The 2020 NHL draft was labelled as one of the deeper draft classes in recent memory. As always, only time will tell if that label turns out to be accurate. There are several recently drafted players that might be able to make a leap into the NHL and while the top candidate is rather obvious as first overall selection, Alex Lafrenière, others aren’t quite as apparent.
In Lafreniere, the former Rimouski Océanic star will transition into the New York Rangers lineup next season. Almost everyone seems to agree that this is a slam dunk play for a rebuilding Rangers organization that may still be sellers this season but are rebuilding quickly, in no small part because they won the NHL Draft Lottery.
Maybe Quinton Byfield will be able to make an impact for the LA Kings next season or Tim Stuetzle in Ottawa with the Senators (health pending). But, considering the quality class of prospects in 2020, is there any other recent selections taken outside the top five that could also make the NHL jump?
Let’s look at three additional first round picks that could have a shot at becoming NHL regulars in the next several months.
Alexander Holtz – 7th overall, New Jersey Devils
Obviously, if a teenager is going to make the NHL jump, they need to prove as a prospect that they are 100% ready to face NHL competition. The make up of the current roster for which that prospect is playing and the competition for jobs plays a factor.
In New Jersey, the Devils are in a good position to integrate some more young talent into the eventual 2020/21 roster. The team has $32M invested in nine roster forwards heading into next season and they have the most cap room in the league at over $17M. They could likely add to that group through free agency prior to the season but there’s room for a prospect or two.
The Devils have some excellent young offensive prospects that will be looking to crack lineup including Nolan Foote, Nick Merkley, and Jesper Boqvist. Additionally, the Devils first selection in 2020, Alexander Holtz, could also be added to that list.
New Jersey drafted the young Swedish star 7th overall back in October. At 5’11” and 190lbs, Holtz is considered to have the physical stature and ability to withstand the increase in strength that will come at him at the NHL level. Holtz is currently with Djurgårdens in Sweden’s top league where the youngster has produced four goals and five assists in 12 games thus far.
Marco Rossi – 9th overall, Minnesota Wild
Perhaps no other team has made more changes to the forward group than the Minnesota Wild. Considering the influx of new faces in Minnesota they may also give 9th overall pick, Marco Rossi, an opportunity. The Wild have already committed to Rossi by signing him to his entry level contract.
The young Austrian star has been officially loaned to Zurich in the Swiss elite league but he’ll be back for camp and the undersized center is thought to be dynamic enough to have a legitimate shot in Minnesota. A significant stumbling block for Rossi might be the current contractual obligations Minnesota already have in place. The Wild are already paying over $41M to 13 ‘roster’ forwards in 2020/21.
Anton Lundell – 12th overall, Florida Panthers
The Florida Panthers lost several key forwards this offseason (Evgeni Dadonov, and likely Mike Hoffman). Further, they only have 10 signed forwards that are slated to be roster players in 2020/21. Those 10 contracts total less than $30M – the rebuilding Ottawa Senators are the only other team that have less than $30M in forward contracts.
It is believe that with $8M in cap space the Panthers will likely look to sign at least one more free agent forward before next season but they have some good prospects in the system that might be ready. Young forwards like Aleksi Heponiemi, Owen Tippet, or Eetu Luostarinen could all compete for spots in Florida’s line up next season.
Based on his season with HIFK Helsinki, Anton Lundell is another candidate to make a push with the Panthers next season. Currently, he is on a point per game pace in Finland’s top league with nine goals and four assists over his first 13 games. Prior to the draft Lundell was thought to be physically ready as he stands 6’1 and weighs nearly 190 pounds. You know it is a good draft class when the 12th overall selection could be an NHL regular the following season.
The 2020/21 season is going to be unique and as such anything can happen with young prospects. Likely every team has a different strategy as to how they will balance the roster with young prospects during a shortened NHL season. It will be interesting to see how the above noted teams handle the three prospects listed above.
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