2020 NHL Draft: 6 Divisive Prospects for THW Scouts

Every season, there are a handful of NHL hopefuls that some scouts can’t agree on. The 2020 NHL Draft will be no different.

Should goaltender Yaroslav Askarov go in the top-10? Who’s the third best player in this draft behind Alexis Lafreniere and Quinton Byfield? The list of questions seem never ending.

But a little further down the draft board is where things get interesting. Most in the industry have a sense of who belongs in the lottery. But how will the end of the first round look?

A current look at the industry shows some interesting and different perspectives on who is a first rounder and who isn’t. We thought this would be a good time to help you gain some perspective from our rankers.

Related: Andrew Forbes’ Top-217 for March

We talked with our three resident scouts (Josh Bell, Andrew Forbes and Larry Fisher) about six prospects that seem to have a differing opinion about them depending on who you ask. We asked our rankers to give their take on the player and why they have them in a certain spot. These will be players our rankers have much higher or lower than some of the national outlets. You can see TSN and Sportsnet’s rankings here.

Our hope is to give you some insight into what our staff is thinking when trying to rank these prospects. We also hope it gives you a different perspective that you may not have seen previously.

Let’s jump right in and discuss six divisive prospects for the 2020 NHL Draft.

Kaiden Guhle

Both TSN and Sportsnet list Guhle as a lottery pick while our rankers have him at the end of the first or completely out of the first.

Bell: “You can expect to Guhle higher in my final rankings, but still near the end of the first round. I saw him as mainly a physical defender with not a lot of offensive upside to start the season, but the more I’ve seen him, I’ve seen flashes of offense and skill. Especially when his team needs him, he has the ability to put the team on his back. I don’t think that offensiveness will translate to the NHL, but his physicality will likely see a team take a chance on him earlier than I have him.”

Forbes: “He has the size and skill to be a force on any blue line – good enough to remain a potential first-round pick. That said, his decision-making at times can be inconsistent. His success on the offensive end this season has increased in a big way over last year, but how much of that came from the overall success of the Prince Albert Raiders? He has areas to work on which is why he’s not in my top 10 – even top 15.”

Fisher: “Guhle has remained in my 20-30 range, rising as high as No. 21. He could have stayed that high considering his standout performance at the CHL Top Prospects Game, but I prefer the offensive upside of a couple other defenders ranked just ahead of him in Cormier and Sweden’s Emil Andrae (No. 25). I also feel this is a forward-heavy draft class, with many of the top talents playing that position thus bumping down the blueliners for me. However, it is important to remember these are rankings and not a mock draft. There is a big difference between the two — my rankings are predicting prime potential, not draft position — and my mocks might have Guhle going closer to the top 20 based on positional preference for the teams picking. There could be a run of defencemen in the teens come draft day. I wouldn’t rule that out.”

Related: Larry Fisher’s Top-300 Rankings for March

Braden Schneider

Both TSN and Sportsnet list Schneider as a border-line lottery pick while our rankers have him at the end of the first or later.

Bell: “I’ve had Braden Schneider on the cusp of the first round all season long. There are times where I think he could be in the NHL right now and other times where I’m not so sure about him. It’s that thought that he could be in the NHL now that keeps him in the conversation of my first round. I still think he’s one of the best defenders in this class, but after Jamie Drysdale, it’s tough to nail down who goes where. He’s a mobile defender with a great pass, and there are lots of teams that will bite if they get the chance.”

Forbes: “He’s another big defenceman in this draft. Size and physicality aren’t even questions and he’s taken a big step in the right direction offensively like fellow potential first-rounder Kaiden Guhle. He jumped from 0.41 points per game in 2018-19 to 0.7 points per game this season and his play defensively has him as a first-round pick in my books. I’m just not ready to put him higher on the list just yet.”

Fisher: “Ditto for Schneider, who has fallen slightly for me but stayed in the twenties throughout. Schneider’s game is quite similar to Travis Hamonic, an alum from the same junior program in Brandon. Schneider has the physical tools to be a shutdown defender in the NHL, likely slotting on a second pairing and perhaps sooner than later. He has a high floor but relatively low ceiling with limited offensive upside as a pro. Schneider will be solid in a specific role that should include penalty killing but not power play. He won’t be much of a fantasy player but could exceed a decade-long career, which keeps him in my first-round range.”

Braeden Schneider Brandon Wheat Kings
Braden Schneider of the Brandon Wheat Kings (Tim Smith)

Justin Barron

Both TSN and Sportnet have Barron just outside the lottery while just one of our rankers has him as a first rounder.

Bell: “Barron has been steadily falling in my rankings throughout the season. At the beginning of the season I thought he’d continue to grow and improve, and it didn’t really happen this year – even before his blood clot took him out of the lineup for an extended period of time. The reason I’m lower on him now is that I don’t think he’s taken that step forward that you’d hope for in a draft year, and other defenders in this draft class have, passing him in my rankings in the process.”

Forbes: “A slight flip-flop from a few of the other defensemen in the draft’s first round, Barron took a step back offensively this season. That said, he has the size like many others in the draft and plays with a physical edge. He was diagnosed with a blood clot earlier in the year which could’ve played a part in his off season offensively, which is part of the reason he’s sitting just outside the first-round for me.”

