NHL Power Rankings: Best landing spots for Alexis Lafreniere

“The No. 1 overall selection in the 2020 NHL Draft belongs to a team yet to be determined, coming from the qualifying round in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.”

As surprising as it sounded when NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly revealed the 2020 draft lottery winner, it was kind of a fitting for a not-so-normal season.

Alexis Lafreniere, the expected top pick in the 2020 draft, will have to wait a little longer to find out which team he’ll be playing. We’ll learn about that in the Phase 2 drawing, which will involve the losers of the eight Qualifying Round matchups.

According to the NHL, that will take place between the Qualifying Round and the First Round of the Return to Play. That means one of the Blackhawks, Blue Jackets, Canadiens, Canucks, Coyotes, Flames, Hurricanes, Islanders, Jets, Maple Leafs, Oilers, Panthers, Penguins, Predators, Rangers, or Wild will own the No. 1 overall pick. The eight teams that end up being eligible for the lottery will have an equal 12.5% chance at Lafreniere.

But what if the COVID-19 pandemic the derails the NHL’s plans? The lottery would then include only the eight lowest teams by inverse of their regular season points percentage. That would mean Arizona, Chicago Columbus, Florida, Minnesota, Montreal, New York Rangers, and Winnipeg would be in the running for the No. 1 pick.

In this week’s NHL Power Rankings we take a look at the best possible landing spots for Lafreniere.

[Mock Draft: Projecting top picks for the 2020 NHL Draft]

1. Penguins: Imagine the reaction if the team with the seventh-best points percentage during the regular season wins the No. 1 pick? The franchise selected in the top two four drafts in a row from 2003-06, setting them up for three Stanley Cups between 2009 and 2017. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are still at the height of their powers, which means adding a potential young, elite winger — to a cap spending team on a cheap, entry-level contract for three seasons — would allow them to retain “contender” status even longer. Now imagine a Lafreniere – Crosby – Jake Guentzel top line.

2. Canucks: Vancouver owns a roster that is full of young talent and ready to take that next step into “annual playoff team” world. How does a Lafreniere – Elias PetterssonJ.T. Miller / Brock Boeser top line feel to you?

3. Canadiens: The Habs have not selected a Quebec-born player with their first pick since Louie Leblanc in 2009. He played only 50 games in Montreal and has been out of hockey since 2016. Montreal was supposed to host the 2020 draft, meaning Lafreniere missed out on that emotional moment of hearing his name announced in front of friends and family. “Hometown kid gets picked by local team” would be one of the bigger storylines out of this draft.

4. Oilers: One complaint about the construction of the Edmonton lineup was Connor McDavid didn’t have enough help. That’s improved as Leon Draisaitl has shown us. Adding Lafreniere would be another step in strengthening the roster around McDavid and Draisaitl so they don’t have to do it all themselves.

5. Rangers: The retooling-on-the-fly is moving in the right direction for GM Jeff Gorton. The Artemi Panarin signing made an immediate impact and the goalie picture seems clear with Igor Shesterkin‘s emergence. Kaapo Kakko struggled in his rookie season, but he doesn’t have the pressure of turning around the team single-handedly. Same could be said for Lafreniere, who would enter a market trending upward and, like Kakko, be allowed time to grow.

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6. Hurricanes: An important part of the maturation of young players is the ability to make mistakes and learn from them. Rod Brind’Amour does that in Carolina, and that would make a fine place for a top pick to settle. The Hurricanes are already filled with an abundance of young talent. Winning the No. 1 pick and adding Lafreniere to that mix would make them even bigger “jerks.”

7. Blackhawks: They’re 23rd in points percentage, so giving Chicago the top pick would fit with the “The draft should help the bad teams” crowd. Kirby Dach was picked third last year and Adam Boqvist was added at No. 8 in 2018. The Blackhawks are transitioning on the fly without making it a full-on rebuild. Their veterans are aging and they own some painful cap hits, but there is young talent coming through the ranks that could form a future core.

8. Jets: In a different world, the Jets actually won the draft lottery. Had the NHL gone with the traditional 16-team playoff format using points percentage and not added eight more teams, then Winnipeg would be Lafreniere’s future home. “Team E” was the placeholder that won the lottery with a 2.5% chance. That spot would have been held by the Jets in that scenario. Sure would be nice to see Lafreniere in a top six among Kyle Connor, Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele, and Patrik Laine, no?

9. Maple Leafs: Toronto is going to be up against the cap ceiling, especially if it stays at $81.5M for the next few seasons. To stay as a contender that will require cheaper talent making an impact. Lafreniere would be dropped into the center — sorry, centre — of the hockey universe and not be dubbed as “the savior.” Between John Tavares, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, there’s more than enough offensive weapons to allow the rookie ample time to find his role.

