2020 NHL Draft: Top 10 Americans

The crop of Americans in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft is an interesting group.

They are sandwiched in between what was a great class in 2019, and what appears to be a great class in 2021. When you compare this class to those two classes, it certainly lacks some star power. This year’s class does not feature a bonafide high-end forward prospect like Jack Hughes, Alex Turcotte, or Trevor Zegras. Nor does it feature a Luke Hughes or Aidan Hreschuk, both of whom could be elite prospects on the backend in 2021. Nonetheless, there are some interesting players that are worth taking a look at.

Here are my top 10 American players (with some analysis) in the 2020 NHL Draft:

  1. Antonio Stranges – LW, London (OHL)

Stranges

Antonio Stranges is in the top spot despite having an underwhelming season to date. Coming into the 2019-20 season, many people had Stranges near the top of their first round. Some people (like myself) even had him in their top 10. After posting a line of 13G, 21A, 34 P in 66 games, playing a limited role for London last season, many people expected those numbers to blow up. Stranges was surprisingly left off the Hlinka team for the United States and has not had a great season to date. Through 44 games played, Stranges has only posted a line of 17g-18a-35p. That puts him 17th in points among draft eligibles in the OHL. While he has already surpassed last year’s point total, it is still nowhere close to the expectations he set for himself in 2018-19.

Despite the disappointing season from a statistical standpoint, it would be foolish to write off Stranges. He is undoubtedly still the most skilled American player in this draft. He is one of the best skaters in the class and his unique 10-2 skating style is a joy to watch. He is very agile and can elude defenders with ease. Stranges’ playmaking abilities are just flat-out ridiculous. His ability to handle the puck is unprecedented (just look at the clip below). It is hard to put into words how good he is with the puck. Stranges possesses a deceptive release which you’ll often see fooling the goaltender. Stranges is clearly the most skilled American in the class, but there’s an argument to be made that he’s among the top of the entire class in terms of his individual skill set as well.

A prospect with Stranges’ skill set should really be driving his team’s offense and producing more. Nonetheless, while the production is a concern, Stranges is still the top American prospect in the draft in my book. I have seen Stranges drop extremely far in some rankings, but I am keeping him in the first round for the time being.

2. Jake Sanderson – D, U.S U-18 (NTDP)

Jake Sanderson is one of several dual nationals with the U-18 NTDP this year. He isn’t far off being the top American prospect this season for me, but I have him second for the time being. He is the best the U-18’s have to offer this year. You could make a completely fair case that he is the best American in the class, ahead of Antonio Stranges.

Sanderson is having a good season for the U-18 NTDP. His raw numbers don’t jump off the page, but he isn’t as offensively inclined as someone like Cam York, who played on a stacked U-18 team last year. The U-18 squad this year is not blessed with high-end talent across the board like last year. In 37 games, Sanderson has 4 goals and 15 assists for 19 points. More importantly, he has anchored the blueline for the U-18’s and provided a calm, steadying presence.

When it comes to Sanderson’s game, he’s a mobile puck-moving defenseman. He’s a good skater who makes smart decisions with the puck. Sanderson is very good in transition, making his fair share of controlled exits/entries. Sanderson is an extremely smart player, so rarely will you ever see him make bad decisions with the puck. His defensive game needs some refinement, but almost all defenseman at that age do. I’m not convinced that he will be anything special offensively, but he’s not bad by any means in that regard.

Sanderson (#31) isn’t far from Stranges (#25) at all in my personal ranking. Although I have him ranked at #31, I would be very surprised if Sanderson didn’t go in at least the top-20 of the draft. Bob McKenzie’s ranking (which is a poll among scouts) has Sanderson ranked at #10. I personally believe it is really high, but NHL scouts see otherwise. That’s less of an indictment on Sanderson and just the fact that there are some fantastic players slated to go in the first round of this draft.

3. Thomas Bordeleau – C, U.S U-18 (NTDP)

Thomas Bordeleau is another one of the dual-nationals featuring for the U-18’s this season. He is among the best of the bunch and has been the best draft-eligible forward on the team thus far.

Bordeleau’s production this season has been so-so. There’s a good case to be made that this is the byproduct of the team around him. Bordeleau has posted a line of 15g-21a-36p in 37 games played this season. He’s nearly playing at a point-per-game pace and leads the team in scoring. Bordeleau has been involved in 28% of the team’s goals this season. It’s not great production but it’s also not bad. I’m confident his production would look a lot better had he been on a better team this season.

When it comes to his game, Bordeleau is a highly skilled player. He’s a good, not great skater, but is a dynamic playmaker who uses his agility to make some slick moves and cuts to evade defenders. His ability to pass the puck with precision is elite. Bordeleau has a great shot, and he’s using it a lot more this season (3.24 sh/g this season as opposed to 2.14 sh/g last season). While Bordeleau is only 5’9, he does not make it easy for defenders to knock him off the puck, and I think that is something NHL teams will like.

