Welcome to Mock Draft two of three. Since the last mock, the hockey season has been whittled down to its nubs. The NHL is down to the Stanley Cup Final and I am writing, the Bruins and the Blues are knotted at one game apiece. Outside of those two teams, amateur hockey is through, with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies of the QMJHL winning the annual Memorial Cup, knocking off the hosting Halifax Mooseheads in the process, after outlasting WHL champions Prince Albert Raiders and OHL titlists Guelph Storm. In the USHL, the Sioux Falls Stampede, um, stampeded their way to the Clark Cup championship. Sweden won the WU18 tournament on their home ice. Somewhat surprisingly, that was the first time that the Tre Kronor won that title. The AHL championship are just underway, but those players are all drafted and the outcome of that event will not play a role in draft order.
The NHL Draft Combine is currently underway, but the scouts all know what these players can do. The only uncertainty left is the order of the final two picks in the first round, as the Stanley Cup champion picks 31st and the runners-up get the 30th pick. Well, that’s not entirely true as we don’t know what trades will happen (there WILL be trades), or which GM will cut the cut of which prospect’s jib in the combine (and subsequent) interviews.
But we know that this is a very talented draft class. The top two players are pretty settled (I have around 75% confidence in the order as well) and there is a group of around 11 players following who could go in any practically any order and I wouldn’t complain. The talent level drops a bit after that, but there are still top half of the roster players to be found through the rest of the first round.
As a reminder, the players I am lining up with the teams is based on my knowledge of the drafting histories of the General Managers and Scouting Directors who pull the trigger on draft day and the organizational depth of the 31 teams. Of course, the mocks will also lean heavily on the scouting performed by the McKeen's Hockey international and domestic scouting staff, who have been providing scouting reports on the 31 players listed here, as well as many, many others who will hear their names called out between June 21 and 22 at the Rogers Arena in beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia. The McKeen's Draft Guide is available when you click here.
I am not – nor will I through these mocks – try to predict who the teams will draft. I am looking at who they should, bearing in mind the known tendencies of the men (women are gaining foot holds in NHL front offices, but none are yet decision makers in draft matters) who are calling the shots.
In predicting draft order, I will, for now, assume that the home ice favorite wins the Stanley Cup. Congrats to Boston on this amazing honor. They will get the 31st pick, while St. Louis’ pick, which belongs to Anaheim, will be 30th. The rest of the order is settled until trades start falling. Let’s draft!
1. New Jersey Devils – Jack Hughes, C, USNTDP (USHL)
No change here. The fact that Hughes was only OK at the World Championship – after playing for his country at the WU18 tournament, while the next guy was pretty darn good doesn’t change anything in my eyes. Hughes will make everyone around him better in a way that I am not convinced that Kakko can. Hughes has the best combination of skating ability, puck skills and vision of any draft eligible player since Connor McDavid.
2. New York Rangers – Kaapo Kakko, RW, TPS Turku (Liiga)
Easiest choice in the draft. Some people might prefer Kakko to Hughes and others like myself prefer Hughes to Kakko. I can’t see even the biggest purveyors of bad hot sports takes liking any other prospect in this stratosphere. The Rangers only need to sit take and take whichever player the Devils do not. Kakko has a powerful NHL frame and plays a powerful NHL game. He is a future first liner and there are even some who believe that he can slide over to center full time.
3. Chicago Blackhawks – Kirby Dach, C, Saskatoon (WHL)
I have a hard time seeing Chicago pop a defenseman at the top here after taking blueliners with their top two picks in both of the last two drafts and using their second pick on the D in 2016 as well. They have shown more openness to drafting out of Western Canada lately and Kirby Dach, who I had fitted to them last time, still works. They like size and skill up the middle and Dach has those two traits in spades. He also might only be one year away from being a regular contributor.
4. Colorado Avalanche (from Ottawa Senators and the ill-fated Matt Duchene trade) Bowen Byram, D, Vancouver (WHL)
Think of the impact that Cale Makar had on the Avalanche when the Hobey Baker winner joined the club for the playoffs. Now give the Avalanche another future number one defenseman to put on a second pairing. They would have the best puck moving blueline in hockey to go along with some intensely talented forwards like MacKinnon, Rantanen, and Landeskog. The core of a long-term powerhouse would be in place. Byram is, by far, the top defenseman in this draft class.
5. Los Angeles Kings - Cole Caufield, C, USNTDP (USHL)
I think the Kings would have been silently praying that the Avalanche would pass on Byram, but they would not be upset to pick up the record-breaking goal scoring from the US U18 team. Caufield is small (but strong), pushing the Kings further away from the Darryl Sutter brand they had been identified with for so long, but he brings something extra special to the table. Something not so identified with the Sutter remnants. A little thing called “goals”.
6. Detroit Red Wings – Trevor Zegras, C, USNTDP (USHL)
The fact that Zegras has been developing in Detroit’s backyard is nice, but the fact that he is the best playmaker in the draft and also one of its better skaters is much, much nicer. Zegras can line up at any forward spot and rarely needs more than a single touch to make a scoring chance happen. The thoughts of him setting up goals for Anthony Mantha and Filip Zadina for years to come should be running through Steve Yzerman’s head.
7. Buffalo Sabres – Alex Turcotte, C, USNTDP (USHL)
Having blown an early season performance that had Sabres fans thinking that they were finally reaching the end of their long, dark tunnel, Buffalo blew it again, missing the playoffs for the eighth straight season. A lot has been made of GM Jason Botterill not drafting anyone from the CHL in his tenure and, with a player like Alex Turcotte staring him the face, he won’t need to start now. Turcotte has among the most gifted hands in the draft class and a non-stop motor. Could team with Jack Eichel to give Buffalo a high-end top two pivots.
8. Edmonton Oilers – Dylan Cozens, C, Lethbridge (WHL)
The big man from Whitehorse would add a dimension to the Oilers that they have little of. Size and skill in the same package. With new GM Kenny Holland unlikely to rush prospects as had been the Oilers’ MO for years, Cozens would be able to fill out, refine his game and achieve the consistency needed to play on the Edmonton top six. He could eventually center his own ne, or play next to one of McDavid or Draisaitl on the wing, creating space for a superstar linemate.
9. Anaheim Ducks – Peyton Krebs, C, Kootenay (WHL)
As much as Krebs was difficult to scout playing on an also-ran team in Kootenay, every time he was able to play with better players, be it at the CHL Top Prospects game, and more recently at the WU18 tournament in Sweden. He is a natural leader, playing a full 200-foot game, with great hands, and quick feet. With Ryan Kesler potentially nearing the end of his career, the Ducks are looking to renew their forwards. Sam Steel, Troy Terry, and Max Jones are the first wave. Krebs could join the likes of Maxime Comtois and Antoine Morand on the second wave.
10. Vancouver Canucks – Matthew Boldy, LW, USNTDP (USHL)
The Canucks can go in a number of directions here, but Boldy seems like a player who would not only bring a great deal of talent and versatility to the roster, but also seems like a fit in head coach Travis Green’s system. Once considered an offense only player, as the season progressed, he showed himself to be a hard-working, two-way forward with as much play making skill as he has shooting talent. Also, under GM Jim Benning, they have rarely drafted out of Sweden or Russia the source of the other top talents still on the board.