I’ve been obsessed with prospects for the past few years, so I figured I’d finally get around to making my own rankings for the 2018 NHL Draft. I tend to place a high value on skill, skating ability (particularly how well a player can accelerate and turn on their edges), along with point production, since I’ve found that those tend to be the best predictors of future success.
As I’m sure many of you know, I’m a self-proclaimed geek who loves nerding out on hockey, but that isn’t to say I put every player into a statistical model and spit out the Top 100 in order of adjusted Points Per Game. Scouting is much more of an art than a science, so I think it’s important to combine both the video analysis of a player’s tools (their skating stride, puck skills, vision, creativity, etc.) with statistical information (shot generation, point production, statistical comparables, usage, etc.)
Using these methods, here is a list of the players that I believe are the Top 100 prospects in the 2018 NHL Draft.
Rasmus Dahlin, 6’3 LHD, Frolunda-SHL
What’s there to say about Rasmus Dahlin that hasn’t already been said? He’s the best defensive prospect we’ve seen since Victor Hedman, who actually scored at the same rate in the SHL during his draft year. In Dahlin, you’re getting a defensively responsible player on the back-end who stands 6’3 and can do things like this:
— Daniel Moritz (@moritzdaniel) November 10, 2016
Rasmus Dahlin is a human highlight reel pic.twitter.com/DYSQ45rpth
— Spittin' Chiclets (@spittinchiclets) January 1, 2018
This is going to be an easy pick for Buffalo, who could really use a first pairing defenceman named Rasmus.
Andrei Svechnikov, 6’2 RW, Barrie-OHL
Most years, a player like Svechnikov would go first overall (ie. last year’s draft, the Ekblad draft, the Nugent-Hopkins & Yakupov drafts – sorry Edmonton), but unfortunately, he’s in the same draft class as a generational defenceman – or at least the closest thing we’ve seen to one this decade.
Don’t let that distract you from the fact that Svechnikov is a phenomenal talent. Steve Kournianos made a solid argument for putting him in the same tier as Dahlin, and while I still think that’s a bit of a stretch, I think it’s safe to say that he’s much closer to Dahlin than he is to Filip Zadina.
It’s not often we see a prospect with 40-goal potential, and it’s even rarer we see that player go second overall. Much like Patrik Laine in 2016, though, that appears to be the case this year.
Filip Zadina, 6’1 LW, Halifax-QMJHL
Although Montreal’s interest in selecting a centre (Jesperi Kotkaniemi) has resulted in Zadina sliding down some draft boards, I think it’s important to remind ourselves just how dominant he was this season.
He’s been a bonafide Top 3 pick this year for a reason, putting up Claude Grioux-esque numbers in the QMJHL. With Zadina’s elite skill and scoring talent, I wouldn’t let him slip past the third pick if I were Montreal, regardless of positional need.
Quinn Hughes, 5’10 LHD, Michigan-NCAA
Hughes is a lightning-quick defenceman who can move the puck and wreak havoc in the offensive zone. He’s not the biggest player in the draft (standing 5’10), but he’s probably the best skater, especially on his edges. Here’s a look at some of the plays he’s able to make with his feet.
Quinn Hughes was on fire last night: 2 assists, 10 shot attempts, 4 scoring chances, 6 controlled exits, 3 controlled entries, out shot opposition 27-14. Some great defensive plays, too.
— Mitch Brown (@MitchLBrown) March 11, 2018
When you combine those elite tools with his unprecedented point production (outproducing Zach Werenski in his draft year), you have a defenceman who’s worthy of a Top 5 pick in my opinion.
Oliver Wahlstrom, 6’1 RW, USA U18 Team-USHL
Last year, I made the mistake of undervaluing Eeli Tolvanen’s elite shot generation. I’m never making that mistake again.
Since 2013, only 10 USHL forwards that were u18 at the start of their season have been able to score above a point-per-game AND shoot more than 3.9 shots per game. #2018NHLDraft eligible Oliver Wahlstrom is 3rd in PTS/GP among those forwards. pic.twitter.com/LRz22fVlwt
— S7 (@S7Dsn) March 30, 2018
As you can see, Wahlstrom isn’t quite in the Matthews/Eichel tier when it comes to point production, but he’s right behind them, along with names like Clayton Keller and Kyle Connor. He’s a bonafide sniper with a ridiculous shot, and more importantly, has the speed and puck skills to get it off consistently (almost 5 times per game at the USHL level, which is just absurd).
Jesperi Kotkaniemi, C, Assat-Liiga
As I’m sure you’ve heard, Kotkaniemi is soaring up draft boards and could go as early as third overall to Montreal. Although I think that might be a tad high, I’m glad to see him finally get some recognition. I always found it confusing that a player with his production was consistently ranked in the 20s by most services all season, but there appears to have been a market correction down the stretch here.
