It’s been a long time coming, but the 2020 NHL Draft picture is getting clearer.
The Qualifying Round is complete and we now know the eight teams that will be in the draw to land the first-overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft. The Edmonton Oilers, Florida Panthers, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Winnipeg Jets will be eagerly waiting for the balls to drop.
Related: 2020 NHL Draft Guide
Each team will have a 12.5% chance of winning the first-overall pick, which this year likely means the right to draft Alexis Lafrenière out of the QMJHL. The left winger has been the centre of attention all season long, highlighted by a dominant performance at the 2020 World Junior Championship, helping Team Canada to a gold medal while winning tournament MVP.
With the teams anxiously waiting for the approaching second phase of the lottery, some teams could use the talent of the top eligible prospect more than others, when considering their current roster, their recent history, and their prospect pool.
Based on this, here are the eight teams eligible for the first overall pick, ranked based on their need to land a potentially franchise-changing player.
DISCLAIMER: Of course, every one of these teams could use the talent of Lafrenière (or Quinton Byfield) on their roster, and they should all want him (or Byfield). This ranking is based on which team needs the services of a first-overall pick the most, looking at the factors listed above.
8. Pittsburgh Penguins
The Pittsburgh Penguins do not need any more firepower for a while. From the Mario Lemieux era to the Sidney Crosby era, to three Stanley Cups in the last 11 years, including back-to-back wins in 2016 and 2017, the Penguins will be just fine without landing the first-overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft.
Looking at their roster, this team could still be a contender moving forward. With Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in the lineup, you can never truly count them out – no matter what happened in the Qualifying Round against the Montreal Canadiens. Adding in players like Kris Letang, Jake Guentzal, Jason Zucker, this is very much a team that should be able to slightly adjust and be a threat.
The one area that could hint to them needing a draft lottery win would be their prospect pool. It’s not looking good for the future, as this team is still in win-now mode and typically trades away the majority of its first-round picks. Behind Samuel Poulin, Pierre-Olivier Joseph, and Nathan Legare, none of whom are top-tier prospects, there aren’t many players to get excited about.
But, looking at the Penguins’ current roster and recent success, this team does not need a win. However, the Penguins getting a first-overall pick from Rimouski Océanic (Crosby played for Rimouski) after trading away so many of their first-round picks would make for some good – hilarious – stories.
7. Nashville Predators
The Nashville Predators are a team in decline. Which seems a little crazy when you look at their roster. But in the last four years (including this season), here’s how they’ve finished their campaigns:
- 2016-17: Lost in Stanley Cup Final
- 2017-18: Lost in Second Round
- 2018-19: Lost in First Round
- 2019-20: Lost in Qualifying Round
But, they did make the playoffs for the last five years. And looking at their roster, this should be a team that could bounce back. Goaltender Juuse Saros seems to have taken over the reins from Pekka Rinne, their defensive unit should still be one of the best in the league (at least on paper), led by Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and Mattias Ekholm, and they have great forwards in Filip Forsberg, Matt Duchene, and Ryan Johansen.
Their prospect pool isn’t great, but they do have a potential stud in Philip Tomasino and let’s not forget Eeli Tolvanen who used to be considered a top prospect in the league. Young defender Dante Fabbro is already looking like a star in the league too. That being said, after these players, there’s quite the drop off.
The Predators are in a strange place. They seem to be headed in the wrong direction, but their roster should have the pieces to make something happen. Similar to the Penguins, a few tweaks could get them back to being a serious threat. They could certainly use the services of Lafrenière, but I’d argue they don’t need his services as much as some others on this list.
6. New York Rangers
It seems a little strange to put the New York Rangers this low on this list, but let’s review the three categories: current roster, prospect pool, recent success. Their roster is surprisingly good for a team that just rebuilt in what seemed like a day, their prospect pool is looking very good, and they have had recent success. Let’s look closer.
Starting with the roster, the 2019 offseason was good to the Rangers. Kappo Kaako, Artemi Panarin, and Jacob Trouba all joined the team in a different way (draft, free agency, and trade). Add in their two young, stud goaltenders in Alexandar Georgiev and Igor Shestyorkin, star Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, Adam Fox, and Tony DeAngelo, and yeah, this roster is looking pretty good.
