I know, I know. You are not here for the preamble, so I will keep it extremely brief. For this mock, we are only looking at the part of the first round for which we know the order. That is, the top 27 picks, split amongst the teams that are no longer contending for the Stanley Cup. The draft order will be further clarified after the end of the each remaining round. Picks 28-29 will go to the teams that lost in the Conference Finals, with the team with the worse regular season record picking 28th and the better of the two picking 29th. The 30th pick will go to the team that loses in the Stanley Cup Finals, and the Champions will pick 31st. Well, technically, two of those picks have already been traded, as Ottawa will get the pick that had belonged to the Islanders and San Jose taking Tampa’s pick.
We had to wait out a pandemic and two stages of a draft lottery to get here. In the first stage, we saw the third pick going to Ottawa, the pick they received from the currently hapless San Jose Sharks in the Erik Karlsson trade. The second pick was secured by the Los Angeles Kings. The first pick was reserved for a placeholder team, one of the eight teams who appeared in the play-in round but could not break through to the official first round of the postseason.
Those eight teams all had equal 12.5% (1 in 8) chances of winning the top pick, the lottery for which was held a few weeks ago. The New York Rangers won the honors. After the top three picks, the rest of the 4-15 set is set by regular season record. In fact, picks 16-28 will also be decided by regular season record, including all teams who were knocked out in the first or second rounds of the postseason. As we are still early in the first round, we can only know the picks of the players with worse regular season records than the worst regular season team still standing (Vancouver, whose pick belongs to New Jersey, via Tampa).
The picks made here are not based on insider intelligence, but through an understanding of the players available, and our knowledge of team tendencies and needs.
#1 - New York Rangers - Alexis Lafreniere, LW, Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL), 6'1", 195lbs
Lafreniere is ready to step right into an NHL roster and play a top six role on day one. The six years of team control that the Rangers would have would all be valuable years and they would be starting immediately. Byfield, on the other hand, may be ready to play in the NHL right now, but he would likely need a season or so before he can start to impose himself on the game. This is basically a parallel to the two players’ respective roles on the Canadian WJC roster. Both made the team, but Lafreniere was the tournament MVP, while Byfield barely saw the ice by the end. Although a winger, Lafreniere will soon be making his linemates better, much like John Tavares used to do across town in Long Island.There is a very reasonable argument to be made that the highest upside among the 2020 draft class actually belongs to Quinton Byfield. I have time for that argument, considering positional value (Byfield is a center and Lafreniere is a let winger), age (Lafreniere is a late ’01 born, while Byfield has an August 2002 birthdate, giving Byfield 10 extra month of physical development to come), and size (Lafreniere has good size, Byfield is a physical specimen). That said, I would not hesitate in the slightest to select Lafreniere here.
#2 - Los Angeles Kings – Tim Stutzle, LW, Adler Mannheim (DEL), 6' 1", 185lbs
|2018-2019||Jungadler Mannheim U20 (Ger Jr)||21||23||32||55||30|
|2019-2020||Adler Mannheim (DEL)||41||7||27||34||12|
After Lafreniere, the gap in expected value between Stutzle and Byfield is slight at best. The Kings organization has a vested interest in German hockey, holding ownership over the Eisbaren Berlin franchise. At minimum, that should give them added comfort in terms of what they would be getting in Stutzle, likely more so than any other team. Stutzle’s game works at top pace, and he has enough elements to be plugged in anywhere in the lineup right away and work his way into a top line role in due time. As an added bonus, Stutzle will be able to maintain game shape in Germany until the NHL is up and running once again.
