• Steve Warne

THE CASE FOR DRAFTING JAKE SANDERSON

With two picks in the top five of the long-awaited NHL draft, the Senators and their fans are set up with their most intriguing must-watch event since Chris Kunitz broke their hearts in 2017. The choice at third overall is simple- pick whoever the Kings don’t between Quinton Byfield and Tim Stützle. While some fans have a preference between the two, most are thrilled that the Sens will land either player, giving the team their highest drafted forward since taking Jason Spezza second overall back in 2001. 

Jake Sanderson, in flight. Photo credit: Rena Laverty

The more heated debate is over who the team should take fifth overall. Part of the problem is Detroit. Yzerman is hard to figure out. He surprised everyone with the selection of Moritz Seider last year. I’ve heard that he’s going to take Cole Perfetti. No, wait. Marco Rossi. Scratch that, it’s Jamie Drysdale. Or Yaroslav Askarov. Perhaps Lucas Raymond?


You get the point.


A lot of what Ottawa can do at five depends on what Detroit does at four. That doesn’t stop Sens fans from speculating who the pick should be, though. There are plenty who want another high end forward- Marco Rossi and Lucas Raymond lead the charge in that regard, with Jack Quinn as an honourable mention. More and more, though, speculation has turned to the potential selection of defenseman Jake Sanderson. Some have warmed up to the idea while others hate it. Here’s my take on the matter: 


The Senators’ Group of Young Defensemen Shouldn’t be a Deterrent: 


Yes, the Senators have Thomas Chabot locked down long-term. Then there’s Erik Brannstrom, Christian Wolanin, Jacob Bernard-Docker, and Lassi Thomson as promising young players. Let’s remember back to around 2011, though, when the Senators had their future top four of Erik Karlsson, Jared Cowen, David Rundblad and Patrick Wiercioch ready to take over the league. That didn’t quite work out. Also, who can forget the team’s second pairing during their 2017 run to the Conference Finals; Cody Ceci and Dion Phaneuf had Senators’ fans holding their breath every time they were on the ice.


Consistent top-end d-men are tough to find. I’m of the opinion that the more good young defensemen in the system, the better. Let’s face it, if the likes of Bernard-Docker and Thomson were Minnesota Wild prospects, we wouldn’t think twice about them. That’s not to say they can’t make it, it’s just that every team has prospects of that level and plenty of them don’t become anything worth talking about. Jake Sanderson would instantly become the Sens’ top prospect on the back end.


Best Player Available is the Way to Go: 


If you are someone who thinks highly of Ottawa’s young group of defensemen, and Dorion still opts for Sanderson at 5, would that not make you think that he went for the best player available on his list? If so, is that not exactly what you should do with high picks as a team that has been the worst in hockey over the last three seasons? There are too many knowledgeable hockey people that have sung Sanderson’s praises to make it seem like picking him fifth is a reach or a bad pick. Maybe not your preference, but still a pick everyone should be able to get behind. 


Teams with Stud Same-Side Defensemen:


Another argument I’m hearing is that Sanderson shoots left and so does Chabot so it doesn’t make sense to draft a second pairing d-man that high. I’d bet St. Louis Blues’ fans didn’t mind watching Parayko hop on the ice every time Pietrangelo came off on the way to their Stanley Cup last year. There’s also the short-lived one-two punch of Drew Doughty and Slava Voynov during the Kings two Stanley Cups. Going back a bit further, Sens fans should remember how tough it was to go up against Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger during the Ducks’ Stanley Cup win in 2007. Then there’s the best Sens defence duo ever, with Wade Redden and Zdeno Chara dominating for a few years together. Clearly, the blueprint is there in terms of building your team with two stud d-men where one jumps on the ice as the other gets off. 


Not a Low Upside Prospect:


There are some that seem to think of Sanderson as a safe, boring prospect. That makes sense when you hear his generic description- son of former NHLer, intangibles, skates well, strong defensively. Make no mistake, though, this is not a Curtis Lazar type pick. Sanderson checks off so many boxes. He skates extremely well. He has a great stick and shuts down chances before they even become chances. He has poise with the puck, displays calmness in high-pressure areas, and has more offensive upside than some would make it seem. You wouldn’t be drafting Sanderson to be a second pairing defensive-defenseman. If he’s picked fifth, it’s because you believe he has the do-it-all ability as a potential Chabot level player. 


The Bottom Line: 


I’m of the belief that the Senators can’t go wrong at third and fifth overall. They can go more right, perhaps, but they’ll come away with two players that have the upside of core, long-term pieces. It should be easy to see the appeal of a future left side of Chabot and Sanderson frustrating the likes of Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner for years to come. If Brannstrom and Wolanin work out, too, leaving the team with too many good young left-shot defensemen, that’s more of a luxury than a problem.  

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