I've never posted an NHL mock draft before, despite always receiving requests. I've finally given in, so consider this the inaugural 'OHL Prospects' Mock Draft.
While I obviously know the OHL incredibly well and follow that the most closely, I'm an overall fan of the draft itself and I'd like to think that I'm pretty knowledgeable when it comes to any of the major players available. As such, I don't think this exercise is beyond my expertise.
The draft itself will be incredibly interesting IMO. While every year is certainly unpredictable, I see this year being especially so. There seems to be a consensus on the top 12-14 guys at this point, but once we get into the second half of the first round, things could get a bit crazy. Seems to be about 30-40 names bandied around pretty comfortably for those final 15 spots. Rankings from publications (ISS, FC, etc) seem to be all over the map at that range too, which acts as evidence to my proclamation. And even within the top 12, there is a ton of parity, with only the top 3 really being set (you'd think anyway).
Without further ado, here's my first annual (likely) mock draft. Of note, I've got Pittsburgh winning the Cup because they're currently up 2 games to 1. However I'd have those same players to those teams regardless of who picks 29 and who picks 30.
1. Toronto Maple Leafs - Auston Matthews
This is what Toronto wanted this year. The chance to draft a franchise offensive player who can be the leader of this team moving forward. They've drafted exceptionally well the last few years, but you can only go so far without that top flight franchise center. And Matthews is definitely that. I've seen a lot of him internationally the last few years and he never ceases to impress. Such a powerful player. Explosive offensively and the World Championships proved that he's ready to take on a large role at the NHL level. Anytime I see Matthews play, I can't help but see a little Mike Modano in his game.
2. Winnipeg Jets - Patrik Laine
Pretty good consolation prize for Winnipeg. Heck, some people even see him as "the prize." Both he, and Matthews look like franchise players who could be top 10 players in the NHL within the next five years. Laine fits incredibly well in Winnipeg's lineup, giving them an elite scoring winger to go with some of the solid centers they've accumulated (like Mark Scheifele, Bryan Little). Like Matthews, Laine proved at the World Championships that he's NHL ready.
3. Columbus Blue Jackets - Jesse Puljujarvi
Once thought to be the other crown jewel of this draft class, Laine has clearly passed Puljujarvi this year, but that doesn't (at least it shouldn't) take away from his NHL potential as a big time NHL scorer. While Puljujarvi is obviously a great add for Columbus, I do wonder what they'll do with their roster moving forward. They'll have a glut at wing and may need to try and go out and get themselves another quality center to get all these guys the puck.
4. Edmonton Oilers - Matthew Tkachuk
Now comes the hard decisions, sort of.... At this point, I do expect Tkachuk to be the 4th overall pick. His performance in the OHL playoffs and at the Memorial Cup seems to have allowed him to separate himself from the pack. The buzz he's generated with scouts and GM's seems to be legitimate. Even if it's not Edmonton (aka they trade the pick), I expect Tkachuk to be 4th. That said, Tkachuk is perfect for Edmonton. While their need on defense is obvious, they'd be better off dealing one of their more redundant young skilled forwards to fill that gap IMO. Tkachuk's game is so well suited to be the third wheel on a line with McDavid and a guy like Hall, or Eberle. He's an absolute beast below the hash marks and he does all the dirty work on a line for more finesse oriented linemates. But he's no slouch in that department either. He'd open up so much more ice for McDavid or Hall, which is obviously a scary proposition.
5. Vancouver Canucks - Logan Brown
I know many expect them to go Pierre Luc Dubois here. And quite frankly, it wouldn't surprise me if they did. I've also mentioned Alex Nylander here (on twitter) because I think his skill set would be a great fit with some of the other young players that Vancouver has amassed. However, I actually think it will be Logan Brown who they go with. I could very well be wrong. But here me out. This is both a pick of need, and a Benning style selection. The teams that find success in the Pacific have a player like Brown leading the way, that big talented center who can dominate possession (Kopitar, Thornton, Getzlaf). By trading Jared McCann, and with the disappointing season from Cole Cassels, the need for a talented future center (besides Bo Horvat) couldn't be more obvious. Brown apparently impressed BIG time at the combine and with his size and potential, I don't think it's a reach at all to consider him in the top 5 or 6.
