With hockey at a standstill and the draft year seemingly done, here are five presumed facts for the 2020 NHL Draft that you can take to the bank.
1) Alexis Lafreniere will be First Overall Pick
Lafreniere was the wire-to-wire consensus top prospect, distancing himself from Quinton Byfield and other challengers with a dominant MVP performance at the World Juniors. That cemented Lafreniere for first overall, regardless of which team wind ups winning the draft lottery.
Lafreniere is the total package — equal parts scorer and playmaker — with the only knocks on him being his age advantage over most of this draft class as a late birthday and the fact he is a winger as opposed to a more coveted centre. But Lafreniere’s skill-set is flawless and polished as the best prospect to come out of Rimouski since Sidney Crosby and fully capable of making an immediate impact in the NHL, more so than Jack Hughes.
2) Jamie Drysdale will be Top Defenceman
Drysdale separated himself from the pack on defence while solidifying himself as a top-10 pick. Most draft pundits and mockers are projecting Drysdale for the top five, potentially as high as second or third overall.
Drysdale is quite comparable to Bowen Byram, who went fourth overall as the top defenceman from the 2019 draft, but arguably better and benefitting from his showcase at the World Juniors. Byram didn’t make the cut for Canada in his draft year whereas Drysdale shone on that stage as the tournament progressed. Some OHL followers see shades of Drew Doughty in Drysdale’s ability to dominate at both ends and his overall competitiveness.
Drysdale’s biggest challenger from the outset was Justin Barron, a late birthday who missed the World Juniors because of a blood clot and has been trending down in the rankings all season, while nobody else has risen up near Drysdale’s level.
3) Yaroslav Askarov will be Top Goaltender
Askarov has had an up-and-down draft year, especially internationally — backstopping Russia to gold at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup in August but struggling at the World Juniors in January, followed by another mediocre showing at the Five Nations in February. Still, Askarov’s body of work leading up to his draft year has assured he’ll be the first goaltender taken in 2020 — and almost certainly in the first round, if not in the top 10. Even with Askarov’s recent stumbles, there are no competitors nipping at his heels among netminders.
Askarov’s upside is huge — he has the potential to be better than Andrei Vasilevskiy as a franchise goalie — and the Russian factor shouldn’t hinder him too much either, considering Russia has been producing the NHL’s best goaltending prospects in recent years with the emergence of Ilya Samsonov, the arrival of Igor Shesterkin and the hype surrounding Ilya Sorokin. Askarov will be worth the wait and shouldn’t have to wait long to hear his name called. He could go higher than Spencer Knight, who went 13th overall to Florida in 2019.
4) Top 10 will be Forward Heavy
There could be as many as nine forwards taken in the top 10. If the line is set at seven, it would be wise to bet the over. Drysdale might be the lone exception as a defenceman and Askarov still has a chance to crack the top 10 as a goaltender, but the rest should be forwards unless a team reaches for another defender such as Jake Sanderson.
Lafreniere and Byfield lead the forwards, along with the latest German sensation Tim Stutzle, a couple of Swedish wingers in Lucas Raymond and Alexander Holtz, a couple of high-scoring OHLers in Cole Perfetti and Marco Rossi, plus an all-purpose Finn in Anton Lundell. Count them up and the total is eight.
There are a few more forwards that could go in the top 10, if Askarov slides out: Swedish sniper Noel Gunler, OHL scorer Jack Quinn, budding NCAA centre Dylan Holloway and Czech import Jan Mysak, among others. So, absolutely, take the over on seven.
5) CHL to produce half the first round (15+ picks)
This is going to be a bounce-back year for the CHL — particularly for the QMJHL and OHL — after getting overshadowed by Americans in 2019, which was a record-setting year for the U.S. National Team Development Program in the first round.
The CHL didn’t have a bad showing in 2019 — producing 13 of 31 first-rounders (seven from the WHL, four from the OHL and two from the QMJHL) — but 2020 promises to be better. For starters, the CHL will be back on top in boasting the first overall pick with Lafreniere. The CHL had three prospects taken in the top 10 in 2019 — Kirby Dach (3), Bowen Byram (4), Dylan Cozens (7) — but should have at least four and perhaps as many as six in 2020.
As for the total number of CHLers in the first round for 2020, the line could be set at 15 and betting the over should be safe again. Referencing my March rankings, I have 18 CHLers in my top 31: Lafreniere (1), Byfield (4), Drysdale (5), Perfetti (7), Rossi (8), Mysak (13), Connor Zary (16), Seth Jarvis (17), Quinn (18), Hendrix Lapierre (19), Dawson Mercer (20), Mavrik Bourque (21), Barron (22), Lukas Cormier (26), Kaiden Guhle (27), Braden Schneider (28), Jeremie Poirier (29) and Vasily Ponomarev (30). I have 12 more in my second-round range: Martin Chromiak (32), Jacob Perreault (37), Ryan O’Rourke (38), Jake Neighbours (42), Justin Sourdif (48), Tyson Foerster (49), Jean-Luc Foudy (52), Ridly Greig (53), Pavel Novak (56), Jaromir Pytlik (57), Luke Evangelista (58) and Antonio Stranges (59). So that is 30 of the top 62 from the CHL. That would be a very strong showing if it comes to fruition, especially if there are five or more in the top 10.
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