NHL Draft Grades: West

Ryan Dadoun grades the teams in the Western Conference for picks and trades made at the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. (Getty Images)
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The 2019 NHL Entry Draft is in the books and the free agent frenzy is on the horizon. Before that happens we will examine how teams in the Western Conference did at the draft table in Vancouver.

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Anaheim Ducks

Grade: B+

First Round Selection(s): Trevor Zegras (9th) and Brayden Tracey (29th)

The Ducks are looking to rebound from a disappointing 2018-19 campaign, but of course the silver lining from a bad season is a high-end draft pick. They took this opportunity to take Zegras, who has impressed scouts with his vision and passing ability. Anaheim wanted to add a future high-end scoring threat and that’s what they got here, though he probably NHL ready just yet. Among other things, he needs time to bulk up.

They also had the 29th overall pick thanks to the Brandon Montour trade and used that on Tracey. He’s another superb scorer, but the issue with him is his just average skating and that’s likely contributed to him dropping as far as he did. All-in-all, they have to be happy with their draft.

Arizona Coyotes

Grade: B

First Round Selection(s): Victor Soderstrom (11th)

There was only one trade in the first day of the Entry Draft and it was the Coyotes surrendering the 14th and 45th overall picks to Philadelphia so that they could move up to 11th overall. Unsurprisingly given what they gave up, the Coyotes think extremely highly of Soderstrom. Coyotes director of scouting Lindsay Hofford described him as a “five-star guy” and emphasized that they didn’t have many of those on their list while Coyotes GM John Chayka said that he’s not far off from being NHL-ready.

So what exactly does he bring to the table? Well, he’s a right-handed shooting defenseman who can count his maturity and hockey strength among his biggest strengths. He’s a great passer too and possesses a decent shot, but as a 17-year-old (he turned 18 on Feb. 26) playing against men in Sweden’s top league, he didn’t do much offensively. He finished with four goals and seven points in 44 Swedish league contests last season. In the long run he might not be an elite blueliner offensively, but he’ll be strong enough defensively that it wouldn’t be shocking to see him eventually settle into a top-four role.

Because they gave up the 45th pick as part of the trade to get him, the Coyotes didn’t pick again until 76th when they took John Farinacci, who is a good two-way forward. With the 98th overall pick they took Fourth round, who should be interesting because he excels offensively, but he’s on the smaller end, isn’t a great skater, and there are some concerns about his ability to put out a consistent effort. So there are clear areas of concern there, but also real potential.

I’m not sure that I’m on board with the Coyotes decision to trade up for Soderstrom given the price and how much other good talent was still available with the 14th pick, but I can’t deny that they added some potentially good pieces in this year’s draft.

Calgary Flames

Grade: B+

First Round Selection(s): Jako Pelletier (26th)

After the draft, Flames GM Brad Treliving praised Pelletier’s “elite compete and elite hockey sense,” but also noted that he’s a long-term project. That seems like a fair assessment because while he’s already excelled offensively at the QMJHL level with 39 goals and 89 points in 65 games last season, his skating could still use wok. At 5-foot-9, his size is also an area of concern, but the Flames know more than anyone that small forwards can thrive in the NHL. If Pelletier ever needs advice, he can just reach out to Johnny Gaudreau now.

With the 88th overall pick, the Flames took Ilya Nikolaev, who is a defensive-minded forward. He might prove to be a bit of a steal as many lists had him going much higher. The Athletic ranked him at 38th, Future Considerations had him at 45th, ISS Hockey listed him at 28th, McKeen’s put him in 61st, EliteProspects.com ranked him 53rd, and TSN put him in the 49th spot. So the fact that the Flames had the option of taking him with the 88th overall pick was a bit of a surprise. Part of the reason for that might be because he’s still got two more years left on his KHL contract, but he needs that time to develop anyways.

So the Flames took some risks, but they’re ones that could pay off handsomely.

Chicago Blackhawks

Grade: B

First Round Selection(s): Kirby Dach (3rd)

Who would go first and second in the draft was fairly obviously. There was a bit of debate about the order, but there was at least agreement that Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko were the two best prospects in the 2019 draft pool. There wasn’t that kind of consensus when it came to the third overall pick, so while it was a bit of a surprise to see Chicago take Dach, it’d be a stretch to say that they went off the board.

Certainly Dach was a highly regarded prospect even if many rankings, such as The Athletic, HockeyProspects.com, Future Considerations, ISS Hockey, and EliteProspects.com, listed him in the 5-10 range. He’s a big center at 6-foot-4, a great skater, and a forward capable of both setting up goals and finding the back of the net himself. He can play physically too, making him the complete package. While Hughes and Kakko seem like locks to start the 2019-20 campaign in the NHL, Dach is more of a question mark, especially with Jonathan Toews and Dylan Strome centering the top-two lines, but it still wouldn’t be shocking to see him make the squad.

The Blackhawks took Alex Vlasic with the 43rd overall pick. He’s a towering defenseman at 6-foot-6 that is strong defensively, but he’s not as physical as you’d think given his size and his offensive game could use some work. He’ll be heading to Boston University to develop his game though.

