Drysdale Embraces Unique Opportunity At Gulls CampJan 28, 2021
By AJ Manderichio/SanDiegoGulls.com
Life for Jamie Drysdale is a little different these days.
One of the top prospects in the Anaheim Ducks system, the defenseman - selected as the sixth overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft - is honing his craft with the San Diego Gulls. As an 18-year-old, he’d typically spend this time back in the Ontario Hockey League, as an agreement between the National Hockey League and Canadian Hockey League restricts players his age (and under contract with an OHL club) on joining an American Hockey League team until they turn 20.
The current global pandemic put a wrench into those plans. The OHL delayed the start of its 2020-21 season – originally scheduled for February – in December, giving NHL teams the option to send their young prospects to AHL teams for further development.
It’s a big change for a young player, Drysdale included.
“It's definitely a big change all over the place,” he said. “Living in California and coming to the rink every day, it's not a bad life. It's been really good so far.”
Drysdale, the second defenseman off the board during the draft, brings plenty of promise to the Ducks organization. Widely praised for his offensive abilities and skating, experts believe Anaheim added a high-end talent to its system.
“With his combination of elite skating and an elite brain, I think he has as much potential as anyone in this draft outside (Alexis) Lafreniere and (Quinton) Byfield,” an NHL scout told The Athletic.
The Toronto native finished his second season in the OHL with 47 points (9g/38a) in 49 games with the Erie Otters, ranking 13th among league d-men in scoring and 10th in average points per game (0.96/GP). He was named an OHL First Team All-Star at the conclusion of the season and became the third Otter in the past five years to be selected in the first round, joining Connor McDavid (No. 1) and Dylan Strome (No. 3).
He also excelled on the international stage, helping Team Canada earn a silver medal at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championships. It’s the second straight year he grabbed a medal, winning gold during the 2020 tournament.
The jump to professional hockey is a large one, and Drysdale immediately noticed the differences when he stepped into camp.
“Pretty much the speed of the game is probably the biggest adjustment I've noticed and needed to make,” he explained following a recent practice. “Moving the puck a second quicker; being in certain areas faster. Playing smart, having a really good stick and being positionally sound.”
He’s not the tallest defenseman – he checks in at 5-11 and 175 lbs. – which means he needs to learn how to use his skating and speed to work over older and stronger players.
“It's going to be an adjustment, but I think that's how it's going to be from here on out,” he said. “I need to learn how to play against those guys. Just play my game; I'm confident I can do it. It's going to be an adjustment, but I'm confident I can do it.”
He’s leaning on the veterans in camp, learning the game – and how to be a pro – from those with experience.
“I'm playing with Lowsie (defenseman Kevin Lowe) right now; he's my d-partner,” Drysdale said. “Really good guy, really good player as well. It's been a lot of fun just being here, them kind of showing me the ropes and giving me pointers here and there. I always appreciate that.
“Everyone wants best for everyone on this team, and I really appreciate that. I can tell that early in these two weeks, so it's a good atmosphere here.”
Drysdale isn’t the only young prospect in camp. He’s joined with several of his peers, including fellow first-round selections Trevor Zegras (ninth overall, 2019), Brayden Tracey (29th overall, 2019) and Jacob Perreault (27th overall, 2020). The four live together in Irvine, doing the normal things any 18-year-old does – playing video games and adjusting to a new life as a professional hockey player.
“It's been great,” he said when describing his experience in Gulls camp. “Coming into a unique situation, to practice and play with pros, is really cool. Just getting a taste of the game at the pro level has been really fun. All of the guys here are great, so it's been a good couple of weeks.”