Welcome to the first of 37 prospect profiles that will be posted on this very site in the run up to the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. CJ and Gerard will take care of posts surrounding the issues and ideas for the New Jersey Devils offseason on Wednesdays and Thursdays. All other days, we will have profiles up at a minimum. Why? Primarily to share what we can find and what we know about the prospects that may or may not be drafted.
This first profile is one of multiple prospects coming out of the United Stated National Team Development Program. The 2018-19 USNTDP is arguably their most stacked team in years, maybe ever, from a prospect point of view. However, if you think there’s only one name to know, then you don’t know more than Jack. There will be many taken from this year’s team, including the subject of today’s profile: defenseman Alex Vlasic.
Who is Alex Vlasic?
Let’s get this out of the way first. Yes, he is indeed related to San Jose defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic. They are cousins. He also the younger brother of Emma Vlasic, who just finished her college career as a forward with Yale. Hockey is in his bloodlines.
Unlike his sister and his cousin, Alex Vlasic is very large. His prospect profile at Elite Prospects and his profile at the USNTDP site both list him as officially 6’6” and just under 200 pounds. Size may not be everything but it comes in handy when it comes to reaching for a puck, throwing a stick-check, maintaining gap control, and taking and giving hits. Vlasic theoretically has this. He definitely has a June 05, 2001 birthdate, he has a left-handed shot, and he has been a mainstay with the USNTDP in the last two seasons. As indicated at EP and the USNTDP site, he is committed to play for Boston College next season. As he has played a lot with the U-17 and U-18 teams, he has been featured in the many international competitions these teams play in - including the recent World U-18 Championships.
Statistically, Vlasic’s production does not immediately jump off of the page. With the Under-17 team in 2017-18, Vlasic put up nine goals, twenty assists, and 58 shots in 60 games according to the USNTDP site. While he led the defensemen in goals, his 29 points was fifth most on the team, although a handful of more could have moved him to third. A season later and Vlasic put up a similar statline with the Under-18 team: four goals, twenty-three assists, and 68 shots in 59 games according to the USNTDP site. His 27 points ranked sixth on the team. Production may not be everything but it does not appear he has been an offensive machine. Not with an about a shot-per-game average and not with an amount of production that is behind multiple of his fellow defensemen in the USNTDP.
Analytics for prospects are limited. However, Mitch Brown has tracked a sample of the Under-18 team’s games in the United Stated Hockey League for controlled exit percentages and defending zone entries. The sample size may be small but it is revealing of what kind of defenseman Vlasic has been with the U-18s against his peers in junior hockey. First, here is the percentage of zone exits made by the defensemen where he had possession of the puck.
I tracked half of the Development Program's USHL schedule (14 games). Their blue line has such an interesting blend of skill sets. Here's their controlled exit percentage with pressure. Fensore, York lead the way. Vlasic's last by a fair margin. pic.twitter.com/GYfN6HjhZK— Mitch Brown (@MitchLBrown) April 20, 2019
Here is entry defense, graphed between percentage of attempted carry-ins by the opposition and percentage of broken up attempts:
USDP U18s Entry Defence:— Mitch Brown (@MitchLBrown) April 20, 2019
Horizontal shows % of controlled entries player breaks up.
Vertical shows % of entry attempts against that with control (reversed).
York leads the way in preventing controlled rushes. Fensore once again looks solid. Vlasic's top at forcing dump ins. pic.twitter.com/ikN5qJELn0
He has been able to control his own blueline to keep the opposition from getting into the zone with possession. His rate of breaking up those attempts was average, but he was well above it (below it?) in terms of limiting attempts at all. However, his zone exits were seemingly more about clearing the puck as opposed to moving it out himself or with successful passes. Between the two tweets by Brown and his not-so-gaudy statline, Vlasic appears to be more of a defensive-minded defenseman than anything else.
Where is Alex Vlasic Ranked?
Rankings are not everything and plenty can change between now and June. Still, they can provide a general idea as to whether a prospect is worth getting excited over. Several sites do not have their final rankings ready, so there some mid-season ones included for compeltion’s sake.
