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Getting to Know: Jamie Drysdale

Toronto native top-ranked defenseman among prospects

by Dana Wakiji @Dwakiji / DetroitRedWings.com

The Detroit Red Wings now know they'll be selecting fourth in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, which takes place Oct. 6-7 virtually.

That eliminates consensus top pick Alexis Lafrenière and most likely takes forwards Quinton Byfield and Tim Stützle out of contention as well.

Let's just figure if either Byfield or Stützle were available at No. 4, the Wings would quickly grab him.

However, there are still plenty of high-end players that will be around when the Wings pick.

How soon that player will be ready to make the Wings roster remains to be seen.

When NHL Central Scouting released its final rankings on April 8, there was only one defenseman among the top three North American skaters.

Among international skaters, no defenseman cracked the top five.

That left Erie Otters defenseman Jamie Drysdale in good company, just behind Lafrenière and Byfield on the list of top North American skaters.

Drysdale, Lafrenière, Byfield and Stützle, the top-ranked international skater, all appeared on a video conference call together the day the final rankings came out.

Tweet from @PR_NHL: Meet four of the top prospects for the 2020 #NHLDraft:Alexis Lafreniere, No. 1 North American SkaterTim Stuetzle, No. 1 International SkaterQuinton Byfield, No. 2 North American Skater (@byfield55)Jamie Drysdale, No. 3 North American SkaterZoom chat: https://t.co/cQ2mgDQM0q pic.twitter.com/QygbASJEdX

"Jamie Drysdale is the of player that every team is looking for, very smart puck-moving defenseman who can beat you with his vision, beat you with his hockey sense, able to use that great quickness and thinking to defense and strip a puck and turn it around and before you know it it's going the other way and can find the open man on the attack, makes him too tough to pass up if he's available when you're picking," NHL Central Scouting's David Gregory said on the April 8 video conference call.

The Otters had claimed a playoff berth as the eighth team in the Ontario Hockey League's Western Conference with 63 points (26-26-4-7).

But on March 23, the OHL, along with the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Western Hockey League and the Canadian Hockey League, announced the cancellation of the 2020 President Cup Playoffs a week after canceling the rest of the regular-season games due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Obviously it's a bit unfortunate that playoffs aren't able to be played," Drysdale said on the video conference call. "I think everyone was looking forward to that time of year so obviously unfortunate not on that part. I think like everyone else said, it's important that everyone just stays home and stays safe as well as making sure they're staying in shape and doing everything they can to just at the kind of level of hockey they are, whether it's shooting pucks or working out.

"I think that's still important to do. It's not just time off so I think everyone's just kind of trying to stay in hockey shape and do what they can."

Drysdale, listed at 5-foot-11, 170 pounds, was ranked 13th among OHL defensemen with 47 points (9-38-47) in 49 games.

Tweet from @OHLHockey: Top 2020 #NHLDraft prospect Jamie Drysdale kept up a consistent pace on the @ErieOtters blue line and impressed in high-pressure situations on both ends of the ice this past season 🎥 pic.twitter.com/C6gAPUvq1M

His 0.96 points per game placed him 10th among OHL blueliners.

On the call, Drysdale was asked what qualities are most important for defensemen in today's game.

"I think there's definitely some that are important," Drysdale said. "You look at guys in the NHL that are being really successful right now with the young guys like (Vancouver's) Quinn Hughes and (Colorado's) Cale Makar. Things that stand out with them are skating and just how they think the game, how they have confidence with the puck.

"So I think those are three things that I try and use as much as I can in my game and I think three things that that will lead to success at the next level."

Drysdale spoke on the Detroit News' OctoPulse podcast about his commitment to improving his already highly advanced skating skills.

"I think with skating, it's something you can always get better at," Drysdale said. "It's something that you have to nitpick in order to improve. Everyone can skate, everyone's fast at the next level. Even in the Ontario League so it's just finding the little things that can put you overboard and just help you have that little edge. For me, it's something that I've always been confident with and I want to continue to be that way so just working with skating coaches for the past couple summers and stuff like that. It's definitely something that I'm continuing to work on and want to continue to be one of my strengths."

