The NHL Draft is Friday in Buffalo and while the first three picks look to be written in stone, the rest of the round should feature trades and a lot of surprises.
Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi should be the first three names off the board and then don't be surprised if the Oilers trade down as they want a blueliner and there are five that are above the rest.
Arizona, Carolina, Winnipeg, Boston and Anaheim each have two picks in the first round so any one of them could package a deal together to move up in the draft.
Since this is an 18-year-old draft, everyone with the possible exception of the first three, are projects. The players are so close in skill level that 8-40 could be a similar player. I wrote in 2011 that picks 9-45 were interchangeable. "The real challenge will be the rest of the first round as most seem to think that picks 9-45 could be interchangeable. Look for lots of trading on the draft floor as teams move up and down depending on what is still available according to its draft list."
Brandon Saad was taken 42nd in that draft and he has shown that he could have easily been a high first round pick had there been a re-draft.
Special thanks as always to Gus Katsaros, Iain Morrell, Grant McCagg and the rest the McKeen's staff. Their Draft Guide is sensational and you should pick it up.
Here is Gus Katsaros' Mock Draft from last week.
1) Toronto - Auston Matthews (C)
Last season, the talk was Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel being two generational players. Well, had Matthews been born two days earlier, he would have been eligible for the draft and many scouts would have picked him ahead of Eichel. The Maple Leafs finally get their number one center and he should be a stud in the years to come. He played in Switzerland last season and was first overall in goals per game and second in points per game as he had 24 goals and 46 points in 36 games. His play in the World Championships for the United States was outstanding as he had six goals in 10 games despite a relatively weak team around him.
2) Winnipeg - Patrik Laine (LW)
The Jets pick Laine who could be the next Teemu Selanne. Winnipeg fans will not mind that as Selanne was a hero in the Manitoba city, scoring 76 goals as a rookie. Laine was the MVP of the Finnish playoffs and his outstanding play continued at the Worlds as he picked up seven goals in leading the Finns to a silver medal. He has a great shot and sublime stickhandling ability and could have gone first overall as he made up big ground on Matthews during the season. Laine should be a top-six forward for the Jets this season.
3) Columbus - Jesse Puljujarvi (RW)
Many thought that Puljujarvi was the best Finn coming out of the World U20 Championships in January as he was the tournament MVP. The Blue Jackets do need a center to replace the traded Ryan Johansen but Puljujarvi is capable of moving to the middle and filling the role. He had 13 goals and 28 points in 50 games in the Finish Elite League this season and at six-four, 205 and growing, he will have an outstanding NHL career. The Coyotes may try and deal up to this spot and take the Finn but I can't see that happening as Puljujarvi's skills are too good to pass up.
4) Edmonton - Olli Juolevi (D)
This is where it gets interesting. The Oilers have plenty of elite forwards but need help on the blueline. If they do not make a trade, look for them to take Olli Juolevi from the London Knights via Finland. Juolevi had a great World Under20 tournament as a 17-year-old as he was named to the first All-Star team. He should be a number one defenseman eventually and the Oilers need him badly on their backline. The solution could be to trade down to number six with Calgary (who love Matthew Tkachuk) and hope the Canucks select Logan Brown, Pierre-Luc Dubois or Alexander Nylander, leaving Juolevi to Edmonton. Arizona could also be interested in jumping up.
5) Vancouver - Matthew Tkachuk (LW)
Assuming there isn't an earlier trade, Tkachuk will make a fine addition in Vancouver. The son of Keith, Matthew was a solid member of the best line in junior hockey as he teamed up with Mitch Marner and Christian Dvorak. Tkachuk had 30 goals and 107 points in 57 games in the regular season. Tkachuk supplemented that in the playoffs with 20 goals and 40 points in only 18 games. He is a great playmaker and can score but will need to improve his skating for the NHL.
6) Calgary - Pierre-Luc Dubois (LW)
The Flames would love it if Tkachuk is still on the board when it comes time for their selection but if he is not, then they will take Dubois. Dubois moved up the board big time in the second half of the season and capped it off with 10 goals and 24 points in his last nine regular season games with Cape Breton. He may be a nice fit for the Flames as he could slot in as the number two center behind Sean Monahan but he could still play on the left side. He finished the season with 42 goals and 99 points in 62 games.
