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Ottawa Senators Top 25 Under 25, #12: Jacob Bernard-Docker

The team’s top prospect at North Dakota moves up one spot in our rankings

NHL: JUL 02 Senators Development Camp Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

12. Jacob Bernard-Docker (Reader Rank: 11, Last Year: 13)

Jacob Bernard-Docker may have only gone up one spot from last year’s rankings, but rest assured, it likely would’ve been higher if not for the influx of young talent recently injected into the Sens system.

The team’s top right-shot defence prospect and second 2018 first-round draft pick had a great freshman season at the University of North Dakota. We previously wrote about how long-time teammate Jonny Tychonick struggled to adjust his game to the NCAA level, but that wasn’t the case for JBD. Known to be steadier on his feet with a 6-foot, 187 pound build, JBD was cast into a top-four spot on the Fighting Hawks blueline and held it for the entirety of the year.

His 17 points (5G, 12A) was tied for the team lead with junior Colton Poolman, and ranked fourth among first-year defencemen in his conference. His style of hockey is steady, two-way play, and it’s led to low-event hockey when he’s on the ice. In fact, there were only 41 goals scored total when he was on the ice across 36 games — 19 for North Dakota, and 22 for the opposition. Most other freshmen near him in points were on the ice for somewhere between 55 and 60 goals.

When you watch the highlight pack below, take a look at how he’s able to use his strengths in creative ways. You’ll see plays where he uses his quick acceleration to jump up in the offensive zone, and others where his smooth skating ability helps UND successfully exit the defensive zone. Like fellow first-rounder Lassi Thomson, Bernard-Docker also has a strong shot. It was harder for him to find the time to utilize the slapshot he developed at Okotoks on one-timers against defenders who closed space quicker, but he quickly adapted his accurate wrist-shot to find the twine five times — tied for fourth among all NCHC defencemen.

Scouts have always been all over the place in terms of getting a read on his game — one of the reasons why Tychonick was ranked higher than him on draft day. The Sens clearly favoured JBD, and while we’ve yet to see him develop any one skill to the point where he can be regarded as a bonafide difference-maker, I have plenty of time for a player of his skillset in the system. The fact that his offensive game transitioned as well as it has from the lower-league AJHL puts one concern we had about him to bed, especially given that his coaching staff were keen to use him on the powerplay. Nine of his 17 points came with the player advantage.

I was able to watch a couple of his games for Team Canada during the World Junior Summer Showcase, and noted that he could continue to work on his neutral zone defence to stymie plays before they develop, and his overall ability to utilize his teammates more effectively when trying to kickstart the offence. He’s on the radar to make the Canadian U20 team after being cut last season, and will likely be competing with Calen Addison (PIT, #53 2018), Jett Woo (VAN, #37 2018), and two 2020 draft eligibles (Justin Barron and Braden Schneider) for three spots.

He’ll likely feature behind Colton Poolman on the depth chart for the second straight year, with Gabe Bast, Andrew Peski, and two new freshmen chomping at the bits to take minutes on the right-side. Building on his all-around game, and being a net positive for his team whenever he’s on the ice — à la Christian Wolanin in his final season with North Dakota — will help us see if he’s ready for the transition to the AHL, or whether he needs to return for a third and final collegiate season.