As with everything else in this year like no other, the NHL draft will be different in 2020. It’ll be all virtual and the fact that it is taking place in October, rather than June, means most of the players eligible to be drafted are playing right now, already having started their 2020-21 regular seasons, in Europe and elsewhere.
But some things never change. Pundits say (as they do every year) the talent pool is deep. And there is a new darling expected to change the hockey world when he is picked No. 1 overall on Tuesday — his name is Alexis Lafreniere. Beyond that, there is the usual speculation of who will be the steal of the draft, and what team, with multiple selections, will set itself up best for the future?
The Rangers, who won the second overall pick in the 2019 lottery, did one better this year, when, for the first time since the league expanded beyond six teams, they landed the No. 1 pick overall.
GM Jeff Gorton wouldn’t say it, but they will almost certainly select Lafreniere, a 6-1 left wing from Rimouski of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. The intrigue then is who is No. 2 — German Tim Stutzle or Quinton Byfield of Sudbury.
The still-rebuilding Rangers also have a second pick in the first round, No. 22 overall, courtesy of a trade they made at the February deadline when they sent defenseman Brady Skjei to Carolina.
The Devils and Ottawa Senators each have three picks in the first round, with two of Ottawa’s picks coming in the top five. The Senators’ third pick, No. 28 overall, comes from the Islanders in the Jean-Gabriel Pageau trade.
The Islanders don’t have a pick in either the first or second rounds.
Here’s Newsday’s mock draft for the first round:
1. Rangers — Alexis Lafreniere, LW, Rimouski (QMJHL), 6-1, 193, Shoots left: The Rangers’ bigger need may be center but they won’t overthink it with Lafreniere the consensus No. 1, even though his skating could improve. He could become an elite, top-line scorer as he uses his big frame to get to the net with 35 goals and 77 assists in 52 games last season
2. Los Angeles Kings — Tim Stutzle, C, Manheim (DEL), 6-1, 187, Shoots left: The top-ranked prospect among European skaters had seven goals and 34 points in 41 games in Germany’s top league as the teenager skated against men. He’s a complete playmaker, combining speedy skating with strong puck-handling skills and vision.
3. Ottawa Senators (from San Jose Sharks) — Quinton Byfield, C, Sudbury (OHL), 6-4, 215, Shoots left: Ranked second among North American skaters behind Lafreniere, Byfield had 32 goals and 82 points in 45 games in his second season of junior hockey. Byfield has superior skating ability to go with considerable size.
4. Detroit Red Wings — Cole Perfetti, C, Saginaw (OHL), 5-10, 177, Shoots left: Perfetti had 37 goals and 111 points in 61 games in his second season of junior hockey. He’s ranked fifth among North American skaters and his statistics bear evidence to his strong passing and playmaking skills.
5. Ottawa Senators — Lucas Raymond, LW, Frolunda (SHL), 5-10, 161, Shoots right: The fourth-ranked European skater is currently starting his third season in the Swedish league after notching four goals and six assists in 33 games last season. Raymond is a strong two-way player and a solid skater explosive on a straight line.
6. Anaheim Ducks — Jamie Drysdale, D, Erie (OHL), 5-11, 175, Shoots right: The top-ranked defenseman among North American skaters is an offensive-minded puck mover strong on the rush and with his shot. He had nine goals and 38 assists in 49 games in his second season of junior hockey.
7. New Jersey Devils — Marco Rossi, C, Ottawa (OHL), 5-9, 183, Shoots left: The Austrian-born Rossi had 39 goals and 81 assists in 56 games in his second season of junior hockey and his ranked sixth among North American skaters. He’s strong on the puck and possibly the best defensive center in the draft.
8. Buffalo Sabres — Alexander Holtz, RW, Djurgarden (SHL), 6-0, 192, Shoots right: Ranked second among European skaters, Holtz has started his third season in the Swedish league after compiling nine goals and seven assists in 35 games last season. Holtz projects as a top-line forward with an excellent shot.
9. Minnesota Wild — Anton Lundell, C, HIFK (Liiga), 6-1, 185, Shoots left: Lundell, ranked third among European skaters, is starting his third season in Finland’s top league after notching 10 goals and 28 points last season. A two-way center with a blistering wrist shot.
10. Winnipeg Jets — Jake Sanderson, D, US U-18 (USHL), 6-2, 185, Shoots left: The son of former NHLer Geoff Sanderson, committed to North Dakota, is the second-ranked defenseman among North American skaters (ranked fourth overall) after completing his third season in the U.S. National Team Development Program with two goals and 12 assists in 19 USHL games.
11. Nashville — Yaroslav Askarov, G, SKA St. Petersburg (KHL), 6-3, 176, Catches right: The latest in the new wave of Russian goalies, Askarov is big and athletic, and after playing in Russia’s second division last year, he has played three games in the KHL this season and posted his first KHL shutout.
12. Florida — Kaiden Guhle, D, Prince Albert (WHL), 6-2, 186, Shoots left: Excellent skater who can play a physical game and possesses a lethal one-time shot. Had 11 goals, 29 assists (40 points) in 2019-20.
