Now that the OHL season is underway for the first time since March 2020, I can do this profile. Bryce Montgomery was one player that I had on my list for profiles when I covered some of the other members of the 2021 draft class, but there wasn’t any film available on his draft year since the OHL didn’t have a season. Now, we’re three games into Montgomery’s season, and I’m ready to give you all my analysis on the Hurricanes’ sixth round (170th overall) pick.
Size and Strength
What stands out about Montgomery from the first second you watch him play is how much of an imposing presence he is on the ice. Montgomery stands at 6-foot-4 and 216 pounds, making him one of the biggest and strongest OHL skaters at 18-years old. That size gives him an advantage in the defensive zone, allowing for Montgomery to cover a larger area with his stick, get in the shooting and passing lanes with greater ease and cover distances quickly.
He can use his strength to push players off of the puck and win battles in front of the net, denying any chance at a rebound opportunity. Teams covet having a big defenseman that can shut down the opposition, and Montgomery could be that player. I’ll talk more in depth about Montgomery’s defense a little later. First, I have to talk about his skating.
We’ve heard Hurricanes Assistant GM Darren Yorke say that in order for a defenseman to be able to play in today’s NHL, they have to be able to play with pace and move the puck. Montgomery plays with a ton of pace and, with a little development, will be able to move the puck confidently as well. I believe that Montgomery’s skating is a strength, which is rare for a defenseman of his size. Most big defensemen are below average to average skaters at 18, but Montgomery skates with the poise and confidence of a veteran. His top speed is above average, he can make quick turns with and without the puck on his stick and he can skate backwards with ease.
I would say that Montgomery makes skating look effortless at times, with a smooth stride and calm demeanor. There’s something to be said about a player with very little panic in his game. Every defense needs that stabilizing force on the back end, as we’ve seen with players such as Jaccob Slavin and Ian Cole on this year’s Hurricanes team. Montgomery’s strong skating allows for better gap control, sealing plays off along the boards before they have a chance to develop into a legitimate scoring chance.
With development, Montgomery will be able to execute more controlled breakouts and even join the rush on occasion. He shows a lot of promise as a player that will get the puck out under any circumstances, and if there’s a turnover in his own end, he’ll be able to react and recover quickly enough to prevent a chance. Once Montgomery gets to a level where he isn’t an anomaly in terms of size and strength, his skating will be the trait that stands out over other players his size.
Montgomery plays a stay at home, shutdown style and is relied upon heavily on the penalty kill. Have a five minute major that you have to kill off? Montgomery can help you prevent any sort of offense from getting started. One of your top defensemen is out? That’s ok, Montgomery can fill in and take some extra PK ice time. Montgomery will be utilized in all defensive situations for London and should be one of their top four defensemen for the remainder of his time in the OHL due to his strong defensive play.
You don’t want to notice a shutdown defenseman because typically, when you do, it’s because they’ve done something wrong. Montgomery isn’t going to make those spectacular plays like Jaccob Slavin does just yet, but what he will do is make the right play. He’ll get his stick in a passing lane, block a shot, break up an odd man rush, et cetera. There’s potential for those moments of brilliance that we see from defensemen like Slavin and Pesce due to Montgomery’s skating and hockey sense, but right now, it’s good to see Montgomery making the simple plays and doing a good job of it.
Part of what makes Montgomery such a tough player on the ice is his hockey sense and his ability to track the puck and know where a pass is going to next. He can read a play and know when the attacking player will pass and then strike at the right time to create a turnover and kill an offensive rush for the opposition. Those plays make it difficult for teams to get past Montgomery, and when you add the size and skating to the mix, you’re getting a player that is a wall on defense. That sort of skill in the defensive zone could push Montgomery to the NHL.
Areas In Need of Improvement
No prospect is perfect and very few sixth-round picks are complete players. The same is true for Montgomery. The defensive side of his game is solid and will continue to improve as the season goes along, but the offensive side of his game is lacking. There’s very little offensive upside in his game and you’re likely looking at a pure shutdown defenseman moving forward. I’m talking between 10-20 points a season maximum at the NHL level.
That’s not to say that he’s a bad offensive player, it’s just not how he’s used in London’s system. And who can blame them? They have a strong defender that can kill penalties and play at five on five effectively. Why give him many offensive zone starts? Montgomery could surprise me over the course of the next few seasons and become a more confident passer and shooter in the offensive zone, but for now, he’s going to stick with what he knows best.
Montgomery’s breakouts are a work in progress, and I’ve seen more good than bad this season. At the Prospects Showcase, I noticed that Montgomery would occasionally cave under pressure with the puck on his stick and turn the puck over in his own end, leading to extended zone time for the Hurricanes. I’ve seen less of that through Montgomery’s first three games with London this season, which is to be expected. There was always going to be an adjustment period after over a year without OHL hockey, and I believe that Montgomery will improve on his breakout passes as the year goes along.
Finally, I would like to see some more physicality from Montgomery. He has a very active stick and defends well with it, but sometimes he could stand to make a play with the body to knock a player off of the puck or take a player out of screening the goalie. There are times when I’ll see some physical play from Montgomery, but I’d like to see a little more from him, especially in puck battles.
Projection and Summary
Montgomery is going to take time to develop, as most late round picks do. It’s likely that he’s five or more years away from the NHL, but if he does make it to the NHL, you’re looking at a reliable third-pairing defenseman that can kill penalties. Anything higher than third pairing would be wonderful, but I believe that Montgomery will fill a similar role as Ian Cole’s current role with the Hurricanes if he makes it to the NHL. That’s a long time out, though, and there’s a lot of development that needs to happen between now and then. Montgomery is in a good place and will get to work with some of the best developmental staff in the league.
From the games that I’ve watched, it’s clear what the Hurricanes see in Montgomery. They see a big defenseman with strong skating skills and the potential to become a top shutdown player. Prospect development doesn’t happen overnight and very few prospects have success in the NHL immediately after they are drafted. It’s a long road for most prospects, as we’ve seen with players such as Steven Lorentz, Haydn Fleury and plenty others over the years.
It’s a long and difficult road, but with the right development and growth, Montgomery can make it to the NHL and become a Carolina Hurricane. I spoke with a scout for his perspective on Montgomery. On what stands out to him:
“What stands out to me about Bryce’s game other than his size is his poise is his patience under pressure with the puck is something a lot of players lack, let alone having it while being 6’5 and a strong skater. Can it get him into trouble at times with holding it too long, yes, but that is something he is working on in London.”
On possible comparisons for Montgomery:
Comparisons are always difficult, but I can see Bryce’s game being compared to the likes of Tyler Myers or Erik Johnson. This is no easy feat as they are both top-15 NHL Draft picks, but I believe when Bryce reaches his potential, he could have a that kind of impact from the blueline.
On what might be a little underrated about Bryce in the public scouting sphere:
Every year I watch Bryce, his mistakes on the ice are becoming less and less, every year he seems to be figuring out a little more what his game is and what he needs to do to help his team succeed, and by extension, himself succeed. And if he continues to play a smart brand of hockey, with his frame, skating, and poise, his ceiling could be very high.
The Hurricanes’ scouts saw a player at the Erie Showcase and decided that they wanted him in their system despite the fact that he hadn’t played in many games during his draft year. It’s a tremendous vote of confidence for Montgomery and it shows you how high the Hurricanes are on him. It’ll be a slow cook in terms of development for Montgomery, but this pick could pay off nicely down the road.