Published by hockeybuzz.com, 6-16-2018
The 2018 NHL Entry Draft will be held in Dallas, TX June 22-23 and the Buffalo Sabres have the first-overall pick. Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin is the man and don't let anyone try to tell you anything different. The Carolina Hurricanes made a huge jump at the draft and will select second-overall. It's pretty much a foregone conclusion that the 'Canes will select winger Andrei Svechnikov.
Most believe that the draft begins at No. 3 with the Montreal Canadiens. There's a lot going on in Montreal as GM Marc Bergevin is looking to land a No. 1 center. Unfortunately for them there's a great winger available in in Filip Zadina and another one in Brady Tkachuk with the former very close to being NHL ready if he isn't already there. After those two there's an array of defensemen available in all shapes and sizes.
The draft starts with Dahlin and is followed by the next tier of Svechinkov and Zadina. The next group begins with Tkachuk and stretches down to about No. 8 or 9 with the following 10-20 picks very close. After that there's said to be a large group that goes deep well into the second round where all are very similarly graded.
For Sabres fans in particular, it seems as if there will be some action at or around the draft and the name that at the for is Ryan O'Reilly. It would seem as if his time on Buffalo is done with both he and the Sabres presumably ready to move on. O'Reilly is a top-six center and is a very valuable commodity right now, especially to a team like the Canadiens who do not have a top-six center like him.
Could O'Reilly be traded for the third-overall pick in this year's draft? Maybe. But we didn't go there as we slowly released this mock draft five picks at a time. It's a straight up mock.
1. Buffalo Sabres--LHD, Rasmus Dahlin. Even with the top pick, which happens to be a franchise defensemen, the Buffalo media still feels the need to spend hours fueling an alternative view. Josh Allen isn't a franchise QB, the Bills ain't the Pats, the Sabres ain't the Leafs, and ownership still won't talk to us. The tank, ticket prices, and the ghosts of Ted Black/Russ Brandon, Rex Ryan, Ralph Wilson, Marv Levy, Whaley, Murray, Mularkey, Marrone, Regier, Quinn, Lucic and Rolston are all collectively embedded deep within the bowels of studios and news rooms throughout Buffalo and continue to haunt the Buffalo sports scene. The last 17 yrs. of football and seven years of hockey may have bruised the collective synapses of producers, editors, writers and personalities beyond repair and only Rick Jeanneret remains sane thanks to a nip and some regular quips at the expense of Rob Ray. At the podium to announce the first-overall pick by the Buffalo Sabres, the 75 yr. old Jeanneret clears his throat before getting the Rasmus' mixed up as he mistakes Ristolainen for Dahlin. He recovers by raising the roof and yelling "May Day! May Day! May Day!" Buffalo fans go wild. All is well in Western New York.
2. Carolina Hurricanes--RW, Andrei Svechnikov. New Hurricanes owner Thomas Dundon promised a major shakeup when taking over the team. Out with the old in GM Ron Francis and in with the...old...as in Don Waddell, who was the general manager in Atlanta for all but the last season of the defunct Thrashers franchise (1999-2010.) In the final year before their move to Winnipeg, Le Thrash bumped Waddell up to president and brought in GM Rick Dudley who is now Senior Vice President of Hockey operations for...the Carolina Hurricanes. The wheels on the bus... Good news for 'Canes fans, Waddell will not be drafting a Patrick Stephan with his first-ever pick in Carolina. Nope, as luck would have it the Carolina made a huge jump from No. 11 to No. 2 thanks to the lottery and will have an Ilya Kovalchuk-type waiting for them there in Svechnikov. And no, Buffalo, the 'Canes will not be trading this pick for Ryan O'Reilly.
3. Montreal Canadiens--LW, Filip Zadina. There's a song in there somewhere (Zadina, Zadina, where ya been so long?) GM Marc Bergevin had an Eastern Conference Finals team in 2013-14 lead by captain Brian Gionta, who would leave for the Sabres at the end of that season. The Habs have been singing the blues since that season as it's pretty much been downhill. Despite former Sabres forward Nic Deslauriers channeling Martin LaPointe for a brief stint, the Habs were done-in last season by poor goaltending and injuries as well as inadequacies down the middle. Their reward for a 28th-place finish was the third-overall pick which happens to be a pure goal scorer in Zadina, who happens to be a winger, a position they're well stocked at for now. And no Buffalo, you're not getting this pick for Ryan O'Reilly.
