Similar to what we saw last year, the 2020 NHL Draft class doesn’t contain many elite-level defencemen. A strong crop of forwards will highlight this year’s first round, with only about half a dozen defenders currently projected to be among the first selections of NHL clubs, something that hasn’t been seen since 2014.
After top-10 calibre blue-liners Jamie Drysdale (read his profile here) and Jake Sanderson are off the board, teams searching for future help on the back end will turn to a second tier. Braden Schneider’s name will begin to enter conversations as the opening round reaches its midpoint.
Birthplace: Prince Albert, SK
Date of birth: September 20, 2001
Weight: 198 lbs.
Team: Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)
Schneider finished fifth on the Brandon Wheat Kings in scoring, and tops among first-year-draft-eligible WHL rearguards. His 18-point jump from the previous season was largely the result of increased power-play production, with 20 points on the man advantage versus the eight he had in 2018-19. His even-strength offence saw only a moderate improvement, going from 16 to 20 points.
Much of his offensive success resulted from his hard slapshot, often cited as his best attribute. He gets a lot of power behind a point shot that can beat goaltenders outright or spill a rebound when netminders can’t absorb the force.
It’s a shot that proved very potent at the Junior level this season, but its effectiveness will likely be reduced at higher levels because of how deliberate the release is. His shooting motion is fairly mechanical and needs a lot of time and space to execute. With more disciplined defensive formations in pro ranks their will be opponents in his lane by the time he connects with the puck, if he’s even given enough room to get the shot off in the first place. The fact that he was only credited with 108 shots on target (ninth on the roster, third among defencemen) this season despite obviously being a major focus of Brandon’s offence suggests that even at the amateur level his main weapon is being neutralized by the opposition. For that reason, just looking at his point total and expecting him to carry his offence all the way to the NHL is likely to end in disappointing development.
The more intriguing element of his offensive game is his willingness to jump up into the attack. Recognizing that the coverage of the opposing team has broken down on his side, he’ll make a bee-line for the weak-side post, where a blast of the puck is virtually unstoppable. Combined his his slapshot, that made him a major threat with the man advantage in the WHL.
That down-low pinch would serve him just as well at five-on-five, but Schneider doesn’t have the mobility to be racing up and down the ice in the normal run of play. He does possess a good top speed, but it takes him time to get up to that pace, with the technique of his first few steps making him slow to get off the mark.
Lacking the ability to simply skate the puck out of danger, he typically moves the puck to a teammate as soon as possible on breakouts, and is rarely seen carrying it through the neutral zone himself. Under pressure, that need to pass the puck off tends to result in turnovers.
He’s much better in his defensive zone when he doesn’t have the puck. He is a strong backward skater, and that helps him maintain his gap on attacking forwards. An active stick and good reach make life even more difficult for forwards trying to go around him. He keeps his stick engaged when posted up around his net, blocking shots, tying up opposing forwards, and knocking rebounds away. He plays a physical game as well, crunching players along the boards when the opportunity arises.
Elite Prospects: #46
Future Considerations: #21
Hockey Prospect: #18
McKeen’s Hockey: #15
NHL Central Scouting: #9 (North American skaters)
Many outlets project Schneider as a mid- to late-first-round pick, ranking his combination of offensive potential and defensive ability very high in the class. Other than those held by the staff at Elite Prospects, who slot him around the middle of the second round, concerns about how Schneider’s offensive game will translate appear to be quite low. Notably, Bob McKenzie’s most recent poll of the scouts who will make the picks ended up with the highest ranking among those featured.
Some of the reason for that high placement is surely how thin the defence crop is. There will be teams determined to bolster their depth on defence with a first-round pick this summer, and that will dictate when he eventually goes as much as his talent relative to his peers.
Looking at some of the blue-liners from past drafts taken around where Schneider is expected to go, we only have to go back to last year to see his closest offensive comparable, Winnipeg Jets prospect Ville Heinola.
He’s not the offensive talent that Ryan Merkley (21st overall) was in his draft year in 2018, but he’s had more success on the attack than Urho Vaakanainen (18th overall in 2017) enjoyed. In both of those latter cases, the initial projections have proven to be quite accurate for the players as they continue along their development paths. Therefore, a big jump in projectable offence probably shouldn’t be expected in Schneider’s case.
A more efficient skating stride would open up more options for him. Not only could he join the rush at five-on-five and give his team another player capable of transitioning the puck, but he could take more chances at maintaining possession in the offensive zone, and a quick shuffle along the blue line could give him just enough angle to get his powerful shot past a fronting opponent. An NHL team committed to improving the skating of their prospects would be very intrigued by Schneider’s skill set, and progress in that department could see him become an effective, three-zone NHL defenceman.