NHL Mock Draft: Who gets selected after Alexis Lafrenière?

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By Ryan Wagman, McKeen’s Hockey lead prospect writer

After months of waiting, the NHL Draft is suddenly, almost surprisingly, upon us. Round 1 will take place Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN (livestream) and Rounds 2-7 be Wednesday beginning at 11:30 a.m. ET on NHL Network. With so much about 2019-20 that didn’t go according to plan (but some that did – congratulations to the Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning!) and so much still unknown about what we can expect out of a 2020-21 season, a draft now seems somewhat anticlimactic. 

But outside of the fact that hundreds of players and their families – not to mention your humble analyst – will not be gathered in one cavernous hockey arena to experience the event together, there is still a lot to be excited about as we seek to put this traumatizing year behind us and look to a brighter future. I think that is something that fans of all 31 teams can get behind. 

The contents of this final mock NHL draft are based on the work I performed with my colleagues at McKeens Hockey over the last season, spending weekends in rinks around the world and following up with additional video work to round out our impressions of the players up for consideration. Collectively, we watched, reported on, and ultimately graded 575 players who could hear their names called out this week.

For skaters, we looked at their current, and anticipated future abilities in the areas of skating, shooting, puck skills, hockey IQ, and physicality, For netminders, we looked at quickness/speed/athleticism, compete/temperament, vision/play reading, technique/style, rebound control, and puck handling. Once we have a full picture of who a player is and who he seems to be trending, we can assign him a score for Overall Future Projection (OFP), allowing us to compare the expected future value of any group of players and to then rank them accordingly, while maintaining some room for subjective movement in the rankings. Our subscribers can read full reports on well over 150 of those 575 on the website, with detailed breakdowns of each category to learn how we came to our grading.

The 2020 NHL Draft will be held virtually with Round 1 taking place on Tuesday, Oct. 6 beginning at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN (livestream). Rounds 2-7 will be held Wednesday, Oct. 7 beginning at 11:30 a.m. ET on NHL Network.

In addition to the scouting reports, our subscribers can download our NHL draft guide and the new Prospect Report, looking at the top prospects in every system. In the next few months, our annual guidebook for fantasy hockey, will also be available for download to our members.

Once we know the players under consideration, we can then look at the teams drafting and how they have drafted in the past under their current management, or their respective system breakdowns, and try to guess how they would draft if we did not allow for any additional trades. This mock NHL draft takes all of that into account, looking at how we anticipate them drafting based on player strengths, team organizational strengths and weaknesses, and team drafting philosophies. More importantly, once I make the pick, I will justify it under that rubric, so that when the team chooses otherwise, you can examine not just my pick, but my logic to see how far off I was.

1. New York Rangers – Alexis Lafrenière, LW, Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL) 

Anything else would be serious overthinking. Maybe you like Quinton Byfield for his potentially higher upside, a supposition based on his relative age and size combo. Do you prefer 97 cents right now, or 90 cents, with the possibility that I give you an additional 15 cents in a few years, or take away 10 cents? Byfield has immense potential, but so does Lafrenière, and Lafrenière is as ready to produce in his first post-draft season as any prospect since Connor McDavid. I see him playing second line left wing behind Artemi Panarin right away. The rebuild on Broadway is over.

2. Los Angeles Kings Tim Stuetzle, LW, Adler Mannheim (DEL)

So I namechecked Byfield when explaining the first pick above, yet I am not even taking him second? What gives?

Actually not much. I, and the scouting team at McKeens Hockey, see very little daylight between Stuetzle and Byfield. That is including the fact that the awesome OHL dynamo is a center while the dynamic Deutschlander is a natural winger who can play up the middle. Both can play right away, while Stuetzle is more certain to play a central role immediately. He has first line puck skills and an incredibly well-refined game, while also holding the distinction of being arguably the best skater in the NHL draft. Also, it helps that the Kings would be very comfortable in their perception of Stuetzle as they have an ongoing interest in the DEL team from Berlin. He will be part of the next (post-Gabe Vilardi) wave of top prospects reaching LA.  

3. Ottawa Senators (from San Jose Sharks) – Quinton Byfield, C, Sudbury Wolves (OHL)

Considering the third overall pick, in this scenario, is a player who could feasibly go first or second (5/95 on those possibilities), GM Pierre Dorion is rubbing his hands together before making this pick. In a perfect world, Byfield grows into a face-of-the-franchise level player. In a reasonably disappointing scenario, he matures into a steady 25-30 goal scorer for a decade plus. Byfield may not have any one attributes that is the best in this NHL draft class, but his combination of skills can be argued to be the best. He is a true five-tool player (skating, shot, puck skills, smarts, physicality).

[2020 NHL Draft: Date, time, order of picks for all 31 teams]

4. Detroit Red Wings – Cole Perfetti, C, Saginaw Spirit (OHL)

Here is where things get interesting. The first pick was a no-brainer. Chalk. There are arguments to be had about 2/3 or 3/2, but the choice there is limited to only those two players. The Red Wings could literally go in seven different directions with the fourth pick, and none would be as surprising as their selection of Moritz Seider sixth overall last year. And may I remind you that that pick is doing quite well. One thing I know about Yzerman, is that he will not be afraid to be patient with the pick. The fact that a player has only a 10% chance to play in the NHL next season, and only a 50% shot in 2021-22, while a different player has a 35% chance to play right away and an 80% chance to play in 21-22 will take much less precedent than what each player will be able to produce from 2022-23 through 2028-29, and beyond.

I believe Yzerman values hockey IQ, and of those available, the most refined are Perfetti, Lucas Raymond, and Marco Rossi. Rossi falls short of the other two in terms of skill (although he is still awesome), while Perfetti has the edge in grit. Raymond’s offensive game is more well-rounded. In the end, I take Perfetti, as he seems to have fewer scenarios whereby he fails to live up to his potential and just as many where he ends up a 70-plus point first liner for the long haul.

