Ramblings: Defense Prospects, Virtanen, Gallagher, Hart Trophy Finalists (July 22)

Cam Robinson

2020-07-21

Today, I'll keep to my niche and focus on a few youngsters for those in the keeper/dynasty setup. This week lets talk blueliners. 

First up,  Jamie Drysdale

In recent weeks and months, the notion that Drysdale was far and away the top defender in a lite defenseman crop has slowly dissipated. USNTDP standout, Jake Sanderson has closed the gap precipitously. On some boards, overtaking the OHL standout. However, when it comes to points-only setups, it remains no contest.

A few important notes about Drysdale. The 5'11 170lbs right-side defender is on the younger side for this crop. Physically, he has a good deal left to gain before finding his NHL body and this has led to a few easily-sighted issues in his game.

1) he can be physically moved too easily

2) his shot lacks power and volume

This isn't a player who will ever play a 'hard' style. He'll make mistakes and cough the puck up while trying to do too much. And we'll take every minute of it for the offensive upside that tracks parallel.

What makes Drysdale so special is his skating ability. Frankly, it's gorgeous. It's that fluid, explosive style that we've begun to see pop up in young, impact defenders like Quinn Hughes, Miro Heiskanen and Adam Boqvist. He uses that weapon to skate the puck out of trouble and transition quickly.

I've been pretty steadfast in my belief that you don't reach for defense prospects in *most* leagues. Some demand it when you're starting six blueliners in a deep setup. But this draft class especially demands a focus on the forwards at the top of the board. They're worth it. This is why Drysdale is #7 on my real-life board, but I probably don't take him before 10 in a purely 2020 based draft. 

That said, if Drysdale can land in the right situation – IE easy access to PP1 rights within 2-3 years, and he can unlock the weapons at his disposal, he could conceivably be a player who flirts with 60 points on the backend. 

Those don't come around too often. 

 

**

I was asked by a follower whether I believed Jake Virtanen would ever figure it out as a multicat asset. It gave me a reason to delve into one of the more frustrating players in the league. The results: I was frustrated, but also just a tiny bit moved to suggest that he could become a banger of a player for a short window.

Here's why: 

In 2017-18 and 2018-19, Virtanen wasn't putting up real points but he was finding his stride in the hits category. His 8.9 hits per 60 minutes were comfortably amongst the top 70 body-bangers in the league. 

This past season, the 23-year-old took a step forward offensively. His 18 goals and 36 points were career-highs and that would've ended up with his first 20/20 season if not for the COVID interruption. He accomplished that while seeing nearly two fewer minutes a night.

The reason for this was an increase in overall conversion rate and propelled by a stretch of 20 games in late 2019 where he produced 15 points. His production on a per 60 basis on the man-advantage was likely his most impressive feat, recording six goals and nine PPPs in just 53 seconds of power-play ice per night. 

I spoke at length on Area 51 Hockey Podcast how I firmly believe that this is the player you're getting. Virtanen will not be Todd Bertuzzi or Cam Neely. He won't be a player in his late-20's who suddenly discovers vision and high-end processing speed. That just isn't happening. But he will improve on his current abilities. Potentially even to the level of becoming a 30/30 type who can bring in 200-plus hits.

That's valuable.

2020-21 will be full-season #5, but if we waive out his rookie, 19-year-old 55-game campaign (where he should've been in junior) it’s actually season #4. Sure this is a rose coloured look to find a narrative that fits, but still.

I will say, I very much do not believe in Virtanen’s work ethic or his intelligence. However, his physical tools are good enough that he could get to a place where he’d bring you strong value in the multicat setups, and it could be as soon as next season.

 

**

I’m scared at how good Andrei Svechnikov is getting so quickly. Normally, I’d say he’s another year away from really busting out and becoming a superstar, but he could make that move in 2020-21 and maybe even this summer.

Seriously, this kid is going to continually land extremely high on the scoring leaderboard for the next decade.

