Photo Credit: Brooks Bandits
I really wish Corson Ceulemans played in the WHL this year. The Regina born right handed defenseman, measuring in at 6’2 and weighing in at 196lbs, has elected to go to the University of Wisconsin for the 21/22 season. As a result, he’s unable to play in the CHL during his draft year. He finds himself playing in the best league he could that doesn’t prevent him from going south of the border: the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL). Ceulemans is often in the first to second round consideration for the 2021 NHL draft. His rookie season with the Bandits finished with a tally of five goals and 35 points in 44 games. With the pandemic shutting down the AJHL early in his draft year, Ceulemans was only able to play 10 games where he registered 12 points (five in his first two).
The Brooks Bandits defenseman often draws a comparison to a former AJHL player who played for the same team just a few years back: Cale Makar. This offensive dynamo was selected fourth overall in 2017, scoring 75 points in 54 games. Makar did whatever he wanted to, whenever he wanted to do it, and there wasn’t a single person in that league equipped to do anything about it. With the ability of hindsight, it’s easy to say Makar should have gone first or second overall in his draft. If he played in the WHL that year instead of the AJHL, there’s a very real possibility that could have happened; however, at the time it was extremely risky to take a player from this league over Nico Hischier or Nolan Patrick. More eyes than ever are on the AJHL as a result of Makar’s rapid ascension to superstardom as many scouts are looking for the next “diamond in the rough” that could slip due to playing in an inferior league. The next beneficiary of this newfound attention is Corson Ceulemans.
The AJHL is a challenging league to scout sometimes as its relatively low pace and routinely suffers from a lack of structure. It’s not very often players from the AJHL go on to have successful careers in the NHL. Those who do eventually make it to high level pro hockey typically dominate the AJHL while showing they’re very, very clearly above the rest of the league. At times, Ceulemans shows he can be that player but I wouldn’t go as far as to say he currently is that player. He has an expansive toolkit that, if utilized properly, could take him very far in the future but I can’t see him going very far without significant refinement in how these tools are used. Inconsistency is holding him back from dominating a league he should be dominating. While he’s absolutely deserving of the attention he’s been receiving in some scouting circles, the comparisons to Makar pretty much begin and end with the fact that they both played for the Brooks Bandits.
D.O.B – May 5, 2003
Nationality – Canada
Draft Eligibility – 2021
Height – 6’2”
Weight – 196 lbs
Position – Defense
Handedness – Right
Ceulemans’ Style Of Play
Skating and Transitional Play
One of Ceulemans’ strongest traits, if not outright his best, is his skating. It stands out among the rest of the AJHL almost immediately. His first few strides from a stop are heavy, full extensions with explosive power that quickly accelerate him to top speed. He demonstrates good form with his knees going over his toes, a good example of proper ankle flexion which is crucial for high end skaters in the NHL. He’s crafty with his footwork, capable of using nifty pivots, edges and cuts to walk the blue line while maintaining control of the puck. When carrying the puck he keeps his torso 45 degrees from his hips, lifting his chest up and keeping his head high. He utilizes crossovers in transition, allowing him to change direction without a loss of speed to pause defenders and prevent them from taking away his space. He could stand to improve his foot placement when performing crossovers for even better lateral mobility but it’s not a hindrance. There are minor improvements you can make that would go towards increasing his skating efficiency, yet even without them he’d still be an effective skater at the NHL level.
Where his skating shines the most is during his transitional game, Ceulemans’ bread and butter. He’s capable of recovering the puck in the defensive zone, beating the first layer of the forecheck and facilitating a rush by using either his passing or his puck carrying abilities. He skates with his head up, scanning through traffic for optimal routes and changing his lateral direction with crossovers to confuse the defense. He understands give and go situations, the small windows that are created by passing back and forth with your teammates to cause the opposition pause and break down defensive structures. He moves well in these situations, putting himself in a position to be an outlet right after passing it to a teammate. His first pass is accurate, often landing right on a teammates blade in stride so they don’t have any issues slowing down to properly corral the puck under their control. This is a necessity for the high pace that professional hockey is played at. NHL teams defend the transition extremely quickly so there’s no time for players to be fumbling poor passes going their way, or to slow down and/or alter their body position to properly control the puck.
The problem is that while Ceulemans exhibits these traits, I’m not convinced he’s shown he can do them with consistency. Sometimes he can recover the puck behind his net with the awareness that there is a forechecker behind him and he’ll account for that by making a move with his feet, his stick or his body in order to maintain puck control so that he’s ready to start a breakout the other way. Other times I see the first layer of forecheckers catch him off guard and he turns the puck over, as if he had no idea that there was a player behind him and he thought he had more room to work with. I can’t discern whether he knows how to handle forechecking pressure and he struggles with mapping where the forecheckers are, or if he simply doesn’t know how to handle forechecking pressure and just happens to beat guys who sneak up on him because it’s the AJHL and he’s just good enough to do so. Regardless, it’s a problem when trying to project his game to the next level. Forechecking only gets faster paced as you graduate to a higher league and the players only get faster, stronger, smarter, more relentless and more coordinated.
The general theme of inconsistency continues when talking about his play in the offensive zone. He can be a strong player in the offensive zone (OZ), single handedly keeping possession and making efficient reads, just to be a complete non-factor the very next shift. He’s capable of receiving the puck on his stick and immediately snapping it to a teammate in space, all in one motion. He’s shown he can draw in defenders and deceive them with clever footwork, quick stick handling or body fakes before passing out into the newly created pocket of space. He’s not afraid to jump up from the blue-line and play deep in the offensive zone. He has a strong shot and he likes to use it, you’ll notice him firing from the blue line numerous times a game.
