After making a surprising trade and shipping out Vitek Vanecek to move up the second round, the Washington Capitals didn’t hesitate, taking defenseman Ryan Chesley at No. 37. And, as he heard his name called and pulled the Capitals jersey over his head, he felt automatic relief — and excitement.
The 6-0, 195-pound blueliner had last spoken to Washington at the 2022 NHL Combine and said that he had good conversations with the team. He left with a “little bit” of an idea that the Capitals would select him but wasn’t too sure.
“Really cool moment,” Chesley said. “I knew they liked me as a player and a person. I didn’t exactly know that I was going, but I had a little idea,” he revealed.
Chesley was among the top players remaining up for grabs. He was ranked No. 18 among North American skaters and is coming off a strong season that saw him dish 12 goals and 17 assists in 59 games with the U.S. National Team Development Program. He also got EliteProspects votes for the best neutral zone defender, hardest hitter and their third-best defensive defenseman available.
In this year’s draft, the U.S. NTDP was well-represented, and Chesley shared that is a sign of just how strong the program is and how much it helped his game.
“It was really good playing older competition at different levels… it helped me a lot,” Chesley said, adding, “Our team was super competitive, so it helped a ton. Maybe too competitive. Sometimes some fights, but everything was good off the ice. It was awesome.”
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The right-hand shot plays a hard-hitting, shutdown game, and he’s not fun to play against in his own end. He is great at positioning and doesn’t shy away from laying the body, and he can also win puck battles in front and along the boards. He can also block shots, kill penalties and pressure the opposition, which helps him break up plays and force forwards to the outside.
Offensively, he is a creative player who can start the breakout and make smart passes. He also possesses a good point shot and can work well on the power play.
“I would say I’m a two-way, puck-moving defenseman who has the ability to shut down any player at any time,” Chesley said, adding that he models his game after the likes of Ryan McDonagh, Jacob Slavin and Charlie McAvoy.
“John Carlson too,” he added with a laugh.
In 59 games this past season with the U.S. NTDP, he dished 12 goals and 17 assists, along with an impressive +/- rating of plus-44. In addition to that, he played in 26 USHL games, picking up five goals and 10 assists and a +/- of plus-20. Chesley also wore the “A” for Team USA in the U20 World Junior Championships and had five points in six games, along with a +/- of plus-13, en route to a silver medal.
Chesley will play NCAA hockey in the fall for the Minnesota Golden Gophers. As he continues his dream of making it to the NHL, he said he plans to take things on step at a time. And for him, being drafted is just the beginning.
“It’s an awesome program that I’m really excited to get going with this season. Just take it year by year and see how things go,” Chesley said.