Tag Archives: Montreal Canadiens

2018 Mock Draft: The Complete First Round, Final Edition

It’s time for the last minute changes and mad scramble that is a General Manager and his/her scouting team’s draft selections as one player after another slowly gets taken off the board.

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Friday night at American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas is home to the 1st round of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft (Saturday plays host to rounds 2-7).

All the mock drafts in the world have been released– until now. Here’s one more before you sit in front of your TV and maybe get, what, like one of your own mock draft picks right?

It’s time, once again, for completely arbitrary nonsense predicting and projecting the rest of the professional careers and lives from a group of teens.

Unknown-21. Buffalo Sabres –> D Rasmus Dahlin, Frolunda (Sweden)

Both Jack Eichel and Rasmus Dahlin have spoken without presuming the Sabres will select the Swedish defender 1st overall, but there is no other choice in this Draft– as deep as it is. Dahlin is a game-changer for a franchise that so desperately needs his new-age defense and Nicklas Lidstrom qualities.

The 6-foot-2, 181-pound two-way defender is the perfect fit in blue and gold. He’ll shutdown opponents and transition the puck up the ice, greatly increasing the speed of Buffalo’s top lines in the midst of a fast paced, rough and tough Atlantic Division.

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2. Carolina Hurricanes–> RW Andrei Svechnikov, Barrie (OHL)

Just like there’s no substitution for the 1st overall pick, the same goes for the 2nd overall pick. Andrei Svechnikov will be a member of the Hurricanes Friday night and fans attending Carolina’s draft party will have more than one reason to celebrate in addition to the unveiling of their new third jerseys.

Svechnikov’s a pure goal scorer and just might help the Canes leap back into the postseason picture in 2019 for the first time since 2009. He had 40-32–72 totals in 44 games with the Barrie Colts this season in his first season of Junior hockey. It’s been a decade in the making, but new General Manager Don Waddell and new owner Tom Dundon are ready to make a big impression.

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3. Montreal Canadiens–> C Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Assat (Finland)

General Manager Marc Bergevin didn’t trade away Alex Galchenyuk to the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for Max Domi for nothing. He did it with Jesperi Kotkaniemi in mind.

It’s a fresh slate for Claude Julien‘s lineup, with the projected top-6 forward centering in on the second line. Kotkaniemi had 10 goals and 19 assists (29 points) in 57 games this season with Assat and he’ll grow into stardom in Montreal.

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4. Ottawa Senators–> RW Filip Zadina, Halifax (QMJHL)

A dynamic scorer and underrated forward, Filip Zadina is a light at the end of one tunnel leading to the next as the Senators look to close the chapter on one book and open the next in the midst of their dumpster fire of an organization.

Zadina had 44 goals in 57 games for the Halifax Mooseheads this season and should translate well into a lineup looking for a goal scorer in the wake of dumping Mike Hoffman outside the division (oops, he’s back). The 6-foot, 195-pound winger has a sharp shot that should ease Ottawa’s minus-70 goal differential in 2017-18.

Unknown-35. Arizona Coyotes–> LW Brady Tkachuk, Boston University (H-East)

Brady Tkachuk packs intensity and grit in his game along with some offense. The Boston University Terrier had 31 points in 40 games this season and is the younger brother of Calgary Flames forward, Matthew Tkachuk. Both are sons of Keith Tkachuk and played pond hockey in the same neighborhood as– sorry, don’t know how Pierre McGuire got in here for a moment.

Anyway, the younger Tkachuk is 6-foot-3, 196-pounds and will fit in alongside Galchenyk, Clayton Keller and the youth movement in Arizona that could result in a 2019 postseason appearance by the Coyotes.Unknown6. Detroit Red Wings–> D Noah Dobson, Acadie-Bathurst (QMJHL)

Noah Dobson was the best defender and a huge part in the reason why the Acadie-Bathurst Titan are your 2018 Mastercard Memorial Cup champions– and that’s already on top of his breakout season with the Titan that saw 17 goals and 52 assists (69 points) this season.

The 6-foot-3, 180-pound, right-shot two-way blueliner fits the bill as a new-age solution to an aging problem in Detroit.

imgres-27. Vancouver Canucks–> D Evan Bouchard, London (OHL)

One of the best things about drafting in the NHL is simply taking the next best available player on some scouting list, whether it’s from Central Scouting itself or your own department. In this case, Evan Bouchard is the next best available defenders on a list– my list.

The Canucks can use his 6-foot-2, 193-pound frame and right-shot to boost their transition game as Vancouver deals with the loss of Daniel and Henrik Sedin due to retirement and puts an emphasis on getting the puck up the ice to Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser. Bouchard had 25-62–87 totals in 67 games for the London Knights this season.

imgres8. Chicago Blackhawks–> RW Oliver Wahlstrom, USA U-18 (USNTDP)

All-in-all everything’s working out pretty well for the Chicago Blackhawks in their rebuild. Yes, it’s a rebuild. Landing the once viral, 9-year-old, sensation as part of TD Bank’s Mini-1-on-1s years ago, Oliver Wahlstrom is ready to graduate to the big leagues and fill in for Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp along the wing in Chicago.

He’s used to high expectations and has a wrist shot like no other, having amassed 47 goals in 60 games this season with the U.S. National U-18 Team, as well as seven goals in seven games at the IIHF World Under-18 Championship. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound, right wing will likely go ahead and play a season with the Boston College Eagles before going pro in a Blackhawks uniform.

download9. New York Rangers–> C Rasmus Kupari, Karpat (Finland)

Rangers General Manager Jeff Gorton welcomes new head coach, David Quinn, to the Big Apple with a star in the making in Rasmus Kupari. He’s the best Finnish forward in the draft and could land a spot on the roster as New York retools on-the-fly and must re-sign or trade pending-RFAs Ryan Spooner, Vladislav Namestnikov and Kevin Hayes this summer.

The 6-foot-1, 183-pound center has a lot of skills to work with and brings a bright future down the middle with Rangers 2017 first round selection, Lias Andersson, already in the fold.

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10. Edmonton Oilers–> D Quintin Hughes, Michigan (BIG10)

The Edmonton Oilers have $21 million combined locked up in cap space to star forwards, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, starting in 2018-19. General Manager Peter Chiarelli has already experienced what salary cap hell is like firsthand from his time with the Boston Bruins and is bound to move some pieces in addition to Thursday’s buyout of Eric Gryba.

Whether the Oilers use the 10th overall pick or trade it, Quintin Hughes is the perfect fit on the blueline for a team that has said they’d like to add a young defener. Hughes is drawing comparisons in his game to Torey Krug, someone Chiarelli should be familiar with, since he brought Krug to Boston in his tenure as Bruins GM.download

11. New York Islanders–> D Adam Boqvist, Brynas (SWE-JR)

After relieving Garth Snow and Dough Weight of their duties and replacing them with new General Manager Lou Lamoriello and new head coach, Barry Trotz, respectively, the Islanders are ready to cash in on back-to-back picks in the first round.

First up, 5-foot-11, 168-pound, Swedish born defender, Adam Boqvist, who’ll need another year in the SHL to come into his own before launching his two-way blueliner career in Brooklyn.download

12. New York Islanders (via Calgary Flames)–> C Barrett Hayton, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)

With their second consecutive pick in the first round (as long as they don’t trade one of them or both), New York would be wise to select the center from the Sault Ste. Greyhounds, Barrett Hayton.

Hayton had 21-39–60 totals in 63 games this season and might need a year or two more in Juniors before becoming a centerpiece in Trotz’s lineup on Long Island (or Brooklyn or wherever the Islanders are planning on playing home games– they’re splitting them next season).Unknown-2

13. Dallas Stars–> D Ty Smith, Spokane (WHL)

General Manager Jim Nill can do new head coach in The Big-D, Jim Montgomery, a bit of a favor by tweaking the defense this offseason and there’s no better way to tweak the blueline than by planning for the future of the blueline.

Ty Smith brings depth to the transition game in Dallas, as John Klingberg and Marc Methot are already relied upon to do with the Stars, but he also brings a higher level of effectiveness on the power play. The 5-foot-10, 175-pound defender likely won’t see any time with the NHL club this season, but should make some leaps in the depth chart heading into 2019-20.

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14. Philadelphia Flyers (via St. Louis Blues)–> LW Joel Farabee, USA U-18 (USNTDP)

Joel Farabee is one of those rare NHL-ready first round prospects that gets taken in the mid-to-late part of the opening round of the draft. He has a tremendous hockey IQ as a 5-foot-11, 164-pound left winger with a lot of speed, but he’ll be using all of that to attend classes at Boston University this fall.

It’s possible, though, that he’ll go pro after one year with the Terriers.

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15. Florida Panthers–> RW Vitali Kravtsov, Chelyabinsk (Russia)

6-foot-3, 184-pound Russian right wing, Vitali Kravtsov carries the puck well and creates chances in the slot with a good shot and silky smooth passes. General Manager Dale Tallon can take a year or two to let Kravtsov develop as the Panthers sort themselves out with about $8.000 million to spend on free agents this summer– including their own pending-RFAs in Jared McCann and Frank Vatrano.

Kravtsov had 6-5–11 totals in 16 games in the Kontinental Hockey League this season playing against men and former NHLers like Pavel Datsyuk.Unknown-1

16. Colorado Avalanche–> C Joseph Veleno, Drummondville (QMJHL)

Avalanche General Manager Joe Sakic has his work cut out for him in drafting 6-foot-1, 193-pound center Joseph Veleno. He had 22 goals and 57 assists (79 points) in 64 games as a playmaker with Drummondville this season and should work his way into the revamped Colorado lineup in the next year or two.

Past Nathan MacKinnon, Sakic has to work on finding the next best forward down the middle in the lineup of the top-6 caliber. Veleno fits that role in time.

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17. New Jersey Devils–> LW Grigori Denisenko, Yaroslavl 2 (Russia)

Devils General Manager Ray Shero lands a sneaky good winger with the 17th overall pick in this year’s draft, but there’s a catch. Grigori Denisenko’s going to need two-to-three years to work his way up in the MHL/KHL rankings to elevate his game to NHL status.

