Anaheim DucksArizona CoyotesBoston BruinsBuffalo SabresCalgary FlamesCarolina HurricanesChicago BlackhawksColorado AvalancheColumbus Blue JacketsDallas StarsDetroit Red WingsEdmonton OilersFlorida PanthersLos Angeles KingsMinnesota WildMontréal CanadiensNashville PredatorsNew Jersey DevilsNew York IslandersNew York RangersOttawa SenatorsPhiladelphia FlyersPittsburgh PenguinsSt Louis BluesSan Jose SharksSeattle KrakenTampa Bay LightningToronto Maple LeafsVancouver CanucksVegas Golden KnightsWashington CapitalsWinnipeg Jets

2024 NHL DRAFT SCOUTING REPORT (VIDEOS + GRADES) – Daniil Ustinkov, D, Zurich Lions, NL

Daniil Ustinkov
Position: D, Shoots: L
H/W: 6'0", 198 lbs
Date of Birth: 2006-08-26

A Swiss lad with an oh so Russian name, we’ve been talking fondly about the rough and tumble blueliner since his DY-1. There, he looked like a man among boys at the junior level while knocking hard on the door of pro play, getting into 5 NL games and another 2 SL contests as a 16-year-old. That made him a prime candidate to already be a go-to blueliner at the U18 Worlds last spring, which his native Switzerland hosted. He didn’t disappoint, helping the Swiss to a quarterfinals visit after a hard-fought preliminary round and going 1-3-4 along the way. He then topped that off by leading Switzerland to its best ever Hlinka Gretzky Cup performance, chipping in another 3 points in 4 games and bouncing back from a rough Game 1 to be a force for the rest of the tournament.

Now he finds himself in the midst of a purely pro season with all the growing pains that accompany such a step. Things started off quietly, but Ustinkov has been brought along at a pace that has seen him grow slightly, but exponentially as a player who can read the game and round out his rough edges. To date, he’s gotten into 17 NL games and nicely accumulated a +5 rating to go along with one assist. The majority of the initial part of the season was spent in the 2nd tier SL where he was given a bit more of a leash and responded with 5 assists and a +2 in 11 games. Nonetheless, he had 8 straight NL games before joining the U20 team for preparations and the recently concluded WJC.

Which is where we see the strong correlation and contrasts. In the 8 games he played for Zurich proceeding the U20 break, he saw more than 8 minutes of ice time on only two occasions. He’s been held at the bit with a short leash, which certainly isn’t uncommon at the pro level, much less for a program that has a strong focus on winning. But as soon as he became part of the WJC fray, his ice time shot up to an average of over 14 minutes per game, once again reflecting his importance for the Swiss in international competition.

Mind you, Ustinkov is currently 17. In fact, he’ll still be 17 when he hears his name called at next summer’s draft, which is all but a certainty at this point. A late August birthday, the scouting community can only but gush at the potential overall package and possibilities we’re seeing from what is essentially one of the youngest prospects of note in next summer’s draft. That he’s been busy playing with and against players older than he is, it’s understandable that there are some warts to his game and effectiveness, something we’ll be looking at here.

Before we get into the nitty gritty, we’re going to look at two of his shifts from his most recent NL game since the WJC. You’ll recognize him with the cage on his helmet and number 29 on his back. The first video displays his most effective shift of the game. The second one shows the shift with the most warts.

Now, if you watched that and found him to be very unassuming, welcome to what we’ve seen a lot of this season. He’ll be out there and doing nothing wrong, usually hanging out where he should be positionally. But he’ll have little puck contact and will have little to do with the overall play at hand. When he does have the puck, it’s usually coming in the form of picking it up in his own zone or perhaps the neutral zone, then moving it up to one of the forwards and the other four skaters take over from there. He’ll do this just fine. Once the shift is over, he’ll head to the bench, where he’ll spend the next 4-10 minutes of the game.

