With the draft less than a week away, teams are finalizing their lists and preparing for the first “Virtual Draft” in the history of the NHL. It’s hard to say whether a static salary cap and pandemic related mandates to shed salary will lead to heavy movement on the virtual draft floor, but this years crop has excellent upside and I wouldn’t be surprised if GM’s ultimately decided to stand pat.
With this in mind, allow me to present my personal projection of how the first round of the draft could potentially shake out. Unlike my Draft Rankings, this mock attempts to predict the players the selecting teams might value as opposed to who I believe are the best players available in those slots.
Just remember, if teams go in a different direction come draft day, this list isn’t legally binding………….unless of course I nail it – in which case I’m an expert in General Manager psychology and should probably get hired by an NHL front office.
GARY B: “THE NEW YORK RANGERS ARE ON THE CLOCK……………..”
1.) The New York Rangers select: Alexis Lafrenière – LW, Rimouski (QMJHL)
Despite speculation of possibly trading the pick to address a lack of center depth, the Blueshirts tune out the chatter and select first-overall for only the second time in their 94-year history. In Lafrenière, the Rangers receive a player whose vision and skill are only superseded by his competitive nature and determination to be a difference maker in big moments. Despite not possessing blazing speed, Lafrenière isn’t deficient in any single area and will make his presence known the second he steps on NHL ice. The Rangers are not only drafting a cornerstone player, but most likely a future captain as well.
2.) The Los Angeles Kings select: Quinton Byfield – C, Sudbury (OHL)
Since committing to re-stocking their farm system, the Kings have acquired some excellent prospects, and are salivating over the chance to draft a player with potentially the highest ceiling in the entire draft. Possessing a dynamicism rarely found in a player of his stature, Byfield’s package of size, skating, and skill makes him truly unique. Some scouts have raised concerns about his shift to shift engagement and awareness, but his ceiling is absolutely tantalizing and King’s fans can rest easy knowing they are selecting a player with the potential to fill Anze Kopitar’s large skates when he finally decides to hang them up.
3.) The Ottawa Senators (via SJS) select: Tim Stützle – LW, Mannheim (DEL)
Stützle joins an already impressive crop of young talent in Ottawa’s system while adding a welcomed element of deadly speed and high-end skill. He is an electrifying player with the puck on his stick who uses his explosive skating and ability to shift gears off the rush to open up passing lanes to teammates and keep opponents on their heels. Although he could stand to push into the interior with more frequency, his ability to make plays at high speed grants him elite upside. Simply put, he has the ability to tilt the ice whenever he hops over the boards.
4.) The Detroit Red Wings select: Cole Perfetti – C, Saginaw (OHL)
Steve Yzerman has demonstrated that he is more than comfortable reaching for players he covets, so it won’t come as a shock when the Red Wings select a player who may possess the best vision and pure-playmaking ability in the entire draft. Perfetti’s processor is elite and he can elevate his line mates with his heady-puck skills and scoring touch.Although he is not the most fleet of foot, his poise and edgework allows him to evade pressure and work his way into opportune areas. There is some concern over his footspeed and ability to stick at center, but his vision and IQ is almost too advanced for him to not become a difference maker with the ability to make plays that no one can see except him.
5.) The Ottawa Senators select: Jamie Drysdale – D, Eerie (OHL)
With their second pick in the first round, the Senators solidify a potentially dominant defensive core by adding Drysdale to names such as Chabot, Brännström and Bernard-Docker. He is an elite skater with excellent mobility and can play East – West hockey just as well as he can North – South. With respect to his skating ability, Drysdale’s most dangerous weapon is between his ears as his IQ grants him the ability to make sound decisions quickly. Though he most likely won’t be a huge point-producer in the NHL, his smarts and economy of skating could make him an all-situations defender who can put up points eat tough minutes – a must have for teams with postseason aspirations.
