There’s a lot of uncertainty as to who will be selected once Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko leave the draft board come Friday in Vancouver, but one thing is clear: Bowen Byram is the undisputed top defensive prospect this year.
In fact, Byram could end up being the only defenseman drafted in the top 10. The Vancouver Giants’ two-way playmaking defender oozes talent and looks set to become a cross between Morgan Rielly and Torey Krug. Byram’s 71 points were the second-most of any draft eligible defenseman (Jackson LaCombe, who played midget prep with Shattuck St. Mary’s, had 89) and he led the WHL playoffs with 26 points in 22 games. In short, he’s a fantastic prospect.
But the depth of this year’s defensive class is extremely impressive. In The Hockey News’ Draft Preview, which you can purchase now or read today with All-Access, 10 defensemen were ranked inside the top 31. The class is close enough that the difference in upside between the first-round prospects is minimal and all are good potential picks at this point in their development paths.
Today, though, we’re going to look at some of the underrated defensemen who didn’t make the top 100 list that you’ll want to keep an eye on at the draft:
Simon Lundmark, RHD (Linkoping, SHL – No. 21 EU)
Lundmark spent some time as a depth defenseman in the top Swedish league this year and filled the role well. A two-way defender, Lundmark was one of Sweden’s better players at the U-18 Five Nations tournament in Michigan last summer and used his 6-foot-2, 201-pound frame to throw some massive hits. Lundmark’s top speed is impressive, and if he doesn’t win a puck battle because of his skating, he finds a way to use his strength to regain control. Scouts would have preferred to see him play a bit more in the SHL, but he has all the makings of a solid depth defender who can contribute offense.
Mattias Norlinder, LHD (MODO, Sweden U-20 – No. 25 EU)
Norlinder, who scored five goals and 21 points in 30 games in Sweden’s U-20 league, is one of the more under the radar overaged prospects in the draft. MODO’s junior team’s top defenseman, Norlinder spent some time in the second Swedish league and didn’t look out of place. He’s aggressive when joining the rush and has the speed to get back in place. He’s physical for his size – he stands 5-foot-11 – but his true value is his ability to win one-on-one battles, especially along the boards.
Ludvig Hedstrom, LHD (Djugarden, Sweden U-20 – No. 36 EU)
If Sweden is good at one thing, it’s developing smart defensemen. Hedstrom doesn’t put a lot of the points on the board, but he knows how to put the puck where his teammates want it and does a splendid job forcing opponents to the perimeter. Hedstrom is a strong skater who is confident with and without the puck and possesses deceptive puck-handling ability. His physical play is top notch and he makes life miserable in front of the net. Hedstrom’s game is about power, and while the NHL has him as the 36th-ranked European skater, he’s got a great base with which to work.
Martin Hugo Has, RHD (Tappara, Finland U-20 – No. 38 EU)
At 6-foot-4, Has has a lot of the tools you’d expect out of a much smaller defender. He moves very well and is more of an offensive threat than most his size. Has isn’t afraid to start a rush and uses his long stick to break up scoring chances – think Jay Bouwmeester. He represented the Czechs in various tournaments and was often on the top pairing. He’ll be an important part of the nation’s World Junior Championship team on home ice.
Samuel Bolduc, LHD (Blainville-Boisbriand, QMJHL – No. 42 NA)
Trying to get through Bolduc is like trying to drive an automobile through a brick wall. He thrived in a top-pairing role on Blainville-Boisbriand, putting up 37 points in 65 games. The biggest knock on his game is how he can get caught letting opponents move freely around the net and that he sometimes doesn’t use his size to his advantage when in front of his own crease. However, he has the power one craves from a bottom-pairing NHL defender.
Jordan Spence, RHD (Moncton, QMJHL – No. 59 NA)
Spence was a late bloomer, playing one season of Jr. A before making the jump to major junior with Moncton this season. The campaign was a success for the playmaking blueliner, who tallied six goals and 49 points in 68 games for a team that went out early in the first round of the QMJHL playoffs. Spence played a key role in Canada’s U-18 World Championship effort and showcased his ability to run a power play. If Spence gets drafted, he’ll be the second Australian-born player to be picked in the draft. Nathan Walker was picked by Washington in 2014.
Max Crozier, RHD (Sioux Falls, USHL – No. 85 NA)
Committed to NCAA Providence, Crozier was passed over last season. He exploded for 10 goals and 43 points in his second draft year, though, and that has put him on the radar. A quality puck-moving defender with a good top speed, Crozier is known for being a fantastic penalty killer and his ability to lay someone out.
Ben Brinkman, LHD (Minnesota, NCAA – No. 115 NA)
The youngest player in the NCAA this season, Brinkman played a depth role with Minnesota but will surely earn more minutes next season after a strong rookie season. A late-2000 prospect, Brinkman is an aggressive defender who skates well for a 215-pounder. His game is all about power, whether it be his absolute cannon of a shot or his ability to flatten a forward in the defensive zone. He’ll be a solid pickup in the fifth or sixth round.
Justin Bergeron, D, (Rouyn-Noranda, QMJHL – No. 153 NA)
Undrafted in 2018, Bergeron’s stock skyrocketed this season as he registered 16 goals and 57 points with the Huskies before going on to win the Memorial Cup. While not a flashy player, Bergeron has a solid combination of size and speed and does a lot of little things well. The overager has real potential as a depth scoring defenseman who can play on special teams.
Carter Berger, LHD (Victoria, BCHL – No. 157 NA)
Another overager, Berger was one of the most improved defensemen this season, increasing his point total to 63 after netting 34 points the campaign prior. Some of the success Alex Newhook and Alexander Campbell had in Victoria has to be attributed to Berger’s play on the back end, as he was the one who set up rushes for the duo. The NCAA Connecticut commit received a lot of attention during his time with Team Canada West at the World Junior A Challenge.
Other notables: Domenick Fensore, LHD (U.S. NTDP, USHL), Antti Tuomisto, RHD (Assat, Finland U-20), Noel Hoefenmayer, LHD (Ottawa, OHL), Ivari Rasanen, LHD (Tappara, Finland U-20), Brayden Pachal, RHD (Prince Albert, WHL).
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