The National Hockey League held Phase 1 of the Draft Lottery on Friday night and we still don’t know who owns the first overall pick of the 2020 Entry Draft. Just prior to last night’s events, I got the chance to chat with Sportsnet’s leading junior hockey analyst, Sam Cosentino, about the upcoming draft. He had plenty of thoughts to share on this year’s draft, the likely number-one pick and next season’s draft class, as well.
Senators Adding to Stocked Pipeline
The Ottawa Senators did not win the first overall pick despite having two chances at it, but they are still sitting pretty with the third and fifth picks. They will get to add two more talented prospects to a system that is already loaded with the likes of Drake Batherson, Erik Brannstrom, Logan Brown and Alex Formenton.
Although they didn’t land the first pick and Alexis Lafreniere, who would have been a great fit in the market, Cosentino believes it is far from the end of the world for the Senators.
“You have a team that can use his talent, but to be perfectly honest, it’s not a do-or-die thing,” he said about Ottawa not getting the first pick. “Their prospect cupboard is absolutely stocked. You are looking at a group that is well appointed for the future. At the end of the day, if they don’t get Lafreniere, they are still going to get two high-end players that will have an impact in the next two to three years.
“Of course, you would want that number one pick for a variety of reasons – on ice and off – but it is definitely not a do-or-die situation. (General manger) Pierre Dorion has done his work and put his team in the best position possible in one of the deepest draft classes in years and for that, you have to give him a ton of credit.”
Lafreniere is the Goods
Whichever team that loses in the Qualifying Round of the playoffs and then wins the first overall pick is likely to use it on Lafreniere. Cosentino, like many of the draft pundits, is high on the young forward’s skills set and is excited for who ends up landing him.
“They are going to get an all-around player,” he predicted. “But if you are in the fan base of that particular city, don’t think you are going to look out onto the ice and see Connor McDavid’s speed, or Nate MacKinnon’s speed, or Patrick Kane’s hands. You we see elements of all those certain things with the added benefit of some physicality in his game.
“He’s got really good size. His skating ability is excellent. His vision, for me, is what has separated him from the rest of this draft class. You’re going to get a player that is going to have an impact on your franchise, as early as this year, whenever this year is. Down the road, he looks like a good for a long time to come.”
The eight teams that lose in the opening round of the playoffs will all be added into a second drawing for the top pick. They will each have an equal 12.5% chance of getting the first selection and landing Lafreniere.
An Abnormal Draft
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how the entire world does its daily business these past few months. While the sporting world isn’t at the top of the priority list during this crisis, NHL general managers and their scouting staffs have been thrown for a loop heading into this year’s draft. With seasons cut short and no playoffs or postseason activities, like the NHL combine, some players might be at a disadvantage heading into the draft.
“For the most part, the due diligence was done,” Cosentino said. “Every scout and general manager would love to tell you they want to keep players playing in as many high-leverage situations as possible. So, when you talk about the NCAA and the Frozen Four. When you talk about the Canadian Hockey League, their respective league championships and, of course, the Memorial Cup. Then you move into the U18 World Championship, which is a massive event and kind of wraps up the scouting season. All of those things would have been really good to see. For the most part, I don’t think you are going to find a team that is not prepared to go into the draft.”
Related: 2020 NHL Draft Guide
While not getting to see this group of prospects in playoff situations is a big deal, Cosentino feels the personal exposure given at the NHL Combine is a definite hindrance.
“Getting the opportunity to meet those players face-to-face is a super important element of the draft process these days,” he said. “You just want to see how a kid reacts in a room full of people asking him questions and grilling him. Does he look down? Is he shy? Is he funny? Is he serious? You get a feeling for what his family background is all about.
“A lot of that work has already been done by scouts. You want to expose as many people on your scouting staff to those behind the scenes things as possible to open up debate and dialogue about whether or not that player fits into your program.”
Meanwhile, it is the 2021 draft class that may suffer the most from the uncertainly facing the hockey world right now. These players are already losing some of the biggest stages to make an impression and more are likely to be lost before this is all said and done.
“Several teams do their due diligence at the U17 World Championship Challenge, which is a good cross-section of talent,” said Cosentino. “When does the season start for those younger players? How long are they going to be able to play? Are they going to be able to play international events?
“We’ve already seen the cancellation of the Hlinka/Gretzky tournament, which is one of the most important scouting events and traditionally kicks off the scouting season. That draft class is going to be fascinating to watch because they are not going to be playing the full complement of games that normally get scouted.”
Plenty of Talent to Go Around
As with every Draft Lottery, the top picks get the most attention, but the 2020 draft class is a deep one. Cosentino, no stranger to ranking draft classes, feels there can be impactful players taken through the first two rounds.
“There is a tier somewhere between picks 10 and 12,” he revealed. “I do think there are a ton of good players up until the end of the second round. When you’re looking at defenseman, as far as first-round projections go, you’re seeing six to eight players. Wingers is a strong position. When it comes to guys down the middle of the ice, you’re impressed with that group. When it comes to the second round, I think there are plenty of gems still to be found.”
This is an encouraging take for those 24 teams that are taking part in the expanded Stanley Cup playoffs this summer. According to Cosentino, no matter which slot their pick ultimately falls into, they will have a shot a getting an impactful player.
Prospect of the Day: Tristen Robins
Robins is not a player that will be affected by the events of Friday night, but he could turn out to be a real value pick for whatever team takes him in the later rounds. He started to turn the collective heads of scouts during the second half of his season with the Saskatoon Blades in the Western Hockey League (WHL).
The 18-year-old Brandon, MB native finished his season with 33 goals and 73 points in 62 games. After needing some adjustment to taking over a top-six role, he scored 23 goals and 51 points in the final 31 games of the season. He won the team’s most valuable for leading them in scoring was third in points among all draft-eligible WHL skaters.
When I asked Cosentino about who came to mind about being a potential late-round “diamond in the rough,” he immediately mentioned Robins, who he thinks will go in the fourth or fifth round.
“I really came to enjoy his style of play,” he said. “He’s got a bit of heaviness to him. He’s got hockey in his background. He really took off in the second half with his ability to score goals, make plays and play with a grinding style. He’s going to be a really fascinating guy to me. He’s not really big, but he is built well enough to withstand the physical rigors of the game.”
Robins could be one of many players who become a steal because they fell lower in the draft than expected due to not having a postseason or NHL Combine this past spring.