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The Emergence of Jacob Bryson

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The rookie defenseman has had a great year in Rochester and may be a future Sabres’ regular.

NHL: SEP 17 Preseason - Sabres at Blue Jackets Photo by Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Jacob Bryson has emerged as one of the Buffalo Sabres’ most promising prospects. After three strong years in the NCAA with Providence, he has had a seamless transition to the pro game. His strong play has made him a standout defenseman on a Rochester Americans team loaded with good defensemen.

He is still not the finished article but his progress has been noteworthy and he could ultimately end up seeing NHL game time.

Battling against the odds

Bryson was drafted in the 4th round of the 2017 NHL draft (99th overall). For context, since 2009 the Sabres have only had two 4th round selections make the NHL (Marcus Foligno and Will Borgen). Whether that was due to poor drafting or poor development, the odds are undoubtedly against him.

On paper, he does not look to have the physical attributes of a typical NHL defenseman. He is listed as 5’9” and 185 lbs. This will understandably lead to questions about his ability to defend against the bigger, power-forward type players that he would face in the NHL.

Thankfully for Bryson, the game is moving away from favouring size on the back end and smaller, puck-moving defensemen are getting their chance. With the focus now on puck possession, a player with Bryson’s talents could be a valuable player for the Sabres going forward.

Strengths

With the current coronavirus pandemic shutting down all forms of hockey, I have gone back and watched some of the Amerks’ most recent games and paid close attention to Bryson. The two things that regularly stand out are his skating and his confidence on the puck.

Bryson is very comfortable skating the puck out of trouble. He is able to use his feet to avoid pressure before bringing the puck up the ice and either passing off to a forward or putting the puck into the offensive zone and going in after it. Another example of his strong skating is on the powerplay. He was QB of the Amerks’ number one PP unit in Lawrence Pilut’s absence. He moves laterally across the blueline very effectively, which opens up passing lanes or allows him to get a quick shot off.

NCAA HOCKEY: APR 11 Div I Men’s Frozen Four - Providence v Minnesota Duluth Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

His skating also allows him to defend extremely effectively on the rush. For me, this skill is one of the things that will allow him to push for an NHL spot in the future. He maintains a good gap and forces attackers to either try and beat him on the outside or dump the puck in. He’s not a pushover along the boards either and will use his stick effectively to break up plays. He is not shy to use his body either and can throw the odd well-timed hit.

Areas to work on

For all his skating and defensive abilities, Bryson is yet to show that he can be a dominant player offensively. Whilst it is unlikely he will be relied upon to QB a PP at the NHL level immediately, adding more consistent offense to his game will help his chances of getting called up to the NHL.

This is not to say he is not an offensive contributor however. He has put up 27 points in 61 AHL games this season and was starting to show more consistent offensive contribution. This tweet below is a great example of this – Bryson jumps into the rush on the PK and is rewarded with a goal for his efforts.

The future is bright

Overall, Jacob Bryson is projecting to be a solid player who should see NHL game time. I’m a little sceptical as to whether he can jump into the Sabres line-up straight away next season but I can definitely see him being a call up. His future is very bright though so it will be exciting to see if he continues his upward trajectory.