While the New Jersey Devils roster has a number of young defensemen right now, the prospects pipeline needs to continually have positional players filled in to guard against a lack of such propspects in the future. It also helps guard against the possibility and/or harsh reality that the young defensemen may not be as good as one may think. More importantly, while Steve Santini and Josh Jacobs may be part of the future blueline, the Devils really don't have an offensive defenseman prospect. Someone who can play in the back who has a skill-set suited for moving the puck forward and contributing from the point. Fortunately, there are prospects available who can fill that need. Such as today's prospect profile subject, Mitchell Vande Sompel.
Who is Mitchell Vande Sompel?
Mitchell Vande Sompel is a defenseman for the Oshawa Generals of the Ontario Hockey League. According to his profile page at the OHL website, he was born on February 11, 1997, he's listed at 5'10" and 180 pounds, and he shoots left. He's been with Oshawa for two years now, having just completed an excellent season where the Generals won the OHL Championship over the Erie McDavids and won the Memorial Cup. Vande Sompel's counting numbers were also excellent. Here's his stats from Elite Prospects:
As an aside, for formatting purposes, I left out his playoff production. He put up three goals and nine assists in sixteen OHL playoff games. Let's put his stats into some better context. His 63 points in the OHL regular season put him tied for fourth in scoring among all defensemen. The one he tied was Trevor Murphy; the three ahead of them were Rasmus Andersson, Chris Bigras, and the OHL Most Outstanding Defenseman of the 2014-15 season, Anthony DeAngelo. That's some impressive company, who are all older than Vande Sompel. Vande Sompel also finished fourth in playoff scoring by defensemen too.
Over at CHL Stats, Vande Sompel's point per game rate of 1.09 ranked 41st among OHL skaters and third among all defensemen. He put up 30 even strength points, the fifth most among OHL defensemen. His estimated time on ice percentage at evens ranks fourth on Oshawa, which suggests to me that he was a top-four defenseman on Oshawa. That over half of his points was on special teams tells me he was featured on both teams with the Generals. Among draft-eligible defenseman in the OHL, Vande Sompel was a leader in terms of production. How is he at the other aspects of the game? Let's find out from what others have wrote about him.
What Others Have Said About Vande Sompel
As he has played in the OHL, the first source to go to for a take on what he brings to the table is OHL Prospects. There are two posts by Brock Otten that are worth your time. First are his final rankings of draft-eligible OHL players. Vande Sompel did not make the top ten, just missing out at the eleventh position. That doesn't mean he doesn't like him; oh, no, he thinks highly of his skillset. Here's what Otten wrote about the defenseman.
Vande Sompel was very impressive as an OHL rookie last year and managed to improve even more this year. The biggest improvements have come at the defensive end. Vande Sompel's certainly not a big guy (5'10), but he plays a lot bigger than that. He's shown a very high compete level this year, especially in the corners where he'll initiate contact to gain possession of the puck. His awareness defensively has really improved too, which is promising considering he hasn't been playing defence all that long. He's still far from a perfect defensive player, but the progression is very promising and I think he's more than just an offensive guy. However, it is the offensive aspect of his game which is the highlight. His skating is fantastic and it allows him to start the breakout as quick as anyone not named Tony DeAngelo (in the OHL). He doesn't need many strides to hit full speed, and as such he's a very difficult player to hem in his own zone. Vande Sompel is also aggressive offensively, showing little fear in attacking across the opposing blue line. As a power play QB, he makes quick and smart decisions on the point and is a large part of why Oshawa's power play was 4th best in the league this year. Interestingly enough, Vande Sompel excels as a forward on the penalty kill, where he uses his speed and tenacity to break up plays. The size factor will hurt him at the NHL draft, but I think teams will admire his courage on the ice and appreciate his potential enough for him to not slip too far down the board
There's plenty to like and enough to realize why he's not a top tier prospect. He's got the proverbial wheels, grit, and head for making plays, getting pucks, and starting breakouts. At the same time, he's not big and he still has "progression" for the defensive aspect of the game, which suggests to me that's an area of weakness. While Otten says he's improving, you'll note there's not a lot that points to being good at that outside of being willing to battle against larger players.
What I find curious is Otten's noting of how he was used on Oshawa's special teams. Vande Sompel as a featured player on the power play makes sense given that over half of his points were not at even strength. What surprised me was that he was used a forward on the penalty kill. Typically, a team will want to get their four best defenders on the ice for a PK situation. That Vande Sompel was not used as one of those four both speaks to his skillset - the coaches wanted him on the ice and gave him a spot to work with - and the possibility that his defensive game isn't good enough to be a penalty killer in the O.
Before jumping to Otten's second post that includes Vande Sompel, he did have a link to a Yahoo! article by Neate Sager all about Vande Sompel. It's worth your time if only because it has some quotes from the prospective player himself. I want to highlight how it begins because it provides further insight into how he was used. Here's what Sager wrote, including a quote from Vande Sompel about how he feels about his usage:
The Oshawa Generals defenceman's unique skillset has been utilized in many ways across his two Ontario Hockey League seasons, with coach D.J. Smith often using Vande Sompel as a forward on the penalty-killing unit. During the latest phase of the playoffs, Vande Sompel was even more versatile; due to injuries, he moved between the blue line and left wing while helping his team win the Eastern Conference and make the OHL final.
"D.J. has asked me to fill in certain roles and I've been open and welcome to that," adds Vande Sompel, who moonlighted up front during his final two seasons of minor hockey. "It's been fun for me for me, I've been all over the place. The only position I haven't played is goalie."
Now, this is something. Vande Sompel is a converted defenseman. He apparently played forward with the London Jr. Knights and he's been used as a winger as recently as the OHL playoffs. It speaks to his talent that he can manage to do that. It makes me wonder that's something he'll be asked to do at the next level, but that's far into the future.