The 5-foot-11, 172-pound forward had nine goals and 22 points in 31 games for Yaroslavl this season.download

18. Columbus Blue Jackets–> RW Serron Noel, Oshawa (OHL)

Serron Noel is a 6-foot-5, 205-pound behemoth of a right wing with comparisons to Blake Wheeler. Despite all the rage over Artemi Panarin‘s long-term plans with the Blue Jackets organization 1) his contract expires in 2019– that’s still a year away and 2) Noel is just the guy to compete for a top-6 spot in that time span.

He had 28-25–53 totals in 62 games for the Oshawa Generals this season and should develop into a prolific forward with another year in the OHL.

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19. Philadelphia Flyers–> C/LW Isac Lundestrom, Lulea (Sweden)

With their second pick in the first round, the Flyers lock up 6-foot, 183-pount forward, Isac Lundestrom. In a year or two– after more seasoning in the SHL– he’ll start to make a name for himself wearing Philadelphia orange.

Lundestrom had 15 points in 41 games in Sweden’s top professional league this season.

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20. Los Angeles Kings–> RW Dominik Bokk, Vaxjo (SWE J20)

Los Angeles General Manager Rob Blake has a plan in place to stick to the plan. Unfortunately, the core of his roster is aging and, despite an almost $5 million increase in the salary cap ceiling, the Kings are in a bit of a bind knowing they’ll have to re-sign 2019 pending-UFA Drew Doughty in the time between now and next year.

German-born, 6-foot-1, 176-pound right wind, Dominik Bokk had 14 goals and 27 assists (41 points) in 35 games for Vaxjo in his rookie season in Sweden’s Junior league. He went on to have 5-6–11 totals in eight playoff games along the way to winning the league championship and has all the finesse that makes him comparable to that of current Los Angeles captain Anze Kopitar.Unknown

21. San Jose Sharks–> C/LW Ryan McLeod, Mississauga (OHL)

Ryan McLeod notched 26 goals and 44 assists (70 points) with the Steelheads in 68 games this season, slightly more than doubling his offensive production in 2016-17– his sophomore year in Junior. He might be one of the more NHL ready prospects, in terms of playing experience, but the Sharks don’t have to rush him unless he makes a lasting impression at training camp.

The 6-foot-2, 206-pound forward has just the right frame for San Jose’s liking.

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22. Ottawa Senators (via Pittsburgh Penguins)–> D Bode Wilde, USA U-18 (USNTDP)

Ottawa’s second pick in the first round should help restock the lackluster defensive depth if General Manager Pierre Dorion doesn’t make any moves to shake things up.

Bode Wilde’s 6-foot-2, 197-pound frame stands tall on the blueline as a potential shutdown top-4 role given time– and the Senators could use that to balance Thomas Chabot once the Erik Karlsson saga figures itself out (the extending/re-signing or trading him part, not anything else related to the dumpster fire going on in the Sens front office).Unknown-123. Anaheim Ducks–> RW Martin Kaut, Pardubice (Czech Republic)

The possibilities are endless this offseason for the Ducks. No really, there isn’t a true gut feeling on which way Anaheim will go– up or down in the standings, older or younger, more skilled and less focused on taking penalties or, well, you get the point.

Meanwhile, Czech forward, Martin Kaut is a solid selection with 2-5–7 totals in seven games for Czech Republic at the 2018 World Junior Championship. The 6-foot-1, 176-pound right wing had a much better second half of the season in the top professional Czech league after his confidence boosting WJC performance.Unknown-2

24. Minnesota Wild–> D Rasmus Sandin, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)

Rasmus Sandin’s offensive style fits right in the new-age Minnesota Wild now that new General Manager, Paul Fenton, is in charge. Jonas Brodin, Matt Dumba and some combination of Ryan Suter or Jared Spurgeon and Sandin just might be the Wild’s top-4 defensive core in the near future.

The 5-foot-11, 186-pound defender had 45 points in 51 games for the Greyhounds this season.Unknown25. Toronto Maple Leafs–> C Ty Dellandrea, Flint (OHL)

At 6-feet, 184-pounds, Ty Dellandrea’s frame is perfect to make some great first impressions at training camp this fall. General Manager Kyle Dubas continues to showcase his skill in his promotion as one of the best evaluators of talent in an analytically driven mind.

Flint finished second-to-last (19th out of 20 teams) in the OHL this season, but Dellandrea was a bright spot and Dubas has a knack for finding those and making something out of it.

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26. New York Rangers (via Boston Bruins)–> D Jared McIsaac, Halifax (QMJHL)

Jared McIsaac is a burly, 6-foot-1, 195-pound, defender that amassed 47 points in 65 games with Halifax this season. His size and skill alone should be enough to compensate for the beating and battering in the battle for the Metropolitan Division lead over the next few seasons.

McIsaac isn’t ready now, but he should flourish under Quinn and the Rangers– if Gorton doesn’t trade the pick.

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27. Chicago Blackhawks (via Nashville Predators)–> D Ryan Merkley, Guelph (OHL)

An offensive defenseman, Ryan Merkley had 13 goals in 63 games for Guelph this season. At 5-foot-11, 170-pounds, he’ll need some time to develop his physical presence to an NHL grade, but he’s shown some feisty two-way play in his time in Junior.

Regardless, Chicago needs to start planning for the post-Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith days.

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28. New York Rangers (via Tampa Bay Lightning)–> RW Akil Thomas, Niagara (OHL)

As long as the Rangers hold on to all three of their first round picks, Akil Thomas is a steal at 28th overall. Thomas had 81-points with the Niagara IceDogs this season. He’ll need another year or two to develop into the forward New York will want him to be in the NHL, though.imgres-1

29. St. Louis Blues (via Winnipeg Jets)–> C Jay O’Brien, Thayer Academy (USHS)

Jay O’Brien has the chance to turn a fantastic year in high school into a professional career, having amassed 43-37–80 totals in 30 games for Thayer Academy in Massachusetts.

Doug Armstrong and the Blues would be smart to find a versatile scorer to match Vladimir Tarasenko‘s style of play, even if it takes another year or two for O’Brien to develop, since St. Louis has some spots on the roster to overhaul this summer and next.

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30. Detroit Red Wings (via Vegas Golden Knights)–> C Jack McBain, Toronto (OJHL)

Jack McBain’s a gifted playmaker that should pan out in a couple of years really well alongside the likes of Anthony Mantha and the rest of the Red Wings. He had 5-19–24 totals in 39 games for the Toronto Jr. Canadiens this season and will be attending Boston College this fall.Washington Capitals Logo

31. Washington Capitals–> D Mattias Samuelsson, USA U-18 (USNTDP)

Winning the Stanley Cup means the Capitals will pick last in the first round, but General Manager Brian MacLellan is fine with it– it means you had a successful season, after all. While Washington’s front office finds their next head coach, MacLellan snags 6-foot-4, 218-pound defenseman, Mattias Samuelsson, from the U.S. U-18 National Development Program and lets him grow into a top-4 role with the Caps.

Samuelsson had 11-20–31 totals in 58 games this season. Not only can he shutdown opponents, but his two-way game’s pretty good too.

Other Players To Watch For in the Top 62 

In no particular order:

C Benoit-Olivier Groulx, Halifax (QMJHL)

LW Albin Eriksson, Skelleftå (SWE J20)

D Adam Ginning, Linköping (SHL)

C/LW Fillip Hallander, Timra (Sweden)

C David Gustafsson, HV71 (SHL)

D Alexander Alexeyev, Red Deer (WHL)

C Liam Foudy, London (OHL)

D K’Andre Miller, USA U-18 (USNTDP)

D Jett Woo, Moose Jaw (WHL)

C Jacob Olofsson, Timra (Sweden)

Top Goalies

Olivier Rodrigue, Drummondville (QMJHL)

Olof Lindbolm, Djurgarden (SWE J20)

Jakub Skarek, Jihlava (Czech Republic)

Lukáš Dostal, Brno (Czech Jr.)

Justus Annunen, Karpat (Fin-Jr.)

Down the Frozen River Podcast #111- Centered In Our Takes

Nick, Connor, Cap’n and Pete reveal their top-10 centers in their lifetime and talk about the week’s biggest stories in the NHL, ignoring the 2018 Draft altogether.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) and/or on Stitcher.

2018 Offseason Preview: Winnipeg Jets

Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Winnipeg Jets and their outlook for the summer.

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The Winnipeg Jets soared high in 2017-18, amassing 114 points on the season with a–franchise best– 52-20-10 record to finish 2nd in the Central Division and 2nd in the Western Conference (both in the regular season and postseason, by virtue of having been eliminated by the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference Final).

General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff went all-in on a potential Stanley Cup run at the trade deadline, acquiring Paul Stastny from the St. Louis Blues in exchange for Winnipeg’s 2018 first round pick and prospect, Erik Foley.

Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine and Dustin Byfuglien were great at their positions as always, while Connor Hellebuyck backstopped the team to glory. Meanwhile, Kyle Connor had one of the quietest sensational rookie seasons in recent memory, scoring 31 goals and 26 assists (57 points) in 76 games played.

Things are only looking up for the Jets despite their Western Conference Final defeat in five games to the expansion Golden Knights.

Both Winnipeg and Vegas were dominant teams in the West and if one of them hadn’t made the Stanley Cup Final, the Nashville Predators probably would have, but the Jets defeated the Preds in seven games in the Second Round after easily finishing off the Minnesota Wild in five games in the First Round.

Paul Maurice got to the Conference Finals for the first time since 2002 as a member of the Carolina Hurricanes head coach, while the Jets made the third round for the first time in franchise history dating back to their days as the Atlanta Thrashers (R.I.P.).

2018 NHL Entry Draft

Winnipeg doesn’t have a selection in the first round currently, thanks to Cheveldayoff’s deadline acquisition bargain hunting.

