Alexis Lafreniere smiles while looking at his results on the clock during the Kubota OHL/NHL Top Prospects team white on-ice skills testing in Hamilton, Ont. on Wednesday, January 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Peter Power

Alexis Lafreniere smiles while looking at his results on the clock during the Kubota OHL/NHL Top Prospects team white on-ice skills testing in Hamilton, Ont. on Wednesday, January 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Peter Power

New York Rangers select Lafrenière with No. 1 pick in NHL draft

Vancouver Canucks have no picks until Round 3

The New York Rangers selected Alexis Lafreniere with the first pick in the NHL’s pandemic-delayed draft Tuesday.

The star winger from the Rimouski Oceanic of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League registered 35 goals and 112 points in 52 games before the 2019-20 season was cancelled because of COVID-19.

Just the second back-to-back recipient of the Canadian Hockey League’s player of the year award, following in the footsteps of fellow Rimouski captain Sidney Crosby in 2004 and 2005, Lafreniere was NHL Central Scouting’s top-ranked North American skater and long-viewed as the consensus choice at No. 1.

“It was an unreal feeling,” Lafreniere, sporting his new team’s hat and jersey, said on a video conference call from the family home in St-Eustache, Que., after having his name called first. “The New York Rangers are a great organization.

“I’m really, really honoured to join them.”

The draft, which was originally scheduled for June 26 and 27 in Montreal, is being held remotely via video conference due to the pandemic. Rounds two through seven are scheduled for Wednesday before NHL free agency opens 48 hours later.

“We’ve been waiting for a long time so it was something really special for me and for my family,” Lafreniere added. “We’re all really excited.”

Lafreniere is the first Canadian to go No. 1 since the Edmonton Oilers selected Connor McDavid in 2015. The Oilers announced late Monday that McDavid had tested positive for COVID-19, is experiencing mild symptoms, and is quarantining at home.

Before the Lafreniere pick, commissioner Gary Bettman announced the league and players are now focused on starting the 2020-21 season on Jan. 1 after previously aiming to get things going Dec. 1. The 2019-20 campaign was suspended in mid-March due to the pandemic and completed late last month inside two tightly-controlled bubbles in Edmonton and Toronto without fans in attendance.

The Los Angeles Kings had the second selection and chose six-foot-four centre Quinton Byfield of the Ontario Hockey League’s Sudbury Wolves.

Byfield became the highest Black player picked in NHL draft history. Evander Kane (2009) and Seth Jones (2013) each went fourth overall.

“That’s definitely means a lot to me, and that’s something special,” Byfield said. “Being in the record books for anything is super special, but that especially.”

The Ottawa Senators used the No. 3 selection, which they acquired from the San Jose Sharks as part of the Erik Karlsson trade two years ago, to grab shifty German winger Tim Stuetzle. University of Ottawa alumni and “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek announced the pick in a pre-taped appearance.

“I didn’t know like 100 per cent what was going on with (the No. 2 and 3) picks,” said Stuetzle, who was sporting the Senators’ two-dimension centurion logo the team is bringing back next season. “It’s just a big honour to play for the capital of Canada.”

The top-ranked European skater, Stuetzle spent this season with Adler Mannheim in his country’s top professional league, where he was named rookie of the year. He’s also the third German-trained player to be drafted in the top-6, matching 2020 Hart Trophy winner Leon Draisaitl’s selection at No. 3 by Edmonton six years ago.

“I want to win Cups in Ottawa, and I want to play in the NHL as fast as I can,” added Stuetzle, who also admitted with a smile he doesn’t watch Trebek’s gameshow.

Last in the overall standings when the season was halted, the Detroit Red Wings dropped from No. 1 to No. 4 in the first phase of the NHL’s draft lottery in June, but still got Swedish winger Lucas Raymond with their pick.

Ottawa was back on the clock with its own selection at No. 5 and chose blue-liner Jake Sanderson from the U.S. under-18 program to become the first team since 2000 to make two picks in the top-5.

The son of former NHLer Geoff Sanderson took in the draft with his family from a suite at the University of North Dakota’s home arena where he started his first semester this fall.

“I’ve watched every single draft on TV with my family in our living room since I can remember,” he said. “To be here and sitting in this position is pretty crazy and surreal. The Trebek thing was pretty cool and pretty funny. I thought that was really awesome how they did that.

“It’s a little bit different draft this year, but I think it’s kind of special in its own way.”

The Winnipeg Jets had Crystal Hawerchuk, wife of the late Dale Hawerchuk, make their selection at No. 10 of centre Cole Perfetti of the OHL’s Saginaw Spirit.

The Oilers took centre Dylan Holloway from the University of Wisconsin at No. 14, Toronto Maple Leafs selected Russian winger Rodion Amirov at No. 15 and the Montreal Canadiens snagged defenceman Kaiden Guhle from the Western Hockey League’s Prince Albert Raiders at No. 16.

The Calgary Flames dealt the 19th pick to the Rangers for the 22nd and 72nd selections. Calgary then traded down again to get No. 24 and No. 80 from the Washington Capitals. Calgary finally made its first pick of the night, taking centre Connor Zary from the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers with the 24th selection.

The Senators also own the 28th pick, which originally belonged to the New York Islanders, while the Vancouver Canucks don’t have a selection until Wednesday’s third round.

The Canucks did announce on Tuesday that it has signed a new two-year deal with 24-year-old Charlottetown native forward Zack MacEwen.

The contract has an average annual value of US$825,000.

MacEwen played 17 games for Vancouver in 2019-20, putting up five goals and one assist. He also made six post-season appearances before the Vegas Golden Knights ousted Vancouver from the playoffs in the second round.

