Welcome to Last Word on Hockey’s 2021 NHL Draft Class introductions. The 2020 Draft class was a blast, and the 2021 NHL draft should be too. Alexis Lafreniere was the first overall pick for the New York Rangers in ‘20, but who will it be in ‘21? How about we here at Last Word introduce two names to pay attention to this season: Oscar Plandowski and Robert “Bobby” Orr.
2021 Draft Class Introductions: Who To Watch This Season
Every year, there always seems to be that late-round gem that comes through the ranks and becomes a dominant NHL player. Brayden Point, Anthony Cirelli and Nikita Kucherov are a few, and they were all drafted by the same team! This year, there are a handful of players who could emerge as future stars down the line, when they don’t necessarily project to be one as of now. Those potential steals are defenseman Oscar Plandowski and center Robert Orr.
2021 Draft Class Introductions: Oscar Plandowski
Plandowski, born on May 18th, 2003, is a 17-year-old defenseman. Playing on the right side for the Charlottetown Islanders of the QMJHL, the Halifax, Nova Scotia native is my 41st-ranked prospect. Meanwhile, Future Considerations has him 55th, Dobber Prospects has him 61st and Draft Prospects Hockey has him 79th.
The right-shot defenseman played 60 QMJHL games for the Islanders last year, recording 12 assists. This season, Plandowski has taken a step in the right direction. With his one year of experience, playing behind Lukas Cormier, Plandowski learned to expand his game and be more aggressive offensively. Before the QMJHL season was paused due to COVID-19, Plandowski scored 1 goal and 5 assists for 6 points in 14 games.
2021 Draft: Oscar Plandowski’s Overall Game
Plandowski’s strength is easily his transitional abilities. Just watching him, he pushes the pace up ice with regularity. His first pass to start the breakout isn’t the best, but the confidence that he has in his skating and stickhandling allows him to skate it out himself with efficiency. His skating is smooth, though he may not be the fastest or most explosive. He’s also not the most technically proficient skater either. However, he weaves his way through traffic with fluidity, and he possesses very good puck control.
In one game I tracked, versus the Halifax Mooseheads, Plandowski was involved directly in nine breakout attempts. Of those nine, seven were cleared with possession. Four were passed out to his teammates while three of them were situations where he skated the puck out himself. The other two attempts were dumps, as he did not register a single fail when clearing the defensive zone.
Plandowski was also involved in nine zone entries directly, with seven gaining entry with possession. Of those seven, six were carries and one was a pass to a teammate. On one attempt, he dumped the puck in deep, while he registered a fail on the other attempt. That said, he was involved in 18 total transitional plays, and failed to break out of the defensive zone or break into the offensive zone ONCE!
Plandowski is a very offensively-driven defenseman. It’s clear in his transitional stats that he loves pushing the pace up ice while being efficient at it too. He acts as a fourth forward at times, evidenced by the fact that he lines up as a forward on the powerplay and plays the half-wall. However, that does not mean he is a very good offensive defenseman.
Plandowski does not have the best vision. He also lacks the patience and ability to control the pace of the play. Instead, when he gets the puck, he looks at the first thing he sees that’s open and gets rid of the puck. Oftentimes, he just shoots the puck. His shot selection is, quite simply, not good. He fires a lot of shots and they get blocked fairly often. While his shots do feature power, they do lack accuracy. So, when he does get a shot past traffic, it doesn’t always lead to a shot on net. That isn’t great. Plandowski also doesn’t pass the puck or facilitate the play very well either, which will be evidenced by what I tracked.
Plandowski had just five pass attempts in the offensive zone, connecting on four of them. He went two-for-two on “simple” passes, zero-for-one on cross-ice passes, and two-for-two on cycle, or high-to-low, passes. These numbers are not bad until it’s realized that he had opportunities to set up teammates far more often. Instead…
Plandowski fired the puck towards the net 11(!) times. He hit the net just four times on those 11 attempts. He fired four shots from the point, with none hitting or reaching the net, four from the slot, with three hitting the net, and three from the perimeter, with one hitting the net.
It’s quite clear that Plandowski is a shooter. But should he be? The aggressiveness and killer instinct on the transition and off the rush is welcome. But it is clear that playing the role of “offensive defenseman” is not the right stylistic fit for him.
Plandowski is solid in his own end, and that only pushes the narrative of him not fitting the offensive defenseman style. While he isn’t a world-beater in the defensive zone, and he doesn’t do a whole lot in terms of suppressing high-danger chances, he’s positionally sound and good at covering his man. He does not shy away from getting to the dirty areas and battling in front of his net either. However, where Plandowski really shows up is when facing the rush. He steps up and plays the body in a timely manner. His gap control is excellent more often than it is poor. Plandowski forces his opponents to the outside and suffocates them along the boards. It forces a chip down low or a poor pass attempt.
Plandowski faced 19 rushes directed at his side of the ice. He broke up six of those attempts and had five of them dumped in. His opponents gained entry on eight attempts. To put that into perspective, Owen Power in the NCAA allowed seven of 18 attempts to gain entry with possession. Basically, he and Power are about equal in a small sample when facing the rush.
