The air of mystery that surrounds the NHL draft is a significant part of the season-long evaluation process. Diligence — no matter how robust or regimented — does not guarantee that an NHL general manager and staff will make the right choice. The good news is that we are at the midway point of league play, with nearly a dozen international tournaments in the books, to help beef up assessments and allow the scouting community the opportunity to sharpen their opinions on not only the elite players available but the entire 2020 draft class.
In terms of the top tier of high profile prospects, not much has changed since our initial look into the 2020 draft class was conducted in late July. Left wing Alexis Lafrenière and center Quinton Byfield haven’t budged from their respective top two spots; forwards Cole Perfetti, Alexander Holtz, Lucas Raymond, Rodion Amirov, Dylan Holloway and Marco Rossi, plus defender Jamie Drysdale have remained in the top 10.
The biggest jump came from dynamic German forward Tim Stützle, who was No. 23 in our preliminary rankings but now sits at No. 5, with an eventual top-3 slot not out of the question. From then on, identifying the overall quality of the crop — not to mention the prospects deserving of praise or a longer look — can be conducted with confidence after four full months of assessing their on-ice performance.
There isn’t a scientific formula but one way to assess the depth of the draft is: how many first-year eligibles are selected for their respective national teams at the under-20 world junior championship, which begins Dec. 26 in Ostrava, Czech Republic. Although rosters have yet to be finalized, it’s a good bet to count on at least two-dozen late-2001 or 2002 birth years to participate. However, at least two nations — Canada and Russia — tend to be stingy with WJC roster spots when it comes to 17 or 18-year-olds.
This year should be different. Lafrenière, Byfield and Perfetti are outproducing the vast majority of their older CHL counterparts. Lafreniere, who made Canada’s team last year, leads the QMJHL in scoring with 59 points in 28 games while Byfield and Perfetti are among the leaders in OHL scoring and assists. For Russia, their two best prospects for the draft — Amirov and rangy defenseman Shakir Mukhamadullin — already have played for the U20 team in the pre-WJC tuneups. Germany will have Stützle and possibly three more in forwards J.J. Peterka and Lukas Reichel, and defenseman Maximilian Glotzl.
NHL farm system rankings: Best, worst prospect pipelines for 2019-20
The Czechs will rely on phenom Jan Mysak, while Finland can summon Roni Hirvonen and possibly defenseman Topi Niemela to offset the loss of injured center Anton Lundell. The Swedes have leaned on Raymond and Holtz at multiple U20 events and both will be key cogs playing heavy minutes. As for Slovakia, it has two excellent 2002-born options in offensive defenseman Samuel Knazko and scorer Martin Chromiak. Only the Americans are all but guaranteed to not ice a first-year draft-eligible player.
Another measuring stick is depth at a certain position. The 2019 class was assessed as strong for centers and goaltenders. This year’s group has a solid mix of game-breakers at all three forward positions — meaning a team picking in the late first round can still come away with a prospect that has legitimate point-producing potential. This group can also help teams looking for right-handed defensemen, especially those with high hockey IQ and playmaking abilities.
As the NHL continues to emphasize speed, smarts and creativity, expect the first two rounds of this draft to be loaded with prospects who can meet the requirements of today’s fast-paced game.
Here are quick breakdowns for each position:
Much like every draft since 2012, the opening half of the first round should be dominated by a mix of centers and wings. Last year, nine of the first 15 picks were forwards, making it the lowest total since 2013 when nine went between picks 1 and 15. Outside of the Erie Otters’ Drysdale, there aren’t any defensive prospects earmarked to leapfrog into the top 10 and disrupt one of the deepest forward groups in recent memory.
Leading the way is Lafrenière, a franchise winger who is not only averaging well over two points per game in the QMJHL but is also poised to be the first draft prospect since John Tavares and Sidney Crosby to win consecutive CHL Player of the Year honors before being drafted. At first, it looked like a hulking center like Byfield of the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves would give Lafrenière a run for the top spot; he too was averaging close to two points per game until falling back down to earth in November. For now, it looks like the top spot is Lafrenière’s to lose regardless of what happens at the world junior championship in late December.
