The 2020 NHL Entry Draft might just be the most hyped draft since Connor McDavid took over the hockey world back in 2015. 2020 has the ultra-high-end talent in Alexis Lafreniére, but also has staggering depth to go right alongside him. Six names have risen to elite prestige in the world of NHL prospects.
The Hlinka Gretzky Cup is where we saw Alexis Lafreniére, Alexander Holtz and Lucas Raymond break into the mainstream conversation. Although three other names could be just as good. If this draft lives up to all the hype, then we could be looking at the best draft in a very long time.
Alexis Lafreniére is the name everybody has heard. He was drafted 1st overall in the QMJHL Draft and went on to lead all QMJHL rookies in scoring, ahead of Filip Zadina. He then was awarded CHL Rookie of the Year over Andrei Svechnikov.
After his junior team, the Rimouski Océanic, were eliminated from the QMJHL playoffs, Lafreniére left for the U18 World Juniors. While taking part in the international competition, he dazzled and showed his ridiculous skilled set off at in front of both scouts as well as fans. At the end of the summer, Lafreniére was selected to play for Canada at the U18 Hlinka Gretzky Cup.
He then lit up the tournament, scoring 11 points in 5 games which was good enough to tie for first in scoring. Now as a result of these performances, it appears Lafreniére is a lock for the U20 World Junior Canadian team. If he made the team, it would make him the first Canadian since Connor McDavid to play in the tournament in their draft minus one year.
This all brings us to now where Lafreniére is the consensus number one overall pick for 2020. The highlight quality of Lafreniére is his elite hockey smarts. He has all the smarts that make up a franchise-defining NHLer.
He sees the ice like no one else and anticipates the play before anyone sees it coming. His hockey smarts also allow him to make quick decisions with the puck, which often creates scoring opportunities for himself and his linemates. Lafreniére is also a very skilled player with great puck skills.
He has good hands and protects the puck well. His shot is also pretty ridiculous. He can put a puck up top past the goaltender from anywhere in the offensive zone.
This along with his goal scoring ability around the net allowed him to score 42 goals in the QMJHL. Lafreniére is a good but not great skater. His skating certainly isn’t a liability but it does stand out as one of his weaker qualities, although when you’re great at everything, your weaker quality is still pretty good.
When you look at his accomplishments and overall game, Lafreniére projects as a franchise changing player comparable to Sidney Crosby. While Lafreniére doesn’t project out to be as great as Crosby, he is still seen as a player that will quite possibly be the best 1st overall pick since Connor McDavid. Despite all of this, there is a challenger to Lafreniére.
The 1st overall pick in the QMJHL Draft has some competition in the OHL Priority Selection’s 1st overall pick. Sudbury Wolves centerman Quinton Byfield has only just started his junior career. At the same time the 2001 born Lafreniére was winning CHL Rookie of the Year, the 2002 born Byfield was stuck playing youth hockey with the York Simcoe Express of the Eastern Triple A Hockey League.
What is worth noting here, however, is that Byfield ended up having a historic season in that league. Furthermore, over the course of 34 games played, Byfield put up 92 points, 48 of which were goals. This was good enough to rank him 3rd all-time in the ETAMMHL points per game.
He only ranks behind the Greater Kingston Frontenacs product Taylor Hall and the Markham Waxers’ Steven Stamkos. Awards and tournament appearances are sparse for Byfield as he didn’t play junior hockey last year due to his age. But anyone that has watched this kid play knows that matters very little to Quinton Byfield anyways.
The way Byfield plays is almost indescribable. Byfield is an absolute freak of an athlete. At 15 years old, he clocked in at 6’4” (192cm) and 214 lbs (97kg).
He is enormous and built like a truck. Byfield’s athletic ability is like none we have ever seen. Even though he is so big, Byfield is an amazing skater.
He has great acceleration and can get up to top speed in no time at all. At top speed he is unstoppable, he’s incredibly fast and if he can’t get around you he’ll go through you. When a defender has 214 lbs of pure muscle coming at him at that speed, there is nothing he can do.
Not only is Byfield big and fast, but he’s also extremely skilled. He has great hands, but also a booming shot. His strength allows him to have a quick release and a super powerful shot.
Lastly, Byfield is a very smart player. He doesn’t quite have the vision or hockey IQ of Lafreniére, but it’s very good none the less.
Every scout, analyst, etc. will tell you Lafreniére is the uncontested 1st overall pick. But when you look at each of their games, Byfield stands out as the better player. The only problem is that Lafreniére has already accomplished so much while Byfield was still playing youth hockey.
With all that Lafreniére has done, it’s hard to say Byfield is better at this point. Keep in mind that Byfield is only a month too old to be eligible for the 2021 draft. Lafreniére is 10 months older than Byfield.
As Byfield gets to play on the same stage as Lafreniére he could prove that he’s the guy that should have been the one at the U18s, Hlinka, and in the OHL.
Alexander Holtz is the next player in line for the draft. The drop off between Byfield and Holtz is big, but that doesn’t mean Holtz isn’t a great player. As a 15, turning 16 year old, Holtz played center in Sweden’s top U18 league.
He led the league in points with 29 while playing only 13 out of the 18 games in the season. He then was called up to the Djurgårdens IF J20 team in Sweden’s U20 league. As a 2002 born player, he registered 8 points in his 11 games played.
This season he’s played 3 games so far while having recorded 3 points in the U20 league. Holtz has performed in one major international tournament being the Hlinka Gretzky Cup. He was tied for 4th in points with guys like Kirby Dach and a Swedish teammate we will get into a little later on.
Holtz was vital to Sweden’s run to the finals and performed very well. I’d expect him to play a significant amount of time in the SHL, Sweden’s top pro league, this season.
The self-described skilled sniper with playmaking ability has a solid game. He had one of the best shots at the Hlinka tournament with his staggering wrist shot and good slapper. When he plays against teenage goaltenders, you can tell they aren’t ready for Holtz’s shot.
The other contributor to his goal scoring ability is his knowledge of where to be to get the puck and find space to score. Holtz is a fine skater. It’s not a strength, but it’s not a liability.
He has a high top speed, but other than that his skating doesn’t stand out. Holtz is usually a sniper, but when he has a linemate that can really put the puck in the net, his playmaking ability shows. And that happened when he played with our next player, Lucas Raymond.
The deadly winger is another sick player coming out of the Swedish system. Raymond spent last season in the same U18 Swedish league as Holtz and tied him in points in 2 more games. He also played in the U20 league but was held pointless in 8 games.
Where Raymond really shined was at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup. Raymond was able to play with Alexander Holtz and the two were easily the best forwards on team Sweden as underagers. He was tied for 4th in tournament scoring along with Holtz.
At the Hlinka, Raymond showed that he could compete at a high level and proved he was better than his 8 game stint in the Swedish U20 league. He continued his dominance into this year’s regular season where he has 4 points in 4 games for Frölunda and is poised to get called up to the pro squad.
Lucas Raymond’s game is one of pure skill. He has amazing hands and tons of great moves he can pull on the fly. Raymond can also do all this with great speed.
He has fast feet, good acceleration and solid edges. If he doesn’t beat a goalie with his dangles or speed, he can use his great shot. Raymond has a quick release that can catch a goalie off guard and pinpoint accuracy.
Lucas Raymond is lastly a pretty smart player. He isn’t as smart as Holtz, but the gap isn’t very big dividing the two from success.
In the same category as the two Swedes are the HIFK center Anton Lundell. Lundell played last season in Finland’s U20 league. He was almost at a point per game with 20 points in 22 games played.
Lundell has been great for HIFK in league play and also in international play for Finland. As a 16-year-old, he made the Finnish U18 team at the World Juniors and was one of the top forwards for them. His 6 points in 7 games was a key piece in the gold medal-winning Finnish squad.
