April 27, 2021

Deep Dive: A look into Brennan Othmann’s game

If I told you at the beginning of the season that by the end of the draft year, most likely two first-rounders have spent their campaign with EHC Olten from the second-highest Swiss pro league, you’d probably ask me in return two of the following questions: What the heck is Olten and are you insane?

The second question I can’t answer, but by the end of this deep dive I will promise you that you will understand at least the first part of the question. Because in this dive, we will have a look at the very special season of Brennan Othmann, one that he will most probably never forget in his entire season. Buckle up and let’s go.

Getting to know Othmann

Born in Ontario on January 5, 2003, Othmann is a dual citizen of Canada and Switzerland, that started his playing career in Canada. Drafted in the OHL Priority Selection back in 2019 at second overall by the Flint Firebirds, Othmann collected 33 points in his rookie season in 2019-20, 17 goals and 16 assists. Like with so many plans in this pandemic year, things have not panned out as planned for Othmann and the Firebirds, as the OHL season start was delayed. Some CHL players have decided to move to European pro teams.

Othmann, being one of them, has decided to start his draft-year-season in Switzerland. More precisely, in the organization of EHC Olten, a team based in the Swiss League, the second-highest pro-league in Switzerland. That was still back in mid-November, when a special season for Othmann was just getting started, an unforgettable one, nonetheless.  

The arrival (in Switzerland)

Now one might wonder… how a 17-year-old Canadian kid decides to spend this pandemic year in Switzerland. Surely, there are a few reasons for that because the family has a tradition in this country. His grandmother is Swiss. Father Gery played 10 years in Switzerland and uncle Robert even used to play five seasons for EHC Olten. Robert also coached several Swiss teams in the past decade. Othmann possesses a Swiss passport, which means he does not count against the restriction of foreign players, which eases things up a lot. And the path of Auston Matthews, who took an unusual path and spent his draft season in the country playing in the highest Swiss league for the ZSC Lions, has underlined Othmann’s decision. Probably also because Matthews had only good things to say about his Swiss stint, leading to being picked number one in the NHL Draft the following summer. And it’s safe to say this has panned out well for Matthews.

However, Othmann’s arrival in Switzerland was rough, to say at least. After a long journey, his uncle Robert picked him up at the airport and drove him straight to the ice rink in Olten, where he participated in his first practice with the team. Obviously, it took him a few weeks and games to adjust to the bigger ice surfaces, the culture, as well as playing against men in a professional league. However, he adjusted really well and quickly started to gain confidence. Watching him after a few games with Olten, he started to feel more comfortable and he quickly started to pile up points for the team, becoming one of the better players on the roster, getting more and more ice-time and a bigger role within the team.

Unfortunately, for a scout being located in Switzerland, it is a pity he did not stay with the team past the second round of the playoffs. It would have been interesting to see him play in the Semifinal against the top-seeded and strongest team, batting for Olten, and supporting them in their quest for promotion. But because Othmann is preparing with Hockey Canada for the upcoming U-18 World Championship in Texas, he left Switzerland at the end of March. Still, his Swiss season panned out nicely and he has lived up to the expectations, scoring 16 points in 34 league games and adding two points in four playoff games. With that being said, let’s move into the next section and have a closer look at the tools and toolbox of the forward. 

The tools vs the toolbox

Before we dive into Othmann’s game, it’s important to give a bit of a description of what we’ll be talking about. Kicking off FCHockey’s Deep Dives this season, Justin Froese looked into top WHL forward Dylan Guenther and touched on ‘tools’ vs. ‘toolbox.’ This is a pretty common concept in hockey, somewhat of a cliché at this point. Basically, the tools are the individual skills: i.e. skating, shooting, puckhandling, passing. The toolbox is the mental aspect of a player’s game: i.e. hockey sense, processing, awareness, and vision.

As is implied in the metaphor, the toolbox is what brings all the tools together. You can be excellent with a hammer, but if you don’t know how to hold the nail while you’re hammering, when to use a screwdriver instead, or if you don’t know how to use any of the other tools available, well, you’ll be a pretty lousy handyperson.

In hockey, you can be an excellent skater in isolation, but if you don’t know when to use your skating ability in various game settings, if you don’t have the ability to make a play while skating, or if skating is simply all you can do, your ceiling (the projected height of your career) gets lower and lower.

With this explained, let’s get into Othmann’s tools first, then look at his toolbox and make a little projection of what the future may bring.

