How Lafrenière, top 2020 NHL Draft picks stack up so far

It’s a Tuesday night on Oct. 6, 2020. The world is still at a standstill from COVID-19. The NHL is preparing a safe return to regular-season play after pulling off a successful postseason in the bubble. And, despite everything, the 2020 NHL Draft is starting.

Instead of walking through the halls of Bell Centre, players and their families boot up their computers and turn on their webcams for the occasion. In the “new normal,” potential picks still dress in suits and ties and have jerseys on standby as they wait to hear their names called.

Fast forward months later, and prospects have taken several steps toward their NHL dreams. Here’s where the top five 2020 NHL draft picks are now and how they’re faring with their new organizations.

[MORE: Your 2020-21 NHL on NBC TV schedule]

No. 1: Alexis Lafrenière, New York Rangers

When the Rangers’ ping-pong ball declared them winners of the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery, there was no doubt that they’d take Lafrenière, the league’s most highly-touted prospect, to join an already-lethal arsenal that features the likes of Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, Kaapo Kakko and Chris Kreider.

Lafrenière is a product of the QMJHL’s Rimouski Oceanic and has been compared to Sidney Crosby, who also played for the Oceanic before taking over the NHL. His hockey IQ makes him a force at both ends of the ice, and he’s both an elite playmaker and goal-scorer. He also has the size and strength to play well at the NHL level and has the potential to become an elite franchise player.

His rookie season hasn’t gone exactly to plan. Though the 19-year-old is a full-time NHLer and a top-6 forward, he hasn’t had too much luck finding twine. Through 21 games, Lafrenière has four goals and seven points and is a minus-5 while averaging 14:48 per game.

It does appear, however, that he’s starting to find his stride. Lafrenière has points in five of his last six games and is riding a four-game point streak. He’s becoming more confident and moving his feet more as he becomes more of a threat on the first line.

“I think I like the way I’ve played recently,” Lafrenière said after practice to kick off the month of March. “I had not the best start, I would say, but I’m getting more comfortable out there. I’m making more plays, so just keep working hard in practices and games. Like I said, I’m getting more comfortable, and that’s a positive for me.”

New York is 9-9-3 to start the season and sits sixth in the East Division. As Lafrenière continues to transition to the big club, expect him to get more comfortable and his scoring totals to rise.

[MORE: Changes or not, NHL Draft Lottery will always leave someone unhappy]

No. 2: Quinton Byfield, Los Angeles Kings

As was the case with Lafreniere, Byfield going second was no surprise. He made history as the highest-drafted Black player in NHL history and is set to be a next-generation center. The Kings are already seeing flashes of major promise from Sudbury Wolves product.

Towering at 6-foot-4, Byfield has been compared to Joe Thornton for his size and ability. He’s a powerful puck-mover and skater with great hands and terrific scoring sense. He can make highlight-reel plays and make noise on the forecheck while also playing well in his own end.

For the 2020-21 season, Byfield played in the World Juniors for Canada, putting up seven points in seven games (six of those came in one game against Switzerland) to help lead his country to silver.

Despite his production and ability, Los Angeles elected to have him play with their AHL affiliate Ontario Reign for his first pro year. There, he’s getting the opportunity to play top minutes and develop under the leadership of first-year Reign coach John Wroblewski, who has a great resume in regards to player development.

In 11 games with Ontario so far, Byfield has a goal and seven points and is currently the team’s first-line center. This is just the beginning for Byfield, who’ll eventually slot in at No. 1 center for L.A.

No. 3: Tim Stützle, Ottawa Senators

One can argue that Stützle is currently the top player from his NHL draft class so far. The Sens made a wise selection when they took the German winger third overall with the help of late Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek and they haven’t looked back since.

Stützle’s been a staple in Ottawa’s lineup this season and hasn’t shied away from putting on a skills competition in the NHL. He has great hands and stickhandling ability that allows him to win battles and generate scoring chances. Stützle’s also an excellent skater who can make clean zone entries and take care of the puck.

The 19-year-old sits third in the rookie scoring race with 14 points through 23 games has points in four of his last six games (that stretch includes a four-game point streak). Playing on the third line, Stützle has shown tremendous chemistry with Drake Batherson and both are breaking out and making the Sens a powerhouse.

