Welcome to the first 2020 NHL Draft Report! This monthly column will take an in-depth look at the prospects eligible for the 2020 NHL Draft. Each month we will have a feature story, prospect spotlight and a “Team of the Month”. If there is any prospect you’d like to hear a bit more about, let us know!
This month’s feature is a Rankings Review. We are going to take a look at my personal 2020 NHL Draft rankings and break it down into tiers. With 100 prospects on the rankings, we won’t be able to talk about every single player but we will dive into a few notable players in each tier. With information on over 50 players from this draft class, this exercise will serve as the prospect spotlight as well this month.
Alexis Lafrenière is the cream of the crop. Currently scoring at a 2.167 points-per-game pace, the Rimouski Oceanic star has been everything that was expected and more in his draft-eligible season. He understands the game at a level that very few players do and his ability to convert on what he sees is what makes him special. The best description of his playing style is “Elite Skilled-Grinder”. He has the ability to go into the corners with the puck against a good defenseman, win that battle and then walk the second defenseman on his way to putting his excellent shot past the netminder.
Lafrenière is a special talent and should make an immediate impact on whatever team is lucky enough to win the lottery. He will bring an elite IQ, insane vision and an NHL ready offensive toolset. He has a sturdy frame that should be ready to take on the wear and tear of an NHL season. He helped the Canadian World Junior team capture the Gold medal with a literal MVP performance as an 18-year-old. His production in the QMJHL is beyond impressive and he just keeps passing tests with flying colours. This kid is a stud.
Tier two is another solo tier, the second of three. Quinton Byfield is the star here. Did your team miss on the lottery but still land the second pick? Well, you’re in luck because this year, we have an extra 1st overall caliber prospect! It’s not often that you can get a player who would go with the top pick without winning the lottery but Quinton Byfield truly is that special. His blend of size, speed, strength, and skill is enough to make most general managers salivate. A true physical specimen, Byfield has all of the tools to be the best player from this draft class. He has an elite shot that he pairs with precision passing and the ability to lower his shoulder and drive the net. No matter how you defend him, he has the ability to beat you.
There have been concerns over his World Junior performance, especially due to the fact that he was on the same team as Alexis Lafrenière. Byfield wasn’t given the same opportunity and likely wasn’t ready for it anyway. He is almost a year younger than Lafrenière. His performance this year should be compared, if anything, to Lafrenière’s performance at last year’s World Juniors where he recorded just a single point, just as Byfield did this year. Byfield has just as high of an upside as Lafrenière, we just have an extra 10 months of development in Lafrenière’s case.
The final single-plater tier. While many have downgraded Lucas Raymond based on his lack of production, opportunity, and visibility, the skill-set and IQ that the young Swede possesses is far too tantalizing for a drop in these rankings. He has the upside of an elite scoring winger who plays a solid 200-foot game, nearly equaling the potential of Lafrenière and Byfield. Raymond does come with a bit more risk, however. He doesn’t have the pro-ready frame that the top two ranked players have and the fact that he is playing so sparingly this year has to be taken into account. He can’t gain ground on the ‘Big Two’ because he isn’t playing. With both Lafrenière and Byfield having phenomenal seasons, Raymond is at the disadvantage.
The skillset of the Frölunda forward is electrifying. He is one of the top skaters in the draft with his blazing speed and insane agility, Raymond is an exciting player. He has a stop-and-start ability that helps create space and the vision to use it. His passing ability is something to marvel at as he melds creativity and precision. He has an underrated shot that excels because of a lightning-fast release. He is a crafty player along the boards, relying on excellent stickwork and small-area agility. If Raymond reaches his full potential, the fortunate team that selects him could have a bonafide star on their hands.
This is where the draft truly begins in my opinion. Any of these players are more than worthy of being top-five selections, likely top-three in many years, but one will get left out. At four, the Detroit Red Wings (Let’s be honest, they aren’t winning the lottery) will have to decide between a legitimate offensive dynamo on the back end in Jamie Drysdale, a future Selke-level center with 30+ goal upside in Lundell or the dynamic and predatory forward Tim Stützle. Regardless of who is selected at four (by Detroit), They will be getting a very high-end player that wouldn’t be available at this point in the draft many years. If there is any year to drop, this year certainly isn’t the worst.
