With the possibility of an early June draft looking more and more likely, it’s time for teams and their fans to begin their focus on who they might take at the draft this year. The general approach to the draft that most teams publicly take, as well as the one I personally champion, is to always select the best player available. You can address team needs via trade when the time comes; extracting as much value as possible out of the draft should be every team’s primary focus.
With all that said, it would be naïve to really believe that positional factors didn’t play an important factor as teams make their selections, despite whatever they might say after the fact. I attempted to identify the best fit for every team based on their positional needs, as well as some more realistic options based around where each team has the best odds of landing in the lottery. We’re assuming the NHL’s regular lottery system here. If the league does decide to go forward with the early June draft idea, it looks like there will be some tweaks to that system, but it’s too uncertain to say at this point.
This is just one person’s projection– I don’t intently follow any of these teams (I’m an Oilers fan myself, and my primary focus is junior hockey)– and I’d love to hear who the more dedicated fans of each team are hoping their team selects.
Detroit Red Wings
Best Fit: Alexis Lafreniere
They have Dylan Larkin as a clear-cut top centre, but the Wings need an unquestionable star to drive their offence and lead them out of their rebuild. And with Dylan Larkin and Joe Veleno coming down the middle along with Anthony Mantha and Filip Zadina on the right flank but only Tyler Bertuzzi on the left, Lafreniere is a perfect positional fit.
Realistic Fits: Alexis Lafreniere, Tim Stutzle
Detroit has the best odds at the first overall pick, where it’s a foregone conclusion that they will take Lafreniere. If they fall a spot or two in the lottery, Tim Stutzle seems like a natural secondary option. Having established himself as a top three pick in the eyes of the consensus with his WJC performance and high-level play against men in the German DEL, Stutzle played primarily on the left wing this year but has played centre in the past and could potentially slot in at both positions moving forwards, providing valuable versatility to a forward group. He can fill a position of need for the Wings and Steve Yzerman went to the DEL with his top selection in Moritz Seider last year as well.
Best Fits: Alexis Lafreniere, Jamie Drysdale
Owning both their own first rounder and the Sharks pick they got in the Erik Karlsson trade, the Senators have the second and third best individual odds and the best combined chance at the top pick in the 2020 NHL Draft. Ideally, one of those selections will end up being the first one, giving the Senators the offensive star that they desperately lack. With their later pick, I would expect Ottawa to have heavy interest in Jamie Drysdale, a right-shot defender that would fill a significant hole on a Sens’ blueline that already has left-handers Thomas Chabot and Erik Brannstrom.
Realistic Fits: Quinton Byfield, Jamie Drysdale
In our most likely scenario the Senators will pick second and third. The Senators already have players like Colin White, Logan Brown, and Josh Norris that can play down the middle, but nobody in that trio pops outs as a likely future top-line centre. Quinton Byfield, with his 6’4″ frame and elite-level quickness, is a realistic bet not just to be a 1C but a true offensive star as well. And regardless of where their picks fall, I think they’ll be looking for Drysdale with the second one.
Los Angeles Kings
Best Fit: Jamie Drysdale
The Kings have a number of mid-tier defensive prospects like Kale Clague, Mikey Anderson, Sean Durzi, and Jordan Spence, but they lack a top option to be Drew Doughty’s successor one day. A right-shot defender with excellent mobility and a constant attitude of looking to join the rush, Drysdale looks like the perfect guy. If Drysdale is available whenever the Kings are up, he has the #1 upside to fill a need that they’ll need to address at some point in the near future.
Realistic Fits: Jamie Drysdale, Lucas Raymond, Tim Stutzle
The Kings have the fourth best odds at the first overall pick and will most likely end up missing out on Lafreniere and Byfield. Defence looks like their biggest need, but depending on where their odds land they could lose their shot at the Erie Otters defender as well. That wouldn’t be the end of the world for the team: the Kings are just as thin on the right wing, and this class has a number of talented wingers that can play down the right flank– players like Lucas Raymond, Alexander Holtz, Noel Gunler, Seth Jarvis, and Jack Quinn. Of that group, Raymond is the highest on my board. 2021 looks to be very deep on the blueline, so the Ducks may be smart to hold off on that need until a year later. And if Raymond is gone or they value Tim Stutzle as the better winger, they’ll be getting a player that can slot in as a top-line winger on a relatively thin left side or shift over to centre if Alex Turcotte, Rasmus Kupari, Gabe Vilardi don’t pan out as top-six centres or end up on the wing themselves.