4. Ottawa Senators--RHD, Noah Dobson. The Sens are in a pickle with Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Erik Karlsson. They want to believe the 28 yr. old will re-sign with the team and they want to believe they'll get him at less than an eight-figure salary, although that might still be too much for the cost-conscious Senators even if he does want to stay in Ottawa. When owner Eugene Melnyk starts throwing phrases like “change in approach,” “difficult decisions,” and being “dedicated to be an even larger part of Ottawa's fabric" in a letter to the fan base, those are really euphemisms for "grab your ankles and kiss your ass goodbye." Luckily for Ottawa, Dobson, who was a key member of the Memorial Cup-winning Acadia Bathurst Titans, has an intriguing NHL package of skating, skill and hockey sense that can ease the pain of the probable loss of Karlsson.
5, Arizona Coyotes--LW, Brady Tkachuk. Even though a right-handed defenseman would be a good fit here, it's going to be hard to pass on Tkachuk, a player many had starting the third tier of prospects ever so close behind Svechnikov and Zadina. And Tkachuk kinda flows with Chayka, as in 'Yotes GM John. (Catch the beat--Chaka, Tkachuk; Chaka, Tkachuk; Chaka, Tkachuk.) Arizona is very interested in the 6'3" 196 lb. Tkachuk who has size, speed, and skill that's packaged with a powerforward's mentality. Plus he's NHL ready. Brady's father Keith played for the Coyotes and the 18 yr. old is said to be a bit better prospect than his older brother Matthew who's doing great things with the Calgary Flames.
6. Detroit Red Wings--RHD, Adam Boqvist. Lordy, the Wings have a tough decision at this spot but can't really lose and go with Boqvist at No. 6. For them and the 5'11" 170 SHL d-man it's like peanut butter and jelly, ham and eggs, Hitsville USA and Detroit. It's the Red Wings and Swedes. Boqvist is a shifty player and elite skater which kinda fits right into what Detroit has liked in their players for decades, well before the league finally caught on with what they were doing. GM Ken Holland is retooling his roster and has been looking for a defenseman like Boqvist. Although he's not Dahlin, the 17 yr. old got the tools of a forward on the blueline and has a very high hockey-IQ. Plus, he's Swedish like their Hall of Fame defenseman Niklas Lidstrom.
7. Vancouver Canucks--LHD, Quinn Hughes. Hughes was born in Florida, which is a fairly rare for hockey players (although it's becoming more commonplace,) was raised in Toronto, the self-proclaimed "Center of the Hockey Universe" and spent his young adult life in Michigan playing for the US National Development Program and the Wolverines. With Hughes right there for the Wings to scout, this should have been written above at No. 6, right? But it's not and the 'Nucks are very happy to have a the 5'10" 174 lb. Hughes, who's skating is elite in all facets and who looks to be a future powerplay QB and elite set-up man.
8. Chicago Blackhawks--RW, Oliver Wahlstrom. The 'Hawks could use some help on the back end and Hughes would have been their selection, but like the magnet for ultra-talented wingers that Chicago is, Wahlstrom and his pure sniping ability fall to them at No. 8. This is a very unusual spot for the Blackhawks as they haven't had a pick this high since 2007 when a pretty good right-winger in Patrick Kane was drafted first-overall. That's what success, which includes three Stanley Cups, will do in that regard. Chicago has lost a lot of talent over the years because of the NHL's salary cap but they still have their core of Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith. This year they'll have a wave of young talent coming in on top of a handful of youngins that cut their teeth last season. Wahlstrom and his high-end skill-set should fit right in with the Blackhawks and could very easily join an impressive list of recent eighth-overall picks that includes Casey Mittelstadt (2017, BUF,) Zach Werenski (2015, CLB,) and William Nylander (2014, TOR.)
9. New York Rangers--RHD, Evan Bouchard. The Rangers are another team that's unaccustomed to being on the outside of the playoffs as they've missed them only twice in the last 14 years. Other than the seventh-overall pick last season, which was acquired from Arizona in a trade, the Rangers have selected in the top-10 only once since 2004 and from 2013-16 didn't select in the first round at all as they chased a Stanley Cup during Henrik Lundqvist's prime. They're rebuilding this year and have a franchise record 10 draft picks which includes three first-rounders, two seconds plus two thirds, and a good place to start the bonanza will be landing the very intelligent and highly skilled Bouchard. The right-handed d-man believes he'll be ready for the NHL next season and his 87 points (25+62) in 67 regular season games for the OHL's London Knights lends credence to that confidence.
