Here are accumulated notes on two of the 2020 NHL Draft’s top four prospects from three of the top amateur scouts in the business. All are crossover scouts that see prospects in all of the leagues on both sides of the ocean. Opinions were gathered at various points in the season.
Alexis Lafreniere – LW Rimouski QMJHL 2001-10-11 6-1 193
2019-20 stats: 52GP 35 77 112pts
Ontario-based scout Feb. 2020 – His protection skills give him time and space….a bit like Jagr in how he can stick his butt out and make it near impossible to get the puck from him. Lafreniere’s agility and awareness allows him to shift his body to protect the puck in every direction…when you combine that with his puck skills, he is dangerous in the offensive zone. On top of that, he is already solid defensively. Looks after his own zone with superior awareness and defensive hockey sense. He’s always the first guy to drop back for a pinching defenceman…he just gets it. He will play in the NHL next season and contribute.
Ontario-based scout Apr. 2020 – He’s just ready to play. He doesn’t have any deficiencies, he’s just good at everything. He’s been picked apart for three years, and give him credit, he’s proven it all the way along. He’s been on the scene, so people get to be a bit pit nicky with him.
Ontario-based scout Apr. 2020 – He will be the best player in the draft in my opinion; now and five years from now. I can’t ignore his offensive hockey sense in combination with his size and maturity. It floored me when I saw him in QMJHL games…he’s just so smart. He conducts the orchestra. I’m going to ask him when I interview him why he never played center; there’s no reason why he couldn’t play center. He’s got size, he’s got range, he’s a gifted playmaker, he’s so smart and makes others better….why can’t he play center? He’s going to play more if he plays center.
Tim Stutzle – C/LW Mannheim DEL 2002-01-15 6-1 187
2019-20 Stats: 41GP 7 27 34pts Left Shot
Ontario-based scout Feb. 2020 – If you had the balls…I think Stutzle has more ability than Lafreniere to be a dynamic player. And that’s not crapping on Lafreniere at all because I think that he’s a phenomenal player. But Stutzle I think may be a superstar; that type of skill, whereas Lafreniere is obviously going to be very close to superstar, but I don’t think he is a superstar. I guess the German is going to have a touch more possibility of being a real home run.
Ontario-based scout Apr. 2020 – I wasn’t chasing Byfield, so I don’t know his upside intimately, but I know seeing him and Stutzle at the same level at the world junior; not even close. I know they’re kids and there’s lots of growth. I know a lot of kids through the years played there in their draft years and they were pretty marginal but turned out to be great players. But right now it’s Stutzle…for a raw player…his speed and his sorting of the game was way better than Byfield. That’s all you can go by.
Quebec-based scout Apr. 2020 – Who may be the best prospect in five years? The most intriguing for me is Steutzle. I don’t know him great because I’m not chasing him around, but honestly, watching him play, he is so fucking dynamic. He’s got so much energy and stamina, he’s skilled, he’s smart. He’s got some things to iron out, but he’s pretty dynamic. Pretty fun to watch. When the year started, our Swedish guy goes: ‘There’s a real good German this years; he’s pretty amazing.’ I go, ‘Well…where does he fit?’ and he goes, ‘Oh..he’s like 20 (overall).’ I say “‘Well..great.’ No one really knew him yet. But he says…”He’s a really good player in the DEL.’ But when we went over to the World Junior I was blown away. He’s the guy that for me is so intriguing.
Whoever gets first overall could make a great deal with Ottawa if it’s not the Sens with that pick, but I have to tell ya, Ottawa’s a good staff. I know those guys. If they were picking two…I think they’d just sit on that. I think they know what’s going on…there’s no pressure on those guys to try to move up for Lafreniere.
Quinton Byfield C Sudbury OHL 2002-08-19 6-4.25 215
2019-20 Stats – 45GP 32 50 82 44 Left Shot
Quebec-based scout Jan. 2020 – Byfield struggled a bit here at the WJC. Not a dummy but sense is not a strength. He would overcome any size deficiencies if he used his size better. Always tries to be a skill guy. He was not good at the Prospect Game or the WJC. I wonder about his hockey sense.
Quebec-based scout Apr. 2020 – You start picking them apart. At the end of the day, he’s (17)…a lot of assets there. The problem that people would have is you take him at three, and he’s only a third-line center. Jordan Staal. But he made Pittsburgh really, really good as a third-line center. End of the day he makes you better, but are you leaving value on the table if you take him third overall? Well, for him and his style of play he need to use his size to his advantage. He doesn’t necessarily outsmart so he needs to be more imposing for success. He’s not soft but he needs to realize the dominance potential he has. Smaller guys can do what he does now but can’t get to the level he has potential for.
Quebec-based scout Apr. 2020 – He could be a stud, but he gives me the most questions of the top three forwards. I love the package, though. He’s still a young player. He’s not a very smart kid in that he doesn’t see the ice great or create anything out of the ordinary, and that scares me a little bit. Byfield’s a good player; he could be just a big horse.
Ontario-based scout Apr. 2020 – He may be a third-line center on a good team. A RJ Umberger or a Jordan Staal type that can play second line, but like Staal, adds great depth on a good team like Pittsburgh. He has okay creativity and an honest big-body game.
Jake Sanderson – D USNTDP USHL 2002-07-08 2 6-1.5 185
2019-20 Stats: 47GP 7 22 29pts Left Shot
Quebec-based scout Jan. 2020 – There’s been a lot of talk about him just being a good defender and puck mover, but you know what, he’s shown more offensive instincts, so he might be top five. His feet are so good.
Quebec-based scout Jan. 2020 – I think you do a redraft in five or six years and Sanderson goes five or six…it could have been argued that he could have gone one or two. I think technically he has that much upside. I worried about his sense early; that was my question mark on him, and then every game I saw him after, he answered the question each and every game. Sense is not an issue. He’ll finish checks. Personally, I think he’s the first defenceman gone ahead of Drysdale. He closes gaps really well, and will finish with an edge too, while Drysdale, when engaged…his stick’s really good, but he doesn’t have the physical part where Sanderson will go through you. It’s Drysdale using his brain because he’s a little bit smaller, but at the end of the day Sanderson can give you both. I think he could perhaps play next year.
Ontario-based scout Jan. 2020 – Sanderson is a top-two pairing defenceman all day. You know how important those guys are. You can’t beat him defensively, and I think he has more offence than people give him credit for. The way he plays – he might be just bored. He seemed to step up in games he needed to…like in international games…where you go ‘Oh…wish he would do that more.’ You wonder if he’s bored with the game, if he needs to be pushed more. So…there’s a lot of upside there. Lafreniere and Stutzle look like the two game changers at the NHL level, but he could be a game changer too…I wouldn’t put it by him.
If someone like Ottawa brings Sanderson in, and just starts building their top back end pairing…whoa. That would give Chabot a little bit more support. Not right away obviously; but in three years that could be an elite pairing. Chabot is not a really great defender; but Sanderson is a great defender. You just can’t get by him, you can’t beat him. So he would be a great complement to anybody. Plus…I think there’s more there offensively.