#3 - Ottawa Senators (from San Jose Sharks) - Quinton Byfield, C, Sudbury Wolves, (OHL), 6' 4", 215lbs
We know that Lafreniere will not be available at this slot, giving Ottawa the easiest selection of the draft here. They simply take whoever is left on the board between Lafreniere, Stutzle and Quinton Byfield. There is a pretty clear drop off in expected future value after these three in this first round. In this scenario, Byfield falls in Ottawa’s lap, and they will not be complaining to get a player they could begin grooming to be their future top line center. Physically overwhelming at the junior level, Byfield has the tools to continue dominating at the NHL level, although many believe that he needs to process the game a gear quicker to allow for all of his tools to play to their capacity at the top level. Ottawa will need more patience with Byfield than the Rangers or Kings would need with Lafreniere or Stutzle, but the payoff will be worth it.
#4 - Detroit Red Wings – Cole Perfetti, C, Saginaw Spirit (OHL), 5' 10", 180lbs
The Red Wings are the biggest losers with the draft lottery outcomes. After one of the worst seasons by any team this century, they certainly had to be hoping for a shot at one of the top three, even if the top pick was out of reach. Even though there is a drop off after the top three, the Red Wings will still get a high-end player at #4. There have been numerous rumors connecting the Wings with Perfetti, who has been playing just up the road from Detroit in Saginaw. There are good arguments to be had for Detroit to pick one of the big Swedes in this draft class, but Perfetti offers a better organizational fit for Detroit as the top center outside of Byfield. There is also something to the comp between Perfetti and Brayden Point, one of Detroit GM Steve Yzerman’s biggest draft prizes from his time atop the Tampa Bay organization. Patience will be important for Detroit with Perfetti – as it would be for anyone available at this point in this scenario – but he has first line center upside.
#5 - Ottawa Senators - Jake Sanderson, D, USNTDP (USHL), 6'1", 185lbs
|2018-2019||USN U17 (USDP)||44||4||20||24||18|
|2019-2020||USN U18 (USDP)||47||7||22||29||12|
The inclination here is to connect the Senators with one of the big Swedes considering the team’s history with drafting franchise changers from Sweden (Erik Karlsson, Daniel Alfredsson) and both Raymond and Alexander Holtz would be good fits at this stage of the draft. But before making the easy choice, I should point out that the Senators’ scouting staff is not at all the same as the staff that picked Karlsson and Alfredsson. The team has only drafted two players out of Sweden in the previous four drafts. If the Senators go to Sweden it wouldn’t be crazy, and they would more than likely draft Raymond in that case. But with Byfield already a Senator in this scenario, I like them drafting the top defenseman in the draft class. Sanderson and Drysdale are very close in our rankings, a matter of taste, really, and I think Sanderson is more likely here as the Senators under Pierre Dorion tend to go with bigger, more physical players. Sanderson has a clear physical edge on Drysdale at this stage in their respective careers. Sanderson is moving on to North Dakota next season, where he will be playing alongside former Sens’ first rounder Jacob Bernard-Docker. That could be the start of a long-term relationship between the two high-end blueline prospects.
#6 - Anaheim Ducks - Jamie Drysdale, D, Erie Otters (OHL), 5' 11"
Drysdale is both arguably the best player available in this scenario, and fits a clear need for the Ducks, who have seen their once vaunted blueline depth dwindle in recent years due to some trades that didn’t exactly work out. The Ducks haven’t used a top pick on an OHL’er since drafting Max Jones in the 2016 first round, but Drysdale would bring a new dimension to their transition game, generally helping make Anaheim a faster paced team. He could reasonably be ready for the NHL by 2021-22.
#7 - New Jersey Devils – Lucas Raymond, LW, Frolunda HC (SHL), 5' 11", 170lbs
|2018-2019||Frolunda (Swe Jr)||37||13||35||48||24|
|2019-2020||Frolunda (Swe Jr)||9||3||11||14||6|
A very good outcome for the Devils, Raymond would give the young team a third potential game breaking talent to go along with their two recent first overall picks Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier. Raymond is a truly dynamic puck player who can make things happen on any given shift and has excelled playing against youth, even if he has struggled to assert himself playing against men in the SHL. There are scenarios where Raymond is already off the board a few picks before New Jersey gets the chance, so they will take this if things play out like this. If Raymond is gone, I see them going to the other Swede, Alexander Holtz over one of the defensemen taken fifth and sixth.
