If your primary goal was to draft an elite defender in this year’s draft, your options may be few. If we look at the current rankings for the top 10, most consist of eight forwards, one goaltender and only one defenceman. Yes, I am aware that Jake Sanderson has received hype as of late and could potentially sneak into the top 10, but it is still slim pickens among elite defensive prospects near the top of the draft. There is a real chance that Jamie Drysdale and Sanderson will be the only two defencemen drafted in the first half of the first round come June ... or whenever the draft will eventually be held.
In today’s “2020 NHL Draft Top Prospects” we are going to focus on defence. More specifically, on this year’s consensus highest-rated d-man. The question here is whether his position near the top of the draft boards has been boosted by a lack of competition, or whether he is indeed a legitimate franchise talent at his position deserving of his elite status.
Birthplace: Toronto, ON
Date of birth: April 8, 2002
Weight: 170 lbs.
Team: Erie Otters (OHL)
Drysdale was drafted 4th overall by his current team, the Erie Otters, in the 2018 OHL Priority Selections. He immediately became a trusted member of the team, and his offensive production earned him a spot on the OHL All-rookie team as well as becoming a part of the Canadian U18 World Junior Championship squad in May 2019. Unfortunately, he left that tournament without a medal after Canada’s loss to the United States in the bronze medal game.
When the 2019-20 season began, Drysdale was ready for more responsibility. He eventually earned the captaincy during the Canadian run to the Hlinka Gretzky Cup finals, and was given an assistant captaincy on his OHL team. He also demonstrated a more polished defensive game — highlighted by a considerable upgrade in his plus-minus statistics compared to the previous year — while continuing to evolve his offence. When the season was abruptly cancelled, Drysdale was at a point-per-game pace. A strong showing at the 2020 WJC helped cement his status as the top d-man of this class.
Drysdale is a skilled player and an elite skater. His skating is what separates him from other prospects and gives him his upside. He possesses a quick release and splendid vision, which he uses to set up his teammates as a point guard in the offensive zone. Physically he is comparable to Cale Makar, but with a slighter build. He is on the low end of the size spectrum at 5’11’’, 170 lbs and will have to bulk up before he is ready for more physical pro-leagues. A dynamic playmaker, he prefers to assist his teammates rather than chase the goal himself. This can also be seen in his stat line from his two years in the OHL.
I used the terrific sites made by Byron Bader and Mitch Brown for draft prospect comparisons and CHL advanced metrics to look into how Drysdale holds up in comparison to the highest drafted North American defencemen from the last three drafts.
As we can see by Brown’s metrics above - all of them being in relation to the team average - Bowen Byram and Drysdale seem largely comparable being playmaking-first offensive defencemen. However, Byram is considerably stronger at creating scoring chances for himself per 60 minutes played, thanks to an efficient transition and turnover game. These are metrics that tell us the relative amount of controlled and successful exits and entries respectively. It is easy to become mesmerized by Drysdale’s pretty skating and remember the times he does have transition success. While that does happen, it’s apparently not to the same extent as Byram.
Drysdale excels in a metric that is not demonstrated in this specific graph called Carry-In Against Rel%, which demonstrates the percentage of controlled entry attempts against. He is excellent at forcing opposing dump-ins.
According to Brown’s metrics, Drysdale is better than Byram at puck breakups in his own zone but less likely to do so further up the ice, meaning increased possibilities for opponents to enter offensive zone with control. Drysdale’s game is more risk-averse, which does not have to be a negative. It just goes to show that they are possessing different defensive skill sets, with Byram’s negative defensive game stats being due to him risking more and being more aggressive in front of his blue line.
We all know how Makar and Quinn Hughes have been tearing it up in the NHL this season. Unfortunately, we do not have statistics from their junior days since they went through the US system instead of taking the CHL route.
Overall, Drysdale projects well as an NHL defenceman but these metrics put Byram ahead of him, with elite results, in far more measurable aspects of his game.
Elite Prospects: #5
Future Considerations: #7
Hockey Prospect: #7
ISS Hockey: #3
McKeen’s Hockey: #6
NHL Central Scouting: #3 (North American skaters)
As we can see, all of the draft guides have Drysdale pinpointed firmly within the first ten selections of the draft, with ISS Hockey and Bob McKenzie/TSN especially enamored with young Jamie. I think that in the end, we will see a defence-hungry team fall in love with Drysdale’s elite skating ability, pushing him up near the top of the draft.
I have a feeling that the Ottawa Senators will grab Drysdale with one of their two picks if they don’t end up winning the lottery. But that is just a simple amateur hunch. With this draft being supposedly strong on the offensive side, I for one would be less excited if the Montreal Canadiens drafted to fill their defensive need with their first-round pick. Considering the sheer number of possible offensive prodigies, this would be the wrong time to stray away from the BPA scenario. Whether Montreal will draft at number one or number ten, I sincerely doubt that the best player available will be anything other than a forward or a certain Russian goaltender.
What is certain is that right-handed defencemen with offensive traits are always a hot commodity in the National Hockey League. Especially for franchises who do not possess a Jeff Petry and/or a Shea Weber in their lineup.