With the Draft Lottery now behind us and the first 19 selections of the NHL Entry Draft confirmed, let the mock draft season begin! This is a fun exercise that allows us to weigh the possibility of each team at this respective ranks in real time to allow us a view of how the draft could like, especially in the absence of meaningful trades ( should there be uncertainty about next season).
Some picks may shock folks, and that’s ok. The point of this exercise was to take my own rankings, as well as the team’s needs and draft history, into account for every pick and find the best value. Hope you enjoy!
1. New York Rangers : 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 New York 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.
Lafrenière projects as an elite talent that could have a similar impact to that of Jonathan Huberdeau or, his future teammate, Artemi Panarin, but with an added physical edge to boot. Ultimately, he’s a can’t-miss prospect that would throttle the Rangers’ rebuild to the next level.
2. LA Kings: C/LW – Tim Stutzle
The LA Kings have put together what many believe to be the deepest prospect pool in the NHL, and landing the 2nd overall pick will go a long way in cementing this status. The Kings have already expressed a desire to select a forward at this rank, which I believe is the right choice. At 2nd overall, the Kings select Tim Stutzle to complement their elite forward corps . His ability play all three forward positions, as well as his elite Hockey IQ will make him an ideal pick for the young Kings. 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. Whether he slot at center or the wing, the Kings would assure that they have long-term flexibility in their top-6, while also easing the pressure on Anze Kopitar as he grows into a mentor role for these young forwards.
3. Ottawa Senators (SJ): C – Quinton Byfield
Many people believe that Quinton Byfield is the biggest red flag in this draft, and I am not one of those people. One of the youngest players to be selected in this crop of players, Byfield showed incredible potential to play a strong possession style of hockey, despite playing with relatively nobody in Sudbury this season. He was able to control the flow of the game, both offensively and defensively, all while being the target of every team’s defensive units.
Byfield’s almost highlight reel goal in overtime. pic.twitter.com/ZrQigF03SS— ☘️🏒 Sean Patrick Ryan 🏒☘️ (@TheOilKnight) November 12, 2019
In fact, Byfield was a force, putting 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) are unique in this class and as a prospect generally speaking and I would argue that he wouls easily have gone first overall in 2019 had he been eligible.. The Senators, who have been looking for a prime #1 C since the departure of Jason Spezza, would jump at the opportunity to add Byfield, as they have both the time and patience to allow him to grow at his own pace. However, rest assured that, once he is ready, with the winger depth in the Senators< prospect pool, Byfield will be a dangerous weapon.
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.
How many current NHLers move as well or better for their size than Quinton Byfield does at 6’4 215?— Evan (@Shattenkirk) March 9, 2020
Either way, Byfield’s mix of straight line, motor and agility is next level. pic.twitter.com/jkDsah3hN8
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.
4.Detroit Red Wings: C/LW – Cole Perfetti
Cole Perfetti is a clutch performing capable of taking over a game and slotting in virtually anywhere in the lineup. Watching Perfetti grow this season was an absolute treat, as he was relatively by himself for the Saginaw Spirit, and was able to keep pace with Marco Rossi and Alexis Lafrenière for the CHL scoring lead. Once he received some help after the OHL Trade Deadline in the form of Carolina 1st rounder Ryan Suzuki and the returning Bode Wilde, Perfetti took off and was one of the most dangerous forwards in all of junior hockey.
He has the vision, the dynamic scoring ability, the nose for the net and some of the best hands in the draft. It’s not for nothing that Perfetti followed up a great rookie season in the OHL with one of the most dominant draft-eligible offensive productions in recent years (along with Lafrenière and Marco Rossi). Perfetti put up 37 goals and 74 assists for 111 points in just 61 games, a total which places him as the 3rd best scorer in major junior this season.
Cole Perfetti has been all about that apple sauce this year, but his shot remains deadly af.— /Cam Robinson/ (@Hockey_Robinson) February 15, 2020
2 more goals tonight and he's up to 95 points (33+62) in 52 OHL games – 2nd most in the league. pic.twitter.com/cCZPPJb0Us
Perfetti’s game really reached another level after being cut from Team Canada and receiving some much needed offensive help after the Trade Deadline. Cole went on an absolute tear to end the season, posting 44 points in his last 21 games. He began to attack the danger areas far more frequently and often used this new gained space to create an easy scoring opportunity for a teammate. Another aspect that seemed to improve for me throughout the season was his speed and execution, as he was far quicker in his movements and decision making.
Down 4-0 in the 3rd period, Cole Perfetti went off for 4 points (2+2) including an assist with 3 seconds left to win the game 5-4.— /Cam Robinson/ (@Hockey_Robinson) January 25, 2020
He takes over the OHL scoring lead with 81 points in 45 games. #2020NHLDraft pic.twitter.com/F8WQxQHCWj
This made him extremely hard to cover defensively, and he was thus able to control the game with far more confidence and poise. Ultimately, he pushed his Saginaw Spirit team up to the top of the standings with some very intense play, something the Detroit Red Wings have been searching for during their rebuild. With the proximity of the club to the Red Wings and Steve Yzerman’s many viewings of the Spirit throughout the year, I feel like this is a match made in heaven, whether Perfetti slots in as a C or LW.
5. Ottawa Senators : LD – Jake Sanderson
When I did my first mock draft back in May, many people thought I was insane for having Jake Sanderson as high as 5th overall, yet here we are. Although the Senators already have Chabot as their top-pair LD, it is important to note that Erik Brannstrom has publically stated he prefers to play on the right side (despite shooting left). This leaves a rather big hole on the left side of the Senators defense. After meeting their most dire need 2 picks prior by selecting a #1 C, I believe Jake Sanderson would be able to come in and cement the Senators 2nd pairing for the next 10 years behind Chabot. Sanderson plays a very physical and mobile style of play, often pushing the pace of the game offensively and driving counter attacks with his size and speed.
Jake Sanderson with an absolutely gorgeous play from coast to coast pic.twitter.com/aB6Aj0hFqk— Future Scope Hockey (@FSHockeycenter) January 21, 2020
Sanderson, the youngest player on this list by 9-8 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. Just to give you a glimpse at how real this pick could be, current Senators prospects Jacob Bernard-Docker and Shane Pinto also attend North Dakota. Seemingly, the Senators like how the Fighting Hawks produce hockey players.