Lafreniere bound for Big Apple
by Lucas Aykroyd|07 OCT 2020
Alexis Lafreniere  at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship.
photo: Andrea Cardin/HHOF-IIHF Images
Back in January, nobody could have foreseen that the 2020 NHL Draft would be staged virtually in October. However, almost everybody knew who would go first overall.
To the delight of New York Rangers fans, Alexis Lafreniere (CAN) is destined for Broadway.
The 18-year-old left wing, a 2020 World Junior gold medalist and tournament MVP (4+6=10), was selected first overall by Rangers GM Jeff Gorton on Tuesday. With the Rimouski Oceanic, Lafreniere led the QMJHL in scoring (35+77=112). He won his second straight CHL (Canadian Hockey League) player of the year award – a distinction only shared by Sidney Crosby (2004, 2005) – before the coronavirus pandemic ended the major junior hockey season on 12 March.
“He’s willing to do anything to win, putting the team first,” said Gorton. “We feel like he’s got all the tools.”
It’s too early to predict whether Lafreniere will enjoy an NHL career on par with fellow Rimouski alumni like Crosby or two-time Stanley Cup champion Brad Richards. Yet there was no mistaking his family’s pride as Lafreniere’s father Hugo handed him a Rangers cap and jersey to don in their living room. Even though it was disappointing that the draft couldn’t be held in Lafreniere’s hometown of Montreal as scheduled, they made the best of it.
“It’s a big honour for me,” said Lafreniere, the first Quebec-born player drafted #1 overall since Pittsburgh anointed goalie Marc-Andre Fleury in 2003. “Obviously the New York Rangers are a big organization with a lot of history and a lot of great players.”
Lafreniere joins a still-rebuilding Rangers team that just bought out legendary Swedish netminder Henrik Lundqvist. Yet the Blueshirts also boast forwards like 2020 Hart Trophy finalist and 95-point man Artemi Panarin, 41-goal scorer Mika Zibanejad, and three-time IIHF gold medalist Kaapo Kakko (the #2 overall pick in 2019). So Lafreniere will have plenty of talent to feed off.
Quinton Byfield (CAN) went second overall to the Los Angeles Kings. The towering centre, coming off an 82-point campaign with the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves, joined Lafreniere on the World Junior team and had one assist in seven games.
Byfield has elicited comparisons to superstars like fellow King Anze Kopitar and Pittsburgh’s Yevgeni Malkin. In addition, Byfield is now the highest-drafted black player in NHL history.
Alex Trebek, the Ottawa-born host of the long-running TV game show Jeopardy, announced Adler Mannheim’s Tim Stutzle (GER) as the third overall pick to the Senators. Stutzle, a nifty pivot, ties Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl – the reigning Hart and Art Ross Trophy winner – as the highest-drafted German of all time. And when Lukas Reichel – the son of German Hockey Hall of Famer Martin Reichel and nephew of IIHF Hall of Famer Robert Reichel – went 17th overall to the Chicago Blackhawks, that made it the first time in NHL history we’ve seen two first-rounders from Germany.
The Senators acquired the #3 pick from San Jose as a conditional element of the 2018 trade that sent ex-Sens captain Erik Karlsson to the Bay Area.
“What Leon did last season is just unbelievable,” said Stutzle. “There are many kids looking up to him. I think German hockey is definitely going the right way, and I always love to play for Germany.”
Chosen fourth overall, Frolunda Gothenburg’s Lucas Raymond (SWE) continued the great Detroit Red Wings tradition of Swedish draft picks when his name was called by director of amateur scouting Kris Draper.
Raymond thrilled fans in Ornskoldsvik by scoring a hat trick, including the overtime winner, to defeat Russia 4-3 in the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship gold medal game.
With the fifth pick, Ottawa selected defenceman Jake Sanderson (USA) from the University of North Dakota. He is the son of Canada’s Geoff Sanderson, who scored 700 NHL points and won two World Championships (1994, 1997).
Another D-man, the swift-skating Jamie Drysdale (CAN), is bound for the Anaheim Ducks, who chose him sixth from the OHL’s Erie Otters. Anaheim hopes this 2020 World Junior champion can offer value similar to Cale Makar, the Colorado Avalanche’s newly crowned NHL rookie of the year. Drysdale’s parents built a home gym for him in their living room to help him keep fit during the lockdown.
Super marksman Alexander Holtz (Djurgarden Stockholm), who was dubbed the second half of the “Terror Twins” with Raymond, went seventh to the New Jersey Devils.
Picking eighth, the Buffalo Sabres nabbed another sniper in Jack Quinn (CAN). The multi-sport athlete from Cobden, Ontario led the Ottawa 67s in goals (52+37=89).
