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Bob McKenzie

TSN Hockey Insider

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In this most unprecedented of National Hockey League seasons, it’s been said the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs will require an asterisk for posterity’s sake.

To which the 2020 NHL draft says, “Hold my beer.”

A whole boatload of asterisks is required for this one.

Let us count the ways:

* No one knows exactly when the draft will be held. Probably October, if all goes well, maybe November. We just don’t know.

* We know the draft lottery is this Friday (June 26, 8 p.m. ET) but even when it is concluded that night, we still won’t know the actual order of selection. That’s because eight of the 15 teams in the lottery won’t be known until we see which teams lose in the best-of-five play-in qualifier series, probably in August, sometime after which a second lottery will be required.

* We don’t know when, where, or even if many of the top prospects for the 2020 draft will be playing to start the 2020-21 season because there is so much uncertainty as to whether junior or college hockey leagues in North America will be playing games this fall.

* In the modern history of the NHL draft, no class has been as severely under-scouted as the coronavirus-hampered 2020 class. Consider:

- The 2020 IIHF Under-18 World Championship, scheduled for April, was cancelled.

- The 2020 Canadian Hockey League playoffs, which would have started in late March and culminated with the Memorial Cup in late May, were all cancelled.

- The 2020 U.S. college hockey playoffs as well as the NCAA tournament, including the Frozen Four championship in April, were all cancelled.

- The 2020 NHL Central Scouting Combine, originally set for June, was cancelled.

“That is a lot of important, high-pressure hockey to be missed,” one NHL scout said. “It leaves a pretty big hole in terms of what a normal evaluation on a player would be. What will that mean? I have no idea.”

“Playoff hockey is the best hockey for top prospects to reinforce their high-end status, but it’s also the best hockey to expose weaknesses you might not see in the regular season,” another scout said. “It’s also a time when lesser prospects can really shine and make a big move [up].”

Clearly, for some prospects, it’s a huge missed opportunity.

“Not having the [NHL CSB] combine really hurts, too,” a third scout added. “We’ve been able to schedule a lot of Zoom interviews to replace the face-to-face meetings we would have had at the combine, and that part has worked out pretty well, but what I feel is really missing is our own doctor or [athletic] trainers being able to get hands-on reporting on the prospects. You often learn a lot from that and now we’re left to take medical or physical reports from doctors or trainers we don’t know.”

There have been some positive unintended consequences, too.

One scout said having the extra time to do so many Zoom interviews with prospects and review so much more video than would normally be possible has, in some ways, enhanced the knowledge on mid-range and lower-end prospects. Whether that pays dividends on day two of the draft remains to be seen, but the scout said there is clearly greater familiarity with the bottom half of the draft prospects this year.

“We’ve interviewed so many more prospects than we ever have in any other draft year ,” a scout said. “With the way we’ve used Zoom calls and additional video, I can see us adopting a lot more of that in the future – not to replace in-arena evaluation but to supplement it. We’ve certainly learned some things we can do differently for the future.”

And because we don’t know when the NHL draft will be, there’s a possibility the scouting work on the 2020 prospects is not over.

“I know we lost so much by all the spring playoffs being washed out,” a scout said, “but if the draft isn’t until October or November, and the European leagues or maybe even the junior leagues are starting up in September or October, we could be watching [the 2020 class] again for another month or two before the draft. It’s bizarre, really. We all have our final lists done, but what do you do with those lists if some of the players on them starting playing the new season? How do you blend what you saw last season and what you’re seeing now, and what if it’s only the Europeans who are playing?”

In a 2020 hockey prospect world fraught with so much uncertainty, it’s comforting to hang on to that which is a sure thing.

So, thank you very much, Alexis Lafreniere.

The Rimouski Oceanic left winger is the undisputed and unanimous No. 1 on TSN’s Final 2020 NHL Draft Rankings. Ten out of 10 NHL scouts surveyed by TSN ranked Lafreniere first overall, as was the case when he was No. 1 on TSN’s preseason list in September and No. 1 on TSN’s mid-season list in January.

