Photo Credit – Chicago Steel
Ryan Ufko is a 2021 NHL Draft eligible defenceman currently playing for the Chicago Steel of the USHL. He is considered to be a two-way defenseman with a lot of offensive potential. Ufko was born in Smithtown, New York, and played his most recent youth hockey for the North Jersey Avalanche 16U AAA in the Tier 1 Elite Hockey League, one of the more prominent youth leagues in the United States.
Ufko joined up with the Chicago Steel of the USHL to begin the 2019-20 season, and played fairly well, tallying two goals and seven assists for nine points in 43 games as a 16 year old. He was utilized mainly in even strength situations as a 16 year old, only averaging a touch over 13 minutes of ice time in his first season. However, his game has skyrocketed in 2020-21, as he’s seen an incredible increase when it comes to ice time (avg. 24:37 min/game) both at even strength and on special teams (avg. 5:02 min/game PP, 2:41 min/game PK).
Ufko has also excelled at the offensive portion of his game this season, as he’s seen his point totals almost triple thus far in half as many games played. As of February 1st 2021, Ufko has recorded seven goals and 19 assists for 26 points in 26 games. He’s also averaging just over 3.5 shots a game, more than double the shots he recorded in 19/20 (1.23 shots/game).
Ufko is committed to the University of Massachusetts-Amherst for the 2021-22 season, where he’ll hone his skills under Coach Greg Carvel. If anyone can help develop Ufko’s all around game while keeping his offensive prowess alive, it would be Carvel. His UMass Minutemen teams have produced some talented offensive defensemen as of late, most notably Colorado Avalanche Defenseman, Cale Makar.
D.O.B – May 7th, 2003
Nationality – American
Draft Eligibility – 2021
Height – 5’10”
Weight – 181 lbs.
Position – Defence
Handedness – Right
Ufko’s Style Of Play
Ufko has definitely upped his game since joining the Steel in 2019/20, enough that NHL Central Scouting has given him a “B” rating in it’s most recent “Players To Watch” list. Ufko was recently named USHL Defenceman of the Week, the second time he’s earned the honour in 2020/21. He’s made great strides in improving his game in all three zones, but perhaps most noteworthy is his offensive zone play. As mentioned above, he’s seen his point totals skyrocket, and can also be counted upon to eat minutes off the clock. Ufko also excels in the transition game, as he can quickly change direction and hop into the rush following a turnover. He also showcases his ability to be physical, when needed:
On the defensive side of things, Ufko tends to stay in position fairly well, albeit he does jump up in the play quite often. Besides that, he has good gap control and can push defenders out wide and shut down zone entries quite effectively. Ufko is also decent at breaking up the opponents cycle down low, by utilizing his very active stick.
Let’s take a dive into the finer aspects of Ryan Ufko’s game:
Ufko’s skating is one aspect of his game that could use a little work. While he doesn’t possess blazing speed or a short, fast stride, Ufko can keep with the pace of play in all zones of the ice. He’s also capable of keeping up with his teammates in transition. Ufko’s agile enough to be effective in all zones of the ice, but seems to lack that burst of speed that many NHL level two-way defenceman have. However, Ufko is good on his edges, as he can quickly change direction to help on the attack or to cover off for his defense partner.
There’s a little room for improvement when it comes to Ufko’s skating, as he would benefit greatly from working on his explosiveness to help when he’s in transition, as well as hustling back into position after he rushes up ice. Ufko could also benefit from getting a lower center of gravity in stride, as he tends to have a more upright skating stance.
Without a doubt the most improved part of his game, Ufko has put up staggering numbers as a 17-year old this season. He’s certainly developed a knack for jumping up in the rush, or pinching down into the corners in the offensive zone, thus giving him plenty more chances to score or set up his teammates. Speaking of setting up his teammates, Ufko is a very talented playmaker. He has great vision on the ice when it comes to making a breakout pass, or setting up a teammate for a one-timer, or generating a scoring chance from down low. Ufko’s also not afraid to shoot from just about anywhere on the ice surface, as he’s been successful pretty much anywhere getting pucks on net.
