2020 NHL Draft, being held virtually, could see other firsts

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The draft, which begins Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVAS) when the first round is held, will be conducted virtually for the first time in its 58th year, with each team having staff members within its own draft room located in its local market. They’ll be connected virtually and announce their picks via NHL Network within the allotted time limit.

Rounds 2-7 will be Wednesday (11:30 a.m. ET; NHLN, SN1). The draft was scheduled for June 26-27 at Bell Centre in Montreal but postponed March 25 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus.

 

[RELATED: Complete 2020 NHL Draft coverage]

 

Judd Brackett, director of amateur scouting for the Minnesota Wild, said they are ready to adjust.

“Unfortunately, we won’t be able to get all our amateur staff together because of border closures and travel restrictions,” Brackett said. “But we are going to have feeds and whether it’s Zoom calls or Webex, we’ll have the ability to have them front and center and available. Being able to have the visuals in the room, they are absolutely going to partake (in the process), even though they’re not physically present.”

It’s the first time the draft will be held on days other than Friday, Saturday or Sunday since the 1994 NHL Draft, which took place on Tuesday, June 28, and Wednesday, June 29, at the Hartford Civic Center.

Left wing Alexis Lafreniere of Rimouski in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League is expected to be selected No. 1 by the New York Rangers, who were awarded the first pick by winning the Second Phase of the NHL Draft Lottery on Aug. 10. Lafreniere is No. 1 in NHL Central Scouting’s final ranking of North American skaters.

Video: Alexis Lafreniere Chats With Brian Lawton

Beyond that selection, there are several prospects who could make history. 

Center Quinton Byfield of Sudbury in the Ontario Hockey League, ranked No. 2 among North American skaters, could become the highest-selected Black player in NHL history, surpassing Evander Kane (2009 NHL Draft, Atlanta Thrashers) and Seth Jones (2013 NHL Draft, Nashville Predators), who each was a No. 4 pick.

Left wing Tim Stuetzle of Adler Mannheim in Deutsche Eishockey Liga, Germany’s top professional league, is No. 1 in Central Scouting’s final ranking of International skaters. He could become the highest-selected NHL draft pick born and trained in Germany, and it would be in the same year Edmonton Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl became the first Germany-born player to win the Hart Trophy voted as NHL MVP.

Five players born and trained in Germany have been selected in the first round, but never more than one in any year. There could be three in this draft: Stuetzle, John-Jason Peterka, a right wing for EHC Munich (DEL), and left wing Lukas Reichel of Eisbaren Berlin (DEL). Peterka is No. 7 in Central Scouting’s final ranking of International skaters; Reichel is No. 11.

Center Marco Rossi of Ottawa (OHL), No. 6 in Central Scouting’s final ranking of North American skaters, could be the highest Austria-born player chosen. Thomas Vanek was selected No. 5 by the Buffalo Sabres in the 2003 NHL Draft.

The Rangers (37-28-5, .564 points percentage) finished 18th in the NHL standings this season and are the first team to finish that high and have the No. 1 pick since the 1994 NHL Draft, when the Florida Panthers finished 16th. New York is the first team to participate in the postseason and have the No. 1 pick since the 1983 NHL Draft (Minnesota North Stars).

The Rangers were one of the eight teams with a 12.5 percent chance of winning the No. 1 pick after being eliminated from the Stanley Cup Qualifiers. The pick was assigned to a placeholder in the First Phase of the lottery June 26. New York was swept by the Carolina Hurricanes in a best-of-5 Qualifier series as part of the 24-team Return to Play Plan.

“Anytime you can pick first, especially this year, it’s a special year, we all know that,” Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton said. “When you go through anything like this, you’re trying to gather as much talent as you can. Obviously if you look through some of the best players in the League, some of the star players in this league, it’s not a huge secret where the teams are getting them, right? It’s lottery picks. It’s the very high-end parts of the draft. That’s generally where you get your players, and it’s hard. The opportunity for us to do that is huge.”

The Rangers can choose No. 1 for the second time (Andre Veilleux in 1965) and first time since the universal draft was adopted in 1969 (all juniors of qualifying age eligible for selection). They selected forward Kaapo Kakko with the No. 2 pick last year.

Lafreniere (6-foot-1, 193 pounds) won the Jean Beliveau Trophy as the leading scorer in the QMJHL with 112 points (35 goals, 77 assists), the Paul Dumont Trophy as QMJHL personality of the year, the Michel Briere Trophy as MVP of the QMJHL, the Canadian Hockey League Top Draft Prospect of the Year Award, and the CHL David Branch Player of the Year Award.

The 18-year-old left wing could be the first Canada-born player to be taken No. 1 since Connor McDavid was selected first in the 2015 NHL Draft by the Edmonton Oilers. The four years without a Canadian player chosen No. 1 is the longest such stretch in draft history.