#8 - Buffalo Sabres - Marco Rossi, C, Ottawa 67s (OHL), 5' 9", 185lbs
The Sabres are once again entering a new regime. The Jason Botterill anti-CHL drafting is a thing of the past. New GM Kevyn Adams has no track record to look to for speculation about how the team might draft. There is a general sense though that metrics will play a deeper role in their selections, especially considering the mass layoffs among the Buffalo scouting staff. So, the player who led the OHL in assists and points would be a good fit in that regards. Rossi’s overall hustle and grit would also help make Buffalo tougher to play against, giving opponents a second line after Eichel’s to worry about.
#9 - Minnesota Wild - Yaroslav Askarov, G, Neva St. Petersburg (VHL), 6'3", 175lbs
|2018-2019||SKA-Varyagi im. Morozova (MHL)||31||2.37||0.921|
|2019-2020||SKA-Neva St. Petersburg (VHL)||18||12||3||2.45||0.920|
|2019-2020||SKA St. Petersburg (KHL)||1||2.00||0.920|
While not as much of a wild card at the draft as the new-look Sabres, this will also be the first draft for new Minnesota GM Bill Guerin, who had been an assistant GM with Pittsburgh for the five seasons prior to this one. He would certainly have seen the value of drafting goalies, but the Penguins had only one first round pick in his time as AGM. The Wild also have new Co-Directors of Amateur Scouting in P.J. Fenton and Darren Yopyk. Had the Penguins given their 2020 first rounder to Minnesota instead of deferring to their 2021 pick, I might have gone in a different direction here, but given the choice between a potential franchise goaltender (Askarov), and a few wingers who project as top six (Anton Lundell, Alexander Holtz, Jack Quinn), I see Guerin and company going with the one who can help define a franchise.
#10 - Winnipeg Jets – Alexander Holtz, RW, Djurgardens IF (SHL), 6', 190lbs
|2018-2019||Djurgardens (Swe Jr)||38||30||17||47||12|
|2019-2020||Djurgardens (Swe Jr)||3||7||2||9||2|
I get the sense that the Jets would sign off on this scenario in a heartbeat. It would not be hard to imagine an alternate scenario wherein Holtz is off the board at pick 5/6. Three years ago, the Jets drafted a big, skilled winger playing in Sweden named Kristian Vesalainen. Vesalainen has been jerked around since being drafted, spending time in the NHL, AHL, KHL and Liiga. Holtz is not the physical specimen that Vesalainen was, but his offensive instincts are more refined and his draft year production put Vesalainen’s to shame. Holtz’ toolkit is robust and deep such that even though he is best known for his finishing skills, he can contribute in all facets. He may not be far at all from the NHL.
#11 - Nashville Predators – Jack Quinn, RW, Ottawa 67s (OHL), 6' 0", 180lbs
With the level of talent still available levelling off, I see Poile and company looking for a player who can help sooner than later. While there aren’t any immediate contributors available, Quinn may be pretty close. The Predators showed no compunction in going to the OHL for their first rounder last year, and Philip Tomasino has taken huge steps forward in his first post draft year. Adding Quinn to a collection of prospects up front including Tomasino, Eeli Tolvanen, Egor Afanasyev, Rem Pitlick and others would give the Predators more offensive skill on the way than perhaps at any other time in franchise history.
#12 - Florida Panthers – Braden Schneider, D, Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL), 6' 2" 200lbs)
Dale Tallon is on the way out in South Florida and TBD is taking his place. With that much uncertainty surrounding the organization, I would generally proceed with a strict “Best Player Available” mantra, which, once again, would be goalie Askarov. In this case, though, as the Panthers used their 2019 first rounder on goalie Spencer Knight, while Sergei Bobrovsky is signed long term, Askarov is highly unlikely at 12. After Askarov, there are two forwards and two defenders who are all pretty close in terms of expected future value. In this case, I don’t mind going heavy on positional need, as most of the Panthers’ to prospects after Knight are forwards, while the system is very shallow on the blueline. The organization is especially shallow on the right side of the blue line, so I will give the edge to Braden Schneider here over lefty Kaiden Guhle. But in truth, either would be a solid fit.
