Recency bias can be a real thing. That is the risk in holding off until after the Hlinka Gretzky Cup to publish my preseason rankings for the 2020 NHL draft.
However, that summer under-18 tournament is also the first best-on-best showcase of the draft year and thus a key evaluation tool in seeing how the top talents perform amongst their peers. The Hlinka really sets the stage for the season to come — it is the starting point per se.
It’s only a weeklong event and a lot of these prospects aren’t yet up to speed coming out of the offseason, so it’s important to take the Hlinka results with a grain of salt. But I still put a fair amount of stock into this tournament, more so for the standouts who rise to the occasion on the international stage, while cutting a bit of slack for those who underwhelm or leave something to be desired.
This year’s Hlinka was lacking a lot of the big names for 2020, with Quinton Byfield the only projected top-five pick on display. Fellow Canadian Alexis Lafreniere, Sweden’s Lucas Raymond and Alexander Holtz, and Finland’s Anton Lundell weren’t there, with Lafreniere and Lundell being too old as late-2001 birthdates, while Raymond and Holtz joined them in auditioning for their countries at the WJC Summer Showcase.
Those five forwards are leading the pack for 2020 — at least to start the draft year — but several prospects made their case for the top 10 by impressing at the Hlinka. Others played their way into the first-round range and some seemingly came out of nowhere to crack this initial list with the potential to keep climbing.
Full disclosure, I spent most of July playing catch-up on the 2020 class as a whole after purposely having tunnel vision for the 2019 class throughout their draft year. So I’m admittedly still getting to know the majority of these prospects — especially those outside my top 50 — and I’m not as familiar with a number of them as I’d like to be heading into the season.
As always, I have a pretty good handle on the Western Canadian kids — specifically the WHLers since that is my wheelhouse, the league that I scout live — so forgive me should you sense a little bias there. Sometimes I’m higher on them from the outset, but I can also be harder on them as the season progresses — perhaps due to overexposure, as evidenced by Nolan Foote’s second-half fall in my 2019 rankings despite still being a first-round talent on draft day.
That is something that Lafreniere may have to deal with — overexposure to the masses — but it didn’t hinder Jack Hughes in going wire-to-wire as the consensus top prospect, holding off Kaapo Kakko to be selected first overall. Lafreniere’s age could work against him as well — since he’s 10 months older than Byfield and has nearly six months on Raymond — whereas Hughes was relatively young for his draft class.
Nevertheless, Lafreniere is the frontrunner for 2020 as of today with the release of my preseason rankings — my top 124 following the Hlinka Gretzky Cup:
1) Alexis Lafreniere (LW, Canada, Rimouski QMJHL)
2) Lucas Raymond (RW, Sweden, Frolunda J20)
3) Quinton Byfield (LC, Canada, Sudbury OHL)
4) Anton Lundell (LC, Finland, HIFK Liiga)
5) Alexander Holtz (LW/RW, Sweden, Djurgardens J20)
6) Yaroslav Askarov (G, Russia, SKA-1946 St. Petersburg MHL)
7) Cole Perfetti (LW/LC, Canada, Saginaw OHL)
8) Rodion Amirov (LW, Russia, Tolpar Ufa MHL)
9) Hendrix Lapierre (LC, Canada, Chicoutimi QMJHL)
10) Jamie Drysdale (RD, Canada, Erie OHL)
11) Justin Barron (RD, Canada, Halifax QMJHL)
12) Dylan Holloway (LC, Canada, Wisconsin NCAA)
13) Marco Rossi (LC, Austria/Switzerland, Ottawa OHL)
14) Antonio Stranges (LC/LW, USA, London OHL)
15) Noel Gunler (RW/LW, Sweden, Lulea SHL)
16) Kasper Simontaival (F, Finland, Tappara Liiga)
17) Tim Stutzle (F, Germany, Adler Mannheim DEL)
18) Jan Mysak (LW, Czech Republic, Litvinov Czech)
19) Vasili Ponomarev (F, Russia, Shawinigan QMJHL)
20) Zion Nybeck (RW, Sweden, HV71 J20)
21) Roni Hirvonen (LC, Finland, Assat Liiga)
22) Jake Sanderson (LD, USA, NTDP U18)
23) Braden Schneider (RD, Canada, Brandon WHL)
24) Connor Zary (LC, Canada, Kamloops WHL)
25) Martin Chromiak (LW, Slovakia, Dukla Trencin)
26) Jaromir Pytlik (RC, Czech Republic, Sault Ste. Marie OHL)
27) Ty Smilanic (F, USA, NTDP U18)
28) Connor McClennon (RW, Canada, Winnipeg WHL)
29) Jake Neighbours (LW, Canada, Edmonton WHL)
30) Kaiden Guhle (LD, Canada, Prince Albert WHL)
31) Jeremie Poirier (LD, Canada, Saint John QMJHL)
32) Lukas Cormier (LD, Canada, Charlottetown QMJHL)
