Folks, it’s draft season.
I know the play-ins and playoffs will be starting soon, but it’s also time to focus on the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. As boards are being finalized and we’re inching closer to the lottery, it’s crunch time for scouts and general managers, real and armchair.
Related: THW’s 2020 Draft Guide
The Hockey Writers contributors banded together last week to do a 2020 NHL mock draft, organized by THW draft guru Josh Bell. We intended to do the first round only, but it was so fun and successful that we also did the second round… and the third… and the whole draft. Before we go any further, check out how it all went down:
Yours truly had the pleasure of picking for the Florida Panthers, who could use an infusion of young talent. Let’s break down the picks.
14. Noel Gunler, RW/LW, Luleå HF
For the first-round pick, I was always going to focus on picking the best player available. The Panthers need to add skill at different positions in their pool, which is looking a bit shallow after players like Henrik Borgstrom have now graduated.
Really, this pick came down to three players: Noel Gunler, Seth Jarvis, and Connor Zary, three supremely skilled forwards. Ultimately, Gunler was the pick. He’s a goal scorer; his shot gets a lot of attention, but he is a gifted offensive player who is able to make plays too. He’s polarizing, his reputation as a poor defender hounds him. I think he can grow out of that though, and he isn’t even that bad off the puck.
After Borgstrom and Grigori Denisenko following close behind, Florida could use a boost on the wings. Gunler was a slam-dunk pick and could be a steal.
45. Topi Niemelä, D, Kärpät
The Panthers’ next pick was slated at 45th overall in our mock draft. Many talented, first-round-potential players were still left on the board moving into round two, including names still on my list for Florida.
Finnish defenceman Topi Niemelä is Florida’s second-round pick. I think he’ll be gone at this point in the real NHL draft, so the Panthers’ management team will be cheering in the streets if this happens.
Niemalä isn’t flashy, but he’s everything you want in a modern, two-way defender. He’s a smooth skater, strong puck mover, and excels positionally. He’s already playing in Finland’s top league as a teenager and fits in like a glove. Even though he’s a second-round pick here, I think he could be ready for the NHL sooner rather than later. That’s perfect for Florida, who could use a solid, cost-controlled defender right now.
76. Brett Berard, LW, USNTDP
Florida is cheering once again, as a player who shouldn’t be available here slips to them at 76th overall.
A diminutive forward who models his game off Brad Marchand, Berard had a very productive season for the USNTDP. He has the skill set of an NHLer – good vision, crafty skater, and strong offensive instincts. However, unlike Niemelä or even Gunler, he isn’t close to becoming an NHLer. He needs to add strength and work on his defensive game, but he’s already committed to Providence College, so he’ll have time. This is another potential steal for Florida – I could see Berard fitting the mould of a Brendan Gallagher or Brian Gionta.
91. Brock Faber, D, USNTDP
At this point in the draft, I had to relinquish my role as armchair general manager of the Panthers. Fortunately, I had fellow THW contributor Jack Dawkins step in to make the remaining picks. He started off with a bang, nabbing defenceman Brock Faber from the USNTDP, a player he’s viewed often.
“I’ve liked what I’ve seen from him in my viewings,” Dawkins told me. “I don’t know how much offensive upside he has, but I like the way he thinks the game, and he looks like he could be a very good future stay-at-home type of defender. He seems very comfortable playing with defensive partners who like to move the puck and get involved in the offence. He’s not a really big kid, but I think he understands the game well enough that he could have a nice future career as a depth defender in the NHL and if he finds a little bit better offensive production while he’s at University of Minnesota, he could turn into a really nice value pick at 91.”
It sounds like Faber has similar strengths as Niemela, which would be a big addition to Florida’s prospect pool which is barren of right defenders, making this a strong depth add.
107. Adam Wilsby, D, Skellefteå AIK
Dawkins showed off his scouting savvy and drifted away from the consensus picking overaged Swedish blueliner Adam Wilsby.
“He’s ranked 40th by central scouting among European skaters,” Dawkins said. “He was an offensive production machine in Allsvenskan in this, his draft+1 season. He was the league points leader among U20 defenders, outperforming 2018 50th-overall pick Adam Ginning and 2019 64th-overall pick Mattias Norlinder. That’s pretty good company for a guy who went undrafted his first time around and considering he’s the same draft year originally as Norlinder. You can never have too many puck-moving defenders in your prospect pool, and Wilsby comes very highly spoken of from many sources. He MIGHT be available later, but I wasn’t willing to pass on him.”
As Dawkins noted, Wilsby could be available later, but the opportunity to take him now was too good to pass on. I like the pick – a gamble, but he outperformed players with a better reputation in a good league. Another potential sleeper pick for the Panthers.
143. Chase Yoder, LW, USNTDP
At 143, the Panthers called on their NCAA scouting department again, selecting winger Chase Yoder out of the USNTDP. Over to Dawkins:
“Yoder is a smaller (5-foot-10) Texas native and just didn’t have the production you want to see from a 5-foot-10 skater on the USNTDP to be considered a high pick,” Dawkins said. “That said, Yoder was also among the younger skaters on the USNTDP and only turned 18 on May 28th. He’s also committed to Providence, and a few teams have had really good luck drafting Providence-bound skaters in the later rounds. That NCAA scouting department has been on fire, so anybody they’ve gone after is worth a second look.”
I love Dawkins’ thought process behind the pick. With such a high success rate out of the USHL, why not try and grab another gem? Yoder could be a good bet; he has a chance to develop his skills at Providence College and work his way to being an NHL player.
200. Danil Alalykin, F, Tolpar Ufa
For their final pick of the 2020 NHL mock draft, the Panthers went off the board to snag MHL forward Danil Alalykin. He’s a player that Dawkins has had a chance to scout extensively, given that he played on the same team as top draft-eligible prospects Alexander Pashin and Rodion Amirov.
Here’s what Dawkins has to say:
“Watching Ufa games, I noticed a trend,” Dawkins mentioned. “A lot of their offensive plays started with a smooth breakout pass or a player tracking back defensively, making a play and initiating a quick breakout. Every time, it was number 61, Danil Alalykin. Alalykin is a fine point scorer, but his ability to create plays and break the puck out really stands out. He didn’t always pick up the assists for these, but so often, it felt like he was a real catalyst. He also banged in 22 goals for himself in 39 games, tied for 2nd on the team with Yegor Suchkov (52 games) and just behind Danil Aimurzin (24 goals in 60 games).
“Alalykin is the classic case of ‘I came to watch this player, but walked away with this player’ and it happened over and over again. This is one of those ones where it’s a player I personally believe in, and I think the Panthers have enough of a Russian pipeline going on to successfully bring this player over in the next few years and have him fill a role down the middle for them. I don’t know if he’s a top-two center; he’s more likely a third-line center in the vein of a Lars Eller but you have to have those kinds of players to have a successful hockey team.”
Wow. I’m sold. Dawkins is a believer in Alalykin and has scouted the player extensively. If he can fill a role like Eller does for the Washington Capitals, that would be a steal for a seventh-round pick.
Overall, this is a solid draft for Florida. Numerous weaknesses were addressed, but not by bypassing talent in the process. If the actual draft looks even close to this one, the Panthers will have much to look forward to in the future.
Vancouver Canucks writer for The Hockey Writers. Former Nashville Predators prospect writer for DobberProspects and Canucks writer for CanucksInSeven.