Ranking the Teams That Need Alexis Lafreniere Ahead of Second NHL Draft Lottery

Lyle Richardson@@SpectorsHockeyFeatured ColumnistAugust 7, 2020

Ranking the Teams That Need Alexis Lafreniere Ahead of Second NHL Draft Lottery

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    Petr David Josek/Associated Press

    The eight winners of the 2020 NHL playoffs qualifying round will advance into the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The eight losers, however, will have a chance at winning Phase 2 of the NHL Draft Lottery. The winner will have the opportunity to select Alexis Lafreniere, ranked this year's top prospect by NHL Central Scouting.

    With the NHL schedule upset by the COVID-19 pandemic, this year's draft lottery couldn't be held until the final standings were determined by the playoff qualifying round. As a result, the league announced two draft lotteries, with the first held on June 26 and the second slated for Monday at 6 p.m. ET.

    An as-yet-undetermined club in the qualifying round won the first lottery, necessitating the second lottery involving the eight teams eliminated from the qualifying round. Each club has a 12.5 percent chance to win that pick.

    Lafreniere will be a fine consolation prize for one of those clubs. On June 23, Sportsnet's Emily Sadler described the 18-year-old Rimouski Oceanic left wing as an elite talent. Citing Central Scouting's report, she called him a "complete, NHL-ready player" poised to become "the next elite NHL playmaker."

    Which of the clubs in the qualifying round would be the best fit for Lafreniere? The ideal team won't have a logjam at left wing but will have young centermen he can progress with and good balance overall. His entry-level salary would make him an easy fit with tight-budgeted teams.

    The following is our ranking of the best destinations for Lafreniere ahead of the second draft lottery. Please note the Carolina Hurricanes and Calgary Flames aren't included as they have already advanced from the qualifying round.

14. Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    If the Toronto Maple Leafs win the lottery, Lafreniere would join a core of talented young players. Four of their best players—Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and Morgan Rielly—were first-round draft picks, with Matthews going first overall in 2016.

    However, the Leafs are already top-heavy in gifted forwards. In addition to Matthews, Marner and Nylander, they also have captain John Tavares centering their second line

    The cost of those four forwards in the lineup is more than $40.4 million against the Leafs' salary-cap payroll. It has hampered their efforts to shore up their defense, especially on the right side. Given their pressing blue-line needs and their already deep scoring lines, the Leafs don't need another talented young scorer. 

13. Edmonton Oilers

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    Paul Vernon/Associated Press

    Joining the Edmonton Oilers could be a great situation for Lafreniere. He'd have the opportunity to skate alongside either Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins already skates on the McDavid line, but he would be equally effective on the second line with Draisaitl.

    Lafreniere would be a great fit on the Oilers' scoring lines, but his addition could create a potential long-term salary-cap headache. McDavid and Draisaitl already carry expensive, long-term deals, while Nugent-Hopkins is a free agent next summer and could seek more than his current $6 million per season on his next deal. If Lafreniere quickly develops into a star, he would be in line for a big raise coming out of his entry-level contract.

    The Oilers have more pressing needs, such as bolstering their defense corps and finding a potential replacement for pending free-agent goaltender Mike Smith.

12. Vancouver Canucks

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    If the Vancouver Canucks win the draft lottery, Lafreniere would be the latest addition to their growing crop of exciting young talent. Alongside center Elias Pettersson, right wing Brock Boeser and puck-moving defenseman Quinn Hughes, he could boost an already impressive core of rising stars on a resurgent Canucks roster.

    Versatile forward J.T. Miller is Pettersson's left winger on the Canucks' first line. Head coach Travis Green could be reluctant to break up their chemistry. Tanner Pearson could be dropped from the second line to clear room for Lafreniere to skate alongside center Bo Horvat.

    As great as Lafreniere would be with the Canucks' young guns, they don't need him because they already have three terrific young stars with bright futures. Their biggest need is bolstering a porous defense corps whose shots-against per game (33.3) was the league's fourth-highest.

11. Winnipeg Jets

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    David Banks/Associated Press

    Lafreniere wouldn't have to face the burden of trying to carry the Winnipeg Jets offense by himself. They possess several noteworthy scorers in Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor, Patrik Laine, Nikolaj Ehlers and team captain Blake Wheeler. He'd be allowed plenty of time to adjust and develop his game at the NHL level. 

