While the jury remains out on the overall depth and talent level of this season’s crop of draft-eligible players, there is at 2018 NHL Mock Draft 1.0: Dahlin is the guy was a prominent player in the world junior tournament and at the Winter Olympics for Team Sweden as well, and was a very good player for Frolunda in the Swedish Elite League at just 17 years old last season.
The comparisons are there to Niklas Lidstrom as Dahlin has the size, the skating ability, the two-way game and the passing ability to be a frontline, high end No. 1 defenseman for a long time at the NHL level. Clearly he may not be an Erik Karlsson-type game-changer at the offensive end, but those aren’t necessarily the type of D-men that you win with at the NHL level when it matters. Instead it’s about the big-bodied, two-way D-men that can do everything well, make it look easy and generally make everybody else on their team look that much better.
That’s the kind of player that Dahlin has already shown to be in his hockey career both in Sweden and at the International level, and the expectation is that he’ll begin doing that for the Buffalo Sabres next season as well. Perhaps it doesn’t make it up to Buffalo for losing out on Connor McDavid when they tried tanking it for the No. 1 overall pick a couple of years ago, but quite honestly Dahlin as an elite No. 1 defenseman might be an even more important commodity to have on your NHL roster.
From a Bruins perspective, Boston doesn’t have a first round pick after sending the 26th overall selection to the Rangers in the Rick Nash deal and won’t be selecting at all until the 57th overall pick in the second round on Day Two of draft weekend.
Here’s the first edition of a mock draft for the 2018 NHL Draft class that will hear their names called next month in Dallas, regardless of the strengths and weakness of this crop of players:
1. Buffalo Sabres – Rasmus Dahlin, defenseman (Frolunda, Sweden): The 6-foot-2, 183-pound Dahlin is the consensus first overall pick and reward for the Sabres finally getting that first overall pick after missing 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 ten plus years. Adding him to the mix they already have in Buffalo could really start to make them a much better team rather quickly. Interestingly enough, Dahlin would be only the second Swedish player selected first overall in the draft after Mats Sundin was taken No. 1 overall by the Maple Leafs back in 1989. Dahlin has the makings of being even more of an impact player than Sundin turned out to be in Toronto.
2. Carolina Hurricanes – Filip Zadina, left wing (Halifax Mooseheads): The 6-foot-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 skills for players at the top of the draft. Above and beyond all that, Zadina is also a longtime teammate of former Carolina first round pick and fellow Czech youngster Martin Necas and could give the Canes a skilled combo that already has built-in chemistry up front. Certainly you’d expect whether it’s Zadina or one of the other highly touted forward prospects, it will indeed be a forward that Carolina will select given their wealth of talented young players on the back end.
3. Montreal Canadiens – Brady Tkachuk, left wing (Boston University, NCAA): The younger brother will beat older brother Matthew by getting selected three spots earlier in the draft, and could be in the Habs lineup rather quickly given his pro-style game of ruggedness and power along with excellent skating ability for a big body. Tkachuk plays with the mean streak just like older brother Matthew and could really bring some attitude and swagger to a Habs group that needs both as they explore trading away current left winger Max Pacioretty. Brady Tkachuk is the type that could step in quickly for Pacioretty and help provide the same kind of offense and physical presence along with a much bigger upside down the line. Clearly the Habs could use a franchise center rather than a power forward winger like Tkachuk, but drafting based on need rather than talent is a sure way to make bad picks.
4. Ottawa Senators – Andrei Svechnikov, right wing (Barrie Colts): The ultra-skilled Svechnikov has drawn comparisons to Ilya Kovalchuk during his time playing in the OHL, and has size, puck skills, scoring ability and pretty much everything you’d want from a winger prospect. The 6-foot-3, 187-pounder could go as high as No. 2 overall to the Carolina Hurricanes given his pedigree and his production after popping in 40 goals in 44 games for Barrie last season, so the Senators would be overjoyed to have him waiting with the fourth overall pick for a team that could use an impact forward up front. Who knows? Perhaps the presence of a special young player like this might even factor into Erik Karlsson deciding to stay and sign with the Senators rather than leaving Ottawa at the first chance he gets.
