By Corey Pronman
Oct 15, 2019
Uploaded by: Martin Arnold
This is my first in-season look at the 2020 NHL Draft class based on what I’ve seen from the 2002 and late 2001 age groups from last season and the beginning of this one.
My early impressions of this class are that it’s a roughly average draft class. It’s forward heavy, and while there are some very good centers, there is a lack of truly premier center talent, despite it being so forward heavy.
What follows are the 21 players I think have separated themselves from the crop so far and who project, at the least, as legit top-six forwards, top-four defensemen or a starting goaltender in the NHL. As well, there are mentions of players right on the outside of getting first-round grades.
Special NHL Prospect
Lafreniere, the reigning QMJHL and CHL MVP is off to an expected great start to this season. He’s a player who can accomplish so much on the ice. He has elite skill and elite hockey sense. He can dangle defenders like few others, while also making incredible passes and scoring goals from a distance. He’s not a soft perimeter player, but he is a player who gets inside and has a competitive edge. His skating is not as great as the other aspects of his game, but he skates fine and overall projects to be a true star in the NHL. He maintains his hold early on as the top prospect in the draft.
Byfield is having a great start to the season after being very impressive as a 16-year-old in the OHL. He checks every box you want. He’s a 6-foot-4 center who plays a powerful style. He’s got high-end skill, he can make plays and score goals, and he’s a great skater for a player his size. He has the toolkit to dominate a game. I wouldn’t call his offensive skill level as elite as a player like Lafreniere, but Byfield is a bigger, faster player who also plays center, so that will be the focus of the debate going forward.
Elite NHL Prospect
Holtz opened the season as a legit top-nine forward in the SHL as a 17-year-old, already scoring three goals. He has a very high skill level and projects to be an elite goal scorer at the pro level. He’s got the big shot, but he can dangle; he’s a great passer, and he skates well. He can pick corners and get to the dirty areas to score. He’s a very complete player and based on what I saw last season I think he could be an impact NHLer if he continues to develop well.
Raymond was a dominant junior player at 16 years old last season, and some may remember his incredible gold medal game that helped lead Sweden to victory at the U18 worlds. To start this season, his ice time has been up and down on a deep Frolunda team. There are no doubts about his skill and hockey sense, though. He’s got an elite brain and can make plays like few others. He’s an undersized player who isn’t a top-end skater, which has led to some adjustment to the pro game.
When you are picking near the top of the draft, you want an impact player, someone who can make a true difference in a game. Askarov is that type of player in goal. He’s a 6-foot-3 goalie who has the elite athleticism, hockey sense and aggressiveness to steal a match, and he has done so numerous times as a junior. He’s not dominating the VHL right now, but to be playing against men at 17 is extremely rare for a goalie in any top pro league. He’s a unique player and goalie prospect.
High-End NHL Prospect
Drysdale is off to a great start to the season. He was a top player for Canada at the Hlinka Gretzky and has been scoring a lot in the OHL, including a five-point game. Drysdale is an elite skater with a lot of offensive ability. His skating allows him to impact the game in so many ways through the rush, creating breakouts and walking the blue line. He’s a very crisp passer who handles pucks well.
Stutzle is off to a great start, scoring at a pace no other player his age ever has in the Deutsche Eishockey Liga. He’s a player who checks off a lot of boxes. He’s got a great skating stride, a high skill level, he can make plays and he can score goals. He’s shown as a 17-year-old he can play a large role versus men in a good league, which doesn’t happen that often.
Rossi crossed the pond last season and was very impressive, becoming a top player for a top CHL team. The late 2001 birth date enters this season with expectations to be one of the better forwards in the OHL. He’s a very skilled and competitive offensive player who can attack defenses in numerous ways. He’s not the biggest player, though, and while he skates well, I wouldn’t call his speed elite for his size.
High-End/Very Good Bubble
Holloway has consistently impressed me over the past two years. He has a lot of strengths and no clear flaw. He’s an excellent skater with a high compete level who buzzes around the ice. He’s a very smart offensive player who can make plays. I wouldn’t call his skill level anything spectacular, but I think it’s good enough for him to become a very good top-six forward while providing a lot of value off the puck.
Lapierre had an excellent Hlinka Gretzky tournament, following up his rookie of the year performance in the Q. Lapierre gets a ton of praise from scouts for his hockey sense. He makes a ton of plays and could be a distributor on a top two line in the NHL. He has the brain, skill and all-around play to be a very good player. He skates well but lacks real explosiveness, which will be the one area to monitor going forward.
Barron has been an important player for Halifax since he showed up in 2017, logging minutes in all situations to start this season. What makes him a top prospect is his skating ability. He’s a very mobile defender who can lead attacks with the best in this class. He has offense, but scouts are hesitant to call his puck-moving ability as top-end as his mobility. Rather he projects more as a very solid two-way defenseman.
