On December 28, the Kingston Frontenacs announced that they had received a commitment from Martin Chromiak, whom they had drafted second overall in the CHL Import Draft the summer before. Five days later, the Slovakian winger scored his first Ontario Hockey League goal just under nine minutes into his debut against the OHL-best Ottawa 67’s. In the second period, Chromiak would add a primary assist on a Shane Wright goal, finishing with two points as the Frontenacs fell 8-4 to the 67’s.
With that game, one of the OHL’s most exciting young lines was born. At the time of Chromiak’s debut, exceptional status recipient Shane Wright was still fifteen years old, just three days away from his 16th birthday. Chromiak took an instant role on Wright’s left flank, while fellow 2020 NHL Draft prospect Zayde Wisdom lined up on his right. The line had chemistry right from the start: Wisdom created space for the others with his tenacious work along the boards, Chromiak drove play though transition with his speed and demonstrated an immediate passing connection with Wright, and Shane controlled play with his sniping touch and dominant all-around profile that earned him exceptional status. Wright had 30 points in 30 games before Chromiak joined the team, followed by 36 points in 28 games with the Slovak present. That’s an uptick of close to 0.3 points per game with Chromiak on his wing, or put in more familiar terms, an increase of about 23 points over an 82 game season. That may not all be Chromiak’s doing– it’s logical that Wright’s production would scale upwards as the teenager became increasingly comfortable as an OHL player– but the impact of his arrival is evident.
Before crossing the pond to join the Fronts, Chromiak was playing limited minutes for HK Dukla Trenčín of the Slovakian professional league. The winger had 6 points in 22 games while averaging about 7 and a half minutes of ice time a game. That’s just over 1.5 points per sixty minutes of time on ice, a solid rate for a 17 year old playing defensively-oriented fourth line minutes in a league that I would pin as a little below the German DEL (where Tim Stutzle played this year) in terms of quality of competition.
A speedy winger with great puck skills, an excellent sense for space in the offensive zone, and a dangerous shot, Chromiak’s game is quite reminiscent of Toronto winger Kasperi Kapanen. Much like Kapanen, Chromiak has a very intriguing skillset: he isn’t always the most consistent in his impact, but he shows flashes of really high-end skill.
One of Chromiak’s most prized attributes is his skating. Chromiak has a wide, powerful stride that can really get him going over longer distances. He has breakaway speed and can fly by defenders to win races to pucks.
That type of speed isn’t always consistently on display from him– he’s generally more of an off-puck player and doesn’t skate with the puck as much as you’d like to see for a guy with his fleet of foot (part of that might be the result of playing with a guy like Shane Wright who’s naturally going to assume much of the puck-carrying duties of his line). But, I’ve seen him put it on display in short flashes all over the ice to make positive plays.
He’s able to get a step on Kevin Bahl wide on the zone entry here and work the puck into the corner, eventually resulting in a nice chance for Wright in front.
He can use his speed off the rush as a threat to burn defenders wide and take the puck to the net. Chromiak nearly finishes on the wraparound opportunity after taking the puck through the neutral zone here.
Chromiak can also take on more of a “slasher” role, using his speed to cut into the slot for a quick opportunity. With his mobility, Chromiak is at his best when he has open ice in front of him and I’d really like to see him take these curl routes in the offensive zone more frequently. Notice the quick hands on the finish as well.
A dual-threat attacker, Chromiak is typically identified as more of a scorer and with his hands, shot, and sense for open ice in the slot, it’s not hard to see why. But the winger is also a comfortable passer that showed an excellent passing connection with Shane Wright, excelling at finding Wright with short passes in the offensive zone. This no-look, backwards, between-the-legs pass that splits two defenders is my favourite example:
And here’s a second example:
This slick backdoor connection with Shane Wright is another demonstration of the high-end vision Chromiak possesses:
And one more look at his vision: this spinning pass to Shane Wright right in front. The chemistry between those two was exceptional: Chromiak always seemed to know where Wright was on the ice and vice versa.
This primary assist, once again to Shane Wright, is another intelligent play by the Slovakian winger. By slowing up and telegraphing a pass to the streaking Shane Wright, he makes the defender realize that he’s caught in no-mans land and forces him to commit to Chromiak, opening up the entire slot for Wright to walk in and bury the puck.
Chromiak has excellent touch as a passer and can add lift to his passes when required. This saucer all the way across onto Wright’s forehand is an absolute beauty of an assist.
Here’s some more sauce from the Slovak on a two-on-one. More important than the pass is the patience Chromiak shows, waiting for the defender to turn and reveal the passing lane behind him that Chromiak uses to connect with Wright.
The ability to manipulate passing lanes is a key trait of an elite playmaker. This is a really basic example of that, Chromiak simply outwaits the defender and isn’t required to change his passing lie or fool the defender with a fake of any sort– but it shows that Chromiak has the basic building block required to step his playmaking up from a level I would classify as above-average to being truly high-end as a facilator with further development. I haven’t seen the ability to make advanced plays to open lanes from the Slovakian yet– he’s typically limited to taking advantage of whatever lane the defence is already giving him– but it’s something that would really elevate his game. He’s a capable playmaker with excellent vision for existing lanes and nice touch as a passer. He was on pace for 53 assists over a 68 game pace for the Fronts, which translates to about 20 assists over an 82 game NHL season (using an OHL-NHL translation factor of 0.32 in accordance with Rob Vollman’s most recent update to his NHLe factors before he was hired by the Los Angeles Kings). For a 17 year old forward, that’s an excellent rate.
