In my estimation and more than a few others, the two-top defenseman in the 2020 NHL Draft are Jamie Drysdale and Jake Sanderson. Two completely different star defenseman who both get the job done in different ways. So, who’s better?
Drysdale has the highest upside offensively. I don’t think it will be close. He has the better first pass and he can really walk the line on the power play. Sanderson is a different kind of defenseman, so we’ll address that in a bit. He’s very calm, it’s hard to rattle him. That’s something all top defenseman need to have.
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When I spoke to him, this stood out.
“I think anyone likes being on the power play but it’s a lot of fun to make plays and have that open ice. The game is played 5-on-5 and I enjoy that a lot too with the smaller areas and the guys when you get to higher and higher levels your time and space is decreased, and you have to get used to that. You have to be able to make plays at a quick speed with limited time.”
He’s a battler. He doesn’t care if the other team is gunning for him. He embraces that. He likes working in tight spaces, which isn’t an answer I get from offensive defenseman. That’s impressive and he backs that up with his skating and he can skate the puck out of trouble, and that’s something the better ones can do.
Jake Sanderson started off the year a bit weak with the NTDP and ended it strong. So strong that he’s moved up on a lot of draft boards. He’s been watched for a while now and he’s a better defender than Drysdale. He’s close to as good a skater. He has excellent puck-moving skills. He is capable of playing the power play and has offense in his game. He’s a terrific all-around defenseman.
The way he can lay a big hit and the work he does on the penalty kill are noteworthy. He has a good hockey I.Q., and some will like the fact this his father, Geoff, had a solid NHL career albeit at a different position. He can possibly be a top-pairing defenseman, the same as Drysdale, they just go about their jobs differently, both are super effective, and both will be successful professional players barring injuries.
The way he walks the line on the power play and has the vision to see the ice well sets him apart. He is super competitive too; both are, but combined with his other attributes this is enough to get him drafted before the American. A true offensive defenseman is very important in today’s game. Teams have to have them and in many cases more than just one. That’s how the game is evolving.
When I saw him playing for the Erie Otters, he was very impactful from shift to shift. Even in the CHL Top Prospects Game, he showed amazing patience with the puck and if he didn’t see a lane, he would go back with the puck and regroup rather than forcing a play and that’s something that takes a lot of coaching at times but seems instinctual within this top prospect.
This is close. I give the edge to Drysdale because he’s a decent defender. He’s a good puck retriever, and he has a long stick to strips pucks; you don’t have to be a banger if you get to the puck before the opposition. That’s a part of being a modern-day defenseman.