Lundell has shown for the past season and a bit longer that he can produce at the pro level. With HIFK he’s played real minutes with power play time, including as a 17-year-old. Lundell is a very smart center who makes plays and has an efficient game. He’s a bit divisive among NHL scouts, though, because he’s an average skater and lacks standout offensive skills. With that said, he’s produced wherever he’s played with his club or international teams.
Very Good NHL Prospect/First-Round Grade
Amirov was excellent as a junior last season between his club team and at the World U18s, where he was one of the best forwards at the tournament. He started the season playing in the KHL for the most part where his ice time has been limited. Amirov’s toolkit is exciting. He’s a highly skilled offensive player. He skates quite well, can score goals and create for his linemates. He’s not an overly physical player, but I don’t have issues with his compete level.
Poirier is a very talented offensive defenseman. He has been a catalyst of Saint John’s offense since he joined their team. He has immense confidence with the puck to rush up the ice with speed or walk the line with his skating and make skilled plays. He can try to do too much at times, and there are scouts concerned about whether he’s a bit too free-wheeling and not refined enough, but there’s no doubting the upside in his game.
Guhle, the younger brother of Anaheim’s Brendan Guhle, is a former first-overall WHL pick who has looked great to start the season. Kaiden Guhle plays all situations for Prince Albert. Like his brother, he’s a big defenseman who is an excellent skater, but he has a bit more offensive skill than his brother. Offense isn’t his calling card, but he could be a hard minutes defender who could slot into a second power play unit.
Pytlik crossed the pond in the second half of last season to join the Soo, where he’s looked good in junior as he has for the past few years in international play. Pytlik is intriguing because he’s a 6-foot-2 center with skill. He can set up plays and score goals, and has the physical elements to his game to get inside and win battles. His skating is just average, but I’ve seen improvements in that area over the past few years.
Mercer was a significant player for a top QMJHL team last season. He’s been a go-to guy for Drummondville to start this season, playing on both special teams. Mercer brings a lot of elements. He’s a very crafty offensive player. He can make skilled plays off the flank, but also shows no fear driving the middle of the ice. He can create for his linemates and has one of the better shots I’ve seen in his age group. His average skating stride is the one concern in his game.
Zary was great when I watched him last season in the WHL and with Canada’s U18 team. He’s been arguably more impressive this season with Kamloops. I love the way he plays; he’s full of skill and creativity, but also competes hard. His skating could use an extra step or two, but I think, given his skill and two-way play, he will find a way to become a good pro without blazing speed.
Stranges is a player who inspires a lot of debate among scouts. He has an elite skill level, and a unique skating stride that some love and some don’t. He can dazzle at times, but also had times like this summer where he didn’t look the part and was cut from the Hlinka Gretzky team. Stranges isn’t the biggest and can be a bit of a perimeter player at times. There is no doubting he is a unique talent. He makes plays others in his age group can’t, and it’s why I see him as a first-round caliber prospect.
Geoff Sanderson’s son is the top draft-eligible prospect from the USNTDP this season. Jake Sanderson is a very smooth and smart defenseman. He isn’t going to dazzle on highlight reels and his offensive upside likely isn’t elite, but he makes a lot of plays all around the ice. He is very solid defensively due to his mobility and brain, and has enough skill to be a power play guy as a pro.
Others In Consideration (alphabetical order)
Jean-Luc Foudy, C, Windsor-OHL: Jean-Luc Foudy is a slightly more skilled version of his brother Liam Foudy but has the same skating ability.
Noel Gunler, RW, Lulea-SHL: Gunler is deadly inside the offensive zone, with a high level of offensive IQ and a hard shot. His skating is average, though, and he needs to become a better all-around player.
Daniil Guschin, LW, Muskegon-USHL: Guschin is a fun player to watch because of his speed, skill, vision and shot. He is 5-foot-8, though.
Seth Jarvis, C, Portland-WHL: Jarvis is a skillful and creative forward who can make high-end plays. He’s small and lacks elite speed, but has looked good early this season.
Marat Khusnutdinov, C, SKA-MHL: Khusnutdinov is a highly skilled and intelligent playmaker who may not be the biggest, but he competes.
Ryan O’Rourke, D, Sault Ste. Marie-OHL: O’Rourke is a well-rounded defenseman. He can skate, he can move pucks and he’s a hard defender.
Theo Rochette, C, Chicoutimi-QMJHL: Rochette is one of the best passers in the draft. He’s not that big and lacks elite speed, but the upside he has is very intriguing.
Braden Schneider, D, Brandon-WHL: Schneider is a high-end skater with size who defends very well. He’s a smart player but his offensive upside isn’t top-end.
Justin Sourdif, RW, Vancouver-WHL: Sourdif is a very smart and competitive winger. He has skill and speed. I don’t know if either will ever blow you away, but he has offense in his game.