Setting Expectations for the 2020 NHL Draft’s Top Players

2020 NHL Draft Top Players
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The order of the 2020 NHL Draft’s top-15 picks is finally solidified. The New York Rangers landed the first-overall pick and, thusly, consensus-top-pick Alexis Lafreniere. With no more speculation about the draft order, attention has once again turned towards the 2020 NHL Draft top players.

Thankfully, Byron Bader has updated his NHLe models with new visuals, new fonts, and updated comparisons. These give a terrific, objective insight into what fans can expect from the 2020 NHL Draft top players.

Setting the Bars for the 2020 NHL Draft Top Players

What is NHLe?

NHLe, short for NHL-expected, is a statistical model that looks to translate player’s performances from their respective leagues into an NHL-point perspective. For example, this year Lafreniere scored 112 points in 53 games in the QMJHL. Under Bader’s model, this production would’ve translated into 46 points in the NHL across an 82-game season.

Bader’s model also uses some proprietary data to calculate a player’s likelihood of becoming a regular NHLer and their likelihood of becoming a ‘star’ (defined as someone who plays 200+ NHL games and scores at least 0.7 points-per-game). Bader then gives percentages for both.

On top of all of this, his models also provide the five-closest comparisons for each player, based on their development since their draft-year (DY). These comparisons will be the focus of this article. They are the best way to, objectively, set the bar for what fans can expect a player to blossom into.

Alexis Lafreniere

Alexis Lafreniere is the unanimous top-pick in this year’s draft. The 18-year-old had an incredible season with the Rimouski Oceanic, scoring over 2 points-per-game, with 35 goals to boot. His flashy stickhandling and seamless skating made him the focus of CHL play this season. What also helped was the fact that he played on the same QMJHL team as Sidney Crosby, earning Lafreniere plenty of flattering comparisons over the course of the year.

But many scouts don’t think Lafreniere is the second-coming of Crosby. Here’s what his NHLe Model has to say:

The Model

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To say Lafreniere’s model is promising would be an understatement. Not only does he have a 75 percent star probability — which would’ve ranked first in the 2014, 2017, and 2018 Drafts to name a few — but he also has a 77 percent DY NHLer probability. For comparison, the last NHL players to have a 77 percent DY NHLer probability were Matthew Tkachuk and Alex Debrincat, who both made the jump to the NHL immediately following their draft and scored 48 and 52 points in their rookie year respectively.

Whoof. Lafreniere has a high bar to reach in the 2020-21 season, when he’ll surely make his NHL debut. But that’ll be no problem for the winger who scored an NHL-equivalent of 46 points this season.

The Comparables

Of course, Lafreniere’s ceiling is much higher than Tkachuk or Debrincat. In fact, Lafreniere’s closest comparison is current Tampa Bay Lightning-phenom Nikita Kucherov. This is a very, very high ceiling but with a higher DY Star probability than Kucherov, the model is clearly confident Lafreniere can live up to the hype.

And for the uninitiated, Kucherov is… good. He’s scored 547 points in 515 career games, including over 100 points in the 2017-18 and 2018-19 season. He was on pace for 103 this season as well, which would’ve given him a third consecutive year of incredible point totals. Kucherov has also scored over-40 goals twice and was again on pace to this year as well. While the NHLe model doesn’t look at goals and assists individually, expecting Lafreniere to match these numbers isn’t a stretch.

Lafreniere’s top-five comparables is riddled with more star talent, looking past Kucherov. DeBrincat, Mitch Marner, Steven Stamkos, and Vincent Damphousse have all had star NHL careers and rivalled 100 points at least once. This is exactly the bar that Lafreniere is likely to hit. Given his high star probability, it’s likely that he hits it sooner rather than later as well. All-in-all, he’s a bolstering prospect that is going to become the focus of a New York team desperate for young stars to build around. With Artemi Panarin and the up-and-coming Kaapo Kakko┬áto boot, there is no doubting Lafreniere is on pace to become a star.

Quinton Byfield

The 2020 NHL Draft is riddled with talent and depth. Across the board, it is one of the deepest first rounds of recent memory. And sticking with that spirit, the Draft’s top-three is filled with franchise talents.

Virtually uniform projected-second-overall pick Quinton Byfield perfectly fits this ideal. The still-17-year-old has been incredible through his two years in the OHL, despite being one of the younger players in the league. This included 82 points in 45 games this year, including 32 goals. The centreman plays a strong, fast game and uses his bolstering wrist shot to fool defending teams. His great speed, great shot, and great hands all make him into an incredible prospect but the best part of his resume is his size. The young Byfield stands at a staggering 6’4″ and weighs in at 215 pounds (193 cm, 98 kg). For how impressively fast and “small-man” his style of play is, Byfield’s size and strength are the icing on top. And his model agrees:

Byfield’s Model

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Byfield’s model is incredibly promising in its own right. His 73 percent star probability and 78 percent NHLer probability line up perfectly with Lafreniere’s, bringing into question whether Lafreniere is the clear-cut number-one that most think he is. Byfield’s scoring marked a 45-point NHL equivalent and, with terrifically-high probabilities, there’s no doubting Byfield can hit this point total in his rookie NHL season if he joins next year. But still seven days shy of his 18th birthday, there’d be plenty of reason to leave him in the OHL for another year, where he can grow into an even better prospect.

