2020 NHL Draft: Top 32 Prospects

I sure hope this doesn’t go as last year did.  Last year I did my first list right after the 2018 draft, and then didn’t have time to do even a second list until just days before the draft.  By those standards, I’m already well behind.  But the plan/hope is that this year I’ll be on top of things much better and by season’s end I’m hoping to have as many as eight different lists, but at least five.  We’ll see, life has a way of getting in the way, but I’m an ambitious person.

 

The timing on this first list is pretty coincidental.  It looks good with the Canadian Hlinka/Gretzky lineup just announced yesterday, but the truth is that I’ve been working on these rankings for a month now (literally hours after the draft wrapped up), and I had actually finished the list itself on Monday.  It’s a deep draft, much deeper than last season’s.  At this point, I’d say 2016 would be a fair comparison, but it’s far too early to tell.  Last year at this time I thought the 19 draft was full of studs, but the truth was that the studs weren’t as “studly” as I thought, and very few surprises emerged as the season went on.  So we’ll see.

 

As I always say around this point, I’m not a scout.  These rankings are much more like Bob McKenzie’s in that I’m not getting to see these kids as much as I need to declare myself a scout.  What I do is look through every quality and trusted write up I can find on these kids, every piece of video I can find, and then form my own opinion from there.  So I rely heavily on guys like Mark Edwards and Hockey Prospect (specifically the Black Book, if you’re a draft fan it is a MUST get, amazing every year), Future Considerations, even though I don’t normally agree with how he ranks his players I read and have big-time respect for the work Corey Pronman does, same goes for Steve Kournianous (who also does a good podcast that’s a great listen).  Also this season I’m working with Yannick St. Pierre covering the QMJHL, Sean Patrick Ryan covering the OHL, and I’ll be covering the WHL.  Not sure how my work will stack up, but these two do a tremendous job covering those leagues.  I couldn’t do my own rankings without these guys doing far better work than what I do.  But I will say I don’t simply take the averages of where these guys rank players and call it a day.  I have my own insights on what I’m looking for, so I take their reports more so than their rankings or opinions, couple it with what I’ve been able to see and create a list of my own (and as you’ll see, I definitely do MY OWN rankings).

 

What do I look for?  A lot.  First and foremost skating is most vital.  Skill is obviously extremely important.  IQ is huge though you won’t see me use “hockey sense” very much as I believe in IQ in general over “hockey sense” (theory being that sometimes players are so talented they might not have to think the game coming up, but if they have a high IQ that it will come).  I MUCH prefer playmakers to snipers.  Playmakers are often more intelligent players, and playmakers can play with other playmakers while it’s extremely rare that snipers work well with each other.  I’m not near the “sizest” that I once was, but still am likely more of a size guy than most seem to be.  One thing I will now value a bit more moving forward is players being NHL ready.  Reason being with ELC’s only being three years, a team shouldn’t be wasting the majority of the contract on developing a player, so I won’t be as hot as I’ve been in years past on a player who is much more of a project.  When I dig into the numbers, I want to know who the damage was done against, who were they playing with, and what the situation was (ES?  PP?  SH?).  Something I’m not as high on as most is “dynamic”.  I get why scouts love it, and I don’t disregard it, but you don’t get style points in hockey.  If you can toe drag a junior defenceman, it really doesn’t mean much because it’s unlikely you’ll be able to do that in the pros.

 

Is that enough for you?  Well that is just what I like in my players.  After all that, I then look for five big things: Current production, ceiling/upside, downside, how the players game will translate, and acquireability (I’m making this a word).  I guess the most simple way to put it for “acquireability” is I put a higher value on assets or player types which are tougher to acquire mostly due to how difficult it is to make a trade in today’s landscape and how crippling UFA can be.  I don’t disregard wingers nearly as bad as I used to (2015, put Mitch Marner 7th in my rankings…OOPS…) but centres and defencemen are more difficult and more valuable pieces to land, so they get preferential treatment in my rankings.

 

Finally, I do tiering.  More people do it now thankfully, and I’m not sure why anyone wouldn’t quite frankly.  Do some scouts truly believe there is a definitive gap between every prospect?  There are so many cases where kids are so indistinguishable as prospects, that a team is bound to go with the biggest need within a tiering.  You don’t pick need over the best player available (BPA).  But you also can’t ignore team building, especially in a league where it is increasingly more difficult to make trades.  So you shouldn’t disregard which tier I have players in.  That is more vital in my mind then whichever number a guy is overall.