The #2018NHLDraft is next month, and one player that's rising in draft rankings is Jesperi Kotkaniemi. Here's his season compared to other top recent Liiga prospects. He has definitely made a case to be included in the Top 10. pic.twitter.com/HIYi7ecp1d
— S7 (@S7Dsn) May 4, 2018
There are some concerns with Kotkaniemi (he doesn’t have the greatest skating stride, he didn’t really take any faceoffs this season, and he might not have first line upside), but the 6’2 forward who’s projected to play centre has an excellent offensive toolkit. Assuming he is able to transition to the middle of the ice at the NHL level, it’s completely understandable that teams are gushing over a player with this kind of talent:
Like, seriously pic.twitter.com/nqczJHMJP5
— Ryan (@ryanfancey) June 19, 2018
Ty Smith, 5’11 LHD, Spokane-WHL
There’s a lot to like about Ty Smith’s game. He’s a fantastic skater who does a great job controlling his gaps in transition, often stepping up on opposing forwards and forcing dump-ins. The odd time he does have to defend in the defensive zone, he’s a very responsible player who does a solid job taking away space and winning puck battles despite his size (5’11).
When his team retrieves the puck, he’s one of the best defencemen in the draft at getting out of his zone with possession. He’s the complete package, and it’s backed up by the numbers in Mitch Brown’s tracking project.
What’s crazy is that I haven’t even brought up his offensive game, which as you can see, is elite. He’s also a great power play quarterback (there’s not much he can’t do), but what impresses me the most is how dominant he is at even strength.
We're hearing a lot of Ty Smith's PP ability last few days, but note that in the CHL league best-known for producing NHL defensemen Smith's even-strength points per-game was superior to pre-draft WHL defensemen past 15 years. He is a few months younger than many were. pic.twitter.com/TjsXLDtORV
— ND Red Eagle (@NDRedEagle) June 19, 2018
Guys who produce like him are pretty safe bets to become Top 4 NHL defencemen, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he develops into a top pairing defender in the very near future.
Adam Boqvist, 5’11 RHD, Brynas J20-SuperElit
Boqvist has all the tools to become a 50+ point defenceman at the next level: dynamic puck skills, excellent vision, smooth skating, the ability to feather saucer passes into dangerous areas, and a deadly accurate shot. The concerns with him are always going to be on the other side of the puck, where he’s still very much a work in progress.
Many scouts will point out the fact that he got lit up in his SHL stint (Sweden’s top professional league), and while some of it was definitely a result of poor defensive play, a lot of it came down to bad luck (he had a PDO of 89 in his SHL stint). With Boqvist, you’re definitely taking a risk on a player who might not be able to figure out the defensive side of the game, but if he can, you’re looking at a point-producing Top 4 RHD, or as I like to call them, unicorns.
Noah Dobson, 6’3 RHD, Acadie-Bathurst-QMJHL
As you just heard, I like to joke that right-handed defencemen are unicorns because of how rare they are. What’s even rarer is a defensively responsible 6’3 RHD who skates well and scores over a Point Per Game in the CHL as a 17-year-old. Oh yeah, he’s also great at moving the puck.
A lot of scouts have fallen in love with Noah Dobson, and frankly, I can’t blame them. He has everything you’d want from a minute-munching defenceman. Although I question whether his offensive skillset will translate to an NHL power play, I’m pretty confident that he’s going to become a Top 4 RHD who can eat tough minutes. Considering how rare those guys are, we should expect Dobson to go very early in the first round.
Joe Veleno, 6’1 C, Drummondville-QMJHL
Veleno came into the year projected to go into the Top 10, but struggled out of the gate, which dropped him down most draft boards. Since his trade to Drummondville, though, he scored at a 1.45 PPG rate, which was actually higher than Zadina. Now, we can’t simply exclude his first half of the season where he “only” scored 1.0 PPG, but it’s worth noting that he played for a terrible team and suffered a very poor Sh% during that stretch.
I don’t think Veleno’s quite as good as his dominant second half numbers suggest, but I think he’s much better than what we saw earlier in the season. He’s an extremely fast skater who has NHL size (6’1 190lbs), can play in the middle of the ice, and create for his teammates in the offensive zone.
In a centre-light draft, there’s probably a team that thinks he’s worthy of a Top 10 pick. If Veleno’s able to keep playing like he did in the second half of the season, he could very well be worth it.
Isac Lundestrom, 6’0 C, Lulea-SHL
There’s something called The 51% Rule you’ll probably find interesting. Players who put up at least 0.09 PPG in their draft year in the SHL (Swedish professional league) have gone on to become full-time NHL players 51% of the time. This indicates that simply playing in a pro league as a 17-year-old is a great sign for future success. Isac Lundestrom was no exception, putting up over a third of a Point Per Game in the SHL this season.
Players like him go on to become NHL players very often, meaning that he has a substantially high floor as a player. The more concerning issue is his ceiling, considering he doesn’t have the greatest skating stride or dynamic puck skills like other players you’ll see in the Top 15. Some scouts see him as a third line player, but with his size, defensive responsibility, and ability to play the middle of the ice, I see a player who could become a second line centre.
