Christian Dvorak: Propped Up or London’s Most Improved?

The OHL’s London Knights emerged from this past weekend stronger than pretty much any other team in the league. They swept a home-and-home series with Owen Sound (6-1 at home on Friday, followed by a 4-1 win on the road on Saturday). They then came out on top after a tough test in Windsor on Sunday afternoon. They still sit third in the Western Conference behind Kitchener and the mighty Erie Otters, but it was as good a weekend as London could’ve hoped for. In large part, they have Arizona Coyotes prospect Christian Dvorak to thank for such a dominant effort—he had 6 goals and 3 assists in the three games, including a natural hat trick on Friday night.

When the Coyotes drafted Dvorak 58th overall in 2014 (13 places above his pre-draft ranking), nobody was really sure what they were getting. Coming off an unimpressive rookie season in London, in which he posted 14 points in 33 games before going down with a knee injury that kept him out for most of the year, Dvorak wasn’t exactly highly-touted, and picking him was something of a gamble. He was seen as a solid two-way centre, with the potential to hone his offensive abilities and become more of a scoring threat.

Now, it seems like Christian Dvorak has turned into a draft steal. Last season, with a fresh start after his injury, he broke out as an offensive force, and put up 109 points in 66 games. He was often seen on London’s top line with Max Domi and Mitch Marner, a unit that could challenge any other in the OHL in 2014, with the possible exception of Connor McDavid and Dylan Strome in Erie. Now, Domi has been replaced by Matthew Tkachuk (ranked among the top 5 prospects for the upcoming NHL draft), and the line is perhaps even more dominant. Playing with such high-profile players—particularly Marner—has led Dvorak’s critics to claim his offensive numbers are due almost entirely to the quality of his linemates, and that he’s propped up by them. However, watching him play suggests otherwise.

Christian Dvorak’s performance is certainly helped by playing with such dangerous players, make no mistake. But you have to be an excellent hockey player in your own right to do what he is doing this year. He is being deployed in all situations by coach Dale Hunter, playing 23 minutes a game. He is second in the entire OHL in points per game, averaging 2.11, as opposed to 1.65 last season. That puts him on pace for 145 points, an insane figure even for high-scoring junior hockey. Dvorak is also one of the most crucial pieces of London’s deadly power-play—tops in the OHL at 31.3%. He’s the one who gets possession (with a 60% win rate in the faceoff circle), and helps cycle it. Dvorak himself said the key is “getting pucks to the net,” which tends to be where you’d find him. His ability to get into the crease and put it away once one of his teammates gets the puck into that area is his greatest asset.

After showing he can put up big offensive numbers last season, and proving he can put up even bigger numbers this year, Dvorak has been a joy to watch for the Arizona scouts. He’s second in the OHL scoring race, trailing only Erie’s Alex DeBrincat by three points. The top five (with the exception of DeBrincat) has shuffled around a lot so far, with at least three Knights players usually in the mix, but Dvorak has consistently been up in the top three. As of Monday morning, he has 22 goals and 27 assists in 22 games. If we look at it using emerging NHLe statistic, that could translate to approximately 57 points if he were in the NHL today. If you ask Dvorak whether he thinks he can win the OHL scoring title, he would tell you “probably not.” But he’s not too far behind, with a long stretch of the season remaining. In addition to being heavily relied upon to score, Dvorak has adopted a critical leadership role on the team, as co-captain with Mitch Marner. At the start of the season, he acknowledged the burden he now bears for London as one of their marquee players, and affirmed, “I’m ready to take that step.”

Ron Wilson, head coach for Team USA at the 2016 World Junior Championships attended the Knights game last Friday against Kitchener. Christian Dvorak was certainly one of the key players for him to watch, as he could have a significant role on the American team in Helsinki this year. A strong showing on that team, as well as a potential deep playoff run for London, could be huge for Dvorak, if he wants to be reunited with Max Domi on the Arizona Coyotes next year.

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