Jake Sanderson has a lot to live up to this year. The highest ranked player from the US National Development Team for the 2020 NHL Draft is hoping to carry on the legacy of last year’s record-breaking crop by soaring up everyone’s rankings with his solid two-way play. Sanderson was seen by many as being a legitimate first-round talent as early as this summer, with many eyeing him and Luke Tuch as possible risers throughout the season. This quickly changed as Sanderson’s play continued to rise as the season went on.
His speed, size, offensive instincts and possession skills have really stuck out in a Draft class that, outside of Jamie Drysdale, lacks true, top-end defensive options. Sanderson is the only one to truly rise out of the glut of mid-to-late round defensive prospects to position himself among the elite of his age group.
Sanderson’s Offense: Underrated
The first thing that struck me when watching Sanderson play
was not his flashiness or his skills, but his ability to read and attack a play
in order to create a turnover and an offensive chance. Sanderson patrols the
blueline in the offensive zone like a general and is able to retrieve loose
pucks, inhibit puck clearings or stop zone exits dead in their tracks.
What is most impressive is how Sanderson is then quickly able to use his skating, size and puck possession skills to force a play in the offensive zone and complete/set-up scoring chances. In the video bellow, Sanderson display great poise on the play. He stops the zone clearing, quickly analyzes the open space in front of him, and attacks the play with great power and speed to roof a shot past the screened goalie.
A Possession Monster
Many question Sanderson’s overall offensive at the NHL level, but the tools are certainly there for Sanderson to be a very competent NHL defenseman in the same light as Ryan McDonaugh. His type of offense is effective because he has many tools and ways he can get the puck into danger areas. He disposes of a very powerful and low one-timer, while having a very underrated wrist shot, which has a deceptively fast release.
He could also be a powerplay quarterback at the next level, due to his solid puck distribution and his very strong one-timer. His variety of skills make it harder for defenders to anticipate him, especially on the powerplay. In the video alone, you see him weaving up and down the upper-slot from the blue line, until finally seeing an opening and descending with speed for the one-time goal. Although there may be concerns over where he can top out at the next level offensively, his raw offensive game will benefit from even more structure in the NCAA for North Dakota next year.
Sanderson’s Main Quality: Elite Skating
The first thing that sticks out when you watch the 6’1 180 lbs rearguard play on the ice is how fluid his skating stride is for his size. Within two strides, he has already taken off for a skate with the puck, which make him extremely effective for defensive zone exits, but also offensive zone entries. He can use the combination of size and speed to protect the puck and cut to the middle upon zone entry to create a chance or wire the puck back to a streaking teammate just entering the zone. Ultimately, he’s a 5-on-5 nightmare for opposing teams, as he can out-hustle and out-skate you in just about any situation.
The quickness of his feet and his explosivity, in mid-stride, make him extremely hard to defend on the rush. His size also makes him difficult to separate from the puck while, in mid-flight, and thus causes defenders to often times defend him too aggressively. As seen in the video below, Sanderson is then able to turn on the jets, gain the zone entry, make a pass, and continue his trajectory toward the net for a beauty assist. This kind of play is far less likely to occur in the NHL, especially whilst defensive checking is tight, but the quality to retain here is how the combination of size and speed will make him difficult to separate from the puck during a full-speed zone entry.
Acceleration On Full Display
Sanderson also likes to use his skating to jump in on the
cycle in the offensive zone and extract loose pucks in order to maintain offensive
zone possession and make a high-danger play. Often times, he is seen exploding
off the boards and into the top of the faceoff circle to receive a pass and
immediately attack the slot.
As evidenced in the following video, Sanderson can use his explosivity to gain possession of the puck, but he then uses his frame and outer leg to distance the defending player from the puck, thus allowing him more space and time to execute a great pass for an easy goal. The way Sanderson is able to extend his left leg, mid-stride, in order to shield the puck and create separation, and fool all the players on the ice into thinking he was shooting speaks to the deceptiveness of his game.
An Old-School Tribute
Although Sanderson has the skating and hockey IQ required of current day NHL defenders, he does possess a throw-back style of game akin to the physical defencemen of the past. He has no problem lining guys up that are streaking along the boards on the left side of the ice. What is impressive is how quickly he controls the gap between himself and the opposing forward, making him a very scary specimen to meet along the boards. Don’t believe me? Just ask fellow 2020 eligible Brendan Brisson!
Possible Top-Pair Defenseman
Over the years, the hockey community has been spoiled by the likes of Cale Makar, Miro Hesikanen, Quinn Hughes, Rasmus Dahlin and more bursting into the league and essentially claiming top spot on their respective teams’ defensive corps. I don’t believe that Sanderson will have as immediate an impact as all the above defensemen did when breaking into the league as 18,19 or 20-year-olds, but I do think that Sanderson will make his way into the discussion of a top-pair defenseman nonetheless.
He possesses the speed, size, skill, Hockey IQ and shot to establish himself as a modern-day version of Ryan McDonaugh or Ryan Suter at the NHL level and I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if a team selects him in the top-10 as he continues to rise up the draft rankings now that the season is closed and scouts are watching more and more of his exceptional play.
More To Come!
I’ll also be covering the following prospects in coming editions of the ‘’Not Just the Top 10’’
So stay tuned!