Defensemen are the glue that holds a team together. Not only do they limit scoring chances and stop opponents from scoring but they also lead the offense with the first outlet pass out of the zone to the forwards.
Although this year’s draft is not deep for defensemen, there are some tantalizing prospects. Many teams are still looking for a franchise defenseman and there are some very good options to choose from. Without further ado, here are the top 10 defensemen available in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft.
1. Jamie Drysdale
Jamie Drysdale is the best defenseman in this draft. Playing for the Erie Otters of the OHL, he scored nine goals and added 38 assists for 47 points in 49 games. The fact that he goes out every night and is able to consistently produce is what makes him so valuable.
Whichever team calls his name come draft night will be getting a player who could slot into a top pairing as soon as 2021-22. When the puck is on his stick, Drysdale rarely makes a bad play. Whether that is making a nice outlet pass to his forwards breaking through the neutral zone or setting up one of his teammates in the slot, he has elite vision.
Drysdale’s shot is also a weapon in his arsenal. He is great at getting it through traffic and can make opponents pay if they give him too much time and space to shoot.
He may be well known for his offensive game, but he is also adept in his own end. He does not shy away from bigger opponents in the corners and does a good job at limiting high end scoring chances in front of his net and in the slot.
Drysdale will no doubt be the first defenseman off the board when the draft rolls around, and if all goes well, the team that selects him will have a number one defenseman in a few years. He has impressed me all season long and when deciding this list, this spot was a no-brainer.
2. Jake Sanderson
The consensus second-best defenseman in the draft, Jake Sanderson brings a great offensive skill set to the ice. Playing for the United States U18 Team, he scored seven goals and 29 points in 47 games. Sanderson also played for the U.S. National Team Development Program where he managed two goals and 12 assists in 17 games.
When the puck is on Sanderson’s stick, opponents are weary as he has the ability to change the game with one quick pass. He is great at making a first outlet pass to his forwards and loves to join the rush. His shot is hard and accurate, and he can get it off in a heartbeat.
Sanderson’s defensive game is not as strong as his offensive game but he is more than capable of handling his own in the defensive zone. He is not afraid to play a physical game and is good at clearing the net from any danger.
All in all, Sanderson has the unique ability to see the play unfold and is able to make plays appear out of nowhere. Many scouts have compared him to players like Seth Jones and Zach Werenski. He is a great leader, having served as captain of the U.S. National U18 Team this season and will be a great pick for a team in the mid-teens of the first round.
3. Kaiden Guhle
Guhle may not be ranked as high on other people’s lists, but I believe Guhle can be a very solid NHL defenseman in the future. Playing for the Prince Albert Raiders of the WHL, he scored 11 goals and29 assists in 64 games.
At 6-foot-3 and modelling his game after Drew Doughty, Guhle has great size that almost any team would want in a top defenseman. He uses his long reach to cut off passing lanes and is good at intercepting passes in the neutral zone and defensive zone. In the corners, he is very hard to knock off the puck due to his size and strength.
Guhle is certainly no slouch in the offensive zone, either. He has a strong, accurate shot that he gets on the net often. He makes a great first pass to get the play going and can contribute on offense when needed. What I really admired about Guhle’s game is his skating ability. He is great at carrying the puck up the ice and can cut back on a dime to create time and space for his teammates.
While Guhle will need to spend some more time developing his overall game and adding more weight, he can become a very solid player in the future. As we see more small defensemen entering the league, his size will make him all the more attractive to teams.
4. Justin Barron
While Justin Barron’s stock may have fallen a bit because of a blood clot this season, he still has the chance to become a solid contributor in the NHL. Playing for the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, he managed to score four goals and 15 assists in 31 games.
What impresses me the most about Barron’s game is his ability to see the ice. With the puck on his stick, he can transition the play quickly up the ice and loves to jump into the rush as a fourth option. His smooth skating allows him to create time and space and, in turn, he is able to create scoring chances for his teammates in the slot.
Barron is also equally adept in the defensive zone. He constantly plays with an active stick and is always seeking to cut off passes. He is not afraid to battle bigger opponents for the puck and will not back down if provoked.
Barron will have a great chance to continue to develop and round out his game. His skill set will make him an attractive option come draft day, and I assume many teams will be lining up in hopes of calling his name. His future is exciting and, as a hockey fan, I’m excited to see how well he does.
5. William Wallinder
William Wallinder is one of my favourite defenders on this list. Not only can he handle his own on offense but his size makes him tough to play against on a nightly basis. Playing for MODO Hockey J20 this past season, he managed to score five goals and 19 assists in 37 games.
