clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Top 25 Draft Prospects of 2020

New, comments

With the Leafs in possession of a first-round pick, the top of the draft is suddenly important.

2020 NHL Draft Lottery Phase 2 Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images

The 2020 NHL Entry Draft is four weeks away, if all goes well. We expect that to be a virtual event that will take place October 6 and 7.

The Leafs now hold the 15th overall pick, and we also know the order of the teams picking in the top 27 places, all of which means we’re about to be overwhelmed with mock drafts. The mock draft is an interesting concept because, while you can find the best objective scouting reports and the best consolidated lists, that only tells you what the opinions of scouts are of the players. They aren’t predictors of what GMs will do on draft day.

Teams don’t all hold fast to the idea of “best player available”, not even at the top of the draft where it actually means something. They don’t all scout the same players to the same extent, and they all have individual biases that influence their choices.

We know that TSN’s consolidated list from Bob McKenzie is a good jumping off point to find the players likely to be taken in the top 100, and approximately in that order, but it’s not a mock draft, and isn’t trying to be. To get an idea of who the Leafs can expect to have available at 15th in some way more meaningful than the obvious n - 14 draft-eligible players, combining the order of teams drafting with McKenzie’s list is one way to make a cheater mock draft. A mock mock draft, if you will.

The two lists are:

Starting at the top, I think some things are clear.

The Rangers are absolutely going to take Alexis Lafreniere.

The Kings are likely going to take number two on McKenzie’s list, the DEL player Tim Stutzle. The Kings owners have a close relationship with their DEL team in Berlin, and that means they have people they employ and trust scouting him. Where a team has scouts, and who has the ear of the GM, matters a lot in what actually happens in a draft.

Ottawa will take the OHL player Quinton Byfield who they’ve also had a lot of chances to scout. Ottawa rarely drafts Europeans, and favours players in the OHL and QMJHL, and Byfield is a clear top-three choice.

The Red Wings are up next, and this isn’t as obvious as the other three choices. Will they take the small, mobile, modern OHL defender Jamie Drysdale, or will they go for the Saginaw, Michigan OHLer, the small, mobile, modern, big goal-scoring Cole Perfetti? It’s not about need here, because the team needs everything, but I think there’s a serious chance that Steve Yzerman will go for the Michigan player over the defender. Yzerman let Jonathan Marchessault walk from Tampa, and he doesn’t seem to be a guy who fails to learn from his mistakes. He won’t let size sway him on Perfetti, and he is bold, as last year’s draft showed.

That leaves Ottawa to take Drysdale. He’s a righty, Chabot’s a lefty. Drysdale is a local, known commodity. Just their sort of player. It’s possible they would choose to take a forward, and if they do, I’d expect them to reach past Lucas Raymond for Marco Rossi, the Ottawa 67s player.

This is where lists like this start to fracture, usually. Anaheim is up next, and they can choose Lucas Raymond, the small Swede that keeps mysteriously getting underrated or Rossi, an Austrian who is one of the oldest players in the top of the draft, and one who scores in buckets in the OHL. You never know what GMs will think about a guys born just after the September 15 age cutoff. Will they assume his points are because he’s older than his peers? Statistics say that regardless of his relative age at the draft, he’s more likely to be underrated. He’s small, like Raymond, and a centre, which usually makes you rise up, but he’s also European, so his ranking is a mix of all the biases. This is a very hard call, but the Ducks haven’t been shy about drafting and signing Swedes, so that might make Raymond win this one. I’ll give him the nod to Anaheim.

New Jersey will either think they should reach for the goalie Yaroslav Askarov or they’ll take Rossi. I want them to take Rossi in the mistaken belief that an Austrian and a Swiss like Nico Hischier will be a natural pair of friends, but how many small centres will one team draft? They can look at Jack Quinn, a scoring machine from the wing on Rossi’s team, and you have to assume they’ve scouted that team to death and really know those two players. They have two more picks as well, so if any team is looking to reach for Askarov, I think it’s them. Goalies taken in the first round are a huge risk. But when you have more picks to fall back on, risking is easier. They just got rid of their long-time goalie coach, which likely means something, so what the hell, let’s make the imaginary Devils with their new management team risk takers.

The Sabres are up, and really, who knows what they’ll do. They have a new GM who has virtually no relevant experience, and a coach you might think is really running the team. Will they go for Rossi, thinking they’re about to deal away Sam Reinhart because they don’t want to pay him? Or will they go for NCAA defender Jake Sanderson?