- NHL Central Scouting Services: North America - 25 (Midterm), North America - 38 (Final)
- Steve Kournianos - The Draft Analyst: 44 (Preseason 400, August 2018), 29 (Top 100, November), 38 (Midseason 400, December 2018), 50 (Top 500, April 2019)
- Future Considerations: 29 (March 5, Spring Ranking), 30 (Winter Ranking), 30 (Fall Ranking)
- TSN - Craig Button: 39 (March 25, 2019)
- TSN - Bob McKenzie: 23 (February 27, 2019 - Video)
- Ryan Kennedy - The Hockey News: 19 (Mid-season, February 1, 2019)
- Larry Fisher - The Hockey Writers: 46 (Top 300, April 2019), 35 (Top 217, February 2019), 51 (Top 186, December 2018), 32 (Top 124, October 2018)
Vlasic has received plenty of mid-to-late first-round rankings during the season. However, later rankings have him down to a ranking befitting of a second rounder. Other than Future Considerations and Craig Button’s list, there has been a drop. I’m curious to see whether we would see similar drops if/when McKenzie and Kennedy provide their next set of rankings. For what it’s worth, I checked Hockey Prospect and International Scouting Services and Vlasic did not make their Top 31 as of now either.
What Others Say About Alex Vlasic
This first piece comes from Jessi Pierce at NHL.com and it is not so much what Pierce has to say about Vlasic but what Vlasic has to say about Vlasic. The article focuses on his connection to Marc-Edouard, but Alex had this to say about what he believes he needs to work on:
For me … this season I knew I had to work on my strength and my offense. I definitely still want to include some more offense in my game. I think I have a lot of offensive potential so I just need to try and work on that a little bit.
For someone who is already 6’6” and nearly 200 pounds, I’m a little surprised he thinks he needs to be stronger. I’m not so surprised by the offense although I am not so confident given what he produced in 2018-19 with the U-18s after a season with the U-17s.
Some of the best prospect reports over the past several years have been written by Ben Kerr at Last Word on Sports. His organization of the profile is easy to follow and he provides detailed observations. He recently profiled Vlasic. As ever, please read the whole thing.
His main conclusion is that he is a project of sorts and he has much to work on. Curiously, he noted that Vlasic could stand to add muscle to his large frame. He also pointed out that his work in the transition game is a plus. Given what Brown found, perhaps that does not happen as much as it should but when it does happen, perhaps it was quite good. I’m a big believer that skating is crucial for any prospect. So this part of the profile stuck out to me:
Like many bigger defencemen, Vlasic’s skating has been a concern. However, he has started to improve that area of his game and it has helped him at both ends of the rink. He has decent speed and acceleration but will obviously never be confused for a speedster. Vlasic has improved his agility and edgework but more improvements can still be made in these areas.
It is passages like this that make me agree that he is a project of a prospect. It also makes me concerned of what he could do at the next level. Plenty of prospects have shown skills, even great skills like shooting, but they cannot handle the pro game because of their skating issues.
I decided to reach out to two people who follow the USNTDP more closely about Vlasic. Jeff and Cole recently started Stars n’ Stripes Hockey. While their site is still a work in progress, they have been active on Twitter providing short clips and opinions on the players in the program that they clearly have observed. I want to thank them for answering my questions about Vlasic.
JF: How well has Alex Vlasic been playing this season with the U-18s? I know he was a big deal with the U-17s.
Stars n’ Stripes Hockey (SSH): He has had a very solid season with the U18s. Still a top prospect, despite dropping from 25th overall to 38th on Central Scouting’s final ranking for the upcoming NHL Draft.
JF: Is there anything he did particularly well?
SSH: He does many things well. Efficient skater, especially for his 6’6” frme. Because he plays with so many other dynamic defenders like [Cam] York, [Marshall] Warren, and [Domenick] Fensore, his mobility is overlooked. Also, he uses his size and reach to his advantage, but is not overly physical.
JF: Vlasic seems to rate well at forcing the other team to dump the puck in but struggle at making zone exits with possession (basically, he’s more likely to clear pucks). How well do you regard his play in the defensive zone? Does he have any issues at handling the puck or making decisions with it in his own end of the rink?