Their prospect pool is also surprisingly packed, despite the influx of young talent that hit the league this year. Forwards Vitali Kravtsov and Lias Andersson haven’t had the easiest time in the system, but they are still promising talents. Defensively, this team looks dangerous. K’Andre Miller and Nils Lundqvist lead that but don’t forget about Matthew Robertson too. There’s a lot to like about the Rangers’ future.
Finally, the Rangers have missed the playoffs just four times since 2005, including a trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 2013-14. Sure, three of those times they missed are the last three years, but this team is no stranger to the postseason, unlike some of the others on this list. This is a team on the rise after a quick dip, and while the first-overall pick would accelerate that rise, they’ll be just fine with their top 10/11 pick.
5. Edmonton Oilers
Let me throw a few years at you: 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2015. Any ideas what these years have in common? The Edmonton Oilers drafted a player first overall in each of these years. To win a fifth first-overall pick in a decade? NHL fans of 30 teams might just riot.
The Oilers are tough. They have not had recent success. In fact, they’ve made the playoffs just once in 14 years – right after reaching the Stanley Cup Final. Their lone trip came in 2016-17, where they lost in the second round to the Anaheim Ducks. Basing this ranking just on this category, the Oilers would likely be higher on this list.
But, if you take a look at their roster, the Oilers have the best player in hockey in Connor McDavid. They also have one of the best players in Leon Draisitl. Then they have players such as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, James Neal, and up-and-comer Kailer Yamamoto and some solid, young defenders in Darnell Nurse, Oscar Kelfbom, Caleb Jones, and Ethan Bear. They need a better supporting cast for their two superstars, but they have some very good pieces.
As for their prospect pool, there are two more potential stud defenders in Evan Bouchard and Philip Broberg. Tyler Benson is a promising young forward as well. The two defenders carry this prospect pool, but there are some good prospects here. Adding Lafrenière to this team, finally giving McDavid a winger to play with would be huge, but the potential of landing the first-overall pick five times since 2010 bumps them down this list a bit.
4. Toronto Maple Leafs
Now, I’m sure that I’ll get some flack for putting the Toronto Maple Leafs this high on the list but hear me out. Since 2004, the Maple Leafs have made the Stanley Cup Playoffs four times. They lost each one of those times in the first round, and three of them in Game 7 to the Boston Bruins (sorry, Leafs fans). This is the big one for the Leafs being here.
The Oilers and the Maple Leafs are in a very similar boat. They are both organizations longing for playoff success and despite landing first-overall picks and some superstars, it just hasn’t happened. The Maple Leafs boast incredible talent up front led by Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, and William Nylander. But they just haven’t been able to get it done, as we saw in the Qualifying Round against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
On defence is really where this team is lacking. Morgan Rielly leads the pack with Jake Muzzin not far behind, but the team has long been a poor defensive team, despite some incredible performances from their goaltender, Frederik Andersen.
Finally, looking at their prospect pool, they are again similar to the Oilers. Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren lead the defence corps and Nick Robertson leads the forwards, but it’s a steep drop after that. Could landing the first-overall pick in 2020 be the answer? And if they were to win it, would the Maple Leafs be one of the teams that seriously look at trading down to answer their defensive woes?
3. Winnipeg Jets
The Winnipeg Jets have made the playoffs just three times since they relocated from Atlanta, reaching the Conference Final in 2017-18, losing in the first round the other two times. So, it’s safe to say the recent success hasn’t been there, other than the Jets landing the second-overall pick, Patrik Laine, in 2016.
Looking at their roster, they do have some excellent forwards. On top of Laine, the forward group boasts Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Kyle Connor, and Nikolaj Ehlers. They have some great depth as well that can always surprise, just like Jansen Harkins did in the Qualifying Round series versus the Calgary Flames.
Defensively, the team needs some work. Josh Morrissey leads the pack, but after him, there is a sizable drop off. While I think that the Jets are one of the teams that need a win the most, staying put at the range they are and landing a Jake Sanderson or Kaiden Guhle might be better for the long-term of the franchise based on their roster.
That being said, their prospect pool might suggest otherwise. They are looking pretty good, with Ville Heinola leading the way, and Longan Stanley and Dylan Samberg looking promising. For forwards though, the Jets’ pool is led by Kristian Vesalainen, who has potential but whether or not he meets that remains to be seen. The Jets have been a team right on the edge of success, and landing the No. 1 overall pick could be just enough to push them over the edge.
