When you look at the NHL landscape, all 31 teams emphasize drafting and development in today’s salary cap era. Perhaps more than ever, we see franchises accumulate and stockpile first, second, third, and even late-round picks in hopes of finding the next great talent, the “diamond in the rough”, or any who might fall through the cracks. The Ottawa Senators are no different.
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Over the past few seasons, the Senators have accumulated significant talent. Erik Brannstom, Drake Batherson, Lassi Thomson, Alex Formenton, Josh Norris, Shane Pinto, and Logan Brown have put the Sens at the top of the NHL, prospect-wise. What’s more impressive is that they have another two, top-10 picks at the 2020 NHL Entry Draft to further add to their plethora of prospects.
Another top prospect in the Sens system is defenseman Jacob Bernard-Docker from Canmore, Alberta. He’s been an afterthought compared to some of the aforementioned names. What can Bernard-Docker bring to the Senators lineup, and what makes him such a promising and highly-regarded youngster coming down the pipeline in Ottawa?
University of North Dakota (NCAA)
The long and grueling road to the NHL often requires one of three options: The Canadian Hockey League (CHL), collegiately at a Tier/Division-1 School, or overseas in one of the European professional leagues. Bernard-Docker opted for the collegiate route and plies his trade at the University of North Dakota of the NCAA as a sophomore.
North Dakota is renowned for their excellent hockey development program and has produced some high-level talent over the years including Jonathan Toews, Zach Parise, T.J. Oshie, Brock Boeser, and Travis Zajac.
During his first two seasons with the Fighting Hawks, Bernard-Docker skated in 68 games with 12 goals and 42 points. His plus-18 rating and 37 blocked shots are remarkable given he mostly plays against players 2-3 years his senior. Bernard Docker’s solid, consistent play in the U.S. caught the eye of Hockey Canada.
Team Canada (U-20 World Junior Hockey Championships)
Next up was a chance to don the red and white for Team Canada. After an impressive showing at Canada’s National Junior Team Selection Camp, Bernard-Docker was one of 23 players selected to represent Canada at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships in the Czech Republic, and honor for any player.
Bernard-Docker’s play throughout the tournament was exceptional. His confidence with the puck, sound defensive game, and strong, powerful strides were on full display against the very best junior players in the world. He even chipped in with a goal against Finland in the Quarterfinals and saw his role and ice-time increase as the tournament went along, becoming one of the most trusted defensemen for Team Canada.
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The pinnacle of the tournament, however, came in the gold medal game against the mighty Russians, when Canada squeaked out a 4-3 victory to claim gold, an unforgettable moment for Bernard-Docker and his teammates.
Bernard-Docker’s Range of Skills
Drafted in the first round, 26th overall by the Senators during the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, Bernard-Docker is a talented offensive-minded defenseman with a complete game and who can make plays in all three zones. His vision, ability to anticipate plays, and overall understanding of the game for a 19-year-old are astounding, as well as his ability to skate and move the puck. In the offensive zone, Bernard-Docker can get pucks through from the point and has a strong presence on the blue line.
Senators general manager Pierre Dorion is thrilled with his development and believes that the University of North Dakota is the perfect spot for Bernard-Docker to fine-tune his game. Whether you look at him from a distance or up close, few would argue that he’s an impressive player with elite-level talent, which will have Ottawa chomping at the bit awaiting his arrival with the big club.
There’s a lot to like about Bernard-Docker, which bodes well for the Senators’ future. Not only is he a spectacular raw talent, but he also has the poise, confidence, and ability to stay grounded in pressure-packed situations. He’s already experienced the “big moments” and won’t be phased by the grade-A talent that presents itself night after night at the NHL level.
A Senators fan in his youth, Bernard-Docker and the Senators are a match made in heaven. With the Senators in the midst of a rebuild, he joins an influx of youngsters who are looking to earn a permanent role in Ottawa over the next couple of seasons. Yet, when you consider Bernard-Docker’s consistent development and improvement, it’s only a matter of time before we see him in the Senators lineup under the bright lights in Kanata, Ontario.