SASKATOON — This winter National Hockey League scouts will be watching Tanner Molendyk ahead of the 2023 NHL Draft, but the Saskatoon Blades blueliner’s eye is on something else – team success.
Last week the third-year Western Hockey League player appeared on NHL Central Scouting’s “Preliminary Players to Watch” list for the draft. The 5-foot-11, 183-pound defenceman from McBride, B.C. was given a “B” rating, which means he is expected to be selected in the second or third round of the draft. When asked about his mental approach regarding the draft, Molendyk said:
“I just kind of throw it in the back of the mind and not think about it.”
He is more focused on helping the Blades this season. The squad is off to a 10-3-0-0 start. It sat third in the WHL’s Eastern Conference as of Tuesday. Molendyk said he is excited about “how good of a team we got and how far I think we can go.”
The veteran is certainly playing a role in the Blades’ success. Molendyk had five assists through 12 games. He led the Blades with a plus/minus rating of plus 11.
“His skating is obviously his biggest strength,” Blades assistant coach Dan DaSilva said. “You can see it when you watch it. Even someone who does not know hockey that well can definitely see the strength in his skating. He’s very fast, has quick feet.
“He’s got a hard shot as well. Just wants to be a playmaker, wants to go out there and make a difference.”
While he is a skilled player, Molendyk does not shy away from the physical side of the game and enjoys it.
“Just being able to hit guys is pretty fun. I think it adds a lot to the game and makes opponents worry you’re going to come after them.”
During his years with the Blades, Molendyk has put time into improving his game – and it has shown. He got his feet wet in the WHL in a shortened, “bubble” season in 2020-2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and then had his first full campaign last winter.
“He has developed his game definitely on the defensive side compared to last year,” DaSilva said. “Now with a year under his belt, a year and a half I guess, he’s really developed his defensive game. Obviously, he skates well, and it really has helped the way he defends when angling and having good sticks.
“He has also developed into more of a leader where he wants to be out in the big minutes of the game – the last minute of the period and all the important parts of the game so he has definitely developed that side as well where he wants to be an impact player for our team.”
In media before the season started, Blades head coach Brennan Sonne noted that Molendyk was bigger and faster. Regarding those changes, Molendyk said, “I think just a lot of work in the summer with my training coach and making sure I was better on the blueline and got bigger and stronger.”
In addition to hard work in the gym last summer, Molendyk also had the opportunity to shine on the ice. He was part of the Team Canada squad that won gold at the U18 World Juniors 2022 Hlinka Gretzky Cup in Red Deer. It was Canada’s first gold since 2018. Molendyk said he enjoyed “making new friends, having different types of coaches and I think just confidence-wise it helped me out that way.”
Team Canada beat Sweden 4-1 in the championship game. Earlier in the tournament, Molendyk recorded a goal and two assists in a 9-1 win over Slovakia. For the tournament he had a goal and three assists. Molendyk contributed to a Team Canada defence that only allowed three goals in the tournament.