NHL Top 15 Mock Draft: Lafreniere lands in New York

The Hockey Central panel breaks down the New York Rangers winning the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery and what Alexis Lafreniere will bring to the team.

In a PR move that turned out to be brilliant, NHL fans watched for one ball to be drawn and put an end to the two-phased draft lottery Monday night. The NY Rangers were the big winners and will now pick first overall when the NHL Draft takes place Oct. 9-10.

Fans of the seven teams whose fate had been decided at the June 26 lottery were watching to scream at the TV, regardless of who won. Fans of the eight teams that were eliminated during the qualifying round were waiting with bated breath to see if they would win the ultimate consolation prize and the right to pick the projected top prospect, Alexis Lafreniere.

Now that we know the order of the first 15 picks, we’re able to mock the top of the draft.

1. New York Rangers: Alexis Lafreniere, LW
Over his three years in the QMJHL, Lafreniere has added layers and depth to his game. He has become a complete player who can impact the game like a centreman, but from the wing. He’s got excellent playmaking ability and his shot has been lauded by his peers.

Lafreniere can pace the game in all three zones with a physical edge that really emerged this season. He will have had more time to prepare for his first year in the league than any other first overall pick in the modern era of the draft. Lafreniere’s amazing vision should be enhanced at the NHL level, yet his goal-scoring shouldn’t be overlooked. Because of his October birthday, he’s already played three years of major junior and where he ends up starting the 2020-21 season will be a story to watch. Only one other player has won CHL player of the year twice: Sidney Crosby.

2. Los Angeles: Tim Stutzle, LW
In order for Stutzle to unseat Byfield in the two-hole, the Kings have to strongly believe he can play centre. He showed well there at the WJC, but he was a winger playing with and against men in the DEL. Stutzle dances with the puck, he can play at top speed and although his goal numbers were down, that part of his game will evolve with strength and maturity.

German players are all the rage these days as the DEL has become a favourite choice for North American players, adding to what was already a solid league base. The schedule allows for players to work out regularly both in the gym and in skills sessions. His undying work ethic will be appreciated heavily by the Kings, who hope this pick turns out as good as their last at second overall (Drew Doughty in 2008).

3. Ottawa Senators: Quinton Byfield, C
The Sens are deep at all positions in their prospect pool. Every team covets size and strength down the middle of the ice, which Byfield provides. On top of that, Byfield is an excellent skater, who handles the puck well in tight areas. He’s an equal threat as a scorer and a distributor. Keep in mind he’s 10 months younger than Lafreniere and, as big as he is now, there’s still room to grow. As part of the developmental process, I’d like to see him play bigger and to lengthen his stick. He’s keen to learn the trade and regardless of what his third year looks like, I’m excited to see where he’ll take it. As good as he is now, there’s still a rawness to his game and that makes for a higher ceiling moving forward.

4. Detroit Red Wings: Cole Perfetti, LW
There are countless ties between Detroit and Perfetti. Most importantly, Perfetti spent the season a short drive away from the Motor City with the Saginaw Spirit, allowing everyone in the organization to get multiple looks as well as get up close and personal to know him away from the rink. He’s equally as impressive a young man as he is a player. For Perfetti, his hockey IQ may be the best in this draft class. His awareness is uncanny. Anticipating a play in neutral ice, or jumping the play to earn a breakaway is not uncommon.

In a group setting, he’s a legit threat crossing the blue line. He proved he could score goals as a 16-year-old with 37 in 63 games a year ago. This season, he showed off his playmaking abilities with 74 assists, which helped him finish second in the OHL with 111 points. Fuelled by being cut from Canada’s world junior team, Perfetti returned to Saginaw and recorded a point in 30 of 32 games, accounting for 66 total points.

5. Ottawa Senators: Jake Sanderson, D
The Sens address the two most critical positions with Byfield at three and Sanderson here. Skating is the key foundational asset to Sanderson’s game. Excellent at reading and reacting to the play, he is extremely difficult to play against. He’s a hard defender be it in the corners or at the net front. What impresses me most about Sanderson is his ability to read and kill plays in neutral ice. He’s able to conserve energy, use his speed to transition and control the offensive zone.