SSH: It doesn’t surprise me that Vlasic doesn’t rate well on controlled exits. He will, given the opportunity, but if there is one thing that Vlasic tries to do consistently is make the smart, easy play. Sometimes that is a dump-in if space doesn’t allow for a controlled exit.
Going coast to coast is not his forte, but he is not adverse to it given the opportunity. He skates well, especially for someone of his size, and he handles the puck well. He is also very adept at making that first pass out of the zone. I have seen him struggle at times playing against some forwards with speed, but not at an alarming rate. It’s more like when you see Jack Hughes or Matt Boldy walk around someone. It’s not always that the defensemen has mobility issues, sometimes the forward is just a superior skater.
I think, like I stated before, Vlasic is a no nonsense type defender. I don’t really want to paint him with the “stay at home defenseman” brush, but he has that type of quality. He is often content making the smart, efficient play rather than something high risk, high reward.
JF: How is Vlasic generally used? Is he used on special teams? Who are some of the more common forwards he plays with?
SSH: Vlasic is used in all situations, as are much of the players on the U18s. Coach [John] Wroblewski likes to mix and match in all situations, so he sees action with a variety of different partners and forwards. He isn’t on the top PP unit, but he does see some action depending on the opponent and game situation. Also, quite often their first unit has four forwards and one defender and that’s Cam York.
JF: Vlasic was rated quite well earlier in this season but his rankings and draft stock have seen him more likely to fall out of the first round. Is this a case of Vlasic not progressing enough or struggling with something? Or is it more of a case that other players have performed better and he got lost in the shuffle?
SSH: I have noticed that Vlasic has dropped in some of the ranking as we head in to the 2019 NHL Draft. I don’t think that is much of an indictment on Vlasic’s progress or game as it is the improvement of some other eligible draftees. His numbers really didn’t drop, 29 points with the U17s and 28 this past season with the U18s, and I don’t think his overall play has suffered. I just think it’s other players moving up on a lot of boards.
I mean look at the rest of the defensemen on the U18s. I think the only one who moved up in the final Central Scouting ratings was Domenick Fensore and I believe Cam York stayed at 12. You can’t tell me that every blueliner on that team regressed, especially with how successful they have been. Vlasic is a 6’6” defender with mobility. There aren’t that many of those just floating around and he will make some NHL club very glad they selected him.
JF: Lastly, how well does he skate? The (few) clips I’ve seen of Vlasic [which you’ll see in this post] show that he doesn’t seem to expend a lot of energy to move and he isn’t trying to run on ice. However, he doesn’t move particularly fast.
SSH: Vlasic is no Paul Coffey, but he skating is far from sub-standard. He is very efficient, uses his size, reach and angles well in the defensive zone. I think at times when watching a U18s game you see dynamic defenders like Cam York, Marshall Warren and Domenick Fensore jumping in to the play and you get a tad spoiled. Vlasic will make an entry and exit when given the space and will slide in to the backdoor in the offensive zone, but not as often as some of his Team USA teammates. He has the capability, but he also knows his strengths and weaknesses, and will make a fair amount of decisions with those facts in mind.
I want to thank Jeff and Cole for their answers, assistance, and willingness to provide their take. Their observations are more positive for Vlasic. I think Jeff’s point is well taken in that Vlasic is surrounded by other talented players and that may hurt his perception. Also his ranking may be more of a case of others excelling where Vlasic did not. I find it interesting that Vlasic is not particularly physical given his size. That falls in line with Vlasic’s own desire to be stronger. Also, they were more positive about how well Vlasic skates - which could make a huge difference in terms where Vlasic goes in June.
I referenced clips so let’s go look at Vlasic for ourselves.
A Little Video
There is not a lot of video publicly available on Vlasic. However, there is one excellent clip uploaded by Michael Farkas. It is a video of all of Vlasic’s and Minnesota’s Ben Brinkman, another 2019 draft eligible defensean, shifts in the first period in a game between the U.S. U-18 team and the University of Minnesota. I really like these videos more than highlights because it shows what the player does in more common situations. Vlasic is wearing #7 and is clearly one of the bigger players on the ice. Being 6’6” is hard to miss.
