#10: Jacob Bernard-Docker (Reader Rank: 11, Last Year: 11)
Three years after the Ottawa Senators selected him 26th overall in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, Jacob Bernard-Docker cracks the top ten of our annual Top 25 under 25 feature. Bernard-Docker’s progress since joining the organization has been steady, if perhaps unspectacular; and his move from 13th, to 12th, to 11th, and finally to 10th this year reflects that. His gradual ascent is also proof that, although Bernard-Docker may have met the expectations set before him so far, he hasn’t exceeded them. Having signed an entry-level deal in April, he’s about to enter the next phase of his progress towards being an NHL regular. This coming season, we’re going to learn a lot more about what can kind of player JBD can be at the professional level.
Bernard-Docker was drafted by the Sens straight out of Junior A in Alberta, after he was named the league’s outstanding defenseman. A big part of earning that award was his stellar offensive production, as the young defenseman racked up 20 goals and 21 assists for 41 points in 49 games. Bernard-Docker never posted the same kind of goal-scoring totals during his three seasons at the University of North Dakota, but his 43 points in 59 games over his last two seasons are nothing to sneeze at. He doesn’t have the offensive upside necessary to run a power play in the NHL, so I wouldn’t expect him to be a major point producer, but he makes smart plays with the puck. He’ll sometimes find a good pass through the seams and draw an assist that way. His shot is accurate, and hard, but won’t likely beat a lot of NHL goalies clean. If he does get a chance to unload, he’ll likely be playing for the rebound or the tip.
If his offensive skillset is good but unexceptional, Bernard-Docker’s real potential lies in his defensive prowess. He’s a smooth skater with good positional awareness; he’s not often making highlight reel plays because he was already in the right position to defuse the attack. He’s a steadying force, and a lot of scouting reports describe him as dependable.
Bernard-Docker isn’t a flashy player but there’s a lot of pro elements in this game, particularly in how well he skates, competes and defends. You can see him being on an NHL penalty kill and taking a lot of defensive zone starts. He has some offense by way of flashes of hands and playmaking, and has a hard point shot. I envision him being a hard to play against second-pair defenseman who plays more minutes than his natural toolkit suggests, as he has done the past few years.
With the types of season that Shane Pinto and Jake Sanderson had for UND, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Bernard-Docker took a bit of a back seat when it comes to prospect hype this past season. It’s unlikely that he will suddenly develop the type of “wow” factor that defines the very best NHLers, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be the rock on the right side that the Sens have been searching for. Remember Ottawa’s current depth chart for right-handed defensemen is Nikita Zaitsev, Artem Zub, and Josh Brown — with the possibility of Michael Del Zotto playing some time on his off-side. JBD is likely to begin the season in the AHL, but that’s not exactly anyone’s idea of a deep defensive group. It wouldn’t be surprising if he saw some NHL time, particularly if the Sens’ play-off aspirations fall short again.
I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention that Bernard-Docker also just seems like a really excellent human being. I’m forever reticent to speak definitively about the “character” of hockey players because we really do not know these people at all, but it takes some real integrity to carry yourself the way the young defenseman does. No matter what happens with his NHL career, that’s something he should be proud of.