The Ottawa Senators announced last month that Whitefish native Jake Sanderson had been signed to an eight-year contract extension with an average annual value of $8.05 million, making him the top paid defenceman, and third highest-paid player, on the team.
“Jake’s transition to the pro game has been flawless,” Senators General Manager Pierre Dorion said in a press release. “He’s a very mature young man who demonstrates a routine and skillful ability to play important minutes with poise. An effortless skater who holds himself to a high standard, he has the talent to be one of the best all-around defencemen in the NHL for years to come.”
From skating laps around the Whitefish Ice Den as a member of the Glacier Hockey Association, Sanderson swiftly ascended the tiers of the hockey world. After showing his talent as a defenceman at an early age, Sanderson played for the U.S. Under 18 National Development Team Program in Plymouth, Michigan where he was named team captain. Then, Sanderson signed with the University of North Dakota, a perennial collegiate powerhouse.
While still a freshman for the Fighting Hawks, Sanderson helped Team USA win the 2021 World Junior Championships, played at the Beijing Winter Olympics and was the first collegiate selected during the 2020 NHL Draft when the Ottawa Senators took him with the fifth overall pick.
At that point, Sanderson was just following in the family tradition. His family tree steeped in hockey tradition — his father, Geoff, played 17 seasons in the NHL and two cousins also played in the league.
Going from playing two years of university hockey to the NHL might take some players an adjustment period, but Sanderson stepped up the ranks almost flawlessly. In his 77 games as a rookie, the 6-foot-2-inch, 189-pound defenceman scored 32 points and 28 assists whil recording an average of 21:55 time on ice per game — good enough to earn him a spot on the NHL All-Star Rookie team. His 147 blocks ranked him first among rookie NHL blueliners.
“You just see you see the chemistry in the in the locker room it’s something that will be here for a while. And I think we’re going to win within the next couple years. We know that. And I want to be here for it,” Sanderson told The Athletic’s Ian Mendes after news of his contract broke.
Sanderson periodically returns to Whitefish and while training in town will take time to interact with younger players, which is “very rewarding from a youth hockey perspective,” according to Glacier Hockey Association president Clint Muhlfeld, who has closely followed Sanderson’s career since he left Whitefish.
“These kids have a great role model to aspire to, and it’s a realistic goal,” Muhlfeld said. “They can go to college and play in the NHL — it’s really inspiring for our players and the overall hockey community. It just goes to show how far along hockey has come in Montana that we’re now able to produce hockey players that can compete at very high levels.”
Sanderson is the fifth Ottawa Senator to lock up a long-term contract worth around $8 million a year. Sanderson also signed a 10-team no-trade clause, which kicks in during the final three years of his deal.
The Senators haven’t made the playoffs since the 2016-17 season, finishing six points out of a playoff spot last season with a 39-35-8 record.
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