10. Edmonton Oilers--RHD Bode Wilde. How many hockey fans in North America had an 'X' marked on their wall in anticipation of the Oilers winning the lottery for Dahlin? Yeah, I thought there were a lot of you. Edmonton surprisingly missed the playoffs and didn't have that lottery luck this time. Unfortunately for them, the tier of defensemen grouped behind Dahlin has been picked over but Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli still sticks with defense at the draft (and with Connor McDavid, he can afford to) and won't be accused of reaching as the d-men and forwards available at No. 10 are fairly equal. Chiarelli does, however, throw a bit of a curveball as he chooses not to go 'smurfin' again with the smaller Ty Smith. Instead he goes for an impact defenseman, in Wilde, partly because he's a righty and in part because the 6'2" 196 lb. native of Montreal is a real good defenseman who's been likened to Scott Neidermayer.
11. New York Islanders--C, Jesperi Kotkaniemi. It's hard to believe a center hasn't been take off the board to this point (perhaps to balance the seven top-10 centers selected last year,) which is a good thing for the Isles as they may have a huge hole to fill if John Tavares leaves this summer. Not only is the dark specter of a Tavares departure looming over the wandering Islander franchise, but for the second year in a row a division rival has made the jump from double-digits in the draft to No. 2 thanks to the lottery. Where's the love in that? Even with the Garth Snow soap opera era over and Lou Lamoriello in charge, some of the moves, especially their city/arena issue is just plain messed up and can't really sit well with Tavares, who's been a good soldier throughout his tenure. Anyhow, if Tavares does leave, he won't be replaced by an 11th-overall pick but Kotkaniemi is a helluva good player with plenty of upside who had a strong season (10 goals, 19 assists in 57 games) as a 17 yr. old playing against men the top Finish league.
12. New York Islanders (from CGY)--D, Ty Smith. Not even Snow, were he still GM, could pass on Smith at this spot in the draft. It's a new era on the back-end in the National Hockey League with elite-skating/offensive-minded puckmovers being the d-men d'jour and Lamoriello knows the score. Size doesn't matter, which is good for the 5' 10" 170 lb. Smith who racked up 73 points (14+59) in 69 games for the Spokane Chiefs of the rough and tumble Western Hockey League. Those totals were second in the league amongst defensemen to David Quenneville, an Isles seventh-round pick (200th) from last year.
13. Dallas Stars--C, Barret Hayton. Last year the Stars made a huge jump via the draft lottery moving up five spots to land defenseman Miro Heiskanen at No. 3. It was manna from heaven and although it won't help them find a goalie, Heiskanen, who immediately jumped to the top of the prospect pool, will make any goalie's life a bit easier. So will Hayton, who's a well-rounded, two-way center likened to Patrice Bergeron. That kind of player will also balance out the projected return of winger Valeri Nichushkin, the 2013 10th-overall pick who left for the KHL in a huff when things weren't going his way. Although Hayton isn't the flashiest player, he skates very well and has solid offensive acumen (21 goals and 39 assists in 63 games last year.)
14. Philadelphia Flyers (from STL)--LW, Joel Farabee. The Flyboys have nine picks in the 2018 NHL Draft including two first-rounders which will add to a deep prospect pool that includes plenty of depth on defense. They're in a good organization position a this draft as defensemen have been flying off the board leaving plenty of solid forward prospects to choose from. This is a very strong Flyers organization and although they won't need to worry about President Trump uninviting them to a championship gathering at the White House in the next year or two, the future beyond that looks very, very promising. Enter LW, Joel Farabee, a 6'0" 161 lb. product of the USNTDP. The Cicero, NY native has the ability to cut to open ice and the skill to finish or set up. He also plays a 200' game, is said to be a high-character player and captained the U.S. U-18 team. Sounds like a real good fit as a future Fly-boy.
15. Florida Panthers--C, Joe Veleno. The Cats prospect pool is loaded with forwards, three of which rest atop their rankings, but they can't pass on center Veleno who is the best player on the board. Although Florida is still feeling the pangs of Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith, along with former head coach Gerrard Gallant (whom they kicked to the street,) helping lead the Vegas Golden Knights to a Stanley Cup Final, there's lot to look forward to with this team. Veleno was granted exceptional status in the QMJHL as a 15 yr. old and was projected to be a top center. Although it hasn't gone swimmingly for him, Veleno still has great speed and an excellent set of tools despite not having the creativity or production of a top-five pick. Some think that in the right situation and with the right chemistry he'll be exceptional once again. Perhaps Florida is that place.
