We begin our annual prospect review and forecast series for the 2023 off-season with Ryan Chesley, defenseman for the Minnesota Golden Gophers. (You can access all of our Capitals Prospect Reports and player analysis on our “Prospects” page right here.)
Chesley, 19, was drafted by the Capitals in the second round (37th overall) of the 2022 NHL Entry Draft. The Capitals acquired the 37th overall pick in a trade that sent Vitek Vanecek and their 47th overall pick to New Jersey for their 37th and 70th overall pick. The 6’0” right-handed defenseman, who hails from Mahtomedi, MN, native remains unsigned by the Capitals.
Chesley began his career in Shattuck-St. Mary’s Development program (2017-2019) and the United States National Team Development Program (2020-2022), where he recorded a combined 44 Points in 85 games played with the U.S. Developement team and the National Under-18 Team.
Chesley participated in the Capitals 2022 Prospect Development Camp in July of 2022. During his time at Development Camp, he spoke about his experience and the upcoming season.
“It’s been awesome getting here, getting to know the guys, getting to know the staff and getting on the ice with them, it’s been a fun week so far. I knew it was going to be a hard time here, just a lot of work, it’s been a grind so far, but it’s been fun. A lot of the on-ice stuff has been challenging, which is good I think it’s really helpful…”
Chesley had an action-packed 2022-23 season from start to finish, which included a full freshman season with the Minnesota Golden Gophers, participation in the 2023 World Junior Championship for Team USA over the holiday’s and finishing with play in the NCAA national title game. While there were moments of attention-grabbing play, Chesley’s season can best be summarized as a learning experience. His play in the World Juniors was underwhelming at times. The same can be said for his freshman year at Minnesota, as he was relegated to the 8th defenseman role at the end of the season and in the postseason. All fairly typical for a freshman.
2022-2023 MONTH-BY-MONTH RECAP AND TREND ANALYSIS
The following is a compilation of our month-by-month prospect reports for Ryan Chesley during the 2022-2023 season. Also included are his monthly scores (0-5, with 2.5 being average). You can find all of our monthly prospect reports on our “Prospects” page in the top menu.
Chesley began his freshman season with the Minnesota Golden Gophers on the right side of the top pairing on October 1. He potted a pair of assists in the Gophers two-game sweep over Linwood to start the season.
Chesley earned the secondary assist on Logan Cooley’s first goal in the game at 5:38 of the second period in a 4-0 victory on October 1. On October 2, Chesley assisted on Brody Lamb’s goal that occurred at 8:54 during the second period of a 6-4 victory.
Chesley played in eight games in October. He did not score any goals but had two assists and was a +4. He took six shots on goal. He took one minor penalty, and blocked seven shots.
Monthly Score: 3.0
Chesley played in eight games during the month of November and has played in 16 games for the season. Offensively, he has not scored any goals, recorded two assists and is +5 for the season.
Chesley took 19 shots on goal, 13 during November alone. He has blocked 19 shots on goal, blocking 13 during November. He took one minor penalty for November, having taken a total of two for the season.
Chesley spent the early portion of November on the third defensive pairing but has spent the last three games on the top defensive pairing.
Monthly Score: 2.5
Chesley was named to Team USA’s preliminary roster for the 2023 World Junior Championship on December 5. Prior to leaving for Team USA camp Chesley scored his first goal of the season on December 9.
His first #Gophers goal 🥲
And in the #BorderBattle no less 😎 @ryanchesley_ pic.twitter.com/6gh3iTWwAt
— Minnesota Men’s Hockey (@GopherHockey) December 10, 2022
“I saw a good play in front where Cooley had a good chance to score,” said Chesley of his first career goal. “I thought I could sneak down a bit and he made a good pass. Maybe a little roommate connection for sure.” Another angle of Chesley’s first tally for the Gophers, from upstairs:
Ryan Chesley’s first goal for the Gophers. #ALLCAPS https://t.co/NRfDLgX4Iq pic.twitter.com/aN2dqUzrZj
— Capitals Prospects (@jon_m_sorensen) December 10, 2022
Team USA head coach Rand Pecknold spoke to the media about Chesley on December 13. “He fits well in the style we’re going to play. He’s been great here for two days . . . He’s trending in the right direction. He’s a man. He plays hard. Great shot. He’s got that physicality. He plays bigger than his size. I’ve been really happy.”
Chesley notched a tally in Team USA’s first tuneup game against Finland on December 19.
Ryan Chesley fires this one-timer in and USA leads 4-1. Lane Hutson and Cutter Gauthier with the assists. #WorldJuniors pic.twitter.com/eHzI4XGVtH
— Steven Ellis (@SEllisHockey) December 20, 2022
Chesley, while he didn’t see time on either of Team USA’s power play units, was a solid force on the team’s penalty kill in the two tuneup games.
