If there is one thing this upcoming NHL Draft class of 2024 has plenty of, it would be quality defensemen. But, as good as this next crop of young blue liners is that includes Sam Dickenson, Artyom Levshunov, Aron Kiviharju, Adam Jiricek, and Henry Mews, there is one name I feel whose play this upcoming season will see his stock rise potentially above most of if not all of those names, and that player is none other than Zayne Parekh of the Ontario Hockey Leagues’ Saginaw Spirt.
And here’s why. Not only is Parekh one of the smoothest skating/stick-handling defensemen I’ve seen come out in some time, but he also possesses the rare scoring ability very few defensive prospects have EVER shown at his age! To prove this, if you look at every defensemen’s draft minus one season in the modern era, you’ll see that at just 16 years of age, Zayne was able to tie the great Drew Doughty for most goals ever scored by a defenseman the year before they were draft eligible with each having 21 lamp lighters to their credit.
Now, if you’re like me when I first stumbled upon some tape of this young player, you’ll have probably noticed after watching the video above that Zayne was able to achieve this unbelievable feat of scoring 20-plus goals last season because he possesses the type of aggressiveness needed to jump up into the offensive zone and get involved in most plays. So much so that on more than one occasion, I saw Parekh being the one to drive the play behind the opposition’s net. Now, usually, this would be a big no-no for a defender. But when you are coaching a guy who can load up and release the type of wrist shot from anywhere on the ice that creates bottle rockets (hockey term for scoring a goal that sends the goalies’ water bottle flying), then I guess you just sit back and let him make you look good.
In saying that, with this right-hand-shot defender’s current height and weight only reaching 6’0 and 180 pounds, it has drawn Zayne some very favorable comparisons to that of the New York Rangers’ Adam Fox. Now, although, I don’t necessarily disagree that this player comparison could one day be his ceiling. I think it is a lot to put on Zayne currently.
Therefore, in my mind a more realistic comparison of a player with almost identical attributes and a similar projected growth track would be that of the New Jersey Devils 2022 prospect Seamus Casey. Casey, if you remember, was one of my favorite defenders from the 2022 draft class because, like Parekh, Seamus excels at the art of effortlessly maneuvering his way around the ice while utilizing his strong stick handling ability to help him create quality offensive chances for his team.
Now, while these stats may be impressive, Zayne’s game does not come without flaws. Despite all the points he was able to score last season, Parekh only managed to finish the season with a +3 average. So, to improve upon that this upcoming season (like Seamus did last season while playing for the University of Michigan Wolverines), Parekh will need to figure out how to harness his urges to show off his offensive abilities.
After all, a defender’s primary duty is to prevent the opposition from scoring. Only after managing to do that should a blue liner shift his focus to the offensive side of things.
If he does, there is no doubt in this writer’s mind that Zayne will find himself playing on the same line as the prize of the 2025 draft, center Michael Misa. When given that opportunity, he should not only be able to double his point production from last year but also maintain a much-improved plus-minus rating heading into next summer’s selection process.