#13 - Carolina Hurricanes (from Toronto Maple Leafs) – Anton Lundell, C, HIFK (Liiga)
|2018-2019||HIFK (Fin Jr)||10||6||9||15||6|
If the Hurricanes, under own Tom Dundon, are adamantly opposed to drafting a defenseman in the first round, I have a hard time imaging them springing for a goalie either. With two forwards of note to consider, I see them drafting Seth Jarvis over Dawson Mercer as the former is a much better skater than the latter and the center option for Jarvis adds value over Mercer, who is less likely to be able to play up the middle. I could also see the Hurricanes being the high team on Russian forward Rodion Amirov, but Jarvis’ dynamic offensive game would be hard to resist here.
#14 - Edmonton Oilers – Seth Jarvis, C, Portland Winterhawks (WHL), 5' 10", 175lbs
The Oilers have picked goalies in the second or third rounds in each of the three most recent drafts. While none of Stuart Skinner, Olivier Rodrigue, or Ilya Konovalov look like sure fire NHL starters yet, drafting a goalie in the first seems to be a tough sell here. For as much as their playoff hopes for this year were torpedoed by subpar goaltending from Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen, there is no amateur goalie out there right now who will be able to take over immediately. Instead, look for the Oilers to continue to build organizational depth up front, as the team has long had a hard time putting the puck in the net without one or both of McDavid or Draisaitl on the ice. The German connection could be a thing if the Oilers were interested in JJ Peterka but recall that Draisaitl was drafted out of the WHL. Instead, I see them staying closer to home. It is too early to take Edmonton product Jake Neighbours, but Kamloops’ Connor Zary could be a good fit here. Some don’t like his skating, but there is no denying his offensive game. Once he is ready, he can be a strong second line play driver who could work on the wing if he isn’t needed at his natural center position.
#15 - Toronto Maple Leafs (rom Pittsburgh Penguins) – Rodion Amirov, LW, Salavat Yulaev Ufa (KHL)
|2018-2019||Tolpar Ufa (MHL)||31||13||13||26||14|
|2019-2020||Salavat Yulayev Ufa (KHL)||21||0||2||2||4|
|2019-2020||Tolpar Ufa (MHL)||17||10||12||22||31|
Given Toronto’s stated preference for speed, skill, and smarts in their prospects, some of the available options at this point are not great fits, such as defender Kaiden Guhle, or forwards Connor Zary or Dawson Mercer. The Leafs could really go in many different directions here, including trading down a few spots to gain additional assets, but if I am keeping the pick, the best fits Toronto’s profile is Russian forward Amirov. He is physically underdeveloped, but his skill game is top six worthy, he reads the ice at a very mature level and can play at a good clip as well. Considering Toronto’s recent run of free agent signings from the KHL (Ozhiganov, Mikheyev, Barabanov), we know they are comfortable with bets on Russian talent.
#16 Montreal Canadiens – Hendrix Lapierre, C, Chicoutimi Sagueneens (QMJHL)
One of the reasons I have respected how Montreal has drafted in the Bergevin era, is that they are willing to place bets on players from leagues outside the norm. Last year alone, they drafted players playing in Denmark and AAA in Alberta. This pick would not meet that definition, but it is a home run swing, nonetheless. Once Lapierre’s injury was reported to have been a neck injury and not a second concussion, some worries over his future were alleviated. There is also the slow start to his year to be considered, but coming into the season, many had assumed that the skilled playmaker would be long gone by this point. If Lapierre recovers his previous trajectory, this would be a big win.
