Kyle Woodlief, the chief scout and publisher of Red Line Report, provides an analysis of the 31 players taken in the first round of the NHL draft Tuesday, which is being held virtually. The first round of the draft takes place at 7 p.m. (NBCSN) and Rounds 2-7 will be completed Wednesday (11:30 a.m. ET). Of note: the New York Rangers have the first overall pick, the Ottawa Senators have the most picks (12) in the draft and three teams have the fewest selections with four — the Arizona Coyotes, Winnipeg Jets and Pittsburgh Penguins. (USA TODAY also recapped all the day’s news and rumors, including those related to trades.)
1. New York Rangers — LW Alexis Lafrenière. The clear-cut top overall prospect in this year’s class. Cemented his standing with an outstanding world juniors performance, where he overcame a knee injury to have a huge impact every game he played. Instinctively makes the right play in every situation. Deadly finisher who scores in every conceivable fashion and, if possible, is an even better creator for his linemates. Sees the whole ice and knows where all teammates and opponents are positioned. Soft hands and makes fabulous, jaw-dropping passes that are so imaginative they even surprise his linemates. Can thread any needle, showing touch on delicate saucers or firing crisp feeds on the tape as needed. In addition to the finesse, grinds it out physically and finishes checks hard. Wins battles and is relentless on the forecheck. If he doesn’t have the puck, he’ll go get it. Plays like a mature 10-year NHL vet.
2. Los Angeles Kings — C Quinton Byfield. Rare hybrid combination of a power forward with the puck skill of a smaller, dynamic player. He’s the huge, highly skilled center every team is looking for. Has all the qualities needed to excel: size, strength, skill, skating, excellent vision and anticipation. Uses his wide body and long reach to protect the puck and is impossible to move off it. Extremely hard to handle down low – uses size/strength to bull his way through checks. Creates loads of room for linemates by drawing defenders to him, then hits the open man. Heads-up passing plays in traffic combining a finesse style with physical dominance. Excellent start-up from down low in his stance. Great glide for such a huge guy. Underrated as a goal scorer with a wicked release on a rocket wrister. Doesn’t need much space – gets dangerous shots away with men draped over his back. Can be overly critical and get down on himself.
3. Ottawa Senators (from San Jose) — C/LW Tim Stützle. Blazing skater who always plays at a fast speed and makes plays at top gear. Can carry the puck around and over sticks; tough to stop when he is in full flight. World-class edges and acceleration. Can take over shifts and just loses opponents with quick twists and turns. Has the ability to make one-touch plays, making fast puck movement decisions before the puck even reaches him. Passes have both snap and touch. More of a passer than shooter right now, but his stick is always in position and ready to shoot when puck comes his way. Lacks bulk right now but has a good frame – doesn’t really matter because nobody can catch him. Plays on the wing with his club team; will likely be a center long-term, but struggles with the defensive responsibilities at center.
4. Detroit Red Wings — RW Lucas Raymond. Little puck-handling wizard with deft hands who rarely misses chances near the cage. Highly skilled winger with tremendous hockey sense and super soft/fast hands that control the puck well in tight areas. Highly imaginative playmaker and always looking to set up plays for linemates, but needs to shoot more as he’s a true sniper in his own right. Fantastic vision and opens up the ice with surprising passes. Looked dynamic and poised in flashes playing against men in the SHL, but never received great ice time. Still managed to create lots of offensive opportunities with quick skating, turns and sharp cuts; slippery and draws lots of penalties. Makes smart and quick decisions, and is lethal on the power play with gives-and-goes and clever passes. Reads and anticipates beautifully and is always on the puck in prime scoring position. Small frame and can be overpowered along the defensive boards.
5. Ottawa Senators — D Jake Sanderson. Imposes his will with a constantly attacking mindset from the back end. Plays a forceful game and can dominate play. Puts the other team on their heels when he has the puck. Has instant jets when he decides to take off, and accelerates powerfully through the neutral zone, forcing defenders to back off the blue line. Tremendous top-end gear, and moves very well laterally either carrying the puck or defending. Dynamic in the offensive zone. Scores from 45 feet out with unbelievable bar-down missiles. Has terrific accuracy. Deftly walks the line on the power play to open up shooting/passing lanes. Makes great outlets and hits long homerun stretch passes. Will jolt opposing forwards with big hits, and uses his great feet and long reach to defend. Bit of a high-risk/high-reward -type defenseman, but he’s got the highest upside of any blueliner this year.
