Photo Credit: Steve Hiscock / Saskatoon Blades
Tanner Molendyk is a 2023 NHL Draft prospect and plays for the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades.
He’s originally from Kamloops, British Columbia and had played locally with the Thompson Blazers in his youth.
For the 2019-20 season, he joined the Yale Hockey Academy Prep U15 club and averaged 2 points a game. He led the CSSHL U15 league with the most points for a defenseman. Following the conclusion of season, he was drafted by the Saskatoon Blades with the #5th overall pick in the 2020 WHL Bantam Draft. Molendyk made his WHL debut the following season.
This past season, Molendyk played in 67 games for the Blades and recorded 37 points (9 goals and 28 assists). While the point totals are on the lower end compared to other 2023 NHL Draft eligible defensemen playing in the WHL (i.e. Luca Cagnoni and Lukas Dragicevic), his production became far more consistent in the latter half of this season. In the first half of the year, he was struggling with his shot and was trying more defense to defense (D to D) passing along the point then passing to the slot. But, his game evolved. I’ll explain more in the next section.
D.O.B – February 3, 2005
Nationality – Canada
Draft Eligibility – 2023
Weight –176 lbs
Position – Defense
Handedness – Left
Molendyk’s Style of Play
Molendyk is mobile, shifty and implements good crossovers to change his positioning laterally. When he has the puck on his stick in the offensive zone, he will use those crossovers to create separation for shooting and passing lanes.
He will also rely on his crossovers when problem solving. If one side of the offensive zone has a lot of congestion, he will peel away from the traffic with his crossovers, maintain possession and drive to the slot.
When off the rush, if he doesn’t find a gap to exploit to get to net front or a passing lane, he’ll play the puck behind the net, wrap around and pass back to the point. But, what he doesn’t do is implement delays after bringing the puck deep into the zone. I want to see Molendyk bring the puck into the zone, pinch and delay near the corner. That forces the attack to follow Molendyk towards the corner, but it opens up a potential passing lane towards the perimeter. Worst case, that doesn’t open up and Molendyk passes the puck along the boards to a teammate.
While he won’t usually delay down low, he does delay when skating into the offensive zone. He’ll slow down the pace when the attack in front of him is well aligned and has taken away immediate passing lanes that Molendyk could use. The delay either allows his teammates to create a passing lane or Molendyk ends up dumping the puck into the corner.
While Molendyk likes to incorporate delays in his puck movement, I don’t often see Molendyk delay and then on a dime pivot out. Usually when he delays with the puck on his stick, the puck is either being passed or dumped. But, he doesn’t use the delays to create skating lanes. He should though. If he combined delays with his lateral footwork, that would allow him to be quite dangerous off the rush. He’d be a handful to shut down.
His distribution in the offensive zone is typically more defense to defense passing (D to D passing) along the point, but he does complete dangerous passes. Usually, it’s when he has the puck on his stick and he is the pinching up with the puck.
At the beginning of the season, Molendyk wasn’t finding a lot of success with his shot, but managed to turn it around in the latter half. The mechanics will need continued development, but I was quite pleased to see his shot especially from range improving. Earlier on, a lot of his shots from range were going wide and he was using too big of a wind up. Using a big wind up can be used for manipulation, but you don’t want to use too big of a wind up before shooting as you show your hand so to speak. Molendyk made tweaks on his shot and found a bit more success, but I still want him to work on elevating his shots especially from range.
Molendyk loves to jump up into the play when his teammates have control of the puck. When they are behind the red line, on the other side, he’ll pinch up to inner face-off hashmarks on his side. He is looking to provide a backdoor option.
Molendyk is an excellent transporter of the puck. When deep in his own zone and pressure is daunting, he doesn’t force the puck through. Instead, he looks to complete a D to D pass. But, if he doesn’t have an immediate passing lane to fall on, he will use his mobility, pivot and dart away from the pressure. When completing pivots and turns, Molendyk maintains control of the puck and has good reach that he’ll use to extend the puck out and away from the attacker. He doesn’t just use pivots and turns to navigate out of pressure. If Molendyk knows that he is facing an attacker who can’t match him well on speed that he can manipulate the attacker in by positioning the puck towards the boards. That draws the attacker in and Molendyk skates to the other side at the same time.
