Tag Archives: OHL

2018 Offseason Preview: Columbus Blue Jackets

Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Columbus Blue Jackets and their outlook for the summer.

The Jackets finished the 2017-18 season with a record of 45-30-7, capping a strong (albeit inconsistent) campaign with 97 points, earning them fourth place in the Metropolitan Division and a playoff birth as the first wild card in the East.

After taking two dramatic overtime victories in Washington to start the playoffs, the soldiers in Union Blue fell on their bayonets by dropping four-straight games (including three within the friendly confines of Nationwide Arena) to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals and were once again eliminated from contention in the opening round of the playoffs.

I mean, would they really be the Blue Jackets if they didn’t get your hopes up before firing them out of that cannon?

Though the core of a solid-if-not-spectacular team is likely to remain through the summer, the front office is now feeling the pressure of raising a team that they drug out of the trenches by the bootstraps to the next level. The fanbase will no longer accept ‘just making the playoffs’, and though there’s still plenty of promising youth onboard, some key players like captain Nick Foligno are sliding into the back half of their careers. This is a team that needs to win, and needs to do it soon.

How can they do that? I’m glad you asked. (If you didn’t actually ask, I’m still going to tell you.)

2018 NHL Entry Draft

The Jackets are decently well-stocked to try and score some talent in this year’s draft, with a pick in each of the first three rounds, along with another in both the sixth and seventh. It will be those early-round picks that are likely to mean the most to GM Jarmo Kekalainen and his staff, as this year’s extremely deep draft class means that you’re likely to nab some serious quality (or perhaps have a bigger bargaining chip should you decide to trade picks for another asset) deeper in than usual.

It’s not overly likely that the CBJ will look to acquire further picks, though they could perhaps look to trade up from their 18th spot in line. With Jack Johnson a pending UFA who looks very likely to be on the move (his recent time in Columbus has been tumultuous, and a change of scenery could be the spark he needs to reignite his career) come July 1, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that we could see a deal made to send his negotiating rights and that 18th pick to a team further up the draft order.

As for likely selections with whatever first round pick they happen to have (we’ll pretend that if they trade up, it will be a small swing, maybe in the 12-15 position at most), a few names stand out to me as filling potential needs.

Serron Noel, a 6-foot-5, 205-pound right winger out of the OHL (Oshawa Generals) could be a fit on a team with few natural right wingers. A solid, if not outstanding scorer in juniors, Noel is still filling out his large frame and is likely to continue improving his burgeoning offensive game, drawing comparisons to power forwards like Wayne Simmonds. An eventual perhaps third-and-fourth line RW tandem of Noel and Josh Anderson would be a lot of meat to throw at opposing defenses.

Bode Wilde, a 6-foot-2, 196-pound right shooting defenseman from the United States National Team Development Program, is a very good possibility. Regarded as one of the better all-round defenders in a draft that is not lacking them, Wilde could eventually complete a defense corps that boasts himself along with David Savard and Seth Jones down the right side. Not a bad lineup there. In particular, his booming slap shot would be a welcome addition on a power play unit that hasn’t had a true cannon since James Wisniewski‘s departure. Also, he has a sick hockey name.

My personal pick for the most likely selection comes in the form of Swedish Elite League center Isac Lundestrom. At 6-feet and 185 pounds, he’s not far off from good NHL size, and with the additional polish his defensive game could use, he’d likely have plenty of time to hit the weight room before reaching the Jackets lineup. But his elite offensive capabilities and, in particular, blinding speed address two of the club’s biggest shortcomings. He also provides versatility, having proven himself capable of playing the left wing well. Regarded by some scouts as having potentially the highest ceiling of any center in the draft, he could be a mid-round steal for Columbus.

Pending Free Agents

The UFA list for Columbus isn’t huge, but it does contain a few potentially interesting names. NHL regulars Johnson (who’s possible fate has already been discussed, so we’ll skip over him in this section), Thomas Vanek, Matt Calvert, Ian Cole, and Mark Letestu are the most notable names (no offense to Jeff Zatkoff, Taylor Chorney, Andre Benoit, Cameron Gaunce, and Alex Broadhurst).

Vanek’s stint in Columbus started off very well, gelling quickly with linemates Alexander Wennberg and Boone Jenner to put up great numbers in early games following his acquisition at the deadline. But the magic wore off and he was all-but-invisible during the playoffs, often looking far too slow to keep up with the game. Acquired for an absolute steal (Jussi Jokinen, a waiver wire pickup, and Tyler Motte, a throw-in on the Artemi Panarin trade that had bounced around between the AHL and the Jackets’ fourth line all year), it doesn’t hurt the organization at all to simply let him walk.

Calvert was protected from the expansion draft in place of 2017-18 40-goal scorer William Karlsson. That isn’t necessarily relevant information, but I enjoy pain. Anyway, Calvert enjoyed a so-so year, producing nine goals and a career-high (tied) 24 points in 69 (nice) games played. A solid contributor on the penalty kill, and a constant spark plug on the fourth line, his never-quit playing style has endeared him to Columbus fans, but he may have to take a hometown discount if he wants to stay.

Cole played extremely well down the stretch for Columbus after his acquisition from Pitt…Otta…it was weird, but you get the point. He basically made Jack Johnson expendable, and he has said many times that he absolutely loves the city and his new teammates. It’s of course always a matter of numbers, but don’t be surprised to see Cole back in Union Blue next year.

Letestu loves Columbus, lives in Columbus (his family never left when he went to Edmonton), and has said he would like to finish his career there. Still a more-than-serviceable fourth line center that can help your special teams units, it’s likely he’ll take a hometown discount and remain with the organization.

The RFA list is smaller, but contains three major names in Jenner, Oliver Bjorkstrand, and Ryan Murray.

Jenner is a fan favorite, and one of the hardest-working 30-goal scorers you’ll ever find. But after a breakout 30-goal, 49-point 2015-16 campaign, he’s tallied just 31 goals and 65 points in 157 games since. If not for a late-season hot streak when paired with Wennberg and Vanek this season, his numbers would have been significantly lower. At times the game just seems too fast for his skating abilities, and even at just 24 years of age you wonder if he can improve it enough to stay useful. I’d expect him to get a bridge extension on a pay level similar to his current $2.9M, but Boone has a lot to prove going forward.