 

Allow me to say this right now: I’m still getting to know these kids.  So I’m not doing comparisons this time around.  I do have comparisons I like for some, but not most.  Another bigger difference in my early rankings opposed to my final rankings is I’ll lean much more towards potential at this point in the process.  Take Kaiden Guhle for example.  I put him first in my WHL top 10 rankings, and have him MUCH higher in my top 32 than anyone else.  But the kid has the tools to be elite.  So while others are down on him, I believe he’s about to break out this season.

 

Speaking of WHL kids, the Western influence in this draft might be getting a bit underrated at this point.  There very easily could be 0 Western kids taken in the top 10 (we have a ridiculously long way to go though).  But the depth this season is better than last, and couple that with two kids out the AJ who are threats to be taken in the first round, and we have nine Western kids in my top 32 (10 if you include Dylan Holloway).  I don’t have a Western bias, yet fully admit that at this point I know those kids better than others and it does contribute.  So while we just may see nine kids from the West go in the first round this season, I fully admit that I know those kids the best and it has an influence.

 

This season I’m hoping to do podcasts as an accompanying piece to my prospect rankings and my mock drafts, so click here for more of my thoughts on these rankings, or perhaps to listen to while you read them.

 

Ok, down to business.

 

For the last four drafts, not only has a Canadian not gone number one in the draft, but only one has even been a contender for that spot (Nolan Patrick in 2017).  That is going to change this season, as a Canadian looks like a lock to go first.

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Tier One

1. Alexis Lafrenière

Team: Rimouski  League: QMJHL

Pos: LW  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 192  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 61  G: 37  A: 68  P: 105

Born: 10/11/01, Saint-Eustache, QC

There are only two questions: Will he go 1st, and whether he’s a star or superstar?  That’s it.  He will step right into the league for the 20-21 season and be a force.

 

Tier Two

2. Quinton Byfield

Team: Sudbury  League: OHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’4  Wt: 214  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 64  G: 29  A: 32  P: 61

Born: 08/19/02, Newmarket, ON

I believe Byfield is the only player who has the ability to contend with Lafrenière for top spot in the draft.  A centre who is 6’4 and can fly is pretty damn difficult to find.

 

Tier Three

3. Lucas Raymond

Team: Frölunda HC J20  League: SuperElit

Pos: RW  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 165  Shot: R

2019 Stats – GP: 47  G: 15  A: 35  P: 50

Born: 03/28/02, Göteborg, SWE

Didn’t do comparisons this time around, but if I were this one was my favourite.  Paul Kariya.  Speed, IQ, playmaking, stature, they’re very similar to one another.  Needless to say, that’s not an insult.

 

Tier four

4. Jamie Drysdale

Team: Erie  League: OHL

Pos: RD  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 165  Shot: R

2019 Stats – GP: 63  G: 7  A: 33  P: 40

Born: 04/08/02, Toronto, ON

A right-shot D-man who is one of the top skaters in the draft, the upside with Drysdale is ridiculous.  He reminds me a lot of Morgan Rielly.

 

5. Kaiden Guhle

Team: Prince Albert  League: WHL

Pos: LD  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 187  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 65  G: 3  A: 14  P: 17

Born: 01/18/02, Sherwood Park, AB

He is raw, but the skill set is incredible.  Franchise defenceman type ability, though he hasn’t had the opportunity to truly show that.  But he will this season.

 

6. Anton Lundell

Team: HIFK  League: Liiga

Pos: C  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 183  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 48  G: 15  A: 19  P: 34

Born: 10/03/01, Espoo, FIN

Complete 200-foot centres aren’t the sexiest picks, but they’ll always have a higher spot on my lists than most others.

 

Tier Five

7. Cole Perfetti

Team: Saginaw  League: OHL

Pos: LW  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 185  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 63  G: 37  A: 37  P: 74

Born: 01/01/02, Whitby, ON

He may have only been an 02 kid by a day, but those numbers are scary good for an 02 born kid.

 

8. Alexander Holtz

Team: Djurgårdens IF J20  League: SuperElit

Pos: RW  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 183  Shot: R

2019 Stats – GP: 38  G: 30  A: 17  P: 47

Born: 01/23/02, Saltsjö-Boo, SWE

Maybe the best pure goal scorer in the draft.  One of the most exciting players to watch in the draft.

