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Sep 16, 2019

Lafreniere leads loaded class in TSN Hockey's pre-season draft ranking

The 2020 NHL Draft campaign - and Bob McKenzie's first ranking of the season - opens with naming rights belonging to Alexis Lafreniere. Whether it remains the Alexis Lafreniere Draft is another question.

Bob McKenzie's Pre-Season Draft Ranking Show

VIDEO SIGN OUT

By Bob McKenzie

The 2020 NHL Draft campaign opens with naming rights belonging to Alexis Lafreniere.

Whether it remains the Alexis Lafreniere Draft, well, that’s another question.

First, though, let’s start with the indisputable: The Rimouski Oceanic left winger is the unanimous No. 1 on TSN’s 2020 NHL Draft Pre-Season Top 20 Rankings. Ten out of 10 NHL scouts surveyed by TSN put Lafreniere first on their lists entering the 2019-20 season.

“Elite competitive instincts and all the attributes – size, skill, skating, hockey sense, goal scoring, playmaking, you name it – you look for in a No. 1 NHL winger, he has all of them,” one NHL scout said.

Yes, but we have heard the same thing in past years only to see a unanimous pre-season No. 1 lose the title by the time the draft rolls around, which is scheduled for June 26-27 in Montreal.

Three years ago, Nolan Patrick entered 2016-17 as the unanimous pre-season No. 1, but by season’s end he was surpassed by Switzerland’s Nico Hischier. Could Lafreniere face a similar challenge from any of the other top prospects in a highly talented 2020 top end?  It includes No. 2 centre Quinton Byfield, No. 3 right winger Lucas Raymond and a pair of special scorers in a dead heat at No. 4, centre/left winger Cole Perfetti and left winger Alexander Holtz?

2020 NHL Draft: Prospect Mixtape

Check out some incredible plays from the NHL Draft's Class of 2020 from the World Junior Summer Showcase and the Hlinka-Gretzky Tournament.

So we asked the same 10 scouts who had Lafreniere No. 1 to further qualify Lafreniere's pre-season No. 1 status by choosing from the following four categories:

1. Lafreniere is in a class all by himself.

2. There is a clear gap between Lafreniere and the rest of the field.

3. There is a marginal gap between Lafreniere and the rest of the field.

4. The gap is so tight as to not really be a gap at all; that it wouldn’t come as any surprise if one or more of the top five prospects were to equal or surpass Lafreniere.

The results were interesting. And mixed.

No scout identified Lafreniere as in a class by himself.

Five scouts chose the clear-gap Door No. 2; two scouts opted for the marginal-gap Door No. 3; and the remaining three scouts basically said any one of a half-dozen other prospects will be right on Lafreniere’s heels from the start of the season. So three for Door No. 4.

One of the scouts who said Lafreniere owns a clear gap (Door No. 2) to start the season further qualified his answer by suggesting Door No. 4 is still a legitimate possibility; that the clear gap could close rapidly.

“It speaks to the quality of the other top guys,” that scout said.

It may also have something to do with the fact Lafreniere has a late 2001 birthdate (Oct. 11). Most of the other potential elite picks in this year’s draft are 2002-born players. Lafreniere missed being eligible for last year’s 2019 draft class by just 26 days.

Or as one scout put it when he ranked Lafreniere No. 1: “A year ago at the Hlinka-Gretzky (U-18) tourney, Lafreniere was clearly the No. 1 guy for (2020) and we all felt like (if he were 2019 eligible) he could push Jack Hughes for No. 1 (in 2019). This summer, when I watched him at the World Junior Summer Showcase, I thought he was only average, so it will be interesting to see how it plays out this season. There are a lot of really good players this year.”

Many scouts agree that Lafreniere doesn’t necessarily possess elite skill in any single category but is very good to great in so many of them that the total package simply can’t miss.

However, one scout said his competitiveness and will to be great are elite and – combined with way-above-average hockey sense/vision and a strong skill set to score or make plays equally well – ensure he’s a blue-chip prospect.

Another scout expressed reservations about Lafreniere's skating: “Speed, pace? His skating is good but not extraordinary. That’s something I’ll be watching.”

2. Quinton Byfield: The Sudbury Wolves’ centre is 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds so we’re talking Eric Lindros-like physical dimensions, although Byfield’s game is nothing like Lindros’ intimidating physical domination and punishment.

Byfield uses his size, strength and excellent mobility for a big man to create offence for himself and stake out territory in the front of the net and down low. Byfield can make plays and score goals, but scouts will be watching him to see if his finer offensive skills - vision, hands, creativity - are on the same level as the other top offensive prospects.

He could well project as a big, point-producing No. 1 NHL centre, but even if he doesn’t turn out to be quite as prolific as some expect he would be no worse than a physically-imposing No. 2.

