It is common in most NHL Draft years that there are prospects who fall from preseason expectations. Sometimes it is due to less than exceptional play in their draft eligible year. Sometimes it is due to others in the draft class excelling. And, perhaps most unfortunately, sometimes it is due to injury. For the 2021 NHL Draft, one of the highly touted players prior to this season was United States National Team Development Program center Chaz Lucius. Injuries cut his 2020-21 season short. In a draft class filled with question marks, Lucius represents one of the larger ones. Let us learn more about why that is the case with this prospect profile.
Who is Chaz Lucius?
According to Elite Prospects, Chaz Lucius was born on May 2, 2003 in Grant, Minnesota. Lucius is listed as a center who shoots right-handed, stands at 6’0”, and weighs 172 pounds. He is committed to the University of Minnesota. He will join the Golden Gophers next season.
As one would expect by being a part of the USNTDP, Chaz Lucius was a standout youth player in America. Lucius was brought into the program for the 2019-20 season and primarily played with the U-17 team. With the U-17 team, he put up 31 goals and 50 points in 46 games. He led that team in goals in 2019-20 and finished tied with Sasha Pastujov with 50 points. At the World U-17 Challenge, he put up 7 goals and 10 points in 7 games. Lucius led that tournament in both goals and points too as the USNTDP finished second. Lucius appeared in six games with the U-18 team and in 32 games with the USNTDP in USHL play. He only put up two assists with the U-18s. The USHL games were more productive with Lucius putting up 8 goals and 22 points. The signs were clear: He was a budding scorer.
Then he suffered a knee injury prior to the 2020-21 season. It required surgery. Lucius ended up out until February 2021. When Lucius did return to the ice for the USNTDP U-18 team, the squad limited his usage. He ended up playing in just 12 USHL games and 13 USNTDP games. Lucius was productive in both; he put up 13 goals and 18 points in the USHL games and 13 goals and 20 points in the USNTDP games. Still, that is only 25 games when most prospects out of the USNTDP this season played over 50. He was unavailable for the World Under-18 Championships. There would be no final stage to show off against several other prospects in this draft. The knee injury was significant.
What was also significant was that when Lucius did play, he was rather productive. Lucius’ 18 games yielded a 1.5 point per game average, the third highest in the entire USHL last season. While it was just 12 games and with limited usage, that is impressive coming off a knee injury and to do so on a roster that is not intended to compete for the USHL Clark Cup. Only Matt Coronato (who is eligible to be drafted this year) and Sean Farrell (drafted last year by Montreal) put up higher rates, both for the mighty Chicago Steel. In USNTDP non-USHL play, Lucius’ 20 points in 13 games yielded a point per game average of 1.54. Only 2020-21 USNTDP leading scorer and fellow 2021 draft eligible forward Sasha Pastujov had a higher point per game average at 1.59. While Lucius did not play a lot, that he was able to do as much as he did in a short amount of time speaks to his main appeal. The young man can score and in bunches.
As one final point about the player, if you have a subscription to The Athletic and want to read more about how Lucius handled the knee injury and being kept away from the ice during this crucial season, check out this article by Scott Wheeler.
Where is Chaz Lucius Ranked?
Based on the available rankings, Lucius’ ranking is quite high for someone who did not play a lot in 2020-21. In a lot of them, he is the second highest ranked USNTDP member behind Luke Hughes.
Despite the knee injury and subsequent surgery, many regard Lucius as not just a first round pick, but also a top-fifteen pick. While some of these rankings are a bit older, keep in mind that most (all?) of these people and services have been aware of Lucius for more than just this past season. Seeing him come right back to the USNTDP and light the lamp almost immediately perhaps was enough to feel confident that his skills have not diminished. I definitely got that sense when I read Sam Cosentino’s blurb with his #10 ranking for the future Golden Gopher. Perhaps it is also telling of this year’s draft class that Lucius is seen a consensus first rounder and potentially a fairly high one at that.
What Others Say About Chaz Lucius
As you would expect from his production being led in goals instead of assists, Lucius’ shot has received plenty of praise. Nearly all of the profiles I have read about Lucius make a point of it to highlight it. For example, here is what Steve Kournianos wrote in his profile posted in March at The Draft Analyst about Lucius’ shot:
Lucius is a lethal goal scorer, and he is far more of a shoot-first pivot than anything else. The bulk of his possessions in the offensive zone usually end up with either Lucius or Pastujov positioned in the their respective off-wing circle for a one-time chance at the net. His office is anywhere in the slot, and Lucius’s wrister is heavy with a bowhunter’s accuracy. It’s quite common to see Lucius stationary in the offensive zone, especially since this year’s NTDP has multiple playmakers from the blue line and activate a ton. Another impressive aspect of Lucius’s shot is the velocity and marksmanship he demonstrates when receiving and teeing up off-target feeds, especially in his skates.
