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Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Nicholas Moldenhauer making an impact with University of Michigan

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Photo credit:(Photo by Steven Ellis/Daily Faceoff)
Steven Ellis
2 months ago
Nicholas Moldenhauer has had no shortage of quality players to line up with during his career.
Last year, he got to skate alongside Macklin Celebrini with the USHL’s Chicago Steel, the top prospect for the 2024 NHL Draft. Celebrini had a remarkable rookie season with the Steel, scoring 46 goals and 86 points. Moldenhauer had 30 goals and 75 points, showing value as a finisher in his second year of junior hockey.
But moving up to the NCAA is a whole other challenge, especially for someone standing small at 5-foot-10. Moldenhauer kicked off his college career with no points in his first three games and just two in the opening seven. It was a slow start, but and not even due to a lack of trying, either. He had 17 shots in that span, but nothing seemed to click.
But recently, everything has changed. In five games since Nov. 11, he’s up to five points, including two against the University of Minnesota in a 2-2 tie. It hasn’t been easy sledding for Michigan this year, a group with significant turnover after the departures of Adam Fantilli, Luke Hughes and Mackie Samoskevich, among others. Dylan Duke, Rutger McGroarty (currently injured), Frank Nazar and Gavin Brindley have helped step up front, but it’s still a group adjusting to the college cycle’s usual rigors.
From watching Moldenhauer, the biggest thing noticeable right now is how much more confident he is in front of the net. He’s getting tips on net, taking the attention away from defenders and getting involved in the rebounds. One of the things that made him good in Chicago was using his smaller center of gravity to move around opponents, and he’s looking more like he did in Chicago. It seems like Moldenhauer has added a bit more muscle because he can push players back and even outmuscle older, stronger competition.
Moldenhauer’s best asset is his mind. He’s a creative forward that can pull off dazzling moves, but he knows when he needs to keep things simple, too. Last year, the biggest knock against Moldenhauer was his three-zone effort. He was excellent on the puck in the offensive zone, but he could tend to float around too much on the wing. It feels like that’s less of a concern as of late, with his work ethic being, visibly at least, the best we’ve seen from him since getting drafted. He just needs to do it consistently because while his skating is solid, it’s nothing spectacular right now.
It’ll be interesting to see if Moldenhauer is invited to Canada’s world junior camp in Oakville, Ontario next month. He wasn’t invited to Canada’s virtual summer camp and isn’t crushing the competition on the scoresheet. But Hockey Canada liked his performance at the 2022 U-18 World Championship, and his experience against older, stronger competition could go a long way.
Regardless, it’s good to see Moldenhauer starting to put things together recently. The skill is there, and he has the brains to succeed in college, and there’s no rush to push him pro. He’s surrounded by quality talent, and is just getting started. If he makes the NHL, it’ll likely be in a support role in the middle-six. But based on the improvement we’ve seen in his game since going 95th overall in 2022, who knows just how good he can be?
 
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