7) Arizona - Logan Brown (C)
The tall center really boosted his value at the U18 Championships as he had three goals and 12 points for the States. He played in the OHL the past two seasons and came into his own the last 24 games of the season with 15 goals and 38 points to give him 21 goals and 74 points. Brown is an elite playmaker and will eventually give the Coyotes a terrific one-two punch in the middle with Dylan Strome. At six-feet, six inches, Brown has been compared to Joe Thornton. The Coyotes will be happy if that is the case.
8) Buffalo - Alexander Nylander (LW)
Nylander could go earlier than this, but if not, the Sabres get a heck of a good player. Buffalo needs help on the blueline as well as the left wing as only Evander Kane and Marcus Foligno are sure things there (Foligno is a bottom-six player however), but if Nylander goes earlier, the Sabres could be interested in Jake Bean, Jakob Chychrun or Mikhail Sergachev. Nylander has outstanding offensive skills and could be a huge fantasy asset, especially if he is able to line up with Jack Eichel as his center in the future. Nylander has 75-85 point potential by the time he is 23.
9) Montreal - Michael McLeod (C)
The speedy center plays his best when the most is on the line so the Habs hope that it will translate into a great playoff performer. McLeod had 21 goals and 61 points in 57 games but struggled in the Under18 tournament with only four points in seven games. McLeod could slot in as a third line center who can play very good defensively, take a draw and score.
10) Colorado - Jake Bean (D)
This could be the start of a run on blueliners and the Avalanche will get a defenseman with big offensive talent as Bean had 24 goals and 64 points in 68 WHL games for the Calgary Hitmen. The fact he could go in the top-ten in the NHL draft is amazing as he was not picked two seasons ago in the WHL draft. Bean played the last two games of the playoffs with a broken foot and managed just a couple of assists in five games as the Hitmen were eliminated in the first round. Bean can also handle himself in the defensive zone so there should be no worries in his overall game.
11) New Jersey - Clayton Keller (C)
The Devils need plenty of help everywhere but between the pipes and Clayton Keller fits the bill at center. Years ago, he would not be thought of this high as he is only five foot-nine but the NHL has changed over the years and a small player can be quite effective. Keller led the Under18 tournament in assists with 10 and had 14 points in only seven games. His playmaking skills are terrific and is he is just as good as a skater. The Devils get an offensive dynamo in Keller who should be a top-two center for years to come.
12) Ottawa- Jakob Chychrun (D)
Chychrun was regarded as a top three-five pick before the start of the season as he had 16 goals and 33 points from the point in 42 games during the 2014-15. But his progression was not as great as most, if not all, around him and he has fallen, likely out of the top ten. Chychrun had 11 goals and 49 points this season in 62 games. On the plus side, Chychrun is a good two-way player and he makes a nice first pass, something that is so important at the NHL level. Chychrun likely just needs a boost in his confidence and he could turn out to be one of the best players selected in the draft.
13) Carolina - Tyson Jost (C)
Jost played in the same league as Kyle Turris did in his draft year and the scouts flocked back to the BCHL to see the talented center play. Jost had 42 goals and 104 points in 48 games for Penticton, whereas Turris had 66 goals and 121 points in 53 games for Burnaby. Turris went third overall and had to fill out before he became a player in the NHL. Jost won't go top three but is likely to be a top-15 pick. He was second overall in scoring in the Under18 championships. He may go the college route for a year or two but also needs to fill out, much like Turris.
14) Boston - Mikhail Sergachev (D)
Sergachev is a skilled defenseman who came over from Russia and was the OHL's defenseman of the year. Sergachev managed 17 goals and 57 points for Windsor and while his skill level is high, plenty of scouts are concerned about his hockey IQ. He has a big shot from the point but it's erratic. Sergachev is a good skater as well as a nice defenseman in his own end but teams have to be concerned about his consistency. Sergachev is a project (as are most) and whoever drafts him needs him to work hard at improving.
