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A Very Early 2020 NHL Draft Guide for the New Jersey Devils Fan

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With the NHL on pause and the New Jersey Devils nearly locked into a top ten pick, Devils fans can look ahead to the 2020 NHL Draft. This post is a primer of what to know for this year’s draft based on current information, what the draft class looks like, and a list of really cool prospect names.

2020 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game
Left: Quinton Byfield, expected to go #2 in 2020. Right: Alexis Lafrenière, expected go #1 in 2020.
Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

These are not normal times. Thanks to the Coronavirus also known as COVID-19 also known as Worst Thing to Ever Come Out of Wuhan, China, the world of hockey is on hold. The National Hockey League, American Hockey League, Canadian Hockey League (all three major junior leagues), and the Kontinental Hockey League and Youth Hockey League (MHL) playoffs are all on hold. Several other leagues have ended their seasons early, such as the Finnish Liiga, the Swedish Hockey League, the United States Hockey League, and NCAA hockey. International events such as the women’s and men’s World Championships and the World Under-18 Championships are cancelled for 2020. It is very possible that there may not be a conclusion to the 2019-20 campaign anywhere in the world.

However, life and hockey will move on at some point. It is expected that there will be a 2020-21 season and, as such, there will likely still be a draft for this year. And with the New Jersey Devils falling flat on their faces in this past season, the 2020 NHL Entry Draft is one to look out for. With the world of hockey either on pause or over for this season, it is valid to evaluate the draft eligible prospects for this year as they have played nearly their entire seasons. Since there are no actual games but simulations in video games (like this one I started), we at All About the Jersey will be jumping into writing about draft prospects much earlier than usual. If nothing else, we will try to get you, the People Who Matter, hyped up for the 2020 draft class. Especially for the top end of the class.

It remains to be seen when and how the lottery and actual draft proceedings will take place. So the following information is based on what we know currently. Take it with a grain of salt.

The 2020 NHL Draft - The Basic Information So Far

The Originally Scheduled Dates: June 26, 2020 and June 27, 2020

The Originally Scheduled Location: The Bell Centre in Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Can Fans Attend?: Normally, yes. But I would not expect it at this point. It may become a closed event held remotely.

The Devils’ Picks So Far: Here is the current situation pending a NHL Draft Lottery; details come from CapFriendly.

First Round (1 to 3) - New Jersey, Arizona (if they do not win one of the three lottery picks), Vancouver (if they make the playoffs)

Fourth Round (2) - New Jersey, Boston

Fifth Round (1) - New Jersey

Sixth Round (1) - New Jersey

Seventh Round (1) - New Jersey

The Devils have a minimum of six picks for the 2020 NHL Draft with the possibility of adding two more first round selections if conditions are met. The Arizona condition is straight forward. If they do not win a lottery pick, then the Devils will have their first rounder for 2020. If they do win one of the three lottery picks, then the Devils will get their first rounder in 2021 without any conditions or limits. As long as there is a lottery - and there will likely be one if there is a draft - then this is still in play. The Vancouver condition is also straight forward. If they make the playoffs, the Devils get their first rounder. If they do not, then it becomes an unconditional first rounder in 2021. This one is up in the air. It is not known if the NHL will finish out their currently scheduled 82-game regular season, truncate the season, go right to a playoffs - expanded or otherwise, or even continue to play this year. Once the NHL makes their decision on what they will do with 2019-20, then there will be some clarity about this condition.

There is a lot of interest in these first rounders since they will be in very good positions. Based on the current standings, the Devils are 26th in the NHL, Arizona is 22nd, and Vancouver is 20th. Assuming no one below New Jersey or Arizona wins a lottery pick and Vancouver is a playoff team and loses in the first round (they are just outside of the wild card right now), the Devils could pick sixth, tenth, and seventeenth overall in the first round in 2020.

