Of the top 2020 NHL draft prospects we’ve covered so far, all of them have been forwards. From Alexis Lafrenière to Tim Stützle, the immense crop of offensive talent at the top is what will ultimately define this draft class.
But there’s one defenceman who’s been able to crack the list of the draft’s elites, as the unanimous choice as the draft’s best blueliner. Introducing Jamie Drysdale.
Jamie Drysdale (RD)
|Team||League||Height||Weight||Expected Range||NHL Rank|
|Team||League||Height||Weight||Expected Range||NHL Rank|
|Erie Otters||OHL||5'11"||170 lbs||5 - 8||#3 (NA)|
Taken fourth overall in the 2018 OHL Draft, Drysdale quickly made himself known as a menace for the Erie Otters. He made the OHL’s First All-Rookie Team on a disastrous Erie team, and put the Otters on his back again this season as their surefire, all-situations #1 defenceman.
When he was called to the big stage to play for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships, he rose to the occasion as the team’s only draft-eligible defenceman. He started off as the team’s seventh blueliner, but his play kept on elevating, eventually landing him a top role in the gold medal game.
High-end right-shot defencemen are very difficult to come by, which has inevitably made Drysdale a coveted target in this year’s draft. There’s a lot to love about the way he plays, so let’s dive into it.
The term “new age defenceman” gets tossed around a lot, but what does it really mean? At least to me, it boils down to a few points:
- Confidence with the puck
- Effectiveness in both transitional play and two-way awareness
- Smooth skating
Drysdale checks all three of those boxes; let’s go through them one by one.
With 38 assists in 47 games this past season, Drysdale has been one of the OHL’s premier playmakers from the back end. He has the smarts to set up plays from inside the offensive zone and is incredibly effective at finding the seams to his teammates. His vision allows him to be creative with his passing options, possessing the accuracy to make it work without sacrificing too many turnovers.
This playmaking ability starts from behind the blueline too, often leading his team on zone entries as either the first passer or the carrier, whichever direction works best in the moment. Even with that said, Drysdale’s shooting ability can be underrated too, as he’s one of the draft’s best players at walking the line and generating shot attempts through traffic. Here’s his lone goal from the World Juniors:
Jamie Drysdale walks right in, doesn't even take his shoes off.pic.twitter.com/z6OMCojBoA— #WorldJuniors (@HC_WJC) January 4, 2020
This all contributes to his incredible offensive acumen, but that doesn’t mean he’s a one-sided player who lags behind defensively. In fact it’s the opposite, as Drysdale makes his presence known in the defensive zone by virtue of him playing smart with his stick. He’s sound positionally, but when it comes to breaking up plays and clogging up passing lanes, more often than not Drysdale helped his team regain possession.
None of those positives are more present in Drysdale’s game than his elite skating. Every player we’ve profiled so far has excelled in this aspect, and Drysdale is no exception. He suits the term “mobile defenceman” in the most literal sense — he just knows how to move. His straight line speed helps him in transition, but his edge-work is debatably the best in the entire draft class. It’s what allows him to find passing lanes, open up space for his teammates, consistently control zone transitions and close defensive gaps. It’s what enables him to be so tactically elite, as both his feet and brain are always moving at a fast pace.
That’s the crux of what makes a “new age defenceman” — does he have the smarts to get his team optimal results, and the feet to make it happen? It’s the magical combo of today’s NHL, like we’ve seen from recent high picks such as Bowen Byram, Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes. Drysdale could very well be next in line.
Drysdale’s 47 points in 49 games led all draft-eligible OHL defencemen by a long shot, and was the sixth highest rate of the last decade. But who cares about points, right? Points are so passé — today is all about the microtracking.
Thankfully, Mitch Brown is once again the saviour, as his Patreon-supported manual prospect tracking provides us with some invaluable data. Brown tracked ten games of Drysdale this past season, and the results are overwhelmingly positive.
