The 2023 NHL Draft didn’t happen that long ago, but one prospect has already been putting in the work to prove their draft selection wrong. Carson Rehkopf of the Kitchener Rangers has been practically unstoppable this season, surging to the top of the leaderboard in the OHL.
Drafted 50th overall by the Seattle Kraken, Rehkopf was coming off of a respectable sophomore season in the league when he heard his name called, nearly doubling his goals and assists totals from his rookie year to finish with 59 points (30 goals, 29 assists) in 68 games. Not a bad stat line at all, but it doesn’t jump off the page for the OHL.
This season, however, he’s on pace to shatter that mark, already potting 29 goals and adding 21 assists for 50 points in just 28 games. That’s right, he’s currently playing OVER a goal-per-game pace. He’s averaging 4.9 shots on goal per game, a sizable jump from the 3.1 average last season.
Rehkopf has always had an excellent shot, going back to his time in the GTHL with the Toronto Jr. Canadians. His shot is borderline elite and will likely be a driving factor in him climbing the hockey ladder. The best part of his shooting ability is the versatility that he brings. He has a full toolbox of shots that he can fire off at any moment.
Of course, his standard wrister is his bread and butter:
This is just a quick clip to show off Rehkopf’s form. He keeps his chest and shoulders over his toes, gets both of his hands out in front of him, releases his inside knee as he applies downward force into his stick, and snipes the goal. What you might miss watching it at full speed is the last-second pull of the puck towards his body, changing the angle of the shot and throwing the goalie out of position. This is a common look from Rehkopf, that split-second change of angle that makes it even more difficult for a goalie to stop.
This is another typical goal from Rehkopf, a one-timer with pinpoint accuracy. While this goal comes on a two-man advantage, it’s a good look at his ability to get the puck up and over the goaltender from a tight angle close to the net. He does so well at taking shots into his shooting area and getting them off where he wants to without any hesitation.
Here, we see a few excellent looks from Rehkopf and a glimpse into what has made him so successful this season. I love this clip from start to finish for the forward. He starts by receiving the pass, opening up his hips before leading the entry. Then, he shows off some deception by making it look like he’s going to shoot through the defender - instead opting to pull it across and feed the streaking teammate down the slot. This is an excellent feed around the defender’s stick in front of him to get the puck to an area with a higher probability of going in.
That’s not the only look on this play though. You also get to see the Kraken prospect fight for the puck at the net, another knee-drop one-timer, and then the ability to find open ice and pot a goal. His awareness here to see that four defenders are down deep and to take the high ground shows off that intelligence. He does this often, reading where defenders are and pulling back into the open ice. With a shot like his, nearly anywhere in the offensive zone is dangerous.
There’s no question that Rehkopf is a sniper, but his playmaking has improved tremendously over his time in the OHL and it needs to be showcased. This is one of the most impressive passes you’ll see, showing off Rehkopf’s awareness of where his teammates are but also his patience in waiting for the perfect moment for the seam to open. This is an easy tap-in for his teammate thanks to this perfect pass across.
Where I’d argue a great deal of Rehkopf’s improvement has come from this season though is his decision-making on entries. Last season, he averaged 4.7 entries per game with 68% of those entries via stickhandling. This season, he’s averaging 7 (!) entries per game and is up to 77% of those being via stickhandling. His confidence is increasing and this season more than last he’s looking to gain the zone himself.
What he does once there is where we’ve seen some tremendous growth. Rehkopf’s small area game is still a work in progress and might be his biggest area of improvement right now. Last season, he’d often try to gain the zone and maintain possession more often than not. This season, that’s shifted where he now utilizes his teammates after the entry and then drives the net. This has resulted in a large uptick in chances for the prospect and fewer turnovers.
Last season Rehkopf may have tried to maintain this possession himself. Now, he gains the zone, and with pressure on, feeds his teammate to give his team control and let them set up offensively. Granted, there are still occasions where he attempts to carry it himself and while there are times that it works, more often than not he does cough up the puck:
This is likely Rehkopf’s next area of focus: his small-area game. Moving to the next levels, the pressure and defensive coverage will only improve and the free ice will be even more scarce than it is in the OHL. Currently, he does struggle when there are multiple defenders on him and he needs to navigate incoming defensive sticks.
Rehkopf projects as a top-six, scoring winger. While he can play both centre and wing and he has seemed to positionally improve in the defensive end, his truffles in the faceoff dot, the inability to make an impact in stealing pucks, and his overall effort in the D-zone lead me to believe he’s a better fit for the wing.
The Barrie, Ontario native’s offensive side of the game is improving at an impressive rate so far and the Kraken have to be happy with how he’s progressing. His offensive game is among the best in the OHL this season and it looks like he’s scoring at will so far in the season. The rest of his game has shown improvements as well, but there are still kinks to iron out. With some patience, including likely another year in the OHL and some time with the Coachella Valley Firebirds, Rehkopf seems destined to be scoring in the NHL one day.