Joshua
Serafini
April 5, 2024

Kieron Walton has potential to be one of the 2024 draft’s top steals

Although its the first couple rounds of the NHL Draft that gets the most attention, it’s beyond the opening 32 — and even first 64 — picks when scouting staffs really go to work to find a needle in a haystack.

It’s much easier said than done, but every year there are players who fall down draft boards due to various circumstances only to become a perceived steal years later.

Kieron Walton might be one of those players in 2024.

Walton has all the makings of an NHL player, but he’s struggled to earn ice time on a stacked Sudbury Wolves roster which has him potentially flying under the radar in draft circles.

“I don’t think Walton is getting disrespected… that Sudbury team is just so strong… but if he were given the minutes of a top-line forward I truly believe he’d be producing at a point-per-game or more,” FCHockey crossover scout Greysen Goudy said. “More ice time and higher production would mean a higher reputation alongside his higher-profile Ontario Hockey League counterparts.”

For now, Walton remains an intriguing mid round gamble for any NHL team looking to beef up their organizational depth chart at centre.

Who is Kieron Walton?

Walton is a towering left-shot center at 6-foot-5 and 203 pounds, with plenty of room to fill out his already mature frame. He’s yet to even turn 18 years of age with an April birthdate, but he already boasts NHL size. He’s currently slotted No. 91 in FCHockey’s Midterm ranking for the 2024 draft.

Kieron Walton’s on-ice production

SEASON

DRAFT REL.

TEAM

LEAGUE

GP

G

A

P

2021-22

D-2

North York Rangers U16 AAA

GTHL U16 AAA

43

33

27

60

2022-23

D-1

Sudbury Wolves

OHL

46

8

5

13

2023-24

D+0

Sudbury Wolves

OHL

63

18

24

42

Walton was born and raised in Ontario and played his minor hockey for the North York Rangers of the GTHL. In his D-2 season in the GTHL, he led his team in goals (33) and points (60). His point total ranked eighth-highest across the league that season. Following that season, Walton was selected with the No. 28 pick in OHL Priority Selection.

He made his OHL debut at age 16 in 2022-23, but registered a disappointing 13 points (eight goals, five assists) while playing 46 of 68 games with Sudbury, and added one point in two playoff games. Given he joined a veteran-heavy Wolves squad, Walton wasn’t able to earn a large role as a rookie which no doubt played into his lower production.

This season, however, he has seen his role grow a bit and his production has followed. Through 65 games, Walton has 43 points (18 goals, 25 assists).

While his production may not jump off the page compared to more highly touted prospects, part of that is out of his control as he’s once again found himself buried on the depth chart.

“I think he’s flying under the radar a bit because he’s not scoring like a top prospect,” Goudy said. “He’s ninth on Sudbury. But he’s only playing 13 minutes a night because that team is so stacked.”

It’s also worth noting that he’s been fairly streaky this season, racking up 21 of his 42 points during a 17-game hot stretch between November and January. Walton has just 21 points in his remaining 46 games.

Kieron Walton’s strengths

The first aspect of Walton’s game that stands out is obviously just how big he is. It’s his combination of size and speed, however, that makes him an intriguing mid-round prospect.

“He’s a decent skater,” Goudy said. “It’s not necessarily a strength of his but he can move pretty well and that combination of size and speed is pretty hard to find.”

Based on his size alone he’d garner the interest of many NHL teams, but when you add in his skating and the speed — at which he is able to process the game for a big guy — you’ve got a rare combination. While he’s certainly not an absolute elite skater in the 2024 draft class, it’s not common to find a forward of his size that can move as well as he does.

Walton uses this combination to create scoring chances not only off the cycle using his large frame to outmuscle defenders down low, but also off the rush by powering past opposing players. With some further development in his game, he has the potential to be a possession monster in the offensive zone.

The fact he gets around the ice as well as he does means an NHL team already has a solid base for development. There will almost always be room on an NHL roster for a player with those two highly sought after attributes.

Another aspect of Walton’s game that stands out is his overall hockey IQ and creativity with the puck. It can be a dangerous combination when a player of his size possesses the finesse and creativity that he does, and it makes him a real threat at times.

“I like the way his mind works,” Goudy said. “He’s smart, uses his body well, seems to have pretty good vision, and he’s incredibly creative at times.”

One of the most important aspects of any power forward’s game is using their size to their advantage and, while Walton can still improve in this area, he does a good job of it for a 17-year-old. He’s able to use his strong instincts and creativity in the offensive zone along with his imposing size to create open spaces in dangerous areas of the ice, leading to scoring chances for both him and his teammates.

Walton also possesses some acute on-ice vision and playmaking skills which add another layer to his game. He combines his reach with strong anticipation to pick off passes or find open ice to receive the puck from his teammates.

When he has the puck, he uses his reach and strong stick handling to control possession and evade opponents. When he’s on his game, Walton’s an incredibly hard player to get the puck off of, because of just how big he is and how well he can handle and protect the puck in traffic.

Kieron Walton’s areas of improvement

Walton has dealt with some consistency issues this season. He’s scored half of his points during a 17-game stretch, and is under 0.5 points-per-game in his other 46 contests. His hot stretch to close out 2023 earned him a spot at the CHL Top Prospects Game, but he’s struggled to maintain that type of production over the past couple months.

He’s the type of player who can be frustrating at times because, given his size and skill set, he can have more of an impact on the game. He can find himself fading into the background when you watch him sometimes.

“Walton doesn’t immediately hop off the page either,” Goudy said. “I saw some flashes and had to give him time to really understand his game and I think that stops a lot of people from seeing his potential.”

For Walton, one of his primary focuses going forward into his D+1 and D+2 seasons will be to increase his consistency and involvement. He needs to get to a point where it’s not just flashes here and there of what he can do but a consistent impact on the game night in, night out.

Kieron Walton’s outlook

For Walton, the most important part of his future is increasing his consistency while also taking on a larger role in Sudbury to show what he can do. The hope is that next season as an OHL veteran — and with the Wolves losing some overage players — he can finally be elevated into a top-six role.

There’s a good chance Walton will take off as a go to guy with more ice time in his D+1 season, which could make him a potential steal in the 2024 draft —  and a real solid pickup in the third or fourth round. Given his combination of size, speed, and skill, he has all the tools to become an impact NHL player one day.

“I do believe there’s some potential as a top-six forward,” Goudy said. “He’s got some really impressive tools and given his size, it’s hard to envisage a perfect developmental path that doesn’t end with him in the top-six of an NHL club.”

Even if his development doesn’t go perfectly and he doesn’t reach his ceiling, he possesses the type of toolkit that could ensure he makes the NHL one day even if it’s in a smaller role.

“I think the likelier option though is a middle-six, depth scorer type of player,” Goudy said. “If he can’t develop into a top-six forward, with his size, above average skating, and intelligence, I think there’s a plethora of roles he could adapt to.”

It’s that impressive toolkit that makes him a solid bet in the third or fourth round of the draft as he’s the type of player who could fill multiple different roles in an NHL lineup depending how his development goes.


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