    Finding a spot on Winnipeg's scoring lines for Lafreniere is another matter. Connor and Laine already hold the top two left-wing positions. Demoting one of them to make room for a talented but inexperienced youngster isn't an ideal solution.

    Unless Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff is willing to trade away Connor or Laine, Lafreniere isn't a need for the Jets right now. They must instead replenish a defense corps decimated since last summer by the departures of Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba and Tyler Myers.

10. New York Rangers

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    Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

    Lafreniere could be a welcome addition to the rebuilding New York Rangers. Despite being eliminated from the playoff qualifying round by the Carolina Hurricanes, the Rangers showed plenty of potential this season.

    The Blueshirts carry a group of budding talent that includes goaltender Igor Shesterkin, defensemen Tony DeAngelo and Adam Fox and right wing Kaapo Kakko. Finding a spot for him, however, would be difficult, as Artemi Panarin and Chris Kreider are their top two left wingers. Having Lafreniere debut on their third line would be a waste of his abilities.

    Should the Rangers win the draft lottery, they might not select Lafreniere. Citing their need for depth at center within the next couple of years, the New York Post's Larry Brooks suggested passing on Lafreniere in favor of Sudbury Wolves center Quinton Byfield.

9. Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Lafreniere would be following in some big footsteps if selected by the Pittsburgh Penguins. The last French Canadian forward they took with the first overall pick was Mario Lemieux in 1984, who became the greatest player in franchise history.

    Joining the Penguins could provide Lafreniere the opportunity to skate alongside Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. With Crosby 33 and Malkin 34, he would become the heir apparent franchise player.

    The Penguins, however, might not be the best fit for Lafreniere. Jake Guentzel already skates on Crosby's left side, while February trade-deadline addition Jason Zucker holds that spot on Malkin's wing. They could opt not to re-sign Conor Sheary and shift Zucker to right wing. The question then becomes if he would seamlessly blend in or perhaps feel too much pressure too early.

8. Florida Panthers

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Lafreniere would be an opportune addition to the Florida Panthers at a time when they could need an offensive boost. Wingers Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov are eligible to become unrestricted free agents in the offseason.

    Hoffman and Dadonov are in their 30s, making them risky, expensive long-term investments. Losing one or both, however, would hurt Florida's scoring depth. But after getting little bang for their buck from signing free agents Sergei Bobrovsky, Brett Connolly and Anton Stralman last summer, the Panthers could seek more affordable offseason additions.

    Winning Lafreniere in the draft lottery, however, would give them a talented, cost-effective young player whose best seasons are well ahead of him. With Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau as their top-line players, Lafreniere wouldn't have to carry the offensive burden.

7. Nashville Predators

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    The Nashville Predators are renowned for their strong goaltending and impressive blue-line depth. Scoring punch, however, has not been their strong suit despite GM David Poile's best efforts to improve it. Winning the first overall pick and selecting Lafreniere could be the answer to Poile's prayers.

    The Predators have never drafted a true offensive star. First-liners Filip Forsberg and Ryan Johansen were acquired via trades. With $72.2 million invested in next season's salary-cap payroll, Poile can't afford to land one via trade or free agency without cutting costs elsewhere.

    Lafreniere's low entry-level salary would make him a great cost-effective addition. With Forsberg the Predators' current first-line winger, the youngster could begin on the second line alongside Matt Duchene and Kyle Turris, bringing a much-needed boost to the Preds' secondary scoring.

6. Minnesota Wild

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    Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

    Since taking over as the Wild GM last summer, Bill Guerin has attempted to reduce his club's bloated salary-cap payroll while restocking the roster with younger, affordable talent. He pared down next season's cap hit to $65.3 million and signed prospect winger Kirill Kaprizov to an entry-level contract. Lafreniere would fit right into Guerin's scheme.

    The Wild need help at left wing. Zach Parise is 36, and his best seasons are behind him. Sophomore Jordan Greenway, 23, has promise, but he's yet to realise his potential. Marcus Foligno and Ryan Donato are best suited for checking-line duties.

