For the 15 teams that missed out on the invite to the NHL’s Big Dance, spring is long and painful.
With the NHL playoffs in the second round, the only excitement for those on the outside looking in — other than coach and executive firings — was the draft lottery last Saturday.
The Buffalo Sabres had best odds for the no. 1 pick and retained them, but there was some drama on down the list. Carolina, with the 11th best odds going in, got the second. Ottawa fell to fourth from second, Montreal from fourth to third and Arizona from third to fifth.
Two teams who finished in the bottom 15, Calgary and St. Louis, dealt away their lottery picks some time ago. The Flames sent their first rounder (12th overall) and second rounder to the Islanders in the Travis Hamonic swap and the Blues swapped the 14th overall selection to Philadelphia in the Brayden Schenn deal.
We have combed the detailed prospect lists from the International Scouting Service (ISS), NHL Central Scouting and draftprospect.com and considering each lottery team’s needs have made a mock list of our own ahead of the draft in Dallas in late June. Here they are from lowest to highest.
15. Calgary Flames (3rd Round, 74th Overall) – RW Lenni Killinen, Espoo United
When the Flames packaged up their 2018 first and second round picks and a conditional second rounder in 2019 to the Islanders for D Travis Hamonic, it was thought he’d make a difference in a squad that made the post-season in 2017. It didn’t pan out the way they expected and head coach Glen Gulutzan and his assistants paid with their jobs. If the Flames fail to improve in 2018-19, GM Brad Treliving is likely next on the bread line. However, he won’t likely benefit at all at the draft, considering the fact the Flames scouting department and hockey executive will be twiddling their thumbs until late in the third round of the draft. Where the Flames aren’t particularly strong is down the right wing, so their focus should be on the likes of 17-year-old Finnish right winger Lenni Killinen, who had four points in 10 games playing with men on Espoo United. He’s ranked 36th among Euro skaters by the NHL bird dogs. Another who could be available at 74 is the Ottawa 67s Kody Clark. He is slotted 34th among North American players.
14. St. Louis Blues (1st Round, 27th Overall) – C Ryan McLeod, Mississauga Steelheads
The Blues missed the playoffs by one measly point, so their needs aren’t as great as say those of Buffalo. However, they did manage to salvage a first rounder even though they dealt the no. 14 selection to Philadelphia. St. Louis got Winnipeg’s pick (27th overall) in the Paul Stastny trade at the deadline. Like Calgary, the Blues could use depth down the wings, but with Stastny’s departure a centerman would be a better call. Their best bet, according to ISS rankings would be 26th ranked Ryan McLeod, of the Mississauga Steelheads. He’s a late birthday kid who is 18 and if he was born a tad earlier could have went in last year’s draft. He’s got good size at 6’2″, 200 lbs. and registered 75 points in 74 total games with Mississauga this season. If the Blues don’t agree with ISS, they could go with Barrett Hayton of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, who is also big enough and having a heck of a playoff run with the CHL’s top rated club, scoring 17 points in 19 games so far.
13. Florida Panthers (1st Round, 15th Overall) – C Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Assat Pori
Florida barely missed the playoffs, too, and don’t have a whole lot of holes to fill in the line-up, so they should just take the best player available at no. 15, regardless of position. The ISS has Finnish pivot Rasmus Kupari at no. 15. He was just 17 for most of the season playing with Karpat of the Finnish Liiga and has drawn comparisons to Carolina’s Sebastian Aho and Jesse Puljujarvi. A slick offensive minded forward, Kupari had 14 points in 39 games with Karpat, where old NHL hands like 36-year-old Lasse Kukkonen still collect a paycheque. If they aren’t high on Kupari, the Cats could elect to take Kupari’s countryman Jesperi Kotkaniemi of Assat, who won’t be 18 until after the draft. He had 29 points in 57 games for Assat and is seen as a more complete player than Kupari. He’s ranked 16th by the ISS and as high as 10th by hockeyprospect.com.
