Recently, I’ve been writing a lot about the NHL draft, which is interesting to me since I’m not particularly a “draft guy”. I am interested in it around the time it is set to happen each year, and will watch some prospect tape, but other than that, I don’t spend time looking at these players throughout the year.
Perhaps it’s because of the lack of current hockey, but I find myself all of a sudden watching draft tape and projecting the futures of these players, and what a time to do so, since this upcoming draft looks to be one of the best drafts since 2015. There are a number of very high profile talents beyond the top two or three players. In fact, I’ve even seen some suggest that the beyond the obvious consensus best player, the next ten players could match each other in terms of talent.
However, I wanted to look deeper and determine just how good this draft could be, and there’s no better place to start than with the best of the best. This year, though as I’ve said the talent is deep, Alexis Lafreniere comes out on top by a fairly considerable margin. The 18-year-old seems to have all of the tools to succeed. He is NHL built (6’1”, 192 lbs), and he uses his size to his advantage and can be quite physical. On top of that, he is incredibly skilled and makes putting up points look easy.
So, with all that said, just how good is Lafreniere looking? Let’s take a look:
What do the stats say?
Take a look at the following table. All of these players are first overall picks who played in the CHL, and all of the stats shown are their draft seasons:
First Overall Picks
If you’re looking purely from a points perspective, as this table does, Player B is clearly the best of the bunch, with Player C very closely behind him. Player A isn’t quite there with B and C, but can still be considered elite if you’re hitting more than two points a game in your draft year. Then, there is Player D, who is very good, but not at that same level as the previous three.
As you can probably guess, Player A is Alexis Lafreniere (he is going to go #1 overall so I have confidence in my previous statement). Player B is Sidney Crosby and Player C is Connor McDavid, who both had insane draft seasons in the CHL and are obvious generational talents. Lastly is Player D, who is Taylor Hall. Hall sits under McDavid and Crosby in the “very good/borderline elite” category.
If we’re looking at talent level purely from their draft seasons, we can say that Lafreniere at this moment is far better than Taylor Hall, but a tier down from the likes of McDavid and Crosby. So, essentially it’s predicted that Lafreniere isn’t going to be a point per game player out of the gate in the NHL, which was never a fair expectation for him in the first place. Obviously, not every player who excels in Juniors is going to automatically become one of the greatest hockey players in history.
What we are looking at, however, is a player in that very next category under. While Lafreniere isn’t going to score 90 points in his rookie season, he may very well reach that in year two or three. With his skill set, combined with all the projections, Lafreniere is a special talent that I think can grow, quite quickly, into one of the premier players in the NHL. He may never reach that Crosby or McDavid echelon, but he can come pretty close.
The Eye Test
My word does this kid have hands.
I’ve said of a few prospects in past articles that they were very skilled and had an arsenal of moves, but Lafreniere blows them all out of the water. In watching some of his tape, he’s made some moves where it just looks like the play is completely dead, and then boom, goal.
Alexis Lafrenière’s dangle around Thimo Nickl and his one handed pass to help key up a Cedric Pare goal is a MUST WATCH. #2020NHLDraft | @DobberProspects | @FCHockey pic.twitter.com/6Rxs7klgar— Josh Tessler (@JoshTessler_) December 1, 2019
He is incredibly creative with the puck on his stick, and due to being a big body with some decent strength, it’s difficult to take the puck off him as a defender. He combines that with unpredictability in his dangles and moves to embarrass teams on a nightly basis. Even when he has bad games, he has good games.
Lafreniere may be best known for his passing, and ability to spot a seam at even strength and the power play, but he has a very good shot that is explosive and accurate to a tee. In the highlight below, for the first goal, you can see just how good his shot is.
Lafreniere truly has all of the tools to be one of the elites of the elite in the NHL. Don’t get me wrong before when I discussed Lafreniere’s rookie season. He is likely going to have a very good first year in the league. However, don’t expect him to be in the top ten in points. As of right now, Lafreniere’s skating isn’t nearly as good as Connor McDavid’s (nobody may ever be as good a skater) and while his playmaking ability is exceptional, he isn’t at that Sidney Crosby level. Can he improve his skating and get to Crosby’s passing talent? I surely believe he can for the latter at least, however, that comes with time, training, and experience.
Lafreniere has the future of a generation-defining player, but it won’t happen near immediately. Not everyone can be the greatest.