2020 NHL Draft features plenty of memorable moments

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It began Tuesday when the New York Rangers selected left wing Alexis Lafreniere with the No. 1 pick and ended Wednesday when the Tampa Bay Lightning chose forward Declan McDonnell with pick No. 217 of the seventh round.

Here are 10 items to remember from the 2020 draft:

 

Tribute to Mr. Gregory

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly began Day 2 with a moving tribute to Hockey Hall of Famer Jim Gregory.

Gregory, former Toronto Maple Leafs general manager and an NHL executive for four decades, with duties that included roll call and the announcing of picks at the draft, died Oct. 30. He was 83.

“Over the past two decades, Day 2 of the draft was conducted by Jim Gregory, whose contributions to our League and the draft, in particular, were immeasurable,” Daly said. “It isn’t overstating the case to say that Jim Gregory was one of the most respected and beloved men in the history of our game. The 2020 NHL Draft is the first to have conducted since last October when we lost the man the hockey family adoringly called Mr. Gregory. 

“He’s been missed every day since. His absence is particularly felt on this day. As Mr. Gregory always did at this point, let me say, ‘Good luck to our clubs and to the young men around the world waiting to hear their names called.’ And, with that, let’s begin.”

Video: Daly pays tribute to Jim Gregory

 

Wait over for Lafreniere

The draft was originally scheduled for June 25-26 in Montreal, meaning Lafreniere waited an additional three-plus months to hear his name announced as the No. 1 selection. In the end, it was worth it for the left wing from Rimouski of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

Lafreniere’s draft party had to be limited to his immediate family as mandated by the provincial government because his home in Saint-Eustache, Quebec, is in a COVID-19 red zone, meaning nobody else is allowed inside or outside the house. He was beside his parents, Nathalie and Hugo, and sister, Lori-Jane, when the Rangers made the selection.

“It was an unreal feeling,” Lafreniere said. “Obviously, the New York Rangers are a great organization, and for me, I’m really honored to join them. When I heard my name, we’ve been waiting for a long time, so it was something really special for me and for my family.”

Video: New York Rangers draft F Alexis Lafreniere No. 1

 

Byfield makes history

Quinton Byfield of Sudbury (Ontario Hockey League) became the highest-selected Black player in NHL history when the Los Angeles Kings chose him No. 2, ahead of Evander Kane (2009, Atlanta Thrashers) and Seth Jones (2013, Nashville Predators), each chosen with the No. 4 pick. 

Byfield, a left-shot center, scored 82 points (32 goals, 50 assists) in 45 games. He’s also the highest-selected Sudbury player in NHL draft history.

“It means a lot to me [to be the highest-selected Black player], it’s something special,” Byfield said. “Being in the record books for anything is definitely super special, especially [since] my dad and my mom didn’t play hockey or have too much knowledge about that, so kind of just growing the game together. It just shows there’s a lot of opportunity for everyone in the world that you can play every sport and be successful in it.”

Video: Byfield reacts to being picked 2nd overall by Kings

 

Trebek announces Senators pick

The Ottawa Senators reached out to “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek to announce the No. 3 pick in the first round, left wing Tim Stuetzle of Adler Mannheim in the Deutsche Eishockey Liga.

Trebek, who attended the University of Ottawa and is a recipient of the Order of Canada, has hosted the game show since 1984. As expected, he revealed the selection by first providing the answer to a question.

Answer: With the No. 3 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, the Ottawa Senators selected this player.

Question: Who is Tim Stuetzle?

“The idea came from our owner, Eugene Melnyk,” Senators general manager Pierre Dorion said. “We were meeting in early September and Eugene indicated to me that I wouldn’t be making the No. 3 selection and advised who would be making it, and I thought it was a great idea. 

“Having someone with the magnitude of [Trebek] announce that early pick was great for our fans and great for the NHL.”

Video: Alex Trebek announces Tim Stuetzle to Sens at No. 3

 

Askarov sets standard

Iaroslav Askarov became the highest-drafted Russia-born goalie in NHL history when the Nashville Predators selected him No. 11.

Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy had been the highest-drafted Russia-born goalie; he was selected with the No. 19 pick in the 2012 NHL Draft.

“When I started to play hockey, I was dreaming about the NHL, and today is the first step to make it real,” Askarov said.