5. Ottawa SenatorsJake Sanderson, D, USNTDP (USHL)

Lucas Raymond would not be insane here, but I struggle to justify taking two forwards when a future No. 1 defenseman is staring me in the face. So the question is why Sanderson and not Jamie Drysdale? The answer is that the former is a 25 minute/game player, who plays in all situations, skates like the wind, and moves the puck with grace and skill. Sanderson is headed to North Dakota for at least one season, where he will play with fellow Sens prospect Jacob Bernard-Docker. They could (should) even be partners. Imagining a future top four of Sanderson, Bernard-Docker, Thomas Chabot, and Erik Brannstrom gives me the shivers. 

6. Anaheim Ducks –  Jamie Drysdale, D, Erie Otters (OHL)

If the question is what does the Ducks organization lack, the answer is easily Jamie Drysdale. If the question is which player on the board is the “best,” meaning greatest perceived future value, we have to add Lucas Raymond and Marco Rossi to the discussion. I lean towards Drysdale in this scenario as the stylistic fit is too good to pass on. Drysdale could finally allow the Ducks to move on from the regret of letting Shea Theodore go to Vegas to allow the Ducks to keep Josh Manson and Sami Vaatanen. Drysdale is easily the best skating blueliner in this NHL draft and is right up there with the Quinn Hughes‘ and Cale Makar’s of the world in that regard. Many like Drysdale as much, or more, than Sanderson, but both project as first pairing defenders for a long time to come.

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7. New Jersey DevilsYaroslav Askarov, G, Neva St. Petersburg (VHL)

With the top defensemen both being drafted by the first teams reasonably likely to draft them, the Devils are now the first team who could be convinced to draft the top netminder in the class. Their current NHL incumbent, Mackenzie Blackwood is still pretty young (23) and really only broke through last year, but there is little behind him in the system. Under new management in Tom Fitzgerald, a first time GM, there is an element of mystery with New Jersey’s direction. They could add another high end forward to a system that already boasts recent first overall picks in Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes and other youngsters besides. They could add a high end winger to work with those two, like Lucas Raymond, or Marco Rossi. Rossi has the added benefit of playing for the Ottawa 67s, a club that the Devils would be very familiar with, already having three other players in the system playing there last year. Ultimately, I am going with Askarov for this pick, thinking that the New Jersey organization, being heavily into analytics, will want to be ahead of the curve with two competent goalies to split the starts when the team is ready to fight for a playoff spot again.

8. Buffalo Sabres – Marco Rossi, C, Ottawa 67s (OHL)

Another first time GM will be picking here, and we have even less of a clue as to what Kevyn Adams will do than we did with Fitzgerald and the Devils. At least we saw Fitzgerald pull off some trades late last season. With the top two defensemen both gone as well as the number one goalie in this scenario, we can be reasonably certain that the Sabres will add a high end forward here. Options include Raymond and Rossi, mentioned above, as well as Swedish winger Alexander Holtz. Dark horse options include Jack Quinn, Seth Jarvis, and Anton Lundell.

Considering the organization has little outside of Dylan Cozens coming to replenish the forward ranks, these options all could fit here. There is a feeling that Buffalo will rely more on statistical benchmarks this year than so-called “old school” scouting (there are only four amateur scouts listed on the team website). The question then is whether Rossi’s CHL-leading production outweighs what Raymond or Holtz accomplished playing against men in Sweden. It says here that Rossi’s accomplishments will carry the day in this scenario, giving the Sabres a player with high-end offensive tools and a never quitting motor. His low center of gravity also helps to diminish concerns about his lack of height. Rossi is very close to NHL ready.

9. Minnesota Wild – Lucas Raymond, LW, Frolunda (SHL)

Three picks, three first time GMs talking the microphone. Bill Guerin has been on the job for longer than either Fitzgerald or Adams, and between his past as Jim Rutherford’s right-hand man in Pittsburgh and the addition of Judd Brackett from Vancouver to work with him, it almost makes too much sense in this scenario to put a stop to the undeserved fall of Lucas Raymond. Stylistically, Raymond plays a different game than former Brackett draft pick Elias Pettersson, in that Raymond is more of a play creator than a finisher, but his dynamic overall offensive game has too many parallels to Petterssen to ignore. Also, putting Raymond on a line with right winger Kevin Fiala, perhaps with a two-way center between them, will give the Wild a look they have rarely had since they were added to the NHL.

10. Winnipeg Jets – Anton Lundell, C, HIFK (Liiga)

For a team with only one high end forward in the pipeline in Kristian Vesalainen, expect the Jets to be looking at the same group of forwards I listed up above discussing the Sabres’ choice. With Rossi and Raymond now off the table, that leaves Holtz, Jarvis, Quinn, Lundell. Holtz and Lundell are closest to NHL-ready, Jarvis might be the most dynamic offensive driver, and Quinn is a late bloomer who might not yet have reached his peak. The Jets have gone to Finland in the first a few times recently, between Vesalainen and 2019 first rounder Ville Heinola. Winnipeg has also not been shy about drafting from Sweden in the early rounds, but has largely stayed away from the WHL, with two picks in four years, only one of whom was signed. Considering how the Jets seem to prefer players who are well-rounded, I am giving a slight lean here to Lundell considering all of the factors already mentioned. Look for him to be a top six staple very soon.

11. Nashville Predators – Seth Jarvis, C, Portland Winterhawks (WHL)

One could make an argument here to start looking at defensemen again, whether it is Braden Schneider or Kaiden Guhle, but I don’t see it yet. The Predators have one of the strongest, deepest bluelines in the sport and need to continue building up their forward ranks to better balance out the roster. Even though the top four players in the system (check out the McKeens Hockey Prospect Report) are forwards, a team typically plays with 12 of them at a time. Of the top three forwards on the board (Holtz, Jarvis, Quinn), there are two goalscorers, and one play driver. I could see the Predators choosing any of the above, but in their shoes, I would take the player who is most likely to be able to improve the play of his linemates, and so I am matching them up with Seth Jarvis. A high end skater and playmaker, Jarvis also knows how to score himself and he has top six written all over him.

12. Florida Panthers – Jack Quinn, RW, Ottawa 67s (OHL)

And we are back to first time GMs here. In Bill Zito’s case, we can look at how his former team, the Columbus Blue Jackets, drafted, or we could look to their scouting staff, although only five scouts are currently listed on the team’s web page, including their Director of Amateur Scouting, Jason Bukala, who has filled that role since 2011-12. Going by organizational need, it would almost be a no-brainer to draft one of the blueliners mentioned in the Nashville section above. The system has one of the best netminders not yet in the NHL in Spencer Knight, and a wide range of talented forwards who are all pretty close to ready. In the end, though, I have a hard time passing up on a possible first line winger for a likely second pairing defender. I will match the Panthers up with Jack Quinn over Holtz simply due to the Panthers recent history of drafting out of the OHL, while only rarely looking to Sweden. Quinn doesn’t address a need, per se, but this team needs goals and Quinn can provide.

13. Carolina Hurricanes (from Toronto Maple Leafs) – Alexander Holtz, RW, Djurgardens IF (SHL)

Considering owner Tom Dundon’s stated preference (you might call it a dictat) for not drafting defensemen in the first round, it is almost unfathomable that Holtz remains on the board past this spot. The Hurricanes’ reward for picking up the tab on the last year of Patrick Marleau’s contract with Toronto. Once the actual NHL draft rolls around, Holtz could be off the board as early as pick No. 6, but in this scenario, he is here for the drafting, and his stock drop lands here. Holtz has an NHL frame, and projects to offer a bit of everything at a high end level, even if his shot is currently his best weapon. 

14. Edmonton Oilers – Dawson Mercer, RW, Chicoutimi Sagueneens (QMJHL)

We are now entering a beefier fourth tier of prospects with the Oilers’ pick. The separation between players available is not as distinct anymore so it comes down to what the Oilers are most comfortable with. Despite drafting defensemen with their first rounders for the past two NHL drafts, a team can never have enough blueliners. Between the top two of Schneider and Guhle, the latter is a better fit for the Oilers, as he can play at a higher pace. If they leaned forward, I could see them looking at any of Noel Gunler, Connor Zary, Dawson Mercer, Hendrix Lapierre, Mavrik Bourque, Rodion Amirov, Dylan Holloway, and others.

After much thought, I like Mercer as the best fit. None of the forwards is a burner who could keep up with McDavid, but the Oilers also need guys to play with Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Mercer has the best combination of skills and grit that would help his linemates maximize their abilities. His game is also quite mature (he played for Team Canada at the WJC last year as a 17 year old), and he could be a fit sooner than later. 

15. Toronto Maple Leafs (from Pittsburgh Penguins) – Braden Schneider, D, Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL) 

For an organization in almost perpetual need of a stud blueliner, ideally one with a strong defensive presence and who plays on the right side, having Braden Schneider just sitting here is almost ideal. Before pulling the trigger, I had to overthink it a bit. The Toronto system is pretty shallow these days at all positions. But look at those forwards mentioned above and add to those names the likes of J.J. Peterka, Lukas Reichel and Brendan Brisson. Toronto admittedly looks for skills and smarts in its picks, so which available players have the best combination of those attributes? Among the blueliners, I give a slight edge to Schneider over Guhle. For forwards, I am then looking at Brisson, Bourque, Peterka, Nybeck, Amirov, and Zary.

If I want to use skating as a tie-breaker, it doesn’t help much, other than likely removing Nybeck from the list. If I want to give more regards to centers over wingers, and make some account for proximity to the NHL, I seem to land on Zary as the choice among forwards. I don’t advocate drafting for need, but in a case where I see two players with anticipated future value that close, I will allow need to break the tie. Schneider it is, a top four, right side defender who can shut down the opposition’s top lines and move the puck well enough to contribute offensively as well.

16. Montreal Canadiens – Connor Zary, C, Kamloops Blazers (WHL)

Likely looking at the same group of players discussed in the Maple Leafs and Oilers comments above, and a few others besides, the Habs don’t have any one trait that they look at in draft picks. They have drafted both local and foreign in recent years, forwards and defenders. Their system is fairly deep on the blueline and their top prospect, Cole Caufield, is one of the better snipers not yet in the NHL. I thought long and hard about Bourque, a very fun player with a ton of skill, but chose Zary here for his moderate additional certainty about reaching his ceiling and a nod to the Canadiens’ slight proclivity for drafting out of the WHL. Zary’s tools are not the flashiest, but over the last few years few have performed above their skills more consistently. I think he would also be a good fit one day playing alongside Caufield.

17. Chicago Blackhawks – Mavrik Bourque, C, Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL)

I sense that the Blackhawks would have loved for Askarov to slip to them, but between their upset over Edmonton in the Qualifying Round and Askarov’s hot start to 2020-21, that wasn’t meant to be. The Chicago system is otherwise pretty well stocked at the blueline, but lacking up front. The strength of the NHL draft here is forwards anyway, so no need to sweat as the strength of the draft at this stage is the forwards anyway. They have had a slight tendency for drafting players from Western Canada as well as college-bound players in recent years. This could be the earliest WHL forwards like Ridly Greig and Jake Neighbours are in play. Brisson and Holloway were already mentioned as well. But the Blackhawks have also been more comfortable than most in drafting Russians early and I can see the hot start Rodion Amirov is having help sway the Hawks in that direction. And then again, the team has not been shy about scouting heavily in the QMJHL. And that is ultimately where I landed, finding a home for Bourque’s combination of puck skills, hockey IQ, and tangible grit. Already named the Shawinigan captain for the 2020-21 season, he will fortify the Chicago middle six for years to come.