As for the actual tournament, things did not go as well as the tuneup games. Chesley and Team USA fell to Team Slovakia, 6-3 on in the second game. Chesley remained on the second pairing with Lane Hutson, but was removed from the penalty kill following the first game and was beat on the zone entry that lead to Slovakia’s first goal.
Rare mistake by Capitals prospect Ryan Chesley on defense. He’s usually reliable for guiding puck carriers to the wall and stopping the rush. He got beat clean here. https://t.co/nZPAJ4rtl5
— Adam Herman (@AdamZHerman) December 28, 2022
Chesley had a team-low time on ice of 6:02 for the game, which included just 1:14 and two shifts in the first period.
Chesley was dropped to the seventh defenseman for the third game, which would turn out to be his best game of the first three. He would record his first point in the tournament.
Tyler Boucher buries the rebound to extend USA’s lead 🚨#WorldJuniors pic.twitter.com/bgTQRRLWp8
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) December 29, 2022
This year’s tournament was most likely too soon for Chesley, who is still just 18 and will have future cracks at the tournament. Next year’s tournament will be a much better indicator of Chesley’s potential upside.
The speed of the game was at times too much for him. Team USA was somewhat undersized, defensively and Chesley may have been awarded a roster spot because he was one of two defensemen six-foot or taller.
Monthly Score: 2.0
Chesley was a member of Team USA’s World Junior Bronze medal winning team at the 2023 IIHF World Junior Championships. After returning to the Golden Gophers in early January, Chesley played in eight games, scoring one goal and recording three assists.
January 14, a 3-0 victory over Notre Dame on the road, was a very eventful game for Chesley. He took a major penalty at 2:27 in the first period, thanks to an illegal contact to the head. Fortunately for the Golden Gophers, Notre Dame did not score during Chesley’s major penalty. Chesley then got the secondary assist on the team’s first goal which came at 17:45 in first period and was scored by Ryan Johnson.
In the middle of January, Scott Wheeler of The Athletic ranked Chesley #4 among Capitals prospects, but pointed out that he’s hit some roadblocks this season.
“Though he has defended well for the Golden Gophers in a depth role on a deep team with Frozen Four aspirations, his contributions with the puck have been limited and he really struggled at the world juniors, ultimately moving off longtime partner Lane Hutson’s pair to the No. 7 D role after two games.” Wheeler also pointed out that his game “lacks creativity”.
On January 20, in a 4-3 victory over the Michigan Wolverines, Chesley had the primary assist. He made a diagonal cross-ice feed off the boards to spring his forward for the Gophers second tally of the game.
A grown man’s goal pic.twitter.com/buO4nUYXSI
— Minnesota Men’s Hockey (@GopherHockey) January 21, 2023
On January 28, which was Hockey Day Minnesota, Chesley contributed a goal and an assist in a wild 6-3 win. Chesley’s goal, which came at 2:41 of the third period, was the team’s fourth goal and the game-winner, the first of his collegiate career. He also assisted on the team’s fifth goal and had the first two-point game in his career for the Gophers.
Dylan Loucks of Gopher Hole described Chesley’s game as follows, from an analytical point of view.
“Ryan Chesley had a monster game yesterday he had 11 controlled exits on 12 attempts, 92% effective. He also had four shot assists which are the most by a Gopher defender all year. Total xGF on the shot assists was 1.252 which is the highest total by any Gopher player all year. Tonight, he notched his second goal on the year picking the top corner to push the Gophers’ lead to 4-2.”
Things we love to see:
1. this@ryanchesley_ pic.twitter.com/jcHHGWoKGC
— Minnesota Men’s Hockey (@GopherHockey) January 28, 2023
Chesley has played in all 28 of the team’s games, scored two goals and recorded five assists. He made 40 shots on goal and blocked 41 shots and is currently +12. He played on the third defensive pairing during January.
Monthly Score: 3.0
Chesley played in just two games during the month of February – against the Wisconsin Badgers on February 10 and 11. He was kept off the scoresheet in both games.
Chesley sustained an upper body injury in the Gophers’ game on February 11 and was unable to play in any of his team’s remaining four games in the month of February, which constituted the remainder of their regular season.
Gophers head coach Bob Motzko indicated that Chesley would not play until March, at the earliest. “[Chesley] will come back in the playoffs sometime. Brock, we’re going week-to-week. Injuries are part of sports. They happen, you’ve just got to roll on.”
