Photo Credit: Rena Laverty
Scouting Report written by Austin Garrett
Sometimes when you’re scouting a player there is another player on the opposing team that catches your eye out of your peripherals and you make a note to check on them later. When watching a late September USNTDP game against the Fargo Force I came away impressed with the opposing center who seemed to always be the facilitator for anything good Fargo was doing. That player was Cole Knuble.
Cole Knuble spent the last five years primarily playing for the Fox Motors AAA organization out of Byron Center, Michigan. Last year he played a few games with the NTDP U17 program and one game with the U18 program as well. Knuble was selected to the USHL with the 57th pick in the Phase I 2020 draft.
D.O.B – July 1, 2004
Nationality – USA
Draft Eligibility – 2022
Weight –175 lbs
Position –Center/Right Wing
Handedness – Right
Knuble’s Style Of Play
I would say the strength of Knuble’s game is that he is the engine of everything that happens for Fargo at even strength. It is not shocking to me that of players that have scored more than 25 points according to pick224 he sits 5th in the USHL in the percentage of points scored as primary points. He’s ahead of such names as: Logan Cooley, Rutger McGroarty, Adam Ingram, and others in this department.
The strength of Knuble is the way he processes the game. He’s quick to identify teammates in the offensive zone, knows both his strengths and his weaknesses, and moves to dangerous areas of the ice when he doesn’t have the puck. He is quick to read when he needs to support his teammates along the wall to relieve pressure, finding soft spots within the defensive structure to receive a pass, or move into dangerous areas of the ice for his wrist shot.
The same can be said is his strength in transition. He’s at his best identifying line-mates at the blue line to spring them for rushes or make sure his team maintains control of the entry into the zone.
As the center he acts very much as a puck transporter in exits, although he can struggle to maintain control through the neutral zone on a blue line to blue line rush. He is very good at finding passing lanes through the neutral zone, but lacks the separation speed and puck skill to be able to maneuver his way through the defense. However, when he does get through, you can see how he springs his forwards again for a rush.
At the USHL level he’s slightly above average in my data set for overall controlled transitions at 67%. The majority of his successful exits are as a pass receiver at the blue line or near the blue to carry out. A lot of his struggles come from when he tries to transition the puck out of the zone on his own as his separation speed and agility isn’t very good at the USHL level. Similarly, his entries don’t go very deep into the offensive zone when he’s carrying the puck for the same reasons. Opponents are able to get on top of him very easily and he’s forced to give up the puck, or Gretzky-turn to relieve pressure and pass back to the point.
However, given the limitations that his skating presents, it’s almost remarkable how he’s able to work around it to be a productive USHL player. He’s in the top 10 for shots per game for draft eligible players in the USHL, and in my data set, 67% of his shots were coming from dangerous parts of the ice at even strength. He’s also connecting on 66.67% of his dangerous pass attempts. The brain to be able to make productive plays is there even if his skating is holding him back.
He is a constant scanner of the ice. He processes his surrounding areas very well and is quick to move the puck and see passing lanes. While his puck skill isn’t high-end, a lot of that is due to his inability to separate. In small area situations he’s able to protect the puck and then move it to a position to maintain possession and then quickly find outlets to relieve pressure. I’d like to see an ability to escape pressure situations more often with the puck on his stick, however he does find ways to keep plays alive and the puck moving.
I don’t often address skating as its own section in scouting reports because the nuances of skating are plentiful, and as long as the player can move about the ice at NHL pace then I only address what is high-end or deficient with their skating mechanics.
With Knuble I’m making an exception because it is, by far, the one thing holding him back in this draft process.
There’s a lot to unpack with Knuble’s skating and I believe with proper development could be overcome. The most obvious skating technique that has to be fixed is his posture within his stride and and the length of his stride. He can either be standing upright trying to break into his three-step agility skating or he’ll bend over at the waist to try to make up for his poor start off the blocks. By not having proper knee bending and posture he shortens his stride and loses power, as well as by hunching over reduces the amount of blade that makes contact to the ice. These two compounding factors greatly reduce the energy needed to make an efficient skater.
His crossovers aren’t clean and do not generate power coming through the completion of each crossover. Instead it can look like he’s about to lose his balance (and does more times than I’d like to see) when trying to do so at a high pace. He lacks balance on his edges and gets knocked around far too much on the ice.
As fellow Smaht Scout Josh Tessler also made me aware of: this impacts his decision making on loose pucks. Often realizing that he lacks the foot speed or lateral mobility to maneuver if he were to win the puck battle; Knuble will oftentimes slow up and play defense as opposed to being hard on the puck.
One of the traits I love about Knuble’s defensive zone play is that he is always scanning the ice as a center. When pucks go into the corners he will look before engaging to know where players are on the ice and move himself into positions if the puck battle is lost to mitigate any odd-man situation that could develop from the play.
He often plays as the high F3 on the forecheck and his scanning and awareness allow him to be able to put pressure on outlet passes as well as break up zone exit attempts. While his size along the boards (as well as balance issues talked about above) keep him being a truly impactful player there; he does a good job of pressuring play at those junctures before most forwards have the opportunity to scan and read where the next pass should go.
Like his father he doesn’t shy away from the physicality of playing in front of the net, and battles hard to move players out from rebound areas. He is always in puck support in the defensive zone, and thus earning a prominent role on the penalty kill as well where he’s able to use all of his strengths of reading plays, scanning passing options, and admirable tenaciousness to clear pucks.
I can see a world where Cole Knuble is seen as a late-2nd to 3rd round pick, and I also can see a world where he’s a 6th or 7th round pick. His skating is going to be the biggest talking point when NHL General Managers and their scouting departments get together to assess his draft position.
My own biases love the game Knuble plays. He thinks the game so well off the puck, he processes under pressure very well with the puck, and gets to areas of the ice where goals are scored. He is the catalyst of everything good that happens on his line in Fargo. He’s able to jumpstart transitions, thread passes to open teammates, and make a quick small area move to free up a passing lane. Like I said earlier: even through four games and the ancillary viewing of an NTDP game he’s still the one making everything happen. Despite the skating limitations.
I’ve landed on that he’s a project I’d be willing to bet on. He’ll play in the USHL for another year before going to the NCAA (currently committed to Notre Dame for the 2023-24 season). He’s a July birthday, and a lot of the aspects to his game that he needs to work on are mechanical. I hesitate to label him as a center given his skating issues, but if they improve drastically he could play there in college and in the pros. I’d label him more as a right wing as of now, and ideally I’d like him to be the fourth player coming off my board if I were an NHL team, but could see myself swinging on him in the late third depending on the quality of my team and/or prospect pool.
stats from InStat and EliteProspects
Prospect report written by Austin Garrett. If you would like to follow Austin on Twitter, his handle is @BMaster716.
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