Now compare that to this less-promising shift:

We’ll bet you’re probably thinking that there’s not much to complain about here. Sure, he made a nice move from the blueline and looked to create something only to get smothered out of the play in the corner. But then he eventually got back and even rejoined the next rush, ultimately getting the puck and making an admittedly less than spectacular pass at what became the tail end of a short and fruitless 3-on-2 scenario. But for a 17-year-old in the NL, this all sounds like quite the first world critique.

And that’s where we’re at with Ustinkov. We’re seeing a very careful version that is hesitant to overextend himself, probably doing just what the coaching staff is asking of him. When he does engage and look to make a play, little is coming of it. It’s a situation that will challenge NHL scouts considerably in determining just how much faith they’re willing to invest in him as a draft pick come next June 28th.

And that’s why it’ll be fair to ask yourself what scouts thought about some of the recent WJC action, where one could definitely see light and shadow. We certainly found ourselves in that position with scenarios such as the following.

The simple but good (#3 in white):

The kind of ugly:

And the “Come on’, you can do better than that”:

Small samples, indeed, but all coming against competition in his general age group after a fall full of play against pros. This begs for further analysis.


Simultaneously safe and unspectacular, Ustinkov’s skating isn’t necessarily a strength per se, although he makes a very solid impression on his skates. His battle propensity speaks in favor of his sturdiness on his blades. In movement, he can lumber a bit and it often looks like he’s exerting energy without getting very far. He’s certainly no Paul Coffey out there. And in light of the work put into generating movement, we can’t describe his skating as being terribly economical. But it’s not a measurable weakness and it certainly doesn’t prevent him from getting up in the play or from sticking with attackers. For the most part, anyhow. In many ways, it looks like he just will need more man strength in those legs in order for him to maybe kick things up a little. That will surely come in time.

From a straightaway standpoint, we’ve seen lots of good movement from Ustinkov, both at home and internationally. There is a will to charge and to make some dekes along the way to create more space. Again, we’re hoping there’ll be more actual speed and better fluidity to his change of pace and direction as he grows and builds muscle, but the will to move is there and he can usually get the puck up ice. You see that well in this clip, even if the poor decision making after zone entry could just as easily be made a point of in analyzing his smarts:

Here we can see a sample of his very common and regularly displayed ability to grab pucks off the boards (or take passes) and then use quick movements, often in the form of backward crossovers, to move to what will hopefully be a better shooting position. He’s not afraid to play a little with oncoming attackers while deciding on an angle:

This also goes in the other direction, here with the feeling that he could have backward crossovered his way right to the goal front:

And his ability to accept a pass, pivot, and then get the puck to the net is apt from the right side of the ice as well:

In general though, we just can’t help but be excited about a 17-year-old who takes the puck for a ride in the offensive zone, moves around the area this aptly, and then gets to a point where he sees a good shot opportunity, one where he’s able to throw in all the momentum his feet have created for him:

There will surely be those out there who aren’t terribly fond of his overall skating package at the moment, but we’ve heard these things about players like Adam Fox and Brock Faber, who could actually have been seen as weaker than Ustinkov in this department when they were his age. And it likely won’t be anything that prevents a team from selecting the youngster.

Grade: 55


Truth be told, Ustinkov’s shot is nothing special. We’d best describe it as adequate, but there’s nothing here to date that leaves us thinking he’ll be overpowering goalies anytime soon. It’s not a terribly unpredictable shot and even a look at the numbers will show that he hasn’t been much of a goal-scorer at any juncture over the past five years.

With this in mind, he’s still showing strong instincts at times for getting into open spaces as a passing station and then willingly firing away without thinking twice:

This shows an understanding of keeping the game simple while looking to have the puck on its way to the opposition net in minimal time:

And this “no hesitation” take can be an advantage, regardless of how strong a player’s shot is or not, because taking the extra second or two could lead a player to turnover city. He seems to read this well even in situations where there really isn’t much time to accept a puck and unload it:

We’ve seen times where he’s made use of a one-timer as well and although it doesn’t look like he’ll be occupying the Ovechkin spot on the power play anytime soon, there’s still no arguing with its general accuracy and the intent to get rid of a quick shot ASAP:

There are drives to the net, taking advantage of the slight space allotted, like in this wrap-around attempt:

Despite a lack of raw production, he’s shooting well for a player his age. He gets shots off quick, he can one-time the biscuit, he has no hesitation wristing it into traffic, and he does have a propensity to fire away. That the shot itself isn’t mechanically mind-blowing doesn’t need to mean much at this juncture.

