In recent years, we’ve seen a spike in the amount of high-risk defensemen going in the first round. Quinn Hughes, Adam Boqvist, Erik Brannstrom, and Timothy Liljegren come to mind. Gone are the days where you must be a big, strong, defensively advanced blue-liner to have a place in the NHL. Players who can be difference-makers with their feet can make up for what they lack in their own end.
I can’t think of any player who has benefited more from this change than William Constantinou of the Kingston Frontenacs. He is an exciting puck-rushing defensemen who pushes the pace of play and looks to get involved heavily in the offensive attack. What he can do with his feet is special, making him one of the best skaters in the entire draft. However, you do have to take some of the bad with the good, as he has some alarming defensive inefficiencies that will ultimately hold him back from becoming a true number one guy.
|Birthday||March 25, 2001|
Skating: 65 – Puck Skills: 55 – Hockey IQ/Sense: 40 – Physicality: 50
A term I like to use for defensemen in regards to how they break the puck out of the zone is “escape-ability” and Constantinou excels at this concept. Essentially, I’m looking at how well he can evade pressure with his feet. From a skating standpoint he can stop-and-go very quickly, with an incredible first-step. He can stop on a dime and change directions very effectively because of his outstanding edge work. He never seems to get tired, constantly flying around in circles (in a good way). In a way he’s like the roadrunner and the opponents are the coyote.
Because of his great escape-ability most of his exits are controlled, as he loves to carry the mail down ice himself. But with that comes some questionable decision-making. Sometimes you feel he’d be better of making the pass or retreat behind his goal. I get the impression that he tries too much sometimes. He can have some very costly turnovers that are frustrating to watch. You have to love the offensive-attack mentality, but there is also a fine line in how much risk you can take throughout a game.
As a whole, he can get overwhelmed and lacks the stick-work and physicality to stop the flow of the opponents cycling the puck. That became evident following a midseason trade from the contending Niagara Ice Dogs to the rebuilding Frontenacs. Constantinou didn’t have to defend as often because the Ice Dogs were a great possession team and had other defenders to take on the heavy minutes. Constantinou was the go-to guy in Kingston and it became pretty obvious he wasn’t ready to take on that type of role. He was really exposed in terms of what he is capable of.
With that, I would like to point out the difference between Constantinou and other players with defensive liabilities. One example being Lassi Thomson — who I listed as a do not draft candidate. Thomson has major issues with turnovers because of iffy decision-making. With Thomson, I feel he will fail to carve out an NHL career because he won’t be able to handle the speed of the NHL game, lacking the poise to handle the pressure of a forecheck. Constantinou, on the other hand, is almost shooting himself in the foot. But what that means is he has the control to improve his decision-making and get past that type of weakness. He isn’t as limited as someone like Thomson.
But there is no denying his talents on the offensive side of the puck. He can lead a rush with his electrifying wheels and create a lot of zone entries. He’s also got flashy hands and can make skillful plays at top speed. With that he makes for a lethal powerplay quarterback as both a shooting and passing threat. He is very hard to defend because of his skating and that opens up lanes.
This is a modern-day defensemen. Someone who is looking to be a difference-maker by maximizing the tools they have. Constantinou has an offensive upside that is through the roof. No other blue-liner from this draft class can match the excitement level he brings. There are certainly holes in his game to worry about, but his rare offensive abilities are too much to overlook, which is why I view him as one of the best defensemen eligible for the 2019 draft.
Constantinou is a raw prospect. He will need time to put it all together, but I do believe he will get there. That is why I call him “raw”, rather than a “project.” He’ll be returning to Kingston, whose rebuild has gone incredibly well. They have just drafted phenom Shane Wright who became only the sixth player to ever be granted exceptional status by Hockey Canada.
I’d be shocked if he doesn’t need to head back to the OHL for his draft-plus-two season. Following that he will most likely need a good amount of time marinating in the AHL. He is the type of prospect you do not want to rush, as coming up to speed with his defensive game will not be an easy task. Long-term, though, I feel you could be getting a thrilling top-4 defensemen who can run your number one powerplay unit.