It’s not entirely clear if the Jets will take a stab at jumping into the first round, but at least they’ve got some pretty sweet third jerseys finally coming along seven years into their tenure at Bell MTS Place since relocating from Atlanta.

Nic Petan, as always, is on the trade bait list and could yield the club a first round pick as part of a return on a transaction.

Pending free agents

The Jets have almost $20.600 million to spend on free agents this summer with their captain, Blake Wheeler, ($5.600 million cap hit) and young superstar, Patrik Laine, ($925,000 cap hit– final year of his entry-level deal) entering contract years.

In other words, next summer is going to be expensive.

Winnipeg has three pending-UFAs in Shawn Matthias, Matt Hendricks and Paul Stastny.

Matthias, 30, had one goal and two assists (three points) in 27 games, while Hendricks, 37, had 5-8–13 totals in 60 games this season. Neither of them have to be brought back for the Jets to remain a contender in the Central Division, but what Cheveldayoff does with Stastny could mean a world of a difference.

Stastny, 32, had clear chemistry with his teammates in Winnipeg from the moment he was on the ice with them, right through the postseason. He’s such a great playmaker and dependable on the faceoff dot that it only makes sense you’d let him be the one feeding Wheeler and Laine for as long as you can.

In 82 games with the Jets and Blues, Stastny had 16 goals and 37 assists (53 points). He then went on to have 6-9–15 totals in 17 postseason games. Re-sign him.

Winnipeg has a lot of cap space and a plethora of pending-RFAs to re-sign or let go.

Brandon Tanev, Joel Armia, Marko Dano and Adam Lowry all need new deals and contributed in some way to the club’s deep playoff run.

Tanev, 26, is a solid bottom-six forward. Armia, 25, goes hand-in-hand with the rest of the glue guys. Meanwhile, Dano, 23, and Lowry, 25, have made a case for one to be preserved over the other (it’s Lowry, obviously).

On defense, Toby Enstrom, 33, already knows he’ll be hitting the waters of the open market as he has both price himself out of a Jets jersey and been bumped out of contention for ice-time with the likes of Byfuglien, Tyler Myers, Dmitry Kulikov and Ben Chiarot holding down the fort.

What’s that? I didn’t even mention Jacob Trouba, Tucker Poolman, Joe Morrow or Josh Morrissey? Well, that’s because they’re all pending-RFAs.

24-year-old Jacob Trouba’s bridge-deal is expiring and he’ll need a raise. Poolman, 25, emerged as a top-6 quality defender. Morrow, 25, was acquired at the deadline from the Montreal Canadiens and should return as a top-6 guy that came in clutch under Maurice’s instructions.

Morrow was never really utilized under Claude Julien in Montreal and Boston. Prior to that he was a journeyman from the Dallas Stars and Pittsburgh Penguins (where he was originally drafted). Winnipeg seems like it should be home for the 25-year-old blueliner.

Make of Morrissey what you will, but the 23-year-old defender had 26 points this season setting career highs in goals (7), assists (19) and points (26). He’ll be sticking around.

The real problem with Winnipeg is what they’re going to have to do with their goaltenders.

Starter, Connor Hellebuyck, is a pending-RFA. The 25-year-old solidified his status as a clear number one goaltender with a cut above the rest in the league, winning 44 games out of 67 appearances this season. He had a 2.36 goals against average and .924 save percentage.

Hellebuyck’s earned a raise, but the only problem is it leaves the Jets paying 30-year-old, Steve Mason, his $4.100 million cap hit in his final year of his two-year deal. In 13 games as a backup, he wasn’t great, amassing a 3.24 GAA and .906 SV%. Good luck trying to convince a team to take on his contract at full value.

Cheveldayoff will likely have to ship Mason out while retaining close to 50% of his remaining salary (the maximum allowed per the collective bargaining agreement).

28-year-old, Michael Hutchinson, in the meantime is a pending-UFA and regressed in 2017-18. Though he only played in three games, Hutchinson had a 3.26 GAA and .907 SV%.

For much less than Mason, Hutchinson could rebound back to a goals against average under 3.00, which is the least you expect from a backup– anything between 2.50 and 3.00 is right on target, anything better than 2.50 is godlike (for a backup) and anything over 3.00 is usually a poor investment in an easily overlooked position.

Sure, Eric Comrie is developing in the system, but wait, he’s a pending-RFA this summer too.

Winnipeg looks like they finally have this goaltending thing figured out, but Cheveldayoff cannot afford to mess any part of it up or else he risks long-term success, a la the Ondrej Pavelec saga from Atlanta to Winnipeg until Hellebuyck and Hutchinson overtook him.

Buyouts on the books: Mark Stuart at $583,333 through the end of 2018-19.

Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:

Buddy Robinson (UFA), Michael Sgarbossa (UFA), Chase De Leo (RFA), Jamie Phillips (RFA), Cameron Schilling (UFA), Jan Kostalek (RFA), James Lodge (RFA), Eric Comrie (RFA), Nic Petan (RFA), JC Lipon (RFA), Julian Melchiori (UFA)

2018 Offseason Preview: Tampa Bay Lightning

Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Tampa Bay Lightning and their outlook for the summer.

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General Manager Steve Yzerman added Mikhail Sergachev at the expense of Jonathan Drouin last June in a trade with the Montreal Canadiens, added some veteran leadership in four-time Stanley Cup champion, Chris Kunitz, and the Tampa Bay Lightning never looked back*.

*In the regular season, that is. The fun came to a halt in Game 7 of the 2018 Eastern Conference Final.

Jon Cooper out-coached the entire Eastern Conference in the regular season, leading his Lightning club to 1st place in the Atlantic Division with 113 points on the season and a 54-23-5 record.

The Bolts cruised through the New Jersey Devils in five games in the First Round, then lost Game 1 against the Boston Bruins in the Second Round. Tampa didn’t let another game slip away, winning four straight to eliminate the Bruins and advance to their third Eastern Conference Finals appearance in four years.

But then the Lightning caught up with the Washington Capitals and the Caps stole their thunder.

Washington won Games 1 and 2, Tampa stormed back for Games 3, 4 and 5. Braden Holtby and the Capitals settled in for Game 6 and Steven Stamkos still has yet to produce a point in a Game 7 after the Lightning were shut out 4-0 on home ice.

Just like that, one of the best teams in the NHL was eliminated.

For all of Yzerman’s magic, Tampa has only been to the Stanley Cup Final once, in 2015.

2018 NHL Entry Draft

Speaking of Yzerman’s magic, the Lightning GM acquired J.T. Miller and Ryan McDonagh from the New York Rangers in exchange for Libor Hajek, Brett Howden, Vladislav Namestnikov, a 2018 first round pick (28th overall) and a conditional 2019 second round pick.

If you thought Don Sweeney and the Boston Bruins overpaid for the services of Rick Nash, well….

Miller is a pending-RFA and the numbers– barring any trades– don’t look good at the forward sticking around long-term. But let’s ignore that trade for a second and focus more on the fact that Tampa doesn’t have a first round pick in Friday’s first round of the 2018 Draft.

Only time will tell if the Bolts find a way into the top-31 picks.

In defense of Tampa and Boston, sometimes these trades work out and are the difference maker between an exciting Stanley Cup champions DVD or not and sometimes they don’t pan out at all.

Pending free agents

Yzerman and Tampa’s front office staff have about $7.210 million to spend this summer with a mixture of talent and skill levels to re-sign.

Andy Andreoff, 27, was recently acquired from the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for backup goaltender Peter Budaj, which all but assures one of the pending free agents will be replaced heading into 2018-19.

In an evolving game where the emphasis on youth, speed and skill is more than ever before, logic indicates that 38-year-old, Chris Kunitz, will be on his way out the door, despite his 13-16–29 totals in 82 games.

For all that Kunitz did in the regular season, however, he only had one assist in 17 games this postseason.

Tampa has three pending-RFA forwards to re-sign this offseason in Adam Erne, J.T. Miller and Cedric Paquette.

Erne, 23, had three goals and one assist (four points) in 23 games with the Lightning this season and 6-1–7 totals in 49 career NHL games. Tampa’s 33rd overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft has yet to see full-time status at the NHL level and shouldn’t need a raise if Yzerman is set on keeping him around as a bottom-6 forward.

Miller, 25, is a little more complicated.

The durable forward had a $2.750 million cap hit on his most recent contract– a two-year extension signed with the Rangers– and 23-35–58 totals in 82 games with Tampa and New York this season, setting career-highs in goals, assists and points.

He’s going to need a bigger piece of the salary cap pie, having reached the 50-point plateau for the second time in his career and fourth season in-a-row of 40-points or more.

Unless the Lightning can convince Ryan Callahan to waive his modified no-trade-clause/no-movement-clause and dump his $5.800 million cap hit, there’s not a lot of wiggle room.

Yzerman’s roster is filled with NTCs, NMCs and modified versions of the two. It’s not as bad as the Detroit Red Wings, as most players with the aforementioned clauses in Tampa have one-year remaining on their contract and, again, a modified version of a no-trade clause (in which the player lists teams he can/cannot be traded to).

Tyler Johnson, in the meantime, is only 27, has a $5.000 million cap hit through the 2023-24 season and a no-trade-clause that doesn’t go into affect until July 1st.

If desperate times call for desperate measures any Johnson transaction would be a clear measure of Yzerman’s skill as a GM. The return wouldn’t be as much of a home run as Sergachev was for Drouin, but Yzerman would have to find a way to get it there.

Finally, the 24-year-old fourth line center in Cedric Paquette is due for a new deal.

Since amassing 19 points in 64 games in 2014-15 with Tampa, Paquette’s production has faltered to just five goals and four assists (nine points) in 56 games this season.

Anything more than a million dollars and longer than three years could come back to bite the Bolts, if they offer an extension.

27-year-old Andrej Sustr might have been bumped out of the Lightning’s top-6 defenders, considering he only played in 44 regular season games and appeared in zero postseason games.

Sustr’s next best deal is going to come from another team after spending the last six seasons in Tampa.

