Austin
Broad
December 17, 2021

The Analysis: A deep look at Ryan Chesley’s game

One of the emerging themes surrounding the 2022 NHL Draft is that the class features a ton of talented, right-handed two-way defenseman.

The United States National Team Development Program features two of the top defensive prospects, one being the flashy Seamus Casey and the other being the steady Ryan Chesley.

While Simon Nemec is the head and shoulders top-ranked defender in the class, Chesley is in the thick of the conversation when it comes to the No. 2-ranked blueliner in the class. Chesley has a loaded toolbox that makes him highly-touted, featuring high-end two-way potential, elite skating ability, transition driving play and the ability to play in all situations.

Getting To Know Chesley

Chesley, born in Mahtomedi, MN in February 2004, has had a prestigious path to the USNTDP. He played for the highly touted Shattuck St. Mary’s AAA program at both the 14U and 16U levels before joining the National Development Team Program’s U17 roster in the 2020-21 season.

Now a mainstay with the U18 team, Chesley has carved out a top-four role including both penalty kill and power play time. The 6-foot defender has a pro-ready frame weighing at 194 pounds, meaning he doesn’t have to fill out his frame a lot before heading to the University of Minnesota to continue his post-draft development for the 2022-23 campaign.

The Tools

Chesley brings a ton of tools to the game and looks the part of future top-four defenseman at the NHL level. The defender brings:

  • Skating/transition ability
  • Special teams prowess (both PK and PP)
  • Shows flashes of being an offensive creator
  • Poise and calmness in the defensive game

He has the full package as a blue liner and if he continues to develop, he could be one of the better defensemen available in the 2022 NHL Draft.

Skating/Transition Ability

One of the most important aspects of a two-way defender’s game is his ability to contribute to the transition game. Teams value a defender’s ability to corral the puck in the defensive zone and quickly transition from the defensive zone to an offensive attack. Chesley’s ability to start breakouts with his passing ability is impressive, but it’s his skating and knack for driving transition with his legs that really stand out when you watch him play. 

Chesley picks up the puck just inside his own blue line and immediately heads up the ice. He uses his skating and edgework to navigate the neutral zone and avoid an oncoming opponent, once in the clear he makes a simple entry pass that eventually leads to the Casey goal.  As a blueliner, being able to fly down the ice with elite agility and create your own zone entries is a very valuable asset but turning those zone entries into offensive chances off the rush is what takes a defenseman’s game to the next level.

Another example of Chesley’s skating ability allowing him to drive transition and create an offensive chance.

On this rush, he skates through the neutral zone and takes the puck into Adrian’s zone on his own. Once he completes the zone entry, he sees that his teammates are in the middle of a quick line change so he keeps the puck himself and generates the shot on goal. Chesley shows an ability to create chances with his ability to drive transition, whether it be creating for teammates or for himself.

This is the type of play NHL teams want to see in their defenseman, the position has evolved and is no longer about shutting your opponent’s down. You have to be able to keep the puck out of your own zone and contribute to the offensive attack and Chesley’s game allows him to do just that.

Special Teams Ability

Power Play – Shooting Role

If a player can be effective at 5-on-5, they’ll be able to carve out a nice career for themselves. But if that player wants to take their game to the next level, they’ll be able to impact all strengths of the game.

Chesley is a great 5-on-5 player, but it’s his ability to impact the power play and the penalty kill that makes him a potential top-four or even top pairing defender a the next level. He has the vision and passing ability to quarterback the power play for the USNTDP, but he’s typically used as a shooter when he’s on the ice.

He lines up in ‘Ovechkin’s office’ and his teammates feed him the puck allowing Chesley to use his one-timer to test the opposing goalies. You can see that he generates most of his power play shot attempts from the left face-off circle and his lone goal on the season came with the man advantage. 

InStat

Opposing penalty killers and the goalies have to be aware when he’s on the power play because they know where he’s going to get the puck.

It has a twofold effect for the USNTDP’s special teams unit, the first effect being they know where Chesley will be and where he will generate shots from, the second being the PK having to keep a close eye on him allowing other options to open up for his teammates.

Chesley gets to his spot on the powerplay, remains patient and opens himself up for the shot. His teammate quickly hits him with a pass and Chesley unloads a quick one-timer that the Mercyhurst goalie had to rely on quick reflexes to stop.

 Penalty Kill Efficiency

Contributing to the power play is only half of Chesley’s special teams ability.

He’s also a stout penalty killer and has a knack for breaking up dangerous passes and negating opposing scoring chances. He is patient and poised in his own end and with his positional discipline he rarely wanders away from his assignment, making an excellent penalty killer.

You can see Chesley pressure the Swedish player at the half-wall, forcing him to pass the puck to the other side of the ice. After the pass is made, Chesley quickly spots the Swedish player open for the backdoor pass and he calmly and quickly gets to his assignment and negates the scoring opportunity and then clears the puck out of the defensive zone.

