If 2020 has told us anything, it’s to expect the unexpected. That theme continued Friday night with a shocking result from the NHL Draft Lottery.
Just when Alexis Lafreniere was ready to learn his fate for next season, a placeholder team wins the lottery and extends that uncertainty. With Friday’s results, we now know the draft order of seven of the first eight teams. The LA Kings will pick second, while the first of Ottawa’s two picks rounds out the top three.
With so much uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, things may very well change between now and when the draft actually takes place. At first glance immediately after the draft lottery, here’s how we predict the first eight picks will go.
1. Placeholder: Alexis Lafreniere, LW, Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL):
Not knowing where he will end up going yet only adds to the drama. There are a number of possibilities. Whomever drafts Lafreniere is drafting a complete player. He’s got typical hockey size, and he’s strong enough to be able to handle the game when it gets heavy. He thinks the game well and has excellent vision, which makes him a true power play threat. When shooting is the best option, he can fire it with pace, accuracy and quickness. Lafreniere possesses the “it” factor that shines in big games and he added a layer of physicality this year that makes him different from a typical first overall pick.
Imagine if it was Montreal, so close to home, or Pittsburgh to play alongside another Rimouski legend? What if it were the Leafs or Rangers as Original Six teams? In any event, Lafreniere will be the first overall pick, we’ll just have to wait and see where he goes.
2. Los Angeles: Tim Stutzle, LW, Mannheim (DEL):
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, Sudbury Wolves (OHL):
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, Saginaw Spirit (OHL):
There are countless ties between Detroit and Perfetti. Most importantly, Perfetti spent the season a short drive away from the Motor City, 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, USNTDP:
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, Erie Otters (OHL):
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, Ottawa 67’s (OHL):
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, Djurgarden (SHL):
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.