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What scouts are saying about Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Nicholas Moldenhauer
By Steven Ellis1 month ago
I got to visit a recent University of Michigan game this month, watching the Wolverines beat the United States U-18 squad 5-1 in Plymouth.
Despite it being a home game for the USA Hockey National Team Development Program, the cheers veered in Michigan’s favor, even though they were missing four of its biggest stars due to the World Junior Championship.
But it was also a great chance to see what Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Nicholas Moldenhauer was up to and catch up with scouts to find out what they’re really thinking about his game this year.
Drafted 95th overall by the Leafs in 2022, Moldenhauer is one of the top players in the Toronto pipeline, coming off a 30-goal, 75-point season while playing alongside Macklin Celebrini with the USHL’s Chicago Steel last year. Moldenhauer joined Michigan as a 19-year-old freshman this year, and after a slow start that saw him pot just one goal and four points in his first 101 games, he’s finally starting to figure things out on Michigan’s second line.
It’s been difficult to get a good read on Moldenhauer’s comfort level this year. He had four points in a 19-goal weekend for Michigan earlier this month, so his numbers were inflated slightly. But he enters the weekend with 13 points and 20 games while also looking significantly more comfortable carrying the puck and making plays with the improved pace of action in the NCAA.
“The improvement from October to January is noticeable,” a scout said. “There’s still tons of room for improvement, but his shot looks good, and he’s using it more consistently. He’s also adjusting well to the more physical game of college hockey that he looked less in tune with early on.”
While Moldenhauer never had top-six offensive potential, he has always looked like a well-rounded player who can be relied on at both ends. He has a good combination of two-way play, solid hockey IQ and physical play that made him dangerous at the junior level last year. Think peak Kyle Okposo.
Moldenhauer’s best stretch came in November when he had five points in five games. It was around that time when the Wolverines’ overall play improved, helping to make them one of the more feared teams in the NCAA once again.
Moldenhauer, along with sophomore center TJ Hughes, spent the start of the season in the bottom six while Michigan looked to figure out its new-look roster. He had some good showings with Detroit Red Wings prospect Kienan Draper before eventually finding himself on the second line in recent outings, where he started to really get relied on to help move the puck and bring speed to the table.
Still, there’s room to grow.
“The intensity isn’t always there,” another scout said. “You’ll see Moldenhauer help out defensively, get the puck down the ice and then just stand around waiting for a pass. He needs to go out there and start creating things himself more consistently. It’s getting better, for sure, but there’s room for improvement, for sure.”
The biggest improvement this season has been Moldenhauer’s confidence. You’ll hear the stories of freshmen coming in and dominating early, but it’s the exception, not the rule. And with Moldenhauer, it was never about putting pucks in the net. It’s about continuing to build out his two-way game to make him as effective of a bottom-six player as possible for Toronto down the line. He’s a fluid skater, but he just needs to keep using that to his advantage.
“When he moves, he can really move,” another scout said. “He’s not a big fella so he needs that speed to separate himself. And with that comes added compete, and making that a more crucial part of his game will take him far. He’s not going to be a goal-scorer in the NHL, but if the work ethic continues to improve, he’ll make his own opportunities.”
Michigan is the 15th-ranked NCAA team based on the rankings from USCHO.com. It’s rare to see them behind Western Michigan and Michigan State, but that’s what happens after losing some key players to the NHL. But they’re continuing to look stronger with each passing weekend and should factor deep into the playoff picture.
It’s early days for Moldenhauer in college, but he’s improving. Leafs fans should be excited about that, at least. And with each passing game, he’s only getting better. With the potential for a few key contributors to turn pro this spring, Moldenhauer should play an even bigger role next year. That’s a topic for another day, but thus far, scouts are happy with what they’re seeing.
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