Sportsnet’s 2020 NHL Draft Prospect Rankings: Final edition

Brian Burke goes over his top picks for the upcoming NHL Draft and if the Ottawa Senators could make a deal on draft day.

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc around the world. Utilizing an air-tight bubble, the NHL was able to award the 2020 Stanley Cup, albeit a few months later than originally planned. Along those same lines, the NHL Draft is set for Oct, 6-7, much later than the originally planned dates of June 26-27 in Montreal. Similar to what we saw with the NFL, this draft will be held virtually, adding yet another layer of unusual to the 2019-20 season.

With all hockey except the NHL coming to a stop in March, the scouting world has been tasked with non-traditional methods in which to complete player evaluations. Teams have had to rely heavily on video and they’ve also had to spend time embracing technology to meet with players virtually. In addition, the traditional scout has been urged to understand and embrace analytics. There’s no question we will look back at this moment in time and say scouting changed. Not entirely, but be it through budget cuts or the advancements in technology, scouting will have been altered after this.

Watch Round 1 of the NHL Draft on Sportsnet and SN NOW beginning at 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT on Tuesday, Oct. 6. Then catch Rounds 2-7 on SN1 and SN NOW starting at from 11:30 a.m. ET/8:30 a.m. PT on Wednesday, Oct. 7.

A conventional scouting season starts with the Hlinka-Gretzky tournament in August and essentially ends with the world U18’s in April. Add the CHL playoffs and the Memorial Cup, and you have the scouting calendar set. What’s so different this time around is that some draft eligibles have resumed playing already. The QMJHL, and many of the European leagues, are back on the ice. This presents its own challenges in that you have no choice but to continue to evaluate the players who are back on the ice. Will this additional information help those who are playing? Will it hurt those who are not? This rings true most importantly for Hendrix Lapierre, who remains a big wildcard in this draft. Is there enough time to establish himself as a player whose head/neck injuries sustained over the past two seasons are behind him?

On a completely different note, the timing of the draft combined with the pandemic have cost several scouts their jobs, with more cuts likely to come afterwards. The human element is not to be forgotten here. To the many friends whom I have in the scouting community, especially those who are out of work, first, I say thanks, for all of your help and the great conversation. Second, I say to you, “this too shall pass.”

More on the human element. It’s a shame this group of players won’t be able to experience the thrill of sitting in the stands with family and close friends anxiously awaiting for their name to be called. Then, standing up for the traditional mom, dad, sister/brother hug before walking the floor and getting up on stage for pictures in the players’ new team jersey.

It’s equally as terrible for those who are picked on Day 2, in rounds two through seven, who are thought to have a slightly lesser chance of eventually making it to the NHL. Those young men also miss out on that once-in-a-lifetime event, and for many of them, the shining moment in their efforts to make it to the show. If there’s one message of consolation to the players who will be selected next week, you’ll always be remembered for being part of the Pandemic Draft.

Be sure to stay tuned for our mock draft, which will be done this year via video and released Monday on Sportsnet.ca.

Here’s our final rankings for the 2020 draft class.

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1. Alexis Lafreniere, LW Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL): Believe all the hype from the past three years. His creativity and competitiveness will make teammates and coaches take notice right away.

2. Tim Stuetzle, LW, Mannheim (DEL): World class skater with world class skill who is smart enough to handle playing centre in the NHL.

3. Quinton Byfield, C, Sudbury Wolves (OHL): Scratching the surface of what will be a mountain of a man with a boat-load of talent. The impact won’t be felt immediately, but that same thought was present with Kirby Dach last June.

4. Jake Sanderson, D, (USNTDP): With the recency bias of the tough and physical Stanley Cup Playoffs, it will be hard to pass-up a defender who has both of those characteristics and who showed signs of being a strong offensive player as the year wore on.

5. Marco Rossi, C, Ottawa 67’s (OHL): Displays a pro mentality away from the rink, plays a pro game and thinks the game at a pro level.

6. Jamie Drysdale, D, Erie Otters (OHL): Combination of skating and character are amongst the best in-class. Will he be more Cale Makar, or Cam Fowler? I’d gladly take either one.

7. Cole Perfetti, LW/C, Saginaw Spirit (OHL): Hockey IQ is off the charts. Has an uncanny ability to find and create space in the offensive zone.

8. Lucas Raymond, LW, Frolunda (SHL): His dynamic skill set wreaks of future stardom.

9. Jack Quinn, RW, Ottawa 67’s (OHL): A good thinker, a good skater and a player who has benefitted from using inside ice to his advantage, yet there’s still plenty of growth potential.

10. Alexander Holtz, RW, Djurgarden (SHL): Safe pick in that there is attention to detail all over the ice, yet pure goal-scoring is his greatest asset.

