Twenty years ago, you wanted a defenseman who could hit hard, was steady in their own end, and were okay offensively. Examples being Scott Stevens, Chris Pronger, and Chris Chelios. While there were some other fantastic defensemen such as Ray Borque and Paul Coffey, they were coming out of a high-scoring 80’s era and just did not have that physical aspect that some other defenseman had at the time.
However, players who have a similar style to Borque and Coffey are now becoming the model defenseman of the NHL. Players like Cale Makar, Quinn Hughes, Rasmus Dahlin, and Miro Heiskanen are dominating the league today. Hughes and Makar were both in the top seven in terms of NHL scoring by a defenseman. Dahlin scored 40 points this year, in only 59 games and Heiskanen dominated the playoffs this year with 26 points in 27 games.
So, with all these great skating offensively-oriented defenseman dominating the league, the New Jersey Devils would like to say they have one as well. Well, in today’s article we are going to be looking at three possible candidates of who this defenseman could be for the Devils.
In-House: Damon Severson
In this article, there are going to be three players from three different categories. One player that is currently on the Devils roster, one prospect that is in the Devils’ system, and one prospect that is not in the Devils’ system. The first player we are going to look at is a player who Devils fans know all too well: Damon Severson.
As much as he gets hated on for his occasional silly mistakes, Severson is not a bad defenseman by any means. Over the past two seasons, Damon has been at his best. He has done this by developing his defensive game, upping his offensive production, and becoming a legit threat on the power play.
During this time, he has totaled 19 goals and 60 total points in 151 games. He also had a respectable 48.07 Corsi For % (CF%) and 49.94 Expected Goals % (xG%) on two bad Jersey teams.
Severson has pretty good offensive instincts, decent defensive instincts, and is an okay skater, but at least in my eyes, that’s not quite enough to be the Devils’ “model” defenseman. However, the next player we are going to look at has the right toolset and the skill to be.
Devils Prospect: Ty Smith
Ty Smith was, surprisingly, drafted by the Devils with the 17th overall pick in the 2018 NHL draft. This was surprising because many scouts had him going in the 10-15 range.
Since then, a ton has happened to the 20-year-old defenseman from Lloydminster, Alberta. Smith has been the final cut in the Devils’ training camp twice. He has won CHL defenseman of the year and WHL defenseman of the year twice. Additionally, he took home World Junior gold with team Canada in 2020.
Recent Scouting reports on him are glowing. Craig Button who is head of scouting at TSN said this about Smith, “He reads plays so well without the puck so he can get into an opponent’s space and negate him instead of having to play him where he may have a different challenge… He has great poise; he rarely compounds a mistake… He’s quick, agile, gains leverage when he moves by being able to hold his edges and gets ‘under’ opponents to hold his position.”
As you can see from this quote, Smith has some of the qualities of this so-called “model” defenseman. He skates well, works hard, and doesn’t make mistakes. If you’re wondering about his offensive ability, his 123 points in 108 games over the last two seasons should speak for that.
All this adds up to Smith being able to be the Devils’ “model” defenseman in the future. However, there’s a prospect in the draft that will has a shot to be even better than Smith in several of these categories. That prospect is Jamie Drysdale.
Out of System Prospect: Jamie Drysdale
Jamie Drysdale is a 2020 draft-eligible prospect, who many people have ranked in the top-10 and even sometimes the top-five. He is widely considered the top defensive prospect in the draft and it’s deserved. He has proven time and time again that he can be a great offensive defenseman, skate well, and quarterback a power play. All this while also playing well in his own end.
Elite Prospects says, “He’s a brilliant skater, capable of quarterbacking a power play with ease and generating results both ways through the neutral zone. More of a playmaker than a shooter, Drysdale is adaptable first and foremost.” This is very high praise for a teenager and exactly what you want from a modern “model” defenseman. Someone who can skate well and is fantastic offensively, while still being able to hold his own in his end of the ice.
Another scouting report written by our very own can be found here.
There are two major drawbacks to Drysdale though, his size and maturity level. He’s only 18-years-old and is listed as just five-foot-11 and 170 pounds. Additionally, while he is fantastic in many areas, he’s not the best at defending along the boards, and may run out of gas during some extended defensive zone shifts.
This is all not to worry though, because this is all aspects of his game that can be fixed, or at least improved on, with another couple seasons in the OHL.
From what I’ve written in this article, I hope I’ve made it clear that the two best options to be the Devils modern “model” defenseman are Ty Smith and Jamie Drysdale. That’s not a knock on Damon Severson or his skill level. Severson is top-four defenseman, just not quite what today’s “modern” defenseman is.
So, who exactly is the pick between the two young defensemen? Well, while Drysdale should be the better player than Smith, there are a few things that affect my decision-making.
First, Smith is ready now, while Drysdale is still one or two years away. Second and similarly to the first point, Smith has spent the past two seasons rounding out his defensive game and just getting bigger and stronger overall. Third and finally, Smith is already in the Devils’ organization, Drysdale may not even be drafted by New Jersey. As many project him to be off the board before the Devils’ seventh overall pick.
The Devils’ “model” defenseman for years to come will be Ty Smith. Smith is fantastic, as you can see by all his attributes touched on above. However, who is not to say that the Devils won’t go out and draft or acquire a player like Mikhail Sergachev, Brandt Clarke or Luke Hughes. Hockey is unpredictable.
Ty Smith is probably going to be the Devils’ “model” defenseman, but it could easily be anyone from Jamie Drysdale, to someone we’re not even considering.