Best Fit: Lucas Raymond
The Ducks have Trevor Zegras, Sam Steel, and Isac Lundestrom down the middle and Maxime Comtois, Max Jones, Brayden Tracey, and Jack Kopacka on the left wing. On the right side, Troy Terry is their only real prospect of note that looks like he could be an impact player down the road. Lucas Raymond’s dynamic, high-paced game could click well alongside Trevor Zegras on a potentially dominant future top line.
Realistic Fits: Lucas Raymond, Alexander Holtz
With the depth of this class on the right wing, this year is a prime opportunity for the Ducks to address their most significant prospect need moving forwards. Raymond would be my top option, but scorer Alexander Holtz could find chemistry with playmaking centre Trevor Zegras too.
New Jersey Devils
Best Fits: Alexis Lafreniere, Jamie Drysdale, Lucas Raymond
The Devils have a lot of needs.. They’re set down the middle long-term with Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier, but are limited in the way of impact wingers and defencemen that will still be useful by the time they’re ready to contend again. Luckily, they have three first round picks this year to address some of those needs. They have the sixth best odds at the first overall pick and Lafreniere would be an excellent fit if they get lucky. The winger would give them a potential second superstar alongside Jack Hughes while filling a major need for impact talent on the wing. The ideal outcome with their second selection, originally belonging to Arizona, would be another top three pick where they could add Jamie Drysdale, a potential top-pair right-handed defenceman who could play alongside Ty Smith or anchor a separate pairing in their top-four. The last pick, originally from Vancouver, falls outside the lottery but the ideal fit would be another winger like Lucas Raymond, who plays the opposite wing as Lafreniere. Adding a potential top-line winger on both sides and on the blueline would supplement a system that is already deep at the centre position would be an incredible haul for the Devils.
Realistic Fits: Lucas Raymond, Jake Sanderson, Noel Gunler
The Devils have only the sixth best odds at the top pick, so landing Lafreniere is a long shot. There should still be a number of talented wingers on the board by the time of their first selection, most notably Lucas Raymond. Depending on where their pick falls it’s no guarantee that they still have the opportunity to grab Raymond, but he’s quick enough to play alongside Jack Hughes and has the scoring touch to compliment Hughes’ playmaking game extremely well. New Jersey’s next pick will very likely fall outside of the range where Drysdale will be picked, but American left-shot defender Jake Sanderson could be a match as well. The next best defender on my board behind Drysdale, Sanderson isn’t a right-shot like Drysdale but would set the Devils up extremely nicely down the left side of their top-four for the long-term future. He projects as a minute-munching defenceman that could provide an excellent second element to Jersey’s top-four with his stellar defensive game in comparison to Ty Smith’s more offensive game. The Devil’s last pick is projected to be at 17th overall, where the best option on my board looks to be Noel Gunler. another Swedish right winger with 40 goal upside. His game isn’t as fast-paced as Raymond’s, making him a better fit for Nico Hischier’s flank. With this haul, New Jersey would be setting up both their right wing and left side of their defensive corps with the addition of three very talented players, leaving the left wing and right side of their blueline the only holes left to address (and with Nolan Foote and Damon Severson already in the organization, that leaves only two missing pieces to supplement their extremely young core moving forwards).
Best Fit: Alexis Lafreniere
Similar to many lottery teams this year, the Sabres are in need of additional power on their wings. The best player in the draft would be a great fit on every team, but that need is even more amplified for the Sabres. The Sabres are quite thin down the left side, especially with Jeff Skinner’s struggles since signing a massive deal with the team, and Lafreniere’s powerful game could be excellent besides Jack Eichel.
Realistic Fit: Cole Perfetti
Buffalo’s most likely draft position is 7th overall, where it’s likely that they will have missed out on top wingers like Lucas Raymond and Tim Stutzle, but will still have a number of talented wingers available to them. I can see Alexander Holtz being strongly considered, but with Victor Olofsson and Jeff Skinner already on the wings for the long-term future, there could be a desire in the organization to mix it up with a different archetype of winger. Perfetti is still an excellent scorer, tallying 37 goals in consecutive seasons for Saginaw of the Ontario Hockey League, but added a lethal playmaking element to his repertoire this year and has developed into one of the premier dual-threat attackers in the draft.
