The top two Calder Trophy candidates during this year were defencement Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes. They are “modern” defencemen, which is to say that they are excellent skaters who excel in driving the play forward. They aren’t your typical 6’4’’ shutdown top-pairing guys form 10 or even 5 years ago, they’re under 6’ but fast and smart. And, if you ask scouts leading up to the 2020 draft, they’ll tell you that the next modern defender of this mold is Jamie Drysdale.
Who is Jamie Drysdale?
Jamie Drysdale is a 5’11’’ 170lb defender from Toronto who is currently an alternate captain for the Erie Otters of the OHL. He also played in the Canada U18 National team as a 16-year-old and their U20 team as a 17-year-old. As a Toronto native playing above his weight class nationally, hockey media (unsurprisingly) gives Jamie plenty of attention including some long-form interviews.
The premise of that interview, and the manner in which you’ll typically see Drysdale described, is that he is the #1 defensive prospect in the 2020 NHL Draft. As is the case with most top-end defensive prospects, Drysdale has a plus rating and is flirting with a point per game pace on the last-place-in-the-division Erie Otters according to Elite Prospects.
According to Pick224.com Drysdale is 3rd in his cohort in even-strength primary points per game (0.408), 4th in primary points per 60 (1.585), 33rd in EV GF%Rel (+10.5). It may not seem like dominant stats from the rankings, but there is no prospect who outperforms him in all 3 categories. If you ask scouts, the battle at #2 is not particularly clear, so it’s debatably the case that he is without peer in this particular crop of prospects (according to scouts. It’s, perhaps, informative to look to previous draftees for some perspective on how strong a prospect Drysdale is.
This is how Jamie compares to the #1 defensive selection from each of the past 3 drafts.
While Drysdale is not on the same tier as Byram or Dahlin, he’s a stronger prospect analytically than Heiskanen which means he’s not totally outclassed by previous top defensive prospects.
Where is Jamie Drysdale Ranked?
- Hockey Prospect - #7 (January)
- Future Considerations - #7 (March)
- ISS Hockey - #3 (March)
- McKeen’s Hockey - #6 (Mid-Season)
- Elite Prospects - #4 (February)
- The Athletic - #8 (February)
You’ll see Drysdale hop around the top 10 in various places, but you won’t find him below 10th or over 3rd. This is LOADED year in top-end forwards and, unfortunately for Jamie, top-end forward talent is valued more highly (rightfully so).
Being the unanimous #1 defensive prospect will probably bump him up to the 3rd or 4th spot because the first time that loses out on “their guy” will often go for the hardest move to criticize next. And you’d likely find fairly little criticism for taking the best player at his position pretty much anywhere south of 2nd overall.
What Others Say about Jamie Drysdale
Bill Placzek sets the table for us be explaining from where Drysdale draws his speend, and therefore, his impact.
Dynamic new age defenseman with a strong two-way game. His low body is strongly developed and his start ups a sight to see. He gets low knee bend coupled with the power in his quads and he explodes from the starting gate, and on the back pedal in deep coverage, his lateral cross-overs are up there with the NHL elite. He makes lightning fast cuts on the attack and is even more intimidating using his speed defending. He is a super aggressive defender who goes into the attacking puck carriers bent on making them look silly to venture on his side of the ice to enter.
Steve Kourianos agreed on all of the positives about Drysdale, specifically his speed and creativity. His defensive game got more mixed reviews, though.
On defense, Drysdale is no pushover — literally and figuratively. He may not be a big-time hitter or wallop opponents in open ice, but he’s well balanced and delivers very hard shoves that not only prove to be just as effective, but are conducted without taking himself out of position. As stated earlier, Drysdale plays very close to his line and maintains a tight gap in 1-on-1 situations, using the aforementioned shove or a stick thrust while chest-gazing his opponents all the way through. He definitely is a roamer, however, and rarely marries himself to slot duties — if Drysdale isn’t behind the net battling for possession, he’s charging at the points or chasing a puck-carrying forward while fixing him away from the scoring areas. Naturally, this tactic leads to some gaps in coverage, but the strategy behind his decisions is mostly coherent. He is used in all situations, and his ice time increases in late/close scenarios. Clearly the best defenseman available for the draft and a prospect with big time point-producing potential.
