Photo Credit: UVM Athletics
There hasn’t been a player as young as Dovar Tinling in college hockey since Jonathan Toews all the way back in the 2005-06 season. Toews didn’t turn 18 until the end of April of his freshman year at North Dakota, and Tinling turned 18 in early March with just one game left in his freshman season at Vermont.
It wasn’t until last June that rumors began to swirl that Tinling would accelerate and start with the Catamounts early, rather than joining Des Moines in the USHL which drafted him in the second round in 2019. In July, Vermont announced its incoming class, which included both Tinling and his older brother, Azzaro, and made Dovar the youngest player in college hockey.
The 2020-21 season turned out to be a tough year for the Catamounts, who won only one game. They paused team activities due to positive COVID-19 tests twice and only ended up playing 13 games as a result, finishing with a 1-10-2 record. It was a tough year for Tinling, too, as he put up just two points — a goal and a secondary assist — in 12 games while playing limited minutes in a bottom-six role.
D.O.B – March 3, 2003
Nationality – Canada
Draft Eligibility – 2021
Height – 5’11
Weight – 185 lbs.
Position – Left Wing/Center
Handedness – Left
Tinling’s Style of Play
Let’s start with a disclaimer: Vermont was bad, and Tinling averaged about 11 minutes of ice time per game. He was also the youngest player in college hockey and the youngest player on his team by over a year. The Catamounts had a first-year head coach in Todd Woodcroft and scored just 20 goals in 13 games — the fewest in all of college hockey.
All of that to say, it’s more of a challenge to get a read on Tinling’s true talent level given the situation around him — and given the small sample size of just 12 games. Regardless, some elements of Tinling’s game, like his skating and his playmaking potential, pop when you watch him and paint the picture of an intriguing prospect.
Tinling describes himself as a pass-first player and says his hockey IQ is his best asset, both of which ring true after watching the games he played at Vermont.
Tinling can play both center and the wing, but he played wing in every game for the Catamounts this year. He probably projects as a winger moving forward, but it would be interesting to see him get a look at center in college to see if that’s a possibility down the line.
Tinling’s hockey sense stands out when he has the puck on his stick. The quality of his linemates didn’t always allow his playmaking ability to be executed as well as you’d like, but it’s hard to fault Tinling for that. Once again, the context around Tinling’s season has to stay top of mind when evaluating his play.
It took Tinling some time to settle into the NCAA level, which is to be expected for such a young player. In his first few games, he looked tentative and uncertain, but as the season went along, you could see him grow in confidence. While not the most physical of players, as he got more settled in college hockey, Tinling regularly demonstrated a willingness to play the body and get involved in puck battles, despite not being the largest of players.
In February, he scored his first — and only — goal. The sequence highlighted all the good qualities of his game as he used his skating ability to cut through a lane in the neutral zone, get behind the defense and finish from distance. Though he’s more of a playmaker than a shooter, the shot is good as is and could improve further with added strength.
At times, Tinling could look lost in the offensive zone and was a little all over the place positionally. It’s hard to say if that’s indicative of long-term concerns or more a reflection of a young player in a league that’s a big step up from the CCHL, but the latter seems much more likely.
For such a young player making a massive step in league caliber, Tinling looked less out of place than I expected throughout the season and clearly gained confidence as the season went along. Hopefully in future seasons, the Catamounts will have stronger offensive talent across their lineup and Tinling will be able to really put his playmaking potential on display.
Much like in the offensive zone, Tinling’s positioning in the defensive zone can be a little all over the place. He looked lost at times this year and, for lack of a better phrase, sometimes gave off the vibe of being unsure of what he was supposed to do. Tinling also displayed a tendency to cheat for offense, but on such a weak offensive team, any opportunities taken to try to produce a goal are hard to view too negatively.
In Vermont’s system, Tinling was often responsible for pressuring the point — a job that he clearly committed himself to, sometimes to the point of overcommitting and taking himself out of the play. It happens often enough, though, that you start to wonder if it’s just the system and what he’s being asked to do and not a repeated flaw in Tinling’s game.
His skating and instincts should allow him to be a capable defender as he settles into his role and gains strength. He probably won’t develop into a Selke candidate, but all the pieces are there for him to be a competent defender that’s functional in his own end.
Tinling is a fluid, efficient skater with a good burst of speed. He recovers well through his stride and his edgework allows him to be elusive. He regularly looked at least a step quicker, if not more, than others on the ice, even when Vermont played higher-end competition like Boston University. His skating enhances his playmaking with his ability to get into the soft areas of the ice and find lanes through the defense.
At times, Tinling’s upper body can be a little busy, but it isn’t a major flaw for an overall strong skater. In every game he played this year, Tinling’s skating stood out as a real asset.
Allow me to use this space to say that the more I watched Tinling, the more I liked him. There’s a talented player there, and I hope the dust settles at Vermont in a way that allows him to break out. Coming into a rebuilding program, with a first-year coach, as the youngest player in the league, in the middle of a pandemic, is such a dramatic confluence of challenging factors that if I had to bet on it, I’d say this year’s performance from Tinling is a significant outlier from his true talent level.
Middle-six NHL winger, if everything breaks the right way.
Zach Hyman, Left Wing, Toronto Maple Leafs
stats from InStat and EliteProspects
Prospect report written by Bailey Johnson. If you would like to follow Bailey on Twitter, her handle is @BaileyAJohnson_.
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