#17 - Chicago Blackhawks – John-Jason Peterka, LW/RW, EHC Munchen (DEL)
Chicago would jump on Askarov if the Russian netminder somehow fell this far. Seeing as how he is not, and the strength of the system is defensemen – 7 of the club’s top 15 prospects is a blueliner, and that count doesn’t include Boqvist – look for the Blackhawks to add scoring depth. Two years ago, they signed Dominik Kahun as a free agent out of EHC Munchen in Germany. That worked out pretty well. Peterka is more of a scorer than the playmaking Kahun, but he also has a very reasonable top six projection.
#18 - New Jersey Devils (from Arizona Coyotes) – Kaiden Guhle, D, Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)
|2018-2019||Prince Albert (WHL)||65||3||14||17||40|
|2019-2020||Prince Albert (WHL)||64||11||29||40||56|
With Lucas Raymond already under wraps, and another first rounder coming up, the Devils can afford to diversify their approach, hearken back to the drafting of Ty Smith, and draft another defenseman from the WHL in the middle of the first round. Guhle is a much different style of defender than Smith but could be a complement to him as the other left handed defender in the top four. Guhle skates well and is one of the more physical defenders in this draft class.
#19 - Calgary Flames – Connor Zary, C, Kamloops Blazers (WHL)
The Flames need offensive talent for a second wave, especially if Johnny Gaudreau’s days are getting shorter in Calgary. Other than 2019 first rounder Jakob Pelletier, the cupboard is conspicuously empty. They could be opportunistic in this scenario and grab a future top six center in Connor Zary. His footspeed prevents him from being taken higher, but he reads the game very well and plays a positioning and puck skill game that doesn’t rely on being faster than opponents. Winger Dawson Mercer would also be a very worthy possibility here.
#20- New Jersey Devils (from Vancouver Canucks) – Dawson Mercer, RW, Chicoutimi Sagueneens (QMJHL)
In this scenario, the Devils have already stocked up their system with Lucas Raymond and Brendan Guhle. In adding Mercer to their group, they get another talented winger who could team up in a few years with recent high-end picks like Nico Hischier, Jack Hughes, and Michael McLeod. Mercer isn’t as flashy as Raymond – or as the centers – but he has excellent touch with the puck, and a highly advanced sense of where to be in the offensive zone to generate the most positive impact for his team. The WJC gold medalist from the 2020 event, he could be ready for the NHL faster than most other players still available.
#21 - Columbus Blue Jackets – Mavrik Bourque, C, Shawinigan Cataractes
If Columbus, which has not had their full complement of picks in recent years, as they have pushed to be a competitive playoff team, can be said to have a type, it is for instinctive forwards who play versatile games that could fit up and down the lineup. If there is a player available right now who could follow in the footsteps of Alexandre Texier and Liam Foudy, Bourque fits the bill. He has high end puck skills and instincts and plays a gritty game that maximizes his tools. The system is currently weaker on the blueline, but the draft class is forward heavy and those who should be considered in this range are already off the board (Schneider, Guhle). The drop off in forward talent between this pick and when Columbus picks again (4th round) is far steeper than the drop off among blueline prospects.
#22 - New York Rangers (from Carolina Hurricanes) – Jan Mysak, C, Hamilton Bulldogs (OHL)
|2018-2019||HC VERVA Litvinov (Cze)||31||3||4||7||2|
|2018-2019||Litvinov (Cze Jr)||9||13||8||21||4|
|2019-2020||HC VERVA Litvinov (Cze)||26||5||4||9||2|
Contrary to popular belief, the New York Rangers 2020 draft class will be judged on more than just what they get out of presumptive first overall pick Alexis Lafreniere. I often advocate for a diversified portfolio when teams make multiple picks in the first round, but four of the top 6 prospects in the Rangers’ system prior to the draft were defensemen, and the forwards available here are better anyway. Mysak fits in the Rangers’ worldview, considering their heavy lean towards European talents in the first round of late. While the skilled Czech pivot spent the second half of the season in the OHL with Hamilton, the first half of his draft year was played out against men in his homeland. The relative success of Filip Chytil should give the Rangers’ brass comfort in the Czech option and Mysak has outproduced his strong skill set for a while now.