These spots are not set in stone. If Vancouver is not a playoff team, New Jersey doesn’t get their pick. If they are and win a series (or more), then that pick is moved back as the playoff results drive the selections. If a team below Arizona or New Jersey wins a lottery, then they move back in the draft too. The lottery and what the NHL decides to do will matter a lot to the Devils with respect to the draft. Still, even if the three firsts becomes a ninth, thirteenth, and a twenty-fourth or twenty-fifth overall pick, having three first round selections absolutely makes up for having no second or third rounders.

It also gives the Devils some flexibility for the draft. They could trade one of them down. They could move one for a player. They can package them to move up even further. Or they can keep all three and have three great prospects added to their pool.

How the NHL Draft Usually Works

This is pulled from last year’s guide with some minor modifications.

The Event Process: The 2020 NHL Draft is currently scheduled as a two-day event. There are seven rounds for teams to make selections. Friday night, June 26, will consist of the first round. All teams with first round picks will come to the podium, announce their pick, and allow enough time for the player - if he is there - to come on down from the crowd, come on stage, receive a jersey, and take a photo with his new team. There are 31 first round picks, so the event takes a little over three hours. This will likely be aired on NBC SN and Sportsnet.

The second day is for the other six rounds. On Saturday morning (usually starting around 10 AM EST), June 27, teams will announce their picks from their draft tables, some players may be on hand to meet the teams, but the picks come in more quickly and the selections are registered after a brief announcement. There is far less pomp and circumstance and this is usually aired on the NHL Network as opposed to NBC SN. This does not make the picks any less valuable.

There is no green room or waiting area. As the draft is held at an arena - assuming the 2020 draft will be held in one - there will be a big stage for the podium, a big board to list who has been picked in the round by team above that stage, and all 31 teams will be set up on the floor itself with tables, chairs, and phones. Players and their families and friends are usually sitting in their own sections in the lower bowl. Fans, if allowed to attend, can procure tickets and sit in other sections. The NHL Commissioner, Gary Bettman, usually opens the proceedings with a statement and after he is booed by the fans out of the building, the draft begins.

Trades can and do happen during the draft itself. This will also be announced at the podium if made during the draft weekend. Here is a famous example from 2013.

The Order of Picks: The 2020 NHL Draft Lottery will run three lotteries to determine the top three picks in the first round. All non-playoff teams have a chance to win one of the three lotteries. There is a helpful list of odds for all possibilities for the lottery eligible teams at Tankathon. The pick order is then determined by the worst record first beyond the lotteries. In the other six rounds, the non-playoff teams are decided by record.

The Requirements for a Player to be Drafted: Players must register to be in the 2020 NHL Draft. All 18-20 year old players based out of North American leagues and 18-21 year old players based out of European leagues. All players must be 18 on or before September 15, 2020 or 19 between the days of September 16 to December 31, 2020 to meet the age requirements. Anyone older than those ages can be signed as an unrestricted free agent.

The Rights: While it is common to say that a player is drafted, it is more accurate to say that the team drafted the rights to that player. The team has a window of time to be the only team to secure the player to a contract. Because only rights are picked, the player is eligible to play in the NCAA, go to or stay with their junior team, and even remain with their European professional or youth team.

These rights do not last forever. Teams have up until two years to sign the player to an Entry Level Contract. NCAA players, which have to maintain eligibility, have an exception - their rights are held until 30 days after they leave college. Players that do not sign a contract can re-enter the draft on more time if they are still of age. If they are too old, then they are unrestricted free agents. This happens to unsigned junior players more than European-based players or college players. In effect, drafting a player is only a step before actually bringing them into the organization. The “recruiting,” if you will, continues after the selection to get the player to sign that contract.

Devils Draft Needs and Options in the 2020 NHL Draft

As this is being written before a lottery even took place, it is not known where their picks will be. They may have three first rounders. They will at least have their own and it will be a top-ten pick. This year’s draft class is stacked in the top ten. So much so that I do not think the Devils should entertain options to move their own first round selection. There is a lot of variability between third and tenth overall for this year’s class, but high end value is available at any of those slots.