Wallinder has the unique ability to make an impact in every zone. This season, he had no problem contributing on offense, thanks to his heavy shot and great vision. He loves to jump into the rush and is more than capable of getting back to defend if the puck transitions the other way.
Wallinder plays with an active stick and is good at reading the play to break passes up in the defensive zone. He uses his size in the corners and is hard to knock off the puck. Although he will need a few more years to round out his game, he is a very attractive option to teams, and I will not be surprised to see him called early come draft day.
6. Braden Schneider
While some people may think this is a bit low for Schneider, it was very tough to decide where to put him. He is a very good defenseman and I could see him being worthy of being listed fourth at the end of the day.
Schneider is a big-bodied defender who makes his impact felt everywhere on the ice. He suited up for the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL this season and managed to score seven goals and 42 points in 60 games.
At 6-foot-2, 209 pounds, Schneider is more than capable of handling physical play and loves to dish out big hits when the opportunity presents itself. He is great at clearing the front of his net of any danger and makes it hard for opposing forwards to gain any ground.
Schneider will be an intriguing option for many teams. Whether he gets drafted in the first or second round is still unknown, but he will generate interest from many teams. He provides value in every zone and can certainly drive the play when given the chance.
7. Jeremie Poirier
Poirier has the chance to be a great defenseman down the road. Playing for the Saint John Sea Dogs this season, he managed 20 goals and 33 assists in 64 games.
What really stands out about Poirier’s game is his ability to make plays with the puck on his stick. He loves to use his skating ability to rush up the ice and can find teammates with a quick pass across the slot. He has a hard, accurate shot and can get it on net in a hurry. Even though he may get caught out of position on the odd occasion, he uses his skating ability to get back and help out.
Although Poirier will need to improve his all-around game, he has all the tools required to have a long pro career. He will likely hear his name called early on in the draft, and will immediately bolster a team’s prospect pipeline.
8. Ryan O’Rourke
Ryan O’Rourke impressed me in more ways than one this season. Playing for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL, he managed seven goals and 30 assists in 54 games.
Not only can O’Rourke chip in on offense, but he uses his smarts to make plays all over the ice. He has a great active stick and is good at breaking up passes in the neutral zone. He loves to lay the body and does not shy away from physical play.
What stood out to me the most is the fact that O’Rourke was named captain of the Greyhounds at 17 years old. The captaincy usually goes to an older player who has had years of experience at the OHL level, but O’Rourke is such a great leader that it was a no brainer.
O’Rourke has the chance to be a solid defenseman down the road. He plays the game the right way and is a great person on and off the ice. When the time comes that he hears his name called, he will immediately add to a team’s pipeline and will become one of their top prospects.
9. Emil Andrae
While some may disagree with where I have Emil Andrae on this list, it was very close between many players. I decided to rank him here and still think this is a very respectful spot on the list.
Andrae spent this season playing for HV71 J20 of the SuperElit where he managed 11 goals and 38 points in 40 games. He also represented his native Sweden on the world stage where he scored one goal and 12 points in 13 games.
Andrae is the type of player who does not back down from anybody. Whether that be in the corners or after the whistle, he plays hard all the time and is not afraid to drop the gloves with bigger opponents. He is also more than capable of contributing on offense as well. He has a decent shot from the point and knows how to use it. He loves to make outlet passes to his forwards and is more than capable of getting back if he joins in on the rush.
While Andrae may not be the biggest player, he plays the game well and will help out a team in the future. He will likely stay in Sweden for the next few years to develop, but I can see him being well acclimated to the pro game when he comes overseas.
10. Helge Grans
While Grans may be the last defenseman on my list, he is still a very good player. Playing for the Malmo Redhawks J20 of the SuperElit, he scored four goals and 23 assists in 27 games. He also suited up in 21 games for the Malmo Redhawks of the SHL where he collected three points.
Grans is a big-bodied defender who can make plays with the puck. He likes to drive the play and is really good at running the power play from the backend. He is good at getting his shot on net and can spot teammates in the slot with ease.
While Grans needs to work on his defensive play, he has some solid tools to work with. He uses his strength to drive opponents away from the net and is good at getting the puck back down low. While Grans could add weight, he has NHL size and uses it to his advantage whenever he steps on the ice.
Grans will be one to watch for after the first round. I don’t think he will be taken with one of the first 31 picks, but after that, it will be a free-for-all. He has the chance to become a really solid player and teams will look to pounce on him if he is still available.
At the end of the day, all of these players are great individuals on and off the ice. They are at the top of the draft class for a reason and have proven that they deserve to hear their names called early on. They will all provide value for their respective teams, and it will be exciting to see what impact they will have in the future.
My name is Mathieu Sheridan. I am a writer here at THW who covers the OHL and prospects in general.