15) Minnesota - Luke Kunin (LW)
Kunin, who can play both left wing and center, played last season at the University of Wisconsin and should continue to play there for another season or two. He is a sniper who managed to score 19 goals in his freshman year and the scouts love his ability to one-time it. The Wild will need someone to replace an aging Mikko Koivu and if Kunin is up to the task, he will give the Wild a nice one-two punch up the middle with Mikael Granlund. Kunin also plays tough and that bodes well for his all-round game.
16) Detroit - Charles McAvoy (D)
McAvoy is a solid blueliner and the Red Wings certainly need that as they have been weak since the retirement of Niklas Lidstrom. There are five defensemen who are considered above the rest at this draft and McAvoy is the last of the bunch. He is a very good-skating defenseman who is skilled offensively. McAvoy received quite the complement from a scout who stated that his freshman season was better than Noah Hanifan or Zach Werenski who went fifth and eighth respectively in the 2015 Draft. McAvoy had three goals and 25 points last season with Boston University in 37 games with 56 penalty minutes who loves to hit opposition players, sometimes into submission.
17) Nashville - Dennis Cholowski (D)
Another player coming out of the British Columbia Hockey League, Cholowski had 12 goals and 40 points in 50 games for Chilliwack but really showed his stuff in the playoffs with 15 points in 20 games. He has offensive upside and should play one more season in the BCHL before he enters college in the United States. The Predators have Shea Weber and Roman Josi on a stacked blueline so they can afford to wait for Cholowski. Look for his offensive skills to improve and he could be in line to take over eventually from Weber and/or Josi, in the Nashville lineup.
18) Philadelphia - Max Jones (LW)
Boy, the London Knights were one impressive team. Not only did Tkachuk and Juolevi go earlier in the draft, they also had Mitch Marner (4th overall in 2015) and Christian Dvorak (58th in 2014 but would go a lot higher if that draft was held now, and now Max Jones will make his way to Philadelphia. Jones is a power forward who had 28 goals and 52 points in 63 regular season games. He only played in six playoff games after he was suspended for 12 games for his blindside hit on Justin Brack in Game 4 of the opening round of the playoffs. He does not have great upside offensively but his strength and peskiness will make him a tough player to go against.
19) New York Islanders - Dante Fabbro (D)
The third member of the BCHL to be drafted in the first round, Fabbro is a teammate of Tyson Jost and is expected to play at Boston University next season. The defenseman had 14 goals and 53 assists this season. Fabbro needs to work on his skating and hope that his offensive game continues to improve. He was very good at the Under18 championships where he tied for the lead in assists. Staying in college hockey for a few seasons could be the best way for Fabbro to develop his game.
20) Arizona (via New York Rangers) - Julien Gauthier (RW)
The Coyotes make their second pick of the first round and if the pick hasn't been dealt, look for Arizona to select Gauthier. Plenty saw Gauthier as a top-five pick before the start of the season but his play forced him to slip down the rankings. He had 36 goals in his first 38 games but only seven in his last 22 including the post-season. There are definite caution signs around Gauthier but his size and strength are so appealing that the Yotes will take a chance on him. He is a strong skater with a great shot and scoring ability but many question his hockey sense.
21) Carolina (via Los Angeles) - Kieffer Bellows (LW)
The son of Brian who was drafted second overall in 1982 by the Minnesota North Stars, Kieffer certainly knows where the net. Bellows had 50 goals in 62 games this season playing for the USA NTDP-18 team, lining up with Clayton Keller who is expected to go earlier in the draft. He is also a bit chippy as he managed 101 penalty minutes. Bellows needs to improve his skating and his play in his own end but every NHL team needs goal scoring and Bellows can certainly provide that.
22) Winnipeg (via Chicago) Riley Tufte (LW)
It's quite a year for American skaters and Tufte is just another one expected to go in the first round. The six-foot five, 205 pound winger will need plenty of time to develop and is expected to take the US college route. The Jets have plenty of talent in their farm system and can afford to wait to see if Tufte develops fully. Tufte played for Blaine High School in Minnesota where he scored 47 times in 25 games as well as picking up 31 helpers. One scout compared him to Blake Wheeler and the Jets would not mind that.