The Comparables

But Byfield’s comparables aren’t very exciting at face value. Nail Yakupov is his closest comparable, making it seem like Byfield might turn out to be a bust; far from the 100-point ceiling of Lafreniere. Names like Pat Falloon and Chris Gratton don’t help this case.

But throwing Byfield into the same, disappointing category as those names doesn’t do him justice. Since Byfield only has two years to compare, his draft year and D-1 (the year before his draft year), he can only be compared to the first two years of his comparables. Each of his comparables were seen as incredible stars, selected in their Draft’s top-three, except for the eventual-90-point-scoring Marc Savard who went in the fourth round of 1995.

Being closest compared to Yakupov’s draft year is, in fact, a blessing. After his first-overall selection in 2012, Yakupov was seen as the next-big-thing. One article even went as far as predicting that he’d win the Calder and score 50 goals in his sophomore season. It went on to predict that Yakupov would be the Edmonton Oilers saviour, leading them to the Stanley Cup and ultimately earning a Hall-of-Fame birth.

Was this a stretch at the time? Yes. But it was all at least within the realm of possibility for the highly-anticipated first-overall pick. Yakupov’s reported laziness to work on his game and hard-headiness is what drove him away from his glimmering expectations and ultimately out of the league. But Byfield should be spoken of with the same enthusiasm as Yakupov was in 2012. He’s a glimmering prospect who has performed incredibly well in juniors. While his comparables list is a muddy group, it includes Hall-of-Famer Marc Savard and future-Hall-of-Famer Joe Thornton. The latter of the two has broken 100 points twice and spent his career as a consistent-go-to guy for his team. By all accounts, Byfield is on track to fill these exact shoes.

Marco Rossi

Byfield had a higher NHLer probability than Lafreniere but it wasn’t the highest of the 2020 NHL Draft top players. The man with the highest star and NHLer probabilities instead belongs to Marco Rossi, a 5’9″ dynamo from the OHL. Rossi scored an insane 120 points in 56 games this season, the most in the entire CHL. Across three leagues, no player could beat out Rossi’s incredible scoring pace. To add to it, Rossi also recorded 39 goals, good for 10th in the OHL. He’s a speedy, talented centre that plays, in essence, the absolute perfect “small-man” style of play. It’s hard to find negatives in Rossi’s game when watching him, especially as his theatrical speed and offensive skill distracts the eye. This great production makes him an exciting prospect and his model backs the hype:

Rossi’s Model

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Lafreniere’s model was jaw-dropping but Rossi’s is other-worldly. The last player to record an 82 percent DY Star Probability was Vladimir Tarasenko, the St. Louis Blues goal-scoring phenom. Before Tarasenko, the other most recent 82-percent player was Daniel Briere and Alexandre Daigle; stars in their own right.

An 83 percent NHLer probability is also terrific, leaving absolutely no room to argue why Rossi isn’t NHL-ready. In his draft year, for example, Nathan MacKinnon only had an 82 percent NHLer probability but would go on to score 63 points immediately following his draft selection.

The Comparables

It’s a very promising picture for Rossi; something made only better by his five comparables. The quintet contains two Hall-of-Famers and, at least, two more that will rival a call from the Hall. It’s an insane group for Rossi to be compared to, led by the incredibly coveted Eric Lindros.

Lindros’ career was historically held back by concussions, something the centreman became known for. But despite that, he managed an amazing eight-year career with the Philadelphia Flyers — before moving out of Philly for the final five years of his career — where he scored at least 40 goals four times and surpassed a 100-goal pace in six seasons.

Lindros only officially recorded 659 points in 486 games with the Flyers. But had he played in 82 games in each season, something he never did, he was on pace to end up with an incredible 889 points in 656 games… very good to say the least. With this production, Lindros has clearly gone down in history as one of, if not thee, greatest Flyers player ever.

It’s admittedly hopeful to say Rossi is going to perform as well as Lindros. The comparison in the model is made based only on the player’s D-1 and Draft Year performances. But in terms of development over the last two years, Rossi and Lindros are nearly identical. So while it might be safer to take the “under” here, Rossi’s trajectory is in line with three players that shattered the 1000-career-points mark. With Rossi’s flashy, speedy, offensive-focus style, there is no doubt that he could easily reach that tally one day, as will the other 2020 NHL Draft top players.

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