6.) The Anaheim Ducks select: Lucas Raymond – LW, Frolunda (SHL)
The Ducks are no strangers to selecting talented Swedes in the first round, so they will have no problem betting on the elite upside of Lucas Raymond. His combination of blazing acceleration and ability to flash high-end skill at top-speed makes him a nightmare to deal with one-on-one and is only made more enticing by his strong shot and commitment off the puck. His first season in the SHL left scouts wanting more, but playing against men as a teenager is a tall order unto itself and a testament to his skill relative to his peers. With the admission that their team is in need of an overhaul, selecting a player with the lofty potential of Raymond is a nice step in the right direction.
7.) The New Jersey Devils select: Alexander Holtz – RW, Djurgarden (SHL)
Already possessing a one-two punch of Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier down the middle, New Jersey looks to add goal scoring on the wing by selecting the deadliest sniper in the draft. Holtz’s explosive release demands the respect of opposing goaltenders who may think about cheating off their near post, so you can imagine the amount of time and space he can open up for his linemates when he streaks down the boards with the puck on his blade. Not just a scoring threat, he has good vision and can find teammates in traffic thanks to his strong hands. He will need to push into the interior more often to maximize his scoring chances in the NHL, but if everything breaks right, the Devils could potentially have a perennial 30 plus goal scorer in their lineup for the next decade.
8.) The Buffalo Sabres select: Marco Rossi – C, Ottawa (OHL)
The Sabres are in desperate need of some forward momentum and a player of Rossi’s caliber falling into their laps could benefit all parties involved. He led the OHL in scoring last season, thanks in part to his outstanding IQ, playmaking ability and tireless work ethic – making him exactly the type of player Jason Botterill would want to help set an example for the rest of his prospects. He is extremely dangerous off the cycle as his hockey sense and strong lower body allows him to protect the puck and roll off pressure to create scoring chances and open up seams to teammates. There is concern as to whether he can be an effective center standing at only 5’9”, but one look at Rossi’s highlights is enough to turn concern into adulation.
9.) The Minnesota Wild select: Anton Lundell – C, HIFK (SM-Liiga)
The Wild currently have one of the oldest cores in the NHL, so it’s easy to see the appeal of adding a player who will require very little time and tutelage to get up to speed. Lundell is a player who is always thinking his way around the ice and positioning himself in the best possible spot to make an impact. Despite not being overly flashy, he is a possession monster who isn’t afraid to unload on the net with a hard and heavy wrist shot. There are questions as to whether he is creative and dynamic enough to be a premier point producer in the NHL, but his frame IQ and defensive acumen grants him an extremely high floor and projects strongly as an impact two-way center in the NHL.
10.) The Winnipeg Jets select: Jake Sanderson – D, U.S. U18 (NTDP)
With the amount of blueline depth the Jets have lost in the last few seasons, a stabilizing presence like Sanderson could be an excellent step on the road back to playoff contention. Although not the most dynamic rear-guard, Sanderson is an elite skater who excels at shutting down transitions in the neutral zone and starting play in the other direction. His game is reminiscent of a Ryan Suter or Ryan McDonagh in that he won’t take over a shift, but he has the potential to eat tough minutes and have an overwhelmingly positive influence over a full 60 minutes – which would make him extremely valuable on any team in the NHL.
11.) The Nashville Predators select: Jack Quinn – RW, Ottawa (OHL)
Despite boasting a fairly balanced roster, the Preds have been starved for offense as of late and could use a player with the excellent scoring touch of Jack Quinn. One of the most prolific goal scorers in the OHL this season, he combines split second decisiveness and a lightning quick release to deadly effect. There is concern as to whether his early birthday factored into his dominance over his peers this season, but it’s hard to argue against the improvements he made to his skating and finishing ability. He has lofty offensive potential in the NHL and could still become a valuable triggerman if he fails to reach his ceiling.