“Easy call,” one scout said of ranking Lafreniere No. 1.

“No hesitation, clear cut,” said another.

Lafreniere, a late-2001 birth year, missed being eligible for last year’s draft by 26 days. Some scouts suggest that if he had been 2019 eligible, he conceivably could have been taken first overall, ahead of top prospects Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko.

“There’s no guesswork involved this year,” a scout said. “We’ve seen [Lafreniere] for three full seasons [in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League], we’ve seen him at the Hlinka tourney, we’ve seen him in playoffs, we’ve seen him in the World Juniors, and he’s been the best player [in the Canadian Hockey League] in back-to-back seasons.”

Lafreniere is not viewed as a generational talent like Connor McDavid or necessarily labelled a franchise player, but there’s no doubting what he is.

“He’s a top-line NHL winger right now,” a scout said. “He’ll walk into the NHL whenever we play next season and he’ll be a top player.”

The 6-foot-1, 193-pound Lafreniere’s hockey sense and competitiveness are elite. He’s equally adept at scoring goals as he is making high-end plays. He’s a difference-maker every time he’s on the ice.

If, as expected, Lafreniere is selected first overall, it will mark an end to an unprecedented four-year drought for Canadian hockey. Not since 2015, when Edmonton selected Connor McDavid, has a Canadian gone No. 1.

Lafreniere would be the first Quebec-born No. 1 overall pick since goalie Marc-Andre Fleury in 2003 and the first Quebec-born skater to go No. 1 since Vincent Lecavalier in 1998.

While he’s the clear favourite to be No. 1 this year, some scouts did allow that it’s not heresy to suggest there may be a player or two in this draft, prospects who didn’t perform at Lafreniere’s level all season, who could eclipse Lafreniere in future years.

One of those prospects with at least a chance to do that is No. 2 on TSN’s final ranking: Tim Stutzle, the dynamic German forward (he can play centre or left wing) who excelled while playing for Adler Mannheim in the DEL and starred for Germany at the 2020 World Junior Championship.

“If there’s someone in this draft who could go by Lafreniere in the years to come, it’s this kid,” an NHL scout said. “It’s because of the skating.”

“Like Lafreniere,” another scout added, “Stutzle is going to be a top-line NHL winger or centre.”

NHL Central Scouting rated Stutzle’s skating as a 10 out of 10. There’s a big wow factor here.

Scouts rave about his dynamic speed, drool over the deft touch of his hands and gush over his smarts and hockey sense.

“He puts it all together so well,” a scout said. “He can move his feet, hands and mind at top speed. It’s his ability to process everything so quickly that stands out.”

Stutzle was No. 3 on TSN’s mid-season rankings in January, but has swapped spots with Sudbury Wolves’ 6-foot-4, 215-pound centre Quinton Byfield, who checks in at No. 3 on TSN’s final list.

Five of 10 scouts surveyed by TSN ranked Stutzle No. 2 overall; the same number had Byfield in that slot. But no scout surveyed had Stutzle lower than No. 3. Two of 10 slotted Byfield at No. 6, which is to say eight had him at No. 2 or No. 3. So there’s not a lot to choose between the two.

Byfield has all the tools to be a big, point-producing No. 1 centre.

He moves extremely well for a big man; he has outstanding puck protection skills; he has soft hands and a hard shot; and he gets himself and the puck to the net to give himself and his teammates the opportunity to score goals.

“All the physical ability in the world,” one scout said. “If he doesn’t turn out to be an absolutely elite No. 1 NHL centre, he’ll still be a top-line player.”

If there are any questions about Byfield’s game, they are more relative to the comparisons with Lafreniere and Stutzle than any actual glaring weaknesses.

“There are two things,” one scout said. “Lafreniere and Stutzle have elite hockey sense and creativity. Byfield can make plays but it’s not quite the same. Lafreniere and Stutzle have engines that rev high all the time. Byfield can do that too, but hasn’t done it as consistently as the others. If [Byfield] can do that more consistently, look out.”