 

**

Reminder, if you haven’t already, pick up the Fantasy Prospects Report (14th Edition)! This is now fully updated, other than the Mock Draft which we will put in once the final draft order is set. The most recent update included my real-life, extending draft rankings.

Remember, both DobberHockey and DobberProspects are fully funded by the revenue generated through the sale of the guides. If you love all of the free content we provide, make sure we can keep the lights on by buying a guide! 

 

**

With the league slowly announcing major trophy finalists, on Tuesday we were given the Hart Trophy version. Very little surprise here. League scoring leader, Leon Draisaitl, Nate MacKinnon and Artemi Panarin grabbed the spots.

I always find it amusing when the best player in the world isn't up for this award despite having the second-most points and driving the bus for the guy in the top spot. But it's cool.

Who do you think deserves to win it?

 

**

Do you know who is a prospect that I'm coming around on in the fantasy world? Victor Soderstrom.

The Coyotes' top pick in 2019 had a very impressive draft-plus one campaign for Brynäs in the SHL. His 0.46 points-per-game is the seventh most productive campaign by a U20 blueliner in that league in the past 30 years. 

While he won't be a purely offensive superstar, I do think his timing will be spot on to push for stealing top power-play deployment by the time he's 22/23. OEL has owned that spot forever but at 29 years old, his time is beginning to run out. 

Soderstrom projects to be a very similar player as OEL on a production-level. 40-50 point defender who skates well and makes smart plays on the regular. 

Just food for thought if you're looking at targeting a player who may not get the hype of other top prospects but possesses a very safe track towards the NHL and prime ice. 

 

**

What's going to happen on the St Louis blueline will very interesting. I'm sure the team is hoping to keep captain, Alex Pietrangelo around for a long time on a reasonable contract. However, the 30-year-old, UFA-to-be is going for that last big-time contract of his career.

If Pietrangelo leaves, is it Colton Parayko stepping onto the first unit? Is it Vince Dunn? Long term though, let's not sleep on Scott Perunovich

The soon-to-be 22-year-old is a fascinating case study. He was very young and vastly undersized in the lead up to his draft-eligible campaign being listed at 5'9 but looked a lot closer to 5'6 when you watched him. Still, it didn't hold him back from being the top blueliner in the Minnesota high school circuit.

I'm talking damn near three points-per-game (2.72). But he was a super tiny defender so unsurprisingly he went undrafted. 

The transition to the USHL in his 18-year-old, draft-plus one season didn't go as smoothly as he'd have hoped. That led to another draft without hearing his named call. Finally, he steps in the NCAA at the University of Minnesota-Duluth and boy, did that transition go well. 

 

That incredible campaign led to the Blues grabbing him 45th overall in 2018 as a d+2 kid. He went out and won another National Championship and took home all sorts of personal honours in 2018-19. Then set the world on fire as a junior winning the Hobey Baker and leading all defenders in, well, most everything.

Now he's turned pro and is coming to STL. Here are the LHDs that he'll need to battle to earn a spot:

Vince Dunn

Marco Scandella

Carl Gunnarsson

It's doable. But a trip to the AHL for a spin isn't out of the question and gives him some more marination. However, he should have a very real chance of sniping that that top PP gig in the next couple of years if Pietrangelo manages to leave. He's one to hold onto in deep leagues. 

 

**

I smell a career-year coming for Brendan Gallagher. The 28-year-old was on pace for it this season with 22 goals and 43 points in 59 contests – a 31-goal, 60-point pace while seeing his power-play and overall time on ice take a bit of a hit.

So why the hope for more to come? His playing style has morphed a bit. He's hitting less and shooting more. He was on pace for his second consecutive 300-plus shot year while maintaining that 10ish conversion rate.

Gimme a 30/30 season in 2020-21. Maybe even a hair more. 

 

**

@Hockey_Robinson

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