As hockey’s offseason creeps closer towards the beginning of training camp, the middle of the summer is the perfect time to get caught up on where the top prospects for the 2020 NHL Draft should slot.
While the regular seasons in both Europe and North America are at least a month away from starting, there are plenty of notable draft eligibles who have done enough in the previous year or two to separate themselves from the rest of the pack.
Headlining that short but growing list is Rimouski Oceanic winger Alexis Lafreniere. The reigning Canadian Hockey League Player of the Year is a good bet to become the first French-Canadian skater to go No. 1 since Tampa Bay took Vincent Lecavalier in 1998. Blessed with incredible hockey smarts and elite puck skills, Lafreniere is expected to be a linchpin for Team Canada at the 2020 World Junior Championship in December. His pre-draft resume is on par with the likes of Patrick Kane, John Tavares and even 2019 top pick Jack Hughes — and his CHL production as a 16 and 17-year-old is similar to what Connor McDavid recorded in his first two seasons prior to his draft campaign.
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Not far behind Lafreniere is hulking OHL power forward Quinton Byfield, who carried an upstart Sudbury Wolves squad to their deepest playoff run in years. Blessed with size, speed, a massive wingspan and incredibly soft hands, Byfield is a finesse center trapped in the body of a linebacker. Not only is Byfield a worthy challenger to Lafreniere’s top spot, but he also is part of another strong contingent of draft prospects from the OHL — which certainly wasn’t the case in 2019. Viable candidates to join Byfield in next year’s first-round are dynamic forwards Cole Perfetti, Austrian import Marco Rossi and Antonio Stranges.
Rounding out the CHL’s list of premier draft-eligible forwards is another outstanding group of skaters from the WHL including Connor McClennon, Jake Neighbours, Connor Zary and Justin Sourdif. Sourdif played a huge role in Vancouver’s near upset of favored Prince Albert in the 2019 WHL Finals. But of all the prospects from Western Canada, it could be Wisconsin-bound 200-foot forward Dylan Holloway who gets drafted the earliest.
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On defense, there are at least a half dozen elite neophytes who have done enough to be considered first-round candidates, with slick-skating playmaker Jamie Drysdale of the OHL’s Erie Otters the best of the bunch. Halifax righty Justin Barron has been on the 2020 draft radar for several years, and some feel his overall game is more polished than any first-year eligible defender. Other candidates from the CHL for selection in the first round are hard-hitting WHL defenseman Braden Schneider and QMJHL puck movers Lukas Cormier and Jeremie Poirier. Keep in mind that every draft since 2007 has had at least two defensemen picked in the top 10, but as of today, it looks like only Drysdale has the upside to leapfrog several of the talented forwards.
One thing that is certain for next year is the expected drop in elite talent and depth coming from the U.S. National Team Development Program after eight of its players were taken in the first round this June. Although there are no NTDP prospects with the upside that comes close to matching the likes of top 2019 draftees Jack Hughes, Alex Turcotte or Trevor Zegras, the upcoming batch of American-born phenoms still offers NHL teams a solid collection of talent, beginning with puck-moving defenseman Jake Sanderson and playmaking centers Ty Smilanic and Thomas Bordeleau.
Two graduates from last year’s program — two-way forwards Sean Farrell and Ryder Rolston — will be playing in the USHL this season before heading off to college. It also is a strong year for U.S. high school standouts, so keep an eye on forwards Blake Biondi, Sam Colangelo, and slick center Jack Smith, a Minnesota-Duluth recruit who turned down a spot on the NTDP but like Biondi should be a finalist for this year’s Minnesota Mr. Hockey award.
Lastly, it should be another banner year for European prospects, specifically from Scandinavia. Swedish wingers Alexander Holtz and Lucas Raymond took the international stage by storm in April by leading the Swedes to their first-ever gold medal at the under-18 world championship. Joining them as first-round hopefuls are sniper Noel Gunler and hard-working forward Zion Nybeck. Defenseman Helge Grans could also see himself drafted on day one in 2020. It’s also a strong group for the Czech Republic, as their trio of forwards — Jan Mysak, Adam Raska and Jaromir Pytlik — could form their own line at the under-20 world juniors, which will be hosted by the Czechs in Ostrava.
2020 Top 62 NHL Prospects
1. Alexis Lafreniere, LW, Rimouski (QMJHL)
A dazzling playmaker with exceptional hockey sense, Lafreniere is poised to become the first Quebec-raised prospect to go first overall in the draft since Marc-Andre Fleury in 2003.
2. Quinton Byfield, C, Sudbury (OHL)
A big-bodied center with a massive wingspan, a bullet shot and soft hands, Byfield distinguished himself as one of the OHL’s top rookie scorers before his 17th birthday. Already listed at 6-5 and 215 pounds, he won’t turn 18 until next August.
