That the Rangers traded Lias Andersson was hardly a surprise. That move was all but an inevitability the moment the Rangers demoted him to the AHL and he left the team last December.
What was jarring was seeing the trade abruptly announced live on air and the Rangers making a selection moments later, drafting Ontario Hockey League winger Will Cuylle at 60th overall.
Here is my take on Cuylle and the selection.
Position: Left Wing
Birthday: February 5th, 2002
Height/Weight: 6’3, 203 pounds
2019-2020 OHL Stats: 62 GP, 22 G, 20 A, 37 PIM
Cuylle’s biggest asset is his shooting ability. His isn’t elite, but it is very good. He throws his weight into his wrist shots and there’s some pretty strong velocity behind it. He doesn’t need to disguise his shots so much as power them past goaltenders. He can beat goaltenders from the circles both on controlled possessions as well as on rush chances.
He puts his size to use as well at the net-front. He won’t peel off when skating towards the net. He’ll use his strength to fight for stick positioning in the low slot and score his share of goals that way.
That’s well and good when he has the puck on his stick in a scoring position. A problem is finding opportunities to score. Cuylle is a floater in the offensive zone. That often gets misconstrued as meaning “soft,” which it doesn’t and which he isn’t. Rather, when the puck is elsewhere, Cuylle tends to hover in a general spot and puck watch. He’s not moving his feet to change the defense’s formation and change lanes of opportunity for plays.
And when he does have the puck and there isn’t an immediate shooting opportunity, he struggles to create one for himself. He’s not really one to subtly change the angle of his release. He can’t contort defenders to put them off-balance and carry into space.
When he has the puck along the boards or behind the net, he can protect well. However, he lacks the ability to then make a play with that bought time. Usually he’s hoping for a teammate to come in support along the wall. If not, he sends it along the boards and hopes for the best. He lacks the hands to pull the puck into his body or around a defender and carry inwards towards the slot. That’s both along the half-wall and behind the goal line.
As a passer, he’s okay at best. Again, he’s decent at holding up the puck along the perimeter until passing options present themselves. Below the goal line, he’ll make the occasional low-to-high dish to a teammate in the slot. But he’s not someone who is going to beat layers with his feeds.
On rushes, Cuylle is fast enough north-to-south. He’s not going to put defenders on their heels or beat them outside, but at full stride he can generate enough speed to maintain his team’s numbers on transitions and score off the rush. His agility is less impressive. When it comes to breakouts, Cuylle is best as stationary puck support.
He’s a willing and capable forechecker, at least to an extent. He’s not necessarily someone who is going to win puck races but at full speed he is intimidating, I would imagine, to any defenseman digging a puck with his back to the play. He can throw some punishing hits and defensemen will dread feeling his footsteps coming. But he’s not a player who’s going to dart around on the forecheck and necessarily suffocate a puck carrier’s outlet options.
He’s not really moving the needle for me one way or another on the defensive side of things. In theory, his size could lend to taking away space and he’s not losing his man. But similar to in the offensive end, he’s reacting rather than reading the play and anticipating. Though this is a weak litmus test, I did find it at least worth a footnote that Cuylle was not used as a penalty killer by Canada at the 2019 Gretzky Hlinka U18 Tournament despite playing a depth role typically reserved for someone who would be used in that situation.
Cuylle also did not improve much in 2019-20 compared to the year prior. His point totals were nearly identical.
In a vacuum, Cuylle has some qualities that are intriguing in a vacuum. He’s big and strong. He is a good shooter of the puck. I just question if his game is diverse enough. He’s an opportunist rather than a creator. He needs a center, as he had at Windsor in Jean-Luc Foudy, to do a disproportionate amount of the work.
“More of a passenger than a driver, yes. But he can be the latter. More of a shooter,” one NHL scout told Blueshirt Banter. He wasn’t good as he was as a rookie and he’s not as bad as he was last year. Would have been more comfortable with him a little later. We’ll see. It’s not horrible but there were others I would take ahead of him.”
A different NHL scout in Canada echoed the sentiment about the Rangers’ decision to take Cuylle where they did. “Saw him lots. Didn’t like him much. I had him 92nd,” he stated. I mentioned to him that, in some ways, Cuylle is like 2015 second-round pick Ryan Gropp but with worse skating ability.
“Yeah that’s pretty much bang on,” was his response.
Cuylle reminds me a lot of Jimmy Vesey, although Cuylle does get credit as a more physical player. He’s a good scorer but struggles to impact the game when the puck isn’t on his stick in a shooting position. His skating is average and his hockey IQ is severely lacking.
Prospect analysis sometimes gets forced into a binary, which is not really how it works. The draft is an exercise in opportunity cost. If your number-one overall pick turns into a third-pairing defenseman than you screwed up massively, but if that same player was drafted in the sixth-round then you got a steal. It’s not whether a prospect is “good” or “bad” but whether he provides value relative to draft position.
As I noted in my analysis of the Braden Schneider pick, what he lacks in upside is made up for in polish and certainty. With Cuylle, the Rangers aren’t really getting either. A lot has to go right for Cuylle for him to reach a ceiling that is, in my opinion, as an opportunistic third-line shooter who features on the second power-play unit. That would have been a decent bet maybe two rounds later. I’m not saying Cuylle can’t or won’t be an NHLer. My criticism of this pick is that, for me, at 60th overall the juice isn’t worth the squeeze here. The Rangers left a lot of upside on the board.