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After being a fifth round pick in the 2012 WHL Draft, Calgary native Austin Wagner struggled in his rookie season with the Regina Pats, putting up just one goal and two points in 42 games as a 16 year old. However he came out of the gate strong in 2014-15 and finished with 20 goals and 39 points in 61 games in his draft year. Best of all, 15 of those 20 goals came at even strength, as he didn’t get a lot of powerplay time early in the year, before forcing his way onto the special teams unit. He was searching a little bit for his game in the playoffs, when he put up just one goal and three points in nine games. Overall though it was a strong year for a player who wasn’t rated on many people’s draft radar coming into the season. He has shown the versatility to play all three forward positions over his two years in the WHL, and this will surely help him when teams make their selections at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft in Florida.
Left Wing — shoots Left
Born Jun 23 1997 — Calgary, ALTA
Height 6.02 — Weight 181 [181 cm/82 kg]
In the NHL today, teams are looking for two very important things in the draft, size and speed. While Austin Wagner’s numbers may not jump off the page, and his production may not be at the level of some other prospects in this draft, he’s got plenty of size at 6’2″; and speed to burn. Wagner is one of the fastest skaters in this draft class, and has elite level first step quickness and acceleration to go along with it. He flies through the neutral zone. On the rush he can go wide on a defender, drop his shoulder, and cut to the net quickly. His speed has created numerous odd man rushes and breakaways for the Regina winger. He can also use it to get in quickly on the forecheck and pressure defenders in the offensive zone. He’s thrown some absolutely crushing hits when I’ve seen him. Wagner’s skating skill also effects defensive aspects of his game, as he gets back quickly on the backcheck, supporting defenders down low. Wagner has good edgework and agility, and is able to make the quick cuts that get him past a defender and allow him to use that elite speed. He has good lower body strength which gives him balance in board battles and allows him to fight through checks.
Austin Wagner possesses an excellent wrist shot. It is hard and accurate, and he gets it off quickly. He also knows how to use defenders as a screen when firing that wrist shot off the rush, and does so when they have to back off to respect his speed and ability to go wide. He is also willing to drive the net hard, and get into the dirty areas, whether its infront of the net, or competing on the boards for loose pucks. Wagner is extremely effective at finding open ice and using his quickness to dart into good areas to take a pass and fire it on net. He could work to be a little bit quicker with his hands in front of the net, in getting off a shot on a rebound or getting a deflection. Some additional upper body strength would help him to win battles in these areas and be better positioned to make those plays, and he certainly has room to fill out that frame. Wagner isn’t one to really be a creative playmaker, and thread the needle on passes through traffic, but he can open up passing lanes with his movement and can make a good pass when the lane is there.
Austin Wagner is a conscientious backchecker. He plays a strong two-way game, getting involved in fighting for pucks along the boards and supporting his defense down low. With his speed and quickness, it is easy to see how he can disrupt passing lanes and should be an effective penalty killer once he learns the finer points of doing so.
In terms of a stylistic comparison, Wagner plays a powerforward role, and reminds me a lot of Erik Cole in his prime with Carolina. This is a stylistic comparison and not a talent one though. With proper development, he could develop into a top six forward, but his speed, size and defensive responsiblity mean that even if he doesn’t produce the bigger offensive numbers going forward, he could still be an effective bottom six guy in the NHL.