He also received a major endorsement from head coach D.J. Smith, who said the freshman “belongs” in the NHL back in January.

[MORE: Kaprizov, Lankinen among standouts as Calder race heats up]

No. 4: Lucas Raymond, Detroit Red Wings

Another European talent, Raymond is going to make headlines in Detroit in years to come. Ranked as the fourth international skater in the 2020 NHL Draft, Raymond plays with wisdom beyond his years. He made his SHL debut at the age of 16 and has plenty of experience playing against grown men overseas.

The 18-year-old winger is a dangerous player who benefits from great speed and vision. Raymond doesn’t shy away from generating high-danger chances, and his excellent hands and wicked shot make him a major asset offensively. Defensively, Raymond’s a strong penalty killer, and his intense style helps him win battles and take away the puck

In 34 SHL games with Frolunda HC, he has six goals and 18 points. However, he suffered an arm injury and is expected to be sidelined as he recovers from a procedure to “remove bone fragments.” Detroit GM Steve Yzerman expects him to miss at eight weeks and says the injury won’t be a long-term concern.

No. 5: Jake Sanderson, Ottawa Senators

After winning big with Stützle, the Sens got another top-five draft pick and made the most of it with Sanderson from the U.S. National Team Development Program. The son of longtime-NHLer Geoff Sanderson, he wore the “C” for the USNTDP in 2019-20, registering seven goals and 29 games in 47 games.

The 18-year-old blueliner is a smooth, efficient skater with a great hockey IQ and puck-moving ability. He’s a defensive player first and isn’t afraid to engage in battles for the puck and play in all game situations. When he can, he’ll contribute offensively and is starting to improve that aspect of his game. At the NHL level, he’s expected to log a lot of ice team at even strength and on special teams, while being capable of shutdown play.

Right now, Sanderson is thriving with the University of North Dakota and has two goals and 11 points in 16 games so far. As he builds his game, he’s well on his way to being a top-4 defenseman in the show. In the coming years, he’ll likely become the first player born and trained in Montana to lace ’em up in the NHL.

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    Rangers sign Filip Chytil to 4-year extension

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    Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports

    NEW YORK — The New York Rangers have signed forward Filip Chytil to a four-year contract extension worth $17.75 million, locking up another member of their core long term.

    The team announced the deal Wednesday night. Chytil will count just under $4.44 million annually against the salary cap through the 2026-27 season.

    Chytil, 23, is in the midst of a career year. He has set career highs with 22 goals, 20 assists and 42 points in 66 games for the playoff-bound Rangers.

    The Czech native is the team’s sixth-leading scorer and ranks fourth on the roster in goals. The 2017 first-round pick has 144 points in 342 NHL regular-season and playoff games. He was set to be a restricted free agent with arbitration rights this summer.

    New York already had top center Mika Zibanejad signed through 2030, No. 1 defenseman Adam Fox through 2029, veteran Chris Kreider through 2027, winger Artemi Panarin through 2026 and reigning Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender Igor Shesterkin through 2025.

    General manager Chris Drury’s next order of business is an extension for 2020 top pick Alexis Lafrenière, who is only signed through the remainder of this season and can be a restricted free agent.

    Blackhawks’ Jonathan Toews returns to ice, hints at retirement

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    CHICAGO — Longtime Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews returned to the ice but hinted his stellar NHL career could be winding down after 15 years.

    Toews, 34, skated with teammates prior to Chicago’s game with the Dallas Stars. It was his first time practicing with them since a game in Edmonton on Jan. 28.

    He made a statement through the team on Feb. 19 saying he would be stepping away because of the effects of Chronic Immune Response Syndrome and “long COVID.”

    In meeting with reporters, Toews stopped short of saying he hoped to play in any of last-place Chicago’s nine remaining games. His eight-year, $84 million contract is set to expire at the end of the season.

    Toews said he’s feeling stronger, but isn’t sure if he’ll be able to play again for the Blackhawks or another team.

    “Both if I’m being fully honest,” Toews said. “I feel like I’ve said it already, that I’ve gotten to the point where my health is more important.