Bjorkstrand is coming off of his entry level contract, and I’d expect a bridge-style deal similar to what I listed for Jenner. Posting 11 goals and 29 assists for 40 points this season, ‘Olli’ showed flashes of his potential, but still needs to get a little more confident in himself, and particularly in his laser beam wrist shot.

Murray is a very intriguing topic. Though ever-dependable, the former WHL standout and second-overall pick has never really hit the stride he was projected to, particularly in the offensive department. Derailed time and time again by injuries (often to his legs, which are probably the silky-smooth skating defender’s greatest weapons), Murray has played all 82 games just once in 5 NHL seasons, and has missed no less than 19 games in any other campaign.

At 24-years-old, he’s definitely still young enough to sell as ‘Still coming into his own’ and his potential ceiling should be alluring to many teams. With other good young left handed defenders waiting in the wings (Markus Nutivaara, Gabriel Carlsson, Dean Kukan, Vladislav Gavrikov), the time could be right to try and swing a sign-and-trade type of deal to send Murray out in exchange for some offensive power. The Senators come to mind as a potential trade partner, as a spoil of offensive firepower up front is countered by a defense corps that is suspect at best, especially with the likely departure of Erik Karlsson. Mike Hoffman‘s name was already tied to Columbus around the trade deadline last year, but former Ohio State standout Ryan Dzingel could be a potential fit, as well.

I don’t expect a particularly busy or flashy offseason in Columbus, but Kekalainen and company can’t just rest on their laurels, either. They have a very good group that really needs just a few things to get them over the hump. Add another solid offensive threat or two to compliment the dynamic Panarin/Pierre-Luc Dubois line, sprinkle in a reliable veteran depth blueliner, and hinge your bets on a new goaltending coach for Sergei Bobrovsky (longtime man Ian Clark is departing the team this summer) helping him get past his playoff struggles, and you might be on to something.

Oh, and you may want to figure out what to do with that abysmal Brandon Dubinsky contract…

2018 Offseason Preview: Carolina Hurricanes

Picking second in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft are the Carolina Hurricanes, so pack your bags for the Raleigh heat! We’re heading to the Research Triangle for the Canes’ offseason preview!

With a new owner, general manager and head coach in town, the Hurricanes are certainly a difficult team to predict. Will owner Tom Dundon initiate the fire sale many have mused he might after his $420 million toy failed to live up to expectations, or will this newly-formed management team pull their heads together and realize that they truly do – at least in my opinion – have some valuable pieces that, if directed the correct way, could turn into something special?

With the 2018 NHL Entry Draft only 11 days away, something tells me we’ll have our answer sooner rather than later. For sake of argument within this piece, we’ll assume the Canes try to keep their relatively young club together and continue trying to push forward.

2018 NHL Entry Draft

With Buffalo likely drafting D Rasmus Dahlin with the first overall pick, new General Manager Don Waddell will have to settle for RW Andrei Svechnikov of the Barrie Colts, the consensus second-best prospect available in this year’s draft.

Fortunately for Waddell, this crop of young players is rife with talent, and Svechnikov is no exception. In 44 games played with Barrie during the 2017-18 season, the 18-year-old Russian scored a whopping 40 goals en route to a 72-point season, both of which led OHL rookies. In fact, Svechnikov’s 1.64 points per game not only led all first-year players in his league, but was also fifth-most among all players.

Svechnikov may be only the second-best player in this draft, but Carolina will be receiving a far from second-rate player.

Pending free agents

Especially given the five pending free agent forwards associated with Carolina, there’s an extremely good chance Svechnikov gets a spot on this Hurricanes roster that fell 14 points short of returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

In particular, the youngster has to be licking his chops knowing 35-year-old RW Lee Stempniak has yet to sign a contract with his club of two years. Playing only 37 games to a 3-6-9 stat line, the NHL journeyman did little to convince Waddell – or any GM, for that matter – that he’s worth keeping around, especially at the $2.5 million price the Canes signed him to a couple Julys ago.

Instead, RFA F Elias Lindholm and UFA C Derek Ryan will attract much of the attention among the Canes’ free agent forwards. Should Carolina be interested in the services of either or both, it will certainly have the money to keep them around, as Waddell has a touch over $27 million to play with.

Of the two, 23-year-old Lindholm is undoubtedly the biggest target considering his 16-28-44 totals in 81 games this season. Coming off a contract that saw him earn $2.7 million, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him sign a three or four-year deal worth a minimum of $3.5 million per year.

Considering he only made $725 thousand last season, RFA Phillip Di Giuseppe will likely also be retained in a bottom-six role, but his performance will need to improve unless he’d like to lose his roster spot to C Martin Necas, Carolina’s first-round pick in last year’s draft, or fellow RFA C Lucas Wallmark, the 2014 fourth-round pick who posted solid 17-38-55 totals in 45 games with the Charlotte Checkers.

Along the blue line, Carolina only has two RFAs to worry about in 21-year-old Noah Hanifin and 26-year-old Trevor van Riemsdyk, and I’m of the opinion that Waddell should do everything he can to keep them with his club. Hanifin in particular played a major role on this squad this season, as his 10 goals led Hurricanes defensemen. However, coming off a $1.775 million contract, he’ll be looking for a significant pay raise. I wouldn’t expect a contract under $4 million per year.

Amassing a career 318-244-84 record all with the Hurricanes, there’s a possibility G Cam Ward‘s 13-year tenure at PNC Arena could be coming to an end. The 34-year-old netminder posted only a .906 save percentage in his 43 appearances this season in a contract year.

Playing in Ward’s favor is the fact that Carolina does not appear to have a netminder ready to jump into the NHL from the minor leagues. Unless Waddell can pull off the Canes’ second major goaltending trade in the past two years or land a young free agent (I like the prospect of G Christopher Gibson playing behind this defense, if anybody’s wondering), Ward just might be able to hold on to his job for a year or two longer.

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.

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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.

2018 Mock Draft: First Draft of the First Round

‘Tis the season to freak out over the teens.

It’s time for the annual conspiracy theories surrounding the NHL Entry Draft Lottery and things that require more critical thinking, like this mock draft.

