There has been, and will continue to be, a lot of talk about the top picks in the 2020 NHL Draft and who should go in what order. Often a casualty of these discussions is the idea of what players would fit in with what teams. For this piece, we’re going to take a look at some players who look like they would fit the mold of what the New Jersey Devils are trying to build.
Lukas Reichel: Forward: Berlin (DEL)
Projections on where Reichel will go in the draft really depends on whom you talk to. Some project him to hang around into the third round, while others say he should go late in the first. The reason for this is that he is often considered to be ranked third of the three excellent, draft-eligible, German forwards from the 2020 World Junior Championships. Tim Stutzle has been talked about much more and is almost certainly a top-five pick. John-Jason Peterka gets more attention than Reichel because he has been more flashy when the lights are brightest.
Reichel’s best assets are his engine, his hockey IQ, and his compete level. Compete level has been a big buzzword around the Devils organization for the past several years with its scouting department, management and coaches all looking for players with it. Of the three German players, Reichel has the strongest will to compete and a tireless motor. He also has NHL size at 6’0″ and performed well this season competing against the men of Germany’s DEL league.
A relentless forechecker, Reichel appears to be most at home while working in the corner and behind the net, digging pucks out and getting them to the danger area for his teammates to finish. He’s also comfortable finishing and playing hard in the dirty areas. He 100% embodies the style of hockey that the Devils profess in their press conferences that they need to play to have success.
Carson Bantle: Left-Wing: Madison (USHL)
At the top of the draft is a monster physical specimen named Quinton Byfield. He is a 6’4″, 214-pound truck that has spent the season plowing his way through OHL competition. Carson Bantle is a “poor man’s” Byfield. The Wisconsin native has been plying his trade with the Madison Capitols of the USHL. He’s 6’4″, 201 pounds and an utterly prolific scorer. Bantle put up 20 goals and 29 assists through 49 games.
Only seven other first-year eligible players averaged a point-per-game rate in the USHL. None of them have Bantle’s blend of size and skill. Also, none of them did it on a team as bad as Madison. The Capitols finished the season with a record of 12-34-4 with 122 goals for. With Bantle having 49 points, that means he factored into approximately 40% of the total goals scored by the team.
Mid-season, the Capitols traded Bantle’s primary linemate, Kristof Papp, and it had minimal impact on his individual production. He continued to produce points in spite of a lack of help around him. He’s committed to play for Michigan Tech of the NCAA and projects to go as early as the second round. Whoever picks him is getting a heck of a physical specimen, with a good development track ahead of him through the NCAA.
Alex Laferriere: Right-Wing: Des Moines (USHL)
Not to be confused with the future first-overall pick, Alexis Lafreniere, Alex Laferriere is actually from Chatham, New Jersey, and came up in the North Jersey Avalanche system before heading out to Des Moines to play junior hockey in the USHL. He averaged over a point per game in the USHL, tallying 19 goals and 26 assists in 42 games for the Buccaneers. He’s on the smaller side at 5’10″ and 161 pounds, but nobody outworks him on the ice.
He has an NCAA commitment to play for Harvard, which is a program notable for churning out quality NHL players. He fits in with what the Devils are trying to do because of his work ethic. His speed, shot and playmaking ability are all in that “good enough” range, but his work ethic is the best on the ice, no matter whom he’s on it with. Players who play with that “blue-collar” effort have been fan favorites for the Devils throughout the team’s history. Combine that with the fact that he’s a homegrown talent, and Devils fans will embrace this kid as one of their own the moment his name is called. He’s projected to go as high as the third round in some projections.
Ty Smilanic: Forward: USNTDP
It would be hard to find a more polarizing prospect in this draft. The reasoning behind that has a lot to do with his consistency. Sometimes he is far and away the best player in the US National Team Development Program. Other times, not so much. He’s dealt with some injury this season, and that can have an adverse effect on consistency. However, when he is on his game, the 6’1″ Smilanic is a force to be reckoned with. His shot is one of the best in this draft. It’s accurate, heavy and he’s a threat to use it from just about anywhere in the offensive zone. His footspeed is good, as is his hockey IQ, but where Smilanic shines the most is the reckless abandon he plays with.
He plays every shift as though it were his last. Picture a player with the speed, willful disregard for himself and energy of Miles Wood, but the shooting toolbox of Kyle Palmieri. Smilanic is everything the Devils want from a forward. His commitment to Quinnipiac also means he’ll have some time in the NCAA with a really top-notch program to work out some of the kinks in his game and find more consistency. He projects to be available in the 15-40 range of this draft.
Jake Sanderson: Defender: USNTDP
Jamie Drysdale is considered by many to be the top defensive prospect of this draft. Jake Sanderson makes a strong case to also be considered in that conversation. His mobility and hockey IQ are the things that carry him. There’s a lot of upside for him at both ends of the ice, but the kind of fluid, natural mobility that Sanderson possesses cannot be taught. It’s also packaged in a body that already has NHL-level size at 6’1″ and 185 pounds.
His performance at the Biosteel All-American game was a look at what Sanderson could become in the future. He essentially took over the game while he was on the ice. Defenders with this blend of mobility and intelligence do not come around often. The Devils need to grab this one. The Biosteel performance turned a lot of scouts in his direction. Sanderson will go in the first round and likely in the top 15. It’s possible that the Devils will get two picks in that range and they should spend one of them here.