The No. 4 slot on TSN’s final list belongs to Erie Otter right defenceman Jamie Drysdale. Eight of 10 scouts ranked him in that position, giving him the nod as the consensus top blueliner available in this year’s draft. Drysdale was No. 4 on TSN’s mid-season list.

It’s worth noting, however, that the next-best defenceman, No. 8-ranked Jake Sanderson of the U.S. U-18 National Development Team Program, did have two of the 10 scouts rank him at No. 3, ahead of Drysdale. So Drysdale is the consensus top defenceman, but it’s not unanimous.

Drysdale is an elite skater, incredibly agile, with outstanding hockey sense and offensive instincts. At 5-foot-11, he’s not a big pro-style blueliner, but he’s shown to be a capable defender who uses his smarts, body positioning, gap control and stick deployment  to his advantage.

“He’s going to be a top-pair offensive NHL d-man who can run a power play,” a scout said.

TSN’s top five is rounded out by Saginaw Spirit forward Cole Perfetti, who has played both centre and left wing.

Perfetti is a shade under 5-foot-11 and 177 pounds and doesn’t have blinding straight-line, beat-you-to-the-outside speed, but it’s a testament to his elite hockey sense, creativity and goal-scoring ability that he still cracked TSN’s Top 5.

“He makes plays out of nothing,” a scout said. “He’s not a fast skater but he’s quick when he needs to be, very agile, moves well laterally and creates space for himself to make plays or score.”

Some scouts ranked Perfetti as high as No. 4 but as low as No. 12 and that type of scatter-shot assessment becomes much more common for the balance of the players in TSN’s Top 10. Perfetti moved up three slots from No. 8 on TSN’s mid-season list.

The rest of the Top 10 is as follows:

- Swedish forward Lucas Raymond at No. 6.

Raymond, down one spot from No. 5 at mid-season, is listed as a right winger but has played some centre at times. He was ranked as high as No. 5 and as low as No. 11 by TSN’s scouts.

He’s viewed by the scouts as having high-end hockey sense and creativity, which makes him a more effective playmaker than a goal-scorer, but don’t sleep on his ability to put pucks into the net. If there’s a knock on him, some scouts say he plays a bit too much on the perimeter. Nevertheless, he’s viewed by many as an elite offensive skill forward.

- Austria centre Marco Rossi of the Ottawa 67’s at No. 7.

Like Lafreniere, Rossi has a late 2001 birth year. In fact, he missed being eligible for last year’s NHL draft by only eight days. That extra year allowed Rossi to dominate last season, becoming the first European to win the OHL scoring title, with 39 goals and 120 points in 56 games. He remains in the same No. 7 slot he was in on the mid-season list.

At 5-foot-9, size isn’t on Rossi’s side, but he doesn’t play a small man’s game. At 183 pounds, he’s a strong, physically mature soon-to-be 19-year-old with a low centre of gravity and some power in his game. He doesn’t have huge pop in his skating but he’s smart and agile. He’s an outstanding playmaker and a very good goal-scorer. He’s plays a responsible two-way game and exhibits pro-level maturity on everything from how he trains to his overall approach on and off the ice.

Some scouts wonder how much more untapped potential there might be versus some of the younger, less physically developed prospects, that Rossi might be more of a what-you-see-is- what-you-get player. That said, nine of 10 scouts ranked Rossi as high as No. 5 and no lower than No. 10 with the exception of one outlier at No. 18.

- U.S. U-18 left defenceman Jake Sanderson at No. 8.

The son of former NHL speedster forward Geoff Sanderson, who is the pride of Hay River in the Northwest Territories, young American Jake is a shooting star in the 2020 draft class.

At almost 6-foot-2 and a 185-pound frame that will greatly fill out in the years to come, he demonstrated in the first half of the season that he has the physical tools, including elite skating ability, to be a big, mobile shutdown NHL defender.

