The 2020 NHL Draft has a number of presumed certainties with it. Among those certainties is the fact that Erie Otters’ Jamie Drysdale will be the first defenseman taken off the board whenever the draft may be. He’s going to be a top-10 selection, possibly even a top-5 pick in this top-heavy draft.
But a question surrounding the draft, and there’s a number of those as well, is who will be the second defender taken in the draft? This is not an easy decision in this year’s class, and looking back, it’s not that easy of a task in recent years. The 2019 NHL Draft saw Bowen Byram as the clear top defender, and the second-ranked prospect was between Philip Broberg, Cam York, Moritz Seider, and Thomas Harley. In 2018, it was between Quinn Hughes, Adam Boqvist, Evan Bouchard, and Noah Dobson after first-overall Rasmus Dahlin.
There’s a big gap between Drysdale and the rest of the pack this year, but there’s a very big second tier of defensemen that could very well hear their name called in the top-20 of the NHL Draft, being the second rearguard taken off the board. In fact, I’m willing to say that there are nine players that deserve consideration for that distinction. Let’s take a look at those nine players (alphabetical, based on last name).
Emil Andrae could have a real shot at being the second defender taken on Draft Day. He’s appeared as the second-ranked defender on a couple of rankings out there, including DobberProspects’ Cam Robinson. Playing in the SuperElit for HV71 J20, in just his second season, the left-shot defender put up a nearly point-per-game pace, collecting 38 points in 40 games.
Related: 2020 NHL Draft Guide
Andrae might be the best skating defender behind Drysdale. He utilizes his edges often, showing off his creativity as he can weave through the opposition with speed. He’s a very good passer, often quarterbacking his team’s breakout and setting up his team in the offensive zone. After all, 27 of his 38 points were assists, and he added another four in five games at the 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup.
The fact that he’s 5-foot-9 might deter some NHL teams, but there’s no doubt that the skill is there. On top of his offensive flair, he’s good in his own zone, making him the full package. His skill with his stick in the offensive end shows up greatly in the defensive zone, keeping it active and breaking up plays with regularity. Out of the nine on this list, Andrea one of the top contenders to be the second defenseman taken off the board.
Justin Barron is an interesting prospect for this list. At the beginning of the season, he was a first-rounder, coming close to being the second-best defender in the draft. Between a subpar season and a blood clot that saw him miss nearly three months, not only has he tumbled out of the second-best conversation, but also the first round.
However, don’t rule the defender out just yet. Barron had a very good 2018-19 season, his second with the QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads, where he put up nine goals, 32 assists and 41 points in 68 games. He continued that into the playoffs, collecting another two goals, 11 assists and 13 points in 23 games. For his efforts, he was named to the QMJHL’s All-Rookie Team.
This season, his health has been an issue, but the Mooseheads also took a big step back. Barron is a good defender, who is better than this season suggests. He’s a well-rounded defenseman and he’s shown that in the past, finding success and accolades at every level. He plays a defensive, physical game, which NHL teams tend to covet in the draft (Reminder that Mortiz Seider went as the second defender last season). He can chip in offensively, but his defensive play, and the fact that he’s a right-hand shot, might just be what leads to his name being called second in the draft.
Lukas Cormier is one of the frontrunners to hear his name called second among defensemen. Also playing in the QMJHL, for the Charlottetown Islanders, Cormier plays a very similar game to Andrea. At 5-foot-10, he’s another mobile defenseman who can put up the points and has shown consistent development year after year.
In 2018-19, his rookie season in the Q, Cormier put up 15 goals, 21 assists, and 36 points in 63 games. While he matched that point total this season, he did it with only 44 games played. Along with Barron, he was a QMJHL All-Rookie Team honouree and was one of the best defensemen in the league this season as well.
His bread and butter is rushing the puck and quarterbacking the play, which he can even finish off himself with one of the best shots of any defenders in this class. His performance this season has earned him top-two defender ranking for The Prospect Network, and he’s right there for many others. He’s high-end skating ability may very well see him be the second defender taken.
Kaiden Guhle has been a very divisive prospect, floating between the first and second rounds in various rankings. For Sportsnet’s Sam Cosentino, he’s not only the second-best defenseman in the draft but sits 11th overall in his rankings. That’s a bit high for me, but he’s definitely in the conversation of rearguards to be taken second overall.
Guhle brings a combination of two worlds with him. He’s a very good skater but is one of the best defensive players in the draft class. He has an active stick that works wonders in the defensive end and combines strength, physicality and size (6-foot-3, 187 pounds) to be a constant force in his own end.
Yet he can also burn you offensively, utilizing a powerful shot on net at any time. He needs to work on his passing game and his overall offensive awareness, but his current ability was enough to get him 11 goals, 29 assists, and 40 points in 64 games for the WHL’s Prince Albert Raiders this season. If he’s taken early as the second defenseman, it will be largely due to his defensive game.
While Topi Niemelä hasn’t been ranked in many (if any) rankings as a top-two defenseman, he should be considered a darkhorse to hear his name called earlier than many suspect. One major aspect that is working for him compared to others on this list, is that he just spent the season in the top-Finnish league, the Liiga, playing against men. That may give him a step up on the other contenders.
