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NHL Draft

2020 Draft: Drysdale used World Junior stage to showcase full skill set

Erie defenseman helped Canada win tournament, earn No. 3 spot in Central Scouting ranking

by Dave McCarthy / NHL.com Independent Correspondent

Every Thursday, NHL.com will look ahead to the 2020 NHL Draft with an in-depth profile on one of its top prospects.

Jamie Drysdale captures attention with his skill on the ice, as well as the poise with which he plays.

It's this combination that has the 17-year-old right-shot defenseman (5-foot-11, 175 pounds) No. 3 among North American skaters on the NHL Central Scouting midterm rankings.

"It's his ability to make the right play look very easy," said Chris Hartsburg, Drysdale's coach with Erie of the Ontario Hockey League. "It's not just his offense or when he has the puck, but it's his ability to defend in space, close gaps and snuff attacks out before they even get started. The first thing that jumps out at you is his skating ability, and then once you really start to watch him it's his hockey sense. He's a step ahead in a lot of different areas, certainly at this level."

Perhaps that is no surprise given Drysdale considers Cale Makar of the Colorado Avalanche and Morgan Rielly of the Toronto Maple Leafs two players he tries to model his game after.

"Morgan Rielly is a guy who I really admire," Drysdale said. "I'm a Toronto boy and I watch a lot of Maple Leafs games and watching him develop as a player has been unbelievable. Cale Makar has also been unreal in his first year, his confidence and everything he's able to do, being a threat in all aspects of the game, his skating, his acceleration. You see him get breakaways in the NHL and I'm like, 'What the heck?'"

Drysdale is sixth among OHL defensemen with 39 points (seven goals, 32 assists) in 38 games, but it was his play while helping Canada win the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship in the Czech Republic that helped solidified his spot in the ranking.

Canada head scout Brad McEwen said Drysdale put himself into consideration for Canada's World Junior team after his play at the 2019 IIHF Under-18 World Championship in April, when he had two assists in seven games and was plus-7. He followed by captaining Canada to a second-place finish with Canada at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup in August, when he had five assists in five games. Then a strong start to his season with Erie plus his play in two games with Team OHL against Russia in the Canada Russia Series in November further burnished his resume.

"The way that Jamie performed this summer at the [Hlinka Gretzky Cup] and the fact he played as an under-ager at the U-18s was impressive," McEwen said. "The Russia series, we thought he was really good as well, and his play with [Erie] too, he plays such an important role there. He doesn't play like a 17-year old; he handles himself physically well and his decision making is strong.

"When we made the roster for [final WJC selection] camp, he just does too many things too well. We wanted to bring him and see where he possibly could fit."

Drysdale played a smaller role with Canada at the WJC, averaging 11:38 of ice time, and he had three points (one goal, two assists) in seven games. His biggest opportunity came in against Finland in the semifinals. With defenseman Bowen Byram (Colorado Avalanche) out with an illness, Drysdale scored a goal and played 20:28, second among Canada players, in a 5-0 victory.

"It was definitely nerve-wracking; I didn't know I was going to play that role until less than 10 minutes before we started," Drysdale said. "Coach [Dale] Hunter asked if I'm good to play the left side, and I said, 'Yeah, whatever you need.' About three minutes later another coach came in and announced the starting lineup and I hear I'm starting and I'm thinking, 'Holy cow, this is pretty cool.' When you find out, it's really exciting, there's a lot of adrenaline going through my body and it was an opportunity I was looking to pounce on.

"I was happy how I played. When I got the opportunity to go out I just tried to make the most of it and just stay within what I knew I could do. In the end it's all about how the team does, and the fact we won made it unbelievable."

Hartsburg, who was watching the game in Canada, said he was not surprised to see Drysdale have success when he got the opportunity in an expanded role.

"The semifinal game, that's what I expected out of Jamie," Hartsburg said. "I knew it was going to take him a little bit to get accustomed to the level, but once he did, he got acclimated and I knew his game was going to take off and certainly it did. That's what he does, he adapts and figures out ways to be important in important moments. His ability to think the game so well, that's something you're born with. It's something as a coach you wish you could take credit for, but you can't."

While happy with his midterm ranking, Drysdale is not letting up with the draft at Bell Centre in Montreal on June 26-27 rapidly approaching.

"It's really cool to have that spot on that list, but there's a lot of unbelievable talent in this draft," he said. "Looking ahead, I'm trying not to look too much into that. All I can control is how I play and be the best version of myself leading up to the draft."

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