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NHL Set For Virtual Draft; Lafreniere In Line As Top Pick

Germany's Tim Stutzle skates during first period action against Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championships in Ostrava, Czech Republic, Monday, Dec. 30, 2019. Stutzle is a top prospect in the upcoming NHL Draft. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press via AP)

Germany's Tim Stutzle skates during first period action against Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championships in Ostrava, Czech Republic, Monday, Dec. 30, 2019. Stutzle is a top prospect in the upcoming NHL Draft. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press via AP)

Alexis Lafreniere was supposed to hear his named called in front of family, friends and an adoring crowd inside Montreals Bell Centre.

Alexis Lafreniere was supposed to hear his named called in front of family, friends and an adoring crowd inside Montreals Bell Centre.

The presumptive top pick in the 2020 NHL draft from Quebec would then climb on stage, shake hands with Commissioner Gary Bettman and pull on the jersey of his new team — presumably the New York Rangers.

The pandemic, however, took care of that.

The draft originally was scheduled for June 26 and 27. Instead, the league this week will instead hold a pared-down draft by video conference. The first round is Tuesday, with rounds two through seven on Wednesday.

Its been a pretty long (wait), Lafreniere said. Its coming pretty soon.

The Rangers beat the odds and won the second phase of the lottery in August, setting them up to take the flashy winger.

Lafreniere is the top-ranked North American skater, according to NHL Central Scouting. He is a two-time Canadian Hockey League player of the year, having totaled 35 goals and 112 points in 52 games before the 2019-20 Quebec Major Junior Hockey League season was canceled.

Lafreniere was the MVP of this years world junior hockey championship after leading Canada to a gold medal. He would join a forward group in New York that includes Hart Trophy finalist Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad and 2019 No. 2 selection Kaapo Kakko.

The Rangers are a really big organization, a really good team, said Lafreniere, who turns 19 on Sunday. Well see what happens, but its a really exciting thing.

Things should get more interesting once the Los Angeles Kings are on the clock, likely choosing between center Quinton Byfield of the Ontario Hockey Leagues Sudbury Wolves or winger Tim Stuetzle from Germanys top pro division.

Stuetzle is the top-ranked European skater and has been likened to Chicago Blackhawks star Patrick Kane. Stuetzle says hell watch the first round in the middle of the night in Germany.

The Ottawa Senators own the No .3 pick acquired from the San Jose Sharks two years ago as part of the Erik Karlsson trade as well as the fifth selection. If they hold onto both, theyll become just the eighth team since 1969 to choose twice in the top five and the first since 2000. The Detroit Red Wings pick fourth.

Among the players who could also fall in the top 10 are: smooth-skating defenseman Jamie Drysdale of the OHLs Erie Otters; blueliner Jake Sanderson of the U.S. under-18 program; forward Cole Perfetti of the OHLs Sarina Sting, Swedish forwards Alexander Holtz and Lucas Raymond; center Marco Rossi on the OHLs Ottawa 67s; winger Jack Quinn of Ottawa; and Russian goalie Yaroslav Askarov.

Weve gone through multiple scenarios, weve had multiple mock drafts, Senators general manager Pierre Dorion said. Well be ready.

The NHL finished its pandemic-delayed season inside the Edmonton and Toronto bubbles and under tight health and safety guidelines. Junes draft combine was canceled, meaning there was no physical testing of prospects and no in-person interviews.

Its certainly been a challenge, Boston Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said. Everybodys had to adjust.

Flames general manager Brad Treliving said it will be a change conducting the draft remotely.

We have a few of our people coming in, he said. The biggest difference is we wont have all of our scouts in attendance.

The NFL and WNBA held virtual drafts because of the pandemic in the spring, with both going relatively smoothly.

Weve talked with other GMs from other sports that have had to go through this, San Jose general manager Doug Wilson said. Well have enough setup that well have all of our staff accessible.

___

The Canadian Press contributed to this report.


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