There are not many things the New Jersey Devils love more than a defense-first kind of player. Draft eligible center Erik Bradford is just that. While he isn't expected to be drafted until the later rounds on Sunday, Bradford is one of the strongest defensive forwards available this year.
Who is Erik Bradford?
The 18-year-old Markham, Ontario native comes in at 5'11" and 174 lbs. While he isn't a huge guy, he is an extremely strong defensive forward and is extremely capable on the penalty kill. As a center for the Barrie Colts, Bradford was used against his opponent's top players. He understands defensive positioning very well and is always working as hard as possible to help his team win. He is tough against the boards and is strong on face-offs.
While his numbers aren't too flashy, he has been getting better each year and has gained more confidence with the puck. He has been taking advantage of more opportunities to shoot instead of always passing first. He also uses his strong skating ability to set up plays and has gained a bit of a physical edge to his game as of late.
There are a few weaknesses to Bradford's game, as well. While he has shown improvement in his scoring ability, he is not the kind of player that will regularly score for his team. He is a strong role player - not a strong scoring forward. He also needs to add some muscle to his frame, which will help him excel in the defensive first style play he is known for.
He has been compared to players such as Frans Nielsen, Dave Bolland, and Patrice Bergeron. If he makes it to the NHL level, he would most likely be used heavily on the penalty kill and in the last minutes of a close game.
What experts are saying about Erik Bradford:
There hasn't been much written about Bradford seeing as he didn't make much of a splash in the draft conversation until this season and he still isn't expected to go until later in the day. With that said, Todd Cordell of The Hockey Guys did a write-up on him after seeing him play a lot in the OHL. Here is some of what he had to say.
"Erik Bradford is one of the best defensive forwards in this year's class. His attention to detail is second to none. He's always in position defensively and never cheats outside the zone... Bradford can chip in here and there, but he isn't expected to be much of an offensive player in the next level. That's not really a knock on him, though, as he understands his role and does an excellent job of sticking to it... Given Bradford's excellent defensive abilities, hockey IQ, work ethic, etc. Bradford projects to be a good 3rd line center who can play on the top penalty kill unit."
This link is a video of Bradford scoring in a 3-2 OT win. It was chosen as one of the Top Five Plays of the Week in the OHL. His goal is around the 0:40 mark.
While he isn't the most skilled player coming into the draft, not many guys going in the later rounds are going to have a ton of natural talent. What Erik Bradford does have is the ability to shut down top lines, kill penalties, and win face-offs consistently. In his interview above he talks about how being a reliable player is what is most important to him. With that said, I would be quite happy if the Devils selected Bradford with their final pick in the draft. He has steadily improved throughout his career and has shown his willingness to work hard to get better every season. He plays in position and is a dependable player all over the ice.
What do you think of Erik Bradford? Do you think he is the kind of player the Devils should take with their final pick in the 2013 Draft? Is there anyone else you have your eye on with the 160th overall selection? Feel free to talk about your thoughts on New Jersey's last pick on Sunday below. Thanks for reading!