The NHL draft is this week, and that means every hockey media outlet is doing a mock draft and trying to make sense of 20-plus teams effectively trying to throw darts at a dartboard with one eye closed and the other one held kinda squinty
Drafting is an inexact process, and even now, with all the data we have about prospects that we didn't used to get, teams can still make serious missteps. Sometimes they draft for positional need (rarely a good idea!). Sometimes they simply misevaluate a player's talent level (especially if that player is big!).
So here we go. We'll try not to make your favorite team pick the guy you don't want them to take.
1. Toronto Maple Leafs select Auston Matthews (center, Zurich, Swiss league)
Yeah a lot of people are acting like “Oh maybe Patrik Laine will go first overall instead!” But hey that happens every year. The Leafs aren't going to pass up the chance to draft a franchise center. Sorry.
2. Winnipeg Jets select Patrik Laine (right wing, Tappara, Finnish league)
3. Columbus Blue Jackets select Jesse Puljujarvi (right wing, Karpat, Finnish league)
The third and final absolute slam-dunk must-pick-here player in the draft. Now things start to get interesting.
4. Edmonton Oilers select Matthew Tkachuk (left wing, London, OHL)
There's a non-zero chance the Oilers trade this pick, but if they don't, the consensus seems to be that Tkachuk is the best player available. (There is, however, not a huge amount of separation between whoever goes here and, say, 15th.) Plenty of talent, plenty of IQ. You'd expect it from the bloodlines. Teams love stuff like that. The Oilers need defense, but there's not really any blue line option that makes sense here. At that point they're better off trading down.
5. Vancouver Canucks select Pierre-Luc Dubois (forward, Cape Breton, QMJHL)
Dubois is a pretty size-y player who scored a boatload in junior this past season (granted, who doesn't score in the Q?) and apparently transitioned from the wing to the middle of the ice midseason. Whether that's something he can do as he moves into pro hockey remains to be seen, but it might be a bit of a surprise.
6. Calgary Flames select Logan Brown (center, Windsor, OHL)
The Flames are, organizationally speaking, a little stacked at center. When you can run Monahan/Bennett/Backlund up the middle, you're in good shape. But a 6-foot-6 center who has some very solid numbers (but not exactly overwhelming) is available at No. 6. There's almost no way they don't take him, right?
7. Arizona Coyotes select Jakob Chychrun (defense, Sarnia, OHL)
The Coyotes need help in a lot of areas, but this kid is extremely toolsy in all parts of the ice. This kid can skate, he can shoot the puck through a wall, and hey what do you know, he can move the puck too. These days, teams need a lot more than one rushing defenseman, and if he's second fiddle to Oliver Ekman-Larsson, everyone's gonna be okay with that.
8. Buffalo Sabres select Olli Juolevi (defense, London, OHL)
Since they acquired Jimmy Vesey earlier this week, the needs the Sabres might still have up front start to go away. This addresses some of the problems the team still has with its blue line, as Juolevi is considered a quality puck-mover because he, too, is a great skater. Extremely high IQ, big body, all that kind of stuff. The overall Buffalo offense for 2018-19 gets a whole lot scarier.
9. Montreal Canadiens select Clayton Keller (center, US Under-18 team, USHL)
Keller's not exactly big, but his skill is overwhelming. Between the US Development programs games in the USHL and in other games, he scored 158 points in 94 appearances, which is a whole hell of a lot. It's not like the Canadiens are shy about taking highly skilled, smaller guys (one of the organization's admirable qualities). Plus, Keller is heading to Boston University in the fall, and that place is quickly turning into even more of an NHL factory than it has been historically.
10. Colorado Avalanche select Mikhail Sergachev (defense, Windsor, OHL)
Sergachev is more of a “solid two-way defenseman” than the first two D taken in this draft, but he's still very good, winning the OHL defenseman of the year award as a kid who will turn 18 on his draft day. Pretty impressive. And Colorado needs as many defensemen as it can get, to be honest.
