No one questioned whether Tanner Molendyk deserved a spot on Canada’s roster for the 2024 IIHF World Junior Championship.
The only concern the 18-year-old defenseman had to address was whether he was healthy enough to truly compete with the other nine defensemen invited to Canada’s World Juniors selection camp. Molendyk suffered a knee injury days before the camp began, putting his chances of making the team in jeopardy.
— Steven Ellis (@SEllisHockey) December 11, 2023
But after sitting out the first exhibition game against the USports all-stars on Tuesday, he skated in Game 2 on Wednesday, and that one game was apparently all the Team Canada coaches needed to see.
Molendyk, who signed his entry-level contract with the Predators in July, not only made the World Juniors roster, he beat out a handful of other highly regarded U20 prospects in the process including Jorian Donovan (Ottawa Senators), Ty Nelson (Seattle Kraken) and Michael Buchinger (St. Louis Blues).
“Tanner Molendyk made a good impression on Wednesday,” Daily Faceoff prospect analyst Steven Ellis wrote. “And he had to, given he was on the outside looking in due to his ailment. He had a few smart breakout plays and was especially good at shutting things down in the neutral zone.”
When healthy, Molendyk, who was the 24th overall pick in the 2023 NHL Draft, is usually one of the best players on the ice.
The 6-foot, 181-pound defenseman has tallied four goals and 28 points in 24 games with the Saskatoon Blades in the WHL. He’s the highest-scoring defender on the team, and he’s tied for seventh among WHL defensemen in points (fellow Predators prospect Graham Sward actually the league leader in points among D-men).
He also has the third-best plus/minus rating (+22) and the eighth-most power-play assists (10) among WHL defensemen as well.
But beyond his scoring prowess, what makes Molendyk such an intriguing prospect is his development into a complete defender. He’s an elite skater with unrivaled stop-and-go ability, crisp passing, strong lateral movement, excellent puck possession, and he thrives playing in transition on the rush.
Some of those attributes showed through in Molendyk’s lone exhibition game on Wednesday.
“He played quick and led some entries and exits with his feet and quick passes under the first layer,” The Athletic NHL prospect analyst Scott Wheeler stated. “His poise under pressure was immediately noticeable. Molendyk looked like you’d expect him to look and checked the boxes he needed to. A clear choice if he was good to go, even as the youngest defenseman invited to camp.”
Aside from the 2022-23 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, in which he scored one goal and four points in five games while winning gold with Team Canada, Molendyk has no other experience with international competition.
The 2024 World Junior Championship will be a good measuring-stick tournament for the British Columbia native to see how he stacks up against other premier U20 prospects.
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