One way or another, the 2020 NHL Entry Draft will be happening. And with it will come the usual arrangement of speculative fiction, only this year there’s a lot more to it.
For one, there is no combine. Scouts will have a lot more guesswork to do thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic’s grip on the world, which means they won’t get to evaluate potential picks for the normal length of time. They’ll also have to rely on doing player interviews via video chats.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t gems in the draft or that there won’t be some spectacular players to come out of this most unique of classes, but it means getting to them will be more difficult. Teams will have to rely on deep scouting more than ever, which puts a lot more emphasis on the particularly good players and the not so remarkable ones.
Most scouting bodies worth their salt have come up with at least a rudimentary run of draft possibilities, even if we don’t know when this is all going down.
At the top of most lists – and the subject of today’s post – is Canada’s own Alexis Lafreniere.
Lafreniere is such a big deal that one of the top Google searches for him is “how good is Alexis Lafreniere?” – a fair question for the uninitiated.
The answer, as Google might tell you, is incredibly good. Some have him as the best prospect since Connor McDavid, while others have him in the company of Jonathan Drouin and Sidney Crosby. The latter is a fascinating comparison because Lafreniere is third behind Drouin and Crosby in points-per-game average for a player 18 years of age or younger. That’s over the past 20 years.
As captain of Rimouski Oceanic in the QMJHL, Lafreniere is turning heads. Everything from his compete level to his vision come up in scouting reports, plus he doesn’t hesitate when he gets the puck. He knows the game like a veteran. Imagine him with a little seasoning at the NHL level.
Lafreniere also has a physical edge. He’s a contact initiator and that’s not always something you see in a top draft pick.
In his first year skating at the major junior level, Lafreniere had a 42-goal run and secured the CHL’s Rooke of the Year honour. He was ninth in league scoring and second among rookies in points behind Filip Zadina. A year later, he popped off 100 points and was named the CHL’s Player of the Year. In this protracted season, his third, Lafreniere registered 112 points in 52 games.
Lafreniere has all the tools to be a big moment, big minute player at the NHL level. And that’s got teams like the Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings extremely excited. The last place Wings have an 18.5 percent chance of winning the lottery and earning the top pick, so they could be looking at reuniting Lafreniere with Joe Veleno – two Team Canada buddies.
The Sens have better odds given they’ve got their own pick and San Jose’s pick thanks to the Erik Karlsson trade.
But regardless of where Lafreniere goes, he’ll make an impact. When the draft goes down – and where the draft goes down – look for this talented 18-year-old to draw top billing.