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Sabres prospect Jacob Bryson uses skill, smarts to thrive as undersized defenseman

Longtime Sabres beat writer Bill Hoppe of BuffaloHockeyBeat.com, will be writing about Sabres prospects, the Rochester Americans and related topics this season.

In defenseman Jacob Bryson, Providence College coach Nate Leaman said he sees the qualities of an all-American guy.

“He’s a hardworking kid, fun-loving kid, extremely well-liked, I would say,” Leaman said of the Buffalo Sabres prospect. “He comes from a very good family.”

But Bryson, 20, isn’t from the United States.

“He’s a Canadian,” Leaman said.

Still, Bryson owns a different All-American status. A splendid sophomore season in which he compiled four goals and 25 points in 40 outings earned him second-team honors from the NCAA last year.

“He’s a very, very good prospect,” Leaman said.

Bryson, a Sabres' fourth-round pick in 2017, 99th overall, grew up in London, Ontario, rooting for some loaded London Knights teams.

South Buffalo’s Patrick Kane, who scored a whopping 62 goals and 145 points in only 58 games in 2006-07, captured Bryson’s imagination.

“He was so amazing as a little kid to watch him in juniors,” he said of the Chicago Blackhawks superstar.

Bryson, however, wanted to attend college, so he spent one year at a prep school and another in the junior United States Hockey League before joining Providence in 2016.

“I thought that would be kind of a unique path for someone coming from Canada,” said Bryson, who’s majoring in finance. “I thought it’d be such a great idea to play hockey while you’re here and get a degree.”

The 5-foot-9, 177-pound Bryson has morphed into one of the NCAA’s top defensemen, using a mix of skill and smarts to help him thrive as an undersized player.

“His hockey IQ is one of the tops of anyone I’ve ever coached,” said Leaman, who won a national title with Providence in 2015. “He has really, really good mobility and good edge work.”

Leaman said those qualities sometimes put Bryson “a step ahead of things.”

Most defensemen, of course, are 6-foot-1 or taller. Bryson said as a 15- and 16-year-old, his coach played him at defense and up front as a winger.

“I don’t think it’s a big problem for me,” he said of his size. “I … feel like I’m strong, strong on my feet. If I can move guys off the puck and try not to get moved myself, then I think size doesn’t matter that much.”

Leaman said nothing seems to bother Bryson, who was named an alternate captain early last season.

“He’s a very poised young man,” Leaman said. “I haven’t seen anything in my two years of being with him that’s rattled him.”

That bodes well for a future in pro hockey. If Bryson enjoys a strong junior campaign, he could have an opportunity to sign his entry-level contract.

“After the year … once I finish college stuff, we’ll see what happens,” said Bryson, whose Friars open their season Saturday at home against American International University.

Bryson experienced a taste of the NHL and the program general manager Jason Botterill wants to establish during the Sabres’ last two summer development camps.

“They keep it short,” Bryson said. “I think they really get to the point of development. It’s not a showcase and they try to work with us as the week goes on, just every day to get you to come to the rink and be a better player.

“I think Botterill and them have done a great job just of making that known as players, every time I go I know I’m going to become a better player when I leave. I think the Sabres are heading in a very good direction.”

Bryson said he follows the Sabres through Twitter and watches some games with teammate Tyce Thompson, whose brother, Tage, joined Buffalo this season.

Occasionally, Bryson said he thinks about playing with Rasmus Dahlin, Rasmus Ristolainen or some of the Sabres’ other top defensemen someday.

“That would be so cool to play with one of those world-class players,” he said.

 

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