16. Colorado Avalanche--LHD, Mattias Samuelsson. Colorado's rebuild is going swimmingly and they've been reaping the benefits of trading Ryan O'Reilly and Matt Duchene. Nikita Zadorov and JT Compher in the O'Reilly trade plus a very young Samuel Girard from the Duchene trade played roles (some prominent, like Zadorov) for the 'Lanche this past season and they also loaded up with draft picks in the process. In fact they had so many young picks and prospects that they could conceivably hatch a trade with Buffalo to bring Ryan O'Reilly back. Ha ha. Just kidding. Colorado has some serious talent up front but they could still use some help on the back end. Luckily this draft is deep with defensemen and they literally decide to go heavy on the left side by drafting Samuelsson, a 6'4" 218 lb. d-man who's the son of Cup-winning defenseman, Kjell, who was a defensive defenseman for the Pittsburg Penguins in the early 90's.
17. New Jersey Devils--LW, Grigori Denisenko. The Devils have been on a roll since GM Ray Shero came aboard in 2015. Shero was downright devilish when he hosed the Edmonton Oilers in a trade for LW, Taylor Hall, something that got the franchise off and running. That and a jump from No. 5 to No. 1 in the 2017 draft to select Nico Hischier was enough to catch the attention of the NHL's top bandwagon-jumper, Justin Bieber, which in-turn caught Hall's attention. "Sup, Selena?" was the tweet from Hall to Gomez after she was seen in Bieber's Devils jersey back in November. Maybe he has a real jersey worn by a real NHL'er for Gomez, you know, since her and the Beibs are now on the outs. Hall had a career-best 93 points (39+54) while Hischier and free agent college defenseman Will Butcher were in the top ten in rookie scoring on a Devils team made the playoffs, meaning there was no shot at the first-overall this year. However, the Devils do land a Shero-type player in Denisenko who has great speed and skills while oozing offense. Coach John Hynes likes to call hockey "controlled chaos," and reminds Hall that it's a thought for what happens on the ice and it's best to keep chaos out of one's personal life. Hall's girlfriend Rachel agrees.
18. Columbus Blue Jackets--RW, Vitaly Kravtsov. Columbus is loaded with talent thanks to some stout drafting by GM Jarmo Kekalainen and Co. They're loaded up and down the lineup and well into their prospect pool, but they're still struggling with deeper talent up-front and haven't found the right mix to get them past the first round of the playoffs. The top-end forwards (read, wingers) they could use is up at the top of the draft and the player they'll be taking at No. 18 won't help immediately. Kekalainen can find talent anywhere and this time it's off to Russia where the very talented Kravtsov just set a KHL record for points in the playoffs by a U-20 player. His 11 points bested by two the previous high held by Evgeni Kuznetzov and Valeri Nichushkin. Although the Nikita Filatov situation a few years back may still have lingering affects in Buckeye Country (the Jackets have selected exactly two Russians since 2010, a 6th-rounder in 2016 and a 3rd rounder in 2017,) Kekalainen pulls the trigger on Kravtsov and may end up with the steal of the 2018 draft.
19. Philadelphia Flyers--RW, Serron Noel. It's hard for Phlly to resist the raw talent of Noel, who played for the Oshawa General (OHL) as a 17 yr. old. Twenty-eight teams interviewed him at the NHL Combine, according to Kris Baker of sabresprospects.com, as teams were intrigued by his 6'5" 203 lb. frame and the ability to anchor himself in front of, and produce from, the front of the net. Noel is at least a few years away from the NHL and with the Flyers prospect pool as deep as it is, they'll be able to develop Noel at a pace that suits him.
20. Los Angeles Kings--C, Rasmus Kupari. Had this been the 2014 LA Kings, they may have bemoaned missing out on a powerforward like Noel, but this is 2018 and GM Rob Blake is moving his team more towards speed. The traditional western conference "heavies" the Kings had heading into the playoffs with last month were overtaken by the hornet's nest that was the Vegas Golden Knights. Although the Knights didn't have a lot of top-end talent they buzzed around the Kings and disposed of them in a four-game sweep which included a 56-shot onslaught in Game-2. LA gets lucky here as Kupari, an explosive skater with pure offensive skills, drops to them at No. 20 where they snatch him up. Kupari , who played in Finland's top professional league as a 17/18 yr. old last season, should eventually compliment their highly skilled (and highly paid) beast of a center in captain Anze Kopitar.