Sanderson did a great job to close the gap on Jamie Drysdale for top defenceman with an electric second half. By the end of the season, he was comfortable enough with his defensive game, recognized his team needed more production, and started to show an offensive side. The son of former NHLer Geoff, Jake has been around the game all his life, which could help him transition easier to the pro game. He’s a quiet but confident leader and teammates gravitate towards him.

6. Anaheim Ducks: Jamie Drysdale, D
The Ducks have solid forward prospects in Trevor Zegras, Sam Steel, Isac Lundestrom, Max Comtois, Max Jones and Troy Terry. In their past 16 picks dating back to Round 6 of the 2015 draft, Anaheim has taken only two defencemen, thus making Drysdale a viable option here. Drysdale compares favourably to Cam Fowler, who’s played close to 700 NHL games. First, they are both world-class skaters. Second, they are both really good puck movers. Third, they both play with poise beyond their years. Drysdale was challenged to be a difference maker every night, and was able to achieve that goal upon returning from the world juniors. He plays with his head on a swivel, which allows him to make high percentage decisions.

7. New Jersey Devils: Marco Rossi, C
There are several ties between the Ottawa 67’s and the Devils (prospects Kevin Bahl, Mitchell Hoelscher, Nikita Okhotyuk and Graeme Clarke all played with the 67’s last year). Rossi is a well-rounded player whose tireless work ethic and practice habits have made for rapid development.

There are so many things to like about his game, but at 5-foot-9 he’s faced the size question his entire career. At his best, Rossi is reliable in all three zones. He wins faceoffs and can use his low centre of gravity and strong lower half to help repel bigger, heavier NHL competition. He can make plays and isn’t afraid to go to the net. He’s driven, competitive and skilled. The Devils also have Nico Hischier, who played his junior career under the same head coach in Andre Tourigny. The one question mark is who will actually be making this pick? Will it be Tom Fitzgerald, or a new GM?

8. Buffalo Sabres: Alexander Holtz, RW
New GM Kevyn Adams is likely aware of all the draft preparation done by former GM Jason Botterill. However, he’s said he wants to take Buffalo’s scouting staff in a new direction, blending pro and amateur scouts, with heavier emphasis on video scouting and analytics. This may entirely alter the direction the Sabres take with this pick, since there’s plenty of video available and time to watch it. In any event, over the past five years, the Sabres have found themselves in the lower third of the league in goal-scoring. Holtz will help address this issue. He shoots it a ton and does so quickly and accurately. Holtz plays a straight line game.

9. Minnesota Wild, Lucas Raymond, LW
This is likely a few spots lower than where Raymond will end up, but it’s also the type of draft where there could be a few major shake-ups in the top 10. This slick and skilled winger wasn’t afforded enough ice-time in the SHL to properly assess his point production. He made massive strides with the scouting community in international games, where he has been playing above his age-group for years.

Light on his feet with amazing vision, Raymond’s calling card is as an elite playmaker with the ability to do the unexpected. Don’t sleep on his ability to put the puck in the net. Raymond’s hat trick in the gold medal game of the 2019 U-18s, including the OT winner, is perfect evidence. Add in the right shot factor and there’s plenty to like.

10. Winnipeg Jets: Jack Quinn, RW
A 50-goal season in any league is a major accomplishment, but to do it after only putting up just 12 goals the year before is truly an amazing feat. Quinn is to scouting what seeds are to flowers. You plant the seed, water it, add sun, a little TLC, and before you know it you have a budding, beautiful bloom. Quinn was taught some hard lessons as a 16-year-old in a veteran-laden Ottawa lineup during 2018-19. He was constantly tasked with watching video, practicing at high pace and improving on the details in his game. He accepted all of those challenges, and used his competitiveness to become a better all-around player.

