Third year that I've done a mock draft. As I always mention, while I cover the OHL extensively, I'm a hockey prospect nut in general and as such, have a fair amount of knowledge of the other players available.
Scouts seem to be universally in agreement that is a strong and deep draft year. A few potential franchise players available early. And potential high impact players available all the way into the mid second round. That said, there does seem to be a relative consensus for the players most likely taken in the Top 20 or so. There will always be surprises. Some years more than others. But this year, it just feels like everyone has a pretty good handle on most guys who will go early. It's that 20-31 range that seems quite unpredictable.
And well, because it's Vegas, I've got them winning the cup and selecting last (or at least Detroit with their pick).
Here's my first round mock draft.
1. Buffalo Sabres - Rasmus Dahlin (Frolunda, SHL)
At this point, this seems like a no brainer; Dahlin is the slam dunk first overall pick. Projected by some to be the next Nik Lidstrom, Dahlin will be deemed the savior of the Sabres franchise, who seem to be stuck in a rebuilding carousel. But Mittelstadt looks like a great pick at this point, and now they've added Dahlin. Could those two pieces be the key to progression for this once storied franchise? Was so incredibly impressed with Dahlin at the U18's, especially as a draft eligible player. I think the one thing that's not talked about enough is his size. This guy is 6'2 and possibly still growing. Can't wait to see what he does in the NHL next year.
2. Carolina Hurricanes - Andrei Svechnikov (Barrie, OHL)
Carolina definitely hit the jackpot winning the lottery and moving up into the 2nd spot where they can take Svechnikov. The Svech vs Zadina debate seems to have cooled a bit and it really appears almost set in stone that Svechnikov is the #2. He's the perfect hybrid for the way the game used to be played, and how it is played now. Has great size, but also dynamic skating ability. Has that killer instinct as a power winger and tremendous goal scoring potential. But his two-way game is underrated and could develop to the point of being elite IMO. Marian Hossa is the comparison that I've thrown around. It just so happens that he fits perfectly into Carolina's lineup. They've got a terrific young defense and some very talented young playmakers up front. But size and power from a guy who can drive possession on the wing is just what the doctor ordered. I think he can be a 30-30 guy next year in the NHL.
3. Montreal Canadiens - Filip Zadina (Halifax, QMJHL)
I know there has been a lot of talk lately about Montreal drafting someone other than Zadina; opting to take a center like Kotkaniemi instead. But I just don't think the Canadiens can pass up on what they have been gifted in Zadina. This is a team that looks to be on the cusp of a rebuild, who is working hard to overhaul their prospect cupboard. In that scenario, and when you're drafting in the top 3, you need to take the player you think can be the best and that seems to nearly unanimously be Zadina. And look, sure Montreal could use a franchise center. But they also had only two 20 goal scorers this past year. And if there's one thing Zadina can do, it's light the lamp. This kid is a dynamic goal scorer who also plays hard in all three zones and should be a long time NHL player and 30+ goal scorer.
4. Ottawa Senators - Oliver Wahlstrom (USDP, USHL)
Yes, I know that the Senators are faced with the task of dealing with the inevitable move of Erik Karlsson. Because of that, it seems like some people want the Senators to try and replace his ability to move the puck with one of the elite puck movers available. And Brady Tkachuk seems like a potential pick too because of the intensity level he plays with. But I think Wahlstrom is the 4th best player available this year, and I think his goal scoring potential fits in extremely well with what Ottawa is building. That is, of course, if you see him on the wing and not down the middle, like I do. I look at guys like Logan Brown and Colin White, possession based centers who will need that trigger man in the future. And the one thing this draft has a lot of is quality defense prospects. The Sens choose again at 22 in the first and can likely find a quality defender there. But they won't find a potential top line forward in Wahlstrom.
