The 2020 NHL draft is just days away. Held virtually this year, the first round of the draft will take place on October 6th at 5:00 PM MDT, and the second round on October 7th starting at 9:30 AM MDT.
TWC will be breaking down which players the Flames could select with their first round pick at #19 by position.
Our draft rankings were created by consolidating lists from Dobber, MyNHL, Future Considerations, Sportsnet, DraftSite, EliteProspects, The Hockey Writers, and McKeen. The top and bottom ranks for each player were removed, and then a simple average was taken. There is no right way to rank these players so take them with a grain of salt; we know GMs will probably draft in a very different order than any of us think come draft day.
Let’s dive into the top five draft eligible defensemen the Flames could select in the first round:
|19||Braden Schneider||RHD||Brandon Wheat Kings||WHL||9/20/2001||6’2″||209||R||60||7||35||42||42|
|22||Kaiden Guhle||LHD||Prince Albert Raiders||WHL||1/18/2002||6’3″||187||L||64||11||29||40||56|
|27||Helge Grans||RHD||Malmö Redhawks J20||J20 Nationell||5/10/2002||6’3″||192||R||27||4||23||27||10|
|35||Jeremie Poirier||LHD||Saint John Sea Dogs||QMJHL||6/2/2002||6’1″||190||L||64||20||33||53||50|
|39||Justin Barron||RHD||Halifax Mooseheads||QMJHL||11/15/2001||6’2″||198||R||34||4||15||19||6|
One of the big needs for the Flames’ in the off-season is defence. With Rasmus Andersson already established in the NHL, and Juuso Valimaki and Oliver Kylington fighting for roster spots next year, the blueline in Stockton is looking a bit bare. Although the team has Alexander Yelesin, recently signed NCAA free agents Connor Mackey and Colton Poolman, and Swedish defenceman Johannes Kinnvall, there are questions about their ceilings in the league. Plus, Kinnvall will be playing in Sweden for another year before coming over to North America. Selecting a first round defenceman could go a long way to shoring up the defensive future of the team.
Schneider is a strong two-way WHL defenceman who excels on the defensive side of the game. He put up 42 points in 60 games last season with the Brandon Wheat Kings, and has played at numerous international tournaments for Canada. He has been coveted as a defenceman who is quite far along his development process. He may be closer to NHL ready than others in this draft. While his offensive upside is not as high as others in the draft, he excels quite strongly on the defensive side.
Playing difficult minutes against elite forwards in the WHL, Schenider has been able to set himself apart as an elite defenceman. He is strong on his feet and unafraid to get into the corners and battle. On top of that, he uses his long reach to break up plays, and does not get out of position to throw a big hit.
Offensively, he has good hands and is capable of skating the puck out of danger to transition from defence to offence. While he does not often create chances on the rush, he is an excellent passer and can often pinpoint the right player.
He is not the type of guy to quarterback the powerplay, but Schneider does have the hands and skating ability to provide stability to an offensive press. He may not score a ton of points but in the offensive zone he can walk the line or dangle a forward to create space. Schneider’s slapshot does need some work, but like Mark Giordano, he is great at sneaking down to the top of the circle and firing a quick wrister on net. He keeps his shots low and aims them well to generate tips in front.
Schneider is a smart player. It’s no doubt he’s excelled at the junior level and he’s one of the better defencemen available in the draft.
Guhle is a strong all-around blueliner. Playing in the WHL, the Flames have definitely seen a lot of his play and would likely be familiar with his work. At 6′-3″, he’s a big body with a booming slapshot, and is well known for using his size to his advantage defensively.
Defensively, he is very difficult to beat one on one. His strong gap control and excellent skating helped him hold his own against some of the top players in the WHL. Strong along the boards and in front of the net, Guhle is unafraid to throw a big hit but does not get out of position when he does so.
Guhle is strong in transition. His smooth skating and excellent hands allow him to start the rush up the ice, but he does not often join in. He tends to be more reserved and hang back to avoid an odd man rush going the other way. When in the offensive zone he has a good wrist and slap shot, and can skate smoothly to open up space.
The big question with him is his offensive ability. Scouts have noted that he is a strong defensive defenceman, but he does not have the same offensive upside as other defenceman. He has some good offensive attributes but nothing that jumps off the page. That being said, if the Flames think that he can pick that up between the WHL and AHL, he could be a reliable NHL defenceman in a few years.
Grans has been quietly very good for a long time. He played his first game in the SHL at 16, and played between there and the J-20 last season. Going into 2020-21, he has played in the SHL recording a goal and an assist so far in three games with the Malmo Redhawks.
