Is this article way too early? Absolutely. Is the 2020 NHL draft going to be much needed compensation for what’s likely to be another treacherous season for the Ottawa Senators? Also yes.
The Sens currently possess five selections in the first two rounds of next year’s draft, including their own first round pick this time around. Luckily for them, the 2020 draft is shaping up to be one of the best in NHL history, with a crop of game-breaking talent at the top and incredible depth through the later rounds.
In this two-part series I’ll be taking a look at the projected top 20 players for next year’s draft. The list is based on the consolidated rankings of 22 sources that have already released their early lists — you can find the full rankings along with their expected range here.
1: Alexis Lafrenière (LW)
The term “generational” is very strong, and really only applies to an extremely small handful of players in NHL history. Alexis Lafrenière may not be a generational prospect yet, but he’s close, which makes him an extremely exciting player to watch.
Lafrenière is without a doubt the most intelligent player in the entire draft. His offensive game is well-rounded. He’s an elite playmaker who’s always at least a step ahead of everyone else. He also has the shot of an elite sniper, which has netted him 79 goals in the past two QMJHL seasons. His creativity with the puck is high-end, and he sees his teammates exceptionally well. He’s able to overcome defensive pressure better than any draft prospect since Connor McDavid.
While the next few players on the list have comparable overall skill sets, Lafrenière puts himself a league ahead with his statistical dominance. He scored 80 points in 60 QMJHL games... two seasons ago. He one-upped that this year with 105 points in 61 games, en route to being named the CHL Player of the Year — a mind-boggling accolade to receive before even entering his draft year. He’ll be on the older end of the class (born October 11th, 2001), but his sheer dominance has made him the consensus #1 pick in the minds of most scouts.
2: Quinton Byfield (C)
He’s the prospect whose name you’ll be seeing next to Lafrenière all year in the “CAN HE CATCH HIM???” articles, and while those debates usually end up being useless fodder, Quinton Byfield has a better chance than anyone in this draft class to surpass Lafrenière as the #1 prospect.
The first thing you’ll notice about Byfield is his size. At a colossal 6’4”, he’s also one of the youngest players in the entire draft (born August 19th, 2002). He was named CHL Rookie of the Year, the same accolade won by Lafrenière the previous season.
Byfield brings the best of both worlds from big and small players. He has the long reach and sheer physical dominance of a big, powerful forward, and he also exudes skill in every facet of his game, from his silky hands, to his elite offensive instincts. He also has a laser of a shot, one that he needs to start using more often in his sophomore OHL season.
As for his skating, the concerns are non-existent. He’s extremely mobile — not just for a player of his size — which allows him to both explode through the neutral zone, and power through defenders from the sides. His versatility makes him stand out as an elite player, and his added size will certainly be attractive to tanking teams.
What bumps Byfield to #2 is that his production last season didn’t blow anybody out of the water. Don’t get me wrong, 61 points in 64 games is still very impressive, especially considering he was 16 for the entirety of last season (the Sudbury Wolves also weren’t a very powerful team). But Byfield’s expected to be one of the OHL’s most dominant players next season, which will almost certainly be his last year outside the NHL.
3: Lucas Raymond (RW)
For Sens fans, the way I like to picture Lucas Raymond is as a combination of the best attributes of Mark Stone and Erik Karlsson. Akin to Karlsson, Raymond has game-breaking speed that he uses similarly despite being a winger — he whizzes by opposing players through the neutral zone, and likes to circle through the offensive zone with the puck on his stick. He also plays a phenomenally smart game like Mark Stone, constantly taking the puck away, and is often deployed on both the power play and penalty kill.
It takes a lot to reach this echelon of the 2020 draft, and Raymond, like the two players ranked above him, has a very well-rounded in his skillset. He tore apart the U20 SuperElit league as a 16-17 year old with 48 points in 37 games, and is expected to play in the SHL full-time next season with Frölunda.
With four elite-level Swedes in this draft class, Raymond currently sits on top — mainly due to being the draft class’ best skater. He’s smaller than both the previous prospects at 5’10”, although with his pure talent, he too has the potential to climb all the way to the #1 spot.
