One of the top prospects experts has released his annual top 50 rankings of NHL prospects that have already been drafted. Also, the real drama of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft will begin with the second pick and we profile one of the centers of this year’s draft class.
Wheeler’s Top 50
Scott Wheeler of The Athletic is one of the leading authorities when it comes to NHL prospects. He recently released the annual ranking of his top 50 prospects who have already been drafted into the league. He mentions that this was the hardest list he’s had to compose because of the shortened junior and minor league seasons and that the NHL Entry Draft has yet to occur.
His criteria are that a player must be 23-years-old or younger, not a full-time player and must be signed to an entry-level contract or, at least, been taken in the draft in order to make the list. With all that being said, Wheeler ranks Dylan Cozens as his top prospect.
Cozens, who was taken seventh overall by the Buffalo Sabres at the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, is coming off a huge 2019-20 season. He scored 38 goals and 85 points in 51 Western Hockey League (WHL) games for the Lethbridge Hurricanes.
Wheeler gave this reasoning on why Cozens tops his list:
I began to give Cozens the slight edge over his peers at the top because of his unique blend of straight-line speed and puck handling ability for his size, as well as his improved finishing touch. For every defining skill that some of the other players atop my ranking had, they often also had traits that could prevent them from maximizing those standout tools. Cozens had fewer holes, which made me ever so slightly more confident in his ability to reach the top of his projection.Source – “Wheeler: The top 50 drafted NHL prospects ranking, 2020 edition” – Scott Wheeler – The Athletic – 7/6/20
His top five is rounded out by Trevor Zegras (Anaheim Ducks), Cole Caufield (Montreal Canadiens), Alex Newhook (Colorado Avalanche) and Bowen Byram (Avalanche). The Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild, Ottawa Senators and Philadelphia Flyers all had four prospects on the list. Meanwhile, the Boston Bruins, Columbus Blue Jackets, Chicago Blackhawks, Tampa Bay Lightning and Winnipeg Jets were the only teams not to have a prospect in the top 50.
Will Kings Trade Down?
It is pretty much a foregone conclusion that whichever team wins the first overall pick at the 2020 NHL Entry Draft will use it to select Alexis Lafreniere. The real drama will begin when the Kings hit the stage to make the second pick.
The debate for the second overall pick is between the Ontario Hockey League’s (OHL) Quinton Byfield and Tim Stützle out of Germany. Both players project to be top-line centers, but that presents a dilemma for Los Angeles. They already have a well-stocked pipeline when it comes to the middle of the ice. Three of their four prospects listed in Wheeler’s rankings are centers; Arthur Kaliyev, Tyler Madden and Alex Turcotte.
Related – 2020 NHL Draft Guide
Do the Kings use the second pick to add yet another talented center to their organization or do they take a defenseman? One other scenario could see the Kings trade down a couple of slots and still nab one of the top blueliners, which is a position they are lacking in their system.
However, James O’Brien of NBC Sports doesn’t think that will happen, but they should think about it if there is an offer.
The Kings’ biggest prospect needs revolve around defense. Theoretically, the Kings could move that No. 2 pick to slide a little lower, get another pick, and get the player they actually want. What if they view someone like Jamie Drysdale or Jake Sanderson as the player they need? Mock drafts and prospect rankings come in all over the place for those two, so the Kings could view it as feasible to get one or both of them later.
Granted, it’s unlikely for the Kings to land, say, the sixth pick from the Ducks. But what if the Red Wings (fourth overall) or someone else would pay fairly big for the No. 2 pick? It’s at least worth considering.
With the draft not happening until October or November, teams and fans are going to have plenty of time to talk themselves into and out of love with various prospects.
Prospect of the Day – Cole Perfetti
With all the talk today about centers – Cozens and the Kings’ embarrassment of riches at the position – we are going to stay down the middle of the ice. Perfetti is the fifth overall rated North American skater by NHL Central Scouting and is the second center behind Byfield.
Perfetti did himself a ton of favors during the 2019-20 season and his progression shot him off the draft broad. He scored 37 goals for the second straight season with the OHL’s Saginaw Spirit. However, it was his 74 assists in 61 games that turned heads after picking up just 37 assists during the previous season.
Scouts knew that Perfetti possessed an elite-level shot with the release and accuracy that can make him a consistent goal scorer in the NHL. The improvement in his playmaking makes him an all-around offensive threat and turned him from a late first-round pick to likely going in the top 10.
Our own Brandon Share-Cohen believes he will be one of the first few players off the board.
When it comes to draft position, it would be shocking to see Perfetti fall anywhere outside of the top-10 of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. At the same time, he’s not likely to inside the top-five given the talent at the top of this class. A realistic range for him would be anywhere between pick six and pick 10.
Whoever drafts the 18-year-old center is going to get a great skater who can both score on his own or set up his teammates. He will need to improve his play in the defensive zone while getting stronger, but he has time to grow that portion of his game.
Greg Boysen has been writing about the Chicago Blackhawks since 2010 and has been a site manager for both FanSided and SB Nation. He has been published in The Hockey News and was fully credentialed for the 2013 Stanley Cup Final. Among his various roles with The Hockey Writers are covering the Blackhawks, the AHL, writing the daily “Today in Hockey History” column, serving as a copy editor, and appearing and hosting multiple YouTube shows, including Blackhawks Banter. He is credentialed with the Chicago Wolves, Rockford IceHogs, and Milwaukee Admirals, while also being a regional scout for the NAHL. And, just because his plate isn’t full enough, Greg hosts trivia in the Chicago area two nights a week. For interview requests or to provide topic suggestions, follow Greg on Twitter and reach out.