Five of 10 scouts surveyed by TSN have Byfield at No. 2; the other five ranked him between 3 and 6.

3. Lucas Raymond: The right-shot Swedish right winger has elite creativity and game-breaking skill. He’s generally viewed as a more natural playmaker than goal scorer but he’s certainly capable of finishing plays. At 5-foot-11 and 170 pounds, he’s not huge but his elite vision and skills more than offset any concerns on size. Scouts project him as a first-line NHL offensive winger.

Perfetti hopes summer showing was enough for World Junior camp invite

Cole Perfetti joins James Duthie to reflect on his two goals in regulation and three goals in the shootout against Sweden at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup. He also explains why he hopes that was a good enough performance to earn an invite to Canada's World Junior camp.

4. It’s a dead heat between Saginaw Spirit forward Cole Perfetti and right-shot Swedish left winger Alexander Holtz.

Perfetti: In Saginaw, the 5-foot-10 Perfetti has played both centre and wing, but NHL scouts seem to think the gifted goal-scorer is destined for wing in the NHL. Perfetti’s creativity is off the charts. Scouts say he doesn’t have blinding speed but he doesn’t necessarily need it because he seems to put himself in the right position to create offence. He may well be the most natural goal-scorer in the entire draft. He rocketed to prominence in the summer in the Ivan Hlinka tourney semi-final, when he scored twice in regulation and then followed it with Jonathan Toews-like shootout pyrotechnics in a clutch performance for the ages. Perfetti is a gifted playmaker, too, but putting the puck in the net is his calling card.

Holtz: The Swedish winger is a shooter, the perfect complement to his countryman and often times international hockey linemate Lucas Raymond. He and Raymond have displayed tremendous offensive chemistry and creativity. Both players skipped the Hlinka U-18 tourney to play for Sweden in the World Junior Summer Showcase event in Plymouth, Mich., and they were both dominant against older competition.

6. Yaroslav Askarov: The 6-foot-3 Russian has been billed as the second coming of Carey Price and even though there’s great hesitation to take a goaltender in the top 10, or even the top five of the draft, the sky could be the limit for this guy. All 10 scouts surveyed by TSN have him as a Top 10 pick to start the season and two of them ranked Askarov No. 2 overall, behind only Lafreniere. He’s big, athletic, and unflappable, and all he does is win. As much attention, and deservedly so, as U.S. goalie Spencer Knight got last year before being taken 13th overall by Florida, scouts say Askarov is on a whole other level from Knight.

7. Hendrix Lapierre: The Chicoutimi Sagueneen is a savvy, creative, playmaking centre who not only puts up points as an offensive catalyst but also plays a solid, committed game all over the ice. Maybe not a huge “wow” factor here, but the scouts who like him said he “plays the game the right way.” There seems to be a bit of a mixed bag of opinions on Lapierre. Eight of 10 scouts surveyed have him as a Top 10 prospect, including four scouts who have him as high as No. 3 or No. 4. Two scouts, however, had him outside the Top 10 and one of those two didn’t include him in his Top 15.

8. Jamie Drysdale: The Erie Otter is a dynamic offensive defenceman, the solid consensus choice as the best blueliner available in this year’s draft. Drysdale is a marvellous skater. He’s not just fast but also agile and his edge work is outstanding. He can easily skate the puck up the ice – scouts marvel at how hard it is to forecheck against Drysdale – or he’s adept at making passes to get the offence started. Drysdale is a force at the offensive blueline in terms of rushing the puck into the zone or making plays from the blueline, including quarterbacking a power play. He also demonstrated a decent commitment to trying to defend at the Hlinka U-18 tournament, which didn’t go unnoticed by the scouts.

9. Anton Lundell: The big, solid 6-foot-1 Finnish centre plays a strong two-way game, but scouts wonder if there’s a drop off in high-end skill after the top eight picks. Lundell is not without skill. He excelled as a 16-year-old at last year’s World Junior Championship, but scouts wonder if he’s a cut below the other elite offensive prospects in this draft. He does play a great all-around game, and eight of 10 scouts surveyed have him a solid Top 10 prospect.

10. Justin Barron: At almost 6-foot-3 and with great mobility and smarts, the Halifax Moosehead defenceman plays a good all-around game. He’s not nearly as dynamic offensively, or high reward/high risk as Drysdale, but what’s not to like about a big, smart, mobile puck mover who can skate or pass the puck out of trouble and plays a solid defensive game as well? Seven of 10 scouts have him as a Top 10 guy, including one who ranked him as high as No. 5 overall.

Scouts seem generally excited by this year’s draft class. They said the top seven or eight prospects have the opportunity to be elite in the sense of potentially being projected first-line forwards, top-pairing defencemen or, in the case of Askarov, being a No. 1 franchise-type goalie.