How high you have Lundestrom ranked will come down to whether:
- You think he can play centre, and
- You think he projects to be a second or third line player
The way I see it, if we’re going to consider Jesperi Kotkaniemi a centre (who took 43 faceoffs this year), we should consider Lundestrom a centre, given his size, defensive game, and success playing in a men’s league. I also tend to be a bit higher on his upside than most, which is why I have him in my Top 15.
Brady Tkachuk, 6’3 LW, Boston University-NCAA
It’s important to note that this isn’t a mock draft – because I think it’s very likely that Tkachuk gets selected in the Top 5. The reason I don’t have him ranked that high is because, personally, I don’t see a player with first line upside. He has all the tools to be an excellent complimentary player (much like his brother), but he doesn’t have the high-end skill or scoring ability of players like Zadina or Wahlstrom.
When you look at players who scored at the rate that Tkachuk did in college, it definitely isn’t a very inspiring list for a player who’s widely touted as a Top 5 talent.
This tends to confirm what my eye-test sees with Tkachuk, in that we’re probably looking at a second line winger. Now, when you #WatchTheGames, you’ll definitely see a player who has a much higher than 37% chance of becoming an NHLer, but what you have to ask yourself is if you’re willing to spend a Top 10 (or Top 5) pick on a player who’s probably going to top out as a second line winger. Personally, I wouldn’t, which is why I have Tkachuk ranked outside my Top 10.
Ryan Merkley, 5’11 RHD, Guelph, OHL
Again, this is obviously not a mock draft (Merkley is probably going to slip into the 20s, maybe even the second round), but I have a hard time ranking him any lower than this considering his talent. His edges are out of this world, he has the best puck skills among draft eligible defencemen not named Rasmus Dahlin, and combines it with some of the best vision I’ve ever seen from a teenage defenceman.
He can flat-out make plays that other defencemen can’t make.
Ryan Merkley is a human highlight reel pic.twitter.com/mNJ0tmgFWD
— Kevin Papetti (@KPapetti) March 2, 2018
Now, you probably know the other side of the story. He struggles in his own end, gives up on shifts, and is rumoured to have character concerns. I can’t speak to the latter, but it’s pretty safe to say that he’s been terrible defensively. I definitely understand why a lot of scouts fear he’s going to follow in Ryan Murphy and Tony DeAngelo’s footsteps (dominant offensive defenceman in junior who never figures out the defensive side of the game), but if he puts in the effort to improve his game over the next few years, he could become one of the best players from this draft. The question comes down to how likely you think that is.
Too often players are labelled with a “high risk, high reward” label, when in reality they actually have a higher likelihood of becoming NHL players than your traditional “safe” picks. Ryan Merkley is the exception to this – he’s very much a boom-or-bust prospect. It will be very interesting to see which team takes a chance on his talent.
Evan Bouchard, 6’2 RHD, London, OHL
Evan Bouchard might’ve just had the best statistical season we’ve ever seen from a draft eligible CHL defenceman. He generated shots like a maniac (more than Svechnikov), scored at an absurd rate (more than Veleno), quarterbacked his team’s power play, killed penalties, and faced top competition, all while captaining the London Knights. This is a draft eligible defenceman we’re talking about.
As a stats nerd, how could I possibly justify not having him in my Top 10 after a year like that? Well, for one he’s quite old (a month away from being part of the 2017 Draft), but what concerns me most is his skating (as you’ll hear from numerous outlets). I’m not too worried about the fact that he doesn’t “wow” you when you watch him play – neither does Anton Stralman and he’s still extremely effective – but I do wonder how Bouchard’s skating will translate to the next level.
We’ve seen quite a few defencemen who dominate at lower levels but can’t quite keep up when the game gets faster (ie. TJ Brennan in the NHL, Andrew Nielsen in the AHL). This is a legitimate concern for Bouchard, but he plays such an efficient game that it might not end up mattering too much, especially if he hires someone like Barb Underhill to fix his some of the issues with his lateral movement and first-step quickness.
Vitali Kravtsov, 6’3 RW, Traktor-KHL
I’ll make this quick. He’s 6’3, has great hands in tight, is a smooth skater, and scored at a higher rate than these guys:
KHL PPG in their Draft Year (Season & Playoffs)
Just throwing that out there ?
— Ian Tulloch (@regressIan) May 4, 2018
It boggled my mind that he was ranked outside of the first round in most scouting services for the majority of this season, but after his hot playoff run with Traktor, he’s been soaring up draft boards. Bob McKenzie’s final draft rankings have him 12th overall, which I think is a much more fair assessment of his talent (consider the fact that he was ranked 39th in January).
K’Andre Miller, 6’3 LHD, USA U18 Team-USHL
A 6’3 defenceman with underwhelming point production isn’t typically someone I’d rank this high, but when you look beneath the surface, you’ll find a lot to like about K’Andre Miller. He wasn’t given much power play time, but he was absolutely dominant at even strength, putting up the most 5v5 Points Per Game among USNTDP defencemen in the last decade.