A big part of what Brown tracks are called shot assists, which are passes that directly result in a shot. He then weights each shot assist by the type of pass, location, and other factors in terms of the pass’ likelihood of becoming a primary assist. These are called expected primary assists, or abbreviated to xA1.
Brown’s database includes players from all three of the CHL’s leagues as well as the U.S. National Development Team. Drysdale created 0.80 xA1 per 60 minutes, which is better than almost every tracked defenceman except for Byram (0.80) and Ryan Merkley (1.13). His rate of primary shot assists is similarly gaudy, ranking in the 96th percentile. He was already one of the CHL’s best defencemen at age 17.
I could write another thousand words just picking apart Brown’s data on Drysdale, so I’ll point you to three other notable figures:
- While he may not be this draft’s king in terms of the sheer volume of zone transitions (that crown goes to Jake Sanderson), he ranks in the 89th percentile for controlled exits per minute, as well as the 91st percentile for controlled zone entries per minute.
- In terms of his defence, only 65.5% of zone entries against were done with control, the lowest amongst Erie defencemen by eight percentage points.
- The results all added up, as he had an on-ice GF% of 55.5%, over ten percentage points better than when he was off the ice (from Pick224). His CF% in the tracked games came out even better at 57.2%.
Making plays is the name of the game for Drysdale, but he uses all his tools to excel in so many other areas as a true two-way player. And he gets results.
While I still feel comfortable labelling Drysdale as a two-way defenceman, he’s far from having the defensive capabilities of your typical shutdown guy. Most evidently is that he’s 5’11” and 170 lbs — a decade ago that would’ve been marked as a big red flag but today’s league is more than suitable for defencemen of his stature. He’ll still have to improve his strength, though, as it holds him back from winning puck battles and makes him more susceptible to getting knocked off the puck.
There’s also room for refinement in his defensive game. His gap control, while shown to be effective in the OHL, still has room for improvement. His ability to defend two-on-one chances is also a ways away from being considered a strength. The good news is that he has the skating talent and determination to get better in those areas. But like with all smaller defencemen, the question of translatability will always be looming.
When it comes to his draft stock, I feel the need to point out again that Drysdale is a right shot defenceman. He’s a rare asset, especially in a year with very few defencemen with close to his talent level.
The Ottawa Senators have Jacob Bernard-Docker and Lassi Thomson in the system, but neither are a blue-chip prospect in the same way that Drysdale is. Pairing him with either Thomas Chabot or Erik Brännström for the foreseeable future is an enticing idea, one that may see the Sens stick out their neck a bit at the draft table.
There’s a good reason why he’s in this conversation, though, as his puck skills, incredible skating and forward-thinking smarts give him the potential to rise to elite heights in the NHL. There’s still work to do, but no prospect is perfect. The sky is the limit with his current toolkit, which is why he’s without a doubt the best defenceman in the 2020 NHL draft.
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“Drysdale is an outstanding skater. His top speed is well above-average, but his edgework is what stands out. The acceleration that he creates through crossovers and lateral movement is unbelievable.”
“I’m a huge fan of Drysdale’s game and he should easily be the top defender taken in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. At 17 he is logging top minutes on a veteran Erie Otters defensive group and played for Team Canada at the World Junior tournament. As much as I love his offence the thing that impresses me the most about Drysdale is the fact he seems to play with ice in his veins. I have not seen him get rattled in any situation and the poise he has shown at 17 is incredible. While the dinosaur in me wants to scream out “but he’s not big enough to be a defenceman in the NHL” that myth has been all but shattered at this point. He’s going to need to get stronger but the talent is worth the wait in the long run.”
“Drysdale is an elite skater is just about every sense. He is mesmerizing as he patrols the offensive zone at times. His ability to walk the blueline, stop-and-start laterally and then make a beeline towards the slot, all with the puck, is impressive. He is an offensively intuitive player and knows how to attack opponents with whatever they give him. His defensive game is quite good for a young defender, using his skating and puck skills to regain control of the puck and turn it up ice.”
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