Prospect Prospective: Tanner Molendyk
Tanner Molendyk was set to represent Canada at the under-20 World Junior Championships in Sweden this year. Alas, a pre-tournament injury shattered that dream. He has still yet to return to the ice for the Saskatoon Blades of the WHL – a spot where Molendyk was having a fantastic draft plus one season. When the 18-year-old does return, it will likely be to considerable fanfare.
So, should you try to buy stock in Molendyk now or sell before he comes back? What is his projection looking like? We’ll dig into those questions and more.
Tanner Molendyk, D-1 (#24). Pinches deep down to retrieve a loose puck but fails to maintain control. However, he immediately steals the puck back on a turnover, and gets an assist. 2022-03-05#Preds pic.twitter.com/HuhEyVjhai— Fantasy Hockey Doctor - Victor Nuño (@VictorNuno12) February 2, 2024
Molendyk had a stellar draft-minus0one season for Saskatoon. 18 points in 55 games might not sound that exciting, but as a 16-year-old he played the second most time on ice for defenders and fourth overall for the Blades in 2021-22. You can also see from the tracking data by Mitch Brown that he excelled in most areas. From the beginning, his defence and transition game has been excellent. Even if the expected goals and shots weren’t great that season, Molendyk’s expected primary assists and shot assists per 60 minutes were both great for such a young player.
In his draft season, Molendyk was able to increase his offensive game without sacrificing much from either his defence or transition game. His expected goals per 60 minutes went from a relative weakness in his draft minus one season to a strength in his draft season. He also became even more involved in the primary points percentage for his team and increased his game score considerably. These underlying metrics translated to a point increase of 37 points in 67 games played with an increase of two minutes of ice time.
Tanner Molendyk, D0 (#24). Mans the right half-wall on PP. After making a pass to the bumper, creeps down towards the net but the cross-ice pass from the left half-wall gets blocked. After the reset, creeps down again. This time the cross-ice pass works. 2022-12-13#Preds pic.twitter.com/6M17rCFQaS— Fantasy Hockey Doctor - Victor Nuño (@VictorNuno12) February 2, 2024
The EP Rinkside team had Molendyk rated as the 39th player so we feel it was a bit of a reach for the Nashville Predators to take him at 24th overall in 2023. There is no doubt that he is an outstanding skater, a trait that was already, at the time he was drafted, NHL-caliber. The issue is that the rest of his skills lag a bit behind. Sure, he is a dynamic play-killer and an excellent shut-down defender, but how much offence can you reasonably expect from him?
According to the Hockey Prospecting model, Molendyk had just an eight percent chance of being a star after his draft season. He has since raised that to 13% in his draft plus one season, which is really hard to do. His equivalencies have steadily increased year after year, which is a really good sign. The comparable of K’Andre Miller has some good rhymes as a great defensive defenceman, but not too much offence.
The pNHLe model by Mason Black casts Molendyk in a bit more optimistic role as a first-line player. You can see the steady increase in his equivalency up to the 77-point mark. That is likely a bit too optimistic for Molendyk. Interesting that in this model a different New York Rangers defender pops up as a comparable, this time Braden Schneider. Whether it’s Miller or Scheider, the same is likely true for either as a comparable for Molendyk, a good shut-down defender who doesn’t score too much.
Tanner Molendyk, D0 (#24). Wins control of the puck in D-zone, makes a move that breaks the forechecker’s ankle to evade pressure. Great Zone exit and immediately drives the net. Receives the return pass for a great chance. 2023-02-18#Preds pic.twitter.com/2wR0RHijgC— Fantasy Hockey Doctor - Victor Nuño (@VictorNuno12) February 2, 2024
To get better insight into Molendyk’s projection, I reached out to EP Rinkside’s Director of North American Scouting, Mitch Brown, who had this to say:
“Molendyk’s holding steady in terms of projection. The production has taken a big step, but the quality of his puck game remains volatile. He remains an explosive activator who can push a seam to its breaking point and evade pressure for a walk-in scoring chance. However, he’s not creating many advantages for his teammates on breakouts or setting up many chances at 5-on-5. The tools suggest that Molendyk could become a dynamic, electrifying offensive player, but at this stage, that might be unreasonable.
With that said, Molendyk’s one of the best play-killers in the prospect world. Within a couple of years, his explosive skating, rush defence, and physicality could earn him a regular role, perhaps as a complementary guy on a middle-pairing. Players who defend the rush like him are at a premium, and it should translate near-instantaneously. And there’s always the chance he still develops a more nuanced puck game and hits big”
Tanner Molendyk, D+1 (#24). After his team wins a D-zone face off, niftily reverses the puck to a teammate, immediately sprints up the ice, receives a great pass to go all alone against the goalie, and coolly slides the puck through goalie’s five hole. 2023-10-07#Preds pic.twitter.com/thlnCx4KMQ— Fantasy Hockey Doctor - Victor Nuño (@VictorNuno12) February 2, 2024
We think Molendyk will be a much better real-life defender than a fantasy asset. While it’s still possible his offence grows over the years, his upside is likely capped at 25-35 points. He likely won’t be a power play producer, though he certainly can fill that role if needed. If playing in the NHL is valuable in your league, Molendyk is pretty certain to do that at the bare minimum.
Tanner Molendyk, D+1 (#24). Teammate beats the icing behind the net and then takes the puck. Molendyk sneaks down the ice completely undetected and scores an easy goal as the opposing defense structure completely breaks down. 2023-11-02#Preds pic.twitter.com/3WykUgcJ3c— Fantasy Hockey Doctor - Victor Nuño (@VictorNuno12) February 2, 2024
Molendyk also has a strong peripheral floor. He is getting almost 2.5 blocks and one hit per game right now in the WHL. Along with nearly three shots a game, that can help increase his value in leagues that count such things. But if it’s points you are hoping for, we don’t think you should hold your breath.