Draft day is finally upon us as the NHL’s 2020 draft process begins virtually with round one live on NBCSN tonight at 7 PM. The Washington Capitals will be making their first selection at pick number 24, which is the highest they have drafted since taking Ilya Samsonov 22nd overall in 2015.
The Caps have stated they’ll be taking who they consider the best player available, regardless of position, so let’s take a peek at some names that could be your newest face in red tonight.
Note: This is all assuming that the Capitals do actually pick 24th and said pick is not used to trade up or down in the draft or to acquire a roster player. Some of these prospects may be projected as higher or even second-round selections. The Caps eventual pick may not even make this list!
John-Jason Peterka – Left Wing, München DEL
Peterka is one of my favorites around this spot in the first round because of his absolute blazing speed and the potential that he can match that speed with the offensive, playmaking abilities to become a premier top-six forward in the NHL. His 5-foot-11 height is offset by his 192-pound frame and I believe there is a lethal scorer in Peterka waiting to be unleashed if the full package can come together.
At the latest WJC for Germany, he scored four goals and racked up a total of six points in seven games while showing off some maybe not previously known offensive instincts and savvy puck-handling skills. Some scouts do have concerns that he does not utilize that speed in terms of lateral quickness and is more of only a straight line skater a la someone like Michael Grabner.
NHL Central Scouting comparable: Jonathan Huberdeau
Noel Gunler – Right Wing, Lulea SHL
Gunler is easily one of the most interesting and “controversial” players in this entire draft. For example, TSN’s Craig Button has Gunler ranked as the 62nd best player in this class. In comparison, Sportsnet’s Sam Cosentino has him ranked 24th best. The main reason for that disparity is the questions that revolve around his commitment to playing a complete hockey game in terms of his overall defensive ability and shift-to-shift consistency. I personally think with Gunler that, that criticism is a bunch of crock and is just the result of a young player jumping up a level where he wasn’t playing near the number of minutes he was prior.
His shot is his number one strength and it’s easily one of the best in the entire draft. It doesn’t matter which type of shot you pick, he has an elite release. When you match that shot and his probably underrated playmaking skills with his size at 6-foot-2 for a winger, you can see why some teams might chalk up the consistency and defensive issues to just lack of development or consistent ice time. Gunler also loves driving to the front of the net and has a knack for finding the soft spot in defenses, which can be killer when you once again consider his heavy, heavy wrist shot.
NHL Central Scouting comparable: Blake Wheeler
Lukas Reichel – Left Wing, Berlin DEL
Reichel would be your ultra-project pick in the first round as he’s a late bloomer not only in terms of his growth physically but also in terms of taking his game to another level. He doesn’t have a jumpout attribute like Peterka’s speed or Gunler’s shot, but he has the signs of the full package which includes every tool that you like to see for a future elite forward in all three zones. The only thing lacking for me personally is that I think he needs to add a certain level of bite to his game as I think he can get lost on the periphery sometimes, but the growth potential is really hard to ignore. I’d go as far as saying that the Caps need to nab him up if he’s there at 24 because this kid could skyrocket in the next year.
Reichel, like his countryman Peterka, played the full 2019-20 season in the DEL against men and was highly impressive scoring 12 goals and grabbing 12 assists in 42 games. He also added five points in seven games for Germany in the most recent WJC.
NHL Central Scouting comparable: John Tavares
Kaiden Guhle – LHD, Prince Albert WHL
The first defenseman we’re going to take a look at is one I have gotten incredibly familiar with due to him playing on the same junior team as 2019 Caps draftee, Aliaksei Protas. I think it’s possible that it could be pointless to even discuss Guhle because he might even brush the top 10 in this draft, but I watched so much of him that it’d be stupid not to at least talk about him. Protas was obviously the huge standout for Prince Albert, putting up 80 points in 58 games and Ozzy Wiesblatt is another teammate that could go in this year’s first-round, but there is a high chance that Guhle is likely the best player out of all three.
He is a graceful, fantastic skater for someone that stands close to 6-foot-3 inches tall and has an absolute mean streak to his game which leads to some huge, highlight-reel hits. He fits the modern NHL well as he will never turn down a chance to join a rush up ice and his first step quickness and elusiveness is impressive, to say the least. His shot is nothing really to write home about and his overall offensive ability is not very notable, but the kid works his ass off and looks to be future leader material.
NHL Central Scouting comparable: Cam Fowler
Jan Mysak – Center/Left Wing, Hamilton OHL
Selecting Mysak is taking a bet on upside as this kid has a lot of it. I’m not really sure where Mysak will line up best in the future in terms of position as the one major knock on him at this point in his career is that he’s not exactly an elite skater like many of the other prospects that are projected to go around this area of the draft.
Overall though I love that he is a shoot-first player and is someone that can be relied on in all three zones. I think that while his skating still has some way to go, he makes up for it with how he reads the game both offensively and defensively. It was really good to see him absolutely hit the ground running in his “short” time with Hamilton last season, notching two hat tricks in his first 14 games with the club while also being a huge piece on their power play.
