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.
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.