21. San Jose Sharks--LHD, Jared McIsaac. First off, long-time GM Doug Wilson traded for and eventually re-signed former Sabre LW Evander Kane. Now news has come out that the Sharks interviewed 35 yr. old pond-jumping left winger Ilya Kovalchuk, who wants back into the NHL. In addition to that there's even been talk about the Sharks being a possible destination for John Tavares. Buying out Paul Martin and not re-signing Joe Thornton will help create some room for these grandiose plans but it would take some crafty cap configuring for them to accommodate some pretty pricey players. Luckily they've drafted extremely well to the point where there's a pool of cost-controlled youngins ready to contribute at the NHL level. Names like LeBlanc, Meier, and Ryan are ready to roll (or are already rolling) and they add another solid prospect in McIsaac, a 6'1" 196 lb. defenseman and reigning QMJHL Defenseman of the Year. Although offense isn't his forte, he's solid on the back end, very agile on his skates and he still has time to grow into his frame to become a physical presence on the back end.
22. Ottawa Senators (from PIT)--RW, Martin Kaut. Ottawa's been getting a bad rap lately and it seems as if much of it is deserved. Melnyk is one thing, as billionaire owners have their own mindset (regardless of country) which is usually taken in stride, but AGM Randy Lee's debacle at the NHL Combine really leaves a black mark on the front office. Now Erik Karlsson's wife files for a restraining order against team mate Mike Hoffman's girlfriend? And you thought Buffalo was bad when Evander Kane was in town? This is looks like it will be the end of Karlsson's time in Ottawa which will put the Sens in full rebuild-mode. Drafting an impact player fourth-overall certainly helps them down the road as does landing Kaut who rose up from mid-term rankings but falls a bit to No. 22. The solid two-way play of the 18 yr. old right winger who played in the top Czech league makes for an intriguing pick here. Kaut isn't flashy, but he's quick and is smart in all zones plus he has some finish to his game, which is good for the Sens as they'll need solid foundational pieces as they move on from the present soap opera.
23. Anaheim Ducks--C, Isac Lundestrom. The Ducks know how to draft and although they're not quite at a Detroit Red Wings level they continue to bring in quality NHL players and continue to make the playoffs despite a draft history that had them in the top-10 only three times since 2005. Anaheim still has a very deep talent pool on defense and have been drafting plenty of centers lately but still take Lundestrom, a speedy, versatile player with an NHL frame who plays a strong, two-way, north/south game and can also play the wing. The model of consistency that has been the Ducks since their 2007 Stanley Cup win is being tested right now as rumors of big changes are swirling. RW Corey Perry is said to be on the block and C, Ryan Kesler might miss all of next season because of bad hips. Both are 33 yrs. old and have seen better days with Perry possibly done in Anaheim.
24. Minnesota Wild--LHD, Rasmus Sandin. New GM Paul Fenton came from the Nashville Predators organization, the model for the new blueline approach to the NHL game, and served under Preds GM David Poile who was never afraid to pull off a big trade (see Shea Weber and Seth Jones trades.) Welcome to Minnesota where it's assumed that Fenton will do both. He's got his work cut out for him with the Wild, not so much talent-wise, but building a roster that can make it past the first round of the playoffs, something they've been unable to do the last three years. Will he blow it up? Or will he slowly disassemble this group of playoff underachievers? Perhaps because of his background we can expect at least one big move this off season, maybe at the draft. The Wild head into next week with a good pool of defensemen but you can never have enough good d-prospects and they find one in Sandin. Although he's the third Rasmus taken at this draft he's still a damn good player who thinks the game extremely well, is solid in his own end and is a great puck-mover, something Fenton is sure to love. Sandin crossed the pond and quickly became a top-pairing, all-around defenseman on a stacked Sault Ste. Marie squad and his selection by the Wild is a pretty good way to start the Paul Fenton-era in Minnesota.
