It has been quite the busy week for Vancouver Giants captain Zack Ostapchuk, as he won the gold medal with Canada at the World Junior Championship (WJC), and has now been traded to the Winnipeg Ice, who sit in second place in the Western Hockey League (WHL). Ostapchuk currently has 10 goals, 29 points, in 21 games for the Giants, sitting second in points per game on his team.
In the blockbuster deal, Winnipeg is acquiring Ostapchuk in return for three first-round draft selections (2024, 2025, 2026), forwards Skylar Bruce, Connor Dale, Hudson Landmark and defenseman Owen Brees.
After being selected 39th overall by the Ottawa Senators in the 2021 NHL Draft, Ostapchuk would go on to have a great season with Vancouver, despite getting off to a slow start. He managed to pick up the pace and finish with 43 points in 60 games, but when the playoffs came around, he was unstoppable. The Giants went into the 2022 Playoffs as the underdog, by a significant margin. Led by Ostapchuk and Boston Bruins top prospect Fabian Lysell, the Giants defeated the WHL’s top team, the Everett Silvertips. Ostapchuk, despite being eliminated in the second round, finished seventh in WHL playoff scoring, with 23 points in 12 games.
The Ice are making a fantastic addition to their team, as Ostapchuk brings every element you need for a Memorial Cup run, which the Ice have their sights set on.
How Ostapchuk Helps Winnipeg Win
Ostapchuk brings plenty of upside to his game every night. His offensive impacts certainly don’t go unnoticed, as his points per game total ranks 17th in the WHL, which is quite impressive considering who some of the competition is in that league. Recently on display in Halifax at the WJC (Vancouver Giants captain plays a key role in helping team Canada win gold at World Juniors, Aldergrove Star, Jan. 5, 2023), Scott Wheeler of The Athletic had some notes to share about Ostapchuk’s performance.
[Ostapchuk] played his game. Drove consistently and then made smart plays off of those drives. Always seems to win his races. Good curl-and-drag wrister. Great along the boards pushing through contact on the cycle. Ejected from the New Year’s Eve game for kneeing but reliable and effective the rest of the way. Great skater for his size.
from ‘Scott Wheeler, 2023 World Juniors notebook: Scott Wheeler’s thoughts on more than 100 NHL prospects, The Athletic’, Jan. 6, 2023
Obviously, Wheeler does an excellent job looking at prospects, so to nobody’s surprise, he hit the nail on the head here. Not only is this how Ostapchuk played at the WJC, but this is how he plays every game. His physicality is a great asset, as he is always the first man in along the boards, and shows no signs of letting up on any puck battle. He plays as if he has the mentality of the puck belongs to him and his team, and he is not willing to share.
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His offensive abilities are always on display as well. He is great at getting himself into a promising position for a shot, and once the puck is on his stick, it is gone just as fast. A lot of people have been zeroing in on the style of shot that Auston Matthews and Connor Bedard share, but it is more common than people think, and Ostapchuk uses a similar style. Ostapchuk isn’t just a shooter, though. He has great vision and finds himself on the offensive rush quite often, and makes great cross-ice passes through the open lane, setting up his teammates every opportunity he gets.
Between the physicality and offensive production, he is going to fit in very well in Winnipeg. Playing with elite players like Matthew Savoie, Conor Geekie, Zach Benson and plenty more, his addition will be key in rounding out one of the WHL’s best top-six forward groups. He will likely move to the left wing, as the three stars I just mentioned are all natural centers, and they already have a plugged up group there.
Ostapchuk’s NHL Future
Many Senators fans are getting more and more excited about Ostapchuk as time goes on. Since being drafted, he has become significantly more valuable to the organization. His gritty style sets him up to be a perfect fit in the organization, and with salary cap issues looming over the Senators’ future, players like Ostapchuk on entry-level deals are going to be key. So, when could we see Ostapchuk reach the NHL and what is his ceiling?
The Senators don’t like rushing their prospects. Josh Norris, Drake Batherson, Jacob Bernard-Docker and Ridly Greig are all great examples of this. I think the path for Ostapchuk is going to be very similar to the one Greig is on right now. Next season, Ostapchuk will be in the American Hockey League (AHL) for his first pro season, and will be unlikely to be called up, as he will develop better with consistency and without the NHL pressure right away. Many fans are calling for the Senators to get Greig in the NHL, but the Senators are making it clear he will be staying in the AHL this year, which is how I think it will be for Ostapchuk. After one full year in the AHL, then fans may see him earn the opportunity to earn his spot.
As for his ceiling, Ostapchuk is on track to become a great middle-six option. He has the offensive ability to play on the second line and be a valuable asset, but he also brings the physicality and defensive responsibility to be part of a third-line checking group. It is hard to tell exactly where he will end up, and there are a lot of factors that can come into play over the next few seasons, but that would be my guess.
As for a comparable, I think that description matches pretty well with a lite version of Vincent Trocheck. If he can develop into that kind of mould, I think everybody would be happy. I don’t expect he will reach the levels that Trocheck has reached at his peak, but the play style certainly matches up well.
It will be exciting to follow Ostapchuk and the Winnipeg Ice, who also traded for Senators prospect Carson Latimer this week, as the team strives for the Memorial Cup this season.
My name is Jacob Billington, and I cover the Carolina Hurricanes here at The Hockey Writers. Born and raised in Nova Scotia, becoming a hockey fan was quite easy. Falling in love with the game in the early 2000’s, and taking in as much knowledge as I could since then. I appreciate everybody who reads my content, and I take pride in creating the best experience for readers. Feel free to reach me on Twitter, I am always active and talking about anything hockey related!