5. Arizona Coyotes - Noah Dobson (Acadie-Bathurst, QMJHL)
It does seem likely that the Coyotes go defense at #5. When they've drafted high (in the lottery), they've gone forward in recent years and the depth they have up front is insane right now. But on the backend, it's a different story. Jakob Chychrun is just starting to find himself after some injury issues and OEL isn't getting any younger. The question is, what defender do they go with? The elite skating, but undersized Quinn Hughes? The poised and confident Evan Bouchard? The athletic and dynamic Adam Boqvist? It could be any of those. But I put my money on Noah Dobson. He had a heck of a QMJHL playoffs and Memorial Cup and looks like a potential Alex Pietrangelo type of defender at the NHL level. And while the Coyotes would love to have a dynamic puck mover on the backend, I think Dobson is the best of the bunch in his own end and that two-way ability fits in very well with what they currently they have and need.
6. Detroit Red Wings - Brady Tkachuk (Boston University, NCAA)
I know that the consensus of Wings fans seems to be that they draft one of the talented young defenders available. And that could very well happen. But I'm just not sure I see it, especially if a guy like Tkachuk is still available. The Wings have some potentially solid puck movers on the blueline in the system already in Hronek, Saaraijarvi, and Cholowski. I also realize that the Wings drafted a big net presence last year in Michael Rasmussen. But this is a team who is drafting inside the top 6 for the first time since 1990! They need to take the best player available and I think that player is Tkachuk. He can impact the game in so many different ways, more ways than Rasmussen can. And if anything, having guys like Rasmussen, and Tkachuk (and Givani Smith) there to support the likes of Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha, Evgeni Svechnikov, should only help the team progress. Could also see them taking Kotkaniemi or Barrett Hayton here. Although who am I kidding, maybe they do take another puck mover with local kid Quinn Hughes there.
7. Vancouver Canucks - Quinn Hughes (Michigan, NCAA)
I feel like given the glut of young forward talent the Canucks have accumulated (Boeser, Pettersson, Gaudette, Horvat, etc), it would make sense for Vancouver to go defense here. Olli Juolevi had a solid year in Finland, but I'm not sure his progression and path has gone as smoothly as Canucks' brass would have hoped. And there will be a top notch puck mover available to them. Whether it's Bouchard, Hughes, Dobson, Smith, or Boqvist, the Canucks have options. So which one makes the most sense for Vancouver? I'd put my money on Hughes. The lack of size is a concern, but I feel like they might like his high end skating ability and potential as a dynamic puck rusher. A guy who can push the pace and get the puck to the likes of Boeser and Pettersson. The others are great options too, but they probably end up being pretty similar players to Juolevi when all is said and done. Hughes has that game breaking ability. And they'll be pretty familiar with his game having kept tabs on Will Lockwood this year.
8. Chicago Blackhawks - Jesperi Kotkaniemi (Assat, Liiga)
Kotkaniemi is definitely one of the draft's bigger risers in the 2nd half of the season thanks to some strong international performances and the overall weakness of the center crop this year. Given his strong puck skill and two-way ability, he seems like the perfect fit for the Blackhawks organization based not only on need, but also the traits that they value in their top end draft picks. Given the team has spent the majority of their high end picks recently on defenders, I believe that they will look for a higher upside forward, someone to eventually replace a guy like Jonathan Toews as they go through what looks to be a possible rebuild. I could also see them having a lot of interest in Barrett Hayton here. Probably early for him to go, but again, he seems like the type of player that Hawks brass really seems to covet.
9. New York Rangers - Evan Bouchard (London, OHL)
The Rangers are another team I look for to go defense with their top 10 pick. Such a great year for offensive defenders and this team is slowly rebuilding their prospect depth. Went with two forwards last year in the 1st forward (and both look like great picks), so why not jump on the opportunity to get a potential top pairing defender here? Again, the question remains...which one? The Rangers have used the OHL a lot in recent years to grab their draft picks and to sign prospects, so I think Bouchard would be their guy if still available. His poise, playmaking abiity, and PP QB skill set would be a perfect fit for a Rangers team that finished in the bottom half of the league in goals scored. And at this point, I also think that he would be the best player available, as on Bobby Mac's most recent list, he was listed as almost unanimously the 5th best player available this year. Skating and upside drop him below Dobson and Hughes on draft day though, at least IMO.