6. Anaheim Ducks — D Jamie Drysdale. Dynamic skater and puck mover. Smallish, but an aggressive defender. His smarts with the puck, excellent footwork and stick placement help him against bigger players. Tough to gain the offensive zone on his side of the ice – keeps his shoulders squared up to puck carriers and closes gaps perfectly. Extremely dangerous when he has the puck. Calculated passer spreads wealth out to all areas in offensive zone. Utilizes pinpoint accurate snap shots from far out, aiming for areas where teammates can get deflections. Superb skater links together world-class moves in all four directions. Jumps down in the blink of an eye for deep pinches and then easily gets back into defensive position again. Terrific initial burst allows him to win short-area races to loose pucks. Smart and instinctive both with and without the puck.
7. New Jersey Devils — RW Alexander Holtz. A natural sniper with great hands and dynamic release. Pounces on loose pucks/rebounds; he is is quick and hard to catch around the crease and slot. A deceptively fast skater with excellent edges and the strength to cut in from the outside and charge the net. Maybe lacks a final gear in acceleration, but it’s a relatively minor issue. Has underrated vision and will fake a shot while instead passing to an open ‘mate in one motion. Deft hands for receiving passes smoothly and rarely misses chances near the cage – needs zero time to tee up powerful release. Can handle and create off both sides of the blade and easily maintains puck control in tight spaces. Offensive-minded, but accountable in his backchecking and positioning in own zone. Had a somewhat disappointing season, never really getting quality minutes playing in the senior league, and by late in the season didn’t look as eager.
8. Buffalo Sabres — RW Jack Quinn. Aggressive winger cuts and slashes his way through traffic and gets himself to net. He’s a pure sniper who was on pace for well over 50 goals. Has a knack for sifting through the wash and winding up in dangerous scoring territory without being noticed. Exceptionally dangerous on the power play with a great one-timer. Attacks the slot and can walk defenders down; has good speed, but doesn’t look to go outside all the time. Will drive straight through and try to split the defense to take direct route to crease. One of the best finishers in the draft with excellent scoring touch from the circles in. He isn’t just a one-dimensional offensive player. Doesn’t shy away from the tough areas and shows no hesitation to battle in the corners or front of the net. But was also a beneficiary of terrific linemates and a dominant play. Doesn’t drive play on his own often enough.
9. Minnesota Wild — C Marco Rossi. Not big, not strong, and not super fast. But is a supremely intelligent playmaking center. Has soft hands and phenomenal vision, and is able to thread the needle with imaginative set-ups. Makes touch saucer passes through traffic off both sides of the blade. Tremendous instincts around the offensive zone. Also crafty in the neutral zone; lifts sticks from behind for steals and anticipates opponents’ passing plays, stepping in almost as though he was the intended target. Smooth skater is more elusive and shifty than explosive, but has good cruising speed. Great east-west lateral movement with puck. On the small side, but willing to get his nose dirty. Deadly dangerous on the power play, where he runs things from the half-wall. He is both an outstanding distributor and a terrific finisher from the circles in. Physical tools may not be imposing, but he’s the most intelligent and instinctive player in this entire class.
10. Winnipeg Jets — LW/C Cole Perfetti. Plays a highly skilled game and is able to consistently create chances. When his team doesn’t have the puck, he hounds it relentlessly and uses great anticipation to get it back. Powerful quads and low center of gravity allow him to leverage larger players off balance. Has a quick change-of-pace that he uses to leave defenders flat-footed often. Always wants the puck and has tremendous vision and hockey IQ. The one knock is that he’s not fast for just an average-sized guy, but he’s able to beat defenders one-on-one consistently with east-west movement and great stick-handling. Able to hold off defenders while making crisp set-up passes in traffic. Also has a sniper’s mentality and touch in tight and buries his chances. Used getting cut from Canada’s world junior team as motivation, and found a new level, playing with faster pace and asserting himself in every aspect of the game.