It’s not easy to predict how every player– drafted or undrafted– will perform as they embark on making their mark at the professional level, but it’s worth the fun if you’re merely passing the time between the end of the regular season and the Entry Draft in June and your team missed the postseason.

Otherwise, you’re probably too focused on your team’s current playoff series to really get into a deep-dive on why your team should have taken Player A instead of Player B with the 27th overall pick in the 1st round– and that’s probably for the better. Hindsight is always 20/20 and you really shouldn’t put more stress on your heart than it is already taking from every tumbling muffin of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

This is just the first of three editions of my mock draft from now until draft day (June 22nd).

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

Draft lottery results (a synopsis): Carolina leaped into a top-three pick, as did Montreal, while Ottawa fell from second to fourth overall and Arizona fell from third to fifth.

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

The Sabres already have a solid group of young forwards, why not add the best player in the draft into the mix? Oh yeah, and he’s a two-way defenseman, so that’ll finally help Buffalo (think back to Tyler Myers‘s rookie season, only much, much better). At 6-foot-2, 181-pounds, Dahlin is the perfect fit on the blueline as someone who can shutdown and get the puck out of the zone.

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

The second-best prospect in the draft, Svechnikov’s nothing to feel bad about, especially for the Hurricanes, who, unlike the Sabres, already have a plethora of youth and skill on the back end and will now finally have that missing piece among their forwards. He had 40-32–72 totals in 44 games with the Barrie Colts– in just his first season of Junior hockey.

3. Montreal Canadiens–> LW Brady Tkachuk, Boston University (H-East)

Tkachuk is big and strong. That’s what the Canadiens have been trying to add, but not in the right way the last few seasons. They’ve got their guy in Tkachuk, though, he’s intense, gritty and, more importantly, has scoring ability. Something Montreal has lacked for a year or two– and desperately needs in an ever-evolving speed and skill game.

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

One of the most dynamic goal scorers and underrated players, Zadina could go in the top-three, but falls into Ottawa’s lap as the perfect fit. He had 44 goals in 57 games for the Halifax Mooseheads– who just keep churning out quality player after player, year-to-year.

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

A lot of experts have Wahlstrom falling somewhere near 10th overall. I’m no expert, but I do believe he’s a bit better than that. After all, Wahlstrom had 47 goals in 60 games this season and only has more room to grow with the youth infused Coyotes. He’ll fit in with his hands and scoring prowess.

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

Detroit has a need for a good, young defender and Hughes fits that bill. Torey Krug is the player that comes to mind when watching Hughes control the game. Did I mention he’s got a hard, accurate, shot like Krug too?

7. Vancouver Canucks–> D Evan Bouchard, London (OHL)

Losing the Sedins to retirement hurts a bit less when you add one of the best new-age defenders that put up 25-62–87 totals in 67 games for the London Knights this season. Bouchard should make Vancouver better at transitioning the puck up ice and getting it to their core players, like Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser.

8. Chicago Blackhawks–> D Adam Boqvist, Brynas (SWE-JR)

Chicago is rather depleted on the blueline since they lost Trevor van Riemsdyk in the Vegas expansion draft. They’ve also got an aging problem, with Duncan Keith (34) and Brent Seabrook (33) signed for a long time. With proper development, Boqvist should come into his own and start carrying the Blackhawks defense in due time.

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

The first of three first round picks, the Rangers can’t go wrong selecting the best Finnish forward in the draft. 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 Noah Dobson, Acadie-Bathurst (QMJHL)

Peter Chiarelli wants a young defenseman that can get pucks up the ice to Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl instead of having to over rely on Kris Russell to block shots. Thankfully, Dobson can be that defenseman without the Oilers having to work a potential trade with that other team in Alberta for Dougie Hamilton.

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.

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

That’s where Farabee can become the winger to Lundestrom’s line someday or something, I’m sure. New York is too busy trying to re-sign John Tavares right now, probably.

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

Whoever ends up as the new head coach in Dallas should have no problem making that offense work. It seems like the Stars could get away with highway robbery, having Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov on the same line, if they could just get things going. Having said that, Smith adds to the transition game that’s already pretty strong (and reliant) on John Klingberg.

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

An underrated defender, Wilde, should become a decent top-four blueliner in an already stacked group of young players for the Flyers. Now if only they could finally do something about that goaltending…

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

Hayton had 21 goals and 39 assists (60 points) in 63 games for the Greyhounds this season and should help the Panthers ease the loss of Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault to the Golden Knights last June. The only problem might be that Hayton could need a year or two, but it’s a gain, nonetheless as he’s one of the “best available” picks that slides a bit and lands in Florida’s lap.

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

Colorado makes out with a pretty safe pick that can take his time to develop for a year while the Avalanche continue to make some noise in the Central Division that, after Winnipeg and Nashville, looks like it’s anyone’s game.

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

Veleno shouldn’t be overlooked as he had 22-57–79 totals in 64 games for Drummondville this season. Thankfully the Devils know talent when they see it and can continue transitioning to a youthful roster that’ll compliment Nico Hischier and Taylor Hall pretty well.

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

The Blue Jackets take a risk that’s worth it in a couple of years, focusing on a playmaker that should fit the likes of Artemi Panarin and Co. pretty well in front of The Fifth Line at Nationwide Arena.

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

Whereas the Flyers went with a defender for their first pick in the first round, they should opt for a forward five picks later. Denisenko is crafty and should really come into his own in two-to-three years.

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

No doubts about it, Noel is the prototypical power-forward that fits the Kings well. The 6-foot-5, 205-pound right-winger just might fall far enough for Los Angeles’s taking. His offensive skills add to the emergence of youth in Hollywood that’s bound to regain control of the Pacific.

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

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

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

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

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

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

27. Detroit Red Wings (via Vegas Golden Knights)–> C/LW Filip Hallander, Timra (Sweden)

28. New York Rangers (via Boston Bruins)–> D Adam Ginning, Linköping (SHL)

29. New York Rangers (via Tampa Bay Lightning)–> C/LW Ryan McLeod, Mississauga (OHL)

30. St. Louis Blues (via Winnipeg Jets)–> C David Gustafsson, HV71 (SHL)

31. Chicago Blackhawks (via Nashville Predators)–> D Alexander Alexeyev, Red Deer (WHL)

Down the Frozen River Podcast #99- Unedited Quick Picks

In a haste, Nick and Connor reveal eight more of their predictions for the NHL’s annual awards. The duo promises that next week’s episode will be longer, once Libsyn resets our monthly storage (March was a long month).