18. New Jersey Devils (from Arizona Coyotes) – Jacob Perreault, RW, Sarnia Sting (OHL)

The Devils have already selected the top goalie in the NHL draft class in Askarov and now get to pick twice in three spots. They have plenty of options and only need to consider here who among their potential targets is also most likely on Calgary’s radar, whose pick is sandwiched by the Flames’ two. The Calgary system is one of the shallowest in the league, but their blueline is especially lacking. If I am in their shoes, I am hoping that the Devils pass on Kaidan Guhle. The New Jersey system is actually pretty deep with defensemen, looking at Ty Smith, Kevin Bahl, and Reilly Walsh, among others. Sticking with forwards, the Flames don’t have a type, per se, but they do tend to stick (not exclusively) to the North American league in the early rounds.

While I have circled back to the names I brought up repeatedly above, I ended up landing on Sarnia’s sharpshooter Jacob Perreault, whose father, Yanic, had a long NHL career. The younger Perreault is one of the best shooters in the draft class, and his skating ability and puck handling are also both very impressive. He could be a good fit in a few years, lining up alongside Jack Hughes.

19. Calgary Flames – Kaiden Guhle, D, Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)

I said it up above and if I am right, the Flames are breathing a sigh of relief for the chance to add Guhle to their organization. The younger brother of Anaheim defender Brendan, Kaiden is one of the more physical defensemen in this NHL draft class. He skates well and can transport the puck, even if his eventual power play utility is not assured.

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20. New Jersey Devils (from Vancouver Canucks) – Hendrix Lapierre, C, Chicoutimi Sagueneens (QMJHL)

Askarov and Perreault are in. Who joins them? In situations like this – where a team has three first round picks – I like the idea of swinging for the fences at least once. Take a risk on a player who might never pan out, but if he does, has superstar upside. Noel Gunler could be that guy, but the best boom-or-bust play here is Lapierre. A potential top-10 pick a year ago, Lapierre dealt with injuries in his draft year, which was limited to 19 games. First a concussion, and then seemingly another one. It has since been reported that the second bump was actually a neck injury and Lapierre was set to return to the ice before COVID-19 ended the season early. If he can recapture his 2018-19 form with good health, this pick will be a home run.

21. Columbus Blue Jackets – Rodion Amirov, LW, Salavat Yulaev Ufa (KHL)

Usually a spectator in the first round, Columbus gets to participate fully this time around. Even without drafting early, Columbus has had success stocking their organization with Russian prospects, especially as they have been willing to wait for the players to come over on their own time. There just so happens to be a very talented Russian forward who is experienced at the KHL level, and has already shown in the early-goings of the current season that he can score at the top level. Between his high skill level, mature hockey brain, and a positive work ethic, Amirov looks like he would fit right into the system built by Jarmo Kekalainen. This is an easy top six forward.

22. New York Rangers (from Carolina Hurricanes) – Ridly Greig, C, Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL)

On the one hand, one could almost excuse the Rangers for overlooking this pick, with so much of their organization pivoting towards the obvious selection of Lafreniere first overall. But to be perfectly honest, the scouting staff doesn’t need to overthink that pick at all. It is at pick 22 where they will earn their pay. In their shoes, considering not just Lafreniere, but also their incredibly deep prospect pool, especially along the blue line, I would be looking at a player who blends top six skills with versatility. And I also wouldn’t be too worried about timeframe, as I can afford to be extra patient. I would be honed in on Brendan Brisson, Jan Mysak, Ridly Greig, and Dylan Holloway.  The former two have the higher upsides, especially the Michigan-bound Brisson. The latter two have grittier games more predicated on speed and hustle. I am going with Greig in this scenario, noting the gains he has made in the second half of his draft year, and knowing that he can be a pace setter no matter wherein the lineup he plays.

23. Philadelphia Flyers – Brendan Brisson, C, Chicago Steel (USHL)

The Flyers are reportedly targeting forwards with their first round pick. And that’s fine, because it makes sense here. They have also long focused on college-bound players, too – which also holds up if we look at GM Chuck Fletcher and AGM Brent Flahr’s time in Minnesota. So for this pick, in this scenario, I am considering either Brisson and Dylan Holloway. Brisson was a play driving offensive maestro with the Chicago Steel last season, while Holloway crushed the AJHL two years ago and was fine as a true freshman with Wisconsin last season. Brisson has more offensive upside, while Holloway plays a more physically rigorous game. If both of these two are gone, I would also be looking at the likes of Noel Gunler and Ty Smilanic, but here we are. Brisson is going to Michigan, where he will play with Flyers’ 2019 first rounder Cam York. Holloway played with former Philly prospect Wyatt Kalynuk who chose not to sign with the Flyers, leaving school and signing as a free agent with Chicago instead. An odd tiebreaker, but it might be enough in this scenario.

24. Washington Capitals – Noel Gunler, RW, Lulea (SHL)

If there is a team that is happy to draft European early (I am aware that Connor McMichael breaks that mold), it is Washington. It just so happens that a highly talented Swedish forward is available, albeit one who has his share of question marks. Gunler is a very talented offensive forward, but he has shown repeatedly that defense isn’t his thing so much. McKeens Swedish prospect analyst, Jimmy Hamrin, compared his reputation to that of Ryan Merkley. Either of the two German forwards available — John-Jason Peterka and Lukas Reichel — could also be targets here, but Gunler, whose skating, puck skills, and shot all rate as well above average, fits here. The Capitals believe in tools, and the finer points can come through player development. Gunler may be boom or bust, but the Capitals didn’t build their powerhouse roster by playing it safe.

