The NHL draft lottery and has come and gone and as expected, the Calgary Flames are picking 16th overall. Lucky for all of us, we are at the point of covering draft prospects that will very likely be available at 16th. Today, we will be going over current Moose Jaw Warrior forward Brayden Yager. Yager is one of the most intriguing players heading towards the draft as he was considered a top pick for a couple of years but has suddenly dropped in rankings in his draft year. There is no doubt that Brayden Yager is talented, but what made him drop?
2023 NHL Draft Update: Brayden Yager was selected 14th overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Who is Brayden Yager?
Brayden Yager’s on ice production
|2017–18||D-5||SAAHL U15||Martensville Marauders U15 AA||31||35||24||59|
|2018–19||D-4||SAAHL U15||Martensville Marauders U15 AA||31||44||59||103|
|2019–20||D-3||SMAAAHL||Saskatoon Contacts U18 AAA||44||18||24||42|
|2020–21||D-2||SMAAAHL||Saskatoon Contacts U18 AAA||6||4||7||11|
|WHL||Moose Jaw Warriors||24||7||11||18|
|2021–22||D-1||WHL||Moose Jaw Warriors||63||34||25||59|
|Hlinka Gretzky Cup||U18 Canada||5||5||4||9|
|2022–23||D+0||WHL||Moose Jaw Warriors||67||28||50||78|
Yager’s production has been tracked since his D-5 season which is pretty rare. Yager played AA for two seasons and produce impressively in both seasons. A total of 59 points and 35 goals in 31 games highlighted his first AA season and he followed it up with a even better year potting 44 goals and 103 points in the same amount of games. Moving up to AAA, Yager played one full season where he was surprisingly under a point per game, but 42 points in 44 games is still good production nonetheless. The following year, he played only six games in AAA before being called up by the Moose Jaw Warriors to play in the WHL bubble season.
In the bubble season, Yager showed good promise as a 15/16 year old scoring at a points per game rate of 0.75 while putting up seven goals, 11 assists for 18 points in 24 games. After the bubble season finished, Yager’s first full year in the WHL commenced. He took many steps forward, especially in the goal scoring department. Over 63 games played, his stat line read 34 goals, 25 assists, and 59 points for a points per game of 0.93—quite the upgrade compared to the prior season.
When summer hit, Yager went and competed in the 2022 Hlinka Gretzky Cup in Red Deer, Alberta. Yager was a big part of the gold medal-winning Canada team producing five goals and nine points in five games. In his most recent season, Yager helped the Moose Jaw Warriors make the playoffs with 78 points in 67 games. Unfortunately, him and the Warriors fell short of the championship losing in the second round in six games to the Winnipeg Ice. Although he didn’t get the top prize, Yager was impressive in the playoffs scoring 16 points and six goals in 10 playoff games. Yager’s 78 points is great production, but compared to other draft eligible players, it might not have been enough of an improvement compared to the previous season for scouts causing him to drop in rankings.
Shooting and passing
Yager’s best skill without a doubt is his shooting. His wrist and snap shots are very strong and fast. It really seems like Yager is able to rip a puck from area of the offensive zone—whether that be far from the net or close to it. Alongside power, his accuracy is off the charts too. Flying down the ice or puck flat on his stick, Yager can pick corners and find the back of the net. His favourite corners to pick seem to be the top ones, so any goalies that struggle upper saves are in trouble against him.
Adding on to his fantastic wrist and snap shot, he also possesses a really great one-timer. His one is fast and hard making it difficult for any goalie to get in the way of it. Leaving him open with a one tee opportunity on the power play could be fatal for the opposing team. The combined power and accuracy of his shots allow him to be a deadly threat at any given moment the puck is on his stick.
Yager is not that creative of a passer, but he makes nice passes that get the job done. He often sees his open teammates and will slide them a crisp tape to tape pass giving them a great scoring opportunity. Waiting instead of rushing a shot or pass is a good skill to have and Yager possesses it which allows him to make some great passes that almost guarantee a goal. While in traffic, he will move the puck to attempt to make an easier pass and most of the time, the puck will end up on his teammate’s stick.