They also picked up John Quenneville in a trade with New Jersey, sending John Hayden the other way. That’s not a major deal given how much Quenneville’s stock has fallen since he was taken with the 30th overall pick back in 2014, but there’s an outside chance that a change of scenery will help spark him.

Colorado Avalanche

Grade: A-

First Round Selection(s): Bowen Byram (4th) and Alex Newhook (16th)

As mentioned, there wasn’t a consensus pick for 3rd overall, but most did project that Byram would be taken before Dach. So did were the Avalanche lucky to get him with the fourth overall pick (aka, the selection they got from Ottawa as part of the Matt Duchene trade)? It’s one of those apples and oranges things given that Dach is an all-around great forward while Byram is a high-end offensive defenseman. Certainly though, the Avalanche have to be happy to get Byram.

There’s a bit of a concern that Byram might be too offensively minded, to the point where he gets too far out of position. He’s able to get away with it in the WHL, especially due to his elite skating, but if he doesn’t reform then it will lead to headaches in the NHL. On the plus side, he backs up that offensive minded approach with high-end skills and he’s perfectly willing to get involved physically as well. He’ll need seasoning to be sure, but there is so much to like here.

With their second first-round pick, Colorado took Newhook, who is another player that arguably slipped a touch from where he was projected to go. He’s got great puckhandling and superb speed, which led to him scoring 38 goals and 102 points in 53 BCHL games last season. He just needs to bulk up first.

Colorado might not see either of them in the NHL next season, but they added two fantastic prospects.

Dallas Stars

Grade: C+

First Round Selection(s): Thomas Harley (18th)

In Harley, the Stars are getting an offensive defenseman with size, speed, and a strong left-handed shot. His defensive game could use work though and that’s probably what will keep him out of the NHL in the short-term. There’s certainly top-four potential here.

After that though, Dallas didn’t have another pick until 111th overall. They used that one on another defenseman in Samuel Sjolund. He’s a good puck handler and is regarded as a two-way blueliner, but obviously any player you getting that late is a gamble.

Adding Harley is nice, but given Dallas’ lack of picks, there really isn’t much to talk about here.

Edmonton Oilers

Grade: B-

First Round Selection(s): Philip Broberg (8th)

So how was Ken Holland’s first pick with the Edmonton Oilers? Well, he went a bit off the board here. There was some disagreement about where Broberg should go, but HockeyProspect.com ranked him at 21st and EliteProspects.com listed him at 29th. McKeen’s Hockey and The Athletic were the most favorable to him, listing him at ninth overall.

He fills a need in Edmonton as a big defenseman. He’s a tremendous skater and has been making strides defensively. He’s probably not going to play for Edmonton next season, but in a couple years he could be a significant part of the solution to Edmonton’s defensive problems.

With the 38th overall pick, the Oilers drafted Raphael Lavoie, who had been a consensus first round pick, so if the Oilers reached for Broberg, then they were fortunate to get Lavoie. He’s a great goal scorer and the Oilers certainly were short on those last season. Again, he can’t be part of the solution in the immediate-term, but he should eventually plug a hole.

I see the Oilers’ draft as something of a mixed bag. They were a bit bold with Broberg and perhaps focused too much when it came to drafting for need than talent. Still, it might pay off nicely for them.

Los Angeles Kings

Grade: A

First Round Selection(s): Alex Turcotte (5th) and Tobias Bjornfot (22nd)

Turcotte is a great two-way center who models his game after Jonathan Toews. His high-end hockey sense and compete-level will make future coaches very happy with him. Kings fans will have to be patient though as he’s committed to joining the University of Wisconsin for the 2019-20 campaign. In a couple years though, Kings fans will likely be thrilled with this pick.

It was important to Kings GM Rob Blake that they also drafted a defensemen early, so they used the 22nd overall pick (which they got from Toronto in the Jake Muzzin trade) to select Bjornfot. There might be some comparisons to Muzzin given how the Kings got the pick, especially given Bjornfot’s strong two-way game. He’s not an elite force offensively and isn’t likely to be someone who gets a ton of power-play ice time, but he can certainly contribute with and without the puck.

These were two very strong picks by Los Angeles.

Minnesota Wild

Grade: B+

First Round Selection(s): Matthew Boldy (12th)

Boldy has the makings of being the complete package between his goal scoring, playmaking, size, and speed, but the 18-year-old forward isn’t NHL ready yet. Part of the issue is that he’s just not consistent. He needs more seasoning and he’ll get it. He’s going to head to Boston College for the 2019-20 campaign. If all goes well, he’ll spend a season or two in the NCAA before turning pro.

Minnesota took Vladislav Firstov with the 42nd overall pick. He’s nothing remarkable, but he’s a decent skater, can play physically, though he could stand to improve in that regard, and sometimes shows high-end skill. He could be good in a few years.

