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Denver Pioneers defenseman Zeev Buium (28) (Photo by Erica Denhoff/Icon Sportswire)
Zeev Buium
2024 NHL Draft Eligible
Position: D, Shoots: L
H/W: 6’0”, 185 lbs
Date of Birth: 2005-12-07
Stats to Date: 18 GP 5 G 20 A 25 pts

SUMMARY: What a season it’s been so far for Zeev Buium. The University of Denver freshman was a well-respected prospect after his time at the National Team Development Program, even earning an “A” grade on NHL Central Scouting’s pre-season watchlist. But I doubt many people, and maybe even Buium himself, expected the season that he’s so far authored.

The six-foot-tall left-shot blueliner soared to the top of Denver head coach David Carle’s defensive lineup. Although he’s not even 20 games into his collegiate career, Buium looks every bit the part of an elite NCAA blueliner. He’s confident, decisive, and doesn’t shy away from the physicality inherent in playing against typically older competition.

Lots of players, especially defensemen, struggle with the increased pace, aggression, and pressure of college hockey. That has not been an issue for Buium, in fact, he’s thrived under the increased pressure. He’s fit right in on an offensive juggernaut of a Denver team and even earned his way onto a regular role on Team USA at the World Junior Championships. Buium had a solid tournament and capped it off by scoring a dagger of a goal against the Swedes in the final, a shot that all but clinched the gold for the Americans.

Buium can be a somewhat polarizing prospect, as he is knocked for lacking “premium athletic tools” compared to other top-of-the-class defensemen such as Anton Silayev, Artyom Levshunov, or Sam Dickinson. There’s some truth to that, as Buium isn’t as physically imposing as those names nor does he have the same kind of upside in terms of mobility.

But even with that contention in mind, Buium has the makings of an elite defenseman, and it all starts with his brain. I would contend that he is the most intelligent defenseman in this draft class, if not the smartest overall player. He processes information at such a high speed and with such efficiency that Buium often finds ways to impress in every shift, regardless of the situation.

Offensively, his intelligence and high-end puck skills combine to make him a deadly conduit for offense both from the blueline and in transition. He can weave his way through traffic in the neutral zone, fire crisp stretch passes, and he’s particularly good at manipulating opposing defenses through his movement, skating intentionally to draw as much attention as possible to himself and free up space for teammates.

Defensively, Buium’s impact can be classified in multiple ways. Often, people evaluate defensive talent in terms of defensive actions: does this player poke check well? Does he use his body to win board battles effectively? Is he a menace in front of the net? Those are definitely important skills, but a defenseman who is so good at helping his team exit the defensive zone on such a regular basis, and therefore does not even need to put those defensive actions on tape nearly as frequently, can have a similarly high level of defensive value.

Buium has a solid defensive stick, is no stranger to using his body to win battles, and his mobility helps him cover a lot of ground in the defensive zone. In terms of classifying Buium’s defensive value in terms of defensive actions, there are no issues there.

But it’s Buium’s value as a zone exit facilitator, as someone who digs the puck out of deep in the defensive zone and transitions it out of danger, where his maximum defensive value lies. He makes those highly impactful defensive plays regularly, and those plays are the ones that bode very well for his future given the changing expectations placed on the shoulders of defensemen in the modern NHL.

Buium won’t be ranked as the top defenseman in this class by everyone, and that’s understandable. He’s not the unicorn that Silayev is, the physical two-way monster Levshunov is, or the six-foot-three OHL phenom Sam Dickinson is. But as I dove deep into Buium’s game tape this season and considered my viewings from the past, it simply became impossible for me to place him behind those players without coming up with some effectively arbitrary reason to do so.  His tape is just too impressive, his tools too tantalizing. This is, in my opinion, the best all-around defenseman in this draft class, and I hope the deep dive into his characteristics will help illustrate why.



Buium’s skating is a matter of debate among scouts. On one hand, there are certainly issues there. He doesn’t have the most effective stride in terms of generating speed, and the inefficiencies in his mechanics mean he isn’t as smooth of a ride as many other defensemen who excel in transition.

That being said, Buium is certainly fast enough, and it’s not the straight-line speed where Buium shines, it’s his edgework. His stop-start ability and his effectiveness on quick turns are where he makes his money, and it’s where the bulk of the separation he creates with his feet comes from.

It would certainly be better for Buium if his skating was as smooth and effortless as a player like Luke Hughes, but that’s not exactly a realistic expectation. For the way he plays, Buium’s speed is good enough, and his edgework is strong enough for me to tag him with an above-average projection for skating ability.