    “When you’re young and you’re playing for a Stanley Cup and everyone’s playing through something, that means something and it’s worthwhile. But I’m at that point where it feels like more damage is being done than is a good thing.”

    Toews, the Blackhawks’ first-round draft pick (third overall) in 2006, joined the team in 2007 and was a pillar of Stanley Cup championship clubs in 2010, 2013 and 2015.

    At the peak of his career, he was one of the NHL’s top two-way centers, winning the Selke Trophy as the league’s top defensive forward in 2013.

    In 1,060 regular-season games, Toews has 371 goals and 509 assists. In 139 playoff games, he’s posted 45 goals and 74 assists, and he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 2010.

    Toews missed the entire 2020-21 season with Chronic Immune Response System, which caused debilitating inflammation and fatigue.

    He appeared in 71 games in 2021-22, then started this season with renewed energy before slowing and eventually shutting himself down.

    Entering this season, it looked as if Chicago might deal him, as it did fellow star Patrick Kane, before the March trade deadline. But Kane went to the New York Rangers and Toews to injured reserve.

    Toews believed he was progressing before a relapse in January left him so sore and tired that he could barely “put on my skates or roll out of bed to come to the rink.”

    Toews said his progress over the past month has been “pretty encouraging” and he’s delighted to be back among his teammates. He has no timetable beyond that.

    “We’re just going to go day by day here,” Chicago coach Luke Richardson said. He deserves anything he wants to try to achieve here.”

    Richardson hoped Toews “can take that next step later in the week and hopefully (he) gives us the green light to go in a game.”

    But Toews emphasized his long-term health and ability to lead a “normal life” is most important. He wants to go out on a positive note and not hit the ice for a game playing through excessive pain and dysfunction.

    “It’s definitely on my mind that this could be my last few weeks here as a Blackhawk in Chicago,” Toews said. “It’s definitely very important for me to go out there and enjoy the game and just kind of soak it in and just really appreciate everything I’ve been able to be part of here in Chicago.”

    Budding Wild star Matt Boldy more willing to shoot, and it shows

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    ST. PAUL, Minn. — Matt Boldy was unable to resist a smile in the aftermath of his second hat trick in five games for the Minnesota Wild, a young right wing and reluctant star trying to make sense of a remarkable hot streak.

    Does the puck feel as if it’s automatically going in the net these days each time he shoots?

    “Yeah, it does,” Boldy said in the locker room after leading the first-place Wild to a 5-1 win over Seattle. “My linemates are playing great. Hopefully you guys are giving them a lot of credit. You look at some of those goals – just putting it on a tee for me.”

    This non-attention-seeker has found himself squarely in the NHL spotlight. Boldy has 11 goals in nine games since Wild superstar Kirill Kaprizov was sidelined with a lower-body injury to raise his goal total to 28, in part because he’s been more willing to shoot. With vision and stickhandling as strengths and the humility of being a second-year player, it’s easy to be in a pass-first mindset.

    “Everybody kind of took turns talking to him. But it’s not that he didn’t want to. A lot of times a situation like that where a guy’s got that skillset, it’s a real unselfish quality, right?” coach Dean Evason said. “But I think he gets now that he helps the team a lot when he scores goals.”

    The Wild were confident enough in Boldy’s scoring ability to commit a seven-year, $49 million contract extension to him earlier this winter, after all.

    “I think I’ve always had that mentality, but sometimes you just get into spots and it comes off your stick good,” Boldy said. “When things are going well, the puck goes in the net.”’

    The Wild are 6-1-2 without Kaprizov. Boldy is a big reason why.

    “You go through the slumps, you learn what you need to do to score. I think he’s found a good way to be in the right spot and shoot the puck when he had a good opportunity,” center Joel Eriksson Ek said.

    The Wild have only won one division title in 22 years, the five-team Northwest Division in 2007-08. They’re leading the eight-team Central Division with eight games to go, with both Colorado and Dallas too close for comfort. They haven’t won a playoff series since 2015.

    With Kaprizov due back before the postseason and Boldy on this heater, a Wild team that ranks just 23rd in the league in goals per game (2.93) ought to have a better chance to advance. Eriksson Ek and Marcus Johansson have been ideal linemates for the Boston College product and Massachusetts native.

