Rink Rats finish season, look forward to draft lottery
Alexis Lafreniere's UHL future will become much clearer when the 2020 UHL Draft Lottery is held.
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," UHL 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 Radnor Rink Rats have the best odds (18.5 percent) of winning the lottery, which will take place at At some time in the near future. The Kassel Revolution have the second-best odds (13.5 percent) with five teams still in the running for the third best odds at 11.5 per cent)
The lottery will determine the first picks in the draft and will include drawings for the top 3 positions.
The first drawing 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.
Lafreniere, No. 1 in UHL 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 Orlando Mounties 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 Burlington Thunder 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 Average Joes center Jack Hughes and Slapshots forward Kaapo Kakko, selected Nos. 1 and 2 in the 2019 UHL Draft, as examples of players who had rookie struggles.
Both will be impact players but not yet.
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 Revolution in the first round (No. 30) of the 2018 UHL Draft, was the center on Lafreniere's line for most games at the 2020 WJC. Lafreniere could be reunited with Veleno if Revolution 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."
Rink Rats director of amateur scouting Willie Ketchum 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."
After the acquisition of Ben Bishop from the Butches for a 2nd round pick in 2020 and a conditional 4th round pick in 2022 is there a goalie controversy for the Mounties? GM John Salerno assured us there is not. "Let me be clear. Ben is our clear cut number 1 and we acquired him for the stretch run to take us to where we want to go. I'm not blaming Jacob (Markstrom) but something just wasn't clicking with him this year".
Markstrom, who is in the first year of a 3 year deal that pays him $3.5 million a season had this to say: "Look man, if I play or I sit I still get paid. Whether you like it, or you don't like it, learn to love it! Wooooo!!!" This reporter had no idea Markstrom was such a bit fan of WWE Legend, 2x Hall of Famer and 16x World Champion Ric Flair.... When asked asked what he plans to do for next season Markstrom said, "I'll work as hard as I can to have a better season next year and live up to expectations"
All eyes are now on Bishop as the fan base hopes he can turn around what has surely been a disappointing season for the Mounties so far. "I look forward to challenge of bringing the Cup to Orlando. Its a passionate fan base and seems to be a great group of guys" Bishop said. "I feel for Jacob. It is never my intention to take someone's job. Hopefully we can work together and make each other better"
Orlando hasn't has the best luck with goalies recently. From the departed Cam Ward, to Carter Hutton and now Markstrom. The franchise can't seem to get that position right. Even though Bishop is a UFA after this year, hopefully he can settle things down. Earlier in the season the Mounties traded for Marc Staal and Roman Polak to help out their porous defense and help out Markstrom, but to no avail. Will Bishop be the missing piece to the puzzle? Time will tell.
Speaking of Hutton, who is currently over paid at 2.1 million for this year and next year. He was asked how he felt about Bishop and his current standing with the team. "Wait, I still I have a job? YES!"
Grinders General Manager Scott Davies has been quite busy making trades this season. Lots and lots of trades. In recent days, significant additions have been made to the team in hopes of giving his team a chance at a decent run in the upcoming UHL playoffs. Additions include:
Zdeno Chara: The behemoth shutdown defenseman joins the team to add experience, leadership, size and toughness to the Grinders squad;
Zack Smith: The former Grinders UHL Cup Champ returns to Ottawa in hopes of shoring up the teams' success in the faceoff dot and on the penalty kill;
Josh Manson: Again, more toughness and more help for the Grinders awful penalty kill; and
Artem Anisimov: Because everyone needs an Arty Party
The Grinders are finally done revamping their team for UHL season 38, which emphasis put on better defensive play (especially on the PK). The Grinders have also worked to improve its prospect base for upcoming seasons, and GM Davies seems fairly happy on that front: "I think our prospects on the back-end are quite strong, with the likes of Thomas Harley, Ian Mitchell, Calen Addison, Scott Perunovich, Sean Durzi & Declan Chisholm. Goaltending prospect Joey Daccord was recently added to provide depth. I'm hopeful that this offseason we can look to strengthen our forward prospects, as several of our higher draft picks haven't developed so far to our liking" said Davies on Thursday morning.
Zdeno Chara, 77 OV with only a $2.5 million contract including next season, is rumoured to be headed to the Canadian Conference sometime in the next day or two.
Jaroslav Halak, 82 OV (7th-highest rated goaltender this season) with only a $2.375 million contract for this season, has requested to be traded to a contender.
Ryan Getzlaf (81 OV) can help give a contending team an advantage in their playoff run. Comes with a big contract though ($8 million including next season), but if you've got the cap space, he could make the difference for your team!
Mikael Backlund (78 OV) can play on one of your top two lines, and comes with only a $4.7 million contract through to the end of this season.
GM John Salerno made 2 moves the other day to try to stop the bleeding, with regards to the amount of goals allowed. Currently the Mounties are tied for 6th worst in GAA. Salerno was quoted as follows: "I couldn't keep sitting idly by and watch goal after goal go in. I had to do something". That" something" was a shake up to the defensive core.
In seperate trasnactions Salerno traded their 2021 5th round pick to the Bisons for Marc Staal and then later traded this years 4th and 7th round picks to the Trappers for Roman Polak. What did this mean for the current crop of Mounties dmen? Cale Makar who has struggled at times was sent down to the minors and Ben Harpur will now be a 7th defensemen, to provide depth along with Cameron Gaunce.
"Hopefully Marc and Roman bring some experience to our blueline as we try to secure a playoff spot. They both have some defensive grit, have been there before and know what it takes', said Salerno. When questioned why he made the moves Salerno explained, "I just felt we have left Markstrom out to dry more than once. This is not to blame Cale and Ben, both have bright futures with our team, but the time many not be right for them at this moment."
When asked about he felt, Cale Makar responded, "It hurts. I tried my best, but I understand where the team is now. I will go down to the Oh Snaps and do my best and get better. John assured me I will be a big part of this organizations future".
Ben Harpur was less diplomatic about the situation. "It is what it is. They want to blame me, fine I guess."
There is a risk with these aquisitions. As of now 5 of the defensmen on the Mounties roster will be UFA after this season. When pressed what he plans to do about that Salerno just said, I'm focused on the playoffs right now. I can't worry about next year yet". Should Salerno have tried to trade for players who were signed beyond this year, knowing the UFA position he would be in? Maybe, only time will tell if he was right nor not.
In other Mounties news, the rumor is they are still in the market a top 6 forward, who can play left wing and possibly a starting goalie. When asked about these rumors, Salerno said no comment.