33) Dawson Mercer (RW, Canada, Drummondville QMJHL)
34) Jean-Luc Foudy (RC, Canada, Windsor OHL)
35) Will Cuylle (LW, Canada, Windsor OHL)
36) Luke Tuch (LW, USA, NTDP U18)
37) Dylan Peterson (RC, USA/Canada, NTDP U18)
38) Jacob Perreault (RC, Canada/USA, Sarnia OHL)
39) Veeti Miettinen (RW, Finland, Blues U20)
40) Alexander Pashin (F, Russia, Tolpar Ufa MHL)
41) Emil Andrae (LD, Sweden, HV71 J20)
42) Kasper Puutio (RD, Finland, Swift Current WHL)
43) Samuel Knazko (LD, Slovakia, Vancouver WHL)
44) Justin Sourdif (RC, Canada, Vancouver WHL)
45) Seth Jarvis (RW, Canada, Portland WHL)
46) Mavrik Bourque (RC, Canada, Shawinigan QMJHL)
47) Michael Benning (RD, Canada, Sherwood Park AJHL)
48) Ryder Rolston (F, USA, NTDP U18)
49) Sean Farrell (F, USA, NTDP U18)
50) Tyler Kleven (LD, USA, NTDP U18)
51) Daniel Ljungman (LC, Sweden, Linkoping J20)
52) Helge Grans (RD, Sweden, Malmo J20)
53) Shakir Mukhamadullin (LD, Russia, Tolpar Ufa MHL)
54) Daniil Gushchin (RW, Russia, Regina WHL)
55) Pavel Novak (F, Czech Republic, Kelowna WHL)
56) Michal Gut (LC, Czech Republic, Everett WHL)
57) Adam Raska (LW, Czech Republic, Ocelari Trinec Czech)
58) Theo Rochette (LC, Canada/Switzerland, Chicoutimi QMJHL)
59) Noah Delemont (LD, Switzerland, Acadie-Bathurst QMJHL)
60) Ben Schoen (F, USA, Youngstown USHL)
61) Cross Hanas (LW, USA/Canada, Portland WHL)
62) Carter Savoie (LW, Canada, Sherwood Park AJHL)
63) Jan Bednar (G, Czech Republic, Karlovy Vary Czech)
64) Joel Blomqvist (G, Finland, Karpat U20)
65) Oliver Suni (F, Finland, Oshawa OHL)
66) Matej Kaslik (LC, Slovakia, Malmo J20)
67) Jack Finley (RC, Canada, Spokane WHL)
68) Ridly Greig (F, Canada, Brandon WHL)
69) Ozzy Wiesblatt (RW, Canada, Prince Albert WHL)
70) Daemon Hunt (LD, Canada, Moose Jaw WHL)
71) Ryan O’Rourke (LD, Canada, Sault Ste. Marie OHL)
72) Lleyton Moore (LD, Canada, Oshawa OHL)
73) Marat Khusnutdinov (LC, Russia, Erie OHL)
74) Noah Ellis (RD, USA, Janesville NAHL)
75) Alex Gaffney (LC, USA, Muskegon USHL)
76) Blake Biondi (F, USA, Hermantown U.S. High School)
77) Thomas Bordeleau (F, USA/Canada, NTDP U18)
78) William Villeneuve (RD, Canada, Saint John QMJHL)
79) Charlie Desroches (RD, Canada, Saint John QMJHL)
80) Joona Lehmus (LD, Finland, Saint John QMJHL)
81) Leo Loof (LD, Sweden, Farjestad J20)
82) Jack Smith (F, USA, St. Cloud Cathedral U.S. High School)
83) Brendan Brisson (F, USA/Canada, Shattuck St. Mary’s U.S. High School)
84) Mark Estapa (F, USA, Tri-City USHL)
85) Kyle Crnkovic (LW, Canada, Saskatoon WHL)
86) Tristen Robins (RC, Canada, Saskatoon WHL)
87) Josh Pillar (RC, Canada, Kamloops WHL)
88) Joona Kiviniemi (LW, Finland, Swift Current WHL)
89) Ben King (F, Canada, Swift Current WHL)
90) Jakob Brook (LW, Canada, Prince Albert WHL)
91) Simon Knak (F, Switzerland, Portland WHL)
92) Simon Kubicek (RD, Czech Republic, Seattle WHL)
93) Christoffer Sedoff (LD, Finland, Red Deer WHL)
94) John-Jason Peterka (F, Germany, EHC Munchen DEL)
95) Pavel Tyutnev (LC, Russia, Loko Yaroslavl MHL)
96) Maxim Groshev (RW, Russia, Reaktor Nizhnekamsk MHL)
97) Vsevolod Skotnikov (G, Russia, Krasnaya Armiya Moskva MHL)
98) Nick Malik (G, Czech Republic, Ocelari Trinec Czech)
99) Marek Blaha (RD, Czech Republic, Sparta Praha U19)
100) Marko Stacha (LD, Slovakia, Dukla Trencin)
101) Topi Niemela (RD, Finland, Karpat Liiga)
102) Roby Jarventie (F, Finland, Ilves Liiga)
103) Jesse Seppala (LW, Finland, Edmonton WHL)
104) Ruben Rafkin (RD, Finland, Windsor OHL)
105) Ville Ottavainen (RD, Finland, Kitchener OHL)
106) Donovan Sebrango (LD, Canada, Kitchener OHL)
107) Gerard Keane (RD, USA, London OHL)
108) Logan Morrison (RC, Canada, Hamilton OHL)
109) Landon Slaggert (LC, USA, NTDP U18)
110) Sam Colangelo (F, USA, Chicago USHL)
111) Jack Williams (F, USA, Muskegon USHL)
112) Ethan Bowen (LC, Canada, Chilliwack BCHL)
113) Keanu Derungs (LW, Switzerland, Victoria WHL)
114) Dylan Garand (G, Canada, Kamloops WHL)
115) Calle Clang (G, Sweden, Rogle SHL)
116) Hugo Styf (LD, Sweden, MODO J20)
117) Isak Garfve (RC/LW, Sweden, Mora J20)
118) Juuso Maenpaa (LC, Finland, Jokerit U20)
119) Veeti Korkalainen (RW, Finland, KooKoo U20)
120) Ilya Rychkov (F, Russia, SKA-1946 St. Petersburg MHL)
121) Bogdan Trineyev (F, Russia, Dynamo Moskva MHL)
122) Wyatt Schingoethe (LC, USA, Waterloo USHL)
123) Primo Self (F, USA, Tri-City USHL)
124) Ivan Ivan (F, Czech Republic, Cape Breton QMJHL)
I swear those last two made the list on merit and not solely on name value.
