NHL Draft fallout w/ Steven Ellis

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I’ve covered draft prospects for a few years now. Each time, it feels like the draft class takes longer and longer, and that’s partly because I start following them in major bantam and minor midget, 3-4 years before most ever get selected.

But the 2020 draft class, truly, couldn’t feel much longer. It didn’t help that the draft was moved to October from it’s usual June date and even worse that the draft took nearly 12 hours to complete seven rounds over two days. Add in the fact that nobody was at the draft in person and the player reactions were so delayed during the broadcast and I’m not sure they could have taken more time to conclude the two-day affair.

The players won’t care, of course: they got drafted to the NHL, realizing a childhood dream. If they had to wait a few more months, they would have taken it if it meant a shot at playing in the NHL. The 2020 class, in particular, was noted early on for being so deep, perhaps the strongest draft class since the mega-2003 year

Alexis Lafreniere was the obvious choice to go first overall to the New York Rangers, with Quinton Byfield and Tim Stutzle going No. 2-3 to Los Angeles and Ottawa, respectively. The fun truly kicked off after that, with 217 players having their names called and their dreams realized during a year that can only be described as unconventional.

Once the draft concluded, fans and media alike started to debate who the winners and users of the draft were. Many people were going just off of public draft rankings without seeing the players prior, so I wanted to take a look from someone who has followed the majority of the players for years. I wanted to focus on the teams that got the most for their value – someone people had expected to go earlier in the draft or a diamond in the rough, per se. For the losers, I focused on the teams that didn’t get the best value or took off-the-wall picks in favor of someone more scout-friendly.

I didn’t want to include the Columbus Blue Jackets in the losers category because, while they made the most mind-boggling selection with their first pick in Yegor Chinakhov (someone most people didn’t even have until the sixth round, if that), I didn’t want to penalize them for having just five selections. There wasn’t anything special there, but they typically draft well and weren’t dealt a great hand with a limited selection window (that was originally going to be four picks had they not acquired a third-round pick from Montreal prior to the draft).

Let’s take a look at the winners and losers after the 2020 NHL draft, held across living rooms around the world:

Winners

Los Angeles Kings

The best prospect crop got even better. Quinton Byfield at No. 2 was a no-brainer. Even though they have a strong group of center prospects, Byfield was the best player available and that’s exactly what you chase with the second pick. 

But it’s the value they got after that that really stood out. Helge Grans, a Swedish defenseman, was projected by many to go in the mid-first round, so grabbing him at 35 was a huge plus. Brock Faber was selected 10 picks later and, like Grans, provided tremendous value as a fringe first-round prospect picked midway through the second round. Add in the skilled Kasper Simontaival in the third round, the rugged, versatile Alex Laferriere later on and Martin Chromiak – a projected first-round pick – at No. 128 and value was the name of the game for the Kings.

Snagging the second-best prospect and a host of great value picks is what makes a successful draft. But doing so when you already have a loaded prospect pool to choose from? Give some props to the team led by director of amateur scouting Mark Yannetti, because this group means business. That’s how you rebuild after years of struggles following a run that included two Stanley Cups in three years. Get ready for a few more before you know it.

Minnesota Wild

Speaking of value, holy Marco Rossi, Batman! The Wild had just five selections in the 2020 draft and not one of them was a bad choice. Rossi, the OHL MVP with 120 points this past season, shouldn’t have fallen to the ninth pick, but, yet again, teams are scared to pick 5-foot-9 forwards, no matter how purely skilled they are.

That was a gimmie, but then it got even better on the second day. Marat Khusnutdinov and Ryan O’Rourke, chosen two picks apart in the second round, were viewed as first-round options to many scouts, and while both have some traits to work on, the payoff potential is huge. Daemon Hunt in the third round was also spectacular – had he not missed significant time due to an injury, he’d be a true threat for the first round as a physical, two-way defenseman in the vein of Ryan Suter, who has roamed the Wild blueline for nearly a decade. 

To round it off, Pavel Novak, a forward with the potential to be a reliable third-line forward, was selected with the team’s fifth-round selection. For the Wild, getting so much value, whether they make the NHL in the future or not, has to give the team some hope. Outside of forwards Kirill Kaprizov and Matt Boldy, the Wild didn’t have much in the pipeline to get excited about, but all five prospects selected this week could find their way into the team’s top 10 prospect core before we know it.

Carolina Hurricanes

A year ago, I considered Carolina’s draft to be the best. They got a future No. 2 center in Ryan Suzuki. one of the best goaltenders in Pyotr Kochetkov and a host of depth at every position as the draft went on. So for the Hurricanes to have similar success a year later – after ALREADY boasting one of the more intriguing lineups in the league – Seth Jarvis, drafted 13th overall, could be one of the best goal-scorers in the first round and at that pick, you can’t go wrong. 

Noel Gunler and Vasili Ponomaryov were both potential first-round picks that fell due to size (same goes for ZIon Nybeck, selected 115th overall), while Alexander Nikishin is one of the more underrated defenders in the draft class. Alexander Pashin in the seventh round is one many public internet scouts have shown admiration for, and while his game-to-game consistency and strength away from the puck aren’t perfect, that’s a talented prospect to grab in the seventh round.