12. Dallas Stars (1st Round, 13th Overall) – C Barrett Hayton, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Sooner than later, Jason Spezza is going to retire from the NHL and in his place a youngster is going to have to eat up second-third line minutes — and hopefully produce. The Stars have done an admirable job of developing good young defencemen — and 2017 first rounder Miro Heiskanen is on the way — but could use a home run in the forward department. The various scouting sites are all over the map as to who should go at no. 13, including Drummondville’s Joe Veleno (90 points this season), the Czech Republic’s Martin Kaut and USNTDP defender Bode Wilde. Hayton’s name has come up earlier in this piece and we think the Greyhounds’ pivot would be a good fit with Big D down the road. He played in the Ivan Hlinka last year and distinguished himself and is having a great post-season with the CHL’s no. 1 rated club. Through 19 games he has six goals and 11 assists.
11. New York Islanders (1st Round, 11th and 12th Overall) – C Joe Veleno and D Ryan Merkley
It’s double the pleasure, double the fun for the Isles in the first round, as they have their own pick at no. 11 and picked up Calgary’s no. 12 in the Travis Hamonic trade. John Tavares free agent status is quite uncertain at this point and his departure would leave a deep, wide gash down the middle. Therefore, we’ll go with the majority of learned bird dogs and say that Drummondville two-way man Veleno might go in one of their two picks. He had 79 points and was +4 in 64 games split between the Saint John Sea Dogs and the Voltigeurs. He added 11 points in 10 playoff games for Drummondville too. We’ll go off the board slightly for their other choice and tab Guelph Storm defenceman Ryan Merkley. Right now, the job of puck-mover and playmaker on the back end is Nick Leddy’s, so drafting a slick skater with good hands like Merkley wouldn’t be a bad move. He isn’t as defensively sound as he could be, but his skill in handling the puck is evident. He has 122 points in 125 OHL games.
10. Edmonton Oilers (1st Round, 10th Overall) – D Noah Dobson, Acadie-Bathurst Titan
The fact that the Oilers were even in a lottery position this season is galling. Other than Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl and precious few others, this team disappointed on so many levels. Edmonton hasn’t drafted a defenceman in the top 10 since Darnell Nurse in 2013, so we think — like many of the scouting services — that a right-shooting rearguard is on order. Acadie-Bathurst star D Noah Dobson is the best player available around no. 10 and the Oilers would be remiss not to select him (or someone like him). The 6’3″, 180 lbs. defender had 69 points in 67 games with the Titan and was +33. He’s on an extended run in the QMJHL playoffs and has recorded nine points in 14 games so far. If Dobson isn’t available, the USNTDP’s Bode Wilde (6’2″, 195 lbs.) could be scooped up, or even London Knights Evan Bouchard, though he’s rated by most to go a little higher.
9. New York Rangers (1st Round, 9th Overall) – D Quinn Hughes, Michigan Wolverines
This year marks the second in a row that the Rangers will have a top 10 pick. That is mostly a bad thing, at least where fans are concerned, since the Blueshirts are definitely in rebuild mode. The team cleared the decks at the deadline and after drafting two good looking centers in the first round of the 2017 draft — Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil — the focus has to be on defence. Hopefully they will have better luck with a top 10 defenceman, since the only one they’ve drafted in that space in the last 30 years was Dylan McIlrath in 2010 (he played all of 38 games in New York and is slugging it out in the minors right now). So, the best option, if he’s available at no. 9 is Michigan’s Quinn Hughes. The young phenom from Orlando will be skating with Team USA at the IIHF Worlds starting Friday night and if he keeps up with much older skaters in Denmark, his stock will rise. As added bonuses, the Rangers also own the 26th and 30th picks, where they can add to their forward lines (Niagara C Akil Thomas is rated in the bottom half) and maybe goaltending (Drummondville’s Olivier Rodrigue, the top rated netminder).