Ufko is an above average passer of the puck, capable of making the simple passes with ease. He is also able to successfully make stretch passes to create odd man rushes a few times per game. Most NHL scouts will enjoy his game footage, as he doesn’t seem to be afraid to take chances and create offence, regardless of the game situation.
Ufko is a very adequate defender, especially when it comes to fending off attacking players in his own zone. Perhaps his most impressive trait is his active stick, which he utilizes very well. Ufko is a fairly talented penalty killer in his own right, as he usually sees just under 3 minutes of PK time per game. He’s quite good at holding on to the puck and then hitting a teammate in stride for a shorthanded rush. As mentioned above, Ufko is able to push defenders out wide and shut down zone entries.
In watching film of Ufko, his defensive game seems to have taken a back seat this season in terms of development. That’s not to say it’s worsened, but it’s stayed put. At times, he seems to be rushed when sustained pressure is applied, and can make little mental mistakes leading to scoring chances. Perhaps it’s a stamina issue, due to the fact he’s chewing a lot of minutes off the clock, but that usage will change most likely at the NCAA/NHL level.
If Ufko can hone his defensive zone skills as quckly and as positively as he has his offensive zone talents, he’ll be able to develop more into that two-way defenceman he’s striving to be.
While Ufko has seen alot more work this season in the defensive zone (~56% of ice time), there are still aspects of his game which could use some attention. For example, when Ufko jumps up into the rush and the Steel turn the puck over, he can be a little lackadaisical on the backcheck. This, of course, leads to an odd man rush for the opponent more times than not.
Another aspect of Ufko’s game that can be improved on is his net front physicality. In watching footage from the past two seasons, Ufko can be a little passive at times when it comes to tying up attackers in front of the net. In these instances, it has led to a goal allowed more often than not. Little lapses in judgement when it comes to tracking the puck in the defensive zone have also been spotty at times. Occasionally, Ufko has chased after a loose puck, in which was recovered by the attacking team and a scoring chance was given up.
Although these issues seem glaring, Ufko is still capable of correcting them and rounding out his game. He could benefit from landing with a team and coaching staff/front office who is willing to let him work through the kinks and learn on the fly.
If an NHL team is looking for a project of sorts, and is in search of a talented two-way defenceman, Ufko is your man. He provides great offensive output for an undersized defenceman, and is a very good playmaker. On top of that, he boasts above average wrist and slapshots, and can get a puck through tight windows given the opportunity.
Ufko has the potential to become a two-way threat with a little more work on his skating, defensive zone decision making, and net front physicality. If he can improve on these in the near future, especially next season at UMass-Amherst, there’s a fairly good chance he’ll find himself suiting up for an NHL team in the seasons to come.
Tyson Barrie, RHD, Edmonton Oilers
When you look for an NHL comparable for Ufko, the first name that comes to mind is Tyson Barrie. While Ufko has just a little more physicality in his game, they are quite similar players. Both Barrie and Ufko are on the smaller size of what you’d expect an NHL-level defenceman to be, but they both make up for it with their offensive talent. Barrie and Ufko also see the game very well and tend to make good decisions in all zones of the ice. While Ufko has some defensive zone work to improve on, teams should still take a deeper look into his game. If he can develop his game to model someone like Tyson Barrie, the team that selects him would certainly be thrilled.
The 2021 NHL Draft is loaded with talented, promising defensive prospects. While Ufko is definitely among that crop, the kinks in his game may have his draft stock fall a little bit. That being said, look for Ryan Ufko to be selected somewhere between Picks 35-45, early in the Second Round.
stats from InStat and EliteProspects
Prospect report written by Paul Zuk. If you would like to follow Paul on Twitter, his handle is @paulzuk_81.
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