6. Calgary Flames - Pierre Luc Dubois
I've read a lot of things about the Flames loving Juolevi and I know they scouted London a lot this year, but I can't help but think that Tkachuk or Dubois are their first two choices here. Dubois gives them a big bodied winger who can open up some ice for guys like Gaudreau, Bennett, and Monahan moving forward. He's also ultra skilled and has the skating ability to keep up. As mentioned earlier about the Pacific, it's a physical division where size is important and Dubois gives you that.
7. Arizona Coyotes - Olli Juolevi
The Coyotes have talked openly about the idea of adding a defender at this year's draft, and coming off a Memorial Cup victory, Juolevi could be that man. New Coyotes GM John Chayka is a big analytics guy and I don't think there are many players in this draft who would be better in Corsi (or any other new age stat) than Juolevi (if it were properly kept). He's so smart with the puck and his ability to start the breakout is definitely the best of the big three OHL guys. Not to mention that they obviously saw a ton of him while keeping tabs on Christian Dvorak. Seems like a great fit.
8. Buffalo Sabres - Alex Nylander
Nylander is the perfect compliment to Jack Eichel moving forward and I think he will supply the type of skill and goal scoring ability badly needed by Buffalo on the wing. Outside of the big three (and perhaps Keller), Nylander possesses the most offensive potential of any player in the draft. Could easily be a 40/40 player.
9. Montreal Canadiens - Jakob Chychrun
I think Brown was definitely the guy the Canadiens were targeting, so they might be angry that they didn't snag him. In all honesty, at this point they might have to move up if they want him that badly. This is the one pick that really had me thinking. In the end, it came down to Jost and Chychrun. Jost would give them a very talented center prospect. But I think going defense makes sense here. Sergachev isn't an ideal fit with the Canadiens drafting Juulsen last year. Where as Chychrun already profiles as a strong defensive player with his physical capabilities and mobility. It's a question of how great you think he'll be offensively. I'm still a major fan. Perhaps a dark horse selection here could be Michael McLeod, although his draft stock seems to have taken a small hit recently.
10. Colorado Avalanche - Clayton Keller
I think that the Avs could go in many different directions with this selection. They've got a very well rounded group of young NHL'ers and prospects. At the end of the day, I see them going with the player they believe has the most upside and I think that's Keller. Such a fantastic offensive player. His playmaking ability would compliment the goal scoring ability of guys like MacKinnon, Landeskog, Rantanen, Compher, etc. And while he is slightly undersized, a guy like Johnny Gaudreau has proven that smaller players can succeed in the Western Conference in today's game. Could also see them going with Sergachev here though, especially if they end up dealing a guy like Barrie.
11. New Jersey Devils - Mikhail Sergachev
Ultimately, I see New Jersey going defense here. Adam Larsson has developed a lot slower than expected. And the Devils have used their last three first round selections on forwards. The opportunity presents itself for them to add a real quality defensive prospect and I don't think they can pass that up. New Jersey's powerplay was actually pretty good this year, but moving forward, I don't see any of their young defenders possessing the offensive potential that Sergachev does. His ability to gain entry to the offensive zone would be a major asset.
12. Ottawa Senators - Tyson Jost
While he wasn't drafted by them, Kyle Turris was the last BCHL'er to have the draft hype that Jost has created. I think Ottawa could badly use another talented young center. I was really impressed with what Jost was able to do at the U18's and he tested exceptionally well at the combine. Who knows how long he'll spend at North Dakota, but the Senators need to capitalize from a disappointing year by selecting a forward with some upside.
