Name: Braden Schneider
Team: Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)
Stats: 60 games played, 7 goals, 35 assists, 58 points, 42 PIMs, +9 plus/minus rating
NHL Central Scouting ranking: 9th (North American Skaters)
Comparable NHL player: Oscar Klefbom / Jake Muzzin
Fifteen years after the locked out 2004-05 season, and the subsequent end of the Dead Puck Era, there’s no doubt that the NHL is much different than it was — and that there’s no going back to the way things were.
Long gone is the defensive, trap-obsessed, clutch-and-grab hockey of old, replaced instead with a product that’s more offensive and fast-paced.
However, don’t let this change fool you into believing that players who specialize in defensive hockey can’t be elite, difference-making NHLers.
After all, Patrice Bergeron isn’t considered one of the best players in the world just because he consistently puts up 50-60 points in a season — it’s his elite defensive abilties that make him such a special, dominating player.
All of this, in a roundabout way, brings me to the 2020 NHL draft prospect you’re here to read about today: Brandon Wheat Kings defenseman Braden Schneider.
If you were to envision what an elite NHL shutdown defenseman would look like, a few different tools would come to mind: skating ability (to keep up with the speed of today’s game), size and reach (to cover open ice more effectively), strength (to win battles for pucks and space), hockey sense, competitiveness, and composure.
Schneider is one of those rare defense prospects who checks all of the above boxes.
He has the natural size, at about 6-foot-2 and 209 pounds, but he combines that big frame with impressive skating ability. While some big guys can fly north-south but lack agility, Schneider isn’t one of them. He’s quite quick and elusive in all directions, allowing him to navigate cleanly through traffic on offense, while also making the necessary stops, cuts and direction changes that are necessary on defense against speedy opponents.
Watching Schneider defend in open ice is a real treat, as he keeps an impeccable gap and can eliminate opponents from the play with his stick, with a big hit or just by smothering them and riding them into the boards — whatever the situation calls for. He also does an excellent job of knowing which tactic to deploy, not getting himself caught out of position by going for a big hit at an inopportune time or taking holding penalties because he didn’t read the play correctly and got too close to the puck-carrier.
In the defensive zone, he’s a rock. He tracks and anticipates cycles well, and can easily use his reads, stick or body (or combination of all three) to regain possession of the puck for his team. Being able to tie up and box out enemy players without taking a penalty is an important and underrated ability for defensemen to possess, and Schneider is one of the most advanced prospects that I’ve ever scouted in this area.
But what makes Schneider a truly special shutdown defender is just how consistently, efficiently and matter-of-factly he goes about his business. Not only does he always look comfortable and composed defending (even on the penalty kill or defending a late lead), he also seems to enjoy doing it — this often isn’t the case, as a lot of young defenders are much more interested in jumping into the rush offensively, while the defensive work is seen as a chore.
Now, it should be mentioned that Schneider isn’t exactly a slouch on offense. I already mentioned his skating, but he’s also a very crisp passer, including while at motion in transition. Even though his shot isn’t a cannon, he gets a fair amount of power and accuracy behind it. Additionally, his hockey sense isn’t limited to just the defensive zone, as he picks smart times to join the rush, hits his teammates with passes through traffic, and can catch opponents napping by sneaking backdoor for a shooting chance.
His scoring totals don’t stand out, but the Wheat Kings play a relatively structured and safe brand of hockey in comparison to other junior clubs that are more freewheeling. And because Schneider does so much heavy defensive lifting on a roster that’s thin on the blue line beyond him, he gets fewer opportunities for easy offensive-zone starts.
Reading all of this, it should come as no surprise that he has been an international regular with Hockey Canada over the past few years, including winning a gold medal at the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup.
The idea of the Dallas Stars selecting Schneider with their first-round pick in 2020 might seem unpalatable to a lot of fans, and it’s perfectly understandable as to why. The organization currently has a noticeable lack of young scoring talent, both in the NHL and in the prospect pipeline. Nabbing a dynamic offensive forward or two in this draft should be a top priority for the Stars.
At the same time, however, just imagine how a mobile, right-shooting, shutdown defenseman like Schneider would look playing next to skilled left-shot blueliners like Miro Heiskanen and Thomas Harley. That kind of young defense core would be among the NHL’s very best, and would anchor the Stars in that area for a decade or more.
Additionally, Schneider is ranked pretty consistently in that No. 15-30 range on independent scouting lists, so if he would be available whenever the Stars end up picking he might just be the best player available.
What Schneider lacks in flash, he more than makes up for in consistent effectiveness. And more often than not, consistent effectiveness will win you more Stanley Cups than flash will.