After arguably the worst start to a season in franchise history, it’s looking like the Minnesota Wild could be in for a pretty long year. Yes, Minnesota earned its first win of the season on Monday, but that came against a comically awful Ottawa Senators team. Through six games, the Wild are averaging just 2.33 goals per game while allowing an average of 4.16 goals against. Which is quite bad! The season is still very young, but judging by what the Wild have exhibited in the early going, it’s looking like Minnesota could be a lottery team for the second consecutive season (barring a St. Louis Blues-like turnaround).
If the Wild do continue to flounder, they picked a damn good year to do it. The 2020 NHL Entry Draft will be loaded with elite prospects — a couple of whom may be potential franchise-altering talents. Perhaps the Wild, a team with a knee-deep prospect pool, could be lucky enough to nab one of them. And if not, there are still numerous other promising youngsters who could be available early in the draft.
Lafreniere is the crown jewel of the 2020 draft class. The 6-foot-1, 192-pound forward has been the consensus No. 1 pick of this class ever since he scored 42 goals as a 16-year-old rookie in the QMJHL. The last player to accomplish that feat was some guy named Sidney Crosby.
Lafreniere, now 18 (his birthday was on Friday), is unsurprisingly off to a fantastic start this season. In 10 games for the Rimouski Océanic — Crosby’s old junior club — Lafreniere has collected eight goals and 25 points, which leads the CHL.
While the comparisons to Crosby may be a bit overblown, Lafreniere is an exceptional talent capable of singlehandedly rescuing a suffering franchise. Perhaps a franchise like the Minnesota Wild.
The odds of anyone usurping Lafreniere in the draft rankings are very low. But if there’s one player capable of pulling it off, it’s Quinton Byfield.
Byfield, who won’t turn 18 until August of 2020, has been nothing short of dominant since being selected No. 1 overall by the Sudbury Wolves in the 2018 OHL Priority Selection. The 6-foot-4, 214-pound behemoth averaged close to a point per game as a rookie (29 goals, 61 points in 64 games) and is on pace to average two points per game this season with eight goals and and 19 points in just nine games.
Byfield is very much in the running to be the No. 2 overall pick in this summer’s draft. And after watching him dominate the OHL, it’s not hard to see why.
Perhaps the best European prospect available in this year’s draft, Lucas Raymond continues to dazzle in Sweden. After collecting 13 goals and 48 points in 37 games for Frölunda HC J20 in the SuperElit league, Sweden’s top junior league, Raymond is off to bigger and better things this season as he’s earned more playing time in the SHL. Thus far, Raymond’s statistics don’t jump off the page (one goal and two assists in 10 games), but for a smaller forward playing against grown men, he seems to be holding his own.
Raymond was particularly impressive in this past summer’s Hlinka Gretzky Cup tournament, netting five goals in as many games for a total of seven points. The 17-year-old is a wizard in the offensive zone, and while his shot can be lethal, his vision and relentless puck pursuit are what could really make him a star in the NHL.
When watching Lucas Raymond at international tournaments, you’re more than likely going to hear Alexander Holtz’s name on the broadcast quite frequently. The two formed some dynamic chemistry with one another throughout the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, playing a massive role in Sweden winning the bronze in the tournament. In five games, Holtz netted a pair of goals and seven points, and he probably should have scored even more.
Like Raymond, Holtz is now playing primarily in the SHL for Djurgårdens IF, and he, too, is raising eyebrows in his draft year. Through eight games, Holtz has netted three goals and an assist. Maybe not something to write home about, but impressive for a player of Holtz’s age.
Another highly skilled European skater. Unlike Holtz and Raymond, though, Anton Lundell is making a name for himself in Finland, where he is fresh off an impressive 19-point season with HIFK in Finland’s Liiga. Lundell will be one of the oldest prospects available in this summer’s draft (he just turned 18 earlier this month), but that does not take away from how impressive he’s been playing in Finland’s pro league. Through nine games, Lundell has three goals and an assist under his belt.
You want to talk about a player coming off a monster performance in the Hlinka Gretzky Cup? Look no further than Cole Perfetti. In just five games, the 17-year-old forward collected eight (8!) goals and a total of 12 points, which led Team Canada as they took home the silver medal.
Perfetti’s start to the 2019-20 OHL season hasn’t been quite as unearthly — albeit, it’s still been very good. In 10 games with the Saginaw Spirit, the Whitby, Ontario native has a pair of goals and 12 assists to his credit. Coming off a ridiculous 37-goal campaign in 2018-19, one would imagine it won’t be long before the goals start piling up for the dynamic young forward.
Drysdale has a very real shot at being the first defenseman taken in the 2020 draft. While he isn’t exactly a physical specimen — he measures at just 5-foot-11 and 165 pounds — Drysdale does play a solid 200-foot game not all that dissimilar from NHLers like Jared Spurgeon or Torey Krug.
Like Perfetti, Drysdale had a pretty solid performance in the Hlinka Gretzky Cup as well, posting five assists in as many games. Currently, Drysdale ranks tied for second out of all OHL defensemen with 12 points (two goals, 10 assists) in nine games.
Rossi is an interesting story. A native of Austria, a country not typically known as a hockey hotbed, Rossi chose to cross the pond and play junior hockey in the OHL last season. In his rookie year with the Ottawa 67’s, Rossi netted an impressive 29 goals and 36 assists in 53 games. Rossi’s been tearing it up this season as well, but he was suspended for five games for a dangerous hit on Guelph Storm forward Cedric Ralph.
While the suspension isn’t great, Rossi typically isn’t the type of player to dish out questionable hits. Rather, he plays a gutsy two-way game despite his smaller stature (5-foot-9, 180 pounds). He may not remain a center for his entire hockey career, but he does figure to be a dynamic point producer at the next level.
Perreault was left off Team Canada’s Hlinka Gretzky Cup roster this past summer, which was surprising considering the 17-year-old was fresh off an impressive 30-goal campaign as a rookie for the Sarnia Sting in 2018-19. Regardless, Perreault is back to putting points on the board for the Sting this season with three goals and 10 points in just seven games. He may not have the game-breaking talent that Perfetti, Byfield and Lafreniere possess, but he certainly has the potential to become a very good NHLer given a little extra time to develop.
Another defenseman to keep an eye on. While Barron doesn’t have the creative skill of Jamie Drysdale, he is much larger (6-foot-2, 190 pounds) and plays a more “traditional” style from the blue line. In 68 games with the QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads last season, Barron posted nine goals and 41 points and led all Mooseheads defensemen not named Jared McIsaac (drafted in the second round by the Red Wings in 2018). Not too shabby.
Barron’s game remains a work in progress, but the Halifax native appears to have all the tools necessary in order to excel in the NHL.