Left-handed defenseman (LHD) Jake Sanderson has been rising up draft boards for the 2020 NHL Draft. Bob McKenzie’s midseason list had him at number 9, sparking a lot of discussion online. His dominant performance at the 2020 BioSteel All-American Game also helped his rising stock. Personally, I had Sanderson at #22 on my January list. After more viewings, Sanderson has moved up and is now my #2 ranked defenseman in the draft (behind Drysdale) and the top LHD available.
- 6’1 – 185
- USNTDP U18
- Son of 1104 game veteran Geoff Sanderson
42 GP / 7 G – 19 A – 26 P / 57 SOG, +16
For a player of Sanderson’s calibre, you might expect a little more production but USNTDP defenseman are always very tricky to evaluate in terms of points. 26 points in 42 GP surely isn’t bad overall. Sanderson only has 4 points in 17 GP versus better NCAA competition, which is slightly concerning. Even still, production isn’t going to be what guides Sanderson to the pros and he has looked good in those games vs NCAA competition.
Sanderson’s 57 shots is pretty low for a top prospect. He definitely doesn’t overshoot the puck, something I find to be a common issue with 17 year old defensemen but you’d still like to see him firing more pucks and getting more scoring opportunities. Although not the best stat out there, his +16 ranks 1st among USNTDP defensemen, a good sign he is driving play and playing well in all three zones.
Going back to his first year with USNTDP, Sanderson has put up points in a somewhat consistent manner. He had only 7 points in 22 GP vs. USHL competition last year, the tougher portion of the U17 schedule. This seems like a trend where Sanderson struggles to gather points versus higher competition. It would not suprise me at all if Sanderson has a disappointing season offensively in the NCAA next year, but then finds his way in his sophmore season.
In order to properly scout players, it is important to not get caught up in the little differences while ignoring the big ones. That’s why I’ve chosen 10 and only 10 categories to focus on to evaluate prospects. I feel that all these categories cover what it means to be a top prospect (these 10 are defensemen specific).
A= elite, B= above average, C= average, D= below average, E= poor
Hockey sense: A
Puck control: A
Sanderson is a very good skater—he uses his agility and powerful stride to make sharp turns and keep himself away from the opposing players. As more of an east-west skater, he isn’t incredibly fast. However, his overall edgework and agility is near the top for defensemen in the class. Sanderson’s skating ability will help him translate to the NHL effectively. Below is an example of his all-round skating ability.
Jake Sanderson with an absolutely gorgeous play from coast to coast pic.twitter.com/aB6Aj0hFqk
— Future Scope Hockey (@FSHockeycenter) January 21, 2020
Sanderson has decent size, especially for someone who is as mobile as he is. Currently listed at 6’1 – 185, he may even be taller now. He has a long reach for his height and his strong skating stance makes him seem bigger than he is.
As for strength, Sanderson is strong with both his feet and hands. He’s hard to knock off the puck when he’s in stride and making turns. He also holds onto the puck fairly securely.
Sanderson’s high hockey sense is another key aspect of his game—he consistently makes the right decisions with the puck, particularly in the defensive and neutral zone, which can be a major weakness for many 17 year old defensemen. I’m not sure he will ever be a top powerplay option in the NHL but he is certainly capable of being relied upon to make safe decisions in all three zones. Below is a prime example of his high-hockey sense.
— Jokke Nevalainen (@JokkeNevalainen) February 8, 2020
Puck control is part of the reason Sanderson succeeds as an all-round defenseman. Using his frame, skating, and hockey sense, it’s hard to knock the puck off his stick when he picks it up. He is able to dodge the opposition and skate up the ice all while keeping the puck in his control. Having this ability facilitates many other aspects of Sanderson’s game.
Not many 17 year old defenseman have an elite level shot. Sanderson’s shot is very good but it’s not quite NHL level yet—hence the B rating. He can shoot pretty hard with both wrist shots and slap shots, but he doesn’t yet have a quick release that is going to beat quality goaltenders. With his shot, Sanderson can chip in with some goals like the one seen below.
— Jokke Nevalainen (@JokkeNevalainen) February 7, 2020
Sanderson is well-above average defensively for a draft eligible defenseman. I’ve seen some praise his defensive play as his best ability. I disagree there, as I think it’s quite good, but he’s not going to be an effective NHLer with his defensive ability alone. For me, he gets a B rating. It would be extremely rare for a draft eligible player to get an A in this category and Sanderson has a lot of room to improve defensively on top of how good he already is. He doesn’t shy away from contact either and is capable of making big hits. However, his size prevents him from being a complete physical force on the ice. Here’s an example of Sanderson playing the body.
Jake Sanderson lights up Brendan Bisson 😱 pic.twitter.com/q9eUjCLKsI
— 1. Ottawa (via San Jose) (@Sens_Army_) January 21, 2020
Lastly, Sanderson’s effort level is quite good. He works hard consistently and his effort is part of the reason he is effective in his own zone.
Development, Outlook, and Projection
Sanderson has improved very consistently over his time with the USNTDP, slowly but surely becoming a top-flight prospect. With his raw skating ability, Sanderson has high NHL potential. If he can round out a few parts of his game, he can become a very good NHL defender. He has no real weaknesses, as shown by having at least C rating in all 10 scouting categories listed above.
Sanderson heads to the University of North Dakota next season. I expect him to be at UND two seasons before making the jump to either the NHL or AHL. Even if he isn’t getting a load of points, he will likely be an impact player for UND immediately.
If all goes well, Sanderson ends up a quality top 4 defenseman who sees time on both the PP and PK. He might significantly improve his offensive skills and end up a top PP option capable of getting 50+ points a year, but I think that’s fairly wishful thinking with Sanderson.
The worst case scenario for Sanderson is as a bottom-pairing two-way defender. Sanderson is a player who has a high floor. There’s almost no doubt he will be at the very least an NHLer.
Jake Sanderson will probably fall somewhere between 13-18 on my upcoming rankings. However, I feel NHL teams will be all over this guy. Based on the Bob McKenzie list and what the more traditional scouts have been saying, Jake Sanderson seems like a likely candidate to sneak into the top 10 if he keeps up his high level of play.
So, in my quick mock draft, I had the Sabres nabbing him with the 9th overall pick.
Quick NHL Mock Draft based on current standings (PTS%)
1. DET- Alexis Lafreniere
2. LA- Quinton Byfield
3. OTT- Tim Stutzle
4. ANA- Jamie Drysdale
5. OTT- Lucas Raymond
6. NJ- Marco Rossi
7. CHI- Alexander Holtz
8. MTL- Cole Perfetti
9. BUF- Jake Sanderson
10. NJ- Anton Lundell
— Ben Misfeldt (@BBMHockey) February 21, 2020
I’m not sure a team is getting a valuable selection if they take him in the top 10. Selecting Sanderson in the 10 to 20 range is fair value; I feel Sanderson is a safe bet to be at least a good NHLer but he’s also not a good bet to be a #1 d-man.
Thanks for reading!