It’s that time of year: the NHL Draft. This is where dynasties are shaped for the next 10 years and there isn’t anything more exciting to me.
Drafting in professional sports is unpredictable. It is so tough that even professional scouts often get it wrong because there are so many factors that go into turning a talented hockey player into a superstar. For example, in 2017, the arguably best player (in hindsight) went 30th overall, Eeli Tolvanen to the Nashville Predators.
I’ve always been interested in drafts. I have been to the 2008 draft in Ottawa, the 2010 draft in Los Angeles, and I’m proud to announce I’ll be attending the 2018 draft in Dallas this week. But I started expanding my draft knowledge and scouting in 2014.
Here’s my past record of scouting:
Back in 2014, I was really excited about Aaron Ekblad, William Nylander, and Adrian Kempe
2015: my picks were Connor McDavid, Mitch Marner, Ivan Provorov, and Pavel Zacha
2016: my picks were Auston Matthews, Patrick Laine, and Alex Nylander
Then, in 2017, I started really researching draft eligible players. Last year, my top 12 were:
- Nico Hischier,
- Nolan Patrick,
- Casey Mittlestadt,
- Owen Tippett,
- Nick Suzuki,
- Garbiel Vilardi,
- Cale Makar,
- Callan Foote,
- Kristian Vesalainen
- Kole Lind.
- Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen
- Maxime Comtois
Now that I have this blog, I’m ranking my top 20 skaters in the 2018 draft in order.
WELCOME TO PART 1!
This list takes the following into consideration in a variety of categories:
- How good is he now?
- How good can he be?
- What is the likelihood he reaches that potential?
- How do his skills rank against other draft eligible prospects?
I am not taking into consideration the actual team picking and what their team needs are. This is just a comparative list for the elite prospects.
With that being said, here are my top 10 best available skaters (forwards and defensemen) in this draft.
- Rasmus Dahlin – D (Frölunda-men’s league) (Consensus number one pick)
His numbers in 2018
SHL: 7 goals, 13 assists in 41 games, +4
World Junior Championship-20: 6 assists in 7 games, +7
To say Rasmus Dahlin is my favorite player in the draft is like saying the red Skittle is my favorite one. Not only are vast majority of people are going to agree with me, but it’s so obvious and so inherent that I don’t even really need to state it.
Dahlin is the real deal. He is probably the best defenseman to come out of an NHL draft this decade. Scouts compare him to Niklas Lidstrom, which I think is a bit premature, but the guy can do it all. He definitely has a Lidstrom ceiling, though.
Dahlin is an elite powerplay quarterback, an absolute magician with the puck, and an all-around solid defender. Furthermore, his hockey sense and skating ability is off the charts for someone of his age. Because defensemen take a little longer to develop than forwards, I wouldn’t say he’s the next Connor McDavid type number one pick just yet, but he is, for sure, a number one dman that any team would want (except he’s that number one dman right now at 18). After all, he can hit, he has a good shot, a great pass, some Datsyukian style moves, and amazing awareness. In a league where defensemen need to be mobile, yet responsible, Dahlin just might be the cream of the crop.
Potential: Among, if not, the top defenseman in the league/franchise player.
Comparable: Imagine Hampus Lindholm’s defensive ability mixed with Kevin Shattenkirk’s powerplay ability, along with the athletic deking and offensive zone power skating of early Alex Ovechkin rolled into a single player. Don’t believe me, watch his highlights on YouTube. Buffalo (who has the number one overall pick) is getting a great talent, maybe even generational on the blueline with Dahlin. Watch him tear the league up for the next 15 seasons.
- Andrei Svechnikov – Wing (Barrie Colts-juniors) (consensus number 2 pick)
OHL: 40 goals, 32 assists in 44 games, +26
WJC-20: 5 assists in 5 games, +5
Svechnikov is a big, crafty Russian wing (6’3, 187 lbs). He has great hockey sense and is the offensive point creator any team would love to have. Svechnikov also has a deadly wrist shot. It reminds me a lot of Tarasenko. Not only is it accurate, but it’s fast. Moreover, he is great at using his body to protect the puck. His hands and his skating are also some of the best in this draft. What sets Svechnikov apart is his ability to create plays. His distribution skills make him a dual threat and a nightmare to defend against. Not to mention he’s NHL ready now.
