One of the ways to identify potential late picks in a draft is to look for players who have performed well enough to take a significant role on their team but has not garnered a lot of attention. The subject of today’s profile fits that bill as he seemingly has played quite a bit for the Seattle Thunderbirds while also being invited to a summer selection camp by Hockey Canada and appearing in the CHL Top Prospects Game. The player is defenseman Jake Lee.
Who is Jake Lee?
Jake Lee is a defenseman who plies his trade in the Western Hockey League. According to his prospect profile page at Elite Prospects, he was born on July 21, 2001; he is officially listed at 6’2” and 216 pounds; and he shoots left. To put it another way, he is one of the younger draft eligible prospects for 2019; size is definitely not an issue; and he is likely a left-sided defenseman. He played for the Seattle Thunderbirds in his last two full seasons in the WHL. Note the past tense. Lee was involved in a blockbuster deal on May 2, 2019. Lee, forward Dillon Hamaliuk, and goaltender Cole Schwebius were traded to Kelowna at the 2019 WHL Bantam Draft for three picks and a forward. He will be a Rocket for next season.
His time with the Thunderbirds was surely memorable. He played in four regular season games and two playoff games for Seattle as a 15-year old in 2016-17 as the Thunderbirds won the WHL Championship. In 2017-18, Lee stuck with Seattle all season with 64 regular season games and five playoff games. He played a little international hockey as he was part of Canada White in the World Hockey Challenge, an under-17 tournament. Last season, Lee played another full season in 2018-19 and more than doubled his production. He also appeared for Team Orr at the CHL Top Prospects Game and assisted on the third-period equalizer by Brett Leason. Lee was invited to Canada’s summer U-18 camp for the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup, but he was not selected.
As far as his production that he recently doubled, well, it was not much. In 2017-18, Lee had four goals, six assists, and 56 shots on net per the WHL’s site. In 2018-19, Lee put up three goals, twenty-one assists, and 94 shots on net. The basic numbers are better but 24 points and fewer than a hundred shots is hardly a lot to write home about. According to Prospect-Stats, it is estimated that he played a lot for Seattle, which is a plus. Also according to Prospect-Stats, most of his assists were secondary assists, which is not so much of a plus. They are not as repeatable as primary assists. Lee did have two power play goals (out of three total) and six power play assists, so he did more than just play at even strength - which is a plus. But he was not the first choice among defensemen for Seattle’s PP, that appeared to go to Jarrett Tyszka. According to his game log at WHL.ca, Lee put up 18 points in the 2018 portion of the season, which likely garnered him at least some attention. That he put up just six in 2019 was definitely not a plus. Lee’s production is not the worst but it definitely does not jump off the page and it does not look good that it dried up in the last three months of the season.
One other thing of note is his discipline. Lee took 69 and 76 PIM in his first two full WHL seasons. While neither was the most on the team, it was pretty up there on Seattle. Averaging at least one PIM per game suggests this is an area that could be improved. Lee also crossed the proverbial line late in his 2018-19 campaign. In the 2019 WHL Playoffs, Lee was suspended for multiple games after taking a major cross-checking penalty in Game 1 of their series against Vancouver. I could not find evidence of other suspensions but it adds to the suggestion that he could be better about this.
Where is Jake Lee Ranked?
Rankings are not everything and plenty can change between now and June. Still, they can provide a general idea as to whether a prospect is worth getting excited over.
- NHL Central Scouting Services: North American - 78 (Midterm), 146 (Final)
- Steve Kournianos - The Draft Analyst: Not Ranked (Preseason 400, August 2018), 238 (Midseason 400, December 2018), 138 (Top 500, April 2019)
- Larry Fisher - The Hockey Writers: Not Ranked (Top 124, October 2018), 123 (Top 186, December 2018), 116 (Top 217, February 2019), 137 (Top 300, April 2019), 132 (Top 350, May 2019)
- Craig Button - TSN.ca - 93 (Top 93, March 2019)
Central Scouting Services gave Jake Lee a good midterm ranking. Whatever their people saw in the second half of 2018-19 must have disappointed them. That he put up a mere six points in 2019 likely contributed to that decision. They dropped him from a likely-to-be-picked rating to a very low one in their final rankings. Among the two longest publicly available ranking lists, Kournianos and Fisher were much kinder. After not considering him until the season began, they ranked them as a potential fifth-rounder. Lee did sneak into the last spot on Craig Button’s list in March. I do not know if he’ll be there in his next iteration, assuming there is one.
What Others Say About Jake Lee
There is not exactly a lot about Lee, but here are a few bits and pieces about the defender.
First, Brandon Rivers profiled and interviewed Lee in the beginning the 2018-19 season for the Dub Network. It is a good read to learn more about Lee and his situation with Seattle. It confirms that he did kill penalties in Seattle, something that started in the 2017-18 season and I would expect continued into 2018-19. It also reveals that he was mentoring his defensive partner Simon Kubicek, a first-year player from the Czech Republic. I do not know if that lasted but given that Lee was a second-year Thunderbird, that is an additional responsibility - which speaks well of how Lee was regarded in Seattle. The profile also notes that Tyszka was injured at the start of the 2018-19 season which is how Lee has received power play time. That presumably ended when Tyszka returned.
