It has been a much different process throughout. As 24 NHL teams gear up for a postseason return to play after the coronavirus pandemic forced a stoppage in March, seven others are already looking forward to the draft -- which still lacks a date. The prep work has no doubt been more difficult this season, as scouts have neither a full prospect season of evaluation nor combine workouts. And it will show in rankings this year. The top of the class is high-end, but once you move beyond the top 15 names, consensus disappears.
I've had some more time with film and a few more conversations with scouts over the past month and a half, so coming out of the first stage of the lottery seemed like a good time to update my own top 100 prospect rankings from my most recent May 13 edition. There are a handful of changes. Here's how I see the best of the 2020 NHL draft class.
Note: Heights and weights are from Central Scouting. Age is as of June 30.
1. Alexis Lafreniere, LW, Rimouski (QMJHL)
Age: 18 | Ht: 6-1 | Wt: 193
Shot: L | Previous rank: 1
There is no debate at this point as to who should go No. 1. It's Lafreniere by a significant margin. 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. We've seen Lafreniere's emotions get the better of him at times, but he has a competitive fire. 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.
2. Quinton Byfield, C, Sudbury (OHL)
Age: 17 | Ht: 6-4 | Wt: 215
Shot: L | Previous rank: 2
Byfield looked like he was seriously going to give Lafreniere a run for his money at No. 1, but his game-to-game consistency wasn't at the same level. Byfield's game was a little uneven from midseason on, and I wonder whether the draft season began to wear on him. 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.
3. Tim Stutzle, LW, Mannheim (Germany)
Age: 18 | Ht: 6-1 | Wt: 187
Shot: L | Previous rank: 3
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.
Stutzle has a chance to become part of a growing elite class of German hockey players, and he's done it without ever really leaving home. But he likely will need to get into an AHL lineup to grow and learn the North American game.
4. Lucas Raymond, LW, Frolunda (Sweden)
Age: 18 | Ht: 5-11 | Wt: 170
Shot: R | Previous rank: 4
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.
5. Cole Perfetti, C, Saginaw (OHL)
Age: 18 | Ht: 5-11 | Wt: 177
Shot: L | Previous rank: 5
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.