While the actual date of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft is still unknown and at the very least still several months away, there is no new data for teams and draft analysts to gather on the draft class. So while the draft may seem like a long ways off, now is as good a time as any to begin dissecting the possibilities. Many draft experts agree, as several have already done their final dive into this class of prospects and released their final draft rankings. While there are a number of draft experts and services out there, here is a look at the upcoming first round based on the consensus of the most recent rankings from some of the most well-known draft analysts out there: Scott Wheeler and Corey Pronman of The Athletic (subscription required), Craig Button and Bob McKenzie of TSN, Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News, Steve Kournianos of The Draft Analyst, Chris Peters of ESPN (subscription required), and Sam Cosentino of Sportsnet:
Alexis Lafreniere Will Go No. 1
No surprise, right? Alexis Lafreniere won the battle for the first overall spot a while ago and it is hard to find anyone who still disagrees. All eight experts ranked Lafreniere at No. 1 and few bothered to even argue the merits of the selection. Lafreniere has a chance to be a generational player given his offensive skill and skating ability. Regardless of who wins Friday’s lottery, they will be selecting the Rimouski superstar with the top pick.
Quinton Byfield Will Go No. 2
Of the eight experts, all but one ranked big center Quinton Byfield as the second overall pick. If that isn’t enough, just look at his numbers, including his height and weight, and you’ll get the idea why he is a can’t-miss prospect. Byfield is the type of top-line pivot that every team needs and, like Lafreniere at No. 1, no team will pass him up regardless of their organizational depth. The Sudbury centerman is the total package and his well-roundness alone will win him this spot.
Tim Stutzle Will Probably Go No. 3
Six of eight experts predict that German sensation Tim Stutzle will be taken third overall, with a seventh ranking him second. Stutzle has come on strong this season and shaken off any doubters with his elite speed and creativity. Thrown in his achievement against men in the DEL and against his peers at the World Juniors and you have a player that has shown that he can rise to the occasion once he arrives in the NHL. If the team picking third has a drastic need for defense or has fallen in love with one of the other consensus top-ten forwards, maybe Stutzle slips past third. However, he is right on the line of being too good to pass up like Lafreniere and Byfield.
Jamie Drysdale Will Be The First Defenseman Selected
Jamie Drysdale began the draft cycle as the top-rated defenseman and he will end it that way as well. All eight experts have the Drysdale as their top-ranked defender, anywhere from No. 4 to No. 9. The draft order will very likely determine where exactly Drysdale falls. However, given his ability and an otherwise weak defense class, especially on the right side, it is hard to imagine him falling outside the top five, as there will be teams looking to trade up if those pick-holders are not interested. The slick, pay-making blue liner out or Erie is a special player with the puck on his stick, but his defensive ability is also worthy of a top selection.
Another Goalie Will Go Early
Last year, the Florida Panthers bucked the trend of goaltenders rarely being taken early in the first round when they selected Spencer Knight at No. 13 overall. Watch for the same thing to happen this year and perhaps even earlier, depending on how the draft order plays out. Russian prodigy Yaroslav Askarov is being regarded even higher than Knight and might have a chance to crack the top ten. All eight experts ranked Askarov in the first half of the first round, but six had him at tenth or earlier. Askarov is truly considered an elite goalie prospect, the likes of which have not been seen in some time, and there will very likely be a team early on who simply can’t resist taking a guaranteed future starter.
A Down Year For The Americans
After a historic American draft class in 2019, the U.S. will very much take a back seat in the first round in 2020. Only one American, USNTDP defenseman Jake Sanderson, was a consensus first-round pick among the experts and none of the eight had more than three Americans slotted in the first round. Even among those few picks there was dissent among the experts, but forwards Brendan Brisson and Thomas Bordeleau look like the most likely names to sneak in.
Forward Depth Will Define The Draft Class
If there is one thing that has been a common refrain about the 2020 draft class, it is the wealth of talented forwards available. A strong sign that this is true is the varied opinions among the experts, with some ranking forwards early in the first round that others think might still be available in the third round. Only 15 forwards were consensus first-round picks among the eight experts. Beyond Lafreniere, Byfield, and Stutzle, there are Swedish standouts Lucas Raymond and Alexander Holtz, CHL stars Marco Rossi, Cole Perfetti, Jack Quinn, Connor Zary, Mavrik Bourque, Seth Jarvis, and Dawson Mercer, Finnish phenom Anton Lundell, Russian prize Rodion Amirov, and NCAA wunderkind Dylan Holloway. Yet, there were 22 other forward prospects who received at least one first-round ranking among the eight experts, not to mention another handful who were consensus second-round picks. There will be an uncommon amount of high-end ability available through at least the first two rounds for those NHL teams with needs up front.
Elite Defense Will Be Hard To Come By
Those teams desperate for help on the blue line will not have the same luck as those in need of forwards. Among the eight experts, only Drysdale and Sanderson were consensus first-round picks and both will be gone in the first half of the first round. Just four defenseman were given first-round grades by the majority of experts – Kaiden Guhle, Braden Schneider, Jeremie Poirier, and Justin Barron – and only Guhle received a top-half ranking by more than one expert. Given the depth of forwards and the inclusion of the goaltender Askarov as a definite first-round pick, it would not be a surprise to see as few as four defensemen selected in the first round this year.