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

Just Posted

Forty sled dogs were seized by the BC SPCA from a Salmo kennel in February. A recent ruling has decided the dogs won’t be returned. Photo: Gounsil/Flickr
BC Farm Industry Review Board rules against Salmo kennel after 40 sled dogs seized

Spirit of the North Kennels was also ordered to pay BC SPCA $64,000

Residents line up outside the Vernon Recreation Complex for their COVID-19 vaccine Saturday, June 5. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
No appointments necessary for first dose COVID-19 vaccine: Interior Health

People can just show up at clinics, register on the spot and get the shot

SD20 now has an electric bus. Photo: Submitted
Kootenay-Columbia School District 20 adds electric bus to fleet

Bus will be incorporated into Castlegar route for next school year

Painting by Dave Davies from Shaver’s Bench facing Teck Trail.
Happy 120th Birthday to the City of Trail!

The town of Trail Creek- or Trail Creek Landing - was incorporated as a city on June 14, 1901.

Cropped photo: Silver Screen Drive-in will be in the upper parking lot of Waneta Plaza.
Summer drive-in returns to Trail unveiling blockbuster movies

PHOTOS: Scroll to bottom for a trip down memory lane to the Auto Vue Drive-In

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

“They will never be forgotten, every child matters,” says Sioux Valley Chief Jennifer Bone in a video statement June 1. (Screen grab)
104 ‘potential graves’ detected at site of former residential school in Manitoba

Sioux Valley Dakota Nation working to identify, repatriate students buried near former Brandon residential school

The Queen Victoria statue at the B.C. legislature was splattered with what looks like red paint on Friday. (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)
Queen Victoria statue at B.C. legislature vandalized Friday

Statue splattered with red paint by old growth forest proponents

Police cars are seen parked outside Vancouver Police Department headquarters on Saturday, January 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver police officer charged with assault during an arrest in 2019

The service has released no other details about the allegations

Denmark’s Christian Eriksen receives medical attention after collapsing during the Euro 2020 soccer championship group B match between Denmark and Finland at Parken stadium in Copenhagen, Saturday, June 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, Pool)
Christian Eriksen in stable condition, Euro 2020 match resumes

Eriksen was given chest compressions after collapsing on the field during a European Championship

Members of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ Marine Mammal Response Program rescued an adult humpback what that was entangled in commercial fishing gear in the waters off of Entrance Island on Thursday, June 10. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Response Program)
Rescuers free humpback ‘anchored’ down by prawn traps off Vancouver Island

Department of Fisheries and Oceans responders spend hours untangling whale

As stories of the horrors of residential schools circulate after the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation announced it had located what are believed to be the remains of 215 children, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said he feels a connection with the former students. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
2 sides of the same coin: Ex-foster kids identify with residential school survivors

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip says the child welfare system takes Indigenous children from their families

Nathan Watts, a member of the Tseshaht First Nation near Port Alberni, shares his story of substance use, a perspective he said isn’t seen enough. (Photo courtesy of Nathan Watts)
Public shaming, hate perpetuates further substance use: UVic researcher

Longtime addict Nathan Watts offers a user’s perspective on substance use

Most Read