In the fourth edition of “Top 5”, the top defensive prospects are in the spotlight. These rankings are the top five at the position at the time this piece was written and these ranking could change come draft day. The very top of this class is Bowen Byram.
Bowen Byram is the best defenseman in this draft class, and it isn’t really close. He finished up his second full season with the Vancouver Giants in the WHL and racked up 26 goals and 45 assists in 67 games. Byram is a left-handed shot.
Byram is a strong two-way defenseman and skates very well. His offensive game is well advanced. He knows when to join the rush and when to stay back. He has good vision from the blueline and can run a power play well. His wrist shot and snapshot are both quick and effective. He moves the puck well and is great at creating chances in the offensive zone.
While Byram is not the most physical player he does have a physical aspect to his game. He is very disciplined and is smart both with and without the puck. He can battle on the boards and can skate the puck out of danger. His skating ability makes him difficult to beat in one on one situations. Byram can make the jump to the NHL next season but one more year in the WHL wouldn’t be a bad thing.
Expected Draft Range: 3rd Pick-5th Pick
Philip Broberg is a defensive defenseman who spent this past season with AIK in the Allsvenskan. In 41 games with AIK, he scored two goals to go with seven assists. Broberg is a left-handed shot.
Broberg’s game is centered around his skating ability. He has a quick first step and his acceleration is among the best in the class. He handles the puck well and can skate the puck out of danger when he needs to. Broberg can play on the powerplay and has great vision. He has a hard slap shot but needs to work on his accuracy.
Broberg has a high hockey IQ and that paired with his advanced skating ability makes him even better. He is good at anticipating and reading plays. He is not much of a hitter but can be physical with his tall 6-foot-3 frame. Broberg will get in shooting lanes to block shots. He is probably at least a year or two away from the NHL but with proper development could turn into a top pairing defenseman.
Expected Draft Range: 10th Pick-16th Pick
Cam York is the top defenseman on a very stacked U.S developmental team. In 63 games this season York scored 14 goals and tallied 51 assists. He also managed to add on 11 points in seven games and the World Junior Classic. York is a left-handed shot and is a University of Michigan commit.
He is a talented skater who is really good on his edges. He is a smart player with and without the puck and he plays a strong two-way game. In addition, he has tremendous vision and can thread the puck through tight spaces to teammates. His shot is hard, however, he has trouble finding its way through traffic.
York maintains good gap control and can keep opposing forwards to the outside. He has a quick stick in the defensive zone that aides in his ability to create turnovers. He has a knack for being in the right position to make a play. With that said, York could improve the physical aspect of his game.
Expected Draft Range: 13th Pick-19th Pick
Victor Soderstrom is the top right-handed defenseman in the class. He spent this past season with Brynas IF in the SHL. In 44 games he scored four goals and recorded three assists.
Soderstrom is an elite skater and he plays an effective two-way game. His skating is tremendous both forward and backward. Soderstrom is a great passer and has good vision in the offensive zone. He can make those lengthy breakout passes and has a quick wrist shot. However, he needs to work on accuracy and speed.
Soderstrom is a very smart hockey player. He is tough to beat in one on one situations. He can play a physical game but chooses not to the majority of the time. Soderstrom can hold his own along the boards and in front of the net. Staying in Sweden for a couple of years before making the jump to North America could benefit him greatly as he develops his game. For any team that drafts him, he is a long term investment that could pay off with patience.
Expected Draft Range: Late First Round
Ville Heinola has been of the drafts biggest risers since the beginning of the season. He played the majority of the year with Lukko of the Finnish Liiga. In 34 regular season games, Heinola scored two goals and added 12 assists. In seven playoff games, he notched four points.
Heinola has good agility and is sharp on his edges. He is not the fastest guy on the ice but he knows how to move around the ice effectively. He is smart in the offensive zone. Heinola has good poise and vision when the puck is on his stick and he is a creative passer that handles the puck well. His quick release on his snapshot makes him very effective on the powerplay.
Heinola is very strong in his own zone. He can cut down passing lanes and has a knack for forcing turnovers. His ability to read the ice is very strong. Heinola is a bit undersized standing at 5-foot-11 which effects his ability to play a physical game. He would rather use his stick to break up a play as opposed to laying the body.
Expected Draft Range: Late First Round-Early Second Round
Honorable Mentions: Thomas Harley (Mississauga, OHL), Moritz Seider (Mannheim, DEL), Matthew Robertson (Edmonton, WHL), Lassi Thomson (Kelowna, WHL ), Alex Vlasic (USA U18, USDP)
Cover photo credit: Chris Bugajsky covers the Dallas Stars, the NHL and the NHL Draft for Full Press Coverage. Follow Chris on twitter @CBugajsky14.