It’s a Tuesday night on Oct. 6, 2020. The world is still at a standstill from COVID-19. The NHL is preparing a safe return to regular-season play after pulling off a successful postseason in the bubble. And, despite everything, the 2020 NHL Draft is starting.
Instead of walking through the halls of Bell Centre, players and their families boot up their computers and turn on their webcams for the occasion. In the “new normal,” potential picks still dress in suits and ties and have jerseys on standby as they wait to hear their names called.
Fast forward months later, and prospects have taken several steps toward their NHL dreams. Here’s where the top five 2020 NHL draft picks are now and how they’re faring with their new organizations.
No. 1: Alexis Lafrenière, New York Rangers
When the Rangers’ ping-pong ball declared them winners of the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery, there was no doubt that they’d take Lafrenière, the league’s most highly-touted prospect, to join an already-lethal arsenal that features the likes of Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, Kaapo Kakko and Chris Kreider.
Lafrenière is a product of the QMJHL’s Rimouski Oceanic and has been compared to Sidney Crosby, who also played for the Oceanic before taking over the NHL. His hockey IQ makes him a force at both ends of the ice, and he’s both an elite playmaker and goal-scorer. He also has the size and strength to play well at the NHL level and has the potential to become an elite franchise player.
His rookie season hasn’t gone exactly to plan. Though the 19-year-old is a full-time NHLer and a top-6 forward, he hasn’t had too much luck finding twine. Through 20 games, Lafrenière has three goals and five points and is a minus-6 while averaging 14:49 per game.
It does appear, however, that he’s starting to find his stride. Lafrenière has points in four of his last five games and is riding a three-game point streak. He’s becoming more confident and moving his feet more as he becomes more of a threat on the first line.
“I think I like the way I’ve played recently,” Lafrenière said after practice to kick off the month of March. “I had not the best start, I would say, but I’m getting more comfortable out there. I’m making more plays, so just keep working hard in practices and games. Like I said, I’m getting more comfortable, and that’s a positive for me.”
New York is 7-9-3 to start the season and sits sixth in the East Division. As Lafrenière continues to transition to the big club, expect him to get more comfortable and his scoring totals to rise.
No. 2: Quinton Byfield, Los Angeles Kings
As was the case with Lafreniere, Byfield going second was no surprise. He made history as the highest-drafted Black player in NHL history and is set to be a next-generation center. The Kings are already seeing flashes of major promise from Sudbury Wolves product.
Towering at 6-foot-4, Byfield has been compared to Joe Thornton for his size and ability. He’s a powerful puck-mover and skater with great hands and great scoring sense. He can make highlight-reel plays and make noise on the forecheck while also playing well in his own end.
For the 2020-21 season, Byfield played in the World Juniors for Canada, putting up seven points in seven games (six of those came in one game against Switzerland) to help lead his country to silver.
Despite his production and ability, Los Angeles elected to have him play with their AHL affiliate Ontario Reign for his first pro year. There, he’s getting the opportunity to play top minutes and develop under the leadership of first-year Reign coach John Wroblewski, who has a great resume in regards to player development.
In 10 games with Ontario so far, Byfield has a goal and six points and is currently the team’s first-line center. This is just the beginning for Byfield, who’ll eventually slot in at No. 1 center for L.A.
No. 3: Tim Stützle, Ottawa Senators
One can argue that Stützle is currently the top player from his NHL draft class so far. The Sens made a wise selection when they took the German winger third overall with the help of late Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek and they haven’t looked back since.
Stützle’s been a staple in Ottawa’s lineup this season and hasn’t shied away from putting on a skills competition in the NHL. He has great hands and stickhandling ability that allows him to win battles and generate scoring chances. Stützle’s also an excellent skater who can make clean zone entries and take care of the puck.
The 19-year-old sits second in the rookie scoring race with 14 points through 22 games has points in four of his last five games (that stretch includes a four-game point streak). Playing on the third line, Stützle has shown tremendous chemistry with Drake Batherson and both are breaking out and making the Sens a powerhouse.
He also received a major endorsement from head coach D.J. Smith, who said the freshman “belongs” in the NHL back in January.
No. 4: Lucas Raymond, Detroit Red Wings
Another European talent, Raymond is going to make headlines in Detroit in years to come. Ranked as the fourth international skater in the 2020 NHL Draft, Raymond plays with wisdom beyond his years. He made his SHL debut at the age of 16 and has plenty of experience playing against grown men overseas.
The 18-year-old winger is a dangerous player who benefits from great speed and vision. Raymond doesn’t shy away from generating high-danger chances, and his excellent hands and wicked shot make him a major asset offensively. Defensively, Raymond’s a strong penalty killer, and his intense style helps him win battles and take away the puck
In 34 SHL games with Frolunda HC, he has six goals and 18 points. However, he suffered an arm injury and is expected to be sidelined as he recovers from a procedure to “remove bone fragments.” Detroit GM Steve Yzerman expects him to miss at eight weeks and says the injury won’t be a long-term concern.
No. 5: Jake Sanderson, Ottawa Senators
After winning big with Stützle, the Sens got another top-five draft pick and made the most of it with Sanderson from the U.S. National Team Development Program. The son of longtime-NHLer Geoff Sanderson, he wore the “C” for the USNTDP in 2019-20, registering seven goals and 29 games in 47 games.
The 18-year-old blueliner is a smooth, efficient skater with a great hockey IQ and puck-moving ability. He’s a defensive player first and isn’t afraid to engage in battles for the puck and play in all game situations. When he can, he’ll contribute offensively and is starting to improve that aspect of his game. At the NHL level, he’s expected to log a lot of ice team at even strength and on special teams, while being capable of shutdown play.
Right now, Sanderson is thriving with the University of North Dakota and has two goals and 11 points in 16 games so far. As he builds his game, he’s well on his way to being a top-4 defenseman in the show. In the coming years, he’ll likely become the first player born and trained in Montana to lace ’em up in the NHL.
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How Lafreniere, top 2020 NHL Draft picks stack up so far originally appeared on NBCSports.com