Back to the blueline we go, focusing on US-NTDP defenseman Jake Sanderson for our fourth draft prospect profile. It may be wishful thinking to hope that the two-way stud with organizational ties falls to 13th overall, but Carolina should take a shot if he does.
Jake Sanderson - Defenseman - US National Team Development Program - 7/8/2002 - 6-foot-2, 185 pounds
Sanderson is the latest crown jewel of the US National Team Development Program, and as the team’s top defensemen in 2019-20, will follow the same path as so many others before him have. The blueliner will move on from the program to a top college hockey program (in Sanderson’s case, North Dakota) where he will make a meaningful impact, paving with the way towards a long professional career in the NHL.
Despite being one of the younger players in his draft year, Sanderson has captained the US-NTDP at both the U-17 and U-18 level, and posted a career-best 29 points in 47 games in 2019-20.
The Montana native is the son of 17-year NHL veteran Geoff Sanderson, who was drafted in the second round (36th overall) of the 1990 NHL Entry Draft by the Hartford Whalers. The elder Sanderson played nearly 500 games for the organization between 1991 and 1998 and over 1100 NHL games in total.
You may not notice Sanderson as a game-breaking offensive force in open ice, but the simplicity to his game is one of his strengths. He has the ability to skate the puck out of trouble on zone exits, or hit a forward with a strong breakout pass in transition.
In the offensive zone, the tools that Sanderson possesses are high-level and consistent, but not necessarily overly flashy. He has an accurate shot, one that creates rebounds and deflections due to his ability to find open shooting lanes and angles. As an above-average skater, Sanderson can move along the blueline with ease, or sneak in back door for scoring opportunity without much risk.
Although I’m never a fan of direct player comparisons, I do see some Jaccob Slavin in Sanderson’s game. The young rearguard is balanced, especially when engaged in direct battles and has a knack for using his stick position to thwart offensive scoring opportunities, both by proper positioning and terrific anticipation.
He’s not necessarily a bruiser, but he isn’t afraid to use his body when called upon. It’s unlikely you’ll see him drift out of position to line up an opposing player in open ice, rather using his calculated physicality to retain puck position. You’ll see Sanderson play hard in front of the net, but he tends to do so more with positioning rather than sheer force. Sanderson’s ceiling is a minute-eating, first-pairing defenseman who can play in any situation against the opposition’s top forwards.
Some Hurricanes fans will point to the amount of times that the organization has been burned by college hockey prospects in the past, but I don’t see that as the case with Sanderson. I can’t imagine he will be a four-year player at North Dakota, likely opting to start his professional career after a couple seasons in Grand Forks. If Carolina gets the chance to grab a player of his ability in the middle of the first round, the team should take the opportunity.