He understands his role and importance on special teams and plays them properly.

Chesley shows the ability to play efficiently in all strengths of the game. This ability is what makes him one of the top defender’s available in the class because you know you can plug him anywhere in your lineup and he’ll have a positive impact.

Offensive Zone Ability

We’ve already talked about Chesley’s ability to create offensive chances in the transition game, but Chesley doesn’t need to rely on his transition ability to generate offense. He’s poised in the offensive zone, patient with the puck on his stick and can use a combination of his puck skills and skating ability to generate offensive opportunities.

This is a full display of all Chesley’s offensive instincts. He remains calm with the puck as the Czech play closes in on him, makes a great deke to get around him and then attacks the slot with his speed while protecting the puck before getting a quality shot attempt off.

While it doesn’t lead to a goal, he is able to flash his dynamic offensive ability in a quick sequence. If he continues to play like this, these plays will eventually lead to goals as he continues to improve. 

Another example of Chesley using his offensive tools to create a quality shot attempt. 

He picks up the puck at the blue line, examines the ice and sees the Mercyhurst defender closing in on him. Rather than panicking and moving the puck, he uses a his edgework and uses a spread eagle technique to create space and then gets to the top of the circles before firing a shot at the net. 

We’ve seen two examples of Chelsey using his dynamic ability to create a shot attempt for himself.

This time we see a more simplistic and efficient way of creating an offensive chance for others. Chesley picks up the puck at the blue line, examines the defensive setup and sees that his only outlet is at the half-wall. He makes the smart decision to take what the defense gives him and makes the easy pass, which eventually leads to a goal and an assist for him.

Chesley is a multi-dimensional creator in the offensive zone and possesses both dynamic and efficient ability that makes him threatening whenever he has the puck on his stick in the offensive zone.

Defending the rush

In the special teams section I highlighted his patience and smarts in the defensive zone, but to me the most impressive aspect of Chesley’s defensive game is his ability to defend the rush and one-on-one situations. With his skating ability and defensive prowess, he’s tough to attack one-on-one, using his active stick Chesley can consistently negate rush chances with relative ease.

Chesley doesn’t allow No. 19 in white to pick up the puck at the blue line and then follows him to the net front and uses his stick to break up the passing opportunity. With his strength and skating, he was easily able to keep up with the pace of play and calmy made a great defensive play on the 2-on-2 rush chance.

No. 24 for Michigan Tech comes in one-on-one with Chesley, but Chesley is able to force him wide with his skating and then uses his stick to knock the puck off his stick before he has the chance to make a backdoor pass. He then follows the play and closes in on the defender taking away the clear shooting lane and forcing a weak shot that is easily stopped by the USNTDP goalie. 

These are just a few examples of his defensive ability, but you can see that because of his skating ability and defensive IQ he has the potential to be an impact defensive player once he gets to the next level.

Question Marks

When you look at Chesley, you see a well-rounded prospect who looks like he will have little problems translating his game to the next level. I think he has the potential to be a steady presence on a team’s blue line for a decade plus in the NHL, but there are a few questions about him that should not be ignored.

Production

To me the biggest issue in Chesley’s game right now is his lack of production with the USNTDP. 

Points aren’t the end all be all — especially with defenseman — but when you look at his role with the team, his usage on the power play and his ability to create offensive chances, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that he hasn’t been able to produce like some of his fellow teammates.He currently ranks behind fellow 2022 NHL Draft eligible players Seamus Powell, Casey and Lane Hutson and finds himself behind 2023 Draft eligible Hunter Brzustewicz.

In my opinion, the production shouldn’t impact Chesley’s stock too much, as I’ve highlighted above he’s a solid offensive creator and has the skating ability and puck skills that you want in a two-way defender But at some point if his production doesn’t match his level of play, I can see some people souring on him.

Chesley plays a lot, and is used as a shooter on the power play, ‘puck luck’ should start to bounce his way soon, but for now…his production remains one of his biggest question marks. 

Projecting His Future

I think Chesley belongs firmly in the top-20 conversation and with his play is worthy of a top-15 selection at the 2022 NHL Draft. He could slip because his production has been underwhelming but I do believe whoever drafts him is getting an all-around defensive talent who can be a mainstay top-4 for his entire career.

In the NHL, defenseman like Miro Heiskanen, Adam Fox and Charlie McAvoy all have the ability to impact the game at both ends of the ice. They have excellent defensive capabilities and can drive transition play from the backend while creating plenty of offensive chances by themselves. While not necessarily on the same level as those guys, Chesley has the ability to play in all situations and impact every facet of the game.

Despite his production issues, teams shouldn’t shy away from taking Chesley because there’s a chance he becomes a legit top-pairing defender for whoever calls his name. 

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