The NHL Draft, like any other selection process for a pro sports league, is about players rising and falling in the weeks leading up to draft weekend. It’s been no different the past few weeks.
Some players were already on the bubble between the first and the second round and testing at the NHL scouting combine might have been the final bit of information that cinched their status. Others, such as defenseman Evan Bouchard, have improved their standing while performing excellently for a junior team on its run to the Memorial Cup Final and have perhaps hopped over some of the smaller, flashier D-men that are also expected to be taken in the first round.
Another name to watch as a riser is Finnish forward Jesperi Kotkaniemi, whose name is an absolute mouthful and has starred in his home country's leagues. On the other side of things is Swedish D-man Adam Boqvist, who was mentioned as a top-five pick and now seems to be sliding down toward the 10th pick area. Clearly, it all comes down to the opinions of the scouts and talent evaluators and there’s a lot of subterfuge going on among NHL teams as they hope to have that perfect player fall into their lap.
It doesn’t happen all that often, but hope springs eternal for teams now looking to replenish their talent June 22-23 in Dallas. With that, here's the third edition of our mock draft:
1. Buffalo Sabres – Rasmus Dahlin, defenseman (Frolunda, Sweden): The 6-foot-2, 183-pound Dahlin is the consensus first overall pick and something of a delayed reaction reward for the Sabres finally getting that top pick after spectacularly missing it when they tanked for Connor McDavid. Dahlin has size, skating, offense and the ability to play big-time minutes and should be a franchise D-man in Buffalo for the next 10-plus years. He should be able to step in and make an impact right away. Adding him to the mix they already have in Buffalo could start to make them a much better team rather quickly. Interestingly enough, Dahlin would be only the second Swedish player selected first overall after Mats Sundin went first to Quebec Nordiques back in 1989. Dahlin has the makings of being even more of an impact player than Sundin.
2. Carolina Hurricanes – Andrei Svechnikov, right wing (Barrie Colts): The ultra-skilled Svechnikov has drawn comparisons to Ilya Kovalchuk in his time in the OHL, and has size, puck skills, scoring ability and pretty much everything you’d want from a blue-chip winger prospect. The 6-3, 187-pounder is projected to go as high as No. 2 to the Hurricanes given his pedigree and his production after popping in 40 goals in 44 games for Barrie last season. The Hurricanes could really use a franchise forward to go along with their stable of young defensemen. Carolina will have their choice of all the best wingers in the draft and it’s expected that Svechnikov will be the named called.
3. Montreal Canadiens – Filip Zadina, left wing (Halifax Mooseheads): The 6-1, 190-pounder has the smarts, the big-game performances and the 200-foot game that teams are looking for to go along with the requisite offensive and production skills for players at the top of the draft. None of that is his best quality, however, as he has the hands and the shot of a natural goal-scorer with the “shoot the puck” mentality to go along with it. He could go to the Canadiens third overall as they decide between Zadina and a high-ceiling college prospect Brady Tkachuk. It could simply come down to perhaps Zadina being ready to play in the NHL just a little bit sooner. Whoever the Habs choose, they won’t be getting that No. 1 franchise center they really need to start turning things around.
4. Ottawa Senators – Noah Dobson, defenseman (Acadie-Bathurst): A 6-3, 187-pound prospect who is more of a complete, traditional, two-way D-man than some of the smaller and offensive-minded players Quinn Hughes, Adam Boqvist and Dahlin. Dobson is no slouch when it comes to puck-moving and creating offense either, even if he isn’t quite a playmaking catalyst-type player, but he’s also a physical, strong defender that will be able to play in every situation and should chew up minutes for the Senators. Dobson has also elevated his stock with the way he continued to play at a very high level through Acadie-Bathurst’s Memorial Cup run. There’s also the fact that the Senators are going to need a young, blue-chip defenseman if things don’t work out well with franchise guy Erik Karlsson and he ends up leaving Ottawa via trade or free agency. They may opt for one of the smaller, more explosive back-end players if it’s more of a Karlsson-type replacement, but Dobson is emerging as a potentially special player.