Svechnikov can also score highlight reel goals. He uses his body to protect as he dangles around goaltenders to slide the puck in. He is also good at using his body to win puck battles, which will serve him well in the NHL playoffs when he finally gets there. To me, Svechnikov will have success in either conference, as he has the body to go up against bigger teams and the creativity and skill to play in the fast East.
Potential: Elite winger/Franchise player. Maybe Tarasenko mixed with Rick Nash
- Filip Zadina – Wing (Halifax Mooseheads-Junior)(Consensus 2nd or third pick)
Numbers in 2018:
QMJHL: 44 goals, 38 asssists in 52 games, +23
WJC-20: 7 goals, 1 assist in 7 games, -4
Zadina burst onto the scene this past season with his insane scoring prowess in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and in the World Junior Championship. He is a fantastic offensive threat who makes a living near the circles. His shot is easily his best weapon, but his skating seems to be a bit of a weakness for a player of his caliber, as we’ve learned from this last combine.
He is, however, one of the craftiest players in this draft. He is a great powerplay option because of his passing ability and shot. Zadina excels at being in the right place at the right time to receive passes from his teammates. He is also fantastic at picking a corner and finishing the play.
His awareness is at the top of the class and he is an above average defender for his position. Zadina is also great at making passes and his presence creates a lot of space for his teammates.
While he isn’t on the same level of readiness or potential as his peers Svechnikov and Dahlin, Zadina should carve out a nice NHL career with whichever team takes him.
Potential: Elite winger. Comparable: maybe Reilly Smith mixed with Jonathan Drouin.
Now that the predictable top 3 are over, let’s start the controversies!
- Oliver Wahlstrom-Wing (U.S. National Under 18 Team-Juniors) (Consensus top 10)
USHL: 22 goals, 23 assists +30 in 26 games
USDP: 48 goals, 46 assists, in 62 games
I’m probably the only analyst who has him this high, but I am a huge Wahlstrom fan. To anyone who says that potential top pick Jack Hughes (his linemate) was the reason he did so well, have you seen his highlights?
Wahlstrom is an amazing offensive winger. He has excellent hockey sense and he makes smart plays that result in goals. Whether it is setting up with his passing ability or using his hockey awareness to score goals, Wahlstrom will be a dynamic force. He is exactly the type of winger you want into today’s NHL and he’s the type of player that makes any line better. His best attribute is easily his shot. He picks corners and scores. If he can keep it up, he will easily be the next great American star.
The second-best aspect of his game is easily his stick handling. Wahlstrom can make Matt Duchene look like a rookie with some his moves and that’s saying something .Additionally, on the powerplay, he can set up in the Stamkos position and wrist it by the goalie or he can set up his teammates. He is also great at driving the lane and crashing the net, which results in great second chance or odd man rush opportunities.
Potential: Elite winger. Comparable: The Poor Man’s Patrick Kane
- Quinn Hughes-Defense (University of Michigan-NCAA) (consensus top 10)
NCAA: 5 goals, 24 assists, +14 in 37 games
WJC-20: 3 assists, +1 in 7 games
If you need an amazingly fast defenseman, Hughes is your guy. I had a lot of options for 2nd best defenseman behind Dahlin, but I like Hughes.
Although his skating stands out as probably the best in the draft, the rest of his game is very complete. One of the best aspects of his game is his passing. He is a very talented passer who always makes smart plays and uses his space and timing to the best of his ability. He reminds me a little of Drew Doughty in that regard, but I wouldn’t call him a Doughty-esque player. I think the best part of his game is that he doesn’t gamble, which will serve him well in today’s ready-to-pounce-on-turnover-machines NHL.