Tim Stützle is one of the best skaters in this draft, right up there with Lucas Raymond. The video above shows his skating and playmaking ability. He is agile on his edges, accelerates with ease and blows by opponents with his speed. He is able to be the primary puck carrier on his line and excels in the role, cutting through neutral zone defenses like a hot knife in butter. Once in the offensive zone, pick your poison. He can make plays with the kind of creativity usually reserved for the NHL video game franchise or he can beat you with a shot that jumps off his stick as if it’s on fire.
Drysdale is an elite skater is just about every sense. He is mesmerizing as he patrols the offensive zone at times. His ability to walk the blueline, stop-and-start laterally and then make a beeline towards the slot, all with the puck, is impressive. He is an offensively intuitive player and knows how to attack opponents with whatever they give him. His defensive game is quite good for a young defender, using his skating and puck skills to regain control of the puck and turn it up ice.
Anton Lundell is maybe the safest pick in this draft. The team drafting him will get about as close to a readymade top-line center. He will be able to affect the game at both ends of the ice almost immediately. He likely won’t have to go through the usual stint on the wing that many young centers have to go through in the NHL because of how mature his game is already. He has an excellent shot (video above) and good vision on the offensive end of the ice. He is capable of beating goaltenders from anywhere on the ice but he lives in between the dots.
This next tier is where things start to spread out a bit more with the top-11 having separated themselves with standout play this season and sky-high upsides. Normally goalies don’t rank this high on draft boards but Yaroslav Askarov might be the best goalie I’ve scouted. His play in his net, World Juniors notwithstanding, is so calm, cool and collected. He is structurally sound in his crease but he very athletic and has the ability to come out of his structure to make save. In the video below, we see Askarov take away the bottom of the net while being able to deal with the mess in front. Another divisive prospect has been Noel Gunler. The flashy Swede has a boatload of skill, constantly making passes to the high danger areas around the net and attacking through the middle of the ice. His transition game is excellent despite fairly average skating. He needs to become a more consistent player but the offensive skills are too much to pass up in this range, especially when he has improved his two-way game as much as he has over the last 18 months.
Alexander Holtz and Cole Perfetti are two of the best goal scorers in this draft. Holtz may have the best pure goal-scoring ability in this draft class. His shot is unreal and makes him dangerous from the blueline in. Perfetti, on the other hand, struggled to put the puck in the net initially this season after a Hlinka-Gretzky Cup that saw him tear the world apart with his goal-scoring. He’s rebounded quite nicely in that department though, currently sitting at 24 on the year. Where he has taken his game to the next level is in the playmaking department. His 51 assists are tied for tops in the OHL with Marco Rossi. Speaking of Rossi, he’s pretty good. Currently pacing the entire CHL in points with 78 in just 35 games. The young Austrian has missed time due to injury and suspension this season but his production speaks for itself. He and Perfetti both have concerns with their skating but they have both improved over the course of the season, lessening that worry.
Now we really get to the meat of the draft. These players all possess tantalizing skillsets but just aren’t quite on the same level as the players above. Dylan Holloway has been centering the top line for the University of Wisconsin at times this season, a team that features 2019 5th overall pick, Alex Turcotte. He will likely be in college for another year or two but that will give him ample time to get stronger and faster as he continues developing. Jan Mysak has come over to North America after spending the first half of his year in the Czech league. He’s made an immediate impact on the Hamilton Bulldogs of the OHL, scoring a goal in his second game. Mysak is a smart player that plays an up-tempo game.
The defenders in this tier have high-skill levels but both come with a bit of uncertainty. Poirier is an excellent offensive defenseman who can make plays all over the offensive zone. He is smooth on his skates, working his way around the ice in a rover role at times. His passing is crisp and he has a deceptively hard shot from distance. His defensive zone play is questionable at times. When he puts in an effort, he can be at least an average defender but he is often far too uninterested in his own end. Cormier, on the other hand, is just about as offensively skilled but has dealt with injuries this year. He skating is shifty and deceptively fast. He just flat out makes plays with the puck on his stick. In his own end, he’s an average defender but shows signs of growth. He understands the game at a high level and if he can continue to produce, avoid injury and finish the year strong, he will likely pass Poirier on rankings.
