Despite missing out on the first overall pick, the draft lottery teams not taking part in the NHL’s return-to-play format have plenty to be hopeful for as an array of talent should be available in the top ten of the draft. Whether they are in the market for a first line center, a perennial 30 plus goal scorer, a dynamic defenseman or a franchise goaltender – plenty of potential lies within the top of the draft. It goes without saying that the likelihood of all the players drafted in the top-ten panning out is slim, but teams will never know unless they take the swing.
10.) ANTON LUNDELL C – HIFK (SM-Liiga)
6’1” 185 lbs Shoots: L
A refined two-way center who is always thinking two steps ahead, Anton Lundell had an impressive season in Finland’s top men’s league where he finished fourth all time in points per-game as a draft eligible player. His anticipation and impeccable positioning allow him to think his way around the ice and consistently find himself around the puck. His game is as straight ahead as it is effective. When he doesn’t have the puck, Lundell smartly positions himself to shut down cycles and cut down on passing options. On the attack he recognizes where he can be most effective early and makes sound decisions to extend play or get the puck to the net. He owns a hard and accurate release that benefits from his split-second decision making and awareness. His defensive recognition grants him a fairly high-floor, but there are scouts who doubt his overall upside due to his lack of agility and overall creativity. Although he may not become a high offense player in the NHL, his awareness and defensive abilities grant him the ceiling of a high-end shutdown center who can drive possession at an elite level.
9.) YAROSLAV ASKAROV G – SKA-Neva (VHL)
6’3” 176 lbs Catches: R
Projecting goaltenders is difficult, but no draft eligible netminder checks as many of the right boxes as Yaroslav Askarov. His international play has been impeccable and he has backstopped Russia to medal finishes in various tournaments. His size and outstanding athleticism is only compounded by his advanced game-sense. Equally powerful and controlled, Askarov constantly processes play and makes adjustments to ensure that he is in optimal position to stop the puck. This proactive awareness helps him seal the bottom of the net and make beating him on cross-slot passes extremely difficult. Accolades aside, Askarov struggled at this year’s World Junior Championship and is occasionally guilty of over adjustment when he would be better served trusting his reflexes. Luckily, most scouts are smart enough not to let one sub-par showing taint an otherwise remarkable resume, and many believe he is poised to be next in line in a wave of young Russian goaltenders who are currently taking over the NHL. Where he is selected in the draft will ultimately come down to organizational need, but Askarov is undoubtedly a top-ten talent.
8.) COLE PERFETTI C/LW – Saginaw (OHL)
5’11” 177 lbs Shoots: L
An absolute wizard with the puck on his stick, Perfetti breaks down defenses with silky hands and ridiculous vision. With the ability to think steps ahead of the opposition, he finished second in scoring in the OHL this season and was absolutely dominant at the Hlinka-Gretzky cup in August where he put up 12 points in five games. Although not the most fleet of foot, his processor is elite and allows him to create more time and space with misdirection than most players can with elusive speed. His hands and edgework help him manipulate the field in front of him, using impeccable timing to delay until the perfect passing window opens. If his vision didn’t make him dangerous enough, he is an excellent finisher with an accurate and quick release. Offensive awareness aside, there are concerns that his lack explosivity hurts his chances of being a truly elite player in the NHL and his future may be strictly as a winger if he makes it that far. Nonetheless, Perfetti may possess the best vision and playmaking skills in the entire draft and teams that pass on him for a safer option may eventually be left kicking themselves.
7.) JAMIE DRYSDALE D – Eerie (OHL)
5’11” 175 lbs Shoots: R
The premier defenseman available in the draft, Drysdale is the next in a line of new-age defenders who are influential all over the ice due to dynamic skating ability. Highly mobile in all directions, his fluid and efficient footwork is made all the more effective by his excellent game sense. With the puck on his stick, he can use his feet to evade pressure up the ice before skirting defenders in the offensive zone with his sublime edgework. Drysdale’s strong hands and vision allow him to find teammates on the breakout, in traffic and from the backend on the powerplay. When defending against the rush, he can quickly and easily gap up on attacking forwards thanks to his lateral agility. For all his puck transporting effectiveness, he can occasionally over commit in his own zone and will need to learn to pick his spots better. Although not the most dangerous scorer himself, Drysdale’s vision and two-way abilities make him an extremely enticing prospect for any team that wishes they possessed a dynamic young defender like a Quinn Hughes, Cale Makar.
6.) ALEXANDER HOLTZ RW – Djurgårdens IF (SHL)
6’0” 192 lbs Shoots: R
Possessing perhaps the best shot in the entire draft, Holtz is a deadly sniper who uses his awareness to put himself in the best position to receive the puck and an explosive release to blow it past goaltenders in one quick stroke. What makes his shot so dangerous is his ability to finish from almost anywhere in the offensive zone. In motion, beyond the circle, near the end boards: almost everywhere is fair game for Holtz as he is adept at taking soft ice before the opposition can realize their mistake. On top of his scoring prowess, he is a strong skater who can make plays of his own if the situation calls for it. Despite acquitting himself admirably in the SHL relative to his age, his shot selection requires refinement and he will need to push into the dangerous areas of the ice with more frequency if he wishes to beat NHL goaltenders with the same consistency. If all goes well, Holtz has perennial 30 plus goal upside at the NHL level, with room for even more if he can find his niche on the powerplay.