Now, some of this is probably a bit inflated by playing with elite talent (ie. Jack Hughes, Oliver Wahlstrom, not to mention Joel Farabee), but it’s worth noting that the other defencemen on this list also got to play with star players. Another component of Miller’s game that stands out is his defensive play. He’s an excellent skater for his size and does a tremendous job controlling his gaps, allowing the fewest percentage of controlled zone entries among defencemen in Mitch Brown’s tracking project.
As you can see, Miller was the stand-out defenceman at even strength. If he’d been given power play time, we might be talking about a Point Per Game defenceman.
Based on his impressive statistical profile and fantastic tools, I don’t think it’s a stretch to compare him to Noah Dobson. He’s a big defenceman with a long reach (6’7 wingspan) who can skate, control his gaps, move the puck, defend in his own zone, and produce points at an elite rate at even strength.
I’m not sure what else you could ask for in a defensive prospect.
Martin Kaut, 6’2 RW, Pardubice-Czech Extraliga
I have an affinity for prospects who can produce in a men’s league, mainly because we have a huge sample of evidence that indicates it’s a great predictor of NHL success. In Kaut, you have a player who scored at a higher rate in the Czech professional league than Martin Necas (12th overall in 2017) and Filip Chytil (2first overall in 2017), although it’s worth noting he is a few months older than those two were in their draft year.
Any time a player can produce like this in a league as difficult as the Czech Extraliiga (which my research indicates is comparable to the Finnish Liiga), they tend to be well worth a pick in the Top 20.
Nils Lundkvist, 5’11 RHD, Lulea-SHL
One of my favourite players in this year’s class, Nils Lundkvist is a smooth-skating RHD who excels at moving the puck up the ice. He still needs to improve his defensive game, but he’s looked poised at the SHL level for such a young player. When you compare his production to Erik Brannstrom (who went 15th overall last year), the two are nearly identical.
Despite having similar tools and production to Brannstrom, Lundkvist is projected to go in the second round. Personally, I don’t see a drastic difference between the two players, which is why I have Lundkvist ranked in the teens as well this year.
Calen Addison, 5’10 RHD, Lethbridge-WHL
In 2016, there was a 5’9 defenceman with high-end puck skills who could skate like the wind. He dominated the CHL in his draft year (scoring over a Point Per Game), but slipped into the second round because of concerns about his size and defensive play. That player’s name was Sam Girard.
I’ve been telling anyone who’s willing to listen that Calen Addison is the right-handed Sam Girard. He’s far from perfect defensively, but he’s an excellent puck-mover who can take over games in the offensive zone.
He also provides incredible value on the power play. In fact, I think there’s an argument to be made that he’s the best power play quarterback among draft eligible defencemen, and that includes Dahlin. Players who produce like Addison tend to be safe bets at becoming Top 4 NHL defencemen, so despite his “risky” label, I’d be more than willing to take a chance on a player with his talent.
Here are the WHL leaders in points per game as an under-18 defenceman. Once again, this is since the '06-07 season.
Ty Smith and Calen Addison are putting up amazing numbers. pic.twitter.com/FYRKdzi95n
— Kevin Papetti (@KPapetti) March 6, 2018
Rasmus Kupari, 6’2 C, C, Karpat-Liiga
Rasmus Kupari was actually ranked well ahead of his fellow countryman, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, for most of the year, but after the latter went on an absolute tear, Kupari’s settled into the teens/early 20s in most draft rankings. He has excellent speed and great puck skills, but he didn’t produce anywhere near the level that Kotkaniemi did in the Finnish professional league this season.
With that being said, he’s still one heck of a player, and he’s a lot bigger than most people realize (measuring in at 6’2, 189lbs at the combine). What’s interesting is that he actually has more professional experience at centre than Kotkaniemi (winning 50.4% of his 272 faceoffs in the Finnish men’s league, compared to Kotkaniemi’s 44.2% in just 43 facoeffs). This isn’t to say he’s the superior player, but I think his ability to play in the middle ice is being understated.
In a centre-light draft, a speedy, skilled centre like Kupari shouldn’t have to wait too long before his name gets called.
Jonatan Berggren, 5’10 RW, Skelleftea J20, SuperElit
Remember when I said Lundkvist was one of my favourite players in this year’s class? Berggren is my favourite player in this year’s class. He absolutely tore up the Swedish junior league (SuperElit) by taking over games in so many ways. He’s an elusive player with great puck skills, but it’s his ability to get into the dirty areas and win one-on-one battles that separates him from your typical 5’10 skilled winger. Think Viktor Arvidsson or Andreas Johnsson – he plays like he doesn’t realize he’s small, and I absolutely love it.
He’s a zone-entry machine in transition, a creative passer in the offensive zone, and can beat goalies from distance with his excellent wrist shot. He’s the full package offensively, even when he doesn’t have the puck. When you consider the fact that 100% of his statistical comparables have gone on to become successful NHL players, you’re looking at one heck of a safe bet in Berggren. Given that Bob McKeznie has him ranked 36th, someone’s going to get quite the steal in the late first/early second when Berggren slips to them.