Here you can see what typically happens with Buium and his skating. While another defenseman might look to blow right past Fabian Wagner here, that’s not Buium’s style. His strengths and weaknesses as a skater dictate that he uses his edgework to maintain separation, and he successfully navigates pressure here to be able to fire a quality pass that leads to a zone entry.

In this clip, you can see clearly some of Buium’s positives and negatives in terms of his skating. He does a really good job waiting until the best possible moment to accelerate into a breakout, and he continues with the offense into the slot for a decent give-and-go chance. But this clip also showcases the limitations of his straight-line speed, a faster player is likely absolutely burning through the neutral zone here and Buium can’t quite manage that.

This clip is an illustration of how Buium’s mobility is an asset on defense. He makes the most out of his somewhat less-than-ideal skating stride in order to play aggressively on puck carriers, and in this specific play it allows him to stay directly stapled onto big Joe Cassetti, helping lead to a clear.

This clip very briefly shows how Buium makes the absolute most of his skating. He’s a highly intelligent skater, with a keen understanding of how to leverage his movement — specifically his turns — in order to create separation in the offensive zone and room to maneuver. About to be under pressure in the corner, Buium fakes like he’s going to move up the boards, and then makes a hard, sharp turn below the goal line which frees him up from Jack Malone’s pressure.

Here it can be seen again how Buium’s tool of choice in terms of movement to create separation is sharp turns and relying on his edgework. This is just a short clip of him making sharp turns in quick succession to attempt to create a lane for himself, but it’s one that’s repeated relatively frequently during his puck touches.

This is another clip that showcases his skating positively. He’s able to be aggressive to challenge a Yale forward receiving an outlet pass, and then is quick enough to turn and keep pace with a zone entry attempt well enough to play the body and deny it.

This clip gives a window into the deep arsenal of fakes and shifty moves Buium is able to tap into when it comes to his skating in order to create separation from traffic in the neutral zone. His skates move in tune with his stick, and he creates a deceptive package of turns and feints that leads to an easy zone entry.

Some players separate through their speed, others don’t have as much pace and need to find other ways to utilize skating to create space. As I have mentioned, Buium’s chosen method of attack to do just that is through quick changes of both his speed and his direction, stop-starting his way to extra time and space with the puck. He does that here, recollecting quickly after employing a hard stop in order to dart into a more dangerous position.

Grade: 55


With Buium, the question of the value of his shooting tool relates to a more fundamental question: when projecting out how someone’s shooting ability will translate to the NHL, is what happens before a shot is taken more important, or is what happens during the actual shooting action more relevant? In Buium’s case, there is a relatively clear split in terms of value.

When looking at what Buium does before he shoots the puck — how he puts himself in the right position to challenge the goalie, for example — he’s clearly an exemplary prospect. Shot selection is certainly a matter of a player’s hockey IQ, but it’s also factored into someone’s shot tool as well. But in terms of his actual shot itself, he’s far closer to average in that regard.

Buium’s shot is fine, he has a decent wrist shot and has the right level of velocity and accuracy to be a threat when he needs to be. It’s not a tool that will set him apart, nor is it a tool that will hold him back.

But if we’re talking about Buium’s shot selection and how he frequently seems to find ways to generate the best shots possible for himself rather than settling for a low-percentage try, the conversation about this tool changes entirely.

The above clip does a good job showing Buium’s slap shot from multiple angles. It’s a highly professional shot: he positions himself well to fire the puck and picks his spot elegantly, potting a crucially important goal in a big moment. In other words, this is certainly something Buium is capable of, but it’s not the kind of standout tool you would expect to see him leverage over others.

In this clip, we get a sense of Buium’s intelligence as a shooter. This is a situation that typically comes up on many a power play: puck at the top of the zone, with the quarterbacking blueliner looking to find a way to get a puck through traffic to create a scoring chance. Buium’s shot here isn’t him trying to pick a corner or just one hastily hurled at the net, it’s a targeted volley specifically attempting to get tipped by one of two Denver players in the slot area. It’s ultimately not a goal but one could easily imagine higher-level net-front forwards enjoying the kind of shots Buium manages to get through from the point.