25. Toronto Maple Leafs--RHD, Ryan Merkely. The Leafs have been propped up as the model for a successful rebuild, and they've earned it so far. Team president Brendan Shanahan built the organization with some of the best minds in the business which included Hall of Famers and analytics gurus leading the hockey operations. Although GM/Senior Advisor Lou Lamoriello bailed and it's said that head coach Mike Babcock is having some issues with his young stars, it's still the Leafs lead by three-time Cup-winner Shanahan atop and an almost enviable hockey department. New GM Kyle Dubas, who was promoted from AGM, is an analytics guru who served under an old-school type in Lamoriello providing a nice balance. But with 'Sweet Lou' gone, Dubas can't help himself when selecting Merkley as the Leafs need defense and the 18 yr. old checks all the analytics boxes in a dramatic way. Merkley has it all in the offensive zone and eventually it will be up to Babcock to bring out the full potential of a dynamic offensive-minded defenseman that is said to have issues, which is why he's dropped this far in the draft.
26. NY Rangers (from Boston)--RW, Dominik Bokk. Rangers landed a gem with the pick of Bouchard early in the draft and have another pick at No. 28. They could go a number of ways but opt to add offense with the selection of Bokk, a raw talent with room to fill out his 6'1" 176 lb. frame. The word on Bokk is that he possesses elite stick skills and offensive-minded instincts but needs to work on his play away from the puck. Rangers have no problem with that as this pick helps strengthen the right side of solid prospect pool that allows Bokk adequate time to develop.
27. Chicago Blackhawks (from Nashville)--C, Ty Dellandrea. Hawks have balance at the top of the prospect pool between forwards and defensemen and opt for best player available which happens to be Dellandrea. The Flint Firebirds center has an NHL frame at 6'0" 183 lbs. while possessing keen on-ice instincts. Dellandrea was second in scoring (27 goals, 32 assists) on a Flint team that was last in the OHL's Western Conference and when watching him play you get the sense that there's some Jonathan Toews to his game, which suits him well having the 'Hawks draft him.
28. NY Rangers (from Tampa Bay)-- LHD, Adam Ginning. It's never a bad idea to have a defensive defenseman holding the fort while the rest of the skaters are on the offensive, and that's where Ginning comes into play. The 18 yr. old has great size at 6'3" 196 lbs. with room to grow into that frame. Word is that he'll need a couple more years in his native Sweden before making the move to North America which will give him time to build some upper-body strength and to acclimate to playing against pro talent. Which is fine with the Rangers. A project player with the third of three first rounders is a pretty solid approach to adding organizational depth, which they'll need as they'll always be in on top-priced free agents and will need quality players on the cheap to fill out the roster.
29. St. Louis Blues (from Winnipeg) RHD, Calen Addison. Blues are ticked that they missed out on a player like Fabree, amongst others in the top-15, but they can still land a good player that helps balance out a prospect pool a bit heavy on forwards in the top end. Addison is on the smaller side, but he's got moxie and is an extremely good skater who plays an offensive-minded game from the back-end. As with all players in the lower first round he'll need some work, which includes strength for the pro game, but the Blues may have gotten themselves a nice player here at No. 29.
30. Detroit Red Wings (from Vegas)--C, Jacob Olofsson. About the only thing stranger than both the Rangers and Blackhawks in their draft positions is the expansion Vegas Golden Knights trading away their first rounder for a playoff run and having the pick be the second-last in the first round. It's quite the rabbit hole we've fallen into. The Knights made it to the Stanley Cup Finals while the Red Wings have missed the playoffs two years running after a quarter century of playoff participation that included three Stanley Cups. The Wings snared a fine d-prospect in Boqvist early and land another fine prospect a No. 30. Although 10 goals and 21 points doesn't seem like a lot here in North America, Olofsson was named best junior player in Sweden's second-tier pro league joining previous winners Filip Forsberg and William Carlson. Oloffson might not be an elite scorer but his smarts, positioning and all-around play could see him as at least a top-nine pivot at the NHL level.
31. Washington Capitals--C, Akil Thomas. There were a lot of hockey fans that were happy Washington finally won the Stanley Cup and there were various reasons for their happiness. That Caps fans in Washington finally celebrated a championship after 44 years of frustration tops the list and there was also a large contingent who just couldn't stand an expansion team winning the Cup in their first season, despite how driven the Vegas was to even make it to the finals. Then 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 also real happy to see a coach like Barry Trotz finally win the Cup after his frustrations in Nashville and the uncertainty that goes along with being in the final year of his contract coaching a team noted for under achieving in the playoffs.
Talent won out in this series as the Golden Knights just couldn't match what the Caps had to offer. Vegas 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 a shoutout 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 to 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 can't 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 also 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 for the Sabres.