Dominik Bokk, 6’1 RW, Vaxjo J20-SuperElit
You can take a lot of what I just said about Berggren and apply it to Bokk. He performed really well in the Swedish junior league and didn’t look out of place in his SHL stint (where he broke the 0.09 PPG barrier, meeting the requirements for The 51% Rule). His puck skills are actually much better than Berggren’s in my opinion, but his production wasn’t in the same stratosphere, which is why I have Bokk slightly behind him.
There’s an argument to be made that Bokk could be the biggest wildcard in this draft (not named Ryan Merkley), since we’ve only seen him play in a well-known league for 14 games. As Corey Pronman pointed out, he’s dominated every league he’s played in dating back to his days in Germany. With his dynamic skill, it’s very possible those skills will translate to him lighting it up and the SHL level, and maybe even the NHL level. He could be this year’s David Pastrnak, which has a lot of scouts placing him high on their lists (ie. 8th in Pronman’s final rankings and 11th in Cam Robinson’s)
Jake Wise, 5’10 C, USA U18 Team-USHL
Someone’s going to have to explain to me why Jake Wise is widely considered a second round talent, because as Adam Herman pointed out, he produced at an elite rate this season.
He was battling injuries at the beginning of the year, but since returning his production was elite. He may not have game-changing speed or dynamic puck skills, but he’s a smart, two-way centre who can create offence for his teammates and be the first man back defensively. He’s a guy you want on the ice in all situations; penalty kill; powerplay; when you’re down by a goal late; when you’re protecting a lead.
I think he’d be a very Wise choice for a team in the late first round…you can stop reading now.
Ty Dellandrea, 6’0 C, Flint-OHL
I remember Bobby Cappucino asked me why I was such a big fan of a player who only put up 59 Points in 67 Games. I responded by saying I loved what I saw when I watched him: a fast, two-way centre who can create for his teammates. He also stood out to me at the U18s, where he often looked like Canada’s most dangerous forward.
I knew that wouldn’t be enough for Bobby, though, so I went digging for some data. It turns out that in the games Mitch Brown tracked, Dellandrea was elite at generating shots, scoring chances, and zone entries (which doesn’t surprise me).
This is obviously a small sample, but it speaks to the fact that everything ran through Dellandrea on a terrible Flint team. He did everything he could to carry the puck up the ice and generate chances in the offensive zone, but there’s only so much one player can do. Other than his 21-year-old teammate (Maurizio Colella), Dellandrea was essentially a one-man team.
It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Dellandrea was a victim of a terrible on-ice shooting percentage, especially when you look at the lack of scoring talent surrounding him. He’s a great example of a player whose box score stats don’t tell the whole story.
Barrett Hayton, 6’1 C, Sault St. Marie-OHL
I think Hayton’s an excellent defensive centre, but I have him ranked lower than most public rankings because, personally, I don’t see the offensive upside that would make him worthy of a Top 20 pick. Coaches love him because of his relentless motor, defensive responsibility, and he consistently makes the “safe” play, but I want to see first round talents to do more than just chip-and-chase the puck.
Players who produced like Hayton in their draft year are far from safe bets to become NHL players (only doing so about 36% of the time), and when they do they typically become second or third line players. This is part of the reason I’m not as high on Hayton; I’m not sold on him becoming an NHL player, and I’m not even sure if I see a second line centre ceiling.
After about pick 25, most draft picks tend to have roughly the same value, which is why I wouldn’t have a problem taking a flier on Hayton in the late first, but I have a feeling a team is going to take him in the Top 15 of the draft and come to regret it a few years from now.
Rasmus Sandin, 5’11 LHD, Sault Ste. Marie-OHL
Sandin might’ve had the quietest 0.88 PPG draft year I’ve ever seen from an OHL defencemen.
Rasmus Sandin is an interesting name to watch at the end of the first. His scoring production is awfully impressive for an U18 OHL D.
He played on SWE's top pair with Boqvist at the Hlinka. He's 5'11, quick skater, pass-first, but not overly physical. Going to OHL final w SSM pic.twitter.com/XX7drA2G7V
— Kevin Papetti (@KPapetti) May 1, 2018
He’s in a tier with a bunch of elite players, yet no one seems to be talking about him, which I think is the perfect microcosm of his game. He’s such an efficient player, making smart, subtle decisions throughout the course of the game that you may not notice, but help tilt the ice in his team’s favour.
Joel Farabee, 6’0 LW, USA U18 Team-USHL
I tend to be a lot lower on Joel Farabee than most, in that I don’t see a winger with high-end puck skills or skating ability. He’s a solid offensive player, but personally, I think he tops out as a second line winger, which isn’t nearly as valuable as a second line centre or second pairing defenceman (ie. players I have ranked ahead of him).
If he was able to play in the middle of the ice, that would certainly increase his value, but based on my viewings of him, I’ve actually come away more impressed with Jake Wise (who can play centre). Farabee has a lot of tools that are going to make him an effective complimentary player at the next level, which certainly has value, but personally, I’m not convinced he’s worthy of a Top 15 pick.
