Better late than never, right? The 2020 NHL draft is finally upon us, rescheduled months after the pandemic threw the world into flux. This will be one of the most unique drafts in history – and not just because it will all be done virtually. Because of the delay, the 2020 draft will take place after some of its prospects have already started their 2020-21 seasons: players in Europe and the QMJHL will have played their entire pre-seasons and at least some regular season games before the picks are actually made. That gives some bonus coverage for scouts and GMs before they make their final decisions.
The following is my mock draft for the 2020 first round and to be fair, I am also including one pick each for teams that do not own a first-rounder – so your team is definitely covered. I am using a combination of my talks with scouts, a couple hunches and some analysis on long-term team needs to make the list and I won’t lie: the depth of top-end talent in this class did make it difficult to get every deserving kid into the top 10. Let’s get to it.
1. New York Rangers: Alexis Lafreniere, LW, Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL): This is the easy one. Lafreniere is ready to hit the NHL right away thanks to his wicked combination of talent, vision and compete level. As a late 2001 birthday, he’ll enter the league as a 19 year old and he has proven at every step, from the ‘Q’ to the world juniors, that he is a force to be reckoned with. New York gets a fantastic asset to add to the likes of Panarin, Zibanejad and young Kakko up front.
2. Los Angeles Kings: Quinton Byfield, C, Sudbury Wolves (OHL): We have seen the tip of the iceberg with Byfield – and it is impressive. A big kid with speed and skill, Byfield is going to be a powerhouse as he continues to get stronger and L.A. is a terrific landing spot. The Wolves star can learn from Anze Kopitar and fit in with a great crop of futures such as Gabe Vilardi, Alex Turcotte and Tyler Madden.
3. Ottawa Senators (from SJ): Tim Stuetzle, LW, Adler Mannheim (DEL): The Sens will essentially take whomever the Kings don’t, so Byfield is also a possibility here, but Stuetzle brings a dynamic skill set and a versatile game to town. The German national has already played against – and thrived – against men in one of Europe’s better leagues and his drive to be a difference-maker every shift will help a Sens team starting from the bottom.
4. Detroit Red Wings: Cole Perfetti, C, Saginaw Spirit (OHL): There’s a lot of buzz about Perfetti going to the Wings and it makes sense. After all, Saginaw was an easy spot to scout for Detroit’s staff and the kid has the high skill and smarts to impress a legend such as GM Steve Yzerman. Perfetti can rack up goals, but also unlocked his playmaking skills and upped his skating this season, making him a deadly weapon.
5. Ottawa Senators: Yaroslav Askarov, G, SKA-St. Petersburg (KHL): Let’s go nuts here. Why not? The rumblings are strong that Ottawa is interested in Askarov, so let’s make it official. ‘The Dreamkiller’ is everything you want in a goaltender thanks to his size, athleticism and mental toughness. Askarov’s KHL contract runs until April 2022, meaning he could hypothetically be in the NHL by the start of 2022-23.
6. Anaheim Ducks: Lucas Raymond, LW, Frolunda (SHL): An incredibly talented kid who has looked excellent early on in the SHL this season, Raymond is a danger every time he has the puck on his stick and his with his hockey sense and skating ability, all the fundamentals are there to be a monster in the near future. The Ducks need a new generation to get them back into contention and Raymond can be a serious building block.
7. New Jersey Devils: Jake Sanderson, D, U.S. NTDP (USHL): The first ‘D’ off the board will either be Sanderson or Jamie Drysdale and it’s tight. Sanderson grew into the NTDP’s best player this past season, using his excellent skating and high-end skills to propel him up the draft charts. The University of North Dakota commit is great at starting the rush and his zone exits and entries are solid. The Devils need blueliners and Sanderson is a great one.
8. Buffalo Sabres: Jamie Drysdale, D, Erie Otters (OHL): A bit of a gift for the Sabres, but one I’m sure they’ll take. Drysdale is an incredibly smooth skater who dazzles with the puck on his stick and has proven that he can handle stressful situations. The kid forced his way onto Canada’s world junior team at 17 and then stepped up when they needed him en route to a gold medal. Imagine a ‘D’ corps with Rasmus Dahlin and Drysdale, Buffalo fans.
9. Minnesota Wild: Marco Rossi, C, Ottawa 67’s (OHL): One scout called Rossi the most NHL-ready draft prospect in the OHL and that should be good news for the Wild, who need to keep up in the Western Conference’s talent drive. Rossi is a complete player with loads of skill and smarts. The Austrian import was the league MVP this past season after piling up points on a loaded 67’s squad.
