On day two of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, Nashville walked away with four prospects to add to the pipeline. I analyzed one of them, Anton Olsson, as well as the Predators’ two first-round picks in part one of this breakdown:
Below, I’ll take a look at their final three picks: Ryan Ufko, Jack Matier, and Simon Knak.
Ryan Ufko — 115th overall [Round 4]
Defender | Chicago Steel [USHL] | Smithtown, New York
Taken with one of their original fourth-round picks, Ufko becomes the latest undersized, smooth-skating defender to join the Nashville organization. I gave this pick an A-grade due to Ufko’s skating mechanics, puck-management skills, and offensive touch.
In 2020-21, he suited up for his second season with the Chicago Steel of the USHL and scored ten goals and 39 points in 53 games—leading all Steel defenders in goals and points. Among draft-eligible USHL defenders, Ufko finished sixth in primary points per game (0.396). The knock on his offensive output is that just ten of his 39 points were primary ones scored at even strength.
Per the shot map above, you’ll notice Ufko’s even-strength production doesn’t look like that of a defender who’s stapled to the blue line. None of his five goals at even-strength came from the point and plenty of his shots came from medium and high-danger areas, highlighting Ufko’s versatility as an offensive weapon.
At the junior level, Ufko (#7, black) comes off as a good skater, and it’s true that he has excellent control of his edges and four-way mobility. But his skating mechanics are still largely NHL-average, and he lacks high-end speed. In the USHL, however, he proved that that didn’t matter much. He’s such a smart, efficient player—with and without the puck—that he rarely puts himself in a vulnerable position. In the clip above, you’ll notice how comfortable Ufko is handling the puck under pressure at the blue line. He doesn’t panic and makes a smart play to help get the puck in deep. As the play turns the other way, Ufko utilizes strong crossover steps, but his wide skating base limits his speed a bit. He times his pivot well, but it’s his active stick that forces the opponent’s drop pass. Ufko turns well to respond to the play across the slot but is ultimately saved by a fairly weak scoring chance.
In one-on-one battles, or when chasing loose pucks, Ufko often makes smart plays with his stick to tap the puck out of trouble or into his team’s possession. But his lacking size and acceleration can lead him to chase pucks with his stick as shown above. If he can improve his footspeed (or timing) below the dots, he won’t get into trouble with holds, slashes, and hooks at higher levels.
Ufko will be a power-play weapon at higher levels due to his puck management skills. He isn’t the most elite stickhandler, but he can move well in transition with his head up as shown above. Another tool of his that will help against better competition is his poise with the puck at the blue line and his ability to carve into the zone and get shots on-net.
And as I mentioned above, Ufko isn’t afraid to make plays like he’s a fourth forward. Notice the moves and finishing talent in the clip above.
Jack Matier — 124th overall [Round 4]
Defender | Ottawa 67’s [OHL] | Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario
Nine picks after they took Ufko, the Nashville Predators selected defender Jack Matier 124th overall. I gave the selection a D-grade due to Matier’s limited upside, average to below-average NHL traits, and his lost season due to COVID-19.
Playing for the Ottawa 67’s of the OHL, the 6’4” defender missed an entire season due to the ongoing global pandemic. His only competitive appearances in 2020-21 were seven games for Team Canada at the U18 World Junior Championship.
I don’t want to draw too many firm conclusions about Matier’s tape because it is important to consider how much development he lost with no OHL season. Given his size and raw talent, it’s clear Nashville is betting on a big step forward happening in 2021-22 with the 67’s. For his size, Matier (#27, red) has decent puck retrieval skills and speed. In the clip above, he doesn’t win the race to the puck, but he is able to tie up his opponent and force a pass. Although he’s a step behind as his man carves to the net, hooking and holding him, Matier recovers and makes a smart, simple play to catalyze Canada’s breakout.
In this clip, you can see there is a strong foundation for Matier’s skating mechanics. He completes good stride extensions and decent stride recoveries and uses his body frame to protect the puck as he comes out from behind the net. As Sweden’s forecheck attacks, Matier does make a careless outlet pass but recovers to effectively box out his man in front of the net and to keep Sweden’s play to the perimeter of the zone.
Despite his size, Matier can be inconsistent in his physicality. He’s reactive and not particularly quick to react to cycles or rebound plays and needs to leverage his body more effectively against opposing forwards to mitigate plays like the one shown above.
You may not expect a defender of his size to be a smooth puck-handler, but Matier has a decent set of hands at the blue line. In the clip above, he makes quick, forceful passes and plays with elastic positioning to give his forwards a passing or shooting option at the point—all without sacrificing positioning against breakouts.
Simon Knak — 179th overall [Round 6]
Forward | Portland Winterhawks [WHL] | Zürich, Switzerland
With their final pick in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, the Nashville Predators selected overage forward Simon Knak. I gave the selection of the Portland Winterhawks forward a C-grade due to his improved skating mechanics and work ethic despite limited skill.
Undrafted in 2020, Knak spent 25 games with HC Davos in Switzerland’s pro league this season where he scored three goals and eight points. Knak then jumped back to the WHL and notched 16 goals and 29 points in 24 games.
With increased time on the penalty kill, Knak recorded three shorthanded goals in the WHL this season—good for second league-wide—and ten of his 16 goals were scored at even-strength. His shot map above makes it clear the type of scoring threat he is: a hard-nose player who digs hard for goals that aren’t the prettiest. Knak also took just three minor penalties this season.
Knak (#36, yellow) isn’t the quickest player, but he did develop serious improvements in his skating this season. His strong hockey position and edge control allow him to be versatile on the forecheck as shown above, but he still relies on short crossover cuts to build limited acceleration. Regardless, I like the angles and fervor he plays with on the forecheck. If he can work on recovering more loose pucks in one-on-one battles, that will help him carve out a pro career.
In this clip, Knak shows how smart he can be attacking the zone as he takes a proper angle on the forecheck to cut off the behind-the-net pass. His high-danger scoring chance is poorly executed, but it does set up a goal for his teammate.
With a little bit of time and space, Knak can get his motor running at a good pace. He’s more of a puck manager than a puck handler but building strong strides and good puck protection skills in transition will help diversify his offensive game that is rather one-dimensional at this point.
From time to time, Knak can flash some offensive flare and has a pretty decent release on his shot as you can see above. He just doesn’t get to use it much, as he’ll build his path to the NHL playing a fourth-line, grinding style of play.