"We knew he was special coming in, but his development curve over the course of the year just kept getting better and better, NHL Central Scouting's David Gregory said. "We're thinking there may be no ceiling in sight. He just continues to understand how to dominate at both ends of the rink. He does it at every stage. He had an excellent game at the USHL prospects game and from that time on he just kept playing better and better.
"Oftentimes, a young player figures out how dominant they can be and understands 'I get it now, I know how to dominate and make impact on a game.' He's done that and I think the ceiling is very high with him."
Craig Button, TSN's director of scouting, moved Sanderson up from No. 33 in January to No. 12 two months later.
National Team Development Program head coach Seth Appert spoke on the Feb. 14 NHL Draft Class podcast, well before the final rankings came out, and had high praise for his young blueliner, who is committed to the University of North Dakota.
"I'd be shocked if he wasn't picked in the top 10 and I've been saying that for over a year," Appert said. "Now his offensive numbers are starting to match that. He just plays the game so efficiently, defends so hard, so physical. He's the prototypical modern-age defenseman. He's 6-2, he's mobile, he's physical, he can play against other team's best players, yet he jumps in the play and can add offense.
"I know there's a lot of good defensemen in this year, the (Jamie) Drysdale kid from Canada, the (Shakir) Mukhamadullin kid from Russia's very good, there's some real good defenders in this birth year, but I have a hard time believing that there's a defensemen out there from a complete package (standpoint) that's better than Jake Sanderson."
Sanderson was also on the Feb. 14 NHL Draft Class podcast and talked about his decision to leave his home in Montana to come to Plymouth, Mich.
"The WHL is very heavy out there in western Canada so it was definitely in the back of my mind when I was younger, I really wanted to go but my dad said just wait a bit longer and see what other options we have," Sanderson said. "My parents always wanted me to go to college so college hockey was in the back of my mind when I was younger, too. But then, I think it was after I committed to North Dakota, I don't know if that was my ninth-grade year, I got, I don't know if it was an email or something, to come visit the program, the NTDP, and then a couple months later, there was a tryout.
"So I was kind of blindsided at the tryout, I wasn't really sure what to expect but this program is second to none, just the professionalism and stuff, the coaching, and all the facilities we have to get to the next level."
In 47 games this season with the U18 team, Sanderson had 29 points (7-22-29), most among the team's defensemen, which included an assist in each of his last three games.
In his first year, with the U17 team, Sanderson had 24 points (4-20-24) in 44 games.
The main difference from his first to his second year was Sanderson went from being minus-20 to plus-13.
"I guess probably just maturity," Sanderson said. "Last year we were playing in the USHL and our team kind of struggled a bit last year, we had to face a lot of adversity. So I guess you could say I was on for a lot of goals last year but I think this year, our whole team has grown, that's kind of helped my stats and everybody else's stats."
In January, Sanderson played in the 2020 BioSteel All-American Game, which had two teams with the top American-born prospects eligible for the 2020 NHL Entry Draft.
Sanderson was named MVP of the game after recording two assists as Team Knuble defeated Team Gomez, 6-1.
In February, Sanderson competed in the Five Nations Tournament in Chomutov, Czech Republic and had a tournament-high seven points (3-4-7).
"He's our guy, he's our rock," Appert said. "He drives our team, he's our captain, he's our best player and he plays the game the right way. The beauty of Jake is Jake could be considered the best offensive defenseman in this first year, in this class around the world, but he doesn't cheat the game at all. So what Jake is is Jake is a savage defender. He eats up people.
"He just went a full tournament playing against the best players in the world, he was not on the ice for a goal-against 5-on-5, the whole tournament against the best players. Now he produced offense, I think he tied for the tournament lead in scoring. He scores, he's starting to score a lot. He still produces a ton of offense for us. He does it with real minimal risk and without sacrificing the defensive integrity of our team."
Geoff Sanderson was a forward who played 1,104 games for the Hartford Whalers, Carolina Hurricanes, Vancouver Canucks, Buffalo Sabres, Columbus Blue Jackets, Phoenix Coyotes, Philadelphia Flyers and Edmonton Oilers.
Appert said while the two Sandersons played different positions, he can see some of Geoff in his son.
"Geoff played 1,100-some games in the NHL without being a superstar," Appert said. "That's not easy to do. Superstars can play 1,100 games in the NHL without having to do everything the right way. When you're more of a secondary offensive guy like Geoff Sanderson was, to play 1,100 games, you're doing things the right way, you're taking care of your body, you're a good teammate, you're playing both sides of the puck. All the things that then get passed down to his son.
"So not only did he get the experience of growing up and being around it and learning that from the locker room, from his dad, from those experiences, his dad was an unbelievable NHLer without being a superstar. That's even a more important skill to pass on because superstar, non-superstar, that's more genetically driven. The habits and the details to your game, the way you live your life, those are things that are more learned and Jake has certainly learned those things from his dad."
Sanderson credits his dad for one of his best assets -- his skating.
"I think I get my skating from him because he was a little speedster out there so I think we're both pretty strong skaters," Sanderson said.
One thing Sanderson didn't follow in his dad's footsteps was being a forward.
"When I was younger, around my bantam age, I'd kind of go back and forth between forward and defense," Sanderson said. "But at the time, the next year I had to make a decision because I had a tryout, so I chose defense because at the time I was pretty good at skating backwards and I had really good patience with the puck when I was younger."
Now that Sanderson is older, he's watched the league change and evolve, especially for defensemen.
"I think you gotta be mobile," Sanderson said. "I think the game's changing. There still is a lot of those big, strong defensemen but you look at a guy like (Vancouver's) Quinn Hughes or (Colorado's) Cale Makar, they can dance at the blue line and stuff and can also play that strong game so I think having a mixture of strength and mobility is good."
Hughes and Makar are not the only fine young defensemen that Sanderson enjoys watching these days.
"I like watching (Dallas Stars') Miro Heiskanen right now just because he's a young, coming-up star defenseman," Sanderson said. "I see similarities between our games just because kind of the way we're built and stuff, longer, lengthier guys. He kind of has that long stride, pretty strong. He's an unreal, two-way defenseman. I love watching him."
Sanderson joined forward Alexis Lafrenière, forward Quinton Byfield, defenseman Jamie Drysdale and forward Tim Stützle on a video conference call with Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky on May 6.
NHL Central Scouting ranked Lafrenière first, Byfield second and Drysdale third among North American skaters and Stützle first among European skaters.
Gretzky acknowledged that his year's draft, which was supposed to be at Montreal's Bell Centre June 26-27 but was postponed, is likely to be quite different.
Sanderson said even though it won't be like other drafts, he's still looking forward to it.
"I think obviously going to a draft and in a hockey rink and having that experience is a big part of it but even being able to meet other guys from different countries, that's a big part of it, too," Sanderson said. "But I think being with your family, seeing how the NFL did it, they did a pretty good job so I'm excited to see what they do."