While many Ottawa Senators’ fans were giddy after selecting Tim Stuetzle with their first pick, third overall in the NHL Entry Draft October 6, the same couldn’t be said two slots later when the club announced defenseman Jake Sanderson from the United States National Development Program.
And who could blame them at the time? With a young team needing to add scoring, potential top-six forwards Alexander Holtz, Cole Perfetti, Jack Quinn, Marco Rossi were all still on the board. Heck, even offensively-gifted Erie Otter d-man Jamie Drysdale was available in the fifth position.
Depending who you followed, Sanderson’s final Draft ranking was widely contested. TSN Draft guru Craig Button ranked the Montana resident 11th; Bob McKenzie’s survey of scouts had Sanderson at 8; Elite Prospects ninth, the NHL Central Scouting Bureau placed the 18-year old as the fourth-ranked North American player.
While Grant McCagg’s Recrutes.ca listed Sanderson has high as three, tabbing him as the top defensive defenseman and second-best skater in the entire 2020 Draft Class.
But after listening to both Senators General Manager Pierre Dorion and Chief Amateur Scout Trent Mann on Zoom calls back on that October 6th evening, the pair left no doubt, Sanderson was their preferred choice at no.5.
In fact, Dorion couldn’t hide his glee in selecting the player who the organization presumed to be the best blue-liner in the 2020 Draft.
“When you come out of a Draft with the best defenseman in the Draft, you feel you definitely accomplished something. I know sometimes the fancier picks are the forwards. It’s a bit more sexy, but we felt Jake was the best defenseman in the Draft, and we’re elated that we could take him at Five,” said Dorion post-Draft.
“Obviously, Jake’s game is someone who can play an all-around game. He’s a high-compete player. He’s someone that defends well, takes the body, but at the time he’s very underrated what he brings to the table offensively. I think having a left side of (Thomas) Chabot, Sanderson, (Erik) Brannstrom down the road bodes a lot of success for our organization.”
Mann added, “He’s a leader coming in as a freshman at North Dakota. We just like the whole package. He can skate, move the puck. He can shoot. He can defend. He can bring the puck up ice. He gives a high-compete level, a high-character kid. He’s going to be a leader moving forward for us. I have no doubt in that.”
Those were heady comments bestowed from Dorion and Mann. However, those comments have certainly rung true through the opening two games of Sanderson’s burgeoning collegiate career.
In his first game, a 2-0 University of North Dakota win over the University of Miami-Ohio, the six-foot, 185-pound defender, made subtle defensive plays, utilizing his agile skating, while being adept in his stick-work to steer away opposition offensive rushes.
Friday, Sanderson’s offence was on full display; first one-timing a top-shelf howitzer over Denver goalie Magnus Chrona.
Jake Sanderson snipes his first collegiate goal to pull @UNDmhockey even on the power play 🚀
— The NCHC (@TheNCHC) December 5, 2020
Then he follows up with a highlight-reel pass to Ethan Frisch, evading four Pioneer players off a rush.
🍎Jake Sanderson draws in 4 (!) Denver players before setting up the tying goal, recording his 1st NCAA assist in the process! High praise from the announcers on the play.
— Sens Prospects (@SensProspects) December 5, 2020
Senators’ fans will get one more opportunities to watch Sanderson prior to his leaving for the World Junior Championship. The Fighting Hawks play at 1pm ET Sunday.
The son of two-time 40-goal scorer, 17-year NHL veteran Geoff, will land in Edmonton along with his Team USA teammates December 13 to begin their quarantine in advance of their opening game versus Russia Christmas evening.
The US will look towards Sanderson as one of their team leaders. Though this will be the youngster’s first U-20 WJHC appearance, Sanderson was the US National captain of his U-18 and U-17 club.
The World Juniors will be a great stage to see how Sanderson fairs with his actual peer group. We’ve already viewed a glimpse of how he’s able to compete with mainly older players.
UND has become Senators’ prospect central this season, with defenseman Jacob Bernard-Docker (26th overall 2018), Tyler Kleven (44th overall 2020), and forward Shane Pinto (32nd overall 2019) also on the Fighting Hawks roster.
Bernard-Docker, a steady d-man will likely turn pro after his 2021 campaign. Pinto, fresh off an unheard-of 100 percent success rate of 18-0 Friday may also sign with the Senators in April. There’s definitely a strong possibility Sanderson will be one and done when the Fighting Hawks campaign ends.
In McCaggs’ Recrutes Draft publication, one scout stated, “He’s not far off from playing in the NHL, maybe this year?” If this quote holds true, Senators’ fans may see Sanderson in the lineup prior to the pending season’s conclusion.