5. Arizona Coyotes – Adam Boqvist, defenseman (Brynas, Sweden): Boqvist is part of the new breed of smaller, faster and creative defensemen that are now getting selected near the top of the first round, and are expected to make a massive offensive impact quickly. The Coyotes have stocked up on traditional, big-bodied young D-men over the last couple of years, but Boqvist is the kind of player that could really add a different element to a team that needs to play with the puck more. He’s only 5-foot-11, 170-pounds and may not be able to jump immediately to the NHL based simple on his size and the need to get stronger, but NHL teams are 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 player. Who knows? Perhaps his presence could also energize a player like Oliver Ekman-Larsson, that has developed some bad habits during his time in Arizona.
6. Detroit Red Wings – Quinn Hughes, defenseman (Michigan, NCAA): The 5-foot-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 was 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 offense. Still, Detroit could do a heck of a lot worse than picking a very good player from the University of Michigan with their lottery first round pick.
7. Vancouver Canucks – Noah Dobson, defenseman (Acadie-Bathurst): A 6-foot-3, 187-pound defenseman prospect that is more of a complete, traditional two-way D-man than smaller and offensive-minded players like Hughes, Boqvist and Dahlin. Dobson is no slouch when it comes to puck-moving and creating offense even if he isn’t quite a catalyst, but he’s also a physical, strong defender that will be able to play in every situation and should chew up minutes for a team like the Canucks. Vancouver has hit with forward prospects like Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser, so finding a way to get a blue chip defenseman into the mix has to be something Jim Benning is interested in at this point.
8. Chicago Blackhawks – Oliver Wahlstrom, right wing (US National Development Team): The 6-foot-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 in the NHL draft and it looks like he’s going to have a collegiate career at Boston College as well 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 already in his skill set. 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 that could quickly make an impact with the Blackhawks after a year of college seasoning at the Heights.
9. New York Rangers – Evan Bouchard, defenseman (London Knights): The 6-foot-2, 192-pounder is exactly the kind of solid D-man that the Rangers could use after jettisoning Ryan McDonagh and Nick Holden last season at the trade deadline, so this pick makes all the sense in the world with the Blueshirts holding a bevy of first round selections. The 25 goals and 87 points in 67 OHL games last season really speak to some high-end offensive potential. Really when it comes down to it, the Rangers need to stock up on forwards, they need to stock on defensemen and they need to find the next No. 1 goaltender after Henrik Lundqvist, so no pressure on the Blueshirts with this top-10 pick in the middle of their roster reloading process.
10. Edmonton Oilers – Serron Noel, right wing (Oshawa Generals): The 6-foot-5, 205-pound Noel is a prototypical power forward with size, strength and plenty of skill to finish plays around the net in a player type that the Oilers could always use more of. Sure they have Milan Lucic and Zack Kassian, but they’re losing Patrick Maroon and 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 prior to the draft, but they are excellent when combined with the size and strength qualities that all of those other wingers aren’t truly bringing to the table. 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.
11. New York Islanders – Barrett Hayton, center (Sault St. Marie Greyhounds): Hayton is the odds-on favorite to be the first center selected in the draft, which feels a little later than usual at the 11th overall spot in the first round. But the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Hayton is a strong all-around performer that will make a strong candidate for all situations as a good two-way center with a playmaking instinct and great hockey sense as one of his calling cards. 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 as the Isles may have a huge void down the middle at center if John Tavares leaves in free agency. Center clearly might be a place where the Islanders want to shore up at this summer’s draft.
12. New York Islanders (from Calgary) – Ty Smith, defenseman (Spokane Chiefs): The 5-foot-10, 175-pound Smith is another smaller, skilled defenseman that will be selected in the first round, and showed some very good offensive instincts while posting three goals and 27 points on the power play this season. Overall, Smith piled up 73 points in 69 games while showing very strong 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 D-man at the NHL level. Even better for the Islanders, Smith’s defense and overall game put him at a level where he might be closer to ready to contribute at the NHL level for a team like the Islanders that wants to compete right now.
