Detroit — Why is there so much importance attached to winning Friday’s NHL Draft Lottery?
Because that team, including the Red Wings, will have the chance to pick first and select left wing Alexis Lafreniere.
There isn’t an NHL analyst out there, or mock draft that’s been compiled, that doesn’t have the Rimouski (Quebec Major Junior Hockey League) star going to whichever team wins Friday’s lottery and selects first.
Lafreniere won every major award for the best junior hockey player this pandemic-shortened season, and led Canada to gold medal at the world junior tournament with an impressive performance.
“He’s quite the player,” JF Damphousse, Quebec and Maritimes regional scout for Central Scouting, said in April. “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.”
The statistics are eye-popping: Lafreniere had 35 goals and 77 assists for 112 points in only 52 games for Rimouski.
But the 6-foot-1, 186-pound forward showed his grit and determination returning from a scary-looking knee injury at the world juniors — and the way Lafreniere excelled on the ice — that was equally impressive.
“The natural competitive instincts and skills he displayed to take charge and lead Canada to victory (at the world junior championships) put on display the determination, perseverance and passion that is part of his hockey DNA, which is truly exceptional and impressive," said Dan Marr, NHL director of central scouting, which has Lafreniere ranked No. 1 among eligible draft prospects.
Lafreniere had 10 points (four goals, six assists) in five games for Canada at the tournament.
During a conference call in April announcing Lafreniere’s selection as the No. 1 player by Central Scouting, Lafreniere talked about his intangibles, aside from on ice skills.
Lafreniere’s leadership qualities have received high marks among scouts, along with passion for the game.
“The way I'm a leader and always want to win when the game's on the line, I think I can make a difference,” Lafreniere said. “That's a strong asset that I have. For sure, there's some other really good players in the draft, so it's really special to be No. 1.”
Lafreniere is presumably the best of a small group of players who expected to be drafted within the first five or so picks.
Forwards Quinton Byfield, Tim Stutzle, Cole Perfetti (Saginaw/OHL) and Lucas Raymond, defensemen Jamie Drysdale and Jake Sanderson (US National Development Team Program), and goalie Yaroslav Askarov are all highly-regarded potential picks after Lafreniere.
The Red Wings have an 18.5% chance of winning Friday’s lottery, and would surely select Lafreniere if getting the chance.
Ottawa owns its own pick and San Jose’s — which happen to be the Nos. 2 and 3 spots after the Wings — giving the Senators an overall 25% chance of winning the No. 1 spot.
Lafreniere admitted playing in Ottawa — only two hours from his hometown — would be intriguing. But Lafreniere had good things to say about the Wings also, especially with his good friend Joe Veleno also part of the organization.
“I know it’s a great organization,” said Lafreniere, when asked about the Wings. “A lot of good players have played there I know Joe from playing with him two times in juniors. He’s my good friend now. For sure it would be fun to play with him (in the NHL).
“It would be fun, it would be special for sure,” said Lafreniere of being drafted by Ottawa. “It’s a great place to play, a lot of good players, it would be an honor for sure.
“We’ll see what happens.”