We find ourselves in a fascinating time. I’ve worked in sports since I was 16, when I started as a bat boy with the Toronto Blue Jays at old Exhibition Stadium. Sports never stop. My only memory of sports taking a pause was on Sept. 11, 2001. Nearing the end of the season, baseball took a break for six days, as did several other sporting events. It was a sign of respect for those who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks, and it was also out of fear of large gatherings becoming targets for future attacks.
That event forever changed our lives. Getting on a plane or crossing a border became increasingly more time-consuming due to necessary strict safety measures. Attending an event of any size meant emptying bags and walking through metal detectors. All of these safety measures remain in effect and are often being added upon to ensure our continued safety.
COVID-19 may have a similar effect in terms of its life-altering aftermath.
It has already had a profound impact on the game of hockey. With crunch-time in effect, teams were battling to either get into the playoffs, or jockey for better playoff positioning. Meanwhile, scouts were going about their business tidying up loose ends by making final trips to Europe before they would have converged in Plymouth, Mich., for the World U18 Championship. The U18’s usually put a bow on a year of work where all the best draft eligible players come together.
Many teams had set forth a schedule that would’ve seen several scouts and executives in attendance to get a better feel on the 2020 draft class. But of course, that’s not happening now, and when you add to that the scouts’ inability to witness players performing in the most pressure-packed time of year in the playoffs, you essentially have an incomplete book.
Let’s not forget about the all-important NHL Combine, which presents teams with a great opportunity to meet players up close and personal. It also gives a level playing field in terms of physical fitness testing data that is collected and distributed to teams. It looks more and more like this event is in peril.
In the meantime, teams have made contingency plans, tasking their scouts to complete reports, to watch video for final viewings on players and to reach out to players to initiate or continue the interview process. Teams are also conferencing regularly in order to compile their draft lists.
In terms of the 2020 NHL Draft, one thing is certain: There must be an end point to the season before a draft can take place. What that end point looks like is anybody’s guess, but we need to get there first to determine draft order, open up trading, and figure out how conditional picks will be resolved.
Here are the rankings for the month of April.
1. Alexis Lafreniere, LW, Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL): Here’s a certainty amidst all the uncertainty in the world today: Alexis will be the first player off the board.
2. Quinton Byfield, C, Sudbury Wolves (OHL): Played in 10 games and missed 10 more after the WJC. Was starting to crank it up again before the abrupt end to the season.
3. Tim Stützle, LW, Mannheim (DEL): Plenty of discussion surrounding Stützle as the second-best prospect available in this draft class.
4. Alexander Holtz, RW, Djugarden (SHL): There are some deficiencies in his game, but many believe the goal-scoring ability he has is translatable to the NHL.
5. Marco Rossi, C, Ottawa 67’s (OHL): Has been cemented in the fifth spot all season long. He’s smart, competes hard and has a drive to continuously get better.
6. Jamie Drysdale, D, Erie Otters (OHL): The gap between him and the next two best defencemen has shrunk, but Drysdale’s smooth skating and elite decision-making will still leave him as the first rearguard taken.
7. Lucas Raymond, LW, Frolunda (SHL): Brings a well-rounded skill set to the table. Makes plays in small areas and isn’t afraid to get his nose dirty.
8. Cole Perfetti, LW/C, Saginaw Spirit (OHL): An elite hockey brain and an abundance of character will allow him to transition easily to the NHL. It may not be as early as next year, but down the road he’s a top-six player all day long.
9. Dylan Holloway, C, Wisconsin (NCAA): As the NCAA’s second-youngest player, his adaptation to the college game took a long time, but he was beginning to look a lot like the 2019 CJHL Player of the Year by season’s end.
10. Yaroslav Askarov, G, SKA (VHL): The enormous gap to the next best goalie prospect in addition to his size and athleticism makes Askarov a viable option from pick No. 5 on.
11. Jack Quinn, RW, Ottawa 67’s (OHL): Unfazed by the year’s worth of attention, he was able to crack the 50-goal mark, while developing his play away from the puck and utilizing his defensive awareness to round out his game.
12. Anton Lundell, C, HIFK (Liiga): The questions surrounding his offensive upside have not subsided, but there is security in a projection that he’ll eventually at least be able to play effectively down in the lineup.
13. Jake Sanderson, D, (USNTDP): Comes by his pro mentality honestly and was in the midst of a second-half surge when hockey shut-down.
14. Dawson Mercer, C, Chicoutimi Sagueneens (QMJHL): Effective at adapting his game from pace to puck protection. Plays with passion and a smile on his face.
15. Kaiden Guhle, D, Prince Albert Raiders (WHL): There’s big value in this complementary defenceman. Combination of size, amazing skating ability and nastiness are attractive.
16. Connor Zary, C, Kamloops Blazers (WHL): Remarkably consistent performer in all three zones. Never had a stretch of more than one game where he went pointless.
17. Rodion Amirov, LW, Toros Neftekamsk (VHL): Can impact a game effectively at even strength. Most recent viewings were impressive.
18. John-Jason Peterka, LW, Munchen (DEL): More of a safe bet than his fellow countryman Lukas Reichel, but not quite the same offensive upside.
19. Braden Schneider, D, Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL): Another defenceman who rates as a complementary player, but his offensive upside may develop further somewhere down the road.
20. Hendrix Lapierre, C, Chicoutimi Sagueneens (QMJHL): Great background work will have to be done on this player. If health is a non-issue, and that’s a big question, there’s a steal waiting to happen.
21. Jeremie Poirier, D, Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL): Hitting the 20-goal mark for any defenceman is impressive. Poirier possesses sick hands, a big shot, and can skate like the wind.
22. Lukas Reichel, LW, Berlin (DEL): Plays a very aware offensive game, knowing where his linemates are at all times. Possesses the skill to make plays to open space for himself, or create lanes to distribute.
23. Mavrik Bourque, C, Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL): Last played on Feb. 7, where he was in the midst of a three-game/11-point stretch. Could’ve used some playoff and U18 hockey to showcase the goal-scoring ability that’s been present in Shawinigan the past two seasons.
24. Jacob Perreault, RW, Sarnia Sting (OHL): Another fascinating player in this draft class, whose best trait is goal-scoring. Yet there are question marks about his play away from the puck.
25. William Wallinder, D, MODO (Sweden U20): His size and skating jump out immediately. Looking to find the balance between poise and urgency.
26. Noel Gunler, RW, Lulea (SHL): A wildcard for a number of reasons, including limited playing time, being excluded from international teams, and inconsistency. Those factors work against his elite scoring ability.
27. Justin Barron, D, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL): Ran out of runway to get back to the player he was prior to the health issues.
28. Ridly Greig, C, Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL): An old-school player whose determination to hunt pucks and create havoc on the forecheck create a combination of skill and braun that is hard to find in today’s game.
29. Seth Jarvis, C, Portland Winterhawks (WHL): Left a lasting impression with a second half that saw him put up 65 points in his last 31 games played.
30. Ryan O’Rourke, D, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL): Great self awareness will allow him to adapt. At his worst, he’s a simple, hard-to-play-against, puck-moving defenceman of high character.
31. Luke Evangelista, RW, London Knights (OHL): Has grown by leaps and bounds since the season started and his work has been rewarded by a coach who consistently produces NHL players.