    With veterans like Parise, Eric Staal, Ryan Suter and captain Mikko Koivu aging, Lafreniere could quickly take over as the Wild's franchise player. He could be a solid fit alongside top-line right wing Kevin Fiala.

5. Chicago Blackhawks

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    Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press

    Lafreniere would be a good fit in the Windy City. With their glory years well behind them, the Chicago Blackhawks are a team in transition. They've been trying to trim their bloated salary-cap payroll in favor of younger, affordable talent.

    The Blackhawks have Brandon Saad and Alex DeBrincat as their top-six left wingers. Saad, however, is a year away from becoming an unrestricted free agent. Landing Lafreniere would allow them to let Saad depart via free agency next summer or try to trade the veteran winger once the 2020 playoffs conclude.

    Lafreniere could skate on the top line alongside Jonathan Toews and Dominik Kubalik. The Hawks could also have him start on the second line with superstar Patrick Kane. Putting those two together could provide the Blackhawks with a potent one-two scoring punch.

4. Montreal Canadiens

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    The Canadiens have lacked an elite scoring star (especially a French Canadian one) since Hall of Famer Guy Lafleur's heyday 40 years ago. A native of the Montreal suburb of Saint-Eustache, Lafreniere would go a long way toward addressing that need.

    In recent years, the Canadiens have been transitioning toward a younger roster. Lafreniere's elite playmaking skills would make him a terrific fit alongside promising centers Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi as part of their budding talent core.

    The only downside is Lafreniere's arrival wouldn't address the Canadiens' ongoing need for scoring centers, especially on the first line. The stints at center from Jonathan Drouin and Max Domi have been met with mixed results at best. The Habs would have to resist the temptation to do the same with Lafreniere and look instead toward the trade and free-agent markets for quality centermen.

3. New York Islanders

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Lafreniere could bolster the New York Islanders offense. Since Barry Trotz took over as head coach in 2018, they have become a hard-working, defensively sound team. However, their 2.78 goals per game ranked 22nd this season.

    Adding Lafreniere would help to address that issue, especially given the Islanders' salary-cap limitations. They'll need all the affordable help they can get. The cap-strapped Isles have $73.4 million invested in 21 players for 2020-21. Most of that cap space will be taken up re-signing first-line center Mathew Barzal.

    The Islanders could put Lafreniere on Barzal's line or on the second line with center Brock Nelson. Trotz's critics could fear his defensive system might blunt Lafreniere's offensive skill. The Isles coach would expect Lafreniere to work on his defensive game, but he should be wise enough to let him loose on offense.

2. Columbus Blue Jackets

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    Andy Clayton-King/Associated Press

    Since last summer's departures of Artemi Panarin and Matt Duchene, the Columbus Blue Jackets have struggled to score. Their 2.57 goals per game this season ranked 28th. Lafreniere could become the first big offensive star they have drafted since picking Rick Nash first overall in 2002.

    The Jackets win their games with a smothering checking system centered on their blue-line depth and solid goaltending. As we've seen thus far in their qualifying-round series with the Toronto Maple Leafs, that can only go so far without some scoring punch to back it up.

    Lafreniere would immediately fit into the Blue Jackets' top six. He could start on the top line alongside Pierre-Luc Dubois and Cam Atkinson, providing a welcome boost to their offensive attack. He'd also have the opportunity to become their first homegrown star since Nash.

1. Arizona Coyotes

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    Under former general manager John Chayka, the Arizona Coyotes were building a promising core of talent that includes Clayton Keller, Christian Dvorak and Jakob Chychrun. Landing the opportunity to select Lafreniere could prove a welcome distraction from Chayka's recent messy departure. It might even help them re-sign pending free agent Taylor Hall.

    They could use Lafreniere's offensive skills. Before the COVID-19 pandemic derailed the regular season, the Coyotes were in danger of missing the playoffs for the eighth straight season. A lack of scoring punch was to blame, finishing 23rd in goals per game (2.71).

    The Coyotes have never drafted and developed a superstar. As they struggle for relevance in Arizona, Lafreniere could prove to be a franchise savior and someone to market to local sports fans.

                      

    Regular-season stats via NHL.com. Salary info via Cap Friendly.

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