NHL Central Scouting comparable: Mikael Backlund
Hendrix Lapierre – Center, Chicoutimi QMJHL
If you thought Gunler was a wildcard, Lapierre is probably an even bigger one. An absolute bullseye top-ten talent that has some major injury questions. He’s had multiple, notable concussions already in his career as well as a neck injury all in the span of ten months that has derailed his draft stock. It still wouldn’t be a surprise if he gets nowhere close to pick 24, especially if the Canadiens get a chance to grab him at 16.
He is an outstanding, powerful skater that has elite playmaking ability and vision. Very smart player that will leave nothing on the ice as a competitor and if healthy is easily the most creative center in this draft for me. I think you’d obviously want him to shoot the puck more as he keeps developing, but at the same time, you don’t want to limit his strongest asset which is his ability to carry the puck and find open players at speed. He was the QMHL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2018-19 after scoring 13 times and assisting 32 times in 48 games played. Only played in 19 games last season, scoring twice and grabbing 17 total points.
NHL Central Scouting comparable: Jonathan Toews
Dylan Holloway – Center, Wisconsin NCAA
Holloway is a strong, two-way centerman that will forecheck and drive the net like a good power forward should. He has almost effortless speed to go along with the strength which leads him to be a successful pest both with or without the puck. There are some concerns about the refinement of his offensive game, but I think that a lot of that just has to do with his knack for playing a-mile-a-minute and once he matures he’ll round that off quite well.
The kid is a freight train when he kicks it into gear and historically lit up the Alberta Junior Hockey League (88 points in 53 games) before coming stateside to play college hockey with the Badgers. He doesn’t shy away from the rough stuff and loves getting to dirty areas. I don’t think he should fall to the Caps, but maybe will after spending a season in the shadows of guys like Cole Caufield and Alex Turcotte at Wisconsin. I personally have tended to underrate NCAA draft prospects my entire adult life (I think mainly because I find the hockey boring to watch) and Holloway is one of the guys that still managed to jump off the screen for me. I’d love him in a Caps uni.
NHL Central Scouting comparable: Dylan Larkin
William Wallinder – LHD, Modo Jr. Sweden Juniors
This dude is a big rig, standing at 6-foot-4. NHL Central Scouting says Wallinder is a “Big, mobile, two-way defenseman with good passing skills and hockey sense.” Welcome to what you want from a modern NHL defenseman. I think “mobile” almost understates how fluid and smooth this dude looks when he skates. It’s like watching an artist paint strokes onto a canvas, it’s that mesmerizing. I also think his skating really translates to his defensive ability as his gap control is effortless which pairs well with his reach and he can change speeds with smaller forwards very well.
One of the big knocks is that the guy just hasn’t fully grown into that frame yet. He is not going to be able to play a ton of minutes at this stage of his career and seems to get knocked off the puck or out of plays way too easily for someone his size. I think that stuff will obviously fade away as he gets older and matures, but it could be what sees a team take someone like his countryman Helge Grans over him. The other big knock is that his offensive ability is pretty much absent (although I think his shot will improve again as he matures) at this stage of his development and it’s unclear if that will ever really change.
NHL Central Scouting comparable: Victor Hedman
Helge Grans – RHD, Malmo Jr. Sweden Juniors
The other big, Swedish defenseman that could come off of a lot of boards in the first round. Grans is a much better offensive defenseman than Wallinder is and certainly doesn’t lack in size himself at almost 6-foot-3 and 206-pounds. Wallinder feels like much more of a sure thing to me than Grans, but Grans has a higher ceiling due to his potential offensive productivity.
His first pass is excellent and he pairs that with great vision to actually find the correct first pass. As a 17-year-old he was quarterbacking the power play for Malmo in the 21 games he played in the SHL for them last season. Now a lot of this offensive goodness comes with a few horror shows when he’s in his own zone and that’s why I actually like Wallinder more than him. Grans gets beat to the outside way too often and tends to take a lot of risks that can leave his partner exposed in his wake. I worry that that stuff won’t ever really leave his game and he’ll be a bit of a liability that maybe won’t be worth the uptick in offense he provides.
NHL Central Scouting comparable: John Klingberg
Roni Hirvonen – Center/Left Wing, Assat Liiga
This is where I’m going to go off the board and try to call my shot. Hirvonen is a 5-foot-9 center that a lot of draft boards have even ranked as a third-round draft prospect. So he’s a smaller forward that is known for his tenacity, playmaking skills, elite hands, and offensive instincts that a lot of scouts don’t have ranked quite high in the draft. Let me know if you’ve heard that same story like the past ten years in the draft and how that story has almost regularly evolved into a success.
I personally think his skillset would be maxed out best playing on the wing but his skating also needs a ton of work. He’s arguably slow and a guy this small cant afford to be slow.
NHL Central Scouting comparable: Sebastian Aho
This draft is a really fun one and it’s a shame the Caps don’t have a second-round pick as some major talent is likely going to still be there when that pick comes up. There is obviously a very solid block of about seven to eight wingers that seemingly no one evaluating prospects for this draft really agrees on in terms of where they may go as you can see a few above. There is also the potential for some big-name fallers like a Rodion Amirov, Jack Quinn, or maybe Alexander Holtz that the Caps should consider even moving up for if possible. Should be a fun day!
My pick: Lukas Reichel
Headline photo: NHL
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