If Molendyk doesn’t have a clear north-south passing lane to a teammate in the neutral zone due to multiple attackers in view, he will complete bounce passes off the boards to get the puck to the intended target. He will attempt stretch passes, but he struggles with his stretch pass completion, so you’ll see him rely on D-to-D passing if he doesn’t have a skating lane to use.
If his defensive partner has possession of the puck and is under pressure along the opposite half-wall, he does a nice job of shifting his positioning when he spots his teammate shifting away from pressure. Molendyk knows that he has an attacker right in front of him (the same attacker in front of his defensive partner), so he uses his crossovers to get him into an open passing lane so that way when he nets possession of the puck he has open ice in front of him.
When defending at the point against the rush, sometimes he will commit too much to an attacker at open ice, gets manipulated as the attacker extends the puck towards the boards and then the attacker navigates around Molendyk with ease. But, for the most part he does a good job of trapping attackers after completing a zone entry quite quickly and keeps them along the boards. He will use an active stick to trap and when in range he’ll poke check.
When in a loose puck battle with an attacker, he will look to box attackers out and use his upper body strength to push into the attacker to force them to be on the outside looking in. He will also look to box out attackers who are looking to generate passing lanes off-puck.
He does have good reach that he can rely on when scooping up possession of loose pucks. Molendyk’s puck recovery work is solid, but he will face battles in which he doesn’t truly have the speed to maintain the inside track to the puck. Since he relies on his crossovers for acceleration and lacks a power stride, he will struggle when in a head to head battle with an attacker who can net more speed with a power stride.
Some might describe Molendyk as a physical defenseman, but I’d argue that he isn’t using his physically consistently enough to be pegged as a physical defenseman. His positioning is quite good and thus he is usually in position to defend against the attack and be physical, but he doesn’t use shoulder or hip checks all that often. He’ll use them every now and then, but doesn’t rack hit up after hit.
In the defensive section, I mentioned that Molendyk won’t force himself into contested waters and it’s the same in the neutral zone. When facing pressure, he will look to complete bounce passes off of the boards to get the puck to a teammate at the opposite blue line. But, if he doesn’t have that passing option, he will uses his crossovers and edges to peel away, double back / button hook and try another lane. If he is looking to push the puck up through the neutral zone and pressure builds up at the blue line, he’ll feature give and go passing to weather the storm. It worked out nicely against Red Deer in this clip. Check out his give and go pass that led to his deflection goal at net-front.
Molendyk has been inconsistent from time to time with his rush defending. He has a habit of getting out of position when his forwards have the puck in the neutral zone as he will pinch up when he sees them push the puck up the ice. The positioning means that his defensive partner will have to defend some odd man rush situations from time to time when Molendyk’s teammates turn over the puck in the neutral zone. But, Molendyk does do a good job of utilizing his crossovers to build up speed when he notices that he is out of position. You just have to figure that there will be odd man rush situations in which Molendyk couldn’t get back in position for especially considering that he doesn’t have a true power stride and thus will struggle to match someone deploying lengthy skate extensions.
When defending against the boards in the neutral zone, you’ll occasionally see Molendyk be physical and lay out a good hip check to neutralize the rush (like the one below). But, as I mentioned earlier on in the defensive section, he isn’t overly physical.
Molendyk uses a lot of crossovers to build up speed when driving the puck up the ice. Even though he’s heavily reliant on his crossovers, he does a good job of leveraging them to shift around pressure and gain the separation that he needs to continue pushing the puck up the ice. Molendyk’s mobility makes him an excellent puck moving defensive prospect, but I do want to see him work on lengthening his forward stride. If he can lengthen his stride and leverage his crossovers in conjunction with a power stride, he will be tough to slow down and neutralize.
While he needs to work on a power stride, he’s got excellent mobility, great pivoting and excellent puck control off of his edges. He will use those tools nicely every shift.
Molendyk is great in transition. He’s got excellent crossovers that spark his coast to coast puck movement. Should he run into obstacles he’s shown over and over that he loves to give and go. Over the course of the season, I saw his vast improvement with his shot especially at 5v5. It was particularly rusty towards the start of the year, but by mid-March Molendyk was lighting up the lamp routinely. While his shot improved, the next step will be work on shot selection as he is shot heavy from the point. In his own zone, Molendyk will occasionally throw his weight to cause puck disruption, but maintains good positioning when the attack is working down low. Molendyk has a second pairing projection.
June 11, 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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