The 20 Most Underrated Players in the 2020 NHL Draft
Counting down the 2020 draftees deserving of more attention.
The 2020 NHL Draft will be one of the most crucial moments in determining the Ottawa Senators’ success for the next decade. The importance can’t be understated for a franchise desperately lacking top end talent... and it’s less than four months away.
Fortunately, the Sens have built up a mountain of draft picks, essentially tripling the value of an average group of picks. It’ll be paramount that they nail as many of them as possible — even with nine picks in the first three rounds, it won’t mean anything unless they can make great decisions with them.
For those who’ve been following my draft coverage at Silver Seven throughout the year, most of my analysis has centred around following trends — which players’ draft stock have been rising and falling? But today I’ll be flipping it around, looking at players who I personally think should be valued higher at this point in the season.
I am not a scout. Most of my analysis is based on reading the work of others more knowledgable than myself, parsing through statistics, and sometimes actually watching the games. I’m always open to new information and different opinions, and recommend that you read other scouts to get a wide variety of analysis.
You’ll also notice the appearance of Expected Range through this list, which as the name implies, is the pick range where the prospect is expected to be taken given how he’s been ranked by public sources. Here’s the full data.
I’ve selected 20 players that I consider underrated in this draft class, and will be counting down to the #1 most underrated player. Hopefully this sheds a bit more light on some potential high-value picks or potential risers, and in the process shows just how deep this draft class really is.
20: Xavier Simoneau
C, Expected Range: 72-117 (7 sources)
Surprisingly passed over in last year’s draft, Xavier Simoneau has done everything he can this season to guarantee he gets taken the second time around. He’s an electric player in the offensive zone and on the power play, and although his 5’7” height will almost certainly turn some teams away immediately, the league is much different now where players like Simoneau can thrive. He’s currently fifth in league scoring as the captain of the Drummondville Voltigeurs,
19: Jean-Luc Foudy
C, Expected Range: 30-55 (29 sources)
Jean-Luc Foudy has been one of the bigger fallers as the season has progressed, which has been a bit surprising to me. His production unfortunately hasn’t improved since last season, although he’s stood out to me every time I’ve been able to watch the Windsor Spitfires. His skating is his biggest asset, which he’s able to utilize at both ends of the ice as an effective centre. He’s often successful in driving to the net and generating high-danger chances.
18: Grant Slukynsky
LW, Expected Range: 87-99 (2 sources)
A top 100 pick might be a bit rich for Slukynsky, although the fact that he’s only ranked by two sources is what makes him underrated here. He doesn’t have one trait that specifically stands out, but in terms of his results on the high school circuit in Minnesota, his 75 points in 25 games is unignorable. Blake Biondi has been receiving much more attention while posting similar results, so spending a mid-to-late round pick for Slukynsky seems like a good bet. Hopefully he starts gaining some more traction in scouting circles.
17: Marco Rossi
C, Expected Range: 5-8 (34 sources)
It’s tough to call a player underrated when the consensus says he’s already in the top ten in this deep draft, but I earnestly believe that Marco Rossi still isn’t getting enough attention. He leads the entire CHL in scoring, ahead of Lafrenière, Byfield and the rest.
Sure, the Ottawa 67’s are an amazing team and Rossi’s one of the draft’s oldest players. But he’s been the nucleus of the team’s success, and I can’t imagine a scenario where he could do anything more to prove his worth as a franchise-altering player. He may be 5’9”, but his elite athleticism shouldn’t hold him back from being an NHLer next season.
16: Carter Savoie
LW, Expected Range: 29-78 (23 sources)
It’s very rare that top prospects come from the AJHL, but with 53 goals and 99 points in 54 games, Carter Savoie is having the league’s best draft-year season since the turn of the century. Many have brought up concerns that he has a tendency to float around during play, but the upside is still incredibly high when he gets going. Watch out for his younger brother in a couple years too.
15: Zion Nybeck
RW, Expected Range: 18-34 (28 sources)
Zion Nybeck would’ve been significantly higher on this list for me at the beginning of the season, but a cooler second half has bumped him down a bit. Still, he’s wreaked havoc on the SuperElit with one of the league’s best draft-year seasons of the last decade, and only recently has been given a chance to show what he can do in the SHL, unlike the Big Three Swedes. He’s one of the draft’s smaller forwards at 5’8”, but packs a lot of energy in every shift.
