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NHL releases prospect rankings ahead of yet-to-be-rescheduled draft

Helene Elliott
Quinton Byfield, left, is No. 2 and and Alexis Lafreniere is No. 1 among North American players as ranked by NHL Central Scouting in advance of the draft.  (Vaughn Ridley / Getty Images)

As expected, prolific left wing Alexis Lafreniere of Rimouski in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League was ranked the No. 1 North American skater by NHL Central Scouting in advance of the annual NHL draft. Tim Stuetzle, who plays for Mannheim in Germany's top professional league, was ranked as the top international skater.

When the NHL draft will be held has not been determined due to the league's decision to pause all activities because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The draft originally was scheduled to be held at the Bell Centre in Montreal on June 26-27.

The Kings and the Ducks were in position to participate in the draft lottery when the season was put on hold. That’s not likely to change, even though some of the more outlandish scenarios for resuming and finishing the season include the possibility of play-in tournaments for teams that were not occupying playoff spots when the season halted on March 12.

In deference to social distancing recommendations, Central Scouting personnel held their final rankings meetings via video conferencing. The rankings are available on the NHL website.

Lafreniere, 18, led the QMJHL with 35 goals and 112 points in 52 games when play was halted in Canada’s junior leagues. He was voted the most valuable player in the 2020 world junior championships after collecting four goals and 10 points in five games and led Canada to the title.

“The natural competitive instincts and skills he displayed to take charge and lead Canada to victory put on display the determination, perseverance and passion that is part of his hockey DNA, which is truly exceptional and impressive,” Dan Marr, the NHL director of Central Scouting, told the league’s website.

The top three North American skaters remained the same as they were in the midseson rankings, which were issued in January: Center Quinton Byfield of Sudbury of the Ontario Hockey League ranked second, and defenseman Jamie Drysdale of Erie of the OHL is at No. 3. Byfield had 82 points (32 goals, 50 assists) in 45 OHL games. Drysdale, whose assets are his skating and his hockey sense, had nine goals and 47 points in 49 games.

Defenseman Jake Sanderson, the son of former NHL forward Geoff Sanderson, rose from 11th at midseason to fourth in the final rankings. Sanderson played for the U.S. National Team Development Program and has committed to play at the University of North Dakota next season.