The tools

First, we’ll start with Othmann’s tools: the easy to see, isolated skills. Then, we’ll get into skill stacking and his toolbox, before closing off with a look at a projected future and where his playing style might bring him. Due to him playing in Switzerland for the majority of his season, I’ve watched lots of his games. Although it took him a few games to get adjusted to the Swiss game and playing culture, Othmann has improved constantly, which resulted in him getting more ice-time and a few nice point streaks, especially in the month of December and January, when he played his best hockey during his Switzerland stint. But now enough foreplay, let us  dive into the tools Othmann brings to the ice. 

The skating

Othmann’s overall skating is somewhere between average and above-average, I’d say. It is not his biggest strength, but it’s not a point to be worried about or even something that would keep him away from becoming an NHL regular. First of all, Othmann doesn’t show any issues when going in four directions. I’d even call him a rather smooth skater. 

He can look a bit less elegant in his strides, especially the lateral movement can look a bit stiff, however, that is most likely to his strong lower leg strength and will be highlighted a bit further down in the assessment of his physical game. What needs to be highlighted about his skating is his good top speed and explosive first steps. He is able to lift off in a hurry and reaches top speed with a few impulsive and quick strides. This is beautifully seen in the clip, where he anticipates that the opposing player struggles with the puck control. With his acceleration and velocity, he beats his opponent in the foot race and thanks to his speed he was able to create a scoring chance. 

My colleague Josh Bell has made similar observations in his views: “ He shows some very good acceleration and elusiveness, although he does need to work on his stride recoil, sometimes giving off high kicks rather than smooth extensions. But he keeps his shoulders rotating, and has a good first two steps.”

The shot

Let’s move on to the next skill, the shot – probably Othmann’s biggest strength.

Othmann is a shooter with a shoot-first mentality. I’d even go that far and say that his shot is one of the better in this draft class. What makes him such an effective and dangerous shooter?  The things about his shooting skills that impressed me most are his shot strength and above-average release. 

When Othmann is entering the zone, he has only one thing in mind: cutting straight to the slot and looking for an opening shooting lane. He likes to enter the offensive zone on the right side of the ice and fire the puck with great velocity towards the goaltender’s left side. He is able to make the puck leave his blade with impressive power and quickness, which makes his shot hard to read for opposing goaltenders.  

Looking at the clip below, we can see his impressive shot release and quickness at almost perfect execution. Although he enters the zone on his left attacking side, he enters with some space and fires the puck with such impressive quickness and accuracy that he leaves the opposing goaltender no chance, beating him clean up high. 

Othmann has broad variety of shots in his arsenal and one thing that stood out to me is his already well-developed ability to one-time the puck with great timing and effectiveness. It is one thing that young and inexperienced players are often not doing in live games but Othmann is the exception here, even trying one-timers in a pro-league against men and doing it successfully. Often, he even shows a strong release and accuracy in those situations too. 

A look at the shot map is already showing where Othmann likes to shoot the puck from. Typical for a goal-scoring winger, his shot map is heavily focused on shots from and around the face-off dots. What stands out is the fact that he scored seven of his eight goals from the right side. Only one came from the left side. 

Brennan Othmann NHL Draft
Brennan Othmann Shot Chart (InStat Hockey)

Taking a look at the shots-on-goal-map, we can see that he scored the majority of his goals on his right side, meaning he prefers to pick the nearer corner and beat goaltenders (usually) on the glove side. 

Brennan Othmann NHL Draft
Brennan Othmann Net Chart (InStat Hockey)

However, one pattern I noticed is that Othmann tends to shoot the puck too low. With his velocity and strong shot-release, he should more often try to beat goaltenders up high rather than try to score on lower shots. It would make him an even more dangerous shooter and goal-scorer. 

Another thing that caught my eye, and where he can improve, is decision-making. Whether he should take a shot and when it would be more effective to go for the pass or to hang on with the puck on his stick. Often, Othmann tries to beat goaltenders from tight angles with almost no success. He needs to evaluate those situations a bit better and move away from his shoot-first mentality when the angle is so tight that it doesn’t make much sense to shoot the puck in the net. 

Still, those are flaws that I’m 100 percent convinced he’ll erase over the next few years and it has been a pure pleasure watching Othmann sniping in the Swiss league. 

The puckhandling

Othmann handles the puck well. He possesses quick hands and fine overall puckhandling skills. In almost all of my viewings, Othmann treated the puck with care, did not give away many pucks and kept it mostly safe when a dangerous situation emerged, where he could have initiated counter attacks for the opposing teams when losing the puck. 

Let’s have a look at what my colleague Josh Bell had to say about the puckhandling skills of Othmann: “His pass reception is excellent, he is able to grab pucks that are behind him or in his feet. He shows off some very quick hands to bring the puck to his pockets or give off one-touch passes.” 

