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2021 NHL Draft Prospects: Zach Dean plays a style perfectly tailored for today’s NHL

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Dean has a style built around speed, offensive creativity and a hard forecheck

In an NHL Entry Draft that will be like no other, the Colorado Avalanche will select 27th overall. In a season that saw many prospects play very short seasons — and some not playing at all — this year’s draft will be as unpredictable as they come. It is very likely that every team is going to have a drastically different draft board, and “out of left field” picks are going to be a lot more frequent.

The fact is that it’s near-impossible to accurately rank the prospects in this year’s draft. Teams are going to lean heavily on areas and organizations that they have a historical relationship with.

Like with the team’s actual draft boards, online scouts are going to have a hard time properly ranking players. With that in mind, we’ll spend the time leading up to the draft trying to find players to keep an eye on as the Avalanche prepare to bolster their already strong prospect pool.

The first prospect we’ll be looking at is Zach Dean of the QMJHL’s Gatineau Olympiques.

Born in Alberta, Dean is a player who grew up in Newfoundland but has played competitive hockey all over Canada.

He says that he models his game after Mathew Barzal, and it’s easy to notice the similarities. Dean is a dynamic offensive player who is really smart with the puck and uses his quick hands and feet to drive plays for his team.

Though he’s mostly ranked near the end of the first round — or even early second round — it’s easy to see one of the teams picking in the 15 to 20 range jump at the chance to select Dean. He’s a lot less of a boom/bust prospect like many of the other players in the class. Despite his small body of work over the last two seasons, it’s easy to see Dean as a kid who has a very high floor when it comes to NHL potential.

The Strengths

The first thing you notice about Dean’s game is his skating. He has a great first step and is very quick both on the attack and going east-west. He has great hands that can keep up with his feet — something that can often be overlooked when it comes to the fastest players. He is able to beat defenders one-on-one and can be counted on to maintain possession though a shift and drive offense for his line.

Though he’s not overly big, Dean plays with a strength and physicality that he will need to be successful at the pro level. He isn’t afraid to throw a check to knock the puck loose, and he has become very strong in the face-off dot — a strength you wouldn’t expect from someone his size.

He often picks up the puck at his own blue line and uses speed and elite stick-handling to weave his way through the opposition for a goal. Kinda reminds you of a certain Avalanche center from the Maritimes, no?

The Weaknesses

Dean still has some work to do on the defensive side of the puck. He’s great in two zones, but when the puck is in his own end, there is still a lot to be desired. Since he thinks offense-first, he has a tendency to fly out of the zone before his teammates have full possession of the puck. That said, the fundamentals and hockey IQ are there to help him create a very strong two-way game.

The Numbers

After putting up an impressive 46 points as a 16-year-old rookie two seasons ago, Dean finished the abbreviated 2021 seasons with 10 goals and 10 assists in 23 games.

What Others Are Saying

“Dean owns a favorable first stride that allows him to win loose puck races and create turnovers in all zones. His defensive reactions can be a bit delayed, but he is on the right track to developing an acceptable two-way style.” – Brayden Olafson/Dobber Prospect

“Plays a hard-nosed, old-school style of game and has undercover skill.” – Sam Cosentino/Sportsnet

Potential Development

There is no reason to believe Dean can’t be a top-six forward in the NHL. He plays a style that’s perfect for professional hockey and is a kid that’s proven he’s willing to put in the effort to improve his game. With the right organization, he could be developed into a very strong three-zone player.

Though he’ll never contend for a Rocket Richard Trophy, Dean has the potential to put up decent offensive numbers in the NHL and could be projected as an elite middle-six center on a good team. He likely has a higher floor than some of the other prospects that will be drafted in the second half of the first round.

Where He’ll Be Drafted

Dean is projected to be picked very late in the first round, with some scouts leaving him out of the top-32 altogether. That said, he is the exact type of player that we could see jump up and get drafted a lot higher than some expect thanks to the style of game he plays—much like we saw from Liam Foudy a few years ago.