5.) MARCO ROSSI C – Ottawa (OHL)
5’9” 183 lbs Shoots: L
Despite giving up a good 7 inches to the player ranked ahead of him, you wouldn’t know it by the way Marco Rossi plays with the puck. Possessing elite edgework and an innate sense of timing, the Austrian teen topped the OHL this season with 120 points. As elusive as he is robust, his low center of gravity and ability to pivot on a dime allows him to protect the puck and open up seams in play so he can find teammates with his excellent playmaking ability. His production is a testament to his versatility as he can finish on both his fore and backhand from either side of the ice comfortably. Although his size hasn’t impeded him thus far, there is concern that his lack of overall explosivity may limit his effectiveness at the pro-level. Nonetheless, Rossi has demonstrated a focus and work ethic beyond his years and has all the skills to become a top line center. Any team that lets his lack of stature overshadow the powerful and skilled package he possesses does so at their own risk.
4.) LUCAS RAYMOND LW – Frolunda (SHL)
5’11” 170 lbs Shoots: R
An elite skater who can flash top-end skill at high speeds, Raymond earned himself a spot in Sweden’s premier men’s league this season, which is a lofty accomplishment for a teenager. Possessing exceptional mobility and hands, he has been absolutely dominant against his peers at the international level alongside countrymen Alexander Holtz. No matter the situation, he can recognize and exploit soft areas in coverage and is equally comfortable facilitating the puck as he is finishing plays with individual skill and creativity. He is a nightmare to deal with one-on-one as he can eliminate threats with dekes before deftly dishing the puck to a teammate or unloading on the net with a quick trigger release. Although his production this season fell victim to low ice time and a disparity in strength, Raymond’s impressive skill and excellent skating ability will only grow more impressive as he matures and adds strength. If everything breaks right, he can become a top line winger in the NHL with the ability to drive a line all by himself.
3.) TIM STÜTZLE C/LW – Mannheim (DEL)
6’1” 181 lbs Shoots: L
Heading up an impressive crop of draft-eligible German players, Stützle is one the best skaters in the entire draft. His explosivity allows him to jump on loose pucks and attack the net with pace while his top-end speed forces the opposition onto their heels. Preferring to work from the walls, he can perform quick cuts and rollouts to buy himself time and space until a passing lane presents itself or he can identify a path to the net. He possesses excellent hands whig he uses to misdirect defenders and make quick passes across the royal road. Although he doesn’t own the hardest shot, he uses his hands and puck skills to shoot through screens and pull goaltenders out of position. He will need to get stronger and get to the middle of the ice with greater consistency in order to reach his full potential, but his success playing against men in the DEL bodes extremely well for a transition to the NHL. If he can add strength to his frame, he projects strongly as a first line playmaking winger that excels in transition.
2.) QUINTON BYFIELD C – Sudbury (OHL)
6’4” 215 lbs Shoots: L
Possessing perhaps the highest upside of any player in the draft, Byfield’s skating ability is exceptional for a player of any size – much less one who is 6’4” and only 17 years old. Add in exceptional vision and playmaking abilities and you have a pivot with the potential to absolutely dominate games both physically and mentally. His explosive acceleration and strong hands allow him to gain the zone with speed while his strength and wingspan make stripping him of the puck extremely difficult. His scoring instincts are high end and he is equally talented at making plays at top speed as he is shooting while in stride. Despite his physical attributes, Byfield often prefers the finesse approach and has on occasion struggled with passivity without the puck. If he can continue to grow more comfortable utilizing all of his physical tools and further refine his defensive play, there is a chance that Byfield could not only become a #1 center, but be considered the best player to come out of the draft when the dust finally settles.
1.) ALEXIS LAFRENIÉRE LW – Rimouski (QMJHL)
6’1” 193 lbs Shoots: L
The crown jewel of this year’s draft, Alexis Lafreniére blends power, elite-vision and excellent puck skills into a dominant package. Equally comfortable breaking down the opposition with his hands as he is with advanced playmaking, his game isn’t deficient in any single area. With the puck on his stick, his quick decision making pulls the focus of the opposition and opens up the ice for his teammates. Lafreniére is a versatile scorer who can undress goaltenders with his hands or beat them clean with a hard and accurate wrist shot. The only two-time CHL player of the year since former Océanic Sidney Crosby, he has a penchant for stepping up in big moments. He led Canada to Hlinka-Gretzky cup gold in 2018 and World Junior Championship gold in 2019 where he was named MVP of the tournament despite missing two prelim games due to injury. Although he may not possess the ultimate upside of fellow draftee Quinton Byfield, Lafreniére easily projects as an elite winger with the ability to elevate any line he is on. His transition to the NHL should be fairly seamless.