The Hurricanes have a bright future ahead of them if they can iron out some deficiencies in the lineup. This was a knockout draft for Carolina – like Los Angeles, every prospect has true potential to make the NHL. That might sound like the case for every NHL team, but as two scouts have told me, “They couldn’t have scored much better than that.” Bravo, Hurricanes.

Real Kyper at Noon

Losers

Ottawa Senators

It’s hard to truly be a loser in a draft where you take the third-best prospect and one of the top two defenders off the board. But other than that, it’s hard to truly get excited about the Senators’ draft. WIth six picks in the first two rounds, you’d think the team would come out a lot better than they did. Let’s be clear – the Senators didn’t have a bad draft, but they didn’t blow anyone away, either. Stutzle was a give-me: if the German wasn’t available, then they’d snag Quinton Byfield, instead. Either way, it’s a win in their books.

Sanderson was a good pick with the fifth pick, but the Senators had a golden opportunity to get the goaltender of their dreams in Yaroslav Askarov. Instead, the Senators added another defenseman to a stable that was in need of help elsewhere and traded for Matt Murray, one of the worst goaltenders in the NHL this season. If they didn’t want to take the gamble on Askarov, then what about two of the best forwards on the market in Alexander Holtz or Marco Rossi? It just seemed weird to take Sanderson when, at best, we’re looking at someone who’ll be a second-pairing defenseman behind Thomas Chabot and Erik Brannstrom.

Ridley Greig was a fine third pick in the first round (although I personally didn’t expect him to go until around 40th). Greig will piss off opponents in a way few in the Sens’ system will. but there were some more skilled forwards they could have taken instead. But it’s the second round when the team started to make some interesting decisions. 

With all due respect to Tyler Kleven, he was not a great pick by the Senators with the 44th selection. He can be so frustrating to watch: he’s got a great shot, but it almost seems like he’s too afraid to use it on a consistent basis. His numbers weren’t great and sometimes it felt like he would get too physical when it wasn’t needed. Who should they have taken instead? Jan Mysak, a skilled goal-scorer from the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs that would have been a fantastic complementary piece, or even goaltender Drew Commesso, the second-best goaltender in the draft. Taking another defenseman – a highly flawed one at that – seemed odd for that pick.

Sens fans won’t be disappointed about the high-end pieces they got, but they left some skill on the table to take on some long-term projects. Fine, but it’s unlikely you’ll get a draft like this anytime soon.

Boston Bruins

Seriously, was Boston’s scouting staff drunk? Like, no, seriously, what was the logic behind some of the picks? I don’t like ragging on prospects because they’re kids. They read people say about them on the internet and bad drafting decisions are not their fault.

But the Bruins had just four picks, and, in at least three of them, you have to wonder what exactly their plan was. The Bruins took defenseman Mason Lohrei with the 58th pick of the draft and, given the only place I saw him ranked at all was 132nd among North Americans in the NHL’s Central Scouting Service (close to 300th overall, if the rankings were consolidated), you have to wonder what they liked so much about him. He’s a 6-foot-4 defenseman who can move the puck, but it’s hard to think he wouldn’t have been available in, say, the fifth round. One NHL scout texted me, “I can tell you something about at least 300 players considered for the draft off-hand, and not one of them includes this kid.”

Their next pick was Trevor Kuntar, a Boston College commit. I didn’t hate it. He plays the physical brand of hockey Bruins fans want and can be a solid fourth liner some day. But then Mason Langenbrunner showed up in the fifth round, and I was baffled. Why? Another big defender, but with rather average numbers in the NCAA and still another year away from going to the NCAA. Wait a second, Jamie Lagenbrunner, the former NHL forward, is a scout with Boston. That’s starting to make a little sense. They selected Riley Duran in the sixth round out of high school, and while picks that late are typically a gamble regardless, he’s a guy I didn’t even have included on my list of 300 prospects to watch.

The Bruins added size to their prospect pool, but I truly can’t see any of the players they selected this week making the NHL. For a team that has struggled to find success in the draft over the past few years and with an aging core to boot, you just have to wonder what the justification was for a few of their selections.

St. Louis Blues

I’ll give them a bit of leeway – they’re a year removed from the Stanley Cup and typically championship teams don’t get the best draft slots.

That being said, the best teams make the most of what they have, and the Blues didn’t do that. Jake Neighbours in the first round is… definitely a selection, and not one I would have made. I have trouble seeing him in anything but a fourth-line role. Sure, he can hit and nobody likes to physically challenge him for the puck, but his playmaking abilities are predictable and nothing that gets me excited for the future.

So the first pick was a bit of a dud, but scouts earn their paycheck with picks later, anyways. And that’s where the Blues started to really fall off the map. I really like Dylan Peterson, one of my favorites from the U.S. National Development Team Program over the past two years. I think he’ll be a worthy middle-six forward with a good frame and a nice power element to his game. But I don’t think any of their other picks have a true shot at the NHL because they focused more on big kids instead of skill. Fine, each team could use a big, strong player to hold the fort in the bottom six, but the Blues could use a bit more skill in the pipeline given their status as a team with one of the weaker prospect bases.

It wasn’t overly bad, per se, but it truly left a lot to desire. A few of their later picks could have been development camp picks in a normal year, at least.

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