2020-21 Team: Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)
Date of Birth: February 27, 2003
Place of Birth: Coquitlam, British Columbia
Ht: 6-foot Wt: 176 pounds
NHL Draft Eligibility: 2021 first-year eligible
There’s something romantic about a late-round pick making the NHL, especially when they become a star. Most hockey fans know that Patric Hornqvist was the last pick in the 2005 draft before winning two Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins or that Pavel Datsyuk, one of the greatest players of the post-lockout NHL, was a sixth-round pick in 1998. It seems ridiculous that such talented players could fall so far through the draft, but that’s simply the reality of the draft. It’s impossible to project accurately how teenaged players, especially those that become late NHL selections, will develop.
Related: 2021 NHL Draft Guide
Or is it?
Scouting has drastically improved over the last decade, and while the odds still aren’t great for late-round picks to make the NHL, keen-eyed scouts will be able to pick out key skills that will translate very well into the professional ranks. These are the ‘hidden gems’ – players that are missed or undervalued due to size, playing time, or their league but possess incredible talent. Thus, it’s no surprise to those who saw them up close when they make the NHL. For some reason, the WHL seems to be littered with them; in 2019, it was Adam Beckman, and then in 2020, it was Tristan Robins. And in 2021, it could be Seattle Thunderbirds’ defenseman, Jeremy Hanzel.
Hanzel is a modern offensive defender, combining speed and puck-handling in order to play all ends of the ice. He sees the ice very well and knows when to pinch in order to keep the puck in the offensive zone, utilizing slight puck taps in order to change its trajectory just enough for a teammate to pick it up. With the puck, he’s equally as effective, using quick, deceptive movements to make it nearly impossible for opponents to figure out what he’s going to do next.
But Hanzel’s best skill is his intelligence. He sees the ice differently than nearly every other defenseman in his draft class in that he understands the importance of creating space. In the clip above, he picks up the puck from behind the net, carrying it up to the blue line, where he draws in two opponents who are looking to knock the puck off him and keep it in the offensive zone. However, with two players on him, he is able to dish a quick pass to a teammate just ahead, who then has an excellent opportunity for an odd-man rush.
Below is another great example of him creating that space through a give-and-go, a trick Hanzel uses frequently, but also demonstrating his exceptional puck-handling skills that leads to a highlight-reel goal. In every part of the clip, he’s exactly where he needs to be at all times, using deceptive moves and quick acceleration in order to give himself the space needed to beat the goalie. And he does it so effortlessly. The awareness and smarts of this player are tough to match.
This blend of intelligence, deception, and puckhandling makes him a truly unique player in not only the WHL but in the 2021 NHL Draft. However, in just 23 games this season, he wasn’t always able to demonstrate it, putting up just two goals and six assists this season. Those who look simply at his stat line will miss a huge part of his skill set, which is one reason why he’s fallen under the radar. He does need to add some strength, as well, but most players at this stage need to develop physically, so that’s to be expected and not a major detractor.
Statistically, any player taken after the first round has a decreasing chance to make the NHL. It’s not an insignificant decrease, either; just going from the first to the second round sees a staggering 40% drop in the odds of making the big leagues. But that doesn’t mean teams can’t find stars later in the draft. Hanzel has demonstrated the ability to do things very few players his age can, and many of his abilities are very difficult to learn through simply coaching alone. These are skills that show there’s something very special about this player, and if someone takes a chance on him, he looks like he’ll have a very bright future.
Other THW Draft Profiles:
Jeremy Hanzel – NHL Draft Projection
Based on his rankings, Hanzel projects to be a third or fourth-round pick at the very highest. But like Robins, who also projected to be a later-round pick, he could end up being a second-round selection by a team who feels he’s exactly what they’re looking for. It would fitting if the Seattle Kraken picked him, as he’ll be playing in their backyard for the next couple of seasons, but he would be a great fit in nearly any organization.
“The 16th overall pick in the 2018 WHL draft, Masters is an offensive-minded defenseman who quarterbacked Red Deer’s power play thanks to his quick feet and soft hands. He’s still growing into his role, but one thing that Masters doesn’t lack is confidence with the puck. He’s more than capable of spinning or darting past pressure while staying in complete control with his head up.” Steve Kournianos, The Draft Analyst
“Hanzel loves the give-and-go in every possible situation, using it to beat his man on the retrieval, generate a counterattack, or activate from the point, often in sequence. By sprinting past his check or filling the weak side, he’s always giving his teammates an option and drawing defensive attention. He manipulates forecheckers and defenders alike with look-offs, hesitation moves, and fake shots.” Elite Prospects
“Hanzel has been a revelation for the Thunderbirds on the back end and after the premier defenders in the draft are off the table, very well may be one of the better bets as a transitional defender. There’s a lot of areas that need to be developed to his game which carries risk but the skillset he is honing is putting him on a path to be a dynamic offensive player.” Justin Froese, FC Hockey
“I feel I am an offensive defenseman that sees the ice well. I want to get bigger, stronger and quicker to get ready for next season.” Jeremy Hanzel
- Intelligince and creativity
Under Construction (Improvements to Make)
Personally, I see some similarities to Jared Spurgeon, who also slipped under the radar, putting up just 12 points in 43 games as a rookie with the Spokane Chiefs before breaking out with 43 points in 69 games in 2007-08. The New York Islanders took a chance on the undersized offensive defender but decided not to tender a qualifying offer, allowing him to sign with the Minnesota Wild in 2010, where he’s remained to this day and was recently named team captain. While Hanzel plays a more modern style, I could see him becoming a very reliable, middle-pairing defenseman who can put up 30-40 points in the right system.
Risk – 2/5, Reward – 4/5
Fantasy Hockey Potential
Offence – 8/10, Defence – 7/10
Jeremy Hanzel Statistics
An elementary teacher by day and an avid hockey fan, Dayton joined The Hockey Writers in 2019 and currently covers the Ottawa Senators, World Juniors, and NHL Entry Draft.