10. Winnipeg Jets: Alex Holtz, RW, Djurgarden (SHL): The Jets could really throw some gas on the Patrik Laine trade fires by taking Holtz, who also happens to be a deadly goal-scorer on the wing. Holtz is a wicked shooter with a projectable frame and has the potential to be a real difference-maker on the power play. Winnipeg hasn’t drafted a high-skill forward since Laine, so the time is right for this pick.
11. Nashville Predators: Jack Quinn, LW, Ottawa 67’s (OHL): Nashville needs a serious influx of high-end talent up front and Quinn fits the bill perfectly. The kid is coming off a 52-goal season with the 67’s – which is even better when you recall that the year was cut short by the pandemic. Quinn is smart, skilled and wins his battles. Plus, his 200-foot game is never going to go out of style.
12. Florida Panthers: Anton Lundell, C, HIFK (Fin.): In terms of fit, this one is perfect. The Cats have an undisputed No. 1 center in Aleksander Barkov, but could use some backup behind him. Lundell is also a big, two-way pivot from Finland and his defensive game is quite advanced for a teenager. Lundell has already won a world junior gold and is playing against men back home.
13. Carolina Hurricanes (from TOR): Dawson Mercer, C, Chicoutimi Sagueneens (QMJHL): Mercer is the kind of kid that every team can use and Carolina doesn’t have any pressing needs, so they might as well grab a toolsy asset. Mercer plays a complete game, brings great leadership skills and can also put up the necessary offense to be a top-six forward.
14. Edmonton Oilers: Seth Jarvis, C, Portland Winterhawks (WHL): With Brayden Point wrecking the competition en route to the Stanley Cup, it’s hard not to look at Jarvis as an heir apparent in the small, super-skilled center category. Jarvis had an impressive year with Portland and will undoubtedly get a long look from Canada’s world junior squad this winter.
15. Toronto Maple Leafs (from PIT): Helge Grans, D, Malmo (SHL): Right-shot defensemen are highly coveted in hockey and the Leafs could certainly use another one for their future. Grans brings size, skating ability and puckmoving acumen to the table and he can be an asset on the power play, as well. Getting more time against men this season will be great for him.
16. Montreal Canadiens: Dylan Holloway, C, Wisconsin (BigTen): Thanks to Cole Caufield, the Habs likely got to see a lot of teammate Holloway this past season, so they’ll know what the kid brings to a team. Holloway is a great skater with a big frame and while he’s a center, he also played on the wing for the Badgers – which would give the Canadiens a nice option for their lineup in the future.
17. Chicago Blackhawks: Mavrik Bourque, C, Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL): The Hawks got a gem in center Kirby Dach last year, but with so many great young D-men in the pipeline, they can afford to bolster their attack up the middle with Bourque. The Shawinigan standout is a good skater with a sweet one-timer and he plays the game with a ton of skill.
18. New Jersey Devils (from ARI): Rodion Amirov, LW, Salavat Ufa (KHL): The Devils are set down the middle with Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes, so with a D-man already in hand, Amirov would be a tremendous asset to add on the wing. Very skilled and quick, Amirov also knows the importance of playing both ends of the ice. He’s off to a great start in the KHL right now.
19. Calgary Flames: William Wallinder, D, Modo (Swe.): The Flames haven’t taken a D-man since Juuso Valimaki, so it’s high time to add another to the coffers. Wallinder is a big kid with great offensive upside and skating ability, making him a very similar players to Grans, albeit a left-hand shot. He put up great numbers at the junior level this past season.
20. New Jersey Devils (from TB/VAN): Hendrix Lapierre, C, Chicoutimi Sagueneens (QMJHL): It’s quite possibly the Devils trade this third first-rounder, but if they hang on, perhaps they go for a home run in Lapierre. The kid has been through the ringer with injuries, but in the pre-season he’s been on fire so far. Lapierre can kill opponents with his speed, allowing his skill to flourish.
21. Columbus Blue Jackets: Connor Zary, C, Kamloops Blazers (WHL): Just a guess that a kid who works like a demon, plays with high compete level and has great success down low would work pretty well on coach John Tortorella’s team. Zary isn’t a blazing skater, but he can put up points by the bushel and the Jackets could use that.
22. New York Rangers (from CAR): Braden Schneider, D, Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL): When you already have an elite forward in the draft, you might as well add elsewhere. Schneider is a rock-solid two-way defenseman who plays physical and skews more towards the defensive side of things. But he does skate well and has ‘pro’ written all over him.
