Prospect Ramblings: Latest NCAA Graduates — Sanderson, Harris, Abruzzese & More

Hadi Kalakeche


Welcome to my ramblings, where I’ll be writing down my thoughts on NHL and draft-eligible prospects once a week. I’ll be using the ramblings to keep you posted on the week’s events, or let you in on some questions I ask myself often regarding prospects, amateur scouting and player development.

Many NCAA teams have seen their seasons come to an end, and with that comes a wave of promising signings. Some high-profile names have already inked their entry-level contracts, and now is a good time to look into their profiles, their upside and their immediate projections. We’ll start with a prospect who could very well make an immediate jump onto NHL ice, and stay there for a very long while.


Jake Sanderson, LD — Ottawa Senators

The Sens’ fifth-overall pick in 2020 saw his draft stock rise drastically near the end of his draft-year campaign, as teams caught up to just how dominant his defensive game was. The offensive upside with Sanderson was still in question at that point, but teams knew he would be a net positive impact player without the puck. The defenseman quickly put those doubts to rest, as in his freshman year at the University of North Dakota, Sanderson put up 15 points, two goals and 13 assists, in 22 games, and then followed it up with an impressive sophomore year, netting eight goals and 18 assists for 26 points in 23 matches.

When I watched him in his draft year to see if there was any merit to his ranking by some above offensive dynamo Jamie Drysdale, I was taken aback by his deceptiveness on the puck. His point totals hid the profile of a prospect who I felt could explode onto the scene offensively as the pace of the game ramped up.

As Mitch Brown mentions in this video, Sanderson is outstanding at breaking the puck out of his zone with control, either by misdirecting forecheckers and exploiting their aggressiveness, or by making simple, efficient passes through a layer to delegate positively to his teammates. He constantly looks to solve problems with his stick and skating, and does an excellent job of it.

In the offensive zone, Sanderson displays a tremendous shot, outstanding hands to rid himself of a hard cover, but his playmaking is probably better than those two attributes. He pre-scans, identifies the right lane, and hits it with power and accuracy, never delegating his problems to the receiver but rather improving the condition of the puck with every distribution. Solve a problem, find an open guy, skate into space. Rinse and repeat.

On top of that, Sanderson’s ability to deny zone entries and force dump-ins figures among the best for defensemen outside of the NHL. In-zone, he keeps his head on a swivel and does a great job of identifying threats, using his long reach to pick and prod at puck carriers to make life difficult for them. His physical game isn’t as prominent as his build (6-foot-2, 190 pounds) might suggest, but he is strong enough to stand his ground when needed.

Expect Sanderson to be a mainstay in the Sens’ top-four as soon as a couple weeks from now, and watch him flourish playing with higher-end offensive dynamos such as Tim Stützle and puck-support whizzes like Josh Norris.


Jordan Harris, LD — Montréal Canadiens

When Harris was drafted in the third round of the 2018 NHL Draft, his skating ability was the main standout in his game and he seemed like more of a long-term project. As his NCAA career went on, it became clear how intelligent Harris is, and how that intelligence would translate to a steeper learning curve. Within two years,  the 5-foot-11, 180-pound blueliner was his team’s second-highest scoring defenseman.

Harris was a prospect many Canadiens fans were anxious to see signed, as the senior was a couple months away from being free to join any team of his choosing. The recent coaching and management changes must’ve helped, as both Kent Hughes and Martin St-Louis have sons who played for the Northeastern Huskies this past season, and have done an excellent job of putting the struggling team back on track.

The Huskies struggled to put up points, and so did he (20 points in 39 games) but the team was stellar defensively in major part thanks to Harris’ steady presence on the back-end.

His tremendous skating allows him to pull off moves like these at the offensive blue line, and helps him close gaps in all three zones to stifle opposing rushes. His decision-making is also solid, although the tools themselves need to catch up. His shot lacks proper velocity, his passing through layers doesn’t pop as much as Sanderson’s, and his physicality is a sub-average asset at the moment.

With enough time and refinement, Harris could become a steady second-pair defenseman with roles on both special team units. I don’t think he’ll ever eclipse 40 points in the NHL, but he could very well be a perennial 20 to 30-point blueliner depending on the role he occupies on the team. He could probably use a half-year in Laval to test out his strengths at the pro level, but as he stands right now, he would make a decent bottom-pair option for the Habs in the immediate future.


Nick Abruzzese, C — Toronto Maple Leafs

The 22-year-old center is the definition of a late bloomer, as he was playing regional U18 hockey, a couple tiers below the USHL, in his draft year. The following season, his 36 points in 56 games for the Chicago Steel didn’t stand out in any way, especially as Cole Caufield, Jack Hughes and many others were outpacing him at 16, 17 years of age.

The next season, however, Abruzzese’s 80 points in 62 games were more along the lines of what you’d expect from a future NHL signing. The Leafs saw the progression curve as a great sign, and decided to pick him up in the late fourth round, as a twice-overager.

They were right.

Abruzzese’s playmaking, his ability to manage offensive spacing, his quick hands and give-and-go game make him a very well-rounded prospect on the offensive side. His resilience, tenacity, reactiveness and intensity off the puck are also tremendous assets of his, as he can outwork opponents to loose pucks and get them to his teammates quickly. On top of that, his shot isn’t half-bad; he’s got some technical limitations, but he can get decent lift on pucks in-tight, and moves off the puck in ways that increase his chances of putting it in.

His defensive game isn’t excellent, but he uses that same intensity to put back pressure on opponents and disrupt any attempt at slowing down the pace. He’s set to join the Leafs in the next few days, and could slot in for a game or two before the season ends. With a wild-card spot to climb out of, though, the odds of that are slim, as the Leafs will be tempted to rely on the pieces they currently have. Next season, though, he’d make a decent bottom-six option for their squad.

Other notable signings: Noah Cates, Matt Kessel, Josh Lopina, Brian Halonen, Clay Stevenson


Thanks for reading — follow me on Twitter @HadiK_Scouting for all of your prospect-related needs!


Name Fantasy Upside NHL Certainty
Jonny Tychonick 4.0 3.5
Noah Chadwick 5.0 5.5
Logan Neaton 3.5 4.0
Rutger McGroarty 9.0 8.0
Parker Ford 4.0 6.0
Brad Lambert 8.5 8.0
Nikita Chibrikov 7.0 8.0
Cutter Gauthier 8.5 9.0
Danila Klimovich 7.5 6.0
Kirill Kudryavtsev 6.5 4.5