Name: Jared McIsaac
Team: Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
Stats: 9 Goals, 39 Assists, 47 Pts, 86 PIM, +14
NHL Central Scouting Ranking: #13 (North American Skaters)
NHL Comparable Player: T.J. Brodie
I would like to think that our perception of defensemen has changed over the years. Puck movers are not simply “dudes who sacrifice good defense for good offense.” There are critical nuances in identifying what makes a puck mover: whether they move the puck with their legs, with passing, simply scoring outright, opening lanes, creating rushes, etc.
The same is true of the stay-at-home blueliner. Defending is no longer a matter of own-zone play. You can’t simply crosscheck your opponent, staple them to the corners, and block shots. You have to defend against the rush as it flows through the neutral zone, you have to make smart reads in the offensive zone because the counterattack comes quicker in the modern NHL, and you have to anticipate better in the defensive zone because skaters separate quicker from traditional clutch and grab.
That’s what makes the stout 6’1, nearly 200 lb blueliner for Halifax such an interesting prospect. First off, his point totals aren’t much to write home about. McIsaac was over a half-a-point per game player last year with Halifax. This year, his point-per-game rate was a little higher, but the team also received an infusion of elite talent with players like Filip Zadina, and Benoit-Olivier Groulx.
This is the knock on McIsaac and why he’s considered a player who could (and probably will) fall into the second round. You’d expect him to get better offensively, and he did, but given the context — not nearly enough for it to be considered an “improvement” for a player who began the season as a consensus first rounder.
His strengths, however, are worth noting because I think there’s value to stay-at-home blueliners who have nothing in common with the big grimy pylons of years past. As Corey Pronman explained in his 2018 draft preview from last year:
His IQ is among the best for defensemen in the class. He makes a lot of stops being in the right place at the right time and making a correct read with his stick/and body. He projects as a tough minutes defender.
With agile, nimble, and quick skating, McIsaac’s defending starts by making sure he’s always using his legs in the defensive zone. This doesn’t just mean being physical and laying out opponents Scott Stevens style — though he can do that too. It means using his legs to exit the zone with possession.
Stars fans already have a sense of this with Stephen Johns. Johns is often considered something of a stay-at-home type without the lumbering old school stride. But where Johns is a traditional defenseman with some offensive spice (mostly thanks to his shot, not his vision), McIsaac is a pure hybrid.
McIsaac doesn’t simply have the talent for offense, but he has the mind for it. He won’t just skate it out of the zone. He’s able to keep his head up during a zone exit. He sees options, and when he carries it into the zone himself he commits to the play with a shot on net or a strong setup.
Of course, that’s McIsaac at his best. Having a mind for offense is not the same as being able to execute in sync with what you planned. His pinches don’t always work, he’s not an elite distributor, and he doesn’t handle the puck swiftly enough to get away with bad reads. The penalties are somewhat of a red flag as well.
With all that said, nobody’s picking McIsaac for offense. You’re picking him because you can trust him in tough minutes. You’re picking him because he has excellent gap control, and profiles like a modern day shutdown defenseman. The fact that he has offensive potential is just house money. Dallas won’t be trip over themselves to draft him at #13, but he’s the kind of player all teams need.