The top two picks in the 2020 NHL Draft are all but decided, with Alexis Lafrenière and Quinton Byfield sitting atop a talented group of players. It’s at pick #3 where the fun will begin.
Between Tim Stützle, Marco Rossi, Jamie Drysdale and others, there’s a variety of highly skilled players to choose from after the top two, many of which we’ll be covering in our series of draft profiles. Today we’ll be focusing on our personal favourite option, Lucas Raymond.
Lucas Raymond (RW/LW)
|Team||League||Height||Weight||Expected Range||NHL Rank|
|Frölunda HC||SHL||5'10"||165 lbs||3 - 6||#4 (Euro)|
Hailing from Gothenburg, Sweden, the same hometown as Daniel Alfredsson, Raymond’s a winger who predominantly plays on the right side but can occasionally play on his off-hand. He plays for Frölunda HC of the SHL, the same team that Erik Karlsson played for, posting ten points in 33 games this past season. He also had a short stint in the SuperElit league where he scored 14 points in nine games.
While it’s difficult to rack up awards playing in a pro league as a 17-year-old, Raymond represented Sweden well at the World Juniors en route to a bronze medal. He was a highly touted prospect long before the 2019-20 season began, as his 48 points in 37 SuperElit games was the most by a D-1 player since Lias Andersson and Jesper Boqvist in 2015-16. He was named the U20 league’s best forward in his 16-year-old season, something that’s only been accomplished once before by Elias Lindholm.
His showing at the 2019 U18 World Championships was particularly memorable with eight points in seven games, including a hat trick in the gold medal game to defeat Russia in overtime with the golden goal.
In terms of the overall view by the consensus, Raymond’s expected to go between 3rd and 6th based on public rankings. He was the third highest valued prospect for most of the season before Stützle’s mid-season rise, and even now the consensus is mostly split on who’s ahead between the two of them.
The first thing you need to know about Raymond: he’s fast. Really freaking fast. Like, probably the best skater in the draft class fast. This doesn’t only apply to his straight line speed either, as he’s extremely agile on his feet. He packs an explosiveness that gives him extra steps on defenders, making zone entires one of his biggest strengths.
On top of this, his vision and playmaking abilities are both very high-end. Similar to Lafrenière, he’s fantastic at evading opposition and creatively figuring out ways to make plays out of seemingly nothing in the offensive zone. He’s far from being a run-and-gun player — his smooth mobility around the ice makes him a threat at all times.
Tied into this, his slick hands have made him an extremely difficult player for defenders to handle in situations where Raymond has the puck on his stick, especially off the rush. His level of control and overall confidence to create high-danger opportunities makes him a dual threat as both a goalscorer and playmaker (although he tends to lean more towards making the play), and especially useful as a power play quarterback.
An aspect that I feel is being a bit underrated about Raymond’s game is his abilities as a two-way player. He’s exceptional at breaking up plays with his stick and recovering loose pucks, and with his motor always running at a high speed he frequently makes himself a key part of his team’s backcheck. He still has a ways to go with battling for pucks along the boards, although I have plenty of room for leniency given he’s a 5’10” 17-year-old playing against professional competition.
Ten points in 33 games doesn’t sound like a lot, and it really isn’t. Just as a direct comparison to some recent top picks who played professional hockey in Europe, his 0.30 points per game falls well short of players like Kaapo Kakko (0.84 in Finland), Jesperi Kotkaniemi (0.51 in Finland) and the aforementioned Lias Andersson (0.45 in Sweden). But under the hood, there are plenty of contextual factors that need to be taken into account.
First, and most importantly, he just didn’t play a lot. For reasons that even Frölunda fans don’t seem to comprehend, Raymond just didn’t fall into favour with head coach Roger Rönnberg. Most of his minutes came on the fourth line playing with weak teammates, occasionally even being used as a 13th forward. Regular shifts were very hard to come by, as he finished the season playing an average of 9:48 per game, 13th amongst Frölunda forwards.
The lack of usage also extended onto special teams, averaging 48 seconds per game on the power play and not even a second on the penalty kill. It was disappointing to see his season play out the way it did, as rumours of a potential transfer or loan to the Allsvenskan never came to fruition.
If we now take his scoring and adjust it on a per-minute scale, his 1.86 points per 60 minutes is much more respectable compared to both Kotkaniemi (1.96) and Andersson (1.99), albeit still below due to playing with weaker teammates and having zero power play time. Still, the lack of production on the surface needs to be taken with a massive, grape-sized grain of salt, as these factors were completely out of his control.
But when he did hit the ice, he made the most of it. Playing on a strong possession team, Raymond’s on-ice shot attempt percentage (Corsi) was high at 54.32%, above average for his team and superior to the draft’s two other high-end Swedes in Alexander Holtz and Noel Gunler. He seemed to be the one generating most of that strong differential too, with his excellent puck retrieval skills and knack for creating havoc in the offensive zone.
Aside from raw point totals, it’s hard to ding Raymond statistically. He’s shown to be an effective play driver against pro competition in super limited minutes. Now it’s just a matter of seeing how he’ll be able to translate that to a much larger role.
As a smaller player who still has plenty of room to build his strength, Raymond isn’t expected to make as much of an immediate impact in the NHL like the draft’s top two picks. He tended to get bumped off the puck more playing against older and stronger players, making this the biggest area he’ll have to work on to be able to translate the rest of his game.
The uncertainty about his development path could also be taken into consideration a little bit. His shaky relationship with Frölunda is far from ideal as a prospect with high-end potential, as another season playing in a grinder’s role could potentially start to detract from his elite offensive tools. He really needs to start playing more minutes, and it’s a great sign that Frölunda’s general manager is keen on increasing his role next season. But for now it’s just an extra mark of uncertainty.
“For next season, we’ve made sure we have more room and he’s going to have a much bigger role on the team. I think he’s mentally and physically ready for that,”
— Frölunda GM Fredrik Sjostrom (The Athletic)
Additionally, because he just spent a season in a limited role, we have to wonder how he’ll bounce back as a special teams player. His stint in the SuperElit plus his play at international events points to him still being a super effective power play quarterback, but it’s just an extra bit of uncertainty that can make it a bit tougher to gauge Raymond’s future.
With the NHL continuously getting faster, players like Raymond are becoming even more valuable. His high-end electric offence plus his two-way abilities make him a very projectable player to the NHL, despite Frölunda holding back his opportunities to succeed this season. He’s more than earned his consideration as a top three pick in what’s already a very strong draft class.
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“For my money, he’s the best skater in the entirety of the draft. [...] His crossovers and skating mechanics belong in some sort of hockey shrine devoted to near-perfection, and he’ll be an absolute terror through transition and off the rush at the NHL-level.”
“In this draft, he is one of the kings of doing what coaches call “the little stuff” really really well. He never gives his opponents very much time to think or set up a play in their own zone; he’s constantly applying pressure; he’s also exceptional with his stick in transition; he can break up transitions before they even start; he can knock pucks down in the neutral zone and turn play around.”
“Raymond brings super high pace to his game, he always plays at a high speed, and he’s really the guy that quarterbacks the line he’s on. I think when you watch a guy like that, and you see what he can do when he’s playing with players like Alex Holtz who he played with at the World Juniors, when he has those top tier linemates, he’s really good at using them and being creative in making plays for his linemates. I think when he gets to the NHL and he has those kinds of guys that he can rely on, I think he’s going to have a lot of success.”
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