We normally don’t do the Steal of the Draft this early. But what we’re going through isn’t normal under any circumstances.
With the distinct possibility of the NHL Draft going at the time the NHL Combine normally goes, we have to be ready for anything and everything even if the timeline makes no sense. We can debate all we want about the logistics and if it’s right to hold an early draft. But the point is we need to be ready in the event it does.
We at the Hockey Writers will be ready no matter what comes at us. With many profiles already live and much more to come, our Draft Guide is chalk full of stuff for you to be ready right now. It’s for that reason that we are unveiling our steal of the draft now.
This will be my sixth attempt at making a call for the steal of the draft. What do I look for? I look for someone who isn’t getting nearly enough attention that should go a lot higher than what the consensus rankings say. Then I will give you my reasoning based on watching the player, talking to the player, talking to their coach and then talking to those that know the player in some capacity.
Let’s try to set the scene for you. You by now have seen most every ranking for the first round out there. When it comes to defensemen, you will see many of the same names. Jamie Drysdale should top your list. Jake Sanderson is gaining a bunch of momentum. Kaiden Guhle is a popular name and someone who most think will go in the first round. Braden Schneider and Jeremie Poirier have each been mentioned to go on the first night. William Wallinder and Justin Barron each have a case as well. That’s seven defensemen for you.
I will tell you that my steal of the 2020 NHL Draft is a defenseman not on the above list. But in my personal rankings, I have him ranked 20th overall. Quite frankly, I don’t get why he’s as far down the lists as some have him.
The numbers are just ok and not great. That could be part of the reason this player doesn’t get the attention I think he deserves. Let me share some facts about this player for you to consider.
- Our steal played on Team OHL in the Canada/Russia series.
- Our steal played in the CHL/NHL Top Prospect’s Game and wore an A.
- Our steal is a team captain at just 17 years old. He’ll have just turned 18 if an early June draft happens.
- Our steal scored 37 points in 54 games on a team who missed the OHL playoffs. Take +/- with a big grain of salt, but he was +16 as a 17-year old despite his team having a down year. That’s impressive and eye-opening.
As you can see, this player demonstrates leadership at a young age. Not only that, he’s an in-your-face player who has the ability to carry his team into the battle especially when they need a boost. He can also play in all situations including top-pair at 5-on-5 and both special teams units.
While he doesn’t have the overall skating and skill of a Drysdale, he isn’t that far off of it. The areas of improvement in his game will come with getting stronger and more game experience. His doubters think there isn’t as a high of a ceiling on him as some other players have. Given his age, I’m more encouraged about where his game is at knowing that he will get better being one of the younger players available in this draft.
Who am I talking about? Meet Sault Ste. Marie captain and defenseman Ryan O’Rourke.
So Why Ryan O’Rourke?
When I speak to prospects who come through Erie, one question I like to throw at them is the NHL player they like to model their game after. In my mind, who they mention says a lot about the way they try to play. For O’Rourke when I posed this question to him in December, he cracked a huge smile before answering.
Now a little perspective. That smile was a noteworthy thing. Up to that point in the interview, his answers were short and straight to the point. But as soon as we started talking about NHL defensemen and who he models himself after, the mood changed. It was something he takes a lot of pride in.
His answer? Duncan Keith.
I then made an observation to O’Rourke after he mentioned Keith. I said to him you really seem to thrive when you play that in your face style. It was at that point his smile got even bigger. It was then that I knew this player was going to be a pain at the next level in the best way possible.
Whoever drafts O’Rourke is going to get a dependable defenseman who will have no trouble causing headaches for the opposition. But then if his team has the puck, there’s a good chance he’s involved in the scoring. He’s a two-way defenseman that in my mind is not getting nearly enough attention. His head coach John Dean had some very interesting things to say about O’Rourke and his mindset. This was eye-opening for me.
John Dean on O’Rourke
“I can be really hard on him and set him as an example by being hard on him and he takes it really well,” Dean said of O’Rourke. “As a coach when you can be hard on your best players and they respond in a positive way, it makes it real easy for me. When you pick a leader when things aren’t going well, you want a guy who is going to respond the right way both on and off the ice. For a guy that’s got as many points as he does and how well he plays back there with the puck, when things aren’t going well he goes out there and makes himself physical and tries to get the guys back on track by competing harder and paying a price. He’ll even fight if he has to.”
O’Rourke does all of this while maintaining a very high character. Not only is he looking out for himself, he looks out for his teammates in all aspects. Look at what Dean said about O’Rourke in this regard. This is one of my favorite quotes in recent memory.
“He cares about his teammates. He cares about his hockey career. He cares about his teammate’s hockey career. I think that’s a huge asset when someone knows you care about them you tend to follow them.”
O’Rourke turns 18 coming up on May 16. But the way he plays and thinks through things makes it seem like he’s 19. He has a level of maturity that shows he’s wise beyond his years. I’m confident that not only will he get better, he will handle critique and criticism like a true leader.
I see a future NHL captain in O’Rourke. If he slips out of the first round somehow, you need to do whatever it takes to land him. Smart teams will grab him at the end of the first and reap the benefits.
O’Rourke’s got game. He’s got leadership for miles. And he’s just getting started making an opponent’s life miserable. It’s for these reasons plus the number of defensemen said to be above him that O’Rourke is my steal for the 2020 NHL Draft.
I am a fully credentialed writer who covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cleveland Monsters and Erie Otters as well as the Ontario Hockey League and NHL Draft. The 2022-23 season will mark nine seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager.