With Phase 2 of the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery complete, the draft picture is becoming clearer and clearer.
We now know the order of the top-15 of the 2020 NHL Draft, with the New York Rangers winning the unprecedented second stage of the draft and the rights to select the projected top prospect, Alexis Lafrenière.
With the top-15 set in the draft, fans are eagerly researching and wondering how their teams might handle their confirmed selection. As always, I’m happy to oblige those questions. This is the fourth edition of Bell’s Draft Mailbag and the first two editions still have some very relevant questions that I tackled:
- Bell’s 2020 NHL Draft Mailbag: Myšák, Farrell, Foerster & More
- Bell’s 2020 NHL Draft Mailbag: Lafrenière, Lapierre, Amirov & More
On Twitter, I asked for questions about prospects, the draft lottery, or reader’s favourite teams and what they could do in the draft. This time around, there were a lot more questions than I expected, so I’ve broken my answers up into four articles: three mailbags, and one draft feature. This is the second of those mailbags. Here’s the first:
Here are the second wave of questions:
“What teams could benefit the most from trading down?”
For this question, two teams jump out to me right off the bat, with a third one not far behind. The Ottawa Senators and New Jersey Devils are two teams in a rebuild and adding to their similarities – they each have three first-round picks. There are two necessities when building a winning roster. First, you do need some top-end talent – quality. Luckily, both teams are in the top 10 in this year’s draft and both have drafted high recently.
Related: 2020 NHL Draft Guide
On top of this though, you also need quantity. You need to fill your prospect pool as much as you can because it increases the odds of getting future NHLers in your system. As well, when you start to become a more competitive team, you can trade pieces off to continue to build your roster. As the Senators and Devils have three selections in the first round, they’re prime candidates to move one of those picks down for two or three selections.
Now, the Rangers have two first-rounders as well, thanks to the Carolina Hurricanes. They have the No. 1 overall pick and it wouldn’t surprise me to see them move the other pick down, potentially for a lower pick or two and a player/prospect. This is a team that should be on the rise now and that first-round pick will be very enticing to teams without a first-rounder. The Rangers don’t have a second rounder, could they slide down a round and land something else as well? I’d watch them closely.
The Anaheim Ducks are in a similar boat, with two first-round picks. But, that second first-rounder is from the Boston Bruins and could be low in the second half of the first round. I’m not as confident that they’d be looking to move it down, but they’re definitely a team I’d keep my eye on for those teams who don’t have a first-round and are looking to move up.
“Who is your pick for a team that will trade up for another 1st round pick?”
This one’s tough, mainly because of the word “another.” It’s pretty rare for a team to add a first-round pick to an existing first-round pick. Last year at the 2019 NHL Draft, the Arizona Coyotes traded up from 14th (Cam York) to the Philadelphia Flyers 11th (Victor Söderström), costing the Coyotes their second-round, 45th-overall pick.
Days before the draft, the New York Rangers sent their first-rounder (Ville Heinola) to the Winnipeg Jets in the Jacob Trouba trade. For the first round, those were the only post-NHL Trade Deadline deals involving first-round picks – and neither of them was an additional first-round pick (the pick that the Jets received was actually their own from the Kevin Hayes trade).
What’s more likely to happen, is a team that doesn’t have a first rounder will try to land one. These teams include:
- Arizona Coyotes
- Boston Bruins
- New York Islanders
- Tampa Bay Lightning
- Toronto Maple Leafs
- Vancouver Canucks
These would be the teams to watch to try and move into the first round before draft day, and I’d be watching the Senators and Devils closely as targets for them, as mentioned. This could get interesting, too. The Coyotes and Maple Leafs (and potentially the Lightning) are all looking like they’ll be tight against the cap next season.
The Devils and Senators, however, have room to burn. These team’s general managers could target a big player from one of these teams outside the first round in exchange for the first-rounder. If there are cap casualties, getting a first rounder for that could really help these tight-to-the-cap teams. It could potentially be a big transaction but we could very well see a first-round pick moving before draft day.
“With an expanded role with the London Knights next season, could you see Luke Evangelista having a Connor McMichael-type of stat explosion?”
Luke Evangelista is an intriguing prospect. I don’t think he’s entering the draft with as much upside as Connor McMichael did, even though McMichael was underrated pretty much across the board. The London Knights’ right winger looks like he could be a middle-six forward, where many did think McMichael had top-six potential.
That being said, it’s definitely an interesting comparison. In McMichael’s draft year, he averaged 0.53 goals per game and 1.07 points per game. This year, in Evangelista’s draft-year campaign, he averaged 0.37 goals per game and 0.98 points per game. Meanwhile, McMichael exploded, averaging 0.90 goals per game and 1.96 points per game.
According to Byron Bader’s Hockey Prospecting, the younger Knight is just behind McMichael when comparing their draft-1 and draft years:
What’s interesting, is the star probability and NHLer probability in Bader’s chart – both players were at the same 10% and 45% in their draft years. I do believe that Evangelista will take a big step in his D+1 season, especially taking on a bigger role with the Knights. And while I don’t expect his to put up numbers similar to McMichael’s 102-point season, we could expect a similar growth, potentially slightly less given the talent of McMichael versus Evangelista.
McMichael’s goals per game increased 170% and his points per game increased 183%. I would expect slightly less from Evangelista, but definitely a big jump from his 2019-20 season. So to ultimately answer the question, I’d expect Evangelista to take a big step forward, but not quite the explosion that the Washington Capitals’ prospect had.
“What are your thoughts on Blake Biondi?”
Every year, there’s one, maybe two players playing U.S. high school hockey that could be a very interesting prospect to watch on draft day. For many, Blake Biondi is one of those prospects.
Playing for Hermantown High School, the centreman stands a very good chance of being taken in the first three rounds of the draft. If being named Mr. Hockey (awarded to the best Minnesota high-school player of the year) isn’t enough to ensure that, his 37 goals, 39 assists, and 76 points in 25 games should help. Playing for Team USA in the Hlinka Gretzky Cup helps a great deal too.
Of course, you have to take all this with a grain of salt. Biondi isn’t playing against the tough competition that those in the CHL, NCAA, USHL, or European leagues are. That’s ultimately a knock against him. He’ll be headed to the University of Minnesota-Duluth in 2020-21, where we’ll really get to see how he handles difficult opposition on a regular basis.
That being said, it’s hard not to like Biondi. He controls the game, he dictates the pace of his line, he generates chances, and skates hard. His speed sometimes causes a disconnect with his high-school teammates, as he plays much faster than them, but when he has the puck there aren’t many that can catch him. He’s an excellent puckhandler that shows off creativity whenever he gets the chance.
He’s very much worth a late third, early fourth-round pick. I’d see him as a very serviceable third liner at the NHL level, with a potential ceiling for the second line. Of course, watching how he does as a freshman in the NCAA will be very telling of that projected ceiling.
“Any thoughts on Grant Slukynsky?”
Two questions about high school kids? Alright, I’ll bite. Grant Slukynsky should be a later-round pick. He’s not one of those two top high schoolers I mentioned for this year (Biondi and Wyatt Kaiser look to have those spots locked down), but Slukynsky could be an interesting project player to target in the later rounds.
The Warroad High centreman finished one point behind Biondi, with 75 points (30 goals, 45 assists) in 25 games. He added nine goals, 17 assists, and 26 points in just six playoff games – Biondi had 19 points in six playoff games.
The forward is a player who, while not having one trait really stand out, is a very well-rounded player. He’s a good skater, isn’t afraid to cut into the middle of the ice, and he never takes his foot off the gas. He throws his body around, he’s got great vision and a hard, accurate shot.
Similar to Biondi, the level of competition plays a factor here. But, Slukynsky doesn’t have a Hlinka Gretzky performance to back up his numbers. He’s headed to Northern Michigan University in 2021-22, which is where we should really get a picture of what’s to come in the young prospect. He’s definitely a player I’d keep an eye on in the back half of the draft.
“Is Mitch Hoelscher back in the draft or is he a free agent? If he is back in the draft where do you see him going?”
Mitch Hoelscher was drafted by the New Jersey Devils in 2018. He was taken in the sixth round, 172nd overall. On June 1, 2020, the centreman was still without an NHL entry-level contract and the Devils lost his rights. Because of this, the Ottawa 67’s forward is in fact eligible for the 2020 NHL Draft. This will be the last year he’s eligible for the draft before becoming a free agent.
Many Devils’ fans were hoping that the team would hang onto the prospect, especially after he finally took a step forward and put up 34 goals, 42 assists, and 76 points in 62 games. Granted, the 67’s were a very dominant team this year, but the step forward is still a good sign.
This isn’t really a player I would get my hopes up about though overall. Putting up 76 points in your original draft year would be impressive, but in your D+2 year, it’s almost expected. Still, there could be bottom-six (likely fourth line) potential for Hoelscher, and that may see an NHL team bite in the 2020 NHL Draft.
If he goes, it will likely be a late-round gamble and a team that has a good number of picks. I doubt he’ll bring much offense to the next level, but he could be used in a defensive role as he has good awareness in his own end. More likely, in my opinion, is that he goes undrafted. He would then become a free agent and if he can have another solid season, he may earn an AHL “prove-it” deal as Noel Hoefenmayer did.
Thanks for reading Bell’s Mailbag! I’ll be doing this a few times leading up to the 2020 NHL Draft, and continuing it after as well. If ever you have questions, feel free to reach out @JoshuaBell31 on Twitter. You can also drop a comment here or in any other article of mine.
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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.