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DRAFT: A Look at the Defensemen

In our first Road to the Draft positional preview, we take a look at the top defenders in the upcoming 2020 NHL Draft

by Chris Wescott TheChrisWescott /

If you're a sucker for a good defensive prospect, you're going to like the names in this article.

The 2020 NHL Draft is approaching and there are plenty of talented blueliners to research and scout ahead of the big day. The New Jersey Devils currently hold the seventh-overall pick in the first round. So, depending on how the top-six picks shake out and if they want a defender, they may have several of the very top names to choose from.

And, depending on how their other conditional picks shake out, they could have multiple selections in the first round and could very well target a defender lower in the first-round draft order.

In our quest to learn more about some of the top draft-eligible players, recently spoke with writer and draft expert Mike Morreale. One of the questions asked was if there were any top-flight blueliners the Devils should keep their eye on in the top 10.

"No doubt about it," Morreale said.

The two defenders that stick out as potential seventh-overall picks are Jamie Drysdale and Jake Sanderson.

It all begins with Drysdale for Morreale, and that makes a lot of sense as he is NHL Central Scouting's third-ranked North American skater. International Scouting Services ranks him third overall as well, and he's largely considered a potential top-five talent across the board.

Morreale says he recently spoke with Director of NHL Central Scouting Dan Marr and the consensus among Marr's scouts was that Drysdale has the same level of ability as recent top draft picks and young star defenders like Quinn Hughes and Cale Makar.

The Erie Otters alternate captain scored nine goals and recorded a total of 47 points in 49 games this past season in the Ontario Hockey League. He also recorded a goal and two assists in seven games for Canada's gold medal squad at World Juniors. The 5-foot-11, 175-pound defender is billed as an exceptional skater and a driver of play.

He is "a two-way defenseman with excellent offensive ability," according to NHL Central Scouting, who also compares Drysdale to Makar.

But Morreale was not only impressed with Drysdale near the top. Jake Sanderson, NHL Central Scouting's fourth-ranked North American Skater, has caught the draft enthusiast's eye as well.

The 6-foot-2, 185-pound Whitefish, MT native led all defenders in USA Hockey's Under-18 Development Program with 29 points in 47 games this past season. He's shown leadership ability, serving as captain for the Americans. Central Scouting compares him to Boston's Charlie McAvoy.

"He's an elite skater, great size strength, and has a lot of pro skills," said Morreale. "He makes tape-to-tape, really good passes and sees the ice so well... I know he'll probably be the first United States-born player off the board. I think a lot of teams do like him."

Central Scouting lauds Sanderson's pace and his battle and compete level. His father Geoff played more than 1,000 NHL games.

A little lower down on Central Scouting's list of top defenders is Kaiden Guhle of Prince Albert of the Western Hockey League. He's currently listed eighth among North American Skaters, sliding one spot from seventh in the mid-term rankings. He compiled 40 points in 64 games for the Raiders in 2019-20. He's a bigger prospect at 6-foot-2 and 186 pounds.

Central Scouting talks glowingly of his mobility, acceleration, and skating, but also says he, "can be very physical with big open-ice hits."

Braden Schneider is ranked ninth among North American Skaters by NHL Central Scouting, and the scouting service compares him to Montreal Captain Shea Weber.

"Displays a strong presence on the ice," they say in his scouting report. "Makes big hits in all three zones, strong on his skates and hard to knock off the puck."

The 6-foot-2, 202-pound bruiser led the WHL's Brandon Wheat Kings defense with 42 points in 60 games in 2019-20.

If you're wondering where all the European names are, they're just a bit further down. Helge Grans from Sweden is the top Euro blueliner in the upcoming draft. NHL Central Scouting ranks him as their sixth-ranked European Skater. He climbed the list all the way from 21 at midterm.

His NHL comparable is Dallas' John Klingberg. He's another large defender at 6-foot-2 and 206 pounds.

"Big, strong, offensive-minded two-way defenseman," Central Scouting writes. "A smart playmaker and passer, an honest competitor who plays with confidence."

Central Scouting also said he improved a lot in-season, which helped Grans rise up the list.

Finland's Topi Niemela is just two ranking spots behind Grans at 8th among European Skaters. The Karpat blueliner has a familiar NHL comparable to Devils fans: Sami Vatanen.

"Skilled, quick defenseman who likes to join the rush," Central Scouting said. "Reliable, but not flashy. High hockey IQ and a finesse-type defenseman with strong puck-handling skills."

That rounds out the defenders ranked in the top 10 in both North America and Europe according to Central Scouting. However, Morreale describes a few more prospects in his breakdown of the top-10 defensemen in the draft. We'll also have Morreale join us for an episode of our Speak of the Devils podcast on August 3.

Which defenders do you like the most? Join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #DevilsDraft or visit for more prospect profiles and draft articles and videos.

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