Center is typically the most coveted position in the NHL draft.
Since 2013, five centers have been selected with the No. 1 overall pick, including Nathan MacKinnon in 2013 and Connor McDavid in 2015. Canadian Quinton Byfield headlines the collection of centers projected to be chosen early in the 2020 NHL draft.
Byfield is in contention to be the top selection alongside left winger Alexis Lafreniere, and even if he does not go No. 1, he should be the top player chosen at his position. German center Tim Stutzle will likely be the second center off the board, but he could be taken before Byfield because of his versatility across the forward positions.
Among the other intriguing centers in the draft class are Austrian Marco Rossi and the Canadian duo of Cole Perfetti and Connor Zary.
Predictions for Top Centers
Even though Lafreniere is the prized possession atop the draft board, Byfield could make a struggling franchise happy at No. 2.
Byfield's 6'4" frame could give him an advantage over Stutzle and others since NHL teams historically value size on the forward line.
The 17-year-old produced 143 points over two seasons with the Sudbury Wolves in the Ontario Hockey League. After putting up 29 goals and 32 assists last season, Byfield increased those totals to 32 tallies and 50 helpers. He also had eight points in eight OHL playoff games in 2019.
If the draft lottery went to chalk based on the NHL standings, the Ottawa Senators would be in line to select Byfield. The draft could be prosperous for the Senators, who also own the San Jose Sharks' first-round pick from the Erik Karlsson trade.
Prediction: No. 2 overall.
If Byfield and Stutzle go off the board at No. 2 and No. 3, it would mark the fifth time in six years in which two centers were selected in the top three.
A year ago, Jack Hughes was taken first overall by the New Jersey Devils, and Kirby Dach was the second center selected when the Chicago Blackhawks took him at No. 3.
And because of the Sens' and Sharks' struggles this season, there is a scenario in which Stutzle and Byfield become teammates. While Byfield's size could give him an edge, Stutzle could stand out because of his versatility given he can play in each position across the forward line.
The 18-year-old German put up 34 points over 41 games in his first season with Adler Mannheim in his homeland. Stutzle also appeared in 13 contests for Germany's U-20 side over the past 12 months, earning 14 points in those appearances.
If he is chosen as high as he is projected, Stutzle would give Germany back-to-back years with top-10 picks after Moritz Seider went to the Detroit Red Wings at No. 6 in 2019.
Prediction: No. 3 overall.
Rossi's scoring prowess should make up for his 5'9" build.
The 18-year-old Austrian center put up 120 points for the Ottawa 67's in the Ontario Hockey League this term. The 39-goal, 81-assist campaign followed up his debut OHL season, in which he produced 65 regular-season points and 22 in the playoffs.
Rossi is on the fringe of the top five, and he will face competition from Swedish right winger Lucas Raymond and Canadian defenseman Jamie Drysdale. But since teams typically favor centers, Rossi could challenge for a top-five position. In each of the past five years, a minimum of two centers have been selected in the top five.
The Anaheim Ducks, Buffalo Sabres and New Jersey Devils would likely be in the market for Rossi if the lottery remains close to chalk.
Prediction: No. 6 overall.