It’s a good year for Canada, too.

Hot Button Issues: Gap is shrinking between Canada and USA

Craig Button joins James Duthie for Hot Button Issues and explains why the gap continues to shrink between the number of Canadian and American players drafted each year.

If Lafreniere, or Byfield, were to go No. 1 overall, it would be the first time a Canadian has done that since Connor McDavid in 2015. Three of the top five and six of the top 10 prospects on TSN’s pre-season list are Canadian.

It is a down year, a big down year, for Americans.

Last year was a banner year, with 11 Americans going in the first round, including a record eight from the U.S. Under-18 team. This year, the top-ranked American on TSN’s pre-season list is U.S. Under-18 captain and defenceman Jake Sanderson, the son for former NHLer Geoff Sanderson, the pride of Hay River in the Northwest Territories.

Sanderson checks in at No. 16. Compare that to last year, when seven of the top 15 picks were Americans who played for the U.S. U-18 program.

 

The Top 20

Alexis Lafreniere
1. Alexis Lafreniere

Left Wing | Rimouski (QMJHL) | 6'1 | 192 lbs. | Oct. 11, 2001

2018-19 Statistics

  • GP
    61
  • G
    37
  • PTS
    105
  • +/-
    +52

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

High end offensive talent who is an excellent playmaker and has the scoring ability to impact the game. Finds ways to be the difference maker at key times.
Quinton Byfield
2. Quinton Byfield

Centre | Sudbury (OHL) | 6'4 1/4 | 215 lbs. | Aug. 19, 2002

2018-19 Statistics

  • GP
    64
  • G
    29
  • PTS
    61
  • +/-
    +12

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

Combines athleticism with power, which makes defending him a very difficult task. Has the soft hands like Evgeni Malkin and may have the biggest upside of any player in the draft.
Lucas Raymond
3. Lucas Raymond

Right Wing | Frolunda (SHL) | 5'11 | 170 lbs. | Mar. 28, 2002

2018-19 Statistics

  • GP
    37
  • G
    13
  • PTS
    48
  • +/-
    +27

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

Outstanding sense, calm and poise with the puck and while he may appear trapped at times, it's a trap he has set for his opponents. A top-end playmaker, but also a sneaky-good goal scorer.
Cole Perfetti
T4. Cole Perfetti

Centre/Left Wing | Saginaw (OHL) | 5'10 1/4 | 170 lbs. | Jan. 1, 2002

2018-19 Statistics

  • GP
    63
  • G
    37
  • PTS
    74
  • +/-
    +36

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

Hockey sense off the charts good and he is always around the puck and when he has an opportunity, Cole spells goal. Excellent release and arguably the best goal scorer in the draft.
Alexander Holtz
T4. Alexander Holtz

Left Wing | Djurgardens (SHL) | 5'11 1/2 | 192 lbs. | Jan. 23, 2002

2018-19 Statistics

  • GP
    38
  • G
    30
  • PTS
    47
  • +/-
    +19

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

The definition of a shooter. He gets to the right spots at the right times, is determined to score and has a trigger fast release. Competes hard in the scoring areas.
Yaroslav Askarov
6. Yaroslav Askarov

Goaltender | St. Petersburg (MHL) | 6'3 | 176 lbs. | June 16, 2002

2018-19 Statistics

  • GP
    31
  • GAA
    2.37
  • SV%
    ,921
  • SO
    4

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

The skill, quickness, sense, calm and technique to be a potential franchise goalie. He has a steely-eyed determination to stare down the best of shooters and not blink.
Hendrix Lapierre
7. Hendrix Lapierre

Centre | Chicoutimi (QMJHL) | 5'11 1/2 | 179 lbs. | Feb. 9, 2002

2018-19 Statistics

  • GP
    48
  • G
    13
  • PTS
    45
  • +/-
    +5

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

Well rounded, two-way centre who can play every situation in the game and in every square inch of ice at a high level. The definition of substance over flash.
Jamie Drysdale
8. Jamie Drysdale

Defence | Erie (OHL) | 5'11 | 172 lbs. | Apr. 8, 2002

2018-19 Statistics

  • GP
    63
  • G
    7
  • PTS
    40
  • +/-
    -24

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

Skating is his calling card and he uses it in every zone. Defensively to beat pressure, neutral zone to join the rush and offensive zone to press the attack. Plays with a daring confidence.
Anton Lundell
9. Anton Lundell

Centre | HIFK (SM Liiga) | 6'1 | 185 lbs. | Oct. 3, 2001

2018-19 Statistics

  • GP
    38
  • G
    9
  • PTS
    19
  • +/-
    +6

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

Very sound two-way centre who makes the plays in all three zones. He has a competitiveness and determination that helps him find advantages in all areas. Not flashy, but very effective.
Justin Barron
10. Justin Barron

