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2019 NHL Draft: Devils Picked Nikita Okhotyuk at 61st Overall in the Second Round

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After trading their first two second round picks today, the New Jersey Devils kept and used the 61st overall pick to select defenseman Nikita Okhotyuk. This post contains more information about the player.

2019 NHL Draft - Portraits
Nikita Okhotyuk was in Vancouver and agreed to this photo session.
Photo by Kevin Light/Getty Images

After trading the 34th overall pick as part of the package for P.K. Subban, the New Jersey Devils sent their 55th overall pick to San Jose for two third round picks: 82nd and 91st overall. Therefore, the 61st overall pick is the only one of the three second round picks the Devils actually used today. They used the pick to select Ottawa 67’s defenseman Nikita Okhotyuk.

Who is Nikita Othotyuk?

According to Elite Prospects, Nikita Othotyuk is a Russian-born 18-year old who moved to Canada to play for the Ottawa 67’s in 2017-18. He has just completed his second second of major junior hockey. He stands at 6’1” and 194 pounds. He is also not that productive of a player. He put up 11 in his 53-game rookie season with Ottawa in 2017-18 and he added to that to get to 17 in 56 games. Per the OHL website, Okhotyuk also shot the puck more going from 58 shots to 96. However, offense is not this young man’s primary function. His 2018-19 player page at Prospect-Stats show that while his shooting rate was at a first-pairing level, his production was at second-pairing or lower. He is about the defense, as you’ll see later on in this post.

Also as per EP, Othotyuk did feature at the international level in 2017-18. He appeared in 20 games with the Russian U-18 team including five games in the World U-18 Championship. However, he did not get selected to play for the U-20 team. This allowed him to stay with Ottawa and work his way up the depth chart there - which he did.

What Do Others Say About Nikita Othotyuk?

As there are many picks today, I will go back and add more information about the player. In the meantime, do start off with this description of Othotyuk as a player by Brock Otten of OHL Prospects. Othotyuk finished 12th on his final Top 50 OHL prospects for 2019. This part of what Otten wrote about the player stuck out to me:

Okhotyuk definitely projects as more of a stay at home defender at the next level though. He has good size at 6’1, 200lbs, but his mobility is excellent in all four directions. He is also a true throwback in the sense that he is consistently looking to wreck havoc physically. One of the best open ice hitters in the OHL, Okhotyuk plays with such a high intensity level in the defensive end. But the thing that always impresses me about Okhotyuk is how disciplined he is for the type of game he plays. He does not take many bad penalties and exhibits great control and poise in the defensive end. From an offensive stand point, Okhotyuk is willing to use his smooth stride to lead the rush and he will jump up in the play from time to time. He also flashes a booming point shot that he should use more. Early in the year, I thought he struggled with his decision making with the puck in his own end, but that greatly improved as the year went on and turnovers became much less of an issue. I don’t see a ton of upside with Okhotyuk, but I do think that he could be a quality #4 at the NHL level who can be a prime time penalty killer and defensive work horse.

I can see how some will read that and get excited. I think those people should read this profile of Okhotyuk by David St-Louis at Habs Eyes on the Prize. I scanned through it and it gave me more of a positive opinion about the player. This section stuck out to me:

Okhotyuk has many qualities that allow him to be effective and reliable at both ends of the ice, and also earned him his promotions as the year went on.

The defenceman likes to rush the puck when he sees an opening. He has very solid balance, and it is very hard for an opposing forechecker to knock him off possession when he decides to take the puck out of the zone. He handles back-pressure well with strong edges, and protects the puck by dropping one shoulder and using his reach.

He is capable of some great skating moves to shake off opponent

St-Louis also pointed out that while not productive, Othotyuk does not hesitate on offense and he shows some moves occasionally that suggest there is some upside. Not a lot of it, but some. His citation of Mitch Brown’s microstats also show that Othotyuk was not an anchor with the ‘67s. He did contribute well to zone entries and setting up shots. That addresses a concern I have with players like Othotyuk. Are they anchors on the offense? At the major junior level, the answer is no - and that is a good thing.

As Othotyuk played in the OHL, here is a prospect profile by Dominic Tiano of OHL Writers. In his profile, Tiano noted that Othotyuk finished third in the 2018-19 OHL Coaches Poll for shot blockers among Eastern Conference players. Tiano’s conclusion is a good summary of the player and it aligns with what Otten and St-Louis wrote:

His skating allowed him to retrieve pucks quickly. However, he didn’t always show that he was capable of making the right play. He was caught at times trying to force plays that would result in turnovers. But as the season progressed, there was a marked improvement in his awareness and decision making. His skating is good enough that he can rush the puck out of the zone and his passing is very good. As his confidence grew and his opportunities with more ice time grew, those qualities became more evident.

It’s Okhotyuk’s offensive upside that raises questions. As the season wore on, he began jumping up into the play more often and with greater confidence. He has a howitzer of a shot from the blueline, but to often he passes on the opportunity to put the puck to the net. His vision is good and he is an excellent passer, which should help him offensively.

At the very least, Okhotyuk can be an excellent shut down defender who will kill penalties and play a physical game that won’t put you down a man (suspension aside here).

It is clear to me that Okhotyuk is a player who improved as 2018-19 went on and that allowed him to get more notice, get more attention, and get more positive feelings about the player’s future. It is better for any prospect to finish better where they started. And Tiano’s description reflects that. He does not hide that Okhotyuk had to make gains, but he highlighted that those gains were made. I agree that the offensive part of his game will dictate how he is used at the next level. I am at least confident he will get a real shot at pro hockey. We could see him in New Jersey one day.

Lastly and not leastly, Ben Kerr of Last Word on Sports - Hockey had Okhotyuk ranked 90th on his list of prospects. While this did not warrant a full profile, he made the last list of ten players that Kerr shared his opinion about. This is what Kerr wrote:

Okhotyuk is a good skater. He is also an excellent defender. He uses his edgework and agility to keep his man in front of him and maintain good gap control. Okhotyuk has solid positioning and a long stick. He has good balance and lower body strength. This allows him to win his battles on the boards and in front of the net. Okhotyuk only put up 17 points in 56 games with the Ottawa 67s this past season, up from his 11 points as an OHL rookie in 2017-18. He will likely never be a scorer at the NHL level but could be a solid shutdown defender with a gritty and physical game.

A Little Video

The OHL has put together short videos of prospective players for the 2019 NHL Draft. Here is their video for Okhotyuk.

A Quick Take

I am not a big fan of taking someone who projects to be a stay-at-home defenseman when there was some talent still on the board. I would have preferred Albin Grewe, Patrik Puistola, or Nathan Legare. That said, this is the point of the draft where the picks become longer and longer shots. If Othotyuk seemed like a safe bet to reach his potential, then I understand it given where it is overall. My disappointment is more to do with “what could have been” instead of Othotyuk himself. On its own, I am fine with the selection. I tend to agree with St-Louis’ opinion that he is a safer pick and I can respect that at 61st overall.

Please let me know your reactions in the comments and please vote in our poll.

Poll

The Devils drafted Person at 61st Overall. What do you think of the pick?

This poll is closed

  • 7%
    I love it!
    (23 votes)
  • 42%
    I like the pick.
    (124 votes)
  • 34%
    I don’t know / I’m in the middle.
    (99 votes)
  • 13%
    I don’t like the pick.
    (39 votes)
  • 1%
    I hate it!
    (5 votes)
290 votes total Vote Now