Leo Carlsson of Sweden and Ryan Ufko of USA during the friendly under-20 ice hockey game between Sweden and USA on December 21, 2022 in Moncton.
Fantasy Hockey

Fantasy Hockey Feature: Ryan Ufko is knocking on the door

Ryan Ufko is one of the best defenders in college hockey. He is close to being NHL-ready, which of course makes him more tantalizing to fantasy managers. When he does translate his game to the NHL, what kind of points upside does he possess? Can he be a top pair, do-everything type of defender? We will dig into those questions and more.

Ufko was drafted in the fourth round in 2021 by the Nashville Predators. That season, the EP Rinkside team didn’t rank him so it wasn’t a surprise to see him slip to the fourth round. There certainly was enough to be excited about. He was drafted out of the Chicago Steel of the USHL and put up 39 points in 53 games during his draft season.

The team saw strength in Ufko’s passing ability, especially how he could hit teammates with stretch passes and connect play at the offensive blue line. He already had great deception tools and could misdirect opponents with feints. There were consistency issues from game to game and skating was a bit of a problem. It’s difficult for 5-foot-10 defenders who don’t skate that well to make it to the NHL, so it’s understandable that his stock wasn’t so high after the 2020-21 season.

You can see by Mitch Brown’s tracking data that Ufko struggled in his draft minus one season (2019-20) in just about everything but his expected goals per 60 minutes and his controlled entries. Most of his metrics improved in his draft season where his expected primary assists per 60 minutes and his entries prevented became his best skills. It seems from these cards that Ufko had a lot he needed to work on after leaving the USHL.

In 2021-22, Ufko joined the college ranks as he played for the University of Massachusetts (UMass) Minutemen. Ufko’s freshman season at UMass was his best points-wise as he netted 31 points in 37 games. In 2022-23, he had a similar production with 24 points in 32 games. Aside from the point, Ufko improved his transition game and in-zone defending substantially.

His coming out party for many who didn’t know him was the under-20 World Junior Championships in 2023 where he had 10 points in seven games for the Americans en route to a bronze medal. In that tournament, he had the most assists by a defenceman. This tournament had some pretty incredible prospect defenders in it, including Brandt ClarkeDavid JiricekOlen ZellwegerKevin KorchinskiLuke Hughes, and Simon Nemec; and Ufko outscored them all.

One need look no further than the words of Greg Carvel about the value of Ufko to his team. Any time you are mentioned in the same breath as Cale Makar, it’s a good thing. There are no illusions here that he will be as good as Makar, but it’s still some high praise. In the hockey prospecting model, Ufko has steadily raised his star potential up to 63%. It is exceedingly rare to see this type of increase and is a massive tribute to the work Ufko has done to better his game. Who knows if the comparison of Ed Jovanovski is reasonable, but it’s nice to see.

In the pNHLe model by Mason Black, Ufko is trending to be about a second pairing potential who could score around 50 points. That is down from where he was looking like nearly a point-per-game defender in 2021-22. The top comparable for Ufko in this model is Jacob Trouba, which would be an incredible outcome for the Predators, if not somewhat unlikely.

The Fantasy Hockey Life player card shows that Ufko is pretty balanced across the board. His blocks, shots, and hits give him a solid peripheral floor. He also has considerable points upside, but even if that doesn’t fully translate, there is reasonable certainty as a fantasy asset. If penalty minutes are what you are looking for, look somewhere else as Ufko doesn’t take many. The ability to play big minutes without taking penalties should be a boon for his value to the Predators.

To get a better idea of this player, we canvased the virtual streets to speak with those who watch him closely. 

James Iacovone, Scout for Dobber Prospects

“Ryan Ufko is a mobile defenseman who uses his skating to create space for himself and his teammates while possessing the puck. He can navigate the blue line in the offensive zone and is effective at getting pucks to the goal. Defensively, he plays with a strong stick and demonstrates a willingness to block shots and stay in shooting lanes. Perhaps his best asset is his vision/IQ, as he often anticipates plays before they unfold. Despite his smaller stature, Ufko doesn’t shy away from contact and is comfortable playing in the gritty areas of the ice.”

Dylan Loucks, NCAA Content Admin for The Hockey News

“I like Ufko’s game. He reminds me a bit of Mikey Anderson who has played great for the Los Angeles Kings. It would take some time for Ufko to develop so it's likely some AHL time is needed before he transitions. But he could become a Mikey Anderson-type player at the NHL level. I would think he needs to improve some of his decision-making to really round out his game but an NHL future could be likely. He is probably a bottom-pairing NHL defenseman with upside.”

There is no doubt that Ufko has raised his profile considerably since the draft. Because of his success at the NCAA level and the improvement in his game, he should see professional action soon. This may be first at the AHL level, but Ufko should get NHL games without too much delay. There remain questions about his offensive upside, but the cost of acquisition shouldn’t be too high for a former fourth-round pick. He’s worth the risk and the payoff could be considerable.

You may also be interested in:
Fantasy Hockey Feature: Logan Stankoven has arrived
Fantasy Hockey Feature: Logan Stankoven has arrived
This article is about:
Fantasy Hockey Nashville Predators Univ. of Massachusetts NCAA Ryan Ufko
Scoring Leaders