Alexis Lafreniere’s NHL future will become much clearer when the First Phase of the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery is held Friday (8 p.m. ET; NHLN, NBCSN, SN, TVAS).The left wing from Rimouski of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League is projected to be the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, and experts say he’s worthy of that distinction.
“He’s already one of the best players in the world, in my opinion, so he’ll step right in,” NHL Central Scouting senior manager David Gregory said. “Unless something really dramatic happens, he’s going to go to a team that needs immediate help.”
The Detroit Red Wings have the best odds (18.5 percent) of winning the lottery, which will take place at NHL Network studios in Secaucus, New Jersey. The Ottawa Senators have two lottery picks and the second- and third-best odds (13.5 percent, 11.5 percent) of being awarded the No. 1 pick. In addition to their selection, the Senators acquired the San Jose Sharks’ pick in the trade of defenseman Erik Karlsson.
The lottery will determine the first 15 picks in the draft and will include 3-6 drawings during one or two phases. It will include the seven teams not included in the NHL Return to Play Plan after the season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus, and the eight teams that lose the best-of-5 Stanley Cup Qualifier series.
The first drawing of the First Phase will set the team selecting No. 1 in the draft, the second drawing will set the team selecting No. 2, and the third drawing will set the team selecting No. 3.
If a team not in the bottom seven wins any of the first three drawings, a Second Phase will be conducted among only the eight teams eliminated in the qualifiers, and each team will have equal odds. That would take place between the end of the qualifiers and the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
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Lafreniere, No. 1 in NHL Central Scouting’s final ranking of North American skaters, won five major awards after the cancellation of the remainder of the Canadian Hockey League regular season March 18 and its playoffs March 23 due to the coronavirus.
Lafreniere (6-foot-1, 193 pounds) won the Jean Beliveau Trophy as the leading scorer in the QMJHL with 112 points (35 goals, 77 assists) in 52 games. He also won the league’s Michel Briere Trophy as its most valuable player, its Paul Dumont Trophy as personality of the year, the CHL Top Draft Prospect of the Year Award and David Branch Player of the Year Award as MVP of the CHL.
The QMJHL is one of three leagues that make up the Canadian Hockey League, along with the Ontario Hockey League and the Western Hockey League.
Lafreniere and Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby are the only players to win back-to-back CHL Player of the Year honors. Crosby won it in 2004 and 2005 while playing for Rimouski.
“I tried to do my best to play as good as I could in every game I was in,” Lafreniere said, “and for sure there’s some really good players around the world, so you never know who’s going to go No. 1. But I tried my best to play as good as I could.”
Lafreniere’s CHL-leading average of 2.15 points per game is the best since Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid averaged 2.50 with Erie (OHL) in 2014-15.
“I think [Lafreniere] is capable of 60 points as a first-year player,” said TSN director of scouting Craig Button, a former NHL general manager. “He’s physically mature, mentally mature and he’s got all the skills. Some players aren’t ready to handle the rigors of a full season when they enter the League as a teenager.”
Button mentioned New Jersey Devils center Jack Hughes and New York Rangers forward Kaapo Kakko, selected Nos. 1 and 2 in the 2019 NHL Draft, as examples of players who had rookie struggles.
Video: Alexis Lafreniere Chats With Brian Lawton
Hughes ranked 17th among NHL rookies this season with 21 points (seven goals, 14 assists) in 61 games. Kakko was tied for 11th with 23 points (10 goals, 13 assists) in 66 games. 
Button said Lafreniere won’t have that issue.
“You’ve watched Jack Hughes, you’ve watched Kaapo Kakko, and they’re going to be really good players, but they just weren’t ready physically,” Button said. “They weren’t ready to handle the rigors. Lafreniere will be.”
Central Scouting director Dan Marr said Lafreniere has been on a different level for some time leading up to the draft.
“Alexis has been scouted quite extensively the last three seasons and deservedly has been on a platform of his own making,” Marr said. “There are a couple of details that have always stood out when scouting Alexis and they are trademarks to his game. The first being that you never have to look for him; you know when he’s on the ice because he’s in control of the play. The second is the confidence level displayed in his game as he plays a brash style, which along with his talent, allows him to excel.”
The 18-year-old was named MVP at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship after he scored 10 points (four goals, six assists) in five games to help Canada win the tournament. He could be the third QMJHL player to be chosen No. 1 in eight years, following Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon (2013, Halifax) and Devils center Nico Hischier (2017, Halifax).
Joseph Veleno, chosen by the Red Wings in the first round (No. 30) of the 2018 NHL Draft, was the center on Lafreniere’s line for most games at the 2020 WJC. Lafreniere could be reunited with Veleno if Detroit wins the lottery. 
“We kind of read the game the same way,” Veleno said. “He has elite skill, tremendous hockey IQ and he can play physical. You’re not going to go first overall by accident, and he definitely deserves to go first overall. He’s even a better person, very humble and down to earth. He’s got a great future ahead of him for sure.”
Dallas Stars director of amateur scouting Joe McDonnell said, “I think he just does everything so well. He seems to have that compete level to go along with all the skill and he doesn’t take too many shifts off. Sometimes you’re trying to knock kids, saying, ‘Well, he doesn’t bring it every night.’ Obviously you can’t say that about Alexis, and I think that’s one huge quality he has, to go along with everything else.”
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