Welcome back to Top Shelf Prospects, the column that brings you the next crop of professional hockey players. Be sure to bookmark the site, follow me on Twitter, and spread the word for the site that will bring you analytical and critical draft profiles and scouting reports! Last Word On Sports is your new headquarters for everything “NHL Prospects”! For a Complete Listing of all our 2019-20 Articles Click here. We will be sure to bring you our comprehensive coverage of the 2020 NHL Draft. Today, our 2020 NHL Draft Scouting Reports and Rankings, December Edition begins.
December Edition: 2020 NHL Draft Scouting Reports And Rankings
With the CHL season nearly three months old, over two months of NCAA hockey, plenty of games for the US National Team Development Program, the Gretzky-Hlinka Tournament, an international break in Europe, and the Canada-Russia Series all being played since we last updated our draft rankings, we have gotten a decent overview of what some of the biggest prospects for the 2020 NHL draft are doing this year.
That said, as a staff, we haven’t seen every player yet—it’s quite simply not possible this early in the season. If there is an obvious name left out, we’ll do our best to get a look before the February rankings; as well as before our final rankings that go from April through June.
The group we haven’t seen a lot of our European prospects who, for whatever reason, haven’t had much exposure on the international stage. With the World Juniors, Five Nations, and the Under-18 all to come later in the year, we should get a better look at most of those players.
1.) Alexis Lafreniere, Left Wing, Rimouski Oceanic, 6’1″ 192 lbs
A prodigious talent, Lafreniere put up 37 goals and 105 points in 61 games last season. He was even better in the playoffs with nine goals and 23 points in 13 games. His performance earned him the QMJHL MVP and CHL Player Of the Year Awards. Lafreniere has picked up where he left off this season, putting up 23 goals and 70 points in just 32 games.
Lafreniere is an outstanding skater. He is extremely fast, and pairs that with a stride that provides excellent acceleration and power. He also has great hands, allowing him to make plays at top speed. Lafreniere can be a playmaker with his great vision and passing skills. He anticipates plays extremely well and makes his linemates better.
Lafreniere is also a natural goal scorer. He can put the puck in the net in a variety of ways. He drives hard to the net and uses quick hands to beat goalies. His wrist shot is strong and accurate and he can score from further out. He can also play the power game, getting to rebounds and creating havoc out front. Lafreniere is a prodigious talent with everything NHL teams are looking for. He’s been the leading prospect for the 2020 NHL Draft for some time now. However, there are a number of prospects breathing down his neck.
2.) Quinton Byfield, Centre, Sudbury Wolves, 6’4″ 214 lbs
The first overall pick in the 2018 OHL Draft, Byfield won the OHL and CHL Rookie of the Year Awards, helping the Wolves return to the OHL playoffs. He put up 29 goals and 61 points in 64 games last season. Byfield also added three goals and eight points in eight playoff games. This season, he’s taken his game up another level, putting up 22 goals and 57 points in 30 games.
Byfield has everything that teams want in a prospect. The big centre (already 6-foot-4 and still growing) is a tremendous skater. He moves extremely well, not just for a big man, but compared to all players. He also has the hands to make moves with the puck while travelling at that speed. Byfield can be a goal scorer, with an excellent wrist shot, quick release and a very good one-timer. He also has the soft hands to finish in close to the net.
Byfield is also an excellent playmaker. He has the vision and hockey IQ to anticipate where his linemates will be and to set them up for scoring chances. Byfield uses his size to protect the puck and extend plays. He can also play a physical game, getting in quickly on the forecheck and forcing turnovers which he quickly turns into scoring chances. Byfield is not afraid to battle in front of the net and to fight for loose pucks in the corners. His size and strength are impressive, even when facing opponents who are up to three years older. He is also already well-developed in his own end of the ice, playing a strong defensive game as well.
