As a general rule, scouts would do well to stay away from comparing prospects to successful NHL players; not only because most prospects a long way from achieving NHL success, but also because no two players are 100% alike.
When it comes to Jalen Chatfield, however, the comparisons are just too easy and obvious not to take note.
He’s not a huge, hulking, physical specimen. He doesn’t dish out punishment on a night-to-night basis. You also won’t see his contributions on the score sheet on most nights. Instead, he gets by on his positioning, his feel for the game, and his ability to move the puck. In short, he’s a thoroughly modern defensive defenseman.
Sound familiar? The Canucks have a guy in their lineup who’s kind of like that.
Chatfield’s numbers don’t scream “future NHL defenseman”, but then again, neither did the other guy. Sometimes the numbers can undersell a player’s true potential. That’s why Chatfield checks in at number 11 on our list.
I first remember noticing Chatfield in the 2017 OHL playoffs. He scored an absolutely beautiful goal against the London Knights and showed off his great skating for most of the game, so I was shocked to discover that Chatfield’s numbers throughout his OHL career were so underwhelming. That’s the thing about Chatfield: he always makes the right play, and he always looks good doing it. That just doesn’t translate into offence as often as one would hope.
I rarely got to watch any Comets games this season, so I reached out to Cory Hergott to give me the rundown on Chatfield’s game and an update on how he’s progressing:
“Great wheels…silky smooth skater. Hasn’t put up much in the way of offence, but you can see that it will come. He has improved as the season has gone on. Has a great stick defensively, uses it well to knock pucks off sticks, redirect them out of harm’s way. Does great work along the boards with his body to protect the puck. Is super calm looking on the ice, never looks rattled.”
This season, Chatfield has played big minutes at five-on-five play, spending much of that time alongside Patrick Wiercioch. He’s also played a large chunk of the season on the Comets’ second penalty killing unit.
When J.D. Burke and I spoke to Cory on last week’s edition of Nation Network Radio, he had high praise for the young defender, and pointed out one specific play from the Comets series against the Toronto Marlies that stood out to him:
“I see a lot of Chris Tanev in his game, he’s very good along the boards; he’s super calm and cool… [Marlies forward] Marchment had a good head start on him to get to a puck in the Comets zone and Chatfield tracked him down, got the puck, and turned it over the other way to get the Comets going in the other direction. That’s something we see from him game in and game out: he’s fast. He’s also got some pretty decent stick work… I’d like to see him shoot the puck more. He’s gaining a little confidence with his shot. He finally picked up a pair of goals in the last couple of games of the season… I like him. I think there’s a good chance he’s a player down the road.”
It’s that type of play that’s earned him the praise of Comets play-by-play man Andy Zilch, who singled out Chatfield as the team’s best defenseman in their series against Toronto.
When the Canucks signed Chatfield, the numbers didn’t exactly shine a positive light on his likelihood of success. Somewhat uncharacteristically, however, the signing escaped criticism. That’s likely because Chatfield has always done well by the eye test and has never been expected or relied upon to produce offence. Chatfield’s modern defensive style looked well-suited to pro hockey, and that’s reflected in his jump from a 1.6% expected success percentage the year he was signed to the 17.1% he sits at today. Defenders who can acquit themselves well in the AHL at the age of 21 even if the numbers aren’t particularly impressive generally have a much higher chance of making the NHL than their junior-league counterparts.
Overall, as you might expect, Chatfield’s profile suggests a future as a low-scoring but stable bottom-four defender could be in the cards if he can make the jump (which, at this point, is still a big “if”).
More often than not, when teams try to draft the “next” version of a player that wasn’t likely to succeed, they are left wanting. (Think of how many teams have tried and failed to draft the “next Milan Lucic”, for example). In Chatfield’s case, however, the player in question has been good enough to suggest the bet the Canucks took on him was a smart one. Given how barren the team’s prospect cupboard is with regards to defensemen, don’t be surprised if he gets a look sooner rather than later.
*For more info on Chatfield, I highly recommend perusing this piece by Jeremy Davis from earlier this season.
The Canucks Army Midterm Prospect Rankings
|#12: Evan McEneny|
|#13: Zack MacEwen||#14: Guillaume Brisebois||#15: Jack Rathbone|
|#16: Michael Carcone||#17: Cole Candella||#18: Brett McKenzie|
|#19: Matt Brassard||#20: Lukas Jasek||#21 – #22|
|#23 – #24||#25 – #27||#28 – #31|