If Red Wings’ Steve Yzerman wants another defenseman in Round 1, here are his best options

Detroit Free Press

Helene St. James
| Detroit Free Press

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As young defensemen, they naturally gravitate toward watching those close to their age group, but they could soon be on the ice for an NHL club. 

Jamie Drysdale and Jake Sanderson are the top-ranked defenders in the 2020 NHL draft, both of them intriguing possibilities for Detroit Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman, who picks fourth overall during the Oct. 6 virtual event. Yzerman chose a defenseman with his first pick in 2019, and may deem acquiring another blue-chip blue-line prospect to be the Wings’ biggest need — though they need help at every position. 

MORE: Wings’ Steve Yzerman on trade with Rangers: We need assets

Drysdale is the third-ranked North American skater, and Sanderson is fourth

Both are excellent skaters and gifted offensively. Drysdale (5-foot-11, 175 pounds, shoots left) ranked 13th among Ontario Hockey League defensemen with nine goals and 38 assists in 49 games with the Erie Otters. Sanderson (6-2, 185, shoots left) led all defensemen in the U.S. U-18 National Team Development Program with seven goals and 22 assists in 47 games.

Each has spoken with the Wings in lieu of the in-person interviews that take place during the combine, which was canceled because of COVID-19. 

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“I had a few calls with the staff and management,” Drysdale said Friday during a Zoom call. “I think it went well. Mostly they asked me questions they might not have asked during the year.”

The draft was postponed in March from its original June 26 start date because of the pandemic. The prospects have spent some of their time watching the playoffs, and three defensemen in particular: Dallas’ Miro Heiskanen, 21, the third overall pick in 2017; Colorado’s Cale Makar, 21, the fourth overall pick in 2017 and 2020 Calder Trophy winner; and Vancouver’s Quinn Hughes, 20, the seventh overall pick in 2018 (one spot after the Wings took Filip Zadina) and 2020 rookie of the year runner-up. 

“They put on a show in the playoffs,” Drysdale said. “How they control the play and the confidence they have and the skill they have is pretty cool. I hope to follow in their footsteps.”

All three quickly established themselves as impact players for their teams.

“I’ve been really watching Miro Heiskanen,” Sanderson said. “I really like the way he plays, he’s so efficient. He’s a very mature player for his age. He just plays very smart.”

Sanderson’s father, Geoff, played more than 1,100 games in the NHL. The Sanderson family plans to watch the draft either from home in North Dakota or at a rink nearby. Sanderson said his dad has stressed that the draft, “is the easy part. What you do after is what matters.”

Sanderson is an excellent skater, hard-nosed competitor and leader (he captained the U-18 team in 2019-20 and the U-17 squad in 2018-19.) He’s a two-way defenseman who played in all situations and has been hard at work on his one-timer.

Drysdale can also play both ways and is focusing on using his exceptional skating “not only on the offensive end but on the defensive end,” he said.

“Specifically, closing gaps in the neutral zone and D zone,” he said. “I think that’s the biggest thing defensively, trusting my feet and using them to close gaps and take time and space away from players.”

Their hope is to be the next young defensemen to emerge as key players for their NHL clubs — maybe one of them for the Wings. 

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Men and Moments that made the Detroit Red Wings will be published in October by Triumph Books. To preorder, go to Amazon.

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