Alexis Lafreniere, the projected No. 1 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, earned an A rating in NHL Central Scouting's preliminary players to watch list released Monday.
The 6-foot-1, 196-pound left wing could become the third player from Rimouski of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League chosen No. 1 in the NHL Draft. The last one from Rimouski selected No. 1 was center Sidney Crosby by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2005, and before that was center Vincent Lecavalier by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 1998. Lafreniere has 16 points (four goals, 12 assists) and 45 shots on goal in seven games for the Oceanic this season.
The players to watch list is Central Scouting's compilation of top prospects from all the major development leagues throughout North America and Europe. The list is updated throughout the season while scouts travel to evaluate the players live.
[VIEW: NHL Central Scouting Players to Watch list (PDF)]
The players on the list with A ratings are considered potential first-round picks. Players with a B rating are considered possible second- or third-round choices, and those with C ratings are potential fourth-, fifth- or sixth-round selections.
"Alexis Lafreniere is justly viewed as the consensus No. 1 for the 2020 NHL Draft," said Dan Marr, director of NHL Central Scouting. "His play and development over the past two seasons make him worthy of this distinction. Once the 2019-20 season gets underway, there are a number of prospects who will look to challenge to be ranked as the top prospect."
Lafreniere, 17, doesn't expect the pressure as the projected No. 1 pick in the 2020 draft to affect his play during his third QMJHL season.
"There's always a little bit of pressure, but for me it's not the first thing I'm looking at," the Rimouski captain said. "I'm trying to get better every day, every game, every practice. Trying to focus on myself and how I can grow as a player. My offensive game is much better now than it was this time last season."
He was awarded the Michel Briere Trophy as the most valuable player in the QMJHL after scoring 105 points (37 goals, 68 assists) in 61 regular-season games and 23 points (nine goals, 14 assists) in 13 QMJHL playoff games last season.
Lafreniere is one of four players from the QMJHL to receive an A rating, including Chicoutimi center Hendrix Lapierre (5-11, 179) and defensemen Jeremie Poirier (6-0, 199) of Saint John and Justin Barron (6-1, 195) of Halifax.
Center Quinton Byfield (6-4, 215) of Sudbury is one of eight A rated players from the Ontario Hockey League: left wing William Cuylle (6-2, 204) and center Jean-Luc Foudy (5-11, 174) of Windsor, center Cole Perfetti (5-10, 177) of Saginaw, right wing Jacob Perreault (5-11, 200) of Sarnia, center Marco Rossi (5-9, 183) of Ottawa, left wing Antonio Strenges (5-10, 172) of London and defenseman Jamie Drysdale (5-11, 172) of Erie.
The Western Hockey League, who had seven players from the league taken in the first round of the 2019 NHL Draft, has four A rated players, right wing Justin Sourdif (5-11, 173) of Vancouver, and defensemen Kaiden Guhle (6-2, 188) of Prince Albert, Daemon Hunt (6-0, 198) of Moose Jaw and Braden Schneider (6-2, 202) of Brandon.
"There are a few North American prospects who are going to keep the field tight with Byfield, Perfetti, Drysdale, Lapierre, and Guhle leading the way," Marr said. "A preliminary glimpse of the 2020 draft indicates depth and a strong core of draft-eligible defensemen from all leagues. They're all skating, puck-moving, heads-up D-men who are expected to have impact seasons with their clubs."
Center Dylan Holloway (6-0, 192) of the University of Wisconsin is the only NCAA Division 1 player with an A rating. Holloway, a freshman from Calgary, is roommates with fellow freshman Alex Turcotte (Los Angeles Kings, 2019 NHL Draft, No. 5), who was one of a record eight players of the USA Hockey National Team Development Program Under-18 team chosen in the first round of the 2019 NHL Draft.
Center Ty Smilanic (6-1, 170) and defenseman Jake Sanderson (6-1, 186) of NTDP this season earned an A rating.
Among the seven A rated International players, left wing Lucas Raymond (5-11, 170) of Frolunda in the Swedish Hockey League, right wing Alexander Holtz (5-11, 192) of Djurgarden (SHL) and goalie Yaroslav Askarov (6-3, 176) of Neva St. Petersburg in Russia's minor league are the frontrunners.
Askarov could become the first goalie selected among the top five picks of the NHL draft since Carey Price was chosen No. 5 by the Montreal Canadiens in 2005. He has a 2.57 goals-against average and .903 save percentage in six games this season.
"There are a number of prospects who will look to challenge (Lafreniere) as the top prospect with Alexander Holtz and Lucas Raymond leading the way on the International stage," Marr said. "There is one goaltender (Askarov), who is well-known and highly respected. The sky is the limit when it comes to his potential and it wouldn't surprise me if his name is part of this conversation."
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