It might be several months behind schedule, but the 2020 NHL Draft is here, and it’s spectacular.. ish. Here’s the instant analysis as it happened on the virtual draft floor.
No surprise at No. 1
The New York Rangers made the obvious and intelligent choice to select Rimouski Oceanic winger Alexis Lafreniere with the top overall draft selection after their lottery win back in August. Lafreniere is a potential game changer for the Rangers, who are suddenly oozing with talent after two short rebuilding seasons.
Read more about the fit between Lafreniere and the Rangers if you’re so inclined, here.
The hits keep on coming for the Rangers, perhaps quite literally with their next selection in the first round, Braden Schneider.
Trading up three spots to No. 19 in a deal with the Calgary Flames to nab the Brandon Wheat Kings defenseman — who draws Jacob Trouba as a comparable — the Rangers have earned incredible value on one of the top defenders in the draft on top of adding Lafreniere.
The Rangers are runaway winners of the first round, and continue to soar through their rebuild.
Kings roll with Byfield, leaving Stuetzle to Senators
In terms of intrigue, it began with the Los Angeles Kings on the clock at No. 2. Forgoing the chance to make Tim Stuetzle the highest-drafted German-born player in history by one selection over reigning MVP Leon Draisaitl, the Kings instead went with a special, special athlete in towering Sudbury Wolves centre Quinton Byfield.
Byfield is not quite at Lafreniere’s level in terms of readiness and development, but will soon have an incredible opportunity to cut his teeth behind Anze Kopitar. However he might compare more accurately (and arguably more favourably) to Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Byfield also became the highest-drafted Black player in history, and earned congratulations from Evander Kane, among many.
Congratulations to @byfield55 on his 2nd Overall selection and becoming the highest drafted black player in history.— Evander Kane (@evanderkane_9) October 6, 2020
Meanwhile, Stuetzle had to wait five more minutes to hear his name called, but the ultra-talented forward was given the best introduction so far with Jeopardy host Alex Trebek making the selection in the only way he can.
Stuetzle also threw on the brand-new Senators sweater to celebrate the occasion.
Sens complete haul
Ottawa used its second of two top-five selections on left-handed defenseman Jake Sanderson from the U.S. National Development Program.
The selection was a bit of a surprise given that Jamie Drysdale was still on the board, but Sanderson probably satisfies one of the many needs in Ottawa slightly better than the incredibly talented right-shot defender from the Erie Otters, who went next to the Anaheim Ducks.
For what it’s worth, Senators GM Pierre Dorion did say in an interview following the pick that the organization believes that Sanderson is the best defenseman in the draft.
Ottawa would later grab centre Ridly Greig at No. 28.
Predators grab the goalie
There were likely quite a few teams hoping that Yaroslav Askarov would fall into their laps, but the next potential superstar netminder, and the latest in a wave of Russian talent between the pipes, belongs to the Nashville Predators.
The Nashville Predators go goalie mode and select Yaroslav Askarov 11th overall pic.twitter.com/PeqEfgf1IV— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) October 7, 2020
Askarov is the highest drafted netminder of the last decade, and the highest drafted Russian-born netminder in history. While he likely needs several seasons of development before reaching the NHL, Askarov figures to allow the Predators to seamlessly transition from the Pekka Rinne era.
Leafs go Rodion
As many most would expect, the Leafs separated themselves from perhaps the typical consensus, drafting Russian winger Rodion Amirov with the No. 15 selection. The pick is not completely off the board, as many top draft analysts had connected Amirov to the Leafs, while slotting him in the mid-to-late first round, anyway. However it did seem somewhat fitting that the Leafs waited until the final seconds to make the pick, ostensibly to be sure a call didn’t come in with a request to trade up.
Kyle Dubas says there were several trade scenarios in play, and which ultimately did not quite materialize, which led to the buzzer-beating selection from the Leafs.— Justin Cuthbert (@jccuthbert) October 7, 2020
As former Kings executive Mike Futa pointed to on the Sportsnet broadcast, the selection probably wouldn’t have been made without the work of Leafs super scout Jim Paliafito. He’s considered the most well connected scout in Russia, and recently helped bring the likes of Ilya Mikheyev, Mikko Lehtonen, and Alexander Barabanov to Toronto.
Naturally, Amirov is a skill-first winger with loads of talent. And it seems he can teach Auston Matthews a thing or.. well maybe just this.
I really like Rodion Amirov— /Cam Robinson/ (@Hockey_Robinson) October 7, 2020
It seemed the Rangers rocked the boat with their trade up to No. 19 to select Braden Schneider, a move that might have triggered two unforced errors. Both the New Jersey Devils and Columbus Blue Jackets followed that pick with selections that left draft analysts scrambling for information.
It started with the Devils leaving heaps talent on the board while springing for a projected second-round selection in Russian defenseman Shakir Mukhamadullin. However, the Jackets did the Devils a major solid with the very next pick, drafting the 30th ranked European skater from NHL Central Scouting, Yegor Chinakhov.
Heard the Rangers believed the Devils wanted Braden Schneider at No. 20, hopped the line and got him one pick earlier.— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) October 7, 2020
Flames trade down twice
Following the strange selections from the Devils and Blue Jackets, the Flames traded down again in a deal with the Washington Capitals before presumably making the selection they were planning on all along, drafting Kamloops Blazers centre Connor Zary.
It was a tidy piece of business in the first round for Brad Treliving, who now has three third-round selections to spend Wednesday.
Best for last
From the Alex Trebek pick to Dylan Holloway being alerted to his draft selection by text message and attempting to play it cool, there were a number of fun and memorable moments from the first-ever NHL draft to be held virtually.
But the very best moment came from the San Jose Sharks with the last pick in the round when Doug Wilson Jr., the team’s director of scouting, made the selection in sign language to make sure that Ozzy Wiesblatt’s mother would be first to know.
With the 31st pick overall, the @SanJoseSharks selected Ozzy Wiesblatt. What a beautiful gesture by the @SanJoseSharks & Doug Wilson Jr by signing Ozzy Wiesblatt’s name, out of respect for his mom who is deaf. So touching, so beautiful and so well done 👌 pic.twitter.com/fW26TBDi1u— Tony Marinaro (@TonyMarinaro) October 7, 2020
The Wiesblatt family was clearly overjoyed with the news, and now the hockey world has been alerted to a truly great story.
.@SanJoseSharks' 31st overall pick Ozzy Wiesblatt has faced countless challenges leading up to the #NHLDraft, but the support & sacrifice of his family have allowed him to live out his dreams.— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) October 7, 2020
Meet the Future: Ozzy Wiesblatthttps://t.co/YrWKhYIqvH
Presented by @RamTrucksCanada pic.twitter.com/w4wGYR7eix
Max Domi is the biggest name involved in the major trade that served as a tasty appetizer to the opening round of the NHL Draft, but much of the attention is on who the Montreal Canadiens are bringing back in return.
Josh Anderson scored only once in 26 games in an injury-plagued 2019-20 season, but the rough and tumble winger remained an extremely hot commodity into the offseason, mostly because this is a player with a rare skill set and talent base to work from. Anderson is a brute force and a terror on the forecheck, and he’s only two seasons removed from flirting with 30 goals. He will help accentuate the new-found identity of the Canadiens, which is an extremely tough team to play against, while providing some needed scoring ability at the wings.
Anderson may not quite be a comparable offensive talent, but he fits the scheme and situation better than Domi, who couldn’t quite nail down a position in Claude Julien’s lineup, let alone a hard and fast top-six role.
More information on that trade can found here.
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