But in the second half of the season he exploded offensively, and so did the projections, even though his consensus ranking on the TSN list improved by only one slot from mid-season. As previously mentioned, two of TSN’s 10 scouts have Sanderson as the top defenceman in the draft and ranked him third overall, behind only Lafreniere and Stutzle. He was No. 3 on the high side, No. 11 on the low side.

“Could be a star,” one scout said.

- Swedish winger Alexander Holtz at No. 9.

If his compatriot and international linemate Raymond is a playmaker first and a shooter second, it’s reversed for Holtz.

Holtz, who plays both the left and right sides, has one of the best shots in the draft and is among the best natural goal-scorers. If Raymond sometimes gets questioned for being on the perimeter, Holtz gets high marks for getting to the inside and playing a harder game.

He did, however, drop three slots from mid-season. Scouts seem to think the players ranked ahead of him in the Top 10 have more multi-dimensional games.

- Ottawa 67’s right winger Jack Quinn at No. 10.

Quinn is a bit of late bloomer, an Ottawa Valley kid who growing up wasn’t always playing for the top teams in his age group or known as one of the top players.

That has all changed now. Quinn’s 52 goals in 62 games qualifies him as one of, if not the best, goal-scorer in the draft. At 6 feet and 176 pounds, he still has some growing to do, but he’s been rocketing up the draft charts all season long. He moved up nine spots from TSN’s mid-season list. He did not play with Rossi on the 67’s top line, though they did see power-play time together.

Scouts like his natural sniping ability but are also impressed with his high-energy two-way game and project that he could be a top NHL scoring forward who can play on the PP and the PK.

There’s one other prospect who should be flagged for discussion and that’s No. 11-ranked Yaroslav Askarov, the gifted and athletic Russian goaltender who’s been labelled by some as the most exciting goaltending prospect since Carey Price. Askarov dropped one spot from No. 10 to No. 11 since mid-season but is still viewed as a potential franchise goalie.

The right-handed catching Askarov, who did not play well at all at the 2020 World Junior Championship, is supremely confident and has a marvellous international resume and reputation for stealing games and winning medals. But his uneven performance at the WJC left some wondering.

As always with top-ranked goalies touted to be top-10 threats, it will be interesting to see who steps up on him and at what point in the draft.

With Lafreniere expected to go No. 1, this draft should be a good one for Canada.

Eighteen of the Top 31 on TSN’s list are Canadian, five more than in 2019.

It’s also a great year for Germany, which has three prospects in our Top 31 versus only two for the Americans, who had 10 in last year’s Top 31.

It’s not a great year for defencemen. We have only six in the Top 31 compared to 11 a year ago.

 