The rest of the group is a pretty good mix of skilled scoring forwards. Nybeck is a small skilled forward who has high-end skating ability and doesn’t shy away from getting involved in battles while in puck pursuit. The top Russian, Rodion Amirov, has held his own in his in the KHL this season despite muted production. His play against his peers shows just how skilled the winger is. Antonio Stranges is one of the most unique and deceptive skaters in this draft class, using the 10-2 (mohawk) style skating to elude defenders and open up the entire ice in order to utilize his high-end puck skills as we can see in the video above. Roni Hirvonen and Kasper Simontaival both likely project as wingers at the next level. Both play with speed and skill, pushing the pace of play. Connor Zary is one of the older players in the draft class but has led the WHL in scoring at times. He is a player who does everything well but nothing really great. The complete game allows him to be a difference-maker for his team in all three zones. JJ Peterka is a player who has all the tools to be a good offensive player but still needs to put them all together. His shot is his biggest weapon. Dawson Mercer is a high-IQ player who uses his reads well. He finds teammates with regularity and has a knack for finding the back of the net from opportunistic spots.
This next tier is full of first-round quality players. While some may come with more flash than others, its an intriguing tier filled with defensemen and centers. This is the area of the draft where teams really start to take players that they feel fit their style of play, system or fill a need in their prospect pool. While drafting ‘best player available’ is always the way to go, this range gives you less variance making it a bit more logical to take players you see as a fit.
Jacob Perreault has been scoring the lights out recently in the OHL, coming on hot since the new year. He has a difference-making shot. Hendrix Lapierre is a good player with a lot of skill but three concussions in the last calendar year cast doubts on his future. Thomas Bordeleau is an offensive leader on this year’s iteration of the NTDP, while Jake Sanderson has cemented himself as a high-upside blueliner. Sanderson is a very good skater who has tantalizing raw tools and could push a team to grab him towards the end of round one.
The group of Pytlik, Foudy, Bourque, and Cuylle are all very close and could be interchanged based on personal preference. Jaromir Pytlik is a smart player who has underrated hands and a good shot. He is a very good complimentary player who doesn’t drive his line. Foudy has the highest upside of the group because of his blazing speed. He is among the fastest players in the draft but struggles to get into the middle of the offensive zone. His Windsor teammate, Will Cuylle, is an excellent two-way player. He doesn’t have the high-end upside but he possesses an outstanding shot when he uses it. His neutral zone defense is very strong as he is a transition stopper in the middle of the ice. Below, we see Cuylle create a turnover before taking it up the ice and showing off his shot. Bourque is the most complete player of the bunch. He lacks strength but he is good at both ends of the ice and lives in the home plate area of the offensive zone.
Jack Quinn will be higher when the next set of rankings come out (March). He has been lighting it up with 19 points in 9 games since the beginning of 2020. He just finds a way to score and his production has largely come away from teammate and draft-eligible stud, Marco Rossi. Michael Benning is a bit of a riskier pick as he has been putting up impressive stats but it’s come in the AJHL rather than a major junior program. He is a smooth skater who could end up being a good second-pair, second power-play defender. Topi Niemela is a two-way defender who skates well and has looked comfortable at the Liiga level this season. He has an advanced understanding of the game and plays a reliable game in his own end. Braden Schneider is a good two-way defender who excels in his own end. He has very good defensive awareness and moves the puck up ice quite well. His offensive upside is a bit limited but he isn’t inept by any means.
This tier is full of really intriguing players who have a few high-end tools with a flaw or two as well. This group of players could wind up being impact players at the next level if they can get on a good development plan in an organization that appreciates the tools that they do have.
Two Swedish defenders sit near the top of the group in left-hander William Wallinder and righty Helge Grans. Both have good size, 6’4″ and 6’3″ respectfully, and can skate quite well. Wallinder has higher-end skills but he is also still fairly raw. He doesn’t hesitate to attempt making creative plays offensively. Grans doesn’t have the creativity of Wallinder but he does take a few risks at both ends of the ice. He does a decent job defensively but shows his intelligence with his positioning.