3. Alexander Holtz, RW, Djugardens J20 (Superelit)
The best pure goal scorer available for next year’s draft, Holtz displays dynamic traits and is a constant breakaway threat. He’s already established a reputation as one of international hockey’s clutch performers, so don’t be surprised if he’s a top-line player on Sweden’s under-20 world juniors squad.
4. Cole Perfetti, C, Saginaw (OHL)
An exceptional set-up man with high-end elusiveness and escapability, Perfetti bested Byfield in every major statistical category the regular season, plus an additional 14 points in 16 playoff games. He is unpredictable with the puck below the face-off dots.
5. Jan Mysak, C, Litvinov (Extralega)
A recent import pick of the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs, Mysak is an explosive force with an intense compete level who can execute plays with a high degree of difficulty., His speed, vision and dynamic one-on-one play will make him a name to remember for the 2020 draft, regardless of whether or not he comes over to North America this season.
6. Dylan Holloway, C/W, Okotoks (AJHL)
One of the more impressive draft-eligible forwards for 2020, Holloway is a complete forward who impacts shifts whether he’s scoring or not. Not only does the Wisconsin recruit have speed to burn, but his buttery-soft hands help him make plays in the middle of a violent scrum.
7. Rodion Amirov, RW, Tolpar (MHL)
Easily one of the most balanced skaters among his draft peers, Amirov is a 200-foot winger who would have been Tolpar’s top scorer had he not been summoned by Russia to play a key role in several prominent under-18 tournaments. This kid can beat you in a variety of ways and is incredibly slick in tight spaces.
8. Lucas Raymond, LW, Frolunda (SHL)
An explosive winger with a hunter’s approach to the neutral zone, Raymond checks every box when it comes to generating offense off the rush or forecheck. He is constantly in motion, using timely reads followed by a quick burst to immediately shift the ice against the opponent. Much like Holtz, Raymond has crushed it on the international stage.
9. Marco Rossi, C, Ottawa (OHL)
A cerebral Austrian-born center capable of pulling jaw-dropping moves during seemingly quiet moments in any type of game, Rossi’s impact on the OHL was immediate after coming over from Switzerland. He is an inside player who has no fear of taking direct routes to the goal no matter how big the opposing defender is.
10. Jamie Drysdale, D, Erie (OHL)
The top right-handed defense prospect for the 2020 draft, Drysdale is an explosive skater with very good awareness and timing. Although a first glance reveals an incredibly gifted puck rusher and playmaker with a lethal shot, Drysdale’s game is more complete and cerebral on his side of the red line than most offensive defensemen recently drafted into the NHL.
11. Connor McClennon, RW, Winnipeg (WHL)
A sniping forward with goal-scorers hands and a hard-nosed approach, McClennon was thrust into a significant role for a team with few options up front. He’s got speed, shiftiness and an advanced nose for the net, but he also causes problems on the forecheck and finishes his checks with authority.
12. Theo Rochette, C, Chicoutimi (QMJHL)
Another phenom from the Swiss leagues, and like Rossi, Rochette is a ton of fun to watch any time he hits the ice. He’s quick and a threat to create quality chances from anywhere in the offensive zone, to include threading the needle from the blue line upon zone entries. Rochette, who was born in Canada, is a power-play specialist who can stickhandle around pressure and avoid getting clobbered in the middle of the ice.
13. Justin Barron, D, Halifax (QMJHL)
A key component to the Mooseheads' deep run into the QMJHL playoffs, Barron is a swift-skating puck mover with incredible poise and maturity. Not only can he successfully break out on his own, but he also enters the offensive zone with the confidence that he’ll connect with a teammate for a scoring opportunity. He may not have Drysdale’s jaw-dropping finesse, but no draft-eligible defender can impact a game in all three zones like Barron.
14. Jacob Perreault, RW, Sarnia (OHL)
A precision player with soft hands and the finishing touch of a seasoned goal scorer, Perreault is a flashy open-ice threat who rarely makes a mistake with the puck on his stick below the face-off circles. The son of former NHL’er Yanic Perreault, Jacob scored 30 goals in 63 games last season. He owns an excellent shot with pinpoint accuracy, especially off the pass.
15. Vasili Ponomaryov, RW, Krylia Sovetov (MHL)
A slick goal scorer with speed and an impressive array of shots to light the lamp, Ponomaryov was recently selected ninth overall by Shawinigan in the CHL Import Draft. He has very good straight-line speed and balance to power through checks, but his agility and quick feet allow him to take the puck inside for a power move down the middle.
16. Anton Lundell, C, HIFK (SM-Liiga)
Finland’s top draft prospect for 2020 may not have the pizzaz or star power Kaapo Kakko had in 2019, but he is a complete 200-foot center who possesses advanced hockey sense. He represented Finland at several under-20 events and should be expected to play a full season in the elite SM-Liiga this year.