From those who follow draft prospects year-round, the top ten is expected to be loaded with forwards. It just so happens that the Devils really could use an offensive force in their system. While they drafted Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes, they both jumped right away into the NHL. They did add Nolan Foote to the system in the Blake Coleman trade, and the Sami Vatanen deal brought Janne Kuokkanen into the fold, and there have been some interesting developments in recent years from Tyce Thompson, Nikola Pasic, and Aarne Talvitie. It is not a pool bereft of offensive talent. However, the Devils really do not have a guy in their system that can become an exceptional shooter or a shot-creater that can drive the play. You can never have too many offensive players in a league that has become more and more about speed and offensive skill over the past decade or so. Fortunately for the Devils, they will have plenty of options with at least their first round pick to get another player in that mold.

The Devils’ system could also use some more offensive talent at defense too. Ty Smith has been a fantastic prospect and he should get every chance to make the New Jersey roster if and when the 2020-21 season approaches. Reilly Walsh has had a fine career in college and the Devils would be wise to sign him soon rather than risk him becoming a free agent after his senior year at Harvard. After then, there is plenty of quantity among defensive-minded defensemen with varying yet limited levels of upside. The Devils do not really need too many more of those kind of defensemen in their system after selecting four of them last year. The Devils could certainly look to add a more dynamic defender, especially with Smith likely to move on to pro hockey very soon.

As ever, the Devils could and likely will take a chance on a goalie. After MacKenzie Blackwood, there are just a lot of question marks and hopefuls in the Devils’ system. Goalies are the biggest wild cards as a prospect. Finding a successful one at the pro level is a big win for the franchise and provides stability for many years. Blackwood may be that victory from the 2015 class that endures for a decade or more. One who busts as a prospect makes the pick look entirely wasted in retrospect. The jury is very much out on Akira Schmid, Gilles Senn, Evan Cormier, and Cole Brady. The general idea is that you want to keep taking chances where you can. Ray Shero and Paul Castron have consistently drafted at least one goalie since 2015, so they have done that. Will the Devils do so in 2020? With a range of six to eight picks and possibly a new GM, it is not a guarantee. But the Devils could use another goalie in the system as another shot to find someone to join Blackwood as the team’s main tandem in the future.

The lottery will help drive who to really expect. If the Devils win the first overall selection again, then the pick will be Alexis Lafrenière. You should be thrilled for that. He is so talented that he is worth opening up the Character Map function to add the accent over his second ‘e.’ You can even call it the Lafrenière lottery. If they win the second overall section, then it will most likely be Quinton Byfield. You should also be thrilled for that. After that, it becomes more wide open but we at All About the Jersey will profile the many prospects for the 2020 draft class to help inform you and adjust your thrill levels accordingly.

What to Expect for the 2020 NHL Draft In General

One of the narratives from last year was how it was a relatively weak year of talent for the Ontario Hockey League. Plenty of OHLers were picked but not at a high end. The OHL is expected to make a huge comeback in 2020. The ‘O’ could have three to five players go in the top-ten at the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. Quinton Byfield of Sudbury is expected to be the highest center selected and has consistently been seen as the #2 prospect for this year’s class. Jamie Drysdale of Erie is widely considered to be the top defenseman prospect for 2020 with few even coming close to his level. Saginaw’s Cole Perfetti has been a goal and point machine for his team for two seasons running. The Ottawa 67’s were dominant in the league and they were led by the mighty force of Marco Rossi, who led the whole league with 120 points in 56 games. Fellow 67’s player Jack Quinn has received some buzz to be at the higher end of the first round prior to the virus-driven pause throughout the hockey world. And those are just potential top-ten picks. You could see more throughout the first round in Jacob Perreault, Jan Mysak, and Jean-Luc Foudy. The ‘O’ never left but it is going to be featured in the 2020 draft class.

