NHL Draft 2020: Predictions For Jamie Drysdale, Jake Sanderson, Top Defensemen

Paul KasabianSenior ContributorApril 19, 2020

HAMILTON, ON - JANUARY 16:  Jamie Drysdale #4 of Team Red skates during the 2020 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game against Team White at FirstOntario Centre on January 16, 2020 in Hamilton, Canada.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

Eight or more defensemen have gone in the first round of each of the past five drafts, including 14 in 2018.

Hitting eight this year appears like a tall order, though.

The top defensemen in the class of 2020 are certainly talented enough to have long and prosperous NHL careers, but the incoming group of prospects happens to be stacked with forward talent. Runs on centers and wings should be commonplace as teams look to keep up with the Joneses in a higher-scoring NHL than what fans have become accustomed to since the mid-1990s.

The 2019-20 season marks just the third time since 1995-96 that teams, on average, have scored at least three goals per game. Still, teams need defensemen to slow down their opponents' scoring surges, and we will still see a handful picked in Round 1.

Here's a look at a mock draft, as well as write-ups on the four defensemen predicted to go in the top 20.

                                

2020 NHL Mock Draft 

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1. Detroit Red Wings: LW Alexis Lafreniere, Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL)

2. Ottawa Senators: C Quinton Byfield, Sudbury Wolves (OHL)

3. Ottawa Senators (from San Jose Sharks): C Tim Stutzle, Adler Mannheim (DEL)

4. Los Angeles Kings: C Cole Perfetti, Saginaw Spirit (OHL)

5. Anaheim Ducks: D Jamie Drysdale, Erie Otters (OHL)

6. New Jersey Devils: C Marco Rossi, Ottawa 67's (OHL)

7. Buffalo Sabres: RW Alexander Holtz, Djurgardens IF Hockey (SHL)

8. Montreal Canadiens: LW Lucas Raymond, Frolunda HC (SHL)

9. Chicago Blackhawks: C Anton Lundell, HIFK (Liiga)

10. New Jersey Devils (from Arizona Coyotes): G Yaroslav Askarov, SKA St. Petersburg (KHL)

11. Minnesota Wild: D Jake Sanderson, United States Under-18 National Team

12. Winnipeg Jets: RW Noel Gunler, Lulea HF (SHL)

13. New York Rangers: RW Jack Quinn, Ottawa 67's (OHL)

14. Florida Panthers: F Dylan Holloway, Wisconsin Badgers (NCAA)

15. Columbus Blue Jackets: LW Rodion Amirov, Salavat Yulaev Ufa (KHL)

16. Calgary Flames: D Kaiden Guhle, Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)

17. New Jersey Devils (from Vancouver Canucks): RW Dawson Mercer, Drummondville Voltigeurs (QMJHL)

18. Nashville Predators: C Connor Zary, Kamloops Blazers (WHL)

19. Carolina Hurricanes (from Toronto Maple Leafs): D Braden Schneider, Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)

20. Edmonton Oilers: C Mavrik Bourque, Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL)

21. Ottawa Senators (from New York Islanders): RW Seth Jarvis, Portland Winterhawks (WHL)

22. Dallas Stars: LW Jan Mysak, HC Litvinov (Czech)

23. New York Rangers (from Carolina Hurricanes): C Hendrix Lapierre, Chicoutimi Sagueneens (QMJHL)

24. Minnesota Wild (from Pittsburgh Penguins): D William Wallinder, MODO Hockey J20 (Allsvenskan)

25. Philadelphia Flyers: D Justin Barron, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)

26. San Jose Sharks (from Tampa Bay Lightning): C Jacob Perreault, Sarnia Sting (OHL)

27. Colorado Avalanche: D Jeremie Poirier, Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)

28. Vegas Golden Knights: F John-Jason Peterka, EHC Munchen (DEL)

29. Washington Capitals: F Lukas Reichel, Eisbaren Berlin (DEL)

30. St. Louis Blues: C Thomas Bordeleau, United States Under-18 National Team

31. Anaheim Ducks (from Boston Bruins): Ridly Greig, Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)

Draft order via Tankathon.

               

5. Anaheim Ducks: D Jamie Drysdale, Erie Otters (OHL)

The Anaheim Ducks were tied for first with the Los Angeles Kings for most goals allowed in the Western Conference when the season was suspended on March 12 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, so a stud defenseman to build around for years is a must for the franchise.

The Erie Otters' Jamie Drysdale should be able to take on that responsibility.

Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News wrote that Drysdale "looks like the uncontested top defenseman in the NHL draft this summer." Mark Scheig of the Hockey Writers praised Drysdale's speed and wrote that "the number of turnovers he created by stick checking was absurd."

NHL Central Scouting named Drysdale as the third-best North American skater in the class of 2020.

Drysdale can also create offensely. He was on the Otters' power-play unit and notched nine goals and 38 assists last year.