The 2020 draft is a comeback of sorts for Canadian hockey. With Lafrenière and Byfield expected to be the first two picks — and Perfetti a shot at for third overall — it would give Canada the chance to boast each of the first three picks in the draft for the first time since 2010. On their heels is a slew of skilled European forwards who should dominate the rest of the top 10. The two Swedish wingers — Holtz and Raymond — have been on the 2020 draft radar for several years, and they are now joined by the likes of Stützle and Rossi. Stützle already is one of the top players in Germany’s elite DEL and Rossi’s 2.11 points-per-game average not only is third overall in the OHL but almost half a point higher than Byfield’s 1.79 average. At this point, all of the above should be considered top-10 picks, thus pushing several quality defensemen and electrifying scorers like Mysak, Vasili Ponomaryov, Jacob Perreault, Jean-Luc Foudy and Noel Gunler, into the later stages of the opening round.
This is a strong group of rearguards, specifically offensive-minded types. Drysdale, as we mentioned, is the cream of the crop, but Quebec Leaguers Jeremie Poirier, Lukas Cormier and riser Charlie DesRoches aren’t too far behind in terms of creativity and flair from the back end. Several other defenders with strong skating abilities are NTDP’er Jake Sanderson, Sweden’s Emil Andrae and William Wallinder, Sudbury’s Jack Thompson, Michael Benning of the AJHL and Finland’s Joni Jurmo and Topi Niemela. All are proficient at running a power play and initiating breakouts with little help required. Additionally, there are several versatile two-way types with physicality and top-pairing upside such as Mukhamadullin, Justin Barron, Braeden Schneider and Kaden Guhle. Lastly, two names that keep popping up as potential first-rounders are Russian collegian Yan Kuznetsov and Finland’s Eemil Viro, with the former impressing as a freshman for UConn while the latter is a smooth skater who already has made the jump to the Finnish elite league.
All signs point towards a goalie cracking the top 15 for the second straight draft year. With Russia’s Yaroslav Askarov, it’s not a question of if he goes within the first 15 picks, but how close he’ll come to the top five. It’s hard to call any goalie “generational” when they’re only 17 and can fall victim to the hot and cold streaks netminders at every level experience, but it’s hard to deny how impressive Askarov’s international resume already is. He backstopped Russia to major upset wins over last year’s historic U.S. NTDP at the world championship over Canada for Ivan Hlinka gold a few months later. His league play in the adult-age VHL has been nothing short of stellar, but keep in mind that the league is a low-scoring circuit and his .925 save percentage ranks 25th among those qualified. Still, every team should be jumping at the chance to draft him, especially with the sorry state of goaltending and diminishing star power at the NHL level.
Beyond Askarov is a trio of European backstops who also have impressed in both league and international play. Finland’s Joel Blomqvist has given up a goal or less in 13 of his 27 starts and leads his junior league with a .932 save percentage. Over in the Czech Republic, Nick Malik, whose dad Marek was an NHL defenseman for 13 seasons, has been a brick wall for his club team and should represent his country at the remaining under-18 events in his draft year. Jan Bednar, Malik’s fellow countryman, covers the net like a veteran and has the desired blend of size and quickness.
NHL top 25 under 25: Ranking hockey’s best young stars for 2019-20
Top 31 NHL Entry Draft prospects
1. Alexis Lafrenière, LW, Rimouski (QMJHL)
A powerful force in all three zones who is as elite a set-up man as he is a shooter. Blessed with size, superior hockey IQ, soft hands and an incredibly high compete level, Lafreniere has done more than enough to strengthen his grip on the top spot — which says a lot considering how well Quinton Byfield has played.
With an eye-popping 2.11 points-per-game average, he’s pacing to lead the entire CHL in scoring, something a first-year eligible hasn’t done in five years. His on-ice leadership is infectious and he will never back down from a challenge.
2. Quinton Byfield, C, Sudbury (OHL)
Speaking of power, no center in this draft class can combined strength and finesse into an all-impressive package like Byfield. A 6-4 playmaker with excellent vision and soft hands, through Dec. 1 he was only six points off the OHL scoring lead. Not only is he a beast in the offensive zone, but Byfield is a regular contributor in his own end and is one of the OHL’s better penalty killers. He also is winning 53 percent of his draws.
