Hill-Murray School(MN)/Bismarck Bobcats(NAHL)
5’11” 154 lbs.
Final NHL Central Scouting Rank: 109th among North American Skaters
Joe Palodichuk was one of the top players in Minnesota high school hockey this past season, finishing as a finalist for the state’s Mr. Hockey award. He was a standout defenseman Hill-Murray, one of the top hockey programs in the metro Twin Cities. There wsa a time when that alone was enough to get a player drafted. But with US junior leagues becoming deeper in talent in recent years, NHL teams have started to place more emphasis on players that produce against higher levels of competition, viewing them as the safer choice.
Palodichuk is an extremely mobile defenseman that has shown great skating ability, but doesn’t quite have the track record of some of the other top-rated prospects in this draft with extensive junior and international experience. There’s a lot of guesswork and projection that goes into every draft pick, but assessing Palodichuk might take more than some others.
What I Like
-Puck Retrieval Ability
Palodichuk’s foot speed and fast twitch quickness make him really good in puck retrieval situations. He can change directions with his feet to escape pressure and start the break-out out of his own zone.
This is a subtle little play, but watch this clip of Palodichuk able to fake up the ice with his skates then turn back to shake a forechecker and maintain possession:
Here’s another little simple retrieval from his NAHL stint to get in and move the puck in a tight area to start a breakout:
-Pushes the puck up the ice
Palodichuk is a great skater, capable of moving the puck through the neutral zone and gaining zone entry. Here’s an example where he uses his speed to break through a pair of defenders and get the puck deep into the offensive zone.
What I Don’t Like
Like many defensemen at this age, especially when they face a lot of over-matched competition at the high school level, Palodichuk is much better moving forward and attacking than he is playing in his defensive zone. His backward skating is a little too crossover-heavy, which can get him into trouble against faster skaters. He’s certainly athletic enough that that could improve with time and development, and I like the way he competes defensively, but it’s not there yet overall.
-Needs to add strength
Again, this is an extremely common critique among 18-year-old draft prospects, but Palodichuk weighs in at a CSB-listed 154 lbs. He’ll have plenty of time to develop that, but it will have to develop. He’s at a deficit in board battles and will need to get better at winning 50/50 pucks.
-Low scoring output
Palodichuk had a 0-5-5 scoring lines in 20 games with the Bismarck Bobcats of the NAHL this past season. It’s not a full season’s sample size by any means, but it is more of a sample than you’d usually get with a high school draft prospect. Though it’s worth keeping in mind that as kind of a weekend fill-in after the high school season, he was really only getting second unit power play time in Bismarck.
I do like his hockey sense in the offensive zone. Here’s a play(6 White)where he reads a soft spot in the defense and gets to the net for a scoring chance that doesn’t quite work. I wouldn’t be surprised if his scoring numbers improve quite a bit next season when he’s playing a full season in one spot.
Historically speaking, NHL Central Scouting tends to be a bit more generous on the average to Minnesota high school players than NHL teams are on draft day, and I get the feeling that that might be the case here. Anyone that can skate like Palodichuk is going to be in the conversation to be selected, but I’m not sure he showed enough else, especially outside of high school hockey, to be much more than a late-round flyer pick. In the later rounds, there aren’t going to be any complete players available. Mostly, you’re looking for at least one or two elite, projectable skills and hoping the rest develops in the future. And if you had to pick one skill, skating is probably the best you could have, so Palodichuk is likely worth the pick.
Palodichuk’s skating ability is what will carry him if he progresses to the next level. Ideally, you’d like to see him develop enough offensively that he can contribute on the power play, or at least generate enough offensive pop to offset some of the defensive issues. But most likely, he’ll be a solid lower pairing player who is great at moving the puck out of his own zone and into the other team’s zone.
Palodichuk is more of a project pick. Whatever team drafts him will get the benefit of letting him develop for a few years before he heads to the pro game. He’s likely to play at least a full year of junior hockey before heading to the University of Wisconsin, where he is committed to play college hockey, and three to four years of college hockey would likely benefit him. That would allow him to slowly acclimate to the college game, and then hopefully take on a bigger role as an upperclassman.