Wheeler over at The Athletic had a hard time placing him because of how strong this year’s crop is.
It feels unjust to have Drysdale, who is better than last year’s top defenseman (Bowen Byram, fourth overall in 2019 to the Avalanche) at the same age, ranked eighth here. He’s the best defenseman in the draft by a wide margin and that will mean that he (rightfully so) gets picked higher than this. I wouldn’t fault a team for taking him at No. 3. He’s that good. Drysdale is one of the smoothest-skating draft-eligible defensemen in recent memory (right up there with Quinn Hughes), with light, almost-floating edge work and perfect balance through his core when he’s on his toes or his heals, moving in any direction. He will make a great skating coach when his career is over — and he’ll be a model for others in the meantime. He’s also extremely poised with the puck on his stick, which helps him evade pressure, create exits and entries with his feet, or attack off of the blue line to use his dangerous wrist shot (his slapshot could use some work and some more strength)
Most people had very little bad to say about Drysdale, and he’s unanimously a truly special skating talent, a modern prototype of a blueliner, and the best back available in the draft.
A Little Video
I could watch highlights of this guy all day to be honest. He’s an absolutely gorgeous skater. His crossover is pristine, he change of direction is confounding, and the guy skates backwards better than most many players skate forwards.
At 2:27 of this highlight real is the first play and it’s a beaut. He does two full laps around the offensive zone and does the last quarter rotation backwards before setting up his teammate for a perfect shot which is actually botched, but ends up in the back of the net anyway.
Sometimes his skating genius is a little less obvious, but it allows him just the smallest extra window to use his also-exceptional IQ.
At 3:36 you see the ease with which he skates allows him to pick up the loose puck in stride which and find the window before it closes to set up another golden scoring opportunity.
Okay one more reel ...
At 0:54 you can sees transition speed on full display. Very much like Devils defenders, the moment he gets in the offensive zone, he’s looking for the cross-ice pass, but unlikely Devils defenders, he actually completes it.
Then at 2:14 you see the same transition speed, but this time he toe drags in for a beautiful shot instead.
An Opinion of Sorts
I’ve written in the past about how, before mutually parting ways with the Devils, Ray Shero developed an obsession with stay-at-home defencemen. Jamie is the exact opposite. The move was a reaction to the fact that Greene was our only stay-at-home defender and he was on his way out one way or the other. Our best defensive prospects were also “puck-mover” types and that’s why we overcompensated in the opposite direction. With Bahl, Okhutyuk, etc. we are set in that department as far as I’m concerned. If we want a true game-changer on the back end, this is the type of player capable of providing that in 2020 (or whenever he gets brought up).
However, it depends on where we select. Because there is a reason he’s often outside the top 5 in these rankings — it is a ridiculous year for forwards. For one data point, while Drysdale is the most likely defender to become a star on Byron Bader’s prospect prediction model, he’s less likely to do so than 18 different forwards including Laf, Byfield, Stützle, Rossi, Perfetti, Jarvis, Holt, and several other guys that are projected to go in the front have of the first round. This isn’t to say he should be behind all of those guys, but it’s also not likely that he’s going to be ahead of all of those guys.
Personally, I’d take Lafreniere, Byfield, Rossi, Stützle, and Perfetti over him, and I’d understand the people that would go for Raymond or Holtz as well.
What do you think of Drysdale? In general, how do you feel about taking a defender with an early first round pick? What’s the earliest pick you’d consider him at? Anyone brave enough to claim he’s not the best defender in the draft?
Thanks as always for reading, leave thoughts in the comments below, and stay safe everyone!