Physical: Height: 5’9, Weight 172lbs
2018 TLN Prospect Ranking: N/A
Draft Information: 2019 NHL Draft, Round 5, 146th overall
I profiled Koster’s game in-depth here, but I’ll provide you with a shorter scouting report in this article anyways.
Mike Koster is a prototypical new-age defenceman. By that, I mean that he is a blueliner who can skate well, move the puck up the ice with control, and, simply put, do fun things like this:
Koster isn’t a burner, but his speed is decent, and his edgework is very good. That, coupled with a nice set of hands, allow him to beat forecheckers and rush the puck up the ice. Koster is a controlled zone exit and entry machine, always electing to move the puck with control rather than just chipping it off the glass and out, losing possession of the puck.
When you take into consideration that the Leafs are run by an analytically-inclined management group, it’s quite easy to see why they like him.
Koster is very good at preventing opponents from doing onto him what he does to them, as well, despite his smaller stature. The mobile defenceman plays a tight gap in transition which often forces opponents to settle for a dump-in or just lose the puck all together. I compiled a clip of Koster doing this multiple times in a game from the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, during which he faced a star-studded Canadian team.
Here, you’ll see him break up rushes orchestrated by top 2020 NHL Draft prospect Alexis Lafreniere, 2019 3rd overall pick Kirby Dach, and 2019 7th overall pick Dylan Cozens, among others:
Koster is not without his weaknesses, though. As a 5’9 defenceman, he evidently struggles to win battles (whether they be for the puck or for body position) in the defensive zone. He is also caught puck-watching at times, which any defenceman alive will tell you is a “no-no”, and as a result, his defensive game will need some improvement.
Koster isn’t much of a dynamic attacker from the blueline, either. He does like to jump up into the rush, but on offensive zone possessions he tends to shoot the puck too often from low-danger areas, and his shot isn’t exactly a cannon.
Most of his offence seems to come from chances off the rush.
Why He’s In This Tier
We have Koster labelled as a long shot for a few reasons.
It’s evident that Koster has some nice tools and plays the way that the NHL is trending (and the way Kyle Dubas seems to envision his team playing), which is fantastic. As I’ve mentioned, however, Koster is a smaller defenceman who needs to get stronger and iron out some defensive warts, and both of those things can take a while for a young player to accomplish (especially the former). When you add that onto the fact that he’s just 18 years old and was drafted under two months ago, I think it’s easy to see why this is a player who is going to take some time.
Pros & Cons
The good news for Koster is that he has *a lot* of time.
Koster will play a full season in the USHL next season for Tri-City after dominating high school hockey and getting a little taste of USHL action last season. He will then head to the University of Minnesota in the NCAA for up to four years.
Time is evidently on his side, and while it’s hard to see him moving up too far on next year’s rankings unless he absolutely destroys the USHL, a strong NCAA career down the line could help Koster rise these ranks.
Overall, Mike Koster is a player who plays the way that the game is trending, and he does have some tools to get excited about. He’s got a lot of time to continue his development, and while he is a long shot, that is to be expected for a recent 5th round draft choice who played high school hockey for the majority of last season.
He’s still a worthwhile prospect, and the Leafs did well to get him where they did in the 2019 NHL Draft.