1. Alexis Lafrenière – LW 6’1 192 lbs
Lafrenière has been on everyone’s radar since the moment he stepped on the ice for the Rimouski Oceanic, back in September 2017. As a 16-year-old, he wowed the hockey world with his Hockey IQ and his vision. His ability to create passing lanes simply by using his elite stick-handling alone made him a must-watch in a league dominated by 19 and 20-year-olds.
Laffy finished his rookie season in the QMJHL with a whopping 42 goals and 80 points in 60 games; production which hasn’t been seen in this league since Nathan MacKinnon’s rookie season for the Halifax Mooseheads in 2011-2012. That’s pretty good company if you ask me!
Alexis Lafreniere is a literal bull. Dude just can’t be knocked off the puck. pic.twitter.com/tyh8QoQ9B4— Scott Wheeler (@scottcwheeler) December 1, 2019
Alexis followed up his sensational rookie season with a dominant sophomore season, scoring 37 goals and 105 points in 61 games, along with a staggering 23 points in 13 playoff games. Lafrenière was rewarded for this efforts by being named the CHL Player of the Year as a sophomore, a feat that hasn’t been achieved since John Tavares in 2006-2007.
Lafrenière became more and more dominant as he began to grow in confidence, but also physically. As he continued to mature, the young winger began to use his size to separate opponents from the puck, and became a far more developed play-maker due to his increased puck protection skills.
His effort level is second-to-none, as Lafrenière is a literal bull on the ice, fighting for every loose puck, wining his 1-on-1 battles and battling hard along the boards.
In this Draft Season (currently in progress), Lafrenière has really reached a new level, exploding right out of the gate with 24 goals and 73 points in just 33 games. That’s over 2.14 points per game (PPG)! Not one to shy away from the spotlight, Lafrenière followed up his excellent Draft Season with an MVP performance at the World Junior Championships, propelling Team Canada to a gold medal victory (even while being injured mid-way through the tournament!). His 10 points in 5 games earned him the MVP honours for the entire tournament, as he was truly the spark-plug that drove the offense for Canada, especially in the elimination games.
As Lafrenière continues to grow and expand his 200-ft game this season, I fully expect him to have a dominant rest of the season as he cruises to NHL super-stardom for years to come.
NHL Comparable: Jonathan Huberdeau
2. Tim Stutzle – C/LW 6’0 185 lbs
Tim Stutzle is really the biggest riser on my list, and there’s a very real possibility that he could wind up being one of the top-2 players in this draft. He plays a 200-ft game, using his speed, vision and top-end Hockey-IQ to grow as a complete player in the DEL in Germany for Manheim. After an excellent season in Manheim’s U-20 team last season (55 points in 21 games), Stutzle has taken Manheim’s senior team by storm, putting up 23 points in 26 games against men.
Stutzle uses his speed and excellent edge-work to escape player coverage and win board battles. He then follows up on the play with excellent vision and precise passing to create scoring chances. As seen in the sequence below, where he displays his possession-heavy game, Stutzle is able to use his skating and strong puck-protection to circle around the offensive zone unscathed, while generating a high-danger scoring chance.
Love watching Tim Stützle. Look at him circle around the slot on the power play. Crisp crossovers. Looks for an open lane and a quick release. #2020NHLDraft #WJC2020 #WorldJuniors2020 pic.twitter.com/OG6O4a6AzM— Josh Tessler (@JoshTessler_) December 27, 2019
Although Stutzle plays a very strong game at either Centre or Left-Wing, his vision and passing ability, as evidence by the sequence below, make him better suited for pivoting a line at the pro-level. Even though he may not be as imposing as someone like Quinton Byfield, Stutzle plays a very strong game and has a very strong centre of gravity when he skates, allowing him to shake off checks and hooks to power toward the net.
Ultimately, I believe that Stutzle can have a similar impact to a Toews or Bergeron for a team in the NHL. His skill with the puck, his skating and his incredible Hockey IQ make him an ideal candidate to become the best two-way C in this draft, in the same ilk as guys like Nico Hischier or Sean Couturier were in their respective drafts.
Player Comparison: Dylan Larkin
3. Quinton Byfield – C 6’4 214lbs
Quinton Byfield is almost a full year younger than Alexis Lafrenière, so it’s important to remember that they aren’t at the same point yet from a progression standpoint. However, if there was ever a pick that could rival to upside of Lafrenière 4-5 years down the road, it would certainly be Byfield.
His massive frame (6’4, 214 lbs) as a 17-year old (only turns 18 August 19th) leave many scouts drooling over his potential. Why? Because he has the skating, stick-handling and vision to go along with what many consider to be the best overall package in the Draft. Byfield has been a force for the Sudbury Wolves of the OHL, as he has led them in scoring from his second career game last season and has never looked back since.
