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Prospects Unlimited: Devils prospect Okhotyuk makes his mark punishing opponents

Big and physical, the young defenseman is looking to improve his skill and speed en route to the Devils' blueline.
Terry Wilson / OHL Images

Terry Wilson / OHL Images

Ask any young defensemen who they model their game after, and the name Erik Karlsson will come up a lot. But OHL Ottawa rearguard Nikita Okhotyuk has a different Swede in mind: recently retired Red Wings stalwart Niklas Kronwall. That’s because Okhotyuk likes to make his presence felt with big hits and overall nasty play. “Yeah, that’s my game,” he said. “If I’m not physical, I don’t play well. When I play physical, I feel comfortable.”

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Okhotyuk, who was taken in the second round of the 2019 draft by New Jersey, came over to North America in 2017-18 after playing for the Chelyabinsk junior program in Russia. James Boyd, GM of the 67’s, liked that Okhotyuk had been a leader on several Russian international entries. “Most of the characteristics that make Nikita effective don’t show up on the scoresheet,” Boyd said. “Open-ice hits, key shot blocks, tremendous work ethic. He’s a defensive defenseman who is punishing.”

Okhotyuk’s skill level and speed continue to improve, and it will be interesting to see what he can do with the 67’s this year. His campaign started late due to a broken finger sustained prior to training camp, but Ottawa has had a lot of success during his time in town. Last year, the 67’s went all the way to the OHL final, winning their first 14 playoff games before falling to Guelph in six games in the championship series. “It was a really good season and playoffs, but the last round, I don’t know what happened,” Okhotyuk said. “It’s hockey.”

The 67’s should still be a good squad this season despite some key personnel losses. Coach Andre Tourigny instills confidence behind the bench, and Okhotyuk loves his teammates. “I have fun playing in Canada,” he said. “When I came, I didn’t speak English, and they helped me a lot. And our coach is smart. He knows what every player has to do.”

The feeling is mutual in the 67’s organization, and Okhotyuk has found his place in the dressing room. “He’s really blossomed,” Boyd said. “He’s a leader, very likeable and courageous.” – Ryan Kennedy

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