We have now reached the top 5 of our 2019 countdown of the top Detroit Red Wings prospects. Today we will look at one of the most promising young defensemen in the Red Wings’ system, Jared McIsaac.
Jared McIsaac is a defenceman for the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL. He was born on March 27, 2000, in Truro, Nova Scotia, and stands 6’1”, 192 lbs.. McIsaac was picked in the 2nd round of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft by the Detroit Red Wings (36th overall) and he shoots right-handed.
McIsaac first came up through the NSMMHL (Nova Scotia Major Midget Hockey League), scoring about a point-per-game during his two seasons there before being moved up to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). The Mooseheads are historically one of the most successful franchises in all of Canadian junior hockey and so McIsaac was placed into good hands, and on a franchise that would make him fight for ice team. In his first season in Halifax, the 2016-17 campaign, McIsaac was mostly a defensive-defenseman, scoring just 4 goals to 28 assists for 32 points in 59 games with a +7 rating on the year. While that seems rather middling at face value, it was tied for the highest points-per-game average of any U17 QMJHL defender, even better than Noah Dobson, a fellow top 2018 NHL Draft prospect.
This put McIsaac as high as the top 10 on lists of the top draft prospects for the 2018 NHL Entry Draft at the start of the 2017-18 season. However, his draft-eligible season didn’t dazzle in the ways that were perhaps expected, as McIsaac clearly upped his scoring to 47 points in 65 games but did not showcase a dynamic ability seen in some of the other top defensive prospects like Quinn Hughes or Evan Bouchard. Still, McIsaac’s well-rounded and defensively sound playing style made him a likely first round pick heading into the 2018 Draft and he slid just outside of it, being snapped up by the Red Wings with the fifth pick of the 2nd round, #36 overall.
2018-19 was finally McIsaac’s breakout netting 62 points in 53 games and a +33 rating, also slashing his PIM down to just over one per game. His 1.17 PPG clip was 2nd of all QMJHL defenseman and one of the best paces of any U19 defenseman in the past decade of the league, winning him the admiration of Red Wings fans everywhere. At the end of the season it was unfortunately revealed that McIsaac had played much of the season with a shoulder issue that requires surgery and so he will miss the upcoming fall, although it makes his 2018-19 season that much more impressive given that he played half of it hurt.
McIsaac’s prospect profile is something that has become commonplace among Red Wings defensemen: smart, well-rounded, and not flashy. While some teams prefer to draft defenders who have some kind of whiz-bang offensive talent but are leaky in their own end, the Red Wings have consistently drafted defenders that are the exact opposite: tough, strong in their own end, capable with the puck, and complete. This was the case in Lindstrom, McIsaac, and now Moritz Seider. Thus, the scouting McIsaac is rather predictable. Pretty much every pre-draft profile of McIsaac describes him in that same light, as a safe, physical, smooth skating, and dependable defender who makes few mistakes but also lacks some sort of game-breaking talent. Perhaps the only question about McIsaac entering the draft was whether he could produce big time offensive numbers and he more or less went out and did that this past season.
Thus, it is puzzling why more prospect evaluators are not as high on McIsaac as many fans. Not just was his past season among the best in the QMJHL this year, but it was historically great, something I wrote about midseason here. Some of the top historical comparables to McIsaac’s 2018-19 production in the QMJHL include Sam Girard and Tom Chabot, who are both legit NHL defensemen at a young age. If you want to see McIsaac in action, I refer to this link of his 2017-18 highlights:
McIsaac very clearly has an important role to play in the future of the Detroit Red Wings. He is one of the top 3-5 defense prospects in the system and with his projection being a future top 4 defender, the expectation is that he will be a fixture of the blue line for years to come once he finally makes it to the D. With his comparables listed in the prospect profile section almost uniformly turning into everyday NHL players, that has to be the base expectation for McIsaac as well. He’s going to make the NHL, it just depends on whether he’s a third pair or (as high as) a first pair guy.
As for his future trajectory, McIsaac is going to play one more season in Halifax before he is AHL eligible. Thus, the upcoming 2019-20 season will be spent in the QMJHL once McIsaac returns from injury and the hope is he can be ready for the World Juniors in December, but that remains to be seen. After that season, McIsaac will come to the Red Wings organization and will have a shot to make the NHL roster but is perhaps more likely to start in Grand Rapids if only because of his age (he’ll still only be 20 years old for the near entirety of the 2020-21 season). As a result, I would peg McIsaac’s ETA in the NHL to be the 2021-22 season, but it could well be a year earlier.
Best case scenario: #2 NHL defender
Worst case scenario: Middling third pair NHL defender/good AHL defender