Hadi Kalakeche of Dobber Prospect has a similar take about his shot, stating that it is among the best in his draft class. Kalakeche found that Lucius’ shot was quite accurate and often from dangerous locations – two factors that should command immediate appeal for an offensive prospect. This is what he wrote about it in his profile back in April:
Lucius’ shooting is easily top-five in this draft class; his shooting mechanics are refined, and he shows the ability to vary his shot based on the circumstances. If he is using a one-timer from the half-wall, he’ll push his top hand out and transfer his weight from back to forth; if he is closer to the net, he will use a downforce shot to elevate the puck quickly. His wrist shot is mechanically sound, and he shows strong kinetic understanding to use his entire body to his advantage. His shot in-stride does leave something to be desired, but he should have no problem working on his shot, as it is something he loves to do. He hits the net two-thirds of the time and seems to know when to shoot rather than slinging every puck on net. Furthermore, 86% of his attempts on goal were from the slot, with only two pucks thrown on goal from outside that area.
Over at the Last Word on Sports, Ben Kerr also had plenty of praise for Lucius’ shot and making himself available for shots in his profile posted in May:
Lucius is a pure goal scorer. He has a very good arsenal of shots, as he is effective with his wrist shot, snap shot, slap shot, one-timer, and backhand. His shots are accurate and show good power. Lucius has quick hands. He is able to get his shots off extremely quickly. He also has the ability to quickly change the angle on his shot, fooling goaltenders. Lucius also has the ability to score in tight to the net, using those quick hands to elevate the puck quickly and into small open areas. His high-end hand-eye coordination allows him to tip in pucks and to pounce on rebounds. Lucius is a smart player, he finds open spaces on the ice and gets open to receive a pass from a teammate.
Being able to get open is an important characteristic for a potential scorer. Getting “lost” amid the defense can be an asset, especially if there are playmakers to find the “lost” teammate before the opposition does. And just to hammer home the point, Paul Zuk profiled Lucius back in January at Smaht Scouting, which is entirely based on his 2019-20 season. Even then, his shot was a feature of Lucius’ game.
The one aspect of Chaz Lucius’ game where there aren’t many questions to be asked is his talent in the offensive zone. Simply put, he scores goals. A lot of them. He tucked home 11 goals in seven games to start the 2019/20 season, and finished with 31 on the season. There aren’t many teams in the NHL who couldn’t use that kind of offensive production out of a first-round pick. Not only can he score, he has one impressive set of hands. His shot release is incredibly fast, and he can make the opposing teams pay from the blue-line in.
I am always encouraged when I read multiple different people who look at a prospect and come up with similar conclusions. It makes me more confident that what they are praising about the prospect is legitimate. It also works for the opposite end of evaluation; it makes me more receptive to any criticisms. Just as Kournianos, Kalakeche, Kerr, and Zuk were impressed by his shot, they pointed out that Lucius’ skating and approaches to defense both need a lot of work.
For the defense, it is not so much that Lucius is a liability, just that he has not been adept at it. Kalakeche’s profile noted that Lucius did some good things, particularly on faceoffs, but not enough to warrant that part of his game as a strength. Kerr’s profile agrees that faceoffs were a strength, but observed that Lucius’ could stand to be more committed to his own end and get stronger to be able to hold his own when puck battles happened. Kournianos’ profile is in alignment with Kerr’s in that category and even calls Lucius a “one-way center,” but does note that Lucius’ knee injury and rustiness in returning to games may have contributed to that. Zuk’s profile was based on Lucius’ 2019-20 season and came away pleased with his approach to defense. It is possible that a full 2020-21 season would have seen Lucius make some more strides in his own end than what he could do in 25 games in 2021.
The skating is the bigger concern. Possibly a fixable one, but a concern all the same. Kalakeche’s profile had summarized the issues as being mechanical:
Lucius’ skating is not terrible by any means, but it does require a lot of fine-tuning; his edgework is above-average, but he lacks high-end speed and explosivity. When he performs crossovers, he does not extend his back leg fully, catching less ice with each stride than a more technically gifted skater. Lucius has adapted his game accordingly by leaving the puck-carrying in transition to his teammates and positioning himself in favorable situations to benefit from their efforts. He also adapts his on-ice positioning quicker than most, leading to fewer skating-related issues.
While being able to position himself well can mitigate the skating issues, that may not be something Lucius can get away with at the college or professional levels. Kalakeche did note that Lucius was not an effective player in transition, noting that he may be more suited for cycling on offense. Again, that can mitigate the skating issues, but that may not always be possible at the next level either.
