An Early Look at the 2020 NHL Draft

The 2020 NHL Draft, at this point in time, looks like one of the better draft classes we've ever seen.

2015 was exceptional, with Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Dylan Strome, Mitch Marner, Ivan Provorov, Zach Werenski, Mikko Rantanen, Timo Meier, Jake DeBrusk, Mat Barzal, Kyle Connor, Sebastian Aho, Thomas Chabot, Noah Hanifin, and Brock Boeser being selected that year, but 2020 could be even better.

About a year out from the day, some 2020 eligible players seem to have all the makings of future NHL stars. Here's an early look at who some of the top players from the 2020 class are, and a little bit about them:

Alexis Lafrenière
As of right now, this draft class looks like it will be looked back on as "The Lafrenière Draft". The first overall selection in the 2017 QMJHL Entry Draft burst onto the scene in his rookie year, putting up 80 points in 60 games in 2017/18 to go along with 7 points in 7 playoff games. This year the rookie continued to progress, scoring 105 points in 61 games and finishing tied for 2nd in QMJHL scoring. Alexis was named the MVP of the QMJHL, and went on to notch 23 points in 13 playoff games. He's probably too good to be playing in the QMJHL again next season, but he denied rumours that he would go the Auston Matthews route (playing his draft season in Europe), so it looks like he'll return to Rimouski for his draft year.

Not only has Lafrenière dominated Canadian junior hockey, he's also made his mark on the international stage. Lafrenière made Canada's World Junior team, and while he only did get one point in 5 games, he wasn't given much of a chance to dominate, playing primarily as the team's 13th forward. The fact that he was even able to crack the roster is quite the accomplishment for a young 17 year old kid.

Earlier in the year, Lafrenière put on a show at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup. As a 16 year old playing in a U18 tournament, he was one of if not the best player in the tournament, scoring 5 goals and 11 points in 6 games and leading Team Canada to a Gold medal. Against some top 2019 NHL Draft eligibles, Lafrenière was able to do things like this:

And this:

We haven't had as much time put into our lists for 2020, but he's above everyone else as it stands.

Quinton Byfield
There are only 2 or 3 players who seem to have a shot to be in the 1st overall conversation next season, and the closest to that would be fellow Canadian Quinton Byfield. The first thing that stands out about Byfield is his combination of size and skating ability. At 6'5 and 215 lbs, you'd assume his skating would be at best average. But after watching only a couple minutes of him, it's evident he's one of the faster players in the class. Here's an example of his speed, when he scored his first ever OHL goal:

A combination of size and speed like his is already dangerous in itself, and that enough would be enough to make him a good hockey player. His game goes past that, though. He has great shooting abilities, and not only is his shot good, he can get himself in good positions to use it with his size and footwork. It will surely be interesting to watch how big of a jump he makes between the 2018-19 season and the 2019-20 season, as he's an August 02 birthday, making him one of the youngest players in the 2020 draft.

Statistically, it was a pretty good start to his OHL career. Playing on an otherwise average offensive Sudbury team (9th out of 20 in GF), Byfield collected 61 points in 64 games entirely as a 16 year old, which was the most among everyone except Adam Ruzicka who was acquired mid-season.

His late birthday will also make it interested post-draft, as he would be on of the youngest players of all time in the NHL if he made the jump directly to whichever team drafted him. He is certainly physically ready at the age of 16, but he'll hardly be 18 by the time the 2020-21 season starts.

Lucas Raymond
Raymond is currently viewed as the best European player eligible for this draft, and it's not tough to see why. He's a complete offensive player with no holes in his game in that end of the ice. His top speed is great, and has good footwork, giving him the ability to have mobility around the net and down low. His best asset is his high level playmaking abilities, which are evident each and every game, and he loves using the saucer pass. However, he also showed he was able to create offence all by himself in the SHL, the 3rd best league in the entire world, at the age of 16, as shown here:

He doesn't get rewarded with a goal, but he keeps the puck away from the defender and gets to a high danger area all on his own for a great chance off the backhand.

Although he's more of a playmaker, he enjoys shooting the puck as well. This is a good thing, judging by his release and accuracy shown below:

Raymond compiled 13 goals and 48 points this season in 37 SuperElit games, along with 2 goals in 10 SHL games for Frolunda, and added 4 goals and 8 points in 7 GP for his home country at the U18 Worlds. He'll certainly look to make the most of a full SHL season in 2019-20 to try and improve his shot at going top two, or even push for first overall.