3. Cole Perfetti, LW, Saginaw (OHL)
Past or present, being a game-changing sniper in itself is enough to get a kid drafted high in the first round; however, Perfetti is adding the title of playmaker extraordinaire to an already impressive pre-draft resume that was built off his goal scoring as a rookie a season ago. It’s not like he’s passing up the chance to shoot — Perfetti’s averaging over a full shot more this year than last. What we are seeing from this heady winger now is that he is a low-maintenance threat who makes those around him better.
4. Alexander Holtz, RW, Djurgarden (SHL)
This Swedish goal scorer is battling Perfetti for the right to claim the top shot-release combination in the draft, and much like his aforementioned peer, Holtz has proven himself as more than just a finisher. He competes hard, finishes his checks, can connect with the open man from across the ice and his play off the cycle is advanced in terms of positioning and timing. Holtz has been in a bit of a scoring funk for Djurgardens but his ice time has increased and he’s being rewarded for his well-rounded game with responsibilities during late/close situations. Expect Holtz to be Sweden’s primary scoring option at the upcoming WJC.
5. Tim Stützle, C/LW, Adler Mannheim (DEL)
The Germans are beginning to widen their footprint in the NHL and some feel this explosive forward may be the best prospect the country has produced since Leon Draisaitl. He is a constant threat in the offensive zone and in open ice he displays excellent speed and ankle-breaking agility. He’s also a top-20 scorer in Germany’s elite league and is all but a lock to spearhead the attack for them at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship.
6. Marco Rossi, C, Ottawa (OHL)
One of the more exciting forward prospects in his class, this Austrian-born scoring machine is one of the OHL’s top point producers and power-play specialists. Rossi is a consistent breakaway threat but also contributes in other areas thanks to a high-end motor, strong balance on the puck and an acute grasp of how plays will unfold before him. There is something to be said about a top draft prospect whose resume is primarily based on his league and postseason play; it could be a good thing that Rossi will never play in any major international events that may otherwise scrutinize one of the more complete skillsets you’ll find in a teenager.
7. Lucas Raymond, LW, Frolunda (SHL)
It’s too early to panic but this excitable winger who was once expected to challenge Lafrenière for first overall is off to a slower start than perceived. Way too good for juniors but still somewhat green for the adult-age SHL, Raymond oozes star potential; his 200-foot play at the last under-20 Four Nations tournament helped his reputation as one of the most complete forwards in his draft class. He can thread the needle from just about anywhere in the offensive zone and has a high-compete level to augment his world-class skills.
From July: Preseason top 62 players on 2020 draft big board
8. Rodion Amirov, RW, Salavat Yulaev Ufa (KHL)
Gauging prospect development in Russia can be tricky, especially when it seems like every kid promoted to the KHL ends up stapled to the bench. However, this wasn’t the case with Amirov; a sturdy, east-west winger who was critical in Russia’s taking of silver at the under-18 world championship last April. He was named to the national team for the November CHL Super Series and was one of the more consistent forwards in puck possession and generating chances off the cycle. Most teenagers like to avoid traffic but Amirov is a superior stickhandler who attacks it head-on. He is consistent in his efforts and decision making while dominating the puck.
9. Jamie Drysdale, RHD, Erie (OHL)
The best defense prospect for the 2020 draft is a dandy worthy of the price of admission. Drysdale is an aggressive puck rusher in the mold of Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes who not only jumpstarts the attack from deep in his own end but also utilizes phenomenal straight-line speed to create a numbers advantage. Drysdale is Erie’s problem solver for a variety of in-game conundrums and the manner in which he’s carrying a thin roster could be enough to convince Hockey Canada to make him the youngest defenseman added to their WJC squad since Jay Bouwmeester in 2001.
