyrou

Kyrou is one of the best defensemen in the OHL, but poor skating hurts his draft hype

Erie Otters v Kitchener Rangers Photo by Chris Tanouye/Getty Images

Isaiah George, who I profiled yesterday, is an example of a good swing on a second/third round pick because he shows a lot of high end tools defensively but a low enough point to hide his offensive potential.

Today’s profile is in a similar situation, but reversed. Christian Kyrou is a smaller offensively minded defenseman who racked up a lot of points and has strong tracking data, but some questions around his skating makes you question his projection to the pros. For Leafs fans who know the story with William Villeneuve, you will be familiar with this story.

And thus we ask some different questions around Kyrou than we did about George, but it winds up coming to the same overall point. What kind of prospect do you prefer to swing on in the third round? You’re not going to get anyone with high end skills in this range unless they also have some bigger flaws or question marks. The more elite their strengths are, the more glaring their flaws must be. Otherwise they’d be ranked higher.

Do you take the guy with a more solid all-around skillset, and hope you can develop some of the skills to be good enough that he can provide value in the NHL? Or do you take the guy with the elite skill, big flaw profile and try and fix the flaw enough that it won’t hold him back?

Isaiah George was a bit more into the former group. In the case of Christian Kyrou, he fits into the latter.

THE BASICS: STATS AND CONTEXT

Position: RD
League: OHL
Height: 5’11”
Weight: 183 lbs
Birth date: September 16th, 2003

Here are his draft rankings, as of writing this:

  • Bob McKenzie: 78th
  • Will Scouch: 49th
  • Scott Wheeler: 69th
  • Elite Prospects: 37th
  • Dobber Prospects: Not ranked
  • Smaht Scouting: 57th

Christian Kyrou is the brother of current NHLer Jordan Kyrou, of the St. Louis Blues. If you’ve followed Jordan at all, you’ll be hoping that some of that magic dust rubbed off on his younger brother.

Christian was drafted to the OHL in the 2019 draft 84th overall, as a 5’8” and 150 lb 15 year old. If you’re wondering why he was drafted a year before Isaiah George, it’s because Kyrou was a later 2003 birthday in September. In fact, his September 16th birthday means he BARELY missed being eligible for last year’s NHL draft — by one single day. On the one hand, that might make you nervous considering he’s almost a full year older than other prospects like Elias Salomonsson (August 31st. 2004) who may also be available in the same range. On the other hand, having the kind of statistical season Kyrou did in the OHL is exactly what you would want from a D+1 draft pick.

Unlike Isaiah George, Kyrou got a small taste of the OHL since he was drafted a year earlier. He got into 21 games for the Erie Otters as a 16 year old rookie called up mid-season, before the pandemic hit and shut down the OHL until this past September. In those 21 games, he had zero points. He apparently did a fair amount of development work in the time between games, because he became one of the biggest breakout stories of the OHL Season.

Kyrou scoring 18 goals and 60 points in 68 games, behind only consensus first rounder Pavel Mintyukov for draft eligible OHL defensemen this year. He finished third on the Erie Otters in points, only three back of the leader. Erie was not a good team overall this year, finishing fourth last and missing the playoffs, with the fourth worst offense in the league. Kyrou was one of the lone bright spots.

No matter how you slice his production, he was among the best in the entire OHL. by total points for defensemen, he finished 4th. For goals he was 3rd. By even strength primary points, he tied for second. By powerplay points, he was 10th so he wasn’t padding his stats on special teams. And though I don’t think this means a whole lot aside from him being used a lot on the penalty kill, he also had the most short handed points among all OHL defensemen.

He was by far the most heavily used defenseman on Erie, who are younger and rebuilding. He was used in all situations, on their top penalty kill, powerplay, and even strength units. It may be a fancier version of +/-, but he also had the best even strength GF% on the team by a large margin. It’s remarkable to think of how much worse Erie would have been without Kyrou.

But as I said in the Isaiah George profile, I’m not as concerned about a defensive prospect’s points. It is only one small part of a defenseman’s offense, which itself is only one part of what makes a defenseman good.

So let’s break down what makes Christian Kyrou an interesting prospect.

THE GOOD: ELITE OFFENSIVE CREATION

If Kyrou is going to make the NHL, it will be because of his offense. He was arguably the best overall offensive defensemen in the whole OHL as a 2022 draft eligible. He finished narrowly behind the leader in total points, he relied less on the powerplay, and he had a lot worse teammates around him out of anyone else except Pavel Mintyukov.

If you name an area of offense that a defenseman can be good at, Kyrou was good if not great. He has a very good shot, and is excellent at getting it through traffic. That’s a hard skill to really measure or assess, but he has a good sense of timing and aiming his release. He’s also excellent at passing the puck, and especially at passing it into dangerous areas with cross ice passes that are harder for goalies to stop.

