If you happened to end up with a high pick for the 2020 NHL Draft, your team will have the chance to take a very good defenceman with a great shot at becoming a piece of your core. Jamie Drysdale has speed and decision-making skills to contend for a top-pairing role in the future, while Jake Sanderson will challenge even the best players in the NHL for greatest mobility. They’re both going to go quite early, and the two teams making the pick will be very happy to have them.
After that — which likely means following the 10th pick or even the eighth — choices of defencemen are limited to players who project as second-pairing players at best. Even so, there are some who still have room to grow into a higher role, being very solid in some areas and weaker in others. If you are one of the teams in the final two-thirds of the opening round, these are your choices to help your blue line.
The Halifax Mooseheads player was one of the defencemen sitting near the top at the start of the year, but he had a lacklustre draft season on the scoreboard, and missed significant time with injuries as well. He was passed by other defencemen on the list who did make progress in 2019-20, and that drop took him down anywhere from 20 to 60 spots from the top 10 on various lists.
There was concern that he was going to miss a lot of time again in what has become a Maritime bubble in the QMJHL, initially ruled out indefinitely after a medical procedure, but he was on the roster for one of Halifax’s two games to start the 2020-21 schedule. The team’s new captain had no shots or points, but at least he’s healthy enough to participate.
With better defencemen available, and ones who don’t have major injury concerns, Barron will likely be further down the list of selected defencemen than 16th overall.
Guhle was one of the players who leapt over Barron, mostly because he showed he was a better version of that type of player. He has more awareness of his surroundings in the defensive zone, and for players who project as first-pass defenders, that’s a massive advantage.
The tradeoff is a limited offensive game, and for a team hoping to turn its fortunes around after a lacklustre season (or a longer period of time), that may not be the direction they want to go. There’s a very good chance this pick gets rewarded with an NHL player in a year or two, which is never a bad use of a draft pick.
If you’re looking for a riskier option with more upside, Grans could be your man. He’s a gifted puck-carrier and playmaker, with a chance at being a key contributor to an NHL offensive game.
His own risk-management is questionable, however, and he often tries to make plays that aren’t there, creating turnovers as a result. At this stage of his hockey career, he sets up the opposing team for chances as much as his own, and has a lot of work to do to become a positive-impact player. If you’re confident in your developmental system — or the one in Malmö — to mould him into a more reliable player, you could get a very skilled addition to your back end in a few years’ time.
EOTP’s Patrik Bexell is quite fond of Johannesson, as were the NHL scouts who travelled to Rögle to watch him play last year. He’s a cerebral player who deals with pressure situations well, and has already proven he can play in a top league.
He’s also an over-ager, passed over in one draft already, and has seen little offensive output in his Junior career. Anyone impressed with his skill won’t want to spend a mid-first-round pick on a player who turns 20 before the end of the year, hoping to pick him up later in the draft. The Canadiens had good success with this strategy when they took Mattias Norlinder last year, and it would be difficult to find anyone who says Norlinder wasn’t deserving a pick in the opening round of 2019 one year later. The same could be true of Johannesson 12 months from now, but that’s not a gamble a mid-tier team is going to take in round one.
O’Rourke isn’t a fast player, and that’s probably going to hold him out of the first round given the mobility of his peers. He still challenge the other players in this list in defensive acument, mostly from a smart positioning game that doesn’t force him into situations where he needs to chase.
He had low offensive output, but also played on a poor team, and could just need better teammates and a little bit more confidence to break out.
He’s ranked in an awkward position for the Canadiens, right between their first-round pick and the three second-round selections they hold. It would be a reach to take him at 16th, but some outlets do have him ranked higher than some of the other players on this list. The team may be hoping he’s still around when their next turn comes up at 47th.
If you don’t think you need another defensively responsible player in your organization, Poirier may be the man for you. He plays the game with a forward’s offensive instincts, and puts even some of the top players to shame with his puck-handling abilities.
The downside is that a defensive game is non-existent. It’s not a case of getting a player more skewed to the offensive side in Poirier’s case, it’s one of a player having the defensive slider moved all the way to zero. His development would consist of building up his own-zone play from scratch to help him get to positions to use his offensive gifts more often, and convincing a player as talented as Poirier that he needs to change what has always brought him success is a tough message to get through.
The most likely candidate to be on Montreal’s radar, ranked close to where they draft and also having a right-hand shot to fill an organizational need, is Schneider. He’s similar to Guhle, but is tilted more toward the offensive side of the puck and the transition game than Guhle’s more shutdown style, and is a slightly inferior skater.
Many scouts liked how he joined in the rush and blasted goals with a powerful slapshot, but there are some concerns about how much of that offence will stick with him as he progresses up the ranks. He often needs a lot of space to get a shot off, and won’t get nearly as much time at the professional level. He has a good overall game which is somewhat rare outside of the top 10, but that may settle to an average or worse level if he doesn’t continue to improve in every aspect.
Most of these guys can skate, so why not get someone who skates the best of them all? If that’s your theory, William Wallinder may be your choice. Add to that that he’s 6’4”, and it seems like an easy choice.
When you actually watch him in a game of hockey, however, you’ll see that size and speed aren’t the only requirements for a good blue-liner. His size is really just height, as he doesn’t incorporate physicality into his game and is easily knocked off pucks. His shot is quite wild, and strikes more fear into the hearts of his own forwards than opposing goaltenders. And he doesn’t really do defence, either, with poor awareness of his surroundings and some odd decision-making when he tries to make plays.
He’s a big ball of clay that needs a full team of sculptors to turn him into a future NHLer. It wouldn’t take much improvement to begin to see some results given his underlying gifts, but it will be a long time before this pick begins to pay dividends.
Which defenceman would you prefer to have at 16?
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