Best Fit: Jamie Drysdale
The Habs seem to have finally addressed the centre position with the addition of players like Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Nick Suzuki, Ryan Poehling through the draft and Max Domi via trade, so the major need on their roster has shifted to the blueline. Shea Weber and Jeff Petry are getting up there in age, and there’s a point where the team will need to line up new top blueline options for the future. Jamie Drysdale would be an excellent successor for Shea Weber, projecting as a legit top-pair blueliner that can play big minutes and drive a top pair.
Realistic Fits: Jake Sanderson, Marco Rossi
The Canadiens have a more immediate need for left-handed defenders to play beside Weber and Petry. I’m not sure Sanderson is the answer– he’s off to the University of North Dakota next season and I’m not convinced that he’ll be a one-and-done (and if he is, it’s lofty to expect him to be ready for a top-four role immediately), but he’d provide another future left-side option along with Alexander Romanov. And with his stellar and physical two-way game, Sanderson could potentially bring a somewhat similar element to replace Shea Weber as he eventually fades out of the NHL, albeit from the left side. If Sanderson is off the board or Montreal opts for a different direction with their selection, Ottawa 67’s centre Marco Rossi could be of interest as well. His offensive upside is greater than Kotkaniemi’s and he would likely supercede the Finn as the Hab’s top-line pivot of the future, allowing them to use Kotkaniemi in a more two-way role and push Nick Suzuki to the wing for good, a position where he seems to be more comfortable at the NHL level.
Best Fit: Yaroslav Askarov
The Blackhawks don’t look to be too far from pulling out of the rebuild, holding high-end talent as just about every position. Jake Sanderson could potentially be a fit as the Hawks don’t boast any top defensive propects on the left side, but they have enough relatively young NHL talent (Olli Maatta, Calvin de Haan) as well as mid-tier prospect depth (Chad Krys, Lucas Carlsson, Alex Vlasic) at that position for it to not be a screaming need. One thing the Blackhawks will need to do at some point in the near future is queue up a replacement for 35-year-old Corey Crawford, and there’s an exceptional opportunity for them to do so in this draft in the form of Russian goaltender Yaroslav Askarov. About as sure of a bet to be a high-end NHL starter as you’ll find in the draft, Askarov could be the Hawk’s anchor in net for the long-term future.
Realistic Fit: Yaroslav Askarov
Chicago’s most realistic outcome at the draft lottery is ninth overall, which would put them in range of Askarov. One of the top wingers– Lucas Raymond, Alexander Holtz, or Cole Perfetti– should still be on the board when they pick, but Askarov would be far from unreasonable at the end of the top ten. Spencer Knight went 13th overall last year, and my feeling is that the general consensus views Askarov as the superior prospect.
Best Fit: Anton Lundell
This fit just seems perfect. Mikko Koivu turned 37 last month and is a long way from the two-way beast he was in his heyday (the Finn remains an excellent defensive player, but his offensive impact has fallen with age), but they should have an opportunity to grab fellow Finnish centre Anton Lundell, who brings a very similar element, to take his role in the top-six at some point in the near future. The Wild lack options in their pipeline to replace Koivu and Eric Staal (35 years old) down the middle– Joel Eriksson Ek hasn’t met expectations, Alexander Khovanov is no sure bet to be a real impactful player, and Adam Beckman looks like more of a winger. Lundell brings a similar stellar two-way style that Mikko Koivu has contributed for the Wild since 2005 and could be the top-line centre that the Wild will desperately need once Eric Staal ages out.
Realistic Fit: Anton Lundell
Assuming no changes to the NHL’s lottery system, Minnesota has an almost 70% chance at ending up with the 11th overall pick. I would expect Anton Lundell to be available at that point– I personally see him as a top five player in this draft, but general discourse and NHL teams don’t seem to agree. Bob McKenzie’s midseason list, which is compiled from a panel of anonymous NHL scouts, had Lundell right at 11th.
Best Fit: Jamie Drysdale
Winnipeg desperately needs defensive help. Josh Morrissey and Neil Pionk are top-four options, but the remainder of the Jets’ blueline is little more than stopgaps. Ville Heinola will be arriving in the next year or two, but the organization could really use another top defensive option. With the addition of another right-shooting defender, the Jets would be setting themselves up for a top-four with two capable left-handers–Josh Morrissey and Ville Heinola- and the same on the right in Pionk and that new acquisition. And as the best right-shot blueliner in the draft, Jamie Drysdale would be the ideal fit here.