Kerr and Kournianos both noted similar issues, observing that Lucius’ skating is lacking in explosiveness and a strong first-stride. They did both note that his edgework is a positive and Kournianos understandably brought up the knee injury and lack of game action hindering that progress in 2020-21. They also curiously compared him to Derek Stepan, with Kerr making that comparison for his whole game and Kournianos bringing up Stepan with respect to his skating. And even as far back as data from last season, Zuk noted that explosiveness was an issue with Lucius’ skating at the U-17 level.
Given that four different people came to such similar conclusions about the same player, I think it is clear that Lucius’ strength is on offense when his team has the puck; he can make himself open and fire a great shot on net from a great location on the rink. What Lucius needs to work on are his skating mechanics, being more focused on defense, and getting stronger. The goal-scoring skills are Lucius’ bread and butter; he will need a more acceptable plate to present it at the next level.
A Little Video
Kalakeche’s profile at Dobber Prospects comes with this great video that highlights various plays, including several from his first game back with the USNTDP. It is 8:25 long and well worth your time. It is a great companion piece to his profile at Dobber Prospects:
Another video that’s well worth your time comes from Duncan and Ian at Devils in the Details. They’ve put together three videos for Lucius. The one I have embedded here is 5:17 of what Lucius does best: score goals.
You’ll see that Lucius is definitely not shy about crashing the net or playing around the crease. However, his shot is sick when he is able to fire from some distance such as in the slot or below the faceoff dots. Both videos show that he is not swift, but he is able to get to where he needs to go to finish plays. The other two are shift-by-shift videos, both against the Chicago Steel. This one is from Lucius’ first game of this season back on February 19. The second one is from March 27, showing off a less rusty Lucius in action.
An Opinion of Sorts
Lucius is one of the simplest players to describe as a prospect. He has a great shot, he can produce, his skillset is built for offense, his issues on the ice lie with defense and his skating, and there are at least some questions about his knee. It is good that he was able to play 25 games for the USNTDP. However, Steve Kournianos’ profile noted that he was not playing as much as he could have at 5-on-5 and not in back-to-backs to account for the knee injury. And not going to the World U-18s only raises the question further about Lucius’ recovery. Will he be “back to normal” when he goes to college next season? Will he return to the massive promise he showed with the U-17 USNTDP team? It is a fair and significant question for anyone drafting him.
It is also a fair and significant question that the teams who wants to draft him as to whether they have the system, the personnel, and the patience to work with Lucius about his defensive game and his skating. The defensive part should be manageable; that may even come with experience. The skating may not be a total deal-breaker. Kerr and Kournianos both namechecked Derek Stepan with respect to his play and skating and Stepan is about to enter his twelfth season in the NHL. A long, successful career is still possible for someone whose skating is not ideal. But I do agree that any improvement to his stride can only help his chances at playing and producing at the next level. I also think it is worthwhile to make the effort because it seems that Lucius’ shot and finishing are legitimate strengths – and potentially valuable strengths.
In a draft class with plenty of question marks, being a sniper makes one stand out. Lucius will definitely be picked. And the rankings suggest that he will go in the first round, even in the first half of it. If a team is going to have to “take a swing on a guy” after eighth overall, to use a Will Scouch phrase, then taking someone who projects to be a scorer is a good bet as any. To that end, I am not confident that he would be available at 19th or 20th overall, had Boston or Pittsburgh did their job against the Islanders. I am even less confident he will be available towards the end of the first round where the Devils will have their second first round pick. If he is, then that suggests that there is a real concern about his knee or the other parts of his game being, well, more concerning than thought. At that point, it would be riskier for the Devils to take Lucius. In other words: if the Devils want him, then they will need to trade up to do that. I do not know if he is worth the additional assets to make that happen.
That stated, there is an argument to be made for that since, again, he projects to be a goal scorer and those players can become valuable if they work out. I would actually be fine with New Jersey taking Chaz Lucius if he is available for that second first round pick pending confirmation that his knee is actually fine. This is something I would hope the NHL teams are able to find out. Taking him with the fourth overall pick would be, as the kids call it, a “galaxy brain” move that may get someone fired if it does not work out. But with the other pick, I think there is merit to the Devils taking this shooter. Goal scoring as a talent is always at a premium in this league. I believe “too much scoring” is not an actual problem, especially among prospects. The Devils seemingly need help scoring goals for the better part of the last two decades. Therefore, a player like Lucius would be someone worth taking a chance on. I just do not think he will make it very far past the lottery selections – if he does at all.
While I do not think the Devils will be able to take Chaz Lucius – and if they are able to, I would be cautious as he fell that far for a reason – I do think he is a talent worth paying attention to. I would love to know what you think of Chaz Lucius in the comments. What did you think of his shortened season? If you follow the USNTDP, then what did you notice from him? What about Lucius excites you and concerns you? If he does fall to the Devils’ second first round pick, then would you take him regardless of the issues? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Lucius in the comments. Thank you for reading.