During the pandemic when most gyms were closed, Drysdale's parents helped him come up with a solution.

"My parents ordered a bunch of gym equipment so I kind of got a little setup in my living room, kind of gassed all the couches there so we could make it a little gym spot," Drysdale said April 8. "Been doing that, shooting a lot of pucks and just trying to make the most of it.

"I think it's just important to do what you can, everything you can. Every little thing will help benefit you in that aspect. It's just a matter of doing what you can. I think it's just trying to put some strength on, put some size on if you can, show up as best you can."

While the pandemic prevented everyone from showing up in Montreal in June as they were supposed to, the league will still make sure the players have an event they can enjoy.

As it will be virtual for everyone, players will all be available to talk to their new teams and to reporters via Zoom calls.

Craig Button, TSN's director of scouting, had Drysdale fifth on his final Craig's List, which came out at the end of March.

Button was impressed with Drysdale's well-rounded play at such a young age.

"This process usually happens - if it happens - when a player is much older and in the NHL," Button said. "Jamie has done it seamlessly over the past two years. I see a player who has command and confidence in every situation. He has the potential to be a top-pairing defenseman at the NHL level."

Button's TSN's colleague, Bob McKenzie, had Drysdale fourth on his list.

"It's worth noting, however, that the next-best defenseman, No. 8-ranked Jake Sanderson of the U.S. U-18 National Development Team Program, did have two of the 10 scouts rank him at No. 3, ahead of Drysdale. So Drysdale is the consensus top defenseman, but it's not unanimous. Drysdale is an elite skater, incredibly agile, with outstanding hockey sense and offensive instincts. At 5-foot-11, he's not a big pro-style blueliner, but he's shown to be a capable defender who uses his smarts, body positioning, gap control and stick deployment to his advantage. 'He's going to be a top-pair offensive NHL d-man who can run a power play,' a scout said."

The Athletic's Scott Wheeler and Corey Pronman had Drysdale ranked slightly lower.

Wheeler placed him eighth overall.

"Drysdale is the best defenseman in the draft and will surely not be available at eighth overall as a result," Wheeler said. "I wouldn't fault a team for taking him as high as third, either. His lower ranking here has more to do with the impact I believe the forwards ahead of him could - and should -- have at the NHL level than it does with any concerns I have about Drysdale's game. He's one of the more effortless skaters the draft has produced in recent memory, with top-tier four-way mobility that helps him close gaps, pivot away from pressure, weave through traffic, play on his heels when he has to and create lanes for his passes or shots. His hands and heads-up vision also help him navigate in all three zones with the puck, run a power play and hit seams when they open up.

"And though he lacks power, both in his man-on-man defending and in his shot, he's still polished without the puck and does a great job disrupting plays with his stick and making quick decisions to move the puck back up ice. His lack of size and strength may limit him from becoming a Norris Trophy-caliber defender but he's got other dynamic qualities that may help him become a No. 1 (if not a very good No. 2) anyway."

Pronman ranked Drysdale seventh.

"Drysdale was one of the top defensemen in the OHL and accomplished the unusual feat of not only making Canada's U20 team as a 17-year-old, but also holding his own and showing he could skate with that team," Pronman said. "He's one of the best skaters in the draft. He has very good speed and can lead a rush at the higher level. His speed isn't what defines his skating, though, it's his elite edge work. He's so good at evading pressure, and walking the blue line with his crossovers and spinning off checks. Even though he's not the biggest defenseman, Drysdale shuts down a lot of rushes because of how quickly he closes on his checks. Offensively he's very good, but not flashy.

"He's not going to go end to end through three defenders, but he's an excellent puck-mover. He sees the ice at a very high level, and is creative with his exits and blue line play. His elite skating and vision are what make him dangerous and will allow him to QB an NHL power play."