Here’s a clip displaying exactly this is below. Definitely not a good pass to Othmann, who is able to take the puck from his backhand to his forehand without losing puck control and speed. This gives him the chance to fire the puck thanks to his strong puck reception skills. A sequence that is world-class and not something you see too often from a teenager playing in a pro league. 

It’s a fine eye my colleague Josh had here. Because one of Othmann’s strengths is indeed his pass reception. He is able to get control over bouncing pucks and is able to receive average or badly-passed pucks. Combining this pass reception skill with his shooting skill makes him an even more dangerous shooter because he can control hard passes and bouncing pucks in order to convert them into dangerous shots within a few seconds and without much time and space. 

The above sequence shows his team on the power play and Othmann standing on the right side close to the boards. After a few seconds, he gets the puck from his teammate but realizes in split seconds that the opposing yellow jerseyed player close to him makes a few aggressive and quick steps towards him, using an active stick. Due to his fine puckhandling skills and quick hands, he is able to drag the puck and keeps moving his feet immediately. This gives him time and space.

Thanks to his quick hands and strong puckmoving skills, he does not lose puck possession and escapes this situation along the boards. A few seconds later in the clip, Othmann gets the puck pack and makes a nice little pass through the opposing player and sets up a good shooting opportunity for his defenceman on the blue line. Again, Othmann managed in both situations to escape the opposing stick using his puck skills, and even created a possible scoring chance, all with being pressured but keeping a calm head and trusting his hands and puckhandling abilities.   

The passing

Often when evaluating a goal-scoring winger prospect, the passing skills can be overlooked or underestimated. A similar thing might be the case for Othmann. I have looked closely into his passing game, so let’s wrap it up in this section.

First, to make things clear, Othmann is no big playmaker but surely displays above-average vision and overall awareness of what is happening in front of him as well as in the back. What stands out to me when looking at his passing abilities, is his high hockey IQ – how he processes the game offensively. Almost always when receiving a pass, he knows what to do with it. Thanks to his vision and game awareness, he makes good decisions with the puck and always seems to know what to do with the biscuit on his tape. He is a quick thinker when in puck possession. Othmann is able to make hard and accurate passes and prefers to go for the easy passes rather than threading the needle and risking pass interceptions. 

Because the easy passes are less fun, let’s look at a much more difficult pass, that he executed almost in perfection and led to a beautiful assist. 

The clip starts with Othmann getting the puck at his own blue line. As soon as he receives the puck, he realizes he has some space as no forechecker is closing in on him. This gives him the second needed to lift his head and see his linemate rushing up the middle ice quickly gaining the inside lane. Othmann plays a perfectly-timed pass that lands on the tape of his linemate, who is all alone on the goaltender, executing on the situation and converting it into a goal. Although Othmann’s pass is not very hard, it is accurate enough to create a wonderful scoring chance. On a higher level, he will probably need to play that pass with more power but here it worked out well. It is a nice example of what Othmann can do when he has time and space to play out his vision combined with his passing skills.   

We will dive more into his decision-making with the puck, overall game processing and hockey IQ a bit further down in the section underlining his toolbox. 

The physical game

One thing Othmann noticed himself when starting to play in Switzerland was the lack of physical game that exists in the Swiss League compared to North American leagues. Although he is not necessarily the tallest player out there at five-foot-11 and 165 pounds, do not make the mistake and underestimate his willingness to play an effective physical game, even in a pro league against grown-up men. The physicality has been a flavour he added to any game I have seen him in. 

Now, I would not describe Othmann as a typical physical player, but he surely uses his physical game as a means to a purpose. What I have seen him do on a constant basis is finish off checks along the boards, especially when forechecking. I have found a nice sequence where you can see what I mean by that. The clip takes place on the power play. Although he has already played over 30 seconds on this shift and the opponent is about to clear the by shooting it out of the defensive zone, Othmann goes after the guy and finishes off the check. While there is no direct benefit and most of his Swiss teammates would not have finished off that play with a hit, Othmann’s gritty type of game gets the better of him. As said, that might not have a direct impact on this very sequence and how it changes the game, however, by finishing off that check, he shows his high compete level, willingness to make an impact and makes it difficult and not fun to play against from an opposing point of view. 

Still, I would not describe Othmann as a big hitter, although he has shown some nice open-ice hits, he has definitely added some physical touch to the Swiss League. 