13. Dallas Stars – 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 that brings a lot to the table for whichever team drafts him. Put it all together and Farabee sounds like the kind of player that could fit in with what the Stars are building in Dallas, and would bring something to the table that they don’t currently have on their NHL roster. Farabee is committed to play at Boston University next season, so this is the kind of pick that could be a bit of a slow play for the Stars while they allow him to development into more of a finished NHL product.
14. Philadelphia Flyers (from St. Louis) – Joe Veleno, center (Drummondville Voltiguers): The 6-foot-1, 193-pound center has shown off speed and playmaking in his junior hockey career, and would give the Flyers another strong prospect down the middle after Nolan Patrick really hit in Philly in the second half of the year. Veleno is a strong power play guy and a 200-foot player that competes in all zones, so there isn’t a lot to dislike about his game particularly in the middle of the first round 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, and certainly improved his draft standing with a strong finish to his season in the QMJHL, as the 1 goals and 48 points in 33 games for Drummondville would attest to for Veleno.
15. Florida Panthers – Rasmus Kupari, center (Karpat, Finland): The 6-foot-1, 183-pound Kupari has flashed elite shooting and passing skills for a center during his time in Finland, and clearly has something going while putting up a strong showing as a teen-ager in Finland’s top league. He could be a really sound pick for the Panthers given that it looks like 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 NHL roster, and that could pay off with a player that might have some of the best skills in the draft class among the forward group.
16. Colorado Avalanche – Jesperi Kotkaniemi, center/wing (Liiga, Finland) – The 6-foot-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 either center or wing, and could check off a lot of boxes on an Avalanche team where there’s plenty of high-end talent for years to come. The 10 goals and 29 points in 57 games for Liiga as a teenager was 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 at the NHL level.
17. New Jersey Devils – Bode Wild, defenseman (US National Development Team): Armed with one of the best hockey names in the entire draft class, the 6-foot-2, 196-pound Wild has ideal size and the skill set to match on the back end. Wild 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 the defenseman position. 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. Wild would make a really nice acquisition in the second half of the first round.
18. Columbus Blue Jackets – Vitaly Kravstov, right wing (Chelyabinsk, KHL ): The 6-foot-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 postseason 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 a look at the NHL level given the way he flashed in the KHL at the end of their season. Given the Russian forward’s all-around game, he would make a nice fit with a Blue Jackets outfit that’s always looking to get a little more explosive up front to go along with the rest of a pretty well-stocked roster.
19. Philadelphia Flyers – Rasmus Sandin, defenseman (Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds) – The 5-foot-11, 190-pound Sandin certainly is another blue line player on the smaller side that’s going to get taken in the first round, but like many of those others 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 either, so he could be a really nice pick-up in the second half of the first round for a Flyers team looking to stockpile D-man prospects behind young NHL-proven commodities in Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov.
20. Los Angeles Kings – Martin Kaut, right wing (Dynamo Pardubice, Czech): The 6-foot-1, 174-pound winger has shown a good ability to finish off plays and provide offense during 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 that’s 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 Kings team that needs to get younger, more skilled and more dangerous offensively as they transition their NHL team.
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 feel he’s the best center in the entire draft class. Lundestrom held his own in the Swedish Elite League as an 18-year-old and shows top gear speed and offense-producing ability from the middle of the lineup that will only improve with time. On a hockey team with an aging group up front that’s got plenty of size and strength, a lightning-quick player like Lundestrom could be a very nice complement to a playoff-proven group. The challenge will come for Lundestrom on the defensive side of the puck, and that’s what will likely keep him out of the NHL for a season or two after getting drafted.
