Columnist image
Bob McKenzie

TSN Hockey Insider

|Archive

There are a couple of notable takeaways from TSN's Mid-Season 2020 NHL Draft Rankings.

One, Rimouski Oceanic left winger Alexis Lafreniere has not only reinforced but actually enhanced his status as the No. 1 prospect in this year's draft class.

Two, Sudbury Wolves' centre Quinton Byfield retains his status as the consensus No. 2 prospect but the door appears open to challenges from those prospects ranked just below him, notably Adler Mannheim winger Tim Stutzle of Germany at No. 3 and Erie Otter defenceman Jamie Drysdale at No. 4.

The Lafreniere development comes as no shock to anyone, not if they were watching the World Junior Championship, where Lafreniere rebounded from what could have been a tourney-ending knee injury to be named MVP.

"[Lafreniere] is in a class by himself," said one of the 10 NHL scouts TSN surveyed to get TSN's Mid-Season Top 62 rankings for the 2020 NHL draft, which will be held June 26-27 in Montreal. "He's the clear-cut choice at No. 1."

Ten out of 10 scouts on the TSN panel had Lafreniere as mid-season No. 1, just as 10 out of 10 had him No. 1 on TSN's pre-season rankings. But that unanimous No. 1 status is more emphatic in late January than it was in early September.

We know that because In September we asked the 10 scouts to effectively qualify Lafreniere's hold on No. 1, classifying him in one of the following four categories:

1. In a class all by himself.

2. A clear or notable gap (between him and the rest of the field).

3. A marginal gap.

4. No real gap at all, which is to say Lafreniere's No. 1 status may be legitimately tested by one or more prospects ranked below him.

In September, no scout said Lafreniere was in a class by himself. Now, though, four have him as a stand-alone No. 1.

Five scouts in September said there was a clear gap between Lafreniere and the rest of the field; now two scouts opted for clear-gap status.

Two scouts in September classified Lafreniere as having a marginal gap; only one went in that direction this time.

In September, three scouts said there was no real gap at all. This time, as dominant as Lafreniere has been, three scouts still feel Lafreniere could potentially be unseated.

It's worth remembering that the task for NHL scouts is not to gauge performance as much as potential. It's not always as easy as identifying which prospect is playing the best this season; it's projecting who's going to be the best NHL player two, three, four years out.

"Lafreniere is definitely a level above everyone in terms of his play this season," said one scout. "There's no disputing that. But where are these players going to be in their draft year plus one or plus two? I think there are a few guys [in this draft] who have [Elias] Pettersson-like potential."

Ah, yes, the 2017 NHL draft revisited. It's worth noting that in the draft run up that year, two centres - Nico Hischier and Nolan Patrick - established themselves as the top two prospects. Hischier, of course, went No. 1 overall to New Jersey and Patrick No. 2 to Philadelphia.

But Dallas took defenceman Miro Heiskanen at No. 3, Colorado selected defenceman Cale Makar at No. 4 and Vancouver took forward Elias Pettersson at No. 5. If one were to re-draft the 2017 prospects now, any one of or maybe even all three (Heiskanen, Makar and Pettersson) would be taken ahead of Hischier and Patrick.

More than one scout surveyed by TSN thinks a similar dynamic may be possible this year with potential challenges to TSN's Nos. 1 and 2, Lafreniere and Byfield.

A reminder, though: While three of 10 scouts slightly downgraded Lafreniere's status as No. 1, the remaining majority (seven) notably elevated him.

"He's an NHL player right now and he has first-line NHL potential," one scout said. "Whomever is picking first overall won't need to over-think it."

That brings us to the curious case of Quinton Byfield.

In September, 10 out of 10 scouts had him at No. 2. This time around, nine of 10 scouts ranked him second. The one outlier placed Byfield outside of his top five.

While Lafreniere enhanced his status with a strong WJC, Byfield did not have a strong tournament. He had no real impact for Team Canada, moving down the lineup as the tourney progressed.

Traditionally, scouts don't hold the lack of WJC performance against a prospect. Conventional wisdom is prospects can only help, not hurt, themselves at the WJC. But when Byfield wasn't very good in the CHL Prospects Game in Hamilton in mid-January, some scouts - as well as a number of NHL general managers who personally attended the game - did voice some questions. Not enough to knock him out of the No. 2 spot - Byfield, by the way, has for the most part continued to be dominant and productive in his post-WJC games for the Wolves - but enough to flag it for further scrutiny.

That's especially true because the prospects ranked Nos. 3 and 4 on TSN's mid-season list - dynamic German winger Stutzle and the wow-factor and top-ranked defenceman Drysdale - are clearly trending up in the eyes of the scouts. Stutzle was No. 14 on TSN's pre-season list, moving up 11 slots. Drysdale jumped four slots, from No. 8 to 4.

