The Ottawa Senators are in quite the enviable position leading up to the 2020 NHL draft. When the day does come, the team is poised to come out with at least two franchise players. In the current proposal brought forth by the NHL, the Sens are likely to have the No. 2, No. 3, and No. 21 overall picks. This puts Ottawa in an excellent position to add to an already extensive prospect system. There are several amazing players that the Sens could select, but the third pick is the selection to which I will draw attention.
The amount of franchise-altering players available at the position are well advertised with great forwards who can almost immediately make an impact in the NHL. However, I believe the Sens should take Erie Otters defenseman Jamie Drysdale with the third-overall pick.
Making the Case for Drysdale
Drysdale, despite being ranked quite high in the eyes of both scouts and analysts, is being overlooked by the average fan. Players like Alexander Holtz, Tim Stützle, and Lucas Raymond seem to be getting all the attention. While these players are worthy of the praise, Drysdale’s incredible abilities are not getting enough recognition.
In a draft class that is full of great forwards, Drysdale is without a doubt the best defenseman in the group. While the top-10 picks are debatable, there is zero controversy in saying that he will be the first D-man off the board. Every major scout has high praise for the 18-year old, with the majority of their comments highlighting his maturity.
In The Hockey Writers‘ mock draft, I said this about Drysdale, “While some may see this pick as a reach, Ottawa can acquire the best D-man of the draft, immediately after selecting the draft’s best centre in [Quinton] Byfield. Jamie Drysdale’s skating ability is nothing short of elite. His agility and balance are incredible to watch, and he can instantly take over the game using this ability. Even more impressive is his hockey IQ. He is one of the most intelligent defensemen I have seen in years. This is going to help his transition to the NHL, as the decision-making skills are already there.”
Peter Harling of DobberProspects had this to say about him, “[Drysdale] is head and shoulders above the class for defence in his draft year… He commands the play when on the ice, is an excellent skater. Drysdale is so good at the nuances of the game at his age and has elite hockey IQ”
In the modern NHL, a defenseman has to be an excellent skater and be able to control the game in all aspects, Drysdale excels at this, and it’s the best part of his game. Hockey IQ is not something you can teach, and his ability to understand and sense the game will translate very well to the professional game when the time comes. Dylan Galloway, head OHL scout for Future Considerations also highlighted Drysdale’s innate hockey senses, “Combining this much IQ, skill and skating ability just isn’t fair to Drysdale’s competition. His play reads and decision making are elite and make him not only far and away the best draft-eligible defender in the OHL, but the best one period.”
Drysdale also flew onto the radar of a lot of people during his performance during the 2020 WJC in the Czech Republic. As one of the younger players on the roster, he established himself as Canada’s best during the tournament, putting up three points and playing great hockey through every game while winning gold. He’s likely to play for Canada again in 2021, getting a chance to defend his gold medal.
Why Ottawa Should Want Drysdale
When you look at the Senators’ current prospect pool, you see an excellent group of forwards, led by Josh Norris, Drake Batherson, and Logan Brown. While the team’s defensive prospect depth isn’t anything to scoff at, it doesn’t have the same big names. Adding Drysdale would introduce legitimate star power to their system.
Drysdale’s major strength is his hockey IQ, and seeing his understanding of the game is an excellent skill to transfer to the NHL. Having those abilities in a system like Ottawa’s, under a coach like DJ Smith, will allow Drysdale to fit into his system easier than most.
When Jacob Bernard-Docker, currently playing for the North Dakota Fighting Hawks in the NCAA, reaches the pros, it forms an incredible top four in Ottawa. Think about the Senators future defensive core in this situation, Erik Brännström, Thomas Chabot, Drysdale, and Bernard-Docker headline a terrifying presence. If they all develop properly, that could be among the best in the NHL.
When you look at past Stanley Cup-winning teams, you see a common occurrence. Defensive depth is vital to a competitive team, and that depth is led by their stars on the blue-line.
The defending champion St Louis Blues were led by Alex Pietrangelo and had the depth complemented by Vincent Dunn, Colton Parayko, and Jay Bouwmeester to compete over an 82-game schedule and playoffs. The 2018 champs in Washington had John Carlson, Dmitry Orlov, and Matt Niskanen.
This is the kind of roster that Ottawa needs to compete. The forward depth in the system is already quite good, and with the other two picks at second, and 21st overall, two more great prospects will be entering the pipeline. Add Drysdale, and you have the making of a legitimate case for a future Stanley Cup in Ottawa.
The Risks of Taking Drysdale Third
Even with all the talent Drysdale has, there are legitimate concerns about taking him third overall. While Drysdale is an incredibly smart player, with elite skating, his defensive abilities are a little bit suspect for a player picked this high. Granted, his game was never that of a prototype stay at home defenseman, but a top paring player needs to be able to have command in all areas of the ice.
Another underlying issue with Drysdale is his lack of size. Listed at 5-foot-11, and 170 pounds, he needs time to grow, and more development time with the Otters. He has the speed, and intelligence to play as an undersized defenseman, but my concern is that without more muscle, he could get bullied by larger players. This is an issue that has evolved from the days where defenders needed to be a towering presence, but it’s still something to keep in mind.
Revisiting the Blues, it was well noted how their physical play and toughness was a contributing factor to their Cup run, “The Blues deploy an unremitting forecheck that vaporizes bodies and spirits, slamming players into boards and out of games. It helped them oust Winnipeg, Dallas, San Jose and finally, Boston, the team that swept the Blues in the 1970 Final. These Bruins were big and heavy, but the Blues were bigger and heavier, and meaner, too” (-from St. Louis Blues Claim the Stanley Cup, Ending a 52-Year Wait The New York Times, 06/12/19). If Drysdale doesn’t add the weight he needs, it could hamper his development.
Without a doubt, Drysdale has the talent to be selected by Ottawa with the third pick. The issue surrounding picking him that high is that they may be missing out on a sure-fire prospect. High scoring players like Stützle, Holtz and Raymond may, in fact, have higher ceilings than Drysdale. His potential projects him as a top-pairing defenseman and is a very safe pick. While they are risky, the forwards do the project as legitimate first-line offensive threats, who in the best case scenarios could become superstars.
Looking Towards the Future
Even though the Sens have a very good pool of forward prospects, it’s always good to get another excellent scorer. While the franchise would welcome a player with the potential of a superstar like those previously mentioned, it’s not the right pick for the team.
Drysdale may take a few years to reach his potential, but leaving him with Erie, and perhaps another team, if they continue to struggle, will do wonders. However, when Ottawa is in prime condition to compete, Drysdale will be ready to lead the Senators into a new era.