What helps Kyrou make his passing and shooting both more effective and more dangerous is what he does leading up to it. He is very mobile and agile, and is great at skating along the blueline or finding ways to creep deeper into the offensive zone. He has a good sense of delaying his shot/pass or changing the angle of it with his stick handling to make it more deceptive and effective.

Here’s a good example. Kyrou is #15 in white. He takes a pass and already is in a pretty good position to shoot it. But he waits, makes a little pivot into the centre of the ice and buys time for his teammate to set up a screen in front. In the end, he has the puck even closer to the net, no defender immediately in front of him, and the goalie is in a less comfortable position thanks to the screen.

And here’s an example of his passing. He switches down from the point into the corner to present a passing option for his teammate behind the net. When he gets the puck he makes a nice, hard and clean pass to his teammate creeping in from the point. It’s across the ice, it’s into the slot, and it makes the goalie move for one of the more dangerous scoring chances you’ll see.

Kyrou plays a similar high-risk, high-reward style as Kevin Korchinski which can lead to some ugly looking turnovers, but in the OHL he succeeds far more often than he fails. He’s also good without the puck at moving along the blueline and deeper into the zone to present a better and more dangerous passing lane for teammates.

In short, you want Kyrou to have the puck on his stick in the offensive zone, because he makes good things happen.

Courtesy of Mitch Brown’s Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/posts/new-player-cards-62778012

He is also effective at driving transitions, though he is not as dangerous. He uses the same element of shifty skating and effective passing to help set up zone entries for his teammates. He can be difficult for defenders to square up, or keep him in front.

The issues that Kyrou has, which already limit his defensive impact in the OHL and could impact even his offense at higher levels, is his skating.

THE FLAWS: SKATING AND DEFENSE

While Kyrou can be very agile and elusive when he skates, he has a lot of work to do on his skating. He is pretty poor at generating speed and his top gear is average at best at this point. There are a lot of questions for prospects in this situation with how they can survive in higher levels without at least average skating. Being shifty is not enough when you can’t pull away from defenders in either quick bursts or prolonged sprints.

Right now, his offensive skill is mostly playing up in smaller area events. That’s a fancy way of me saying he needs to be in the offensive zone with his team set up with possession. His passing can help drive some transitions, but that is another thing that will only go so far.

The more bigger concern is with his defense. For a defenseman to survive in the NHL, you have to be some combination of a good skater, big with a long reach, strong to push people around and smother them along the boards, or have great reads/instincts/positioning to be where you need to be most of the time. Unfortunately for Kyrou, he doesn’t really have any of that. He’s only 5’10”, though he could grow another inch or two like his brother. He doesn’t have a long reach. His defensive reads can be good at times but that’s inconsistent. More importantly, even when he does make a good read he can get burned by his poor speed.

His biggest strength may be, ironically, his actual strength. He may be smaller but he is very fit. In the NHL combine results he finished near the top in mobility and stability, bench press, agility,

OVERALL ASSESSMENT

Early on I described this as the William Villeneuve situation all over again, and I think it is very apt. Villeneuve was also a top offensive defenseman in the QMJHL in his draft year, but he fell to the fourth round because his skating was also a concern. Like Kyrou, he also had some good agility but his mechanics limited his speed and explosiveness.

There are some important differences, though. Villeneuve has always been more of a pure puck mover and play maker, whereas Kyrou is a good passer but also has a good shot and very good hands. I would say that Kyrou has more all-around offensive skill than Villeneuve did in his draft year. And this year Villeneuve showed he did make some good improvements to his all-around game, though the jury is still out on him replicating it in the AHL let alone the NHL.

The other difference is that Villeneuve was taken in the fourth round, in a year where the Leafs had a LOT of picks. Kyrou in this situation would be a potential third round pick, in a year when the Leafs have only three total picks as of now. In fact, in Bob’s recently released final rankings, Kyrou was ranked 78th which is right around when Toronto’s pick is.

On the other hand, the Leafs have shown they’re willing to make that bet in the not-so-distant past. Depending on who else is available when their pick in the third round comes up, it may be a bet worth making again.

Bet on the skill, hope you can work on his skating until it’s at least good enough.

Poll

Would you take Kyrou with the Leafs’ third round pick?

This poll is closed

  • 27%
    Yes, that’s the most skill you’ll find at that point
    (21 votes)
  • 37%
    Maybe, it depends on who else is available
    (29 votes)
  • 35%
    No way, I get scared by poor skating small defensemen
    (27 votes)
77 votes total Vote Now