10. Edmonton Oilers - Adam Boqvist (Brynas, Superelit, SHL)
At this point, I think the Oilers need to look at drafting the best player available at #10. I know that sounds crazy, because shouldn't all teams do that always? I think sometimes you do need to take into account organizational weaknesses. The Oilers want to be a competitive team next year again and I think it's likely they use young assets to try and do that through trade. That means any weakness they have currently, may not be one in the near future. With the players I have available at this spot, I think Boqvist checks off a lot of boxes for Edmonton. He's the best player available with the highest upside. And he's also a competent powerplay QB and puck mover who can be a big part of the team's defense in the future.
11. New York Islanders - Barrett Hayton (Sault Ste. Marie, OHL)
Almost had the Hawks taking Hayton at 8th overall, but ultimately went with Kotkaniemi. I just feel like Hayton is the type of kid that NHL scouts and franchises are going to value more than armchair scouts. He does so many things well and plays a mature game. But he also has offensive upside and plays a position that doesn't have great depth in this draft. Hayton seems like the perfect pick for the Islanders, given their current group of players. That perfect contrast to Matt Barzal down the middle. Can potentially slot up and down their lineup and bring more defensive stability to their forward unit. And like I said, people selling his offensive upside short are definitely wrong. This kid has skill and he will show that when he's given a leadership role within the Soo's system next year.
12. New York Islanders - Rasmus Sandin (Sault Ste. Marie, OHL)
A team drafting two players from the same team, back to back? Is this too far fetched? I personally don't think so. Both of these players provide good value in this range. With Uncle Lou taking over in Long Island, coming from the model that the Leafs put together around advanced stats and hockey sense, Sandin is the perfect player for that. His relatively mistake free game and upside as a modern two-way defender has to alluring to a team like New York who have had a tough time developing quality defenders in recent years. Of course, if they opt to go defense, they could go for the higher upside offensive player in Ty Smith, but I just see Sandin being the type of player Lou and his new people (like...maybe Mark Hunter) will want to bring in.
13. Dallas Stars - Rasmus Kupari (Karpat, Liiga)
Dallas appears to have had some good luck drafting out of Finland last year with Miro Heiskanen, so why not double dip? In Kupari, they are adding greatly to the team's center depth in the future. He has high upside thanks to his speed and skill and could greatly compliment guys like Jason Robertson and Riley Tufte in the future. Could also see Dallas look at Joseph Veleno here as a solid two-way center who can be a playmaker in the same vein. Again though, I look at how well the Stars' draft picks out of Finland have fared in recent years and believe they'll lean in that direction if given the choice of comparable players value wise.
14. Philadelphia Flyers - Joel Farabee (USDP, USHL)
The Flyers have done a very good job rebuilding their young talent pool in recent years. They're solid down the middle. Solid on the back-end. Have some great prospects in goal. This is a team who needs to really look at taking the best player available and at this point I see it being Farabee. Highly competitive winger who could be a great complimentary piece to guys like Couturier, Patrick, Frost, etc because his hockey sense and skill level is high. He's headed to Boston University next fall so he'll have time to grow as a player. But he seems like a good fit for the Flyers at this time. Was tempted to go with Serron Noel too because of upside and similar projection. But after taking Ratcliffe last year, I feel like they may look at a differently profiled forward this time around. They could also go defense too and take a guy like Ty Smith, if they feel he's the best available, despite an already crowded young blueline.
15. Florida Panthers - Serron Noel (Oshawa, OHL)
Could easily see this guy going earlier because of his projection and upside. Even though the game has changed, the combination of elite size and speed still plays, and always will play. Just how good he can be offensively remains to be seen. It all depends on how Noel grows into his body and whether the hands catch up to the feet. But this guy seems like the perfect pick for the Panthers at this point. High upside forward who can hopefully be the player they thought they were drafting in Lawson Crouse. The difference being that Noel can skate with guys like Barkov, Malgin, Tippett, etc. Watching Florida play, they could really use wingers with size to open up some space for their more skilled players and Noel is just that.
16. Colorado Avalanche - Vitali Kravtsov (Traktor, KHL)
Thanks to a tremendous KHL playoff performance, Kravtsov is a big, offensive winger who seems to be rocketing up most draft boards lately. Russian factor be damned, this guy would appear to have among the highest upside of any winger in the draft. And I'm sure Colorado would love to add more scoring depth to their top 6 in the future. Colorado has also been a team far from shy in signing or drafting Russian players. I actually think that this guy could go even higher than 16. If it's not Kravstov, I actually think a guy like Akil Thomas could be a tempting pick for the Avs. Again, another terrific support winger, although Kravtsov appears to have greater upside as a scorer.