The six-foot-three, 205-pound forward originally signed a three-year entry level contract with the Canucks back in March 2017, and spent ample time with Vancouver’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Utica Comets.

Unlike their NFL or NBA counterparts, NHL teams are usually seated at tables on the floor of one of the league’s 31 arenas — in this case it would have the Bell Centre — for its draft, but the 2020 edition saw general managers and much of their scouting staffs spread across North America.

READ MORE: Former Victoria Royals manager celebrates Stanley Cup win

Instead of walking over to chat with a rival GM about a potential trade, cellphones had to suffice.

The prospects set to take their first steps into the NHL, meanwhile, all watched proceedings remotely, away from the usual bright lights that come with the draft.

First-round hopefuls were each sent gear from the league’s 31 teams — Stuetzle’s agent tweeted a picture of a table with 31 hats set up in order of selection — so they’d have some swag once their names were called.

The Senators, who have largely made headlines for all the wrong reasons since getting within a double overtime goal of the 2017 Stanley Cup final, hope securing Stuetzle and Sanderson will accelerate a rebuild that saw a roster once led by Karlsson — the team’s captain and a two-time Norris Trophy-winning defenceman — torn down to its studs.

Lafreniere didn’t get the normal draft thrill of climbing on stage in front of friends, family and adoring fans in Montreal, a short drive from his hometown, but is still the first Quebec-born skater to hear his name called at No. 1 since Vincent Lecavalier in 1998.

The Rangers, who selected winger Kaapo Kakko at No. 2 in 2019, beat the odds for a second straight year, jumping 11 spots for the right to pick Lafreniere by winning the second phase of the draft lottery following the disappointment of being the first team eliminated from the NHL’s 24-team restart to the season.

Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter 

CanuckshockeyNHL

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
81 new cases of COVID-19 detected in Interior Health Friday

One additional staff member at Kelowna long-term care home tests positive, no new deaths

Jake Jeannotte, age six, holds a Whisky Jack – another name for Gray Jay, Canada Jay or Camp Robber – a common bird that can be seen on the bird count. 
(Contributed)
Bird count back for 31st year

There are some slight modifications to the bird count to accomodate for COVID-19

(File)
One death and 82 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

1,981 total cases, 609 are active and those individuals are on isolation

Paramedic Jason Manuel, dressed in PPE, inspects an ambulance at Station 341 on Nov. 30. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
Second wave, twice the anxiety; Okanagan paramedics reflect on pandemic from the front line

‘I don’t know who that (next) person is going to be, I don’t want it to be me or my family’: Paramedic

Dr. Albert de Villiers, Chief Medical Health Officer for the Interior Health Authority. (Contributed)
‘People need to start listening’: IH top doc combats COVID-19 misconceptions

Dr. Albert de Villiers says light at the end of the tunnel will grow in step with people’s adherence to PHO guidance

Pickleball game in Vancouver on Sunday, November 8, 2020. B.C.’s public health restrictions for COVID-19 have been extended to adult team sports, indoors and outside. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
711 more COVID-19 cases detected in B.C. Friday

‘Virus is not letting up and neither can we’

It was an opening day filled with blue skies, sun and COVID-19 protocols at Vernon’s SilverStar Mountain Resort Friday, Dec. 4, 2020. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)
VIDEO: Passholders enjoy sunny opening day at Silver Star Mountain

Resort staff say parking reservations, COVID-19 protocols went smoothly Friday, Dec. 4

Demonstrators, organized by the Public Fishery Alliance, outside the downtown Vancouver offices of Fisheries and Oceans Canada July 6 demand the marking of all hatchery chinook to allow for a sustainable public fishery while wild stocks recover. (Public Fishery Alliance Facebook photo)
Angry B.C. anglers see petition tabled in House of Commons

Salmon fishers demand better access to the healthy stocks in the public fishery

(Hotel Zed/Flytographer)
B.C. hotel grants couple 18 years of free stays after making baby on Valentines Day

Hotel Zed has announced a Kelowna couple has received free Valentines Day stays for next 18 years

Farmers raise slogans during a protest on a highway at the Delhi-Haryana state border, India, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rejected the diplomatic scolding Canada’s envoy to India received on Friday for his recent comments in support of protesting Indian farmers. Tens of thousands of farmers have descended upon the borders of New Delhi to protest new farming laws that they say will open them to corporate exploitation. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Manish Swarup
Trudeau brushes off India’s criticism for standing with farmers in anti-Modi protests

The High Commission of India in Ottawa had no comment when contacted Friday

Nurse Kath Olmstead prepares a shot as the world’s biggest study of a possible COVID-19 vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., gets underway Monday, July 27, 2020, in Binghamton, N.Y. U.S. biotech firm Moderna says its vaccine is showing signs of producing lasting immunity to COVID-19, and that it will have as many as many as 125 million doses available by the end of March. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Hans Pennink
Canada orders more COVID vaccines, refines advice on first doses as cases reach 400K

Canada recorded its 300,000th case of COVID-19 on Nov. 16

Apartments are seen lit up in downtown Vancouver as people are encouraged to stay home during the global COVID-19 pandemic on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. British Columbia’s deputy provincial health officer says provincewide data show the most important area B.C. must tackle in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic is health inequity. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
Age, income among top factors affecting well-being during pandemic, B.C. survey shows

Among respondents earning $20,000 a year or less, more than 41 per cent reported concern about food insecurity

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Interior Health says Salmo’s COVID-19 cases have been contained. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Interior Health: Salmo’s COVID-19 cases are contained

Every person who tested positive has recovered

Most Read