23. Philadelphia Flyers: Kaiden Guhle, D, Prince Albert Raiders (WHL): The other top blueliner from the ‘Dub,’ Guhle is an excellent skater who moves the puck well and has a strong, physical component to his game as well. It’s really a toss-up between Guhle and Schneider, so the Flyers get a good one to continue getting depth on their back end.
24. Washington Capitals: J.J. Peterka, LW, Red Bull Munich (DEL): The second of Germany’s WJC trio with Stuetzle and Lukas Reichel, Peterka has speed, power and a penchant for hunting pucks. He can move up and down a lineup, which is great for a Caps team that will be in transition soon. Currently on loan to Salzburg in Austria, where he’s off to a great start.
25. Colorado Avalanche: Noel Gunler, RW, Lulea (SHL): The Avs are in such a great spot right now that they can take a bit of a chance on Gunler, a great scorer who uses his speed and shot to make things happen. He’s been tagged as immature by some and been snubbed for some national teams, but NHL scouts believe the problem is overblown.
26. St. Louis Blues: Ryan O’Rourke, D, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL): Blues fans will love O’Rourke, who is a bit of a throwback thanks to the mean edge he plays with on the back end. A born leader who can also contribute offensively, he was the captain of the Hounds at 17 and that’s a program that knows how to develop NHL talent.
27. Anaheim Ducks (from BOS): Brendan Brisson, C, Chicago Steel (USHL): It’s always fun when you can go local and Brisson’s California upbringing would make for a great draft-day narrative. Skill-wise, the Michigan commit used his smarts and a devastating one-timer to ruin the USHL as part of a very strong Steel team this past season.
28. Ottawa Senators (from NYI): Jan Mysak, C, Hamilton Bulldogs (OHL): As the Sens continue to stock up their cupboard, it wouldn’t hurt to have another option down the middle and Mysak can help in that regard. The Czech national has great speed and is always around the puck. He came over after the world juniors and put up more than a point per game for Hamilton.
29. Vegas Golden Knights: Ty Foerster, LW, Barrie Colts (OHL): A prolific goal-scorer and the star of the CHL Top Prospects Game, Foerster has a great stick and impressed scouts with his character. He’s the kind of player who will fight for his teammates and while his skating isn’t great, it’s not seen as a huge weakness, either.
30. Dallas Stars: Jacob Perreault, RW, Sarnia Sting (OHL): Like Foerster, Perreault’s focus needs to be on improving his skating, but having said that, the kid can score. Perreault’s smarts and his shot are two of his best assets and with an NHL pedigree from dad Yanic, you know the kid is aware of what it takes to be a pro.
31. San Jose Sharks (from TB): Ty Smilanic, C, U.S. NTDP (USHL): Injuries held Smilanic back this season, but the Quinnipiac commit has a ton of potential and likely would have been a beast at the NHL combine, had it not been cancelled. Smilanic has great speed and a great shot, he just needs to learn how to think the game at a higher level.
Round 2: Boston Bruins: Brett Berard, LW, U.S. NTDP (USHL): A potential future replacement for Brad Marchand, Berard is a tenacious pest with skill who will go to the front of the net to cause chaos, especially on the power play. Berard is a Providence College commit; his dad David Berard coaches at Holy Cross.
Round 2: Tampa Bay Lightning: Evan Vierling, C, Barrie Colts (OHL): A trade from Flint to Barrie revved up Vierling’s year, leading to a massive second half for the pivot. Vierling is a good skater and playmaker who just needs to work on his shot.
Round 3: Pittsburgh Penguins: Zach Uens, D, Merrimack College (Hockey East): Passed over out of Jr. A last year, Uens had an excellent freshman season with the Warriors to bolster his case this time around. His skating and his smarts are calling cards, just needs to get stronger.
Round 3: Vancouver Canucks: Ty Tullio, RW, Oshawa Generals (OHL): The type of kid that can play with great players, Tullio has a lot of skill and has put in a lot of work on his skating and strength recently.
Round 3: New York Islanders: Lucas Mercuri, C, Salisbury (Conn. prep): A big power forward who imposed his will on the prep ranks, Mercuri is great around the net and has sweet hands. Skating needs to keep improving with the UMass commit.
Round 4: Arizona Coyotes: Joonas Oden, LW, KooKoo (Fin.): Passed over his first two chances, Oden was a vital member of Finland’s world junior team, proving himself to be a clutch player for the squad. Already has 61 games of Liiga experience.