The 2020 NHL draft is just days away, so it’s time to lock in my final prospect rankings for this year’s class.
The Tampa Bay Lightning just wrapped up their Stanley Cup championship, but attention now turns to the draft, which will be held virtually on Oct. 6-7. I’ve poured through game film of this year’s class and spoken with numerous scouts around the NHL over the past few months, and I’ve made a handful of changes since my last ranking on June 30. One thing is for sure: In this very different lead-up to the draft amid the coronavirus pandemic, there won’t be a ton of consensus among teams, scouts and analysts beyond the top 15 prospects. We could be in for a few surprises come draft night.
Here is my final ranking of the best 100 prospects in the 2020 NHL draft class, from Alexis Lafreniere on down. I’ve also included my top players at each position, along with five intriguing late-rounders with upside who I like despite just missing my top 100.
Note: Heights and weights are from Central Scouting. Ages are as of Oct. 6.
1. Alexis Lafreniere, LW, Rimouski (QMJHL)
Age: 18 | Ht: 6-1 | Wt: 193
Shot: L | Previous rank: 1
There is no debate at this point as to who should go No. 1. It’s Lafreniere by a significant margin. Over the past 20 years, only two players 18 years old or younger had a points-per-game average higher than Lafreniere’s 2.15 this season: Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Drouin. Lafreniere thinks the game at a high level, with elite anticipation and an understanding of what to do with the puck immediately after he gets it. He has a physical edge and initiates contact more than most top picks of recent years, separating players from the puck with regularity. We’ve seen Lafreniere’s emotions get the better of him at times, but he has a competitive fire. He wants the puck at all times, in all situations. And he has the skill and hands to make things happen when he has it. Few other players exude the level of confidence Lafreniere has shown over the past two seasons.
2. Quinton Byfield, C, Sudbury (OHL)
Age: 18 | Ht: 6-4 | Wt: 215
Shot: L | Previous rank: 2
Byfield looked like he was seriously going to give Lafreniere a run for his money at No. 1, but his game-to-game consistency wasn’t at the same level. Byfield’s game was a little uneven from midseason on, and I wonder whether the draft season began to wear on him. He is one of the younger players in this draft class but was fifth in the OHL in terms of points per game (1.82). At his best, he is a dominant force with elite-level speed, especially considering his size. He thinks the game extremely well, with good vision and a playmaker’s touch. Byfield’s defensive game needs maturation, but his instincts with the puck are very strong. If everything goes right in his development, he has a chance to be special.
3. Tim Stutzle, LW, Mannheim (Germany)
Age: 18 | Ht: 6-1 | Wt: 187
Shot: L | Previous rank: 3
There is a sense of ease in Stutzle’s game, a level of poise that is not easily attained for a teenager in his first season of pro hockey. He has high-end puckhandling and skating abilities along with elite vision and hockey sense. He has a nice release and good shot, but I think his hands work best when he’s snapping passes, especially down low. He uses the ice that’s given to him and often makes the play, but he doesn’t force things. Stutzle has a chance to become part of a growing elite class of German hockey players, and he’s done it without ever really leaving home. But he likely will need to get into an AHL lineup to grow and learn the North American game.
4. Cole Perfetti, C, Saginaw (OHL)
Age: 18 | Ht: 5-11 | Wt: 177
Shot: L | Previous rank: 5
He can score, he can make plays and his skill is elite. But what I like best about Perfetti are his vision and offensive sense, giving him the ability to pick apart opposing defenses on the rush or in the zone. He can extend plays and seems to always have a plan with the puck on his stick. Perfetti has a pure release on his shot and snaps passes about as well as anyone else in the class. His skating is closer to average, but that is a much bigger problem for players who can’t think the game the way Perfetti does.
5. Lucas Raymond, LW, Frolunda (Sweden)
Age: 18 | Ht: 5-11 | Wt: 170
Shot: R | Previous rank: 4
Raymond has been one of the hardest players to evaluate in this class because he is too good for Sweden’s junior league but not quite good enough to play an elevated role on a perennial SHL powerhouse laden with veteran talent. He averaged under 10 minutes of ice time in 33 SHL games and was either healthy-scratched or played as the extra forward an awful lot this season. He had 14 points in nine games in Sweden’s under-20 league, as well. His one-on-one skills, skating and willingness to battle for his ice are plus traits.