The 2019-20 NHL season has been suspended since March 12 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has affected the league's 2020 draft schedule.
The lottery was meant to take place Thursday but did not, leaving the draft order is still up in the air. However, NHL Central Scouting still provided its final list of top prospects Wednesday. Left wing Alexis Lafreniere of Rimouski in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League is the consensus projected No. 1 overall pick. The 18-year-old ranked No. 1 among North American skaters, followed by center Quinton Byfield at No. 2.
Germany's Tim Stutzle sits atop the European skater rankings ahead of second-place Alexander Holtz out of Sweden.
The draft was originally slated to take place June 26-27 in Montreal but was postponed March 25. A new plan has not been announced. In the meantime, learn more about each of the four top prospects below.
Alexis Lafreniere, LW, Rimouski (QMJHL)
Lafreniere is widely regarded as the top prospect of the class. The Canadian scored 35 goals and assisted 77 times for a career-best 112 points across 55 games in 2019-20. He also netted four goals and recorded six assists in five games for Canada's U20 team at the World Junior Championship.
J.F. Damphousse, Quebec and Maritimes regional scout for Central Scouting, told Ted Kulfan of the Detroit News on Wednesday:
"He's quite the player. When you look at every aspect of his game, you could consider every aspect as elite. Every time I saw him play, he makes plays that you don't think are possible, and he still makes them. [But] what separates him from the pack is his compete level. He's willing to play physical and he battles every game."
Kulfan noted that the Detroit Red Wings have the best odds at 18.5 percent to land the No. 1 pick in the lottery with the current standings. The Red Wings are a league-worst 17-49-5—a whopping 23 points behind the second-worst Ottawa Senators.
Detroit may be the odds-on favorite to land Lafreniere, but he told reporters during a conference call that he doesn't have a preference: "Growing up it's the dream of every hockey player [to make the NHL]. And to see how close we are right now, it's pretty exciting. ... And for the team that's going to draft me, I'm going to be really happy to join them."
Lafreniere recently went through his game tape with The Athletic's Corey Pronman, who called him "one of the most purely skilled players I've ever seen as a first-year draft-eligible prospect." The 6'1", 192-pounder told Pronman he always goes after the puck any time it's in the air.
He doubled down on his competitive nature during Wednesday's conference call:
Dan Marr, Director of NHL Central Scouting joined NHL Draft Class to discuss the final prospect rankings. He compares top prospect Alexis Lafrenière to a few @NHL players we're all familiar with... Apple Podcasts: https://t.co/4qLBj5oqP4 Spotify: https://t.co/8SNePaJJn7 https://t.co/wlkR5QFWTt
Lafreniere is the NHL's top-ranked North American skater among 2020 draft prospects. NHL.com's Mike G. Morreale pointed out Lafreniere is the first Rimouski product ranked No. 1 on the North American skater list by the league's Central Scouting since Sidney Crosby—the Pittsburgh Penguins' three-time Stanley Cup-winning captain—in 2005.
Crosby is second all-time in career points (303) in Rimouski's history, per Elite Prospects, and Lafreniere is fourth (297). The former went No. 1 overall in 2005.
Quinton Byfield, C, Sudbury (Ontario Hockey League)
Byfield is ranked by the NHL as the second-best North American skater behind Lafreniere, and several mocks have the 6'4", 215-pound center going No. 2 overall to what would be the Ottawa Senators if the lottery were to go to chalk.
"I think I would describe myself as a big two-way forward that tries to play a 200-foot game...definitely more of an offensive upside there," Byfield told Morreale during a Zoom conference call on Wednesday (h/t TSN). "I think the strongest part of my game is definitely my skating for a big guy. I try to use that to my advantage and find my teammates in the offensive zone and set them up."
Byfield went on to discuss his NHL comparisons:
"Definitely gotten a lot of comparisons out there. I think it'd be [Pittsburgh Penguins All-Star center Evgeni] Malkin. That's just an honor to be compared to that guy. ... I definitely watch as much Pittsburgh games as possible just to see what he does on the ice and how he plays. He's a big 200 [pound] center and just the amazing offensive ability he has and just how he plays is just unbelievable. So I definitely watch him quite a bit and try to mold my game after him."
The 33-year-old was selected second overall in 2004 and has won three Stanley Cups with the Pens. Malkin's best statistical season came in in 2008-09, when he paired 35 goals with a career-high 78 assists to put up a league-leading 113 points en route to a Stanley Cup.
