10 Unsigned WHL Players From 2020 Draft

Every year at the NHL Entry Draft, teams select players in the hopes of having them join the organization, whether that is direct to the NHL team, the team’s American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, or even as a prospect in the ECHL.

Sometimes these players don’t develop the way the NHL’s team management hopes, or they have run out of room to sign the selected players. These players often return to the NHL Entry Draft or are signed as 20-year-olds. Other times the players just fizzle out.

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The players listed below have not yet been signed by the teams that selected them. The NHL teams have until June 1, 2022, to decide the player’s future with the team.

There were 28 Western Hockey League (WHL) players selected in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. Seven were first-round picks, and all have been signed to their respective entry-level contracts.

Cross Hanas – Detroit Red Wings

2nd round, 55th overall – Portland Winterhawks

Hanas, from Highland Village, TX, was the eighth WHL player selected at the 2020 NHL Entry Draft held at the NHL Network studios in Secaucus, New Jersey. In his draft season, the 6-foot-1, 172-pound Hanas scored 22 goals and had 27 assists as the Portland Winterhawks finished the COVID-19 shortened season with the WHL’s best record (45-11-3-7).

Since the draft, Hanas headed to the United States Hockey League (USHL) while the WHL was under COVID protocols and unable to play. While with the Lincoln Stars, he scored three goals and added 13 assists through 27 games. He returned to the Winterhawks after the Stars season was completed, and he had two goals and two assists in six games.

This season Hanas is showing a lot of improvement on the ice with more discipline and offense. He has 14 goals and 30 assists in 36 games.

Likelihood to be signed: 60%

Lukas Svejkovsky – Pittsburgh Penguins

4th round, 108th overall – Medicine Hat Tigers / Seattle Thunderbirds

Svejkovsky, from Tampa, FL, is now playing for his third WHL team. Following 85 games with the Vancouver Giants (the team that selected him in the second round of the 2016 WHL Draft), Svejkovsky moved over to the Medicine Hat Tigers.

This season with the Tigers struggling to remain relevant in the WHL landscape, the team dealt him to the Seattle Thunderbirds for a 2022 first-round WHL Draft pick and two other conditional selections. With the Thunderbirds through six games, Svejkovsky has six assists. His season total now sits at 13 goals and 23 assists through 30 games.

There is a chance that the Penguins could move his rights to another team as they are in the hunt for another Stanley Cup.

Likelihood to be signed: 30% (Penguins) 60% (elsewhere)

Alex Cotton – Detroit Red Wings

5th round, 132nd overall – Lethbridge Hurricanes / Vancouver Giants

Cotton, who hails from Langley, BC, has seemingly come from nowhere to be among the league-leading defensemen for the last three seasons.

Alex Cotton Lethbridge Hurricanes
Alex Cotton of the Lethbridge Hurricanes. (Erica Perreaux/Lethbridge Hurricanes)

In early November 2021, the struggling Lethbridge Hurricanes sent Cotton to the Vancouver Giants for four draft picks and the rights to defenseman Hunter McInnes. The Giants themselves have had some struggles this season, but Cotton continues to collect points. Through 36 games, he has 11 goals and 18 assists.

Likelihood to be signed: 20%

Pavel Novak – Minnesota Wild

5th round, 146th overall – Kelowna Rockets

Novak, from Tabor, Czechia, is in his second season with the Rockets, having to stay home in Czechia for the 2020-21 season. Novak struggled with the men’s league teams he was on in Czechia, posting just one goal and four assists in 24 games.

Pavel Novak Kelowna Rockets
Pavel Novak #11 of the Kelowna Rockets (Marissa Baecker/Shoot the Breeze)

By all accounts, this was a shrewd pick by the Wild as Novak has lit up the Western Hockey League in both his seasons, collecting 43 goals and 58 assists through 88 games. This season, he has a nine-point lead on fellow NHL Entry Draft pick Colton Dach on a middle-of-the-pack team.

Likelihood to be signed: 40%

Jaydon Dureau – Tampa Bay Lightning

5th round, 147th overall – Portland Winterhawks

Dureau, from White City, SK, has had a stellar career with the Portland Winterhawks, scoring 49 goals and adding 111 assists through 180 games.

The Syracuse Crunch, Tampa Bay’s AHL affiliate, came calling in the COVID-19 shortened season. Dureau was able to play in two AHL games last season, earning an assist. Before the 2021-22 season got underway, Dureau, in his overage season, was able to get into three AHL games and scored his first professional goal.

