Pipeline: Tanner Molendyk finding his stride in the 2023 draft class
Tanner Molendyk,just like the rest of the hockey community felt the dynamic of the junior hockey landscape has been drastically altered due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
With rinks being closed and play being paused in the leagues around the world, training and ice time have not been as readily available as in the past. Now that the hockey world is nearly restored to its normal state, young players across the globe are returning to the ice and getting back into their routines as they prepare for the next level.
The same goes for Molendyk, a defenseman for the Saskatoon Blades, as he prepares for the 2023 NHL Entry Draft next July.
“I think you get to focus on more stuff. You get to look at everything, every part of your game, what you need to work on,” Molendyk said on Guy Flaming’s The Pipeline Show. “I think in the COVID years back then, you got a little jammed up because you didn’t really get to see what you needed to work on the most. I think one thing I took in this summer was finding the things I needed to work on the most and I think I have time to do that.”
Growing up in the small town of McBride, BC, Molendyk was introduced to hockey at a young age by his father.
Playing as a defenseman his whole life, he put up outstanding offensive numbers at the U15 level, averaging two points-per-game before essentially losing the next two seasons to the pandemic.
Molendyk, selected No. 5 by the Blades in the 2020 WHL Bantam Draft, hasn’t had nearly the same offensive output, only registering 18 points (three goals, 15 assists) in 55 games with Saskatoon last season. Yet, Molendyk doesn’t seem worried about not seeing his name on the scoresheet every night and feels with hard work the points will come.
This season, he has his sights set on increasing his offensive production but not without putting the team’s results first.
“I think it’s obviously to put up more points than last year,” said Molendyk on his expectations for this season. “Maybe a point-per-game, but you have to focus on winning first. Getting those two points is more important, so I think I’m just going to focus on the defensive side and the points will come.”
While many young defensemen want to constantly get involved in the play on the offensive end of the ice, Molendyk finds defending his goal just as enjoyable.
But like everyone else, finds pleasure in being involved in the rush.
“I think I’m more of a two-way guy,” he said. “I like to get up in the rush and play offense, but I like to defend. I find it kind of fun to defend, and I like being a two-way guy.”
Size along the blue line can be a significant advantage in the CHL, as most players are still developing and unable to handle the strength of older players. Molendyk lists himself as 6-foot and 185 pounds, an inch taller and 10 pounds more than previously listed.
With the additional size, Molendyk can feel the difference in his play.
“I feel like I can handle the big guys better,” he says. “I can take more hits and move away from hits easier.”
To be a first-round selection in the NHL, you need to be exceptionally skilled, which Molendyk is and, as a result, is currently slotted No. 21 on FCHockey’s Preliminary ranking for the 2023 NHL Draft.
Though skill gets you into the show, what lies between the ears is what can potentially keep you there. At only 17 years old, Molendyk is aware of how important the mental and physical aspects of the game are, as he’s emphasized improving both during the offseason.
“I think two big things were my shot and my confidence,” he admitted. “I got a good mental coach for the summer, and that grew my confidence, and I think that was the main thing. The other thing was just working on my shot and moving laterally on the blue line. I think those two things (along) with my skating coach really got me up there.”
Though learning from your mistakes is critical, it’s important not to dwell on them, as the negative ramifications can impact the next play.
A mental aspect that can easily be ignored.
“I think it’s just being able to move things into the past as fast as you can – not really thinking about it,” says Molendyk. “I think last year I just kind of got to myself. This year I think I kind of know what’s coming, and I can kind of push it to the side and just play my game without getting disrupted from all the noise.”
One of the biggest confidence boosters for a young player is being selected to represent your country in international play. For young Canadians especially, pulling on the maple leaf sweater is an honor and a privilege that Molendyk experienced at the 2022 Hlinka Gretzky Cup in Red Deer, AB.
He had four points (one goal, three assists) in five games.
“Yeah, that was obviously huge, that was awesome to wear the Maple Leaf,” Molendyk said. “I think being there and getting that confidence playing with those guys and seeing what guys across the world could do, was really special and grew me as a player and a person.”
Molendyk showcased his talent at the Red Deer, Alberta tournament, on the road to claiming gold for Team Canada.
Come July, Molendyk will hear his name called in Nashville as he fulfills the dream of young hockey players everywhere.
How high he is drafted will depend on his performance this season. With this comes a lot of pressure, but Molendyk doesn’t seem fazed and says he doesn’t fall into the category of players who get involved in all the pre-draft hoopla.
“I fall in the I don’t really look at stuff (category),” Molendyk said. “I just play it by ear and see what happens.”