In the clip, here is what I noticed:
- Vlasic does not appear to expend a lot of energy in skating. He is not fast. There is little explosiveness in his first glide. But he is at least able to get to where he needs to go.
- Vlasic can be quick in his actions. For example, look at 2:12 to 2:19. hen a turnover yields a difficult bounce, Vlasic was able to make the play quickly to prevent a fluke goal against.
- Vlasic did not really need to use his size for much physical play. There were a few board battles (such as the end of the clip at 6:12) but if you were looking for checks or initiating physical contact, then it was not in this one period of play against Minnesota.
- Vlasic does use his size when it comes to his stick. He was nearly beaten one-on-one at about 6:03 in the clip. But he was able legally impede the forward, get the puck away, and diffuse the situation despite Minnesota’s #9 getting in front of him.
- Vlasic appears comfortable on the puck. He struggled a bit with some of the passes, but he had the confidence to keep making zone exits through passing the puck. He did not defer to his partner when he received the puck unless he had no choice.
While that is a video of Vlasic in the run of play, he did have a few highlights. At 0:42 of this highlight package where the U-18 team beat Dubuque 7-4 in USHL play back in November, you can see Vlasic in the right circle convert a power play with a one-timer. While this is a bit old, here is Vlasic going from his own end to the other (!) on a penalty kill for a series winning goal in OT (!!) for the USNTDP in the 2018 Clark Cup Eastern Conference Final. I don’t think either clip shows a lot about Vlasic, but they are good highlights for what they are.
An Opinion of Sorts
I can see why there was more interest in Alex Vlasic as a prospect and why that interest has waned a bit. He could very well still be an early second round pick and maybe even a late first round selection if a team really likes his potential. However, I can understand how other services and analysts may rate others ahead of Vlasic. He did not become more productive or more dominant from the U-17 team to the U-18 team. And he was not particularly productive or even frequent at shooting the puck. He is quite large but still could stand to add strength by his own admission. Some may see his large frame and assume he is a physical player, but that is not fully accurate either. He is not a fast skater but his skating is not choppy; and with good positioning, he may not need to be so fast. He tends to have zone exits that do not have possession. But he can and does demonstrate confidence on the puck to make passes out of the zone and his positioning can force dump-ins. Put together, I am not entirely sure what kind of defenseman Vlasic would become, but I sense there is plenty of potential in Vlasic.
I am pleased to see he is going to Boston University next season. I think the college experience will suit Vlasic. He would be going up against older and more physically-developed players. He will have additional time to develop than going to juniors and then making a jump to pro hockey. It is an environment where he can grow as a defenseman and refine his skills. I am not sure to what he will become, but those formative years at BU will be telling. If I were to guess now knowing what stands out about him, then he’ll be a two-way defender that is not particularly offensive, hopefully defensive, and not very physical as some may hope.
Would he be a good pick for the Devils? The Devils could stand to draft some defensemen for the prospect pool now that Davies is signed, Walsh may be signed, and Smith may be close to a NHL job. A college-bound “project” to play three or four years may not be such a bad idea. The team has not been shy about drafting college-bound defenders that need the additional development time either. However, under Ray Shero and Paul Castron, the Devils have placed a premium on prospects who are at least good skaters. I do not know if Vlasic’s skating is good enough to fit the type of player they have been drafting over the last three years. And I do not know if his other attributes are good enough to take a chance on him and hope his skating improves. If he ended up being one of the later second round picks (or later in the third round), then that would be understandable. However, I would not want him at #34 unless there is a lot more to him that I’m missing. I think there may be other defensemen for that early spot. Should Vlasic fall much later to the Devils’ other second rounders, then it may turn out to be good value for the pick. I suspect someone else may take on Vlasic before then.
That’s my take on Vlasic. Yours may be different. What do you think of what you have learned about Alex Vlasic? What kind of defenseman do you think he will become? What about him stands out to you, good or bad? Is this a player you think the Devils should draft? Where do you think he will go in the draft? If you have seen him play, what did you think of him? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Alex Vlasic in the comments. Thank you for reading.
P.S. There may be a USNTDP player profiled tomorrow that will be worth your time.