13. Carolina (from Toronto) — Seth Jarvis, C, Portland (WHL), 5-10, 175, Shoots right: Smart, highly skilled and fast. Second-leading scorer in the WHL last season, with 98 points (42 goals). Tireless worker.
14. Edmonton — Rodion Amirov, LW, Ufa (KHL), 6-0, 177, Shoots left: Toggled between the KHL and juniors last season; fast skater with good stickhandling skills and a good shot. Good two-way player.
15. Toronto (from Pittsburgh) — Jack Quinn, C, Ottawa (OHL), 6-0, 176, Shoots right: Highly skilled, smart player with great vision who plays a strong, two-way game and yet scored 52 goals for the OHL’s best team in 2019-20.
16. Montreal — Dawson Mercer, C, Chicoutimi (QMJHL), 6-0, 180, Shoots right: Member of Canada’s gold-medal-winning World Junior team. Responsible two-way player who plays in all situations. Skilled and smart, but not a great skater.
17. Chicago — Connor Zary, C, Kamloops (WHL), 6-0, 178, Shoots left: Skilled, creative player, excellent playmaker who plays on the power play and kills penalties. Biggest negative is skating ability, which some question.
18. Devils (from Arizona) — Braden Schneider, D, Brandon (WHL), 6-2, 202, Shoots right: Physical two-way D-man who can play the power play and the penalty kill. Member of Canada’s U18 team, scoring two goals in seven games at the World U18 championships.
19. Calgary — Dylan Holloway, C, Wisconsin (NCAA), 6-0, 203, Shoots left: Had eight goals, nine assists in 35 games as a freshman for the Badgers. Strong skating, physical power forward.
20. Devils (from Tampa Bay) — Jacob Perreault, RW, Sarnia (OHL), 5-11, 192, Shoots right: Dynamic offensive player who possesses great hands and one of the best shots in the draft. Good passer, great on the power play.
21. Columbus — Brendan Brisson, C, Chicago (USHL), 5-11, 179, Shoots left: Son of NHL agent Pat Brisson, who represents Sidney Crosby, John Tavares and Nathan MacKinnon. Skilled, creative playmaker and good passer who also can finish. Not a fast skater.
22. Rangers (from Carolina) — Helge Grans, D, Malmo (SHL), 6-2, 206, Shoots right: He’s a righthanded-shooting European D man who is right up the Rangers’ alley. Made a big jump in the NHL Central Scouting rankings, from 21 at midseason to 6 at the end. Offensive minded player who split the season between the SHL and junior leagues.
23. Philadelphia — Lukas Reichel, LW, Eisbaren Berlin (DEL) 6-0, 170, Shoots left: Uncle Robert Reichel played 830 games in the NHL and won a gold medal for the Czech Republic at the 1998 Olympics; father Martin Reichel was drafted by Edmonton and played 20 years in the German league. Lukas is an excellent skater, playmaker and passer who had three goals in seven games for Germany at the World Juniors.
24. Washington — J.J. Peterka, RW, Munchen (DEL), 5-11, 192, Shoots left: German players are all the rage right now. Peterka scored seven goals in 42 games against men in Germany’s top pro league and scored four goals in seven games for Germany at the World Juniors. Creative winger with tons of speed.
25. Colorado — Noel Gunler, RW, Lulea (SHL), 6-2, 176, Shoots right: Got limited minutes playing against men in Sweden’s top pro league, but competed physically and had four goals, nine assists, 13 points in 45 games.
26. St. Louis — Justin Barron, D, Halifax (QMJHL), 6-2, 195, Shoots right: Right-handed-shooting, offensive-minded defensemen are a commodity these days, but Barron, younger brother of Rangers prospect Morgan Barron, struggled through 2019-20 with a blood-clot issue that limited him to 34 games (4-15-19). He’d been projected to be a top 10 pick before last season. He could be a bargain here.
27. Anaheim (from Boston) — William Wallinder, D, Modo Jr. (Sweden Juniors), 6-4, 191, Shoots left: Big, mobile, two-way player with good passing skills. NHL Scouting report compares him to Victor Hedman, which is kind of daunting.
28. Ottawa (from the Islanders) — Hendrix Lapierre, C, Chicoutimi (QMJHL), 6-0, 179, Shoots left: Highly skilled and intelligent player who was limited by three diagnosed concussions in 10 months. He played only 19 games (2-15-17), the last of which came last November.
29. Vegas — Ridly Greig, C, Brandon (WHL), 5-11, 163, shoots left: Father, Mark Greig, played 125 NHL games with the Hartford Whalers, Toronto, Calgary and Philadelphia. Ridly Greig is small, but with a tendency to get under opponents’ skin.
30. Dallas — Marat Khusnutdinov, C, SKA St. Petersburg 2 (Russia Junior), 5-11, 176, Shoots left: Electric offensive player with good vision, great skating ability, playmaking skills, and a willingness to go to the hard areas. Plays 200-foot game.
31. San Jose (from Tampa Bay)— Jeremie Poirier, D, Saint John (QMJHL), 6-0, 196, Shoots left: Led QMJHL defensemen in goals with 20 and his 53 points were second-most among defensemenin the league. He might be suspect in his own end, but his skating ability and big-play potential are intriguing.