When scouts bemoaned the lack of depth on the NTDP this past year beyond the team's top line, James Sanchez was a good example of what they were talking about. The big forward had some impressive tools and potential, but they never quite developed enough over his two years in the program for him to become a consistent scorer. But the intrigue of that potential still remains, and that makes Sanchez a likely pick in this year's NHL Draft.
Player: James Sanchez
Team: US NTDP U18
Position: Left Wing
Height: 6'2" Weight: 190 lbs.
Stats: 64 games, 8 goals, 8 assists, 16 points
Final NHL Central Scouting rank: 146th among North American skaters
What I Like:
-Quick hands for a big man
There aren't many 6'2" that have hands as quick as Sanchez. It comes in rare flashes, but he has the ability to make jaw-dropping highlight reel one-on-one offensive plays.
-Drives hard to the net
Sanchez shows a nice ability to drive hard with the puck to the net and absorb some contact, rather than settling for playing on the perimeter. It's not always effective, but it's a positive sign to see the willingness to do so.
What I Don't Like:
-Doesn't protect the puck
Sanchez is a pretty stickhandler when he has ample room to maneuver, but he really struggles handling the puck in traffic. He doesn't use his frame to shield off defenders and loses the puck too easily.
Sanchez has a very upright skating style which shortens his stride and limits his ability to accelerate. It also gives him a higher center of gravity and makes it easier for defenders to knock him off the puck.
Sanchez has the look of a player that should be a really high draft pick--he's got pro size and his skill level is impressive for that size--but those attributes didn't materialize into anything appreciable this past year. He was mired in a lower line role for the NTDP much of the year and scored a point once every four games. The whole added up to much less than the sum of his parts.
NHL Central Scouting ranked Sanchez 146th among North American skaters, and presuming he dropped a little bit with a poor World U18s, that puts him right on the cusp of being drafted. I'm not quite as harsh as Central Scouting on Sanchez. I'm not overly impressed either, but I think the late rounds of the Draft are pretty weak, and the fact that Sanchez has some elite tools--his combination of size and hands is rare--puts him towards the top of that rather meh list. I've got him as a fifth round-ish pick. I can't see him going undrafted, and would expect him to be picked somewhere in rounds 5-7.
Sanchez is a typical late round project pick. He'll head the University of Michigan next season where he should receive more opportunity to develop the offensive side of his game. If he can become stronger on the puck, he has big potential as a scoring line winger at the NHL level.