Poise makes a big difference on the blueline in today’s game and that’s one of Hughes’ best attributes. However, his shot could be better and I see him as more of the setup guy, rather than a point hammer. But it shouldn’t hold him back too much, since the intangibles are there. I have him ahead of Boqvist, but you can’t really go wrong with either. AND THAT’S SAYING SOMETHING. (FYI I’m a big fan of Swedish D-men and Brynäs is my favorite team in the SHL, so to put him ahead of Boqvist should be a massive endorsement).
Potential: Top 2 pairing. Comparable: It’s hard to compare him to other NHL players since the guys who play his style of game aren’t very well established in their careers yet. Imagine an even better offensively and more poised Nate Schmidt. I see some similarities in their transitions and rushing ability, but Hughes easily has a higher ceiling. I wouldn’t call him a Zach Werenski-esque player either, but I think his value to his team will be on par with Werenski and the Columbus Blue Jackets.
- Adam Boqvist-Defense (Brynäs IF J20-Juniors) (Consensus top 10)
SHL: 1 assists in 15 games, -7
SuperElit: 14 goals, 10 assists in 25 games, +6
WJC-18: 3 goals, 3 assists in 6 games, +6
And now the other Swedish defenseman…
A good skater with a wicked wrist shot, Boqvist is definitely a top pick in this draft. Not only does Boqvist always present himself as a threat from the top of the circles, but his stick handling will allow him to get in close to create chances, as well. He is great at picking his opportunity to get free, which gives him scoring chances or allows him to set up his teammates. A pure offensive defenseman, I just don’t think his defense is quite at NHL quality yet (although it has been improving). He’ll be a major piece on a great powerplay unit, but at this point, don’t except him to anchor a PK. Boqvist’s game will fit nicely with the modern use of defensemen, but I think his weakness is that he will need a shutdown partner to play with. Boqvist should slot it well as to today’s use of quick dmen, though. At any rate, Boqvist will make an excellent star defender. I see him being as valuable as a guy like John Klingberg in Dallas.
Potential: Top pairing D-man. Comparable: likely a better Kevin Shattenkirk with dangling ability or maybe right handed Shayne Gostisbehere.
After Boqvist, this is where the list opens up a little. I had a hard time finalizing these prospects because they just have so many strengths. That being said, the final 3 who made Part 1 are…
- Jesperi Kotkaniemi-Center (Ässät-Men’s league) (Mid first rounder/top 10)
Liiga: 10 goals, 19 assists, -1 in 57 games
WJC-18: 3 goals, 6 assists, +9 in 7 games
Kotkaniemi is considered the best center in this draft. One reason is his great hockey sense. His shot is deadly and he has laser accuracy when he fires his wrister. Additionally, at 6’2 as a 17 year old, he definitely has the frame to play center in the league. He is not necessarily a monster like Martin Hanzal or Ryan Getzlaf, but there is definitely a place for him in the NHL with his size.
Defensively, he is very good at generating pressure and turnovers, which allows him to help his team on both sides of the ice. With the puck on his stick, he is good at finding the open man at the right time. He also crashes the net really well. In pure terms, he’s what you’re looking for as a capable NHL center. I think he’ll be a good one. But the only question I have is whether Kotkaniemi can be an elite number one? That I don’t know, but in today’s center driven league (Kuznetsov/Backstrom, Crosby/Malkin, Toews/*insert great center here*, Kopitar/Carter have won the last 7 Cups), you can’t go wrong even if he is better suited as a 2c since the successful teams basically have 2 number ones.
Potential: Likely a 2c, possibly a 1c. Comparison: Possibly Paul Stastny-esque. He is a good two-way center with a lot of upside.
I went back and forth here between my number 8 and 9 picks. I like them both for completely opposite reasons. But, I have to give it to the safer pick, even if he doesn’t have the upside of 9.