11. Yarolslav Askarov, G, SKA (VHL): May be a franchise changer, but patience comes with the price tag of taking a goalie in Round 1.

12. Anton Lundell, C, HIFK (Liiga): Liiga has traditionally been a good barometer for future NHL success. In his last 24 games after he returned from injury, Lundell put up 16 points. So far, he’s operating at a point per game pace in the Liiga pre-season.

13. Dawson Mercer, C, Chicoutimi Sagueneens (QMJHL): Proved his draft minus-1 season was no fluke by carving his own path to the WJC and being one of the most coveted players at January’s QMJHL trade deadline.

14. Kaiden Guhle, D, Prince Albert Raiders (WHL): Has experienced the perfect developmental curve having to earn his chops as a youngster, and then progressing to big minutes in his second season. Excellent skater, with a serious mean streak to his game.

15. Seth Jarvis, C, Portland Winterhawks (WHL): Meteoric rise in the second half of the season. Like Quinn above, there’s an expectation of extending a steep developmental trajectory.

16. Connor Zary, C, Kamloops Blazers (WHL): High compete level and character who moved up the rankings due to higher than expected offensive production.

17. Braden Schneider, D, Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL): One of the oldest players in this draft class, Schneider is a mobile, right shot D who will start out as a first-pass, stay-at-home type before progressing offensively.

18. Hendrix Lapierre, C, Chicoutimi Sagueneens (QMJHL): Biggest wildcard in the draft. Without medical issues, he’s a top 10 player, but in a draft this deep he comes with some risk.

19. Rodion Amirov, LW, UFA (VHL): Slight of frame with high-end skills. Will need to clean up inconsistent play and add bulk and strength to the frame.

20. Dylan Holloway, C, Wisconsin (NCAA): Straight-line player who will drive the net as hard as he will forecheck.

21. Jacob Perreault, RW, Sarnia Sting (OHL): At his best when he is challenged and playing with a chip on his shoulder. Hands are suited to play the in-tight game and the goal scoring should translate.

22. Ridly Greig, LW, Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL): Tireless worker who competes hard all over the ice. Has undercover skill.

23. Lukas Reichel, LW, Berlin (DEL): Plenty of growth potential, especially on the offensive side.

24. Noel Gunler, RW, Lulea (SHL): Based on pure skill alone, this is a sub-par ranking.

25. John-Jason Peterka, LW, Munchen (DEL): Two-way player who approaches the game with energy. Has produced well internationally, but projects as someone who can play all over the lineup.

26. Jake Neighbours, LW, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL): Character kid whose engine never stops. Is a safe pick in that he doesn’t have to be a top-six player to have an impact.

27. Helge Grans, D, Malmo (SHL): A late bloomer who is adjusting to a growth spurt. Big right shot defencemen who skate well are always a coveted asset, more so in a down year for the position.

28. Shakir Mukhamadullin, D, UFA (KHL): Playing over 12 minutes per game and has produced points in the early going of the KHL’s season. Another player whose development will require patience.

29. Jan Mysak, C, Hamilton Bulldogs (OHL): Played well at WJC, transitioned smoothly to Hamilton. In terms of pure projection, there’s a great foundation in which to build on.

30. Tyson Foerster, RW, Barrie Colts (OHL): Hours after my April rankings came out, I received a text that said, “you missed on Foerster.” It was from Dale Hawerchuk. That’s my lasting impression of Dale and definitely a good enough endorsement for me.

31. Luke Evangelista, RW, London Knights (OHL): In terms of pure even strength production, no one matches his 95.2 per cent rate.

Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to a lot of people around the hockey world, and then they tell listeners all about what they’ve heard and what they think about it.

Honourable Mentions

Mavrik Bourque, C, Shawinigan Cataractes (QMJHL): No one asset of his game really pops, nor does his size. Having said that, he has been a top producer on a young team for two straight seasons.

William Wallinder, D, MODO (Sweden U20): Excellent mobility for his size. Can make the game look easy, sometimes too much of that laid-back approach.

Jeremie Poirier, D, Saint John SeaDogs (QMJHL): As of right now there are concerns about his defending or a willingness to work on it. Then again, when you’re this gifted offensively, with great skating ability, who would want to defend?

Justin Barron, D, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL): If he can recover from his latest setback, he’s destined to play top four minutes for a number of years.

Brendan Brisson, C, Chicago (USHL): Character kid who’s been around it is whole life. Good hands and vision that allow him to take over games.

Sam Colangelo, RW, Chicago (USHL): Started skating at 10 months old and hasn’t stopped. Awesome combination of the power and skill game, accompanied by league leading point per game and plus/minus numbers.

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