Until getting injured, Chesley played in all 30 of the Gopher’s games, scoring two goals and five assists. He has taken 45 shots on goal and blocked 44 shots. He played on the third defensive pairing during February.
Golden Gophers Head Coach Bob Motzko considers this year’s defense the best he’s ever had. The top three, Brock Faber, Jackson LaCombe, and Ryan Johnson, are some of the best upper-classman defenders in the nation, with Faber and LaCombe being nominees for the Hobey Baker Award. In addition, three freshman defensemen have played important roles on the team.
According to Dylan Loucks of the Gopher Hole website, “Besides the top three, the Gophers have three freshman defenders who have all played important minutes for Minnesota. Ryan Chesley currently leads the team in hits and has become more and more comfortable in breaking up plays and rush chances. He’s been super physical and more aggressive as the season has been going on.”
The Gophers ended their regular season at 25-8-1 overall and 19-4-1 within the Big Ten Conference. They finished first in their conference. They have a bye week for the first weekend of March and await the playoffs and will host a one game final on March 11 in Minnesota.
Monthly Score: 2.5
Chesley and the Minnesota Golden Gophers ended their regular season at 25-8-1 overall and 19-4-1 within the Big Ten Conference, finishing first in their conference.
Chesley spent the early part of March recovering from a wrist injury he sustained during a game on February 11, but was able to return for the playoffs. As it turned out, Chesley would play in the Semi-Finals against Michigan State. He was initially listed as the seventh defenseman. However, he shined in his return to the lineup, recording two assists in a 5-1 victory.
Chesley had the primary assist on the team’s second (and game winning) goal. At 17:51 in the first period, He ripped a shot from the point which John Mittelstadt tipped into the net.
Johnny on the spot! pic.twitter.com/CXsyYrMlnR
— Minnesota Men’s Hockey (@GopherHockey) March 12, 2023
Chesley also recorded the secondary assist on the team’s last goal, which came at 15:59 into the third period. Chesley passed to Snuggerud who ripped the puck down the ice. Logan Cooley got to the puck and tapped home the team’s last goal.
— Minnesota Men’s Hockey (@GopherHockey) March 12, 2023
Chesley’s return to the lineup introduced a physical element to the lineup. Coach Motzko’s specific comment on Chesley’s play was, “Kinda crazy — I don’t think he missed a beat. He’s just a whale of a competitor.”
The Gophers lost in the Big Ten Finals to the Michigan Wolverines but were still the top seed going into the NCAA Tournament. This was the Gophers’ 40th all-time appearance in the postseason, an NCAA record.
The Gophers won 8-2 against Canisius to advance to the NCAA Fargo Regional Final and Chesley was kept off score sheet. The Gophers then faced St. Cloud State in the NCAA Regional Final in Fargo on March 25 and won 4-1. Chesley was kept off the scoresheet in that game as well. The Golden Gophers advanced to the Frozen Four and will travel to Tampa Florida. This is their 23rd trip to the NCAA Frozen Four.
Chesley has been the 6th/7th defenseman for the Gophers in recent games, following his return from a late-season upper body injury. For the season so far, Chesley has played in 34 games, scored two goals and recorded seven assists. He is +14. He has made 49 shots on goal and blocked 50 shots.
Monthly Score: 2.5
Chesley and the Minnesota Golden Gophers advanced to the Frozen Four at Amalie Arena after winning the NCAA Regional Final in Fargo. They played the Boston University Terriers on April 7.
The game was tied 2-2 until early in third period when Luke Mittelstadt scored two goals. Chesley had the primary assist on Mittelstadt’s second goal at 3:29, to increase the Gophers’ lead to 4-2. The Golden Gophers won 6-2 to advance to the Frozen Four Finals against the Quinnipiac Bobcats and Chase Clark.
NCAA Ice Hockey on Twitter: “LUKE WITH THE LASER (again) 🚨 📺 ESPN2 #MFrozenFour x @GopherHockey https://t.co/MBDp0b8NS6″ / Twitter
After the Gophers got off to a 2-0 lead, Quinnipiac tied the game late and won in Overtime. Chesley was kept off the scoresheet in that game.
Chesley’s final statistics for the season were: played in 36 games scored two goals and recorded eight assists. He is +15. He had 51 shots on goal and blocked 52 shots.
Monthly Score: 2.5
MONTHLY SCORE SUMMARY
Chesley had an up-and-down freshman year at Minnesota, although he played in every game until sustaining an injury in February. He also had a sub-par showing at the World Juniors, so he will be looking for a rebound season in his sophomore campaign at Minnesota and participation with Team USA in the 2024 World Juniors.
