Welcome back to Top Shelf Prospects, the column that brings you the next crop of professional hockey players. Each day our LWOS Prospects Writers will bring you a new player profile or topical article in the lead-up to the 2023 NHL Draft. Be sure to bookmark the site, follow Ben Kerr, Kyle Pereira and Frederik Frandson on Twitter, and spread the word for the site that will bring you analytical and critical profiles and scouting reports! Last Word On Hockey Prospects is your new headquarters for everything “NHL Draft”! Today we bring you our Hunter Brzustewicz Scouting Report.
Hunter Brzustewicz Scouting Report
Brzustewicz, born on November 29th, 2004 in Washington, Michigan, is a defender playing in the OHL. Playing for the Kitchener Rangers, the right-shot defender stands at 6’0” and 187 pounds. Brzustewicz first came onto the scene thanks to his play with the USNTDP. In the 2021-22 season with the NTDP, he scored two goals and 18 assists for 20 points in 55 games with the U18 team. He then decided to take the CHL route, joining the OHL’s Rangers this season. He scored six goals and 51 assists for 57 points in 68 games.
With the solid production from the blueline, Brzustewicz has been ranked anywhere from the last pick in the first round all the way to the late third. Those rankings include being placed 32nd by Draft Prospects Hockey, 44th by The Hockey News and Bob McKenzie, 48th by Recruit Scouting, 51st by FCHockey, 52nd by Elite Prospects, 54th by FloHockey, 56th by DailyFaceoff and Dobber Prospects, 61st by Craig Button, 66th by McKeen’s Hockey, 82nd by Hockey Prospect Radio, and 91st by Smaht Scouting.
Hunter Brzustewicz Deep Dive
Playing a big role with the Rangers in arguably the toughest league in the CHL to produce in, why is Brzustewicz so low on some lists? It isn’t as though he was unknown coming into the draft and jumped up some boards late. He was known fairly well from his NTDP time. Is he underrated? Or are those that are higher on him overrating him?
Hunter Brzustewicz’s Skating
Brzustewicz is an above average straight line skater. Skating forwards or backwards, he doesn’t fall behind the play, but he can get beaten by faster players off the rush or in races. However, his four-way mobility is excellent, all thanks to his incredible edges. He can walk the blue line better than most, and can change speeds and stop on pucks easily. That mostly makes up for his lack of a high end speed.
On top of his edges, his stride mechanics are smooth and mostly sound. That will make NHL skating coaches very happy and willing to work with him. That should go to show that his top end speed will be fixed. That does not mean he will be an elite skater by any means, but he’ll improve enough where he isn’t losing those races anymore, or getting beat off the rush.
As shown by his goal totals over the last two seasons in junior leagues, he doesn’t possess a very dangerous shot. He also does not shoot very often to begin with. While there’s an understanding that his shot isn’t super threatening, he should learn to shoot a bit more to be more unpredictable. It lacks a lot of power and doesn’t always get through traffic. Additionally, Brzustewicz doesn’t always jump up into the play very often. He usually prefers staying back and facilitating play.
Meanwhile, as a playmaker, he can be dangerous. He’s not afraid to attack the slot with his passes at all, preferring to get pucks there. When he does that, he can be fairly effective, though it’s tough to make those plays often. But Brzustewicz mostly focuses on the smarter plays and extending possessions.
Hunter Brzustewicz’s Transitional Abilities
Brzustewicz’s biggest strength (arguably) is his transitional game. He moves the puck exceptionally well as a defender. He’s not afraid to stretch the ice out and be effective in doing so. The Rangers and his linemates also recognize his abilities, as he is almost always the player facilitating the rush up ice with his passes.
As for his abilities to defend the rush, he is mostly solid. The biggest problem is his skating speed, causing his edges to be a little too easy to gain the zone, to avoid getting beaten wide. However, if he can gap up well, his ability to use his stick to angle opposing forwards wide and away from the middle is exceptional.
Brzustewicz’s Defensive Zone Play
Brzustewicz is not the best in his own end, but he also isn’t a liability. Again, as mentioned before, his active stick allows him to discourage players from attacking the middle. However, when a team possesses the puck for a bit in his end, his positioning can become spotty.
But again, Brzustewicz is a solid defensive player for the most part. His transitional abilities and how well he moves the puck up ice and away from his own end makes him even better. Again, his active stick proves to be effective time and time again, keeping plays mostly away from the scoring areas. He just needs to refine his positioning, and he could be a solid two-way presence.
Hunter Brzustewicz’s Potential
Brzustewicz has some upside. With a decent base for his defensive game, with some refinement needed, he likely gets NHL time in the future at some point. The upside lies in his excellent transitional abilities and whether he can take that next step in his offensive game. With an improved shot, and using it more often, plus stepping up in the play as an additional threat when there’s an opportunity, he could burst onto the scene quickly in the OHL.
That said, he looks to be a middle-pairing defender in the future. All it takes is a more disciplined defensive style, focusing more on his positioning. If he can do that, translate his transitional abilities, and continue flashing his playmaking, he could be a #3 defender with power play upside.
An NHL comparison for Brzustewicz, based solely on style and not a projection of skills, is Timothy Liljegren. Liljegren has a considerably better shot and knows how to use it, but his passing abilities and transitional skills are similar to that of Brzustewicz. Liljegren makes high end reads with the puck in the offensive end and uses his mobility at the line to create passing lanes, similar to Brzustewicz.
Additionally, coming out of the draft, Liljegren had some defensive concerns, but was able to learn that side of the game and improve to the point where he is comfortably relied on to hold his own. His development path is likely similar to the path Brzustewicz will go down. Any team that takes him has to be willing to wait a couple years for his defensive game to round out. But he could be well worth the wait.
Raw stats via Elite Prospects
Main Photo: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports