After well over a year of waiting, the first-round of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft has finally come and gone. The New York Rangers kicked things off by selecting Alexis Lafreniere, followed by the L.A. Kings drafting Quinton Byfield with the second overall pick. Both teams seem to be immediate winners, just from those top-two picks alone, but that is a given.
You can never truly know the winners or losers of a draft until we see what the prospects turn into. There are always some big surprises that are tough to predict as one can never assess a prospects future with 100% certainty. With day one of the draft now completed with the following six rounds happening on day two, let’s see who the biggest winners and the biggest losers of the draft are so far.
Ever since the draft order was announced, we pretty much knew that the Senators had won the first round. In a draft with as much talent as 2020 (especially piled up in the top-10), it was going to be pretty hard for the Ottawa Senators to mess this up. After the Kings selected Quinton Byfield, the Senators had arguably the best moment of the draft, having Jeopardy game show host Alex Trebek announce the teams selection in an entertaining way.
Even before making their pick announcement, the Senators seemed to have already won with the best virtual guest imaginable. Pierre Dorion made no mistake, drafting the Senators future top-center in German Tim Stützle. He then added a top defender in Jake Sanderson. Both players are expected to make major impacts in the NHL with Stützle potentially potentially ready to debut this season.
With their third pick in the first-round, Ottawa selected Ridley Grieg, a Canadian left-winger from the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings. They did so with the 28th pick. Some may call this pick a reach, but Grieg checks all the boxes for what the Senators are currently looking for. Grieg has a very high compete-level and players with a similar style include Brad Marchand or Brendan Gallagher.
Entering the NHL Draft, fans were sitting at home, anxiously awaiting Gary Bettman to announce some blockbuster trades. In the end, however, only two trades were made and both were by the Calgary Flames. The Flames confused many after they made their second trade to move down in the draft, but it all worked out in the end.
When the Flames saw that at #19, their key player still likely had some time before he was drafted, they traded down a few spots to acquire an additional third-round pick. At #22, the Flames once again saw that if they moved down, they would likely still be able to get the player they wanted, so they traded down a couple more spots to acquire yet another third-round pick.
When they finally drafted at #24, they were able to draft Connor Zary from the Kamloops Blazers, who fell so far in the draft. Overall, it was a good display of asset management from Brad Treliving and company, who were able to add some much needed picks to their repertoire.
Over the course of the 2019-20 campaign, not many prospects draft stocks grew more then Jake Sanderson’s. Sanderson entered the year as a projected first-round pick, but few could say that he was even in consideration for being labeled as the top blue-liner. Jamie Drysdale was always believed to be the top defender in this year’s NHL Draft class.
Even as Sanderson garnered more attention and earned consideration as a top-10 pick, many still considered him to be behind defensemen Jamie Drysdale. Even entering draft day, Drysdale was largely expected to be the first defender taken off the board with the USDP captain right behind him. The Ottawa Senators drafted Stützle third overall and were expected to take a defensemen with their fifth overall selection.
While many expected Drysdale to be their guy, they decided to go with Jake Sanderson, who’s hard work all year paid off as he was the first defender taken off the board.
Entering the 2019-20 season, Justin Barron was projected to be a top-two defensemen in the 2020 NHL Draft. After a slow start to the season, it looked like Barron’s draft stock would fall, but things got real worse and did so fast. Barron developed a blood clot which resulted in the defensemen missing majority of the season.
Obviously, this was a serious injury which could could have and still could affect his playing career. Luckily, it was believed that he would make a full recovery, which was great news for the Halifax Mooseheads star. However, having missed majority of the season, many believed that his draft stock had fallen, perhaps even so far into the second round.
The Colorado Avalanche saw what Barron had done before his injury and took the risk to select a potential top-pairing blue-liner late in the first round.
Last year’s NHL Draft featured arguably the best class of USDP prospects in draft history. Headlined by Jack Hughes, who was picked first overall, there were a record eight USNTDP players who were selected in the first round alone. We knew that the 2020 class would not be as strong as last year’s group, but there were still going to be some noteworthy prospects.
Jake Sanderson was the biggest name coming out of the USNDTP this year, followed by guys like Thomas Bordeleau as well as Dylan Peterson. Sanderson heard his named called fifth overall, but aside from him, no other player in the United States National Development Team Program was taken on day one.
Jack Quinn’s stock skyrocketed this year during his 52 goal campaign. His progression from his rookie to sophomore year was phenomenal and his overall hockey journey is definitely an inspirational one. However, he was arguably not the right choice for the Sabres.
The Sabres firstly need a centreman, which Quinn is not, but more importantly, they needed a surefire NHL star. Someone like Quinn’s teammate, Marco Rossi, or Saginaw Spirit forward Cole Perfetti, would have been perfect options for Buffalo to draft. Whether or not the Sabres made the right choice will be up in the air for years, but they will likely receive plenty of backlash for not taking the perched best player available when guys like Rossi or Perfetti were still on the board.
Columbus Blue Jackets?
Nobody knows exactly what the Columbus Blue Jackets did at the draft. Even Brian Burke and the panel of Sportsnet analysts had little to no information about the Blue Jackets first-round pick. Columbus went off the board with their selection by drafting Yegor Chinakhov 21st overall.
What confused people the most, even more than the fact that nobody really considered him an option for round one, was the fact that 2020 was Chinakhov’s second year of NHL Draft eligibility. The Russian winger is 19-years-old and celebrates his birthday in February. Drafting an overage in the first round is very rare in the NHL, especially in a draft class as deep as 2020.
In all fairness, Yegor Chinakhov should have been drafted last year after recording 69 points in 56 MHL games. Chinakhov is surely going to be a project for the Blue Jackets, but is having a promising start to the 2020-21 season in the KHL. Jarmo Kekalainen has plenty of connections over in Europe and Chinakhov must have earned high praise from these connections and seen his potential with his own eyes to take a big risk on him.
However, the jury is still out on this move. There were plenty more skilled and younger players available, in addition to the fact that it is highly likely that Columbus could have traded down significantly and still got their man. Not great asset management at first glance.
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