25. Colorado Avalanche – John-Jason Peterka, LW/RW, EHC Munchen (DEL)

One of the most talented teams in the league (not even counting the likes of prospects Bowen Byram or Alex Newhook) has a chance to add to their riches here. They have not been shy about talking Europeans in the first round in recent years (see Martin Kaut) and the most intriguing Europeans still on the board in this scenario both play in Germany, in wingers John-Jason Peterka and Lukas Reichel. Both are smallish, but Peterka is stockier. You can argue that Reichel’s mental game is more refined (although it wouldn’t be a unanimous decision), while Peterka has better tools and plays more in the tougher areas. Both are fine, if unspectacular, skaters. Due to his willingness to attack the middle of the ice, I have a tad more optimism that Peterka’s game will translate, as-is, to North America.

26. St. Louis Blues – Dylan Holloway, LW, University of Wisconsin Badgers (NCAA/Big 10)

Like many teams with a recent record of success, the St. Louis prospect pipeline is quite shallow. In fact, in the Prospect Report we recently released at McKeens, the Blues system was graded as the weakest of all 31 NHL teams, with room to spare. So outside of a little bit of depth in young goaltenders, the Blues need everything. With only a few exceptions, this is a team that likes to draft bigger players, with grit and puck transporting capability also generally desired. If the finer points of a player’s game are a little rougher around the edges, they have been OK with that. And looks who’s on the board! Dylan Holloway!

The Wisconsin forward was a leading scorer in Jr. A in Alberta, but played a more complimentary role as a freshman last season, behind luminaries like Cole Caufield and Alex Turcotte. He is a physically mature power forward who has very good wheels and has shown soft hands as well. The reason he might still be available at pick 26 is a concern about his offensive upside as he can show clear signs of tunnel vision, leading to a lack of creativity. He can play the game too fast, and out of control, leading to too many rushes that go straight to the corner and die out. If he can reign himself in, he could prove a very valuable late first rounder within two or three years. 

27. Anaheim Ducks (from Boston Bruins) – Sam Colangelo, RW, Chicago Steel (USHL)

Had Anaheim used their first pick on a forward, they might have been the team to dig into the next tier of available defenders, such as Swedish prospects Helge Grans and William Wallinder. In this scenario, they are more like to follow the lead of St. Louis and take a power forward, namely Sam Colangelo. The Ducks actually have a history of drafting players from the USHL, and from the Steel (Jack Badini, Blake McLaughlin, Jackson Lacombe) in particular. The Northeastern commit has a beefy frame, skates well and has a solid set of tools for the offensive zone. The question about his game is how much he can drive play and how much he relies on his linemates to spring loose the attack. Interestingly, much like Jack Quinn and Marco Rossi rarely played on the same line with the Ottawa 67s, Colangelo was often not on the same line as his fellow first round Steel alumnus, Brendan Brisson. He has good hands though and can play a game more like Alex Tuch’s than Tuch’s own younger brother, Luke, who will be drafted in the middle rounds this year. 

28. Ottawa Senators (from New York Islanders) – Jake Neighbours, LW, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)

In this scenario, the Senators have already drafted Byfield and Sanderson, doing more to improve the state of their franchise than any other team, with the possible exception of the New York Rangers. In real life, Byfield meant end up meaning Stuetzle, and Sanderson could mean Drysdale, or a forward like Rossi, or Raymond. There has also been a rumor floating around that owner Eugene Melnyk wants the team to select Russian goalie Yaroslav Askarov with the No. 5 pick. Assuming the first two picks are some combination of forward/defenseman, I would expect Ottawa to be looking for another forward at the No. 28 slot. Two forwards would have them looking at the blueline. If they draft Askarov, well, who knows. But for this exercise, we will focus on the F/D start.

In the Senators shoes here, I would simply take the next player on our NHL draft board. Don’t overthink, don’t get cute. The Senators in recent years have been more than willing to draft players from literally anywhere, so I wouldn’t rule anyone out. And under the “next man up” logic, the next player on the McKeens Hockey draft board in this scenario is Edmonton Oil Kings forward Jake Neighbours, a leader with plus puck skills and hockey IQ who is exceptionally committed in all zones. I’m not saying he is the next Mark Stone, but that is certainly an appropriate model here. Neighbours lacks flash, but he has a ton of substance.

29. Vegas Golden Knights – Lukas Reichel, LW, Eisbaren Berlin (DEL)

Between their volcanic rise to the top of the NHL and their ongoing status as an expansion team, it should come as no surprise that the Golden Knights have a very shallow system. The trades around the expansion draft gave them a head start, but much of their prospect capital (Erik Brannstrom, Nick Suzuki, the 2018 first round pick) were traded away to service their burgeoning powerhouse roster. I can’t formulate a legitimate complaint about their priorities, but I can state that they need to approach this pick like they did last year when they nabbed Peyton Krebs later than his talent aloe would have indicated, as his perceived value was subdued due to an injury – from which he has since healed. In their shoes, I would be looking for high upside, even if there are warts, or some other blemish  that is keeping other scouts from making the move. Many of those types are located in Europe in this scenario.

I considered players like Theodor Neiderbach, William Wallinder and Helge Grans from Sweden, Marat Khusnutdinov from Russia, and Roni Hirvonen and Kasper Simontaival from Finland, but ultimately landed with Lukas Reichel from Germany. Reichel has been putting up better numbers in the DEL than the previously drafted John-Jason Peterka and seems to be getting better each month. He is not the flashiest, but his total package is more productive than the sum of his parts would suggest.

30. Dallas Stars – Thomas Bordeleau, C, USNTDP (USHL)

For the only time in this mock NHL draft, I am allowing recency bias to creep into my thinking. The Stars had a wonderful postseason, making it to a sixth game in the Stanley Cup Final. It sometimes seemed that all that separated them from a seventh game, if not a parade, was a nutcracker. A player with the required skill and style that could break through with a creative play to change the complexion of a game. There are a few players like that on the board, although they have their warts, which is why they are still available here. The forwards mentioned in the comment on the Vegas pick above are some of them.

