2020 NHL Draft Profiles: First Round Defencemen

A look at four intriguing defencemen that may be available for the Senators with their potential third first-round pick

Six. That’s the number of defencemen currently ranked as consensus first-round picks according to Colin’s consolidated rankings of publicly-available draft lists.

We can tell you right now that more than six defencemen will be taken in the first-round, as a ‘weak’ class will mean that teams will more likely reach on players than wait for them in the second round. There are usually nine defencemen taken on average in the first round. This was the case in 2016 and 2017, and over the last five draft classes, we’ve gone as low as eight (2015) and has high as 14 (2018).

If this year’s crop is weak on defence, next year’s looks like an elite class, headlined by Brandt Clarke, Owen Power, Luke Hughes and Carson Lambos, with many others gnawing at their feet. The reality is that after the top-pair ceilings of Jamie Drysdale and Jake Sanderson, there just aren’t many other options that match the quality of the forwards this year. A team may really like a player like Jérémie Poirier or Helge Grans enough to take them where the Sens might end up picking with their likely third first-rounder via the New York Islanders, but we decided to be boring and profile the consensus first rounders.

Let us know your favourite in the comments!

Kaiden Guhle (LD)

TeamLeagueHeightWeightExpected RangeNHL Rank
Prince Albert RaidersWHL6'3"187 lbs17 - 43#8 (NA)

Kaiden Guhle’s been one of the most polarizing players in this draft class. Many public sources have him ranked somewhere in the second round (and some even lower), but all signs are pointing to NHL circles being much, much higher on Guhle’s game. He could very well be gone by the time the Islanders’ pick is on the board, and if he falls outside the top 20, I don’t anticipate he’ll be available much longer.

The name of Guhle’s game is hard-nosed defence — he’s a physical 6’3” player who shuts down gaps, with scouts heaping praise his athletic ability. He’s also a decent skater for a player his size, as he can work his way around the defensive zone with ease to track down his next puck battle. He still has plenty of room to work on his stride, he’s far from being considered a speedster. But it’s the combination of size, physicality, skating and great defensive awareness that makes him appealing to NHL clubs.

Where Guhle falls short is in his offensive awareness and transition ability. While he managed to score 40 points in 64 games, Guhle’s offence mostly revolves around making simple plays. This can be effective at the WHL level where his imposing physicality makes him an especially tough player to budge, plus he occasionally likes to take a strong shot from the point. But the lack of creativity has been evident when plays become more erratic, which puts a cap on his ceiling.

Statistically speaking, Guhle’s been just below average at pushing play forward on the Prince Albert Raiders, with a relative on-ice GF% of -1.12. He’s done decently well for himself as the first passer in transition, but his strengths are all on the defensive side — from Mitch Brown’s tracking data he ranks fourth amongst 2020-eligible defencemen with the opposition only being able to carry the puck past him a low 56.3% of the time.

Whichever team drafts Guhle will have some excellent tools to work with, with his athleticism alone making him one of the safest players in the draft to project to the NHL level. You won’t see him on the power play or serving as an offensive catalyst, but his role as a minute-eating defensive defenceman could serve well as a complimentary piece on an NHL roster. And in a draft thin on impact defencemen, Guhle’s a prime player for a team to take a swing on in the first round.


Further Reading

Derek Neumeier: 2020 NHL Entry Draft Prospect Profile: Kaiden Guhle (Defending Big D)
Mark Masters: Guhle on brother’s advice, skating genes and channeling his inner Doughty (TSN)
Mitch Brown: Kaiden Guhle vs Braden Schneider — Which 2020 NHL Draft Defensive Prospect Reigns Supreme? (EP Rinkside) ($)

Braden Schneider (RD)

TeamLeagueHeightWeightExpected RangeNHL Rank
Brandon Wheat KingsWHL6'2"209 lbs18 - 40#9 (NA)

The other top defencemen out of the WHL, the September-born Schneider has played three full seasons with the Brandon Wheat Kings and has grown his game consistently throughout that time. Known as a match-up, old-school, shutdown defender, Schneider has played that role internationally for Team Canada in every major international tournament — the U17s, the Hlinka, and the U18s — while also leading draft-eligible WHL defencemen in points-per-game this season with 0.70.

Here’s what we like about Schneider. He’s a strong, positionally-sound defender who utilizes every inch of his 209-pound frame to engage opposing players and come out of puck battles with the biscuit. All reports I’ve read on him talk about his good first-pass (Redden fans, drink!), and an above-average skating ability for a player of his size — a blend of skills that allow him to attempt to break out the puck with control. He’s a modern neutral zone defender, playing a style of game that allows him to control the movements of opposing attackers as he tries to break up entries before they cross his blue line.

The immense variation on Schneider — an expected range of 18 to 40 at this point — is mainly due to what you think about his offensive potential at the next level, which ultimately determines his ceiling. While a ‘no nonsense’ defender is still valuable, NHL teams have progressed to the point where if you can’t effectively transition the puck and contribute to entries and exits, you’re likely going to get filled in shots-wise. That type of player might be valuable later on in the draft, but not so much with a first-round pick.

Schneider’s point totals on an average Wheat Kings team indicate a growing offensive game, especially when compared to his 0.33 points-per-game mark in his rookie year and his 0.41 last season, but points are just one metric to consider when evaluating a player’s offensive contributions. Some have really questioned his ability to transition the puck when pressure is being applied. There aren’t many players with Schneider’s size and strength in the WHL, and while his physical maturity may allow him more time and space at this level, he’s going to need to add more tools to keep up with the pace of play at the next level.

