A month and a half after the initial phase of the N.H.L. draft lottery was held, the Rangers won No. 1 selection and the opportunity to select the consensus top prospect Alexis Lafreniere, a dazzling 18 year-old wing from Quebec.
“It really is exciting, for sure,” Lafreniere said moments after the pick was announced. He cited potentially playing alongside Hart Trophy finalist Artemi Panarin and Rangers leading scorer Mika Zibanejad as reasons for his optimism. “I think theyre going to have a lot of success in the next couple years.”
After being swept by the Carolina Hurricanes in the play-in round, the team won the second part of the draft lottery held on Monday. It has had six first-round picks in the past three years, including the No. 2 pick in 2019 that they used to select Kaapo Kakko.
The second phase of the draft lottery was needed because none of the seven teams left out of the qualifying round won the pick in the first phase held on June 26. Monday’s draw consisted of the eight teams eliminated in the postseason qualifying round, each of which had a 12.5 percent chance of landing the top pick.
In a year when little has been conventional, the N.H.L.’s draft lottery was decided in two phases with more moving parts than a Swiss watch. The first draw had revealed the seven teams that will select in the second through eighth spots. Eight so-called “placeholder” selections represented the teams that had yet to compete in the postseason qualifying round.
Lafreniere cemented his standing as the top prospect over the course of the past two seasons, dominating Canadian junior hockey and at international events like the Gretzky-Hlinka Cup and Under-20 World Junior Championships. Where Lafreniere skated, hardware followed in the form of nearly every “Player of the Year” trophy for which he was eligible.
Lafreniere has eschewed comparisons to Sidney Crosby, the Pittsburgh Penguins star who was drafted first overall from the same junior team, Rimouski Oceanic. But Scotty Bowman, the nine-time Stanley Cup-winning coach and Montreal native — said he had little doubt as to Lafreniere’s place among the 2020 draft class.
“He’s much better than anybody else. There’s nobody close to him,” Bowman said earlier this year.
While Lafrenière may be a slightly less certain superstar than Crosby or the Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid when they were prospects, he is widely regarded as a surefire first liner with pro-level poise. He is also a rare wing who can drive play in a manner usually reserved for centermen, much like the American wings Patrick Kane and Johnny Gaudreau but, at 6-foot-1 and 192 pounds, is bigger than either of those players.
Center Quinton Byfield and forward Tim Stutzle head up the rest of a talented group of forwards eligible to be drafted this year, while defensemen Jamie Drysdale and Jake Sanderson are generally considered the top rear guard prospects. The Russian goalie Yaroslav Askarov seems a mortal lock to be the first taken at his position.
If Stutzle is selected second over all, he would become the highest selected German-trained player in league history, a distinction currently held by Edmonton center Leon Draisaitl. Byfield could surpass Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones as the highest selected Black player in the N.H.L. draft.