Ultimately though, I am matching the Stars with a native Texan in USNTDP alum Thomas Bordeleau. Born in Houston while is father Sebastien’s North American career was winding down, Thomas cut his teeth in AAA hockey in Quebec before return to the land of his birth to wear the Red, White, and Blue. He is a very good skater, with a killer shot. The reasons he will still be available at the tail end of the first round are two-fold. First off, he is small. The second concern is that he spent too much time in his draft year playing around the perimeter. Towards the premature end of the season, he began to display more grit, and willingness to play in the dirty areas. It didn’t go unnoticed.

31. San Jose Sharks (from Tampa Bay Lightning) – Roni Hirvonen, C, Assat (Liiga)

Erik Karlsson means that the Sharks miss out on the chance to draft one of Stuetzle or Byfield. Trading Blake Coleman means they at least get one player on day one of the NHL draft. The Sharks haven’t had their full complement of seven picks in five years and they have already traded away perhaps the best player from those years, in Josh Norris. The system is understandably thin, but they have done a respectable job of supplementing their draft picks with free talent finds, both foreign and domestic. One notable trend in their drafting is the relative scarcity of picks from Sweden, with only one in the last six years, and three in the last decade.

In their shoes, I would be looking at forwards such as Kasper Simontaival, Roni Hirvonen (both from Finland), Martin Chromiak, and Luke Evangelista (both from the OHL), and defenders Justin Barron and Ryan O’Rourke. Hirvonen has the most high level experience, having spent all of last season playing against men in Liiga. Simontaival’s shot is one of the best in the draft class. Chromiak and Evangelista play well-rounded games well-suited to an NHL middle six. Chromiak in particular is very young for this draft class and may have more room for continued growth than anyone. O’Rourke is a quiet defender who captained his OHL team at age 17 and has no real weak spots in his game. Barron is similar, but with both a higher ceiling and a lower floor, considering the time he missed with a blood clot last year and the recent procedure he underwent to try to complete his healing. With another pick coming up at 34, the Sharks can reasonably get two of these guys, with the Canadian based players being most likely to be available. As such, I will match them with Hirvonen, a smooth skating center with high end hockey IQ that will allow him to maximize his tools, even if he remains undersized.

Ryan Wagman is McKeen’s Hockey’s lead prospect writer. You can follow him on Twitter at @RAWagman.

Vegas Golden Knights come back to beat Florida Panthers in Game 1 of Stanley Cup Final

Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

LAS VEGAS – Back in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in five years and trailing the Florida Panthers less than 10 minutes into Game 1, the Vegas Golden Knights sent a very clear message.

“We were ready,” Jonathan Marchessault said.

Ready and dominant. Vegas rallied from an early deficit, got the go-ahead goal from Zach Whitecloud with just over 13 minutes left and arguably the best save of the playoffs from Adin Hill and beat Florida 5-2 Saturday night to take the lead in the best-of-seven series.

“We kept out composure, and it was good,” said Marchessault, one of six original Knights players left from the start of the franchise in 2017 who scored the tying goal in the first period. “We just wanted to play the right way and be disciplined, and tonight we were able to be the better team.”

Whitecloud put Vegas ahead, a crucial penalty kill followed and captain Mark Stone scored an insurance goal that was reviewed for a high stick and confirmed. Reilly Smith sealed it with an empty-netter to make the score look more lopsided than the game.

The combination of that offense and Hill’s 33 saves put Vegas up after a feisty opener between Sun Belt teams who wasted little time getting acquainted with big hits during play and plenty of post-whistle pushing and shoving.

“It’s exactly what we expected,” said Vegas defenseman Shea Theodore, who scored his first goal of the playoffs and ended a 27-game drought dating to March 7. “That’s how they wanted to play. We were just trying not to play into it.”

That stuff is just beginning. Game 2 is Monday in Las Vegas.

Before the Panthers even get a chance to respond, they ratcheted up the physical play late after falling behind by two. A handful of penalties resulting from a fracas with 4:24 remaining left the Florida bench well short.

The outcome was determined long before that.

After falling behind on a short-handed goal by Eric Staal that sucked the life out of the crowd of 18,432, the Golden Knights rallied for their ninth comeback win this playoffs. Marchessault – known since arriving in Las Vegas for scoring big goals – answered before the end of the first period.

Early in the second, Hill made a desperation stick save to rob Nick Cousins of what would have been a sure goal. The save was reminiscent of the one Washington’s Braden Holtby made against Vegas – in the same crease – five years ago.

“That’s an unreal save – it’s a game-changer,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “You need those saves at key moments.”

Giving up a tying goal to Anthony Duclair with 10.2 seconds left in the second did not slow the Golden Knights’ momentum much. Whitecloud’s goal, with two-time Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky screened and unable to see, fired up fans once again.

Bobrovsky, in the final for the first time, downplayed any reason for concern after stopping 29 of 34 shots and losing for just the second time in 12 games this postseason.

“I played a good game,” Bobrovsky said. “I played a solid game. They created some good chances other than goals. They had lots of good scoring chances, and that was fun.”

Part of the fun came when play was stopped.

Less than 10 minutes in, Hill was none too happy about Nick Cousins crashing into his crease and gave the agitating Panthers winger a jab that incited a handful of scrums. During the second period, Matthew Tkachuk let Vegas’ Nic Hague know he wasn’t thrilled about a hit in the corner on Cousins and a collision with Brandon Montour after the whistle.

“If guys are going to come in my crease and try to push me around, I’m going to stand my own ground,” Hill said. “I’m not going to do anything too crazy or get too wild, but, yeah, I’ve got to stand up for myself.”

Florida coach Paul Maurice, back in the final for the first time since 2001, displayed a similarly calm demeanor as he did all the way back in the first round, when his team fell behind 1-0 then 3-1 to NHL-best Boston before winning in seven.

“It’s going to be tight,” Maurice said. “Everybody breathe.”

The Golden Knights are in the final for the second time in six years of existence, five years after making it in their inaugural season. Vegas won the opener in 2018 and lost the series to Washington in five games.

