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EXCLUSIVE CONTENT

Ranking the top 100 prospects in hockey: Best NHL-affiliated young stars in the making

ESPN

As the NHL inches closer to the 2020-21 season, the rest of the hockey world has been in flux. With many North American junior leagues either not yet started or frequently interrupted by postponements or cancellations, and European pro leagues doing all they can to complete seasons, tracking prospects has never been more challenging.

But while we don't have as complete a picture as we'd normally like by this point, there's still enough of a body of work for each NHL prospect to compare and contrast where they stand. So we ranked the top 100 right now. Many of the players on this list should figure into the forthcoming NHL season, as the flat cap puts an even higher premium on players with entry-level contracts.

The criteria my the list: Essentially, any player that is still eligible for rookie status in the NHL this season is also eligible to be included here. The cut-off is 26 games played in a single season or 50 career games to this point. Additionally, players must be 25 years old or younger for inclusion. For example, Rasmus Sandin and Ryan Poehling just miss the cut based on games played last season.

OK, here are the top 100 prospects affiliated with an NHL club right now, starting with a no-brainer.

1. Alexis Lafreniere, LW, New York Rangers

The top pick in the 2020 draft is headed straight to the NHL and even had extra time to continue building strength and prepare physically for his first season. Lafreniere is one of the most decorated junior hockey players to enter the NHL in some time, as a two-time winner of the CHL MVP award. His puck skills are advanced, but the added edge and physicality Lafreniere plays with is what could make him a handful in his first season. Expectations are deservedly high for this exceptional prospect.

2. Quinton Byfield, C, Los Angeles Kings

Whether Byfield plays in the NHL or not this season does not change the fact that he has one of the highest ceilings of any player outside of the NHL currently. His size and speed give him an advantage, but he also makes a ton of plays with high-end vision and hockey sense. As one of the youngest players on this list, the upside Byfield possesses is a separating factor.

3. Tim Stuetzle, LW, Ottawa Senators

While he can play center, I think he'll end up on the wing long-term and produce at a high rate. He's a natural play-driver, gains the zone well and can make plays all over the ice. Stuetzle's speed is an exceptional trait and one that will allow him to challenge NHL defenders. Combine that with natural puckhandling skills and creativity, and you've got yourself an especially exciting player to watch.

4. Lucas Raymond, LW, Detroit Red Wings

In the early-going of the season, Raymond has seized the added ice time he has gotten at Frolunda. He has made high-end plays and keeps opposing defenders on their toes with his skill. Raymond has also shown off a quicker and better shot release to enhance his goal-scoring talent. He competes hard and doesn't take shifts off. Raymond can finish out the year in Sweden and probably grab a roster spot with Detroit as early as the 2021-22 season.

5. Kirill Kaprizov, RW, Minnesota Wild

Kaprizov Watch is effectively over, as he's finally with the Wild. Now we get to see what he can do at the NHL level. Few players as young as Kaprizov have come from the KHL with more accolades. He's the reigning two-time goal-scoring champion of the KHL and leaves a trail of hardware in his wake, including an Olympic gold medal and KHL title. Kaprizov's 113 goals and 230 points dwarfs any predecessor in the KHL before the age of 24. On top of the counting stats, Kaprizov has a great motor and strength on pucks, and he never shies away from the hard areas of the ice. The excitement is warranted.