    Since the Wild entered the league in the 2000-01 season, only five NHL players have had more hat tricks at age 21 or younger than Boldy with three: Patrik Laine (eight), Marian Gaborik (five), Steven Stamkos (five), Alex DeBrincat (four) and Connor McDavid (four). Boldy turns 22 next week, so there’s still time for one or two more.

    “He’s big. He controls the puck a lot. He’s got a good shot, good release. He’s smart. He switches it up. He’s got good moves on breakaways. He’s a total player,” goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. ”Fun to watch him grow this year.”

    Pezzetta scores shootout winner; Canadiens beat Sabres 4-3

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    BUFFALO, N.Y. ⁠— Brendan Gallagher and the Montreal Canadiens rallied back to avoid playoff elimination with less than three weeks left in their season. The Buffalo Sabres, meanwhile, are running out of chances to stay in the Eastern Conference wild-card hunt.

    Gallagher forced overtime by scoring his 200th career goal, and Michael Pezzetta scored the decisive shootout goal in a 4-3 win over the Sabres on Monday night.

    “It’s one of those things I think we earned that chance. We weren’t fantastic but we did enough on the road tonight to get a win,” Gallagher said. “Smiles all around.”

    The Canadiens could laugh, especially after Pezzetta celebrated his goal by putting his stick between his legs and riding it like a wooden horse — much like former NHL tough guy Dave “Tiger” Williams did during his 14-year NHL career spanning the 1970s and 80s.

    “I’m not sure we’ll see that again. One of a kind,” said Gallagher. “I’d be worried about falling over.”

    Pezzetta scored by driving in from the right circle to beat Eric Comrie inside the far post. Buffalo’s Jack Quinn scored in the fourth shootout round, but was matched by Montreal’s Jesse Ylonen, whose shot from in tight managed to trickle in through Comrie.

    Jordan Harris and Alex Belzile also scored for Montreal, and Jake Allen stopped 30 shots through overtime, while allowing one goal on six shootout attempts.

    Montreal would have been eliminated from playoff contention for a second straight season – and two years removed from reaching the Stanley Cup Final – with any type of loss.

    The Sabres squandered a 3-2 third-period lead to drop to 3-6-3 in their past 12. Buffalo also blew a chance to move to within four points of idle Pittsburgh, which holds the eighth and final playoff spot.

    “Just a little hesitation,” forward JJ Peterka said of the Sabres third-period lapse. “We didn’t play with much energy and we didn’t play that aggressive as we played the two periods before. I think that was the difference.”

    Buffalo’s Lukas Rousek scored a goal and added an assist while filling in for leading scorer Tage Thompson, who did not play due to an upper body injury. Peterka and defenseman Riley Stillman also scored, and Comrie stopped 38 shots through overtime, and allowed two goals on six shootout attempts.

    Montreal blew two one-goal leads to fall behind 3-2 on Stillman’s goal at the 8:31 mark of the second period.

    Gallagher scored on the fly by using Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin as a screen to snap in a shot inside the far left post. With the goal, Gallagher tied Bobby Rousseau for 24th on the Canadiens career scoring list.

    “I liked the way we corrected ourselves, it’s a sign of maturity, in the way we stayed on task,” Canadiens coach Martin St. Louis said, in recalling how the Canadiens recently unraveled in an 8-4 loss two weeks ago to Colorado, which plays a similar up-tempo style as Buffalo.


    The Sabres hosted their third Pride Night, with Russian D Ilya Lyubushkin electing not to participate in warmups by citing an anti-gay Kremlin law and fears of retribution at home in Moscow, where he has family and visits in the offseason. The remainder of the team wore dark blue jerseys with the Sabres logo on the front encircled by a rainbow-colored outline.

    During the first intermission, the Sabres broadcast a video in which GM Kevyn Adams said: “This is about recognizing someone’s humanity and true identity. We know there are people out there struggling with who they are, and we want them to know that they have an ally in the Buffalo Sabres.”


    Canadiens: At the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night.

    Sabres: Host the New York Rangers on Friday night.