If you ask any Red Wings fan about the greatest weakness on their favorite team’s roster, chances are that they will bring up the defense. With a goals-against per-game average of 3.73, it’s easy to see why. The best defender on the 2019-20 Red Wings was Filip Hronek, and this was his first full season in the NHL.
It’s not that they don’t have prospects in the system. In the 2019 Entry Draft, the Red Wings took defender Moritz Seider at sixth overall. He is joined in the prospect pool by guys like Jared McIsaac, Antti Tuomisto, Gustav Lindstrom and Albert Johansson — with each offering varying levels of upside.
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For the first time during the Red Wings’ rebuild, they are in a position to select the top defenseman in the draft. The top of the draft class is particularly forward-heavy, but that doesn’t diminish the potential that Jamie Drysdale offers as the top-rated defender in the class. In fact, the Red Wings could cement a strong right-handed base on the blue line if they opt to select the smooth-skating defender.
Drysdale’s greatest gift on the ice is his skating ability. His skating stride is silky-smooth, and he uses it to his advantage in all areas of the ice.
Drysdale projects to be a bit of a catalyst from the point on an NHL power play. He displays patience with the puck — he’s definitely not a “shoot-first” type of defender — and he reads the play well in the offensive zone. When he does decide to shoot, he displays a good release and a pretty good eye for where to shoot. He’ll be able to rack up points at the NHL level.
Drysdale excels because he maintains a north-south style of play. By this, I mean he pushes the puck forward on the attack, and he backchecks with purpose on defense. He’s not prone to over-complicating things by making east-west passes and plays. This allows him to carry the puck up ice if that is, in fact, his best option.
In 2017, it was Miro Heiskanen. In 2018, it was Rasmus Dahlin. Last year, it was Bowen Byram. Each and every one of these players received hype as a future “top defenseman.” These are the guys you foresee playing maximum minutes in all situations on championship-caliber teams.
Drysdale, despite being a virtually unanimous choice as the draft class’s top defender, hasn’t received that same level of hype. Many see him as a top-pairing defender, but perhaps a number two guy alongside somebody who is more of a complete package. This isn’t a bad thing, and Drysdale is still going to be a good player, but it’s worth noting.
It’s important to keep that in mind when considering where Drysdale might fit into the Red Wings’ future plans. Like Hronek and Seider, he is right-handed; in a perfect world where the Red Wings have three righties and three lefties on the blue line, these righties would make for a SOLID trio. You could put Drysdale on one power-play unit and Hronek on the other. In a reality where the Red Wings don’t have the even split of lefties and righties, Drysdale and Seider could make for a pretty good top pairing, albeit with some shortcomings.
Let’s get this out of the way upfront: Drysdale isn’t ready for the NHL quite yet. He likely needs another year in the OHL in order to grow his body and his skill-set. By the 2021-22 season, he should be able to challenge for a spot in an NHL lineup.
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When he does arrive, Red Wings fans might draw a comparison between Drysdale and former Red Wing Brian Rafalski. Like Drysdale, Rafalski was a smaller defenseman who excelled in creating offense. He was the perfect complement to a top-tier defender like Nick Lidstrom. That top pair helped propel the Red Wings to a championship in 2008 and another Stanley Cup Final appearance the next year.
Rafalski averaged over 21 minutes of ice time in all but two seasons of his NHL career. He never won a major award, but he collected an impressive 515 points over 833 games in the NHL. He was a dynamite defender, but he was at his best when he played alongside guys like Lidstrom and Scott Niedermayer. For me, this is a glimpse into Drysdale’s future.
Best Player Available
The Red Wings are in a position where they simply need to draft the best player available with every pick, regardless of what position they play. At fourth overall, there are a handful of candidates worthy of consideration as the best player available. Drysdale absolutely fits the bill.
Drafting Drysdale would add some serious star power to the Red Wings’ blue line of the future. Fans would debate whether he or Seider is the team’s most-exciting defensive prospect — and that’s the kind of excitement for the future that this team desperately needs.
Drysdale isn’t Drew Doughty or Erik Karlsson. If you’ve accepted that reality, then you can appreciate what this prospect could do for the Red Wings. In a draft where everyone is going to be looking at the forwards, it may behoove the Red Wings to snag the top defenseman available while no one is looking.