Having established a baseline level of competence for Buium in the more traditional aspects of shooting expected of defensemen, let’s look at a clip where he truly stands out. One of Buium’s favorite ways to be threatening as a goal-scorer, rather than just a player who sets up teammates, is by aggressively attacking high-danger areas of the ice. His ability to navigate traffic on his way to the slot is extremely impressive, and is something that will also be relevant in the discussion of his other tools. But in terms of shooting, Buium is able to get to high-quality scoring areas other defensemen simply cannot, as can be seen in the above clip.

This clip is a second example of what was mentioned above. Buium is able to work his way into the slot here, and as a bonus even after delivering a dangerous shot to the pads of Niklas Kokko he doesn’t give up on the play and manages to maintain possession of the puck despite possession in the corners. But that’s another tool we’ll get to later. In terms of his shooting alone, Buium’s aggressiveness in attacking dangerous shooting areas on the ice is a definite positive.

Grade: 50


While Buium’s intelligence is in my opinion his standout tool, his skills are a close second. Buium’s soft skill with the puck on his stick consistently left me blown away. And it’s not just how he dekes and puts himself onto highlight reels, more importantly, Buium’s skill shines through during the minute-to-minute moments that truly define what a consistently impactful defenseman is.

An old youth hockey coach of mine once told me the game of hockey is won and lost at the blue lines, meaning a team can separate itself by how it enters and exits the offensive and defensive zones, respectively. Great players help their team spend a lot of time in the former, and help their team quickly escape the latter.

Buium’s skill in both respects is extremely valuable. His deftness with the puck on his stick allows him to navigate incoming pressure and deliver pucks to teammates where less skilled blueliners would be trapped. His polished passing means he fires crisp, accurate stretch passes at a high frequency. Those two cornerstone talents allow him to not only massively impact how Denver exits its defensive zone, but also how it navigates neutral zone traffic to enter the offensive zone.

He’s not perfect, and as one would expect for any player so confident in his abilities, he makes his fair share of mistakes. He appears acutely aware of just how much he is capable of, and as a result, he often attempts passes or dekes other defensemen wouldn’t. There are certainly times when his risk calculation is off, but the ultimate impact he makes when he chooses to roll the dice on a play is net positive.

This is a great stretch pass from Buium. He carefully reads the pieces on the board in front of him, and then fires a crisp tape-to-tape stretch pass to the exact right recipient, thereby avoiding an extended stay in the defensive zone and allowing his forwards to attack on the rush. This is just one example of the kind of alert stretch pass Buium specializes in.

The previous clip showcased how Buium’s long-rance passing proficiency is an asset on defense, and now this clip shows how it helps him on offense. This is a pass directly through traffic onto the tape of Will Smith, resulting in a goal. Although Smith is not covered by Switzerland’s penalty-killing structure, it’s nonetheless a difficult pass for Buium to make, as he places it just out of reach of Endo Meier.

Here we can see how Buium’s skill impacts defense while under pressure. This is a relatively common challenge defensemen wrestle with, especially at higher levels. The puck comes to Buium along the wall, and his passing options are clouded by the pressure in his face from two forecheckers. Unfazed by Noah Ostlund charging straight at him, Buium flips the puck to partner Sam Rinzel, who under less pressure is able to lead the Americans out of a potentially dangerous situation in the defensive zone.

Another defenseman might have given up possession of the puck only to make a strong poke check or hit to interrupt the offensive pressure that would result, and would rightfully be commended for a strong defensive play. Buium isn’t credited for quality defensive actions at the rate other blueliners are, for a clear reason: his skill on zone exits makes it so he’s simply not in a position in his own zone to have to make a hit or a poke check as often as many others.

This is a highlight-reel play by Buium. He fakes outside, and then instantly cuts to the inside of the ice when the Slovak player bites. He then outwaits another opponent, keeping the puck just out of the reach of his stick, and then fires a goal past a pushed-aside Samuel Urban.

An example of how Buium’s skill translates to zone entries. If you pause the clip after about three seconds, you see Buium placed directly in front of three Swedish players in the neutral zone, each attempting to close off a different route to their defensive zone. With well-timed, quick puck movements Buium is able to navigate all of that and give his team clean possession of the puck on offense.

With all that said, as mentioned Buium isn’t perfect. He intercepts the puck nicely here, but his move to work through traffic into the offensive zone ends up clearly failing. He is stripped of the puck, something that happens to him again once they retreat into the defensive zone, as he struggles to handle a Lane Hutson saucer pass. Buium’s skill left me regularly impressed, but as one would expect, it’s not perfect.