8. Chicago Blackhawks (1st Round, 8th Overall) – D Evan Bouchard, London Knights
The 8th overall selection is certainly rarified air for the Blackhawks, who haven’t had a top 10 since taking Patrick Kane first overall in 2007. That said, the Hawks are in a bit of a re-shuffling, as Kane and core guys like Jonathan Toews (3rd overall, 2006), Brent Seabrook (14th overall, 2003) and Duncan Keith (54th overall, 2002) aren’t getting any younger. It’s on the back end, then that the Hawks really need to re-stock. Slotted right in the Hawks’ wheelhouse at no. 8 could be Evan Bouchard of the London Knights. He’s played three seasons under Dale Hunter and brought his game to the next level in 2017-18. The 6’2″, 193 lb. defenceman scored 25 goals and added 62 assists in 67 games for the Knights and then tallied another five points in four playoff games. Scouts rate him highly as having great offensive instincts and hockey sense.
7. Vancouver Canucks (1st Round, 7th Overall) – D Adam Boqvist, Brynas IF
The Sedin twins have retired and fellow greybeard Thomas Vanek was moved at the deadline, so there goes a pretty good first-second line. The Canucks need to re-tool and could use help in all areas, so we believe all bets are off as to just whose name they will call with the seventh pick. They’ve done fairly well getting good young forwards in the last few drafts, like Elias Pettersson (fifth overall last year), Calder candidate Brock Boeser (23rd, 2015), Jake Virtanen (6th, 2014) and Bo Horvat (9th, 2013). This is not to say they couldn’t expend their no. 7 on another talented young winger/center, but the top half of the draft is defence heavy, so we think that is the way they are going. If he’s available, the right fit for Vancouver is Sweden’s Adam Boqvist. The 17-year-old elite offensive wiz distinguished himself at all levels this season, including a stint with Swedish League side Brynas IF. Boqvist also skated in the U18 world championships and had six points in six games.
6. Detroit Red Wings (1st Round, 6th Overall) – D Bode Wilde, USNTDP
For as long as they made the playoffs (it was a quarter century until the Wings missed the post-season in 2017), Detroit never had a top 10 pick, but did a fine job drafting anyway. Consider they got Pavel Datsyuk 171st overall in 1998 and it’s evident that GM Ken Holland and his staff know their stuff. It remains to be seen, though, what kind of success the Red Wings will have with a second straight top 10 pick. Last year they took Tri-City Americans center Michael Rasmussen ninth overall, which leads us to believe they too will draft a defenceman, since four of their core defencemen, including Niklas Kronwall, are well over 30. Since fuzzy-faced defencemen are works in progress and Rasmus Dahlin will be long gone by no. 6, we think Michigan native Bode Wilde is a good fit. He’s got good size at 6’2″ and 196 lbs. and is a tenacious defender with an above average shot and great instincts. He’s committed to the University of Michigan, so Detroit scouts won’t have to go to far to keep an eye on him, either.
5. Arizona Coyotes (1st Round, 5th Overall) – C/RW Oliver Wahlstrom, USNTDP
The ‘Yotes actually fell two spots to fifth at the lottery, which keeps them from likely drafting Filip Zadina. However, there are a couple of good young American forwards Arizona can stock the system with. It’s a toss up, according to the scouting services anyway, between USNTDP center Oliver Wahlstrom and Boston University’s Brady Tkachuk. We think Tkachuk will go fourth (spoiler alert), so the Coyotes will only be too happy to select Wahlstrom to complement 2016 seventh overall pick Clayton Keller. The right shooting center/winger has been called a “natural goal scorer” and will be skating with Harvard next year. The Yarmouth, Maine native used his size and ability to score 45 points (22 goals) in 26 games with the USNTDP junior squad. He also tallied seven goals and two assists in seven games for Team USA at the U18 world championships.