Serron Noel, 6’5 RW, Oshawa-OHL
I always get worried when I see someone who’s 6’5 gets ranked in the first round. We’ve seen enough Jared Cowens and Frederik Gauthiers to know that size isn’t enough to overcome a player’s inability to skate or handle a hockey puck. Serron Noel doesn’t fit that description. He’s a smooth skater with some nice hands, but what blows me away is his vision on the ice. He makes passes that most players won’t make, regardless of their size.
— OntarioHockeyLeague (@OHLHockey) January 13, 2018
I’ve never been someone who thinks that size doesn’t matter, but I’ve found that it’s often overvalued relative to puck skills, skating, and point production. When it comes to Noel, though, I think he’s a great example of a tall player who rightfully belongs in the first round. I’m a big fan of his tools, and when you look at his statistical comparables, you’re looking at a pretty safe bet to become an NHL player (roughly a 48% chance).
I don’t think he has first line upside, but I could definitely see him providing second line value if he reaches his potential. You won’t see me praising too many giant prospects (ie. Kevin Bahl) since I find most of them to be overvalued, but Noel combines his size with some great tools and impressive point production. Consider me a big fan of his game.
Grigori Denisenko, 5’11 LW, Yaroslavl-MHL
No player in this draft frustrates me more than Grigori Denisenko. When you watch him play, you’ll see a blazing fast skater with high-end skill.
— Russian Prospects (@RUSProspects) March 15, 2018
Then you’ll look at his point production this season, and quite frankly, it’s awful for a player who’s expected to get drafted in the first round (0.71 PPG in the MHL, Russia’s junior league). As much as I love his offensive talent, it’s quite concerning that he isn’t scoring at such a low level. To quote Brad Pitt in Moneyball, “if he’s a good hitter, why doesn’t he hit good?”
His success at the international level has given me reason to believe that he performs better with talented linemates. Combine that with his tantilizing skill, and I was able to talk myself into getting him in the first round. With that being said, I wouldn’t feel comfortable using a Top 20 pick on a player who hasn’t been able to produce at the junior level.
Alexander Alexeyev, 6’3 LHD, Red Deer-WHL
It’s not too often a 6’3 defenceman becomes an analytics darling, but here we are.
Players who produced at the rate Alexeyev did (at his size) tend to become NHL defencemen more often than not (53% of the time). He’s a defensively responsible player who can make a solid first pass, kill penalties, and even chip in on the power play if you need him to (although I’m not sure his skillset in that area will translate to the NHL level).
At the end of the day, you’re not going to find a much safer bet outside of the Top 15 than Alexeyev, especially on defence.
Akil Thomas, 6’0 C, Niagara-OHL
I’ve found that Akil Thomas has been quite a divisive player. Some scouts have him firmly inside their Top 20, while others have him in the second round. Quite boringly, I fall somewhere in between. I’m a fan of his skillset and the tenacity he brings on the ice. Combine that with his solid point production, and you have an intriguing forward prospect.
Statistically, Thomas appears to be a safe bet (since most players outside the Top 15 have below a 40% chance of becoming NHL players), which is why I find it so strange that I’m not completely sold on him. I’m not sure if he projects to be a centre or winger at the next level; I’m not sure if he has second line or third line ceiling – I’m just not sure about him, but I know that he’s a talented player, which is why I have him at the tail end of my first round.
Ryan McLeod, 6’2 C, Mississauga-OHL
Watching Ryan McLeod play, I feel like he’s almost guaranteed to become an NHL player. We don’t have great ways of quantifying this, but anytime you have a 6’2, 205lb centre who could step into the NHL today and be one of the fastest 30 players in the league, you have a guy whose worst-case scenario is probably a penalty killing 4C. The question I have with him is what the “best-case scenario” is. I know a lot of scouts see a player who could become a second line centre, but personally, I think he has a third-line ceiling.
Nicolas Beaudin, 5’11 LHD, Drumondville-QMJHL
Player X is Sam Girard, Player Y is Nicolas Beaudin. Both players have incredible speed and puck skills; both had defensive and size concerns heading into the draft; both were ranked in the second round by Bob McKenzie’s final draft rankings; both are a victim of size bias and should probably be a lot more valued given the modern game’s emphasis on speed and puck-moving ability.
Jacob Olofsson, 6’2 C, Timra-Allsvenskan
I’ve brought up The 51% Rule, but there’s also a 33% Rule – any player with at least 0.09 PPG in the Allsvenskan in their draft year goes on to become an NHL player about 33% of the time. Olofsson smashed that bar this season (0.49 PPG) and has some great puck skills. He’s not the greatest skater in the world, but he’s a pretty solid bet to become a middle-6 centre, which would represent good value in the late first/early second.