Second, Joel Henderson of Dobber Prospects was a big fan of Lee back in January. At the time, he included Lee in his Top 5 draft eligible defensemen in the WHL. He wrote the following in terms of why he should be picked:
Why should my team draft him?
1. He’s a powerful skater which means he can take the puck end-to-end on a rush or show his fluid motion through the zones
2. He has a strong hockey IQ especially when reading situations to jump in the rush or remain steady. This allows him to play in all situations on the ice.
3. He is the best example of a pure two-way defenseman in this class.
It is brief but it is all good things for any defenseman prospect. In terms of why a team would not want to pick him, Henderson noted that his skating may limit his ceiling and he could struggle against faster players. Given his position, that is an issue. Henderson has not written a follow up to this post. However, on his Twitter, he listed Lee tenth among WHL prospects for this year’s draft and fourth among WHL defenseman, behind Lassi Thomson and Matthew Robinson.
Third, Lauren Kelly of Mile High Hockey reviewed the 2019 CHL Top Prospects Game and specifically noted Lee. She wrote the following:
As far as skaters go, I thought the pair of Lassi Thomson and Jake Lee was an excellent top pair for Team Orr. They weren’t as offensively dynamic as their counterparts [Bowen] Byram and [Billy] Constantinou on Team Cherry, but they did contribute on a few offensive chances. Lee registered the lone assist on Leason’s game-tying goal.
It is just one game, but playing at least a solid game in a exhibition among the best prospects in major junior hockey is a plus.
A Little Video
Going back to penalties, nearly all of the video clips of Jake Lee are of Lee throwing down in a fight. I am not interested in that. Hockey fights tell us nothing about a player other than that they will fight.
I did find this highlight video of Seattle’s 7-3 win over Edmonton from October 13, 2018. Lee put up four assists in this game. There is not a whole lot to go over but here it is. Lee is in navy wearing #24:
The first one is at 0:21 in, where Lee sent the puck across the zone - the royal road, if you will - for a great long shot by Kubicek. At 1:08, Lee handled the puck briefly, made another successful pass to the other point but with some pressure in front of him, and Kubicek rifled another long shot in. Maybe it was tipped, but Lee created that shot too. At 2:58, Lee and Noah Philp had a brief back-and-forth. Lee fired a shot from above the high slot; the goalie stopped it and lost position; and Philp swooped in to put home the rebound. The fourth assist did not make the video; it was a primary assist on the play where Philp just skated towards the net down the left wing and finished it himself. There is not much there to really discuss. They were successful, but nothing that made me think, “OK, this shows him skating well,” or “That is a really good shot/pass.” They were just brief seconds of video at a time. Again, you take what you can get.
An Opinion of Sorts
Given that he is projected to be a fifth round draft pick at best, I suppose there is little surprise there is not much out there about Lee. There are things to like in theory at least. He is still young; he’ll be 18 in July. He already has a large frame at 6’2” and over 210 pounds. The few observations about his game are positive at least. He’s not immobile, he filled on the PP when injuries called for it, and He has experience at the WHL level and at least garnered enough attention to play in the CHL Top Prospects Game and be invited to a Hockey Canada camp. He seemingly has played significant minutes with Seattle. I would hope that he will continue to do so with Kelowna next season.
However, I wonder if there is anything more to him. Observers and scouts have not been running to their computers to write up how good or how underrated Lee is as a prospect. Henderson was the only one who had some detail on him, and that was back in January. I liked reading that he can skate and be capable in his own end. Even then, Henderson noted that his ceiling may be limited if only for his defensive play against quick players. Points are not everything, especially for a defenseman that is not considered to be offense. However, just six points earned in the second half of last season after eighteen in the first half is also a concern. Whether he gets picked is likely going to come down to which team’s scouts in Western Canada saw him play enough to warrant any consideration.
Should it be the Devils? I don’t know. Late in the draft, it is hard to identify preferable players. It is historically unlikely for a WHL guy. In the Shero era, the Devils have drafted just one player out of the WHL and that was 2018 first rounder Ty Smith. Maybe this is the year where their Western Canada-focused scouts convince the decision makers to put more WHL players on their board of potential selections. Even so, I get the sense there could be more interesting players to take a chance on Saturday, June 22. Somewhat similar to Rybinski, I could see Lee as a justifiable late-draft pick but I would not complain much if the Devils pass on him.
That’s my opinion for Jake Lee. You may have a different opinion. What do you think of what you have learned about Jake Lee? What do you think of his play as a defenseman for Seattle? Does the production, or lack there of, put you off? Do you think he should receive more attention given that he did more than just play for Seattle? If you have seen him play, what did you think of his play? Would you take a chance on him in the later parts of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Jake Lee in the comments. Thank you for reading.