2. Minnesota Wild
The Minnesota Wild have bee a mediocre team for a long time. They are a team constantly stuck on the bubble, often just squeaking into the playoffs or just missing. Since 2005, they’ve made the playoffs eight times, losing in the first round six times and the second round twice. The problem with always finishing in the middle is that you’re never good enough to win or bad enough to land a few top-tier prospects.
The roster for the Wild matches their recent history – it’s alright. They have some good veteran forwards in Zach Parise, Eric Staal, Miiko Koivu (who’s likely going to retire), and Mats Zuccarello, plus young Kevin Fiala looks like he could be a star. But is this really a winning forward group? Probably not. Defensively they look a bit better, with Ryan Suter, Matt Dumba and Jared Spurgeon leading the way.
The prospect pool has a handful of excellent prospects, led by Russian superstar Kirill Kaprizov and includes Matt Boldy, Adam Beckman, and Alexander Khovanov, but it’s a steep drop after them. Calen Addison leads the way for the defensive prospects, but again, there’s not much after him.
Landing the first-overall pick would be the Wild’s first first-overall pick – ever. A team that many thought should have started a rebuild last summer, landing the top option could change the fortunes of this team. I will note here, that the Wild are one team that I think would seriously look at Byfield over Lafrenière, but either way, the Wild need something big to change their outlook.
1. Florida Panthers
The Florida Panthers came into the league in the 1993-94 season. Since then, they have made the playoffs five times. That’s in 26 seasons. Granted, they made the Stanley Cup Final in 1996, but other than that season, they’ve never made it past the first round. It’s time for the Panthers to get a win.
This roster has a lot of pieces in place. It’s no secret anymore that Aleksander Barkov is one of the most underrated players in the league. There’s talent up front with Jonathan Huberdeau, Mike Hoffman, and Evgeni Dadonov, and they have some good depth (granted, the last two are free agents). On the backend, Aaron Ekblad, Keith Yandle and Anton Stralman lead the way. Of course, they also landed goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky in the 2019 free agency, although he had a bit of a rocky 2019-20 season.
Looking at the prospect pool there are definitely some intriguing pieces, that would likely put them in the top half of the league, but not exactly breaking down the top-10 prospect pools. Aleksi Heponiemi, Serron Noel, and Grigori Denisenko lead the forward corps, with Chase Priskie and Vladislav Kolyachonok coming up on the back end. It’s not an elite group, but it is an above-average group.
It’s time for the Panthers to get a win. They’ve had good players come and go over the years, but they have a very good looking core right now, that might just need an extra push to get them over the edge. Adding Lafrenière to Barkov’s wing could be exactly what is needed for the Florida team to get over the hump. In terms of teams that need it, the Panthers top the list.
How the 2020 NHL Draft is Stacking Up
We already know how picks No. 2-8 are stacking up, thanks to the Phase 1 Draft Lottery. Here’s how that looks:
- No. 2: Los Angeles Kings
- No. 3: Ottawa Senators (via San Jose Sharks)
- No. 4: Detroit Red Wings
- No. 5: Ottawa Senators
- No. 6: Anaheim Ducks
- No. 7: New Jersey Devils
- No. 8: Buffalo Sabres
We also roughly know the order of the next eight teams, although one of them will, of course, jump up to the first-overall pick. Here’s how that’s looking:
- No. 9: Minnesota Wild
- No. 9/10: Winnipeg Jets
- No. 10/11: New York Rangers
- No. 11/12: Nashville Predators
- No. 12/13: Florida Panthers
- No. 13/14: Columbus Blue Jackets/Carolina Hurricanes (via Toronto Maple Leafs)*
- No. 14/15: Edmonton Oilers
- No. 15: Minnesota Wild (via Pittsburgh Penguins)**
*If the Maple Leafs win the Phase 2 Draft Lottery, they’ll retain their pick, sending their 2021 first-round selection instead. If they don’t win the draft, the Hurricanes will have their pick.
**Once the selection of the Penguins is confirmed, the team has seven days to decide if they want to keep it and give the Wild their 2021 selection instead, which is extremely likely to happen.
Phase 2 of the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery will be held on Monday, Aug 10 at 6 p.m. EST. All of the teams listed above will be anxiously waiting, as will Lafrenière, who will finally get some clarity on where he’ll be playing hockey next season.
Get the latest NHL Draft & Prospect rankings, news and analysis
Starting out as an Ottawa Senators contributor for The Hockey Writers, Josh is now an editor and at-large contributor, focusing on prospects, the NHL Draft, hockey history, and breaking news stories.