Bordeleau is ranked in the early second round for me at the moment, and a tier below Stranges and Sanderson. I don’t think he’s a world beater by any means but could see him becoming a solid middle of the lineup player.

4. Eamon Powell – D, U.S U-18 (NTDP)

Eamon Powell might be my favorite American prospect in this class. He is the top right-handed defender for the Americans in this class and is vastly underrated. Some may feel this is a little high, but I like Eamon Powell a lot.

Powell’s raw production numbers aren’t great this season. He has 4g-6a-10p in 33 games for the U-18’s. Those numbers don’t look very inspiring for someone whose game leans towards being more offensively inclined. I don’t have exact tracking data, but in the games I saw, Powell was great at making controlled exits followed by nice plays in the neutral zone. Powell has played a lot of his minutes with the previously mentioned Jake Sanderson, and it has been a solid pairing for the U-18’s this season.

Similar to Sanderson, Powell is another puck-moving defenseman. He is a fantastic skater with great agility, acceleration and a solid top speed. It is extremely fun watching Powell make plays in transition with his mobility. Also, like Sanderson, he’s a very smart player and doesn’t really make bad decisions with the puck. He knows when to take the risks and when not to. Whether it be a stretch pass through the neutral zone or a slick feed in the offensive zone, Powell does a great job passing the puck as well. My only knock is that he gets knocked off the puck too frequently, particularly in the defensive zone due to a lack of strength, though he’ll have plenty of time to bulk up at Boston College.

Looking forward, I can see many people falling in love with Powell as they dive deeper into their draft analysis. While he is entrenched in my second round at the moment, I could easily see him moving up into the back end of the first. I have some additional viewings planned in the near future, with an expanded profile to come after that.

5. Sean Farrell – LW, Chicago (USHL)

Sean Farrell is someone who I have liked for a while now. He wasn’t talked about much being a part of the stacked U-18 team last year, but his performances this year should warrant getting more attention from the scouting community.

So far this season, Farrell is killing it with the Chicago Steel. He has piled up 13g-31a-44p in 32 games played for them. That’s good enough for second in the entire USHL in scoring. Farrell has had his hand in 25% of all goals that the Steel have had this season. His P/GP rate (1.37) is not far off what the top 2019 USHL prospect Bobby Brink had (1.51). There has been some concerns raised to me about whether Farrell is just piggybacking off of fellow Chicago Steel forward Brendan Brisson, and vice versa. I don’t think this is the case—both players can drive offense.

Farrell

Farrell does everything well, but I’m not sure he’s particularly great at anything. He’s a decent skater who is good on his edges and an extremely smart player who processes the game very well, always finding a play to make. Farrell has a good shot with a quick release (I’d like to see him use it a tad bit more). While some teams may be turned off by his size, I think NHL teams will love that Farrell is always competing and never takes a shift off.

Farrell currently sits in the middle of my second round. I think it’s fair to say he has a good blend of upside and NHL probability. If he continues dominating the USHL like he is, I think I’ll have no choice but to continue moving him up my rankings. Another guy who I wouldn’t be shocked if he ends up in the back end of my first round come June.

6. Brendan Brisson – C, Chicago (USHL)

Brendan Brisson is another one of my favorite prospects in the entire draft. He’s not Bobby Brink, but I get Bobby Brink vibes from Brisson in the sense that he could potentially be a late season riser on draft boards.

Coming into the season, Brisson was a virtual unknown. It wasn’t until the December WJAC that Brisson really put his name on the map. In that tournament, Brisson had 5g-7a-12p in 6 games and was easily the best American player at that tournament. Brisson has carried that great play into the USHL this season. Through 32 games with the Chicago Steel, Brisson has posted 18g-21-39p (1.22 P/GP). That’s good enough for 10th in USHL scoring. Not world beating numbers, but they make Brisson someone you should really keep an eye on.

Brisson is an exceptionally skilled player. He is a dynamic playmaker who is incredibly fun to watch. He is an elite skater and there isn’t much you can say in that department, the guy skates like the wind. Brisson can stickhandle extremely well and makes some plays that make him look like Houdini. He processes the game at a very high level and makes plays the average player will and can not. Brisson completes almost all of his passes and can wire the puck with a hard and accurate shot.

Brisson undoubtedly has some of the highest upside of anybody on this list. I currently have him one spot behind Sean Farrell in my personal ranking, but that will not likely last much longer. He’s far from a finished product and needs a ton of refinement to certain aspects of his game, but he’s one of my favorites in the entire draft.

7. Brett Berard – RW , U.S U-18 (NTDP)

Brett Berard has been the second best draft-eligible forward on the U-18’s this season behind Thomas Bordeleau. He is another player who was practically an unknown coming into this season.

From a production standpoint, Berard has had a pretty good season to date. Berard is third on the U-18’s in scoring behind Thomas Bordeleau and 2021-eligible Matthew Beniers. He has posted a line of 16g-18a-34p in 37 games played. In the games I viewed, including the All-American Prospects game, Berard primarily played on a line with Matthew Beniers and Chase Yoder. I had expected to see Beniers do most of the heavy lifting, but Berard was all over the ice. He has been involved in nearly 27% of all of the U-18’s goals thus far this season.