What stands out most about Byfield are his size and hands. He possesses the ability to make high-skill plays in the blink of an eye. His speed of execution when it comes to producing plays, like the one displayed below, have many believing that his game can easily translate to the pro level. He is able to find passing lanes with ease and thread the needle quite efficient, even through heavy traffic.
Byfield came into the league as a very young 16-year old and immediately established himself as top-prospect for his draft year, putting up 29 goals and 61 points in 64 games. So far this season, he has shown great progression, due to his new-found explosiveness and enhanced puck-protection ability, by putting up more points than his rookie season (63 points) in almost half the amount of games (only 33 games).
His shooting arsenal has also dramatically improved, as he is shooting more, especially from many high-danger locations. He’s able to attack the slot and command space, due to his imposing frame and great speed, and snipe corners in a far more consistent way this year, and it has truly made him a dangerous player overall and not simply a set-up man.
As seen by the play above, Byfield’s confidence in the OHL, the ease with which he can win 1-on-1 battles and his explosiveness in the slot will make him a dangerous C in the NHL for years to come.
Player Comparison: Evgeni Malkin
4. Lucas Raymond – LW/RW 5’10 165 lbs
Need someone to score a clutch goal in a tight game? Look no further than Lucas Raymond. Lucas Raymond has been on my radar for years due to his excellent international play. He is an explosive, talented winger than can attack the net with great speed and stick-handling to create optimal scoring chances and giant passing lanes for his teammates.
Raymond currently plays in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) for the legendary Swedish club Frolunda , which has produced numerous NHL stars over the years. Coming up through their youth ranks, Raymond has begun establishing himself as regular for the senior team, as he has maintained more than a Point-Per-Game pace in the Super Elite League (Sweden’s Junior league). So far this season, Raymond has put up a very respectable 3 goals and 2 assists for 5 points in 17 games while playing vs men.
What really sets Raymond apart from other wingers in this Draft is how many ways he can score goals. He has a laser wrist shot (see the goal below for an example), his slap-shot will be a great addition to any power-play and his stick-handling will make him a serious break-away threat or shootout specialist.
Raymond also brings a very strong passing game with him, which is extremely underrated due to many primarily seeing him as a goal-scorer. He can pass at full speed, while on the rush or even in puck-retrieval battles, making him extremely dangerous in open-ice situations.
Being a smaller player, Raymond is able to create space for himself, a necessity at the next level, due to his blazing speed and his underrated vision. He keeps defenders on their heels, as he is very slippery to escape a check and set-up a teammate, especially when he is double-covered in tighter games.
The lateral mobility, strong power moves and dangerous shooting arsenal that Raymond possess makes many scouts project him as a dynamic top-line forward who could anchor a line and make his teammates better. He has elite skill and speed, but will need to bulk up a little bit before being able to take the NHL by storm in a year or two.
Player Comparison: William Nylander
5. Jamie Drysdale – RD 5’11 170 lbs
Jamie Drysdale is the most fluid defenseman to come into a Draft since Quinn Hughes. He can absolutely fly on the ice and has incredible speed. His ability to skate straight, backwards and laterally at high speed make him an extremely dangerous defenseman offensively, while also being an absolute possession machine.
He is able to use his speed and vision to escape coverage at the blue-line and then fearlessly attack the slot for a quick and powerful wrist-shot, or a slick pass to the forward, hiding backdoor, for a tap-in. He isn’t afraid to join in on the cycle game along the boards and he explodes off the boards in order to transition the puck along the far boards or seek the open man in the slot for a quick scoring chance.
He’s currently over a PPG pace in the OHL for the Eerie Otters with 7 goals and 35 points in 31 games so far this year, while also being a force on the back-end for limiting scoring chances and using his skating to limit zone entries, in spite of his average size.
Jamie Drysdale’s ridiculous moves on full display here 👀— OntarioHockeyLeague (@OHLHockey) January 12, 2020
The #NHLDraft hopeful’s incredible skating display leads to an amazing pass from behind the net to set up @ErieOtters rookie @Aswank21’s tap-in 👏 pic.twitter.com/2tpB2AG5w0
Drysdale’s defensive game is very well-rounded for a 17-year-old as well, which becomes evermore apparent in tighter games, like during the World Junior Championships for Team Canada. Starting out as the 7th defenseman, Drysdale became an integral part of the team’s top-4 defensemen by the tournament’s end because of his consistently responsible play, as well as his poise in the neutral zone with the puck in order to create controlled zone entries.
He gains the trust of his coaches rather quickly because he is able to box out his opponents, steal pucks in board battles and create counter-attacks with ease. However, what truly sets Drysdale apart from his peers (and even those older than him) is his Hockey IQ. His positional game is absolutely sublime, as he always seems to be in the right place at the right time.
In my estimation, Drysdale’s game can easily translate to the NHL because of his speed, skating and Hockey IQ. He’s an electric player that can quickly grow through any adversity and his adaptability will make him a shoe-in on any team’s top-pairing with no time at all. Truly the best defenseman of his class in my opinion.