Slater Koekkoek, 24, had four goals and four assists (eight points) in 35 games with the Lightning this season, but was held out of postseason play. The pending-RFA should see another go around with the Bolts, especially if Yzerman pulls of a trade, but stranger things have happened and Koekkoek could end up looking elsewhere for employment.

In goal, the Lightning have 23-year-old starter, Andrei Vasilevskiy locked up for two more years at a $3.500 million cap hit. After that, they’re looking for one of their AHL guys to step into the backup role or searching the market.

Buyouts on the books: Matthew Carle at $1.833 million through the 2019-20 season.

Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:

Alex Gallant (RFA), Erik Condra (UFA), Jamie McBain (UFA), Louis Domingue (RFA), Matthew Peca (UFA), Mat Bodie (UFA)

2018 Offseason Preview: Nashville Predators

Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Nashville Predators and their outlook for the summer.

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The 2017-18 Nashville Predators finished atop the league. At the end of the regular season, that is.

For the first time in franchise history, the Preds clinched the President’s Trophy as the NHL club with the best regular season record (53-18-11) at season’s end. Nashville’s 117 points led the Central Division and Western Conference, but ultimately were no match for the Winnipeg Jets in seven games in the Second Round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

General Manager David Poile and head coach Peter Laviolette look to regroup and go at it again in 2018-19, but without assistant GM Paul Fenton, who took a job as Minnesota Wild’s General Manager.

Mike Fisher retired (again), Pekka Rinne was chased in multiple postseason appearances and Nashville was left without any hydration from Lord Stanley’s Cup.

2018 NHL Entry Draft

Poile and the Predators do not have a first round pick in Friday’s draft as a result of the Ryan Hartman trade deadline acquisition made with the Chicago Blackhawks.

It’s a deep draft, so Poile will have to use his magic anyway and select the next elite player in the later rounds or pull off a classic one-for-one hockey trade that rivals the Shea Weber for P.K. Subban trade or Seth Jones for Ryan Johansen trade. Did I mention the Filip Forsberg deal yet? The point is, Poile’s a magician, but he still hasn’t won a Cup.

Speaking of drafting in the late rounds, though, Nashville doesn’t have a second round pick this year or a sixth round pick (which the latter is more concerning given the aforementioned take above).

Pending free agents

The Predators have about $7.500 million in spending allowance this summer.

Scott Hartnell is their only pending-UFA forward and at 36-years-old, he amassed 13-11–24 totals in 62 games with the club that drafted him 6th overall in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. The year-long reunion with his first NHL club produced totals that, sure, mean something from a bottom-6 forward, but he could be replaced as he only played four postseason games (scoring precisely, zero points).

As long as Hartnell isn’t getting a raise, Poile could keep him as a depth forward or a fourth liner, but if either party doesn’t see something mutual, then for sure Hartnell will be moving on.

Poile has two pending-RFA forwards to ponder this summer in Miikka Salomaki and Hartman.

Salomaki, 25, had two goals and six assists (eight points) in 58 games this season and went on to play in eight postseason games with Nashville. Since breaking into the NHL in 2014-15, Salomaki has had 8-11–19 totals in 125 career games. Not great for a mid-twenty-something year-old winger, but he’s more in his prime than, say, Hartnell is and for cheaper too.

Hartman, 23, in his second NHL season was traded by the Blackhawks to the Predators in a bit of a surprise move at the deadline, but went on to amass 11-20–31 totals in 78 games with Nashville and Chicago.

Despite taking some foolish retaliation penalties in the postseason, Hartman’s worth having somewhere in the Preds lineup for a bridge-deal to short-term contract as long as the dollars work out.

The biggest wrench in Poile’s plans might come in the form of Alexei Emelin‘s next contract if the pending-UFA defender is to re-sign with Nashville this offseason.

The 32-year-old blueliner had one goal and eight assists (nine points) in 76 games in his first season wearing a uniform other than the Montreal Canadiens sweater. Emelin was claimed by the Vegas Golden Knights at the 2017 Expansion Draft, then flipped to Nashville as part of a deal that solidified the Predators with the best top-6 defensive corps on paper in the NHL.

Shutdown, offensive, two-way, defensive– you name it, Nashville had it this season.

Emelin’s most recent contract carried a $4.100 million cap hit and if it’s going to be the same or even higher moving forward, Poile might be forced to let him walk with some key RFAs to re-sign for the longevity of the franchise.

One of those keys, of course, happens to be the Predators backup goaltender, Juuse Saros.

The 23-year-old is prime for taking over Pekka Rinne’s net one of these years– if the Preds can keep him around.

While others are after the Washington Capitals trying to work a deal on acquiring the rights to pending-RFA, Philipp Grubauer, Saros is comfortably sitting around with his 2.44 goals against average and .925 save percentage in 26 games played and 1.05 GAA and .952 SV% in 4 postseason appearances in this year’s playoffs.

Rinne is 35-years-old.

Shocking, I know, but even more shocking? He only has one-year left on his current deal with a $7.000 million cap hit.

Rinne posted a 2.31 GAA and .927 SV% in 59 games this season as Nashville’s starter, but faltered to a 3.07 GAA and .904 SV% in 13 games in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

If the torch is almost to be passed from one elite goaltender to perhaps the next best goalie in the NHL, signing Saros to a sensible bridge-deal before both parties cash in is imperative this summer.

Perhaps, even, before making any major adjustments to the team.

Buyouts on the books: Viktor Stalberg through 2018-19 at $1.167 million

Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:

Harry Zolnierczyk (UFA), Matt O’Connor (UFA), Cody Bass (UFA), Mark McNeill (UFA), Trevor Smith (UFA), Brandon Bollig (UFA), John Ramage (UFA), Anders Lindback (UFA)

2018 Offseason Preview: Toronto Maple Leafs

Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Toronto Maple Leafs and their outlook for the summer.

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There was no competition for the remaining playoff spots in the Atlantic Division this season as only three teams were truly in contention for the top spot through divisional seedings.

While the Tampa Bay Lightning sat atop the Atlantic Division standings for about 95-percent of the season, the Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins swapped 2nd and 3rd all season long until Boston started peaking in March.

Toronto finished the regular season 3rd in the Atlantic with a 49-26-7 record and 105 points on the season, lining up on the road for Games 1 and 2 of their First Round matchup with the Bruins.

It was the first postseason meeting between the two clubs since their 2013 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals matchup and epic collapse in Game 7 by Toronto. Like 2013, however, the Maple Leafs won Games 5 and 6 in the series, forcing a decisive Game 7 back at TD Garden.

This time, though, the Bruins cruised in the third period to a 7-4 victory and won the series, 4-3.

Head coach, Mike Babcock, faced criticism from Toronto media and fans alike for back-to-back years of First Round exits, while Lou Lamoriello fulfilled his three years as General Manager.

Lamoriello’s seven-year contract with the club intended on keeping him in the role of GM for three years, then as a senior advisor for the final four years. Instead, Lamoriello resigned from Toronto and joined his son with the New York Islanders (and was subsequently promoted as General Manager).

Since Brendan Shanahan took a front office job with the Maple Leafs, there’s been another name prime for the GM job. Kyle Dubas.

Hired as an assistant GM as a 28-year-old, the prolific analytics-driven evaluator became General Manager of the Leafs at 32 as his Toronto Marlies (AHL) won this year’s Calder Cup championship.

The old regime is almost completely new-school in the 6ix.

2018 NHL Entry Draft

Dubas and his Maple Leafs scouting crew hold onto the 25th overall pick in the first round of the 2018 Draft and it’s not entirely clear cut on who they’ll likely target. There’s no immediate need to fill with a teenager, the 2018 Draft is deeper than usual and Toronto could always trade the pick.

There’s no ties to a player like Erik Karlsson, but the Leafs seem prime to make some type of acquisition this summer via a trade in addition to sticking with the plan.

Pending free agents

Toronto has about $22.340 million in cap space heading into July with some big names to consider re-signing.

Tomas Plekanec, Tyler Bozak, Leo Komarov, Dominic Moore and James van Riemsdyk are all pending-UFAs as of July 1st– with van Riemsdyk as one of the hottest players not named “John Tavares” potentially hitting the open market.

Acquired around the deadline from the Montreal Canadiens, 35-year-old Tomas Plekanec is two games away from the 1,000th in his NHL career. He recorded two assists in 17 games down the stretch with the Leafs and had six goals and 20 assists (26 points) in 77 games with Toronto and Montreal this season.

Since he amassed 54 points in 2015-16, Plekanec has averaged 27 points over the last two seasons. That kind of production drop-off is to be expected at some point in the waning days of his NHL career, but still important to the depth scoring of any organization.

He brings intangibles to the locker room, like leadership and good chemistry with Mitch Marner and Patrick Marleau that boosted Toronto’s playoff performance and helped extend the series with Boston to seven games.

The question is, can Dubas keep two 35-plus members on the roster, let along on the same line for another year or two (though nightly lineups are at Babcock’s discretion) and will Plekanec be allowed to regrow his goatee if he re-signs now that Lamoriello is gone?

Regardless, it’s been noted that Plekanec and his turtleneck have a desire to go back to Montreal, but if he truly wants to win a Cup before the end of his playing days…

Bozak, 32, is six games shy of his 600th career NHL game and had 11-32–43 totals in 81 games this season. One of Toronto’s more consistent point-producers, Bozak has only surpassed 20 goals once in his career (he scored 23 goals in 2014-15).

The veteran center has long been a playmaker, reaching 30-plus assists three times in his career– including the last two seasons.

He should get another look, but at what cost given some of the other big names potentially heading for the open waters of free agency from Toronto.

Komarov, 31, had 19 points this season. He’s never reached the 20 goal plateau in his career and– despite being a fan favorite and Brad Marchand‘s man-crush— he shouldn’t expect a big contract from Dubas if he wishes to extend his stay in Ontario’s capital city.

Moore, 37, resurrected his career last season with Boston, notching 11-14–25 totals in all 82 games, but the fourth line center scored just six goals in 50 games with the Maple Leafs this season.