10. Dylan Holloway, C/W, Wisconsin (Big-10)
A power forward who is part of college hockey’s best freshman class, Holloway has spent most of this early season playing either center or wing on one of Wisconsin’s top two lines. He wears multiple hats for head coach Tony Granato and his physical style is perfectly suited for the college game. His stat line (seven points in 15 games through Dec. 1) is not a real indicator of how much he contributes on a shift-to-shift basis and Holloway already has proven in international play that he can be an excellent passer with a wicked shot to boot.
11. Yaroslav Askarov, G, SKA-Neva (VHL)
One of the more demonstrative goalies you’ll see between the pipes, Askarov personifies the term “locked-in” because when he gets into one of his patented grooves the net can shrink in a hurry. Hard to classify stylistically, so we’ll spare you with the comparisons, Askarov stays upright most of the time — almost as if he’s trying to lure shots his way. The problem for shooters is that he quickly plugs multiple holes simultaneously and his 360-degree awareness makes second-chance attempts virtually impossible.
12. Mavrik Bourque, C, Shawinigan (QMJHL)
A highly-skilled playmaker with soft hands and big-play proclivity, Bourque’s creativity and vision are at the forefront of his distinctive style. He utilizes a lot of trickery, such as passes of the no-look, behind-the-back, saucer, and bank variety. What also keeps opponents honest, however, is his goal-scoring ability and explosive shot release. Bourque is the focal point of Shawinigan’s power play and can orchestrate the possession from either the half-wall or the point. He is a strong, well-balanced skater who can dangle or toe-drag his way to an improved shooting angle.
13. Jan Mysak, C/W, Litvinov (Extraliga)
A prolific scorer in junior hockey that to some probably seems like eons ago, Mysak has been earning his stripes in the tough Czech Extraliga where he plays a top-nine role and already is one of the top scorers on his goal-starved team. He wasn’t as impactful at the Ivan Hlinka tournament last August but his league play has him pacing to surpass the pre-draft production of the likes of Martin Necas, Filip Chytil, and Filip Zadina. Mysak has a knack for getting open and using his top-end speed to outpace pressure.
14. Anton Lundell, C, HIFK (SM-Liiga)
A solid 200-foot center who is holding his own in Finland’s elite SM-Liiga, Lundell has some stylistic comparisons to 2019 second-overall pick Kaapo Kakko — although the former is a natural center and an exceptional penalty killer. There’s a lot more to Lundell’s game than just intangibles, as he boasts a clean, powerful stride and fires off an absolute laser with accuracy to boot. Unfortunately, he just suffered an injury and likely will be out of action during the world juniors.
15. Jean-Luc Foudy, C/W, Windsor (OHL)
A speedy forward who can play center or wing, Foudy has centered Windsor’s “Kid Line” with great success — especially when you consider his usage and how deep a team the Spitfires are. Foudy, whose older brother Liam was a first-round pick of Columbus in 2018, plays a similarly aggressive style predicated on speed and smarts. He also unloads a deadly shot that forces the most competent of goalies to put rebounds into the low slot; however, it’s his quickness to the inside that separates him from most draft-eligible forwards.
16. Connor Zary, C, Kamloops (WHL)
A top-notch competitor with a nose for the net, Zary is one of the WHL’s leading scorers with 39 points in 26 games (thru Dec. 1). He’s an intelligent two-way center who provides support in a variety of ways, including subtle touch or bank passes in the defensive zone that leads to swift breakouts. However, playmaking is just one of his distinguishable assets, as he can deliver precision passes from either his forehand or backhand. Strong and well-balanced, Zary displays deceptive quickness and requires only two or three strides to accelerate to top speed and become an open-ice threat.
17. Justin Sourdif, RW, Vancouver (WHL)
A bruising forward with a complete skillset that is bolstered by his sharp hockey sense, Sourdif is one of the top forwards on a thin Vancouver squad that continues to battle hard every game. He plays with intensity in all three zones and will never turn down the chances to drive all his weight into opponents of all sizes. There’s a fair amount of trickery to his game as well, so don’t label him as merely a power winger who mashes opponents.
