Please make this mock a reality!
Well, we’ve got some clarity concerning the 2020 NHL Draft. At the very least, we know where most of the first eight picks are headed, save for the most important of them — No. 1 overall.
In another six weeks or so, we’ll have Phase 2 of the NHL Draft Lottery to determine where that pick and presumably Alexis Lafrenière are headed. Each of the play-in round’s losers is going to hold a 12.5 percent chance of landing the star distributor, forever altering the course of their franchise.
Until then, let’s have a little fun and try to determine how all the picks determined by Phase 1 of the NHL Draft Lottery are going to be spent.
[Read more: Chaos Reigns in Phase 1 of 2020 NHL Draft Lottery]
Don’t overthink this one, Placeholder Team. Alexis Lafrenière started the year as the 2020 NHL Draft’s best prospect, and everything he’s done since has only consolidated his grasp on the throne. Forget the debate; this is a coronation. The only question is which team is going to crown him.
What can one say about Lafrenière that hasn’t already been covered? He’s an elite distributor, capable of bending the opposition to his will and exploiting their compliance with raw skill at every turn. There isn’t anything he can’t do in the offensive zone and there often isn’t anything his opponents can do to stop him.
[Read more: How Alexis Lafrenière’s Ability to Manipulate the Opposition Sets Himself at the Head of the 2020 NHL Draft Pack]
If there’s a 2020-21 NHL season, Lafrenière is ready. He’s only about an NHL average skater, but that’s a big step up on where he was even a year ago. He’s filled out his 6-foot-1 frame and added a bit of bite, too. The sky is the limit.
I’ve gone back and forth on the Los Angeles Kings all weekend. The principle is simple. What does one get for someone who seemingly has it all? This is the question facing anyone endeavouring to divine the Kings’ direction with the second overall pick.
Ultimately, I landed on Tim Stützle, the human highlight reel out of Adler Mannheim in the German men’s league who captivated the scouting community in December at the World Juniors and held their attention for the rest of the year. It’s the sort of swing for the fences type of pick that a team as flush as the Kings can afford to take.
[Read more: Breaking Rank; Why Tim Stützle is Lower on our Board Than Yours]
The name of the game is speed in the modern NHL, and for all my concerns about Stützle’s game (relative to other players in this part of the draft), it’s the one unmistakable strength therein.
How’s this for a consolation prize? The Ottawa Senators fall from second and third overall to third and fifth, and then they still leave with the draft’s best skater at arguably the game’s most important position. Quinton Byfield, step on up.
The Sens system is flush at every position. They have the depth to insolate the forming group of core players that are going to take this team from rebuilding to contending. All that’s missing are, well, a few core players.
[Read more: An Extensive Breakdown of Quinton Byfield’s Game]
There is a legitimate argument for Byfield in the No. 1 spot, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. It’s one based on the sort of sky-high ceiling that only a 6-foot-4 centre with hands of silk and turbo engines strapped to their skates can reach. The combination of power, skill, and speed present in Byfield’s game is rare, and the Sens would be wise to leap at the opportunity to hitch their wagons to it.
We believe that the first tier in this year’s draft is three maybe four players deep, and Lucas Raymond is firmly in that group. So, the Detroit Red Wings count their lucky stars that the Swedish super prospect is available to them at No. 4 overall, and they walk off of the virtual podium (I’m not sure how this works in a COVID-19 context…) feeling pretty damn good.
The Detroit Red Wings need help, and they need it for every part of their lineup. They can’t take swings to fill positional needs. They’ll put themselves behind the eight-ball for years with that approach. For now, it’s all about bringing the best possible players into the fold, even if they don’t play a premium position.
[Read more: Make no Mistake — Lucas Raymond is Absolutely a Top-3 Prospect in 2020 NHL Draft]
Raymond can do it all. He’s the most complete winger in this year’s draft. He’d instantly become the Wings’ best offensive prospect, and that will last for as long as it takes him to get to the NHL. Which is to say, not very long at all.