Chesley demonstrated his physicality throughout the season and is a part of his game he will look to capitalize on in his second year. He can control space on the ice and he needs to continue developing that aspect of his game. He can be downright nasty at times.
Offensively, he was a bit of a mystery this season, as he demonstrated a pretty good shot on a number of occasions, yet the scoring did not materialize. Hopefully his sophomore season will include more emphasis on the offensive end.
By Jon Sorensen
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Tough season at times for Cheese. I expect a coming out
Party in 2023-24.
Next two years are probably big for this hopefully future Capital.
Agree Mark. Results from Freshman years have reduced value to me, because everything that is going on in the players life. Chesley packed in a lot of experience in 2022-23, and we should see the fruit of that this coming season.
He’ll get more opportunity next season since quite a few guys from the team have gone professional.
Hoping he makes progress next year. The Caps can use a physical defenseman with some nastiness in the system. They are sorely lacking in the grit area
The fact that he played in all Frozen 4 games and I think the rest of the playoffs, is a good trend going into next year. No doubt he will benefit from another year of WJC and being a top 4 if not top 2 defensemen at MN.
I also just like hearing some of the quotes over the year I have read. Seems like a competitor and team player. It’s a process, so yeah, MN next year and hopefully a Caps contract and year in the AHL.
Remember that Caps can hold development camps with our college players participating. If our coaching situation is far enough established to make these a success, it should be very beneficial to someone like Chesley, getting advice from the Caps/Bears/Stingray coaches and also showing them what he can do.
In theory they can also attend rookie camp, but since they cannot miss any college classes, most cannot attend.
Good points on dev camp. It will be interesting to see what he shows if he can make it and what coaches see. If he shows to be a call-up potential next year, then sign him and put to bears. But I still think he is likely best developed in a primary role on a good college team. And he’ll still be on the younger side for a college player. Still playing against older men in NA environment.
And I think that we all forget (I know I do) that students go to college to get degrees. Cutting their college years short doesn’t help them graduate. Yes, they can usually finish up a few years late while playing pro or finish after retiring, but I think most would rather complete it before turning pro.
Have been reading a number of articles on how NHL teams are drafting and utilizing more and more college players over CHL, KHL, or Euro leagues. None have provided stats and I keep looking for one that does. Still think the NCAA players are a minority, but it appears that group is growing.
Chesley reminds me physically of Letang — not that tall, but wide, with a really good base — when he hits a guy, they definitely feel it. He skates well — very smooth in his footwork and pivots — and has an excellent one-time shot. He sees the ice pretty well.
The biggest flaw I saw, mostly late in the year, was a tendency to fumble pucks/passes. It could be that the wrist injury was a factor, or it could be that he was feeling pressure, or it could be that he needs to work on his handle. No matter what the reason, I expect that issue to get resolved over the next couple of seasons.
I believe he will spend at least 3 years at MN. He’s a Minnesota kid, and playing for the Gophers is a big damned deal for local kids. In addition, the Caps are pretty set on RD for the next few years — no need to hurry Chesley… as of now, anyway.
Solid take, GR. I agree with all of it for the most part. I believe I watched ::checks notes: 12 of his games this season from start to finish, and I can’t quibble much with your take. He needs a bit more confidence when handling the puck, very similar to Lucas Johansen his first two seasons in the AHL – puck fumbles, poor decision making at speed, etc. I think a certain amount of that will come with time. How much? That will be the key.
He does have a nasty physical nature I really like. He’s not out there to make any friends. And his hits are of the bone crushing nature.
I think this upcoming season will tell us a lot about his ultimate upside. Freshman years are just to tough to make any call of that significance.
This is where i think Iorio has a leg up on Chesley… puck handling and quick release. I think he is the future RD PP1 guy. Skates well but don’t think he swivels as well and not as physical but I think he played that way more towards end of season. Can’t wait to see him in playoffs.
I also love Chesley. He will need to go through the maturation process for 2 years before he is truly ready but as GR said, I like the odds of those skills developing as he gets more confidence and PT.
The great news for Chesley is that he is in one of the best developmental programs in the world, and most of the guys above him on the roster this year won’t be there next year. If he takes advantage of that and becomes a top defenseman in that program, he will become an important piece for the Caps. If he doesn’t, then he might be a 2nd round pick who didn’t pan out– not the first, won’t be the last.
This drafting stuff would be much easier if they’d just draft 25-yr.-olds instead of teenagers…
Because of what you said about opportunity, it plays out well for Chesley. But he needs to seize it. I think he did a good job of fighting through adversity last year. Hope he builds on that. But it will be a process. One more year of college, one in AHL as potential callup, and competing for a roster spot. probably add one more year because of TVR and Jensen contracts.