Grans is a prototypical defensive defenceman. He excels in his own zone where scouts rave about his ability to stay in position and not compromise that to make a big hit or create offensive chances. He is great at breaking up plays with his long reach, and is not afraid to put his body on the line to block a shot. He is a strong battler, both on the boards and in front of the net, but will be even better when he puts on some more muscle.
Offensively, Grans brings less to the table. He makes good outlet passes, but is hesitant to join the rush up the ice. He creates scoring chances with his strong skating and lateral movement, but will not try to make creative passes, but will opt for the safer play. While he is a strong skater, he is not the fastest guy on the ice, but his positioning and hockey IQ allow him to generally be in the right place at the right time. He has a strong wrist shot when he does elect to shoot the puck, but his slap shot leaves something to be desired.
Grans projects to be a minute muncher in a defensive role. Coaches will love him for his reliability in his own zone, but with limited offensive potential it is unlikely that he’ll play any meaningful powerplay minutes or be on the ice when his team needs a goal. Grans is more suited to playing as a third pairing defender, or on the second pairing as the defensive specialist.
Poirier is projecting to be an incredible offensive defenceman, although the defensive part of his game needs some refinement. Putting up a league leading 20 goals amongst defencemen in the QMJHL, he finished last season with 53 points in 64 games with the Saint John Seadogs.
He is an offensive star with a booming shot from the point as well as the hands to play in tight when given the chance. He is great at pinching to keep the puck in the zone, and loves to join the rush up the ice. Quarterbacking the powerplay, he has an excellent read of the game, and can walk the line effectively to open space up for those around him.
Scouts also rave about Poirier’s transition game. He is a strong skater, something that has improved substantially over the last couple of seasons. He is effective at making passes to start a break up ice or just gaining the offensive zone himself. With zone entries being an area the Flames have been weak the last couple seasons, he may be an effective option.
The one area that he needs to work on, ironically, is his defensive play. Scouts note that while he is sometimes dialed in and able to make good plays, he struggles with his positioning and at making the smart play. With bad passes and being too eager to join the rush, he has been responsible for numerous chances against simply from leaving his defence partner alone to defend.
Although he only played 34 games this season due to injury, Barron put up 19 points for the Halifax Mooseheads.
An excellent skater, Barron is strong on his feet, has excellent acceleration, and can skate through checks very well for a player his age. He plays a strong two-way game, and his strong skating ability allows him to transition plays from defence to offense and back again.
Barron is comfortable skating the puck out of trouble and starting the puck up ice, but he is rarely the player who leads the rush into the offensive zone. He has a very strong hockey IQ, and makes the right decision on whether to join as a trailer or hang back on the play. In the offensive zone, his slick hands and smooth skating allow him to create chances for his teammates. He likes to shoot low with his hard wrist shot to allow for tips in front.
On the defensive end, he has strong gap control and is very positionally sound, which makes it difficult for skaters to go around him. Barron is not much of a hitter, preferring to use his strong positioning and body strength to force players out of his way. He is not afraid to block a shot, but his understanding of the game allows him to breakup plays before it gets to that point.
The big question mark around Barron is his health. Blood clot issues held him out of the lineup for a good chunk of last season, and those types of chronic conditions can force players to miss significant time; Kris Letang is just one of a few players who are battling blod clot issues.
Whether he will be able to overcome that issue will be a medical call that a team’s medical staff will have to evaluate. Should he be healthy, he could be an excellent NHL defenceman in a few years, but there is significant risk with Poirier.
Assuming all five are available to the Flames at 19 and the Flames be keen to select a defenceman, I would not take any of them. The hope with a first round pick is that you are as sure as possible that they will be a bonafide NHLer in a few years, and more than that, be a top-four defenceman for your team.
I am not convinced enough in any of them. Each one of them has a major flaw that makes me hesitant to draft them at 19. Between inability to play offence, inability to play defence, or health issues, none of them are a strong enough candidate for me to use my first round selection on for them, if I were a GM.
If selecting a defenceman was the number one priority, I would trade up in the draft and try to select one of Jamie Drysdale or Jake Sanderson. Both look like surefire NHLers who could be stalwarts on an NHL back-end for years to come. However, to trade into the top ten would come at a steep price, and the Flames will need to ensure that the price is worth it. It probably makes more sense to wait until later rounds to pick a defender there.
Which defenceman would you pick if you were the Flames? let us know in the comments or on social media.
Photo credit: Halifax Mooseheads