Photo Credit: Keith Dwiggins / Portland Winterhawks
Scouting Report written by Matthew Somma
The Portland Winterhawks have established themselves as one of the top franchises in junior hockey at producing NHL talent. Their 2022 crop of prospects doesn’t have a big name or a must-see prospect, but it does have one of my absolute favorite players for this draft class: Marcus Nguyen. He’s a player that hasn’t gotten much love in the public sphere this season, and I’m here to change that. Nguyen plays an NHL game and while he may be a raw project, there’s legitimate NHL upside. Through this profile, I’m going to show why Nguyen could be a fantastic mid to late round pick for a team willing to develop him slowly over four or five years.
Nguyen is one of those players that has had a depth role on a deep team, so I feel that the best is yet to come for him. He can fly under the radar but will dazzle with his puck skills and speed, usually resulting in the puck finding the back of the net. Nguyen is a great transition attacker and a takeaway machine, both of which make me confident in his NHL upside. Nguyen has risen up my draft board all season long and will continue to do so given the way he plays. He has the right tools for success in his development, he just needs the opportunity.
D.O.B – August 2, 2004
Nationality – Canada
Draft Eligibility – 2022
Weight –172 lbs
Position – Right Wing
Handedness – Right
Nguyen’s Style of Play
I’ve described Nguyen as a transition attacker, which is to say that he’s able to create offense in transition as well as dictate the pace of play while moving through the neutral zone. The theme of his game is speed. Nguyen is constantly moving his feet and playing at a high pace. He is able to get up to his top speed quickly and his straight line speed is up there with the best players I’ve watched this season. As a smaller forward, he has to work hard to create space for himself and not get pushed around, so he’ll dart in and out of coverage in the neutral and offensive zones, creating space on his own and dishing the puck to a teammate if things get too dicey. The following clip showcases Nguyen’s speed in transition.
I love this play for a few reasons. One, he’s able to get up to speed quickly after collecting the puck. Two, he takes the defender on a walk and shoots to create a rebound that nearly goes in. It’s a play that started off as nothing and turned into a scoring chance, something I’ve seen a lot of from Nguyen this season.
Nguyen is smart and knows when to attack in order to create a turnover and take it the other way. I don’t see him strip players of the puck often. Instead, I see him getting in the passing lanes at the right time, breaking up the play and moving before the opponents have any time to react.
Tough luck on the breakaway, but it’s still a great chance that highlights Nguyen’s speed and skill. Nguyen’s awareness on the ice is what makes him so dangerous. He’s able to think ahead of the opposition and act on it, resulting in a large amount of odd man rushes, breakaways, and extended zone time. Nguyen is the type of player that you want on the ice if you need a spark because you just know he’ll be the one to light the fuse. Take a look at this play, where Nguyen freezes the defender and manipulates the goaltender into committing to the shot.
Korchinski didn’t play this particularly well, but Nguyen’s receipt of the pass and burst of speed didn’t make things better for poor Kevin. Then, there’s the patience from Nguyen to wait until the last second to change his angle and body position for the pass. The Seattle goalie was fully committed to a shot and the puck winds up in the back of the net.
Nguyen knows when a defenseman has made a mistake and he is quick to act on it before the defenseman has a chance to make a correction. This next clip highlights that characteristic of his game very well. The defender makes a poor choice with the puck and Nguyen strikes immediately.
Nguyen’s speed is a real problem for opponents, too. Mix that with his ability to create turnovers and you’ve got a player that can be an absolute pain to play against.
I could talk all day about Nguyen’s ability to recognize lapses in coverage, and at this rate, I just might. Here’s another play that I’ve enjoyed.
Nguyen possesses a patience with the puck that allows for additional creativity in close. I’ve spoken about his ability to manipulate the goaltender, and I believe he’s able to do the same to a defense. The following clip is a good example of that.
I love this play so much. Nguyen is able to outwait defenders and still manage to thread the needle to get passes off, as shown in this clip. Offense doesn’t come easy at any level but it helps if you’re able to do what he can do with the puck on his stick. Give him even the slightest amount of space and he’ll find a way to create something out of it. Nguyen is a great playmaker due to this amount of patience. Given his quickness and ability to generate offense in transition, he’s able to create a lot of odd man rushes and make plays like this.
Nguyen’s skill with the puck has the potential to dazzle. Put together with his hockey sense, patience and skating ability, you get a player that is able to work some magic with the puck.