Lundell was able to go to this year’s Hlinka tournament, but didn’t stand out. This year, Lundell has been very impressive. He was invited to play with the HIFK pro team in the Champions League.
He then came back to the U20 team and has so far scored 9 points in 8 games played. A promotion to play full time in the pro ranks seems inevitable for Lundell.
Anton Lundell isn’t the high skill, highlight reel player like the ones we’ve gone over previously. He’s a solid two-way center who plays a very smart game. He doesn’t use blistering speed or skilled plays to create chances.
He’s going to always make the right play and create opportunities with his smarts rather than skill. Although that doesn’t mean he isn’t a skilled player. Lundell is the most reliable player on the ice.
He plays a lockdown defensive game but doesn’t sacrifice offensive play. Lundell is a great playmaker in the offensive zone, but also has a solid shot. He is a big guy with a great frame.
You’d never guess this kid was 16 with the way he’s built. His great strength allows him to shoot pretty hard. Lundell is all around a great player with high-end potential.
Marco Rossi is our next high-end talent. The Austrian center is coming off a great season in Switzerland’s U20 league. He was 5th in points per game in a league of players four years older than him.
He ranked ahead of other top prospects like Valentin Nussbaumer who ranks highly for the 2019 draft. Rossi also played for Austria in the U18 and U20 World Juniors. Austria plays in the D1A division of IIHF U20 hockey.
The D1A is the division right under the usual division with the USA and Canada. While there, Rossi went a point per game over 5 games as the Austrian team put up a weak performance. Rossi was tied for 5th in points with players like 2018 St. Louis Blues pick 1st rounder, Dominik Bokk.
This season, Rossi has moved into playing for the Ottawa 67s in the OHL after they stole him with the 16th pick in the CHL Import Draft.
Rossi is a very skilled and creative center. He’s great with the puck but has to work on his play without the puck. His hands and puck skills are the main attributes to his success.
Rossi also plays a smart game and knows when to shoot the puck. He’s primarily a goal scorer, but he can see the ice well enough to know when to make a nice pass to create opportunities. Rossi is a dangerous player in the offensive zone.
There are other guys other than these six on the outside looking in. If you haven’t noticed, none of these six are defensemen. Kaiden Guhle is a rookie defender who was the top pick in the WHL Draft by the Prince Albert Raiders.
Justin Barron is playing for Halifax in the QMJHL and showed his top end play at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup. No Americans rank in the top six, but Ryder Rolston is a solid forward out of the USNTDP. There has also been some buzz around Jérémie Poirier after his QMJHL debut.
Lastly, Finnish forward Kasper Simontaival had a weak 17-18 season, but after breaking out at the Hlinka has been amazing early on this season. It’s quite possible that Kasper Simontaival could get a call-up to the pro ranks with Tappara. If he continues his great play, he could very well enter the same prestige of the big six.
The top of this draft is one of the deepest ever. All six of these players look like a premier franchise changing talents. Each of these players looks like guys usually hailed as top three picks in most drafts.
I’d expect all six to make their respective teams for the U20 World Juniors which would be unheard of. Lafreniére and Rossi are locks for the tournament. Lafreniére because of his level of prestige and Rossi since he plays for Austria.
Byfield, Holtz, Raymond and Lundell are the ones looking to make a jump onto the roster. If Byfield lives up to the hype around his name, I think he’s a solid bet to make Team Canada’s roster. Holtz and Raymond are better than any Swedes up for this year’s 2019 draft and will be likely picked, especially if they make get called up to their pro teams.
Lundell is also a likely call-up to the pro ranks in Finland. For Sweden and Finland, most of their rosters will be mostly players from junior teams, so making a pro roster will nearly guarantee you a spot on the World Junior team.
All of this makes the 2020 class historic. We are looking at a future class where six teams will have the course of their franchise changed by these guys. It seems that every year the incoming draft class gets better and better thanks to how much our game has grown, this trend will continue onwards into 2020. The new wave of talent is surely coming and it looks as if it will hit in 2020.