By Ryan Wagman, McKeen’s Hockey lead prospect writer
After providing a few mock drafts for Rotoworld towards the tail end of last season, I have been asked to make the mock a more regular feature for 2019-20. To that extent, this marks the jumping off point for 2019-20 NHL draft coverage here, with a look at McKeen’s Hockey’s first draft rankings. It is obviously too early to make this a traditional mock draft, in that the NHL standings are too fresh to presume which team will finish in what order, not to mention how the various teams will want to pick players.
Beyond that, it is very early for the players we are about to introduce as well. As an NHL scout taught me when I first begin to watch with intent*, most draft eligible players really only begin to take off after Christmas and the World Juniors.
*While what I do is effectively scouting, I will reserve that terminology for those whose scouting will have a direct impact on the selections made by their employers. Neither McKeens nor Rotoworld is currently in the business of putting hockey teams together.
So in addition to the three late season mock drafts such as we did last year, there will be three additional, earlier mocks, starting with the one you are reading today. As the months pass, the draft picture will become clearer, just like the various skill sets of the players up for discussion will refine their games and clarify what they will become at their respective peaks.
As always, the players listed and the insights into their games have come from the McKeen’s Hockey scouting team. We have dedicated watchers with intent in rinks across the Northern Hemisphere and this and subsequent lists would not be possible without their collective input.
Without further blather, here is an early look at the top 31 draft candidates for the 2020 NHL Draft.
1. Alexis Lafreniere, LW, Rimouski Oceanic, QMJHL – Two years before his draft eligible season, Lafreniere topped the point per game mark as a CHL rookie. He followed that up by adding an additional 25 points to his final totals last year, a season in which he also spent some time representing Canada at the World Junior Championship. He would have gone to the U18 tournament again, too, but his Oceanic were pushing through the Q postseason. His point pace this year is putting the two previous years to shame, with 39 points through 16 games, by far the best numbers of anyone, of any age, in any CHL league. He has a pro frame and his offensive tools and instincts are unparalleled in this draft class. While he is not known for playing in the greasy areas, he never gives up on a play and has a rare ability to create – and finish – scoring chances.
2. Lucas Raymond, RW/LW, Frolunda HC, SHL – After tearing up Sweden’s U20 league last year as a 16-year-old, Raymond shone under the international spotlight, helping lead Sweden to a gold medal at the U18 tournament. Now playing men’s hockey for Frolunda, he is still able to drive the play forward with his great hands and vision. The numbers aren’t all there yet, but he is a combo goalscorer/playmaker just waiting to break out.
3. Quinton Byfield, C, Sudbury Wolves, OHL – The much heralded Byfield, two years ago the top pick in the OHL Priority Selection, is going to contend for the same honors at the NHL level next June. After a near point-per-game rookie campaign last year, he is essentially doubling that so far, with 31 points through his first 16 games. He is a dominating power forward with ideal size and skating ability, thinks the game at an advanced level, and has high end hands.
4. Alexander Holtz, RW/LW, Djurgardens IF, SHL – Similar in developmental path to Raymond above, Holtz has been a bit more prolific in what should be his first full season playing in the SHL. Not the play driver like Raymond, he plays more of a two-way game with a killer shot and enough skill in his hands to keep defenders guessing. A bit more of a complementary player, he can nevertheless finish chances at a high rate.
5. Jamie Drysdale, D, Erie Otters, OHL – Undersized but incredibly smooth and fast on his feet, Drysdale is the highest upside blue liner for the 2020 NHL Draft, by a considerable margin, through the early going. He put up very good numbers as a rookie on a poor Erie team last year is has taken a next step so far this season. He frequently has games that suggest a future number one defender at the highest level, an impression helped along by his mate hockey sense. Is already a real candidate for Canada’s World Juniors entry as a 17-year-old.
6. Cole Perfetti, C, Saginaw Spirit, OHL – A top three talent in some draft classes, Perfetti’s ranking here is a testament to the strong top end of the 202 draft class. A gifted scorer, he put up 37 goals as an OHL rookie last year. Despite a relatively slow start to his draft year scoring-wise, (16-5-22-27), he has above average offensive tools and is one of the smartest players in this age group, and one of the top two centers as well.
7. Tim Stutzle, F, Adler Mannheim, DEL – The easy part is recognizing his high end puck handling skills, as is his impressive edge work, and his willingness to engage physically with much older players. The hard part is determining exactly how much of that is translatable. The German league is improving, and he played a massive role in helping his native Germany earn promotion to the top flight of U18 hockey, Stutzle’s game is not directly comparable to compatriot and former teammate Moritz Seider in the sense that his skill is rarer in the German game than Seider’s mature and physical game. Uncertainties aside, the potential is special.
