Photo from Aaron Bell/OHL Images
This is far from a strong year for defensemen. It wouldn’t be shocking if just 3-4 defenders in the first round, compared to a potential five in the top 10 next year. With so much focus on big-game, skillful forwards, it’s easy to forget just how good Jamie Drysdale is – and the top defensive prospect, no doubt.
In his two years of major junior, Drysdale has been named to both the first all-rookie and all-star teams, won medals with Canada at the U-18 and U-20 level and post two 40-plus point campaigns as an undersized, but pure skill-based defenseman with the Erie Otters. Digging deeper with the stats, only William Villeneuve (0.45) had a better even strength primary-points-per-game average than Drysdale (0.41) among draft-elgible defense prospects with at least 25 games played, regardless of league. In the past decade, only Evan Bouchard (0.51) and Tony DeAngelo (0.45) had a better primary EV P1/GP than Drysdale, albeit Drysdale played fewer games due to the World Junior Championship and an upper-body injury in February. Ottawa’s Alec Belanger was the only OHL defensemen this year in spitting distance (0.36), but even then, that’s quite the difference.
With the boring numbers out of the way, here’s a look at what makes Drysdale so valued as a prospect from a style perspective:
D.O.B – April 08, 2002
Nationality – Canada
Draft Eligibility – 2020
Weight –170 lbs
Position – Defense
Handedness – Right
Drysdale’s Style Of Play
Unquestionably, in a year dominated by skilled, two-way centermen, Drysdale stands out as the top defenseman in the draft –and perhaps the only one selected in the top 10. Drysdale’s status as a modern-day defenseman – someone who can be effective at all ends of the ice and builds much of his game around speed – is unmatched among the draft class. One of the best skaters in the draft based on acceleration, top speed and start-stop fluidity, Drysdale possesses a smooth, powerful stride that often looks effortless in technique, but eloquent in execution. He’s on the small side of 5-foot-11, so Drysdale’s skating is a big plus – think Cale Makar’s foot speed.
Another big positive of his game is Drysdale’s confidence. Drysdale proved at the World Junior Championship that he can handle pressure and stop the game’s top young stars and despite the only 17-year-old defenseman on the team, he stepped up when the team needed him and rarely looked outmatched on any given shift. His confidence translates well when trying to dish the puck out – he’s willing to take risks because he has the ability to effectively get back into position without putting himself in a dangerous situation. When Drysdale rushes the puck, he’s capable of holding on to it as long as he needs to prepare a play without getting pressured into a mistake. That ability to remain calm in tough situations allows him to make the best play possible, especially on a rush – and Drysdale is no slouch when it comes to contributing offensively.
— Steven Ellis (@StevenEllisNHL) August 7, 2019
The best way to describe his decision-making with the puck is that he thinks like a forward. The best passers don’t look for the easy passes, they go for the smart ones that create the best scoring opportunity. Drysdale has the hands to make a move on a rush and like any good setup man, he keeps his options open while seeking the best partner around the net. Drysdale’s skating allows him to rush back to the blueline if he loses control, so he’s not afraid to pinch in and act as a fourth forward if the opportunity is right. That was evident at the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup when he often found himself actively creating scoring opportunities and continued when the OHL season took full force – he just didn’t have high-end teammates to capitalize on the chances anymore.
That’s one of the main reasons why Dysdale became an instant power-play star in Erie. Drysdale’s high-end skating and smart decision-making make him an ideal candidate to quarterback the back end, highlighted by 22 of his 45 points coming on the power play. Ryan O’Rourke (four) was the only draft-eligible OHL defenseman with more power-play goals than Drysdale (three), with Drysdale leading the pack with 18 extra-man assists.
Shot data via InStat
Drysdale will never be a physical defenseman and won’t have the strength to his advantage, but he’ll win puck possession by using his active stick or by utilizing his speed to cut off angles. When looking at the wave of young talented defensemen in the NHL – Makar, Rasmus Dahlin, Quinn Hughes – they sacrifice physicality for speed and skill, allowing them to thrive in the new NHL where small defensemen can reign supreme. Brandt Clarke, a top prospect for the 2021 NHL draft, has a similar build/skillset combination.
Jamie Drysdale's FIFTH point of the night is a goal!
— Caitlin Berry (@caitlinsports) September 22, 2019
What sets Drysdale apart from the rest of the defensive pack is his ability to bring every positive quality of his game together every night. Drysdale has very few off-games and has the energy to keep going at a high pace throughout a contest. Drysdale’s complete package combines every noticeable quality a team is looking for in a modern-day defenseman – I’d argue that he’d be a threat for first overall in 2021.
Dan Boyle, Right-Handed Defenseman, Florida Panthers/Tampa Bay Lightning/San Jose Sharks/New York Rangers
If we’re basing it solely off of Hockey Prospecting’s NHLe model, Drysdale and Boyle’s numbers are quite similar – style-wise, even more. Boyle was a power-play mastermind who was often one of the NHL’s top-scoring defenders, twice leading the NHL post-season in points by a defender. Boyle would often pinch in on a rush and had the creative skills to handle himself nicely under pressure. Boyle played in over 1,000 games and recorded 605 points – and that doesn’t include his Olympic performances, either – so that’s a solid career trajectory if Drysdale can hit anywhere close.
Stats from InStat Hockey and Elite Prospects.
This prospect report was written by Steven Ellis. If you would like to follow Steven on Twitter, his handle is @StevenEllisNHL.
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