5. Arizona Coyotes – Brady Tkachuk, left wing (Boston University): He'll beat older brother Matthew by getting selected one spot earlier in the draft and should eventually be a really good pro in Arizona given his pro-style game of ruggedness and power along with excellent skating ability for a big body. Tkachuk plays with the mean streak like Matthew and could really bring some attitude and swagger to the Coyotes, who need both as they build up a young group of players. It’s still unknown at this point if Tkachuk is going to choose the NHL or a return to BU for next season, but the good thing is that Arizona can wait for him if he returns to the NCAA ranks. One would expect that a coach Rick Tocchet would be pounding the draft table hard for a rugged, surly player like Tkachuk.
6. Detroit Red Wings – Quinn Hughes, defenseman (University of Michigan): The 5-10, 174-pounder had an excellent freshman season at Michigan that included a key role on Team USA at the World Juniors, and would be a nice addition to a Detroit team that could use more youth and skill on their back end. The five goals and 29 points in 37 games for the Wolverines were certainly solid, especially for a freshman, but Hughes is not quite considered in the same category as either Boqvist or Dahlin when it comes to pure offensive skill. Still, Detroit could do a heck of a lot worse than picking a very good player from the Michigan with their lottery pick. It would feel good for the Red Wings to finally get one of the local collegiate players for their team after watching blue-chipper Zach Werenski get locked up by the Blue Jackets in the first round a couple of years ago.
7. Vancouver Canucks – Evan Bouchard, defenseman (London Knights): The 6-2, 192-pounder is exactly the kind of solid D-man the Canucks could use after unearthing some top-tier young forwards in Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser. The 25 goals and 87 points in 67 OHL games last season really speak to some high-end offensive potential that would be a welcomed addition in Vancouver and marked the first D-man to crack the OHL’s top-10 in scoring since Ryan Ellis. Certainly, Jim Benning and the Canucks could stock up with another winger to add to their growing collection of talented, young forwards, but the bet here is the Canucks instead continue to build things out on their back end. An added bonus in selecting Bouchard is that he appears to be one of the members this draft class who's pretty close to contributing immediately in the NHL.
8. Chicago Blackhawks – Oliver Wahlstrom, right wing (US National Development Team): The 6-1, 205-pounder has been on the radar of many hockey fans since his days as a New England youth hockey player performing stunning one-on-one moves. Now, he’s set to be a top-10 pick and it looks like he’s also going to have a collegiate career at Boston College for as long as the Eagles program can keep the NHL scouts away. Wahlstrom has some breathtaking offensive ability with 48 goals and 94 points in 62 games for the US National Development Team, and has size, skating, shooting and considerable strength. He also brings a willingness to go the scoring areas that doesn’t always come quickly for young prospects. This is the kind of player who could quickly make an impact with the Blackhawks after a year of college seasoning at the Heights.
9. New York Rangers – Adam Boqvist, defenseman (Brynas, Sweden): Boqvist is part of the new breed of smaller, faster and creative defensemen getting selected near the top of the first round who are expected to make a massive offensive impact quickly. The Rangers have usually stocked up on traditional, big-bodied D-men over their recent history, but Boqvist is the kind of player who could really add a different element to a team that’s consciously looking to reshape its roster. He’s only 5-11, 170 and may not be able to jump immediately to the NHL based simply on his size and strength, but NHL teams are clearly now paying close attention to back-end players that could wind up being the next Erik Karlsson-type impact D-man. Boqvist has a chance to be that kind of player. Who knows? It is interesting that Boqvist's stock has fallen a little bit the past few weeks.
10. Edmonton Oilers – Jesperi Kotkaniemi, center/wing (Liiga, Finland): The 6-2, 190-pound Kotkaniemi is a player that impressed in his first full season in the top pro league in Finland and also starred for Team Finland on their World Junior team as well. The big Finn has great vision and playmaking ability along with the versatility of playing center or wing and could check off a lot of boxes for an Oilers team that’s rumored to be thinking about moving Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. The 10 goals and 29 points in 57 games for Liiga as a teenager were very impressive, and the sense with his game based on skill and strength is that it wouldn’t take him long to start making an impact in the NHL. Kotkaniemi is a player whose stock is most definitely rising.