McKenzie's Final Draft Ranking

 
RK Player Team POS HT WT GP G P
1 Alexis Lafreniere Rimouski (QMJHL) LW 6'1 193 52 35 112
2 Tim Stutzle Mannheim (DEL) C/LW 6'1 187 41 7 34
3 Quinton Byfield Sudbury (OHL) C 6'4 215 45 32 82
4 Jamie Drysdale Erie (OHL) D 5'11 175 49 9 47
5 Cole Perfetti Saginaw (OHL) C/LW 5'10 177 61 37 111
6 Lucas Raymond Frölunda (SHL) RW 5'11 170 33 4 10
7 Marco Rossi Ottawa (OHL) C 5'9 183 56 39 120
8 Jake Sanderson USA U-18 (USHL) D 6'2 185 47 7 29
9 Alexander Holtz Djurgårdens (SHL) LW/RW 6'0 192 35 9 16
10 Jack Quinn Ottawa (OHL) RW 6'0 176 38 52 89
11 Yaroslav Askarov St. Petersburg (VHL) G 6'3 176 18 2.45 .920
12 Anton Lundell HIFK (SM Liiga) C 6'1 185 44 10 28
13 Dawson Mercer Chicoutimi (QMJHL) C/RW 6'0 180 42 24 60
14 Kaiden Guhle Prince Albert (WHL) D 6'2 186 64 11 40
15 Hendrix Lapierre Chicoutimi (QMJHL) C 6'0 179 19 2 17
16 Dylan Holloway Wisconsin (NCAA) C/LW 6'0 203 35 8 17
17 Braden Schneider Brandon (WHL) D 6'2 202 60 7 42
18 Seth Jarvis Portland (WHL) C 5'10 175 58 42 98
19 Rodion Amirov Ufa (KHL) LW 6'0 177 17 10 22
20 Lukas Reichel Berlin (DEL) LW 6'0 170 42 12 24
21 Jacob Perreault Sarnia (OHL) RW 5'11 192 57 39 70
22 Connor Zary Kamloops (WHL) C 6'0 178 57 38 86
23 John-Jason Peterka Munich (DEL) LW 5'11 192 42 7 11
24 Ridly Greig Brandon (WHL) C 5'11 163 56 26 60
25 Justin Barron Halifax (QMJHL) D 6'2 195 34 4 19
26 Mavrik Bourque Shawinigan (QMJHL) C 5'10 178 49 29 71
27 William Wallinder  MoDo (SWE J20) D 6'4 191 37 5 24
28 Noel Gunler Lulea (SHL) RW 6'2 176 45 4 13
29 Tyson Foerster Barrie (OHL) RW 6'2 194 62 36 80
30 Brendan Brisson Chicago (USHL) C 5'11 179 45 24 59
31 Jake Neighbours Edmonton (WHL) LW 6'0 195 64 23 70
                 
32 Helge Grans Malmo (SWE J20) D 6'2 206 27 4 27
33 Jeremie Poirier Saint John (QMJHL) D 6'0 196 64 20 53
34 Jan Mysak Hamilton (OHL) C/LW 5'10  175 22 15 25
35 Marat Khusnutdinov St. Petersburg (MHL) C/LW 5'11 176 44 13 38
36 Tyler Kleven USA U-18 (USHL) D 6'4 200 45 2 12
37 Ryan O'Rourke Sault Ste. Marie (OHL) D 6'0 178 54 7 37
38 Topi Niemela Karpat (SM Liiga) D 5'10 156 43 1 7
39 Ty Smilanic USA U-18 (USHL) C/LW 6'1 175 34 7 22
40 Ozzy Wiesblatt Prince Albert (WHL) RW 5'10 183 64 25 70
41 Sam Colangelo Chicago (USHL) RW 6'2 205 44 28 58
42 Shakir Mukhamadullin Ufa (MHL) D 6'4 178 13 2 10
43 Luke Tuch USA U-18 (USHL) LW 6'2 203 47 15 30
44 Daemon Hunt Moose Jaw (WHL) D 6'0 198 28 0 15
45 Will Cuylle Windsor (OHL) LW 6'3 204 62 22 42
46 Jean-Luc Foudy Windsor (OHL) RW 5'11 177 59 15 43
47 Dylan Peterson USA U-18 (USHL) C 6'4 192 45 8 25
48 Justin Sourdif Vancouver (WHL) C/RW 5'11 173 57 26 54
49 Lukas Cormier Charlottetown (QMJHL) D 5'10 180 44 6 36
50 Luke Evangelista London (OHL) RW 5'11 166 62 23 61
51 Thomas Bordeleau USA U-18 (USHL) C 5'10 175 47 16 46
52 Roby Jarventie Koovee (Mestis) LW 6'2 184 36 23 38
53 Daniel Torgersson Frolunda (SWE J20) LW 6'3 199 39 26 44
54 Roni Hirvonen Assat (SM Liiga) C 5'9 164 52 5 16
55 Jack Finley Spokane (WHL) C 6'6 213 61 19 57
56 Brock Faber USA U-18 (USHL) D 6'0 190 46 3 12
57 Donovan Sebrango Kitchener (OHL) D 6'1 189 56 6 30
58 Eemil Viro Turku (SM Liiga) D 6'0 165 29 0 3
59 Vasiliy Ponomarev Shawinigan (QMJHL) C 5'10 180 57 18 49
60 Joni Jurmo Jokerit (SM Liiga Jr.) D 6'4 190 43 5 28
61 Danil Gushchin Muskegon (USHL) LW/RW 5'8 165 42 22 47
62 Yan Kuznetsov Connecticut (NCAA) D 6'4 209 34 2 11
                 
