DAB Draft Series: Top USNTDP Defenseman Jake Sanderson

Defenseman Jake Sanderson owns the best defensive skills in the upcoming draft. (Photo by Photo by Rena Laverty / USA Hockey’s NTDP)

Profile

Jake Sanderson is the second defenseman evaluated in our draft series. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound Canadian-American dual-citizen is only 17-years old, making him one of the youngest prospects eligible for the upcoming draft. He is a left-handed shot that skyrocketed up scout’s boards the second half of the season. The midterm North American Draft Prospect Rankings had him ranked 11th and the fourth-highest ranked defenseman. The final Draft Prospect Rankings has him fourth overall and second among defensemen.

Sanderson began his junior hockey career in Canada. He put together formidable numbers while doing so, the best example being as a 15-year-old when he tallied 43 points in 32 CSSHL games. Matt Dumba (12 points in eight games during the 2009-10 season) and Jake Bean (23 points in 24 games during the 2013-14 season) are both alumni of the same league. 

Most recently, and for the past two seasons, Sanderson has played in the USDP and USHL. In 91 career USDP games, he has racked up 53 points (11 goals, and 42 assists), and in 41 USHL games, he has tallied 21 points (four goals, 17 assists) and a minus-16 rating. Sanderson’s play this year saw vast improvements. In the USHL he improved from a minus-22 rating the previous year to a plus-6 rating this year. Also, it’s worth mentioning he was the captain of his U-17 USDP team.

For those who are not familiar with the United States hockey program, while in the USDP players usually compete against NCAA teams and other international junior teams. And in the USHL, the team competes against a plethora of US-based junior teams.

Keep in mind, current Devil Jack Hughes took the same route in his junior development. However, unlike Hughes, Sanderson is slated to play college hockey and attend the University of North Dakota in 2021-22. This will be great for his continued development, especially given he is only 17 years old.

The Scouting Report

Strengths

Sanderson can be described as a defensive defenseman with offensive upside that should blossom as he continues his development for one of the best teams in the NCAA. He relies on his smooth skating abilities, as well as stellar hockey-IQ to keep himself well-positioned up-and-down the ice.

Watching Sanderson go one-on-one with an opponent is a thing of beauty. He rarely, if ever, loses these battles thanks to great stick positioning and gap control.

He is also not afraid to use his 6-foot-2 frame along the boards and in other areas of the ice to knock opponents off the puck and create takeaways. Overall, for a 17-year-old, his defensive abilities are terrific.

Weaknesses

A distinct area where Sanderson needs improvement is his offensive game. He does not shoot the puck often, and his point production while playing in the United States has been subpar.

Another area of his game that has received criticism is his speed. As was mentioned above, he is a solid skater thanks to his big strides, but he lacks a second-level that enables him to have “elite” speed. This is mainly due to his lack of good acceleration.

Projection

Behind Jamie Drysdale, Sanderson is undoubtedly the draft’s second-best defenseman. He is, though, the player in the draft with the best defensive abilities.

He is an extremely raw prospect who has an unbelievably high ceiling. Although he does have substantial work to do offensively, his defensive game is special for someone his age. He has all the looks of a future top-four, shutdown defenseman who will have the ability to play top minutes and serve on the penalty kill.

Despite that, Sanderson is the lowest-ranked prospect out of the one’s evaluated in our draft series so far. This is largely due to how great the forwards are at the top of the board.

Expect his name to be called on draft day anywhere between picks eight and 12. This means the Devils may very well have a chance to select Sanderson with either the team’s first or second picks in the first round.

Fit With the Devils

The Devils have the luxury of addressing both the team’s offense and defense early in the draft, given the three first-round picks the team owns. The forward talent in the top-six is too good to pass up, so the team should use its first selection on one of those forwards.

I pointed out in a previous draft series piece that the Devils should pass on Jamie Drysdale, mainly because to get him it would take the team’s first pick and instead look for defense with one of the latter two picks. With that said, Sanderson would be a tremendous and the ideal selection with the Devils’ second first-rounder.

Ranking of Evaluated Prospects

1. Marco Rossi (04/30/2020)

2. Jamie Drysdale (05/01/2020)

3. Alexander Holtz (04/29/2020)

4. Lucas Raymond (04/28/2020)

5. Jake Sanderson (Today)

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