18. Vasili Ponomaryov, C, Shawinigan (QMJHL)
The transition from Russia to the QMJHL has been relatively seamless for this energetic center who in August was a catalyst in the upset win over Canada for gold at the Ivan Hlinka. Ponomaryov is a strong stickhandler with multiple fakes and spin moves that he times with precision, both in open ice and tight spaces. He’s a possession driver with very good speed and excellent balance, and much like Amirov, he can create chances using crisp cross-ice passes — forehand or backhand — while operating off the cycle. An under-appreciated aspect of Ponomaryov’s game is his dedication to backchecking and defensive-zone positioning while you rarely see him allow the low slot to be vacated.
19. Jacob Perreault, C/W, Sarnia (OHL)
The son of former NHL faceoff wizard Yanic Perreault, Jacob displays good straight-line speed and puck skills similar to his soft-mitted father but seems more comfortable on the wing rather than at center. There may not be a better bad-angle scorer that Perreault, who like Perfetti can sneak the puck through the tiniest of openings — and does so while looking off to lure the goalie off that near post. Perreault can be both a set-up man and a finisher and he can bury the puck in a variety of ways. He works well with his linemates and consistently finds himself open in high-danger scoring area with his stick in a shooting position.
20. Shakir Mukhamadullin, LHD, Salavat Yulaev Ufa (KHL)
A physical presence on Russia’s blue line at multiple under-20 events, Mukhamadullin is a crease clearer and one-on-one eraser who has spent most of his draft year with Ufa of the KHL — and holding his own against premier competition. You can make a strong argument that he’s the most polished of any draft-eligible defenseman with his versatility in all situations helping to boost his value. Mukhamadullin is a top penalty killer, shutdown defender and can quarterback a power play. He also owns one of the hardest shots in the draft and hits the net with consistency,
21. Emil Andrae, LHD, HV71 J20 (Superelit)
This year’s Swedish crop is a tad deeper at forward than on the back end but this agile puck rusher has the highest upside in terms of point production at higher levels. Andrae is the primary option to swing momentum and control play from the point for both HV71 and Sweden’s under-18 team. He displays a phenomenal touch when connecting on breakout passes but also has quick feet and a sudden speed burst that helps him dart into openings. Skating and playmaking, however, are just part of the overall package; Andrae stands up at his defensive line and uses a powerful leg drive to deliver clean hits. His timing while backskating could use some work, but the fact that he’s reading plays properly is a strong foundation to build off of.
22. Jeremie Poirier, LHD, Saint John (QMJHL)
Poirier is a poised “offenseman” with escapability, who like Drysdale, is dedicated to pushing the pace to his level and creating chances off the rush. He’s a cerebral puck distributor who sees the ice at an advanced level and is usually more reliable than not when it comes to initiating and completing a clean breakout. His biggest strength lies in his puck control and he has posterized many opponents who have tried to interdict his movements across center. Once inside the zone, Poirier can dictate the flow of possession and loves to drop down as deep as the goal line for chances near the net. He also owns an excellent shot; one that can force goalies into making tough saves. Although he’s far from polished and has shown inconsistency with his skating and defensive play, only the aforementioned Drysdale can rival Poirier’s creativity from the back end.
23. Kasper Simontaival, RW, Tappara U20 (Jr. A SM-Liiga)
A slippery scorer with a nonstop motor who reaps the rewards of his own hard work more than the significant majority of his peers, Simontaival belongs in the upper tiers of this class for several reasons. For starters, he has the international tournament box checked for his strong showings at both the Ivan Hlinka as a draft-1 and at the under-18 worlds. Throw in consecutive point-per-game seasons in league play, and you have the foundation for a potential steal outside the top 20. There really isn’t much for him to work on, as he’s consistently in open ice and makes good decisions to get there and take advantage.
24. Lukas Cormier, LHD, Charlottetown (QMJHL)
A graceful offensive defenseman with fantastic footwork and escapability, Cormier is a threat to create a quality scoring chance every time he hops over the boards. He was named the QMJHL Defenseman of the Month for October but suffered an injury that will keep him out well into December. When healthy, he is one of the more capable power-play quarterbacks. There doesn’t seem to be a selfish bone in his body and is very coachable with a strong desire to round out his overall game beyond playmaking and shooting. A testament to his improved defensive play is how often you see him on the ice for a big penalty kill or late-game draw in his own end.