Three games shy of 900 in his career, his 12 points on the year this season doesn’t scream “extension” in a Leafs sweater, but might find work elsewhere as a bottom-6 forward in what could be his last chance at a Cup.

van Riemsdyk, 29, reached the 30-goal plateau for the second time in his career since being drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers 2nd overall in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. He first scored 30 goals and 31 assists (61 points) with Toronto in 2013-14.

He had 33 assists last season and 36-18–54 totals this season.

Under Dubas, the Leafs are on their way to becoming the next Washington Capitals in prospect development. The Marlies just won the Calder Cup with a mixture of grizzled former NHLers in Colin Greening and young, developing, players that are intentionally overcooked at the AHL level for an easier transition to the NHL game.

Moving on from older pending-UFAs is bound to happen and it just might be this offseason’s plan.

In his second full season at the NHL level, pending-RFA William Nylander, 22, matched his rookie season point total (61) on the heels of 20 goals and 41 assists in 82 games this season. Sophomore year went swimmingly for the top-6 forward.

Now he’s a pending-RFA and will need a pay raise with Auston Matthews entering the final year of his entry-level deal.

It might seem easy for Toronto to crunch some numbers, keep van Riemsdyk, Bozak, Nylander and the rest of the gang together, but without a little proper planning for the future, the club could easily get themselves in some deep trouble.

32-year-old pending-UFA defender Roman Polak over came a leg injury, signed a PTO and landed a one-year renewal for his fourth season as a Maple Leaf in October. He had 4-7–11 totals in 75 games last season and improved to 2-10–12 totals in 54 games this season with Toronto. He even recorded his third career point in the playoffs (an assist).

But for the St. Louis Blues’s 160th overall pick in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, it doesn’t seem like another year in a Leafs uniform is in the cards. Not when Travis Dermott was making waves as a potential top-6 defender next season in the playoffs and Polak was being blown past by Bruins forwards.

Connor Carrick— a 24-year-old, pending-RFA defenseman– had a career-year in goals (4), assists (8) and points (12) in 47 games this season. Why he’s not utilized more is perplexing. He was a healthy scratch for 32 games, injured for two more and did not play in the postseason.

Both Dermott and Carrick should see precedence over Polak next season– especially in today’s game and with Ron Hainsey already as an anchor veteran on the blueline at 37-years-old– but that all depends on whether Dubas makes an effort to bring Carrick back and mend whatever’s between Babcock’s viewpoint and Carrick’s play on the ice.

If the Leafs get older and more reliant on guys like Hainsey, Polak and Marleau, like they did this postseason, Babcock risks being viewed similar to Ken Hitchcock in his loss of being adaptable in an increasingly younger, faster and more skilled than ever league.

That’s not to discredit Babcock as one of the greatest NHL coaches of all-time, but rather to point out he’s got a challenge ahead of him and his staff– and Babcock likes challenges, because he usually excels at them.

In goal, Frederik Andersen, 28, is under contract through the 2020-21 season with a $5.000 million cap hit and backup Curtis McElhinney, 35, has one-year remaining at $850,000.

There’s no need to disrupt something that’s working in net in the dynamic duo that is Andersen and McElhinney, but you can expect to see 24-year-old Garret Sparks get a few extra looks having led his team to the Calder Cup championship.

Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:

Colin Greening (UFA), Miro Aaltonen (RFA), Frederik Gauthier (RFA), Andreas Johnsson (RFA), Martin Marincin (RFA), Kyle Baun (UFA), Justin Holl (RFA), Calvin Pickard (RFA)

Of note, Toronto has $1.200 million in retained salary on the books (Phil Kessel) through the 2021-22 season.

2018 Offseason Preview: Los Angeles Kings

Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Los Angeles Kings and their outlook for the summer.

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The Los Angeles Kings got off to a bit of a hot start battling for 1st place in the Pacific Division with the Vegas Golden Knights in the first month or two of the 2017-18 season before cooling off a bit.

Still, first year head coach John Stevens commanded his team back to the playoffs for the first time since 2016, with a 45-29-8 record and 98 points on the season– good enough for 4th in the Pacific and the first wild card spot in the Western Conference.

Despite reaching the postseason, the Kings faced the Golden Knights in the First Round and were swept in a low scoring series.

2018 NHL Entry Draft

General Manager Rob Blake embarks upon his second entry draft with Los Angeles and the 20th overall pick in the first round of the 2018 Draft Friday night in Dallas.

Blake will likely yield one of the following players in Jack McBain, Grigori Denisenko, Serron Noel, Jared McIsaac, Ryan Merkley, Benoit-Olivier Groulx, Rasmus Sandin, Akil Thomas or Albin Eriksson.

Pending free agents

This offseason is a big deal for Los Angeles. The Kings have about $3.900 million in cap space currently and a headache looming on the horizon next summer, but we’ll get into that in a minute or two.

Pending unrestricted free agent forward, Torrey Mitchell, 33, was acquired by the Kings in a trade early in the season with the Montreal Canadiens, whereby Mitchell went on to produce 6-5–11 totals in 60 games with Los Angeles and Montreal.

A durable bottom-six forward, the Kings are cash-strapped and probably cannot re-sign him in their current state.

More importantly, Los Angeles is tied to discussions with Ilya Kovalchuk, meaning someone on the roster currently would have to be moved to free up enough cap space to sign the 35-year-old prolific scorer looking to return to NHL action.

Blake has two options for the Kings heading into 2018-19.

Stay the course and grow as a team that’s been implementing a younger, faster game to stay competitive while hitting everything in sight (as has always been the Kings way) or move too quickly to attract too much talent in the short term without planning for a future like how Los Angeles got into their rash of inconsistent postseason appearances– whereby the team is up against the ceiling as the cap stands, regardless of its projected increase.

Tobias Rieder, 25, was traded by the Arizona Coyotes to the Kings along with Scott Wedgewood in exchange for Darcy Kuemper in February and went on to produce 12-13–25 totals in 78 games with Los Angeles and Arizona this season.

Whether he was a rental or not, we’ll find out if he gets re-signed.

Los Angeles only has two pending free agent defenders in 26-year-old Kevin Gravel and 27-year-old Chrisitan Folin.

Gravel appeared in 16 games for the Kings this season and had three assists. He played in 49 games with Los Angeles in 2016-17, recorded his first career NHL goal and likely won’t be back with the Kings on their NHL roster next season.

Folin, on the other hand, participated in 65 games this season with the Kings, which was the most he’s ever played since joining Los Angeles after spending 2013-17 with the Minnesota Wild. Folin recorded 3-10–13 totals with the Kings and was a plus-1.

Between Alec Martinez and Jake Muzzin, both top-4 defenders have a $4.000 million cap hit. One of them could be traded this offseason to give Folin an increased role and/or sign Kovalchuk.

Of course, the real wild card here for Los Angeles is the status of their anchor on the blueline– Drew Doughty.

Doughty’s current contract expires at the end of the 2018-19 season and has a $7.000 million cap hit. That’s about to go way up.

Again, thankfully, Blake and his front office have a season to try to figure out where the money is going to come from. Nevertheless, it makes longterm planning difficult. Especially given how Doughty has indicated he will want to get paid. Big time.

One more thing of note, Oscar Fantenberg is currently in the minors and could play a role in either a trade package or a top-6 spot on the blueline next season.

In goal, 32-year-old, Jonathan Quick is under contract through the 2022-23 season with a $5.800 million cap hit. The elite goaltender still has a few more good years left in him and could backstop the franchise to its third Cup with him at the reins in net.

Peter Budaj, 35, was acquired last week in a trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for forward Andy Andreoff. Budaj rejoins the Kings organization for his second stint and could end up being Quick’s backup or back in the American Hockey League with the Ontario Reign next season. He has one-year remaining on his current deal and a $1.025 million cap hit.

In the pipeline between the pipes, 26-year-old Jack Campbell resurrected his professional career with Los Angeles, finishing the 2018 postseason as Quick’s backup and is under contract through the 2019-20 season at $675,000 per. Meanwhile, 23-year-old, Cal Petersen has one-year remaining on his entry-level contract and is looking to break through the ice at the NHL level.

Competition for the backup job in Los Angeles isn’t a bad thing.

It’s how Jonathan Bernier and Martin Jones came out of the system and landed full-time roles with the Toronto Maple Leafs and San Jose Sharks, respectively (though Bernier’s bounced around from being a starter in Toronto, back to a backup role with the Leafs, Anaheim Ducks and most recently, Colorado Avalanche).

Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:

Justin Auger (RFA), Andrew Crescenzi (UFA), Michael Mersch (UFA), Jordan Subban (RFA), Paul LaDue (RFA), Scott Wedgewood (UFA), Alex Lintuniemi (RFA), Kurtis MacDermid (RFA)

2018 Offseason Preview: Ottawa Senators

Continuing our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams, today we begin with the Ottawa Senators and continue working our way through the 2018 NHL Entry Draft order (if every team still had their first round pick).

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After reaching the 2017 Eastern Conference Final and succumbing to the eventual 2017 Stanley Cup champion, Pittsburgh Penguins, in double-overtime in Game 7, the 2017-18 Senators were quite a disappointment.

Ottawa was one goal away from reaching the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in franchise history and first time in ten years, but Chris Kunitz‘s game-winning goal ended the Sens magical 2017 postseason run.

A rocky start in October led to a dismal November after acquiring the services of Matt Duchene.

Though the team’s effort was not Duchene’s fault alone, trading away Kyle Turris in the three-team Duchene deal– and later sending Derick Brassard to the Vegas Golden Knights Pittsburgh Penguins (after making a pitstop in Vegas) as part of a three-team deal leading up to the 2018 trade deadline– didn’t do much to help Ottawa’s cause as Guy Boucher’s 1-3-1 was ripped to shreds on a night-to-night basis.

The Sens finished 2017-18 with a 28-43-11 record, notching 67 points and finishing 7th in the Atlantic Division.