Berard is an interesting player, being yet another smaller forward prospect at 5’9 155lbs. Berard is similar to previously mentioned Sean Farrell in the sense that he does many things good, but nothing really great. He’s is a good skater who is agile and can be very shifty. He’s got a pretty good shot with a quick release and scores a lot of goals (as evidenced by him leading the U-18’s in goals). Berard handles the puck just fine and can make some slick dishes to his teammates in addition to scoring the goals. He is competing hard on every shift, getting in tenaciously on the forecheck and never giving the opponents a break.

Berard is only a few days away from being eligible for the 2021 NHL Draft. That makes his season even more impressive as he is younger than almost all his peers. I’m not exactly sure what to make of his upside at the moment. I plan to get some more viewings in and eventually come out with a profile with my specificity for Berard in the near future. For now, he’s in the middle of my second round.

8. Ty Smilanic – C, U.S U-18 (NTDP)

Ty Smilanic is someone whom I had some high expectations for coming into the season, but some injuries and other issues have held him back this season. The low-ish ranking has more to do with other players impressing rather than any sort of indictment on Smilanic himself.

Smilanic was one of the better forwards on a not-so-great U-17 team in 2018-19, so naturally there were some expectations for him coming into 2019-20.

When healthy, Ty Smilanic is almost surely the second best forward on the U-18’s behind Thomas Bordeleau. Previously noted injuries have prevented him from being that this season. Having only played in 24 games, Smilanic has tallied 6g-12a-18p. When accounting for injuries and the fact that Smilanic likely hasn’t been in top form much this season, you can understand the so-so numbers. Smilanic really needs to stay healthy and produce down the stretch to regain his draft stock.

Smilanic is undoubtedly the best goal scorer on this U-18 team. He skates fine—not going to leave anyone in the dust, but he does have a powerful stride. The bread ‘n’ butter of Smilanic’s game is his ability to score goals. His shot is a missile—an extremely accurate one. Smilanic’s playmaking isn’t bad by any stretch, he is just usually shooting the puck. His ability to handle the puck is very good, and he can make some sweet moves when he wants to (see below).

Smilanic is a few spots behind Brett Berard in my second round. I had high expectations for Smilanic coming into the season, and I’d be lying if I wasn’t slightly disappointed with how the season has turned out for him. Nonetheless, he could still move up in my rankings with a strong finish.

9. Dylan Peterson – RW, U.S U-18 (NTDP)

I remember when Dylan Peterson (yet another dual-national) was getting top-10 overall hype prior to his draft-minus one season. I have always thought the hype (which has obviously died down) was a little overblown, but I have always liked Peterson as a player.

After having a pretty lackluster season with the U-17’s in 2018-19, I was hoping that Peterson would bounce back in 2019. Unfortunately, that has not been the case thus far. Peterson hasn’t had a great season production wise for the U-18’s. He has only racked up 6g-14a-20p in 35 games played this season. For someone with his tools, I am left desiring a lot more. He has a bunch of raw talent, but the production just hasn’t followed.

Peterson has the tools. He’s got the size (6’4 185lbs) and is a fantastic skater to go along with it. Rather than his skating being all straight-line speed, Peterson is extremely agile for a big man. His ability to handle the puck is fine, but nothing to rave about. Peterson lacks creativity within his game, and it is one of the biggest things holding him back.

I’ve seen some other people say it, and I agree with the notion that Peterson is a project pick at the moment. If he can figure out his offensive game and the production comes along with it—his ceiling is limitless. However, I have seen nothing to suggest that will happen anytime soon. I have him in the beginning of my third round, and that’s the absolute earliest I’d take a shot on him.

10. Luke Tuch – RW, U.S U-18 (NTDP)

Luke Tuch is another player who fits into the recurring theme of “guys who do good but not great things”. He plays a style similar to that of his older brother, Alex Tuch of the Vegas Golden Knights.

Production-wise, neither his U-17 or U-18 season to date has jumped off the page. He is currently posting 13g-11a-24p in 37 games for the U-18’s. Those aren’t particularly great numbers, but I’m also not expecting Tuch to be anything over a point per game. With his style, I just can’t see it.

Tuch is a relatively big player who skates pretty well and is a pain in the butt to play against. He can shoot the puck and score his fair share of goals. He’s alright as a playmaker as he is able to dish the puck out and assist his teammates just fine, but he will make his money in the pros by getting to the front of the net and cleaning up whatever is there. I’m just not sure there is anything in his game that suggests he will be a solid scorer at the next level. I just don’t see it.

I currently have Tuch in the beginning of my third round. Generally, I’d rather stick to different archetype, but I have a soft spot for Tuch. I think he can be an effective bottom-six player at the next level.

As we continue to chug along with the season, look for some of these players to get individual profiles where we divulge into some more specifics!

 

 

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