‘Compete level’ separates possible Red Wings' No. 1 pick Alexis Lafreniere

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit – Alexis Lafreniere began this hockey season as the likely best player in the NHL Draft – and he also wound up in that position.

Lafreniere, a forward, was the No. 1 North American skater Wednesday as the NHL released its final Central Scouting rankings.

Alexis Lafreniere

Lafreniere had a dominant season for Rimouski, in the Quebec Major Junior league, with 112 points (35 goals, 77 assists) in 34 games before the season ended on March 17 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Forward Quinton Byfield (Sudbury) was ranked No. 2 and defenseman Jamie Drysdale (Erie) No. 3. Defenseman Jake Sanderson, of the Plymouth-based U.S. National Development Team Program, was No. 4, and forward Cole Perfetti of Saginaw ranked fifth.

German forward Tim Stuetzle was ranked the No. 1 international skater.

But it’ll be Lafreniere who will be targeted first by the Red Wings and other teams in the draft lottery.

“He’s quite the player,” JF Damphousse, Quebec and Maritimes regional scout for Central Scouting, said Wednesday. “When you look at every aspect of his game, you could consider every aspect as elite. Every time I saw him play, he makes plays that you don’t think are possible, and he still makes them.

“(But) what separates him from the pack is his compete level. He’s willing to play physical and he battles every game.”

When the draft takes place and how the lottery will be determined are issues that will be settled eventually. If the current NHL standings were to hold, the Wings would have an 18.5-percent chance of landing the No. 1 pick – the best singular odds.

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Despite all of hockey being put on hold, Lafreniere is staying patient and remains excited about the future.

“It’s a dream of every hockey player (to be drafted),” Lafreniere said. “To see how close we are right now, it’s pretty exciting. We’re all excited for the draft.”

After Detroit in the lottery, Ottawa has the second-worst record and a 13.5-percent chance of getting the No. 1 pick. But the Senators also hold San Jose’s No. 3 pick (11.5 percent), so combined Ottawa has a 25-percent chance of winning the rights to draft Lafreniere.

This draft process has already been turned upside by the fact that junior, NCAA, and European leagues shut down their seasons early and cancelled playoffs. With the draft combine also being scrapped, teams are relying heavily on their early-season scouting, said Dan Marr, central scouting director.

“Certainly it’s new territory for the clubs,” Marr said. “They’ve never had a situation like this where they don’t get to factor in the playoff performances. It kind of puts them on an even level with central scouting. There’s a lot of old-fashioned scouting going on.

“Everybody’s staff has been out there (during the season) and getting a good view and opinion of these players.”

Several issues cropped up with the cancellation of the combine, where teams can interview players, and numerous medical and physical testing is completed. Teams are now interviewing players with various video conferencing technologies. As for medical testing, Marr said Central Scouting collects medical history questionnaires from the players and any relevant medical reports are posted on a league scouting website.

Also, Marr said physical testing information is available on approximately 75 of the top 100 prospects and will be available for teams.

Central Scouting usually issues its final rankings between the draft lottery and first-round of the NHL playoffs, so Wednesday’s release was identical to previous years.

“Our ranking is based on regular-season play and gives us a balanced assessment,” said Marr, noting there were some changes from normal. “We moved it (meetings) to an online format. We were able to conduct business as usual, minus the personal interactions when you have breaks and dinners.

“But we were able to make the best of the situation and get our list.”

Both Lafreniere and Stuetzle, said Marr, were worthy top-ranked players because of their ability to dominate under pressure situations.

“Particularly on the world stage,” Marr said. “In most situations, it really stands out. But it’s their consistency to play and compete at a high level and constantly produce those results (that stood out).”


Twitter: @tkulfan