November 12, 2019

Drysdale turning heads with Erie

Jamie Drysdale’s offense has already drawn plenty of notice from scouts, fans, and opponents alike.

But to make sure he has his best shot at being called to the NHL draft podium early, the Erie Otters defenseman knows he’s got to keep shooting his shot.

“[A] big thing I want to work on is my shot from the point,” Drysdale said. “Whether it’s on the power play or five-on-five, being a threat to shoot because I’d say that most people have put me as a pass-first kind of guy, so being a threat to shoot will just bring my game to another level

“I don’t have any point goals or anything like that — I just want to play my game and that stuff will work out — I just want to work on my defensive game. More specifically net-front play, boxing out, and being harder to play in my own zone.”

Chris Hartsburg, Drysdale’s coach, said his young blueliner already has a good shot — he’s just got to use it more for strategic purposes.

“I think he needs to be a threat to shoot. As you move on in hockey it gets pretty easy to determine the guys that want to shoot the puck and how you play them. He has a good shot and he just has to use it,” Hartsburg explained. “That’s something he’s brought so far [this season] and it’s something he’s going to continue to push in his game.

“You don’t want to discourage him from shooting because for him, he creates so much offense already, that if he adds that ability to his game, then people have to play off of it and that opens up plays that not a lot of defensemen can make, but certainly Jamie can.”

Drysdale’s already seeing the results.

Last year as a rookie in the OHL, he racked up season totals of seven goals and 33 assists in 63 games.

This year, he’s already at five goals and 19 points in 14 games. His plus/minus has also dramatically improved, moving from a minus-24 last year to a plus-seven so far this season.

“I think throughout all the course of last year and into this year my main focus has been on improving my defensive game,” Drysdale said. “My offensive game is there and once I get my defensive game to where I want it to be, then I’ll be closer to being a complete two-way player.

“In the end, that’s what I want to be — a two-way guy, not just an offensive guy — so that I can be reliable in all situations.”

The Toronto, ON product said he has long admired the play of Maple Leafs’ blueliner Morgan Rielly.

While there are those who say you can’t teach offense — that it’s a sensibility that you’re just born with — Drysdale explained there’s another key factor in offensive success.

“I think a lot of [offense] is just confidence and having confidence with the puck,” he said. “I think it’s just taking risks, honestly. If you see a play, go for it. There’s a time and place to do it, but it’s about being confident with the puck and being confident in your abilities. Honestly it’s being confident that if there’s a play to make, you’re going to make it.”

Hartsburg has seen the results of that confidence first-hand.

“I think he’s been more assertive in his game on both sides of the puck,” he said. “Defensively, really trying to dictate how the opposition is playing against him and using his feet to force that to happen.

“Offensively, he’s just more confident. He’s always been a kid who wants the puck on his stick and tries to make things happen — that hasn’t changed. He’s obviously stronger, he’s more conscious in the sense of maybe not passing as much as he previously did.

“He’s looking to shoot the puck more and make his own chances. For me it’s about confidence — he’s a confident player.”

NHL Central Scouting has rated Drysdale as an “A” level prospect in its initial ranking. That’s not the only A he has received this year — as a 17-year-old, Drysdale was named an assistant captain for the Otters.

“It was a huge honour,” said Drysdale, the No. 8 in Future Considerations’ Fall ranking for the 2020 NHL Draft.

“I can’t say that I expected it, but it’s a huge honour nevertheless. The group we have here is really good and really close. Everyone is comfortable with each other and everyone can have a say and speak up. Being a 16-year-old last year coming in, I wasn’t treated any differently. It didn’t seem as if there was a big age difference.

“The closer and tighter everyone is, the better you’ll be. If there are a lot of cliques on a team, it just takes away from the execution and performance on the ice.”

With the draft approaching, Drysdale said he’s spoken with some players and coaches about the experience and that he often gets the same advice — just to put the pressure and thought out of his mind.

But that’s easier said than done.

“Very much so,” Drysdale admitted. “It’s always in the back of your mind, it’s something you’re looking forward to and something you’ve played for all your life. It’s out of your control, but you can only do as much as you can.

“I think I put a lot of pressure on myself — more than these lists — I hold myself to a standard and if I don’t reach that then I do what I can to ensure that I reach it the next time.

“I think there’s obviously a bit of pressure — I don’t think there’s a way around it — but I try to handle it as best I can.”

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