Two Vancouver Canucks prospect defenceman battle for OHL points lead

Photo credit:MATT TIDCOMBE / CHL
Dave Hall
6 months ago
Let the battle commence.
If you haven’t already, it might be time you redirected your focus to the Ontario Hockey League.
The Vancouver Canucks boast two promising prospects who are both vying for a spot among the top-end of defensive point production this year — again.
Hunter Brzustewicz and Kirill Kudryavtsev kick-started their respective seasons over the weekend, and as anticipated, they made a significant impact on the scoresheet.
Although Brzustewicz didn’t record any points in his first game, he bounced back impressively with four assists and a plus-four rating in an 8-0 victory for the Kitchener Rangers. 
Meanwhile, Kudryavtsev notched two points (1G + 3A) in consecutive games and a plus-five (total), with his Greyhounds manhandling their opponents on consecutive nights. As a result, both players find themselves just one point shy of the league leader in early-season scoring.
Only one weekend into the season, being “one shy” of a league leader hardly matters, but it’s likely to be a pre-cursor for what’s to come over the course of the year.
In these early stages of the season, their hot starts come as no surprise, considering both players are fresh off of exceptional 50-point (plus) seasons last year. Kudryavtsev hit the coveted 50-point (8G + 42A) mark, while Brzustewicz, as a rookie, impressively tallied 57 points (6G + 51A), which had him finish eighth among defencemen league-wide.
This achievement places them both into intriguing territory, joining a select group of Canucks prospects who have managed to surpass the 50-point mark in the OHL.
Since 1992-93, only four defencemen drafted by the organization have hit or superseded this plateau. Remember Jordan Subban and Matt Brassard, folks?
Not only did they both post 50-plus point seasons, but followed them up with impressive secondary performances, either the next season or within two.
*Hunter Brzustewicz (2022-23) – 57 points
Matt Brassard (2018-2019) – 56 points
Jordan Subban (2014-2015) – 52 points
Matt Brassard (2017-2018) – 51 points
*Jordan Subban (2012-2013) – 51 points
Kirill Kudryavtsev (2022-2023) – 50 points
*Much like Brzustewicz last season, Jordan Subban managed one of those 50-plus years in his draft year but was drafted by the organization that summer.

Let’s dive into some stats

Now, I do not want to inundate you with numbers, but it’s essential to highlight just how rare it is for OHL blue liners to achieve this milestone.
Since the year 2000, only 148 defencemen have reached or exceeded that total. Now, that might initially sound like a substantial number, but keep in mind that it’s among a list of over 3000 rearguards who have suited up in the league during that time. 
So, yes, it’s pretty good company.
To take things a step further—and I promise, this is the last stat barrage—I want to emphasize that out of those 148 defencemen, only 43 managed to achieve two (or more) 50-plus point seasons during their OHL careers.
All this to say, if Hunter Brzustewicz and Kirill Kudryavtsev can replicate their previous years’ performances, they will undoubtedly join the ranks of an elite list. 
But can they do it again? Ah yes, the million-dollar questions.
Before we dive into the details, it’s important to establish one thing: we’re discussing prospects who were drafted in the third and seventh rounds, respectively. Therefore, it’s important to temper expectations.
In fact, in Kudryavstev’s case, – a 7th-round pick – only nine of the above-mentioned were drafted in the seventh round, and only three would go on to play NHL games. But it’s still acceptable to get excited to see two prospects shine among their Junior ranks.
So, what can we expect from the two of them?