11. New Jersey Devils select Alex Nylander (right wing, Mississauga, OHL)
The Devils, as ever, need offense, and the kid who finished first in the OHL in points per game among U-18s fits the bill. The bloodlines are there, and his obvious skill level immediately tells you plenty about what he can do with the puck. He needs to fill out the body a little more, but basically anyone you're picking at this point of the draft is very unlikely to be in the NHL in the next season or two anyway.
12. Ottawa Senators select Charlie McAvoy (defense, Boston University, Hockey East)
Got a chance to see plenty of McAvoy, a big, physical puck-mover who loves to play with the puck in the attacking zone. He was very impressive. As any 17/18-year-old playing against physically mature 24/25-year-olds might, he occasionally struggled in his own zone, but when he made solid body contact, he got himself in trouble with officials, for hitting too hard.
13. Carolina Hurricanes select Tyson Jost (center, Penticton, BCHL)
Jost broke 100 points in what is, admittedly, a high-scoring league (he did it in only 48 games). He's not a giant at 5-foot-11, but when you can skate like he does, it doesn't much matter. He, too, can play well at both ends of the ice, and the word “dynamic” comes up in just about every scouting report. Better yet: He's headed to the University of North Dakota next year, where plenty of great junior centers get turned into very good pros.
14. Boston Bruins select Jake Bean (D, Calgary, WHL)
Boston needs defense, badly. It's an organizational need that cannot be understated. Bean does just about everything solidly, but Boston might be particularly attracted to the 24 goals he scored with Calgary last season. He thinks the game very well, but the big knock on him (from a Boston point of view) is that he doesn't rely on physicality. Eh, maybe they won't draft him then. I dunno.
15. Minnesota Wild select Kiefer Bellows (left wing, US Under-18 team, USHL)
Bellows is another kid who's going to Boston University next year, which is something that's going to make the Terriers scary in attack next year. He scored 71 goals in 92 games for the US U-18s in all competitions, and plays a physical game to boot. Think that interests a team like Minnesota going forward?
16. Detroit Red Wings select Luke Kunin (center, Wisconsin, Big Ten)
A small-ish, undersized forward who goes nearly a point-a-game in college (19-13-32 in 34) for a rotten college team is pretty impressive. He also generated more shots on goal per game than all but 18 college players of all ages. The only fellow freshman to finish ahead of him — some kid named Kyle Connor — is probably going to be an NHLer next season. Shot generation is the next big draft skill teams are going to look for.
17. Nashville Predators select Dante Fabbro (defense, Penticton, BCHL)
Yup, it's yet another kid going to BU next season. Thinks the game at an incredibly high level, great puck-mover, etc. etc. etc. He had almost 70 points in just 45 games from the blue line in the BCHL, playing on the same team as Jost. And while playing with Jost is obviously going to help, it's hard to ignore the point totals for a defenseman (sixth in points per game among all BCHLers, not just defensemen).
18. Philadelphia Flyers select Julien Gauthier (right wing, Val-d'Or, QMJHL)
The point total isn't there for this guy — 57 in 54 — but consider this: 41 of those points (almost 3 out of every 4) were goals. This has to be the CHL Cy Young winner by a pretty wide margin. He's a 6-foot-4 power forward who scored 40 damn goals in his draft year. Flyers are lucky to get him here.
19. New York Islanders select Mike McLeod (center, Mississauga, OHL)
Not exactly an overwhelming point total or anything here either (61 in 57 games), but he and Nylander were two of only three players to clear 20 goals on an OHL team. That's a little surprising. Anything you read about him will cite his skating as top-level among his peers, and the word “energy” comes up a lot too. Now we're starting to gamble with upside, but there's little doubt he'll be a solid pro.
20. Arizona Coyotes [from New York Rangers] select Max Jones (left wing, London, OHL)
It's tough to carve out minutes on the Knights, which speaks to Jones's mediocre-seeming point totals (52 in 63), but he's huge and very skilled, so even if he does slip, teams were still likely to take notice.