12.) The Florida Panthers select: Dawson Mercer – C, Chicoutimi (QMJHL)
The Panthers are in need of some middle-six punch to help lighten the load of Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau, so adding a versatile, two-way scoring threat with the upside of Mercer seems like a no-brainer. Possessing a tantalizing mix of puck skills and ruggedness, Mercer is a willing competitor all over the ice, both with and without the puck. He has excellent hands and can make plays in tight when heavily draped in coverage. Despite owning excellent tools, he has struggled with consistency and has occasionally left scouts wanting more. Nevertheless, his unique high floor – high ceiling combination could provide Florida valuable versatility while still having the potential to become a home-run pick if everything breaks right.
13.) The Carolina Hurricanes (via TOR) select: Yaroslav Askarov – G, SKA-Neva (VHL)
With an already fully stocked cupboard of prospects, the Canes jump at the chance to solidify their future between the pipes. Goaltending is hardly a science, but no netminder in the draft checks as many of the right boxes as Askarov: He’s big, he’s athletic, he’s controlled and he has an excellent resume against his peers. A difficult stretch of games in this year’s World Junior Championships put a slight damper on his hype leading into the draft, but the Canes are smart enough to not let one underwhelming tournament overshadow a nearly flawless resume. Make no mistake – Askarov is a top-ten talent in the draft and where he ends up has more to do with the team selecting than it does his abilities.
14.) The Edmonton Oilers select: Seth Jarvis – C/W, Portland (WHL)
Whether the goal is to eventually separate McDavid and Draisaitl for a one-two punch or to continue to let them have their way with the opposition, the Oilers would love to insert the speed, smarts and skill of Jarvis into their lineup. He exploded in the back half of his Winterhawks season thanks to his explosive skating, puck skills, non-stop motor and fearlessness when driving into contested ice. There is debate as to whether he can play his high-octane offensive game in the NHL at his current size, but having another player who can live up to the “speed kills” mantra set by the captain would be a welcome addition to the Oilers top-six.
15.) The Toronto Maple Leafs (via PIT) select: Kaiden Guhle – D, Prince Albert (WHL)
Following another disappointing playoff exit, the Leafs have come to realize they simply need to become a tougher group to play against and drafting a defenseman like Guhle could be a good step towards balancing their roster. He shines on the defensive side of the puck as his excellent mobility allows him to quickly close off puck carriers. He isn’t afraid to be physical and uses his strength to clear his crease or separate player from puck when the opportunity presents itself. His offensive upside is fairly limited, but he is a smart defender who could hang with Toronto’s dynamic forwards and provide a different dimension without trying to force a square peg into a round hole.
16.) The Montreal Canadiens select: Braden Schneider – D, Brandon (WHL)
Young talent paid dividends for the Habs in their upset victory over Pittsburgh in the Stanley Cup qualifiers and adding a formidable blue-liner like Schneider can only benefit a team that is starting to come into its own. A “throwback” defender with modern mobility, he anchored the Wheat Kings top pairing this season with steady reliability and a mean-streak to match. His skating and strength makes beating him one-on-one a tall order and allows him to quickly close off puck carriers and lay heavy hits along the boards. Schneider most likely doesn’t possess the offensive skill necessary to be a true number one defender, but his high floor and physicality would add a welcome element to Montreal’s prospect pool – and who better to mentor an imposing young defender than captain Shea Weber.
17.) The Chicago Blackhawks select: Dylan Holloway – C/W, Wisconsin (Big-10)
The Hawks have always had a strong pulse on the NCAA and would likely be impressed by what they saw out of the Badger’s freshman last season on a team that struggled as a whole. Holloway is a powerful skater who plays a diligent and calculated two-way game. Committed to play off the puck, his explosiveness allows him to win puck battles and take play up the ice with speed. Although there are questions about his offensive upside, his athletic toolset is excellent and he grew more comfortable flashing his hands and skill as his season progressed. No matter the case, Holloway’s game is highly projectible and he is a strong bet to be an NHL contributor even if he fails to hit his ceiling.