8. Connor Zary, C, Kamloops Blazers, WHL – One of Canada’s standouts at the 2019 U18 tournament, Zary has picked things up right where he left off in the early goings. With a September birthday, he is on the older side for a first year eligible, around two weeks older then Lafreniere. But with that maturity, comes a more mature game as well, as he plays smart at all ends of the ice, creating space for himself and his teammates through his passes and mobility. Zary also brings a lot of positive energy to the game.
9. Anton Lundell, C/LW, HIFK, Liiga – A big-bodied, versatile forward who is already in his second season in the Liiga, putting up remarkable numbers for a draft eligible player. He similarly played a strong game for Finland at the 2019 World Juniors, which they won. His success is due to a combination of plus skills and incredible offensive instincts. His speed is decent but could be so much more with added strength. Has a clear path to a top six future.
10. Yaroslav Askarov, SKA-Neva St. Petersburg, VHL – For the doubts that I still had on Spencer Knight as the 2019 NHL Draft approached, I am more confident at this stage in the ability to Askarov to live up the glowing early reports. An incredibly athletic netminder, he tracks the puck like a ten year pro, while possessing near elite reflexes. Incredibly accomplished at the international level, he is also receiving plenty of playing time in Russia’s second men’s league, the VHL, and holding his own.
11. Marco Rossi, C, Ottawa 67s, OHL – The best prospect to come from out of Austria since Thomas Vanek, Rossi exceeded all expectations as a rookie last year, with over a point per game in both the regular seasons and the playoffs. Although on the small side, he plays a chippy game to go along with his fine wheels, and solid all-around tool set.
12. Noel Gunler, RW/LW, Lulea HF, SHL – A clever, offensively inclined winger, Gunler is more quick than fast. He has an innate feel for finding soft spots in coverage and turning them into scoring chances. He still needs to work on his game away from the puck, but his early success in the Champions Hockey League has raised some eyebrows, despite rarely being called up to play internationally for Sweden.
13. Dylan Holloway, C, Wisconsin Badgers, Big 10 – A true freshman coming off a dominant season with Okotoks of the AJHL, Holloway has demonstrated his impressive tools in the early going for the Badgers. He brings a strong offensive presence with plus stickhandling and a more aggressive game than most in this draft class. He looks ready to burst as the skills catch up to the pace of the NCAA.
14. Ty Smilanic, LW USNTDP, USHL – This year’s USNTDP U18 class is nothing like the star class of 2018 which saw eight players taken in the first round, and all but two draft eligible drafted, there is still some very intriguing talent, and Smilanic is the most interesting of the bunch. He is a very agile skater with high end hands and he processes the game well. Was hurt to start the year and is still warming up, production-wise.
15. Hendrix Lapierre, C, Chicoutimi Saugeneens, QMJHL – Great hands and strong skating ability are united in a high end hockey brain to make Lapierre a very exciting draft prospect in the 2020 class. The top pick of the QMJHL’s 2018 Entry Draft, he is overshadowed by Alexis Lafreniere, but his contributions are still essential to Chicoutimi’s chances. A pure playmaker, he makes great reads and has plus anticipation, helping to make his linemates better. His hockey IQ also extends to the defensive end, and Lapierre is an excellent penalty killer to boot.
16. Justin Barron, D, Halifax Mooseheads, QMJHL – A key member of last year’s QMJHL finalists, Barron is one of several understated future top four defenders in this year’s draft class. He is a good skater for his size, and he helps to shut down opposing rushes with great gap control and then he puts the Mooseheads in gear with consistently high end first passes to begin the transition. Has a good point shot, but lacks a dynamic presence in the offensive zone.
17. Justin Sourdif, C/RW, Vancouver Giants, WHL – One of the top picks in the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft, Sourdif is looking like one of the top draft prospects from the WHL for the spring of 2020. He needs to beef up, but he plays a power game, driving the net aggressively. He is a strong skater with high marks for his ability to close in on the puck, and his decision making under pressure.
18. Kaiden Guhle, D, Prince Albert Raiders, WHL – Younger brother of Brendan Guhle of the Anaheim Ducks, Kaiden is bigger and similarly advanced as a skater. He is not a flashy presence in the offensive zone, but demonstrates great stick work and gap control and uses his strength well without being mean. That all said, he is no old-school defensive defenseman, but a player who can kickstart the counterattack with a head for the transition game.
19. Rodion Amirov, LW, Salavat Yulaev Ufa, KHL – Although he has also spent time this year in the second men’s league and the top junior league in Russia, Amirov has spent the bulk of the early season playing in the KHL. While his production there isn’t rivalling his accomplishments at last year’s U18 tournament, he is still able to show off his fast-paced offensive game, plus skating, and intriguing puck skills. His game away from the puck has not yet caught up to his game with it.
20. Emil Andrae, D, HV71 J20, SuperElit – A modern day defender who makes up in smarts what he lacks in size or strength. He reads the game like an aged pro and is a strong contributor at both ends of the ice. Despite his eye-popping early season numbers, Andrae is not gifted with jaw dropping skills, but he moves the puck very well and plays the type of game which will see him on the right side of the puck more often than not, pushing play in the right direction.
