NHL Draft 2020: Ideal Landing Spots for Hendrix Lapierre, Wild-Card Prospects

Megan ArmstrongSenior Analyst IIApril 27, 2020

QUEBEC CITY, QC - OCTOBER 11: Hendrix Lapierre #92 of the Chicoutimi Sagueneens skates prior to his QMJHL hockey game at the Videotron Center on October 11, 2019 in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. (Photo by Mathieu Belanger/Getty Images)
Mathieu Belanger/Getty Images

The 2020 NHL draft features a complex group of prospects.

The headliner is presumptive No. 1 overall pick Alexis Lafreniere.

The 18-year-old left wing for Rimouski Oceanic in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League was named the top North American skater in NHL Central Scouting's final rankings. There seems to be little doubt about Lafreniere and what he will add to an NHL team.

Further down the NHL Central Scouting list are prospects who have much to offer on the professional level but also carry questions with them into the draft, which has been postponed, because of their injury history.

Learn more about Chicoutimi center Hendrix Lapierre, Halifax defenseman Justin Barron and USA under-18 center Ty Smilanic below.

         

2020 Tentative 1st-Round Order

1. Detroit Red Wings (17-49-5)

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2. Ottawa Senators (25-34-12)

3. Ottawa Senators (via 29-36-5 San Jose Sharks)

4. Los Angeles Kings (29-35-6)

5. Anaheim Ducks (29-33-9)

6. New Jersey Devils (28-29-12)

7. Buffalo Sabres (30-31-8)

8. Montreal Canadiens (31-31-9)

9. Chicago Blackhawks (32-30-8)

10. New Jersey Devils (via 33-29-8 Arizona Coyotes)

11. Minnesota Wild (35-27-7)

12. Winnipeg Jets (37-28-6)

13. New York Rangers (37-28-5)

14. Florida Panthers (35-26-8)

15. Columbus Blue Jackets (33-22-15)

16. Calgary Flames (36-27-7)

17. New Jersey Devils (via 36-27-6 Vancouver Canucks)

18. Nashville Predators (35-26-8)

19. Carolina Hurricanes (via 36-25-9 Toronto Maple Leafs)

20. Edmonton Oilers (37-25-9)

21. Ottawa Senators (via 35-23-10 New York Islanders)

22. Dallas Stars (37-24-8)

23. New York Rangers (via 38-25-5 Carolina Hurricanes)

24. Minnesota Wild (via 40-23-6 Pittsburgh Penguins)

25. Philadelphia Flyers (41-21-7)

26. San Jose Sharks (via 43-21-6 Tampa Bay Lightning)

27. Colorado Avalanche (42-20-8)

28. Vegas Golden Knights (39-24-8)

29. Washington Capitals (41-20-8)

30. St. Louis Blues (42-19-10)

31. Anaheim Ducks (via Boston Bruins 44-14-12)

Order based on current standings as seen on Tankathon

             

Hendrix Lapierre, C, Chicoutimi (QMJHL)

Lapierre finished as NHL Central Scouting's 13th-best North American skater despite dealing with one documented concussion and a lingering spinal injury beginning in February 2019, as explored in-depth by The Athletic's Scott Wheeler.

"I wasn't really happy about my start to the year," the 18-year-old said. "I'm a very passionate player and I want to perform and I felt like I wasn't really helping the team. I felt like I would have had success if I didn't develop the injuries."

Lapierre's agent, Philippe Lecavalier, disclosed to Wheeler that "about 15 teams" had called him "asking what was going on" with the Canadian's health.

He was limited to 19 games for the Chicoutimi Sagueneens in 2019-20. He scored two goals and recorded 15 assists. Those marks are an aberration compared to his 13 goals and 32 assists across 48 games in 2018-19. He has not played a hockey game since Nov. 21.

"I tell (NHL) teams I'm coming to camp 100 percent to show them what I'm made of, with something to prove. It's going to give me a boost," Lapierre said. "Even though it was a pretty bad season, I'm really confident for the future. ... I'll show them when I get back."

NHL.com's Mike Morreale agreed, noting Lapierre "may have the highest ceiling of any player projected to go in the first round."

As for which team appears to offer the best situation to Lapierre, the New York Rangers stand out.

They would benefit from adding depth at center, with 27-year-old starter Mika Zibanejad only under contract through 2022 and seven centers scheduled to enter free agency at the conclusion of this season. That group is headlined by Ryan Strome (restricted) and Greg McKegg (unrestricted).

       

Justin Barron, D, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)

Barron was sidelined from Dec. 3 to Feb. 26 with a blood clot issue:

If not for that, the defenseman was on pace this season to match or surpass his marks from last season. He notched nine goals and 32 assists across 68 games for the Halifax Mooseheads in 2018-19 and followed that with four goals and 15 assists across 34 appearances in 2019-20.

"If Barron (6'1", 195 lbs) hadn't missed three months with a blood clot issue, he might have been higher than No. 16 on Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters," The Athletic's Adam Kimelman wrote on April 12. "He returned Feb. 26 and continued to show he's an excellent skater who moves the puck quickly and efficiently. He's expected to improve defensively as he gets stronger."

Because of the 18-year-old's blood clot, a team slotted to pick outside of the lottery in the first round could land a steal. Among them, the Florida Panthers seem to be a fit. Defense is certainly a need in South Florida.

The Panthers signed 33-year-old defenseman Anton Stralman last summer to a three-year pact worth $16.5 million, but the unit still struggled this season by allowing the third-most goals per game (3.25).

By taking Barron, Florida would be playing the long game rather than trying to plug in an expensive veteran and hoping for short-term success.

             

Ty Smilanic, C, USA U18 (NTDP)

Smilanic's 2019-20 campaign was abbreviated to 34 games with the U.S. U18 team and 12 games with the USA National Team Development Program. Overall, he scored 10 goals and tallied 21 assists.

The 18-year-old missed six weeks with mononucleosis, and he missed more time due to a high ankle sprain and broken finger.

"It's unfortunate for someone like me (because) I had a lot of injuries this year and that was going to be a really good opportunity to showcase myself," Smilanic told Mike Chambers of the Denver Post about the uncertain fate of the combine.

Smilanic was 18th among North American skaters on Central Scouting's midterm rankings before dropping to 24th in the final rankings.

The Denver native is committed to play for Quinnipiac University in 2020-21:

Smilanic will benefit from that, as will the team that lands him. His hometown Colorado Avalanche are a keen possibility.

"Coming back home would be cool, being drafted by the Avalanche, but then I also look at, they have some unbelievable prospects and they're such a young team,” he said. "Who knows if being drafted there would even be the best thing for me? But, still, being drafted from my hometown (team) would be awesome."

To Smilanic's point, the Avs drafted 22-year-old center Tyson Jost at 10th overall in 2016. But this is a franchise that hasn't sniffed the Stanley Cup since winning it in 2001, though Colorado has made the playoffs nine times since then.

The Avalanche would benefit from injecting some excitement through a hometown prospect with a lot of promise, and it makes it better that the team won't be dependent on him to compete in the short term because of how deep it is at center.