With the NHL season on hold and the playoffs up in the air, the hockey world waits to see where the dust settles on the NHL Draft Lottery. While we wait, I took the liberty of doing my own lottery simulation and producing a mock draft for the lottery eligible teams. The premise of this exercise was to put oneself in the shoes of a GM at their rank, given the quality of the prospect, the organizational depth chart and the availability of similar prospects on various lists. This is not a reflection my my actual rankings, which I will be releasing in the next few weeks, but a reflection of what could happen in this scenario, should the lottery play out as such.
Disclaimer: Some picks may shock folks, but I take my own rankings, as well as the team’s needs and draft history into account for every pick.
Anaheim Ducks : LW Alexis Lafrenière
What can you say about Alexis Lafrenière that hasn’t already been said before? He is seen as the unquestioned number 1 selection in this Draft and Anaheim will gladly take him at 1st overall after winning the Draft Lottery.
Laffy was a monster this season putting up 35 goals and 77 assists for 112 points in just 52 games in his third season for the QMJHL’s Rimouski Oceanic. His vision and incredible Hockey IQ made him the major attraction every time he was on the ice and he never really disappointed.
On top of his performance in the QMJHL, Lafrenière was a monster this year 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.
NHL Comparable: Jonathan Huberdeau
2. Detroit Red Wings: C Quinton Byfield
In the OHL, Byfield was a force. He put up 32 goals and 50 assists for 82 points in in just 45 games, which puts him at 1.822 points per game. That is pretty incredible if you slot him next to players in similar age (from July to December 2002) and no player even comes close. His combination of size and speed (6’4 and 215 lbs) make him the ideal candidate for the Red Wings at this position, as he and Dylan Larkin could become one of the NHL’s better 1-2 punches.
Byfield has taken a whole load of heat this season due to his lack of performance in the World Junior Championship for Canada. Starting off as a top-9 player and finding himself as the 13th forward by the end of the tournament saw many amateur scouting experts drop him in their rankings. What many gloss over rather easily is the age and style of Byfield as a player, being a very young 17-year old (born in August 2002).
Similarly to Lafrenière in the 2019 World Juniors last year as a 17-year old, Byfield struggled versus players that are 18, 19 and 20, which is totally normal. Lafrenière, who struggled mightily last season, came back one year later only to dominate the tournament, adding credence to the notion of developmental curves, and Byfield has been on a torrid one over the last two years.
If there was one player in this draft that I believe has the highest ceiling of any prospect, it would be Quinton Byfield. Whether or not he reaches his ceiling is another question entirely, but it’s totally up to Quinton.
Player Comparison: Evgeni Malkin
3. Ottawa Senators (SJ): C/LW Tim Stützle
Ottawa has drafted and acquired a ton of excellent prospects over the last 5 years. Brady Tkachuk, Thomas Chabot, Erik Brannstrom and more have joined the Senators over the years to cement the foundation of the team at various positions, but one major hole in their prospect pool remains: A #1 Centre. Enter Tim Stutzle. In the German Hockey League (DEL) , Stutzle put 7 goals and 24 assists for 31 points as an 18-year old, while also standing out with his strong, two-way game.
Stutzle’s speed and excellent edge-work help him win board battles and evade offensive zone coverage. 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.
Ultimately, Stutzle can play up the middle or on the wing, but excels at the center of the ice. At the World Junior Championships, he suited up for Germany as a Centre and looked absolutely awesome, putting up 5 assists in 5 games on a line with two other draft-eligible players. He quickly became Germany’s go-to guy in tight games and was a force on both sides of the ice. Ultimately, Ottawa is hoping Stuztle can bring his strong, two-way game to the NHL and establish himself as the #1 D they need.
Player Comparison: Dylan Larkin
4. Ottawa Senators: RD Jamie Drysdale
Jamie Drsydale is the defenseman with the highest ceiling, in terms of potential, in this entire draft. He has the mobility, the Hockey IQ and the vision to be a top-pair defenseman in the NHL should he reach his full potential. Drysdale plays a very responsible game in his defensive zone, and really excels at calming dangerous situations with great poise and intelligent outlet passes.
However, Drsydale is at his most dangerous in transition, where he is able to carry the puck up the ice seamlessly, due to his great first steps. He not only creates the defensive zone exit, but usually will carry the puck himself through the neutral zone and into the offensive zone. This skill is similar to those of other blooming defensemen like Cale Makar or Quinn Hughes or Miro Heiskanen.
Drysdale’s offense is not as flashy as the aforementioned defensemen, but he will put up points in the NHL because of his many offensive tools. First and foremost, Drsydale’s vision and Hockey IQ are off the charts. He can draw up a play in his mind extremely quickly and execute it just as fast, with cross-ice passes straight on the tape, or even quick flip of the puck to a streaking teammate, after he’s attracted 2-3 defending players towards him. He patrols a blueline like no other player in this draft, and could realistically play in any situation once he’s reached the NHL.
Although this would be the third straight year that Ottawa would use a first-round pick to draft a right-shot defenseman (Bernard Docker- 2018, Lassi Thompson – 2019) I strongly believe that Drsydale would become the ideal partner for Thomas Chabot down the line. Throw in Erik Brannstrom to the mix and Ottawa will have one of the most potent group of young defenders in the NHL after this pick.
Player Comparison: Miro Heiskanen
5. LA Kings: LD Jake Sanderson
Boom goes the dynamite! I know that I am going to eat a lot of flak on this one, but after what we saw last year with Moritz Seider going 6th overall, I ask you to hear me out. The LA Kings have the deepest prospect pool in the entire NHL. They are stacked offensively, with the likes of Vilardi, Anderson-Dolan, Thomas, Kupari, Turcotte, Kaliyev, Fagemo, and Madden (while also having Kopitar to boot). Defensively, the list is much shorter, as Bjornfot, Clague, Moravare and Spence make up the future of their backend so far. Although all of these guys have varying potentials, none are seen as top-pair defensive prospects, (you can arguably make the case for Bjornfot possibly being a #3) and this is where Jake Sanderson becomes extremely attractive for the Kings.
Sanderson, the youngest player on this list by 8-9 months in some cases, was seen by many as being a legitimate first-round talent as early as this summer, with many eyeing him and Luke Tuch as possible risers throughout the season. This quickly changed as Sanderson’s play continued to rise as the season went on. His speed, size, offensive instincts and possession skills have really stuck out in a Draft class that, outside of Jamie Drysdale, lacks true, top-end defensive options.
Sanderson is the only one to truly rise out of the glut of mid-to-late round defensive prospects to position himself among the elite of his age group. This is mostly because of his sharp progression curve and the modifications he has made to his game throughout the season. Ultimately, if you’re looking for a minute-munching D that can help you win championships , Sanderson is the kind of guy you want.
Many question Sanderson’s overall offensive ability at the NHL level, but the tools are certainly there for Sanderson to be a very competent NHL defenseman in the same light as Ryan McDonaugh. His type of offense is effective because he has many tools and ways he can get the puck into danger areas. He disposes of a very powerful and low one-timer, while having a very underrated wrist shot, which has a deceptively fast release.
He could also be a powerplay quarterback at the next level, due to his solid puck distribution and his very strong one-timer. His variety of skills makes it harder for defenders to anticipate him. Although there may be concerns over where he can top out at the next level offensively, his raw offensive game will benefit from even more structure in the NCAA for North Dakota next year.
To learn more on what has changed in Jake Sanderson’s game to make him worthy of a top-10 pick, click here!
Player Comparison: Marc-Edouard Vlasic