by Brandon Sudeyko
Thayne Hallyburton is the main prospects guy for ITO and by no means am I looking to outshine him. It is that time of the year where the draft prospects are watched a little closely and Friday night I was able to watch Kitchener Rangers defenceman Max Iafrate.
The Kitchener Rangers traded for Max before the puck dropped on the season, paying a price for the big offensive defenceman. Kitchener and Plymouth swapped 1st round import selections in ’12 and ’13 while the Rangers GM Steve Spott also gave up a pair of 3rd round draft picks in 2015 and 2016. The price was large but the payoff could be huge.
Max started the season off slow and some injuries have halted his progress this season but as of Friday January 27th, Max Iafrate looked like a complete player. Even though Max was a -3 on the night, stats do not tell the whole story. Entering the season Iafrate was an offensive defenceman. He was known for his offensive prowess, his big booming shot and his knack for getting shots on net to generate big rebounds. Entering the season the Kitchener Rangers wanted to change that and make him a possible first round selection, much like Spott did with Carolina Hurricanes prospect Ryan Murphy.
Max has had a string of games where he has looked like he deserves to be ranked higher than 78th amongst NA skaters (NHL CS) and definitely a more complete player. Max has learned to use his size (6’2” 220lbs) to gain positioning on the opposition who are standing in front of the net. If he is unable to move them from the net, he does a great job at tying up the players stick and gives the goaltender a chance to come up with the save.
Even though Max and the Rangers are focusing on the defensive side of the game, Iafrate still has his offensive flare as he demonstrated with a few rushes, one leading to a Michael Catenacci goal. Iafrate shows poise with the puck, looking for a way to get the puck from the point to the net, a skill his father was very good at.
The most impressive part of Iafrate’s game on Friday night had to be his shot blocking and decision making. Max has no fear, whether it is standing up straight, or laying down to block shots, he will do what he has to do help out his goaltender and team when it comes to protecting the lead, or just stopping scoring opportunities. Iafrate’s deicision making ability was evident as many a time an offensive defenceman would have jumped for that loose puck and have a 50/50 chance at allowing the opposition to have a breakaway in his attempt to pinch. In 4 scenarios where he could have won the foot race, Iafrate analyzed the situation quickly and decided that his best decision was to play defense first. Max credits Steve Spott and the system for improving his decision making abilities.
It isn’t all positives for Max as he does need to work on his skating ability. He is quick for a bigger man but does not currently have NHL caliber skating , but that is the easiest of all skills to teach and improve on. Max will need to get a bit more physical in front of the net as there were some opportunities where shots got through and could not push the player around resulting in scoring chances off rebounds.
No one is going to question the skill that Max possesses, but it is scary to watch him grow and improve this season. Currently rated 78th by NHL CS, look for him to be a late 2nd round pick in this years NHL draft.
Have a listen to the post game interview I had with Max after his game Friday night.