In this clip, Buium’s skill can be observed as he nearly pulls off a spectacular deke on the goalie. Entirely unfazed by the speed he’s operating at as well as neutral zone pressure, Buium nearly creates a highlight-reel coast-to-coast goal before his attempt is stopped in its final moments.

When he’s navigating neutral zone pressure to enter the offensive zone, Buium can often look like he’s playing a game of keep-away. He’s using head fakes, little stick handles, and other quick movements of the puck to just keep it out of reach of his opponents.

But it’s not just the moves mentioned above. His creativity is reflected in an extensive arsenal of moves, such as this clip where he successfully executes a spin move along the boards to extend the play in the offensive zone.

Grade: 60


Buium is skilled, he skates pretty well, and his shot is fine. But his hockey IQ? His intelligence? That’s what truly separates him from the pack.

He is confident, making decisive decisions with and without the puck to manipulate opposing players and elevate the opportunities of his teammates. He is creative, finding thoughtful, often out-of-the-box ways to leverage his tools to meaningfully impact the action on the ice in a way that advances his team’s objectives.

His ability to process information on the ice at high speeds is also remarkable. Despite dealing with a game that moves at a high pace in front of him, Buium is able to quickly calculate the best possible actions he can take and execute them.

Coaches often talk about not just making a good play, but making the best play, and how sometimes the best play can be one that takes a little bit of extra ingenuity to be able to uncover. So often when watching Buium play, he’s able to take adverse circumstances and turn it into the best play. It’s what makes me most confident in his NHL projection: how well he reads, the ice, how confident and creative he is, and his information processing speed.

There are quite a few clips to follow here, but let me make this clear: a relatively brief collection of small snippets does not do justice to just how much Buium’s game oozes exemplary hockey IQ. He showcases how intelligent he is just about each and every game, if not each shift.

If we’re talking about Buium’s creativity in seeking out the best play, this clip is a solid example of it, and it’s something he has executed on multiple occasions. In this play, Buium moves to the corner understanding that when he retrieves the puck there, he’s likely to face immediate pressure. That’s the first variable he enters into the calculation of what play he’ll make on the puck. Secondly, just as he’s arriving at the puck, Buium comes to understand that if he makes a traditional forehand or backhand pass, the extra time it takes to make such a play would likely leave him vulnerable to the incoming pressure.

So, does he roll the dice on a traditional pass anyway? No, he instead leaves his feet to fire a between-the-legs pass up the boards to a teammate, which leads to a clean zone exit.

When I describe the components of that short moment of the game step-by-step, it seems impossible for someone to be able to so quickly measure up the different elements at play on the ice and execute the best possible maneuver to navigate them. Yet Buium does it, which makes this play one that clearly illustrates just how well he processes the play unfolding in real-time.

Somehow, that Air Force game was not the only time he executed a between-the-legs pass to facilitate a zone exit while under pressure. He did it against Western Michigan as well, eating a hit from a forechecker in order to maximize the space afforded to the recipient of his clever pass.

Now we get to Buium’s confidence. This could very well be a set play off of a faceoff, but it’s nonetheless an impressive moment. Buium receives a pass, baits the player covering him into thinking he’s about to carry the puck to the other side of the offensive zone as he often does, and then leaves a no-look pass to Will Smith, who gets a nice look on net as a result. In such a high-pressure environment, this is the kind of play Buium loves to make.

That does, of course, mean that he sometimes makes mistakes. Buium does a good job drawing in defenders as he goes to work in the offensive zone (which happens to be one of the hallmarks to his approach to that area of the ice) but he misreads where his teammate is going to be, and ends up leaving a no-look pass to nobody, which North Dakota uses to easily transition to attacking on the rush.

That being said, when a player is so confident and creative, mistakes like that one are an acceptable price to pay. Earlier in that same game, Buium showcases his confidence, waiting until the very last moment when a North Dakota player delivers a body check on him in order to deliver a surprisingly accurate and well-timed pass up the ice to a teammate. It’s not a play that will end up on a highlight reel, but it’s another example of how Buium’s intelligence translates into sneaky effectiveness all across the ice.

This is an example of both Buium’s confidence, as well as something more general that he absolutely loves to do. He waits until the absolute last possible moment when a forechecker closes in on him, and then delivers a perfect pass to a teammate who, by virtue of Buium’s patience, got into more advantageous position than Buium’s other prior passing options.

Could Buium have passed it earlier, potentially going “D-to-D” or up the boards to a forward directly in front of him? Sure, absolutely! Those would have been good plays. But here, Buium is smart enough and confident enough to understand that the best play is only a moment of patience away.

