Here is part two in my series ranking the top 31 players eligible for the 2020 NHL Draft.
As you can see, this draft is loaded with center depth and a bit lacking on the back end, so it will be interesting to see if teams swing big on defensemen or if they are content to wait for a 2021 draft that projects to be loaded on the back end.
So, where were we?
20.) KAIDEN GUHLE D – Prince Albert (WHL)
6’2” 186 lbs Shoots: L
Selected first overall in the 2017 WHL Bantam draft, Guhle is one of the better shutdown defenseman eligible for the draft. Possessing excellent skating ability for a player of his stature, he is adept at closing off forwards along the boards and can use his size and long reach to break up plays all over ice. Although not the most brilliant offensive mind, Guhle can make accurate passes to his teammates and does not get rattled when put under pressure on the breakout. The one weapon of note in his arsenal is an absolute cannon of a shot from the point of which he has a knack for getting through traffic. At the end of the day, Guhle’s bread and butter is his defensive play, specifically the way he utilizes his size and active stick in the defensive zone and on the penalty kill. Although a lack of offensive creativity might limit his overall potential, his pure defending ability is amongst the top of the draft and any team that has ever lusted after a Jaccob Slavin or a Marc-Édouard Vlasic would salivate at the chance to draft a composed and polished defender like Guhle.
19.) MARAT KHUSNUTDINOV C – SKA-1946 (MHL)
5’11” 176 lbs Shoots: L
A potential sleeper that has garnered high praise from alternative scouting circles, Khusnutdinov is a highly-skilled center who both attacks and defends at a blistering pace. He is an elite skater who uses his explosive acceleration and speed to win 50/50 battles and drive around defenders. He can give the opposition fits with his ability to change direction on a dime and flash soft hands to work his way through traffic. He is extremely creative and can use his feet to freeze defenders and open passing lanes to his teammates. Khusnutdinov willingly adapts to the situation at hand and will take point on doing the grunt work of getting to the front of the net or digging out pucks for his linemates. Defensively, he uses his strong skating to hound puck carriers and can hold his own against larger opponents in scrums thanks to surprising lower body strength. His lack of size and eye-popping production has raised debate about whether the flashes of high skill will ever translate on a consistent basis to match his defensive abilities. If he is allowed to take the time to refine his game overseas, I believe Khusnutdinov has top-six defensive-center upside in the NHL, It may just take him a while to get there.
18.) CONNOR ZARY C – Kamloops (WHL)
6’0” 178 lbs Shoots: L
A versatile center who plays with an infectious enthusiasm, Zary is a player that steps up in all three zones and instinctively adapts to the situation at hand. His excellent vision and playmaking were put on full display at the 2020 CHL Top Prospects game where he led Team White to victory with a three-point performance. Equally comfortable playing with sandpaper as he is with finesse, he often blends the two to great effect. On the attack he can break down defenses with his strong hands and passing ability or take matters into his own hands with a quick and accurate snapshot. He is quick to recognize plays as they develop and go to the dirty areas around the net to create havoc and capitalize on rebounds. Despite his versatility and strong playmaking, he is an average skater and his explosiveness requires improvement if he wishes to have success at the NHL level. If he can further refine his skating, Zary can potentially become an all-situations middle-six center in the NHL with the kind of leadership intangibles that teams covet.
17.) SETH JARVIS C/W – Portland (WHL)
5’10” 175 lbs Shoots: R
As fleet-of-foot as he is smart, Jarvis is a nimble skater who uses a quick first-step to exploit gaps in coverage and attack the net with his speed and skill. After a slow start to his Winterhawks season, his production exploded in the back half as he finished with 98 points in 58 games. Despite his smaller frame, he is tenacious when battling for possession and uses his agility to spin off of opponents when fighting to get to the dirty areas and funneling play towards the net. Jarvis is extremely dangerous off the rush and can handle the puck at high speed to change his shooting angle or freeze defenders. His situational awareness and skating ability make him an effective penalty killer as it allows him to pressure puck carriers and take away passing lanes. Versatility and strong offensive abilities aside, there is concern that his lack of size and strength will not allow his game to seamlessly adapt to the NHL. In my opinion, his strong skating, vision and instincts projects well as a middle-six offensive player in the NHL – with top-six upside if he can continue to get stronger and more explosive.
16.) JACK QUINN RW – Ottawa (OHL)
5’11” 180 lbs Shoots: R
One of the biggest risers in this year’s draft, Jack Quinn absolutely exploded this season for 52 goals. Possessing a natural scoring touch and excellent anticipation, he uses strong hands, agility and sense of timing to quickly work his way into scoring areas and shoot the puck before the opposition can process what’s happening. His lightning quick release is absolutely deadly and amongst the best in the draft. He uses his edge work to evade pressure in small areas and is particularly adept at elevating the puck no matter how close to the net he finds himself. Quinn is diligent defensively and uses his skating and anticipation to pressure puck carriers and cut down on passing lanes, both at even strength and on the penalty kill. There is concern over his spike in production this year coinciding with his later birthday and power play ice time shared with OHL point leader Marco Rossi, but he has proven to be able to drive his own line. If he can get more explosive and further hone his ability to dictate play to match his finishing abilities, Quinn has the potential to become an elite scoring winger in the NHL.