Erik Karlsson‘s displeasure with the organization has the trade rumor mill searching for a new home for the defender with one-year remaining on his current contract, while Thomas Chabot and Filip Gustavsson show promise for a hopeful future on the current roster and in the system, respectively.

2018 NHL Entry Draft

Between Filip Zadina, Brady Tkachuk and Oliver Wahlstrom, there’s bound to be a top-quality prospect that could make quite a world of change for the organization. Zadina or Tkachuk could very well be selected 3rd overall by the Montreal Canadiens leaving the Senators with the next best available player to select.

But anything’s possible, as we’ve come to see time and time again in the draft.

Ottawa could trade their pick, take someone off the board that they’re more comfortable and confident with or be predictable and select the “best available” player.

Despite this year’s draft being deeper than recent drafts, one player alone isn’t going to fix the Senators (on-ice product, at least– we’ll save their front office for another day).

Pending free agents

With almost $15 million in cap space this offseason, Ottawa has a chance to make a dent at attracting one of the better players testing the market this July. However, the Senators have a couple of important names that are worth holding onto in Mark Stone (a pending-RFA) and Chris Wideman (a pending-UFA).

Other pending free agents currently on the NHL roster in Canada’s capital include the likes of Fredrik Claesson and Cody Ceci. Both are pending-RFA blueliners that are arbitration eligible if they are not tendered qualifying offers or already re-signed by July 1st.

In terms of priorities, keeping Stone and Wideman could play vital roles for Ottawa’s second/third line (Stone) and top-4 defensemen (Wideman). Neither are stellar standouts so somewhere around $3.000- 4.000 million AAV deals seem reasonable– at most– considering the 2019 crop of pending free agents Ottawa will have (including Duchene, Karlsson and others).

But Ottawa has bigger needs with six forwards over the age of 30 and nobody to match Karlsson’s playing style on the first defensive pair.

It wouldn’t be unwise for General Manager Pierre Dorion to find some trading partners to take on 37-year-old Alex Burrows, 36-year-old Marian Gaborik and the contract of Clarke MacArthur (if MacArhtur’s playing days are indeed over and the Senators no longer wish to place him on the long term injured reserve from season-to-season).

If Karlsson is to be traded, then the Senators will have to hit a home run on the package in return. But the real home run for the organization might be finding someone to take on Bobby Ryan‘s $7.250 million cap hit through the 2021-22 season in a trade, as Ottawa’s owner, Eugene Melnyk dreams.

The Sens need to get younger, more skilled and faster. They’re almost figuring that out on the blueline, but even then, they’ve got some decisions to make– keep either Claesson or Ceci and find a new defender or two via trade or free agency.

Likewise, Craig Anderson isn’t getting much younger (he’s 37) as the starting goaltender, while Mike Condon, 28, has stalled in development as an average backup.

Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:

Chris Driedger (RFA), Tyler Randell (UFA), Nick Moutrey (RFA), Mike Blunden (UFA), Nicholas Paul (RFA) and Max Reinhart (UFA)

Another Golden Era of Expansion?

It’s a great time for the National Hockey League (ignoring the ongoing concussion lawsuit, poor officiating and [insert your favorite scandal from this season here]), but for league revenues there’s never been a greater time than now.

The Vegas Golden Knights slashed all preconceptions regarding expansion teams and how they are expected to perform and have shown the strength of professional sports in North America– any city*, including Sin City, can support a professional franchise.

*except for Québec City, apparently

Though it’s not the 1990s, where expansion in the NHL saw seven teams (the San Jose Sharks, Ottawa Senators, Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, Nashville Predators and Atlanta Thrashers) enter the league from 1991 to 1999– and two more teams in 2000 (Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild)– the league is prime for another era of expansion.

The Golden Knights (2017) are just the first of who knows how many more teams to join the league in the 2010s and 2020s.

Seattle is on the verge of landing a franchise ready to hit the ice in 2020 (with an expansion vote expected to take place this fall) and Houston looks viable, given Houston Rockets (NBA) owner, Tilman Fertitta’s, expressed desire to ascertain a franchise both publicly and in meeting with NHL commissioner, Gary Bettman.

Fun fact, Houston is the largest North American market without an NHL team and looked like they would be part of a looming WHA-NHL merger in the 1970s, but the merger wasn’t finalized until 1979 and– after learning they would not be included in any form of a merger in 1978– the Houston Aeros folded at the conclusion of the WHA’s 1977-78 season.

For some reason there’s a notion in North American sports that 30 is a nice, even, wholesome number for the total number of clubs in a league. Take a look at how big the big leagues were 20-30 years ago and you’ll soon realize that 30 is just a number.

Only two of the four major professional sports leagues in North America have gone beyond 30 teams. The NHL is one of them.


So you want to buy an expansion team…

Well, for starters, you better have at least $650 million (U.S.) lying around, as Oak View Group is all but assured of bringing the league’s 32nd team to Seattle for that price tag. In sports, as in real estate, prices expansion fees only go up over time (so definitely have more than $650 million lying around after Seattle joins the league– assuming Seattle joins the league).

Want to bring back the Québec Nordiques? Good luck.

Québec City would be the league’s second smallest market and selling out 16,000 tickets doesn’t mean as much as it used to with media deals, corporate sponsorships, new markets and division balance (let alone conference balance) all at stake.

Butts in seats only matter for momentum– not ad dollars on TV.

Granted, people in seats laying eyes upon LED signage around the arena, now that’s still an investment and matters to an extent on the local level and/or organization itself for day-to-day operations.

But this league sees the big picture– national level attention, reaching a broader scope, true globalization of their league as the best league– let alone growth of the game.

Boston Bruins owner, Jeremy Jacobs, is also the chairman of the league’s board of governors. He’s also head of the league’s executive committee. Old guard owner jokes aside, Jacobs has the final say on most (if not all) league management decisions, despite the existence of league commissioner, Gary Bettman.

Commissioners in all major North American professional sports work for the owners. Not the other way around.

The commissioner is the collective voice of the board of governors– the face of the league– but ultimately is not the singular directive power.

So at the Bruins season ending press conference, Jacobs was asked about the future of the league regarding the Golden Knights and potential expansion.

Québec just isn’t happening right now.

It’s been said time and time before and it’ll be said time and time again. And it was the main takeaway from Jacobs’s comments regarding further expansion on the near horizon.

Houston was name-dropped. Whether it’s relocation or expansion (and it’s likely another expansion at this point), the league will find its way to Seattle and Houston.

It’s hard to remember the journalistic duty of including the words “proposed”, “expected” or “just about soon to be announced at some point in the near or not so distant future” before mentioning Seattle, let alone Houston, given the known interest.

Maybe the Arizona Coyotes will relocate, you ask?

No. That’s not happening.

If the Coyotes were going to move, they would have moved already. Arizona is committed to Arizona. While the City of Glendale might not see the Coyotes as suitable partners, the Coyotes see Arizona as their true love.

Maybe the Florida Panthers are Québec’s last hope (or Houston’s best opportunity, if expansion fees are an issue) for relocation?

Sure, but as an “in case of an emergency” plan. Remember how the Atlanta Thrashers relocation to Winnipeg played out? If not, keep reading, but also, Florida has an owner that’s committed to Florida.

At least Patrick Roy will be back behind the bench for the Quebec Remparts (QMJHL) next season.

Does market size matter if 16,000 season tickets are sold in a 700,000 population or 2,000,000-plus population?

No, but the media deal that accompanies the market and how many televisions it reaches, that’s where it matters.

Right about here is where things don’t stack up as well for Québec with other prospective expansion candidates, given the surrounding population outside Québec City and the conglomerate of Montreal Canadiens fans that dominate the province.

At one point in time two teams made sense for the province, let alone two teams in one city (Montreal). Nowadays, the Habs have too much of a stronghold– too big of a monopoly of fans. Yes, even among old Nordiques fans and their families who swore they’d never root for their intra-province rivals.

Bettman runs the league like the National Basketball Association, which, considering his background, sounds about right. The NHL’s profits have never been higher and Bettman deserves credit for the business side of the sport.

And the NBA is eyeing expansion of their own, following renovations to KeyArena/Seattle Center, where Oak View Group looks to land an expansion NHL team for the 2020-21 season. In addition to Seattle, the NBA’s apparently eyeing Kansas City, lending some to believe we might be in another golden era of expansion across all major North American professional sports leagues as Major League Baseball commissioner, Rob Manfred, has indicated a desire for MLB to expand to 32 teams (with Montreal and Mexico as possibilities).

As an aside, the author would like to let it be known of his desire for an MLB team in Charlotte, N.C.

31 is the new 30 and 32, 33 and/or 34 is perhaps the near future for at least three out of four of the Big Four leagues (MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL).


So about Seattle… (and other sports economics)

It’s totally happening, it’s just a matter of time. Get ready to cut the check for $650 million, Oak View Group.

And Houston?

Once Seattle goes for $650 million, there’s no reason not to expect the expansion fee to go up once again for a 33rd NHL team. Seattle’s not expected to begin play until the 2020-21 season and even without any of the major renovation work that’s going on in the Emerald City, Houston isn’t fully move-in ready for an NHL franchise.

That’s not to say Toyota Center isn’t a great fit, but rather that both Fertitta and the league aren’t presently talking and expansion to Houston would logically have to follow Seattle working with the current timeline of events (and ignoring what it would all mean for division realignment).

So four or five years from now a $650 million expansion fee could quickly become upwards of $800 million for a brand new team. Perhaps it’d be $1 billion by then.

And if Québec can afford a billion dollar (U.S.) pricetag by that point, then sure, they’ll be a shoo-in for the league’s 34th team. By then we might as well be talking 35th and/or 36th even.

Four divisions of nine teams doesn’t sound terrible if you can find suitable locations (Seattle, Houston, Kansas City, Québec City and Atlanta, for example) to level off the Atlantic, Metropolitan, Central and Pacific Divisions.

