Whenever the NHL is able to return to business following the coronavirus pandemic, one of the most anticipated events on the calendar will be the 2020 draft.
Buzz for this year's class has been building for some time, with top prospect Alexis Lafreniere garnering lofty scouting reports. NHL.com draft analyst Mike G. Morreale listed Florida Panthers star and all-time points leader Jonathan Huberdeau as the Quebec native's comparable pro player.
The good news for teams with high selections that don't secure the No. 1 overall pick is they still have the potential to land potential foundation pieces because of how deep this class is, especially with the volume of high-scoring prospects.
2020 NHL Draft 1st-Round Order and Mock Draft
1. Detroit Red Wings: Alexis Lafreniere, LW, QMJHL
2. Ottawa Senators: Quinton Byfield, C, OHL
3. Ottawa Senators (via San Jose): Jamie Drysdale, D, OHL
4. Los Angeles Kings: Lucas Raymond, LW, SWE
5. Anaheim Ducks: Tim Stuetzle, C, DEL
6. New Jersey Devils: Alexander Holtz, RW, SWE
7. Buffalo Sabres: Marco Rossi, C, OHL
8. Montreal Canadiens: Anton Lundell, C, FIN
9. Chicago Blackhawks: Yaroslav Askarov, G, MHL
10. New Jersey Devils (via Arizona): Jake Sanderson, D, NTDP
11. Minnesota Wild: Jack Quinn, RW, OHL
12. Winnipeg Jets: Cole Perfetti, C, OHL
13. New York Rangers: Connor Zary, C, WHL
14. Florida Panthers: Dawson Mercer, C, QMJHL
15. Columbus Blue Jackets: Dylan Holloway, C, NCAA
16. Calgary Flames: Noel Gunler, RW, SWE
17. New Jersey Devils (via Vancouver): Jan Mysak, C, OHL
18. Nashville Predators: Braden Schneider, D, WHL
19. Carolina Hurricanes (via Toronto): Hendrix Lapierre, C, QMJHL
20. Edmonton Oilers: Mavrik Bourque, C, QMJHL
21. Ottawa Senators (via New York Islanders): Jeremie Poirier, D, QMJHL
22. Dallas Stars: Lukas Cormier, D, QMJHL
23. New York Rangers (via Carolina): Rodion Amirov, LW, RUS 2
24. Minnesota Wild (via Pittsburgh): Kaiden Guhle, D, WHL
25. Philadelphia Flyers: Seth Jarvis, C, WHL
26. San Jose Sharks (via Tampa Bay): Emil Andrae, D, SWE
27. Colorado Avalanche: Justin Barron, D, QMJHL
28. Vegas Golden Knights: Ridly Greig, C, WHL
29. Washington Capitals: Zion Nybeck, RW, SuperElit
30. St. Louis Blues: Jacob Perreault, RW, OHL
31. Anaheim Ducks (via Boston): Brendan Brisson, C, USHL
Order via Tankathon.com.
Alexis Lafreniere to Detroit Red Wings
The Detroit Red Wings have seemingly tried to tank for the top pick for the past two seasons. It didn't work last season, as the team went from having the fourth-best lottery odds to landing the sixth overall pick.
General manager Steve Yzerman has taken tanking to a new level this season. The Red Wings have 23 fewer points and eight fewer wins than any other team in the league. They rank last in goals scored and have conceded the most. No one on the team has a plus-minus rating higher than minus-six.
In short, the Red Wings are desperate to see the lottery work in their favor. In Morreale's scouting report of Lafreniere, he wrote about what makes the 18-year-old so highly regarded as a prospect:
"Exceptionally smart player with top-end speed and a pull-away gear. He's great at carrying the puck and leading rushes and executes under pressure, has great vision and anticipation. Lafreniere offers high-end puck skills and vision to create plays, has an impressive compete level every time he's on the ice, and elevates his game in pressure situations while demonstrating leadership skills."
The Red Wings are in desperate need of help at every position, but just as important is finding a potential superstar who can lead the team and generate excitement around the organization.
Lafreniere has scored at least 35 goals and 80 points in each of the past three seasons with Rimouski Oceanic, including 112 points in 52 games during the 2019-20 campaign. He would add instant excitement to an iconic franchise that needs to get back on track.
Quinton Byfield to Ottawa Senators
No team has the potential to control the first round of the draft more than the Ottawa Senators. They project to have three of the top 31 picks and might have two in the top three if the lottery breaks their way.
Much like the Red Wings, Ottawa has so many needs that there really isn't a wrong way to go.
As Scott Charles of NBC Sports noted, Senators general manager Pierre Dorion has flexibility thanks to the team's young players and good cap situation:
"Ottawa wisely signed Chabot to a long-term extension prior to the season and will most likely try to lock up [Brady] Tkachuk this upcoming summer.
"Colin White, a 23-year-old, has five years remaining on his contract upon the conclusion of this season and will likely play a central role in the years to come. For the next few seasons, the primary focus will be on player development not on-ice results.
"Outside of Bobby Ryan's contract which lasts until the end of the 2021-22 season, the Senators do not have a salary cap issue. Dorion could wisely use his cap space to acquire additional draft capital, or overpaid NHL players on the cheap as long as he does not exceed the internal budget."
If not for Lafreniere's presence in this class, Quinton Byfield would have a strong argument to be the No. 1 player taken.
In fact, Cam Robinson of DobberProspects has Byfield ranked as the best player in this year's draft, describing him as such:
"A physical specimen who blends exceptional power to a speed-driven, skill game. His quick hands allow him to maneuver in tight spaces, while the long reach propels his puck-protection. A mammoth of a man at just 17. He's not the best player today, but his upside is too large to ignore."
Even though there may be a longer development period for Byfield than Lafreniere, it shouldn't deter anyone from betting on him reaching his ceiling. It's hard to find scorers with his skill set, which is all the more impressive considering he won't turn 18 until August.
Yaroslav Askarov to Chicago Blackhawks
Given all of the attention on the offensive players in this class, it can be easy to overlook the defenders whose job it is to keep the puck out of the net.
Goalie isn't an especially deep position in this year's class, which could make someone like Yaroslav Askarov more valuable to teams looking to find a long-term answer in net.
Morreale has Askarov ranked No. 11 overall in this draft and sees him as the only first round-caliber goalie in the 2020 draft: "The 17-year-old already is an intimidating presence in net with great poise, athleticism and a quick glove. Askarov was 12-3 with a 2.45 goals-against average and .920 save percentage in 18 games in Russia's minor league."
Looking at potential fits for Askarov, virtually every team that would have a high pick if the draft lottery goes chalk needs help at goalie. The Red Wings, Senators, New Jersey Devils and San Jose Sharks all rank in the bottom five in goals allowed per game.
The Chicago Blackhawks are in the middle of the pack in goals-against average (3.06), but they may not have their long-term goalie on the roster after they traded Robin Lehner at February's deadline. Corey Crawford is still effective, with a 2.77 goals-against average and .917 save percentage, but he's 35, due to become a free agent and has missed a lot of games in recent seasons because of injury.
Unless the Blackhawks have a plan to address the position in free agency, Askarov's upside makes him too valuable for the franchise to pass up.