13. Carolina Hurricanes - Michael McLeod
I think McLeod would be a good selection by the Canes. They're certainly never afraid to draft out of the OHL. At his highest potential, McLeod could develop into a great two-way center who could anchor Carolina's 2nd or 3rd line in the future. He also possesses fantastic leadership qualities and could be a future captain of the team. While they've got some great young players up front, I don't think any of them possess the qualities that McLeod does.
14. Boston Bruins - Charles McAvoy
Right in their backyard, the Bruins take McAvoy, a talented two-way defender from Boston University. There's no doubt that they would have seen a lot of him while watching Matt Grzelcyk. I feel like McAvoy is the type of player who could be undervalued by the casual fan, but could have some massive fans in the scouting community.
15. Minnesota Wild - Kiefer Bellows
This is where things really start to get a bit crazy to predict IMO. After 15, we could see teams really grabbing from a large pool of players. I could see Minnesota going with Luke Kunin. I could see them going with Dante Fabbro. They could even go with Mr. Hockey Riley Tufte. But I see Bellows as their pick. The Wild are still trying to break out of the shadows of the trapping era, and they still remain in the bottom half of the league when it comes to offensive production. Bellows is one of the draft's best scorers, AND he's a hometown boy to boot. Could be the perfect flank for some of the talented playmakers that the Wild have (Koivu, Granlund, etc).
16. Detroit Red Wings - Jake Bean
Bottom line, Bean put up some of the best numbers that a draft eligible defender from the WHL has produced in many years. Regardless of what you think of his defensive game, you have to put value in what he can do offensively (especially in today's game where puck movers are at a premium). Detroit hasn't drafted a defenseman in the first round since Brendan Smith in 2007...and it shows. For all the forwards they've developed in recent years, their defensive unit has prevented them from being a better club. A puck mover like Bean is sorely needed in the organization, and they began to address that last year with Saarijarvi.
17. Nashville Predators - Dante Fabbro
Like Detroit, I think Nashville might go defense here. Ultimately that gives them a choice between the likes of Fabbro, Logan Stanley, or his BCHL competitor Dennis Cholowski. Could also see them going with Max Jones here. But Fabbro would be a nice pick here. He'll likely have a few years in the NCAA and that should help his offensive game continue to grow in order to match his defensive efficiency. I've seen the term "safe" thrown around when it comes to Fabbro and I'd probably agree with that. But that's not necessarily a bad thing if Nashville can find a competent second pairing guy in the middle of the first with only their 3rd first rounder in the last 6 years.
18. Philadelphia Flyers - Max Jones
While Jones would have definitely fit in better with the Broadstreet Bullies, he still makes a lot of sense for the Flyers here. Outside of Wayne Simmonds, they don't have a ton of size on the wing and Jones' physicality and throwback play would be great for the team moving forward. I'm still not sure how much scoring potential there is because of questionable hockey sense, but everything else is there.
19. New York Islanders - Logan Stanley
If Stanley is still there when the Isles pick, I think he's a no brainer selection for them. While he's most certainly lower in my rankings, I do respect why teams would have him high and draft him high. The Isles are an extremely talented young team, but the one thing they lack is that hulking, physically imposing defender. Stanley can be that guy. And with Ho-Sang in the fold, the Isles would have most certainly seen enough of Stanley to make a quality assessment.
20. Arizona Coyotes (via NYR) - Riley Tufte
With such a tremendous collection of young players, I definitely think that Arizona goes high upside here, perhaps with even a shocking selection. They can draft a guy like Dennis Cholowski, Alex Debrincat, Tage Thompson, or a Riley Tufte and really shoot for the stars (and have the luxury of being patient). Debrincat could make sense because of his chemistry with Dylan Strome. Cholowski could make sense because the Coyotes are weakest on the backend. But ultimately I see them going with Tufte. Huge, hulking winger who was the Mr. Hockey award recipient. They can be extremely patient with his development and hopefully he develops into a top 6 forward while at Minnesota-Duluth.