The compete level

Although Othmann played against grown men and is more of a scoring winger, do not make the mistake and underestimate his competitiveness. From game one in the Swiss League, he has never shown any fear playing against tougher opponents. He has been a constant troublemaker in the offensive zone, especially because he is hard to track down for opponents. He finishes off a lot of hits along the boards and is no pleasure to play against. I like his gritty type of game, that might not be noticed right away, but it is definitely a side in his game that exists. Also, he is a tough competitor along the boards. Speaking about competitiveness, the goal of this little sequence demonstrates exactly this, how he is using his high compete level to create scoring chances offensively.  

Once the puck enters the offensive zone, he is able to close in on the opposing defender thanks to his speed and starts to build pressure on the puck carrier right away. Using an active stick to interrupt the play, he then closes the gap along the boards using his body. It makes it hard for the opposing defender to move and as a result of Othmann’s pressure and stick, he loses grip and falls.

What I like most in this sequence, however, is that after Othmann has given away the puck to a teammate, he keeps moving his feet without the puck, making quick turns, changes of speed and direction in order to make himself available for a pass and/or create space for his linemates. Thanks to his high compete level in this sequence, Othmann creates a puck turnover and afterwards makes it hard for the opposing team to track him down. An excellent sequence to demonstrate how much of a pain Othmann can be for opposing teams.    

As good as his competitiveness level is offensively, it does need improving defensively. Contrary to the offensive zone, he is not nearly as involved in plays defensively. Definitely not showing the same enthusiasm and competitiveness in situations and it is an area of his game where he surely needs to get better and work on. 

The opposite of the last clip is the next video, where I want to show his lack of competitiveness in the defensive zone. When he closes in on the puck carrier, his intention is to intercept the pass, anticipating the opposing forward intends to make a flip pass to the blue line. In doing so, he misses the open ice to his right side. The opposing forward makes one little turn and Othmann is out of place. If the same situation would have happened in the offensive zone, I am quite sure Othmann would have been much more aggressive on the puck carrier instead of anticipating imaginary passing scenes. That’s what I mean when I say I want him to be closer to the opposing players, playing a more gritty game along the boards defensively. 

However, it is something he can work on and improve and I am quite sure he will do so in the coming years of his development. It is a natural learning curve an offensive-minded player like Othmann is usually going through.   

The defensive game

With many offensive-minded shooters, the defensive aspect of the game is less developed than the offensive instincts and Othmann is no exception to the rule. I see a willingness to play defense in his game, no doubt. I have seen him fearlessly blocking shots and shooting lanes while using all of his body including an active stick. However, what bothered me most about his defensive game is his slowness in covering opponents, realizing emerging game situations and lack of compete level. 

Although he is willing to improve his defensive game, he too often thinks of a quick counterattack. He would too often move away from the puck in order to be ready for a quick breakout while the opposing forwards are still heavily forechecking. When forecheckers manage to turn the puck around, Othmann was exposed flat-footed in those situations and it took him a few seconds to get to his opposing guy, leaving his team suffering from an odd-man situation. 

This can be seen in action in the following clip. Although the opposing forward was still in possession of the puck along the boards, Othmann turned and already positioned himself in open ice as he anticipated a quick counter-attack, which would leave him all alone against the goaltender. Surely, in Othmann’s defense, it needs to be said that is not well-defended by his linemates but still, I’d like to see Othmann play it safer and backing up his colleagues in a situation like that, especially as the opposing player was still in puck possession. A harmless situation suddenly got a lot more dangerous when Othmann’s team was left in an odd-man situation. Othmann needed to hustle back to cover his opponent, which took a few seconds that could have cost a goal if executed better by the opposing team.  

I like how he communicated on the ice and guided linemates on open ice and uncovered opposing attackers. However, it sometimes takes him a bit too long for grouping and founding his opponent when playing in the defensive zone. This can lead to his guy having too much open ice and to dangerous scoring chances. It seems to be that he also thinks the game a bit too slow in the defensive zone.  

The toolbox

Now that we have scanned all of Othmann’s skills, let’s have a look at his toolbox. As a reminder, the toolbox is what brings all the tools together, meaning we’ll have a look at what Othmann brings to the table to effectively use his tools. For example, we are going to look at his hockey IQ, overall game processing or the mental aspects of his game. 

What really stands out to me in Othmann’s game is how well he understands all kinds of game situations emerging, being able to draw quick conclusions and adapt his playing ideas based on those situations. To do that, he needs to have a good processing of the game as well as a high hockey IQ, both being part of his toolbox.  

