By Corey Pronman
Uploaded by: Martin Arnold
This is my midseason report on the 2020 NHL Draft, looking at what I view as the top tier of prospects eligible to be selected in June based on my viewings of the players and discussions with scouts.
It’s a very forward heavy draft, and very light on high-end defensemen. I think more defensemen will go in this range than I personally have listed, but I don’t see many that get me excited. The draft looks standard to me right now, although it is still January and I won’t feel comfortable describing the draft’s depth until late into the spring. There are two cornerstone pieces at the top in Alexis Lafreniere and Quinton Byfield – which should be No. 1 will be a debate for me probably through the finish of the season. The most interesting wrinkle in this class is where elite goaltender prospect Yaroslav Askarov will ultimately end up.
The tiers breakdown as follows:
Special NHL Prospect
Previous ranking: No. 1
Lafrenière has passed nearly every test thrown at him. He’s dominated the QMJHL for years. He was the MVP of the world juniors and has been great at other international events over the years. He has off days where he’ll put up 2-3 points in the Q. He’s a player with elite skill and elite offensive IQ. He can dazzle on any given shift with his playmaking and ability to beat players 1-on-1. Lafrenière is also a highly competitive player who plays well in the hard areas of the ice, is solid defensively and plays physical. His skating isn’t as elite as the rest of his tools, but he has shown enough progress in that area to where he has no noticeable weakness in his game now. He’s a projected star-caliber forward in the NHL and a cornerstone piece for the team that drafts him.
Previous ranking: No. 2
Byfield has been as good as you could have hoped for as a 17-year-old in the OHL. He has the best pure toolkit in the draft. He’s 6-foot-4, he’s a very good skater and his hands are right up there with the best in the draft. He can break a shift open with his ability to power past or dangle through defenders. I’ve questioned Byfield’s playmaking in the past, but this season he’s shown a high level of vision. He has the ability to use his power and skill both to create for himself and to make difficult plays to set up his teammates. When the pace increased at the higher levels at the international stage, he faded a bit, but I do think he is very much in the first overall conversation because he has the potential to become an impact No. 1 center in the NHL.
Previous ranking: No. 8
Stutzle has been incredibly impressive for a U18 player versus men. He’s been a go-to player for Mannheim in the top German league, a highly unusual role for any player his age in a top pro league. Stutzle is a complete forward. He has a lot of skill and can make tough plays, and he is a very good skater. His ability to play high-end skill plays at quick speeds has let him be so successful as a pro. Stutzle is officially listed as a winger, but I would wager whichever team drafts him announces shortly afterward they view him as a center as a majority (but not all) of NHL scouts I’ve talked to think that he’s an NHL center due to his speed, skill and ability to play off the puck.
Previous ranking: No. 9
Rossi has dominated the OHL this season, averaging more than two points per game. Rossi is an exciting player due to his skill and IQ. He can make highly skilled plays seem routine and is a great passer. Rossi’s skating is very good. He’s not the quickest small player you’ll ever see, but he has a powerful stride and will be able to pressure NHL defenders with speed. While Rossi is undersized, he’s a very competitive player. He attacks the net without fear, and Ottawa uses him in tough defensive situations. Other than his size it’s very hard to find a flaw in his game, with the rest of his toolkit featuring standout attributes. I think Rossi can be a legit No. 1 center in the NHL.
Previous ranking: No. 5
Askarov is a special goalie prospect. He’s shown for years he can be a difference-maker at the highest levels. From defeating arguably the most talented USNTDP team as an underage, to stealing gold from a loaded Canadian Hlinka team, to being great as a 17-year-old versus men and even winning a game for SKA, he has shown he is a different type of goalie. Yes, he had a terrible world juniors. He let in soft goals I’ve never seen him let in before. He also is a goalie with a very long track record of success, a ton of athleticism, elite hockey sense, great puck tracking ability, and a ton of confidence and aggressiveness in net. I think he will become a top goaltender in the NHL.
High-End NHL Prospect
Previous ranking: No. 3
Holtz has scored goals wherever he’s gone, be it at the junior, international or now SHL level where he’s scoring as much as any U18 player has. Holtz has a truly elite shot but can do so much more than just rip it. His hands are elite, and he can embarrass defenders with his puck skills. He’s a very good passer. His vision isn’t as good as his scoring ability, but he can make tough plays at the pro level and doesn’t have tunnel vision. He can lean on his shot a bit too much though from the perimeter. Holtz’s skating is above-average as well, but it isn’t his selling point. I like how many elements his game has, I like that he’s already shown he can be an effective middle-six forward versus men in the SHL and, of course, I love how much he scores.
Previous ranking: No. 4
Raymond’s deployment hasn’t been that significant at the SHL this level this season, but he plays on a very good team so I don’t hold it against him. When Raymond does get ice time at the junior level, as he’s shown over the years, he’s dynamic. With the puck he’s the most dangerous player in the draft, with a combination of skill, vision and overall IQ that nobody else can match from this group. He will be a true PP1 quarterback in the NHL because of the unique plays he can make. Raymond isn’t the biggest guy, but he competes well. While he’s more of a passer, he does have a very good shot when he looks to shoot. My one concern from getting him to the top tier as an NHL prospect is his average footspeed, particularly as a 5-foot-11 forward.
Previous ranking: No. 7
The 2020 draft isn’t the deepest when it comes to defensemen, but Drysdale has distinguished himself as the guy if you want a defenseman with a top pick. Drysdale has been a top defenseman in the OHL and made Canada’s U20 team as a 17-year-old. He’s one of the best skaters in the draft. His edge work is elite and he’ll have no issues with the speed of the NHL. Drysdale is an undersized defenseman but defends well due to his skating and IQ. Offensively he’s very good, but not flashy. He’s not going to have a Cale Makar or Quinn Hughes type of rush, but he’s a very smart puck-mover who can create with his speed and vision.
Previous ranking: No. 6
Perfetti has been a top player in the OHL this season, following up a Hlinka Gretzky tournament he dominated. Inside the offensive zone he can create so much havoc due to his skill and especially his vision. He’s one of the best passers in the draft. While he is a gifted goal-scorer, his playmaking is what stands out as a top NHL attribute. Perfetti is a bit of a divisive player in NHL circles, though. Some NHL scouts love him due to his brain, skill and scoring ability; others wonder if it will translate into a top-line NHL forward due to his size and just fine skating ability. I think he could be that because the puck game is that good even without explosive speed.
High-End/Very Good Bubble
Previous ranking: No. 19
Kamloops is a top team in the WHL this season and Zary is a major reason why. He’s a player with a ton of skill who has the quick hands to dazzle and create a highlight reel moment. He can create plays and finish them very well. It’s not just the skill, but how hard he plays. He attacks the net, and he’s a great two-way center. The major knock on Zary is his skating. Some scouts think it’ll be pro average; some think below-average. I lean to the former camp. It’s not great, but I think the stride is good enough that he’ll be able to skate with NHLers well enough to do the other things he is great at.