4: Anton Lundell (C/LW)
The one description I’ve seen a lot of for Anton Lundell is “refined”. With polished two-way abilities, Lundell has managed to work his way up to playing against older competition faster than any player in the 2020 draft class, and he’s shown tremendous success.
Similarly to Raymond, Lundell excels because he plays a smart game. He won’t blow you away with any particular trait, whether it be his hands or his playmaking ability, but he’s still very solid in those areas. He wins plenty of board battles, finds open space for his teammates, and is overall a strong possession player.
Statistically, Lundell had the second best 2018-19 season behind Lafrenière. He too is one of the draft’s older players (born October 3rd, 2001), although he spent almost his entire pre-draft year playing against men in the Finnish Liiga. He went on to score 19 points in 38 games, the same rate as Aleksander Barkov did in his pre-draft year. His 0.50 P/GP is even comparable to what some top prospects did in their draft year, such as Jesse Puljujärvi (0.56), Jesperi Kotkaniemi (0.51), Mikko Rantanen (0.50), Teuvo Teravainen (0.45) and Sebastian Aho (0.43).
He also rose against older competition on the international stage, being deployed as Finland’s second line centre at the U20 World Junior Championships, en route to a gold medal. Lundell’s smarts will make him a top player to follow in the coming season.
5: Alexander Holtz (RW/LW)
The second Swede on our list, Alexander Holtz is widely regarded as THE pure goalscorer in the 2020 draft, and for good reason. With 30 goals in 38 games in the Swedish U20 league, he also broke the record for most points in a U17 season with 47, before being passed by Lucas Raymond at the last minute.
The easiest trait to pick out of Holtz’s game is his unbelievable shooting talent. Not only is his release deadly, but he’s extremely versatile. He can score from anywhere on the ice with any kind of shot... wrist shot, backhand, slapshot, you name it. It automatically makes him a lethal threat on the power play.
What separates him further is that he’s a multi-dimensional player; he’s able to create space for himself, and has even shown flashes of playmaking ability, especially when the goalies start to anticipate him shooting. His one minor flaw is his skating, which isn’t weak by any means, especially once he reaches his top end speed. Although his acceleration can be inconsistent, occasionally losing a first step on the break-out.
The sky is the limit for Holtz. If he can further improve his consistency, I wouldn’t rule him out of future competitions for the Rocket Richard Trophy. Him and Raymond together will be a treat to watch during international tournaments next year.
6: Cole Perfetti (C)
Scoring more goals and points than any other OHL rookie last season, even more than Byfield, Cole Perfetti had a fantastic year for the Saginaw Spirit. He’s a dual-threat player, posting equal amounts of goals and assists, and it shows in his skillset. He has a fantastic shot, although he only opts to use it in the best scenarios. He’s just as much a playmaker, with tremendous vision and quick passing ability.
It’s worth noting that there were a few elements that helped inflate Perfetti’s point total, which led the Saginaw Spirit. He played alongside Owen Tippett and Ryan McLeod for most of the season, the former of which was one of the league’s premier point-getters. Perfetti’s shooting percentage also sat at 22.4%, which I’d expect to come down next season even with his shooting talent. On the other hand, if he can start producing even more shots next season his stock will only climb higher.
Perfetti also needs to work on his skating, especially when it comes to acceleration. It’s not poor by any means, and his top speed can still back off defenders but it is one area that Perfetti could stand to improve to round out his game. He has plenty of skill and smarts, and while he likely won’t challenge for a spot in the top three, he’s still very much a top ten prospect in this very deep draft.
7: Noel Gunler (RW/LW)
Another Swede! Noel Gunler brings a lot of the same attributes to the table as Holtz, with a couple key differences. He similarly possesses an incredible shot, which is not only extremely powerful, but very versatile. He can score from almost anywhere, and makes a lot of right plays to create those chances for himself.
He also put up monstrous SuperElit numbers — 46 points in 31 games — which actually bested everyone in the league on a per-game rate (1.48 P/GP, compared to 1.30 for Raymond and 1.24 for Holtz). Gunler also had the most successful SHL tryout of the bunch, scoring five points in 15 games.
