Aside from Quinn Hughes and Tyler Myers, the construction of the Vancouver Canucks’ future blue line has few certainties. The need for an army of NHL quality defencemen is apparent in Vancouver and one way that the Canucks can fill some holes is through the draft.
Leading up to the 2020 NHL draft on October 6th and 7th, I’ll be previewing defenders who should be available in the third round or later that I think can contribute to Vancouver’s future. Currently, the Canucks own their 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, and a 7th round pick from Anaheim.
In this report, we’ll be talking about the mobile 5’11” left-handed defenceman Wyatt Kaiser, who appears to be garnering 3rd round interest according to Bob McKenzie’s rankings.
- Fluid skating and strong edges make him valuable as a defender against the rush and forecheck
- Transitional value as he can thwart rushes and lead a breakout combining his skating ability and intelligence
- Anchored Andover and Dubuque’s top unit, ability to walk the line, create shooting lanes, deftly distribute the puck from the top, has powerplay upside
- Needs to take steps forward with his off-puck defence
- Decision making with the puck could be quicker at times as he can fall back on his skating ability to get himself out of trouble. The problem is he can also skate himself into trouble and lose a passing lane
- Has not shown the ability or instincts to consistently create offensive opportunities for his teammates on the rush or attack the middle which could limit his offensive value and is why he may not become a true rover type
Kaiser began his year in USHL for the Dubuque Fighting Saints but told coaches he would return to his high school league once it started. He was determined to help his team compete for the State Championship and captained the Andover Huskies to a 21-3-1 record. He is a University of Minnesota Duluth commit.
Kaiser is, at his core, a transitional defenceman. He possesses an excellent skating foundation with a smooth, compact stride, and displays great posture in his upper body with minimal movement which allows his hands to be in a good position to control the puck. His greatest strength may lie in his edges. He can dance forecheckers, use his inside edges to shield the puck, and generate speed using mohawks turns. However, he could work on his hip turns to mask his intentions more effectively. His edges and skating ability allow him to play a tight gap on the rush and closeout attackers quickly from a distance. At the high school level, he was very effective at this, showing aggression along the boards and knew how to pressure in the neutral zone, anticipating rush patterns and jumping up to stop the play before it begins.
Tying into his transition ability, Kaiser’s first passes are usually quality as he can use angles to his advantage by way of bank passes off the boards. I would like to see more pace and authority on his passes as he was prone to giveaways from being too casual and sending weak passes to his teammates. He showed the ability to think a step ahead and use quick touch passes to advance play, but could take it a step further by hiding his intentions with how he receives the puck and fakes passes.
He is not the shiftiest player on the rush but showed good dynamic posture to quickly cut directions on a dime. An area he could improve on would be the implementation of shifting gears on the attack. I also didn’t see him create for his teammates on the rush nor attack the middle too often. Mostly low danger shots or taking the puck around the net. When he did attack the middle, he has the habit of hanging onto the puck longer than he should and won’t always find the optimal play. He did display a good understanding of give-and-go passing plays, a knack for joining the cycle, and attacking downhill along the wall. His edges allow him to gracefully walk the line and he showed an ability to quickly touch passes over to teammates for one-timers.
He has an average wrist shot with good weight transfer and hand positioning. Power is generated through the base of his stance and shifts from the back to front while his top hand is in front of his bottom to generate torque. He can pull the puck slightly inside of his stance to change the shooting angle within his release.
His off puck defence is where he stands to improve most. He struggled mightily in this area at the USHL level constantly puck watching and leaving the back door open. He also displayed poor habits with how he positions his feet not allowing him to recover on royal-road passes. He could also have more of an active stick to limit options for his opposition.
Kaiser is #5 in white in the video below.
Plays like these are the reason to take a chance on Kaiser in my opinion. His ability to close in on attackers on the rush with his quick feet and excellent skating stride and then poise under pressure to draw players in and find teammates with a touch pass are the types of positive plays that Kaiser can make every night.
Prospect Thesis & Outlook
The main selling point for Wyatt Kaiser is his skating. Not many defenders in this draft are as smooth as him. The team that drafts Kaiser is getting a defender who projects to have above-average skating ability at the NHL level which automatically gives defensive prospects a fighting chance to continue to progress. There is huge value to a team’s blueline in a guy that can defend the rush with speed coming against him, close gaps and seal off the boards from a distance with his feet, understands how to create space for himself under forechecking pressure and has the poise to find passing lanes to break the puck out by using the boards and changing blade angles.
Wyatt Kaiser checks all of these boxes.
He also provides value as a powerplay quarterback on a 2nd unit with an accurate shot and ability to create shooting lanes. He can walk the blueline, and quickly distribute the puck to his teammates from the point. There is room to improve his skating too which will only make him better but his fundamentals are all there. The big questions will be if he can clean up his play away from the puck against the cycle and add more offensive elements to his game, especially on the rush.
Kaiser has the toolkit to be a puck transitioning defender that could provide sneaky value as a bottom to middle pairing defender.