Johnny Tychonick, 6’0 LHD, Penticton-BCHL
Phenomenal skater who plays the modern game. For anyone worried about Tychonick feasting on weak competition in the BCHL, he looked great at the U18s, and was probably Canada’s best puck-moving defenceman not named Ty Smith (or Ryan Merkley).
Kirill Marchenko, 6’3 RW, Khtanty-Mansiysk-MHL
6’3 forward with speed, skill, and finishing touch. There’s a lot to like about a guy who can make plays like these on a consistent basis.
— Hockey Guy (@FlyingSkate94) April 22, 2018
Cam Hillis, 5’10 C, Guelph-OHL
Speedy, skilled centre who can play in all situations. One of the draft’s most underrated playmakers.
He’s a guy you want on the ice.
Filip Hallander, 5’11 LW, Timra-Allsvenskan.
The winger version of Jacob Olofsson.
David Gustaffson, 6’1 C, HV71-SHL
If Ryan Merkley’s a ‘High Ceiling, Low Floor’ prospect, then David Gustaffson’s a ‘Low Ceiling, High Floor’ prospect. He played really well in the Swedish professional league as a teenager (meeting The 51% Rule), which means he’s an incredibly safe bet to become an NHL player. The issue with him is that he probably tops out as a third line centre. If you want a player who can likely fill that role for your team in a couple years, you take him in a heartbeat. If you want a prospect who offers more upside, you’re probably better off taking a chance on a more skilled player.
Allan McShane, 5’11 C, Oshawa-OHL
Incredibly smart, skilled centre who struggles with his skating. Many were disappointed with his season after his impressive 2016-17 campaign, but he has the talent to become a second line centre if he can commit defensively and improve his skating. One of the draft’s most dangerous players in the offensive zone.
Niklas Nordgren, 5’9 RW, HIFK-Jr. A Liiga
A 5’9 winger who doesn’t have the greatest skating stride, but everything else about his game is elite. High-end puck skills, creative playmaking ability in the offensive zone, and absolutely ridiculous point production in the Finnish junior league. If Alex Debrincat’s taught us anything, it’s that height is just a number. When you have a small kid with this kind of talent, history’s taught us that you should take a chance on him.
Aidan Dudas, 5’7 C, Owen Sound-OHL
Speaking of taking a chance on smaller players, Aidan Dudas is one of the shortest prospects in the draft at 5’7, but he’s also one of the fastest and most skilled players. Throw in the fact that he’s an excellent penalty killer, and you have a really intriguing prospect that you can probably snag at the end of the second round. If there was ever going to be a Tyler Johnson or Johnny Gaudreau to come out of this class, Dudas would be the guy.
Bode Wilde, 6’2 RHD, USA U18 Team-USHL
6’2 RHD with fantastic tools, but remember that Moneyball quote – “if he’s a good hitter, why doesn’t he hit good?” I tend to ask myself that about Bode Wilde. He’s billed as an offensive defenceman with huge upside, yet he only produced 5 power play points on a unit that had Jack Hughes, Oliver Wahlstrom, and Joel Farabee. I also have concerns about his 5-on-5 play.
Much like Grigori Denisenko, I see the talent and understand why scouts are higher on Wilde than his numbers would suggest, but I wouldn’t be comfortable using a Top 25 pick on a player who couldn’t produce at the USHL level despite playing with elite scorers.
Cole Fonstad, 5’10 LW, Prince Albert-WHL
An analytics wet dream, Fonstad is a skilled player who produced extremely well in the WHL for a draft eligible player. His statistical comparables went on to become NHL players over 30% of the time, making him a solid bet to make beyond the first round.
Jett Woo, 6’0 RHD, Moose Jaw-WHL
Smart two-way defenceman who produced incredibly well to start the year, then saw his production plummet later in the season, but most of that can be attributed to his team acquiring Kale Clague at the deadline and giving him PP1 duties down the stretch. Players don’t get to choose their usage, so we shouldn’t punish Jett Woo too much for getting displaced by one of the best defencemen in the CHL, especially considering how great his transition play was at even strength this season.
The question comes down to whether or not you think he has Top 4 upside, but I think given the evolution of the game and scarcity of quality RHD at the NHL level, he has a shot.
Ruslan Iskhakov, 5’8 RW, CSKA-MHL
A tiny player with ridiculous skill. One of the best playmakers in this year’s draft, but he’s going to slide down draft boards because of his size. In a league where speed & skill is the name of the game, Iskhakov is well worth the risk in my opinion. He probably doesn’t pan out (like most second or third round picks), but if he does, he has huge upside.
Jesse Ylonen, 6’0 RW, Espoo-Mestis
Speedy, skilled player who can make plays in the offensive zone. It’s tough to know what to make of his production in the Mestis (Finland’s AHL if you will), but definitely an interesting prospect to keep an eye on.
Jack McBain, 6’3 C, Toronto-OJHL
With his skating ability at his size, he has the tools to become a Top 6 centre if he’s able to put everything together, but he didn’t exactly dominate the OJHL (Junior A) this season, which I find quite concerning – “if he’s a good hitter, why doesn’t he hit good?” He’s more of a project that you’ll have to let marinate in the NCAA for a few years, but if he’s able to reach his ceiling, you’re looking at a centre who could play in the top half of your lineup one day.