17. Jake Neighbours, LW, Edmonton (WHL)
A virtual carbon copy of Vegas' 2019 first rounder Peyton Krebs, Neighbours is a rugged 200-foot forward who can tailor his game to fit any situation or requirement. He has very good speed and acceleration which helps him outpace backpressure, and Neighbours will take the puck strong to the cage while patiently outwitting the goaltender. He scores goals in a variety of ways, but the damage he causes is typically done near the net. Neighbours can play center or wing, and his attention to detail in all three zones should make him Edmonton’s go-to option in multiple scenarios.
18. Braden Schneider, D, Brandon (WHL)
An aggressive puck mover with a penchant for delivering big hits, Schneider was one of Brandon’s leaders both on and off the ice. His instincts to join the rush and create a numbers advantage are already at a mature level, and it certainly helps when he can unload a deadly shot from either circle or the high slot.
19. Jeremie Poirier, D, Saint John (QMJHL)
Poirier is a fantastic playmaker from the back end who shows elite mobility in all directions. Every critical aspect of skating already is at a superior level, and his quickness to the puck and escapability following retrievals come close to rivaling Drysdale. He didn’t play on a strong team a season ago, so look for a significant increase in production during his draft year.
20. Justin Sourdif, C/RW, Vancouver (WHL)
A high-energy forward with strength who gave Vancouver critical scoring depth during their march to the WHL Final, Sourdif is able to operate under control and fully aware of his surroundings no matter how fast-paced a game may be. He provides a spark on offense through hard work and smart positioning, and his puck protection is advanced for a teenager
21. Hendrix Lapierre, C, Chicoutimi (QMJHL)
A brilliant playmaker, Lapierre is one of the draft’s best pure set-up men. He possesses excellent vision, and his buttery-soft hands allow him to cup and cushion the puck no matter how hard it’s delivered to him. A shoulder injury didn’t stop him from averaging nearly a point per game.
22. Connor Zary, C, Kamloops (WHL)
A physical 200-foot forward who is a threat to score at any point in the game, Zary was a standout for Team Canada at the under-18 world championship, where he impacted shifts with hard-nosed play, impeccable positioning and strength on the puck. Like Sourdif, Zary was a key component in his team’s playoff run. He led all WHL 2020 draft eligibles in scoring with 67 points in 63 games.
23. Tim Stutzle, C, Mannheim U20 (DNL U20)
An excitable center with a deadly first step and elite quickness in any direction, Stutzle is a New Hampshire recruit who is on track to become the third German-born first rounder in the last three years. From a purely point-producing standpoint, few in his class have Stutzle’s upside.
24. Yaroslav Askarov, G, SKA-Varyagi (MHL)
This top goalie prospect for the 2020 draft has already has outperformed his older prospect counterparts in international tournaments, and some believe Askarov at 17 is following a pre-draft development path similar to former Russian-trained first-rounder Andrei Vasilevskiy.
25. Noel Gunler, RW/LW, Lulea (SHL)
Much like fellow Swedes Holtz and Raymond, Gunler is a sniper with a lethal shot who can score from just about anywhere. His game is a little one-dimensional, but few can sling the puck with accuracy as well as he can. Gunler led the J20 Superelit with a 1.48 points-per-game average.
26. Adam Raska, RW, Trinec U20 (ELJ)
A tough Czech competitor who plays a North American style, Raska is noticeable every time he’s on the ice. Whether it’s throwing his weight around, zig-zagging through the neutral zone or applying in-your-face pressure on the forecheck, he finds a way to keep possession in the opposing side of the rink. There’s some Vasily Podkolzin to his game.
27. Jake Sanderson, D, U.S. U18 (NTDP)
The son of ex-NHL sniper Geoff Sanderson, Jake is a key cog on the NTDP blue line where he provides smart, controlled play and can run the power play. He led all defensemen on the under-17 squad with 24 points in 44 games.
28. Jaromir Pytlik, LW, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
A 200-foot winger who plays on the top unit in all situations, Pytlik quickly became a Greyhounds fan favorite thanks to his power game, versatility and penchant for doing all the necessary dirty work in all three zones.
29. Zion Nybeck, RW, HV71 J20 (Superelit)
A hard-working winger who can adjust his game to meet the requirements for any type of game, Nybeck provides a spark off the bench by using his speed and anticipation to make plays after a relentless forecheck. His playmaking and finishing abilities are often overlooked, and he was one of the Superelit’s top 16-year-old scorers.
30. Daniil Gushchin, C/RW, Muskegon (USHL)
An explosive offensive forward with ridiculous hands and elite stick-handling abilities, Guschin led all USHL 16-year-old prospects in scoring with 36 points in 51 games. The seventh overall pick by Regina in the 2019 CHL Import Draft, Guschin is expected to play for Russia at the Ivan Hlinka in August for the second straight year.
31. Antonio Stranges, LW, London (OHL)
A dizzying playmaker and puck handler with top-end speed, Stranges was able to distinguish himself on a loaded London squad despite playing bottom-six minutes. Several areas of his game need fine-tuning, but few among his peers can provide instant offense the way Stranges can.
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