When and how this year’s NHL draft will take place is still unclear after it was postponed amid the coronavirus pandemic, but the incoming class of top prospects has been set.
NHL Central Scouting released its final rankings for the 2020 draft Wednesday, crowning left winger Alexis Lafreniere first overall among North American skaters.
“To see how close we are right now, it’s pretty exciting,” Lafreniere said on a video conference call. “It’s really fun. I think we’re all excited for the draft, and the team that’s going to draft me, I’m going to be really happy to join them and try to have as much success as I can.”
A pair of Lafreniere’s teammates from the Team Canada squad that captured gold at the 2020 World Junior Championship filled out the top three, with center Quinton Byfield (Sudbury) slotting second and defenseman Jamie Drysdale (Erie) going third. Left winger Tim Stuetzle, who played in Germany’s top professional league last season, finished as the No. 1 international skater.
Minnesota had four players in the top 100, with Wyatt Kaiser (Andover) leading the way at No. 37. Maple Grove’s Brock Faber also cracked the first 50, coming in at No. 44. Blake Biondi (Hermantown) is 64th and Jake Ratzlaff (Rosemount) is 90th.
Overall, the final rankings include 217 skaters and 31 goalies in North America and 140 skaters and 10 goalies internationally. Nicolas Daws (Guelph) and Iaroslav Askarov (Neva St. Petersburg) were the top North American and European goalies, respectively.
Lafreniere led all skaters in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with 112 points in 52 games for Rimouski (35 goals and 77 assists) and was named MVP and best forward at the World Junior Championship after tallying four goals and six assists in five games.
If drafted first overall, Lafreniere would be the first Quebec-born player selected first overall since goalie Marc-Andre Fleury in 2003; he’d be the first skater since Vincent Lecavalier in 1998.
“What separates him from the pack is his compete level,” said J-F Damphousse, NHL Central Scouting’s regional scout for Quebec and the Maritimes. “He’s willing to play physical. He battles every game and anytime that the game’s on the line, you want him on the ice. He makes big plays, and he responds under pressure.”
Also in the top five (fourth overall) is defenseman Jake Sanderson, the son of former NHLer Geoff Sanderson and a North Dakota commit who spent last season with USA Hockey National Team Development Program’s Under-18 Team.
Originally, the 2020 draft was scheduled for June 26-27 in Montreal, but it was postponed last month because of ongoing uncertainty resulting from the coronavirus. The location, timing and format of the draft (and draft lottery) have yet to be announced.
“Definitely a bit of mixed emotions,” Byfield said. “You’re definitely excited for the draft now, a little bit disappointed that you can’t go there. But that’s still up in the air, which would really be exciting to have the opportunity to do that.”
The scouting combine was also postponed, but teams can access on-ice testing results for 75 of the top 100 prospects from prospect games. Players are submitting medical questionnaires and medical reports, and interviews can be conducted online.
The junior ranks stopped playing in March and the Canadian Hockey League ended up canceling its playoffs and the 2020 Memorial Cup. The 2020 IIHF Under-18 Men’s World Championship was also nixed.
Those losses prevented NHL teams from evaluating prospects on some of their most significant stages, but NHL Director of Central Scouting Dan Marr believes organizations are still equipped to make their picks.
“It’s certainly new territory for the clubs,” Marr said. “They’ve never had a situation like this where they don’t get to factor in the playoff performances. It kind of puts them on an even playing ground with Central Scouting, so there’s a lot of old-fashioned scouting going on there where there has been less views.
“But their staff has been out there. They worked hard. They got a good opinion of these players, so I think the NHL clubs are in a good place as far as putting a draft list together.”