Video: Top prospects discuss upcoming NHL Draft

The Los Angeles Kings have the No. 2 pick, and the Ottawa Senators have the first of their three first-round selections at No. 3. The Senators have their own pick (No. 5), the San Jose Sharks’ first choice (No. 3), acquired in the trade that sent defenseman Erik Karlsson to San Jose on Sept. 13, 2018, and the New York Islanders’ pick (No. 28), acquired in the trade that sent forward Jean-Gabriel Pageau to New York on Feb. 24. It marks the eighth time since the universal draft was adopted that a team has two selections in the top five.

The New Jersey Devils also have three picks in the first round: their own pick (No. 7), the pick they acquired from the Arizona Coyotes (No. 18) in the trade that sent Taylor Hall to Arizona on Dec. 16, and the Vancouver Canucks’ selection (No. 20) from the Tampa Bay Lightning in the trade that sent Blake Coleman from New Jersey to Tampa Bay on Feb. 16. The Lightning had acquired the pick from the Canucks as part of the trade that sent forward J.T. Miller to Vancouver on June 22, 2019.

Stuetzle (6-1, 187) scored 34 points (seven goals, 27 assists) in 41 games this season and was named DEL rookie of the year. His averages of 0.66 assists per game and 0.83 points per game are the best by an under-18 player in the history of the league.

“Stuetzle played a very mature game the whole season and impressed more and more playing regular shifts with a top team,” NHL director of European scouting Goran Stubb said. “Tim had a big role on the team, used in all game situations.”

Byfield (6-4, 215), a powerful skater with breakaway speed, scored 82 points (32 goals, 50 assists) in 45 OHL games. Rossi (5-9, 183) led the CHL (QMJHL, OHL, Western Hockey League) with 120 points (39 goals, 81 assists) in 56 games. Ottawa teammate Jack Quinn (6-0, 176) is No. 7 in Central Scouting’s ranking of North American skaters after the right wing finished second in the OHL with 52 goals and tied for eighth with 89 points in 62 games.

The two top-ranked defensemen are Jamie Drysdale of Erie and Jake Sanderson of the USA Hockey National Team Development Program Under-18 team. Drysdale (5-11, 175), ranked No. 3, is a right-hand shot capable of running the power play and driving offense with his skating and elite hockey sense. He scored 47 points (nine goals, 38 assists) and 22 power-play points (three goals, 19 assists) in 49 games.

Sanderson (6-1, 185) won the 2020 Dave Tyler Junior Hockey Player of the Year Award, presented annually to the most outstanding United States-born player in junior hockey. The NTDP U-18 captain, the No. 4-ranked North American skater, scored 29 points (seven goals, 22 assists) in 47 games and has committed to play at the University of North Dakota next season. He’s the son of former NHL forward Geoff Sanderson.

Center Cole Perfetti (5-10, 177) of Saginaw finished second in the OHL with 111 points (37 goals, 74 assists) in 61 games, including 26 points (eight goals, 18 assists) in his last 12 games. He is the No. 5-ranked North American skater by Central Scouting.

Alexander Holtz (5-11, 192), a right wing with Djurgardens of the Swedish Hockey League, is the No. 2-ranked skater on Central Scouting’s International list. He scored 16 points (nine goals, seven assists) in 35 SHL games.

Next on the that list is HIFK center Anton Lundell (6-1, 185), who scored 28 points (10 goals, 18 assists) in 44 games in Liiga, Finland’s top professional league. Frolunda left wing Lucas Raymond (5-11, 170), the No. 4-ranked International skater, scored 10 points (four goals, six assists) in 33 SHL games.

Iaroslav Askarov (6-3, 176), No. 1 on Central Scouting’s list of International goalies, is expected to become the third Russia-born goalie to be chosen first at his position, joining Ilya Samsonov (Washington Capitals, No. 22, 2015 NHL Draft) and Andrei Vasilevskiy (Lightning, No. 19, 2012 NHL Draft). The 18-year-old is 2-1-0 with an 0.75 goals-against average, a .974 save percentage and one shutout in three games for SKA-Neva St. Petersburg of the Kontinental Hockey League.

“Askarov is one of the more athletic goaltenders available in this draft,” Central Scouting director Dan Marr said. “He’s one of these players that’s always been the youngest on this team and he’s got a shelf full of medals already. He brings the size, the compete, and has all the goaltending tools needed to be a No. 1 goalie in the National Hockey League.”

Central Scouting senior manager David Gregory said the 2020 draft will have depth at every position beyond the first round.

“It’s hard to think of a strength in any one position,” he said. “You can see from our [final ranking of North America skaters] that there’s a few less defensemen as you go down on the North American side. There are some elite forwards that are going to create a lot of discussion among the teams. Teams are going to get very good players as they pick into the second, third, and fourth rounds. There’s going to be some real hidden gems, and in a few years from now we’ll be saying, ‘How did that player get taken so late?’ So there’s a lot of depth here and lots of opportunity for the NHL clubs.”

 

Listen: New episode of NHL Draft Class

 

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