Every year, there’s a mix of prospects who start their season playing mostly — if not entirely — in the US high school system. And every year, there’s a small handful of guys who just absolutely tear up high school. They put up video game numbers, and they look completely dominant in such an easy fashion.
There have been plenty of NHL players who had good careers that were drafted from high school, but it is a much less competitive league to assess quality prospects than most others. Any prospect worth his salt will and should dominate high school. In fact, most mid or late round worthy prospects will typically dominate high school as well.
In the US, their main junior league is the USHL. Most teams there draft players from US high school or other prep leagues. They can call up players from the high school teams throughout the season, it’s basically their version of the AHL development/feeder league for the USHL rosters. The jump from high school to USHL can be a steep one.
The difference in levels can make it difficult to really assess just how good a prospect in high school is, and project them to higher levels. Last year, it caused a very good defensive prospect in Scott Morrow to fall into the second round, and he followed up this season looking like one of the best defensemen in the NCAA.
This year, the closest equivalent to Morrow is Sam Rinzel. Both are offensively minded, right shot defensemen with good size already in their draft years. Both played most of their draft year in high school, with small amounts of exposure in the USHL.
I thought last year that Morrow was worthy of a first round pick, and I think the same thing about Sam Rinzel this year.
THE BASICS: STATS AND CONTEXT
League: Minnesota High School / USHL
Weight: 181 lbs
Birth date: June 25th, 2004
Here are his draft rankings, as of writing this:
- Bob McKenzie: 47th
- Will Scouch: 27th
- Scott Wheeler: 52nd
- Elite Prospects: 32nd
- Dobber Prospects: 43rd
- Smaht Scouting: 43rd/
Rinzel is a Minnesota boy, which is basically the hockey hotbed in America. The best high school teams are in Minnesota, and they recruit from players all over North America. Many of the top NCAA teams are also based in Minnesota: University of Minnesota, Minnesota State, Minnesota-Duluth, and St. Cloud are all top programs.
That means that Rinzel has grown up in and with hockey. He would go skating with his dad as young as three years old. He had skating lessons from an early age. He has played competitive hockey, among other top hockey prospects his age in the country, his entire life. He was selected 18th overall in the 2021 USHL entry draft.
Everywhere Rinzel has played, he’s been juuuuuuuust outside of the truly elite prospects of his age. He has played for Team USA internationally, he played at the US Top Prospects game, and he was a top pick. But he’s never been among the top defensemen for the USA, or at the Top Prospects game, and he wasn’t a first round pick in the USHL.
In a lot of ways, I find Rinzel in a comparable situation to Owen Pickering, who I profiled earlier this week. He’s very similar in size in terms of height and also will need to pack on more muscle and weight to fill out his frame. His value as a prospect, right now, is also more focused on his potential rather than how good he already is. And they are both brilliant skaters in spite of their size, which is at the root of their potential.
Last year, Rinzel was a top producing defenseman in Minnesota’s high school circuit with 25 points in 19 games as a 16 year old. This year he returned for most of the early part of the season, putting up 38 points in 27 games. He also got to play in 21 games in the USHL for Waterloo, where he put up 10 points in 21 games.
Those are all good numbers, especially for a defenseman. But they do leave you wanting a bit more. He is committed as of now to play for the University of Minnesota — Matthew Knies and Mike Koster’s NCAA team — but won’t join them until his D+2 season, as of now. He is set to return to Waterloo in the USHL next season. Minnesota is one of the very best NCAA programs, so while the extra year to get there will add time to his forecasted NHL arrival, he would be in good hands for his development. They seem like an excellent fit to help Rinzel reach his potential and nurture his skills, considering how well they’ve done with Knies, or another top defensive prospect like Brock Faber.
THE GOOD: DRIVING OFFENSE & TRANSITIONS
The strength of Rinzel’s game that he showed this year lies in his ability to generate offense and drive offensive transitions. You can see that in the microstat tracking data:
Now, I wouldn’t read too much into visualizations like these. They’re good to give you an impression of a player’s results, but it doesn’t include a lot of contextual information that can affect such microstats.
What it does do is help you confirm what you see when you watch him, and for the most part it does. When you watch Rinzel, the thing that stands out the most is his skating and how aggressive he uses it to be involved in the play. He is very explosive, where he can go from a standstill to pretty darn fast in not much time. He is also very mobile, where he is able to use crossovers, cutbacks, lateral cuts and other fancy foot maneuvers to change and move in every direction very quickly. He uses it to be very active offensively, with and without the puck.
Here is a good example of that. Watch him go from a standstill, baiting the defender to chase him, to exploding out from behind the net and leaving the forechecker in the dust. He uses frequent cross overs to alter his line of attack and build up more speed, then makes a sudden juke in the neutral zone to evade one defender, then blow by a defenseman caught standing still at the blueline. It was an impressive end to end rush, showing off the flashes of skating and puck handling that he is capable of.
You can see it here, too. Rinzel (#39 in white) jumps on the ice and immediately sees a chance to make a daring pinch. He picks off an exit pass, but doesn’t do it cleanly. He gets to the puck first, then pulls off the fancy spin-o-rama to get by the defender also going for the puck, and gets a decent shot off.
When it comes to his offensive abilities, it is these skills that drives a lot of it. He will help his team offensively by helping get it up the ice and into the offensive zone, whether he carries it or passes it. Here’s what a scouting report from McKeen’s had to say:
Rinzel’s skill as a transitional attacker is among the best of any blueliner available this year. Yes, his feet aid in that. But it is how he blends his puck skill, quickness, and agility together that makes him such a dynamic offensive defender. His puck control at full speed and the coordination of his movements make him an exciting player to watch and someone who pretty much does as he wishes at the high school level. Heck, even at the USHL level he is rarely stymied once he builds speed with the puck. Rinzel is also ultra aggressive and will take chances to make plays.
