Published by hockeybuzz.com, 6-15-2018
31. Washington Capitals--C, Akil Thomas. The cool thing about having 31 teams and releasing a mock draft five teams at a time beginning at the top, is that it leaves the Stanley Cup Champions with their own section. Even in a couple years when Seattle (presumably) expands the league to 32 teams, the last two teams standing will have their own blog using this format.
However, for this year it's about the Caps, and with pick No. 32 belonging to the Buffalo Sabres, a dip into the next round as the Sabres lead off with the first pick in round two.
There were a lot of hockey fans that were happy Washington finally won the Stanley Cup and there were various reasons. There were fans in Washington finally saw their hockey team win a championship after 44 years of frustration, and there was a large contingent who just couldn't stand an expansion team winning the Cup in their first season, despite how driven the Vegas Golden Knights was to even make it to the finals and there were some who wanted to see the greatest goal scorer of his generation, Alex Ovechkin, finally reach the promised land. Some, like myself, were real happy to see a coach like Barry Trotz finally win one as well.
Talent won out in this series as the Golden Knights just couldn't match what the Caps had to offer. Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and company put forth a valiant effort, but the best and most skillful players inevitably break through no matter how unreal a defense and goaltending can be. Credit to the Knights as they kept it tight throughout the series with hard work and some skill of their own, but the momentum that carried them to the finals, although not fully depleted, was not quite enough to overcome the definitive talent discrepancy the Capitals had over Vegas.
Props to the Golden Knights for a great year, to Washington for the championship win and to Capitals greats Rod Langway, Olaf Kolzig, Mike Gartner and Peter Bondra, all of them who were amongst the best at their positions at one time, with Hall of Fame nods to Langway and Gartner, but never reached the promised land.
With the post-Cup parties over and the parade a thing of the past, it's time to move forward and the Caps are jumping right into post season mode with the draft next Friday. Waiting for them at No. 31 is 6'0" 170 lb. Niagara Ice Dogs (OHL) center, Akil Thomas, a highly skilled playmaker whom nearly every draftnik believes should be more selfish. Thomas has the brains and a junkyard dog competitiveness to go along with his skill package and if he fills out his frame in a few years while adding strength, he could be an upper-level, two-way center.
32. Buffalo Sabres. LW, Blake McLaughlin. Although I said this three years ago, I truly hope that the Sabres won't be in this position again. After drafting Jack Eichel second-overall in 2015 it was believed that Buffalo had bottomed out. But they didn't. It ended up being a bounce and they fell right to the bottom again. Something just hasn't been right in Sabreland but the future looks bright, especially since this drop tot the bottom netted them a franchise d-prospect.
However, the Sabres aren't done by any stretch of the imagination and still need to do a ton of work to fill the prospect pool with quality players. It's a tough call between three players for the Sabres and they really cant' go wrong with any of these USHL products. Defenseman K'Andre Miller is a big defenseman who can skate well, has soft hands and a great shot but will be on a long development curve. A sentimental pick would be Jack Drury nephew of former Sabres centerman Chris Drury who's an AGM with the NY Rangers. Drury checks off all the boxes his uncle did with things like compete-level and drive and he also tallied 24 goals and 65 points in in 56 games for the Waterloo Blackhawks.
Waiting for the Sabres at No. 32 is McLaughlin, a player on par with the others but one who also fills a position of need at left wing.
The scoop on the Chicago Steel product is that he flies up and down the ice on a slender 6'0" 157 lb. frame. Sure that's skinny, but he'll have plenty of time to fill out said frame in the proper way as he heads to the University of Minnesota this year.
McLaughlin is a pleasure to watch skating and can beat a defenseman a number of ways. He had 52 points (23+29) in 54 games for the Steel while also tallying three goals and seven points in seven game in the playoffs. He has the vision and a quick release shot that can be deadly. Add 20 lbs. to his frame and he'd probably go somewhere in the middle of the first round. If he can add that weight and not have it affect any part of his game, he should be a real good find in the second round.