Buffalo, N.Y. (WGR 550) - Part 4 of or multi-faceted series covering the 2022 NHL Draft brings us to our first defensive player of the series, Ryan Chesley.
Chesley is an 18-year-old product of the United States National Team Development Program (USNTDP) and is committed to the University of Michigan for the fall.
The Mahtomedi, Minnesota native is ranked 18th by NHL Central Scouting amongst North American skaters. Despite this higher ranking, Chesley is projected to be picked between 26th overall and 30th overall.
This means he would be the focus for the Sabres at their third pick of the first round at 28th overall.
Ryan Chesley is a defensive defenseman, coming in at 6-foot and 201 pounds. Chesley can use his physical size to outmuscle forecheckers and create a play for his team up ice.
When he’s on the other side of the puck, he uses that same size and physicality to clear forwards from the crease and get into the dirty areas to get the puck back for his team.
In the 75 games he played for the USNTDP this season, he recorded 44 points with the majority being assists (17+27). While in Germany with Team USA for the IIHF U18 World Championship, he recorded two goals and three assists for five points in six games.
Being committed to the University of Minnesota this upcoming fall, Chesley is set to become teammates with current Sabres defensive prospect Ryan Johnson, who is returning to play his senior year with the Golden Gophers.
As mentioned before, Chesley is a prime example of a defensive defenseman with his strongest ability being that he uses his body at the right time to cause disruption in the play.
He uses his physicality to force players to the outside while entering the offensive zone, and cutting them off along the board by laying a big hit to free up the puck. He can also use his hockey IQ when cutting down passing lanes with his stick along with assisting in the transition game.
Being a defensive defenseman, Chesley isn’t as big of a standout in the offensive zone. However, he has shown offensive prowess when completing quick transition passes out of the defensive zone to neutral ice, springing a forward for an odd-man rush.
Chesley has also shown some skills on the power play with hard slap shots and wrist shots, though the accuracy of some shots leaves much to be desired.
One of the only issues Chesley has on the defensive side of the puck is having the explosiveness and first stride to be able to get to a loose puck after a dump-in or missed shot.
He’s not the quickest of skaters, so an overall fix would be to work on the skating stride and everything else will fall into place.
This awareness to have the first jump may also be another issue in the lack of drive. Chesley has shown, at times, where he lacks the drive and effort to get to loose pucks in all three zones of the ice. Whether this is an issue of athleticism, skating ability, drive, or a mix of all three is unclear.
What is clear, though, is that given time with the right skating coach, he could be an elite defensive defenseman.
Given Chesley’s size and physical ability, he compares to some of the best defensive defensemen in the NHL. With him not being the greatest skater or offensive threat, it narrows the search down to just a few defensemen, with the closest comparable being Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Muzzin.
Muzzin has played just over 10 years in the league, appearing in 679 games while recording 293 points (69+224). Prior to some recent injuries, Muzzin was one of the most dependable defensemen on a shaky Maple Leafs defensive corps.
A player of his style comes up at big times in big games, providing key transition passes or breaking up dangerous odd-man rushes.
Where does he fit on the Sabres?
The Sabres are on the brink of having one of the best defensive corps in the entire NHL.
Their left side consists of Rasmus Dahlin, Owen Power, and Mattias Samuelsson, whereas the right side is a bit bare with the only players with NHL experience under contract being Henri Jokiharju and Casey Fitzgerald. While these two are fine defensemen, the Sabres will need to add a veteran presence on the right side for the 2022-23 campaign to be competitive.
Chesley offers the opportunity of being a piece that could join the team a few years down the road.
With 2-3 years playing at the NCAA level, Chesley should be able to improve his skating. Then after taking a short stint in the AHL, he could start to see some NHL action.
Chesley is a prospect that Sabres fans could look forward to 3-4 years down the road, so long as he improves. He could project to be a middle-pairing blue line presence for the Sabres in the future.