He’s a responsible three-zone player who’s deadly around the net. He’s got a lightning quick release and plenty of accuracy to the point his shot would play in the NHL right now. The most exciting thing about this player is the year-over-year improvement in his game. Not only does he project physically, but on the ice he’s grown by leaps and bounds and that trajectory is expected to continue. He’s been afforded big league resources in Ottawa with a coaching staff that is all pro. Add in the additional resources that will be afforded him from an NHL team and continued development in the OHL, and you project a top six winger with elite goal-scoring potential.

11. Nashville Predators, Kaiden Guhle, D
Guhle is a fabulous skater who was forced to learn to defend before being able to put up good offensive numbers this season. A smooth, agile skater, Guhle developed greatly with Prince Albert in his 16-year-old season. He used his elite skating ability and some old school bite to earn his ice on a WHL Championship team. This season, he was asked to play more minutes, in more high-leverage situations and was not at all daunted by the task. He showed a more offensive side to his game, but has that old-school defender’s mentality that makes him pop.

Guhle processes his options and makes quick, but calm decisions. He has no problem handling the net front, being engaged in board battles, or stepping up to break up a play or make a hit in neutral ice. It’s taken a while for his brother Brendan to become an NHL regular and that’s not lost on the younger brother.

12. Florida Panthers: Braden Schneider, D
Already a physical specimen, Schneider can play the body, but will likely become an even more physical as he grows and understands the value of that side of the game in the NHL. Schneider possesses a good shot, excellent feet and while the numbers are slightly inflated at the junior level, he’s smart enough to know that element of his game won’t be what gets him to the show. Schneider is acutely aware of what he is and what he can become, displaying maturity beyond his years.

A simple, steady, hard game is what will allow him to play the role of the perfect complementary defenceman. Once he can sustain a lineup spot playing this way, the door may open to provide some second unit PP time and add more offence down the road than what is currently projected.

13. Carolina Hurricanes (from Toronto): Anton Lundell, C
A team that has found great success in Finland goes back to the well to find the ultimate two-way player. Lundell may have a lower offensive ceiling, but he’s so responsible that he will fit perfectly into Rod Brind’Amour’s plans. Despite missing some time with injury, Lundell still put up good numbers (28 points in 44 games) in Finland’s top pro league. In recent times, good numbers there have translated to NHL success (Barkov, Rantanen, Laine). Lundell thinks the game well and is consistently in good position above the puck. He’s good in the faceoff circle and has shown a penchant to work hard. Highly responsible, Lundell will bottom out as a third line centre, but projects to be an effective penalty killer because of his hockey IQ.

14. Edmonton Oilers: Dawson Mercer, RW
With strides having been made defensively this season, there’s room to add some scoring depth in Mercer’s game. He is a fresh-faced excitable young man, who off-the-ice seems overwhelmed at times by all the attention that’s been given him. That attention is well-deserved as Mercer is a player who is always in the fight. His skating is fine, but could use some refinement in terms of efficiency and smoothness. His puck skills are fantastic, and he’s dangerous one-on-one and off the rush.

At times he is guilty of trying to make one extra move, or deke as opposed to moving the puck and expecting to get it back. There’s a rawness to his play, but he presents a nice mix of high-end skill and never-say-die will. He set out on a mission this season to prove that his 16-year-old, 30-goal campaign in Drummondville was not a by product of being surrounded by good players, but as a result of Mercer being a really good player on his own accord. He went above and beyond in proving that this season, where he was a surprise selection on Canada’s gold medal-winning world junior team and a sought-after piece for Chicoutimi at the ‘Q’ trade deadline.

15. Pittsburgh Penguins: Dylan Holloway, C
A challenging year for the second-youngest player in the NCAA, Holloway started to find his stride in February, and finished the year strong in Wisconsin. A powerful, speedy skater, Holloway likes to get in on the forecheck and finish his hits. There’s a likeable level of grease to his game and there should be plenty of room for him to get back to what made him the CJHL Player of the Year in 2019.

Holloway is not a player who takes shortcuts. He plays in direct lines and is not afraid to take the puck to the net. There’s plenty of brains to go along with the braun. Holloway is difficult to handle one-on-one not just because of his speed, but because of good hands and stick skills. He rates out as a modern-day power forward.

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