11. New York Islanders – Barrett Hayton, center (Sault St. Marie Greyhounds): Hayton is the odds-on favorite to be the first center selected. It feels a little later than usual at the 11th overall spot. But the 6-1, 190-pound Hayton is a strong all-around performer who will make a strong candidate for all situations as a good two-way center with a playmaking instinct and great hockey sense. Clearly, the offense is there, too, with 23 goals and 60 points in 63 games, but it’s the overall package that makes him such an attractive candidate. Plus there’s definitely this: With the Isle perhaps looking at a huge void down the middle at center if John Tavares leaves in free agency, they are going to need some help. Center clearly might be a place where the Islanders want to shore up at this summer’s draft after Lou Lamoriello cleaned house earlier this month.
12. New York Islanders (from Calgary) – Ty Smith, defenseman (Spokane Chiefs): The 5-10, 175-pound Smith is another smaller, skilled defenseman who will be selected in the first round and showed some very good offensive instincts while posting three goals and 27 points on just the power play this season. Overall, Smith piled up 73 points in 69 games while displaying very strong offensive instincts on the first pass out of the zone, a really strong knack for creating offense on the power play and enough of everything else to be a catalyst NHL D-man. Even better for the Isles, Smith’s defense and overall game put him at a level where he might be closer to ready to contribute for New York.
13. Dallas Stars – Joe Veleno, center (Drummondville Voltiguers): The 6-1, 193-pound center has flashed big-time speed and playmaking in his junior hockey career and would give the Stars another strong prospect down the middle with Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn in the prime of their NHL careers. Veleno is a strong power-play guy and a 200-foot player who competes in all zones, so there isn’t a lot to dislike about his game particularly as a middle-of-the-first-round selection for a team already squarely on the bubble as a playoff team. Veleno really hit his stride after getting dealt from Saint John to Drummondville in the middle of the season. He certainly improved his draft standing with a strong finish to his season in the QMJHL as the 48 points in 33 games for Drummondville would attest to for Veleno.
14. Philadelphia Flyers (from St. Louis) – Serron Noel, right wing (Oshawa Generals): The 6-5, 205-pound Noel is a prototypical power forward with size, strength and plenty of skill to finish plays around the net. The kind of player the Flyers will always gladly draft and develop. With Wayne Simmonds approaching 30 and possibly unrestricted free agency, they’re a team that’s always valued size and strength on the wing along with their skilled forwards. The 28 goals and 53 points certainly aren’t the kind of eye-popping arcade game numbers that some of the other lottery picks will have posted, but they are excellent when combined with his size and strength of all of those other wingers. If you miss out on Brady Tkachuk as a power forward at the top of the draft then Noel would make a pretty decent consolation prize.
15. Florida Panthers – Rasmus Kupari, center (Karpat, Finland): The 6-1, 183-pound Kupari has flashed elite shooting and passing skills for a center and clearly has something going while putting up a strong showing as a teenager in Finland’s top league. He could be a really sound pick for the Panthers given that it looks as if Kupari will need additional time in Finland to build strength and the defensive side of his game. The Panthers will be able to afford that period of development given the young talent they already possess up front on their roster and that could pay off with a player who might have some of the best skills among the forwards in the draft.
16. Colorado Avalanche – Joel Farabee, left wing (US National Development Team): Farabee still has some filling out and strengthening to do at 6-foot, 168 pounds, but has the numbers and skills with 33 goals and 76 points in 62 games for the US Development team last season. Farabee’s game is built around speed and grittiness and the kind of leadership qualities that will make him an asset for any team down the line. Add in the quick release and the strong hockey IQ and he’s a player who brings a lot to the table for whichever team drafts him. Farabee sounds like the kind of player that could fit in with what the Islanders want to start building and brings something they don’t have on their NHL roster. Farabee is committed to play at BU next season, so this is the kind of pick that could be a bit of a slow play for Colorado while they allow him time to develop into a more finished NHL product.
17. New Jersey Devils – Bode Wilde, defenseman (US National Development Team): Armed with one of the best hockey names in the draft, the 6-2, 196-pound Wilde has ideal size and skill set to match on the back end. Wilde is strong and durable with all of the key ingredients to be able to play big minutes in all situations, has an excellent first step to get into fast gear with his skating game and also boasts a big, booming shot to really check off all the boxes at defenseman. The Devils made a nice step this season getting back into the playoffs, but they also showed that they needed to shore up their talent level pretty much across the board. Wilde would make a really nice acquisition in the second half of the first round.