21. Carolina Hurricanes [from Los Angeles Kings] select Alex DeBrincat (right wing, Erie, OHL)
Opinions on DeBrincat are all over the place. Some places have him roughly here, others have him a lot lower. Probably has a lot to do with the fact that he's 5-foot-7, because it's hard to argue with two straight 100-point OHL seasons. The first time around, you write it off as a fluke of playing with Connor McDavid. The second time? What if he's the next Johnny Gaudreau, a ultra-skilled little player who just skates his ass off and generates offense? You'd rue the day you let him slip away. Carolina probably isn't that foolish.
22. Winnipeg Jets [from Chicago Blackhawks] select Logan Stanley (defense, Windsor, OHL)
This kid is 6-foot-7 at 17 years old. He might still have some growing to do. Consequently, opinions on him range for the opposite reasons they did for DeBrincat. He only had 17 points in 64 games, and only five goals over two full OHL seasons, which is not an encouraging total by any stretch of the imagination. But you can see just about anyone taking a flyer here. Big guys gotta prove they can't play and all that. There aren't too many people in hockey bigger than him.
23. Florida Panthers select Vitali Abramov (right wing, Gatineau, QMJHL)
If you can get a guy — albeit a 5-foot-9 guy — who scored 93 points this late in the first round, you take him. Let's put it this way: He was first on his team in points, by 20. He also finished second among U-18 Q players in points per game. Florida's focus in terms of “getting smarter” is at the draft, so here we go.
24. Anaheim Ducks select German Rubtsov (center, Russia U-18, MHL)
It is notoriously difficult to determine how good Russian players actually are. Scoring in that league is weird, and the relatively new MHL is rather low-level in terms of junior development. But his performances in international competition are solid (1-3-4 in five games at the Ivan Hlinka, 2-4-6 in four at the Junior A U-19s). Well-rounded, elite hockey sense, etc. That's what you get when you read about him, and at 24 that might become a value pick for you.
25. Dallas Stars select Brett Howden (center, Moose Jaw, WHL)
Brett's older brother Quinton was also a first-round pick several years ago now. Big-ish, skilled-ish, two-way-ish. It runs in the family. He made the Ivan Hlinka team for Canada, which isn't easy, but he didn't do much there in terms of offense. Tough to figure out just what he'd be at the pro level, but it's worth taking a look.
26. Washington Capitals select Dennis Cholowski (defense, Chiliwack, BCHL)
At this point in the draft, you're really just guessing, but he was the best defenseman on a solid BCHL team. Again, it's not a league known for its defensive wherewithal, but he can move the puck and he can shoot. He's going to a good college program in St. Cloud for either next season or the one after, and all that works in his favor. He's a project and this might be a bit of a reach, but not much of one.
27. Tampa Bay Lightning select Tage Thompson (center/right wing, UConn, Hockey East)
Thompson was an impressive young player in Hockey East this year, going almost a point a game (14-18-32 in 36) on a so-so UConn squad. He didn't score a ton at 5-on-5 (only 13 of his 32 points), but he's 6-foot-5 and put up plenty of points in the stingiest conference in college hockey. That's worth a late first.
28. St. Louis Blues select Riley Tufte (left wing, Blaine, Minn. HS/Fargo, USHL)
Hard to get a read on a kid who played in both the high school and USHL, because he lit up the former (78 in 25!) and was only okay in the latter (14 in 27). However, he, too is 6-foot-5, and skates phenomenally. He's not a sure thing against top competition just yet, but he'll get to test himself well at Minnesota-Duluth next season.
29. Boston Bruins [from San Jose Sharks] select Pascal Laberge (center, Victoriaville, QMJHL)
Laberge scored 68 points in 56 games, but was a pretty late birthdate (he's about six months younger than Matthews). Didn't exactly set the world on fire shooting the puck, but his passing is of a high quality.
30. Anaheim Ducks [from Toronto Maple Leafs, from Pittsburgh Penguins] select Rasmus Asplund (center, Farjestad, Swedish league)
Finally, here's another player where opinions are somewhat wide-ranging. He only scored four goals and 12 points in 46 games in a men's league, which isn't totally uncommon for U-18s, but that fact combined with his size (just 5-foot-10) causes some worry. However, he also had five points in seven games at World Junior, so he might be worth the gamble here.
And if you think I got anything wrong, well, that's how it goes! See you at the draft!
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