The Panthers are back playing for the Cup for the first time since 1996. Florida got swept by Colorado in that final 27 years ago, 18 months before Tkachuk, the team’s leading scorer this playoffs, was born.

It’s the 66th different matchup of teams in the Cup final in NHL history and the 46th since the expansion era began in 1967-68. This is the first time since Washington-Vegas and just the third time since the turn of the century in which the final features two teams who have never won the league’s championship.

Penguins name former Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas as director of hockey operations

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PITTSBURGH (AP) Kyle Dubas wanted to take a breath and take a break after being fired as the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Then the Pittsburgh Penguins called.

The break ended shortly thereafter.

Dubas joined the Penguins as the team’s president of hockey operations, less than two weeks after a somewhat ugly exit from Toronto following a second-round playoff loss to Florida.

The 37-year-old Dubas goes from one type of hockey crucible to another. In Toronto, he was tasked with helping the Maple Leafs emerge from two decades of postseason futility. In Pittsburgh, his mission will be to prop open the Stanley Cup window for Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang a little longer.

All three are 35 or older and haven’t won a playoff series since 2018. Yet Dubas believes strongly the issue isn’t the age of the franchise’s core but deficiencies elsewhere on the roster. Dubas replaces Brian Burke, who was fired along with general manager Ron Hextall in April after the Penguins failed to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2006.

“I heard a lot of people that were highly skeptical of the team’s ability to contend here and the way I view it, if the people want to bet against (Crosby, Letang and Malkin) they can go ahead and do so,” Dubas said. “But I’m going to bet on them and go with them here. I think it is a group that’s capable of contending to win a championship.”

Crosby and Malkin were excellent for much of last season and Letang showed remarkable resiliency while dealing with multiple setbacks, including a stroke and the death of his father. Yet save for a 14-2-2 stretch in November and December, the Penguins struggled to find consistency and ultimately stumbled down the stretch to snap the longest active playoff streak in major North American Sports.

While the Penguins do have $20 million in cap space and the 14th overall pick in this month’s NHL draft, significant changes or upgrades could be difficult in the short term.

Dubas inherits a team that was the oldest in the NHL last season and is littered with question marks, particularly in goal and the forward group outside of Crosby, Malkin and Jake Guentzel.

Two-time All-Star goaltender Tristan Jarry will become a free agent this summer and was beset by injuries over the second half of the season. Forward Jason Zucker, who served as the emotional sparkplug for long stretches, is also scheduled to hit the open market and may have priced himself out of town.

Pittsburgh also has several aging players with full or partial no-movement clauses, including 38-year-old forward Jeff Carter, 30-year-old Bryan Rust and 35-year-old defenseman Jeff Petry.

“I think that those are obviously very real situations, everyone knows that they exist,” Dubas said. “To me the effect on it … is what we can add in terms of depth pieces? What we can add in terms of younger players? That’ll be the real key.”

Dubas does plan to hire a general manager to fill the vacancy created when Hextall was let go after a short but largely unfruitful tenure. Dubas will serve as the GM on an interim basis until early July.

Dubas comes to Pittsburgh after nine seasons with the Maple Leafs, including the last five as general manager. Toronto won a postseason series for the first time since 2004 this spring before falling to the Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference semifinals in five games.

Shortly after the Maple Leafs’ playoff exit, Dubas said that he wasn’t sure if he wanted to remain in Toronto. His contract was set to expire on June 30, but team president Kyle Shanahan opted to pre-emptively fire Dubas instead. Toronto hired former Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving as Dubas’ replacement.

Dubas helped build the Maple Leafs into a regular-season power during his tenure. Toronto set single-season records for wins and points, and went 221-109-42 in his tenure. Dubas also didn’t shy away from big moves – he fired Stanley Cup-winning coach Mike Babcock in November 2019 and replaced him with Sheldon Keefe – but struggled to find the right mix in the playoffs until this spring.

In the end, advancing beyond the first round for the first time since 2004 wasn’t enough for Dubas to remain in Toronto.

He joked he was maybe a little “too honest” during his season-ending press conference with the Maple Leafs when he expressed reservations about returning. Shanahan’s abrupt decision to move on came as a bit of a surprise, and Dubas planned to take some time to hit the reset button before looking for another job.

Yet the Penguins – who’d already been given clearance by the Maple Leafs to interview Dubas – provided a compelling reason to speed up the timetable. Dubas’ due diligence included speaking to Crosby and longtime coach Mike Sullivan to take the pulse of a leadership group that remains firmly in place.

Dubas called them “some of the best competitors” in hockey. Competitors that have – for one reason or another – been unable to recapture the magic of their runs to back-to-back Cups in 2016 and 2017.

Time is running out for Crosby to put his name on the Cup for a fourth time in a career that will almost certainly end in the Hall of Fame. Dubas knows he’ll be judged in part on whether he can make that happen. After taking more than six weeks of searching before landing on Dubas, Fenway Sports Group Chairman Tom Werner believes Dubas is up to the challenge.

“Our philosophy is giving Kyle and his associates the best possible resources to win,” Werner said. “Kyle’s been very articulate today about his path to success … we’re very confident that Kyle will execute the plan he’s articulated to us.”

Seattle Kraken sign GM Ron Francis to 3-year extension through 2026-27 season

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SEATTLE — Ron Francis was initially approached about extending his stay as the general manager of the Seattle Kraken back in the winter, but putting finality to the decision took longer than expected.

The Kraken kept winning and pushed what was mostly a formality to a secondary need until after Seattle’s unexpected playoff run finally ended.

“At that point it was kind of verbally done, just kind of a few little small details. And then we get into the playoffs and busy and it kind of got put on the back burner and I didn’t want it to be a distraction with the team and where they were at,” Francis said.

That finality came when the Kraken announced Francis had signed a three-year extension through the 2026-27 season. Francis originally signed a five-year deal when he became the first GM in franchise history back in 2019 and the new contract will kick in starting with the 2024-25 season.