#23 - Philadelphia Flyers – Dylan Holloway, RW, Wisconsin Badgers (NCAA/Big 10)
Both the Ron Hextall and Chuck Fletcher regimes have been very comfortable scouting the college bound talents and seven of the club’s top 15 prospects heading into the draft spent last year playing NCAA hockey. As such, the club would have had many extra opportunities to scout Holloway, who spent his first year of eligibility playing for the Badgers, occasionally outshining recent first round picks like Alex Turcotte (LA), Cole Caufield (Mtl), and K’Andre Miller (NYR). Holloway plays a powerful North-South game with speed and skill. When he remembers to slow the game down, his non-stop motor helps his tools play up. He can fit in an energy role if top six spots are unavailable.
#24 - Washington Capitals – Lukas Reichel, LW, Eisbaren Berlin (DEL)
|2018-2019||Eisbaren Berlin U20 (Ger Jr)||32||11||31||42||4|
|2019-2020||Eisbaren Berlin (DEL)||42||12||12||24||0|
Outside of 2019 first rounder Connor McMichael, the Capitals have a pretty downtrodden system, with a clear lack in offensive talent. Never a team to shy away from European prospects, Reichel is one of the players that could benefit from the late draft. The German dynamo has started his 2020-21 season very strong in international play, continuing on his upward trajectory in his “natural” draft year. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts with Reichel, and he might be no more than one year away from pushing for an NHL job.
#25 - Colorado Avalanche – Noel Gunler, RW, Lulea (SHL)
|2018-2019||Lulea (Swe Jr)||31||27||19||46||78|
|2019-2020||Lulea (Swe Jr)||4||4||2||6||2|
The Avalanche have done well in recent drafts by just seeing where the chips fall in front of them and then taking advantage of the best talent available. Thinking back to how Alex Newhook had some doubters at the time because of his being prominently left off some Canadian teams in international competition. Perhaps a similar bit of context will make it easier for the Avalanche to pull the trigger on Noel Gunler, who is seemingly always a late cut on various Team Sweden rosters. Gunler’s offensive tools are all high end and with a bit of glue to pull it all together over the next few years as part of an increased role with Lulea in the SHL, could turn out to be one of the best value picks of the entire 2020 draft class.
#26 - St. Louis Blues – Brendan Brisson, C, Chicago Steel (USHL)
|2018-2019||Shattuck-St. Mary's (USHS-MN)||55||42||59||101||56|
|2018-2019||Green Bay (USHL)||6||1||0||1||2|
St. Louis has spread the love in terms of where they have drafted from in recent years, although they have seemed to shy away from Finland in recent years. That said, the system is altogether lacking in high end talent at this time, with many of their best having graduated to the NHL. Brisson offers an exciting, point-producing talent who will require patience as he heads of the play for the Michigan Wolverines as soon as Big 10 hockey picks back up. Brisson has line driving capabilities but will need time to mature physically.
#27 - Anaheim Ducks (from Boston Bruins) – Sam Colangelo, RW, Chicago Steel (USHL)
|2018-2019||Lawrence Academy (USHS-MA)||28||19||29||48||36|
The Ducks already have a defenseman in this scenario, in Jamie Drysdale. If they take Colangelo now, it is because they suspect he might not be around for their next pick (#36) as the Chicago winger is one of the few power forwards in this draft class. Further, the Ducks always take players with connections to the Steel (Jack Badini in 2017, Blake McLaughlin in 2018, and Jackson Lacombe in 2019). The Ducks still value players who play heavy games as in the golden days of the Pacific Division and Colangelo has enough skill with his sandpaper to fit in the more modern game.