Brady Cleveland is a 6-foot-4, 200-plus pound defenceman 2023 NHL Draft prospect who is currently playing for the USNTDP.
Though the contemporary NHL may be trending towards being a faster, more skilled league, there’s always going to be room for players with that profile who can play a rock-solid defensive game.
Now the big question on a lot of scout’s minds is whether he’s a hitter or not. Does he have some snarl? Can he be hard to play against?
So, I put that question to an NHL scout. This is what they had to say about Cleveland.
“He’s a huge, long, mean, tough, and physical defenseman. He’s going to play in the NHL as a match, shut down that kills penalties and impacts games with his physicality and defending. He won’t be a guy that scores or points but he’s going to be a really valuable player in the NHL and will make highlights with his hitting.”
Cleveland played in the 2023 All-American Game, in a depth role on Team White’s fourth pairing.
“It was a fun time playing with a lot of different guys around the league,” Cleveland remarked. “And with some of the guys from my team. I had a good time and overall, it was a good experience.”
The game changed this year and Cleveland helped usher in new competitiveness to this format with a thunderous hit that caught the eyes of the scouts in attendance, even if he shied away from the idea that he was a trailblazer in this regard.
“No, not at all. It was portrayed to us that it needs to be a high level of compete and physicality is part of the game,” Cleveland stated. “I wasn’t really surprised by that.”
One of the coaches put it into perspective and really liked the way the game was played. It seems like scouts may have had some input on how to improve the annual game.
“It was a lot of fun. Anytime you get an assortment of players together sometimes it can be hard to gel. Both teams worked hard and played the right way,” said Team Blue coach Michael Garman. “It was a physical game. The compete level adds an element. If you’re an NHL scout, you know they’re all talented but who are the guys who are really going to compete? It was an honest game. They want it to be a highly contested match.”
Cleveland is a cool customer on and off the ice. Like a bear protecting his honey hole, Cleveland patrolled his corner and if the opposition got near it, he crunched them in the corner.
“For sure. That is part of my game. I always bring that,” Cleveland said.
The Wisconsin native has decided to go to a college that is close to home.
“I’m probably going to U of W,” Cleveland noted. “Overall, I really like the facilities. A big part of the decision was made because of Mark Osiecki. He is the defensive coach there. If you look at his track record, the number of NHL players he has produced and put in the league. That’s a big reason I chose there.”
Some of his NTDP brethren will be there.
“(Charlie) Stramel is there and (Cruz) Lucius is there. I played with those guys a little bit last year. They’re really good guys and I’m excited to join them again.”
Offence isn’t his strength, but he can chip in when necessary. He doesn’t have a goal this season, but his occasional shots do hit the net. So, you wouldn’t stop him from taking a few.
“Some games I’ll have three shots on next then in a span of five games I won’t have any,” Cleveland explained.
Cleveland has had good success on the penalty kill. His skating is good. Of course, it can always get better as he moves up the ladder. You can’t kill off the other team’s offensive chances if you’re slow. It just doesn’t work. He has a long stick and he’s quick to the puck. His reach is as deadly as his body checks.
His first pass is accurate, and his hockey I.Q. is good. He plays defence by the book. Coaches can count on him when he’s playing important minutes on the ice.
“I just let the game come to me and whatever happens, happens,” Cleveland remarked. “I’m a defensive defenceman. My job is to move pucks up and be hard to play against in the d-zone. That’s what I take pride in.”
Since Cleveland plays a style that not a lot of NHLers play, I was curious about who he modelled his game after. He quickly answered, “Brandon Carlo. His size is close to the same and I have to fill out my frame a bit more. It’s the size and his abilities.”
Carlo is known for his great work ethic on and off the ice. Cleveland is cut from the same cloth.
“For sure. I always give it my all when I’m out there,” Cleveland responded. “I just do what’s right for me.”
With the 2023 NHL Draft drawing near, Cleveland has had some time to think about whether or not he will attend and where in the draft he might be selected.
“Oh yeah. I think I’ll be attending,” he said and when I asked about his family he revealed some more, “yes, that’s the plan right now. We’ll wait and see what happens the rest of the year. It would be great to go in the first round. If I’m waiting on that second day. I know everything happens for a reason. So I’m not worried about it.”
The 2023 NHL Combine can be very important for Cleveland. If teams are looking at him to be a mid-second or early third-round selection the way he handles the interviews and performs could help his draft stock.
“I put in a lot of hard work over the last few years and being able to showcase that but also see what the teams are looking for. And then take the combine into consideration.”
I think Cleveland will go in the second round. After the first four or five picks from the first round where teams are getting what they consider to be a first-round talent that dropped then quite a few will turn their attention to Cleveland. He is a safe pick. He has the size and the tools to be a very effective NHL player someday.