Photo Credit: Nick Pettigrew / Moose Jaw Warriors
Brayden Yager is a 2023 NHL Draft eligible prospect and he plays for the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors. Yager was selected 3rd overall by the Warriors in the 2020 WHL Bantam Draft.
Prior to playing for the Warriors, he had played U15 AA hockey for the Martensville Marauders and U18 AAA hockey for the Saskatoon Contacts. In Yager’s shortened second U18 AAA season (6 games), he was averaging almost two points per game. When the WHL returned, Yager was called up to Moose Jaw.
Yager is now in his third season with the Moose Jaw Warriors and has been a point per game player (1.14 points per game – as of February 27, 2023).
D.O.B – January 3, 2005
Nationality – Canadian
Draft Eligibility – 2023
Weight –165 lbs
Position – Center
Handedness – Right
Yager’s Style Of Play
Yager’s shot is the best asset that he has. He does a great job of targeting top shelf and taking advantage of the areas in which the opposing goaltender is failing to eliminate. Check out this goal from a mid-February game against Prince Albert. Once in medium danger, Yager identifies that the opposing goaltender is giving up too much space top shelf on the far side and takes his shot.
He doesn’t always look to elevate his shot. Sometimes shooting at the low corner is all he needs. In the below clip (early February game against Edmonton), he sees the opposing goaltender start to shift over in the butterfly. Yager knows that the goaltender won’t be able to get himself to get a pad on the puck and takes advantage.
Yager has found success in the offensive zone when he has acquired open space. Instead of forcing his way through the offensive zone and weaving in heavily pressured areas, Yager looks to quickly distribute the puck once entering the zone with the puck. Usually by the time Yager gets to the perimeter the puck is out of his hands. Once he makes the pass, he immediately skates into open space. Then the teammate that he distributed the puck feeds the puck back to him. Yager loves the give and go and it’s paid off a few times throughout the season.
The attention of the attackers deviates from Yager to the teammate that he passed to. He knows that’s the moment where gets into range. Yager then nets a backdoor passing lane.
While he is finding quite a bit of success in the offensive zone, he struggles to get to dangerous areas with the puck on his stick. When Yager draws pressure, he struggles with puck manipulation and stick-handling around pressure when it intensifies.
Here is an example of Yager driving the puck into the offensive zone and trying to manipulate the attacker in towards the boards but then doesn’t push the puck around the attacker. The attacker then manages to close in on him.
So, instead of trying to maneuver his way through tight traffic, he looks to complete a perimeter pass.
Even with that said, Yager does possess great mobility and handling. He just struggles to use it in tight situations. When the pressure is far more relaxed, he does use his mobility and handling to create separation.
Since he struggles to create space for himself with his handling in tight pressure, he will look to make a more risk averse pass than a more dangerous one when pressure closes in on him along the half-wall. Completing a more dangerous pass would likely mean that Yager would have to extend the puck away from the attacker to open up a passing lane.
Yager does implement quality pressure on the forecheck. He has the speed to get himself into position on the forecheck and will jump into loose puck battles. But, he does slow down a tad too early. He shortens the length of his stride too early and that creates tight puck battles. Should he win possession and it was a rather tight battle, he will struggle to navigate out of the pressure. Ideally, I’d like to see Yager learn to use his body weight to push off of attackers to open up separation for himself when he can’t manage to stick-handle the puck around the attacker.
In the defensive zone, when the attack is mid-cycle, he will drop back and stand on guard in the slot. His approach is more relaxed. Yager is waiting for the attack to try to enter into medium and/or high danger areas. When the attack is on the rush, he does look to put pressure on the attacker who doesn’t have possession of the puck and is skating into the slot to open up a dangerous passing lane for his teammate on the wing. Yager doesn’t take away the passing lane when he stays in pursuit, but he looks to put himself into a position in which he could shut down the attack when the attacker captures possession and tries to pivot / turn towards the net.
