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With the Stanley Cup Finals underway, we have the order of the first 29 selections of the NHL Draft sorted out. With Vegas leading and me being generally aware of how this NHL season has gone, I’m making the bold leap and putting Vegas at 31 and Washington at 30.
This version of the mock draft is a full first round, as opposed to the first attempt at a mock which I wrote just after the lottery results were announced and stopped at the 16th pick with Colorado. Consider this a more thorough attempt at figuring out the puzzle that is the first round this year. There are some significant changes from the first attempt and a few picks that stayed pretty similar. Enjoy!
1. Buffalo Sabres – Rasmus Dahlin, D, Frolunda (SHL)
This is a surefire home run for an organization that badly needs one. They should they had a smash with Jack Eichel as the consolation prize in the Connor McDavid sweepstakes but his inability to stay healthy early on has held him back from achieving the kind of dominant success expected of him. Dahlin is a no-brainer at the top of this draft as he ran away from the pack as the top prospect this year. Expect Dahlin in the NHL right away and for him to work his way to their top pairing in time. He is the franchise defenseman the moribund Sabres have desperately needed.
2. Carolina Hurricanes – Andrei Svechnikov, RW, Barrie (OHL)
I’m still not sure Carolina will take Svechnikov over Zadina because of the Czech connection with Martin Necas but I have them avoiding the temptation to get cute here and taking the best player available. I think Svechnikov is actually a little underrated as I think he has every bit the ability of a guy like Patrik Laine but significantly higher hockey IQ and more all-around upside. There isn’t anything this guy can’t do at a very high level. He’s a special prospect.
3. Montreal Canadiens – Jesperi Kotkaniemi, C, Assat (Liiga)
This is where I’m sure several of you will close out of the page right away and call me crazy. But I think Montreal is desperate for a center and Kotkaniemi’s stock is rising across the league as the draft process continues on. I think Montreal would prefer to move back and better justify taking the Finnish apple of their eye but I don’t see any reason for teams behind them to move up when they know Montreal wants to reach for a center. I think they’ll bite the bullet and simply take the guy at the position they need the most and worry about the rest later. This is a team that needs close to immediate results and Kotkaniemi isn’t far away from the NHL.
4. Ottawa Senators – Filip Zadina, LW, Halifax (QMJHL)
I wanted to be stubborn and stick with my gut and have them draft Boqvist, the same pick they made in my first mock draft, but I moved off my stance and decided to just give them Zadina. Zadina is a great prospect but honestly not a great fit with Ottawa. Between Matt Duchene (who I think stays), Bobby Ryan (good luck trading that contract!), Mike Hoffman, and Mark Stone they have a solid forward corps already in place. Add Zadina alongside other youngsters Colin White and Logan Brown and the Senators are set up nicely over the long haul upfront. Having a second first-round pick this year also makes it easier to just take the best prospect and worry about filling needs later. The Sens’ top need with this pick is “talent”. Zadina fits that bill.
5. Arizona Coyotes – Evan Bouchard, D, London (OHL)
The Coyotes are in a prime position to do whatever the teams in front of them allow. If the board falls this way, Arizona won’t have any issues picking from a great group of defensive prospects. With OEL sounding like he’s staying for another eight years and Jakob Chychrun in place, they have the enviable position of picking between high-end right-handed defenseman. I think Bouchard is the best of the bunch so I have them taking him. This could easily be Dobson or Boqvist and I wouldn’t blink. I would absolutely blink a few times if they took another forward to add to their already extremely young forward group.
6. Detroit Red Wings – Brady Tkachuk, LW, Boston (NCAA)
I’ve been all over them taking one of the defenseman at this spot but looking at their recent draft record (Nine defensemen taken in the last two years!), I’ve decided to look in another direction given they have another large cache of picks this season. Taking Tkachuk isn’t the sexiest pick but he’s a hard-nosed forward who gets it done in all areas of the ice and plays with an edge. I don’t think he has the same offensive upside as brother Matthew but he’ll produce just fine. After one more year of being propped up offensively by future star Shane Bowers at BU, Tkachuk should be on the fast track to the NHL.