11. Nashville Predators — G Yaroslav Askarov. The draft’s biggest enigma. Coming into the year he was the best goalie prospect since Andrei Vasilevskiy. At his best, he is a tremendously advanced, game-changing, dominant force. Great size and movement skills. Plays like he’s relaxing in a rocking chair — ultra calm and no wasted movement. Baits shooters, then closes off holes. Shows a great feel for positioning in his crease. Gets good push off either skate when sliding laterally. Reads angles well. Handles pucks well behind his net, stopping hard ring-arounds for defenders. Spreads out down low to see through traffic. Has lightning-fast reflexes and good upper body movement. But this season, he looked nothing like his calm, dominant self of previous years. Let in several questionable goals, including a couple at key moments. Constantly out of his net, trying to do too much puck-handling and was frequently burned, turning pucks over that produced goals. Way too “busy” around crease – needs to become quiet again.
12. Florida Panthers — C Anton Lundell. Smart, strong, two-way center plows through defenders and makes a straight beeline for the net. Combines power with skill. Plays a big man’s game, controlling the center of the ice and creating space for linemates. Powerful skating stride with great puck protection. Physically dominant down low; very strong on his stick and owns the puck on the cycle, but is not really an elusive stick-handler. Has a heavy shot that he can get away with defenders on his back. Makes power moves out of corners, and is then able to thread touch passes through traffic to hit wingers in good scoring areas. Pays attention to every detail; strong on faceoffs and responsible defensively. Compete level is high in all three zones. Played in Liiga against men all year on a team with a deep roster and became a difference-maker during the season’s second half.
13. Carolina Hurricanes (from Toronto) — C Seth Jarvis. Biggest second-half riser on our board was Western Hockey League’s best player after January. Terrific offensive instincts and is constantly dangerous. His skating, puck-handling, and vision are all top-notch, and he anticipates plays that others don’t see. Plays an uptempo game every second he’s on ice. Deft passing touch and drops perfect saucers through traffic off both sides of the blade. Also a sneaky-good sniper with a nose for the net. His shot isn’t the hardest, but it’s extremely accurate with a blurry fast release – a natural scorer. Outstanding speed causes defensemen to back in, giving him room to work. Has the hands and puck skills to work through traffic, and will take pucks to the net. Has worked hard on play away from the puck and is responsible defensively, but playing against bigger, stronger opponents will always present a challenge.
14. Edmonton Oilers — C/LW Dylan Holloway. Showed steady improvement as a true freshman, and the game slowed down for him in the second half, leading to a late-season uptick in scoring production with nine points in his final 10 games. Smart, strong two-way player who grinds in the corners and established a strong net-front presence. Handles the puck on a string, regularly beating opponents in tight. Superb offensive zone cycle – strong, sturdy build is perfect for deep corner work and the net-front grind. Uses sharp stop/starts in confined areas. Fantastic work ethic and contributes at both ends. A purposeful skater with great edges and elite lateral movement. Relentless in puck pursuit and wins it back regularly for his team. Hovers around the net and uses it as protection to set up plays.
15. Toronto Maple Leafs (from Pittsburgh) — LW Rodion Amirov. Big winger is rangy and skilled with a powerful stride and fast hands and stickwork. He’s a terrific skater with a very good size/speed combination. He ha focused aggression. Does a good job consistently battling to keep pucks alive around the crease. Gets in quickly on the forecheck to create problems for defenders. Sets up goals with persistent forechecking pressure, causing mistakes and turnovers that he turns into offence. Attacks the slot and is an opportunist who does his best work around the crease, pouncing on loose pucks and showing very good scoring touch. For an offensive winger, also does great work on the penalty kill, disrupting plays with quickness and anticipation. Consistently dangerous; can create off the rush and drives hard to the net. Likes to use long reach on wrap-arounds coming out from behind net.
16. Montreal Canadiens
17. Chicago Blackhawks
18. New Jersey (from Arizona)
19. Calgary Flames
20. New Jersey Devils (from Vancouver via Tampa Bay)
21. Columbus Blue Jackets
22. New York Rangers (from Carolina)
23. Philadelphia Flyers
24. Washington Capitals
25. Colorado Avalanche
26. St. Louis Blues
27. Anaheim Ducks (from Boston)
28. Ottawa Senators (from N.Y. Islanders)
29. Vegas Golden Knights
30. Dallas Stars
31. San Jose Sharks (from Tampa Bay)
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