“I’ll never forget the day that he said, ‘Yes, I’m ready to do this,’” Kraken CEO Tod Leiweke said. “But today is another great day for our fans because not only did he come and build, he is going to stay here and continue to build this franchise.”

Seattle reached the second round of the NHL playoffs in its second year of existence, following a challenging first year where it underachieved and was among the worst teams in the league.

But Francis navigated through that difficult first season and helped land the pieces that turned Seattle into a playoff team in the second year without mortgaging future opportunities or putting the Kraken into challenging salary cap situations.

“He has been the leader that’s gotten us to where we are today. And he is the leader to take us to the next level,” Seattle co-owner Samantha Holloway said.

Seattle is the second stop for Francis as an executive after spending seven seasons in the front office of the Carolina Hurricanes. Francis started as director of hockey operations before becoming the general manager in 2014. Francis was let go by the Hurricanes after the 2018 season.

Seattle jumped at the chance to bring the Hall of Fame player in to lead the front office. Seattle’s expansion season was a major underachievement with the Kraken going 27-49-6 and finishing last in the Pacific Division with 60 points. But Francis was able to move veteran players to stockpile draft picks and left enough salary cap room to make some key moves entering the second season.

Seattle signed free agent forward Andre Burakovksy, traded for winger Oliver Bjorkstrand and inserted rookie Matty Beniers into the lineup on Seattle’s top line from the first day of the season. The results on the ice couldn’t be argued. Seattle went 46-28-8 and reached 100 points, knocked off defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado in the first round of the playoffs before falling to Dallas in seven games in the conference semifinals.

“It’s been a real team effort. I’m sitting up here today and they’re saying good things about me, but it’s a much bigger picture than just me,” Francis said. “I’m excited to be here for a few more years and hopefully everybody’s opinion doesn’t change, but we’re going to stick to the plan and continue building it the right way so we can be a great franchise for multiple years.”

Francis also stuck with coach Dave Hakstol after that difficult first season. He may be the next in line for a contract extension from the team after a season where he was recognized as a finalist for the Jack Adams Award for top coach in the league.

Maple Leafs hire Brad Treliving as team’s new general manager

Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

TORONTO — Brad Treliving has a new job.

And the Maple Leafs have a new plan.

Treliving was hired as Toronto’s general manager less than two weeks after firing Kyle Dubas.

The 53-year-old Treliving left the Calgary Flames in April following nine seasons that included five playoff appearances and two 100-point seasons.

“Brad brings a wealth of knowledge from his years of experience as a general manager and hockey executive in Calgary, Arizona and beyond,” Leafs president Brendan Shanahan said in a statement. “He has earned tremendous respect amongst his peers throughout his years in the NHL and has built excellent relationships at all levels within the game.”

Treliving joins the Leafs at a crucial juncture in the wake of Shanahan’s stunning dismissal of Dubas on May 19.

The Original Six franchise, whose Stanley Cup drought stands at 56 years, won a playoff series for the first time in nearly two decades with a victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning this spring, but then lost to the Eastern Conference champion Florida Panthers in five games.

Dubas, who had been Toronto’s GM since 2018 and didn’t have a contract beyond June 30, suggested at an end of season news conference May 15 he wasn’t sure he wanted to remain in the role – at least in part because of the stress on his young family.

A roller coaster five days followed, with Shanahan ultimately firing the 37-year-old Dubas despite previously wanting to keep his GM, and the now-unemployed executive eventually indicating to his boss he wished to stay.

Treliving is the third GM – joining Dubas and Hall of Famer Lou Lamoriello – hired in Toronto by Shanahan, whose so-called “Shanaplan” aimed at getting the storied franchise back on its feet when he came on board in 2014 has seen unparalleled regular-season success, but just that one series victory in eight attempts.

“I’m thrilled to join an Original Six team and recognize how much the Maple Leafs mean to this community,” Treliving said. “This is a very exciting day for my family and I.”

Treliving has a lot to deal with as he settles into his new office at Scotiabank Arena.

Treliving, who served in the Phoenix Coyotes’ front office for seven seasons before arriving in Calgary, will have to decide the future of head coach Sheldon Keefe, while stars Auston Matthews and William Nylander can sign contract extensions as of July 1.

Matthews and Mitch Marner have full no-movement clauses ready to kick in the same day. Nylander will have a 10-team list.

The NHL draft is also set for the end of June in Nashville, Tennessee, while the Leafs have 12 roster players primed to hit free agency at noon EDT on July 1.

The Flames, who missed the playoffs this season, won the Pacific Division in 2021-22 under Treliving before falling to the Edmonton Oilers in the second round.

Johnny Gaudreau then stunned the organization by leaving Calgary for the Columbus Blue Jackets in free agency last summer. Fellow star forward Matthew Tkachuk added another wrinkle by informing the team he didn’t plan to re-sign.

Treliving subsequently dealt the winger to Florida as part of a package that included forward Jonathan Huberdeau and defenseman MacKenzie Weegar heading to southern Alberta.

Huberdeau then signed an eight-year, $84 million contract extension with the Flames that kicks in next season.

Tkachuk, a Conn Smythe Trophy candidate as playoff MVP, and the Panthers open the Cup Final against the Vegas Golden Knights.

Despite the departures of Gaudreau and Tkachuk, the Flames looked like contenders ahead of the 2022-23 season.

The acquisition of Huberdeau and the signing of center Nazem Kadri was expected to fill the void left by Gaudreau and Tkachuk, but the mix wasn’t right for a group led by hard-nosed coach Darryl Sutter.

Huberdeau and Kadri finished well off their career-high points totals of the previous season – the former went from 115 with Florida to 55 in Calgary – while subpar goaltending was an issue much of the season.

Treliving now turns his attention to Toronto.

Just like last summer, he has lots of work to do.