Johnny Gruden, 5’11 LW, USA U18 Team-USHL
Ridiculous point production in the USHL this season, but how much of it was a result of playing with Oliver Wahlstrom and Joel Farabee? If you’re convinced he was a passenger, you probably don’t think he’s worth a second or third round pick. If you’re higher on his skillset (like me), you see a solid two-way player who could potentially provide great value.
Sean Durzi (Overager), 6’0 RHD, Owen Sound, OHL
Durzi should have been drafted last year, and now 31 teams are going to be tripping over themselves trying to make up for their mistake.
Players who produced like Durzi did in his D+1 year go on to become NHL players extremely often (~48% of the time), making him an incredible value pick in the second round (or maybe later depending on how far he slips because of the “overager” label).
- Jakub Lauko, 6’0 LW, Chomutov-Czech Extraliga
- Marcus Westfalt, 6’3 C, Brynas-SHL
- Jack Drury, 5’11 C, Waterloo-USHL
- Filip Kral, 6’0 LHD, Spokane-WHL
- Adam Mascherin (Overager), 5’9 LW, Kitchener-OHL
- Jared McIsaac, 6’1 LHD, Halifax-QMJHL
- Jerry Turkulainen (Overager), 5’7 RW, JYP-Liiga
- Axel Andersson, 6’0 RHD, Djugarden J20-SuperElit
- Mattias Samuelsson, 6’4 LHD, USA U18 Team-USHL
- Bulat Shafigullan, 6’1 LW, Reaktor-MHL
- Albin Eriksson, 6’4 RW, Skelleftea J20-SuperElit
- Linus Karlsson, 6’1 C, Karlskrona J20-SuperElit
- Liam Foudy, 6’0 C, London-OHL
- Philipp Kurashev, 6’0 C, Qubec-QMJHL
- Simon Johansson, 6’2 RHD, Djurgarden J20-SuperElit
- Marcus Karlberg, 5’8 RW, Leksands J20-SuperElit
- David Lilja, 5’11 C, Karlskoga-Allsvenskan
- Linus Nyman (Overager), 5’10 W, Kingston-OHL
- Adam Samuelsson, 6’5 LHD, USA U18 Team-USHL
- Jan Jenik, 6’1 RW, Benatky-Czech 2
- Nando Eggenberger, 6’2 LW, Davos-NLA
- Nathan Dunkley, 5’11 C, London-OHL
- Sampo Ranta, 6’2 LW, Sioux City-USHL
- Spencer Stastney, 5’11 LHD, USA U18 Team-USHL
- Dmitry Zavgorodniy, 5’9 LW, Rimouski-QMJHL
- Blade Jenkins, 6’1 LW, Saginaw-OHL
- Oskar Back, 6’2 C, Farjestad J20-SuperElit
- Kody Clark, 6’1 RW, Ottawa-OHL
- Alexander Khovanov, 5’11 C, Moncton-QMJHL
- Alex Steeves, 5’11 LW, USHL
- Blake McLaughlin, 6’0 LW, Chicago-USHL
- Mikhail Shalagin, 6’3 RW, Spartak-MHL
- Jacob Bernard-Docker, 6’0 RHD, Okotoks-AJHL
- Stanislav Demin, 6’2 LHD, Wenatchee-BCHL
- Benoit Olivier-Groulx, 6’1 C, Halifax, QMJHL
- Milos Roman, 6’0 C, Vancouver-WHL
- Semyon Der-Arguchintsev, 5’10 C, Peterborough-OHL
- Kyle Topping, 5’11 C, Kelowna-WHL
- Jakub Skarek, 6’3 G, Dukla-Czech 2
- Jacob Ragnarsson, 6’0 LHD, Almtuna-Allsvenskan
- Adam Ginning, 6’3 LHD, Linkoping-SHL
- Gabriel Fortier, 5’10 LW, Baie-Comeau-QMJHL
- Anderson MacDonald, 6’2 LW, Moncton-QMJHL
- Lukas Wernblom, 5’9 LW, MODO J20-SuperElit
- Lauri Pajuniemi (Overager), 6’2 RW, TPS-Liiga
- Samuel Fagemo, 5’11 RW, Frolunda J20-SuperElit
- Yegor Sokolov, 6’4 RW, Cape Breton-QMJHL
- Toni Utunen, 5’11 LHD, LeKi-Mestis
- Martin Fehérváry, 6’2 LHD, Oskarhamn-Allsvenskan
- Veini Vehvilainen (Overager), 6’0 G, Karpat-Liiga
Enjoy the draft weekend everyone!
MLN Draft #Content
Founded in 1950, Sports Excellence Corporation represents over 150 family-owned independent hockey retailers across Canada and the United States. Our highly knowledgeable hockey specialists are available to assist all your equipment needs. Find your closest Sports Excellence retailer here: Find a location near you!