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

WHL Draft-Eligible Players to Watch

The Western Hockey League had a banner year in the 2017 NHL Draft. Not only was Nolan Patrick in the conversation to go number one overall from the beginning of the 2016-17 season until draft day (ultimately being taken second overall by the Flyers), but three of the first ten picks came from the league and the league had seven total first round picks.

For comparison, the Ontario Hockey League, which tends to get a lot more publicity because of its geographic location, only had one player taken in the top ten picks and had just five players taken in the first round.  WHL alumnus Kailer Yamamoto, taken with the 22nd pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, has managed to stick with the Edmonton Oilers out of camp though the question remains whether he will stay past the 9-game mark, burning a year off his entry-level contract in the process.

While the Western Hockey League was typically known for a more physical and defensive-minded style of play than the junior leagues back east, as hockey has evolved, so too has the WHL. The league that gave us Cam Neely, Marian Hossa, Ryan Getzlaf and Dustin Byfuglien continues to churn out quality defensemen like Seth Jones, Ivan Provorov and Morgan Rielly, but it has also produced players like Tyler Johnson, Nino Niederreiter, and Yamamoto who don’t necessarily fit the WHL’s rough and tumble image.

NHL scouts are working day-in and day-out to find the next player that can be a difference-maker for their franchise, seeing 6-7 games a week. More and more they are also looking at advanced stats to supplement their knowledge base and provide them additional data points, though the data at the junior level isn’t always of a consistently high quality.  By the time the season is over, these scouts will have spent enough time with the players to better understand their personalities off-ice in addition to recognizing a player from a passing glance at his skating stride.

So, what players should you be paying attention to now that the 2017-2018 WHL season is underway? Who are the players making a name for themselves out West that might have their name called by your favorite team next June?  While the WHL isn’t likely to repeat last year’s draft performance, there are still some players to pay attention to as the year progresses.  Defensemen Ty Smith of the Spokane Chiefs is clearly at the top of this WHL draft class, and is a possible top 10 in the NHL Draft.  Smith is a bit on the small side, but moves the puck well and is always thinking a step ahead of the play.  What sets him apart is his hockey sense.  Smith has come out of the gates strong with 12 points in his first 11 games.

Outside of Smith, there are a few other players who might be first round material. They include Jett Woo of the Moose Jaw Warriors, Riley Sutter of the Everett Silvertips, and Alexander Alexeyev of the Red Deer Rebels. Woo is another defenseman who already is close to the playing weight he’ll need to be to compete at the next level and he’s a sound positional player.  He’s very competitive and plays a physical game.  Like Smith, he’s putting up good numbers to start the season with 9 points including an impressive 4 goals in his first 10 games of the season.  He’s also a right-handed shot, which could help his stock.

Sutter is a big right wing at 6’3” and 205 pounds. The last name, no doubt, looks familiar to you and, yes, he is from that Sutter family.  Specifically, he is the son of Ron Sutter.  What was interesting, in speaking with one scout, was that Riley’s personality and playing style don’t necessarily match the expectations you might have based on his size and family name.  He is a quiet, cerebral player who knows where to be on the ice and by the time the game is over you look down and notice that he’s had one of the best games of any of the players on the ice.  In the early going, he has 11 points in 12 games including a team-leading seven goals.  I’m hoping to get a chance to see Sutter play in person later this month.

Alexeyev is another right-handed defenseman, but he has the size that neither Smith nor Woo have at this point, standing 6’3” tall. He has an incredibly accurate point shot and, like Woo, he’s right handed.  The biggest concern with the talented rearguard is how he comes back from a knee injury that required surgery and cost him half of the 2016-17 season.  Further complicating things, an upper body injury has cost him several games this season, but when he has been healthy, he’s managed 3 assists in 4 games played.  It will be interesting to see if his draft stock slips if injury keeps him off the ice for a substantial period of time.

It is still very early in the junior season and teams and players are still figuring things out. Beyond the four players I mentioned above, there are others who may seemingly come out of nowhere.  Last year’s initial Central Scouting rankings didn’t have Cody Glass going in the first round, let alone the top 10.  As the season progresses, I will be looking to see other players that emerge as NHL talents and to see how Smith, Woo, Sutter and Alexeyev perform.

Colby’s Corner Top five Players Poised to Breakout

A new season starts today, so it’s time for me to jump in and tell you five players to keep an eye out for as they could have breakout seasons. I didn’t limit myself to just rookies; I was also looking for players who could fill some big shoes or become a standout on their team.

First up,

  1. Oliver Bjorkstrand

This one may surprise a few, but after a strong preseason performance, Bjorkstrand could really step up this season and have a big role with the Columbus Blue Jackets. As a highly rated prospect, I believe Jacket fans have been waiting for him to show up in a big way.

Bjorkstrand only has 38 games played over the past two seasons, recording 10 goals and 11 assists in that time. I remember watching him play in World Juniors a few years ago and he had the ability to take over a game and control his team’s offensive flow. If he can provide that for the Jackets, this would give them another weapon with a nice scoring touch. Bjorkstrand could be a name that you hear more of this season.

Player’s goal: I think a successful season for him could be 10-15 goals with another 10-20 assists.

Next up,

  1. Matthew Tkachuk

I have been a huge fan of Tkachuk for a long time – if you have listened to podcasts you know this. Tkachuk had a solid rookie season, recording 13 goals and 35 assists. If that’s what you get from a 6th Overall pick in his first year, you are not going to complain if you are the Calgary Flames. Tkachuk’s physical game and willingness to get into dirty areas allowed him to find some extra points this past season.

Last season in four playoff games, Tkachuk was held pointless and I think that left a bitter taste in his mouth. If he used that as a motivator in his offseason, than he should come back as an even better player. Not to mention the Flames signed the ageless wonder Jaromir Jagr to a one-year deal. Jagr can show Tkachuk how to use his big body to his advantage and give him other tips to have a great season.

Player’s goal: I think a successful season for him could be 20-25 goals with another 30-40 assists.