17. New Jersey Devils - Ty Smith (Spokane, WHL)
I will admit that I am lower on Smith than most, and that is reflected in this mock draft where I have Smith going outside of the lottery. I know some scouts do have concerns over his poor performances on bigger stages this year (TPG, U18's) and have questions about why his decision making with the puck seems to suffer when the pace increases. But he remains a solid defensive prospect with a great deal of offensive potential. New Jersey looks to take the best player available here in Smith, and have been no stranger to the WHL in recent years. Smith also fits in well with their young roster as a potential powerplay QB.
18. Columbus Blue Jackets - Dominik Bokk (Vaxjo, Superelit)
Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen is a man of the world. Under his leadership, Columbus has drafted players from nearly every country in the world. Bokk, a German playing out of Sweden this year, seems like the type of player he would covet. Bokk is a winger with a lot of offensive upside thanks to his strong puck skills and playmaking ability. Maybe he's too similar to Vitaly Abramov, but it still feels like a player that Blue Jackets brass would value. Could also see them rolling the dice on a raw but projectable defender like Miller or Wilde here.
19. Philadelphia Flyers - K'Andre Miller (USDP, USHL)
The Flyers go back to the US-18 team for their second pick of the first round. They took Joel Farabee first, a safe prospect whose game is built around hockey sense. Here, they swing for the fences with Miller, a high upside and raw defense prospect who is most definitely a long term project. The Flyers have a very good young defense built currently, so they can afford to really swing for the fences here with a guy who may not contribute until 2022. If they roll the dice on a defender, maybe they go for Isaac Ratcliffe's teammate in Guelph too, Ryan Merkley.
20. Los Angeles Kings - Martin Kaut (Dynamo Pardubice, Czech)
Kaut is a smart offensive winger who excelled internationally this year for the Czech Republic. The late '99 was definitely one of the biggest surprises of this year's World U20's. He is a very well rounded player in the offensive end which makes him the perfect complimentary piece on a scoring line moving forward. This guy could be the perfect fit on a future line with last year's first rounder Gabe Vilardi. Could also see the Kings looking at Akil Thomas here if they feel like he fits better on the wing than he does down the middle. We know LA loves their OHL kids.
21. San Jose Sharks - Akil Thomas (Niagara, OHL)
San Jose grabs one of the most skilled playmakers available in the draft this year, Akil Thomas. Remains to be seen whether he's a wing or a center at the next level, but his speed, vision and puck skill will play. And Thomas has a competitive edge too. Just needs to get stronger but should eventually become one of the OHL's leading scorers. Thomas presents a nice contract to a guy like Josh Norris, who the Sharks took in the first round last year; a high upside pick with versatility and lots of room for growth.
22. Ottawa Senators - Ryan Merkley (Guelph, OHL)
Part of me wants to predict that Merkley ends up falling in the draft because of all the red flags surrounding him. But the other half believes that with the way the NHL is played now, a team will take a chance on him sometime in the first in hopes that he figures things out. If it's the later, it's likely to be a team with multiple firsts who is aiming to grab a high upside player and roll the dice. Ottawa seems like a perfect fit with an eventual hole on the powerplay when Erik Karlsson moves on and they have some decent young defenders in the system which can allow them to be patient with Merkley.
23. Anaheim Ducks - Bode Wilde (USDP, USHL)
Anaheim rolls the dice too, on an athletic defender who didn't really have the kind of season many expected he would. At this time last year, Wilde was discussed as a possible top 5 selection. But now finds himself ranked outside the lottery by most scouting agencies. While his decision making has come under question, you simply cannot deny the raw talent and potential that he possesses. I think Anaheim has played it safe with their top picks in recent years and they need to really swing for the fences here.