Seth Jarvis and Ty Tullio are two wingers who both like to play bigger than they are. They play with a chip on their shoulder and like to get in on the forecheck. High-motor players who show high-end tools on a fairly regular basis. They have a knack for scoring and the puck seems to follow them around. As seen above, creativity is a staple in Tullio’s game. Tullio has a better shot than given credit for and Jarvis has a bit more skill as a playmaker. Juuso Mäenpää is another diminutive forward who has been on the rise this year. He has impressive agility and the ability to find space. His playmaking is fun and creative. Continuing on with forwards under 5’10”, Marat Khusnutdinov may be the player who is the most fun to watch. He has an insane level of creativity and plays without fear. He uses his body to obtain body position so that he can take advatage of his excellent hands. Watch below as he makes a number of moves on the way to the net, getting the puck past the goalie but only drawing an assist as the puck needed to be tapped in from the crease.
Dylan Peterson could be one of the most physically gifted players in this draft. He already possesses a pro-ready frame and a very good shot. He does a good job of driving play and generating chances. Unfortunately, the production hasn’t gone up from last year’s pace. He has all the tools to be successful at the next level. USNTDP teammate Ty Smilanic has dealt with injuries and inconsistencies this year but remains an intriguing two-way scoring option.
Two right-handed defenders moving in opposite directions are Ruben Rafkin and Justin Barron. Rafkin has come to the OHL from Finland and made an immediate impact in the top-four for the Windsor Spitfires. He has shown poise, puck-moving ability, and an excellent transition game. His smooth skating allows him to play in any situation. Justin Barron, on the other hand, started the year as a top-15 pick on most draft boards and has fallen as the seasons worn on. He plays a sturdy game and has good mobility but his offensive upside is lacking. His production has dwindled this season as the talent around him departed.
Tier 9 brings us the second and third-ranked netminders. Joel Blomqvist has been outstanding against his peers in the Jr A SM Liiga. He plays bigger than he is and has excellent technique. He tracks the puck well and gobbles up rebounds. Nick Malik, the new Soo Greyhounds import netminder, plays an athletic style and has lightning-quick reflexes. Both netminders have NHL starter upside.
Ryan Francis and Carson Bantle are a couple of under the radar players who haven’t been getting much hype. Francis is a good stick handler and a crafty player who is on pace to more than double his production from last year with the Cape Breton Eagles of the QMJHL. Bantle has been a point-per-game player in the USHL and has been involved in about ~40% of the Madison Capitols offense. One has to wonder what he could do with a bit more talent around him. Two other USHL players of interest are Des Moines Buccaneers teammates Alex Laferriere and Noah Ellis. Laferriere, not to be mistaken for Lafrenière, is a good two-way winger who does a bit of everything. He has a good shot but the rest of his skills are fairly average. He always seems to be making something happen on the ice. Right-shot defender Noah Ellis is a very good defender and a skilled passer. He is a good skater who can keep up with the pace of the modern game.
Kaiden Guhle is a toolsy left-handed blueliner who has the size and skating ability that teams covet but his decision making is questionable at times. He shows flashes of high-end playmaking ability but is inconsistent. He defends in zone quite well and uses his large frame and long reach to disrupt plays. When Guhle puts it all together, we gets plays like the one above. Joni Jurmo has a lot of the same high-end tools but puts it together on a bit more of a consistent basis. Jurmo’s offensive instincts are more advanced than Guhle’s as well.
Martin Chromiak joined the Kingston Frontenacs after a surprise cut from the Slovakian World Junior team. Since his arrival, the left-winger has played at over a point-per-game pace. He’s a versatile winger who finds the back of the net consistently. Fellow import Simon Knak has chipped in offensively with the Portland Winterhawks but his real coming out was at the World Juniors where he was consistently creating dangerous chances and potted two goals for a lackluster Swiss team.
This final tier has some intriguing talent at every position. Goaltender Jan Bednář has taken a bit of a step back this year statistically but the young Czech netminder has good size at 6’4″ and 196lbs and he has good athleticism. His technique is inconsistent but the potential is there. Simon Kubicek, a fellow Czech native, is a solid two-way defender who plays a responsible game. He has offensive skills but prioritizes being the first man back on defense and will pass up offensive chances to ensure that he stays defensively sound.
