Two weeks ago, the New York Rangers made a trade that signified a course correction. The 7th overall selection 3 years ago, Lias Andersson, was traded to the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for a 2nd round pick in the 2020 draft, 60th overall.
That pick was used to draft Will Cuylle (pronounced Coolie), a fast, physical winger from the OHL who plays for the Windsor Spitfires. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Will for a Zoom call to get to know him.
Will Cuylle, from Toronto to Windsor
William “Will” Cuylle was born in Toronto, Ontario on February 5th 2002 and grew up a passionate skier before turning to hockey. “Starting at age 9 is a bit later than other athletes but I made the most of it”, Cuylle says about his young career so far. He played for the Toronto Marlboros in the Greater Toronto Hockey League at u15 and u16 level before being drafted 3rd overall by the Peterborough Petes of the OHL.
He was drafted ahead of Jamie Drysdale, Cole Perfetti and current Spitfires teammate Jean-Luc Foudy. The only two drafted ahead of him that year were 2020 second overall pick Quinton Byfield and 2020 fifth round pick Evan Vierling (also by the Rangers).
But Cuylle wasn’t expecting to play in the OHL after being drafted by the Petes. Instead, he wanted to go the college route until he was traded. “I was drafted by Peterborough and was thinking of going to college,”he explained. “I committed to Penn State and had several talks with them, but when I was traded to Windsor I decided to de-commit and stay in the OHL.”
He says it’s a first class organization and 2 years later, he feels he made the right decision for his career, being a 2nd round pick in the NHL Entry Draft and part of a Rangers organization poised to be contenders for a decade.
Will Cuylle on making the the transition to the OHL
When he first made the switch from the GTHL to the OHL, the biggest change was the increased workload and schedule. “The traveling and practice is the biggest change when starting in the OHL. At such a young age, it takes some time to get used to,” Cuylle recalled. “You have to find ways to pick your battles when you play 3 games in 4 days and not overcommit on every play because you end up missing that final step late in the game.”
It’s always good to remember how big the leaps are these players take. In his first season Cuylle scored 26 goals in 63 games, and last season he had 22 in 62. The production didn’t see the inflation you usually expect from draft eligible players but the strengths in Cuylle’s game were the deciding factor for the Rangers.
In my opinion, Cuylle personifies the change of direction the Rangers have taken this year. They have their fair share of technically gifted players from previous drafts, and this year focused on skillsets that help filling out the line up. Cuylle exemplifies playing with an edge on top of being a goalscorer.
Representing Canada and being drafted
Last year, Will Cuylle traveled to the Czech Republic to represent Canada in the Hlinka-Gretzky tournament, playing with the likes of Seth Jarvis, Hendrix Lapierre, Quinton Byfield, Cole Perfetti, Ridly Greig and other 1st round selections in this year’s NHL Entry Draft.
“Hlinka Gretzky was a great experience, I got to play against the top players in my age group from all over the world,” he said. “I formed great friendships, including Ozzy Wiesblatt who was my roommate.”
He had 3 points in 5 games but sharing the ice with these players made it unforgettable. He still talks to Wiesblatt regularly and when I brought up Ozzy’s draft moment, Cuylle smiles. The Sharks assistant GM called out his name via sign language for his mom who is deaf. It was a beautiful moment for me as a hockey fan half a world away, but for Cuylle it meant so much more, being close to Wiesblatt.
William Cuylle on the Draft
The following day, Cuylle sat down for day two of the draft with his parents, sister and billet family. “My billet parents from Windsor stopped by in Toronto to watch with us. That was a special moment, having both families in the room for this. It was pretty exciting to hear my name being called“, Cuylle says while smiling from ear to ear.
Prior to be drafted he stated he spoke to the Rangers several times. The 6’3″ power forward said those talks ranged from scouts to senior management. Now that the 204 lbs winger is part of the Rangers organization he can’t wait to go back to work.
As so many prospects told me, being drafted is just the beginning. It’s a great moment, but you shouldn’t let it get to you. There is a long road ahead after being drafted, and that road starts now. Cuylle is expected to go back to the OHL and play for the Windsor Spitfires again and he knows what to focus on.
William Cuylle can play anywhere
“I can see myself anywhere with the way I play,” he began. I’d be a good supporting role for a top center. The way I play, fast and physical is important on any line to get in on the forecheck,” Cuylle continued. “Separate guys from the puck and make simple plays…so whether that’s me being on the 3rd of the 4th line as an energy guy throwing the body around or on the first or the second line scoring goals using my body strategically.”
Cuylle is expected to report to Windsor on November 15th but there is no guarantee the season starts on time due to the global pandemic.
Primarily a left winger, Cuylle has played significant portions of his career on the right side. “I feel comfortable in both positions but the biggest challenge on the right is breaking the puck out on the half wall, and turning the other way,” he explained. “It takes a split second longer because you are so used to turning the other way.”.
His versatility is his biggest strength but the challenge now is to improve to the point where he can translate that versatility to the big stage. Growing up, Cuylle watched a lot of Joe Thornton but the player he models his game after is Jamie Benn. The big winger who reached the Stanley Cup Final with the Dallas Stars was a long shot prospect, drafted in the 5th round, which shows you anything is possible. Cuylle understands the work and effort that goes into bridging that gap and these next 2 years will be interesting to watch for Ranger fans.
Cuylle eyes number 25
Playing with number 13 in Windsor, Cuylle laughs off the question about his jersey number. “Lafrenière has that number now so I would have to go back to number 25, which I used in my days before the OHL”. The number 25 doesn’t hold any special meaning to him, but he was given it as a kid, and always stuck with it, until he joined the Spitfires where the number was already taken.
During the off-season Cuylle is working out regularly with his friend Jamie Drysdale. The defenseman, who went 6th overall to Anaheim this year, and Cuylle have played together for years as kids and got to know each other quite well. When Cuylle isn’t playing hockey he likes to play golf and spend time at home with his dog and playing the guitar, a hobby he picked up this year.
Cuylle on Star Wars
We would have been remiss if we failed to bring up the topic of Stars Wars. Cuylle endeared himself to younger fans who like the prequels better than the originals, and perplexed everyone else in a post draft interview.
He recollected watching the prequels when he was about 4 or 5 years old and he unequivocally says Revenge of the Sith is the best Star Wars movie. We also asked him who his favorite character was and he said, “Anakin Skywalker”.
Oddly enough, Will isn’t a fan of The Mandolorian. “It’s a little to slow for me,” he said. Well there is nothing slow or boring about his game on the ice, that’s for sure.
PS: I want to thank Will Cuylle for sitting down with me and giving me the opportunity to share this story with our fanbase.