15.) DYLAN HOLLOWAY C – Wisconsin (BIG-10)
6’0” 203 lbs Shoots: L
A versatile power forward with strong defensive instincts, Holloway’s motor is always revving as he uses his powerful skating to impact play all over the ice. His lower-body strength grants him excellent acceleration and top-end speed that he uses to pressure opponents and rush the puck up the ice. Although he plays a straightforward game, he has surprisingly soft hands which he uses to gain the blueline with control and make plays in the offensive zone. Holloway is diligent without the puck, constantly providing support and outlets as it moves up ice. Defensively, his skating and anticipation makes him a strong penalty killer who can create turnovers with a quick stick and his speed. There is concern that he lacks the creativity and offensive skill necessary to significantly produce at the NHL level, but Holloway’s game is extremely pro-ready and grants him a high floor. If he can continue to refine his offense as he takes on a larger role with Wisconsin, I believe he has untapped offensive potential and could potentially become a middle-six defensive winger that drives possession at a high level.
14.) RODION AMIROV LW – Salavat-Ufa (KHL)
6’0” 177 lbs Shoots: L
A diligent winger with excellent agility, Amirov is a player whose anticipation skills make him reliable without the puck and dangerous when it’s on his stick. He earned a call up to the KHL earlier in the season and though his production was lacking, he was able to compete and make plays against seasoned pros fairly convincingly. He is an incredibly fluid skater who uses lateral mobility and timing to evade pressure all over the ice. He is especially elusive in small areas and can use his feet to find paths to the net before unloading with a quick release or surprise pass to a teammate. What ultimately makes Amirov an enticing player is his ability to quickly transition from sound defense to full press offense. His play without the puck is fairly refined as he uses his skating to hound puck carriers and willingly engages in puck battles and cut down lanes. There are questions as to whether he has the offensive creativity to be a top-six player in the NHL, but the glimmers of ability to cycle offense and maintain possession against KHL pros as a teenager bodes extremely well for his future. If he is allowed to further hone his offense overseas, Amirov has top-six two-way winger upside in the NHL and a high floor even if things don’t ever fully come together.
13.) DAWSON MERCER C – Chicoutimi (QMJHL)
6’0” 180 lbs Shoots: R
A powerful skater with skill and decisiveness, Mercer is always willing to absorb contact in order to make the plays that he wants to make. Equally comfortable scoring as he is dishing the puck, he loves to attack open ice and can beat multiple defenders with slick stickhandling and puck protection skills. He is a strong playmaker who can identify teammates through traffic and will often look them off to freeze the goaltender before moving the puck. If given the opportunity, Mercer has a quick and accurate release that helps him pick corners as he cuts to the net with a strong lower drive. Defensively he utilizes his speed and an active stick to break up passes and pressure attackers at even strength and on the penalty kill. Despite an excellent package of skills and physical tools, there are questions as to whether he is dynamic and creative enough for his game to translate successfully against pro competition. Nevertheless, Mercer’s work ethic is solid and he competes all over the ice. Although it may not be at center, he has extremely high upside and projects strongly as a top-six two-way forward.
12.) NOEL GUNLER RW/LW – Luleå (SHL)
6’2” 174 lbs Shoots: R
Possibly the most polarizing player in the draft, Gunler is a big winger with innate offensive instincts that allow him to score more goals than most of his draft class simply by being opportunistic. A strong skater with explosive acceleration, he was dominant in Sweden’s J20 SuperElit league before graduating to the SHL. His deadly release and ability to shift gears off the rush makes him extremely dangerous as he can seamlessly pass or shoot in stride and beat goaltenders through screens or when clear sighted. A competent playmaker, he uses strong hands and footwork to slow down play and open passing lanes to teammates. Inconsistent engagement and an exclusion from Sweden’s World Junior Championship roster have given scouts and analysts pause about ranking him too highly, but the fact remains that Gunler is arguably one of the most dangerous players in the draft with the puck on his stick. It is possible that teams could live to regret passing over him if they get hung up on his reputation.
11.) JAKE SANDERSON D – United States (NTDP)
6’2” 185 lbs Shoots: L
Mobile, poised and smart: Sanderson’s consensus stock has continued to rise as prognosticators have come to appreciate the value of his balanced game. A two-way defenseman whose excellent skating ability allows him to impact the game in all situations, his efficient stride and strong foot work help him win battles in his own end before quickly counter attacking up the ice with speed. Sanderson won’t break down the offensive zone with his hands and vision, but he uses his strong edge work to walk the perimeter and find lanes to get heavy and low shots through traffic. Mobility notwithstanding, he is smart about picking his spots and doesn’t put his team at risk by needlessly engaging when he is better served standing pat. There are some who believe his lack of vision and offensive instincts limit his overall upside, but his supporters believe that his true value lies in his ability to log heavy minutes reliably and always remain a net positive. If he reaches his potential, Sanderson has first-pairing upside and could become a two-way, all-situations defender in the NHL, not unlike a Ryan McDonagh.