25. Theo Rochette, C, Chicoutimi (QMJHL)
A sound decision-maker in all areas of the ice, Rochette is an aggressive center with a strong desire to make an impact in all three zones. He’s played center off Chicoutimi’s top line for most of the season and has been able to stand out via his playmaking and quick shot-release combination. Like several skilled forwards in the upper tier of this draft class, Rochette is willing to support his defensemen below the circles and will pounce on loose pucks to kickstart the attack.
26. Seth Jarvis, RW, Portland (WHL)
A slick and cerebral forward with excellent hands, Jarvis has all the tools required to be a dominant player in major junior. He can dish the puck with flair but also sneak into the role of a scorer thanks to an excellent shot and release. Jarvis keeps his feet moving at all times and tracks the puck like a hawk and when he takes control of it, he’ll button-hook or curl to change the plane of attack and improve his angle. Compounding issues for defenders is his strong balance, as he’ll dart inside with confidence while not seeming deterred by traffic or a potential double team. He also provides his coaching staff with the necessary intangibles to contribute in other areas such as special teams and communicates well with his linemates while trying to execute set plays.
27. Sean Farrell, LW, Chicago (USHL)
A successful stint on last year’s historic U.S. NTDP has propelled Farrell into the spotlight as the USHL’s leading scorer with 30 points in 20 games (as of Dec. 1). Although he was more of a support player a season ago, his abilities — namely his speed and creativity — were quite distinguishable during limited ice time. Not only is he Chicago’s most prolific scorer on a roster loaded with talent, but his energy and high-compete level set the right example for his teammates to follow. He’s committed to Harvard University in 2020.
28. Kaiden Guhle, LHD, Prince Albert (WHL)
Guhle is a complete defenseman who can impact the game in multiple ways. Not only is he physical, with a penchant for delivering solid open-ice hits, but he’s also inclined to push the puck up ice with his above-average mobility and powerful stride. Summoned to solve problems at any point in the game, playing for the reigning WHL champions has helped Guhle experience the intense pressure of playing under the spotlight. He is a fixture on both the penalty kill and the power play and occupies the right point where his howitzer is used off the pass with frequency.
29. Jake Sanderson, LHD, U.S. U18 (NTDP)
A cerebral two-way defender with NHL bloodlines (his dad is 17-year veteran Geoff Sanderson), Sanderson is the early-season favorite to be the first player selected directly from the NTDP this June. He is a low-maintenance option on the breakout, which he initiates with his speed or clean, crisp stretch passes.Committed to the University of North Dakota, he also helps run the power play, where he utilizes his quick feet and agility to open up a shooting lane for his heavy shot. A developing aspect of his game that bears mentioning is his playmaking and vision, especially while taking the puck strong to the net.
30. Noel Gunler, RW, Lulea (SHL)
One of the more enigmatic forwards among 2020 draft hopefuls, Gunler displays incredible offensive skills and a newly discovered adherence to smart play within his own end. He can be an unstoppable force, not only when he’s loading up his devastating wrister but also when he’s maneuvering laterally to create time and space — before exploiting an opening with a perfect pass. This was the case last year in Sweden’s top junior league, and his promotion to the parent club seems to have helped him round out his game away from the puck. Still, there are too many instances where you are left wanting more and it seems like Sweden’s governing hockey body is not keen on including him at international events. Consider him the biggest “boom or bust” prospect for 2020.
31. Jake Neighbours, LW, Edmonton (WHL)
A rugged winger with a hunched skating style and good speed, Neighbours was a high bantam pick in 2017 and thus far has delivered on expectations. He plays a tough north-south game predicated on anticipation and physicality, and his ability to win a fair amount of 50-50 battles is at the forefront of his game off the puck. Neighbours is an excellent passer and can thread the needle through stick traffic, especially as he mans the half-wall on the power play. He may only have six goals on 90 shots through Dec. 1 but he owns a very good shot and can release it with authority — even if the puck is in his skates or he’s overextended. Neighbours is a difficult opponent to match up against, and he has been known to drop the gloves when necessary.
Ranking Nos. 32-125
Source: Read Full Article