As for the tiers, I have it 1-3, 4-7, 8-21, 22-27 and 28-42 for my projected first-round candidates. Obviously 8-21 is a big tier, if I had to split it, I’d probably go 8-13 and 14-21, but I’m open to those 14-21 prospects cracking the top 10.
Again, my apologies for any perceived Western bias. Those are the kids that I know best right now and although the 2020 prospects from the WHL aren’t as touted as that special 2019 class, this is a deep and above-average group that should come on strong.
There will be some first-rounders from the Dub, potentially a half-dozen or a few more than other scouts have been predicting in their preseason rankings. However, there doesn’t appear to be a top-10 talent, perhaps not even a top-20 pick, but there could still be 10 WHLers within the top 50, which would be an impressive feat for the league.
For those keeping count, I have 29
Therefore, I could easily envision 40 WHLers getting drafted in 2020. To get to that total, the next 11 on my radar among first-time eligibles were six defencemen in Ronan Seeley (LD, Everett), Rhett Rhinehart (RD, Prince George), Luke Prokop (RD, Calgary), Aidan De La Gorgendiere (LD, Saskatoon), Tyrel Bauer (RD, Seattle) and Joel Sexsmith (LD, Vancouver), plus five forwards in Slovakian import Samuel Krajc (Calgary), Carter Souch (Edmonton), Lukas Svejkovsky (Vancouver), Ethan Ernst (Kelowna) and Cole Shepard (Vancouver). And I do like 10 to 20 overagers too, so it should be a good year for the Dub — or at least a promising one in terms of depth despite lacking in top-end talent.
This is also shaping up to be a big year for the AJHL, especially keeping in mind that Dylan Holloway is already an alumnus of Alberta’s tier-II league. The BCHL will have some second-tier talents but doesn’t have a clear stud in the offing for 2020.
Below the border, the USHL and, in particular, the National Team Development Program appear to be entering a down year after setting all kinds of records in 2019. As of now, it seems unlikely that the United States will have a prospect taken in the top 10 for 2020 — perhaps not even in the top 15. That just goes to show how cyclical the draft can be from one year to the next, though it is a long season and much can change from September to June.
Still, it’s strange to think an Austrian and a German could be selected before the first American. That isn’t out of the realm of possibility, but there are a few Americans from the NTDP that could be big-time risers once The Program returns to the ice after skipping the Hlinka in preparation for their regular season.
Fun times ahead, scouting this 2020 class that some believe will wind up rivalling 2015 and maybe even 2003 as the best drafts of this century to date, if not of all time.
As mentioned, there are no overagers on this list and I tend to leave them off until the New Year, preferring to focus all my attention on the first-time eligibles for the first half of the season.
I plan on publishing monthly rankings again over the course of this draft year, starting in October once there is a decent sample size from the CHL leagues. My preseason rankings should stand for September, though some Europeans will be rising and falling in the meantime since their campaigns get going ahead of time.
There promises to be plenty of movement for that next update as I’ll have two full months to further educate myself on this new draft class. Part of that education process is networking with fellow scouts and media members as well as fans.
If you have something to say about the 2020 draft and my rankings, I’m all ears in the comments below and can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Larry Fisher is a senior writer and head scout for The Hockey Writers, having been an at-large contributor for THW since August 2014. Fisher covers both the NHL and the WHL, specializing in prospects and NHL draft content, including his annual mock drafts that date back to 2012. Fisher has also been a beat writer for the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets since 2008, formerly working as a sports reporter/editor for The Daily Courier in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada from 2008-2019. Follow him on Twitter: @LarryFisher_KDC.