We're bundling into autumn instead of embracing early summer. The start date for 2020-21 remains understandably in flux. Yet hockey fans are still able to enjoy a brief sense of normalcy with the NHL holding its annual Entry Draft following the presentation of the Stanley Cup. I know I do. For lovers of the game, the event injects a regular cadence into the otherwise erratic rhythm of our current pandemic-affected world. Although a few months later than usual, I'm grateful to present our traditional round-up of several key drafted players and their respective fantasy hockey potential in the near and/or distant future. Complete with scouting reports from ESPN.com's resident draft and prospects analyst, Chris Peters, of course. This list is sorted by anticipated NHL debut date and order of selection. For all draft-related content, check out ESPN.com's comprehensive coverage here.
Ready to contribute Alexis Lafreniere, LW, New York Rangers, Rimouski (QMJHL) Selected: 1 (surprise!), Draft board ranking: 1
Peters: "... Over the past 20 years, only two players 18 years old or younger had a points-per-game average higher than Lafreniere's 2.15 this season: Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Drouin. Lafreniere thinks the game at a high level, with elite anticipation and an understanding of what to do with the puck immediately after he gets it. He has a physical edge and initiates contact more than most top picks of recent years, separating players from the puck with regularity. ... He wants the puck at all times, in all situations. And he has the skill and hands to make things happen when he has it. Few other players exude the level of confidence Lafreniere has shown over the past two seasons."
What else is there to say about the young lad who presents as this year's stand-alone Royal Flush of draft prospects? He's playing this NHL season, whenever it rolls out, the only question is in what role? With Artemi Panarin and Chris Kreider hanging about - both signed long-term - the Rangers are spoiled for choice as to which left wing competes on which line. If thrown into the top-six, perhaps shifting Kreider to the right side, Lafreniere should collect 60+ points with ease. A bottom-six role doesn't promise the same number. There's no arguing the teen sensation is going to tear it up long-term, just maybe not straight off. New York has the luxury of not hurrying matters with a kid whose first visit to Manhattan will be as member of the city's storied hockey club. While dynasty managers should jump all over this future superstar asap, those in redraft leagues might temper expectations in the (very) short-term.
Quinton Byfield, C, Los Angeles Kings, Sudbury (OHL) Selected: 2, Draft board ranking: 2
Peters: "... He is one of the younger players in this draft class but was fifth in the OHL in terms of points per game (1.82). At his best, he is a dominant force with elite-level speed, especially considering his size. He thinks the game extremely well, with good vision and a playmaker's touch. Byfield's defensive game needs maturation, but his instincts with the puck are very strong. If everything goes right in his development, he has a chance to be special."
This is an exceptional player with a ton of upside. Beyond his natural talent and skillset, he's huge and still growing. He's aggressive. He has a great attitude. And he's going to learn plenty from one of the best two-way centers in the league in Anze Kopitar. Between Byfield and fellow gifted prospect Alex Turcotte - drafted 5th overall in 2019 - the former feels like the favorite to slot in behind Kopitar as the Kings' No. 2 center in the not-too-distant future. While hardly a slam dunk to make the NHL squad in 2020-21, I like Byfield's chances. Managers, take note, this kid is the full fantasy package.
Year away? Tim Stutzle, LW, Ottawa Senators, Mannheim (Germany) Selected: 3, Draft board ranking: 3
Peters: "There is a sense of ease in Stutzle's game, a level of poise that is not easily attained for a teenager in his first season of pro hockey. He has high-end puckhandling and skating abilities along with elite vision and hockey sense. He has a nice release and good shot, but I think his hands work best when he's snapping passes, especially down low. He uses the ice that's given to him and often makes the play, but he doesn't force things. ... But he likely will need to get into an AHL lineup to grow and learn the North American game."
The sooner he adapts to the North American style of play, the sooner Stutzle can fill a gaping void up front for the rebuilding Senators. Versatile in that he can play center in addition to left wing, this talented playmaker is an eventual shoo-in to join what was the least effective power play of 2019-20. A slot on the top line with Brady Tkachuk at even-strength is also well within reach. As he's going to put up impressive points totals in the NHL on the regular, dynasty managers would do well to target this exceptional skater.
Marco Rossi, C, Minnesota Wild, Ottawa (OHL) Selected: 9, Draft board ranking: 7
Peters: "...His 2.14 points per game in the OHL ranks fifth among players 18 years old or younger over the past 20 years, but many have rushed to underplay that production because of the quality of his team and the relative weakness of the OHL's Eastern Conference. There also are concerns about Rossi's size. But the power and strength he generates from his lower half alleviates those size concerns for me, and no matter how you reason, he knows how to score. ... Plus, Rossi's hand skills are excellent, and there's a little tenacity in his game."
He's short but thick - built like a maxed-out, bottom-heavy Martin St. Louis. Depending on his performance in camp, Rossi might not be even a year away from his NHL debut. The Wild need him down the middle now. And Chris Peters compares him to Brayden Point. All reason enough to draft this scoring machine before a fantasy league colleague.
Future asset Lucas Raymond, LW, Detroit Red Wings, Frolunda (Sweden) Selected: 4, Draft board ranking: 5
Peters: "... Raymond has been one of the hardest players to evaluate in this class because he is too good for Sweden's junior league but not quite good enough to play an elevated role on a perennial SHL powerhouse laden with veteran talent. He averaged under 10 minutes of ice time in 33 SHL games and was either healthy-scratched or played as the extra forward an awful lot this season. He had 14 points in nine games in Sweden's under-20 league, as well. His one-on-one skills, skating and willingness to battle for his ice are plus traits."