Marco Rossi (AUT) topped the 67s in points (39+81=120), and he went ninth to the Minnesota Wild. Renowned for his hardcore workout routines, the skillful centre becomes the third-highest Austrian national ever drafted, lower than Thomas Vanek (#5 to Buffalo, 2003) and higher than Michael Grabner (#14 to Vancouver, 2006).
To round out the top 10 picks, Crystal Hawerchuk, the wife of late Winnipeg superstar Dale Hawerchuk, who passed away in August, announced the Jets’ selection of Cole Perfetti (CAN).
The Jets would be ecstatic if this high-IQ centre lives up to the advance billing from his Saginaw Spirit coach Chris Lazary, who recently compared him to 2020 NHL playoff scoring leader Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Perfetti racked up 12 points at the 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, and could have an impact on Team Canada at the 2021 World Juniors in Edmonton.
There was rampant speculation about where Yaroslav Askarov (RUS) – one of the most highly touted goalie prospects in years, sometimes compared to Tampa’s Andrei Vasilevski – would end up. The Nashville Predators took this SKA St. Petersburg product 11th overall
The move raises interesting questions about the long-term goaltending succession in Nashville. All-time franchise leader Pekka Rinne, who was recently named to the IIHF’s All-Decade Team of the 2010’s, ceded his place in this year’s playoffs to fellow Finn Juuse Saros in the post-season. Askarov becomes the highest-drafted goalie since Jack Campbell went 11th overall to the Dallas Stars in 2010.
Two-way centre Anton Lundell (FIN), who owns U18 (2018) and World Junior (2019) gold medals, will get a chance to learn from his idol Aleksander Barkov. The Florida Panthers chose Lundell with the 12th pick.
Unlike many other NHL drafts, there was no flurry of trades during the first round, although big names ranging from Arizona captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Winnipeg sniper Patrik Laine remain in play.
Nationality-wise, the big story was the dominance of Canadian talent. This is how the first-round broke down overall: Canada (19), Russia (4), Germany (2), Sweden (2), USA (2), Austria (1), Finland (1). The last time we saw 19 Canadian first-rounders was back in 2003.
Here are the remainder of the 2020 NHL Draft first-round picks (listed by name, country, position, NHL club, and previous club affiliation). In a game that’s skewing ever younger, it will be intriguing to see how many of these prospects step right in when the NHL kicks off its new season, now provisionally scheduled to start on 1 January, 2021. (The draft continues with rounds 2-7 on Wednesday.)
13. Seth Jarvis (CAN, C, Carolina Hurricanes, Portland Winterhawks)
14. Dylan Holloway (CAN, C, Edmonton Oilers, University of Wisconsin)
15. Rodion Amirov (RUS, C. Toronto Maple Leafs from Pittsburgh, Salavat Yulaev Ufa)
16 Kaiden Guhle (CAN, D, Montreal Canadiens, Prince Albert Raiders)
17. Lukas Reichel (GER, LW, Chicago Blackhawks, Eisbaren Berlin)
18. Dawson Mercer (CAN, C, New Jersey Devils from Arizona, Chicoutimi Sagueneens)
19. Braden Schneider (CAN, D, New York Rangers from Calgary, Brandon Wheat Kings)
20. Shakir Mukhamadullin (RUS, D, New Jersey Devils from Vancouver via Tampa Bay, Salavat Yulaev Ufa)
21. Yegor Chinakhov (RUS, RW, Columbus Blue Jackets, Omsk-2)
22. Hendrix Lapierre (CAN, C, Washington Capitals from Carolina via New York Rangers and Calgary, Chicoutimi Sagueneens)
23. Tyson Foerster (CAN, RW, Philadelphia Flyers, Barrie Colts)
24. Connor Zary (CAN, C, Calgary Flames from Washington, Kamloops Blazers)
25, Justin Barron (CAN, D, Colorado Avalanche, Halifax Mooseheads)
26. Jake Neighbours (CAN, LW St. Louis Blues, Edmonton Oil Kings)
27. Jacob Perreault (CAN, RW, Anaheim Ducks from Boston, Sarnia Sting)
28. Ridly Greig (CAN, C, Ottawa Senators from New York Islanders, Brandon Wheat Kings)
29. Brendan Brisson (USA, C, Vegas Golden Knights, Chicago Steel)
30. Mavrik Bourque (CAN, C, Dallas Stars, Shawinigan Cataractes)
31. Ozzy Wiesblatt (CAN, RW, San Jose Sharks from Tampa Bay, Prince Albert Raiders)