"I could see Drysdale emerging as the top prospect in the OHL," one scout said.

"Keep an eye on Byfield," another scout said. "He may be slipping."

Let us, however, keep all of this in context. Scouts appear highly enthused about this year's Top 10, especially with the top four that includes Lafreniere, Byfield, Stutzle and Drysdale.

The Swedish wingers - Lucas Raymond at No. 5 and Alexander Holtz at No. 6 - are well thought of, with top-line, or at worst top-six, potential. Raymond wasn't lower than seven on any scout's top 10 listing. The only gripe from the scouts on the Swedish wingers is that they often play limited minutes against the men in the Swedish Hockey League.

"Way too good to be playing in the Swedish junior league and not good enough for top-six minutes in the SHL," one scout said. "It's frustrating because when you go to see them, you may only see them in limited minutes. You can only imagine what they would be doing against their peers if they were playing junior or college hockey in North America."

Scouts are also bullish on two sub-6 foot skilled forwards - Austrian 5-foot-9 centre wide body Marco Rossi of the Ottawa 67s at No. 7 and Canadian 5-foot-10 centre/winger Cole Perfetti of the Saginaw Spirit at No. 8. — who are continuing to get serious top five consideration from some scouts in this draft.

"Rossi doesn't play small," a scout said. "He's strong and physically mature. High-end skill and good attention to detail; he plays a mature game."

Perfetti is taller than Rossi but still, relatively speaking, physically immature. That is actually viewed as a plus by some scouts, who feel his ceiling will be that much higher when he fills out and gets stronger.

No one doubts the offensive skills and smarts of both Rossi and Perfetti: high-end all the way.

The top American in this year's draft is No. 9 ranked Jake Sanderson, a defenceman with the U.S. national U-18 team. The son of former NHL speedster forward Geoff Sanderson (the pride of Hay River in Northwest Territories) shares his father's skating ability but obviously plays a different position. He uses that speed both offensively and defensively to be the No. 2-ranked blueliner in this draft class, behind only Drysdale.

Sanderson recently dominated the U.S. Prospects Game. He was ranked as high as No. 6 and no lower than No. 16 amongst TSN's panel of scouts.

TSN's top 10 is rounded out by Russian goaltender Yaroslavl Askarov, who slipped four spots from his pre-season ranking of No. 6. Askarov struggled at the WJC but scouts still believe he is a potential franchise No. 1 goalie who is a serious top-10 consideration.

Askarov is the only goalie in the first round of TSN's mid-season rankings.

It's obviously a big year for German hockey. In addition to Stutzle at No. 3, fellow German forwards John-Jason Peterka at No. 20 and Lukas Reichel at No. 29 gives Germany as many first-round ranked prospects as the Americans.

It's a down year in the U.S. development cycle. Sanderson leads the way at No. 9, but the only other Americans in TSN's mid-season first round are defensemen Ty Smilanic at No. 25 and Tyler Kleven at No. 30.

Seventeen of TSN's Top 31 players are Canadian.

 

The Top 62

 
RK Player Team POS HT WT GP G P
1 Alexis Lafreniere Rimouski (QMJHL) LW 6'1 192 39 24 84
2 Quinton Byfield Sudbury (OHL) C 6'4 ¼ 215 36 29 70
3 Tim Stutzle Mannheim (DEL) C/LW 6'1 187 30 6 28
4 Jamie Drysdale Erie (OHL) D 5'11 172 36 7 38
5 Lucas Raymond Frölunda (SHL) RW 5'11 170 21 4 8
6 Alexander Holtz Djurgårdens (SHL) LW 5'11 ½ 192 25 7 12
7 Marco Rossi Ottawa (OHL) C 5'9 170 37 28 81
8 Cole Perfetti Saginaw (OHL) C/LW 5'10 ¼ 177 46 28 82
9 Jake Sanderson USA U18 (USHL) D 6'0 ¾ 170 36 4 17
10 Yaroslav Askarov St. Petersburg (MHL) G 6'3 176 17 2.36 .923
11 Anton Lundell HIFK (SM Liiga) C 6'1 185 27 6 19
12 Kaiden Guhle Prince Albert (WHL) D 6'2 ½ 186 47 8 28
13 Dawson Mercer Chicoutimi (QMJHL) C/RW 6'0 181 31 18 47
14 Braden Schneider Brandon (WHL) D 6'2 208 44 5 30
15 Dylan Holloway Wisconsin (NCAA) C/LW 6'0 ½ 192 23 3 8
16 Hendrix Lapierre Chicoutimi (QMJHL) C 5'11 ½ 179 19 2 17
17 Connor Zary Kamloops (WHL) C 5'11 ¾ 173 40 28 59
18 Justin Barron Halifax (QMJHL) D 6'1 ½ 195 27 4 17
19 Jack Quinn Ottawa (OHL) RW 6'0 179 43 37 60
20 John-Jason Peterka Munich (DEL) LW 5'11 192 31 6 10
21 William Wallinder  MoDo (SWE J20) D 6'4 191 29 5 21
22 Rodion Amirov Ufa (MHL) LW 6'0 167 21 0 2
23 Jacob Perreault Sarnia (OHL) RW 5'11 200 43 28 55
24 Seth Jarvis Portland (WHL) C 5'9 ½ 174 41 26 63
25 Ty Smilanic USA U18 (USHL) C/LW 6'0 ¾ 167 23 6 17
26 Jeremie Poirier Saint John (QMJHL) D 6'0 ¼ 199 48 15 42
27 Noel Gunler Lulea (SHL) RW 6'0 ½ 170 34 2 9
28 Mavrik Bourque Shawinigan (QMJHL) C 5'10 165 44 26 59
29 Lukas Reichel Berlin (DEL) LW 6'0 170 30 10 19
30 Tyler Kleven USA U18 (USHL) D 6'3 ½ 190 34 2 11
31 Ridly Greig Brandon (WHL) C 5'11 160 40 17 39
                 