Let’s dive in on that. A nice example of his game processing skills and high understanding of game situations is the following clip, in which he uses a lot of his tools like skating, puck skills and passing skills, adding the tools to the toolbox, which in this sequence is his game processing. Spoiler! It will lead to a nice assist. 

The situation starts with what almost looks like a two-on-one break. But because the opposing team is backchecking well and a defender suddenly jumps in from the bench, it actually becomes a two-on-three-situation. Othmann understands the situation quickly because now he has two options, either take the shot directly or go for the pass. He opts for the pass because he feels the opposing backchecker behind him and is pressured by the defender at the same time with an active stick. So his shot would most probably be deflected. He realizes that he comes with speed and that is why he decides to beat the defender on the outside lane. In the last second just before passing the puck, he makes a little move with the puck away from the defender, so he is not able to interfere with the pass. With that little move, Othmann gains the needed space and passing lane, executing the pass perfectly on his linemate’s tape, who scores the goal. 

This is a very well-executed counterattack by Othmann, using all his tools described above and combining it with the toolbox, in this case, his outstanding processing of the game, vision and quick understanding of game situations.     

EHC Olten coach Fredrik Soderstrom especially praises Othmann’s high intelligence of the overall game situation. And that is also what has impressed me. As already mentioned above, his overall understanding of the different game situations is really above-average. A quick thinker with and without the puck, he processes those situations so quickly and anticipates plays and outbreaks very well in the offensive zone. When you look at his offensive game, you see that he is so aware of where his linemates are and always knows what to do with the puck before he even receives the pass. His strong vision helps him to make great decisions with the puck. He always seems to know exactly what to do next with the puck. A simple, small but yet effective example you’ll see in this clip here. 

There’s a loose puck and Othmann just makes it to the puck just split seconds before two yellow opponents are in puck reach. Othmann knows he can not turn the puck over in this sequence as it could lead to an odd-man rush, especially as two of his linemates are moving forward and would be behind the puck. Othmann, however, uses his strong vision and because he already knows what to do with the puck before he is in puck possession, he instinctively knows where to put the puck and passes it safely with a chip to his defender. This sequence shows Othmann’s vision, forward-thinking and play-reading abilities in one. Plus, he likes to keep it simple when passing the puck and opted for the safe option, not trying to handle the puck as there is no space to do so and it would have been a far more dangerous option.   

There are not only positive aspects about his toolbox, one area where he definitely needs to improve is his slow thinking defensively. All of his good anticipation is only there offensively. Defensively, he is lacking it and he needs to think the game at a quicker pace. Let’s have a look at this clip, where you can see what I am talking about.

Othmann is playing deep in the defensive zone, working on a player along the boards that is in puck possession. Although his supporting defender is also there, they work on the same player together. The player with the yellow helmet is already standing all alone along the boards, without Othmann noticing it. As the puck gets passed to the yellow-helmet player, Othmann is looking solely on the puck and not realizing that his direct opponent is moving towards the faceoff circle and promptly gets the pass. He is now seeing lots of free ice and a good shooting lane. Othmann, still not realizing what a good shooting opportunity his opponent gets, is way too far away from his direct opponent. The gap is clearly too big. Finally, Othmann realizes he is too far away from the puck and tries to deflect the shot with his stick but because he was always a step behind the whole shift and because of a lack of realizing the dangerous situation as well as lack of compete level, he cannot deflect or stop the player from shooting, who scores. 

This is definitely an area where I’d like Othmann to improve. Especially, as he possesses the game-processing skills but just needs to also start using them better in the defensive zone.

The future

Going through all the analysis above and digesting all the games I have seen him play in this season, my conclusion is that Othmann is going to be a fun player to watch at higher levels and the NHL organization that picks him in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft will have the pleasure of his skill for the coming years. Othmann’s ability skill-wise in combination with his strong toolbox led by vision, hockey IQ and overall game processing, is fruitful soil to build an NHL career. Adding to that, all the flaws in his game such as lack of defensive zone competitiveness and slow thinking in this area of the ice are something he can work on and that development teams will have him improve.

I have not seen any red flags in his game that would make me question his current status as a first-round selection. And small things like evaluating the timing of a shot versus playing the pass are things he’ll mature into making the right decisions. It is nothing to be worried about but simply natural for a kid finding his playing style. The way he has adjusted to playing in a foreign country, in a foreign pro league has impressed me. I am 100 percent convinced he has become a better player during this year and I am looking forward to seeing him play a great role at the U18 World Championships and later this year being selected in the first round of the 2021 NHL Draft. There will most probably be another NHL career that has some of its roots in Switzerland and I am happy I have been able to witness it again, live in rinks.    

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