Ceulemans has shown he possesses many of the tools you want to see from offensive minded defenseman in the NHL but, again, he’s haunted by inconsistency. Sometimes he’ll try and support forwards deep in the OZ but misread the play and be well out of position when the puck begins to move the other way. Other times he’ll just meander around the blue line waiting for the play to make its way over to him. He shows he understands the value of gravity when he draws defenders before passing, yet he still skates directly into pressure just to be stripped of the puck multiple times a game. He has the ability to make impressive plays in 1v1 or 1v2 situations but often over-relies on those abilities when there’s more efficient plays that can be made around the OZ. It’s not often that the flashy play is the best play available and Ceulemans seems to hunt for flashy opportunities instead of efficient ones. He’s shown the ability to move the puck with quickness and reliability to his teammates, yet there are times you see him skate around with the puck on his stick for a while before shooting a low danger point shot into the goalies pads or trying to force the puck through a lane that doesn’t exist, both often resulting in turnovers. There were numerous occasions where I’d see him skillfully navigate around the perimeter of the entire OZ, missing numerous chances to get his teammates involved in the play, just to make a low danger play. It’s not often that players with these habits make it to the NHL and become high impact players without drastically changing their playing style between junior and pro hockey. One man army’s need to be the cream of the crop in order to have their self-focused playing style generate positive results. Supporting your teammates, being active off the puck, spacing the ice and efficiently moving the puck is how defensive structures are normally broken down in the NHL.
Defensively, Ceulemans continues to be a perplexing enigma. The general theme of “the tools are there and sometimes they work really nicely buuuuttttt” persists. Ceulemans maintains good gap control most of the time, slowly closing the distance starting at the opposing blue line with the intention of tightening the gap and removing space around his blue line. When it comes for the attacker to make his move, Ceulemans can be found often defending with either his body or his stick but it’s a rarity to see them combined in succession. He can be caught prematurely attempting to separate the puck from the carrier and can be caught giving up the center of the ice which is never a good thing. Other times he doesn’t close the gap fast enough and the defender has all the space in the world to do what he wants before Corson can impede his ability to make a play. That being said, when Ceulemans maintains a strong gap and combines both his body and stick when defending the transition, he’s shown he can be an effective defender.
A good defensive player is effectively reading the play, understanding what is going to happen and stopping it before it develops into a high/medium danger chance. Ceulemans isn’t often a step ahead of the opposition, preemptively breaking up defensive plays, but rather reacting to them. He initially makes the right read and positions himself accordingly to make a preemptive attempt to break up a play; however, Ceulemans starts to fall behind the play if he’s unsuccessful and possession is retained by the other team. An optimistic outlook is that he initially makes the correct defensive read so it’s certainly possible that a developmental staff can work with him and help him develop a deeper understanding on what’s required of him during sustained possessions in his own zone. For now, he can be caught chasing the puck around, resulting in losing his assignment and finding himself way out of position. Players can often find themselves unimpeded in front of the crease as they screen the goalie and capitalize on chaotic situations if the puck finds itself in the net-front area while Ceulemans is standing right in front of them tracking the puck with his eyes, reacting too late to stop the dangerous chances being generated.
I don’t know how else to say this: Corson Ceulemans both perplexes and fascinates me. My opinion on him has changed repeatedly with my viewings. There are a lot of tools that he possesses that an NHL development staff would work with. He’s going to be playing in Wisconsin next year who are more than capable of starting the refinement process his game desperately needs. He’s a great skater, exhibits great passing, can defend the transition using his length and skating ability, owns a strong first pass, possesses the ability to carry the puck up ice, can facilitate the puck throughout the offensive zone and has the capacity to quarterback a power-play. My biggest concern more than anything is the fact that, despite having these abilities, he shows such inconsistency in using them on a regular basis in the AJHL. This isn’t the WHL, this is a league that is very clearly a league below that. I can’t help but walk away with the impression that if he was playing in the WHL we’d be seeing these issues exposed on a much more regular basis and his ability to impact the game would be heavily impeded. His processing of the game has to speed up, and that’s really difficult to teach someone. As more and more variables are introduced, Corson finds himself falling more and more behind the play. He displays tunnel vision at times when the puck is on his stick. These are things he has to work on to be an effective player for Wisconsin over the next few years, but it’s not obscene to picture a future where he does iron out those flaws and the tools start to shine. I may have sounded overly negative on Ceulemans but no NHL General Manager drafts based on what a player is at 18, they draft based on what that player could be at 23. Corson Ceulemans has the tools and the potential to be a very effective hockey player at 23 years old and I’m very, very intrigued to see what he could become with the right development staff.
Jake Bean, LHD, Carolina Hurricanes
Corson Ceulemans is a quality skating, shifty, offensive minded defenseman who can be a positive asset in transition as well as quarterback a power-play in the same manner that Jake Bean does for the Carolina Hurricanes. I don’t think it’s realistic to expect Ceulemans to reach the same level that Bean is currently at, but he could be a similar styled player after a few years of development with the right staff.
stats from InStat and EliteProspects
Prospect report written by Sam McGilligan. If you would like to follow Sam on Twitter, his handle is @Sam_McGilligan.
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