Whether Yager’s skating is a strength or more of a weakness can be debated, but I am going to say it’s a strength. Yager’s top speed is fast even with the lack of explosiveness. He uses his top speed to blow past defenders and end up with a goal or great scoring chance. Getting the extra step and separating from opponents is important and Yager’s long stride allows him to do so. His edgework is solid and while nothing special, it allows him to skate around the offensive zone effectively. Yager’s straight line skating style’s is more successful than it isn’t. He might get caught with a poke check or hit since the defender can read he’s not going to shift, but most of the time he can use it to draw defenders in while he’s transitioning through the ice, making an easier path to the net.
Scoring skills aren’t Yager’s only strength as he provides a good defensive game. Yager typically won’t sit back and watch the opposing play develop, he will get himself involved and constantly move to try and defend. Yager does do his best to backcheck like a true two-way centre would and it’s usually effective.. Defending high danger areas is important and Yager will often subject himself to being the guy to defend those areas, dropping back and protecting the slot for example. Not trying to shutdown passing lanes might not be the best idea, but Yager instead blocks the player without possession from making quick movements which leads to them being cut off causing the rival puck carrier to have less options.
Yager’s areas of improvement
Consistency in compete level
Without a doubt, Yager is competitive and will hunt down the puck, but his consistency in his hunt is a concern. He looks like he knows where to be a both ends of the ice, but sometimes seems to get lazy and give up on the play. When the time to backcheck comes, Yager pushes hard yet he finds himself gliding once in a while leaving the opponents to get a scoring chance. Yager will attack an opposing player, fail the attack, and then look lost on the play as he gets left behind. He’ll engage in puck battles but then suddenly seem slow and non-physical in the battle. If he can round off his consistency with his compete level, it can easily become a strength.
For someone with great scoring touch, you might also want great puck handling, but Yager doesn’t have that quite yet. His hands appear to be quick, yet he does little puck movements and nothing really impressive. There is flashes of high-end puck movement such as smooth toe drags to the backhand or forehand, but it’s clear he needs to be more consistent with his movement of the puck to make it a strength. The lack of creative puck handling shows when he’s in the offensive and then forced to the outside because he can’t create space or cut through the defenders. He’ll shoot up the middle of the ice, but the puck moves in the straight line as there’s no tricky movement of it causing it to be poke checked away. Yager’s weaker puck handling could make it hard for him to drive his own line and be a centre at the NHL level.
Some have compared Yager to Nathan MacKinnon lite because like MacKinnon, he will use his top speed to blow past the defenders and then use his strong shot to put the puck into the back of the net. Yager likely won’t be good as MacKinnon and other than the use of speed, their play styles aren’t that similar. One might draw a comparison to Tyler Seguin as both him and Yager have used their speed to over powered their opponents and have a scoring touch with solid playmaking abilities
Fit with the Flames
Brayden Yager would be a great pick for the Flames at 16th overall. A two-way, scoring forward from Western Canada also just seems like the type of player the Flames would want to take.
Yager would fill some missing traits on the Flames roster. Unlike most players on the Flames, he is fast and can use that speed to take over. He also has that scoring touch that seemed to be missing from the Flames in few of the past recent years. This isn’t to say Yager would make the roster right away, he’ll take some time to develop, but when he is ready he could stand out because of the skills he’s bringing. He likely won’t be a top line forward, but should be a second line forward that will do well with some complimentary players and possibly a play driver, who will ultimately put up 50–65 points.
Brayden Yager used to be a projected top pick and has dropped in rankings due to some concerns over production and consistency. Yager provides a great set of skills such as shooting and two-play that will be effective at the NHL level. His ceiling isn’t as high as it used to be but is around that low-end 1C, high-end 2C while his floor is a middle-six scoring forward. Centre or winger, Yager will be a great addition for the team that drafts him when he is ready.
Projection: Top-six scoring forward
All TWC 2023 NHL Draft Profiles
Check out more of our individual player profiles of selected 2023 NHL Draft prospects:
Connor Bedard | Matvei Michkov | Adam Fantilli | Leo Carlsson | Zach Benson | Andrew Cristall | Oliver Moore | Will Smith | Ryan Leonard | Eduard Sale | Colby Barlow | Axel Sandin Pellikka | Dalibor Dvorsky | Brayden Yager | David Reinbacher | Nate Danielson | Riley Heidt | Matthew Wood | Quentin Musty | Mikhail Gulyayev | Calum Ritchie | Gabe Perrault | Jayden Perron | Ethan Gauthier | Dmitri Simashev | Samuel Honzek | Lukas Dragicevic | William Whitelaw | Otto Stenberg | Gavin Brindley | Daniil But