21. Carolina Hurricanes (via LA) - Alex Debrincat
Again, a bit higher than I would probably take him, but you can't deny the offensive potential he possesses. With two first rounders, the Canes can afford to really roll the dice on him. With Sergei Tolchinsky already in the fold, you could say that the team isn't afraid to take a chance on smaller players either. His tenacious work ethic on the ice and shot release are most definitely pro caliber and I think he'd be a good fit with the way that team has been assembled.
22. Winnipeg Jets (via CHI) - Dennis Cholowski
Another team that can afford to roll the dice because of how deep their prospect pool is and because they have multiple picks. Cholowski is a BCHL defender who put up fantastic numbers this year. He's a late bloomer who has grown a ton in the last few years and as such, you have to wonder how great his potential is. He'll attend St. Cloud State and the Jets can afford to be very patient with him.
23. Florida Panthers - Boris Katchouk
Massive turnover in the Panthers leadership and scouting departments leading up to the draft, so who knows which direction they want to go in. But I think a guy like Katchouk would be an interesting target for them. Hard nosed energy winger with offensive potential, who was a very consistent contributor for the Hounds this season. Could be the perfect compliment to guys like Barkov, Huberdeau, etc (along with Lawson Crouse).
24. Anaheim Ducks - Luke Kunin
Kunin is often described as an incredibly smart center with a great feel for the game at both ends. He performed very well at the combine and the Wisconsin star seems poised to develop into a quality 2nd/3rd line center down the line. He also gives the Ducks more depth at the position moving forward, which is ideal given the age of their current center ice men.
25. Dallas Stars - Brett Howden
The Stars have been all over Europe in recent years with four of their last 5 first rounders all coming from various European countries. That's why I think they could go with Rasmus Asplund here. However, I think they settle on Howden. Howden is a hard working center with size who had a very good WHL playoffs and U18's for Canada. The Stars have been no stranger to the WHL in recent years either.
26. Washington Capitals - Lucas Johansen
The brother of Nashville's Ryan, Lucas is a player who really shot up the draft charts this year after a solid year with defensive factory Kelowna (of the WHL). The Capitals are no stranger from drafting out of the Rockets program, having taken Madison Bowey a few years ago. Johansen gives the Caps another strong young two-way defender in the system, perhaps their weakest point.
27. Tampa Bay Lightning - Julien Gauthier
Definitely a fall for the skilled, physical winger, as I've seen him firmly inside the top 20 on most lists. But the late '97 didn't seem to progress quite as well as some expected him to this year and I've seen a lot written about concerns over his hockey sense and just how much potential he actually has at the next level. But the Bolts could really use a player like him in their system, so they have no issue taking a chance here. Worst case scenario, Gauthier's physical skills make him a valuable checking line player.
28. St. Louis Blues - Wade Allison
One of the biggest risers in the second half of the season, Allison had an absolutely amazing second half to the USHL season and was the MVP of the Clark Cup (USHL playoffs). Allison is a big body who can play the power game that St. Louis wants to play. He's heading to Western Michigan next year. Could also see them going with Tage Thompson here too.
29. Boston Bruins (via SJ) - Tage Thompson
Massive winger who put up some great numbers in the NCAA this year. He's incredibly raw though, and any team will have to be patient with him. He had only one even strength goal this year. But at 6'5, with good hands and skating ability (for a big kid), it's certainly possible that Thompson goes even higher than this. For Boston, he gives them yet another big kid who can put the puck in the net. However, they can afford to be patient with him. Could also see them going with a more natural playmaker (or center) like a Jordan Kyrou or a Rasmus Asplund.
30. Toronto Maple Leafs (via PIT) - German Rubtsov
Certainly not the common selection for the Leafs in this draft (at least when it comes to the media), but I do think that the selection makes sense. Here's why. 1) The Leafs have had no problem drafting players who have fallen a bit in the draft the last few years 2) The Leafs have had no issue drafting (or signing) players out of Russia. and 3) Rubtsov has said that he intends to play in the CHL next year. The Leafs would be able to set him up with an OHL team next year to keep close tabs on him. The talented Russian is well worth the final pick of the first round despite missing the U18's and measuring in a bit smaller than many thought he was.