Dureau has returned to the Winterhawks, determined to be signed by the Lightning before the season is wrapped up. He has eight goals and 22 assists in 22 games this season.

Likelihood to be signed: 25%

Bear Hughes – Washington Capitals

5th round, 148th overall – Spokane Chiefs

Back for his second full season with the Spokane Chiefs, Hughes was looking to build on an okay season with the USHL’s Fargo Force. And build on it, he has.

Bear Hughes Washington Capitals
Bear Hughes Washington Capitals ( Sammi Silber / Washington Hockey Now )

In 2020-21 with the Force, Hughes scored nine times and added another 15 assists. On a Chiefs team struggling to stay out of the Western Conference basement, Hughes has already surpassed last season’s totals, scoring 12 goals and adding 23 assists in 34 games.

Likelihood to be signed: 35%

Kasper Puutio – Florida Panthers

5th round, 153rd overall – Swift Current Broncos / Everett Silvertips

The second of three defensemen remaining unsigned, Puutio, from Vassa, Finland, has decided to return to his home country and play in Liiga.

Kasper Puutio, Everett Silvertips
Kasper Puutio, Everett Silvertips (Photo Credit: Chris Mast / Everett Silvertips)

With just one season under his belt in the WHl, Puutio surprised many and remained in Finland after the COVID-19 pandemic hit. He returned to his home team, Karpat, and struggled in the men’s top professional league earning just three points in 29 games.

He has since doubled his production with KalPa, earning himself three goals and three assists in 30 games this season.

Likelihood to be signed: 0%

Tyrel Bower – Winnipeg Jets

6th round, 164th overall – Seattle Thunderbirds

Bauer, who is from Cochrane, AB, has been busy rounding out his game as a member of the Seattle Thunderbirds. After being named team captain for the 2020-21 season, Bauer has become more reliable with the puck and less likely to take unnecessary penalties.

While the offense isn’t maybe where teams may want it to be, Bauer has shown himself as one of the top leaders among his age group. Through 173 WHL games with the Thunderbirds, he has 11 goals and 35 assists.

Likelihood to be signed: 25%

Connor McClennon – Philadelphia Flyers

6th round, 178th overall – Winnipeg ICE

The second-overall pick at the 2017 WHL Draft, McClennon has not developed into the player he was expected to be at the time. All the offensive weaponry is there, but it took until this season to really see that he has developed the defensive side to his game.

Connor McClennon Winnipeg ICE
Connor McClennon of the Winnipeg ICE (Zachary Peters)

Among the league leaders in points the last two seasons, McClennon has also dealt with some injury woes throughout his four-year WHL career. He has 77 goals and 85 assists in 154 games, all with the ICE.

There are two beliefs here: the Flyers are waiting to see what the ICE and McClennon can do with their exceptional team and don’t want to interrupt a great season. Or, two, they are going to let McClennon slide into the next draft and try to retake him, giving him another two-season window to develop between his overage WHL season and up to two seasons in the WHL.

Likelihood to be signed: 40%

Garin Bjorklund – Washington Capitals

6th round, 179th overall – Medicine Hat Tigers

Unfortunately, Bjorklund and the Medicine Hat Tigers are having one of the worst seasons in Tiger history.

Garin Bjorklund Medicine Hat Tigers
Garin Bjorklund of the Medicine Hat Tigers (Erica Perreaux/Lethbridge Hurricanes)

Bjorklund has been handed the reigns in Medicine Hat and has not handled things well. He is well below his averages in goals-against average and save percentage. He is on pace to obliterate his games started, having already played just one less game this season than his 28 in 2019-20. That season he was the backup to Ottawa Senators draft pick Mads Sogaard.

Bjorklund will need to stand on his head in the second half of the WHL season for the Tigers to get a sniff of the playoffs and for him to come closer to his historical statistics. Don’t bank on it, the Tigers are not the same team they have been for most of the last 40 seasons.

Likelihood to be signed: 5%

Tough to Get signed

Beyond the first round of the NHL Entry Draft, it is tough for players to get signed. With a few exceptions, most notably Cross Hanas and Lukas Svejkovsky, the rest of the players listed above are unlikely to head to the team that drafted them. The players will have opportunities to be signed elsewhere as 20-year-olds or, in some cases, might be re-selected in the draft, and that team will have another two seasons to get them signed to entry-level contracts.