23) Florida - Logan Stanley (D)
Stanley is the biggest player who should go in the first round as the defenseman is six-foot seven and 225 pounds. He played for Windsor in the OHL and while he had only five goals and 17 points, his offense did improve deeper into the season. But that's not why Stanley will be drafted. He plays a hard-nosed game and plays with a chip on his shoulder. He'll likely line up against opponents top line when he is a full-fledged member of the NHL but don't expect a lot fantasy-wise from Stanley if you are thinking of drafting him.
24) Anaheim - Brett Howden (C)
Howden moved rapidly up the draft board with his performance in the WHL playoffs and the Under18 championships. He was thought to be a mid-second round pick or perhaps a touch earlier as the regular season ended but it certainly looks like he will sneak into the first round. Howden had 24 goals and 64 points in 68 games but had 15 points in 10 playoff games to boost his stock. Howden is a very good playmaker and still managed to score five goals in seven U18 games. He his good on the draw and teams will like his size.
25) Dallas - Filip Gustavsson (G)
The Stars are pretty deep at forward but can certainly use a netminder in their system so look for them to take the big Swedish netminder, Filip Gustavsson. The 18-year-old played well in his six games with Lulea HF of the SweHL, posting a .910 save percentage, allowing 13 goals as he won four games. He was ranked the number one goaltender in Europe by Central Scouting and he should be the first goaltender off the board at the draft. You likely won't see him around the NHL for at least four or five seasons but do not forget about him in dynasty pools.
26) Washington - Rasmus Asplund (C)
The Capitals will get a solid two-way center as well as a leader if they draft Rasmus Asplund. The Swedish center has been part of junior national teams for five seasons and has played the last two seasons with Farjestads of the Swedish Elite League. Asplund has only six goals and 15 points in 81 games over two seasons with the squad but you can't expect a lot from a 17 or 18-year-old in a tough league like the SEL. He'll likely end up as a third line center in the NHL so his fantasy value will be limited but he will be a valued member of any NHL club.
27) Tampa Bay - Jordan Kyrou (RW)
The speedy Kyrou came up big in big time games, shooting up the draft rankings with his effort in the Top Prospects Game as well as the Ivan Hlinka tournament, the Under18's and the OHL -Russia Super Series. He had 17 goals and 51 points in 65 games for Sarnia this season as a teammate of Jakob Chychrun but managed to pick it up at the end of the season with 18 points in his last 18 games including the post-season. Look for Kyrou to improve his offense next season as he gets a bigger role for his OHL team.
28) St. Louis - German Rubtsov (C)
It's tough taking a Russian in the first round this season after the team was thrown out of the Under18's for a doping scandal, putting doubt on every player. Rubtsov is a very-good two-way center and while he doesn't have first line capabilities, his competitiveness will bode well for his NHL squad. The Blues had great success drafting Vladimir Tarasenko in the first round and while in no way is there a comparison between the two as far as skill level is concerned, Rubtsov would have a mentor with Tarasenko. He had 12 goals and 26 points in 28 games in the Russian junior league.
29) Boston (via San Jose) Tage Thompson (RW)
Tage Thompson is certainly a project. He's six-feet five and only 185 pounds so you know he eventually will fill out but he has not to date. The prospect of that makes him an intriguing selection so he could go even earlier than this. Thompson has already played a season of college hockey at Connecticut where he had 14 goals and 32 points in 36 games. He scored 13 of the goals on the power play but his play at even strength was suspect as he scored only once while going minus-14. Look for a jump in production for Thompson next season at UConn as well as some weight on his slender frame.
30) Anaheim (via Pittsburgh through Toronto) - Libor Hajek (D)
Hajek has a lot of things going for him including being a tremendous skater as well as a big body but his lack of offense in his first season of the WHL has caused some scouts to wonder if he has any offensive upside. He scored only three goals for the Saskatoon Blades and had only one helper in the last month of the season. On the positive side, he is a stable defenseman who has some skill. The Ducks can afford to wait for Hajek and hope the offensive side of his game develops.