Byfield has a ways to go to match those marks, but he is off to a stellar start. With the Sudbury Wolves of the OHL this season, the 17-year-old notched 32 goals and 50 assists in 45 games.
"Byfield has truly elite hands, which I consider the most impressive part of his skill set," The Athletic's Corey Pronman wrote Wednesday.
However, Pronman noted that Byfield's hockey sense is perhaps an area of concern for Byfield, citing an anonymous NHL scout who questioned whether he can see the game "at a high level":
"Byfield's 68 game pace was 48 goals and 124 points. When you talk about the best U18 seasons in the OHL of the modern era – Mitch Marner, Tyler Seguin, Steven Stamkos, Dylan Strome, even John Tavares – Byfield's campaign is right in that mix. He did that as one of the youngest players in the draft class as an August 2002 birth date. His underage season wasn't as dominant as some of the best U17 seasons ever, but it was still extremely impressive."
The Senators would be lucky to land Byfield. Ottawa is desperate for scoring (among other things), ranking 25th in the league with 2.68 goals per game this season. The last time the Senators ranked in the top 10 was the 2015-16 campaign.
Tim Stutzle, LW, Mannheim (Germany)
Stutzle is the first-ever German to be ranked atop the NHL Central Scouting's European skaters list, per The Athletic's Scott Wheeler, and is slated to be a top-five pick.
The 18-year-old winger was named the Deutsche Eishockey Liga Rookie of the Year in 2019-20 after recording seven goals and 27 assists across 41 games for Adler Mannheim. Moritz Seider won the award for the 2018-19 season and was drafted sixth overall by the Detroit Red Wings.
"I knew Mannheim was a great organization before, but [Seider] became the go-to guy for a lot of young players; he showed everybody that you can stay in Germany," Stutzle told Wheeler in January. "But I'm my own person, and another reason to stay in Germany was to finish my school. [Plus] I want to play against pro players and develop."
TSN director of scouting Craig Button compared Stutzle to someone else, though, per TSN's Darren Yourk: "He's got lightning-quick feet and hands. His offensive game reminds me of Patrick Kane['s]."
Mannheim assistant coach Mike Pellegrims added: "His skating is his biggest strength. He can accelerate, he's got a great set of hands and his quickness with the way he thinks are all great too. It's a combination of things. But his skating is a big, big asset."
Assuming Ottawa snags Byfield and Stutzle back-to-back at Nos. 2 and 3, they would bolster a young core. Twenty-year-old left wing Brady Tkachuk was taken fourth overall in 2018 by the Sens and has registered at least 20 goals and 20 assists in each of his first two NHL seasons.
Alexander Holtz, RW, Djurgardens (Sweden)
Holtz ranks second among European skaters, according to NHL Central Scouting.
The 18-year-old recently told NHL.com's Scott Wheeler that he plans to take his game to the next level in the NHL through his scoring ability and his shot. The right wing scored nine goals for Djurgardens in 2019-20 and eight goals across all competitions for Sweden's U20s.
Elite Prospects lauds Holtz's offensive skill set:
"An offensively very skilled player. Holtz is a true goal scorer with an impressive wrist shot and slapper. Has the ability to know exactly where to be on the ice to make things happen. Also a smart player with good on-ice-vision and fine technical skills. Not a poor playmaker either, as he sees openings well and sets up his teammates, although he prefers to finish the play himself. Capable skater, although his acceleration could be better."
The Athletic's Corey Masisak projected Holtz to go No. 6 overall to the New Jersey Devils in the website's latest mock draft:
"The Devils need more impact talent at nearly every position. ... It comes down to Holtz or his World Juniors teammate Lucas Raymond. That's a tough call (I said easier, not easy). I'm going with Holtz because he profiles as more of a goal scorer and is a little bit bigger. He seems like a natural fit next to Jack Hughes or Nico Hischier in the very near future."
Pronman added: "Given Holtz's success already versus men, it's very possible he only needs one or two years before he's ready to make the Devils."
Holtz played in 35 games in the Swedish Hockey League this season, recording 16 points on nine goals and seven assists. He also competed in the World Juniors.
He disclosed during a conference call with Morreale how he feels playing up has prepared him for the NHL: "Playing with men and training with men all the time was a big part of my life, and they helped me a lot. They want to make me better, and I'm so thankful for my teammates. It was just great. They helped me out, and I could learn a lot from the veterans. It was just a great season for me."