An Offensive Defenseman's Journey

Chase Priskie's unusual route from Florida to the pros

Pembroke Pines, FL is no hockey hotbed, but Chase Priskie has the sport in his blood.

“My mom played NCAA hockey at Bowdoin College (Maine). When my dad and her moved down to Florida they became Panthers season ticket holders. I attended my first NHL game when I was 30 days old,” says the 24-year-old Priskie, who finished his 2019-20 season as a black ace for those same Florida Panthers after being acquired in the Vincent Trocheck deal.

Earlier this week Chase, a frequent newsletter reader, and I spent 45 minutes talking about his hockey journey, his development process, and his style of play. Below is an edited transcript of our conversation:

So how does one become a pro hockey player from Florida?

I started in roller hockey, but there was one ice travel team for 96-born players in all of Florida and I was part of that team at the age five. We were a pretty tight group. Then at the older age levels there were two teams, one for each coast of the state…

I had always played D. But my best friend’s dad was the coach of our team and he’d say to me “go score if you want to.” My coaches were really good at letting me play my game and joining the rush..

My parents were never pushy with my hockey. In fact they always tried to downplay my expectations. Growing up I was a competitive tennis player and also tried lacrosse and baseball. What turned me off those sports is how hot it would get in Florida!

Shayne Gostisbehere is from my hometown and is three years older than me, so he was a role model. He attended the South Kent School in Connecticut before going to Union College (NCAA D1). Matt Pinchevsky, one of my favorite minor hockey coaches from back home, was putting together the Selects Academy in South Kent. At 15 I convinced my parents that I wanted to be a hockey player. They supported me and I left home for Connecticut…

When I arrived in South Kent my goal was just to play NCAA D3 hockey at Bowdoin. I skated at their summer camps for six years and all of my sports apparels had their logo. But shortly after I started playing for Selects I was recruited by the D1 program at Quinnipiac. At first I thought someone was pulling a prank on me!

As it turned out Reid Cashman (former assistant coach at Quinnipiac & for the Washington Capitals and now head coach at Dartmouth) was a big believer in my game. He really liked my ability to join the rush and create offense from the back end. Not many defensemen were truly comfortable demanding the puck in all parts of the rink and that was my calling card…

During my draft year I interviewed with about 10 teams and I got my hopes up a bit. I ended up going undrafted but at least it gave me a sense that I did have a chance to play pro hockey. (The Washington Capitals drafted Chase in the sixth round two years later)

The following year I played BCHL with the Salmon Arm Silverbacks. The style of play was quite different from prep. The game was very offensive and we’d often get scores of 8-6 or something similar. The team rosters were also much deeper. In high school, teams had maybe two or three strong players and you could pick your spots and dominate the lower end of their lineups if you got a good matchup. In BCHL the overall level was higher and the game was very rush-based. Teams alternated getting 3v2s…

That year I also started committing myself to physical conditioning. I was a bit of a chubby kid; I weighed as much when I committed to Quinnipiac as I do now. In BC I got on a lifting program and started transforming my body…

Getting to Quinnipiac early and doing summer school before my freshman year was the best decision I made. It gave me a sense of how hard the players worked and how much more I had to do in order to compete at the D1 level. In addition I had already built up some college credits in high school. I stayed on campus year-round all four years to train and attend classes. I was able to graduate in three years and do an MBA in my fourth.

Joe Dumais (assistant coach at Qunnipiac) was a major influence on my career. He has a tremendous track record of developing defensemen for the NHL: Gostisbehere (at Union), Connor Clifton, Brogan Rafferty and Devon Toews. We have a great group of alums who go back and train together each summer…

Joe was a stickler for details. Our practices were filmed and we would review clips everyday. It taught me to play with a certain intensity and urgency no matter the situation. My skating and my ability to find shooting lanes in the OZ had always been strengths, but he emphasized the importance of finding holes in coverage in NZ and OZ and taking advantage of those opportunities…

Breaking through to the next level

According to Byron Bader’s prospect model, the late-blooming Priskie has his work cut out for him. His most favorable comparable, when looking at his progression between ages 17 and 22, is former fifth-overall pick Ryan Whitney, who overcame mediocre offensive production at Boston University to become a top-pair defenseman for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Priskie’s poor showing on Bader’s statistical model is an artifact of his draft year spent in a weak league (HS prep) and a poor Draft+1 season in the BCHL. Priskie actually out-performed Whitney at the NCAA level and enjoyed a productive first season in the AHL (35 points in 57 games).

Aside from his projectable skating and skills, Priskie is a student of the game who is still looking to get better.

The biggest thing I realized this year is that on every breakout you've got to beat F1, whether it's with your feet or with a pass. The best NHL Ds are able to do it consistently and that’s what makes them so valuable to their teams.

Neil Pionk in Winnipeg is a guy who’s really stood out to me in terms of his recent improvements in this area. Rasmus Andersson in Calgary is another player I study to get better in this aspect of the game.

Right-handed offensive defensemen are in demand at the NHL level, and I’ll be working hard this off-season to put myself in a position to seize an opportunity.

In the summer 2019 I had recommended Priskie as a low-risk high-reward signing for the Leafs/Marlies. What grabbed my attention when watching shifts from his senior year was not only his speed and ability to create shots in the offensive zone, but his instincts to join the play as F4 in the NZ, then gap up to kill defensive threats early in case of a turnover.

To me, his delayed development due to exceptional circumstances (coming from Florida and bouncing between prep-USHL-BCHL-NCAA in successive seasons), his translatable offensive skillset and his eye for the game suggest that he stands a chance of outperforming his projection and becoming a contributor at the NHL level.

Thanks to Chase for the great conversation. Looking forward to nerding out with other pros in future editions of the newsletter!

Chase is reading Hockey Tactics 2020, are you?

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