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No. 1-ranked defenseman Jamie Drysdale could skate into Red Wings' future

Mark Falkner
The Detroit News

For just one day, Erie Otters coach Chris Hartsburg says he would like to skate like his 18-year-old defenseman Jamie Drysdale, who could wind up in Detroit if the Red Wings fall out of the top two spots in the NHL draft lottery.

"Watch out when he gets those first three strides going," says Hartsburg, the son of former NHL captain Craig Hartsburg of the Minnesota North Stars and a seventh-round pick by the New Jersey Devils in 1999 after playing four years at Colorado College.

Erie Otters defenseman Jamie Drysdale is the top-ranked defenseman for the 2020 NHL Draft.

"He's a new-age defender who skates extremely well and thinks the game extremely well. His edge work allows him to pick up speed out of corners and turn up ice quick.

Hartsburg also coached Edmonton Oilers superstar Connor McDavid, widely regarded as the NHL's fastest skater. McDavid was granted exceptional status into the Ontario Hockey League as a 15-year-old with Erie in 2012.

"Jamie would be the first one to tell you he's not on the same level as Connor," Hartsburg said. "Connor's strides are so quick and he's able to build so much momentum. But Jamie is relatively similar. He doesn't have a long stride, but he's super quick and gets to areas quicker than his opponents."

Erie Otters defenseman Jamie Drysdale had 47 points in 49 games this year. (Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

Drysdale's skating ability is one of the main reasons he was the No. 1-rated defenseman in the NHL Central Scouting's final rankings and the third-ranked North American player behind winger Alexis Lafreniere and center Quinton Byfield.

The dates for the lottery and the draft haven't been announced as the NHL makes future plans during the coronavirus pandemic, but when things are finalized, the Red Wings could be looking at Drysdale or German forward Tim Stutzle with the third or fourth pick if they don't have a shot at Lafreniere and Byfield.

"Knowing Steve Yzerman, he would be very happy to have a player like Jamie Drysdale," said Dan Marr, the director of NHL Central Scouting. "In today's NHL, smaller defensemen have success if they can skate and handle the puck, and this is what he does in abundance. He is arguably the smartest defenseman in this draft. He's very composed and his puck control game is at an elite level."

At 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds, Drysdale is following in the footsteps of undersized NHL defensemen Quinn Hughes (Vancouver Canucks/University of Michigan) and Cale Makar (Colorado Avalanche), who are leading candidates to win the Calder Trophy as the best rookie in this year's abbreviated season.

"Every team finds a balance on the back end," Drysdale said. "You need big players who can play a solid defensive role. I can bring the quick transition game. Move the puck up quickly, make smart plays, a first pass kind of guy. I'm confident in my skating to take away time and space from forwards."

After leading OHL rookie defensemen in scoring with 40 points in 63 games in 2018-19, the Toronto native had 47 points in 49 games with the Otters this year.

On the international scene, he was plus seven in seven games at the 2019 world U18 championships (this year's U18 tournament in Ann Arbor and Plymouth was canceled because of COVID-19), the captain for Canada's U18 team at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup (five assists in five games) and just the seventh defenseman to play for the national U20 team as a 17-year-old, joining NHLers Aaron Ekblad, Ryan Ellis, Jay Bouwmeester, Chris Phillips, Wade Redden and Scott Niedermayer.

Canada's Jamie Drysdale, right, celebrates after scoring a goal in a 5-0 semifinal win over Finland at the U20 world championships in the Czech Republic this year. (Petr David Josek/Associated Press)

In this year's 5-0 semifinal victory against defending champion Finland at the world championships in the Czech Republic, Drysdale, a late replacement for Colorado first-round pick Bowen Byram, scored a goal in 20:28 of ice time. Lafreniere, the tournament MVP, scored twice on five shots in 16:06 of ice time. 

"I found out I was going to have a bigger role probably 5-10 minutes before the puck drop," Drysdale said. "It's something you have to embrace. You have to have confidence in your game, to know you're there for a reason. It was one of the best hockey experiences of my life."

For now, Drysdale is working out at home in Toronto and shooting pucks in the backyard during Ontario's economic shutdown. Even though he's "undeniably a Leafs fan," Drysdale said he would welcome being drafted by the Red Wings.

"The Yzermans and (Nicklas) Lidstroms are names you can't miss," Drysdale said. "They're definitely special players that made a name for themselves and helped make a name for the organization."

Only the top three players from last year's draft played significant minutes in the NHL this year (Jack Hughes of the New Jersey Devils, Kaapo Kakko of the New York Rangers and Kirby Dach of the Chicago Blackhawks) so it's likely Drysdale will return for his third season in Erie next year.

Hartsburg, who had the Otters in the playoffs for the first time in three seasons when the season ended on March 18, said "it wouldn't break my heart if he (Drysdale) was sent back" next year.

"Everyone had Bowen Byram penciled into Colorado's lineup this year," Hartsburg said. "Lo and behold, he gets sent back to junior and it certainly didn't hurt him. I don't think Jamie is far off from being an NHL player, but he wants to go in and play important minutes. If we're fortunate enough to get him back, he would be our best player and have the opportunity to be one of the best players in our league."

Jamie Drysdale profile

WHO: Jamie Drysdale

WHAT: No. 1-ranked defenseman among North American skaters in the NHL Central Scouting final rankings

TEAM: Erie Otters in the Ontario Hockey League

AGE: 18 

HEIGHT: Five-foot-11

WEIGHT: 175 pounds

STATS: Nine goals, 38 assists, 47 points in 49 games this year

JERSEY NUMBER: No. 4, the number worn by his dad's favorite player, Bobby Orr of the Boston Bruins

MINOR HOCKEY: Played in Toronto minor hockey for five years with No. 2-ranked forward Quinton Byfield