This is the economy of sports in the 21st century and Bettman’s dream– so long as the value of the majority of NHL franchises continue to climb and start to rival those of midpack/bottom NFL teams (the New York Rangers are valued at $1.5 billion according to Forbes– barely above the Toronto Maple Leafs $1.4 billion valuation)– and that’s ignoring how weak/strong the Canadian dollar is.

Granted, the average NHL franchise is worth around $594 million.

But as the NFL’s Carolina Panthers (a mid-pack team in terms of franchise value again according to Forbes) just sold for $2.2 billion to David Tepper, one would expect NHL franchise values to climb as the future of American football as we know it remains uncertain and the success of the Golden Knights impacts NHL revenues in the coming seasons.

Again, sports franchises and real estate prices always climb. It’s only a matter of time.


Okay, so just tell me where does that leave Québec exactly?

Recall for a moment, if you will, May 2011 when the Atlanta Thrashers were purchased by True North Sports and Entertainment and the downfall of Atlanta Spirit, LLC. began (or more accurately, continued).

Yes, Winnipeg got an NHL team back, but they had to essentially go through relegation to get back to the top.

The Winnipeg model of “being sent down to the minors”  for almost 20 years witnessed near sellout crowds in the smallest NHL arena currently (15,321 seats) for AHL games.

That’s great, but the Jets weren’t going to be the Jets again if there was a prospective local buyer in Atlanta interested in busting up Atlanta Spirit, LLC. seven years ago.

There wasn’t, so True North Sports and Entertainment’s rainy day fund came in handy when the league needed a venue for a team immediately– regardless of the support and regardless of Québec, Hamilton or Kansas City’s moaning and groaning (from prospective owners and/or fans).

Canadian fans and some American hockey traditionalists like to bring up “the success of the Québec Remparts” in their new arena (Vidéotron Centre, opened in 2015).

Oh you mean the QMJHL team that plays in a 18,259 seat arena and has been having declining attendance since maxing out around 14,000 their first year there (2015-16) and now sits around 9,400 or less (like all other Junior teams). Please go on and tell everyone how QMJHL support alone will persuade NHL eyeballs.

It would certainly help Québec’s cause for bringing back the Nordiques by landing an AHL team on top of their QMJHL club and continuously supporting the organization(s) a la Winnipeg circa 1997-2011.

None of this rules out relocation, but it does make expansion look slightly more attractive, provided someone (Quebecor or another prospective owner) can fork up over half-a-billion U.S. dollars.


Professional sports are a business of entertainment.

Again, professional sports are a business.

Hockey traditionalism would not profit as well as the league has been profitting today.

Plain and simple as that.

This is a league that does not have to contract– thanks to the salary cap, revenue sharing and constant work stoppages to renegotiate the number of dollars the league eats before dividing up for the players.

This is a league that has shown the sport can be played in any environment.

The State of Arizona produced Auston Matthews. The Arizona Coyotes have been in Arizona for a generation AND THEY ARE NOT MOVING. They’re committed to their fans and their hockey community, but they’re up against a local government that’s unwilling to work with them on even the most basic levels– private vs. public funding for a new arena aside.

Tampa Bay, Nashville, Vegas, San Jose, Anaheim and yes, even Florida and Carolina have all been competitive and have diehard fans.

Sure the Panthers and the Hurricanes haven’t gathered casual eyes since 1996 and 2006 respectively, but you can’t blame the Panthers for being the Cleveland Browns of the NHL in a way (in addition to their poor location in Sunrise, Florida– outside of Miami) and Tom Dundon for any Hurricanes wrongdoings yet (though this summer is all about Carolina and how they just might reinvent themselves– and of course, everyone likes to jump to conclusions after a new owner’s first offseason, right?).

Plus, at least the Hurricanes won the Cup in 2006. Your move Panthers.

But this league, like any major professional sports league, sees a game, entertainment and money to be made.

Tradition is just a sweater, a pregame ritual or a superstition. It’s not a revenue stream for reinvention over time.

Take it from NASCAR, where, coupled with changes back-and-forth in the rulebook every other week on top of overprotection of its traditional image (along with dried up ratings) have removed the basement from the very foundation of the sport– and possibly the sanctioning body as the France family mulls a sale of the entity itself.

Like it or not, we are in an era of expansion– not just for the NHL, but potentially for all four major North American professional sports (and MLS, if you really want to extend the product here, as expansion is wicked hot in soccer currently).

Should I mention we’re getting four more ads on the ice next season or have I already given everyone enough heart palpitations?

2018 Mock Draft: First Round Revisions

Nearing the end of the month of May there’s only two teams remaining in contention for the Stanley Cup– the Vegas Golden Knights and the Washington Capitals. As a result, we now have a better picture of how the first round of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft should go based on the lottery and where all the other teams fell out of the postseason.

Without having the advantage of a) being a professional scout for a living or b) having whatever kind of TV package/time-space continuum that would allow me to see every prospect play, this is the next best thing we’ve got– completely rudimentary “expert” opinion on mostly teenagers and what just might become reality from the dream of one day becoming an NHL player.

Let’s dive in, shall we?

While the Golden Knights and Capitals decide who’ll be eating cereal, drinking their favorite beverage or literally doing whatever they want with the Cup all summer, 29 other franchises are preparing for the Entry Draft right now.

“29”, you say, “but there’s not even that many teams that still have picks in the first round!”

That’s correct, but there’s seven rounds of hell to sit through while 30 other GMs make their picks before yours and every now and then Gary Bettman interrupts with a trade to announce, getting everyone excited only to reveal that a team has swapped one draft pick for two or three or a bag of pucks drafting players that all GMs have to sit through, so while not everyone may have a first round pick (because they traded it away or whatever) all 31 clubs have to prepare for the Draft anyway because depth can come from anywhere.

And yes, we went from “29 other teams are preparing” to “all 31”, but come on, you know Vegas and Washington have done their homework too, right?

Everyone– even Hockey Men who only need their own eyes once– has at least glanced over the list of prospects to choose from this June.

Anyway, this is just the second of three editions of my mock draft from earlier this month until draft day (June 22nd), so as not to confuse you, bore you or– by some miracle– humor you some more, here we go.

This year’s NHL Entry Draft is being held at American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas from June 22nd-23rd.

2018_NHL_Entry_Draft_logo

1. Buffalo Sabres –> D Rasmus Dahlin, Frolunda (Sweden)

Jack Eichel hedged his compliments surrounding Dahlin as the Draft technically hasn’t occurred yet and the Sabres could shock the world and choose anyone they want not named “Rasmus Dahlin.” However, Buffalo, New York is shaping up to be the capital of the world for people with the first name “Rasmus” as of the last week or so.

It only makes sense that they land the best player in this year’s draft and, oh yeah, he’s a two-way defenseman that can get Buffalo back on track. The 6-foot-2, 181-pound blueliner is the perfect fit in blue and gold as someone who can shutdown and get the puck out of the zone in what’ll be another fast paced, rough and tumble Atlantic Division in 2018-19.

2. Carolina Hurricanes–> RW Andrei Svechnikov, Barrie (OHL)

Second-best isn’t an indication of being “first worst” by any means when it comes to Andrei Svechnikov in his draft class. The Hurricanes already have a plethora of youth and skill on the back end, so while they won’t be adding the talent of the 1st overall defender, it’s not really like they need it.

They need a pure goal scorer, a gifted top-six winger who just might land Carolina inside the postseason picture in 2019 for the first time since 2009. What a difference ten years [could] make. Svechnikov had 40-32–72 totals in 44 games with the Barrie Colts this season– just his first season of Junior hockey.

3. Montreal Canadiens–> RW Filip Zadina, Halifax (QMJHL)

Montreal’s spent a lot of time focusing on bigger and burlier players the last few years, but after finding themselves in an unusual position (a rebuild!) the Habs are ready to reload. A dynamic goal scorer and underrated as a forward, Filip Zadina fits right in with the Canadiens.

His 44 goals in 57 games for the Halifax Mooseheads this season should translate well into a lineup looking to improve their minus-55 goal differential in 2017-18. The 6-foot, 195-pound winger can change the course of a game with his sharp shot.

4. Ottawa Senators–> D Noah Dobson, Acadie-Bathurst (QMJHL)

Noah Dobson can get pucks up the ice with ease while maintaining stellar two-way play. He’d be a great fit alongside Thomas Chabot, especially in what could become a post-Erik Karlsson era in Ottawa either this offseason via a trade or next offseason via free agency.

Dobson is a safe, smart, best available pick at 6-foot-3, 180-pounds. The right-shot defender had 17-52–69 totals with Acadie-Bathurst Titan this season in the QMJHL.

5. Arizona Coyotes–> RW Oliver Wahlstrom, USA U-18 (USNTDP)

Since going viral as a 9-year-old in one of the TD Bank Mini-1-on-1s years ago, Oliver Wahlstrom has had high expectations to live up to– and he’s met them. His wrist shot is among the best and he amassed 47 goals in 60 games this season with the U.S. National U-18 Team, as well as seven goals in seven games at the IIHF World Under-18 Championship.

He’s a complete package of speed and skill– something the Coyotes have been stockpiling as they center their offense around Clayton Keller. At 6-foot-1, 205-pounds, Wahlstrom’s size is already that of an NHLer, but he’ll likely go ahead and play a season with the Boston College Eagles as he intends to before going pro.

6. Detroit Red Wings–> D Quintin Hughes, Michigan (BIG10)

The Red Wings have a need for young, quality, defenders (aside from Xavier Ouellet). Luckily for them, Quintin Hughes is available as a decent skater with excellent puck skills (hands and a heavy shot). Like Torey Krug, Hughes can control the game by moving the puck and firing off an accurate shot.

7. Vancouver Canucks–> LW Brady Tkachuk, Boston University (H-East)

Losing the Sedins to retirement doesn’t hurt as much when you add the brother of one of your biggest rivals. Brady Tkachuk is equally as intense and gritty as his brother Matthew is with the Calgary Flames, but the younger Tkachuk has more of an offensive upside to his game– pure scoring ability. At 6-foot-3, 196-pounds, he’ll fit in well with the Canucks core players, Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser.

