Ah, Fall. The leaves are changing colours, the days are getting shorter and the smell of pumpkin spice is in the air.
Normally those familiar signs point to the return of the hockey season, but as we all know, there is nothing normal about 2020.
With the Stanley Cup finally awarded last week, the eyes of the hockey world now turn to the NHL Draft, more than three months after it was originally scheduled. The teams will finally get a chance to build for the future even though the start date of the next regular season is still unknown.
Before the picks are made, here is everything you need to know about the most unique draft in NHL history.
When, where, why?
The 2020 NHL Draft was originally scheduled for June 26-27 in Montreal but like everything else, it was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, it is being held virtually with the first round on Oct. 6 and the second through seventh rounds the next day.
Sportsnet will be broadcasting the entire event with coverage of Round 1 beginning at 7 p.m. ET/ 4 p.m. PT on Oct. 6 and coverage of the other rounds beginning at 11:30 a.m. ET / 8:30 a.m. PT on Oct. 7.
Who picks when?
The NHL made some changes to the draft lottery this year after the pandemic forced the regular season to be paused before it was completed.
In June, the first lottery was held where the seven teams who were not invited to return to play, as well as eight other placeholder teams, were given a chance to win one of the first three picks in the draft. The odds for all 15 spots remained the same as they would have been had the season been completed as scheduled, with the placeholder teams representing the eight losers from the playoff qualifying round that had yet to be played.
As a result of this first lottery, a placeholder team won the right to select first overall, the Los Angeles Kings moved up from fourth to pick No. 2 and the San Jose Sharks’ pick (owned by the Ottawa Senators) moved up from fifth to No. 3.
Since a placeholder team won one of the top three spots in the draft, a second lottery was held in August after the qualifying round to determine which team would take that place. The eight qualifying round losers were all given an equal 12.5 per cent chance to win and as a result, the New York Rangers will pick first overall. The other seven qualifying round losers were then slotted into the draft order from picks nine to 15 based on points percentage.
The full draft order became clearer as more teams were eliminated from the playoffs. Now that the Tampa Bay Lightning have won the Stanley Cup, this is how the first round currently looks.
1. New York Rangers
2. Los Angeles Kings
3. Ottawa Senators
4. Detroit Red Wings
5. Ottawa Senators
6. Anaheim Ducks
7. New Jersey Devils
8. Buffalo Sabres
9. Minnesota Wild
10. Winnipeg Jets
11. Nashville Predators
12. Florida Panthers
13. Carolina Hurricanes
14. Edmonton Oilers
15. Toronto Maple Leafs
16. Montreal Canadiens
17. Chicago Blackhawks
18. New Jersey Devils
19. Calgary Flames
20. New Jersey Devils
21. Columbus Blue Jackets
22. New York Rangers
23. Philadelphia Flyers
24. Colorado Avalanche
25. Washington Capitals
26. St. Louis Blues
27. Anaheim Ducks
28. Ottawa Senators
29. Vegas Golden Knights
30. Dallas Stars
31. San Jose Sharks
Canadian teams outlook
When looking specifically at what fans of Canadian teams can expect at the draft, it’s best to split things geographically.
The four Western Conference teams are all in win-now mode and as a result, they have a limited number of selections after making various trades. Of that group, the Calgary Flames lead the way with *six or seven, while the Winnipeg Jets trail with four.
The three teams in the Eastern Conference, however, are all loaded with a combined 34 picks between them. The Senators, deep into a rebuild, lead all teams with 12 picks while the Canadiens and Maple Leafs each have 11.
Below is a breakdown of the draft picks each Canadian team holds.
• Calgary holds either six or seven picks: 19, 50, 76 or 81*, 96, 143, 174, 205
• Edmonton holds either four or five picks: 14, 76*, 138, 169, 200
• Montreal holds 11 picks: 16, 47, 48, 57, 78, 98, 102, 109, 136, 171, 188
• Ottawa holds 12 picks: 3, 5, 28, 33, 52, 59, 61, 64, 71, 155, 158, 181
• Toronto holds 11 picks: 15, 44, 106, 122, 153, 168, 177, 179, 189, 195, 212
• Vancouver holds five picks: 82, 113, 144, 175, 191
• Winnipeg holds four picks: 10, 40, 133, 164
* Edmonton can choose to trade either its own 2020 or 2021 third rounder to Calgary as part of the James Neal-Milan Lucic deal. If Edmonton trades its 2020 pick (No. 76) to Calgary, Calgary will then trade that pick to Chicago as a condition on the trade that sent Erik Gustafsson to the Flames and keep its own pick, No. 81. If Edmonton chooses to keep pick No. 76 and instead trades its 2021 pick to Calgary, the Flames will then send pick No. 81 to Chicago to complete the Gustafsson deal.
Who’s going No. 1?
There is often debate over which player will go first overall but not in 2020. Winger Alexis Lafreniere of the QMJHL’s Rimouski Oceanic has been the top prospect in this class for many years now and his 2019-20 season didn’t do anything to hurt his case.
Lafreniere, who turns 19 on Oct. 11, is a left-shot power winger who will bring size and top-line skill to the Rangers immediately. He won his second consecutive CHL Player of the Year award last season after scoring 35 goals and 112 points in only 52 games. Sidney Crosby is the only other player to win that award twice.
"Believe all the hype from the past three years," Sportsnet’s CHL insider Sam Cosentino wrote in his final draft rankings. "His creativity and competitiveness will make teammates and coaches take notice right away."
Other players to watch
Overall, the 2020 draft is very deep up front and it's very possible 12 or 13 forwards go in the first 15 picks. The top of the draft also features two elite puck-moving defencemen and one of the most intriguing goalie prospects of the past few years.
Quinton Byfield, C, Sudbury Wolves (OHL)
Byfield has lit up the OHL since being the first pick in the 2018 draft, scoring 61 points in his rookie campaign and adding another 82 points in only 45 games in 2019-20. A giant at six-foot-four, Byfield projects to be a franchise centre who uses his strength and natural scoring ability to pile up points.
Tim Stuetzle, LW, Mannheim (DEL)
Stuetzle is the latest German-born player to arrive on the scene, following in the footsteps of Hart Trophy winner Leon Draisaitl. Stuetzle's strength is his skating, which includes both high-end speed and crafty deception. He had a limited role on a top team in 2019-20, but still managed 34 points in 41 games.
The L.A. Kings are expected to take one of Byfield or Stuetzle with pick No. 2 and the Senators, with pick No. 3, are expected to take the other.
Lucas Raymond, LW, Frolunda (SHL)
Raymond is the type of player that highlight shows will love because whenever he has the puck, magic happens. His quick hands allow him to create scoring chances for himself or his teammates and he has the potential to be a difference-maker every night.
Marco Rossi, C, Ottawa 67's (OHL)
Rossi is coming off a season where he was named OHL MVP after scoring 120 points in just 56 games. A complete two-way centre who models his game after Brayden Point, Rossi is one of the few players in this draft class who could make the jump to the NHL next season.
Cole Perfetti, LW, Saginaw Spirit (OHL)
Perfetti only stands at five-foot-10, but his elite hockey IQ allows him to play bigger than his body. His peers say he's a high-character player who could be the leader on a winning-team for many years.
Jake Sanderson, D, USNTDP
Sanderson is the model of what a modern elite defenceman looks like, combining size and strength with a strong offensive instinct. No player has risen more on Cosentino's draft rankings than Sanderson, who didn't even appear in the top 31 last October but finished at No. 4 in the final rankings.
Jamie Drysdale, D, Erie Otters (OHL)
Drysdale is an offensive defenceman in every sense of the word and can make plays from anywhere. The physical side of his game needs a little seasoning, but his first-pass breakouts and offensive-zone management are already elite.
Yaroslav Askarov, G, SKA St. Petersburg (KHL)
Askarov is off to a hot start in the 2020-21 KHL season, already earning Goalie of the Week honours after stopping 76 of 78 shots in his first three games, two of them wins and one of them a shutout. There’s always a risk drafting a goalie in the first round but Askarov is drawing a lot of attention and will likely be taken before pick No. 15 by a team willing to bet on the most important position.
How has the pandemic impacted scouting?
Beyond changing the date and format the COVID-19 pandemic has also impacted how teams scout and evaluate players, for both the 2020 draft and beyond.
Play in every league around the world was paused in March and only the NHL was able to resume later in the summer, meaning the playoffs in the CHL and leagues across Europe were cancelled. Additionally, the World U-18 tournament in April, which is typically the final competition in the scouting calendar for draft-eligible players to compete against their peers, was cancelled this season.
One other wrinkle as a result of the delayed draft is that some players have already resumed play in the 2020-21 season. The QMJHL, KHL, SHL and Liiga have all returned to play and prospects such as Lucas Raymond and Yaroslav Askarov have continued to add to their resumes. Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman, when asked how these extra games will impact his team's final list, said his staff are watching but "ultimately, it’s not really swaying our list that much."
Finally, the 2021 NHL Draft has already been affected by the pandemic, too. The scouting calendar for the next draft typically begins in early August with the Gretzky-Hlinka Cup, the first tournament that pits draft-eligible players against each other. But the 2020 edition of the tournament was cancelled and, on top of that, the start of the OHL and WHL seasons have been delayed to December, meaning players trying to get scouts' attention for the 2021 draft will have to wait a bit longer to do so.
Teams that could make headlines
By being virtual, the 2020 draft won’t have the crowded arena floor where all 31 general managers can talk trades in close quarters that normal drafts have. But with the flat salary cap and lots of teams looking to improve, there should still be plenty of activity on draft day.
Here are three teams who could be at the centre of the action.
New Jersey Devils
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman has reported that the Devils are shopping two first round picks, No. 18 and No. 20, for young NHL-level talent.
“New Jersey has made it known that if you’ve got a youngish player 26 or under with some term or team control, (they) would be willing to move one of the first rounders for that kind of help,” Friedman said on a recent Saturday Headlines, adding that pick No. 7 is not on the table.
The Devils made a big splash at the 2019 draft by acquiring P.K. Subban from the Nashville Predators. While Tom Fitzgerald is calling the shots this time around, it looks like the Devils will be busy working the phones once again.
Senators GM Pierre Dorion declared the team was entering a rebuild in the spring of 2018 and ever since then, the club has been positioning itself to hit big at the 2020 draft. The Senators have two things every rebuilding team wants, cap space and plenty of draft picks, and Dorion will have lots of options come draft day as a result.
After buying out Bobby Ryan, the Senators have more cap space ($43 million) than committed salary ($38 million) for next season so the team could add more picks in the coming days to help other teams get out of cap trouble, similar to what the Red Wings did by acquiring Marc Staal and a second-round pick from the Rangers.
On the other hand, with 13 picks including seven in the first two rounds, the Senators have the ability to move up in the draft if a certain player they like is still available.
The Jets are a wild card due to the fact that the club could be entertaining trade offers for Patrik Laine. As Friedman has reported, the club is weighing whether trading the 21-year-old would help fill holes down the middle or on the blue line.
The Jets already have the 10th overall pick but could add another first-rounder plus an NHL-ready player if they decide to move Laine. It would be a franchise-altering move for both the Jets and the team acquiring the high-profile sniper, which is why the draft might be the best place for this trade to happen.