Grade: 50


When he stays within himself, Ustinkov displays deft hands, strong movement with the puck, and accurate passes. He moves well with the biscuit along the blueline and usually gets his shots, most often wristers, where he wants them. We’ve seen one-timing ability as well as an extra jump when skating past opponents, usually with head and shoulder fakes, like in some of the video clips above. Flash and dash are for other players, but we’ve seen many prospects who are far more challenged when it comes to the skating and stickhandling package Ustinkov brings to the table.

When it comes to the kind of defensemen you look for in middle rounds, we like to see some of the subtle stuff simply getting done in a manner that helps the player’s team keep safe and out of danger. The play in this clip is one a coach wants to see from his defensemen with every opportunity, rubbing someone out on the board, grabbing the puck and starting movement back up the ice, even by switching play to the other side, which is a bit of a cherry on top:

A coach will want his blueliner to find ways to get the puck to the net (preferably with traffic), but definitely in a manner that shows wherewithal about how close his opponent is and that the puck just cannot be blocked and turned into a counterattack:

In this clip, we see a young man firing off a strong, direct one-timer from the blueline after receiving a pass from a good 20 feet away. That’s not the kind of timing and read that every player brings to the table:

For a player who we’ve described as playing it safe and keeping things simple, it’s always nice to see a little bit of stick work that tells us that there is indeed some puck skills there that could be seen more often as the player matures. This was a pretty nifty keep-in and diss-off at the pro level:

And sometimes he gets rewarded for his movement in the upper portion of the offensive zone, here sending off an unexpected wrister from his off leg:

We can’t say we see an offensively gifted defenseman who will one day put up points in the NHL, but there’s plenty to work with here and organizations that feel they can tickle up the potential in a player can draft Ustinkov knowing he’s got some skills to be finetuned.

Grade: 55


As a player whose job it is to defend first and foremost, Ustinkov is a thinking man’s defenseman. He’s aware and you can see the cogs churning while he’s out on the ice, constantly assessing situations and reading the play. Gap control is solid as is timing with respect to stepping up and in situations where taking the body is prudent. He also gets his stick and body in the way of shots and passes right in time, so there’s either a strong sense of what’s going on or he’s simply intelligent enough to make these things happen successfully.

Even at the pro level, we’re seeing subtle and sound reads that one doesn’t pick up on unless he/she is looking closely, like this defensive coverage where he swings over from his right side position to force, and ultimately tip away, a perhaps premature shot attempt:

Here he displays a strong read of just how quick his opponent actually is, avoiding the urge to just chase him, instead recognizing that he’ll need to keep moving in a more inside lane in order to squeeze out the attacker at a later juncture, which is exactly what he does successfully:

As a coach, it’s also nice to know you can trust a youngster to not only carry the puck out of his zone but realize that his line needs a change, and simply execute a safe and effective chip-and-change:

There are also times at the blueline where we see him do things with the puck that indicate to us that he’s a thinking man’s player, measuring and contemplating before executing:

These are things we’re seeing in pro play. That we then witnessed very poor decision making against his peers at the WJC brings about disappointment. This was one of the most glaring examples against eventually relegated Norway where you wonder what’s going through his mind here in even taking the own zone risk that he took, which turned into an ugly turnover. Chances are, he simply felt overconfident or didn’t have the necessary respect for his opponent, but that too will lead to questioning of his smarts.