4. Ottawa Senators (1st Round, 4th Overall) – LW Brady Tkachuk, Boston University
When the Carolina Hurricanes got lucky and moved up nine places to no. 2 in this year’s draft, it screwed the Ottawa Senators out of the right to draft Russian winger Andrei Svechnikov. Not to worry, though, Sens fans, since Brady Tkachuk will be a player down the road, if his pedigree means anything. The son of Keith and brother of Calgary Flames Matthew is a big, hard-nosed winger who transitioned smoothly from the USNTDP program to Boston University, where he scored 31 points in 40 games in his freshman season. He was also physical enough to log 61 penalty minutes and use his big body to go into the dirty areas to create space. Tkachuk was also a standout in the world junior championships, recording three goals and six assists in seven games. The last player the Senators took anywhere near this high was Jason Spezza at no. 2 in 2001. Tkachuk has the potential to be just as effective. The Sens also own the 25th overall pick, where big Russian defenceman Alexander Alexeyev of the Red Deer Rebels is slotted.
3. Montreal Canadiens (1st Round, 3rd Overall) – LW Filip Zadina, Halifax Mooseheads
We’re thinking the Canadiens want a do-over on the Jonathan Drouin for Mikhail Sergachev trade. The Habs drafted defenceman Sergachev ninth overall in 2016 and had to watch as he nearly out-pointed Drouin during the regular season (he had 40 points to Drouin’s 46). As well, Sergachev is skating in the second round of the playoffs and has two goals and two assists in eight contests so far. However, GM Marc Bergevin can redeem himself by ensuring the Habs pick Czech LW Filip Zadina and develop him properly. The kid is a sniper who may already be NHL ready, having scored 44 goals and 38 assists, along with a +23 in 57 QMJHL games this season, his first foray into North America. Zadina added another 12 points (five goals) in nine playoff games. The Pardubice born Zadina was laser-like at the 2018 world junior championships too, firing seven goals and adding an assist in seven games with Team Czech Republic.
2. Carolina Hurricanes (1st Round, 2nd Overall) – RW Andrei Svechnikov, Barrie Colts
We’re not telling anyone anything they don’t already know about the top tier of the 2018 NHL draft class. The ‘Canes, though, lucked out huge when they moved up from 11th in the pecking order to numero due at last weekend’s lottery. What it does for a team that saw coach Bill Peters resign and President of Hockey Operations Ron Francis fired is anyone’s guess. The team hasn’t had the second overall pick since taking Eric Staal there in 2002. The player widely expected to go to the ‘Canes, then, is Russian sniper Andrei Svechnikov. He was lights out in the Ontario Hockey League this season, scoring 40 goals in 44 games and adding 32 assists. In the post-season he registered another 11 points in eight games. He’s not just a one-trick offensive pony, either, having a good enough two-way game to log a +26 with the Colts.
1. Buffalo Sabres (1st Round, 1st Overall) – D Rasmus Dahlin, Frolunda Indians
The worst kept secret in hockey is that the Sabres will take elite junior defenceman Rasmus Dahlin with the first pick. While it comes as no surprise, the Sabres actually need a game-changing rearguard and Dahlin is projected to be that guy. The only thing they may want to be wary of is his head space, considering the IIHF just suspended him and a couple of other Swedish players for that immature silver medal removing thing they did at the 2018 World Juniors. Looked at another way, though, the kid is a fiery competitor who just hates to lose, which is something Buffalo has being doing a lot of lately. One unnamed pundit said this of Dahlin’s exceptional skill set, “Defends like Lidstrom, skates like Karlsson.” High praise, indeed, and coupled with the numbers he put up as a teenager in the Swedish League with Frolunda (23 points in 47 games) it’s not hard to envision him dominating at the NHL level in the future. Dahlin will be just the third no. 1 overall pick in Buffalo history, alongside Gilbert Perreault (1970) and Pierre Turgeon (1987).