Back to Otten, the second post I want to highlight is another annual tradition at OHL Prospects. Every year, he asks a group of media members and scouting services for their top ten OHL draft-eligible prospects. It's a good feature as it allows for others to chime in on how they see these players. While Vande Sompel didn't make Otten's top ten, he came in at eighth in the media/scout list. Here's a few choice quotes from John Matsiz and Dan Stewart
"Watching him in Oshawa, it's hard not to picture Vande Sompel as a power play quarterback on an NHL team down the road. A one-dimensional player at times, he's starting to show flashes of what it takes to compete at the next level. Defensively, the progression has begun but there's still plenty to be learned. Overall, the undersized rearguard is a likeable prospect whose draft year ended in the best possible way, with a national championship victory." - Matisz
"Vande Sompel really impressed me this season with his play in his own zone as someone who coach Smith could use in a multitude of situations while also taking advantage of his strong puck skills and vision with the puck. His versatility and work ethic are very promising. He is a great first pass blue liner who follows the play up ice and consistently contributes offensively, mind you not always in a flashy manner. His skating is absolutely beautiful as he is ultra-mobile and generates good amounts of speed with very little effort. His size and lack of physical play holds him back from being higher on my list." - Stewart
Again, these quotes - and the others in the post - serve to back up what Otten has summarized about Vande Sompel earlier. He's an excellent skater, he's fast, he's good on the puck, he's well suited for offense, and the defense needs work and he's not going to learn to be that much larger. Matisz was more blunt about calling him one-dimensional, but that may be suitable for where he is now. Stewart's quote probably checks all the boxes for what one would want in an offensive defenseman, and he's up front about why he didn't rate him higher. In general, there was praise for his willingness and ability to contribute at two different positions; clearly a plus and perhaps an option for the future.
As sometimes usual in these profiles, I'll leave the last word in this section to Ben Kerr at Last Word on Sports. Kerr ranked Vande Sompel at 43rd and makes a very familiar sounding comparison at the end in his profile. However, I want to highlight this section instead:
At 5’10, Mitchell Vande Sompel is a little undersized and has issues with bigger forwards in his own zone. He can be overpowered when defending against the cycle game and trying to defend bigger players down low. While his base is strong and powerful, he needs to add upper body strength. However, his hockey sense and anticipation are very good which allows him to cut down passing lanes. A quick stick allows Vande Sompel to steal the puck from opponents and to cut down on passing lanes. He also has very good positioning. Vande Sompel has even played forward on the Generals penalty kill, using his skating, hockey sense, and quick stick to play a defensive role in a whole new position.
This speaks a little bit further to the defensive sides of things. It doesn't read that poorly, to be fair. The upper body strength can be added, though the height is likely what it is given he's 18. But being able to position himself well and use his stick are critical for defending anyone regardless of size. Should that hold up, that mitigates some of the defensive concerns. That said, cycling situations and board play are just going to be challenges just due to his size.
A Little Video
There isn't a significantly long highlight video, but that's OK because I got one better. From HockeyPwns himself, it's a shift-by-shift video of a game Vande Sompel played in. It's a 8-4 beatdown of Belleville where you can see about twenty minutes of #58 doing work.
An Opinion of Sorts
Vande Sompel checks a lot of boxes for me in terms of what I'd like to see in an offensive defenseman prospect. I want such a prospect to at least be a good skater, be adept at passing the puck, lead breakouts, have an important role on special teams, and have the production that matches the notion that he contributes on offense. Vande Sompel has all of these. The concerns are obvious with Vande Sompel: he's not big, he's not particularly strong, and his defensive game needs improving. That he can position himself well and use his stick appropriately is good, but unfortunately, being able to defend requires physical play of some sort and he's going to fall short in some regard.
What struck me in reading about him was that he was used as a forward in addition to a defenseman. This does raise the possibility of a position change if he doesn't get acceptably good enough on defense at the next level of hockey. Given his speed and offensive tendencies, it might even be something worth trying when someone gets hurt or a change just needs to be made in the lineup. Versatility is never a bad thing and it's another thing that makes Vande Sompel stand out.
That could come into play in the future. His success at the next level will be driven by whether his strong offensive skills in the OHL translates to professional hockey. According to NHL.com, there were only sixteen defenseman who stood at 70 inches last season. Most of them are defensemen who have been or were notably productive like Kimmo Timonen, Lubomir Visnovsky, Tyson Barrie, and Sami Vatanen. I think he's got as good of a shot as any given what he's shown off in the OHL so far and what others have said about his skillset. So if defense doesn't work out, he could move to wing - a position that doesn't have a lot of 5'10" players but it's more common than who you see on the blueline.
All said, I would be really pleased if the Devils ended up taking Vande Sompel with one of their second round selections. The Devils don't have this type of player. Having defensemen who can move the puck and skate well have always been valuable. I think they will be more important in the future for the possession game, as a stay-at-home defender whose main task with the puck is to get it to his better passing partner means there's at most only four guys who can move the puck. I'd like to think more and more teams will realize that a blueline filled with players who can make a good first pass opens up more options for exits - defensive successes - and can lead to more offense. Even if that doesn't happen, the Devils' system would immediately have an offensive-minded player who can skate really well which, again, carries its own value. Provided the Devils get an offensive forward in the first round and use their other second round pick on another offensive forward, Vande Sompel would be a fine choice.
I'm a fan of the Devils taking him after what I've read. How about you? Do you think Vande Sompel is an offensive defenseman prospect that the Devils should take? What did you like best about him? What concerns do you have with him? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Vande Sompel in the comments. Thank you for reading.