Next up,

  1. Alexander DeBrincat

Rookie Alert: Alex DeBrincat makes my list as a player that could be the next Artemi Panarin in the Chicago Blackhawks organization. DeBrincat has been one of the best junior players over the past few seasons trying to crack the Hawks roster, and has finally done that this season. Yes, he is a rookie – and a small one at that – but he has proven he knows were the net is. DeBrincat has scored over 100 points in three-straight OHL seasons, including his final year with the Erie Otters when he finished with 65 goals and 62 assists for a 127 points.

The argument that it won’t convert over is nonsense as junior players like Mitch Marner and Matthew Tkachuk are finding goals in this league. Another reason he is so high on my list is the opportunity he could have to play with some of the best players in the league in Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. If he can learn from either of them, this kid could become a star in no time.

Player’s goal: I think a successful season for him could be 20-25 goals with another 35-45 assists.

Next up,

  1. Jake Guentzel

Now you can say Jake Guentzel is already a star from his Stanley Cup-winning performance last season. I agree, but I think he can play even better than he was in the playoffs. Guentzel had 13 goals and 8 assists in 25 playoff games last spring. It was a performance so strong that he deserved the Conn Smythe Trophy – only have it ripped from him by Sidney Crosby. We haven’t seen Guentzel in playoff form for a whole season, but this is that season.

Thinking about Guentzel, Crosby, Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin all performing in top form has me believing this team could be looking at a three-peat without question, as they are probably the favorite in the East again. Guentzel’s scoring touch and being on the same page and line as Crosby could see his numbers sky rocket and he could be an even bigger star in Pittsburgh.

Player’s goal: I think a successful season for him could be 30-35 goals with another 40-50 assists.

Finally,

  1. Jack Eichel

Jack Eichel will look to keep pace with fellow 2015 first-rounder Connor McDavid‘s scoring this year after missing the start of last season with a high ankle sprain. In addition to ruining Jack’s chance to shine for all 82 games, his injury was also a major contributor to the Buffalo Sabres’ slow start that potentially cost them their first postseason appearance since 2011. And the fact that Eichel had to watch his buddies Auston Matthews and McDavid in the playoffs last season was surely his motivator this offseason. Just watching a few preseason games, Jack looks faster and smoother this than he did last year.

Eichel was very open about how he missed out on  a $1 million bonus for his points-per-game percentage last season. Jack had 57 points in 61 games played, but he hovered around one point-per-game for most of the season before finishing the season in a slump to fall short of his goal. After signing an 8-year, $10 million AAV Tuesday and with the potential to assume captaincy of this Sabres team and lead them to the playoffs, I bet Eichel will earn every cent of his bonus this season.

Player’s goal: I think a successful season for him could be 30-35 goals with another 40-50 assists.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #69- 2017-2018 Pacific Division Preview

Nick and Connor are mad that Jaromir Jagr still doesn’t have a contract and discuss many offseason storylines that have happened in the last couple of weeks. Leon Draisaitl‘s contract is broken down and the NCAA vs. CHL debate reignites, plus a 2017-2018 season preview of the Pacific Division. Also, we’d totally make Team USA.

2017 NHL Entry Draft Round 1 Recap

Friday night marked Day 1 of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft and a record (welcome again Vegas Golden Knights) 31 players were selected in the 1st Round. In case you missed any of the action, here’s how it all broke down.

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NHL Entry Draft photos via NHL

2017 NHL Entry Draft– Round 1

  1. New Jersey Devils–> C Nico Hischier, Halifax (QMJHL)
  2. Philadelphia Flyers–> C Nolan Patrick, Brandon (OHL)
  3. Dallas Stars–> D Miro Heiskanen, HIFK, (Finland)
  4. Colorado Avalanche–> D Cale Makar, Brooks (AJHL)
  5. Vancouver Canucks–> C Elias Pettersson, Timra (SWE-2)
  6. Vegas Golden Knights–> C Cody Glass, Portland (WHL)
  7. New York Rangers (from Arizona)–> C Lias Andersson, HV71 (Sweden)
  8. Buffalo Sabres–> C Casey Mittelstadt, Eden Prairie (HS-MN)
  9. Detroit Red Wings–> C Michael Rasmussen, Tri-City (WHL)
  10. Florida Panthers–> RW Owen Tippett, Mississauga (OHL)
  11. Los Angeles Kings–> C Gabriel Vilardi, Windsor (OHL)
  12. Carolina Hurricanes–> C Martin Necas, Brno (Czech Republic)
  13. Vegas Golden Knights (from Winnipeg)–> C Nick Suzuki, Owen Sound (OHL)
  14. Tampa Bay Lightning–> D Callan Foote, Kelowna (WHL)
  15. Vegas Golden Knights (from N.Y. Islanders)–> D Erik Brannstrom, HV71 (Sweden)
  16. Calgary Flames–> D Juuso Valimaki, Tri-City (WHL)
  17. Toronto Maple Leafs–> D Timothy Liljegren, Rogle BK (Sweden)
  18. Boston Bruins–> D Urho Vaakanainen, JYP (Finland)
  19. San Jose Sharks–> C Josh Norris, USA U-18 (USHL)
  20. St. Louis Blues–> C Robert Thomas, London (OHL)
  21. New York Rangers–> C Filip Chytil, Zlin (Czech Republic)
  22. Edmonton Oilers–> RW Kailer Yamamoto, Spokane (WHL)
  23. Arizona Coyotes (from Minnesota)–> D Pierre-Olivier Joseph, Charlottetown (QMJHL)
  24. Winnipeg Jets (from Columbus via Vegas)–> LW/RW Kristian Vesalainen, Frolunda (Sweden)
  25. Montreal Canadiens–> C Ryan Poehling, St. Cloud State (NCHC)
  26. Dallas Stars (from Chicago)–> G Jake Oettinger, Boston University (Hockey-East)
  27. Philadelphia Flyers (from Washington via St. Louis)–> C Morgan Frost, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
  28. Ottawa Senators–> C Shane Bowers, Waterloo (USHL)
  29. Chicago Blackhawks (from Dallas via Anaheim)–> D Henri Jokiharju, Portland (WHL)
  30. Nashville Predators–> RW Eeli Tolvanen, Sioux City (USHL)
  31. St. Louis Blues (from Pittsburgh)–> C/LW Klim Kostin, Dynamo Moscow (Russia)

