Every Thursday, NHL.com will look ahead to the 2020 NHL Draft with an in-depth profile on one of its top prospects.
William Cuylle knows to be successful with Windsor of the Ontario Hockey League he must use his 6-foot-3, 204-pound frame as an asset.
Cuylle is fearless throwing his body around, especially on the forecheck, and the forward is skilled enough to do it without spending too much time in the penalty box.
That level of intelligence, combined with a strong offensive skill set, has him No. 21 among North American skaters in NHL Central Scouting's midterm ranking of North American skaters for the 2020 NHL Draft.
"I think it's just hitting guys the right way," Cuylle said. "I never try to take liberties or take runs at guys, but if a guy has the puck and he makes a pass, I'm going to finish my hit every time. That's my game. I think that's what makes me successful, always getting involved in the play."
Cuylle has 42 points (22 goals, 20 assists) in 62 games and 37 penalty minutes, well below the 50 he had in 63 games last season.
"I don't think I've seen him take a bad penalty," Joey Tenute of Central Scouting said. "He's a pretty honest player, finishes his checks, he's not targeting anyone. When he's got an opportunity, he's going to finish his man."
Cuylle said he uses physical power forwards like Tom Wilson of the Washington Capitals, Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars and Matthew Tkachuk of the Calgary Flames as role models.
"Physical, skilled, can put the puck in the net, they can make plays, they're big and fast," he said. "Those are some guys that hopefully I can model my game after."
Tenute said there are other things to like about Cuylle, including an NHL-caliber shot and a 200-foot game.
"When you look at him off first glance, he looks like a pro," Tenute said. "He's a big guy, skates well, soft hands, heavy shot, nice release. And then when you watch him and you see his ability to be hard to play against, finish the body, and when he finishes the body guys are feeling it.
"He's a strong kid. He's got good habits at both ends of the ice, he's hard on pursuit. He plays a heavy game down low, good wall play. He's polished in the sense that he knows when he's the third guy in he's not going to run around, he's going be a responsible third guy high. And when the puck turns back the other way, he's backchecking hard. If he's first guy back, he knows how to play down low. He's got a good defensive awareness."
Windsor coach Trevor Letowski called Cuylle's shot pro caliber but said it's the forward's improved skating that's been most impressive this season.
"It looks good and it's coming along," Letowski said. "That was one thing last year, he wasn't able to generate much off the rush and through the neutral zone. A lot of his goals and a lot of his chances were through the offensive zone, just finding places (to set up). He knows where to go, he would just wait for pucks, that's where he's got the big shot. Now he's able to attack off the rush, he's getting pucks through the neutral zone and he can shoot it off the rush."
The chance to play for Letowski was one reason Cuylle chose to sign with Windsor. He had been selected by Peterborough with the No. 3 pick of the 2018 OHL draft, but strongly considered playing at Penn State University. Peterborough traded Cuylle's rights to Windsor for seven OHL draft picks prior to the start of the 2018-19 season.
"Trevor playing in the NHL for 10-plus years, (former general manager) Warren Rychel recruiting me there to Windsor, being a young team as well really appealed to me," Cuylle said.
Cuylle got a lot of playing time for a rebuilding Windsor team last season, mostly on a line with fellow 2020 Draft prospect Jean-Luc Foudy, but it failed to carry over early this season.
"He just waited for Foudy to do the work and then you'd find the place and get that shot in the offensive zone," Letowski said. "I've put Will with two of my hard-working players, (Curtis) Douglas, who's a (Stars) draft pick, big guy, and my hardest-working guy is Luke Boka, a 20-year-old. Put them together and it's been great."
Being the guy who drives his line has helped Cuylle rediscover his identity as a hard-working, physical forward.
"I got away from my game a little bit, from the power forward aspect," he said. "To solve it I just played harder, worried about the things I can control, my effort, getting close to the puck and things like that. The bounces started coming my way when I started doing that."
Photos courtesy: Terry Wilson/OHL Images
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