Nicholas Moldenhauer is the second player taken in the 2022 draft by the Maple Leafs, 95th overall. I watched a bunch of his games with the Chicago Steel, and his few games with Team Canada at the U18s, to get a feel for who he is as a player.
THE BASICS: STATS AND CONTEXT
Weight: 170 lbs
Birth date: May 25th, 2004
- Elite Prospects — 53
- McKeens Hockey — 75
- Dobber Prospects — 78
- Scott Wheeler — 40
- Will Scouch — 91
- Smaht Scouting — 112/
So Moldenhauer had one of the crazier seasons in the draft. First, he missed over two months through training camp and into the season with an illness, possibly mono, which caused him to lose 15 lbs. Then 39 seconds into his first shift after returning, he was accidentally kicked in the face by a player which cut him along his jawline. Two days later, they discovered it had just barely nicked his carotid artery and he had to have an emergency blood transfusion and 175 stitches to fully stop the bleeding. Scott Wheeler told the full harrowing story, and I recommend you read it not just for that part but also how well he overcame it.
When Moldenhauer finally returned for good in late November, he was playing okay but not as well as expected. In the first 21 games of the season, he had only 14 points. But in the second half of the season, he had 29 points in 20 games. Despite his illness, injury and slow start, Moldenhauer finished with the highest point per game pace in the USHL for draft eligible forwards, not counting the USNTDP program. He might have finished a bit better, but played on the 2nd powerplay unit on a stacked Chicago team.
Moldenhauer also finished 2nd in even strength primary points, only five behind the leader with 21 fewer games played. He actually finished with the highest primary points per 60 minutes rate in the USHL for draft eligibles. That was ahead of Cam Lund (34th), Dylan James (40th overall), Ryan Greene (57th), and Adam Ingram (82nd overall) who were all taken before him.
Outside of the second powerplay, Moldenhauer was used on the top penalty unit.
I’ll admit, I’m quite surprised to see his transitions rated so poorly. One of the potential issues with microstats like this is it may be affected by the specific set of games chosen to be tracked. I wouldn’t say Moldenhauer showed he was an elite transition guy, but
I’m going to stop myself just short of saying Moldenhauer is an elite skater. I think he is a very good one. He changes speeds, uses his edges well, and despite being a bit on the smaller side he is a tank on his feet. Bigger opponents have trouble knocking him over, and he has a non-stop motor that keeps going through any amount of checking thrown his way. Here’s a good example of all of that at work. His quick stops and cuts, his elusiveness to avoid checks, and his ability to stay on his feet and keep moving after getting hit directly helped him create this goal. Moldenhauer is #9 in black.
And here’s a good example of Moldenhauer when he can get going. He takes a pass at the blueline going one speed, and quickly accelerates with crossovers to blow past the defenseman. One fake to freeze the goalie and he had an easy wrap around.
What keeps me from calling him an elite skater is the fact that he could add another gear to his top speed and his explosiveness. That could come from him adding strength, especially since he had such a long uphill battle to get back to full health and strength this season.
Here’s what Mitch Brown from Elite Prospects said about his skating:
“His ability to power through contact, even at full speed, stands out: he gets low, driving his shoulder and hips through the defender,” Elite Prospects Dir. of North American Scouting Mitch Brown wrote in an April game report. “Consistently establishes body positioning on players in every situation, creating space with the puck and presenting himself as a passing option without it.”
You can see from the two clips above that Moldenhauer also has above average puck handling, but again is not what I would call elite. He can pull off some dangles, but his strength is making plays that are the most effective. He’s a bit like Minten in this regard, actually, rating high on Scouch’s PTFG (Play The Frigging Game) rating. He is not the most dynamic, more ruthlessly efficient. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have skill, but it’s not at the elite end.
Similar to his skating, the strength of his puck handling is in his tenacity. In close quarters, he is difficult to strip and good at getting it back if it gets knocked loose. Here’s an example below, both of his ability to pull off a close-quarters dangle and then fighting through checks to get it back.
Moldenhauer is a crafty passer. He’s good with the puck, especially in the offensive zone. He can spot teammates in good positions, and then get into a position where he can make passes into dangerous areas. He has a good amount of deception to manipulate defenders so he can slip a pass under their sticks, through their legs, and so on.
