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Lafreniere headlines 2020 NHL Draft prospects

Left wing draws raves from Gretzky, scouts

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

VANCOUVER -- Alexis Lafreniere of Rimouski in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League will headline a strong class of prospects expected to be available in the 2020 NHL Draft at Bell Centre in Montreal on June 26-27, 2020.

The left wing (6-foot-1, 186 pounds) was awarded the Michel Briere Trophy as the QMJHL's most valuable player after scoring 105 points (37 goals, 68 assists) in 61 regular-season games and 23 points (nine goals, 14 assists) in 13 playoff games this season.

"He's special for sure; a gifted offensive guy who thinks the game very well and is strong on his skates," Troy Dumville of NHL Central Scouting said. "He's only going to get better as next year comes around."

 

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Lafreniere has 185 points (79 goals, 106 assists) in 121 career QMJHL games, averaging 1.53 points per game.

"He reminds me of Gilbert Perreault," Hockey Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky told Sportsnet. "He can skate, handle the puck. He's just around the puck so much. When you have that much puck sense, that much speed, I can see him being a center at the next level."

Lafreniere isn't the only player expected to attract attention in the QMJHL next season. Center Hendrix Lapierre (6-0, 165) of Chicoutimi, right wing Dawson Mercer (6-0, 170) of Drummondville and defenseman Justin Barron (6-2, 192) of Halifax are three blue-chip players projected to go in the first round.

Lapierre was second on the Sagueneens with 45 points (13 goals, 32 assists) and first with 16 power-play assists. Mercer had 64 points (30 goals, 34 assists) in 68 games for the Voltigeurs, and Barron had 41 points (nine goals, 32 assists) in 68 games for Halifax, which finished second in the Memorial Cup.

"The 2020 Draft class is looking like a well-rounded class in that there is a more even spread of talent throughout the leagues than what we've seen the past couple seasons," director of NHL Central Scouting Dan Marr said. "While there is top talent in every draft class, the past couple years have been lean years in certain leagues and in 2020 the initial view is that there is more depth to the Draft and it's spread all throughout North America."

The USA Hockey National Team Development Program Under-18 team may not have as many first-round picks (eight) as it produced this year, but defensemen Jake Sanderson (6-2, 170), Brock Faber (6-0, 188) and Tyler Kleven (6-4, 190) and forwards Ty Smilanic (6-1, 167) and Dylan Peterson (6-4, 185) are potential high selections. 

Video: USA NTDP has eight players chosen in the first round

Sanderson, the son of former NHL forward Geoff Sanderson, is a mobile, puck-moving defenseman with elite skating ability and work ethic. Faber, according to 2019-20 U-18 coach Seth Appert, is strong on his skates and hard to play against. Kleven is a throwback type, capable of a few game-changing hits since he is a physically imposing player, good athlete and competitor.

Smilanic, who had 38 points (20 goals, 18 assists) and eight power-play goals in 54 games for the U-17's, is an elite skater. Peterson, who had 29 points (eight goals, 21 assists) in 53 games last season, is a highly-skilled, point-producing power-forward down around the net.

The Ontario Hockey League players to watch are centers Marco Rossi (5-9, 179), who scored 65 points (29 goals, 36 assists) in 53 games for Ottawa, Quinton Byfield (6-4, 214), who had 61 points (29 goals, 32 assists) in 64 games for Sudbury, and Cole Perfetti (5-10, 185), who finished tied with Florida Panthers forward prospect Owen Tippett for the club scoring lead with 74 points (37 goals, 37 assists) in 63 games. 

Erie defenseman Jamie Drysdale (5-11, 165), who had 40 points (seven goals, 33 assists) in 63 games, could be a top-10 choice.

The Western Hockey League might not have as many prospects at the top of the draft as it did this year, but defensemen Braden Schneider (6-2, 209) of Brandon and Kaiden Guhle (6-3, 187) of Prince Albert are players to watch. Schneider had 24 points (eight goals, 16 assists) and 106 shots on goal in 58 games and Guhle had 17 points (three goals, 14 assists) and 74 shots in 65 games.

There's a strong group of International prospects, including potential top-2 choice Lucas Raymond of Frolunda in the Swedish Hockey League. The right wing (5-10, 165 pounds) had 48 points (13 goals, 35 assists) in 37 games for Frolunda's Under-20 junior team last season before playing 10 games and scoring two goals with the men's team. He had eight points (four goals, four assists) in seven games to help Sweden to its first gold medal at the 2019 IIHF World Under-18 Championship; he scored a hat trick in a 4-3 overtime win against Russia in the championship game.

"Raymond is a highly competitive player with speed and skills," said Goran Stubb, NHL director of European Scouting. "He's always going hard for the puck, makes plays and is a force whenever he's on the ice. He's smart with great offensive instincts and a good understanding of his defensive responsibilities. He's going to be a top-three European prospect for the 2020 Draft."

Right wing Alexander Holtz (6-0, 183) of Djurgarden (SHL), center Anton Lundell (6-1, 183) of HIFK in Liiga, Finland's top professional men's league, and goalie Yaroslav Askarov of SKA-1946 St. Petersburg in Russia's minor league are also considered blue chip prospects. Askarov (6-3, 163) had a 2.31 goals-against average and .916 save percentage in six games to help Russia to a second-place finish at the IIHF World U-18 Championship in April.

 

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