Watch: Youtube Video

Dobber Hockey was mostly impressed as well, saying, "Clear and away the top defender in the Class of 2020, Drysdale provides expert transitional play to feed the offensive beast. His skating is fluid and dynamic. His vision and distribution skills are top-notch. He won't overpower netminders with his shot but is effective at getting it through lanes. It's unlikely that he will fill the periphery categories, as his defensive brand is hinged on positioning and smart reads. There will be some who are tempted to reach early because the blue line talent falls off after him, but don't be one of them. Drysdale is an excellent player but projects to be a step below the extreme blueline talent we have seen enter the league of late."

Like Pronman, the Red Line Report ranked Drysdale seventh, saying, "Dynamic skater and puck mover. Smallish, but an aggressive defender. His smarts with the puck and excellent footwork and stick placement help him against bigger players. Tough to gain the offensive zone on his side of the ice - keeps his shoulders squared up to puck carriers and closes gaps perfectly. Extremely dangerous when he has the puck. Calculated passer spreads wealth out to all areas in offensive zone. Utilizes pinpoint accurate snap shots from far out, aiming for areas where teammates can get deflections. Superb skater links together world class moves in all four directions. Jumps down in the blink of an eye for deep pinches and then easily gets back into defensive position again. Terrific initial burst allows him to win short area races to loose pucks. Super smart and instinctive both with and without the puck. A natural sniper with great hands and really dynamic release. Pounces on loose pucks/rebound and is quick and hard to catch around the crease and slot. A deceptively fast skater with excellent edges and the strength to cut in from the outside and charge the net. Maybe lacks a final gear in acceleration, but it's a relatively minor issue.

"Has underrated vision and will fake a shot while instead passing to an open 'mate in one motion. Deft hands for receiving passes smoothly and rarely misses chances near the cage - needs zero time to tee up powerful release. Can handle and create off both sides of the blade and easily maintains puck control in tight spaces. Offensive minded, but account- able in his backchecking and positioning in own zone. Had a somewhat disappointing season, never really getting quality minutes playing in the senior league, and by late in the season didn't look as eager."

When it comes to Drysdale's personal favorites in hockey, Wings fans might not want to hear them.

Drysdale is a Toronto native so it's not surprising that he looks to the Maple Leafs when asked what player he admires.

Tweet from @PR_NHL: Jamie Drysdale of the @ErieOtters, the No. 3-ranked N.A. skater for the 2020 #NHLDraft, models his game after the two-way play of @MapleLeafs blueliner Morgan Rielly. Full story: https://t.co/UVUWwPpZs4 pic.twitter.com/Gjr6frNJ78

"I've always been a Leafs fan so definitely a guy like Morgan Rielly," Drysdale said. "I think the way he can play both ends of the ice and make an impact, you can trust him in all zones. I think definitely a player that I like to watch and just take anything I can and add it to my game. Another guy, obviously a young stud, Cale Makar. He's pretty hard not to like when you watch him. How he's as young as he is in his first full season and making the impact he is, I think that's just a big confidence factor alongside the skill he has so I think definitely another guy I like to model my game after."

Rielly wears No. 44 but that is not why Drysdale wears No. 4.

"My dad was a big fan of Bobby Orr when he was younger so I think just that aspect of it," Drysdale said. "Arguably the best defenseman to play the game so I think that's definitely one of the reasons I wear it and I've worn it my whole life. My brother wore it when he played so it was just something that we stuck with and it's been working."

Drysdale will be gone by the time the Leafs get their first pick at No. 15 but the Wings might decide the young defenseman fits into their plans, which he wouldn't mind at all.

"The Red Wings are definitely an organization that goes back a while, just a team that I'm sure most kids, most hockey people know a bit about. Yzermans and Lidstroms are names that you can't miss. I think they're definitely special players that have obviously made names for themselves and help make a name for the organization.

"There's definitely a stretch the Red Wings had a lot of good moments, winning Stanley Cups, making it to the Finals over a bunch of years so definitely a really good organization."

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