Another quick example of Buium’s creativity. It’s fair to debate how intentional this really was, but given how many creative plays he makes, I’m willing to give Buium the benefit of the doubt here. He executes a give-and-go zone entry play … to himself. He had four assists already at that point in the game, so while he very well could have been targeting a teammate there, the circumstances were certainly right for Buium think of and then execute such a bold play

This might be one of my favorite clips of them all. A key component of being a smart hockey player is being able to know exactly which tool to leverage in which situation on the ice.

This is a clip where Buium shows he can do exactly that, first leveraging his skill to stickhandle through a defender into the slot, and then his skating to bait the Swiss pressure into believing he’s cutting up the ice, so that he can make a quick turn and have some space to attack the near post.

This clip is a key example of what sets Buium’s IQ apart: he’s able to quickly, decisively, and correctly match inputted variables from the play on the ice (the speed and position of opponents, for example) with specific actions he can take in order make the best play.

Grade: 65


This is where there is more substantial debate regarding Buium’s NHL projection.

What’s not up for argument is his compete, or willingness to engage in the physical side of the game. He’ll not only deliver hits when he deems it appropriate, he also welcomes the physical punishment inflicted on him because the commitment necessitated by a forward seeking to deliver a hit can often be manipulated to create time, space, and separation for his teammates. He’s a hard worker, an eager competitor, and while not as physical as his older brother it’s definitely an aspect of his game that’s hard to admonish.

That being said, in terms of pure physical tools, Buium doesn’t have as much to offer as many other defensemen, which is something I referenced in my breakdown before the video section. He’s gotten a lot bigger and a lot stronger than he was in the past, but he’s still not nearly as physically imposing as other defensemen. That makes a difference at both ends of the ice, and it’s notable when considering his NHL projection.

Based on my viewings of Buium, I remain extremely confident in his long-term projection despite his lack of “premium athletic tools.” That being said, I also recognize how that knock might give people some pause when considering his NHL future, especially when one takes into account the plethora of talented blueliners likely to also be available at the top of the draft.

In this very brief clip, despite stumbling down Buium remains with the play and manages to interrupt a deke from the Swedish forward, preventing the player from taking advantage of Buium’s fall to access a dangerous area of the ice with the puck on his stick. Just a quick, clear example of Buium not giving up on a play.

At the end of this clip, we see some of Buium’s willingness to endure physical pain for the benefit of his team. He eagerly folds into a shot-blocking position, deflecting Felix Unger Sorum’s attempt into the corner which leads to an American zone exit.

While Buium never shies away from engaging with the physical side of the game, some of his challenges can certainly lack composure. Here he allows himself to be put in a blender by Kasper Halttunen, which ultimately leads to him with his back towards Halttunen simply flailing in the forward’s direction as part of a last-ditch effort to make a stop.

But you can’t fault his effort, he does have an edge to his game. Late in a contest where the Americans have already scored 11 goals, Buium still finishes a check even after the puck has left his opponent’s stick and been passed to a teammate in the corner. Then, after regaining his footing, Buium delivers another check shortly afterward. There is no real reason for him to do this — the result of the game is certain — and yet he still does it, illustrating an element of sandpaper that’s in his game.

Teams often enter games hoping to set the tone of the contest with their physicality. They are hoping to rattle an opponent that could potentially not be prepared to deal with the kind of physical play they bring to the table. In this clip against Norway, early in the game, Buium contributes to the Americans’ attempts at doing just that with a big body check after a Norwegian shot on goal.

Buium doesn’t just use his stick when on defense, he’s also fully capable of playing the body if that’s what the situation calls for, which is the case in this clip.

Also, while unrelated to the attribute of physicality/compete level, it’s still worth mentioning that this clip is another example of Buium’s tendency to wait with the puck to bait opposing forecheckers into committing to a hit, so he can take advantage of that commitment with a quick turn to create some separation and advance up the ice.

Another example of the edge Buium can play with. This is a ferocious way to dislodge an opponent from the puck: Buium effectively launches the player head-first into the boards before delivering a quick pass and accepting the retaliatory hit that comes soon afterward.

One final example of Buium’s “edge,” though this may even be something he’ll have to rein in a little bit as it’s debatable here whether Buium was simply finishing his check or delivering undue punishment to a player who relinquished possession of the puck a few seconds before.

Grade: 50

OFP: 57

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.