 

9. Marco Rossi

Team: Ottawa  League: OHL

Pos: C  Ht: 5’9  Wt: 179  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 53  G: 29  A: 36  P: 65

Born: 09/23/01, Feldkirch, AUT

Normally I write off a kid who is smaller than 5’11 and especially smaller than 5’10.  But Rossi is extremely skilled and a very committed 200-foot player, so he’ll have a chance in the middle and if he can’t cut it he can always thrive on the wing.

 

Tier Six

10. Dylan Holloway

Team: Okotoks  League: AJHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 192  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 53  G: 40  A: 48  P: 88

Born: 09/23/01, Calgary, AB

Most have him as a winger, but I like his talents better to play the middle.  Off to Wisconsin this season for a much stiffer test than the AJ.

 

11. Justin Barron

Team: Halifax  League: QMJHL

Pos: RD  Ht: 6’2  Wt: 192  Shot: R

2019 Stats – GP: 68  G: 9  A: 32  P: 41

Born: 11/15/01, Halifax, NS

I love Barron’s skillset, but I’m not a big fan of the numbers given that last season was his 17 year old season.  Then again, they’re similar to Evan Bouchard’s who was also an older draft eligible.

 

Tier Seven

12. Hendrix Lapierre

Team: Chicoutimi  League: QMJHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 165  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 48  G: 13  A: 32  P: 45

Born: 02/09/02, Gatineau, QC

Terrific skater and terrific vision.  When you have those two traits, I’m likely to put you pretty high on my list.

 

13. Justin Sourdif

Team: Vancouver  League: WHL

Pos: C  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 165  Shot: R

2019 Stats – GP: 64  G: 23  A: 23  P: 46

Born: 03/24/02, Surrey, BC

Much like Guhle, the opportunities that Sourdif will get this season will be far greater than he got playing on a top team in the WHL last season.

 

14. Tim Stützle

Team: Jungadler Mannheim  League: DNL U20

Pos: C  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 165  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 21  G: 23  A: 32  P: 55

Born: 01/15/02, Viersen, GER

A lot to like here.  Only thing that keeps him lower than Lapierre and Sourdif at the moment (for me) is the league he plays in.

 

15. Noel Gunler

Team: Luleå HF J20  League: SuperElit

Pos: RW  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 176  Shot: R

2019 Stats – GP: 31  G: 27  A: 19  P: 46

Born: 10/07/01, Luleå, SWE

Another fantastic sniper playing in the SuperElit league last season.  At the moment, he might have the best shot in the draft.  Gunler reminds me a lot of Brock Boeser.

 

16. Jan Mysak

Team: HC Litvinov  League: Czech

Pos: LW  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 176  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 31  G: 3  A: 4  P: 7

Born: 06/24/02, Litvinov, CZE

Maybe the two best attributes that Mysak brings to the table are his IQ and his skating ability, which are the two things I value most in a prospect.

 

Tier Eight

17. Yaroslav Askarov

Team: SKA-Varyagi im. Morozova  League: MHL

Pos: G  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 163  Glove: R

2019 Stats – GP: 31  G.A.A.: 2.37  Sv%: .921

Born: 06/16/02, Omsk, RUS

Pretty rare for a goaltender to be this highly touted these days.  Even more rare to be one in a good draft year.  Yet here we are, with Askarov entering the season with a shot at being a top 10 pick.

 

18. Jean-Luc Foudy

Team: Windsor  League: OHL

Pos: C  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 168  Shot: R

2019 Stats – GP: 63  G: 8  A: 41  P: 49

Born: 05/13/02, Scarborough, ON

Foudy has two things I simply love which would be speed for days and is a pure playmaker.  I like him a little more than most.

 

19. Vasili Ponomaryov 

Team: MHK Krylia Sovetov Moskva  League: MHL

Pos: LW  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 176  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 37  G: 9  A: 20  P: 29

Born: 03/13/02, Zelenograd, RUS

The one negative with Ponomaryov has is his skating isn’t GREAT.  But he counters that negative with one of the best motors in the draft.

 

20. Antonio Stranges

Team: London  League: OHL

Pos: LW  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 170  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 66  G: 13  A: 21  P: 34

Born: 02/05/02, Plymouth, MI

I have a feeling that people now know who he is thanks to a certain goal he recently scored?  The kid has insane skill, the question is if he has more than that?

 

21. Connor McClennon

Team: Winnipeg  League: WHL

Pos: RW  Ht: 5’8  Wt: 154  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 46  G: 14  A: 15  P: 29

Born: 06/25/02, Wainwright, AB

One of three WHL undersized wingers who I have an extremely difficult time separating from one another.  McClennon should be on at least a competent team this season, which should drastically improve his numbers.