If the OHL is on the rise for 2020, then who is on the downturn? The United Stated National Team Development Program would count. This should surprise few. After having an astonishing eight players selected in the first round in 2019, the USNTDP may end up only having one or two go in the first round. Not having a World U-18 tourney to see how they would do hurts since one of the aims of the program is to prepare players for international tourneys. Still, defenseman Jake Sanderson has received more attention while forwards Ty Smilanic and Thomas Bordeleau may end up as later picks in the first rounder. Also not getting a lot of love for first round picks are Finland and Russia. Anton Lundell is likely to be a top-ten pick. After him, there’s Roni Hirvonen who has been touted as a later first rounder and that’s it. For Russia, goaltender Askarov has been hyped as a near-lock for the first round to someone who will likely be in the middle of it. He will still likely be the first goalie taken in 2020. The only other Russian consistently seen as a first rounder is forward Rodion Amirov, who has been crushing it at the youth league when he is there. I would expect all three to bounce back in 2021 - especially the USNTDP with Chaz Lucius, Luke Hughes (Quinn’s and Jack’s brother), and Jack Hughes (no relation to NJ’s Jack Hughes) all featured at the U-17 level.

One of the more interesting aspects of the 2020 draft class at the upper end are the defensemen. Only Drysdale has been consistently ranked and discussed as a top-ten selection. After Drysdale, there are some interesting options but no one you would necessarily want to run to the podium to select at tenth overall or higher. However, teams and their scouts have very different draft boards and opinions on prospects. For example, in last year’s draft, the only top defenseman thought to be picked was Bowen Byram. Detroit and Edmonton disagreed as they surprised many by selecting Mortiz Seider and Philip Broberg sixth and ninth, respectively. (Victor Soderstrom going 11th was also a small surprise). This meant more tantalizing players falling deeper in that draft such as Matthew Boldy going to Minnesota at #12, Cole Caulfield going to Montreal at #15, and Alex Newhook going to Colorado at #16. This also meant that you may want to take some of the rankings with a grain of salt. Teams who think they badly need a defender in their system may end up picking someone like Jake Sanderson, Jeremie Poirier, Kaiden Guhle, William Walender, or Helge Grans much earlier than expected.

As one final general point, take the draft rankings and lists from the 20s onward with a grain of salt. There is a lot of variability in perception among those players. Prospects that will be selected but it is unclear whether or not they are not worthy to be late first rounders, early second rounders, or mid-to-late second rounders. If you ask five different draft experts, then you’ll likely get five different ideas for how the first round will end. This is a bit moot for New Jersey since they do not have a second round pick at all and if they have a later first round pick, then it will be because Vancouver made the playoffs and that will not likely be a late pick anyway. Still, I would not get super salty if someone you liked at #22 gets picked at #32 or #42. That said, this should not excuse teams from not doing their work to identify which prospects would best fit their development and organizational standards at those selections. Any draft class can be a benefit for a team in the future. So do not write off the draft as it moves on.

Resources or How to Learn More

There are many free and paid resources available if you are interested in learning more about the 2020 draft class.

Since the lottery has not taken place yet, you can spend minutes at Tankathon to see what are the potential outcomes of the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery. You can even see a mock draft to get an idea of who could be selected where a team ends up.

NHL’s Central Scouting ranks all North American and European based skaters and goalies. Their final rankings for 2019-20 is still expected to come out next month. Some of the paid services will publicly release their top 31 rankings for the first round. Rankings are a good way to get a feel for how a player is regarded, it is not meant to be a set-in-stone statement about who is good or not. Teams have their own draft boards anyway and many services have their own rankings that combines goalies, European skaters, and North American skaters. Something that CSS does not do.

Elite Prospects is an essential repository of all players playing the game of hockey. Some of their pages for a prospect will include brief scouting reports and link to their rankings as well.