William Wallinder: Defender: MODO Hockey (Allsvenskan)
Wallinder is a Swedish freak of nature. It just doesn’t seem right that a 6’4″ defender could have the mobility of his level. He’s just plain fast and he knows it. However, it’s not just straight-line speed — he has the agility and the edgework to go with it. Wallinder has shown the ability and willingness to jump in the rush and carry the puck aggressively into the offensive zone.
His abilities as a defender are still a work in progress, but his gifts of size and speed are hard to say “no” to. He’s a good playmaker and a prolific shooter. There’s a lot of rawness to his game still, but he’s one of those players where his highlight-reel footage just speaks for itself. If the Devils were to miss out on Sanderson, Wallinder would not be a bad consolation prize. He’s projected to go in the 20-50 range.
Ryan O’Rourke: Defender: Sault Ste Marie (OHL)
At 18 years old, Ryan O’Rourke is the captain of the OHL’s Sault Ste Marie Greyhounds. He’s the perfect blend of new and old-school hockey defender. He’s tough, smart and hard to play against, but can also move the puck and chip in offensively. At 6’2″, 181 pounds, he already has the size that scouts and fans alike want to see on the back end.
His offensive upside is there, but it doesn’t have a very high ceiling. This is likely to hold him back a bit on draft day and could see him slip out of the first round. In many ways, O’Rourke looks like a sure thing to make the NHL someday, but where he will fit in is the real question. At this point it appears that he could be a similar player to Andy Greene in his prime, just with better size and mobility. This dependable, leadership-type player is something the Devils will need to have on their team in the future. O’Rourke is projected to go in the 20-50 range in the upcoming draft.
Alexander Holtz: Right-Wing: Djurgardens IF (SHL)
Of the players available from the upper echelon in the draft, a case can be made that Alexander Holtz is the one the Devils should have their eyes on. He is a 6’0″, right-handed, natural right wing who spent most of this season in the SHL rather than a junior league. His point production and on-ice maturity as an 18-year-old is akin to what’s expected of an SHL veteran. His frame might even fill out a bit more after a few years of NHL training regiment.
Holtz’s biggest asset is his shot. He’s a shoot-first, goal-scoring wing. He combines that natural goal-scoring ability with on-ice awareness and the foresight to predict how plays will develop. Although he’s a capable playmaker, he prefers to finish it himself and put the puck in the net.
This type of player could be an absolute game-changer for the Devils, which very clearly has its two centers of the future in Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes. Both are excellent playmakers and Holtz is the next natural addition to the Devils’ young core. Either center would benefit from having this elite goalscorer riding shotgun with them. Holtz will be selected in the first 10 picks of the 2020 draft.
Rodion Amirov: Left Wing: Ufa (MHL/KHL)
The 2020 draft is a great time to pick a wing. Rodion Amirov might be one of the most underrated of the group because he spent the early part of the season in the KHL in a depth role for Ufa before being returned to their MHL club. In the MHL, his dominance was re-asserted to the tune of 22 points in 17 games. He has all the tools that make for a top-tier forward prospect. Amirov has an accurate shot, great east-west mobility, and surprising acceleration. He’s a natural at creating zone entries, and carries through the neutral zone with his head up, always looking to make the smart play upon entry.
There’s another aspect to his game that is hard to describe but gives him an extra level of intrigue. He plays the game with caginess that is not often seen. In tight spaces, Amirov can be seen making multiple pivots and cutbacks, often leaving defenders looking rather silly. Without the puck, he’s a hawk looking for a steal, or a stick play to create a turnover. He has the closing speed to catch a player from behind, surprise them, take the puck and then go back the other way with it.
He extends a lot of offensive zone possessions with this and relentlessly hassles opposing defenders as they attempt to break the puck out of their own zone. In the cycle and keeping offensive zone possession, he is a deadly weapon that can keep teams hemmed in their zone, exhausting defenders and leading to more scoring chances.
The Devils should take interest in Amirov because his skill set is so unique that it’s hard to pass on. If a particular team’s scouting department is high on him, he could go as high as the top 10, but it’s more likely that he’ll go in the middle of the first round.
Vsevolod Skotnikov: Goaltender: Krasnaya Armiya Moskva (MHL)
Skotnikov is a really under the radar name among the goaltenders available in this draft. The Devils have made an effort to take a goalie in the later rounds of every draft that Paul Castron (director of scouting) has been a part of. Skotnikov is a little smaller than a lot of teams are looking for, at 6’0″, but it hasn’t seemed to matter for him. In both his 17-year-old and 18-year-old seasons, he has been one of the top goaltenders in the MHL. His flexibility and lateral movement are his best attributes. Simply put, he gives you great confidence that he has the ability to stop any shot that comes at him.
The Devils are in a position where it looks like MacKenzie Blackwood is their starter of the future, while Gilles Senn could be their backup of the future. Adding a young Russian goaltender to the pipeline gives you a lot of liberty with their player rights. The Devils could allow Skotnikov to develop and stay in Russia for a number of years before bringing him over to North America. He has the skills to deserve a look from NHL scouts. He could go anywhere from the fourth to the seventh round. THW’s Larry Fisher has Skotnikov projected in the sixth.