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Nate Knoepke: 2017 NHL Draft Prospect Profile

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With the Devils’ system being pretty bare in terms of defensive prospects, Nate Knoepke presents an opportunity to grab a big, solid defender who can still move the puck. Should the Devils spend a mid round pick on him at this year’s draft?

CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Who is Nate Knoepke?

Nate Knoepke is a defenseman coming out of the US National Team Development Program who is currently committed to go to the University of Minnesota to play NCAA hockey next year. Perhaps unsurprisingly for a Minnesota commit, Knoepke is a native of Minnesota. His birth date of April 8, 1999 puts him in the middle of the draft class in terms of age. Size-wise, Knoepke is on the bigger side, coming in at 6’3 and 201 pounds based on his USA Hockey player page. The big defenseman has been a part of both the USA U17 and U18 national teams in the past two seasons. Knoepke’s offensive numbers aren’t what you’d consider eye-catching, but he is a prospect primarily touted for his defensive play. Full career stats for Knoepke from Elite Prospects can be found below:

Knopke’s stats are somewhat underwhelming, but despite his low offensive output, many reports on him have him able to perform well at both ends of the ice. He spent time as the USNTDP’s top pairing defender and is able to handle whatever assignments are thrown at him. While he may not be a dynamic offensive force from the back end, some scouts still tout his ability to aid in the transition game and break out of the defensive zone. Knopke seems to fit the mold of a more modern “defensive defenseman,” meaning that he can still move the puck and contribute at both ends of the ice while playing a very solid defensive game, even if he doesn’t necessarily have the offensive skill to put up big numbers. A defender who can potentially put the clamps on the opposing team in his own end and then help his team break out and push back is certainly a valuable piece to have in today’s NHL.

In terms of rankings, Knoepke was placed in the #79 slot among North American skaters by the NHL’s Central Scouting, putting him somewhere in the expected third or fourth round range. With Knoepke’s later round ranking, he doesn’t show up on a ton of public ranking lists but The Draft Analyst is a bit higher on him, putting him up at #55 in the late second-round range in their list.

What Others are Saying About Nate Knoepke

Knoepke, being an American born player headed to the NCAA next year, certainly has the attention of the college hockey community. His work on the USNTDP is where a lot of people have seen him perform and he has made some solid impressions. Chris Dilks over at SBN College Hockey scouted some of the USNTDP U18 team’s games and put together this piece on the team. He was seen as a strong player who can handle what’s thrown at him, but his lack of an offensive game was noted here:

Knoepke had two really quiet games, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing all things considered. He showed a decent ability to withstand pressure and still make a play with the puck to keep possession. There’s not much of an offensive side to his game, and he doesn’t make the impact on the game one would hope from a player with his size and athleticism, but he’s a solid player.

This report on Knoepke’s game makes it feel like he would be a solid later-round pick, but perhaps someone you don’t want to reach too hard on earlier.

For a higher opinion of his offensive abilities and his overall game, we can go to this scouting report from Future Considerations in November of 2016. Future Considerations has a high opinion of Knoepke’s ability to create rushes and start the transition game. So despite his lack of a pure offensive game, he can still create through the transition game. An excerpt of their scouts’ thoughts are here:

A big, composed two-way blueliner…has a powerful skating stride that allows him to cover a lot of ground…not a true coast-to-coast puck rusher but is responsible for generating multiple offensive rushes for the NTDP, and carrying the puck up ice…plays a lot of big minutes on both sides of the puck…calm and poised with the puck allowing him to deal with a hard forecheck…makes the correct play for the situation, whether that be making a skilled breakout pass or just dumping the puck off the glass

Knoepke seems to be an ideal defensive defenseman for today’s game, with a high level of competence in his own end but having the ability to move the puck and get the game going in the right direction to go along with it.

Elsewhere, Steve Kournianos put together a report on the U18 team from the Five-Nations Tournament in the fall and it featured some analysis of Knoepke’s play. Kournianos likes Knoepke’s all-sround play and also touts a powerful shot.

Knoepke plays a pro-style thanks to excellent mobility and a hard, accurate shot. He mans the top pairing at even strength, the top PK duo and works with Farrance on the points of the power play. He opened the scoring in the 6-2 win over the Czechs by joining the rush and blistering a shot just under the crossbar.

Based on all these reports on Knoepke’s game, he seems to be a player who can contribute up and down the ice while playing a very solid defensive game.

A Little Video

Being a defensive defenseman, there isn’t a ton of video out there for Knoepke. There is video of him finishing off a nice rush in beginning of this highlight package of a game versus the Czech Republic from the USNTDP, though.

Beyond that, there isn’t too much video of his game readily available but below is an interview he did for USA Hockey where he talks a little bit about being part of the US team and going to the University of Minnesota as a Minnesota native.

An Opinion of Sorts

Nate Knoepke is the type of player that isn’t necessarily flashy but is important for an NHL team to have. He’s big and plays a very solid game in his own end but is still very mobile and can break out of the zone well. Reports on his game make me think he could be a potential Adam Larsson-type defender some day. Perhaps not necessarily at that level, but that’s the type of game the reports on him remind me of. I think he could certainly be a worthwhile mid-round selection for a Devils team that is badly in need of restocking their system with defensemen of all types. His ceiling as a potential game-breaking type player isn’t necessarily there but there is plenty to like in Knoepke’s game and he could be a solid add in the middle rounds of the draft.

Your Take

What do you think after reading up on Nate Knoepke? Do you like him as a potential draft pick for the Devils this year? When would you like to see the team draft him if they do? Do you worry about his low point totals at all? Do you think he could be a solid defenseman in the NHL? Sound off with your thoughts in the comments below and thanks for reading.