In continuing on with my series of 2020 NHL Entry Draft profiles, I headed west to Prince Albert to break down the game of forward Ozzy Wiesblatt. I’ll admit off the bat that I’ve caught myself having a bias against WHL players in the past. I think they can be overhyped at times for playing in such a physical league, and I’m seeing that bias come around again this year (e.g. Jake Neighbours).
But I’ve been steadily impressed with Wiesblatt’s game and think he should be a serious option for Nashville in the second round.
Previous profiles of entry draft prospects can be found above, as well as my initial top-31 ranking of eligible prospects.
Ozzy Wiesblatt - F
Prince Albert Raiders [WHL] - 18 - Calgary, Alberta
A second-year WHL player, Wiesblatt finished second on Prince Albert this season with 70 points in 64 games—good for 17th league-wide—and sixth among all draft-eligible skaters in the WHL with 0.875 primary points per game. Notably, this year’s class of WHL forwards—including Wiesblatt, Tristen Robins, Connor Zary, Justin Sourdif and Jack Finley—is very close in primary points production; Seth Jarvis, of course, leads the group by a wide margin.
Ozzy Wiesblatt (2020) leads this year's CHL Tracking Project in controlled entries per 60 with 22.— Mitch Brown (@MitchLBrown) March 22, 2020
Crossovers, deception, changes in speed, handling, and off-puck acceleration — here's how Wiesblatt combines all of those elements for transition success. pic.twitter.com/eeSeNfrqdJ
Wiesblatt’s production level translates directly from his transition game. He’s a very good skater who shoots well off the rush but can also distribute the puck well when passing through the offensive zone. He also hasn’t been reliant on an inflated shooting percentage as many junior players can be, taking just 177 shots this season for a 14.12% conversion rate.
Here is Ozzy Wiesblatt's player card.— Mikael Nahabedian (@hunterofstats) July 14, 2020
Wiesblatt uses his offensive skills to contribute in the OZ, in various situations, often generating chances from high danger areas. He's also a good skater. A team will select him in the 2nd round of the #2020NHLDraft. pic.twitter.com/YVmwL0mGmT
Projections of Wiesblatt’s theoretical production in the NHL range from Mikael’s 14 points per 82 games to Bryan Bader’s 27 points per 82 games. Regardless, Wiesblatt has produced at a rate that gives him a solid chance to be a regular NHL player with a ceiling of carving out a role like Jean-Gabriel Pageau.
Wiesblatt’s Scouting Report
|Creative and fast skater that can maintain possession while pivoting and playing with pace||Strong skating mechanics but doesn't always extend his leg fully and uses choppy crossover steps|
|Excellent transition player that creates space for teammates and has a rapid release off the rush||Good defensive awareness but is too often concerned with puck recovery than playing his man|
|Good strength to control battles along boards and advanced thinker when it comes to passing||Can sometimes let off the gas pedal if a move doesn't work or a pass goes awry|
Wiesblatt isn’t the type of player that comes to mind when I contemplate the prototypical WHL forward: he’s just 5’10”, isn’t overly aggressive, and hasn’t assimilated much into the (sometimes excessively) physical style of league play. Instead, he’s fast, creative with the puck on his stick and excels at creating space in the offensive zone—all tools I think will translate well to higher levels of play.
As noted above, Wiesblatt is a transition machine. In the clip above, as he (#19, white) picks up speed exiting the defensive zone, you can already guarantee he’s going to push the Edmonton defense back into poor positioning. Look at the speed he generates from his rapid crossover steps all while maintaining possession. Wiesblatt then cuts through three defenders, allowing him to find open ice and throw the puck into a high-danger area. Sometimes it’s clear he’s anticipating play at a quicker pace than his teammates; plays ending like this one were somewhat common in my viewings.
Part of Wiesblatt’s transition success comes from his anticipation. During this game against Edmonton, Wiesblatt lined up at center, where he excels at mapping out the path a puck will take out of the defensive zone. In this clip, he helps engineer this breakout play and is already in a dynamic position to receive a pass of the wall. As he enters the zone, the Oil Kings defender is stuck in a wide gap that isn’t forcing Wiesblatt to the perimeter. This is where he makes a living; Wiesblatt is excellent at bunching up defenders to create space for his teammates—like, in this case, the crashing F3 who finishes with a decent scoring chance.
Even when he doesn’t have a step in speed to beat a defender to the outside, Wiesblatt is so strong on his edges, allowing him to carve through the zone with creative puck control, as on display in the clip above.
One other criticism I noticed is Wiesblatt’s recovery game. As shown in the clip above, I saw a few too many instances of him slowing down when a move or burst to the outside didn’t work. It may be fine at this level but against NHL-level opponents, that won’t cut it. Regardless, I’m impressed with his stick strength. Despite not being large in stature, Wiesblatt is solid at controlling play in tight battles along the boards and winning possession with his creative stick skills.
Unsuprisingly, Wiesblatt was great for Prince Albert on the power play this season. Even in tight spaces, he controls the half wall so well and is constantly shifting up and down with his head up while stickhandling with speed. That distribution skill not only allows him to set up plays at net front but also create more room for himself to bury goals like above.
Defensively, Wiesblatt plays a traditional but well-developed defensive role when at center. He has the speed to backcheck well after driving a play deep into the offensive zone, but some concern arises in plays like the one above. Wiesblatt isn’t in terrible position as Edmonton enters the zone, but he slows into a glide, allowing the Oil Kings’ F3 to find space to shoot. Sometimes I think it’s a symptom of him planning the breakout; he’s constantly anticipating puck recovery and transition, but I think he can tighten that mental process.
I do appreciate how dynamic the puck support Wiesblatt provides in the offensive zone is. Notice how he’s not in a position shielded by an Edmonton forward, is on the net side of the play, but is also in attack position should the puck spring free. Wiesblatt follows that up with a great shot block before transitioning up ice in five to six seconds.
Finally, his offensive skill can be so exciting. I love this goal in the clip above that shows how effective he is at digging pucks from board battles without being caught by opponents. Before you know it, he’s off into the offensive zone where he opens his body to tempt the defender into pass coverage, freezes the goal with deceptive puck movements, and then buries a beautiful goal.
Expected Pick Range
Colin Cudmore (@CudmoreColin) over at silversevensens.com has done remarkable work compiling draft rankings and establishing an ‘Expected Pick Range’ from a variety of different sources. You can read about his methodology here, track the compiled rankings here, and use his data viz (embedded below) here.
Wiesblatt’s Expected Pick Range: #32 to #56 – 2nd round
It seems clear Wiesblatt is a definitive second round pick. I could see a club being tempted late in round one given his talent, but with how deep this draft is a second-round selection seems more likely.