Plandowski looks like a fringe first-round prospect, at best. His style needs to face changes, and he should look to be less of an offensively-leaning defenseman. By all means, he should continue to push the puck up ice. However, he should settle his game in the offensive zone a lot more, and focus more on staying responsible and in position to defend. Quite frankly, he looks like a better puck-moving, defence-first defence type, like Brett Pesce, then an attacking defenseman, like prime Erik Karlsson.
2021 Draft Class Introductions: Robert Orr
Orr, born September 1st, 2003, is a 17-year-old center for the Halifax Mooseheads. Standing at 5’11” and 176 pounds, the Beaconsfield, Quebec native isn’t the biggest player on the ice, but he plays like he is three inches taller and 20 pounds heavier. Currently, Orr is my 44th ranked prospect in the 2021 NHL draft. Future Considerations has him ranked 79th, while Draft Prospects Hockey has him ranked 83rd.
Last season, Orr played in the QMAAA (Quebec Midget AAA) for the Lac St-Louis Lions. In 42 games there, Orr scored 20 goals and 25 assists for 45 points. This year, playing for Halifax of the QMJHL, Orr has scored an impressive 6 goals and 7 assists for 13 points in 15 games. Considering he played fairly well in a very weak league just last year, his smooth transition to the QMJHL is promising.
2021 Draft: Robert Orr’s Overall Game
Orr is a complete 200-foot player. He doesn’t excel in any area necessarily, but he is a reliable player in just about any situation. To start, his skating is solid. Possessing solid edge-work, Orr has the ability to stop on a dime and pull off tight turns without losing much speed. His edges are also smooth, as he is able to open up his hips and pivot exceptionally well. However, his stride isn’t the most technically proficient, as his stride is choppy and he leans too far forward. That leads to his top speed not wowing anyone. However, his acceleration and short-area quickness provide him with advantages at points throughout the game. That is especially true in the defensive end.
In the defensive end, Orr shows excellent positional awareness. He finds a man who can be a threat in the offensive zone by keeping his head on a swivel and stays on them until they are away from a dangerous area. Orr gets low in the defensive end as often as he can. He provides his defensemen with an easy outlet pass on the breakout. When defending, he gets low and supports the defence against the cycle. Finally, he possesses a strong active stick, which helps him clog passing and shooting lanes, taking away further options for the opposing puck carrier. He also loves playing with a physical edge and finishing his checks.
Orr is a smart transitional player, but smarts don’t always translate. He is conservative on the breakout, always keeping his defensive responsibilities as the center, at the forefront. In one game I tracked, Orr got involved directly in four zone exits, with all four clearing the zone successfully, with possession. In fact, three of the four exits came off of him skating the puck out himself.
Orr also got involved in seven zone entries directly, with five of them entering the zone successfully with possession. Of the other two entry attempts, he dumped one and failed to gain entry on the other.
From a numbers perspective, Orr was not very involved. It was more or less the fact he wasn’t given the puck, as he was putting himself in positions to receive a pass in transition. Again, his smart positioning and transitional attack did not lead him to get involved. What it did do was put him in a position that, when he did receive the puck, he was almost always successful.
Orr has posted solid stats thus far, early in the QMJHL season. He usually gets to the net-front, which is especially true on the powerplay. He is quick to pounce on rebounds and has strong hand-eye to pose a threat deflecting pucks. However, his offensive game isn’t anything to brag about.
Again, in the game I tracked, Orr had six offensive zone pass attempts, of which he completed three of them. He was two-for-two on simple passes, zero-for-two on centring passes, and one-for-two on cycle passes.
As for his shooting, Orr had three shot attempts, with all three hitting the net. His shot attempts came from the slot, perimeter and off of a deflection. Two of those three attempts came from his net-front positioning, as the slot shot came off a rebound and the deflection, well, that’s pretty clear.
The true threat that Orr poses, however, is with his high motor. He constantly brings high energy, and that leads to a strong forecheck. His ability to play the energy, in-your-face, never-quit style is how he can set up scoring chances, even if he never touches the puck.
Projection and Comparison
Generally, projecting a player, or even finding an NHL comparison, wouldn’t be included in this series. However, Orr stands out in several ways that is, to me, easy to project and draws a clear comparison.
Orr plays a game of high-energy and little offensive creativity. Meanwhile, his defensive game is exceptionally strong, and it is equipped to transition to higher levels of hockey. That sort of style projects him as a third-line shutdown center. His bottom-six, effective power forward style resembles a player who, despite his somewhat small role, plays a pretty important part in his team’s success. That player is Zach Aston-Reese. ZAR is a solid two-way center, who does not produce a lot in the way of production. In fact, he has just 18 goals and 18 assists for 36 points in over 100 games played.
ZAR is a player that many teams would love to have on their third or fourth lines. He received a 98 overall for his defence via Evolving Hockey, which means he is better defensively than 98% of the league, based on their analytics, over the last three seasons. He received a 99 overall on defence for the 2019-20 season. However, Orr looks to be a more efficient transitional player than ZAR, but the defensive component and both being below-average in terms of offensive skills, the comparison is there.
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