It’s not hard to see why I believe that Nguyen has what it takes. There’s legitimate upside and the way he plays can work at the NHL level. It’s not all perfect, however, and I do have my concerns about his game. First and foremost, his defensive play leaves much to be desired. Yes, he can take the puck away with his stick, but for the most part, his defensive positioning can be a little passive and he can lose his coverage a little too easily for my liking. I feel that he relies on his teammates a little too heavily in the defensive zone and it leads to him chasing the puck or being a little aimless with his positioning. Both can be detrimental depending on the matchups. Sometimes, he’ll make the wrong decision to attack a puck carrier, leaving a player wide open for a pass. Other times, I’ve seen Nguyen drift in the middle of the ice without any real purpose, leaving passing and shooting lanes wide open. I love Nguyen, but these moments can be frustrating because it usually leads to a Grade-A scoring chance. He’ll need to tighten up his gaps and make better plays in the defensive zone. Part of his maturing as a player will be realizing that he doesn’t have to chase the puck. As long as he blocks the passing and shooting lanes, the puck will come to him and he’ll be able to work his magic.
Nguyen’s play with the puck on his stick is impressive, but he struggles along the boards and hesitates to play physically due to his smaller frame. He’s only 5’10” and 172 pounds, so he’ll need to add some muscle if he wants to win puck battles. Right now, if he gets pushed to the perimeter, he can struggle to create offense. Physical play can be a barrier to the NHL for some teams, but I don’t see it being one for Nguyen. He’s too good with the puck on his stick for a team to pass him up, and it’s not like he’s a player that relies on individual skill rather than his teammates. The final concern that I have with Nguyen is that while the majority of his offensive game comes from transition, he is less effective on an extended shift in the offensive zone. Nguyen is still figuring out how to create space for himself in the offensive zone, and as a result, it can lead to him disappearing for a little while during a shift. Nguyen will need to work on establishing a presence in the offensive zone.
As I stated in the beginning, Nguyen has risen up my board all season long and will likely continue to do so as the season reaches its end. There’s too much skill in his game for him to be lower than the third or fourth round on anyone’s draft boards, in my opinion. Nguyen plays like an NHL player and has enough skill to play in a team’s middle six someday, and I’ll stand by that statement. And when I’ve watched other undersized forwards from the WHL this season, they’ve all played worse than Nguyen in my eyes. Jordan Gustafson is a great goal scorer but I feel that his game is fairly one-dimensional and his skating is going to limit his effectiveness at the NHL level. Mathew Ward, a player who I’m hoping to write about soon, can play with a lot of pace but has yet to impress me all that much. Nguyen has been consistently good, even when he isn’t putting up points. It’s only going to get better for him, too. Nguyen doesn’t see a ton of power play ice time and has been on Portland’s third line for the majority of the season. Once he gets more ice time, his skill will be on full display. I believe that Nguyen is close to being able to dominate a shift in the WHL. He has the right tools to do so, he just needs the opportunity to grow. A projection of middle six upside may be high, but when I look at Nguyen play, I see a player that can flip the game on its head and create something out of nothing. He’s exactly the type of player that you put out there when your team needs a spark or a quick goal. He’s a player that was built for Portland’s system, too. Nguyen has been able to thrive in a Portland system that closely mimics that of an NHL team.
Ultimately, the biggest questions with Nguyen will be his strength, defensive play, and if he can make more of an impact during an o-zone shift. Most coaches won’t settle for Nguyen’s defensive play and he’ll need to add muscle in order to compete against NHL players. My biggest question is if Nguyen can find a way to be more creative during an offensive zone shift. He has the one on one skill that has made him a dominant player in transition, but he lacks that same skill when the play is already established. I don’t see these concerns turning teams away from Nguyen, either. Sure, it might mean that he’ll take a little longer to develop, but when the reward is as high as it can be, why wouldn’t you take that risk?
When we conduct our meetings for our final draft rankings, I’m sticking my neck out for Nguyen. There’s too much talent there for him to be left off of our board. It may be higher than most, but this is a player that I’ve been excited about all season long. I expect him to be in the top 100 of our rankings, and I’ll fight tooth and nail to make that happen.
April 6, 2022
stats from InStat and EliteProspects
Prospect report written by Matthew Somma. If you would like to follow Josh on Twitter, his handle is @Mattsomma12.
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