Realistic Fits: Anton Lundell, Braden Schneider
Without a stroke of incredible luck, the Jets will be picking long after Jamie Drysdale has been scooped up by another team in the market for the best defender in the draft. After Drysdale, there isn’t much in the way of right-handed defenders worthy of top fifteen picks in this draft. Braden Schneider is recognized by most as the next best player fitting that need, but I would see him as a large reach in the top fifteen– we had Schneider 46th overall in our January Rankings here at the site. If they don’t like Schneider or any of the other right-handed defencemen at the time of their selection, the centre position seems to be the next biggest need for the Jets. Lundell’s two-way game would be a great fit behind Mark Scheifele’s offensive game on the top line, and it would allow Lundell to settle into a role where he excels without putting too much pressure on him to play a more offensive game.
New York Rangers
Best Fit: Quinton Byfield
The Rangers might have the most filled out prospect pools in the league– the primary focus right now is just waiting for those players to mature and grow into impactful NHL players. Another centre wouldn’t hurt: Mika Zibanejad has grown into an elite top-line centre over the past couple years and while Filip Chytil is tracking well, there’s no guarantee that he becomes the top-six pivot that the Rangers are counting on him to become with the current state of their pool. Quinton Byfield could be an excellent fit– he’d give the organization one of the league’s better one-two punches at centre and he could excel in a more friendly role behind Zibanejad as he eases into his NHL career.
Realistic Fits: Anton Lundell, Mavrik Bourque, Noel Gunler
Byfield will almost surely be a top-three pick, selections that the Rangers have only about a 6.5% combined chance of acquiring in the lottery. Their most likely draft spot is 12th overall, where they could have a shot at Anton Lundell if he slips a little. Zibanejad plays a two-way game as well, but his defensive game slipped a little as he took on more of an offensive role for the Rangers this year and the addition of Lundell could allow the Swede to shift into that attack-centric mode full time without having to worry as much about matchups and defensive responsibilities. Mavrik Bourque is the next best centre that I would expect to be available at this point in the draft and he has the upside to slot in as a 2C behind Zibanejad as well. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Noel Gunler here– the Rangers are linked to the Swedish winger more than any other team in the league– who could bring a valuable elite scoring element to the Rangers’ wing. The organization loves their Europeans– they took Kaapo Kakko in the first round last year, Vitali Kravtsov and Nils Lundkvist the year before, and Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil in 2017. They could keep that streak going with Gunler (or Lundell), and the second first rounder that they own would give them more freedom to take Gunler, perceived as one of the riskier prospects in the draft.
Best Fit: Tim Stutzle
The Panthers are in an interesting state: they have Aleksander Barkov holding down the top-line centre spot for the long-term future, top-six depth on the wings in the way of Jonathan Huberdeau, Mike Hoffman, Yevgeni Dadanov, and Brett Connolly, and they look to be set in the net for the next 10-15 years with Sergei Bobrovsky and Spencer Knight. Their focus in the draft should be stocking prospects to replace aging players like Hoffman, Dadonov, Yandle, and Stralman. The Panthers might be enticed to take a defenceman, but I think Tim Stutzle, who brings a dynamic element that the Panthers don’t have a lot of as well as a valuable ability to shift between centre and the left wing that could be valuable to a team like Florida with an uncertain set of needs.
Realistic Fit: Dylan Holloway
Dylan Holloway is similar to Stutzle in that he has a history at centre despite playing the wing this season and could offer a versatile option in the Panther’s top-six at some point in the future. His scoring ability could replace the element brought by players like Hoffman and Dadonov as they age out, and he could potentially slot in as their second-line centre behind Barkov if he begins to get some time with down the middle with Wisconsin (with Alex Turcotte gone, that should be an easier role for Holloway to earn).
Columbus Blue Jackets
Best Fit: Alexis Lafreniere
With Artemi Panarin gone to the Rangers, Columbus could really use an offensive star. Pierre-Luc Dubois seems to be growing into a top-line centre for the team, but I don’t foresee him being the type of player that can take over a game like Lafreniere should be able to. The Quebec winger would fill a need for the Jackets as well, having only Alexandre Texier as a young forward that can play the left wing to replace Gustav Nyquist and Nick Foligno at some point. Unfortunately, Columbus only has a 1% shot at the top pick, so Lafreniere is nothing more than a pipe dream.
