Defenseman Ronnie Attard took one of the unique routes to being selected in the 2019 NHL Draft. A 1999-birthdate, Attard was passed over in his two years of draft eligibility, and in fact, wasn’t even really on the NHL’s radar in either of those first two years. In 98 games over those two seasons, he posted a quiet 11 goals and 20 points.
But his third and final year of draft eligiblity was an incredible breakout season. He set a USHL record for most goals in a single season by a defenseman with 30 goals, along with 34 assists and a leauge-best +47 +/- rating. He was named the USHL’s Defenseman of the Year and USHL Player of the Year. The NHL took notice and despite being an older player in his final year of eligibility, the Philadelphia Flyers selected him in the third round, 72nd overall in the 2019 Draft.
Now two years into his collegiate career at Western Michigan, I took a closer look at Attard’s game and clipped some video to show how the young defenseman is developing as a potential pro prospect.
Attard had a solid season for Western Michigan last year as a freshman. Western Michigan had an excellent offensive defenseman in senior Cam Lee last year, as well as a high NHL Draft pick in Mattias Samuelsson, which kind of kept Attard in more of a secondary role. Still, he posted a respectable 6-8-14 scoring line in 30 games and led the team with a +21 +/- rating(Team total was +34).
This year, with the departure of Lee and Samuelsson, Attard has ascended to the clear #1 defenseman on Western Michigan’s team. Attard’s points-per-game rate has increased; he currently has 3-7-10 in 14 games. The +/- is taking a bit of a hit this year; he’s currently at -2(Team total is -15). Some of that is more ice time against better competition. A lot of it is Western Michigan’s team save percentage dropping from .905 last year to .860 this year after starting goalie Brandon Bussi was injured early in the season. He was recently named NCHC defenseman of the week for scoring two goals and adding an assist as Western Michigan won and tied against Miami last weekend.
Attard is a right shot defenseman that Western Michigan lists at 6-3 210 lbs.—a measurement that looks accurate. Western Michigan plays on the right side of their top defensive pairing with freshman Aidan Fulp. He’s on the top power play unit and top penalty killing unit for Western Michigan. College hockey doesn’t have publicly available time on ice information, but I would ballpark his ice time in the 25-30-minutes-per-game range.
Besides the offensive end—which we’ll get to later—there isn’t a lot that stands out about Attard in either a good or bad way. I would describe his skating an foot speed as just okay, but he largely makes up for it by using his big frame really effectively to angle off players and protect the puck.
Here’s a good example of him on a breakout where he doesn’t outskate the pressure, but is able to protect the puck and just shrug off the forechecker—who is listed at 6-3 205 lbs.—to clear the puck out of the zone.
On most puck retrieval situations, Western Michigan’s system does a great job of providing center support for the defense, which allows Attard to keep things very simple. Again, here he uses his size advantage to shield off the forechecker and move the puck:
If there is a rough area on the defensive side of the puck for him, I do think, owing to his lack of foot speed, he can get caught a little too far out ahead trying to anticipate the play, which can put him out of position. On this power play goal, he gets caught cheating trying to get out early to the wing, leaving space in the middle of the ice for Miami to score a goal:
On this play, he ends up giving up a quality chance because he tries to anticipate the play coming down the boards, and gets caught when the puck takes a weird bounce(A nice activation afterwards to create a scoring chance the other way though, which we’ll talk about later).
I don’t think that is a huge issue for him going forward, but definitely something that can be cleaned up.
Moving up to the neutral zone, again Attard plays pretty conservatively. His first pass out of the zone is decent. He missed a few, but for the most part, he was solid at finding teammates and maintaining possession. He’s much more likely to gain the red line and dump the puck in than try to carry the puck in. Same when he gets to the offensive blue line; he rarely tries to make a move one-on-one against a defender, instead opting to play the puck into space for a teammate to gather. The one exception is if he sees an open lane to the net and then he’ll try to attack. But for the most part, it’s safe and simple rather than trying to make the dazzling hero play.
Now onto the fun stuff. Attard’s offensive numbers don’t come by accident. I think he’s a really smart, talented offensive player.
Even though again, I don’t think he’s a tremendous skater, he does an excellent job of picking the right moments to activate and join the rush out of his own end to create odd-man scoring opportunities for his team. I already showed the one above. Here’s another example off a quick change of possession where Attard sees the opposing defenseman fall down and the opportunity for numbers the other way:
Here’s a more subtle example where he sees Miami has one guy with his heels facing their net and rushes the net to support the puck carrier:
He’s still picking his spots though. Here’s an example where he could have joined a rush, but Miami has enough strength back that he decides not to push it:
Overall, I really like that aspect of his game.
The main attraction though is his shot. Lots of guys can shoot it hard, some can shoot it accurate. But it’s the ability to get that hard, accurate shot off frequently that really separates goal scorers. Attard knows he can shoot it and does an excellent hunting for shots and always being ready for the opportunity to present itself.
This is a simple little play, but Attard is ready to step into his shot for a one-timer and beats a pretty good goalie from distance with no traffic in front:
On this one, his D partner gains the zone on the right side. Attard reads the play and shifts over to his off-wing looking for the big one-timer, which he gets off:
This comes off a set play off a face-off, where Western Michigan lines up Attard on his off-wing to set him up for a shot. He gets a heavy wrister off that the goalie can’t control, then gets another opportunity and just misses on a shot/pass to a teammate in front:
On this play, he takes advantage of a quick turnover and is able to get off a really good one-timer that the goalie can’t control, despite it being an iffy pass:
When he shoots, the puck is almost always on net. I saw very few shots that went wide of their target. In terms of getting shots through, I liked his ability to get his shot past the first wave shot blocker. It being college hockey, there are usually still eight other guys standing in front of the net to get through. Here’s a good example of him evading that first shot blocker twice in a row:
And while I don’t think anyone would describe him as a high-end skill guy, here’s a nice little toe drag to change the shot angle and get the puck on net:
This clip of Western Michigan’s power play is pretty representative of how they use Attard on the power play. Notice he’ll start on the right side and then he quickly slides over to the left once they establish possession so he can be in shooting position.
At the :19 second mark, you’ll notice him point, calling for the puck to go down low so he can sneak in on the backdoor for a pass. He then repositions nicely when that pass doesn’t work, and is able to be in the right spot for a good scoring chance the just misses the upper corner on.
With all of that said, 1400 words later, what does it mean for Attard’s pro potential? I think there is a lot to like in there. Attard was drafted fairly high off of one really good season of junior hockey, as an older player, that seemingly came out of nowhere. There is a lot of risk in a pick like that. But I think he’s showing that his 30-goal season in his final year in Tri-City was not at all a fluke. He’s got some serious offensive skills and offensive instincts.
The question is if he is good enough to translate that to the NHL level. The skating is the big concern for me. Will he be able to defend well enough against the speed at the NHL level that he can stay on the ice in order to use his offensive abilities? Working in his favor is that I think he’s a very smart player that thinks one or two steps ahead. I think that makes him a more effective player than some other college defensemen I see that have NHL-caliber skating, but aren’t able to use it effectively. If Attard can continue to keep the game simple, stay in position to use his size and strength advantage over most players, I think a team could live with him being average defensively if they can gain the positives on the offensive end. It’s easy to see Attard’s big shot as a perfect complement to a blueline playmaker like Cam York on Philadelphia’s power play some day.