7. Vancouver Canucks – Noah Dobson, D, Acadie-Bathurst (QMJHL)
I view the Canucks in a pretty similar position as the Coyotes here. They’ve built a solid young forward corps and there isn’t a home run at the position sitting here anyway so bolster the blueline and move on. Dobson and Olli Juolevi combine to give the Canucks a couple of high-end prospects on the back end. Dobson and Bouchard could very easily be flipped come draft day as the choice will come down to personal preference from the teams doing the selecting.
8. Chicago Blackhawks – Barrett Hayton, C, Sault Ste Marie (OHL)
I’m buying into the hype of Hayton being enamored by the guys doing the decision-making on draft day. My personal feelings about a prospect are irrelevant here and he’s a pretty good fit for the Blackhawks. I’m not looking at him as a long-term replacement for Toews or anything but they could use more help down the middle as their reliance on Marcus Kruger for tough defensive assignments was exposed after they dealt him away and struggled to replace him. With Hayton, they’d get a good stylistic fit who can help take pressure off Toews as he ages from star to secondary player.
9. New York Rangers – Quinn Hughes, D, Michigan (NCAA)
With three selections in the first round this year, the Rangers are in a position to simply rebuild their prospect pipeline going after the best players on the board. After taking two forwards in the first round last year, they go defense here and Hughes is the best man left on the board. The Rangers need some new blood on their defense and the hope is that Hughes follows in the footsteps of fellow Wolverine Zach Werenski.
10. Edmonton Oilers – Adam Boqvist, D, Brynas (SHL)
This is just too easy, right? The Oilers have been hankering for a right-handed defenseman that can move the puck for eons but now they don’t have Taylor Hall to trade to try and pretend like they solved the problem. Instead, they might have to go a different route and just draft one. In this mock, Boqvist drops right to them and probably gets anointed the savior. He could be another Erik Karlsson type or he could be another in a long line of guys who gets compared to Karlsson but isn’t a Hall of Fame talent despite becoming a quality NHL player along the way. My guess is that’s how this probably goes. Boqvist is a high-wire act that is a hell of a lot of fun to watch.
11. New York Islanders – Oliver Wahlstrom, RW, USNTDP (USHL)
Somebody has to slip outside the top 10 with Hayton sneaking his way in and Wahlstrom is that guy. The Islanders could have gone with the easy D/F combination but with Wahlstrom still there it’s easy to get out of the way and just take the sniper. While they still have Kieffer Bellows hanging around the system, more goal scoring ability is never a bad thing. Combined with Veleno they have an outstanding boost to their forward prospects in about 10 minutes.
12. New York Islanders (from Calgary) – Joe Veleno, C, Drummondville (QMJHL)
After taking Smith, they add Veleno down the middle as insurance in case John Tavares leaves. If JT stays, Veleno would give them a formidable Tavares-Barzal-Veleno trio down the middle if they want it. They could just as easily slide Barzal to a wing and let him build on his incredible rookie season. Veleno’s speed and two-way ability would be an excellent addition to the Isles offense down the road.
13. Dallas Stars – Grigori Denisenko, LW, Loko Yaroslavl (MHL)
This just feels like such a Stars selection. They have used their first-round selections on players with great physical attributes who haven’t put it all together as hockey players several straight years. Denisenko is another swing-for-the-fences style selection in my eyes. Not a lot is known about his intentions of coming to North America but his skill level says he has a top six future if he fulfills his vast potential. Dallas needs forward help so they stick to their history and go big.
14. Philadelphia Flyers (from St. Louis) Joel Farabee, LW, USNTDP (USHL)
Like the Stars taking Denisenko, Farabee to the Flyers just feels like an excellent selection based on history and identity. Farabee is a maniacal worker who I think outproduces his raw talent with an endless motor and relentless drive to be great. He’s had the good fortune of excellent linemates to help his production shine but I think teams scouting him will see there are some limitations there. He’s an all-situation winger who seems a safe bet to make the NHL eventually.
15. Florida Panthers – Rasmus Kupari, C, Karpat (Liiga)
This is an impossible organization to pin down. Their direction seems to be completely random and their direction on draft day is unpredictable as it gets. They’ve had plenty of success with Finnish prospects in recent years (Barkov, Borgstrom, Heponiemi) and Kupari is another high-skill forward option for them to consider here. There isn’t an obvious defenseman in this spot otherwise I would have looked there first.