- Brady Tkachuk-Wing (Boston University-NCAA) (Almost Consensus top 5)
NCAA: 8 goals, 23 assists, +15 in 40 games
WJC-20: 3 goals, 6 assists, +6 in 7 games
Looking for a netfront presence? Well then, Tkachuk is the guy for you. At 6’3, 191 lbs as an 18 year old, Tkachuk will develop into a great NHL slot option. He’s easily one of the best power-forwards in the draft, probably 2nd after Svechnikov. A rarity for players of his skillset, Tkachuk has a great pass and can really help setup his teammates as a playmaker. Another one of Tkachuk’s strengths is his puck handling. Like a lot of players on this list, he can open up lanes for himself and his teammates with his moves. His stick handling, decent skating, and big frame make him a tough challenge for opposing defensemen and the perfect compliment to your team’s top player. Any challenges to his rank in top 10 will be silenced after watching his WJC performance.
He is also a good two-way winger and provides a lot of help on the backcheck. Additionally, Tkachuk is a great forechecker and he can obviously hit with his frame. The major upside of Tkachuk is that he is NHL ready, probably the third most NHL ready of my top 10 (Dahlin, Svechnikov). However, I have questions about how good he’ll be.
With Tkachuk, you’re getting an NHL player for sure, but I’m not sure if he’ll ever rise to that elite or even franchise level like some of his peers. I think he’s a top-9 wing right now (depending on the team obviously), but I question whether he will ever be THE GUY on his team. I think he’ll end up being a great 2nd line option or perhaps a top line player if the top line has a superstar on it.
Potential: Amazing top 6 winger, but I think he’ll need good linemates to reach his full potential. Comparable: Mark Stone-esque
- Vitaly Kravtsov-Wing (Traktor Chelyabinsk-Men’s league) (Mid-first round)
Numbers in 2018:
KHL: 4 goals, 3 assists, +3 in 35 games
VHL-Tier 2 league: 4 goals, 3 asssists, +4 in 9 games
MHL (Russian Jrs): 1 goal, 2 assists, +1 in 1 game
WJC-20: 0 points in 4 games
While Kravtsov’s numbers don’t appear very impressive when compared to his competitors, you have to remember he was playing in a men’s league for most of the season and an Under 20 tournament at age 18. However, his KHL playoff numbers look more typical of a guy at his draft position. There, he scored 11 points in 16 games, including 6 goals. Need a clutch player? Take Kravtsov.
On the ice, Kravtsov’s strengths are his positioning (usually wide open just above the slot), his lightning fast shot, and his puck handling skills. Like a lot of dynamic snipers, he can use his hands to open up lanes for himself or his teammates. He also uses his hockey IQ to get himself open which always generates grade-A scoring chances for his team.
To me, there isn’t a more intriguing prospect in this draft. If he realizes all of his potential, he will be a valuable asset to whichever team drafts him. It’s mid risk, high reward (which at top 10, is high risk-high reward). Like many Russian snipers drafted at this position, there are questions regarding how good he can be, but to me, Kravtsov has shown enough to suggest he will be a fantastic prospect.
Potential: Elite winger. Comparable: maybe Alexander Radulov
- Noah Dobson-Defense (Arcadie-Bathurst Titan-Juniors) (consensus top 10)
QMJHL: 17 goals, 52 assists in 67 games, +33
A good two way defenseman, Dobson uses his good skating to his advantage, which allows him to score from all other the ice. His shot can create a lot of rebounds, but he can also generate great chances off the rush. His hockey IQ is another one of his strengths and he will really help create chances for his team. As a two-way defenseman, Dobson will probably end up being the second-most complete defensemen (across all skillsets) in the draft, after Dahlin of course.
Dobson is a solid d-man who is helped by his strong skating, which should translate easily to the NHL. At 6’3, he has the body that most coaches require for his type of game. With some more muscle and some more development, he should become a quality NHLer.
Potential: Great Top-4 defenseman; Possibly Top pairing d. Comparable: Jacob Trouba
The final part, Part 2 (slots 11-20), will be released on June 20 at 7 pm.
**Statistics from Elite Prospects