He has a good sense of timing and knowing where his teammates are. Here is picks up a loose puck the goal line, and sees he has a teammate just coming out in front of the net. He gets a perfect backhand pass to him, right on the tape, before the defenders can get to him.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before — but the Maple Leafs likely drafted Moldenhauer because of his ‘hockey IQ’. I elaborated on what that phrase means to me, and likely what it means to the Leafs. But it’s something that brings his whole game together, with and without the puck.
With the puck he has good awareness of where people are on the ice, and where potential opportunities lie. That helps him identify passing opportunities, and mismatches in speed or space that he can attack to get the puck into a dangerous part of the ice. He can get the most out of his skills and abilities with clever tricks and manipulation.
Without the puck he takes smart routes on the ice to get into a good scoring position in soft spots that aren’t defended. When he makes a pass, he doesn’t sit still but keeps moving to find those soft spots. He makes good use of give and go’s to get around layers of defensive coverage. His positioning is often very good. Most of the goals I saw of him were in close to the net, and not of the highlight reel variety. He was good at fishing out rebounds, deflecting shots, and just being in the right place at the right time.
Without the puck, defensively, he rates out as a very effective two way forward. He has a good stick for deflecting or picking off passes, and is good at reading what the other team is trying to do with the puck. That’s why he was a staple on the top penalty kill unit for Chicago. Here he is on the penalty kill, positioning himself in a good spot and reading the bounce of the puck off the boards, so he could knock it away safely before the other player could pounce on it.
And here he is getting quickly darting between two passing lanes, first to threaten a pick off at the blueline and then getting back to deflect the pass back across the ice behind him.
Despite most of his goals that I saw coming in close, off rebounds or tap ins or deflections, he has a pretty good shot. This is an area that, like his skating, could be improved by adding more strength. His shot is pretty quick and accurate, but could use some more power. Like with his other skills, he is able to use some clever tricks, smart timing and manipulation to make his shot more effective than it would be on its own.
As a result, none of his goals from this past season came from him “sniping” a shot past a goalie. This is probably the closest example I saw. And for the record, I don’t really count this as a bad thing.
Moldenhauer is a real interesting prospect. If he had stayed fully healthy, I think there’s a good chance he would have been playing at his best for most of the season. He may have gotten to a higher level as he had more time to develop and gain confidence, to say nothing of maintaining/building more muscle. But he also profiles as a player with no weakness, even if he is lacking one skill that projects as elite.
As a result, Moldenhauer profiles as a super utility forward, where he can be used in all situations. He is responsible defensively and can do very well on a penalty kill. He can contribute to a secondary powerplay unit. He can play center and both wings. He can be used to protect a lead late and to score an important goal. I see him as a Kerfoot type in that sense. He’ll never be the best player on his line, but he’ll be a good glue player that can help support his linemates. What line you play him on depends on what you want to get going.
I wouldn’t necessarily say he’s a major steal where he was taken, mainly because I do question if he has the upside to play higher up the lineup even like Kerfoot does sometimes. He’ll need to make some improvements to some of his skills, especially his skating and his strength. He gets away with bulldozing through junior players that he won’t be able to get away with when he gets to the pro leagues. But I do think he has utility, and strength is the easier thing to work on — especially considering what he may have lost during his various recovery periods.
Moldenhauer will be returning to the Chicago Steel for his D+1 season. He’ll likely be used as a top line forward, get top PP time, and just get heavily used. Chicago will be losing a bunch of their best players to college — Adam Fantilli, Joe Miller, Jackson Blake, Sam Lipkin, Jack Harvey were their top five point producers and all are set to join their respective NCAA teams.
He is likely to join an NCAA team of his own after next year, though he hasn’t picked on yet. He could always choose to stay in the USHL or hop over to the OHL for one more year before joining the AHL. But from what he’s said, he intends to go the college route for now. He’ll wind up being a longer term project as a result.
How do you like the Moldenhauer pick at 95th overall?
|That’s a good swing for a third round pick||169|
|Ehhh time will have to tell||51|
|Smaller with no high end skills sounds like a waste||5|