With the NHL season still on hold and the month of May flying by, it’s time to look ahead to the draft and who the Anaheim Ducks might select in the 2020 NHL Draft. When the season was paused, the Ducks had the fifth-best odds for a top-three pick, or to earn the first-overall pick. However, there are variables that the NHL is still debating that include lottery rule changes.
If the standard rules remain and the Ducks moved into the top three, they would have an excellent selection of players from which to choose. If they stay at No. 5 or fall back, they will also have a chance to select a player who would fill a position of need. One of those players is USNTDP defenseman Jake Sanderson.
Sanderson Consolation Prize
Ducks fans hope the NHL’s draft lottery balls will fall favorably so that their team can move up in the draft. Let’s face it though, Anaheim’s luck has not been good in that department. While the rules are not solidified for the upcoming draft lottery, Ducks fans have to be ready for the possibility that they will fall back further than the No. 5 overall pick, which the Ducks have the best odds to receive.
Depending on how far they fall back, players like Jamie Drysdale, Cole Perfetti, Lucas Raymond or Alexander Holtz might not be available. In that case, look for the Ducks to select Sanderson of the US National Development Program.
Experts have ranked Sanderson from the No. 10 to No. 15 best prospect in the draft but have nearly all agreed he’s the second-best defenseman behind Drysdale. Although Sanderson is a left shot, the Ducks still need defense. If they fall back in the draft, and Drysdale is out of their reach, Sanderson would be appealing, perhaps enough for them to reach for him.
It wouldn’t be the first time a team reached for a defenseman. At last year’s draft, the Detroit Red Wings selected young German defenseman Moritz Seider, with the sixth-overall pick when almost all experts slated him as a mid-first rounder.
Would Bob Murray reach that far? It remains to be seen, but there are many appealing aspects to Sanderson’s game.
Scouts See Sky-High Potential
Sanderson might be one of the players most adversely affected by the COVID-19 cancellation of amateur hockey. Scouts saw Sanderson as a raw player with incredible potential at the outset of his 2019-20 season with the USNTDP. At the time the coronavirus shut down society, he had realized enough of that potential to rise considerably in draft rankings.
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From just January to March, Sanderson rose from the No. 33 ranked prospect to No. 12 in Craig Button’s rankings. He rose from the No. 11 to the No. 4 ranked North American skater in NHL Central Scouting’s rankings.
Cam Robinson of Dobber Prospects said of Sanderson in April,
“A raw defender who oozes potential. His game seemed to transform as the season wore on. Has all-around upside, including untapped offensive skills. Someone will fall in love early.”
Sanderson had six regular-season games remaining with USNTDP and the Clark Cup (which was also canceled by COVID-19). His ability to show his big-game prowess after a much-improved season may have stopped him from climbing even higher in the draft rankings, and a team like the Ducks should consider that.
So, what gives him such potential? Scouts tab Sanderson as an elite skater and decision-maker who dominates in his zone.
At 6-foot-1 or 6-foot-2, depending on what source you consult, Sanderson has the size to impose his will physically while also positioning himself and reading the play in the most optimal way. He’s able to move quickly to break up plays deep in his zone and communicates well with his defensive partners.
Experts tout his breakout ability and his elite shot but say he still has a lot of room to grow his offensive game. With a commitment to the University of North Dakota, Sanderson will have an opportunity to challenge himself against bigger, stronger opponents and round out that offensive game whenever college hockey restarts.
What This Means for the Ducks
The Ducks have jettisoned too many talented defensemen from their roster over the past five seasons to the point where the position has gone from a significant strength to a weakness.
While a talented offensive defenseman would undoubtedly help the Ducks’ scoring woes, a player as dominant as Sanderson in his zone, with offensive potential, is just as good. He’s bigger than Drysdale, and his strengths should help the Ducks keep offensive players from setting up camp directly in front of John Gibson.
The Ducks were the No. 27 and No. 28 ranked teams in the NHL in number of high-danger chances against over the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons respectively and are in desperate need of a remedy to that problem.
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If his offensive game develops further, all the better.
Although the last two seasons have been a struggle for the Ducks, the silver lining of a high draft pick has brought some light to the darkness. There will be many high-quality prospects available to the Ducks wherever they end up in the draft lottery, but if they fall outside the top five, Sanderson would be an excellent option. Who knows, he may even be a good option within the top five spots.
All stats from naturalstattrick.com
Anthony Ciardelli grew up in Vermont and New Hampshire but now lives in Los Angeles. Though he was raised a Bruins fan, he quickly came to enjoy the hockey culture in Southern California and the rivalry between the Kings and Ducks. He covered USC Athletics while pursuing his journalism masters there. He also enjoys doing play-by-play for USC Trojan Hockey.