16. Colorado Avalanche – K’Andre Miller, D, USNTDP (USHL)
This is kind of a mini-disaster for the Avalanche. Any of the forwards taken in the four picks ahead of them would be defensible and quality selections for the Avs. Instead, they’re all gone and there isn’t a really obvious fit here. The guys I really considered outside of Miller were Thomas and Kaut but felt like Miller’s upside ultimately won out. Defense isn’t a huge need for them anymore and I get that. The forwards available here are just as much of a dice roll as Miller is and I love Miller’s upside.
I think he’s the kind of stud two-way defenseman that could blossom into something special in the NHL and his combination of size, skill, and poise is very impressive for a player who has only been playing the position for two years. He’s a lefty, too, so he can be a long-term answer with Zadorov and Girard already entrenched in the NHL. It’s more of a luxury pick but with two second rounders this year and five picks in the top three rounds next year, the Avs can afford one home run swing at the defense before focusing on rebuilding their forward pipeline.
17. New Jersey Devils – Dominik Bokk, RW, Vaxjo (Superelit)
New Jersey is a team that needs a little bit of everything but has not been shy about taking chances. Bokk is a guy some people absolutely love because of his impressive skill level. Others have significant questions about his all-around game and his head for the game. Maturity is a serious question here but I love the upside and think the Devils would benefit from more high-end talent at the forward position. Their deep connections to USA Hockey could easily see them prefer Wilde if he’s still on the board.
18. Columbus Blue Jackets – Bode Wilde, D, USNTDP (USHL)
Columbus is another team that is in a position to draft whatever they fancy. They have young talent at forward and defense playing big minutes in the NHL already. They don’t need to necessarily mine for star players here and hope they land one. They can go the safer route but with a guy like Wilde still sitting on the board, the Blue Jackets pounce on his potential and roll the dice he turns into a star. He’s another right-handed D in this draft class that skates well and moves the puck well. With Jones and Werenski already here, they can be patient with his potential.
19. Philadelphia Flyers – Martin Kaut, RW, Pardubice (Extraliga)
The Flyers take a big-bodied forward with their second selection of the first round and really add some serious pop to their pipeline. With Farabee and Kaut they have two-thirds of a really talented line down the road. Kaut had an impressive year in the Czech Republic’s top pro league. He’s a good shooter with a solid all-around game that has a bright future ahead of him.
20. Los Angeles Kings – Akil Thomas, C, Niagara (OHL)
The Kings sit tight and for the second straight year add a solid OHL prospect. While Gabe Vilardi was a picture perfect fit as a future King last year, Thomas is a bit outside of their normal wheelhouse but he represents the kind of skating the organization needs more of. He’s a solid forward prospect whose position is undetermined for now but has the potential to be the steal of this draft if he maximizes his talent.
21. San Jose Sharks – Ty Smith, D, Spokane (WHL)
Smith is the big faller here and that jives with some feeling from around the league. He’s a guy with a ton of skill but something feels incomplete about his game. The Sharks benefit from everyone looking for answers elsewhere and they just take Smith and hope he proves everyone wrong. He’s an elite skater who does a lot of things well but his poor performances internationally have left a sour taste for evaluators.
22. Ottawa Senators (from Pittsburgh) – Jared McIsaac, D, Halifax (QMJHL)
Ottawa has an impressive cadre of forwards and adding Zadina earlier meant they were going to look defense here. McIsaac is a solid prospect who projects to be a reliable pro. He’s not overly dynamic and that has steadily moved him down the board this year as dynamic small stars have taken over this year’s draft board. McIsaac is kind of in a class of his own as he’s good offensively and stable defensively but he just isn’t dynamic like the guys taken in front of him. He’s simply a good all-around young player. He’s a “safe” pick for sure and Ottawa desperately needs to get this one right.
