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2024 draft prospect Harrison Brunicke should become second South African-born player ever selected

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Photo credit:Allen Douglas/WHL
Ryan Pike
1 month ago
Way, way back in 1989, Olaf Kolzig became the first player born in South Africa to be selected in the NHL Draft. 25 years later, Kamloops Blazers blueliner Harrison Brunicke could become the second.
In addition to the potential history-making aspect to his selection, Brunicke is a savvy, skilled defender that made big strides while playing for the Western Hockey League’s last-place team.

Scouting report

Brunicke was born in Johannesburg, South Africa in May 2006, but his family moved to Calgary when he was young. (As a May birthday, he’s on the younger side of the docket as far as first-time draft eligible players are concerned.) He’s a right shot defenceman listed at 6’3″ and 187 pounds.
Brunicke came up in Calgary minor hockey and played with the Calgary Royals. He was a third-round pick in the 2021 WHL Prospects Draft and became a full-time WHL player in 2022-23. The 2023-24 season was his second full season in the Dub, and he also represented Canada at the Under-18 World Championships.
Here’s what Dobber Prospects’ Luke Sweeney had to say about Brunicke’s game in an April scouting report:
Harrison Brunicke is a heady, smooth-skating, 6’3 RHD, qualities that show up in every area of his game. In the offensive zone, Brunicke scans well and makes quick decisions while also showing a willingness to get off the boards and evade pressure through creativity and confident puck-handling. While Brunicke has the skill and inclination to activate as the weakside defenseman, Brunicke’s transition abilities are more frequently demonstrated through his zone exits. Brunicke is poised in his own end and makes a lot of smart reads to use his mobility and passing to create clean breakouts. This mobility and awareness also show up in his defensive game. Brunicke is quick to close gaps off the rush and, thanks to strong body positioning, physicality and stickwork, frequently separates players from the puck, both off the rush and off the cycle. Brunicke’s offensive game could blossom with better help around him (his Kamloops Blazers were the worst team in the WHL, without either a point-per-game or 20 goal scorer), but even if it doesn’t, he still projects as a well-rounded, utility defender who makes his teammates better on both sides of the puck.m
After the Under-18 Worlds, Daily Faceoff’s Steven Ellis had this observation about Brunicke:
There’s been a lot of interest in Brunicke as a potential late first-round pick in 2024. He’s an all-around defenseman who uses his speed and general fluid skating to win battles and rush the puck. I liked that he was willing to try riskier plays in games that were a bit more one-sided to push the limits of his passing, but he got himself into trouble at points, too. There aren’t many big flaws in his game, but he’s not spectacular in anything, either. Still, I know some scouts think there’s more to his game than he’s showing right now and that he could be a long-term riser in the next few years.
FloHockey’s Chris Peters also had a scouting report on Brunicke from the Under-18s:
With good skating ability and agility, Brunicke defends very well. Canada used him in a shutdown role, getting a lot of tough matchups and he handled it very well. He also showed some decent touch on the puck, making a good first pass and keeping things simple. He’s not going to be a major point producer, but I could see a lot of teams feeling more comfortable taking him fairly early on Day 2, especially as a 6-foot-3, right-shot defenseman.
Playing on a Kamloops team that wasn’t all that great this season – they finished in last place and had a minus-115 goal differential on the year – Brunicke posted modest offensive numbers, but seemed to show flashes of pretty strong play amidst games where his team was defending the majority of the time. It’s not hard to imagine that he could blossom on a better team, and we saw a bit of it during the Under-18s, but if you’re selecting Brunicke, you’re probably betting on his potential rather than what he’s shown thus far.

The numbers

Brunicke had 10 goals and 11 assists for 21 points in 49 games for Kamloops. He was injured in mid-February and missed the final month of the season a result, but he returned for the Under-18 Worlds, where he had a goal and three assists in seven games and helped Canada capture a gold medal.

Availability and fit

If a team is going to fall in love with Brunicke as a prospect, they’re going to be infatuated with his tools rather than what he’s been able to do with them so far. But you can see why teams would like him: he can play in all three zones, moves well, defends well, and he was able to do a fair amount on a not great Kamloops team. The Flames have a good amount of blueliners in their system right now, but a toolsy right shot defender is something teams always seem to want and need.
In terms of where he’s likely to be selected in the draft, it’s hard to say because he’s appeared all over the place in recent draft rankings. He’s appeared in the mid-to-late first round on several prominent rankings – such as McKeen’s, Elite Prospects and Dobber Prospects – but he’s also shown up as a second-rounder on a lot of rankings, too. We’d wager that Brunicke’s potential and tools lead to him getting selected sometime on Day 2, but some team could be love-stuck and take him earlier than that.

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