18.)The New Jersey Devils (via ARZ) select: Rodion Amirov – RW, Tolpar (MHL)
After drafting a sniper with their first pick, the two-way game of Amirov could be very enticing to the Devils with their second. His game already possesses good structure and he never looked out of place when bouncing between the MHL and KHL last season. Possessing fluid footwork and strong puck skills, he is extremely elusive in small areas and can use his hands and feet in concert to evade pressure and create paths to the net for scoring chances. There are questions about his ultimate upside, but flashes of excellent skill and creativity suggests he could land near the top of New Jersey’s lineup if everything breaks right.
19.) The Calgary Flames select: Connor Zary – C, Kamloops (WHL)
For a Flames team that has had trouble getting over the hump and may be questioning the fit of some of their top players, a proven leader and competitor like Zary could help forge a new identity moving forward. A jack of all trades who gets involved all over the ice, Zary parlays compete level, excellent vision and strong skill into a formidable package that helped make the Blazers one of the better teams in the WHL last season. His skating and pace could stand improvement, but his overall toolbox is solid and he possesses many of the intangible assets that teams covet. If they are willing to take the swing on Zary, Calgary could potentially be drafting their future captain.
20.) The New Jersey Devils (via VAN) select: Hendrix Lapierre – C, Chicoutimi (QMJHL)
Having three first round picks grants New Jersey the flexibility to take some risks, and there is no greater risk-reward player in the draft than Lapierre. Possessing high end vision, creativity and excellent playmaking skills, he is arguably one of the most talented pivots in the draft. So what’s the catch? Lapierre has missed considerable time over the last two seasons due to concussion and spine related injuries that has naturally created concern for over his future durability. If the Devils are willing to take the chance, they could potentially nab a player with top-ten talent if he is able to stay healthy moving forward.
21.) The Columbus Blue Jackets select: Noel Gunler – RW/LW, Luleå (SHL)
Despite their excellent team defense, the Jackets could use more offensive firepower in their pipeline and would be willing to take a gamble on a highly skilled yet divisive prospect like Gunler. When engaged, his lightning release, scoring touch and ability to change gears makes him absolutely lethal and allows him to create offense simply by being opportunistic. There are concerns about his engagement level and play off the puck, but if there is a team that could help add structure to Gunler’s already impressive arsenal, it’s Columbus.
22.) The New York Rangers (via CAR) select: Marat Khusnutdinov – C, SKA-1946 (MHL)
The Rangers attempt to address a lack of depth down the middle by selecting one of the most intriguing players in the draft. Khusnutdinov possesses elite feet and lower body drive that allows him to pressure puck carriers and blow by defenders with explosive acceleration. Although he most often plays a sound two-way game, he can flash high end skill to get around opponents and create scoring chances. There are questions as to whether his size will hamper his ability to be an effective two-way center in the NHL, but after watching Brayden Point tear up the playoffs for Tampa, GM’s would be wise to not overlook his motor and strong skill.
23.) The Philadelphia Flyers select: Mavrik Bourque – C Shawinigan (QMJHL)
While the Flyers have some good depth in their pipeline, they could use more high-end skill and not many players in the draft can control the flow of the game quite like Bourque. Possessing 360 degree vision and heady playmaking skills, he stirs-the-drink in the offensive zone with his stickhandling and deception ability. He can open seams to teammates with simple body language or pick corners with a quick and deceptive release. His lack of footspeed and overall pace of play are concerning, but his IQ and scoring touch are high end and amongst the top of the draft.
24.) The Washington Capitals select: Jan Mysak – LW, Hamilton (OHL)
Washington currently possesses one of the thinner prospect pools in the league, so it’s safe to say that they need to make their picks count. In Mysak, they get a player whose explosive footspeed and non-stop motor leads to success all over the ice. His play off the puck is notable for his age and his excellent anticipation makes him a constant scoring threat, especially when short-handed. His overall upside may be limited by a lack of vision and creativity, but his speed, skill and defensive IQ brings a welcomed dimension to a Caps squad that isn’t getting any younger.