The Senators step up to the stage with the second of their two first-round picks and lay it down on some homegrown talent in Ottawa 67s centre Marco Rossi. Just like that, the Senators system goes from one with hardly any top of the lineup potential to two players with first-line centre upside.
Whether Rossi is a centre at the NHL level or not is a matter of some debate within the scouting community. The NHL is more accommodating of small, skilled players than ever, but there aren’t many 5-foot-9 skaters regularly taking shifts down the middle.
[Read more: Ottawa 67s Forward Marco Rossi — Undersized and Overpowering]
I’m not going to write Rossi off as an NHL centre. He’s thick, with a wide base and small area shiftiness that allows him to excel in the most hotly contested parts of the offensive zone. He’s a gifted distributor, with fantastic puck skills and elite levels of creativity. Worst case scenario? The Senators end up with a Mitch Marner-type on the wing. I can think of far worse outcomes with the fifth overall pick.
The Anaheim Ducks are set down the middle, with Ryan Getzlaf holding down the first line of the present and Trevor Zegras positioning himself for the front line of the future. They’re well-positioned in goal, with John Gibson standing tall as one of if not the league’s best goalies, when healthy. Hampus Lindholm, Cam Fowler, and Josh Manson are some damn good defencemen, but they’re unfortunately on the wrong side of the age curve.
This team needs to invest long-term in their blue line, and spending the sixth overall pick on Jamie Drysdale seems like a savvy way to do it. He’s the clear cut best defenceman in this year’s draft; a potential No. 1 with serious offensive upside and the ability to quarterback an NHL power play.
[Read more: Jamie Drysdale is the Premier Defender in the 2020 NHL Draft]
The question with Drysdale, and it’s one that’s fairly common with defensive prospects this age, is if he can tighten things up defensively. Scouts wanted to see a little more progression off of the puck in his own zone this season, but he has the potential to get there with time and careful development. Drysdale is a fantastic skater with great offensive instincts, and you can’t teach that.
Whether it’s rooted in reality or otherwise — I find myself sympathizing with the latter argument — the New Jersey Devils have a reputation for drafting from the United States National Team Development Program. Jake Sanderson is the program’s best player, addresses one of the Devils greatest areas of need, and is expected to go in this spot. It seems like a perfect match.
There is just so much to like about Sanderson’s game. He doesn’t bring the high-flying offence that we’ve come to associate with Drysdale’s game, but that’s about the only area where he’s lagging. I’d say Sanderson is the superior defender through the neutral and defensive zones, and it’s not even especially close.
[Read more: USNTDP Defenceman Jake Sanderson is a Bona Fide Top-Ten Prospect in the 2020 NHL Draft]
Sanderson is committed to North Dakota, where he’ll have the opportunity to play big minutes after the departures of Colton Poolman and Johnny Tychonick. Whether he sticks around for much longer than a year or not is another matter entirely.
Things are rough in Buffalo, and if they don’t turn this thing around, they might lose Jack Eichel. It seemed for a season that Jeff Skinner might be the winger that Eichel’s needed to take this team to another level, but he’s come back down to earth in a big way this season. The Sabres need prospects with top of the lineup potential, and Alexander Holtz is just that type of player.
Holtz is this draft’s best finisher, period. He can get his wrist shot off at speed, and he’s got a great sense of spacing and offensive instincts that constantly force him into the most sensitive parts of the offensive zone. This is a player with 40-plus-goal potential at the NHL level.
[Read more: Alexander Holtz is the 2020 NHL Draft’s Premier Finisher]
The strides Holtz took elsewhere in his game bode well for his staying power even if the goals dry up for a prolonged stretch of time. He’s not going to win a Selke anytime soon, but he’s going to hang in there defensively if the strides he took this season are any indication.
But most important of all? Holtz is going to score goals. Lots of them.