The Top 25 Under 25 is a collaboration by members of the Die By The Blade community. It was a combination of seven staff writers and over 250 fans that ranked players under the age of 25 as of July 15th, 2020. Each participant used their own metric of current ability and production to rank each player. This is our 2020 pre-draft rankings.
As arguably the most NHL-ready defensive prospect in the Buffalo Sabres system, Jacob Bryson took another step toward big-league action with an excellent rookie campaign in the AHL. His 27 points in 61 games with the Rochester Amerks this season ranked second on the team among defensemen (Zach Redmond). After showing steady progress in his three collegiate seasons with Providence, it was nice to see him take the next step without many speed bumps.
At his size, the transition toward playing defense against professionals could have been conceivably difficult. At just 5-foot-9, his smallish stature didn’t seem to adversely affect his game, which has always been strong in transition. While he will probably never post gaudy base statistics, his ability as a zone-exit and puck-moving entity continue to serve him well.
On top of his skating ability, Bryson boasts excellent vision, particularly in assisting the offensive rush. On defense, his understanding of gap-control helps him compensate for a lack of physicality. According to Byron Bader’s NHL Equivalency metric, his progression as a prospect compares to that of players like David Rundblad, and Travis Sanheim.
Though Bader’s model doesn’t really favor Bryson as a full-time NHL-caliber player moving forward, he has risen to the occasion at every level in his development to this point. Regardless, he currently holds the highest NHLer probability score among every defensive prospect currently in the Buffalo system, according to Bader.
His role in 2020-21 relies heavily on what the Sabres do (or, conversely, don’t do) to renovate their defensive corps this offseason. As it stands, he and Will Borgen look like the first call-up options if the team retains the same NHL group from last season. If that’s the case, barring a rash of injuries, he’ll likely spend a majority of next season back with the Amerks.
Despite the fact that he could probably serve reasonably well as a third-pairing defenseman in a semi-sheltered role, another year of development isn’t the worst thing in the world. He’s only 22, and another year of development might be a good chance for new GM Kevyn Adams to gauge how he fits into the future complexion of the team’s blue line.
Seeing him serve on the Amerks’ top pairing alongside Borgen for a full season could also give the front office an idea of whether or not they could reasonably serve as a pairing in Buffalo for 2021-22. With the expansion draft looming, if Adams feels confident in their ability as a tandem, it could give him more options as to who he can afford to expose next summer.