25.) The Colorado Avalanche select: Lukas Reichel – LW, Berlin (DEL)
The Avs already possess a litany of young talent, so a smart and adaptable player like Reichel should fit into their lineup quite nicely. A nimble skater with excellent awareness and a swift release, his adaptability and tenacity led to considerable success playing against grown men in the DEL. His hockey sense is strong and allows him to put himself in the best areas to drive positive results for his team. His slight build could make his style of play difficult in the NHL, but his offensive skill set and IQ are a potent combination that could slot in easily throughout a lineup.
26.) The St.Louis Blues select: Brendan Brisson– C, Chicago (USHL)
Despite trading away their last two first-round picks, the Blues have had success in later rounds, so they wouldn’t be afraid to bet on the upside of Brisson. The son of NHL agent Pat Brisson, Brendan is a crafty playmaker who centered the deadliest line in the USHL this past season. On top of his vision and slick passing, he owns and absolute laser of a one-timer that he uses to punish goaltenders from the right circle. There are questions about his pace of play, but his ability to operate and generate offense in tight spaces stands out amongst his peers.
27.) The Anaheim Ducks (via BOS) select: William Wallinder – D, HV71 J20 (Superelit)
With the re-tool underway, the Ducks set their sights on the backend by selecting a talented young defenseman with immense potential. Wallinder possesses everything you could want in a modern defender: he’s big, he’s mobile, he’s strong and he’s confident with the puck on his stick. It’s common place to see him lead rushes and go end to end with his fluid skating. As tantalizing as his toolset is, his game is still raw and his reads in his own end require improvement. If Anaheim is willing to help him further develop his defensive game, they could potentially end up with a defenseman whose presence is felt all over the ice.
28.) The Ottawa Senators (via NYI) select: Jacob Perreault – RW, Sarnia (OHL)
Comfortable with the projectability of their first two picks, the Sens swing for the fences with their third by selecting one of the draft’s most lethal offensive players. Possessing strong puck skills and an absolutely deadly release, Perreault put up 70 points last season despite playing only 57 games. There are concerns about his effort level when the puck isn’t on his stick, but he is unquestionably one of the most talented offensive players in this year’s draft, and could be a home run for Ottawa if they can help him develop the areas of his game that are currently lacking.
29.) The Vegas Golden Knights select: Ridley Greig – C, Brandon (WHL)
The Knights could use more centers in their system and a tenacious pivot like Grieg who plays larger than his size and loves to physically engage fits their identity to a tee. Feistiness notwithstanding, he is a strong skater and possesses underrated vision and skill that allowed him to improve throughout his season with the Wheat Kings. There is concern as to whether he can add enough size to his frame to play his combative style against NHL opposition, but Greig is one of the youngest players in this year’s draft and could become the rare blend of middle-six skill and take-no-prisoners attitude that GM’s and Coaches lust after.
30.) The Dallas Stars select: John-Jason Peterka – LW, Munich (DEL)
Coming within inches of a Stanley cup hurts, but the Stars can at least take solace in knowing they could eventually add the dynamic offensive skill of a player like Peterka to their lineup. Already holding his own against men in the DEL, his ability to handle the puck and shoot while in motion makes him consistently dangerous inside of the offensive zone, as he is an elusive dual-threat player. His size and play away from the puck has created concern about his floor, but his offensive skillset grants him a high ceiling. If he can continue to get stronger and round out his defensive game, his offensive skill alone grants him top six potential in the NHL.
31.) The San Jose Sharks (via TB) select: Tyson Foerster – C/W, Barrie (OHL)
The Sharks are in need of more offensive punch, which makes a talented marksman like Foerster excellent value at the end of the first round. Possessing a howitzer of a shot and the ability to score from the toughest of angles, he is particularly adept at finding uncontested ice and playing in traffic. Scoring prowess aside, he has good vision and playmaking skills that make him a difficult player to defend. His heavy stride and inefficient skating mechanics require improvement, but reports have revealed that he has been working with a skating coach during the pandemic. If he can improve his footwork, Foerster has 30 goal potential in the NHL and could be especially lethal on the powerplay.