Steve Kournianos and his site, The Draft Analyst, is always a must-read. He’s never shy about an opinion, he’ll explain his reasoning behind how he rates a player, and he’s willing to rate more players than there are potential draft picks. He has also become a contributor at The Sporting News, so check him out there for further draft information.

Dobber Prospects is part of the Dobber Hockey family, one of the premier fantasy hockey resources online. Their Prospects group, which includes Josh Tessler, Cam Robinson, Jokke Nevalainen, and Tony Ferrari among others, are definitely worth checking out regularly about prospective players.

There are a few blogs specific to leagues and countries that are also worth your time for prospect-related information. Patrick Conway’s Russian Hockey Blog handles KHL, VHL, and MHL action. FinnProspects is all about Finnish hockey prospects. Brock Otten’s OHL Prospects provides a great overview of what to expect out of the ‘O.’ (Aside: Anyone who can do what Otten does for OHL but for the QMJHL and WHL would be well-received and could parlay it into work with draft businesses like McKeen’s like Otten does.)

Youtube is the place for video online. Naturally, there are plenty of people who have highlights, shift-by-shift videos, and other clips for prospective players. Prospect Shifts is one of the big ones and it appears the channel is recently active after some time. Keep an eye on that one. It may be sometime before getting ready for the 2020 draft, but bigwhite06 is another highlight collector to look for. Draft Dynasty also goes over prospects and has plenty of 2020 coverage already. The Top Shelf Hockey channel is all about hockey, but there are plenty of videos specific to prospects and the upcoming draft. These are just a select few of what is available on Youtube with respect to prospective NHL players.

Will Scouch deserves his own paragraph. Scouch has blazed his own trail to become a good public source for prospects. He is regularly on social media, he tracks games, he makes videos about prospects, and he hosts regular streams to answer your questions about prospects. Scouching is his Youtube page, his blog is here, his Twitter is here, and if you feel like kicking into his Patreon, then you get even more of Scouch.

That brings me to paid resources. Scouting and reviewing prospective players is a cottage industry of sorts outside of the teams that actually draft them. Various groups providing actual, detailed, first-hand scouting reports for their own publications that you can buy. McKeen’s, Future Considerations, Hockey Prospect, International Scouting Services, and Red Line Report are the main resources. To get full access to their reports and rankings, you will need to subscribe to their site or even buy an issue of their work. But for the money, you will get detailed viewpoints on a lot of players that you would normally not get anywhere else. And with so many parties in the field, some have upped their game through providing interviews, public snippets to share, and reaching out to be part of the larger hockey community. If you’re willing to spend, you may appreciate what you get.

Speaking of, The Atheltic is also another source for prospect information. Corey Pronman and Scott Wheeler at The Athletic ($) are both worth the money for anyone interested in prospects. Pronman and Wheeler writes about them year-round. Both have incorporated video, stats, and observations to support what they state. They also discuss NHL-drafted prospects and prospects beyond the top end of the draft. They are both very good at what they do and I recommend them.

As far as what will be here, as is tradition, we will put our own profiles together based on what we can learn about a player and offer an opinion based on what we learn. As the Devils could theoretically have one of the top three picks, we are going to start at the top of the draft class and move on from there as the weeks go on.

Who Has the Coolest Name?

The 2020 draft class is stacked with great names to write and say out loud. It is tough to pick the coolest one. Here are some honorable mentions with links to their Elite Prospect pages:

These are all great names. But the coolest has to go with Chicoutimi center Hendrix Lapierre. His first name is after Jimi Hendrix, you cannot get much cooler than that.

Your Take

Have you learned much from this very early guide for the 2020 NHL Draft? Is there anyone you are interested in seeing profiled outside of the top ten or so prospects? Who do you hope the Devils go out and get? Who has the coolest name in the 2020 draft class in your opinion. Please leave your answers and other draft thoughts in the comments. Thank you for reading.