In a November 2019 profile of his game on NHL.com, Schneider recognized that he needed to improve his two-way game — a fun application of the term when we usually apply it to offensive players having to learn the defensive side — and Wheat Kings GM Darren Ritchie concurred.

As a rare right-shot defender in this year’s draft, with a safe NHL ceiling and an advanced physical toolkit, all bets are that Schneider is a first-round pick. He has a lot of tools for a team to work with, seems extremely coachable given his playing history with Team Canada, and has identified the weakness in his offensive game. If the Sens miss out on Drysdale, and are looking to add a right-shot to their system, Schneider might have a nice set of skills to blend with Jacob Bernard-Docker and Lassi Thomson.


Further Reading

Mitch Brown: Kaiden Guhle vs Braden Schneider — Which 2020 NHL Draft Defensive Prospect Reigns Supreme? (EP Rinkside) ($)
Sam Happi: 2020 NHL Draft Profile — Braden Schneider
Sam Happi: Braden Schneider shift-by-shift video and scouting notes — February 21, 2020

Emil Andrae (LD)

TeamLeagueHeightWeightExpected RangeNHL Rank
HV71 J20SuperElit5'9"183 lbs21 - 43#15 (Euro)

The list of parallels between Erik Brännström and Emil Andrae isn’t a short one. They’re both undersized, left-shot defencemen, they both played for HV71 in Sweden, and even their playing styles draw plenty of similarities. But unlike Brännström in his draft year, Andrae is pencilled in more as a late-first or early-second round player, although a team could potentially take an early gamble.

Andrae is one of the draft class’ premiere offensive defencemen, with fantastic vision of the ice to make crisp passes in transition and handle the puck with confidence in the offensive zone. His creativity and versatility already make him a projectable player to play on the man advantage, as he has a knack to make high-risk high-reward plays work in his favour with a great degree of consistency.

But despite standing at just 5’9”, Andrae is an extremely energetic player who plays above his size. He’s completely willing to throw the body and get into puck battles, and has been decently successful at it too with his lower-body strength. Will Scouch’s tracking data also suggests that Andrae is one of the draft’s most effective defencemen at breaking up transitions, something that often gets overlooked with everything else he brings to the table. It’s rare to see defencemen of Andrae’s stature exude so much confidence every time he hits the ice, which made him a really fun player to observe as he crushed the SuperElit league this past season.

What holds Andrae back from being a surefire top pick is his skating. He’s fantastic at maneuvering the offensive zone with his smooth edges and he works really well in tight spaces. Although his acceleration and straight line speed are both places where he needs to improve, as they became more exposed in his ten-game stint in the SHL. He’s expected to play with HV71’s SHL squad next season along with Zion Nybeck, so it’ll be interesting to see how he’ll handle a larger role against professional competition.

With 38 points in 40 games, Andrae is already placing himself in strong company with his P/GP similar to top-ten pick Adam Boqvist in his draft season (although it should be noted Andrae was also bested by Anton Johannesson and Helge Grans this season). His size and risky style of play may drive some teams away, but his raw abilities give him a very high ceiling going forward.


Further Reading

Tony Ferrari: Prospect Ramblings: Player A or B (Dobber Prospects)
Alexander Appleyard: Scouting Report: Emil Andrae (Smaht Scouting)
Cost Per Pointcast: Draft Debaters Part 5 feat. J.D. Burke & Scott Wheeler (Silver Seven)

William Wallinder (LD)

TeamLeagueHeightWeightExpected RangeNHL Rank
MODO Hockey J20SuperElit6'4"192 lbs21 - 44#14 (Euro)

Following Emil Andrae and William Wallinder this season has been so fun, because for two effective, offensively-enabling defenders, the way in which they go about generating their results are so different, and where both go will help indicate which style of defender that team prefers.

While Andrae has needed to be smart to make up for his lack of physical tools, Wallinder has been blessed with a 6-foot-4 frame and a fluid skating stride with lateral movement that allows him to cover a wide ice surface with ease, especially in transition. He’s a natural puck rusher, jumping into plays as a second-wave, or leading his team up the ice as the puck moves from the defensive zone up to the offensive zone. A July-born player, Wallinder — alongside Samuel Knazko and Wyatt Kaiser — are some of the youngest top defensive prospects eligible in this year’s draft. This context helps out his relatively lower 0.65 points-per-game mark this season in the SuperElit. He has the confidence to see holes in neutral zone coverage and a trust in his skills to try for the controlled entry, even if it doesn’t always work out.

There are notable question marks about Wallinder’s game in both the offensive zone and the defensive zone. The latter gets the most press, and it’s because Wallinder was prone to having some defensive efforts like this and this over the course of the year. It’s the first time we’ve profiled a player this year where effort shows up as a weakness, and that’s always a red flag. Reports I read noted that MODO’s J20 program had warts like this all year for everyone on their defence corps, but if someone with Wallinder’s physical tools are available in the second-round, his defensive decision-making is probably why.

With Thomas Chabot and Erik Brännström as puck rushers on the left side, there’s an argument to be made that the Sens already have players with Wallinder’s skillset. I’d argue that Ottawa might be one of the best teams for Wallinder, though, because this will allow them the patience to develop him over time — in Sweden and in the AHL — and potentially add a tantalizing toolkit to their team in a couple of seasons that might be able to push them over the edge.


Further Reading

Alexander Taxman: Prospect Report — William Wallinder (Aug, 2019)
Scouching: William Wallinder


First Round Forwards

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