Northstar Christian Academy U18
6’2” 187 lbs.
Final NHL Central Scouting Rank: 195th among North American skaters
In a draft that is full of what are considered modern NHL defensemen—smaller waterbug types with excellent offensive skills and perhaps still developing defensively—Jacob Napier is a throwback; closer to type of defenseman that may have been more coveted 15-20 years ago. He’s a big, tough defenseman whose game starts on the defensive end and works out from there. That may not be as flashy or exciting as some of the smaller defensemen available in the draft, but there will always be a place in the game for a defenseman that can take care of his own end of the ice.
Napier is also a bit of an unknown. He played this past season as Northstar Christian Academy, a relatively new program in a similar vein to a Shattuck-St. Mary’s out of western Minnesota at the U18(Midget Major) level of play. Playing in a non-traditional area, he hasn’t gotten a lot of consensus draft hype, but it only takes one team to really like a player for him to be drafted, and there is reason to believe Napier may interest some NHL teams.
What I Like
-Good one-on-one defender
The big thing that stood out to me watching Napier was that I really liked his ability to control gaps and get his stick on his opponent’s stick when he’s defending. Now, there’s a big caveat here in that he’s doing it at a lower level, and that task becomes exponentially harder against faster, more skilled competition. But at the very least, there is a strong foundation with which to build on as an excellent player in the defensive zone.
-Physical Style of Play
Napier has a big, strong frame and isn’t afraid to use it. He’s a punishing physical presence, especially along the boards. He finishes checks effectively, which can clog up the opposing team’s cycle in the offensive zone.
-Willing to Jump Into the Play
Most of the talk about Napier’s offensive game is going to come in the negatives section of this post. But one offensive aspect of his game that I really like is his ability to read the play and jump into the offensive rush to create odd-man situations for his team.
I don’t see him creating a lot of offense with the puck on his stick, but that ability to give his team a numerical advantage when they get possession of the puck leads to scoring chances.
Here’s a great example of that. Napier starts the play just inside his own blue line as the puck gets pushed to the far boards. His team wins possession and seeing no defensive support on the weak side, joins the rush on the left wing to create a 3-on-2 that leads to a goal for his team.
What I Don’t Like
Napier’s skating held up fine at the U18 level and in his brief stint in the NAHL, but it’s not really an elite asset and there will probably be some question if it can hold up as he progresses to higher levels. He’ll likely have to be a guy that has to get by with excellent positioning to make up for his foot speed.
-Doesn’t create a lot with his passing
Again, Napier primarily projects as a defensive defenseman. He’ll make a solid first pass out of his own zone, but otherwise, he doesn’t show a lot of crafty playmaking in his game. He’ll be much more likely to play on the penalty kill than the power play going forward.
Napier didn’t draw a ton of attention playing in a league where very few NHL draft picks come from, and as his Central Scouting ranking suggests, he’s probably a fringe draft pick at best. In an era where every team is looking for the next Cale Makar, he’s not going to be that guy.
That said, I think there is some potential value to drafting him in the later rounds, especially if team draft lists are a little thinner than usual due to so many players missing this past season.
If somebody is really intrigued by Napier’s potential, he may slip into the middle rounds of the draft, but late rounds to undrafted is the most likely scenario.
Even if Napier isn’t drafted, however, I would not be surprised if he ends up as a coveted NHL free agent target after a few years of play in the NCAA. In that regard, he may be a crafty late round pick just for the sake of securing exclusive negotiating rights a few years down the road.
Napier is never going to be the most exciting prospect. He likely won’t put up huge offensive numbers or even be the most noticeable player, but every team needs a guy or two like him to keep the puck out of the net. His ceiling is fairly limited in that he doesn’t necessarily have super star potential, but if he can turn into a solid, reliable defensive defenseman, he’ll be a home run pick for where he’ll be available in the draft.
Napier is committed to play his college hockey for Andy Murray at Western Michigan. He was recently selected in the first round, 12th overall, in the USHL Entry Draft, as sure a sign as any that he will spend at least next season playing a year of juniors in the USHL before heading to Kalamazoo, however. That’s likely the right decision given that Napier is coming off a year where he mostly played U18 hockey. Some time in the USHL will make for a smoother transition to the college game.
Western Michigan has a terrific track record in developing players for the pros, especially when it comes to defensemen. So Napier will be in a good spot, and if he continues his upward development trend, he could end up as a really solid pro player in a few years.