8. Chicago Blackhawks–> D Evan Bouchard, London (OHL)

The Blackhawks have quite a few cracks in their roster since they lost Trevor van Riemsdyk in the Vegas expansion draft, Marian Hossa to a skin condition and Patrick Sharp to retirement. They traded Ryan Hartman, Michal Kempny and Tommy Wingels at the deadline and desperately need to replenish their defensive depth. They’ve also got an aging problem, with Duncan Keith (34) and Brent Seabrook (33) signed for a long time.

Luckily for Chicago, Evan Bouchard is one of the best new-age defenders that had 25-62–87 totals in 67 games for the London Knights this season. Bouchard is a 6-foot-2, 193-pound, right-shot defenseman that can be a leader from the back end. His transition game is phenomenal and should help get the puck up the ice to core guys like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.

9. New York Rangers–> C Rasmus Kupari, Karpat (Finland)

New York state’s “Rasmus” population increases yet again– though this time in New York City, not upstate in Buffalo– as the Rangers welcome new head coach, David Quinn, with Rasmus Kupari’s skill set to add to the fold. Kupari is the best Finnish forward in the draft and with Ryan Spooner as a pending-RFA and more to sort out this offseason, New York’s looking to make smart picks in both the now and down the road.

A 6-foot-1, 183-pound center isn’t the worst place to start as they continue to transition their game with the likes of Lias Andersson, Spooner and Vladislav Namestnikov.

10. Edmonton Oilers–>D Adam Boqvist, Brynas (SWE-JR)

Edmonton Oilers general manager, Peter Chiarelli, would like to find a stable, young defenseman this offseason without overpaying. If Chiarelli is fine giving Adam Boqvist a little time to come into his own, then Chiarelli shouldn’t have to look any further than the 10th overall pick that he’s got.

The 5-foot-11, 168-pound, Swedish born defender could use another year in the SHL before becoming a two-way power on the Oilers defense.

11. New York Islanders–> C/LW Isac Lundestrom, Lulea (Sweden)

In the first of back-to-back picks, the Islanders look to round-out a group of young forwards that can develop and work together. A 5-foot-11, 178-pound forward, Isac Lundestrom should play a role in the Islanders top-six forwards after another year or two of SHL play.

12. New York Islanders (via Calgary Flames)–> LW Joel Farabee, USA U-18 (USNTDP)

Lou Lamoriello’s welcome to New York comes in the form of two solid back-to-back draft picks with Joel Farabee being the more NHL-ready of the two at the moment thanks to his knowledge of the North American game compared to Lundestrom. The 5-foot-11, 164-pound left winger has a lot of speed and tremendous hockey IQ that he’ll be bringing to Boston University this fall.

Meanwhile the Islanders are busy trying to re-sign John Tavares right now, probably.

13. Dallas Stars–> D Ty Smith, Spokane (WHL)

The Stars need to rework their defense a bit while new head coach, Jim Montgomery figures out how to fire up Jamie BennTyler Seguin and Alexander RadulovTy Smith adds to the transition game that’s already pretty strong (and reliant) on John Klingbergwhile the return of Marc Methot from injury should really anchor the blueline in Dallas.

Smith’s effective on the power play and has some room to grow as a 5-foot-10, 175-pound defender.

14. Philadelphia Flyers (via St. Louis Blues)–> D Bode Wilde, USA U-18 (USNTDP)

Bode Wilde’s a 6-foot-2, 197-pound behemoth on the blue line. An underrated defender, he should develop nicely into a top-four role– and that’s even among an already stacked group of defensive prospects in Philadelphia.

15. Florida Panthers–> C Barrett Hayton, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)

Florida turned a lot of heads almost making the playoffs despite trading Reilly Smith to the Vegas Golden Knights and leaving Jonathan Marchessault exposed at the Expansion Draft last June. Despite their obvious setbacks, the Panthers picked up Frank Vatrano in a deal with the Bruins back in February, so they’ve kind of rounded out their top-six forwards.

Barrett Hayton’s a smart pickup with 21-39–60 totals in 63 games this season for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. He might need a year or two more in Juniors to develop, but for a “best available” grab, he’s the real deal.

16. Colorado Avalanche–> C Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Assat (Finland)

The Avalanche had quite a run in 2017-18 and so did Jesperi Kotkaniemi with Assat this season in Liiga. The young center had 10 goals and 19 assists (29 points) in 57 games in the Finnish league. Despite a postseason collapse in production, Kotkaniemi’s talent development projection looks fine with another year in Europe while Colorado looks to make more noise in the Central Division in 2018-19.

17. New Jersey Devils–> C Joseph Veleno, Drummondville (QMJHL)

6-foot-1, 193-pounds, an incredible work ethic and a decent hockey IQ, Joseph Veleno is hard to overlook, but somehow he lands in the lap of the Devil(s). He had 22 goals and 57 assists (79 points) in 64 games with Drummondville this season.

New Jersey recognizes talent when they see it under Ray Shero’s reign and Veleno should fit well as the roster continues to transition to a younger game alongside Nico Hischier and Taylor Hall.

18. Columbus Blue Jackets–> C Jack McBain, Toronto (OJHL)

Jack McBain’s a gifted playmaker that should pan out in a couple of years really well alongside the likes of Artemi Panarin and the rest of the Columbus Blue Jackets. He had 5-19–24 totals in 39 games for the Toronto Jr. Canadiens this season and will be attending Boston College this fall.

19. Philadelphia Flyers–> LW Grigori Denisenko, Yaroslavl 2 (Russia)

Philadelphia snags a sneaky good forward in Grigori Denisenko as the winger is crafty and should come into his own in two-to-three years as he works his way up in MHL/KHL prominence.

20. Los Angeles Kings–> RW Serron Noel, Oshawa (OHL)

Los Angeles is getting younger, faster and more skilled than ever before in franchise history– adapting as the game has evolved to its current form– and Serron Noel brings all facets of the current game into the Kings organization. The 6-foot-5, 205-pound right-winger could likely go well ahead of 20th overall as he’s been compared to the likes of Blake Wheeler.

21. San Jose Sharks–> D Jared McIsaac, Halifax (QMJHL)

Jared McIsaac is a burly, 6-foot-1, 195-pound, defender that amassed 47 points in 65 games with Halifax this season. His size and skill alone should be enough to compensate for the beating and battering in the battle for California between San Jose and their rivals in SoCal.

22. Ottawa Senators (via Pittsburgh Penguins)–> D Ryan Merkley, Guelph (OHL)

An offensive defenseman, Ryan Merkley had 13 goals in 63 games for Guelph this season. At 5-foot-11, 170-pounds, he’ll need some time to develop his physical presence to an NHL grade, but he’s shown some feisty two-way play in his time in Junior.

23. Anaheim Ducks–> C Benoit-Olivier Groulx, Halifax (QMJHL)

Anaheim likes big and brash forwards. Benoit-Olivier Groulx’s 6-foot, 192-pound frame fits the bill (get it, because they’re the Ducks) quite well, but Groulx brings more than just a big body– he had 55 points in 68 games with the Mooseheads this season, proving he’s more than just a power forward down the middle.

24. Minnesota Wild–> D Rasmus Sandin, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)

Sandin’s offensive style fits right in the new-age Minnesota Wild now that new general manager, Paul Fenton, is in charge. Jonas Brodin, Matt Dumba and some combination of Ryan Suter or Jared Spurgeon and Rasmus Sandin just might be the Wild’s top-4 defensive core in the near future.

25. Toronto Maple Leafs–> RW Akil Thomas, Niagara (OHL)

Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas makes his big-time debut by snagging Akil Thomas with his first pick in the draft. Thomas’s impressive 81-point performance this season with the Niagara IceDogs shows promise as he’s got some time to focus on growing more into the NHL game. His offensive potential is just waiting to be tapped into in its full form.

26. New York Rangers (via Boston Bruins)–> LW Albin Eriksson, Skelleftå (SWE J20)

With their second pick of the first round, the Rangers pick up a player with 22-18–40 totals in 38 games for his Junior team in Sweden this season. That player is Albin Eriksson and fans in New York better get used to hearing his name in a couple of years. He’s a work in progress in terms of making the jump to the SHL, but with a plethora of youth and a solid core built at Madison Square Garden, there’s no need to rush perfection.

27. Chicago Blackhawks (via Nashville Predators)–> C/LW Ryan McLeod, Mississauga (OHL)

McLeod notched 26 goals and 44 assists (70 points) with the Steelheads in 68 games this season, slightly more than doubling his offensive production in 2016-17– his sophomore year in Junior. He might be one of the more NHL ready prospects, otherwise the Blackhawks can expect more of the same if he rounds out his Junior career in 2018-19. Unless he pencils his name on Chicago’s roster this fall.

28. New York Rangers (via Tampa Bay Lightning)–> D Adam Ginning, Linköping (SHL)

The Rangers have some decent depth along the blueline with Ryan Lindgren and Libor Hajek looking to emerge as NHLers this upcoming season, but they’re about to see some serious competition for one of the top-6 jobs, if not now, then definitely in another year. Adam Ginning is capable of growing into a more prominent shutdown role.

29. St. Louis Blues (via Winnipeg Jets)–> C/LW Fillip Hallander, Timra (Sweden)

St. Louis could use some tweaks and a plan down the middle this offseason. Thankfully, Fillip Hallander might be able to ease the worries of some Blues fans if they can be patient with Hallander spending another year in the SHL. He had nine goals and 11 assists (20 points) in 40 games with Timra this season, which shows he’s young and has time to develop.

30. Washington Capitals–> D Mattias Samuelsson, USA U-18 (USNTDP)

With ample certainty, Samuelsson will be the 30th overall pick in the 2018 Draft, however, whether he’ll be going to Washington or Detroit (or elsewhere) is dependent upon the outcome of the Stanley Cup Final (and/or any potential trades).

31. Detroit Red Wings (via Vegas Golden Knights)–> C David Gustafsson, HV71 (SHL)

Ditto.