3.) Tim Stutzle, Centre, Adler Manheim, 5’11” 185 lbs
Germany is emerging as a top hockey nation and the 2020 NHL Draft class features another high-end prospect from the country. Stutzle put up 23 goals and 55 points in just 21 games in the German Under-20 league last year. He added another four goals and 11 points in five playoff games. An underage forward, he led Germany to gold (and promotion) in the 1A Division at the IIHF Under-18s. He put up two goals and nine points in five games, winning best forward at the tournament. In 2018, as a double-underage player, he put up four points in five games. Now Stutzle is playing in the DEL, the top German league, putting up five goals and 23 points in 25 games playing against men.
Stutzle is amongst the best skaters in the entire draft class. He can absolutely fly. He also has very good acceleration. His ability to change speeds can be used as a weapon to fool defenders. Stutzle has outstanding agility and edgework. He can change directions on a dime. Add in the soft hands and quick stickhandling to handle the puck while making all these moves and he is a dynamic forward. Stutzle also has a very good shot and his ability to release the puck from multiple angles fools goaltenders. He needs to be more consistent in his passing though, as he can sometimes struggle to get the puck to a teammate when he is under pressure.
4.) Lucas Raymond, Right Wing, Frolunda, 5’10” 165 lbs
Despite being an underage player in the tournament, Raymond shined in helping Sweden to the IIHF Under-18 World Championship with four goals and four assists in seven games last spring. His hattrick, including the overtime winner, in the gold medal game was immense. Raymond also helped Sweden to Bronze at the Under-17 Hockey Challenge (seven points in six games) and Silver at last year’s Hlinka-Gretzky Cup (five goals, seven points in five games).
Domestically, he is playing in the SHL, putting up three goals and five points in 16 games against men. In limited action in the U20 league, he has six points in five games.
Raymond is a fantastic skater. He combines outstanding speed, acceleration, and edgework with very good stickhandling ability. Raymond can make plays at top speed. He has the passing skill and vision to set up teammates on the rush as well as the poise to quarterback the play on the power play. Raymond also has an excellent shot and a quick release. Raymond can create offensive opportunities in a variety of ways. He is also extremely smart. His hockey IQ allows him to make the right play with the puck. He will need to put on muscle before he is NHL ready but his offensive skills make him a dynamic threat.
5.) Yaroslav Askarov, Goaltender, SKA St. Petersburg, 6’3″ 176 lbs
Askarov has been outstanding at the international level. He was the top goalie at last year’s IIHF U-19, putting up a .916 save percentage in six games and winning a silver medal. In four games at the 2018 World Junior A Championships he put up a .954 save percentage. He led Russia to gold at the U-17 World Hockey Challenge, winning top goalie in the tournament and putting up a .948 save percentage. Askarov also played at the Hlinka-Gretzky, helping Russia to bronze in 2018 with a .913 save percentage and a gold medal in 2019 with an incredible .960 save percentage. He has already played a KHL game, putting up a 2.00 goals-against-average and .920 save percentage. In 16 VHL games, his save percentage is .922. Askarov is the clear top goalie in the 2020 NHL Draft. He is one of the best goaltending prospects in several years.
Askarov is incredibly advanced for a young goaltender. He uses his size effectively, coming out to cut down angles and gives shooters very little net to look at. His strong legs take away the bottom of the net. They also give him a strong push and good side-to-side movement. Askarov’s rebound control is very good for a young goalie, far ahead of other prospects his age. He is also good at handling the puck and making a pass to set up the breakout. He remains calm and cool in the net and is always ready to make the next stop. Askarov is extremely efficient in his movements and is almost always scare to the puck. He is also an athletic freak, with the ability to make a jaw-dropping save on those rare times when he does get caught out of position.
Main Photo: VICTORIA, BC – DECEMBER 21: Alexis Lafreniere #22 of Team Canada skates with the puck versus Team Slovakia at the IIHF World Junior Championships at the Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre on December 21, 2018, in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Kevin Light/Getty Images)