Realistic Fit: Rodion Amirov
He won’t be the superstar that can lead Columbus back to consistent contention, but Amirov is a skillful, well-rounded left winger that could bring a lot to Columbus’ top-six at some point. I’m a big fan of his game: he’s an explosive winger that handles the puck very well, can work along the boards, and plays a capable two-way game.
With all of that established, let’s run through a couple mock draft scenarios.
We’ll do two drafts, with a new order determined each time using Tankathon’s simulator. This is who I would project each team to select, not who I would personally take.
- Detroit — Alexis Lafreniere (LW)
- Buffalo — Tim Stutzle (LW/LHC)
- Rangers — Quinton Byfield (LHC)
- Ottawa — Jamie Drysdale (RHD)
- Ottawa (from SJS) — Lucas Raymond (RW)
- Los Angeles — Marco Rossi (LHC)
- Anaheim — Alexander Holtz (RW)
- New Jersey — Jake Sanderson (LHD)
- Montreal — Cole Perfetti (LHC/LW)
- Chicago — Yaroslav Askarov (G)
- New Jersey (from ARI) — Seth Jarvis (RW)
- Minnesota — Anton Lundell (LHC)
- Winnipeg — Braden Schneider (RHD)
- Florida — Dylan Holloway (LW/LHC)
- Columbus — Rodion Amirov (LW)
Buffalo takes Stutzle over Byfield in this scenario, filling a need on their wing. With Jack Eichel as their top-line centre for many years to come, they might be less interested in Byfield than most lottery teams. The Rangers move up all the way to 3rd overall and get their man Quinton Byfield, who should give them a deadly one-two punch at centre for years to come. Ottawa’s worst-case scenario comes true and they fall to 4th and 5th, but they still get Drysdale to stabilize the right-side of their blueline along with Lucas Raymond to bring a dynamic element to their top line. The Kings are adding to a position of strength as they already have Turcotte in the system, but it’s difficult to imagine a scenario where Marco Rossi falls any further than sixth. New Jersey reaches a little more than consensus for Seth Jarvis, but the cream of the crop wingers had already been drafted and I think his second-half push could lead to him going higher than expected. And finally, Minnesota, Winnipeg, Florida, and Columbus all take the fits for them that I outlined above.
- Chicago — Alexis Lafreniere (LW)
- Ottawa (from SJS) — Quinton Byfield (LHC)
- 3. Los Angeles — Jamie Drysdale (RHD)
- Detroit — Tim Stutzle (LW)
- Ottawa — Lucas Raymond (RW)
- Anaheim — Marco Rossi (LHC)
- New Jersey — Jake Sanderson (LHD)
- Buffalo — Cole Perfetti (LW)
- Montreal — Anton Lundell (LHC)
- New Jersey (from ARI) — Alexander Holtz (RW)
- Minnesota — Yaroslav Askarov (G)
- Winnipeg — Braden Schneider (RHD)
- Rangers — Noel Gunler (RW)
- Florida — Dylan Holloway (LW)
- Columbus — Rodion Amirov (LW)
Chicago moves up and gets the top prize. Ottawa secures second overall with San Jose’s pick and grabs Byfield, but their own selection isn’t until fifth overall so they lose Drysdale to Los Angeles, who get their Doughty successor. Detroit looks to Germany with their first rounder in consecutive years, picking Stutzle after the addition of defenceman Moritz Seider last year. With Marco Rossi, the Ducks get a potential top-line centre that gives the organization the flexibility to shift Trevor Zegras to the wing if they so choose. With a crop of Jake Sanderson and Alexander Holtz, the Devils acquire a shutdown defenceman to stabilize their blueline as well as an elite scorer to play alongside Jack Hughes or Nico Hischier. Buffalo obtains Cole Perfetti, who I see as a realistic fit with the team, and Montreal sets up a potential entirely Finnish one-two punch at centre with Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Anton Lundell. Minnesota comes by their goaltender of the future, Winnipeg addresses a gaping hole on the blueline with Braden Schneider, the Rangers go back to Europe once again with Noel Gunler, and Florida and Columbus take their fits again.
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