Kirill Kudryavtsev

Through two games, Kirill Kudryavtsev has embraced his role as the Soo Greyhounds’ go-to player in all situations. He logs substantial minutes at even strength, performs penalty-killing duties, and, perhaps most crucially, orchestrates their power play from the top spot on the first unit. 
Last season, the (then) 18-year-old defenceman finished third among all defenders in powerplay points, with more than half of his total points stemming from man-advantage situations (26). It’s early, but by all accounts, he should roll this theme right into this year.
Given his cerebral approach to the game, there’s every reason to believe that Kudryavtsev can replicate his impressive draft-plus-one season. He brings a sense of calm and composure to his game, consistently making intelligent plays that create opportunities in the offensive zone – both off the rush and in the attacking zone.
Moreover, the Greyhounds were a relatively inexperienced, injury-plagued, and underperforming team last season, ultimately missing the playoffs. However, they have brought in a few names that should up the ante on the scoresheet and ultimately sport a much deeper team with playoff contention very much at play.
Kirill is poised to play a pivotal role in their resurgence. 
If the early days are any indication, as they’ve already scored 18 goals in just two games, it’s shaping up to be a potent year for the team, which bodes well for the Canucks prospect.
Earlier this fall, he had strong showings, both in Penticton’s Young Stars Classic and Canucks’ training camp. In the tournament, he was one of the more dominant defenders, often setting up clean backdoor feeds and showcasing his usual offensive toolkits.
In camp, he appeared to blend in well. His skating is very smooth and defends well – even against NHL training camp competition. All in all, it was a very positive showing and instilled tons of confidence in his ability going forward.
Now to hone all of that in and deliver a sound third-year in the OHL.

Hunter Brzustewicz

Turning our attention to Kitchener, Hunter Brzustewicz finds himself in a similar situation. Despite initial predictions of a potential step back this year for the Rangers, they have kicked off the season with back-to-back wins, possibly suggesting a different narrative.
Similar to Kudryavstev with the Greyhounds, much of the offensive weight falls on the shoulders of Brzustewicz, who was the Vancouver Canucks’ third-round draft pick this summer. He is essentially the definition of a hockey quarterback and conducts himself as well as any on the blue line.
There may realistically be some real top-four NHL upside here.
As a minute muncher, who takes on the penalty kill and powerplay, he is sure to rack up tons of ice time again this year and there’s no denying his prowess in the offensive zone. According to Picks224, he was among the most effective draft-eligible defenders last season and well into the top 10 in even-strength GF%, boasting a score of 54.86%. Which, for a rookie defender, is pretty impressive.
As mentioned, the team is expected to take a small step back this season after making it to the second round of last year’s playoffs. This year, they will be sporting a new rookie Head Coach, Jussi Ahokas, who appears to be implementing some new systems to the team.
In addition to the system changes, the Rangers have lost a few significant names, which include five of their top-1o scorers from last season – headlined by former captain, Francesco Pinelli, who finished 11th in scoring league-wide with 90 points.
While there is no denying Brzustewicz’s skills on a personal level, the loss in firepower could most certainly put a wedge in his overall production this year.
For the sake of a great storyline, let’s hope not.
As a younger skater in his first NHL camp, the American-born defender did not stick out as much as other, somewhat older, prospects. While he most certainly showcased himself as an impressive puck-mover and rush defender, there were not nearly as many “flashes” as we saw from other defensive prospects. This is fine, and from an extremely young rearguard, expected.
He gained valuable takeaways and understands what it takes to be at the next level. Back in Junior, however, top-10 in defender points should certainly be expected from the 18-year-old.

An exciting storyline for the people

It goes without saying that anything can happen in hockey. From injuries to personal or significant team regression, there are no guarantees for a player to repeat elite-level campaigns. Yet, if their development has shown us anything so far, it’s that they both have a tremendous shot at doing something special in Ontario this season.
As six of the top-10 point producers from the previous season set their sights on the professional ranks, Hunter and Kirill find themselves in a promising position. The door is wide open for them to vie for the top spot in point production within the league or, at the very least, to secure places in the top-10 together.
Adding to the anticipation, the Kitchener Rangers and Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds are scheduled to clash four times this season. So, if you are a Canucks fan, you may want to mark your calendars for the following dates: November 12, December 15, January 26, and February 25.

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