Alexander Holtz
Holtz is a pure sniper. I could simply prove this by saying he had 30 goals in 38 games in the SuperElit at the age of 16, but there's more to his game than putting the puck in the net. He also possesses great vision in the offensive zone, and, like Raymond, can really fly out there. His edgework is fun to watch and it often looks like he has the puck on a string. There are probably a hundred GIFs to display his shooting ability, but here's one I thought demonstrates it very well:

He waits for an opening in the defenders penalty killing and fires it in the absolute perfect spot with a quick release. If he's left open like this, he'll make you pay almost every time.

Along with his 30 goals, Holtz finished with 47 points in 38 games playing for Djurgardens in the SuperElit. He also saw three SHL games, but got limited ice-time and didn't score. Him and Raymond were massive driving forces to Sweden's gold medal at the U18 worlds this year.

Noel Gunler
While Gunler is often stuck in the shadow of the other two elite swedes in Raymond and Holtz, he's still got similar upside to them. He brings the whole package offensively. He can keep up to competition in the SHL skating wise, and he can make smart enough plays for his coach to already trust him on the powerplay at a pro level. What stands out the most to me about Gunler is how fast his release is, and his deceptiveness when it comes to passing or shooting, which poses a huge threat for defenders and goaltenders.

Gunler saw the most SHL games of the three Swedes, but a large reason for that is he's a late 01 and not early 02. In his 15 games, he finished with 2 goals and 5 points. When he played in the SuperElit, he put together 27 goals and 46 points in only 31 games played. Sadly, he wasn't able to play for Sweden at the U18 WJC, because that certainly could've added more intrigue to Sweden's trio.

A final thought on Gunler is there seems to be an attitude problem tied to him at a young age. I think it's important to remember these are 16-17 year old kids with tons of emotion, and some of the facts are overblown in the news. His draft spot shouldn't be affected by this so called attitude issue.

Anton Lundell
The best Finn eligible, Lundell made a name for himself in the Liiga this season. His speed isn't quite up to that of the players already discussed, but what he lacks in skating ability he makes up for in IQ and positioning. He can't outskate players as frequently, but what Lundell is great at is getting himself into quiet areas to make himself available to teammates for open looks. This, combined with his lightning quick release, make it so defenders always need to be aware of his location on the ice. He's strong on his feet and is tough to get off the puck.

Lundell finished the 2018-19 campaign with 9 goals and 19 points in 38 games last season, which is very impressive for a player in their D-1 season.

Yaroslav Askarov
It looks as though we may get another goalie going in the Top 15, as Russian netminder Yaroslav Askarov is drawing tons of eyes from scouts. The 6'3 goalie posted a .921 save percentage in the MHL in his D-1, and is talked about mostly for his quick reflexes and incredible mobility in the crease. While it is becoming rare to see a goalie go in the first round, we may see another one go in the top end of the draft.

The Rest
The top end of this draft is incredibly impressive. Just as impressive perhaps, is the depth this draft has. Some of the names to keep an eye on next season:

Name (League) [G-A-P--GP]
C Marco Rossi (OHL) [29-36-65--53]
W Kasper Simontaival (Mestis) [5-9-14--21]
D Jamie Drysdale (OHL) [7-33-40--63]
W Zion Nybeck (SuperElit) [17-26-43--35]
D Helge Grans (SuperElit) [5-12-17--34]
C Jean-Luc Foudy (OHL) [8-41-49--63]
W Antonio Stranges (OHL) [13-21-34--63]
C Tim Stutzle (DNL U20) [23-32-55--21]
Cole Perfetti (OHL) [37-37-74--63]
D Justin Barron (QMJHL) [9-32-41--68]
C Dylan Holloway (AJHL) [40-48-88--53]
C Hendrix Lapierre (QMJHL) [13-32-45--48]
W Dawson Mercer (QMJHL) [30-34-64--68]
W Daniil Gushchin (USHL) [16-20-36--51]
W Will Cuylle (OHL) [26-15-41--63]
W Rodion Amirov (MHL) [13-13-26--31]
C Jacob Perreault (OHL) [30-35-55--63]
C Ty Tullio (OHL) [15-27-42--60]

This list could go on and on, but these are some of the top players for 2020. It's still early, but it sure looks like a very strong draft class and one that should make for a good 2019-20 season scouting wise.