18. Columbus Blue Jackets – Grigori Denisenko, left wing (Loko Yaroslavl, MHL): The 5-10, 165-pound Denisenko has some dazzling skills and high-end offensive ability and could really explode in the next couple of years as he gains more strength. The nine goals and 22 points in 30 games only hint at the overall offensive ability as a big-time winger and it may be a few years before he’s actually up to snuff in the NHL. So, there’s going to need to be a bit of patience from the Blue Jackets should they take him. Certainly, there need to be some significant gains in terms of size and strength. Still, there’s no doubting the talent is there for Columbus to roll the dice in the middle of the first round on a player that could be an impact forward offensively.
19. Philadelphia Flyers – Rasmus Sandin, defenseman (Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds): The 5-11, 190-pound Sandin certainly is another blueliner on the smaller side, but like many of those others first-rounders, he also has good skating wheels, a big and heavy shot and good instincts for the passing game. Sandin didn’t look like much of a defensive liability either while playing for the Soo, so he could be a really nice pickup for a team looking to stockpile D-man prospects behind young NHL-proven commodities in Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov.
20. Los Angeles Kings – Vitaly Kravstov, right wing (Chelyabinsk, KHL): The 6-2, 183-pound Kravstov really jumped up on scouts’ radars when he stepped up in the KHL playoffs with six goals and 11 points in 16 games after a mostly non-descript rookie season. The skating, hands and willingness to play around the net are all there for Kravstov, who might not be far off from an NHL look given the way he flashed in the KHL. Given the Russian forward’s all-around game, he would make a nice fit with a Kings outfit that’s always looking to get a little more explosive and offensively viable up front to go along with a pretty well-stocked roster.
21. San Jose Sharks – Isac Lundestrom, center/left wing (Lulea, Sweden): The 6-foot, 185-pound Lundestrom is good value with the 21st pick for the Sharks given that some scouts think he’s the best center in the draft. Lundestrom, 18, held his own in the Swedish Elite League as and shows top-gear speed and offense-producing ability from the middle of the lineup that will only improve with time. On a team with an aging group up front that’s got plenty of size and strength, lightning-quick Lundestrom could be a very nice complement to a playoff-proven group. The challenge will come for Lundestrom on the defensive side and that’s what will likely keep him out of the NHL for a season or two.
22. Ottawa Senators (from Pittsburgh) – Benoit-Oliver Groulx, center/left wing (Halifax Mooseheads): The 6-1, 192-pound son of Syracuse Crunch coach Benoit Groulx, the younger Groulx posted 28 goals and 55 points for the Mooseheads in 68 games and was a strong in the playoffs. Groulx is an average skater who still needs improving in that area, but his ability to shoot the puck and score from the traditional areas is among the best in the draft. Groulx also pays attention to the defensive side, competes hard and consistently shows the kind of hockey IQ that one would associate with the son of a coach. As it is, he’s a good selection toward the end of the first round, but he could become a very good NHL player with more improvement in his skating.
23. Anaheim Ducks – K’Andre Miller, defenseman (US National Development Team): The converted forward is a big, hard-skating body that can finish off checks, move the puck and should provide the kind of young blood that the Ducks need on their back end after jettisoning a lot of their young prospects. Miller is headed to the University of Wisconsin next season, where he should continue developing his game, and definitely feels like the kind of big, physical D-man who could have a lot of success in the Pacific Division. For an Anaheim team that should be on the long road toward getting younger, faster and more explosive, Miller is a pretty good piece right in the middle of that mix.
24. Minnesota Wild – Ryan McLeod, center/winger (Mississauga Steelheads): The 6-2, 192-pound McLeod is a fast and agile skater who also has good size and willingness to mix it up in all zones and showed plenty of playmaking ability with 26 goals and 70 points in 68 games for the Steelheads last season. The versatility of playing center or wing certainly can’t be overlooked in this day and age of the NHL as well. He’s got good hockey bloodlines as the younger brother of Devils first-round pick Michael McLeod and would give the Wild some good, young talent up front, where they are looking a little over-the-hill these days.