In a draft loaded with top forward talent, the Ducks may feel obligated to pick one at No. 5. Only two Ducks scored more than 15 goals this season, and only five had 10 or more (and one of those, Derek Grant, is now a Philadelphia Flyer).

But it's hard to dislike the game of the 5'11", 175-pound Drysdale, who should be a top-10 pick at worst. Anaheim seems like a good landing spot at No. 5.

                         

11. Minnesota Wild: D Jake Sanderson, United States Under-18 National Team

No one in the top 10 of NHL Central Scouting's North American skater rankings jumped higher between the midterm list and final board than Jake Sanderson, who stars for the United States Under-18 National Team.

The 6'2", 185-pound defenseman went from 11th to fourth and only trails Drysdale among defenseman.

Tony Ferrari of Dobber Prospects praised the University of North Dakota commit in a January scouting report:

"While he is still fairly raw, he flashes everything you want to see in a modern-day blueliner. He skates well and doesn't exhaust a lot of energy doing so. He is smooth in his transitions and his edge-work is above average. His gap control is inconsistent but it has improved over the course of the season. He is engaging at the blueline far more often and with his high skill level, it often leads to quick breakout passes that catch the opposition off guard."

Sanderson notched nine goals and 38 assists last season.

The Minnesota Wild's defense has struggled compared to its mid-2010s success, when the team finished 11th or better in goals allowed per game from 2013-14 through 2017-18. The 2019-20 season saw the Wild fall to 22nd in that category. Furthermore, Minnesota needs to get younger along the blue line, with the unit's average age nearing 30.

The Minnesota Wild would have to wait a bit before seeing Sanderson on the ice (he'll be playing for UND beginning in the fall, per Brad Elliott Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald), but a few years of seasoning in the collegiate and minor league ranks could help form Sanderson into a perennial All-Star.

                      

16. Calgary Flames: D Kaiden Guhle, Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)

Prince Albert Raiders defenseman Kaiden Guhle was productive on both ends of the ice in 2019-20, scoring 11 goals, dishing 29 assists and earning a plus-23 rating.

The Raiders were also first in the WHL's East Division with a 36-18-6-4 record when the season was cancelled in March.

Draft analysts and scouting services are all over the map on Guhle, though. For example, he's 28th on Future Considerations' draft prospect list but eighth among North American skaters on NHL Central Scouting's rankings.

There's reason to be bullish about Guhle's prospects. At the very least, the 6'3", 187-pound blueliner can take care of business on his end.

Peter Baracchini of the Hockey Writers discussed this further in March:

"Guhle's strength is his defensive play. He already has great size for an NHL defenseman, which allows him to provide great gap control and separation whenever he's in a battle with the opposition. He has a great stick, and his long reach creates turnovers to transition from defense to offense. He can lock down any open players in front of the net by tying them up and clearing space."

Guhle also received a ringing endorsement from his WHL head coach, Marc Habsheid.

"As good a player as he is, he's a better person," Habscheid told Robert Murray for WHL's official site. "He gets life. He gets being a good teammate. He gets being coachable."

The Calgary Flames could use help on both ends (No. 20 in scoring, No. 15 in goals allowed this season), and Guhle might be tough to pass up given his potential to contribute on both ends as a two-way defenseman.

                         

19. Carolina Hurricanes (from Toronto Maple Leafs): D Braden Schneider, Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)

Brandon Wheat Kings defenseman Braden Schneider could end up being a diamond in the rough in the latter stages of the first round.

"Braden Schneider presents a toolkit that oozes NHL potential as your quintessential two-way defenseman," Jeb Biggart of the Hockey Writers penned in March. "With enough nurturing in juniors and minors, the sizable D-man could become a late first-round gem for any NHL squad."

The 6'2", 202-pound blueliner is ranked ninth on NHL Central Scouting's North American skaters list, and his game on the defensive end has been widely praised.

"Has a physical edge to his game and defends fiercely," TSN director of scouting Craig Button wrote in September. "Has continuously expanded his game, makes plays with the puck and jumps into the attack. He's no shrinking violet on the ice."

Ferrari also praised Schneider in February but noted more work needs to be done on the other end: "Braden Schneider is a good two-way defender who excels in his own end. He has very good defensive awareness and moves the puck up ice quite well. His offensive upside is a bit limited but he isn't inept by any means."

The 18-year-old has played three full seasons with the Wheat Kings and saw his points-per-game tallies go up each year. He finished this season with seven goals and 35 assists in 60 games alongside a plus-nine rating.

Defense isn't an issue for the Carolina Hurricanes, who are projected to take Schneider in this mock. The team has allowed the sixth-fewest goals per game this season. This is more of a situation wherein they look to simply take the best available player on the board, which is Schneider here.

The Hurricanes already have fantastic young offensive talents to build around in Sebastian Aho (38 goals), Andrei Svechnikov (24 goals, 37 assists) and Martin Nicas (16 goals, 20 assists), among others.

A potential defensive stalwart's arrival to that group couldn't hurt, and that's where Schneider may come into play for Carolina.