Two-way defense is hard, but we’re slowly getting to the point that nearly any defender worth his salt will try and involve themselves in offensive plays nowadays. But because it’s so difficult to do both well, defense prospects can get shunted into being stay-at-home guys or effectively a fourth forward who can shotblock if it means it’ll help their draft stock. It’s not a bad thing, in fact many can find a niche on any team through that, but it takes a very delicate balance of training and coaching to ensure that a player who shows promise in both categories can excel at them without sacrificing one side of the ice for the other.
In Drummondville, Centre-du-Québec, they found a kid who can do both very well in quite an unusual place: Austria.
Austrian hockey is a bit of an enigma: the Österreichischer Eishockeyverband and their national team is ranked 14th in the world and has less international coverage than even the German leagues. And they’re right next door! Truly impressive players have come from Austria however, such as Michael Raffl, Michael Grabner...and Thomas Vanek. But as is the case with other small hockey powers, most young talent that want to go to the NHL will inevitably have to join the senior leagues, or find their game in the CHL, which is where our young friend Thimo comes in.
Thimo Nickl got his start in the illustrious Klagenfurter Athletiksport Club system, or KAC, for those who don’t want to giggle at the name Klagenfurter. He played in a minor league known as the Alps-HL, playing teams from across Austria, Switzerland, Italy, and Slovenia for a pair of years, but inevitably found himself wanting more. He found that when he went to Quebec to play for Drummondville, and distinguished himself with a strong 2019, ending up 6th overall on the team in points and 2nd among defensemen in points, only beaten out by Jacob Dion, who will also be in the running for the draft this year.
Nickl’s play definitely lent itself to the loosey-goosey, offense-over-everything style of the Q, having strong lateral skating, good acceleration and speed with those long strides of his, an active, play-seeking stick to break up passes and the well honed and timed bodychecks near the blueline to separate bodies from the puck. Augmenting that is a keen eye for play recognition; taking the initiative to knock down pucks as they get lifted up ice, get himself into position to block a shot, and to make life miserable for the forecheck as they enter the zone. And that’s just his defense, Nickl also chipped in plenty with his smooth, fast and easy-to-take passes that could find open players in a sea of bodies, and force teams to react to him coming up the ice with that powerful, accurate slapshot of his. Nickl’s puck-handling is also a vital part of his ability to do both, as he’s next to impossible to knock off the puck, and his capable hands can quite easily fool players into making a move before he does...and then he just uses his frame to quietly go around them to set up his next shot or pass. Indeed, had Drummondville gotten a chance to play for the President’s cup, it’s likely he would’ve seen further interest due to a single season showing how much promise he has in just a single year of QMJHL play.
As for downsides, Nickl’s fairly slim for someone his size; there’s at least a good ten-twenty pounds one can put on this kid so that he can get the most out of his skillset, and turn bumping checks into full-on powerful collisions. Further, while his Hockey-IQ is strong in play recognition, his decision making...isn’t the greatest. Sometimes he’ll pass too tight into oncoming players instead of ahead of them, or turn the puck over at inopportune times. He can also get caught trying to overcomplicate a sequence that could easily just have been an easy zone exit by trying to get crafty. Further, his offense is very assist-heavy for a two-way guy; he has that booming shot, but he rarely actually uses it, preferring to pass first. He himself admitted that it’s an area he needs to work on, though given just how top-heavy Drummondville’s offense was, it’s hard to really fault him for that, but if he wants to continue to improve his game, he’s going to have to work hard to get that shot utilized more. Drafting him will mean improving his weight, and making sure he sees more ice-time.
Nickl is pretty solidly a third round or 4th rounder who’s held pretty strong and has been steadily rising with each passing day. RHD in this particular draft is tough to come by, as the vast majority are either 1st round picks (which Boston does not have), a LHD, or a longer-term project in the middle rounds. Given that his flaws are fairly coachable and that he already has NHL-ready size, it’s hard to see him and think that if you put work into him, you won’t be disappointed by what you get back.
What do you think?
70th by FutureConsiderations
74th by NHL Central Scouting among North American Skaters
|2017-18||Klagenfurter AC U18||EBJL||19||6||10||16||16|
|Klagenfurter AC II||AlpsHL||25||1||0||1||10|
|2018-19||Klagenfurter AC II||AlpsHL||24||2||13||15||20|