24. Minnesota Wild - Jared McIssac (Halifax, QMJHL)
Like Wilde, McIssac is a defender whose stock has taken a bit of a hit this year. Perhaps his top end potential may not be as high as everyone originally envisioned, but he's still a solid prospect who seems to be universally considered a first round talent. Can potentially develop into a quality second pairing defender who can play in all situations and have a long NHL career. The Wild haven't used a top 2 round pick on a defender in the last four years and considering the number of quality defenders available this year, it would make sense for them to be targeting one here.
25. Toronto Maple Leafs - Ty Dellandrea (Flint, OHL)
The Leafs don't really have a ton of center depth beyond what they have at the NHL level right now, so it makes sense for them to look down the middle with their first this year should a quality prospect be available. In this scenario, they could go Joseph Veleno, a former highly touted prospect whose top end potential has been questioned. But I see them fancying a guy like Ty Dellandrea more. And before you say, "isn't Dellandrea's potential capped?" I would disagree. I think this guy has a chance to be a better pro than most give him credit for. Coaches dream who can do everything, provides leadership and has an extremely underrated skill set offensively.
26. New York Rangers - Joseph Veleno (Drummondville, QMJHL)
Speaking of Veleno, the Rangers jump at the opportunity to select him, preventing him from falling further. Veleno is one of the better center options available this year with size, skating ability and potential as a top notch playmaker. He drops a bit because it seems like whenever you watch him play, he leaves you wanting more. I know the Rangers went with a similar prospect in Lias Andersson last year, but when you've got three first round picks, going BPA is never a bad strategy.
27. Chicago Blackhawks - Jay O'Brien (Thayer Academy, USHS)
With their second first rounder, the Hawks opt for a raw, high risk, but potentially high potential high school center. The Providence commit has apparently impressed scouts this year with his goal scoring ability. Could also see the Hawks rolling the dice on Russian forward Grigori Denisenko with this pick. They've had better luck with Russians than other organizations and again should look to go high upside with their other first rounder.
28. New York Rangers - Jonatan Berggren (Skelleftea, Superelit)
With the third of their three first round picks, the Rangers opt for a speedy, offensive winger out of Sweden. Berggren was sensational at the U18's this year where he really put himself on the map as a potential first round pick. The speed with which he plays and his energy on the attack would make him a perfect complimentary piece to guys like Andersson, Chytil, (and Veleno). Probably ends up being a similar player to current Ranger Chris Kreider.
29. St. Louis Blues - Jacob Bernard-Docker (Okotoks, AJHL)
The Blues have one of the top farm systems in the NHL right now, with a bevy of young players chomping at the bit to join the big club. As such, they probably have the luxury of rolling the dice on a guy who may be a ways away from the NHL, but who could pay off big when he's finished developing. Insert Jacob Bernard-Docker, a North Dakota commit and defender out of the AJHL. Could be a terrific two-way defender when all is said and done and the last defender the Blues took out of the AJHL turned out pretty well. Have to think one (or maybe both) of he and Johnny Tychonick end up as first rounders because of their upside.
30. Washington Capitals - Ryan McLeod (Mississauga, OHL)
What? The Washington Capitals draft an OHL player? They haven't taken a player out of the OHL since 2012, when they drafted Tom Wilson in the first. But at this point, McLeod is likely considered the best player available and someone most consider a near lock for the first round given this year's lack of top end center prospects. His size, speed, and skill package fits in nicely with a Capitals team that hasn't developed a center since Evgeny Kuznetsov. Could also see them rolling the dice on Grigori Denisenko here too, given the success they've had with Russians.
31. Detroit Red Wings - Kevin Bahl (Ottawa, OHL)
Might take a bit of flak for this one, but here's my thinking. Firstly, the Wings have drafted some excellent potential puck movers in recent years (Hronek, Cholowski, Saarijarvi) and having someone like Bahl, with his size and physicality, in the system could be a major asset. The Wings have looked to draft players with high compete levels in recent years in hopes of making their team harder to play against. Lastly, Logan Stanley was a first round pick and I think Bahl is the better NHL prospect. I just think that the Wings may look to grab a top notch potential shut down defender at some point early in this draft (with two early 2nd's as well) and if they're interested in Bahl, they feel like Buffalo may grab him with the first pick of the 2nd round (another organization who could use a player like Bahl). I could see them being interested in a guy like Jett Woo too, for similar reasons.