Fisher: “Barron began the draft year as the closest challenger to Jamie Drysdale for the top defence prospect in 2020. However, he got off to a slow start on a bad team in the QMJHL and wasn’t at his best before getting sidelined long term by a blood clot, which may have hindered his early results. When healthy, which Barron is now, he should still be in that conversation for the No. 2 defenceman behind Drysdale despite the lost development time. I have Barron at No. 3 behind only Drysdale (No. 5 overall) and Jake Sanderson (No. 15). Barron has all the tools to become a top-pairing defenceman in the NHL and I see him as a power-play contributor.”

Related: Josh Bell’s Top-124 Rankings

Ty Smilanic

TSN and Sportsnet list Smilanic as a first rounder while our rankers all have him out of the first.

Bell: “I think after last year’s incredible USNTDP team, it’s easy to put their current top guys in the first round. But this team isn’t really close to what it was last year, and I think Smilanic might be overvalued because of that. There is a ton of very talented European and Russian prospects that I think the North American scouts are lower on that I have higher, and I have a number of them at the bottom of my first round. Guys like Roni Hirvonen, Zion Nybeck, Kasper Simontaival, JJ Peterka, and Marat Khusnutdinov. That’s not to say Smilanic isn’t a good prospect, he is. I just think some of these guys overseas have higher ceilings.”

Forbes: “Smilanic has a heck of a shot and is described as a sniper by some. That said, he woke up his playmaking ability with the U.S. Development Program this season with 15 assists in 34 games. With college (Quinnipiac University) the plan for next season and his overall production below a point-per-game, he’s not a top-round pick for me. That said, with his possession ability and given the chance to develop, he could be a second-round steal in my books.”

Fisher: “Smilanic has trended down for me — as have many NTDP prospects — due largely to a lack of production. That team was difficult to scout, attempting to avoid direct comparisons to last year’s powerhouse but trying to rank them fairly among their 2020 peers. That was challenging and I was looking forward to getting a better read on that team as a whole at the under-18 worlds. Smilanic, among others, could have emerged as risers for me coming out of that tournament. I highlighted the NTDP roster in my recent article titled 10 Prospects That Could Have Boomed at U18 Worlds. I also discussed Smilanic specifically in my March fallers article. Smilanic passes the eye test — so I can see why some scouts have stayed high on him, keeping him in that first-round range and giving him the benefit of the doubt — but doesn’t have the stats to match, which became something of a concern for me in getting surpassed by more productive forwards from around the world.”

Ty Smilanic USNTDP
Ty Smilanic and other NTDP players hope to crack the first round. (Credit: Rena Laverty)

Lukas Cormier

Our rankers all have Cormier as a first rounder while TSN and Sportsnet list him out of the first round.

Bell: “I had Lukas Cormier as my fourth-highest ranked defender, but I think he could easily be the second for me. I can see him running an NHL power play and excelling in that role. He’s an excellent passer, arguably one of the best in the draft. He’s one of the better skaters out of defensemen in the draft, brings solid offensive production thanks to the passing and a great shot, is a very intelligent player. Why are others low on him? He’s 5-foot-8 and 170 pounds. Other than his size, there’s really not much not to like about his game.”

Forbes: “Cormier is smaller than some of the first-round defensemen on my list, but that shouldn’t stop him from being a top-four defenceman at some point down the road. He’s a puck mover with offensive upside and while size might not be his strong suit, his play in defensive zone is strong and aggressive. He sacrifices his body to block pucks and plays bigger along the boards when fighting for pucks. Underrated due to size, he’s a mid-first-round pick for me.”

Fisher: “I really like Cormier and consider him a clone of Colorado’s Samuel Girard, who slipped to the second round in 2016 but would be a first-rounder in a redraft of that year. Cormier is that type of defender, undersized but so smooth in his processing ability with the vision to be a very effective puck-mover in the NHL. I’m confident he’ll grow into a power-play role, much the same as Girard, and I have no worries about his defensive game since he thinks one step ahead to offset any size or strength concerns. Cormier is No. 5 among defencemen for me but in the same tier as Barron and several other blueliners, including these next two. I feel the draft is wide open from 21-53 in my rankings, which includes 12 defencemen that could go in any order, but I like Cormier near the top of that list.”

Related: 2020 THW Draft Guide

Jan Mysak

Our rankers feel Mysak is a lottery pick while TSN and Sportsnet have him listed at the end of the first or later.

Bell: “I’ve been high on Mysak all season, even before it started. In my preseason rankings, I had him at 14 and he’s slightly climbed since to 12. What most people have seen from him in his brief OHL career is what he’s always brought to his game. He plays such a smart game, reading the play four steps ahead of everyone else. He seems to always be open, using his speed and creativity to get away from defenders. He can produce offense, is good in his own end, and makes good decisions with the puck. In a normal draft, I’d put Mysak in my top-10.”

Forbes: “He was one of the few bright spots for the Czechs at the World Juniors this season as they had a tough tournament. With that he also came over from the Czech league and joined the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs where he fit in almost seamlessly. While his defensive game needs some work, his 25 points in 22 games makes him a strong offensive threat and a player that teams should keep a close eye on. For me, he’s a first-round talent.”

Fisher: “I was higher on Mysak than most from the outset — he has been in the teens for me in all but one of my seven rankings to date — but his impressive performance at the World Juniors and smooth transition to the North American game in the OHL has solidified him as a top-15 talent in this draft class for me. Mysak has the offensive instincts to be a high-impact, top-six forward in the NHL.”

Our rankers have had their say. What do you think of these prospects? Should they be higher or lower than their current projection? Feel free to leave your comments. And make sure you follow our rankers all season long for in-depth coverage of the NHL Draft.