2020 NHL Draft: Five Defenders To Keep An Eye On

BOISBRIAND, QC - OCTOBER 20: Justin Barron #20 of the Halifax Mooseheads skates against the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada during the QMJHL game at Centre d'Excellence Sports Rousseau on October 20, 2017 in Boisbriand, Quebec, Canada. The Halifax Mooseheads defeated the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada 4-2. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
BOISBRIAND, QC - OCTOBER 20: Justin Barron #20 of the Halifax Mooseheads skates against the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada during the QMJHL game at Centre d'Excellence Sports Rousseau on October 20, 2017 in Boisbriand, Quebec, Canada. The Halifax Mooseheads defeated the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada 4-2. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images) /
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Four of the top eleven picks in the 2019 NHL Draft were defensemen. As it stands now, the 2020 NHL Draft defensive class will not be as rich at the front of the first round.

There are several defenders worth keeping an eye on to see if they can raise their draft stock and get themselves into the Top 10 of the 2020 NHL Draft. In a forward-laden draft, it will be hard to stand out. But history shows at least one defenseman (probably more) will be drafted in the top 10.

Here are, in no particular order, five defensemen to keep an eye on during the 2019-20 season.

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Justin Barron – Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)

Justin Barron is a right-shot defender that will turn 18 in November. He’s had the luxury of playing with Benoit-Olivier Groulx, Raphael Lavoie, and Jared McIssac during his first two seasons in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. How has that affected his point totals? This year will likely be a better indicator. Halifax has a new head coach and several players moving on.

He was able to rack up 41 points for the Mooseheads in his sophomore season and will be moving into the spotlight for the 2019-20 season. Former head coach Eric Veilleux sang nothing but praise for the prospect in a Sportsnet article earlier this summer.

"“Still very young, you know? And he’s playing against top lines, has been all year,” Veilleux said. “We had many injuries and he was put in a spot where he had to do it all for us.”"

The 6-foot-2 defender played against top units around the QMJHL as a 17-year-old and still had a significant amount of success. Even with as high-quality linemates as Barron had, this is no small feat. He should be considered a two-way defender with a lot of offensive upside due to his decision making and ability to move the puck up the ice.

Jérémie Poirier – Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)

Jérémie Poirier is a huge part of the rebuild in Saint John. He didn’t turn 17 until June and recorded 21 points in 61 games in his rookie season. He possesses a high hockey IQ but his skating needs work. His defensive play isn’t as horrid as his -41 rating, either.

Here’s a snippet about Poirier from a June article by Corey Pronman of The Athletic (subscription required).

"“If you looked closely at him in his Q games or at the World U17 Challenge, you saw the skill set of a real player. Poirier is very skilled, very intelligent and could be a first power play defenseman in the NHL.”"

The QMJHL works in cycles. Sometimes you have to tear everything down to get back to the top, and that’s just what the Sea Dogs have been doing. They were absolutely atrocious in 2018-19 and received the second-worst record in the Q for their efforts.

Poirier will be the driving force on the back-end as they sky-rocket out of the gutter over the next two seasons. He might be the one worth watching the most as he’s in-line to have more of the team on his shoulders than the other defenders on this list.

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Helge Grans  – Malmö Redhawks J20 (SuperElit)

Helge Grans didn’t turn 17 until May, and he still suited up for five games in the SHL with the Malmö Redhawks. He’s listed as 6-foot-3, weighing 192 pounds, and is a coveted right shot.

He managed to hold a 0.5 point-per-game pace over 34 games in Sweden’s top junior league, SuperElit, as a 16-year-old. It’s not unreasonable to set expectations for Grans at 0.8 points-per-game this year in SuperElit, as well as a longer stay with Malmö in the SHL.

Grans will likely start out in the 25-35 pick range for pre-season rankings, but his value could rise over the course of the season as his game continues to grow and develop. If he can find success at the SHL-level, should he be given the chance, Grans could find himself inside the top-15 for the 2020 NHL Draft.

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Jamie Drysdale – Erie Otters (OHL)

Jamie Drysdale put up 40 points in 61 games for Erie in the OHL this past season as a rookie and is high on the Hockey Canada radar. Like three of the other four players in this reading, Drysdale played the whole season as a 16-year-old.

He’s an exceptional set-up man from the back-end and has produced offense at every level he’s played so far. If you were giving a potential ranking to 2020 NHL Draft class, Drysdale might have the highest ceiling of all the defenders. His sense of the game is outstanding (thanks OHL Live) and he is an above-average skater.

Drysdale could be in for a massive season that sees him exceed a point-per-game. Scouts will likely consider him in the top ten from the start of the season – and he may end up being the only defender taken in the top ten of the 2020 NHL Draft.

Lukas Cormier – Charlottetown Islanders (QMJHL)

Lukas Cormier played the entire 2018-19 season as a 16-year-old. He recorded 36 points (15 goals) in 63 games for the Islanders during the regular season and added five points in six games in their first-round exit against the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles.

Cormier is an offensive defenseman and he loves to score goals. It’s almost a guarantee that he scores over 20 in his draft year. He skates effortlessly, controls the puck up the ice and he puts himself in the right position in the ice more often than not and makes good decisions on supporting the rush.

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Every time Cormier is in the offensive zone he is a threat – with or without the puck. This is a player that could be one of the best defensive prospects in the first round if his 2019-20 campaign goes off without a hitch.