22. Ottawa Senators (from Pittsburgh) – Jared McIsaac, defenseman (Halifax Mooseheads) – McIsaac has dropped a little in his draft season, but the 6-foot-1, 194-pounder makes sense for the Senators as they brace for the possibility that they’ll be losing Erik Karlsson sooner rather than later. McIsaac has good size and his offensive production with Halifax was pretty strong with nine goals and 47 points in 65 games last season, but a number of smaller, more skilled D-men passed by him in the traditional draft rankings ahead of next month’s big weekend. While he’s not a dynamic game-changer like some of the defensemen at the top of the draft class, he could be a solid D-man capable of playing a long time at the NHL level. There’s plenty of value in those kinds of players.
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 Anaheim 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 that 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 that would be right in the middle of that mix.
24. Minnesota Wild – Ryan MacLeod, center/winger (Mississauga Steelheads): The 6-foot-2, 192-pound MacLeod is a fast and agile skater that 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 either 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 MacLeod, 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-foot-4, 216-pound Samuelsson is the kind of big, two-way defenseman that the Leafs don’t have enough of on their NHL roster right now. Samuelsson isn’t a greyhound D-man, obviously, but still posted 10 goals and 31 points in 58 games played for the US Development team last season. Samuelsson is the son of Kjell Samuelsson, who was an outstanding defender in his NHL day, and is much more mobile, creative and geared toward a possible top-pairing role than his old man was back in the day. While it’s possible the Leafs could be shopping for an eventual power forward replacement for James van Riemsdyk as well, a pick like 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 circles. The bottom line on this kid is that he’s a playmaker. For a Rangers team that needs a little bit of everything at this point, 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) – Nick Merkley, defenseman (Guelph Storm) – The 5-foot-11, 170-pound Ontario native has the offensive goods on the back, and posted 13 goals and 67 points in 63 games for the Storm last season. The shot, the passing, the skating and all the hockey tools are on point for a player that clearly has the skill to be selected higher than this based on talent alone. But he’s been a bit of a problem with suspensions, poor defense and on-ice frustration for the Storm during 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 a team like the Blackhawks might roll the dice on particularly in their situation with a strong veteran core that is in dire need of young, explosive NHL talent that can help their team sooner rather than later.
28. New York Rangers (from Tampa Bay) – Grigori Denisenko, left wing (Loko Yaroslavl, MHL): The 5-foot-10, 165-pound Denisenko has some dazzling skills and high-end offensive ability, and had a chance of being a higher draft pick if he wasn’t coming out of the Russian leagues where NHL teams have to deal with the KHL as a competing force. The nine goals and 22 points in 30 games for Denisenko 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 at the NHL level. Certainly there need to be some significant gains in terms of size and strength for the players. But there’s no doubting the talent is there for a team like the Rangers to roll the dice at the end of the first round on a player that could be an impact player offensively.
29. St. Louis Blues (from Winnipeg) – Dominik Bokk, right wing (Vaxjo, Sweden): The 6-foot-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 during the World Juniors. Bokk has been a very good player going through the Vaxjo system in Sweden over the last season and ended up playing 15 games with the big club 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, draft spot still to be determined) – Jacob Olofsson, center (Timra IK, Allsvenskan, Sweden): The 6-foot-2, 192-pound Olofsson is a strong, two-way center out of the Swedish Leagues that could provide the kind of excellent all-around center that the Red Wings could use down the middle of the ice to eventually replace Pavel Datsyuk. Olofsson has size, strength and speed to go along with the good offensive and solid defense, and has drawn favorable comparisons to players like Patrice Bergeron and Anze Kopitar. That’s some very solid company for a young prospect out of Sweden and would be a really fine get for a team like the Red Wings that’s at the very beginning of a long rebuilding process.
31. Washington Capitals (draft slot still to be determined) – Benoit-Oliver Groulx, center/left wing (Halifax Mooseheads): The 6-foot-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 player for Halifax during the playoffs. Groulx is an average skater that still needs improving in that area, but his ability to shoot the puck and score from the tradition scoring areas on the ice is among the best among players in the draft. Groulx also pays attention to the defensive side of the game, competes hard and consistently shows the kind of hockey IQ that one would associate with the son of a hockey coach. As it is he’s a good selection at the end of the first round, but he could become a very good NHL player with more improvement in his skating game.