While this year’s virtual NHL draft had a number of delays, it held a special place in the hearts of many Quebecers. The first overall pick for 2020, Alexis Lafrenière, is a Quebec native from Saint-Eustache. The last time a Quebec-born skater was selected first overall was in 1998, when the Tampa Bay Lightning drafted Vincent Lecavalier. In a Zoom interview with sportscaster Sam Rosen, Lafrenière explained how excited he was to be selected by the New York Rangers.
“It’s a dream come true for me, obviously,” Lafrenière said. “I am really honoured to join the Rangers and I am excited to come to New York and play some hockey.”
Lafrenière was also the first Canadian to be drafted first overall since Connor McDavid was selected by the Edmonton Oilers in 2015.
Another defining moment in this year’s draft occurred when Quinton Byfield was selected second overall by the Los Angeles Kings, making him the highest drafted Black player in NHL history. Byfield hopes to help expose more young Black athletes to the game of hockey.
“I think [the NHL] is really moving in a good direction […] and I am definitely excited to help out and spread as much awareness as I can,” Byfield said in a Zoom interview. “It just shows that there is a lot of opportunity for everyone in the world. You can play [any] sport and be successful [at] it.”
While Byfield says that being in the record books for anything is exciting, he wants to focus on achieving his lifelong dream of playing high-level hockey in the NHL without the emphasis on his background.
Many teams took advantage of the online setting of the draft, coming up with creative ways to announce their picks, but the Ottawa Senators had the most innovative announcement. With the third overall pick, the Senators enlisted the help of University of Ottawa alumnus and Jeopardy host, Alex Trebek, to announce their decision.
“With the third pick in the 2020 NHL draft, the Ottawa Senators choose this player,” Trebek read from the on-screen prompt.
The answer was “Who is Tim Stützle?” Stützle is an 18-year-old German player currently playing for Adler Mannheim in the Deutsche Eishockey Liga (DEL). One of two Germans selected in the first round, an NHL record, Stützle explained how thrilling and overwhelming draft night was.
“[Being selected] was extremely exciting,” Stützle said in an interview with Deutsche Welle. “It was also pretty stressful right after [being picked]. I had to do a whole lot of interviews. I hardly had a chance to speak to my family and friends.”
With the final pick of the first round, the San Jose Sharks chose Ozzy Wiesblatt, a Calgary native whose mother has a hearing impairment. To announce the 31st pick, the Sharks’ director of scouting, Doug Wilson Jr. used American Sign Language to sign “Ozzy” so that his mother could see that he had been selected.
“That means a ton, especially to my mom and the deaf community in general, I think,” Wiesblatt said in an interview with NBC Sports. “It’s a very nice gesture for him to do that. My mom will never forget that.”
Wilson explained how the life-changing experience of being drafted is important for the whole family.
“In my life, my mom is a huge, huge factor,” Wilson said to NBC Sports. “If I was in this moment, I would want to be able to share it with my parents too.”
Although it was certainly not the draft that these athletes had dreamed of, participating from home instead of in Montreal—where the draft was supposed to take place—the organization did their best to make the night memorable. Despite odd camera angles and delays in reactions, the NHL’s ability to provide an inclusive virtual experience for everyone was commendable.
A previous version of this article stated that Vincent Lecavalier was drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightening in 1988. In fact, he was drafted in 1998. The Tribune regrets this error.