The NHL draft by its very nature is all about comparison. How one player compares to another ultimately decides a team’s draft board. And in the 2020 NHL draft, the gap between the top two prospects and the rest of the class is fairly substantial. Alexis Lafreniere and Quinton Byfield project favorably to being All-Star-level players for the bulk of their careers.
But how do those two talents stack up — based on my own evaluations — against the top two picks from the previous four drafts, dating back to the Auston Matthews 2016 class? Strictly looking at where I thought those players were at the time of their draft, and not revising evaluations based on what they’ve done as NHLers, I stacked Lafreniere, Byfield and the top two prospects from 2016 to 2019. (It should be noted that I was off the draft beat for 2017 but still followed that season closely and consulted some outside sources to augment that gap.)
One thing to keep in mind is the margin between players is often very, very thin. We’re talking about elite players who were elite prospects. That said, where do our two top prospects for 2020 fall in comparison?
Drafted No. 1 in 2016 from the Swiss National League
Matthews had one of the most unique draft seasons of any prospect maybe ever. An elite American player going overseas to play pro hockey is unheard of, and we might not see it again unless the stars align perfectly for someone else.
After a record-setting U18 season at the USA Hockey National Team Development Program, Matthews headed to Switzerland and torched the record books with the ZSC Lions in the NLA. No player 18 years old or younger in the league’s history had as many as Matthews’ 46 points or reached his absurd 1.28 points-per-game average. In fact, no U19 player in any of the top five European professional leagues has ever had a points-per-game average that high. Matthews then dominated at the world juniors and men’s world championship, leading Team USA in scoring at both events.