Defence | Halifax (QMJHL) | 6'1 1/2 | 195 lbs. | Nov. 15, 2001

2018-19 Statistics

  • GP
    68
  • G
    9
  • PTS
    41
  • +/-
    +42

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

Very smart, calm and poised defenceman who plays all situations in the game. Very good puck skills. With his sense, the puck finds its way to the best spots. Handles the big minutes.
Dylan Holloway
11. Dylan Holloway

Centre/Left Wing | Wisconsin (NCAA) | 6'0 1/2 | 192 lbs. | Sept. 23, 2001

2018-19 Statistics

  • GP
    53
  • G
    40
  • PTS
    88
  • +/-
    N/A

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

Very good skater with the puck skills and smarts to be proficient as a centre or as a winger. Competitive, determined player who is continuously improving his game.
Marco Rossi
12. Marco Rossi

Centre | Ottawa (OHL) | 5'8 1/4 | 170 lbs. | Sept. 23, 2001

2018-19 Statistics

  • GP
    53
  • G
    29
  • PTS
    65
  • +/-
    +51

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

Slick, skilled player who has the ability to attack offensively and be dangerous, but is evasive and dificult to mark. Can make the play or finish the play.
Rodion Amirov
13. Rodion Amirov

Left Wing | Ufa (MHL) | 6'0 | 167 lbs. | Oct. 2, 2001

2018-19 Statistics

  • GP
    31
  • G
    13
  • PTS
    26
  • +/-
    +20

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

Very good skills and has the sense to know where to be when to be in the right spots where he can take advantage. He's not a flash and dash player, but he's effective with his skills and body.

Tim Stutzle
14. Tim Stutzle

Left Wing | Mannheim (DEL) | 5'10 1/2 | 170 lbs. | Jan. 15, 2002

2018-19 Statistics

  • GP
    21
  • G
    23
  • PTS
    55
  • +/-
    N/A

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

Dynamic skater who is quick, fast and can make plays at high speed. Excellent shot and has a strong competitive fire to be a difference maker. Versatile and can play centre or wing.
Braden Schneider
15. Braden Schneider

Defence | Brandon (WHL) | 6'2 | 208 lbs. | Sept. 20, 2001

2018-19 Statistics

  • GP
    58
  • G
    8
  • PTS
    24
  • +/-
    +13

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

Has a physical edge to his game and defends fiercely. Has continuously expanded his game, makes plays with the puck and jumps into the attack. He's no shrinking violet on the ice.
Jake Sanderson
16. Jake Sanderson

Defence | USA NTDP (USHL) | 6'0 3/4 | 170 lbs. | July 8, 2002

2018-19 Statistics

  • GP
    44
  • G
    4
  • PTS
    24
  • +/-
    -20

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

Excellent sense and feel for all situations. Smooth skater with very good puck skills and he makes things look easy. Composed under pressure.
Justin Sourdif
17. Justin Sourdif

Right Wing | Vancouver (WHL) | 5'10 3/4 | 173 lbs. | Mar. 24, 2002

2018-19 Statistics

  • GP
    64
  • G
    23
  • PTS
    46
  • +/-
    +27

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

Very skilled and has a very balanced game. Makes good plays and is very good in and around the net. Plays in traffic well and has a very strong sense of what play is necessary at any given moment.
Noel Gunler
18. Noel Gunler

Right Wing | Lulea (SHL) | 6'0 1/2 | 170 lbs. | Oct. 7, 2001

2018-19 Statistics

  • GP
    31
  • G
    27
  • PTS
    46
  • +/-
    +21

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

Goal scorer who loves to shoot the puck. Has an excellent release that doesn't give goalies a chance to get a read. Gets into the right spots to score and has an edge to his game.
Kaiden Guhle
19. Kaiden Guhle

Defence | Prince Albert (WHL) | 6'2 1/2 | 186 lbs. | Jan. 18, 2002

2018-19 Statistics

  • GP
    65
  • G
    3
  • PTS
    17
  • +/-
    +17

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

Great skater with speed, quickness, agility and leverage. Closes on opponents, has a physical edge to his game and beats pressure very well. Competes hard. Offensive upside is the only question.
Jeremie Poirier
20. Jeremie Poirier

Defence | Saint John (QMJHL) | 6'0 1/4 | 199 lbs. | Jun. 2, 2002

2018-19 Statistics

  • GP
    61
  • G
    6
  • PTS
    21
  • +/-
    -41

TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button’s Analysis:

Very good skater who has great confidence with the puck. Poised under pressure and can maneuver himself into advantageous positions in the offensive zone to create scoring chances.