Even if a player makes it all the way to the Memorial Cup final, he will have more than three months to work at his skills, fitness and strength for an NHL camp.
For whatever reason, I often forget that a player has more than 25 percent of the year to continue his personal growth as a hockey player. Every season when camp starts, I get surprised by a player who seemingly comes out of the woodwork.
The 2022-23 season was no different.
It started with the Young Guns Classic in Penticton and the player was Maximus Wanner
. Except for the brilliant play of Dylan Holloway, Wanner would have been the talk of the tournament for those assessing Oiler prospects.
Wanner took that momentum right out of Penticton and had a strong season in Moose Jaw
. In his 44 games, he went 8-22-30, which were all WHL career highs. He also had 96 shots in those 44 games which was a career high as well. All of his per-game averages for goals, assists, points and shots were career-highs, as well. If you want a definition of progression in your draft picks, Maximus Wanner was the template this year. Let’s take at what made this year such a great development year.
What Did I See This Year?
His Defence Comes As No Surprise
Coming out of Estevan, Saskatchewan, Wanner’s calling card was his defence. At 6’3″ and 190 pounds with a very long reach, his highlight reel most nights was shutting down the opposition’s best players. He has above-average lateral mobility for his size and he routinely makes excellent shutdown plays on high-skill players. Watch Wanner’s footwork and gap control here against Zach Benson and how easily he terminates this attack.
He is also an excellent close-out defender. Watch him aggressively attack the puck carrier here when he sees the player is moving very slowly. His stick is in a great spot to defend. His body position is nice and square on the attacker making it hard to beat him on either side. He then finishes the player with a hard check creating a free puck that is gathered up. This is top-drawer defending.
Here is another great example. Wanner has a massive gap to close on the attacker. Watch how he first ensures the attacker moves to the outside. Then watch him open his hips up and shuffle with the attacker so as to protect the cutback attack while also staying in a good position for the net drive. Finally, he does a great job wrapping up the attacker and creating a loose puck that is gathered in by his teammate.
Here is one final clip of Wanner defending. My favourite part of this clip is that Wanner gives his teammates three opportunities to exit the zone and they fail each time. Wanner hangs tough on the whole shift even after getting tripped. Wanner’s defensive reputation was well earned on this shift.
The Surprise In His Skating
While I expected Wanner to have a good year defensively, his progression on his overall skill base was very impressive. For me, other than one other skill that we will talk about below, Wanner’s skating was the most impressive development for me.
For a 6’3″ defenseman who was not known for his offence, he really impressed with his skating. Let’s take a look at this clip of his straight line skating on this rush. Here Wanner races up the ice with two excellent skating forwards on the Warriors, Brayden Jager and Atley Calvert.
In terms of his lower half, he has a good stance overall. Hips in good position with knees over toes. His boots are maybe coming off the ice a little high, but ok. Certainly, he returns the boots to center very quickly, especially off the start. The upper body is where we have some issues. The chest is in a good spot here to complete the stance. The arm swing however is an issue. There is some wasted motion here which creates lost energy. A more compact upper body would help.
Overall though, a decent stride with some good power and speed to it.
The part of his skating that really has been exciting is his lateral footwork. We alluded to some of this in his defending above, but he has it in all facets of his game. Watch the first half of the clip below. Look at the way he crosses over laterally with the puck. His footwork is smooth and he creates some nice power at the same time. This is not an easy skill for a defenceman.
Here is a really great example of his lateral ability with the puck. Watch his ability to take intricate strides in close quarters that lead to a goal for his team.
There is an old adage that if you cannot get to the puck, you cannot play in the game. Skating is an absolute necessity at the pro level. Maximus Wanner has made significant advances in his skating that give me a great deal of hope for him as a professional.
Can He Deliver The Goods?
Folks, Maximus Wanner can pass the puck. His ability to out outlet the puck was the first thing I noticed at the Penticton tournament last September. For a 19-year-old playing with and against a lot of older, professional players, he really stood out in this area. Here are a couple of examples where he protects the puck well, keeps his composure and then makes a great ten-foot pass to start the transition.
These are plays that his coaches and his teammates will absolutely love and will be a necessity at the next level. He also can make some cherry passes in the offensive zone. Remember that clip up top where we looked at his skating in the first half. Watch the pass at the end that leads to the goal.
You Always Tell Me They Need To Score, Bruce!
Yes, I do for certain. Can Maximus Wanner score at the next level? Well, there are some hints that he maybe can. In addition, to his career-high totals I mentioned at the beginning, he also had seven points in ten playoff games this year. He does display some offensive patience and creativity as well. We looked at this play above from a skating perspective, but look at it from an offensive creativity perspective.
Here is another nice example of Wanner being patient with the puck under pressure.
Wanner also has a sneaky shot. It’s not as accurate as you would like, but the release is nice and clean and he definitely gets some power behind it.
So yes, I think Wanner has the capability to score enough as a professional.
What’s The Verdict?
The Oilers have some intriguing players turning professional this year. For me, Maximus Wanner is at the top of the list in terms of interest in what he can do at the next level. His progression this year was very encouraging.
If he can continue to develop at this pace, the Oilers will absolutely have a steal of a player given his draft position. A big, right-shot defenseman who can play all 200 feet of the ice.
That’s all for this week folks. You will all hear from me a lot in the next ten days despite the Oilers having little in the way of draft picks. As always, you can yell at me here in the comments section or @bcurlock on the Twitterverse.