The game of hockey is constantly evolving. Once upon a time, NHL defensemen got away with playing good defense and little to no offense. Then, these “diamonds in the rough” known as offensive-defensemen began to show up. Now, it’s almost impossible to maintain your job in the NHL as a defenseman if you can not contribute offensively. If teams want to succeed, they understand that point production from blueliners is a must.
Projecting a prospect’s success or role at the NHL level can become a bit of a crapshoot. Just because a young player demonstrates a particular skillset at one level doesn’t mean it will translate completely into the pros. For example, look back at former CHL Defenceman of the Year, Jonathon Blum. For three of his four years in the WHL, Blum was a key contributor to the Vancouver Giants offense. In his third season with Vancouver, Blum nearly reached a point per game with 63 points in 64 games. Year four saw Blum surpass a point per game with 66 points in just 51 games. However, Nashville’s first-round pick in 2007 never translated into much at the professional level. He never became a mainstay in the NHL and eventually traveled overseas to play in the KHL. Regardless of a prospect’s apparent ceiling when they are still developing, you simply never know how it’s going to play out.
Still, looking a the Philadelphia Flyers stock of defensemen throughout the farm system, it is hard to not get excited about the potential point producers coming down the pipe. Four young blueliners outside of the professional ranks have already reached double-digit point totals. One more is very close and would most likely be with that group if he did not have a minor setback with injuries. Of course, it’s premature. However, these five defensemen are bringing solid offense skills to the table. We can dive into whether it will translate to the NHL another time.
Wyatte Wylie – Everett Silvertips (WHL)
Everybody knows the storyline surrounding Wyatte Wylie by now. With depleted blueline depth in Lehigh Valley, this past offseason looked like the perfect time for Philadelphia to sign its 2018 fifth-round selection. Unfortunately, that did not happen, sending Wylie back to Everett for a fourth season.
Well, Wylie is making the most of his situation. The 20-year-old is tied for third among WHL defensemen in points with 29. Additionally, he’s tied for fourth in goals with eight. Wylie has become a consistent contributor for the Silvertips. He’s posted at least one point in six of his last ten games and is always in the mix of things.
Wylie’s current career-high sits at 47 points in 67 regular-season games. Just 32 games into this season, there’s a very good chance he surpasses that number.
Yegor Zamula – Calgary Hitmen (WHL)
Not far behind Wylie is Calgary’s Yegor Zamula. With the former undrafted free agent, Flyers fans are hoping for “Phil Myers 2.0”. Right now, Zamula is doing very little to disappoint. Through his first 28 games, the Russian native is at a point per game pace, coming in with the fifth-most points among defensemen in the WHL. Two more blueliners have the same amount of points but it’s taken them more games. Just one point behind Wylie, Zamula is also one goal behind him with seven.
The 2020 World Junior Championships are right around the corner. Zamula is set to represent his country, manning Russia’s blueline for the tournament. Obviously, his absence from Calgary may lessen his stats a bit. Still, there’s a good chance he will bring that same offensive upside to the Czech Republic for the World Juniors.
Mason Millman – Saginaw Spirit (OHL)
Though it’s way too soon to dub him a draft steal like some attempt to do, it’s hard to argue with Mason Millman’s success in his second OHL season. The 2019 fourth-rounder is far from the league’s elite scoring blueliners. However, he’s put up a respectable seven goals and ten assists thus far.
The thing that stands out the most in Millman’s game is his improvement in his individual goal-scoring abilities. Registering just three in his rookie season, there’s a very good chance Millman reaches double digits this season. If he can get somewhere close to 15, it will be a great building block as he heads into his 19-year-old season.
Wyatt Kalynuk – Wisconsin (NCAA)
Now if you want to talk about a steal of the draft, look no further than Wyatt Kalynuk. Now in his junior season at the University of Wisconsin, the 2017 seventh-round pick is proving to have some serious professional upside. Through 18 games, Kalynuk has registered 14 points. Although only four of his points are goals, the 22-year-old has recently ramped up his scoring chances. In his last three games, Kalynuk has 22 shots on goals. If he keeps putting the puck on net that frequently, the points will continue to pile up.
Cam York – Michigan (NCAA)
After missing a few games to injury, York is the blueline prospect just short of a double-digit point total. In just 14 games, he has four goals and five assists. Everybody knows the offensive upside York brings to the table. It’s what helped him get selected by the Flyers 14th-overall. He will look to bring that skill set to the World Juniors where he will be a part of a very impressive defensive core for Team USA.
Mandatory Credit: Ron Jenkins/Getty Images