Let’s look at his scoring. Chromiak had twice as many assists as goals with Kingston this year, but with his heavy shot, quick hands, and excellent sense for space in the slot, he’s frequently seen as more of a scorer. He scored at a 34 goal pace for a 68 game season (11 goals in 22 games), with 7 of those tallies coming at even strength. We already saw a glimpse of his hands and finishing ability around the net in one of the clips when we were looking at his skating earlier. He’s able to fake out goalies in tight, but another key element of his puck skills that allows him to put the puck in the net is his ability to corral passes and get into a shooting position. Here’s an example: Shane Wright’s pass to Chromiak is ahead of him, but the forward is able to receive the pass on his backhand and pull it to his forehand for the finish.
His top scoring asset is decisively his shot. Chromiak has a laser of a shot, primarily employing one-timers as well as hard wristers while walking in off the rush as his principal methods of scoring. Let’s start with his ability to shoot in motion.
His shot mechanics remind me of fellow 2020 sniper Noel Gunler’s. He really cocks the puck back and has an explosive weight transfer as he snaps the puck forward, generating flexion and the resulting power in his shot. That drag motion is a little reminiscent of Tim Stutzle’s release as well.
This snipe coming down the wing is just nasty. He shifts the entirety of his weight onto his front foot as he snaps the puck at the net, generating plenty of power to beat the goaltender.
Chromiak’s most frequent method of scoring was the one-timer. He utilizes the shot in a variety of situations: he loves to open his hips for one-time shots on two-on-one opportunities, set up right at the top of the crease and bang pucks in on passes coming from below the goal line, or even unleash Ovechkin-like one-timers from the top of the circle on the man advantage.
Here’s an example of how he likes to set up on two-on-ones when he isn’t the puck carrier:
Chromiak loves to hang out around the front of the net and frequently finds himself open for quick one-timers from that area as his linemates work out of the cycle. He scored several goals this year in that fashion, slipping into soft pockets of space in the slot and burying the puck from in tight.
NHL teams won’t be as lenient with their coverage in front as OHL defenders tend to be, but that sense for space should carry over and adapt as Chromiak matures into an NHL player. He’ll have to become more creative in how he finds pockets– I’d really like to see him further employ those curl routes that I mentioned earlier to dart into the slot for quick opportunites– but those instincts should remain a valuable tool even against tougher competition.
And finally, we have that powerplay one-timer. It’s not dissimilar to the shots he likes to take on two-on-ones, but from further out and through increased traffic. Because the pass is typically coming from behind him rather than laterally from a teammate, he’s able to load more weight on his back foot and get even more power on his shot. Here’s an absolute laser:
Let’s recap on everything we’ve looked at here.
Chromiak is an excellent skater with a long, wide stride and legitimate breakaway speed. He can win races for pucks, threaten to burn defenders wide off the rush, and provide positive value in transition with his mobility and ability to move the puck from defensive zone to offensive zone. He’s a dangerous scorer with a heavy shot, quick hands and an ability to corral pucks and get shots off, and excellent sense for space in the slot. The Slovakian winger is also a capable playmaker that demonstrated exceptional vision and passing chemistry with Shane Wright. I haven’t seen him show the consistent ability to create passing lanes for himself so far which caps his upside as a passer from reaching truly high-end levels, but he’s an excellent complimentary winger that can really click with another high-end player like he did with Shane Wright this year.
There are still some areas where Chromiak could use some improvement: First of all, I’d love to see him play at a higher pace– he doesn’t always use his speed as much as I’d like to see and Chromiak could definitely become even more of a force in transition. As well, the extreme connection that Chromiak showed with Wright could be viewed as a concern– 5 of Chromiak’s 11 goals were assisted by Wright and 10 of his 22 assists came on Shane Wright goals. The question is does that a trend signal a dependence of Chromiak on a clearly elite level player like Shane Wright, or was it simply a case of him really clicking on that line with Kingston where Wright was very centrally involved and Zayde Wisdom played a more secondary, space-creating role where he wasn’t directly involved in as many of Chromiak’s points? I’m bullish that Chromiak can find success without Wright by his side as his vision and finishing talent shouldn’t be confined to any particular centre, but it’s absolutely fair (and one would be wrong not to, Wright looks like a potential NHL superstar after all) to attribute some of Chromiak’s 2019-20 success to Wright.
In regards to his projected outlook, I see Chromiak as a middle-six winger that can fit extremely well into a team’s system with his versatile skillset. He can be a valuable asset in transition with his speed, move the puck quickly throughout the offensive zone and find his linemates for opportunities, and bury the puck in a variety of situations, whether it be from right around the slot, further out with a one-timer, or a hard shot coming off the rush. His ceiling as a top-six forward revolves around whether or not he can accelerate the pace of his game, learn to manipulate defenders and create lanes as a playmaker, and translate his ability to find space in the slot to tighter defences. If he can do all that, I see him as having a ceiling of about 60 points. More likely– if he translates all the current elements of his game without upping his style to a higher pace or improving his playmaking– I think he’ll fit in as a winger somewhere in the middle-six contributing about 40 points a year.