It wasn’t a one-time thing either, as this turnover had us questioning his judgment of situations as well. It could have been a promising play, but he seemed to think he had more space than he had to cut to the middle, clearly taking his generated speed out of the equation just to get knocked off the puck - and his skates:

There’s clearly room for improvement here. We see some good stuff, but we’ve also been seeing questionable decisions. This will level out over time, but we just don’t know in which direction. If anything, we can at least say that the questionable attributes are ones we’re seeing more in international play, where he may have a built-in feeling that he has to get more done than when being the puppy in the locker room in the NL, where less is more.

Grade: 50


This is where it becomes easy to foresee that Ustinkov has a likely NHL future in some capacity because this aspect of his game is already one that shines the most. He’s a 200-pound 17-year-old and he knows it. And he shows it. His body pins players against the boards, blocks shots, and clears opponents from the crease. All the while, he’s intelligent enough to know he can’t run around at the pro level bulldozing opponents. There’s little he isn’t willing to sacrifice his body for.

As such, if all other aspects of his game would stall, an organization could still lean on turning Ustinkov into perhaps a Dmitry Kulikov-style player. His inherent physicality and understanding of the game should make him a serviceable lower line Dman in what would be an almost worst-case scenario.

Of course, being just 17 and playing more and more in the NL (or at least piecemeal in more games), he’s subject to the kind of abuse seen in this clip, but he takes it in stride knowing it made the safe play beforehand.:

That he’s gotten used to having to put up with physical attacks in order to do even the basic corner work in his own zone was evident with a myriad of situations like this at the WJC:

Physicality can also have to do with shot-blocking, and he’s shown no hesitation in placing his body, at any level, between pucks and his own goal. Although we could show you any one of a myriad of highlights where he just stands or squats in front of shots, here’s one where he’s positioning himself between his goal and the oncoming shooter and uses foot in a goalie-style manner to block the shot:

Alas, what we liked to see physically from a player this age playing defense at the pro level is a sound ability to read what’s going on and apply the proper timing in bringing an attack to an end, usually by applying his body to separate the attacker from the puck. That we’re seeing this kind of thing from him consistently at the pro level fills us with joy because it’s not something every defenseman can do consistently, much less one in Ustinkov’s shoes.

He makes it look simple here (29 in blue):

And this is even more impressive (29 in white):

In each case, he gets the job done, but lets up in time to avoid entering “holding” or “interference” territory.

All this said, we saw three very distinct plays at last summer’s Hlinka Gretzky Cup that gave us the kind of impression we want to see from a defenseman who’s going to play this game any way it comes.

This was a net negative play and definitely unfortunate, but not one that he didn’t try to battle back from. You could see that he felt very duped here:

Here, he provided the event with one of the top highlight hits whatsoever:

And finally, this play is one a coach absolutely loves to see. Ustinkov has no doubts in separating his Swedish opponent, who’s moving well into the neutral zone, from the puck and then charging it the other direction. It would be great from any participant, but it’s really sweet to see it from a player from one of the “smaller” hockey nations against one of the top hockey nations:

Grade: 60

Final word

Of all the things we’ve seen this fall that have us feeling like Ustinkov is a “safe” pick who may still make his way into the top 75, probably the best and most exemplary shift we’ve seen from Ustinkov came in the final minutes of Switzerland’s 6-2 victory over Norway. There was no pressure. The game was decided. He played with a relaxation where we just got to see who he is. There was skating and vision, distribution and covering up, attacking and keeping things effectively simple. He was fully in control. And we hope we’ll see him be this kind of player at higher levels in a few years’ time when he’s matured to a point where this perhaps becomes his norm.

We’ll leave you with that shift here (#3 in red)…

OFP: 54

A note on the 20-80 scale used above. We look at five attributes (skating, shooting, puck skills, hockey IQ and physicality) for skaters and six for goalies (athleticism/quickness, compete/temperament, vision/play reading, technique/style, rebound control and puck handling). Each individual attribute is graded along the 20-80 scales, which includes half-grades. The idea is that a projection of 50 in a given attribute meant that our observer believed that the player could get to roughly NHL average at that attribute at maturity.