Niemelä is a right-shot defender that plays for Kärpät, who has been ranked from the mid-first round to mid-second. While his numbers don’t exactly jump off the page (seven points in 43 games this season), it’s important to note that he’s playing way above his age group. Whenever he plays against an age group closer to his own, he’s closer to a point-per-game pace.
He’s a two-way player who isn’t afraid to take chances offensively. He’s not a player that will “wow” you, but he consistently makes great plays from making the right decisions on the ice. He’s a very intelligent player, and he was rewarded for that this year by sticking in the Liiga – something that is not easy to do for a 17-year-old. He might be a long shot to be the second defender off the board, but he should be in consideration.
Yet another player who has a great chance to hear their name called after Drysdale, is another defender from the QMJHL. Saint Johns Sea Dogs’ Jérémie Poirier took a huge step forward this season, plus got to show off his talents in the Hlinka Gretzky Cup and the CIBC Canada/Russia Series. There have been lots of chances to catch him play, and he’s looked good doing it.
In his regular season, Poirier saw his point total jump from 21 points in 61 games in 2018-19 to 53 points (20 goals, 33 assists) in 64 games. That’s a great jump to see in a prospect’s production. He added three points at the Hlinka en route to a gold medal and another assist in the Canada/Russia Series.
The 6-foot-0, left-shot d-man has a very high hockey IQ, allowing him to be deadly in the offensive zone and solid in his own. He’s very skilled with the puck and makes a great pass. He’s been in top-two consideration in rankings this year, showing up there in The Athletic’s Corey Pronman’s rankings. He’s been third in many others, making him a name to definitely watch. (from: “Pronman: Ranking the 2020 NHL Draft top prospects at midseason” – The Athletic – Jan. 29, 2020).
As the 2019-20 season has gone on, Jake Sanderson looks more and more like the number two defender in this draft class. He was the second defender in my own rankings and has held that spot in many others, including the NHL’s Mike Morreale, who even has him in the top-10.
Sanderson plays for the USNTDP, turning out to be the best player on that team. He put up seven goals, 22 assists and 19 points as the captain of the national team, adding 14 points in 19 USHL games. He was a standout in the Biosteel All-American Game, earning Player of the Game, picking up two assists.
Sanderson is one of those players who does everything right and makes it look effortless. He’s a very good skater who sees the ice well, allowing him to use his feet or his puck skills to burn opponents. He’s also solid in his own end, making him truly a complete package for such a young player. He’s definitely a step behind Drysdale, but there’s no question that he’s a very strong contender to be selected as the second defenseman in the upcoming draft.
Braden Schneider might not end up being taken as the second defender in the draft, but he will likely hear his name called in the first round. He’s earned a great deal of praise in the prospect world, sitting second on HockeyProspect.com‘s list.
Playing for the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings, Schneider nearly doubled his point totals this season, in his third WHL season. One of the older players in this draft class, the right-shot defender collected seven goals, 35 assists and 42 points this season. Last season, he represented Canada in the Hlinka Gretzky, helping the team to a gold medal, and the U18s, where he was named a top-three player on the team.
Another two-way defender, Schneider is one of the biggest in the bunch, at 6-foot-2, 209 pounds. The best part is, he knows how to use his body, stepping up on defenders and using his physicality to separate them from the puck. It’s also useful for clearing the front of the net. Offensively, he’s a great set-up man and reads the play well, knowing when to jump up in the rush.
William Wallinder is yet another player that I’d consider a dark horse to be taken second-overall among defenders, but he should very much be in consideration. The Swedish two-way rearguard has a big body at 6-foot-4, 192 pounds and he knows how to use it. He’s been known to step up on oncoming forwards, surprising them with a big hit at centre ice. He has the strength to push players off the puck on a regular basis.
That being said, Wallinder isn’t referred to as a physical defenseman, even though he has that in his arsenal. Despite his big size, he’s surprisingly light on his feet, often rushing the puck up the ice himself. He’s an excellent skater and shows off creativity as he weaves through opposition. He’s a good passer and knows how to bring the offense. While he needs to improve his decision making, there’s a lot to like about this player.
Wallinder produced solid numbers in the SuperElit this season, collecting five goals, 19 assists and 24 points in 37 games against under-20 competition, at 17-years-old. He also played 18 games in the Allsvenskan, Sweden’s second-highest league, where he collected two points. Those two points were the highest of a U18 player. Wallinder has the tools to be a very good defenseman, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him taken high. He’s drawn comparisons to 2019 eighth overall pick Philip Broberg, so he could go early.
2020 NHL Draft: Which Defender Will be Taken Second?
It’s all but assured that Jamie Drysdale will be the first defender taken in the 2020 NHL Draft. But after him, the defensive draft board really opens up. These nine players lists are very much in the conversation to not only be first-round picks but to hear their name as the next defender taken off the board. Whenever the draft occurs, this will be an intriguing storyline to watch.
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Starting out as an Ottawa Senators contributor for The Hockey Writers, Josh is now an editor and at-large contributor, focusing on prospects, the NHL Draft, hockey history, and breaking news stories.