25. Toronto Maple Leafs – Mattias Samuelsson, defenseman (US National Development Team): The 6-4, 216-pound Samuelsson is the kind of big, two-way defenseman that the Leafs don’t have enough of right now. Samuelsson isn’t a greyhound D-man, obviously, but still posted 10 goals and 31 points in 58 games for the US Development team last season. Samuelsson is the son of Kjell Samuelsson, who was an outstanding defender in the NHL, and is much more mobile, creative and geared toward a possible top-pairing role than his old man. While it’s possible the Leafs could be shopping for an eventual power forward replacement for James van Riemsdyk as well, Samuelsson seems like much more of a sure bet in Toronto.
26. New York Rangers (from Boston) – Akil Thomas, center/wing (Niagara IceDogs): The 6-foot, 170-pound Thomas posted 22 goals and 81 points in 68 games for the IceDogs last season and has excellent skating and puck-handling skills to go along with a really dangerous shot from the face-off circle. The bottom line on this kid is that he’s a playmaker. For a Rangers team that needs a little bit of everything, Thomas could be an excellent pick based on his versatility, offensive upside and would make another excellent part of the haul that the Blueshirts received from the Bruins in exchange for trade deadline dud Rick Nash.
27. Chicago Blackhawks (from Nashville) – Martin Kaut, right wing (Dynamo Pardubice, Czech): The 6-1, 174-pound winger has shown a good ability to finish plays and provide offense in his limited time in the Czech leagues, but was a point-per-game player (seven points in seven games) at the world junior tournament, where the radars are truly up for the NHL scouting staffs. Kaut is a player who really pushed up in the rankings later in the year and could rise even higher based on his standing along with other prospects. The good offensive abilities for Kaut should be a nice fit for a Blackhawks, who need to get younger, more skilled and more dangerous offensively as they support their established core group with an infusion of younger talent.
28. New York Rangers (from Tampa Bay) – Ty Dallandrea, center (Flint): The 6-foot, 185-pound center was easy to overlook for most of this season on a bad Flint team, but Dallandrea kept grinding and playing hard while waiting for his chance. The 27 goals and 59 points in 67 games were also nothing to sneeze at. When he got that chance at the CHL Top Prospects game at midseason, he scored a pair of goals and boosted his stock while performing at a high level with better talent around him. The Rangers could absolutely stand to improve their look down the middle of the ice, and a character/talent pick in Dallandrea at the end of the first round could be a really sound choice for the Blueshirts.
29. St. Louis Blues (from Winnipeg) – Dominik Bokk, right wing (Vaxjo, Sweden): The 6-1, 179-pound Bokk is German-born playing in Sweden and showed off his silky smooth hands and playmaking abilities with five points in five games for the Germans at the World Juniors. Bokk has been a very good player going through the Vaxjo system in Sweden and ended up playing 15 games at the elite level. Certainly, he’s got pretty good size and his overall offense is solid, but where he really excels is in the passing and playmaking game, where he could make a really nice impact with St. Louis down the line.
30. Detroit Red Wings (from Vegas) – Jacob Olofsson, center (Timra IK, Allsvenskan, Sweden): The 6-2, 192-pound Olofsson is a strong, two-way center out of the Swedish leagues who could provide the kind of excellent all-around center that the Red Wings could use to eventually replace Pavel Datsyuk. Olofsson has size, strength and speed to go along with the good offensive and solid defense. He's drawn favorable comparisons to Patrice Bergeron and Anze Kopitar. That’s some very solid company for a young prospect and would be a really fine get for the Wings at the very beginning of a long rebuilding process.
31. Washington Capitals – Ryan Merkley, defenseman (Guelph Storm: The 5-11, 170-pound Ontario native has the offensive goods on the back end, and posted 13 goals and 67 points in 63 games for the Storm last season. The shot, the passing, skating and hockey tools are on point for a player who clearly has the skill to be selected higher than this based on talent alone. Still, he’s been a bit of a problem with suspensions, poor defense and on-ice frustration for in his brief junior career and doesn’t always exhibit the best body language on the ice when things aren’t going his way. Clearly, he’s the kind of talent that the newly crowned Stanley Cup champs might just roll the dice on - particularly in their situation with a strong veteran core that could use some young, explosive NHL talent.