NHL Top 10 Prospects and Their Draft Fit
In this article, I will breakdown my top 10 players in reverse order for the 2020 NHL draft class, as well as attempt to predict the teams that will draft them. I will breakdown the players by their strength and areas for development and what will attract each of these teams to them.
Let’s get this started.
10. Winnipeg Jets: Jake Sanderson (Defensemen, US National Team Development Program)
The Winnipeg Jets had a solid season before the pandemic. They were bounced out in the qualifying round of the restart by the Calgary Flames in 4 games. Their reward is a top 10 draft pick. Winnipeg surprised a lot of analysts after they lost 3-major pieces from their defensive core over the previous summer and stayed in the playoff race all season. With that in mind, the Jets will draft arguably the top defender in this year's class of players. It is depending on your preference between him and Jamie Drysdale.
Sanderson doesn’t have the flash that Drysdale brings to the game but is the perfect modern-day shutdown player. He has adequate size at 6’1 and puts that to use with his solid-positioning and above-average transition game. Sanderson has received high praise from his coach, calling him "One of the top defensemen” he has coached with the program. That is high praise, especially for a group that includes Seth Jones.
The major knock against Sanderson as a sure-fire number one d-man is his offensive game. Although he picked up his play midway through the year, there are still legitimate questions regarding his ability with the puck in tight areas which, lowers his ranking. He has one of the safest floors in the draft, the Jets are going to be more than enthusiastic when they get the chance to call his name.
9. Minnesota Wild: Jack Quinn (Forward, Ottawa 67’s OHL)
Minnesota was on the outside looking when the season was paused. They had a horrible start to the season but had slowly tried to turn it around and got back into the playoff race. They struggled early in the season with their offense; looking old and slow. Quinn scored 52 goals and was the 2nd leading goal scorer and top eligible scorer coming out of the OHL this year. The kind of production should be welcomed for a team looking to inject young offensive talent.
Jack Quinn was a late riser being outside the first-round when the season began and is now widely considered a lottery lock. He has a hard-accurate shot that is his most projectable trait at the next level, mentioned above 52 goals in 62 games were no accident. Quinn is more than a goal scorer as Jack has an extremely high compete-level to go along with great hands and fantastic hockey IQ at both ends of the ice. He looks to project as a solid two-way player in the mold of Mark Stone.
What holds scouts from putting him at the top of the draft is skating and playmaking ability. Scouts have questions about if he will be able to keep pace at the next level. He has shown the ability to improve, will it be enough for him to reach his potential. Minnesota is going with a riskier pick here and leaving safer players on the board. As the saying goes, “Fortune favours the bold!”
8. Buffalo Sabers: Alexander Holtz (Forward, Djurgardens IF SHL)
Holtz produced 16 points in 35 games in the top men's league in Sweden. He was able to score 9 goals as a 17/18-year-old. The Sabers will value a mature prospect who has proven that he can play in one of the top leagues in the world. Adding a talented winger like Holtz on Eichel’s wing could make for a dynamic duo for years to come. Having smashed his peer-group and graduating to the SHL before his 18th birthday makes the 16 points he scored look a lot better. Gaining professional experience should not be undervalued for such young talented players.
Holtz is predominately a goal scorer at each level he has played during his career, always scoring more goals than his assist at each stage. The largest factor in making him an elite prospect is his shot, which might be above that of fellow draft-eligible goal-scorer Quinn. He has another similar quality to Quinn, his elite hockey IQ. This allows him to find open ice and take advantage of his quick hands and fast release.
He does not possess elite-level speed, which was the contributing factor to why he is outside the top 5 in this draft. While he has the will to play defense, though he does get lost in his own zone by over-committing. Holtz is often pushed around by the bigger players in the SHL, which he will overcome with physical maturity.
7. New Jersey Devils: Lucas Raymond (Forward, Frölunda HC SHL)
Raymond was outproduced by his countrymen Holtz as he only had 10 points in 33 games for a slightly lesser team in Frölunda. Holtz is 5-month older than Raymond, while the latter has a more diverse skill set. Whereas Holtz is strictly a goal-scoring winger; Raymond has played all 3 forward positions and shown he excels in multiple offensive categories. He plays a strong two-way game, while his vision is excellent and his shot is very accurate.
The New Jersey Devils will value his versatility to play alongside Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes. They can use a forward who plays in multiple positions to move up and down their roster.
Raymond’s main drawback is his size. Playing against men in the SHL, he was often knocked off the puck and taken advantage of by bigger-stronger opponents. Raymond turned 18 in May and at 5’11 has enough height to fill out his frame. He isn’t expected to make an immediate impact; I expect them to keep him in the SHL if the season goes ahead as planned. The lighter workload will allow him to focus on filling out his frame.
6. Anaheim Ducks: Marco Rossi (Forward, Ottawa 67’s OHL)
Marco Rossi leads a dominant 67’s team to the top of the OHL this season. While leading the OHL in scoring with 120 points in 56 games; he was also named OHL’s most outstanding player of the year earning 62% of the media vote more than 49% more than the second closest player in voting. Anaheim will look to snap up the shifty center to add more depth to their forward prospect group.
Anaheim is loaded with d-men and has been aging at forward for the past few years. The team has placed the majority of its focus on restocking the forward group. They will be ecstatic to get their hands on Rossi, who produced at 2.14 points per game pace, only trailing Lafreniere in the entire CHL.