63 Maxim Groshev Nizhnekamsk (KHL) RW 6'2 194 36 1 7
64 Nico Daws Guelph (OHL) G 6'4 199 38 2.48 .924
65 Brandon Coe North Bay (OHL) RW 6'4 188 60 25 57
66 Theodor Niederbach Frolunda (SWE J20) C 5'11 172 40 15 48
67 Emil Andrae HV71 (SWE J20) D 5'8 181 40 11 38
68 Brett Berard USA U-18 (USHL) LW 5'9 155 41 16 34
69 Emil Heineman Leksands (SWE J20) LW 6'1 185 29 26 41
70 Eamon Powell USA U-18 (USHL) D 5'10 165 43 6 14
71 Jan Bednar Sokolov (CZE Jr.) G 6'4 196 24 3.26 .873
72 Ian Moore St. Mark's (USHS) D 6'2 171 28 12 46
73 Zion Nybeck HV71 (SWE J20) LW/RW 5'6 182 42 27 66
74 Jaromir Pytlik  S.S. Marie (OHL) C 6'0 200 56 22 50
75 Martin Chromiak Kingston (OHL) RW/LW 6'0 187 36 23 38
76 Antonio Stranges London (OHL) LW 5'10 168 61 19 40
77 Zayde Wisdom Kingston (OHL) RW 5'10 195 62 29 59
78 Kasper Simontaval Tapparra (SM Liiga Jr.) RW 5'9 177 48 25 57
79 Ryan Francis Cape Breton (QMJHL) RW 5'10 170 61 24 72
80 Tyler Tullio Oshawa (OHL) RW 5'10 165 62 27 66
81 Wyatt Kaiser Andover (USHS) D 6'0 173 31 11 43
82 Jack Thompson Sudbury (OHL) D 6'0 178 63 13 32
83 Egor Sokolov Cape Breton (QMJHL) LW 6'4 223 52 46 92
84 Carter Savoie Sherwood Park (AJHL) LW 5'9 192 54 53 99
85 Sean Farrell Chicago (USHL) LW 5'8 175 44 15 56
86 Landon Slaggert USA U-18 (USHL) LW 6'0 180 47 13 24
87 Drew Commesso USA U-18 (USHL) G 6'2 180 30 2.05 .920
88 Cross Hanas Portland (WHL) LW 6'0 167 60 22 49
89 Alexander Pashin Ufa (MHL) RW 5'8 154 37 17 39
90 Evan Vierling Barrie (OHL) C 6'0 167 43 14 44
91 Oliver Suni Oshawa (OHL) RW 6'1 188 43 12 32
92 Thimo Nickl Drummondville (QMJHL) D 6'2 176 50 10 39
93 Blake Biondi Hermantown (USHS) C 6'0 191 31 47 95
                 
HM Joel Blomqvist Karpat (SM Liiga Jr.) G 6'1 182 34 1.66 .931
HM Calle Clang Rogle (SWE J20) G 6'2 194 34 2.64 .913
HM Tristen Robins Saskatoon (WHL) RW 5'10 176 62 33 73
HM Ryder Rolston Waterloo (USHL) RW 6'1 175 42 16 33
HM Christoffer Sedoff Red Deer (WHL) D 6'1 190 61 5 19
HM Bogdan Trineyev Moscow (MHL) RW 6'3 198 36 12 26
HM William Villeneuve Saint John (QMJHL) D 6'1 175 64 9 58