What are teams going to think about NCAA commits in this draft? Chances are high these guys will be going back to USHL hockey as the NCAA cancels or delays the hockey season. Will that make teams afraid their development will be stalled? Will they fall in the draft? Will Europeans rise because they’re playing serious hockey now and they look better than the guys going back to lesser leagues?

That’s a really good question, and this is where I’m stopping for today so you all can discuss this and I can steal ideas from you.

Profiles

Once we hit players who are more likely to fall in the draft, there will be some more discussion and links to profiles, but for now, since fantasizing about young goalie prospects is fun, here’s the basics on Askarov:

Yaroslav Askarov

Askarov is just 18, with a birthdate in June. He’s listed at 190 cm/ 80 kg in the VHL database, and that’s an obvious guestimate. If it’s true, he’s 6’3” and ‘Ian Scott as a draftee’ skinny.

Askarov grew up playing for Avangard Omsk in Siberia, but he’s good, so he got shunted to SKA St. Petersburg’s system, where he plays on their VHL team SKA-Neva. They are a perennial playoff team and finished last season in third place. They were getting beat in the quarterfinals when the playoffs were suspended. Askarov wasn’t playing however.

In the playoffs, Askarov was supplanted by Sharks prospect Alexei Melnichuk and the young, but undrafted Nikita Lysenkov. They both had great save % numbers, and they were all used in the regular season. Askarov played in SKA-Neva’s opening game of this season, and it didn’t go well. He got beat 3-2 and one of the players who scored on him was old Leafs prospect Nikita Korostelyov.

Askarov’s good regular season last year has to be taken in context (not that anyone will) of a team that can afford the very best of everything and stacks their junior and VHL rosters like they do their KHL team. SKA is not like North American teams. It’s not like even the best AHL teams, which the VHL is broadly analogous to. It’s a whole other level of inequality.

The most telling thing about his ability is that Askarov didn’t play in the junior team. Likely in part because SKA had six other junior goalies to cycle through. But he’s out there starting against players old enough to have already been discarded by the team that drafted them in the NHL. That’s about SKA’s own goalie depth and the general quality of goalies in the KHL/VHL/MHL system as much as it is about Askarov, but he’s succeeding as a very young player in a system that does not have to play him over his head by any means.

Of course, everyone saw Askarov at the WJC, where he won a silver medal and made up a tandem with undrafted 20-year-old Amir Miftakhov. (Miftakhov can be had in this year’s draft with a late-round pick, and it might be a good gamble for a team not afraid of a 20-year-old goalie only 6’ tall.)

Belief in Askarov seems to be centred on all the scouts saying he’s the equivalent of a top-10 forward or defenceman in the draft. I can’t even imagine making a calculation to produce that comparison but scouts all have to somehow, and so do GMs.

I felt like Spencer Knight was a good pick by the Panthers last year at 13th overall, if still a big gamble. He was coming off a great U18 championship, and wasn’t even on the USA’s WJC team. I can’t help but think Askarov is getting ranked based on Russian goalie depth to some extent. If he’d never made that WJC team, would be be ranked as a late first or an early second? We’ll never know.

Knight was best among his age-peers in the NCAA this year, making the Panthers look smart in drafting him, and Askarov was the top young goalie in the VHL as well. Maybe he is worth a reach to take him even earlier than he’s ranked.

Check out real profiles here, and the first is an extensive one from the Devils’ site:

(no, I don’t know why the Athletic spell his name with an I)

The PPP mock mock draft list

(okay, it’s mine, I didn’t make anyone vote on this)

  1. New York Rangers - Alexis Lafreniere
  2. Los Angeles Kings - Tim Stutzle
  3. Ottawa Senators - Quinton Byfield
  4. Detroit Red Wings - Cole Perfetti
  5. Ottawa Senators - Jamie Drysdale
  6. Anaheim Ducks - Lucas Raymond
  7. New Jersey Devils - Yaroslav Askarov
  8. Buffalo Sabres - ???
  9. Minnesota Wild
  10. Winnipeg Jets
  11. Nashville Predators
  12. Florida Panthers
  13. Carolina Hurricanes
  14. Edmonton Oilers
  15. Toronto Maple Leafs
  16. Montréal Canadiens
  17. Chicago Blackhawks
  18. New Jersey Devils
  19. Calgary Flames
  20. New Jersey Devils
  21. Columbus Blue Jackets
  22. New York Rangers
  23. Philadelphia Flyers
  24. Colorado Avalanche
  25. Washington Capitals

Now I just need you to tell me what the Sabres will do, so I can write the next instalment.