Once he is in the offensive zone, he uses his mobility to toe the blueline, or attack deep into the zone to help make plays happen. He will move all through the offensive zone with and without the puck, looking to create new passing lanes or presenting himself as a better and more dangerous passing option. When he gets the puck, he is a capable passer in his own right and also shows a good shot, though it could be improved with time and practice.
THE FLAWS: DECISION MAKING & CONSISTENCY
While Rinzel shows flashes of a high-level of offensive play, there are questions about his consistency and his decision making — especially defensively. Some of that is, I believe, down to his adjusting from the higher quality of competition between high school and the USHL. That adjustment is partly why he is returning to the USHL next year, instead of jumping right to the NCAA.
But it does raise questions on how much of that promising potential he can actually reach, and how many of those flashes will always just be that. Like I said earlier, in this sense he does remind me a lot of the same situation Owen Pickering is in. The difference is in where their strengths are. Rinzel already shows a lot more refinement with the puck, in terms of making plays though his shots, passes, and dekes. But his defense is the bigger question mark.
Below, we can see the good from Rinzel. He’s #8 in white, the US defender on the near side who defends the Slovak puck carrier. He keeps him in front, forces him wide, then pivots and keeps pace to cut him off in the corner. Then closes and uses his size and reach to slow him down, seal him on the boards, and force the turnover for his teammate to pick up. Looks perfect!
But this is inconsistent, and it can be frustrating to watch at times. Even in the clip above, which looks like he did a great job, he was still pretty passive. He did keep him in front of him and angle him to the boards, but he didn’t close on him as early as he could and force him to dump it in or turn it over at the blueline. That passivity is something that can appear often in his defense. With his skating and size he should be able to be more aggressive than he showed in the USHL, but maybe that’s him not quite having the confidence in himself as he adjusted to the league. Even if he doesn’t make the best decision all the time, he should at least be better than having those “XBox controller disconnected”-like moments where he doesn’t really do anything.
And while consistency and decision making isn’t as much of an issue for him offensively, it’s still sort of there. He has a bit of the Korchinski and Mintyukov issue, where he has the puck a lot and he tries to do a lot of things with it. Many of it in the high-risk, high-reward level to try and create a more dangerous scoring chance. More often than not, he’ll succeed in the USHL. But he doesn’t quite succeed at it at the same rate as those other two. It’s something I’m not as worried about as his defense, because I think he succeeds often enough that he will just learn through experience to pick his spots better.
Rinzel a lot of promise and refinement on the offensive and transition side of things. He is a brilliant and mobile skater, and that alone with his size makes him interesting enough as a prospect. He also shows flashes of being able to use his tools on the defensive side to be an adequate defender. His potential is what pushes him into the range of a late first rounder for me, and for what it’s worth there’s a pretty big group in that tier.
I’ve said this a lot already in these profiles, but it’s true again... I am very curious to see where Rinzel winds up on Bob McKenzie’s final rankings. McKenzie had him 47th in his mid-season rankings, which would make him an ideal trade-down candidate. You’d think with his size and tools, and the fact he’s a righty, would make him almost a lock as a first rounder.
But I’m not sure. I mentioned it in the Pickering article, but I’m sure there are at least some teams who are very high on Rinzel. The thing is, if there is one thing this draft seems to have more of than usual, it’s defensemen who fit the same kind of theme: Guys who are bigger but still good skaters, who also have skills and physical tools that make them exciting as potential picks. But they also all have some not-so-small flaws, where the excitement is based in large part on their potential as opposed to how good and refined they already are. Some are better at defense, some at transitions, some at offense.
Tristan Luneau, Kevin Korchinski, Maverick Lamoureux, Elias Salomonsson, Lian Bichsel, and Owen Pickering were all already ranked ahead of Rinzel. Then there are average or smaller sized defensemen who were also ranked ahead, like Ryan Chesley, Denton Mateychuk, Calle Odelius and Seamus Casey. All of these defensemen I mentioned also play in leagues that, traditionally, are considered to be better competition than the USHL, and especially than high school. Then there are multiple players at any position who were ranked behind Rinzel that had big finishes to their season.
A lot of Rinzel’s hype came more from his first stint in the USHL, which was shorter but also had much stronger results than the longer stretch at the end of the season. So I’m not sure if him playing in the USHL more would give him more of a boost to his rankings. So the net change in Rinzel’s rankings may not be that big.
Rinzel would not be my first choice for the Leafs at 25th overall. He likely won’t even be my first choice for defensemen who will likely be available. He might wind up being a good candidate for a slightly later pick if Toronto trades down. But if Toronto did just take him outright, I would just nod and accept they liked him better, and knew more about him and his potential than I do.
Sam Rinzel possesses the projectable frame & right-shot handedness that every NHL team strives to find in the draft.— Daniel Gee (@DanielGScouting) February 15, 2022
An overwhelming transition player & a true creative planner in sustained pressure. His potential & more - @EPRinkside #2022NHLDraft
🔗: https://t.co/lFkSDjZ4pU pic.twitter.com/H0CfF0PyJn
Would you take Sam Rinzel with at 25th overall?
|A 6’4” right shot defenseman who skates great and has offense to boot? Hell yes!||41|
|Ehhh that seems risky, maybe if they trade down.||72|
|A guy who can barely play defense in the USHL? Hard pass.||33|