Yesterday we looked at the defencemen who could be available around the midpoint of the 2020 NHL Draft’s opening round when the Montreal Canadiens are called upon. It seems that each year, every team is looking for that one additional top-four blue-liner for its roster, and the draft is the most sensical place to make that addition.
Or, you can take advantage of other teams trying to do that, possibly reaching deeper down the list of prospects to draft defencemen, and therefore have a stronger crop of forwards to make your selection from. Marc Bergevin has spent several years fleshing out his defence corps, and has over a dozen blue-liners in the system who could be on an NHL roster in two years’ time.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have targeted the front half of their lineup since the lockout, putting together an excellent group of skilled wingers, yet still being unable to make any headway in the post-season. There’s a very high chance they will be one of the teams adding a defenceman in the first round, and other teams could be doing the same. Like last year, there’s also a goaltender who looks poised to go before Montreal picks, so it’s shaping up to be a perfect storm for them to land a forward who would otherwise have been selected several spots earlier. These are the players who could be there for the taking at 16th overall.
Amirov is a good all-around forward. He’s a great skater, and has plenty of talent to be effective in all three zones. He had an excellent 2019-20 season in Russia’s MHL, with 10 goals and 12 assists in 17 games. As we tend to see from teenagers trying to find a foothold in the KHL, it was difficult to make any type of offensive impact in the second-best league in the world, and he earned just two points in a 21-game stint.
His value comes from being better than the average prospect in this class in just about every category, with both decent offensive upside and solid defensive play. He’s a balanced player who could very well see time in a team’s middle six once his development in Russia is complete.
Bourque is an intelligent forward with a lot to offer on the offensive side because he reads the ice so well and has ample skill to capitalize. He scored 71 points in his draft season, with 29 of those being goals.
He has the potential to develop into a centre at the NHL level, but could just as easily be converted into a winger, with his offensive game remaining intact no matter where he plays. He’ll typically find the right option when he’s looking to move the puck, and that’s his top quality.
He’s not among the best skaters in the class of smart, offensive players, and there’s a bit of work that needs to be done on his defensive game. If he improves those two elements even slightly, a top-six role is realistic for his future.
Brisson took a major leap in his draft year, and shot up draft boards as a result. Playing in the USHL ahead of a collegiate career, he had 24 goals and 35 assists in 45 games. He was best known for a one-time shot, accepting passes by blasting them on goal.
He’s another smart player, who knows where he should be on the ice, but isn’t always able to get there because his skating ability isn’t up to the level of his hand skills. He usually defers to teammates to transport the puck, and then takes over from there once the puck gets in the offensive zone. The mobility will need to improve for him to maximize his skill set, but if he does there’s a top-six role in his future.
Bringing a big body and a wicked shot to the table, Gunler should be a good bet at this point of the draft. However, he doesn’t really use his 6’2” frame to his advantage, and that’s going to turn off some scouts who formed an initial impression off of his height alone.
It’s also true that that shot hasn’t translated to goals at the SHL level. He’s played 63 games over the past three years, four of them in the past two weeks, and has just six goals. With all the other options available, it may be tough to justify picking him in the middle of the first round.
Holloway uses his big body better than Gunler does, but doesn’t have anywhere close to the same shot. In fact, his skill game is quite limited overall, and his projection fell from top-six upside to more middle-six or even bottom-six territory.
He’s a safe pick in that he has a high floor, with a low risk of busting, but you can also say that about some of the players on this list who have much more skill at their disposal.
He scored some of those goals via a good wrist shot, but mostly from shooting the puck from the top of the crease. He has good hands to deke in tight spaces, and times his arrival to get to the slot just as the puck is coming that way. That will translate even to the NHL level if defencemen can’t just box him out while he’s stationary, so a smaller frame shouldn’t be an issue, and NHL teams should have learned that lesson by now.
There’s no doubting the skill level of Lapierre. He can find teammates through traffic even if defencemen are standing in his way waiting to receive it. Stick-handling chops made more than a few of those defenders look silly last year. The question was how much of a threat he could be if he was unable — or unwilling — to shoot the puck.
He’s played two games in the 2020-21 season, and has already eclipsed his goal total from a year ago, with three. There was no hesitation to shoot in the opening weekend of QMJHL play, removing what seemed like a mental block on his projection. If he’s becoming a proper dual-threat offensive player, he’s going to get more chances to show off his playmaking skill, and could see a major jump in his output as a result. Just how high up the board can those three goals in two games take him?
You’re not going to find a better 200-foot player in the draft than Lundell. Of all the forwards available, you’d have to peg him as the most likely to gain votes for the Selke Trophy at some point in his career. He’s already played centre in a men’s league, and has never been a negative-impact player in his hockey career. He’s reliable, and that’s very valuable.
At the same time, he produced decent offensve totals, with strong passing and a good shot. The only thing holding him back is his average skating ability. If he can improve that area, he could become a proper top-six threat. With that the only area of weakness, he should be gone quickly on Tuesday night, as one NHL gets a guaranteed addition to its future roster.
Mercer’s defensive game isn’t quite as impressive as Lundell’s, but it’s not far behind. He patrols the middle of the ice in the defensive zone, preventing his counterparts from getting shots through. Quick hands get to sticks before shots are released, or knock down pucks before they challenge his goaltender.
He’s one of the most intelligent offensive forwards, capable of playing either centre or wing. He likes to control the game, and has exceptional hand skills to be able to pull it off. His flaw is his skating stride, but he more than compensates with his read of the ice and anticipation. He dabbles in every skill you’d want in a top-six forward, and he’s going to enjoy success at the NHL level even if his stride doesn’t improve.
If you want a shooter, Perreault could be the goal-scorer most likely to be left on the board at 16. He has the full arsenal of releases, from lethal backhands to one-time slapshots. It’s not a stretch to say he could be the most dangerous shooter in the class, and he’s not afraid to fire from any position. He’s also great in transition, exiting his zone with control just as well as he skates it over the offensive blue line.
The glamour begins to fade when he doesn’t hold the puck. He’s not nearly as interested in the game if he’s not heading north in search of offence. His defensive effort leaves a lot to be desired, and that’s going to prevent him from getting offensive chances at higher levels. To get the most out of his offensive tools, an NHL teams will need to see him shore up his play without possession first.
Perreault may be the best shooter, but Quinn was the top scorer among all draft-eligible players in the Junior hockey system. He had an incredible 52 goals in 62 games for the Ottawa 67’s, forcing his way right into the low slot before ripping wrist shots past OHL netminders.
His defensive game benefits from that same effort level, hounding opponents along the boards in an attempt to recover the puck, his work ethic always on full display. Even without the goal-scoring he would be a highly regarded NHL prospect. With it, he should challenge for a spot in the top 10.
Zary put up a lot of goals in 2019-20, ranking as one of the top producers in the WHL. He liked to have the puck, and could make a lot of dangerous things happen with it. He may have liked possessing the puck a bit too much, as he often tried to make one extra play himself rather than deferring to a teammate.
He’s one of the few players on his list whose skating can be qualified as below average, with most of them being at least at a median level of mobility. He had to defer to teammates to get the puck to the offensive zone, where he often posted up waiting for it to come to him for a scoring chance.
He was able to make up for that with lightning-quick hands to knock down passes in the neutral zone, and they also helped him collect poor passes from teammates and turn them into quality shots. The issues with his stride are going to incrementally reduce his effectiveness as his career progresses, so it’s difficult to project him as the same player he is in Junior once he gets to the NHL level.
Which forward would you prefer to have at 16?
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Other (who would you take?)