One thing that turns me away from Gunler is the edge he plays with, which can get him in penalty trouble. He finished the season with 78 penalty minutes, and was suspended five games for punching a linesman. The perceived ‘attitude issues’ from coaches limited his chances during international play — he was shockingly cut entirely from the U18 team — and resulted in him not receiving any chances with the Swedish U20 roster. Gunler is also one of the older players in the draft class, born October 7th 2001, which doesn’t help his case as a top-five prospect when the talent pool is this deep.
Such attitude issues are more common with younger players — he’s 17, after all. If they continue in his draft year then it might start to affect his draft stock, but his raw skill gives him an incredibly high ceiling, which places him in such a high echelon to begin with. Hopefully we’ll be able to see the winger tear other teams apart on the international stage with Team Sweden.
8: Jamie Drysdale (RD)
2020 in the year of the special forward prospects, but Drysdale jumps into the top ten as the first defenceman on the list. With 40 points in 63 games, it’s no monstrous pre-draft year like Ryan Merkley or Jakob Chychrun, but it still sits atop some of the best seasons of the past decade. For comparison, his 0.63 points per game is the same rate Aaron Ekblad had in his pre-draft year.
Some context also needs to be considered here, as Drysdale played for the Erie Otters, one of the OHL’s worst teams last season. He put up an incredible amount of assists considering the lack of high-end talent around him.
Drysdale is a prototypical “new age” defender who excels in transitional play and makes things happen with his speed and his smarts. His edge work is some of the best in the entire class, and he can reach an impressive top speed. He’s also a natural power play quarterback who generates constant movement. What he lacks in size (5’11”) he more than makes up in mobility, which has a lot of scouts eyeing him as this draft’s top blueliner.
9: Marco Rossi (C)
A name that may be familiar to many Sens fans, the Austrian centre had an incredible rookie season with the Ottawa 67’s. With 65 points in 53 games, Marco Rossi posted a P/GP rate even higher than Perfetti, although it should be noted that Rossi is one of the draft’s oldest first-year eligible players, born only eight days after the cutoff for the 2019 draft.
Rossi’s a small centre, standing at 5’9”, but is he ever shifty. He’s extremely balanced for a player of his size, and compliments that with smooth hands that frequently lands him on the highlight reel. He’s also a strong shooter, and likes to do it a lot, averaging over three shots on goal per game last season. He spent the majority of 2018-19 playing alongside top overagers Tye Felhaber and Austen Keating, which certainly boosted his assists. But Rossi’s a great playmaker in his own right, with a knack for getting the puck close to the net.
He may not be as explosive as some of the players higher on this list, but Rossi’s draft-minus-one season was one for the ages, up there with former OHL stars such as Sean Monahan (another former 67) and Alex Galchenyuk. For local Sens fans, he’ll be a treat to watch.
10: Tim Stützle (LW)
Tim Stützle is by far the most enigmatic player in the top ten, for a simple reason: barely anybody has seen him play. The German forward spent the entire 2018-19 season playing for Jungadler Mannheim in the U20 German elite league, a league that only officially began last season (transitioning from the DNL). It wouldn’t typically be a high league on the watch lists of scouts, although 2020 could potentially be the best draft year ever for Germany, with Stützle leading the way (I’m also a fan of John-Jason Peterka).
What we do know is that Stützle absolutely decimated his competition last year. In 21 games as a 16/17-year-old, Stützle racked up an incredible 23 goals and 55 points, with another 11 points in 5 playoff games. He was first in the entire league in points-per-game, with the next closest player 0.71 P/GP behind him. It’s a weak league, mind you, but this was against players up to three years older than him.
He’s also an incredible skater, one of the best available in the 2020 draft. His shot can also be deceptive, and he possesses the smarts to outscore everybody. He’s just a flat out electric skater with only more room to grow.
Stützle stood out in international play, carrying Germany at the World U18s to be promoted into Tier 1. As for his future development, he signed a contract to play in the DEL next season with Adler Mannheim, the same team as 2019 6th overall pick Moritz Seider. His original plan was to take the college route, previously committed to the University of New Hampshire. The DEL isn’t a very strong league, but it’ll provide him with an earlier opportunity to play against professional competition.
Come back tomorrow for ten more profiles on players #11-20!