Noah Dobson, Acadie-Bathurst Titan (QMJHL)
Position: Right Defense
Age on Draft Day: 18.47 Years Old
Height/Weight: 6’3, 180 pounds
2017-2018 Stats (Including Playoffs): 87 GP, 20 G, 62 A, 76 PIM, +42
NHL Central Scouting: 5th (North American Skaters)
Bob McKenzie (TSN): 8th
Craig Button (TSN) (March): 8th
ISS Hockey: 9th
HockeyProspect.com (March): 9th
Future Considerations: 10th
In late September I watched a QMJHL game between Halifax and Acadie-Bathurst with the intention of getting a look a number of talented players on a stacked Halifax roster, including our third-ranked 2018 Draft eligible, Filip Zadina. Instead, the player who made the biggest impression was Acadie-Bathurst defenseman Noah Dobson. At the time, he was viewed as a potential late-second round pick.
His stock has jumped up significantly since, and rightfully so. Dobson had a monster season in the QMJHL, and it’s hard to argue against the idea that he was the most important member of an Acadie-Bathurst team that won the QMJHL championship. Now, they are one game away from winning the Memorial Cup (champions of the entire Canadian Hockey League), and again Dobson has been crucial.
In many ways, Dobson is the kind of defenseman that teams so badly want to add. He’s 6’3 and one of the top skating defensemen in the CHL. He’s also the first defenseman on this list who would qualify as a shutdown defenseman. In scouting language, that’s often code for a bad defenseman who gets stuck in his own end. Dobson lives up to the label, though. The size absolutely helps, but he has a strong technical understanding of how to keep pucks out of his own zone, and, if not, how to make life easy on his goaltender. We can back that up with a few video examples.
First, Dobson is very good at sealing gaps and defending the outside lane. His footwork is tremendous, so when it comes to dealing with transitions or unexpected attacks down his side of the ice, he is able to deal with the situation and take away space. Here are two examples (watch for #53).
If you have ever listened to Steve Valiquette speak about goaltending and shot quality, then you have probably heard him harp on how the easiest saves for goaltenders to make are ones where they have clear sight of the puck. For defensemen, that means one of their most important responsibilities is dealing with bodies in front and preventing screens and deflections. Dobson, for his part, is very good recognizing trouble above the crease and dealing with it. Here is one example from the Memorial Cup where he twice does a decent job. Twice you see him box out his man and keep the forward’s stick out of the way of a deflection, allowing the goaltender what is a much easier save than had there been a screen or deflection.
The second picture is a bit more difficult to see due to the angle, but you can tell by the goaltender’s head (not stretching to see around bodies) that he can see the release through. Here’s how it plays out in video.
Finally, you see a lot of awkward, chaotic defending of two-on-one situations in junior hockey. I had the chance to see Quinnipiac Head Coach Rand Pecknold give a mini lecture on defending two-on-one situations. The problem in these situations often is that the defender gives himself up too early, taking himself out of the play. If you’re going to slide, you need to do so in such a way that your timing is absolutely perfect in that it takes away the space for the puck carrier and also makes a pass impossible. Such as this example from Noah Dobson.
Though not a two-on-one, here is a similar timing-oriented play. Dobson times the sticklift perfectly to prevent what would have been a pretty dangerous shooting opportunity.
The problem with video is that you can find what you’re looking for if you search hard enough. So these isolated incidents don’t by themselves prove that Dobson is a good defenseman. Instead, I am using them as specific examples of what I’ve seen from him overall in about six or seven games this season. Unfortunately, defensive data is very limited at the CHL level. What we do know is that Dobson had a positive impact on Acadie-Bathurst’s goal differential whenever he was on the ice despite the fact that he they leaned heavily on him in tough situations.
He’s an unbelievable transition defenseman, largely because he’s such a fantastic skater. He’s not really a point guard, per se, with the puck, but if there’s a lane he’ll use long strides to explode up the ice.
There are two problems with Dobson, in my eyes. One, he desperately needs to get stronger. At 6’3, he should be heavier than 180 pounds. Brady Skjei, for comparison, was around 200 pounds on his draft day and has since added about 10 more.
There is absolutely no reason Dobson can’t get to a point where he is putting that forward on his butt instead of allowing him to drive to the net like that. But he’s also 18 and there is plenty of time for him to gradually add muscle. So that’s not a big deal when thinking five years down the road.
Instead, I have a bigger concern with Dobson, and that’s why I have him lower in the rankings than the consensus does. I’m extremely skeptical that his offensive production (17 goals and 52 assists in 69 regular season games) will translate to significant point production in the NHL. The QMJHL has long moved on from the days of players putting up comically inflated numbers, but it’s still a high-scoring league.
In particular, it’s one that Dobson can exploit simply by being so much faster than everyone else. Dobson is a decent passer, and has pretty good puck poise. His shot is nondescript. There’s no notable stickhandling ability or vision. I don’t think there’s enough in his toolbox to produce significantly at the NHL level, where players will be better matched for his speed and, more importantly, fine-tuned neutral zone setups will limit his ability to skate into space with the puck. Is he going to be quarterbacking the top power play unit in the NHL? I don’t think so, but he is for Acadie-Bathurst.
I also think there is some recency and survivor bias in evaluations of Dobson. Acadie-Bathurst won the QMJHL championship and now Dobson is playing well in the Memorial Cup. Those are, of course, good things. But I do question if people are overvaluing this particular string of games because they are more prominent.
As an extremely loose comparison of style - NOT potential - I think both Skjei and Ryan McDonagh offer some insight. Like those two, Dobson is a shutdown defenseman with a great combination of speed, size, and smarts. With decent ability on the puck, as well frequent involvement in transition plays due to his speed, he might generate a fair amount of offense in the NHL just as those two do.
I think Dobson would be a perfectly good pick for any team in the 10-12 range, and depending on the players available, a justifiable one at eight or nine as well. Though he wouldn’t be my particular pick at ninth overall, the margins between him and Veleno and Smith are incredibly thin.
What Others Have Said
Noah Dobson (via Sportsnet):
“The game today is not all about the big hit and being physical playing defence. It’s all about having a good stick and having good footwork. I’ve learned how to play defensive against the high-end guys without having to throw the big hits or be that physical.”
J.D. Burke, The Athletic:
“With wheels like that, Dobson is a machine in transition. He’s incredibly efficient at getting the puck out of his zone, often carrying it out himself... he activates with the space that affords him, his stick available and his head up, hoping to create an entry at the opposition blueline.”