Prospect Ramblings: Buy Low on the 2020 Draft Class—Except Askarov

Ben Gehrels

2022-11-23

This is a heads up that there are plenty of great buy low opportunities from the 2020 draft class right now. Except for Tim Stutzle (OTT), Lucas Raymond (DET), and Jake Sanderson (OTT)—picked third through fifth that year—everyone else drafted in the top 15 and beyond has arguably underperformed so far, whether this year or previously. Let’s do a quick survey.

The skilled 2020 crop is particularly intriguing because the first players from this group will start hitting their 200-game Breakout Thresholds by the end of 2022-23: Stutzle and first overall pick Alexis Lafreniere (NYR) are both about 50 games away. Others like Raymond, Jamie Drysdale (ANA), and Dawson Mercer (NJD) should hit in 2023-24, while a third wave that includes Anton Lundell (FLA), Seth Jarvis (CAR), and Yegor Chinakov (CBJ) will “arrive” the year after that barring injury and other circumstances.

Stutzle, Raymond, and Sanderson are proof that players can of course start producing before they hit their BTs (the theory’s success rate is around 80/20) but this is a helpful reminder to try to acquire these guys before they start picking up their play and hitting the scoresheet on a regular basis. At that point, they will likely be too expensive to trade for reasonably.

There are some notable omissions from that BT list: Quinton Byfield (2nd overall to LAK, 54 NHL games), Alex Holtz (7th to NJD, 13), Jack Quinn (8th to BUF, 15), Marco Rossi (9th to MIN, 18), Cole Perfetti (10th to WPG, 35), Dylan Holloway (14th to EDM, 15), etc.

Of all the players mentioned so far, Byfield and Rossi are especially tricky because they both qualify as “exceptionally sized,” which means we can expect their breakouts to take an extra 200 games. Assuming both players get back to seeing NHL ice regularly—Byfield is currently in the AHL and Rossi has been a non-factor—that means we can expect both players to hit 400 games near the end of 2026-27. That estimate assumes they stay healthy and see regular minutes (ie. no more healthy scratches). Those are big ifs, and four years is an incomprehensibly long time in fantasy.

Do with that information what you will. I use it to temper my expectations for them in the short term so I can either stay patient when they struggle year after year or calculate when to buy low on them from frustrated managers. That time could even be right now: Byfield is not even playing in the NHL and Rossi was a healthy scratch last game after scoring only one point in 16 games. Keeping that 2026-27 estimate in mind, try reaching out to their owners in your leagues to get a sense for how they’re feeling about these guys.

Lafreniere still has only seven points in 19 games, which has him on a thirty-point pace for the third time in his third year. Managers must be getting impatient with him by now. He is throwing two hits per game, which adds value in multi cat formats, but this is a prospect who pushed well past two points per game as a draft eligible. Greater things were expected of him. Although he probably still has solid name value, which can muck up negotiations, there are lots of concerning metrics here to support a buy-low bid, including a fairly low IPP (54%) and minimal time on the top power play. His likelihood of becoming a star (via Hockey Prospecting) has also fallen from 63% in his D0 to 32% in his D+2.

On the flip side, he has the highest Corsi For on the team (58%) and is getting sheltered, offensive zone deployment—which shows that his coaches see him primarily as an offensive weapon even though his numbers don’t support that yet. He has also been fairly unlucky (953 PDO), which is reflected in his shooting percentage being roughly ten points lower than his career average. Given his pedigree and the fact that he will hit his BT towards the end of this season, I would recommend doing everything you can to get your hands on this guy. 

Here is a glimpse of the 2022 class from HP’s Drafter tool, which allows users to sort an entire draft class by Star Probability and NHLer Probability, both at the time players were drafted (DY) and currently. This list is ranked by DY Star Probability, which is generated by a precedence-based formula that includes age, size, and junior production.

As you can see, of the eight highest-ranked players from the 2020 draft (according to DY Star%), only Stutzle has improved his star potential so far. Everyone else has fallen—in most cases dramatically. Ditto for the #9-16 range, which includes only two players (Drysdale and Lundell) who have increased their DY star potential.

This trend is a tangible reminder that there is a consistent and predictable value spike for players leading up to and immediately following the draft. It happens every year, similar to what we see with the World Juniors. Unless you are able to draft one of the top prospects in a given year, they will be extremely expensive to trade for in the summer directly after the draft. It’s the Shiny New Toy phenomenon.

Now here we are two years later and much of the lustre has faded. Many of these players will still be valuable longer term, of course, but we are currently in the—again, consistent and predictable—lull between the draft and Breakout Threshold. Now is the time to try and acquire 2020 guys you missed out on two years ago.

One final player from 2020 I want to touch on here is Yaroslav Askarov, who is essentially tied for first on Dobber’s Top 50 Goalie Prospects list for Fall 2022. As Dobber mentions in the preamble, “most goalies are 25 or even 26 before they put up fantasy-worthy full-season stats. The only goalies to do it at 23 in the last 20 years are Carey Price and Andrei Vasilevskiy. So ‘at best’ you are looking at 23 for the very elite.”

Askarov is 20 right now and considered an elite goalie prospect. But even if the best-case scenario comes true and he joins Price and Vasilevskiy in excelling at 23, that still won’t happen until 2025-26—the year after Juuse Saros’ current contract expires. Saros will only be 30 then and will likely still be at the peak of his Vezina-calibre abilities, which means Askarov’s opportunity in Nashville is cloudy at best.

He still has a ton of name value as one of the top prospects at the position, but if you own Askarov I would highly recommend exploring options to move him. As I have written elsewhere, I consider goalie prospects exclusively as trade chips. You will likely fare better moving Askarov today for a package of ready-now goalies, forwards, and/or defencemen than sitting on him for the next 3-5 years hoping he can deliver on his potential.

If you do explore moving him, point to the fact that Saros has been struggling so far in 2022-23 and Askarov is already in the AHL. Askarov’s AHL numbers have not been great but his value definitely saw a boost when he crossed over to North America this year. Here he is doing a great Jonathan Quick impression against Manitoba tonight for the Admirals (AHL).

Thanks for reading! Follow me on Twitter @beegare for more prospect content and fantasy hockey analysis.

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