Photo credit: University of Wisconsin

As the regular season winds down, the Ontario Reign continue to add depth to their roster, signing defenseman Tyler Inamoto to a PTO.

Another day, another college signing for the Ontario Reign, though this one comes with a little bit of a wrinkle. Wisconsin defenseman Tyler Inamoto signed a PTO with the Reign on Thursday:

The unique thing about the Inamoto signing is that the Carolina Hurricanes still own his NHL rights. For a couple of more months, anyway.

Originally drafted by the Florida Panthers in the 5th Round of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, the left-shot defenseman spent the next five years at the University of Wisconsin. In 132 games with the Badgers, Inamoto scored five goals and 22 assists for 27 points.

At the 2022 trade deadline, he was involved in a three-team trade that sent him and Max Domi to Carolina. The Hurricanes will continue to hold his NHL rights into August. If they do not sign him then, he will become a free agent. The Reign will get an up-close look at the 6’2″ blueliner down the stretch.

So what type of player are the Reign getting in Inamoto? Look no further than what his former team posted about him after the signing:

As they like to say, Inamoto “eats pucks”. His love for blocking shots is a testament to how dedicated he is to his teammates, “it’s definitely a mindset to endure that pain,” Imamoto explained in this feature. “For however many seconds it may last, or the rest of the game or a couple of days, but I’m willing to do it for my teammates.”

His teammates and coaches certainly appreciate it. He talked about his enjoyment of blocking shots and the art of doing so:

An assistant captain his last two seasons in Wisconsin, he’s a player that Associate Head Coach Mark Osiecki says “leads by example.”

Inamoto isn’t going to be a defenseman that is a flashy, offensive-minded defenseman. His work in the defensive zone, though, will help contribute to turning defense into offense. Entering his draft year, he was seen as a good skater but his calling card was going to be how well he defends:

“Inamoto developed a well-earned reputation as a player that makes opponents battle for their offensive time. It’s easy to imagine his style of play translating well into the pro game, particularly when it comes to playoff time where territory is at a premium.”

During his time at Wisconsin, while never turning into a scorer, he became more than just a shot-blocking defensive defenseman. He started to show an ability to make the first pass in the defensive zone to begin the transition.

He’s also not afraid to take the body:

When it comes to his offensive game, his skating is good enough to where there could still be some growth there. In his goal in the below clip, he walks the blueline, showing off his strong lateral movement before opening up his hips – while pulling the puck back to load a shot – then firing home a wrister:

Not half bad for a defensive defenseman.

In the immediate, he joins a Reign team whose left side of the defense corps currently has Cameron Gaunce, Kim Nousiainen, Christian Wolanin, and Thomas Hickey. All four played in Wednesday’s game against San Diego, with Hickey playing his off-side.

Inamoto certainly brings a different set of skills than Hickey, Nousiainen, and Wolanin. I would expect the veteran Gaunce to be a stalwart the rest of the way. But down the stretch and particularly in playoffs, Inamoto could be a valuable piece to the blueline.

It’s also no secret that the Reign’s penalty kill (28th in the AHL) needs improvement. Given the current left-side options, Inamoto could be an option on the kill.

In the grand scheme, well, we’ll see. The Kings as an organization could use some more depth on the left side of their blueline. Mikey Anderson will surely slot back in as a top-pair when he returns, and at least for the rest of this season, veterans Olli Maatta and Alex Edler fill out the left side. But after that – and when we look ahead a year or two – Tobias Bjornfot has struggled in his young NHL career while Jacob Moverare has only gotten his feet wet. Not only is there a need for another left-shot D, but the Kings also lack one with Inamoto’s style of play.

It remains to be seen what his role will ultimately be with the Reign down the stretch, and if he has a future in the Kings’ organization. At the very least they’ve added a hard-nosed, team-first player to the Ontario locker room at a crucial time.

(Main photo credit: University of Wisconsin)

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