There is a wide range of opinions on Tyler Kleven from the USNTDP and his upside. What can be agreed upon is that he is a big defender with a big shot from the blueline. He has decent top-speed but takes a bit to get there. He seems to know what he wants to do but isn’t able to get his hands and feet moving to do it. The polar opposite of that is Sudbury Wolves defender Jack Thompson. He has all of the raw tools to be a dangerous offensive blueliner but his risk-taking and defensive play make him a player who burns his own team just as often as he does to opponents.
Tyson Foerster of the Barrie Colts and Luke Evangelista of the London Knights are two players who don’t have any standout skills but find ways to produce. They play crafty games with excellent stickwork. Evangelista is a good defender in the neutral zone, pressuring the opposing team in transition. He is a patient player in the offensive zone and allows the play to come to him. Watch above as he is involved in a scrum in front of the net and then patiently waits for the right moment to strike. Foerster has a more dangerous skillset. He has a very good shot but outside of that plays a very stable game. He doesn’t ‘wow’ with his skating or transition game but he makes smart plays and attacks the net.
Team of the Month – All Under-the-Radar Team
The first edition of the Team of the Month is going to be a team of under the radar prospects that are eligible for the 2020 NHL draft. These guys have been under-appreciated and haven’t gotten the love that they deserve so here is where they get their due!
G: Dylan Garand, Kamloops Blazers (WHL)
D: Eamon Powell, USNTDP (USHL)
D: Samuel Knazko, TPS U20 (Jr A SM Liiga)
F: Brett Berard, USNTDP (USHL)
F: Yevgeny Oksentyuk, Flint Firebirds (OHL)
F: Ryan Francis, Cape Breton Eagles (QMJHL)
Dylan Garand is the player that ended up at 101, the first man on the outside looking in. The Kamloops netminder is the top-ranked Canadian netminder on most draft boards but he is getting overshadowed by some very high-end European goalies. Garand does a good job of staying square to the shooter, moving well on his feet with good body control. He is laterally quick and has a solid base when in the butterfly. He needs to get stronger, especially in his core and lower body to help stay upright while getting a good push side to side.
Samuel Knazko is a good two-way defender who has a smooth skating stride and works well on his edges in the defensive zone. He is confident with the puck on his stick and makes good, effective plays with it. He may not be flashy but he is offensively skilled and smart. He understands how you get the puck to dangerous areas. His defensive partner on this All Under-the-Radar team is USNTDP blueliner, Eamon Powell. The young American is a calm and collected defender and a crisp puck mover. He is an excellent passer but isn’t afraid to skate the puck up ice if he identifies an opening. Neither of these rearguards project as top-pairing players but they could be a solid second pair on a good team one day.
The forward group features one of the youngest players in the draft class, one of the oldest members and an over-ager to boot. Youngster Brett Berard has been challenging for the NTDP team lead in scoring all season and if he were two inches taller, he would likely be getting first-round consideration. He is a good skater and always seems to be around the net. Ryan Francis has quietly been putting together a solid season with the Cape Breton. He is crafty forward who makes magic with the puck on his stick. He’s found ways to produce and he is demanding that he not be ignored. The elder statesman of the group is Yevgeni Oksentyuk of the Flint Firebirds. Having just come over from Belarus this past summer, the over-aged winger has been putting on a show this season in the OHL. He often gets knocked for his skating but the year-over-year improvement has been very positive. He is a smaller player who likes to cause havoc for the other team both between the whistles and after. He has a bit of ‘super-pest’ in him, giving him an intriguing skillset.
If you’re still kicking around at this point I owe you a great debt of gratitude. This was a labour of love and I would love your feedback! If you liked it, share it with your friends. This was the first edition of a monthly NHL Draft series that will run up to the Draft in June. Each month we will have a feature story, prospect spotlight and a “Team of the Month”. This month was our Mid-Season Rankings breakdown with another similar piece coming in June with another breakdown of my final draft rankings.
If you have an idea for a feature story for next month, have a suggestion for the ‘Team of the Month’ or prospect spotlight, reach out! Let me know! I can always be reached on Twitter @TheTonyFerrari! Thank you again for reading this, whether you sat down with a pot of coffee and consumed it in one sitting or split it up over a few visits, I appreciate it all!
Make sure you check out the full Dobber Prospects 2020 NHL DRAFT PAGE! There are over 60 player profiles and a ton more draft content!