Trades Made on Day 1 of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft

  • The Arizona Coyotes traded D Connor Murphy and F Laurent Dauhpin to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for D Niklas Hjalmarsson.
  • The Columbus Blue Jackets acquired F Artemi PanarinF Tyler Motte and a 2017 6th round pick (170th overall) from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for F Brandon SaadG Anton Forsberg and a 2018 5th round pick.
  • The Arizona Coyotes traded D Anthony DeAngelo and a 2017 1st round pick (7th overall) to the New York Rangers for F Derek Stepan and G Antti Raanta.
  • The Columbus Blue Jackets acquired F Jordan Schroeder from the Minnesota Wild in exchange for F Dante Salituro.
  • The Chicago Blackhawks traded a 2017 1st round pick (26th overall) to the Dallas Stars for a 2017 1st round pick (29th overall) and a 2017 3rd round pick (70th overall).
  • The St. Louis Blues acquired F Brayden Schenn from the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for F Jori Lehtera, a 2017 1st round pick (27th overall), and a conditional 2018 1st round pick.
  • The Pittsburgh Penguins traded F Oskar Sundqvist and a 2017 1st round pick (31st overall) to the St. Louis Blues and acquired F Ryan Reaves and a 2017 2nd round pick (51st overall) in return.

2017 Mock Draft: The First Round

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NHL Entry Draft logos via NHL

The time has come for my annual prediction of how the first round of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft will go. This year’s draft class is overall weaker than years past, but comes with a difficult choice for the New Jersey Devils, as they hold the 1st overall pick. The talk surrounding Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier is reminiscent of the Taylor Hall vs. Tyler Seguin days leading up to the 2010 NHL Entry Draft in Los Angeles.

With that in mind, let’s see how many picks I get wrong (it’s an annual tradition!)– this year’s draft is being held in Chicago.

New Jersey Devils Logo1) New Jersey Devils –> C Nolan Patrick, Brandon (WHL)

A gifted center, Nolan Patrick’s status as the long-time coming predicted 1st overall pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft should not be affected by his injury shortened season with the Brandon Wheat Kings. Patrick is a 6’2″, 199-pound gifted two-way player that can not only contribute in goals and assists, but brings some size down the middle for the Devils.

Philadelphia Flyers Logo2) Philadelphia Flyers –> C Nico Hischier, Halifax (QMJHL)

If New Jersey doesn’t take Nolan Patrick 1st overall, then the Flyers shouldn’t really have any complaints, because either Nico Hischier or Patrick is quite the impressive steal for the 2.4% longshots at the 2nd overall pick in this year’s draft. Hischier stands tall at 6’2″, 179 pounds, and had 38-48-86 totals with the Halifax Mooseheads in 57 games this season en route to being named the CHL’s Rookie of the Year.

Unknown-23) Dallas Stars –> C Gabriel Vilardi, Windsor (OHL)                

Gabriel Vilardi was part of this year’s Memorial Cup champion, the Windsor Spitfires, and amassed 29-32-61 totals in 49 games played this season. He’s a two-way center that remains composed in all situations while utilizing unparalleled hands and finesse in this year’s draft. Vilardi would be quite the addition to Dallas’s prospect pool at 6’3″, 203 pounds and only 17-years-old (until August 16th, that is).

Unknown-14) Colorado Avalanche –> D Miro Heiskanen, HIFK (Finland)

One can assume that the Avalanche are bound to be trading a bunch of forwards for forwards this offseason (at least), but more important than having an offense is having a defense and an offense (which Colorado has had one in recent years and I’ll give you a hint– it hasn’t been a defense). Miro Heiskanen is a 6’1″, 172-pound two-way defenseman that had five goals and five assists (10 points) in 37 games with HIFK this season and is just part one of many moves towards turning things around at Pepsi Center.

imgres-25) Vancouver Canucks –> C Casey Mittelstadt, Eden Prairie (HS-MN)

The Vancouver Canucks can begin to start thinking about their long term approach to the end of the Sedin era by assuring themselves of a strong presence down the middle. Casey Mittelstadt brings that strong presence at center by virtue of his 6’1″, 201-pound frame and tremendous skill. There’s a reason why he was named this year’s Mr. Hockey in the state of Minnesota. Mittelstadt had 21-43-64 totals in 25 games with Eden Prairie and 13-17-30 totals in 24 games with the Green Bay Gamblers (USHL) this season.

vegas_golden_knights_logo6) Vegas Golden Knights –> C Cody Glass, Portland (WHL)

For their first draft selection in franchise history, the Vegas Golden Knights are bound to select perhaps the most tactically smart playmaker of the draft in Cody Glass. The 6’2″, 178-pound, right-handed center had 32 goals and 62 assists (94 points– T-7th in the WHL) and is sure to fit right in with the Golden Knights roster and longterm plans. Vegas would be wise to let him play coming out of the draft, since Glass is perhaps the most NHL ready player besides Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier.

Unknown-37) Arizona Coyotes –> D Cale Makar, Brooks (AJHL)

The Arizona Coyotes have been stockpiling forwards (if you can believe it) in recent drafts, so this year seems to be the right time to snag a puck moving defenseman that’s committed to the University of Massachusetts-Amherst next season. Cale Makar had 24 goals and 51 assists (75 points) in 54 games with the Brooks Bandits in the Alberta Junior Hockey League this season– a 20-point improvement in as many games compared to last season.

Unknown-28) Buffalo Sabres –> C Michael Rasmussen, Tri-City (WHL)

At 6’6″, 215 pounds, Michael Rasmussen is exactly what the Sabres need to compliment the already sized up centers of Jack Eichel and Ryan O’Reilly. Sheer intimidation could be one thing Buffalo banks on in the near future, thanks to their Goliath centers, but don’t let that be the only thing. Rasmussen has silky hands and had 32-23-55 totals with the Tri-City Americans this season in the Western Hockey League.

Unknown9) Detroit Red Wings –> RW Owen Tippett, Mississauga (OHL)

Owen Tippett has been drawing comparisons to Phil Kessel (no, not necessarily because he’s a hot dogs and hamburgers guy– though we haven’t asked him– but rather, because Mike Morreale of NHL.com says so). The 6’0″, 200-pound, right winger had 44 goals and 31 assists (75 points) in 60 games with the Mississauga Steelheads and is a natural sniper.

