After a strong rookie campaign that saw him named to the League’s first all-rookie team and a silver medal experience with Canada’s National Under-18 Team over the summer, Jamie Drysdale is back in Erie for training camp, set to embark on his sophomore season.
Drysdale made his mark with the Otters as a 16-year-old, playing big minutes while setting a new franchise record for points by a rookie defenceman with 40 (7-33–40) over 63 games.
With the bulk of Erie’s roster returning to camp to begin 2019-20, it’s a competitive start to what the Otters hope will be a rebuild coming to fruition after the franchise has missed the OHL Playoffs in each of the past two campaigns. Call it the cost of immense success in what is widely considered the world’s greatest development league. Otters fans can recall the days of McDavid, Strome and DeBrincat weren’t so long ago as evidenced by the three Midwest Division banners, a Western Conference Championship and OHL Championship banner hanging from the rafters at Erie Insurance Arena.
“We want it to be competitive all year round,” Drysdale told Erie media upon arriving at camp on Sunday. “If you’re not competitive you’re not getting better. You want to always be the best guy on the ice and challenge yourself. A competitive atmosphere is what we need to succeed throughout the whole year, not just at the start.”
Already heralded for his advanced stride and mobility on the Erie blue line, Drysdale captained Canada’s National Under-18 Team at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup in Breclav, Czech Republic and Piestany, Slovakia earlier this month. The Canadians returned with silver as Drysdale notched a pair of assists over seven games.
“It was a huge honour and a lot of fun,” he reflected. “I met a bunch of new guys and I got to learn from new coaches and was put in new situations in a new atmosphere. To learn all that stuff and have that experience I’m excited to bring it all back here and get the season started.”
Despite entering the season as the youngest member of the Otters blue line, Drysdale will see ice in all situations under head coach Chris Hartsburg. The 5-foot-11, 165Ib. right-shot defender will be watched closely by NHL clubs as he embarks on his draft eligible season.
“I try not to think about that too much,” said Drysdale of the reality. “I play my best when I’m having a good time and not in my own head. I just try to keep it out of my head and keep it there as an end goal. I’m playing for a bunch of reasons and that’s just one of them.”
Whether he’s focused on it or not, Drysdale’s NHL Draft stock entering the season is being mentioned in the same breath as some of his Hlinka Gretzky Cup countrymen such as Quinton Byfield (Sudbury Wolves), Cole Perfetti (Saginaw Spirit), Hendrix Lapierre (Chicoutimi Saguenéens) and late 2001-born star Alexis Lafrenière (Rimouski Océanic).
It’s a big year for Drysdale and a big year for the Otters as they try and assert themselves in an ever-competitive Midwest Division. There’s a logjam of forwards with the club throughout camp and into the preseason while roles on the back end are also there for the taking.
Expectations are clearly a little higher for the once-young Otters who have come of age, with several 2000-born players hoping to take on more prominent roles.
“I think it’s different for everybody, not just me,” Drysdale said of the mood at training camp. “I think the whole atmosphere and expectations are a lot higher obviously. I think we look pretty good out there and I’m confident in our group.”
Otters fans will get a closer look at their club in preseason play when they hit the ice this weekend, taking on the Hamilton Bulldogs at Erie Insurance Arena on Saturday and Sunday.