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TLN’s 2023 Offseason Leafs Prospect Rankings: #9 Nick Moldenhauer

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Photo credit:Steven Ellis
Nick Richard
8 months ago
We have updated the criteria from previous editions of TLN’s prospect rankings regarding who is considered a “prospect” for the purpose of this exercise. Rather than hard and fast limits on age or NHL games played, our group decided on a more nuanced approach to include any reasonably young player who is either under contract with the Leafs or on the club’s reserve list, who has not yet established himself as a full-time NHLer. This includes players such as Matthew Knies and Joseph Woll, who made strong impressions in limited NHL action last season and are expected to make the 2023-24 opening day roster but does not include late-bloomer Bobby McMann, who will also be vying for an NHL roster spot heading into his age-27 season.
TheLeafsNation would also like to acknowledge and honor the memory of 2020 first-round pick Rodion Amirov who tragically passed away after a courageous and inspiring battle against cancer. We offer our sincerest condolences to Rodion’s teammates, friends, and family in this difficult time.
Nick Moldenhauer has flown a little under the radar to this point in his career, but the Leafs’ third-round pick in 2022 appears primed to establish himself as one of the top up-and-comers in the organization.
The Leafs hedged their bets on day two of the 2022 draft but ultimately landed their desired target after trading down to the 95th pick to select Moldenhauer from Chicago out of the USHL. A well-rounded and offensively gifted forward, his draft slot was perhaps more indicative of the difficult circumstances he faced in his draft year rather than his ultimate NHL potential.
Faced with a mystery illness that doctors could never quite nail down, Moldenhauer was forced to miss training camp and the first 15 games of the 2021-22 season. Already behind the eight ball and forced to play catch up, disaster struck on the first shift of his first game following his return, but it could have been much worse. Moldenhauer took an errant skate blade to the face, leaving a horrific gash stretching from his chin to just below his ear, resulting in a blood transfusion, four hours of surgery, and upwards of 175 stitches to close the wound.
Despite a pair of incidents that threatened more than just his hockey career, Moldenhauer returned to Chicago’s lineup and became one of their most important players for the remainder of the campaign. He was limited to just 41 games but finished the regular season with 18 goals and 25 assists, adding another two points in three postseason contests.
Moldenhauer’s body of work in his draft year was limited, but the high-end skill and determination he showed throughout the year were enough for the Leafs to target him in the draft. The organization’s familiarity with the player and Chicago’s program as a whole didn’t hurt either, with Ryan Hardy leaving the Steel to join Toronto’s front office in June of 2021. Hardy previously served as Chicago’s GM and drafted Moldenhauer out of the GTHL, where he played for the Toronto Titans.
After being chosen in the NHL draft by his hometown team, Moldenhauer returned to Chicago with a clean bill of health and his sights set on a dominant 2022-23 season. He was utilized more often at centre and continued to thrive with greater responsibility, becoming one of the most productive players through the early part of the USHL season before another minor injury forced him to miss a handful of games. He didn’t miss a beat, however, and finished the season second in team scoring, with his 30 goals and 45 assists in 55 games trailing only Macklin Celebrini – the projected first-overall pick in the 2024 NHL Draft.
Moldenhauer’s game is equal parts creativity, tenacity, and intelligence. He sees the ice well and processes the game like a pro, constantly scanning for passing options or open ice to attack with precision timing. His puck skills allow him to manipulate defenders in one-on-one situations, creating more time and space to find teammates in advantageous spots, but he also has a strong, quick release that allows him to beat goaltenders on his own.
He isn’t a big hitter, but Moldenhauer’s physical game is still a strength. He finishes his checks with consistency and intent, but even more impressive are his strength on his feet and ability to play through contact. He shows the ability to maintain possession in traffic, bouncing off of would-be checks to get into high-danger areas and create offense for his team.
Simply put, Moldenhauer looks in control of the game more often than not. He is rarely forced into poor decisions with the puck and is usually one step ahead of the opposition, executing difficult plays under pressure with pace and efficiency. If there is a qualm with Moldenhauer’s game, perhaps it is that he is more efficient than he is dynamic, but he still shows flashes of high-end offensive skill.
At just 5’10” and 170 lbs, Moldenhauer still has some physical maturing to do, and added strength should complement his tenacious style of play, as well as his already smooth shooting mechanics.
The coming season will be a big one for Moldenhauer as he makes the jump to the college ranks, joining one of the top programs in the NCAA, the Michigan Wolverines. His mature and refined game should help to ease the transition, but the real test will be whether or not he is able to drive offense the way he did in the USHL. The opportunity will be there for the Mississauga native to secure a prominent role in a talented forward group, and his versatility will only help his chances.
The Leafs’ pipeline isn’t bursting at the seams with elite, blue-chip talent, but there is some projectable depth in the system, and Moldenhauer embodies that as well as any prospect in the organization. He still has plenty of developmental runway left, and his already solid base of skills, along with his well-rounded game, could help propel him to a strong freshman season with Michigan.
Moldenhauer is probably destined for at least two seasons of college hockey before he is ready to begin his professional career, but there are plenty of elements to his game that should translate well when the time comes. Though he isn’t likely to be a premier offensive threat at the pro level, Moldenhauer has all the makings of a versatile, middle-six forward who can bring energy and some secondary scoring to an NHL lineup.
One could argue that he has outplayed his draft slot to this point, and if he can continue on the trajectory he is currently on, Moldenhauer won’t fly under the radar for much longer.
 
(Statistics from EliteProspects.com)

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