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World Juniors

Lafreniere leads 2020 NHL Draft prospects to watch at WJC

Canada forward among 10 in tournament who could be selected in first round

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / Staff Writer

The IIHF World Junior Championship traditionally is considered a tournament dominated by the best 19-year-old players not yet in the NHL.

The 2020 WJC could be the exception since many of the best players in the tournament might turn out to be those eligible for the 2020 NHL Draft, to be held at Bell Centre in Montreal on June 26-27.

Alexis Lafreniere, a 6-foot-1, 196-pound forward with Rimouski of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, tops that list and is one of five players for Canada who could be chosen in the first round of the 2020 Draft.

"[Lafreniere] brings the qualities that players require to have success in the NHL today," Director of NHL Central Scouting Dan Marr said. "The two outstanding ones for him are his quickness and his poise. Every part of the game he's composed, he's smart about it, but he's quick and he has speed so he can execute plays. He sees the ice, he reads the play. Everything he does is at a high tempo."

The 2020 WJC will be held in Ostrava and Trinec, Czech Republic from Thursday through Jan. 5, 2020. Canada, which finished sixth in the 2019 WJC, will play in Group B in the preliminary round, along with Czech Republic, Germany, Russia and the United States, with games at Ostravar Arena in Ostrava. Group A consists of Finland, which finished first in 2019, Switzerland, Sweden, Slovakia and Kazakhstan, and will play at Werk Arena in Trinec.

The tournament could have as many as 10 players from five countries selected in the first round of the 2020 Draft. Here's a look at those players (listed alphabetically):

Yaroslav Askarov, G, Russia: The likely backup to Amir Miftakhov, Askarov (6-3, 176) is an intimidating presence with great athleticism and a quick glove. He is 11-2-3 with a 2.38 goals-against average and .922 save percentage in 16 games for SKA-Neva in Russia's second division. He was voted the best goalie at the 2018 IIHF World Under-18 Championship after he had a 2.31 GAA and .916 save percentage in six games, and then helped Russia to first place at the 2020 Hlinka Gretzky Cup after he had a 1.25 GAA and .960 save percentage in four games.

Quinton Byfield, F, Canada: The left-handed center for Sudbury in the Ontario Hockey League is a powerful skater with breakaway speed and an exceptional skill set. He's third in the OHL with 57 points (22 goals, 35 assists) and has 101 shots on goal in 30 games. Byfield (6-4, 215) can overpower goalies with his shot and is relentless in retrieving pucks in the offensive zone.

Nicolas Daws, G, Canada: The 6-foot-3, 202-pound left-catching goalie received a C-rating in NHL Central Scouting's preliminary players to watch list but has been upgraded to a B rating as the season has progressed. He's 13-3-4 with a 2.06 GAA, .939 save percentage and four shutouts in 20 games for Guelph of the OHL.

Jamie Drysdale, D, Canada: In his second season with Erie (OHL), Drysdale (5-11, 176) might be the best defenseman available in the 2020 NHL Draft. Capable of driving play with his skating and elite hockey sense, the 5-11, 175-pound right-handed shot ranks fifth among OHL defensemen with 31 points (six goals, 25 assists) in 29 games. His speed, mobility and agility are all top-notch and he exhibits great poise along the blue line.

Alexander Holtz, F, Sweden: He has eight points (five goals, three assists) and 35 shots on goal while averaging 13:21 of ice time in 21 games for Djurgarden of the Swedish Hockey League. The 5-foot-11, 192-pound right wing plays a smart, tough game and possesses good on-ice vision and technical skills.

Alexis Lafreniere, F, Canada: The 18-year-old left wing has 70 points (24 goals, 46 assists) in 32 games for Rimouski. He won the Canadian Hockey League Player of the Year award last season after he had 105 points (37 goals, 68 assists) in 61 games and scored one goal in five games for Canada at the 2019 WJC. 

Dawson Mercer, F, Canada: He plays a smart, honest game, finishes his checks and is effective on the power play and penalty kill. Mercer (6-0, 181) quickly has ascended the ranks and might be the second-best draft-eligible player in the QMJHL, after Lafreniere. The right-handed shot has 42 points (18 goals, 24 assists), 99 shots on goal, six power-play goals and five shorthanded points (two goals, three assists) in 26 games for Drummondville. 

Jaromir Pytlik, F, Czech Republic: The right-handed center has good size (6-2, 201), puck control and an ability to finish plays. Pytlik is the ultimate playmaker, always looking to create offense, evidenced by his 32 points (14 goals, 18 assists) and nine power-play points (four goals, five assists) and team-high 112 shots on goal in 31 games for Sault Ste. Marie of the OHL. 

Lucas Raymond, F, Sweden: An explosive skater with smooth hands and a fantastic hockey IQ, the left wing has five points (three goals, two assists) and 20 shots on goal in 16 games for Frolunda of the SHL. He likely will play on the same line with Holtz for Sweden. Raymond (5-11, 170) plays a strong two-way game and is a very capable penalty killer who likes to generate offense and make things happen. 

Tim Stuetzle, F, Germany: A hard-working center with exceptional skating, puck skills and vision, Stuetzle (6-1, 185) has 23 points (five goals, 18 assists) in 25 games for Mannheim in Germany's top professional league. He can play all situations, possesses good speed, intelligence and instincts and likely will become the fifth Germany-born player chosen in the first round of the NHL Draft.



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