The NHL draft is (maybe?) around the corner due to the oddity that is the 2019-20 season and all of the moving parts around it. The New Jersey Devils will be looking to continue stocking their pipeline and building a competitive team; to do so, one must look at players who maybe don’t jump off the page right away. Will Cuylle fits that bill due to an essentially static point total this past season; should he be on New Jersey’s radar?
Who is Will Cuylle?
Cuylle was born on February 5, 2002 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The 6’2” 201 lb. left wing got his start in Toronto Marlboros midget system before he was drafted #3 overall by the Peterborough Petes in 2018 OHL Selection Draft. Cuylle would never play a game for the Petes however as he refused to report to the team; eventually he was traded to the Windsor Spitfires for what would amount to nine draft choices!
Cuylle would start his OHL career off well, recording 26 goals and 15 assist for 41 points in 63 games during the 2018-19 season. He would also add a pair of goals and an assist in four playoff games. This past campaign, Will appeared in roughly the same number of games (62) but statistically did not seem to progress, as he totaled 42 points on 22 goals and 20 assists. Worth mentioning is he did perform well (two goals and an assist in five games) in the Hlinka Gretzky Cup. His full stats can be found here on his Elite Prospects page.
Where is Will Cuylle Ranked?
While his OHL draft position would have one optimistic, Cuylle comes in ranked on only two of the sources that we regularly cite for draft projections:
Future Considerations - #45 (March)
I wouldn’t say any of this is too worrisome, but I think it is safe to say that Cuylle’s stock has fallen. His NHL projection agrees, as he fell 13 spots from midterm rank to final rank. Of note is that the Spitfires are not a bottom-feeder; they were firmly in the middle of their conference and had clinched a playoff birth at the time of play stoppage. Let’s see if we can find out what gives from some sources that follow the OHL.
What Others Say About Will Cuylle
Dobber Prospects writer Tony Ferrari had this blurb about everything that Cuylle brings to the ice:
One of two high-end 2019 NHL draft prospects playing for the Windsor Spitfires, Cuylle is the goal-scoring foil to teammate Jean-Luc Foudy. With a dangerous shot, Cuylle does an excellent job at finding the soft spots in zone and converting on his chances. His calling card has been his ability to put the puck in the net but he showed some passing ability as the season wore on in 2018-19. He displays a sound two-way game and is the rare case of a winger that consistently disrupts the oppositions transition game with the ability to break up passes and create turnovers with a good stick. Cuylle’s defensive awareness is above average for a player at his stage of development. The winger is able to flip the switch from defense to offence without missing a beat. Cuylle is among a number of players with a real shot to rise through rankings throughout his draft eligible season.
There’s a good amount to like here, particularly the goal scoring and disrupting the opposition in transition. The Devils need goal scoring and that’s been the bread and butter of Cuylle’s game. His defensive awareness is described as good, and he apparently does a good job as a winger of preventing opponent’s from bringing the puck the other way. That disruption is a quality missing from today’s Devils all too often, as we’ve seen the opposition come into their offensive zone with ease and then pin the Devils in. Perhaps a player like Cuylle being in the system could help to change that.
Cuylle is fearless throwing his body around, especially on the forecheck, and the forward is skilled enough to do it without spending too much time in the penalty box.
That level of intelligence, combined with a strong offensive skill set, has him No. 21 among North American skaters in NHL Central Scouting’s midterm ranking of North American skaters for the 2020 NHL Draft.
While the ranking is old, the analysis of Cuylle’s game isn’t; intelligent, good offense, able to hit, and doesn’t take many penalty minutes. Wrap all of those assets into one package and you have the makings of a strong Top 6 NHL forward.
“Physical, skilled, can put the puck in the net, they can make plays, they’re big and fast,” he said. “Those are some guys that hopefully I can model my game after.”
The size should have been a giveaway, but the words from Will himself show that in both mind and definition he is a power forward. A guy like Benn would be a player to not only model one’s self after, but also to turn out to be, as Benn has had many good season for Dallas.
“He just waited for Foudy to do the work and then you’d find the place and get that shot in the offensive zone,” Letowski said. “I’ve put Will with two of my hard-working players, (Curtis) Douglas, who’s a (Stars) draft pick, big guy, and my hardest-working guy is Luke Boka, a 20-year-old. Put them together and it’s been great.”
Being the guy who drives his line has helped Cuylle rediscover his identity as a hard-working, physical forward.
Here, we may have discovered a bit of the problem, thanks to Trevor Letowski, coach of the Spitfires. When Cuylle was put with a line driver (in this case, the also draft eligible Foudy previously profiled here by Jenna), he became passive and waited until he could get off a shot. Becoming the driver of his own line seems to have rectified that somewhat, and while Cuylle described it later in the article as bounces going his way, the lack of a point total increase still has to have some concerned.
A Little Video
If I’m judging Cuylle’s play from this compilation, I will say that he has one heck of a shot, and his ability to find the right spot and/or deflect a puck is high. The below video shows some more great goals:
Try to ignore the music in this one and focus on the biscuit being sent into the basket. Again, Will demonstrates scoring lethality, but the way he goes about it has me questioning if his skill set will translate to the NHL.
An Opinion of Sort
While it’s still early in his career and the potential is there for Cuylle, I’m going with a down vote this week, and saying this is a prospect I think the Devils should steer clear from. As he’s anticipated to be drafted in the second or early third round, as of right now that’s not a problem. I think there are some bigger red flags at work than anyone is willing to admit however.
First, his skating was described as “improved” in Kimelman’s piece; skating going from “bad” to “average” would still technically be an improvement while not being NHL caliber. He appears to be an average skater going by the second compilation, as the only time I saw footage of him on a breakaway, he either had defenders almost catching him, or the opposition royally blew it, such as the part where the announcer notes the play to be a 3 on 0.
I’m also not sold on him being anything more than a complimentary piece; watching the first compilation video, he appeared to be extremely smart about finding a good spot to be in. He only beat a defender once or twice, and that was mainly due to bad defending, be it position or choice. The fact that he seemingly has so many tools, but couldn’t improve his point totals this season is troubling; usually a highly touted player in the CHL will see a jump in their totals between their first and second seasons. I would understand if Cuylle missed a chunk of games, but he played only one fewer than his first season while only posting one additional point.
The last critique I have would be the line driving. The lack of driving play when paired with other talents hurts his value badly in my opinion, as when you put your best players together, you want to see them get even better, possibly even dominating their competition. With Cuylle, it almost seems that he was content to float (see 0:39 into the first video) until Foudy found him in scoring position, and it’s implied that he wasn’t creating much for his linemates and as a result was shifted to a different line. While he possesses an unbelievable shot, the Devils need guys who are going to gel and make each other better. I don’t think Cuylle fits that bill right now, and as such, Jersey’s Team should pass.
Now I’d like to hear your thoughts about Will Cuylle as a prospect; what about his game to you like/dislike? Do you agree the Devils should look elsewhere, or do you believe he’s a player they should look into further. Does his size and willingness to hit make him a more desirable piece? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!