Keean Washkurak did enough to impress fans around the league in last year’s Traverse City NHL Prospect Tournament, showing off every skill to full affect. But the short sample size wasn’t enough to truly grasp the seriously unique way that Washkurak plays.
And it really is a unique style... a bit of a modern twist on the classics, if you may. The best way to truly portray just how he plays is to, well, find someone in the NHL who plays a lot like him. But with Washkurak’s style, this is easier said than done. He’s simply too special of a style to fit in line with any one NHL player.
Still, figuring out his closest stylistic comparison among NHL players could tell fans a lot about the former fifth-round pick.
Important disclaimer: All comparisons are stylistic only, not potential.
Figuring Out Keean Washkurak’s Comparison
Setting the Groundwork
Keean Washkurak is a fun prospect to spend way-too-much time watching. He’s only 5’10”, and around 180-190 pounds — undersized by some older scout’s eye — but he plays like he’s 6’5”. He’s feisty as hell and has a work ethic that is simply unparalleled in his league.
Of course, there’s more to him than that. Washkurak also has strong skating and loves rushing the puck from the defensive end to the O-zone. It feels like Washkurak’s ideal game would never leave the offensive zone. He puts an incredible amount of effort into getting the puck into the attacking end and grinds like crazy to keep it there for the entirety of his shift.
And that’s exactly where Washkurak’s game lies: he’s a grinder. Despite being a little smaller than average, he’s noticeably stronger than his contemporaries and uses it to great affect. He also harnesses his skating to help him dart around the offensive zone, from battle to battle, effectively becoming hockey’s version of the Tasmanian Devil.
Washkurak also has decent passing abilities and quick reflexes but they don’t jump off the page. But still, Washkurak’s game seems... exhausting. He puts an incredible amount of effort into every single shift. It makes him a blast to watch; as he fufills the very definition of the “grinder” calling card, with added flair thanks to his outlying skill. Being a grinder, of course, includes being able to drop the gloves, something Washkurak does to great affect. In a world where fighting, and even high-intensity hitting, is falling out of favor, Washkurak is a genuine terror to face-off against.
Washkurak is on pace to be a great boost to the Blues bottom-six, bringing in a modernized version of the 2000-style of gritty, dirty hockey.
Getting to the Comparison
That’s exactly where the issue sits. Washkurak can be labelled as a grinder but his style is so far from the connotation given to the NHL’s current grinders. Washkurak’s speed, strength, and simple work ethic are so incredibly unique. It makes him an exciting name to watch, even if he doesn’t have the top-end potential of someone like Scotty Perunovich, but it makes comparing him to a current NHL player very difficult.
Luckily, I managed to talk to the perfect source on this topic... Keean himself. I asked him who he’d compare himself to in today’s NHL and he had a golden answer...
I try to compare myself to a Brad Marchand-type of playing style... but also Yanni gourde on Tampa Bay... [they’re] both small guys who work hard and have some skill
Washkurak hit the nail on the head with the comparison. In my own dive into it, I also drew a lot of similarities between Washkurak and the determined-grit of Yanni Gourde. While there are noticeable differences — Gourde doesn’t have the speed to use like Wahskurak but Washkurak doesn’t have the same eye for the pass — the general premise is the same.
Gourde uses grit, fight, and strength to get the puck on his stick. When it does, he controls everything. It’s a great style that’s allowed Gourde to score at a great rate for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Stylistically, Washkurak’s damn similar. But there feels like there’s a missing layer. Gourde doesn’t have the dirty grit that Washkurak has. The speedy, hit-and-run style and unique sneakiness of Washkurak is unmatched in the NHL. While Brad Marchand’s style comes even closer, and is a great comparison, it doesn’t fit perfectly. Even if it did, talking about Marchand in-depth on a Blues website is blasphemy.
There’s one player who does have the gritty bite that Washkurak has, though. It’s not a perfect comparison but, to me, only one name even comes close to Washkurak’s ability to use his speed and grit to dig at the other team... the hometown phenom (even if he does play in Calgary), Matthew Tkachuk.
Again, it’s not a case-closed comparison. Tkachuk has gained the reputation of a bit of a pest throughout the league. Washkurak doesn’t have that same nag to him. He’s a much more focused player, using his dirty style to great effect while play is going but shying away from any theatrics (well, except fighting). Still, Tkachuk’s ability to whizz around the offensive end, go from board-battle to board-battle and throw his strength around to gain possession is perfectly in-line with how Washkurak plays.
Neither player sticks to a strict position. They both use great hockey IQ to take them straight into the grit of things and, most often, they emerge the victor of any battle. The same fun, hectic style that Tkachuk has in the O-zone is apparent in Washkurak; although Washkurak is definitely not on the same scoring-level as Tkachuk.
The Perfect Fit
That’s the best way to think of Washkurak. He’s a four-inch shorter Matthew Tkachuk. He’s a grittier Yanni Gourde. He’s the most unique prospect in the Blues system; bringing a modern-spin to a dated style of play.
And Washkurak’s gonna be the perfect bottom-six player for the Blues because of it. He’ll perfectly fill the void of players like Ryan Reaves; a role that’s definitely missing in St. Louis, for better or for worse. Washkurak’s ability to play center only helps his path to the NHL as well. In a year’s time, he could very easily fight for the fourth-line center role.
But no matter how many twists or turns he takes on the way to the NHL, Blues fans should be excited to see Washkurak bear the Note. He’s very, very fun to watch and has his eyes set on the NHL. With an unprecedented work ethic on the ice, he’s going to make it here in no time.