Jake Sanderson has had an advantage in his journey to the NHL that not many have.
He’s the son of Geoff Sanderson, who spent 17 seasons as a forward in the National Hockey League, playing 1,104 games and collecting 355 goals, 345 assists, and 700 points with the Hartford Whalers, Carolina Hurricanes, Vancouver Canucks, Buffalo Sabres, Columbus Blue Jackets, Phoenix Coyotes, Philadelphia Flyers and Edmonton Oilers.
Needless to say, the elder is a valuable asset.
But while the guidance is of course beneficial, the younger Sanderson has been carving his own way to hockey’s top level.
“It’s really cool (following in his footsteps),” said Sanderson, captain of the US National Team Development Program and the BioSteel All-American Game’s most valuable player. “Obviously, we have different paths. He played in the Western Hockey League and I’m playing in the US and I’m going to college.
“But it’s been really nice having him, because I can lean on him and ask a bunch of questions about hockey and just better myself.”
Having an NHL father, especially one with the lengthy career as Geoff, may be daunting to a young player about to take the next step.
Not for Sanderson.
“He hasn’t put any pressure on me,” he said. “I think a lot of people put pressure on their sons and with him not doing that, it’s really helped me play with confidence.”
Instead, Geoff has been there for his son, and makes sure that he’s playing with the right mindset. Sanderson is coming into the NHL with a very positive and mature mindset.
“He’s always said just enjoy the moment because you never know when it’s going to be your last time playing,” said Sanderson, who put up seven goals, 22 assists, and 29 points in 47 games while adding two goals, 12 assists, and 14 points in 19 USHL games.
“For example, when the virus outbreak happened and we had our last game with the NTDP team, it was obviously really sad. I just tried to enjoy every single moment with them like I had been for two years.”
Sanderson hasn’t always played in the United States.
Coming up, Sanderson spent many years in Alberta, playing AAA in Calgary and then skating for Edge Prep School in the Canadian Sport School Hockey League in 2017-18.
In 2018-19, he headed south to the United States to play for the National Team Development Program’s U17 group. He captained that team and represented the USA at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge.
“(Moving from Canada to the U.S) was pretty hard,” he said. “Luckily I had a lot of friends and they made it easier on me. The style of play doesn’t really change, but it’s a little bit different.”
With the season over, Sanderson now turns his sights to the 2020 NHL Draft. Although, with the uncertainty around the draft, it’s not top of mind for him.
“I haven’t really been thinking about it a lot recently because it was postponed,” Sanderson said. “I was kind of bummed out about that. I haven’t really been thinking about where I’ll be going. I had goals of where I wanted to go.
“But honestly, it’s just something that you can’t control.”
That hasn’t stopped him from taking a look at rankings though.
And Sanderson will have to look up. He’s No. 17 in Future Considerations’ Spring ranking for the 2020 draft, and second only to Jamie Drysdale of the Erie Otters amongst defensemen.
“Now that the season’s over I’ve started to look at them just because I’ve been super bored,” Sanderson said with a laugh. “(I didn’t) during the season because I try to focus on the team, to make sure we win. But maybe a little bit now.”
If he had kept an eye throughout the season, he might have noticed that he shot up various rankings.
He started No. 43 in preliminary rankings from last June.
Now, he’s a candidate to be a top-10 pick.
“I think as our team got better through the season it impacted everyone’s individual play,” Sanderson said.
“It wasn’t just me; it was everybody else on my team. Individually, I think my confidence grew as the season went on and I started to become more comfortable with my play, I started to jump up in the rush a bit more and trying to score more goals.”
The mobile, puck-rushing defender has done all he can heading into the draft.
Now all he can do is wait to continue his path to the NHL.