32 Justin Sourdif Vancouver (WHL) C/RW 5'10 ¾ 173 41 14 32
33 Ryan O'Rourke Sault Ste. Marie (OHL) D 6'0 173 36 6 26
34 Brendan Brisson Chicago (USHL) C 5'11 ¼ 177 30 17 36
35 Ozzy Wiesblatt Prince Albert (WHL) RW 5'9 ¾ 183 47 19 51
36 Shakir Mukhamadullin Ufa (MHL) D 6'3 ½ 178 22 0 1
37 Jean-Luc Foudy Windsor (OHL) RW 5'11 ½ 172 43 13 36
38 Jake Neighbours Edmonton (WHL) LW 5'11 ½ 197 50 16 53
39 Luke Tuch USA U18 (USHL) LW 6'1 197 36 13 24
40 Tyson Foerster Barrie (OHL) RW 6'1 ¼ 194 43 26 56
41 Helge Grans Malmo (SWE J20) D 6'2 ½ 206 22 3 22
42 Sam Colangelo Chicago (USHL) RW 6'2 205 29 19 39
43 Will Cuylle Windsor (OHL) LW 6'2 ½ 204 43 16 32
44 Thomas Bordeleau USA U18 (USHL) C 5'9 ¼ 179 36 15 35
45 Lukas Cormier Charlottetown (QMJHL) D 5'9 ¼ 167 29 5 21
46 Vasili Ponomaryov Shawinigan (QMJHL) C 6'0 180 39 15 37
47 Donovan Sebrango Kitchener (OHL) D 6'1 184 39 3 22
48 Daemon Hunt Moose Jaw (WHL) D 6'0 198 23 0 11
49 Jaromir Pytlik S.S. Marie (OHL) C 6'2¼ 201 38 16 37
50 Dylan Peterson USA U18 (USHL) C 6'4 192 35 6 20
51 Topi Niemela Karpat (SM Liiga) D 5'10 ½ 156 34 1 6
52 Eemil Viro Turku (SM Liiga Jr.) D 5'11 ½ 165 15 1 6
53 Jan Mysak Hamilton (OHL) C/LW 5'10 ½ 180 5 4 4
54 Daniil Gushchin Muskegon (USHL) LW/RW 5'9 167 29 16 31
55 Brock Faber USA U18 (USHL) D 5'11 ½ 193 35 2 9
56 Antonio Stranges London (OHL) LW 5'10 ½ 172 44 17 35
57 Roni Hirvonen Assat (SM Liiga) C 5'9 164 41 3 13
58 Marat Khusnutdinov St. Petersburg (MHL) C/LW 5'11 176 36 13 33
59 Eamon Powell USA U18 (USHL) D 5'11 165 33 4 10
60 Nico Daws Guelph (OHL) G 6'3 ½ 202 23 2.42 .928
61 Yan Kuznetsov Connecticut (NCAA) D 6'3 ¾ 207 25 2 9
62 Luke Evangelista London (OHL) RW 5'11 ¼ 172 45 19 46
 

 

Honourable Mentions

 
Player Team POS HT WT GP G P
Jan Bednar Sokolov (CZE2) G 6'4 196 16 3.53 .860
Jack Finley Spokane (WHL) C 6'5 ¾ 213 43 10 36
Maxim Groshev Nizhnekamsk (KHL) LW/RW 6'2 194 28 1 5
Zion Nybeck HV71 (SWE J20) LW/RW 5'6 ½ 182 33 15 46
Oliver Suni Oshawa (OHL) RW 6'1 188 29 9 24