The reason which Rossi is not being mentioned with the likes of Byfield, Stutzle, and Perfetti is his lack of size compounded by being a full year older. Rossi has a late September birthday missing the 2019 draft by a few days, Scouts take that into account when evaluating players and he is no exception. They also have concerns that he played on a dominate OHL team and was elevated by his peers as he had more than double assists to goals ratio.
5. Ottawa Senators: Jamie Drysdale (Defensemen, Erie OHL)
Regarded as the top defensemen in the draft, Ottawa will use their second of two top-five picks to fill out their already-strong defensive prospect unit. With Thomas Chabot currently, one of the top defenders in the eastern conference and Erik Brannstrom having a solid season in the AHL, Ottawa is looking to build a d-crop that will be the envy of the league. Allowing solid prospects in Jacob Bernard-Docker and Lassi Thomson to develop into amazing-depth defenders.
Drysdale is a smooth-skating offensive defenseman that impacts the offensive game every chance he gets. He followed up a solid rookie OHL of 40 points in 63 games in 2018-19 with 47 points in 49 games while winning the world junior championship with Canada in 2019-20. He has been compared to Scott Niedermayer in terms of the style of game he plays.
His defensive game is the only concern, though he has proven more than capable against OHL forwards. He will need to work on getting stronger to push bigger opponents off the puck at the next level. While the extra year in junior should allow him to better process the game in his own end.
4. Detroit Red Wings: Cole Perfetti (Forward, Saginaw Spirit OHL)
Perfetti proved that he was more than a goal scorer in his second season in the OHL. He doubled his assist totals from 37 to 74 while maintaining the 37 goals in 3 fewer games. After tearing apart the Ivan Hlinka tournament in the summer of 2019, Cole started the OHL season slow for his standards. After being cut from Canada’s world junior roster, he came back to the OHL with a fire to his game that had been missing. He finished the season second to Marco Rossi with 111 points in 61 games.
Perfetti has proven capable of playing left-wing and center in the OHL; while possessing an elite shot that can compete with anyone in this draft class. Steve Yzerman is looking to add talent to a team that finished with the worst record in modern NHL history. Cole Perfetti will potentially require a season in junior before cracking the NHL, the wait will be worth it.
Because of his versatility, they will be able to integrate him on Dylan Larkin’s wing to provide him a top player to play with immediately. Once he develops into the play driving center many expect, he will form a-strong center pairing with Larking for decades. While his main drawback is skating, this can be fixed with focused coaching sessions.
3. Ottawa Senators: Tim Stutzle (Forward, Alder Mannheim DEL)
Playing in the top men’s league in Germany Stutzle scored 34 points in 41 games as a 17/18-year-old. He was named rookie of the year and did not look out of place against older competition. He also put on a show for a weaker German squad at the world junior’s this year scoring 9 points in 8 games. He has been compared to Patrick Kane as he has a smaller stature and shifty style of play.
Ottawa missed out on adding the top-two forwards in this year’s draft but Stutzle is a heck of a consolation prize. He combines his excellent skating ability with adept puck handling ability, allowing him to execute high skilled plays at top speeds. His hands are easily the class of this draft, allowing him to keep a puck on a string, making defenders look foolish.
His only concern is his lack of strength and size. The lack of muscle can be developed over time with the right commitment and attitude. While his size is less of an issue in the modern NHL.
2. Los Angels Kings: Quinton Byfield (Forward, Sudbury Wolves OHL)
Quinton Byfield might possess more potential then top prospect Lafreniere; at 6’5 and with a smooth skating stride, he has the size and speed Alexis will never have. Byfield has a great shot and has drawn comparisons to Malkin. The big dynamic skating forward has as high a ceiling as any prospect while also being a full year younger the Lafreniere.
LA won this pick in the lottery and will look to groom Anze Kopitar’s successor, as the number one center for LA in a few years. Byfield has more skill then Kopitar and could turn into a better two-way player then the perennial Selke trophy nominee. That should be enough to have the Kings jumping out of their chairs to draft him.
The biggest issue is his lack of consistency in the OHL; while producing gaudy point totals in the OHL, he can disappear at times throughout games. A poor showing at the world juniors hurt his case to be taken number 1, but being one of the youngest players in the draft makes him one of the rawest. Making his potential that much more intriguing.
1. New York Rangers: Alexis Lafreniere (Forward, Rimouski Oceanic QMJHL)
Alexis Lafreniere has been on NHL scouts’ radar since being granted exceptional status into the QMJHL. He has done nothing but impresses at every step of the way since that point. After missing the 2019 draft by a few days and being named CHL player of the year, Alexis followed that season by dominating the QMJHL. Scoring at a 2.15 point per game rate over 52 games and putting on an MVP performance for Canada as they won the gold this year at the world juniors, he looks to be a sure-fire star.
New York won the lottery after losing their qualifying round to the Carolina Hurricanes. They look to jumpstart their rebuild and add to a strong-forward group in the NHL. This is a no-brainer, according to most hockey people.
Lafreniere processes the game quickly; being able to see plays before they unfold makes up for his lack of foot speed. While he is also one of the oldest players in the draft, the consistency with which he played all year has cemented him as the top draft prospect. There are very few holes in the way Alexis plays the game. While he will never be as dynamic as Mackinnon or McDavid, his all-around game will make him a productive player for years to come.