 

22. Seth Jarvis

Team: Portland  League: WHL

Pos: RW  Ht: 5’9  Wt: 165  Shot: R

2019 Stats – GP: 61  G: 16  A: 23  P: 39

Born: 02/01/02, Winnipeg, MB

Jarvis is the second of those WHL kids.  He had the best numbers of the three kids last season.

 

23. Ozzy Wiesblatt

Team: Prince Albert  League: WHL

Pos: RW  Ht: 5’10  Wt: 187  Shot: R

2019 Stats – GP: 64  G: 15  A: 24  P: 39

Born: 03/09/02, Calgary, AB

The third of the three WHL kids (as Shooter McGavin would say: “oh you can count, good for you”), Wiesblatt has the best size and perhaps plays the most in your face of the three.

 

24. Carter Savoie

Team: Sherwood Park  League: AJHL

Pos: LW  Ht: 5’9  Wt: 170  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 58  G: 31  A: 42  P: 73

Born: 01/23/02, St. Albert, AB

The lesser-known Savoie as his younger brother Matthew is already being hyped (along with Shane Wright who was the 1st overall pick in the OHL draft last spring) to be the first pick of the 2022 draft.  Why Carter Savoie didn’t get an invite to the Hlinka/Gretzky camp, I REALLY don’t know.  He was more than worthy and will likely prove why this season.

 

Tier Nine

25. Jacob Perreault

Team: Sarnia  League: OHL

Pos: C  Ht: 5’11  Wt: 198  Shot: R

2019 Stats – GP: 63  G: 30  A: 25  P: 55

Born: 04/15/02, Montreal, QC

Might end up being a better fit on the wing than the middle, largely thanks to having a terrific shot.  Much better skater than his old man (Yanic) was, but a questionable motor.

 

26. Connor Zary

Team: Kamloops  League: WHL

Pos: C  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 174  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 63  G: 24  A: 43  P: 67

Born: 09/25/01, Saskatoon, SK

Interesting kid as he came a little out of nowhere to get on the map, especially late last season.  Was it a kid getting hot, or has he taken his game to another level?

 

27. Ty Smilanic

Team: U.S. National U17  League: USDP

Pos: C  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 168  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 54  G: 20  A: 18  P: 38

Born: 01/20/02, Denver, CO

High-end speed with a high-end motor.  Smilanic’s scouting report is so similar to what Josh Norris scouting report was just three years ago.

 

28. Will Cuylle

Team: Windsor  League: OHL

Pos: LW  Ht: 6’2  Wt: 201  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 63  G: 26  A: 15  P: 41

Born: 05/02/02, Toronto, ON

Power forward with a big shot, but average skating ability.  He reminds me a lot of James Neal.

 

Tier Ten

29. Jake Sanderson

Team: U.S. National U17  League: USDP

Pos: LD  Ht: 6’1  Wt: 170  Shot: L

2019 Stats – GP: 44  G: 4  A: 20  P: 24

Born: 07/08/02, Whitefish, MT

Like his dad, tremendous skater.  Very raw defenceman but thanks to those wheels he has a chance to be a heck of a defenceman.

 

30. Michael Benning

Team: Sherwood Park  League: AJHL

Pos: RD  Ht: 5’9  Wt: 170  Shot: R

2019 Stats – GP: 60  G: 10  A: 51  P: 61

Born: 01/05/02, St. Albert, AB

Consider this: Benning had almost identical stats last season as Cale Makar had in his 17 year old season.  This season will be Benning’s 17 year old season…

 

31. Dawson Mercer

Team: Drummondville  League: QMJHL

Pos: RW  Ht: 6’0  Wt: 170  Shot: R

2019 Stats – GP: 68  G: 30  A: 34  P: 64

Born: 10/27/01, Bay Roberts, NL

The Voltigeurs are set to have another strong team this season, but with Joe Veleno and Max Comtois off to pro hockey, a lot more offensive responsibility/opportunity will go to Mercer.

 

Tier Eleven

32. Helge Grans

Team: Malmö Redhawks J20  League: SuperElit

Pos: RD  Ht: 6’3  Wt: 192  Shot: R

2019 Stats – GP: 34  G: 5  A: 12  P: 17

Born: 05/10/02, Ljungby, SWE

Great combination of size and mobility, coupled with the fact that he’s a right-shot defenceman means that Grans could find himself going a lot higher than this come June.

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