Detroit – If not Alexis Lafreniere, who?
Lafreniere is considered the consensus No. 1 pick in the NHL Draft (whenever that draft takes place).
That goes for the Red Wings, or whichever team gets to pick first.
But who are the best options after Lafreniere?
Three players appear to be distancing themselves from the pack, with each bringing different skill sets.
Forwards Quinton Byfield (Sudbury) and Tim Stutzle (Germany), and defenseman Jamie Drysdale (Erie), are the three best players on most mock drafts, and Wednesday were highlighted by NHL Central Scouting.
While Lafreniere was ranked the No. 1 North American skater by the NHL’s scouting arm, Byfield was No. 2 and Drysdale third. Stutzle, meanwhile, was the top-ranked European skater.
“It’s important that everyone knows the best is still ahead for all of these four prospects,” said Dan Marr, Central Scouting director.
The Red Wings are assured of picking no worse than No. 4 overall, and they can use help at every position.
Taking Lafreniere out of the equation, what do the other three players offer?
►Quinton Byfield: The player Byfield draws comparison to almost exclusively is Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin. Both are big, rangy centers who have great hands and can deftly get around defenders.
During a teleconference Wednesday, Byfield admitted he’s watched a lot of Malkin and admires the way Malkin plays.
“That’s just an honor to be compared to that guy – he’s a future Hall of Famer,” said Byfield, who has been the No. 2 prospect in this class most of the season. “I’m definitely watching as many Penguins games as possible just to see what he does on the ice and how he plays.
“He’s a big, 200-foot (full-ice) center and the amazing offensive ability he has, and how he plays, is just unbelievable. I definitely watch him quite a bit and try to mold my game after him.”
Byfield is listed at 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, but has the build to comfortably put on more weight. Malkin is a natural comparison because of the way both can handle the puck but also overpower defenders if needed.
If there’s a concern with Byfield, it’s that some scouts are mildly worried about Byfield’s foot speed, although it’s not a universal concern.
“A player with his size and strength, and there’s more size and strength to come,” said David Gregory, Central Scouting senior manager. “But to be able to have soft hands and the vision, and making plays, when players try to eliminate him he can beat you with power or beat you with hands and hockey sense.
“That makes him very tough to contain and a really attractive prospect.”
Byfield had 82 points (32 goals, 50 assists) in 45 games with Sudbury in the OHL.
“It was definitely a big year for me,” Byfield said. “I’d describe myself as a big, two-way forward that tries to play a 200-foot game.”
►Tim Stutzle: The other forward in the class of Lafreniere and Byfield is 18-year-old German center Stutzle, who impressed scouts as this season progressed.
At 6-foot-1 and 187 pounds, Stutzle’s offensive game blossomed while playing in Germany’s pro league against older, experienced players.
Scouts also love intangibles such as Stutzle’s determination and attitude.
“Playing with men and training with men all the time helped me out a lot,” Stutzle said. “They want to make me better and I’m so thankful for my teammates (in Germany). They helped me out and I learned a lot from the veterans. It was a great season for me.”
Stutzle had 34 points (seven goals) in 41 games for Mannheim and was the league’s rookie of the year. Stutzle played left wing and center but is expected to evolve into primarily a center in the NHL.
“I hate to lose and I want to win every game and I want to be a difference-maker,” Stutzle said. “I’m humble and a hard worker so I want to get better every day, too. There are a lot of good players in the draft and I’m just honored to be part of it.”
►Jamie Drysdale: The way Quinn Hughes (Michigan/Vancouver) and Cale Makar (Colorado) stepped in and starred the last two seasons, every team is looking for the next offensive y dominant defenseman.
Drysdale (5-foot-11, 175-pounds) is the highest-rated defenseman, a small, speedy defenseman who can ignite the rush and dominate with the puck on his stick.
“Jamie Drysdale is the type of player that every team is looking for,” Gregory said. “Very smart, puck-moving defenseman who can beat you with his vision, beat you with his hockey sense, and use his great quickness and thinking to defend and strip the puck and turn it around.
“Before you know it, it’s going the other way and he finds the open man on the attack. That makes him too tough to pass up if he’s available when you’re picking.”
Drysdale had 47 points (nine goals) in 49 games for Erie (OHL) while driving the offense. He attempts to pattern his game after rushing defensemen such as Makar, Hughes and Toronto’s Morgan Rielly.
“The way (Rielly) can play both ends of the ice and make an impact, and be trusted in all zones, that’s definitely a player that I like to watch and just kind of add to my game,” Drysdale said. “The things that stand out with them are skating and just how they think the game, how they have confidence with the puck.
“Those are thing that I try to use as much as I can in my game and things that will lead to success at the next level.”