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Last year's third round pick, Nicholas Moldenhauer, had a strong final season in the USHL for the Chicago Steel ahead of his move to the NCAA with the University of Michigan. Moldenhauer could fool you as a Yank with all those red, white, and blue words, but the truth is he's from Mississauga. Let's get into him as a prospect.
|Age as of July 1||19.1|
As an 18-year-old, Chicago's top line centre finished second on his team in scoring, behind teammate, Macklin Celebrini, who is projected to be the NHL top pick in 2024. Moldenhauer also finished third in league scoring and fifth in points per game (which includes some top prospects who tore up the league before moving elsewhere).
A lot of the discussion around the Top 25 Under 25 so far has been league strength. The KHL, mainly, but also comparing the American and Canadian junior leagues. Often, players who come out of the CHL and go to the AHL/ECHL find their footing in pro hockey and do pretty well, including undrafted free agents.
Less can be said about the NCAA graduates who struggle to be more than energy guys at the bottom of rosters, more often than not. The claim that the NCAA is a men's league doesn't hold much weight, especially since overagers in the CHL are about the same age as many NCAA seniors. And the USHL is a league another level below that.
My biggest impression about the NCAA and USHL are that they're leagues of haves and have-nots. The top scorers in the USHL are either very young future stars tearing up the equivalent of Junior-B, a lot of everyone else, and with a few players who are a couple years older and matching the top players' production.
Credit to Moldenhauer for being in that third group and making a name for himself before he goes to the NCAA. His D+1 production (looking at pts/gp) was comparable to the D+1 of Daniil Gushchin – a highly thought-of fellow third round pick that I know Brian loves, and a handful of notable players in their Draft Year – from Michigan teammate Adam Fantilli, to Nick Abruzzese.
Okay, that's a pretty big range, especially if you include the undrafted players who never went anywhere, too. Scoring ~1.35 points per game in the USHL is hardly going to mean anything substantial, but at least there are a plurality success stories from his comparables, depending on your definition of success.
I think there's a lot to like with Moldenhauer as a prospect. His outstanding qualities include his motor, offensive instincts, and his ability to make plays at a high level, or at least with high level players.
He works hard away from the puck, using his feet and hands to get underneath defenders. I especially like when he can make himself look dangerous with his body language and motion in order to open up other lanes.
You can also see in his video the positive work he does along the boards both with and without the puck on both sides of the ice. Last year he was a player who helped keep his team in the offensive zone with an aggressive high defense line, and getting the puck up the ice on breakouts thanks to his vision and footwork.
The good offensive skills and work ethic give him a ceiling in the middle six of an NHL roster, though I'm not sure if that's for a high end team like the Leafs or your average franchise. At the very least he provides some upside and should be capable of playing a regular shift if he can keep doing the little things.
He's definitely a prospect I'm optimistic about, especially considering he's only just turned 19, is going to a top NCAA team, and is seemingly more than just a one trick pony on the backs of production.
For more videos of Moldenhauer, see Brian's repository on the website formerly known as Twitter. If the search function is gone by the time this article goes out, blame the tortured genius.
Moldenhauer also bonded over Suits with Easton Cowan at Dev Camp as he was placed in the same class as the Leafs top prospects (such as they are). Also confirmed that the Mississauga kid grew up a big Leafs fan! And you'll love his favourite player growing up.
Cathy's words stung with how much I agreed when I went to read through our blurbs on this prospect. I also agree that this is when the T25U25 starts to reach the real prospects, the ones who are only uninteresting because they're short.
Apart from Adam and Zone Entry, who had Moldenhauer ranked 21st and off her list, most of the voters ended up placing him between 10th and 13th, right in the range he ended up in.
I hope Zone Entry doesn't feel bad for leaving Moldenhauer off. Her opinion and feeling about him as a prospect are completely valid and we encourage it. I can totally see the reasoning.
Here's what the voters had to say:
Brian: Moldenhauer seems like a jack of all trades but master of none kind of guy. He’s solid in every area you can think of, but none of his skills I would consider to be elite… skating, shot, playmaking, puck handling, transitions, defense, etc. He has that thing the Leafs love in their draft picks though, he’s smart in his decision making and how he gets the most out of the skills he has. He’ll join a top NCAA program this year and hopefully gets a good role in the middle six.
dhammm: My standards for what a prospect has to accomplish outside of a pro league or NCAA are high, and as good as Moldenhauer's season was in the USHL, it's still a D+1 season in the USHL. If he looked better than everyone else on the ice, my default response would be "he better look better than everyone else on the ice, else why are we talking about him?" rather than "this kid's a stud." But given his D+1 season in the USHL, Moldenhauer did very well, and models (especially Byron Bader’s) seem to like him a lot, seeing the potential for an impact NHLer in him that not a lot of other Leafs' prospects have. If he can be an impact player for University of Michigan in his freshman year, he should explode up these rankings.
Catch-67: I initially had Moldenhauer much lower in my rankings because I have no idea what to do with the USHL as a league. After looking at a variety of historical USHL draft and draft plus one seasons for forwards, though, and looking at his draft position, I gave him a pretty big bump up my rankings. He seems like a solid player who does a lot of things well, and other than play in college, I’m not really sure what Moldenhauer could’ve done to prove himself this year better than he already did. I’m looking forward to seeing what he does this season with the University of Michigan.
Cathy: Moldenhauer is most like Alex Steeves in waiting. So I ranked him a titch higher. Which is my way of saying that the meaningful NHL impact line for me is above 10 this year.
Zone Entry: When I was scoring/ranking the list I for some reason just felt super pessimistic about Moldenhauer and I couldn’t quite nail down why. Let’s just hope I was horribly wrong to leave him unranked.
The Bag: Moldenhauer ranks highly for me (though not top 10) because he scored a good chunk of goals as an 18 year old with the Steel (he just turned 19 a few months ago), and handily out-produced Abruzzese (and Knies!) at the same age (i.e., looking at birth date, not draft year) in the USHL. He’s a project but he’s younger than some of the other projects.
The voters had their say, now it's up to you. Do you believe in Moldy Nick?
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