21. Seth Jarvis, RW, Portland Winterhawks, WHL – An undersized point producer, Jarvis is following up a strong rookie season in the WHL with over a point per game in his draft year. He is a dynamic player with high end vision and creativity. He can attack defenders one on one with his speed and hands, or play within a team structure. Like many players his size, he will have to show that he can stand up to the full season grind, and prove some utility off the puck.
22. Zion Nybeck, RW, HV71 J20, SuperElit – A teammate of Andrea’s with HV71’s junior program, Nybeck is even smaller than his undersized teammate. He is quick with fantastic hands, which he deploys with creativity and instincts. He will be asked to prove that he can contribute off the puck, a question that dogs most players of his stature, but the early returns are positive.
23. Jacob Perreault, C, Sarnia Sting, OHL – The son of two-way center Yanic Perreault, Jacob looks to be following in his father’s footsteps. Although he lacks any real defining tools to advertise his game, he does everything at a solid, and promising for more, level. His high end hockey IQ will eventually allow all of his skills to play up at maturity.
24. Jake Sanderson, D, USNTDP, USHL – The son of Geoff Sanderson, the younger defenseman is also a plus skater, although not the burner his father was. He plays a very low key game, with a high panic threshold, and a great, consistent first pass out of the zone. A shutdown type, but more regularly on the penalty kill than the power play.
25. Mavrik Bourque, C, Shawinigan Cataractes, QMJHL – A high energy center with great hockey sense, Bourque overcomes his size concerns with strong skating and a feisty demeanor on the ice. The center is an offensive force, leaning more towards the finishing side of the attack than the playmaker. A committed backcheker, he wants the puck and wants to impact the game with it.
26. Jeremie Poirier, D, Saint John Sea Dogs, QMJHL – On the younger side with a June birthday, Poirier did what he could with a putrid Saint John team as a rookie last year, and while the team isn’t a big competitor yet, Poirier is excelling, with almost a point per game from the blueline so far. He has gained the confidence that he lacked last season, allowing him to lead the attack with regularity. He has demonstrated the ability to be passable away from the puck, but suffers from the occasional lapse in concentration.
27. Braden Schneider, D, Brandon Wheat Kings, WHL – Considering his usage internationally for Team Canada at last years U18 tournament and the recent Hlinka Gretzky Cup, Schneider is not a big offensive presence, but is very much a defense first blue liner. He has a large, mature frame and skates very well, controlling things in his own zone through mature positioning, coupled with his strength. Developing his offensive game would see him move up future versions of this list.
28. Roni Hirvonen, C Assat, Liiga – Although small, Hirvonen is a skilled forward with plus instincts. Despite his age, he has been performing admirably as a 17-year-old in the Liiga. An equal opportunity shooter and playmaker, he makes up for his lack of size with plus skating and the ability to make plays at speed. After a massive Hlinka Gretzky Cup, look for more international exposure before draft day.
29. Antonio Stranges, C/LW, London Knights, OHL – So far, Stranges is more potential than production, but, to his credit, his early season numbers are heading in the right direction. You are still hoping to see more consistency as the season progresses, his puck skills are among the best in the draft class. In addition to a steadier game, he could also stand to show more assertiveness and fearlessness, while also improving his footwork to increase his chances of realizing his potential.
30. Ryan O’Rourke, D, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, OHL – Not the flashiest or most talented defenseman in the 2020 draft class, O’Rourke is a strong, somewhat brawny blueline rock instead. It’s not that he cannot contribute to the offensive attack, because he can, but his puck moving ability is more fitting on a second pairing than a first, or a prime powerplay slot. Still very valuable in the late first round.
31. Dawson Mercer, RW, Drummondville Voltiguers, QMJHL – After approaching one point per game last year, Mercer is stepping forward in his draft year, scoring nearly one goal per game so far. He is a great North-South skater, who plays hard at both ends and has turned himself into a useful penalty killer in addition to his killer finishing ability from the slot. His success is more a function of his hockey smarts than his innate skill set.
Observations for all of the above are courtesy of the amazing McKeens Prospect Team. Brock Otten, OHL; Jimmy Hamrin, Sweden; Mike Sanderson, QMJHL; Vince Gibbons, WHL; Marco Bombino, Finland; Alessandro Seren Rosso, Russia.
If you’re looking for more prospect or fantasy hockey information, Rotoworld is a great resource.
Every week Michael Finewax looks ahead at the schedule and offers team-by-team notes in The Week Ahead. Ryan Dadoun writes have a weekly Fantasy Nuggets column. Gus Katsaros does an Analytics columns if you want to get into detailed statistical analysis. If you’re interested in rookies and prospects, there’s a weekly column written by writers from McKeen’s Hockey.
For more coverage of top prospects and the 2020 NHL Draft, follow @Ryan Wagman on Twitter.