14: Benjamin Baumgartner
C, Expected Range: 98-98 (1 source)
In a draft class with few standout overagers, Benjamin Baumgartner has jumped out at me to become my personal favourite. He’s already 19 and going on 20 next month, but as an under-20 player in the NLA, it’s very rare to see players his age succeed as much as he has. He’s slight at 5’9”, but could step right into a pro role next season, possibly even in the NHL.
13: Lukas Cormier
LD, Expected Range: 17-32 (29 sources)
There’s a big debate about which defenceman is the second best in this draft class behind Jamie Drysdale, and for my money, that player is Lukas Cormier. He missed a month this season with a lower-body injury, but I’ve been on the Cormier hype train for a while, as he’s a dynamic two-way player who excels in both transitional play and especially in the offensive zone. He plays a very smart game, shoots a lot, and has logged big minutes for a weak Charlottetown team this season.
12: Marat Khusnutdinov
C, Expected Range: 21-90 (22 sources)
38 points in 44 games in the MHL isn’t all that impressive on the surface, which had me skeptical when I saw scouts hyping him up as a potential first round talent. But after watching him for just a few games (all MHL games are free on YouTube), I’m fully on board. The best word I can us to describe him is daring — he loves making fun and risky plays, and he’s exceptionally good at pulling them off with his incredible hands and passing ability. He was pretty snake-bitten in the first half of the season, and the results have started flowing in more recently.
11: Seth Jarvis
RW, Expected Range: 20-71 (31 sources)
Seth Jarvis’ current expected range may be underrating him due to time lag, as his explosion in the WHL has mostly come in the last couple months. I expect he’ll be a bona-fide first rounder by the time the draft rolls around, but at this point, he’s neck-and-neck with Connor Zary as the league’s best draft-eligible forward. With 98 points in 58 games, his scoring rate is third highest in the WHL in the last decade, behind Sam Reinhart and Nic Petan, and ahead of Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
10: Tyson Foerster
C, Expected Range: 30-55 (28 sources)
Tyson Foerster wasn’t on the radar of many at the beginning of this season, but he’s exploded this season as the top scorer on the Barrie Colts by a country mile. With 36 goals and 80 points in 61 games, Foerster’s trajectory is steep, showing big improvements as the season’s gone on with a hefty shot and fantastic offensive awareness
His skating is what needs the most improvement, which is what holds him back for me a bit in this ranking. But if his results can translate to the next level, Foerster could be a potential steal if he falls in the draft.
9: Dawson Mercer
RW, Expected Range: 12-21 (34 sources)
Dawson Mercer’s been highly regarded since the beginning of the season, and has always been on the radar of scouts. But he hasn’t been able to stop producing in the QMJHL, to the point where I’d argue he’s not being valued highly enough. Most rankings have a relatively clear-cut top top 12 with Mercer on the outside, but to me he warrants inclusion in that elite group.
With 60 points in 42 games this season, his rate is in the range of players like Filip Zadina and Timo Meier. He was off to an even hotter start at the beginning of the year, even closer to the range of players like Jonathan Huberdeau and Nico Hischier. Unfortunately he’s been out with a hand injury since the end of February.
8: Michael Benning
RD, Expected Range: 32-80 (26 sources)
The next three players on this list have a common trait: they’re offence-first defencemen that need to work on their defensive side, but are all scoring at rates that scream attention. Michael Benning is currently the highest ranked of the bunch, but playing in the AJHL and not committed to the NCAA until 2021-22, Benning has been knocked down on some draft lists.
With 75 points in 54 games, the exact same rate Cale Makar had in his draft year, he’s been impossible to ignore. He’s full of confidence and sees the ice really well, and playing alongside Savoie, the two have been unstoppable.
7: William Villeneuve
RD, Expected Range: 35-90 (20 sources)
The second QMJHL defenceman to appear on this list, you may be surprised to hear that he’s 1st amongst all QMJHL blueliners in scoring this year. No D+1 or D+2 player is even close, as along with Jérémie Poirier, they’ve been one of the best 1-2 punches in the league. Poirier’s been ranked significantly higher on most lists for his two-way abilities, but Villeneuve can’t be slept on as the top offensive catalyst on the Saint John Sea Dogs.
6: Anton Johannesson
LD, Expected Range: 47-86 (13 sources)
When it comes to injuries, few draft-eligible players have been as close to the short end of the stick as Anton Johannesson. He only played a total of 11 league games last season, and opened 2019-20 out of the lineup too. But the promise has always been there as a high-end offensive defenceman, which he’s proven this season with 24 points in 20 games in the SuperElit. As a per-game rate, it’s the fourth highest in the league’s history for draft-eligible defencemen (minimum 10 games), sitting only 0.01 behind Erik Brännström’s rate in 2016-17.