Florida_Panthers_logo_201610) Florida Panthers –> C Martin Necas, Brno (Czech Republic)

Martin Necas is a versatile center that can create space for the puck and generate offense with his playmaking mindset. The right-handed shot had seven goals and eight assists (15 points) in 41 games with Brno this season. Florida shouldn’t be too concerned with his 6’0″, 167-pound frame, considering they’ve got a good mix of forwards to balance things out while Necas works on adding some muscle to his game.

Unknown-311) Los Angeles Kings –> C Elias Pettersson, Timra (SWE-2)

After missing out on this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Los Angeles Kings fired their now former head coach (Darryl Sutter) and general manager (Dean Lombardi) and immediately replaced them with John Stevens behind the bench and Rob Blake as GM, so trying to predict who they’ll draft is difficult based on recent history. However, Elias Pettersson (19-22-41 totals in 43 games with Timra) might just happen to fall into their hands at 11th overall. He’ll need a year of seasoning before appearing in the Kings lineup.

download.png12) Carolina Hurricanes –> D Timothy Liljegren, Rogle (Sweden)

After a bout with mononucleosis in November, Timothy Liljegren wasn’t fully able to rebound this season with Rogle BK, however his skating remains unparalleled as one of the better defensemen of the draft. Liljegren can join the rush and pinch in from the point when needed in the offensive zone and scouts have yet to see the full potential impact of his style of play. Given the uncertainty surrounding Carolina’s money-puck strategy and how it will affect their blue line, drafting Liljegren might provide some security.

Unknown-413) Winnipeg Jets –> C/LW Klim Kostin, Dynamo Moscow (Russia)

Klim Kostin missed a lot of time thanks to a shoulder injury, but that shouldn’t stop the Winnipeg Jets from taking a chance on what might be the best Russian forward in the draft. Puck possession is Kostin’s middle name and his 6’3″, 196-pound frame certainly must have something to do with that. The Jets could use him down the middle or restructure their wingers around the Kostin model, albeit acknowledging Blake Wheeler‘s size and existence already in Winnipeg.

Unknown-314) Tampa Bay Lightning –> D Juuso Valimaki, Tri-City (WHL)       

Steve Yzerman may continue to be a master of the salary cap (in terms of carefully maneuvering around large contracts, drafting and developing talent on a consistent basis and the like), but he’s got some critical thinking to do this offseason, what with pending RFAs galore and the Vegas expansion draft. Juuso Valimaki might be just enough to help relieve some of that pressure, having been one of the best defensemen of the WHL this season and amassing 19-42-61 totals in 60 games played.
download.png15) New York Islanders –> C Nick Suzuki, Owen Sound (OHL)

Offensively skilled, Nick Suzuki isn’t the biggest player (5’11”, 183 pounds), but he is one of the best power play specialists in this year’s draft– notching 14 power play goals for the Owen Sound Attack this season. Suzuki had 96 points alone (45 goals, 51 assists) in 65 games and would be an upgrade for the Islanders in more ways than one.

Unknown-416) Calgary Flames –> LW/RW Kristian Vesalainen, Frolunda (Sweden)

Kristian Vesalainen is a 6’3″, 207-pound power forward that might be able to muster his way to a new arena for the Calgary Flames. Jokes aside, Vesalainen would be a solid draft pick by Calgary for his physical prowess and goal scoring ability. In the Battle of Alberta, the Flames could select their very own Milan Lucic, but with more of a two-way element to his game.

Unknown17) Toronto Maple Leafs –> D Nicolas Hague, Mississauga (OHL)

How could the Toronto Maple Leafs get any better than they already are with a lineup full of kids? Answer: they could draft Nicolas Hague. Toronto’s got a plethora of players waiting to insert themselves into their mix of forwards that it wouldn’t hurt them to give a little more attention to their blue line for a bit. Hague is a monstrous 6’6″, 215-pound, shutdown defenseman that can also contribute on the power play. He had 18-28-46 totals in 65 games with the Mississauga Steelheads this season.

Unknown-718) Boston Bruins –> C Ryan Poehling, St. Cloud State (NCHC)

It seems unusual to say, but the Boston Bruins have a little something on the horizon to start thinking about– what will the team look like after Patrice Bergeron (and David Krejci)? Boston GM Don Sweeney has a recent history of opting for college players and could select center Ryan Poehling with the future in mind. The 6’2″, 183-pound, playmaker has great vision and puck protection and had 7-6-13 totals in 35 games with St. Cloud State this season. Additionally, Poehling’s got intelligence (both on and off the ice) as he graduated a year early from high school and just tuned 18 on January 3rd.

Unknown19) San Jose Sharks –> D Callan Foote, Kelowna (WHL)

The San Jose Sharks have some big names to re-sign this offseason, including Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. Naturally, while one might think the Sharks should use this draft to find their eventual replacements, San Jose is already in a good spot regarding forwards. Their blue line, however, could use someone like the 6’4″, 212-pound, likeness of Callan Foote. He had six goals and 51 assists (57 points) in 71 games this season and is sure to follow in the foot(e)steps of his father, Adam Foote.

imgres-120) St. Louis Blues –> LW Eeli Tolvanen, Sioux City (USHL)

A 30-goal-scorer in 52 games played with Sioux City this season, Eeli Tolvanen brings just about every offensive element the St. Louis Blues are looking for in a forward. He can shoot from just about anywhere on the ice– at any time too. Quick with his feet, Tolvanen can snipe an impressive shot. Don’t let his 5’10”, 170-pound setup fool you, this winger is ready to become even better at Boston College in the fall. After a couple of seasons of losing vital veteran forwards, the Blues get a chance for redemption by bringing in a goalscorer that could soon be skating on a line with Vladimir Tarasenko.

download.png21) New York Rangers –> LW Jason Robertson, Kingston (OHL)

In 68 games with the Kingston Frontenacs this season, Jason Robertson (6’2″, 192 pounds) had 42 goals and 39 assists for 81 points. He knows what to do with the puck and with the unwavering uncertainty of Rick Nash‘s longevity, along with the legitimacy of Jimmy Vesey and others as impact players when you need them the most (like in the playoffs, for example), Robertson is a risk worth taking. He’s only a risk because his skating game could use some improvement.