Nashville Predators

Grade: C+

First Round Selection(s): Philip Tomasino (24th)

This is one team where what they did with their picks was the secondary story, but let’s start with Tomasino anyways. He’s a terrific skater and a high-end playmaker, but his defense will likely keep him out of the NHL for at least a couple years. They also took Egor Afanasyev with the 45th overall pick, who is a skilled forward with a good shot, but his skating could use work and he’s had consistency issues.

The bigger story though was that the Predators traded P.K. Subban in exchange for Steven Santini, Jeremy Davies, the 34th overall pick (Bobby Brink), and a 2020 second-round selection. Is that fair value for Subban? No. It’s frankly not even close. The only justification for making this trade was to clear Subban’s $9 million annual cap hit off the books for the next three years. The Predators felt they need to bolster their offense and by trading away Subban, they have a real shot of snagging either Artemi Panarin or Matt Duchene as unrestricted free agents. So to an extent, it’s hard to fully judge the Subban trade until we know how the Predators end up spending that freed cap space.

Personally, though, I’m not a fan of this trade. As valuable as cap space is right now, I can’t get on board with essentially dumping an elite defenseman, who could still be good for years given that he’s 30, on simply the hope that you might be able to turn around and sign a high-end forward.

San Jose Sharks

Grade: C

First Round Selection(s): None

The Sharks didn’t have a first-round pick, but they did have two selections in the second round and used them on Artemi Kniazev (48th) and Dillon Hamaliuk (55th). Kniazev is an offensive defenseman who can count his skating among his strengths. Hamaliuk’s a 6-foot-3 forward who can contribute physically and with the puck. His skating isn’t great, but it has shown signs of improvement. It’s also worth noting that he missed the second half of the season with a knee injury, which might have hurt his draft position.

The Sharks did fine with what they had, but obviously you’re not going to have an exciting draft without a first-round pick.

St. Louis Blues

Grade: C

First Round Selection(s): None

Like the Sharks, the Blues didn’t have a first-round pick and in this case, they only had one second-round selection. St. Louis took Nikita Alexandrov with the 62nd overall pick. He’s a two-way forward who skates well and a good shot. He’s not likely to develop into a high-end player, but there aren’t any glaring weaknesses in his game either, so at least he has that going for him.

The Blues took Colten Ellis with the 93rd overall pick. He’s a goaltender who posted a 2.47 GAA and .910 save percentage in 46 QMJHL games. He’s a gamble and a long-term project to be sure, but there’s a lot of potential here and maybe in four or five years, we’ll be talking about him as a future starter.

There’s not really much else to say here. I mean, they won the Stanley Cup, so no one in St. Louis is going to complain about them having a boring draft.

Vancouver Canucks

Grade: A

First Round Selection(s): Vasili Podkolzin (10th)

Here’s a team that had a busy draft. First off, they took Podkolzin, who is an aggressive, offensive forward, who uses his speed, puck handling, and high compete level to generate create scoring chances. He might end up being a bit of a steal at 10th and one of the reasons he arguably slipped is because he’s locked into the KHL for two more seasons.

The Canucks also took Hoglander with the 40th overall pick. He’s not a big winger, but he’s a fast one. He had seven goals and 14 points in 50 Swedish league games last season, so he already has experience playing against men.

Vancouver also made a big trade, acquiring J.T. Miller from Tampa Bay in exchange for Marek Mazanec, a conditional 2020 first-round pick, and a third-round selection. The condition on the first-rounder is that if Vancouver misses the playoffs, then Tampa Bay gets a 2021 first-round pick instead. Miller, 26, should fit in well with the Canucks young forward core and help the Canucks shift from a rebuilding squad to a competitive one.

Vegas Golden Knights

Grade: B+

First Round Selection(s): Peyton Krebs (17th)

Kreb was one of the biggest players who dropped the most in the first round. Most publications had him in the top-10 with The Athletic being the notable exception with him being listed at 14th overall. He’s got top-six potential. He’s highly skilled offensively, he’s aggressive, but not to the point of being prone to taking penalties, and he’s willing to battle in the dirty areas. However, he is recovering from a torn Achilles’ tendon, which could slow his development.

With the 41st overall pick, Vegas added Kaedan Korczak. He’s not likely to be much of an offensive contributor at the NHL level, but he could turn into a good shutdown defender.

Vegas did well to get Krebs where they got him and while there is an element of risk there to be sure, for a mid-first round pick it could pay off handsomely.

Winnipeg Jets

Grade: B-

First Round Selection(s): Ville Heinola (20th)

The Jets traded Jacob Trouba to the New York Rangers in exchange for the 20th pick and Neal Pionk. They used that pick on another defenseman in Heinola. He’s not a high-end offensive defensemen, but he is a strong passer and excels defensively. He’s probably never going to excite fantasy owners, but the Jets could end up being very happy with him.

The Jets took another blueliner with the 51st overall pick in Simon Lundmark. He’s got offensive upside and is a right-handed shot. If he stands out in anything, it’s with his sound positioning. He’ll play in the Swedish Hockey League in 2018-19.