Askarov, who catches right-handed, is the fifth Russia-born goalie to be selected in the first round. He joins Vasilevskiy, Yevgeni Ryabchikov, No. 21 in 1994 by the Boston Bruins; Semyon Varlamov, No. 23 in 2006 by the Washington Capitals; and Ilya Samsonov, No. 22 in 2015 by the Capitals.

Video: Nashville Predators select G Yaroslav Askarov No. 11

 

‘Very nice gesture’

San Jose Sharks director of scouting Doug Wilson Jr. used American Sign Language to announce the No. 31 pick, Prince Albert forward Ozzy Wiesblatt, whose mother, Kim, is deaf and is a single mom to five children.

“That means a ton, especially to my mom, and just the deaf community in general,” Wiesblatt said. “It’s just a very nice gesture for him to do. And my mom will never forget that.”

Wilson Jr. spoke highly of Wiesblatt’s character and family, both of which played a big part in selecting the 18-year-old, who played in the Western Hockey League.

“It’s a bunch of hard workers. He’s got character,” Wilson Jr. said. “He’ll run through the wall for you. This is a huge moment for 17- and 18-year-olds. In my life, my mom is a huge factor, she really is. If I was in this moment, I would want to be able to share it with my parents too.”

Video: Sharks announce 31st pick with sign language

 

Senators, Devils reload in first round

The Senators and New Jersey Devils each had three picks in the first round.

Ottawa took Stuetzle at No. 3 with a pick acquired from the Sharks in a trade for defenseman Erik Karlsson on Sept. 13, 2018; defenseman Jake Sanderson of the USA Hockey National Team Development Program Under-18 team at No. 5 with their own first-round selection; and center Ridly Greig of Brandon (WHL) at No. 28 with the pick acquired from the New York Islanders in the Jean-Gabriel Pageau trade Feb. 24. 

“It was important to keep all three first-rounders just because [of] the direction we’re headed as a team,” Dorion said. “We definitely know that these three assets will be key components in us having a lot of future success.”

Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald said New Jersey attempted to move up in the draft, but teams didn’t express interest in a trade. The Devils drafted forward Alexander Holtz from Djurgarden of the Swedish Hockey League with the No. 7 pick, center Dawson Mercer from Chicoutimi of the QMJHL at No. 18, and defenseman Shakir Mukhamadullin from Ufa of the Kontinental Hockey League at No. 20.

Video: New Jersey Devils select F Alexander Holtz No. 7

 

German gems

Stuetzle is the highest-selected NHL draft pick born and trained in Germany since forward Leon Draisaitl was selected No. 3 by the Edmonton Oilers in the 2014 NHL Draft.

Germany-born Lukas Reichel, a forward for Eisbaren Berlin (DEL), was picked No. 17 by the Chicago Blackhawks. Prior to this year, five players born and trained in Germany had been selected in the first round but never more than one in any year.

For good measure, German-born John-Jason Peterka, a forward for Munchen (DEL), was chosen in the second round (No. 34) by the Buffalo Sabres. 

“It’s very good for German hockey,” Stuetzle said. “What [Draisaitl] did [being voted the Hart Trophy winner as NHL MVP this season], like I’ve said before, it’s unbelievable. Many kids look up to him.”

 

Quinn, Rossi go back to back

Forwards Marco Rossi and Jack Quinn became the third set of teammates from Ottawa (OHL) to be selected among the top 10 in the same draft.

They join Michel Larocque (Montreal Canadiens, No. 6) and Wayne Merrick (St. Louis Blues, No. 9) in 1972, and Bobby Smith (Minnesota North Stars, No. 1) and Tim Higgins (Chicago Blackhawks, No. 10) in 1978. 

Quinn was chosen No. 8 by the Sabres, and Rossi went No. 9 to the Minnesota Wild. 

“It was pretty crazy to think me and [Quinn] were chosen back-to-back,” Rossi wrote in his draft diary for NHL.com. “We started texting each other right away. About five minutes after I was taken by the Wild, we were texting each other … both of us were so happy.”

Video: Sabres draft F Jack Quinn No. 8

 

Canada dominates

There were 19 Canada-born players selected in the first round Tuesday, the most since 2003 (19), and 71 Canada-born players chosen over seven rounds.

Sanderson was the first of two United States-born players picked in the first round; center Brendan Brisson of Chicago in the United States Hockey League was drafted No. 29 by the Vegas Golden Knights. There were 52 United States-born players selected. 

Sweden was third with 32 players selected, Russia was fourth with 24, including four in the first round, and Finland was fifth with 16.

 

Listen: New episode of NHL Draft Class

 

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