10. Blue Jackets: After losing Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin in free agency, Columbus fought their way into playoff contention for most of the season. They also did it while seemingly losing players to injury every other day. If Jarmo Kekalainen could add a prize in Lafreniere to his prospect pool, it would go a long way to maintaining their momentum after a tough summer.

11. Coyotes: Should Taylor Hall decide to stay in Arizona, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine the Coyotes finding themselves firmly in playoff position next season. The organization has long possessed a strong prospect pipeline, and now there’s a good youth/veteran mix on the roster. A bounce-back season by Phil Kessel would only strengthen their case for a postseason berth.

Plus, we know what kind of lottery magic Hall possesses:

12. Panthers: Here’s the question for Florida: Is it better for the organization to win their Qualifying Round matchup with the Islanders, thereby making the playoffs, something the organization stressed following Joel Quenneville’s hiring, or is the 12.5% shot at Lafreniere a better option? Do you take the excitement of a series win over an 87.5% chance of ending up picking No. 9-15? Remember, they would also be involved in the lottery if the Return to Play plan does not go off.

13. Flames: If a Johnny Gaudreau trade does actually happen, I know of a talented winger who could slot into his place…

14. Islanders: Fortunately for the franchise, Lou Lamoriello lottery-protected the first-round pick he sent to Ottawa in the J.G. Paguea deal. If New York does get Lafreniere, that pick would transfer to 2021. If the Return to Play doesn’t happen, then the Senators would have a third first-rounder. A Lafreniere-Matt Barzal would be a fun duo to build around, and with Barry Trotz in charge the top pick will certainly be schooled in the ways of two-way hockey.

15. Predators: The cap picture is ugly, and while Nashville could use an elite prospect to help with their eventual turnaround,  how long will that take? David Poile will not be getting any relief via a rising cap ceiling any time soon. The franchise remains in “win now” mode, but in a highly competitive division how much would Lafreniere help immediately?

16. Wild: Kirill Kaprizov will arrive in the NHL one day. Eventually. This summer? Maybe next season? Anyhoo, he’s currently the big fish in the franchise’s prospect pond. With eight current skaters 30 or older, the Wild are desperate to get younger, faster and skilled. A Kaprizov/Lafreniere tandem would help in Bill Guerin’s reshaping of the roster. But with some long, heavy cap hits between Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, and Mats Zuccarello, a turnaround may take some time.

MORE POWER RANKINGS:
NHL Draft Lottery memories
Most exciting Qualifying Round series
Qualifying Round storylines
Off-season buyout candidates
Round Robin teams with most to lose

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

NHL Bubble Wrap: Plenty of playoff action, including a double OT Game 1

NHL scores Bubble Wrap playoff double OT around the NHL
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  • Hey, the Bruins and Hurricanes got to play, and it went to (double) OT. And Rod Brind’Amour got really mad, and less rich.
  • Barry Trotz got … uh, the latest laugh(?) against his old team, the Capitals.
  • Carey Price made a righteous save, but lost.
  • Plenty of Game 1 action, so let’s get rolling.

NHL scores from 2020 Stanley Cup Playoff Game 1 action

Bruins 4, Hurricanes 3 [2 OT] (Boston leads 1-0)

After having their game postponed from Tuesday, the Bruins and Hurricanes made up for lost time by taking a lot of time in their Game 1. These two teams needed to reach a second overtime period to decide their Game 1, with Patrice Bergeron scoring the OT GWG after Petr Mrazek was just a tooooouch off of his angle.

Islanders 4, Capitals 2 (Isles lead 1-0)

T.J. Oshie scored two power-play goals to give the Capitals a 2-0 lead. Then things fell apart. The Islanders took advantage of some sloppy play from the Capitals, and Anders Lee made some Capitals enemies with a fight, a hit that may have injured Nicklas Backstrom, and a goal. Barry Trotz’s new team took this one against his old pals.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Avalanche 3, Coyotes 0 (Colorado leads 1-0)

For much of this one-sided Game 1, it seemed like Darcy Kuemper might steal (another?) win for the Coyotes. It took until fairly deep into the third period for the Avalanche to get a puck past Kuemper. But when it rained, it poured, with three goals in about a minute and a half. As great as Kuemper’s been for the Coyotes, Arizona needs to do more than sit back and only fire 14 SOG against Philipp Grubauer and the Avs.

Flyers 2, Canadiens 1 (Philadelphia leads 1-0)

The Carter Hart – Carey Price hype seemed fairly justified in Game 1. While Price made the save of that Game 1 (see: highlight of the night), Hart got the best of his idol in this one. The 2-1 score might indicate that it was a slog. Not really; the two teams played with pretty solid pace. That said, the Canadiens couldn’t get a whole lot done in the third period, when the Flyers were really clamping down.

Canucks 5, Blues 2 (Vancouver leads 1-0)

Well, then. The Canucks never trailed in Game 1, building leads of 1-0, 2-1, and then a 3-2 edge that they would not relinquish. The Canucks’ power play did a lot of damage in Game 1, and Bo Horvat was a locomotive, scoring two goals (including a beauty to really put Game 1 out of reach). Not the greatest game for Jordan Binnington, who also saw some drop-off during the regular season.

Three Stars from Wednesday in 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs

1. Patrice Bergeron, Bruins

Really, hand it to “The Perfection Line” if you’d like. Bergeron scored the overtime game-winner, and also collected an assist. David Pastrnak (1G, 1A) and Brad Marchand (2A) enjoyed two-point outputs, as well. While the Hurricanes kept that line from dominating as much as they sometimes can in Game 1, they still made the difference. (Rod Brind’Amour would argue that the refs made a big difference, as well.)

2. Josh Bailey, Islanders

Here’s another award where you could hand it to forwards who made similar impacts. Still, Bailey came up big during the Islanders’ comeback, scoring the shorthanded goal that ended up being the game-winner, and assisting on the 4-2 goal that put things out of reach. Brock Nelson and Mathew Barzal both came through with two-assist games, delivering as well for the Isles.

3. Bo Horvat, Canucks

It’s tempting to go with Carter Hart, who outdueled Carey Price (his idol) on Wednesday. Maybe there’s an urge to reward Darcy Kuemper for his 37-save performance, nearly willing the Coyotes to a win before allowing three goals late against the Avs.

But Horvat scored the first goal to set the tone for the Canucks against the Blues in Game 1, and then the 4-2 tally with a beautiful move to make a St. Louis surge less likely.

Highlight of the Night

It has to be Carey Price’s diving, Nick Suzuki-saving stop, right?

Factoids

  • Shea Weber became the second defenseman in Canadiens history with a goal streak of three consecutive games or more (Weber’s now at four goals, one assist in three games). Guy Lapointe ranks as the other Canadiens defender to do so, meeting that mark in 1973. [NHL PR]
  • The Islanders are developing a knack for coming back against the Capitals in playoff games:

THURSDAY’S NHL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE

Game 2: Blue Jackets vs. Lightning (TB leads 1-0), 3 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Game 2: Blackhawks vs. Golden Knights (VGK leads 1-0) , 5:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Game 2: Hurricanes vs. Bruins, 8 p.m ET – NBCSN
Game 2: Flames vs. Stars, 10:30 p.m ET (CGY leads 1-0) – NBCSN

PHT’s 2020 Stanley Cup playoff previews
Flyers vs. Canadiens
Lightning vs. Blue Jackets
Bruins vs. Hurricanes
Stars vs. Flames
Blackhawks vs. Golden Knights

First Round predictions
Power Rankings: Best First Round matchups
Conn Smythe Watch: Korpisalo, Aho leading entering First Round
Roundtable: NHL playoff surprises; vulnerable top seeds

MORE:
• Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Canucks never trail, beat Blues 5-2 in Game 1

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The young Canucks didn’t look like they feared the defending-champion Blues, at least not in Game 1. The Canucks never trailed in Game 1, breaking a tied third period to win 5-2, taking a 1-0 series lead against the Blues.

Blues found themselves chasing Canucks in Game 1

When we look back at this First Round 2020 Stanley Cup Playoff series, we may say that the Blues eventually neutralized the explosive but inexperienced (and not particularly deep) Canucks. That was not the story of Game 1.

During the first period, both teams scored fairly similar power-play goals, with Bo Horvat and David Perron finding the net with quick shots from the “bumper” position. Vancouver’s power play continued to cause problems, as Elias Pettersson also briefly gave the Canucks a 2-1 lead during the second period. Jaden Schwartz quickly answered with a 2-2 goal as the last tally of that period, yet this would not be the last time the Blues found themselves trailing in Game 1.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

In a moment Jordan Binnington would like to have back, Troy Stecher boomed a shot by the Blues goalie 5:37 into the third. About two-and-a-half minutes later, Horvat bamboozled Vince Dunn with a splendid move to score his second goal of Game 1, and make it 4-2.

While the Blues managed some pushes late in Game 1, they couldn’t come back against the Canucks. After St. Louis got whistled for a late penalty, J.T. Miller scored the 5-2 goal on a power play at first focused on clock-killing.

Vancouver managed one of the bigger Game 1 upsets of the First Round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, leaving the Blues with some serious work to do.

There was some nastiness in Game 1, including this ugly spear by Troy Brouwer on Antoine Roussel:

Will this series get nastier? Perhaps. Considering the makeup of this Blues team, the finesse-heavy portion of the top of the Canucks lineup would be wise to mostly avoid the fray. So far, Horvat, Pettersson, and Quinn Hughes didn’t seem overwhelmed by the moment in facing the defending champs.

One other side note: should the Blues keep an eye on Binnington? As great as Binnington was during that 2019 Stanley Cup run, his NHL sample size isn’t enormous. And, quietly or not, Jake Allen enjoyed a much better 2019-20 season than Binnington did.

Consider this comparison, via Hockey Reference:

Game 1 Canucks Blues Binnington Allen comparison

Just food for thought, particularly if the Blues struggle as the First Round progresses.

No. 4 St. Louis Blues vs. No. 5 Vancouver Canucks (VAN leads series 1-0)

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Vancouver 5, St. Louis 2
Friday, Aug. 14: Vancouver at St. Louis, 6:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 16: St. Louis at Vancouver, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Monday, Aug. 17: St. Louis at Vancouver, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Wednesday, Aug. 19: Vancouver at St. Louis – TBD
*Friday, Aug. 21: St. Louis at Vancouver – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: Vancouver at St. Louis – TBD

*if necessary

MORE:
• Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Flyers beat Canadiens as Hart gets edge over Price in Game 1

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Carter Hart and the Flyers stayed hot in Game 1, holding off the Canadiens by a score of 2-1 to take a 1-0 series lead.

Hart, Flyers win Game 1 against Canadiens

The Flyers never trailed against the Canadiens in Game 1.

To start the scoring, Ivan Provorov scored a power-play goal as the lone tally of the first period. While the Canadiens got a goal back when Shea Weber connected with a PPG, it was a short-lived burst. Joel Farabee connected on his own deflection rebound to score 16 seconds later, scoring a 2-1 goal in the second period that ended up being the last of Game 1.

This wasn’t a stodgy, all-defense affair despite the low 2-1 score.

Instead, Carey Price and especially Carter Hart were sharp for the Canadiens and Flyers in Game 1. While Hart stood out, Price also made what was almost certainly the save of Wednesday night:

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Montreal’s biggest push of Game 1 happened during the second period. The Habs managed a 17-7 SOG advantage in the middle frame, but couldn’t make enough of a difference.

Chalk it up to some special teams play or not, but the Flyers actually fired more SOG in the third period (13-6) even though they were managing a lead against the Habs.

Overall, the Canadiens didn’t seem totally out of place against the Flyers. Even so, the Flyers stayed hot, and mostly thwarted any comeback attempts by the Habs. If this becomes a pattern, Carter Hart will really gain some esteem compared to his idol, Carey Price.

No. 1 Philadelphia Flyers vs. No. 8 Montreal Canadiens (PHI leads series 1-0)

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Philadelphia 2, Montreal 1
Friday, Aug. 14: Montreal at Philadelphia, 3 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 16: Philadelphia at Montreal, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
Tuesday, Aug. 18: Philadelphia at Montreal, 3 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Wednesday, Aug. 19: Montreal at Philadelphia – TBD
*Friday, Aug. 21: Philadelphia at Montreal – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: Montreal at Philadelphia – TBD

*if necessary

MORE:
• Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Canucks-Blues stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup First Round

Canucks-Blues stream
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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs continues with Wednesday’s First Round matchup between the Canucks and Blues. Coverage begins at 10:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Watch the Canucks-Blues stream at 5:30 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The defending champion Blues finished the regular season atop the Western Conference, becoming the first defending champ to finish the following regular season atop their conference since the 2000-01 Devils. But in Round Robin play, St. Louis  went winless (0-2-1), blowing a third period lead in all three of their losses.

The Canucks were the seventh seed in the playoffs based on regular season points percentage. After getting shut out in Game 1 in their Qualifying Round series against the 10th-seeded Wild, Vancouver won three straight to advance to the traditional First Round. The series win over the Wild was Vancouver’s first since reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2011.

The Canucks took two of the three games against the Blues this season. Two of their matchups went past regulation, while the final game was a one-goal game until an empty-net goal.

WHAT: Vancouver Canucks vs. St. Louis Blues
WHERE: Rogers Place – Edmonton
WHEN: Wednesday, August 12, 10:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
ON THE CALL: Kenny Albert, Pierre McGuire
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Canucks-Blues stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

No. 4 St. Louis Blues vs. No. 5 Vancouver Canucks

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Vancouver at St. Louis, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Friday, Aug. 14: Vancouver at St. Louis, 6:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 16: St. Louis at Vancouver, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Monday, Aug. 17: St. Louis at Vancouver, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Wednesday, Aug. 19: Vancouver at St. Louis – TBD
*Friday, Aug. 21: St. Louis at Vancouver – TBD
*Sunday, Aug. 23: Vancouver at St. Louis – TBD

*if necessary

MORE:
• Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round schedule