Unknown-522) Edmonton Oilers –> C Lias Andersson, HV71 (Sweden)

Lias Andersson is a mobile two-way forward that matches grit with nifty hands that generate scoring chances, as evidenced by his 9-10-19 totals in 42 games played with HV71 in the Swedish Hockey League this season. At 5’11”, 198 pounds, Andersson is the right fit for the Edmonton Oilers lineup, where he can increase his offensive skill by learning from Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, while taking a page or two from Milan Lucic in the physical game. Additionally, his father, Niklas Andersson, is currently a scout for the Los Angeles Kings and played in 164 career NHL games.

 

Unknown-323) Arizona Coyotes (from Minnesota Wild) –> C Shane Bowers, Waterloo (USHL)

The Coyotes have two 1st round picks in this year’s draft and they’d be smart to take a forward with their second pick. Luckily, Shane Bowers is just the player for Arizona. The Boston University-bound center scored 22 goals and had 29 assists (51 points) in 60 games for Waterloo this season. The 6’1″, 183-pound forward models his game after Jonathan Toews, which wouldn’t be a bad thing for the Coyotes to have in their prospect pool with a clear need for a stable, solid, two-way center.

Columbus Blue Jackets Logo24) Columbus Blue Jackets –> RW Kailer Yamamoto, Spokane (WHL)

At 5’8″ and 153 pounds, Kailer Yamamoto is not a player to overlook. Why? Because he scored 42 goals and had 57 assists for 99 points (6th in the WHL in scoring) in 65 games with Spokane this season. Yamamoto is relentless on the puck and has hands beyond his years, as well as speed and skill that make him quite the threat on the ice.

Unknown-125) Montreal Canadiens –> LW Maxime Comtois, Victoriaville (QMJHL)

After acquiring Jonathan Drouin from the Tampa Bay Lightning this offseason, the Montreal Canadiens have made great strides at improving their group of forwards. But with the uncertainty of everything panning out as planned, why not add to the plan? Maxime Comtois is versatile and ready to take the next step in his professional career with the right guidance (*ahem* Claude Julien‘s system). Best inserted on the wing, Comtois had 22-29-51 totals in 64 games with Victoriaville this season. The 6’2″, 200-pound forward could play center if the Canadiens see it fit.

 

imgres26) Chicago Blackhawks –> D Urho Vaakanainen, JYP (Finland)

Chicago is bound to have a tough offseason in a non-Cup year for the first time in a while, it seems, what with the Expansion Draft, as well as the salary cap working against their favor. While the Blackhawks may have to deal a top-4 defenseman or part of their core group of forwards (without getting too crazy, mind you, we’re not talking a trade involving Patrick Kane), Chicago can rest assured that Urho Vaakanainen is their defenseman of the future. The 6’1″, 185-pound blue liner is good at 1) getting the puck out of the zone and 2) playing his game– and a physical one at that.

 

imgres-127) St. Louis Blues (from Washington Capitals) –> D Conor Timmins, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)

An offensive-minded defenseman with a right-shot, Conor Timmins fits the bill for the St. Louis Blues. At 6’1″ and 185 pounds, Timmins can rush the ice as a two-way defenseman who contributed 61 points (seven goals, 54 assists) for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in 67 games this season. Think Colton Parayko, but not, because this guy’s name is Conor Timmins and he doesn’t already play for the Blues.

Unknown-628) Ottawa Senators –> C Josh Norris, USA U-18 (USNTDP)

A product of the United States National Team Development Program, Josh Norris had 23-28-51 totals in 52 games played this season. The 6’1″, 192-pound center could contribute to the Senators organization in a manner similar to how Colin White has been implemented into the roster. Who knows, he might be worth it, Ottawa.

Unknown-229) Dallas Stars (from Anaheim Ducks) –> RW Kole Lind, Kelowna (WHL)

Tremendous hockey sense and intelligence are part of Kole Lind’s game. A natural playmaker, Lind was also known to produce goals of his own for the Kelowna Rockets this season, amassing 30-57-87 totals in 70 games played. The 6’1″, 178-pound right winger could be a solid fit alongside the likes of Jamie Benn and Seguin in Dallas.

Unknown30) Nashville Predators –> C Robert Thomas, London (OHL)

Hey look it’s Rob Thomas from Matchbox Twenty! Again, I’m only kidding. This Robert Thomas of the London Knights had 16-50-66 totals in 66 games this season as a two-way forward. A noted playmaker, Thomas reads and reacts to the play before him beyond his years and will need some time to really come into his own at the NHL level. Yet, the Nashville Predators can afford to take their time carefully crafting the almost 6′, 188-pound, center in their system that’s produced the likes of Colton Sissons, Pontus Aberg and many more in recent years.

 

pittsburgh_penguins_logo31) Pittsburgh Penguins –> D Henri Jokiharju, Portland (WHL)

It took Henri Jokiharju a few months to really transition to the North American style of the game, but for this offensively focused defenseman, that wasn’t a big deal. He can get the puck out of his own zone with ease– not just with crisp passes, but also due to his incredible stride and speed in the transition department. Jokiharju (6’0″, 180 pounds) had nine goals and 39 assists (48 points) in 71 games for the Portland Winterhawks this season.

Other top potential 1st round prospects that should easily be 2nd round picks if they’re not taken in Round 1 of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft:

G Jake Oettinger, Boston University (Hockey East)

LW Isaac Ratcliffe, Guelph (OHL)

D Pierre-Olivier Joseph, Charlottetown (QMJHL)

D Erik Brannstrom, HV71 (Sweden)

LW Filip Chytil, Zlin (Czech Republic)

C Aleksei Heponiemi, Swift Current (WHL)

G Michael DiPietro, Windsor (OHL)

LW Matthew Strome, Hamilton (OHL)

C Antoine Morand, Acadie-Bathurst (QMJHL)

LW Tyler Steenbergen, Swift Current (WHL)

So there you have it. This is how I see the 1st round of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft shaking out. Be sure to tune in next Friday night (that’s one week from now) to watch your favorite team pick a teenager and hope for the best. I’ll be at work that night, so no spoilers, please. Let me believe I got more than two picks right for once.