Another go around with Frolunda will only help ripen this young winger ahead of his future tenure with the Red Wings. Raymond's already averaging more ice-time in Sweden this season - playing with ex-NHLer/Henrik's twin Joel Lundqvist, for what it's worth - and has a goal and assist through four early games. Invested in a hefty rebuild, Steve Yzerman isn't going to squander such an early pick on a fingers-crossed prospect. No chance. I'm content to trust Detroit's GM/Exec VP and look forward to steady production, particularly on the power play, from this two-way skater in years to come.
Jamie Drysdale, D, Anaheim Ducks, Erie (OHL) Selected: 6, Draft board ranking: 9
Peters: "... Drysdale is an effortless, deceptive skater who can make a lot of plays with his feet in terms of opening up ice. His defending is adequate, though he still needs to get stronger and have a more consistent detail in his own end. He was good enough to make Canada's U20 team as an underager and has excellent offensive tools, with a quick shot and confident puck-moving capabilities. I think there's game-breaker potential in Drysdale, but his game needs refining."
This future top-pair defenseman/power-play participant could be ready to join his NHL flock in a couple of years, rhythmically in step with the potential pending departure of then-UFA Hampus Lindholm. The Ducks need more production from their backend, of which Drysdale projects to provide. This promise should also capture the attention of dynasty fantasy managers in conventional scoring leagues.
Alexander Holtz, RW, New Jersey Devils, Djurgarden, (Sweden) Selected: 7, Draft board ranking: 10
Peters: "... There's a lot to like about Holtz, not the least of which is that his game continues to grow. After tacking on muscle last year, he handled the pro grind pretty well in Sweden. ... He is a natural offensive talent, with an elite release and quick hands. He has vision and offensive sense that challenge opposing defenses, along with the strength to drive the net. His skating is very good, and there's power in his stride."
Another year competing with grownups in the Swedish league might suffice in preparing Holtz for pro play at the NHL level. If not, two would do it. Slated to eventually slide in alongside center Nico Hischier or Jack Hughes, this shoot-happy winger is rumored to boast 30-goal potential. Which the Devils could certainly use.
Jack Quinn, RW, Buffalo Sabres, Ottawa (OHL) Selected: 8, Draft board ranking: 12
Peters: "... I was a very slow convert to Quinn's game, but the more I watched of his tape, the more I liked what I saw. His scoring ability pops, and his skating has gotten to a level that makes me much more comfortable projecting him as a top offensive contributor at the next level. Quinn also has really good hands and can wire pucks. He has a really strong sense of the offensive zone and knows how to get to good ice to become more dangerous."
The Cobden, Ontario (pop. 1,800) local could play on Jack Eichel's wing as early as 2021-22 (presuming Eichel remains a member of the Sabres). Drawing comparisons to Patrick Kane and David Pasternak, Quinn potted 52 goals in 62 games with the 67's this past season. Why not anticipate 20-25 is his first tour at the NHL level? Dynasty managers in leagues that value goals above all else shouldn't snooze on this so-labeled late bloomer.
Cole Perfetti, C, Winnipeg Jets, Saginaw (OHL) Selected: 10, Draft board ranking: 4
Peters: "... He can score, he can make plays and his skill is elite. But what I like best about Perfetti are his vision and offensive sense, giving him the ability to pick apart opposing defenses on the rush or in the zone. He can extend plays and seems to always have a plan with the puck on his stick. Perfetti has a pure release on his shot and snaps passes about as well as anyone else in the class. His skating is closer to average, but that is a much bigger problem for players who can't think the game the way Perfetti does."
Revered for his high hockey IQ and all-around smarts - have you seen him crush a Rubik's Cube? - Perfetti still has a couple of years to improve upon his so-so skating before dazzling us on the biggest stage. If allowed to innovate his way around the ice, this kid can score, as illustrated by his averaging 1.82 points/game in his Sophomore OHL season. Whether he sticks in the middle or shifts to the wing, Perfetti also stands to benefit from the tutelage of Jets No. 1 center (and future NHL General Manager) Mark Scheifele, he himself entrenched in his prime and signed through 2024. Patient managers willing to gamble on this clever player could (read: should) reap fantasy rewards for many years to come. Just give it a minute.
Yaroslav Askarov, G, Nashville Predators, Neva St. Petersburg (Russia 2) Selected: 11, Draft board ranking: 6
Peters: "... He is such a monster in the crease, as good as any goalie I've seen at his age going post to post. He never quits on plays, and while he can make the big save, he makes a lot of his work look easy. There's explosiveness and power in the way he plays the position, but he can keep it quiet and simple, too."
No pressure kid, but Andrei Vasilevskiy wasn't drafted until Tampa Bay used their 19th selection back in 2012. We can all agree he's worked out well enough. Fortunately, you're likely to enjoy the next three years of breathing room in Russia to work on whatever needs attention before joining Juuse Saros as one-half of the Predators' one-two punch between the pipes. Or maybe you'll wrestle a greater share of play from the soon-to-be 28-year-old by that point. Regardless, as astute managers who nabbed Vasilevskiy back in 2012 might advise, you merit a long look in deeper dynasty leagues already.
Wild card Hendrix Lapierre, C, Washington Capitals, Chicoutimi (QMJHL) Selected: 22, Draft board ranking: 25
Peters: "... Concussion and neck problems potentially derailed a season that got off to a spectacular start at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup. By the time Lapierre got healthy, the season was canceled. It's unfortunate because few players had more to prove in the postseason. But Lapierre is a high-end talent with excellent vision and puck skills ..."
If Lapierre can stay healthy and regain his pre-injury form - big ifs and - his ceiling cracks wide open in Washington, rewarding the team that traded up to secure him.