The defenceman-factory known as the Kelowna Rockets appears to have two more rearguards poised to go early in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft.
Lassi Thomson (who was profiled here) and Kaeden Korczak were huge parts of the backend for the Rockets last season. As the team prepared to get ready to host the 2020 Memorial Cup, this year was a sort of a transition year for the Rockets and produced some wildly inconsistent results throughout the season and that manifested in Korczak’s game as well.
At times, he looked like a well-rounded defenceman, but then his offence dried up and he struggled mightily. In spite of those struggles, Korczak has enough of a track record over the last two seasons to warrant a second-round selection. Today we’ll dive deeper into his game.
- Age/Birthdate: 18 / January 29, 2001
- Birthplace: Yorkton, SK, Canada
- Frame: 6-foot-2 / 192 lbs
- Position: Defence
- Handedness: Right
- Draft Year Team: Kelowna Rockets (WHL)
- SBAAHL Champion
- SMHL First All-Star Team
- Hilinka Gretzky Cup Champion
- Hlinka Memorial Gold Medal
2018-19 Stat Rundown
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Kaedan Korczak is one of those defencemen that may not wow you every night but will stay on the right side of the puck more often than not. He isn’t flashy but is effective in what he does.
The right-handed defender makes a good first pass in transition, but isn’t overtly aggressive in joining in the rush. He has decent puck moving skills while the Rockets are set up but isn’t particularly creative, instead of relying on a small flip pass or a heavy tape-to-tape pass. Ideally, he would move around in the zone and push his opponents back, but that just doesn’t seem to be his game.
He possesses a decent slapshot but does overall seem to be weak in this area.
If there is one area of his game in which we would like to see improvement, it is the offensive aspect. He isn’t a black hole for offence, but there could be more creativity and assertiveness in trying to create offence.
Korczak is a smooth skater that transitions his weight well. This allows him to skate backwards and pivot very well as he checks his opponents. He doesn’t possess blazing speed or acceleration, but nor is his skating a concern.
The defensive zone is where Korczak does well. He is a smart defender that can shut down opponents in a variety of ways, whether that be through his physical play, his active stick, or using the aforementioned skating abilities to force his opponent out of space.
Once he obtains the puck, he has his head up looking to make that first pass and does so well quite well. Korczak appears to have good strength in his legs and upper body that allows the Saskatchewan native to lean into opponents quite well. He isn’t afraid to play a physical game when the situation calls for it.
He played huge minutes for the Rockets throughout the season and was tasked with shutting down the opponents best players. Korczak was effective at nullifying anything that came his way through all the avenues available to him and ensuring that he was actively disrupting.
Korczak plays an effective game that can be easily categorized as smart, effective, and efficient two-way defending.
I tried to illustrate the point about Korczak being unremarkable but effective as best as I could above. I’ve personally seen him play a bunch over the last two seasons and can’t recall a play where I was blown away at something he did; on the flip side, however, there wasn’t really a time where I was shocked at something that was poorly executed. He makes sure to do things well almost all the time and the subtlety to his role aided that.
During the season, Korczak’s deployment varied heavily, with a significant decease in the middle of the season because a dramatic increase in the latter half. Near the end of the year, he was being asked to hop over the boards every single time the opponents top-line hit the ice..
That role took some time to get used to, as he struggled to keep the puck out of his net at times, though that was par for the course in Kelowna. It is important to note that the Rockets were minus-40 in goal differential this season, finishing with the third least goals-for in the WHL. In light of that, Korczak finishing nearly even in goal differential looks much better. Better still is his plus-5% GFrel value.
Although he wasn’t being asked to create offence, Korczak finished second in defencemen scoring on the Rockets and produced pretty well with the ice-time afforded to him. The points per hour graph at the beginning of this section illustrates a pretty modest point rate, but in the immediately above chart we saw that he at least kept pace when the other defencemen on his anemic team. If the top line of Kyle Topping, Nolan Foote, and Leif Mattson wasn’t on the ice, there wasn’t much offence being created.
Korczak produced four goals and twenty-nine assists for the Rockets this season, and using the Prospect Graduation Probabilities System, we get the following cohort:
The right-handed defender has an expected likelihood of becoming an NHL regular of about 18%. That puts him exactly where many people have him projected, which is in the early to the middle part of the second round. Given the context of the Rockets situation, there is reason to be optimistic that his production and thus his trajectory will improve next season.
Once you enter the second round of the draft, the various teams lists will vary wildly as each organization have different plans, desires, and philosophies on how to attack the later rounds. Some teams will swing for high upside players while others will be more inclined to target safer options that will yield a return.
Korczak is definitely in that group of players that should go in the second round and he will almost certainly end being selected there, it just really depends on how each team values what he can bring to the table. There is value in his position, handedness, maturity, and his defensive play, but there is some concern that he lacks an offensive upside.
Personally, I think he will produce some more offence next season as the Rockets have already started loading up for the 2020 Memorial Cup. Those additions will benefit in Korczak and should allow him to generate more points, which in turn will calm some of the concerns surrounding him.
Ultimately, he likely won’t be a point producer in the NHL, but does have all the attributes to be a successful professional defenceman and if he is in the right organization, could carve out a carve as a bottom four defender in the NHL.
Rolling Season Data
Raw data for the charts used in this article came from eliteprospects.com and WHL.ca.
Some clips were pulled from videos from prospectshifts.com. Check out Kaeden Korczakpage here (paywall). Other clips were pulled from original broadcasts, with all rights reserved for the original broadcast companies.
Founder and analyst for NextGenHockey.ca — Contributor to The Athletic Vancouver, EliteProspects, CanucksArmy, and Canucks.com.
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