Against Zach Benson (above). Against Connor Bedard (below).
Yager is a reliable puck mover. He doesn’t always carry the puck out of his zone. Yager will opt to distribute if he is deep in his own zone. He does a great job of identifying teammates breaking out and hitting them in stride when he is under pressure deep in his own zone. In situations in which the pressure is a bit more relaxed and he’s deep in his own zone, he will still opt to pass and look to get the puck into the hands of a winger further up in the zone. That has led to a lot of give and go transitional play as Yager will look to pass to his wingers along the boards and then skate into open ice in the neutral zone. After skating into the neutral zone, his teammates then hit him in stride. Sometimes it’s very rewarding. Take a look at this clip from a December game against Calgary.
But, if Yager is further up in the defensive zone, immediately after corralling a loose puck, he uses good crossovers to drive him out of the defensive zone with the puck. Yager does react well to changes in pressure should they intensify while driving the rush. If pressure skates at him right as he is about to get to the blue line, he finds a tight lane, passes and gets the puck to an open teammate in the neutral zone.
Yager stays well-aligned to attackers skating up the middle who don’t have possession of the puck when the opponents are driving the rush at speed. He isn’t actively looking to take away the passing lane, but he is right there and can close in on the attacker quickly should they net possession of the puck.
Should there be rapid changes in puck movement in the neutral zone and Yager is further back from the attacker who he is looking to close in on at open ice, he musters up enough speed to get just behind the attacker. His speed stalls a bit when he closes in on the attacker. I’d like to see him work on keeping pace incase the attacker looks to accelerate his speed just at the moment in which Yager slows down.
When Yager skates from blue line to blue line with possession of the puck, he usually doesn’t take on much pressure in those sequences. As mentioned earlier on in the report, Yager will struggle with stick-handling / navigating the puck out of tight spaces. So, if he starts to navigate towards daunting pressure he’ll look to distribute the puck before the attacker can close in on him. If pressure is slightly more relaxed, Yager will rely on his crossovers to shift lanes and build up acceleration to drive the rush into the offensive zone.
Yager has excellent crossovers. He nets excellent acceleration with his crossovers and then adds to his speed with power stride extensions. His power stride extensions allow him to be a strong north-south skater and he can pair that with his crossovers to quickly change up his lane with pressure comes into play.
When skating back on the backcheck, he uses his crossovers to generate speed and then shifts into straight line stride extensions nicely to stay aligned to the attack. But, as I mentioned earlier on in the report, Yager doesn’t end up skating all the way to the attacker’s positioning. He ends up slowing down his stride a bit too early and then ends up slightly behind the rush. Yager will also start to slow down his stride length a bit too early when engaging in loose puck battles.
NHL head coaches are likely to debate whether or not they would place Yager at center or wing at the next level. Yager’s ability to use his power strides to get into open space to key up back door passing lanes is something that you will see far less of if Yager would be deployed at center at the next level. Instead of looking for opportunistic passing lanes for his teammates to use to feed him the puck, he will have to be the main driver of play and the pressure is only intensifying faster at the next level which means that Yager’s stick-handling in tight spaces will have to improve. If he’s deployed as a winger, he is going to do what he does best and that’s leverage his speed off puck to get into open ice. But, if he is deployed as a center at the NHL level, he will likely have to play more of a conservative role at times and that will mean that he playing further back in the offensive zone. If I’m drafting Yager, I want to leverage his shot and I don’t want him stuck under pressure along the perimeter.
With all of that said, if you take Yager and move him to the wing, I see him being a top six winger at the NHL level. He’s going to create give and go opportunities. Yager is going to score one-timers and backdoor goals. But, I do think that playing center at the next level will hinder his offensive upside.
February 27, 2023
stats from InStat and EliteProspects
Prospect report written by Josh Tessler. If you would like to follow Josh on Twitter, his handle is @JoshTessler_.
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