The knock on Johannesson is that his game is very offence-first, and as a 5’9” player the odds are it’ll stay that way. But like Villeneuve and Benning, these types of players are still very valuable in the draft, and with a ceiling as high as his, selecting Johannesson in the 2nd or 3rd round seems like a bargain.
5: Martin Chromiak
LW, Expected Range: 35-87 (18 sources)
One of the draft’s youngest players, Martin Chromiak has taken a bit of a non-traditional route, playing in the Slovakian pro league to start the season before moving to the OHL in late December. As a 16-year-old last season he was one of top scorers in the Slovakian U20 league, although the league’s weakness has proven not to be a problem as he’s immediately become one of Kingston’s most valuable players.
I suspect with more time from now to the end of the season we’ll start to see Chromiak rising up the rankings. With most of his scoring coming at even strength, along with a well-rounded skillset offensively, I’d consider him a steal if he drops outside the top 50.
4: Veeti Miettinen
RW, Expected Range: 33-80 (22 sources)
According to Pick224.com, Veeti Miettinen has taken an astounding 289 shots on goal this season in only 51 games, which on a per-game basis beats every other draft-eligible player in every other league. The Jr. A SM-liiga may not be the strongest league, but it’s no slouch in comparison to other junior Euro leagues as well as the CHL. He’s been able to convert on those shots too, with his 73 points in 52 games to lead the U20 league as an 18-year-old.
What’s holding Miettinen back? The main reasons seem to be his height (5’9”) and his age (born September 20th 2001, less than a week after the 2019 draft cutoff). To me, there’s nothing more Miettinen could’ve done this season to prove himself as a high-end talent, with his volume shooting especially erasing red flags for me. Being noted as a 2nd/3rd rounder seems like an underestimation of what he could provide at the next level.
3: Jan Mysak
LW, Expected Range: 12-24 (33 sources)
It’s been a two-part season for Jan Mysak. Starting off in the Czech pro league with HC Litvinov, they refused to play him in an offensive role, which seems asinine considering he saved them from relegation last year with nine points in six games. In January, similar to Chromiak, he packed his bags and left for the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs, where he’s finally seeing more of a spotlight. And with 15 goals and 25 points in his first 22 games, he’s finally starting to see his stock go up.
If this were a few months ago, Mysak would have a good case for being #1 on this list. There are still lists who have him in the late 20s, which to me feels criminal given how well Mysak’s demonstrated he can play against all levels of competition. Even as a 16-year-old in his D-1 season he was holding his own against men, and his quick adjustment to OHL action has only helped showcase how versatile he is offensively.
2: Helge Grans
RD, Expected Range: 26-72 (27 sources)
Helge Grans has quickly turned into one of my favourite defencemen in this draft class, yet he’s expected to be a 2nd or even 3rd rounder. Especially in a draft that lacks high-end defencemen, Grans’ dynamic offensive abilities stick out to me as someone who could be a steal.
With 27 points in 27 games in the SuperElit, he earned a call-up to the SHL where he’s held his own against pro players in limited minutes. Some tracking data shows that his controlled zone exit percentage is exceptionally high amongst fellow draft-eligible players, which ties strongly into his toolkit as a useful blueliner. His defensive game still needs some work, although that’s generally expected from players as young as him, and is much easier to build than his dynamic offensive skills. At 6’3”, he also has the frame to build out physically too.
1: Noel Gunler
RW/LW, Expected Range: 9-17 (34 sources)
To me, no prospect has been more underrated this season than Noel Gunler. After tearing apart the SuperElit league last year as the highest scorer of the draft’s three elite Swedes, he’s moved into a consistent SHL role where he has 13 points in 44 games — not too bad for an 18-year-old pro who hasn’t been given much of a chance to succeed, often being the 13th forward.
In my mind, Gunler is one of, if not the best goal scorer in this draft. His shot is elite and refined in every way possible, and he possesses the high-end intelligence to consistently find open space. He often gets shafted in lists for his poor defensive play, but his team earns 53.90% of the shot attempts when he’s on the ice, which is well above the team average (and even better than his linemates).
On top of it all, perceived attitude issues have had him cut from pretty much all international play, despite proving he deserves the spotlight. His talent should definitively earn him a top ten spot in my opinion, even given the depth of this year’s high-end talent.
Thanks for reading! Do you agree or disagree with this list? Are there any players you’d add? Who are you hoping the Sens draft most? Thanks for reading!