Team USA NTDP’s Jake Sanderson: Playing for More Than His Country

“I’d be shocked if Jake Sanderson isn’t selected top 10 in the draft,” NTDP U-18 coach Seth Appert told “He plays the game so efficiently, defends so hard and can jump into the play and add offense … he’s the prototypical modern-age defenseman. I know other defensemen get more notoriety because of the points they put up, but the beauty of Jake Sanderson is the more you watch him, the more you start to appreciate what an unbelievable defender he is.”

Not many players have had quite the rise to prominence this year as Jake Sanderson.

A native of Whitefish, Montana, Sanderson has risen to be a consensus top-20 player across the board, has continuously shown his ability, and is in the conversation to be the second defender taken in the 2020 NHL Draft.

Jake Sanderson USNTDP
Jake Sanderson, USA NTDP (Credit: Rena Laverty)

Sanderson said that his rise wasn’t something he was surprised by.

“I think I always knew I could be in that range,” Sanderson told the BTS Hockey Podcast today. “I think I just started proving it more and more, how I could produce for my team, and how our team was producing as a whole. As the season went on, I feel like I proved that I could be in that conversation, and that I always was.”

Representing His Home

However, when he arrived in Plymouth, things weren’t quite as easy at the beginning.

“I knew nobody on this team when I got there because I was from so far away from everyone,” Sanderson said. “Now that I came out of the NTDP, I have 22 best friends that are from all over the world and I think that’s really special.”

With the climate of how the world is currently turned upside down with the coronavirus, Sanderson is trying to stay upbeat and see things in a more positive light.

“It’s really nice to see my family right now, because I haven’t seen them much throughout the hockey season. Not being able to train with my teammates is pretty hard, but I’ve been in contact every day so that’s nice.”

Getting a chance to represent his country for the past two years, Sanderson said he’s also representing something that’s even closer to home.

“It’s super cool to represent your country, but also like taking into consideration representing Whitefish because there’s not a lot of hockey players who come out of here. There’s only one team per age group, so I think that’s really cool. Hopefully my hockey career keeps going and I can be somebody that little kids can look up to and want to replicate their hockey game like me.”

Like Father, Like Son

Sanderson’s father Geoff played in the NHL for the Hartford Whalers/Carolina Hurricanes, Vancouver Canucks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Phoenix Coyotes, Philadelphia Flyers and Edmonton Oilers, and Jake says the love for the sport has been passed down in the family.

“We’re a hockey family for sure,” Sanderson said. “It’s super nice being with my brothers because they’re my best friends. We’ve been doing outdoor activities together and we’ve been together every second of the day since I’ve gotten here. The competition never left when I went to Michigan. I come back here and it’s right back at it with them.”

Geoff Sanderson Hartford Whalers
Geoff Sanderson of the Hartford Whalers (Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

When asked how his dad handled being a fan from afar, Sanderson had nothing but good things to say about how his father handled being a dad as well as helping with the training.

“It’s super cool having him around and to see what he did as a hockey player,” Sanderson said. “He’s super supportive of the ups and downs with me and my team and he’s always there to cheer us on. He doesn’t put any extra pressure on me as a player, because that would just affect my confidence so he’s really good with that. He’ll give me tips once in a while, but he just lets me be me and he lets me play how I play.”

A big part of what makes Sanderson’s game so special is his skating, and he said he believes that part of it is from his father’s technique and training that he passed down to Jake.

“I work on my skating a lot. I think it’s the strongest part of my game. I’m doing a lot of footwork training. My dad was a really good skater too so he has a ton of drills that not a lot of people know that we do on a regular basis.”

Preparing for the 2020 Draft

As for how he’s currently preparing for the draft this year, Sanderson said he’s just trying to focus on the task at hand.

“I’ve just been focusing on controlling what I can control. Working out, skating as much as I can. The draft and the combine got postponed, so I’m hoping that it will all figure itself out soon hopefully. It was sad having the season end like this, and having the draft postponed because we worked so hard for it all year. It will happen eventually, we just don’t know when.”

The defenseman said he believed that a lot of it was from his play on the ice, but that play came from the work that he put in off the ice as well.

“I think it all starts in practice and in the weight room,” Sanderson said. “In practice I was focusing on scoring more and making plays, as well as keeping my defense as solid and shut down as I could. As 2020 started, that was my up-and-coming start for me individually and I started being more comfortable, and was coming out of my shell then.”

2020 NHL Draft: 9 Defensemen Who Could be Second Best Jake Sanderson, Lukas Cormier, Jeremie Poirier, Emil Andrae
Jake Sanderson has made a statement this year and could be selected as the second defenseman in the 2020 NHL Draft.

A commit to North Dakota, Sanderson said he’s ready for the next step in his career.

“It’s a great spot for me. Tyler Kleven also playing with me this year helps and we’re really excited to room together next year.” (from ‘Top UND recruit Jake Sanderson ‘has everything you want’,’ Grand Forks Herald, 01/15/2020)

A big goal for Sanderson is getting a chance to play at the World Junior Championships this coming winter in Edmonton and Red Deer, especially after the way things ended this year.

“Being cut short and not being able to play at the U18 World Championships was really sad, so I want to keep working hard, and wear that USA jersey again at Christmas time this year. I just have to keep working hard and outwork people who are trying to outwork me.”

The effort that goes into making it to a sport’s highest level is huge, and Sanderson wants to do everything in his power to get to that level.

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“It’s my life. I dedicate my whole day towards getting better at hockey, and hopefully making my dream of playing in the NHL and making a living playing hockey a reality, so hockey is my life.”