If Brian Burke were still calling the shots for the Calgary Flames, there’s a decent chance you could already pencil in Alex Vlasic as their first selection at the 2019 NHL Draft. Is there a chance that he could still hear his name called with the 26th overall pick?
The first thing that stands out about Vlasic is how big he is. Clocking in at 6’6″ and around 200 pounds, he is the tallest prospect projected to potentially go in the top 50. The cousin of San Jose Sharks defender Marc-Édouard Vlasic, Alex Vlasic is also a left-handed defender.
He grew up in Illinois, spending his younger years playing bantam and midget in Chicago before making the jump to the United States National Team Development Program for the last two seasons. He’ll be heading east regardless next season as he’s committed to Boston University, but that should be good for his still-developing offensive game.
The debate around Vlasic is if he truly is someone who can play in today’s NHL. He’s got the skills as a pure defender, but some aren’t convinced he’ll hols his own without being surrounded by a wealth of talent like he was with the USNTDP.
Going for him is the fact that he’s a a smoother skater than you’d expect for someone that tall, and isn’t afraid to use his size to his advantage on the ice. If his offense was stronger, we’d likely be talking about a player who would surely be gone by the time the Flames got to draft, but that doesn’t mean it can’t develop in the years to come.
Sam Cosentino of Sportsnet likes what he sees, acknowledging the offensive gaps:
Moves so well for a big man and has a great understanding of the game and where he fits in it. Will be happy to make his mark as a complementary D-partner while being patient to develop the offensive side.
However, Scott Wheeler of The Athletic isn’t as convinced: (paywall)
On a mega-talented team, he was the physical, long, disruptive defensive presence. He’s good at what he does. He’s a sound defender who makes simple outlet passes to more talented players, resulting in very little time spent in his own zone. I fear though, the consequences of a less-talented, less-dominant team on that defensive zone time. Because Vlasic is also the least offensively gifted of the USDP’s regulars on defence. As with a number of defencemen in this class, I could see Vlasic progressing into an NHL player, but he’s probably a third-pairing guy who kills penalties and not someone who drives possession in a significant way due to some of the mistakes that come with him.
The general consensus seems to be that Vlasic should expect to go between the late first round to potentially the late second round, with some outliers in draft predictions amongst hockey circles. Will teams want to invest in such a towering presence for their back end?
He also bears more than a passing resemblance to Bojack Horseman’s Vincent Adultman because of his height and also his youthful exuberance, which would be a real treat if anything came of it because then whoever ends up drafting him would get three picks for the price of one and that’s a bargain, baby.
Last year in the United States Hockey League, Vlasic put up two goals and 15 points overall in 27 games, which was pretty in line with the year prior in which he scored four goals and had 13 points in 34 games. He also had 28 PIMs this season, which is encouraging that just because he’s a big body, he isn’t a major liability to misuse it and put his team down,
The question here is if those numbers are perhaps a tad inflated from being part of the incredibly talented USNTDP. There’s no question that Vlasic can make that first pass to break out of the zone and kickstart the offence, but will he be able to continually pitch in when he has to play a bigger part? Or should it be expected that those offensive numbers will shrink in the NHL?
Availability and fit
It would be a surprise if Vlasic wasn’t available for the 26th selection, but there’s no guarantees in the game of hockey. It could look like a bit of a reach if there isn’t another gear for his offense, or potentially a very savvy pick.
There’s also nothing wrong with stockpiling mobile defenders for the pipeline, which is a tad depleted after recent graduations and no defenders picked in the 2018 draft. If the Flames are looking to restock their cupboards in 2019, there are worse selections to make.
However, it seems unlikely that they decide to commit so early to Vlasic. These less truculent Flames than years past may decide to see how far he may drop on draft day before circling back on him.
2019 first round targets
Egor Afanasyev | John Beecher | Tobias Björnfot | Bobby Brink | Simon Holmström | Pavel Dorofeyev | Anttoni Honka | Ryan Johnson | Spencer Knight | Brett Leason | Connor McMichael | Ilya Nikolayev | Jakob Pelletier | Samuel Poulin | Patrik Puistola | Matthew Robertson | Nick Robertson | Lassi Thomson | Philip Tomasino