23. Anaheim Ducks – Isac Lundestrom, C, Lulea (SHL)
Lundestrom is the kind of solid all-around talent the Ducks feast on come draft day. They let the draft come to them and just take good prospects. Lundestrom isn’t sexy in any single area but he’s good all-around and seems a safe bet to make the NHL in due time. He’s a confident kid who excels in all three zones but he isn’t much of an agitator and opposing players don’t loathe his existence so he may not be a natural fit in Anaheim.
24. Minnesota Wild – Ryan McLeod, C, Mississauga (OHL)
I wanted Kravtsov here but Minnesota has never selected a Russian in the first round and new GM Paul Fenton can’t afford to miss on his first selection running a team. McLeod is a safe center prospect who should have a quick ascent to the NHL as he’s defensively mature already. With the Wild dealing with significant cap issues, McLeod on an ELC would be good value for a team that desperately needs to find some. It may not happen immediately and it isn’t the highest upside pick but Fenton can take McLeod knowing he’s getting an NHL player at a position of need.
25. Toronto Maple Leafs – Vitali Kravtsov, C, Chelyabinsk (KHL)
Toronto fears nothing and no one and they swing for the fences with Kravtsov. He had a phenomenal playoff run and rocketed himself up draft boards from a likely second-round pick to potentially being picked in the middle of the first. Toronto hasn’t shied away from going with high-upside players over conventional wisdom in the past and they’ll do so again here.
26. New York Rangers (from Boston) – Serron Noel, RW, Oshawa (OHL)
The Rangers add some serious size to their forward group as Noel is a big body with a bunch of upside. He still has a ton of growing and learning of the game to go but his raw skill is tantalizing, especially at his impressive size. He’s a fun prospect to dream on and with all of these picks, the Rangers can afford to go ham on at least one of them.
27. Chicago Blackhawks (from Nashville) – Ryan Merkley, D, Guelph (OHL)
It’s going to take a strong organization to be the one to step up and take the chance on Merkley’s incredible skill level and well-known immaturity off the ice. His molotov cocktail of a personality has likely placed him on several “DND” lists around the league. I think Chicago is the right kind of organization to take a chance on getting this kid’s head right and reaping the rewards of his top-five caliber of talent. He’s an incredible puck mover and solid in his own end…when he wants to be. The maturity and commitment to the game are enormous question marks and are the only reason he is not going much earlier in this draft class.
28. New York Rangers (from Tampa Bay) – Rasmus Sandin, D, Sault Ste Marie (OHL)
This is a gift for the Rangers as Sandin slips down the board a little bit. He was a secound round guy coming into the season but his steady play for a dominant team elevated his stock into the first round. He’s not going to blow your doors off but he’s certainly a guy that’s going to make your blueline better and the Rangers are all about adding talent. With Hughes and now Sandin, they’ve remade the future of their defense in one very productive day.
29. St. Louis Blues (from Winnipeg) – Ty Dellandrea, C, Flint (OHL)
Dellandrea is a guy with a ton of helium right now and he’s been steadily on the rise throughout the second half of the season. St. Louis is happy to use Winnipeg’s selection to further bolster the center position and make it a true strength of the organization. Dellandrea is a player to watch on draft day who could go even higher than this.
30. Washington Capitals – Jonatan Berggren, RW, Skelleftea (Superelit)
This is a Capitals special. They sit tight and let a very skilled forward fall to them. He’s not a big guy but he plays the kind of up-tempo pace the NHL loves right now and is going to be an excellent fit in this version of the NHL. He has great hands that allow him a high chance of escaping difficult situations with the puck and he’s lightning quick in his process. Combine that with a legitimate commitment to a two-way game and you have an exciting forward prospect who could be another late-first round game breaker for the Caps down the road.
31. Detroit Red Wings (from Vegas) – Jonathan Tychonick, D, Penticton (BCHL)
The Red Wings passed on the temptation of defense earlier on to stop the fall of Tkachuk but here they return to the BCHL, where they took Dennis Cholowski just a few short years ago. Cholowski remains one of their top defensive prospects and Tychonick is one of several intriguing Junior-A prospects this season. He’s undersized but he’s a classic speed merchant on the back end with dynamic skating ability and high-end puckhandling ability. He’s an aggressive playmaker and the Red Wings certainly could use more dynamic talents on their blueline.