22. Jonathan Gruden (Reader Rank: 25, Last Year: N/A)
The 2018 draft saw the Ottawa Senators lean heavily towards NCAA talent, led by Brady Tkachuk 4th overall and a pair of North Dakota-bound defencemen. Two rounds later, the Sens called the name of winger Jonathan Gruden, selecting him 95th overall.
Gruden comes with a bit of a Sens connection. His father, also named John Gruden (not Raiders football coach), played 22 games for Ottawa from 1998 to 2000 as a defenceman, and will make his NHL coaching debut next season as an assistant on the New York Islanders’ bench.
While his father may have taken the CHL route to get to the NHL as a coach (he formerly coached the Flint Firebirds and recent champions Hamilton Bulldogs), Jonathan is honing his craft through the college route. He’s spent the last two seasons playing for the U.S. National Team Development Program in the USHL, and is committed to play for the University of Miami, Ohio next season.
A quick glance at his statistics show positive signs. He scored 34 points in 25 games in the USHL last season, and another 60 in 61 games in the USDP. It’s worth noting however that his teams were full of top talents, including 1st round picks Joel Farabee and Oliver Wahlstrom, and top 2019 prospects Jack Hughes and Cole Caulfied. This forced Gruden into more of a secondary role, in which he still managed to rank as one of their top scorers.
Gruden graded out as one of the better statistical players in the 2018 draft, as Canucks Army ranked him highest as the 38th best available player. While most outlets had him ranked lower in the 70-90 range, Gruden has the potential to become one of the draft’s bigger steals. He made his teammates better when playing with him, his goals for percentage was through the roof (76.6%), and he managed to produce at rates above players like Kyle Okposo and Jaden Schwartz did at the same age.
Furthermore, via the hand tracked data from Mitch Brown, Gruden appears to be one of the USHL’s better players when it comes to carrying the puck into the offensive zone (Controlled Entry Success %) and setting up chances for his teammates (Scoring Chance Assists & Primary Shot Assists).
As for Gruden’s overall skillset, he’s best described as an all-around player. While he doesn’t have one particular skill that stands out, he doesn’t have a particular strength either. His skating is good, but not great. His puck skills aren’t all that creative, but he carries it with confidence. He isn’t an overtly physical player, and at 6’0” and 170 lbs, he definitely came across as one of the more slight players at this year’s annual development camp. Gaining strength is very likely a high priority for him this off-season.
The separation on Gruden boils down to how he achieved his results: was he a product of his teammates, or were his skills being overshadowed? While I’d personally lean towards the latter, next season will be the ultimate test. Two of the three top scorers on the University of Miami will not be returning next season, with Gruden leading the crop of students coming in (fellow 4th round pick Matej Pekar will also be arriving). He’ll likely slot right into their top six as a left winger, although he won’t have the same complimentary talents while playing against tougher competition.
Gruden also has the option to transfer to the London Knights who hold his CHL rights, where he’d be joining a strong team that includes fellow Sens prospect Alex Formenton, as well as both Adam Boqvist and Evan Bouchard (and maybe Brady Tkachuk?). The chances of this happening appear to be minimal, however, as he’s been committed to play for Miami since 2015.
The upside to choosing the college route is that the Sens will have four years to evaluate Gruden’s game, and decide when he’ll be ready to turn pro. At only 18 years old, he still has plenty of time to develop, and should be a player worth keeping an eye on as he makes his NCAA debut.