We’re at the point of the campaign where a lot of injuries have become season-ending and that’s unfortunately likely the case for rookie Brock Boeser. He crashed awkwardly into the Canucks’ partially open bench door on Monday and has been ruled out for four-to-six weeks with a back injury. He’s been one of the league’s top rookies this season with 29 goals and 55 points in 62 contests and has served as the main silver lining in what has otherwise been a terrible season for the Canucks.
Vancouver has a 25-33-9 record, so the only question left for the Canucks is how they’ll do in the draft lottery. They lost to the Coyotes on Wednesday and while Arizona is still six points behind the Canucks, Arizona has been surging lately, so Vancouver might still end up behind them. The other teams in position to potential finish in 31st are Edmonton (60 points in 66 games), Montreal (61 points in 66 games), Ottawa (56 points in 65 games), and Buffalo (53 points in 67 games).
It stands out to me how many of those teams are huge disappointment stories this season. Obviously, finishing at or near the NHL basement is always going to be disappointing on some level, but often times there are certain teams that are in a full rebuild and are expected to do poorly, so their basement finish, while disappointing on one level, is also seen as a positive on another because it means a better draft pick to help push that rebuild forward.
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You could argue that Vancouver is an example of a rebuilding team that was never expected to do that well this season and to a lesser extent, Arizona falls into that camp too, even though there was some hope that the Coyotes would take a significant step forward this season. However, the Sabres had to be hoping that there rebuild would be behind them by this point, Montreal was at least gunning for a playoff spot, Ottawa suffered a huge collapse after reaching the Eastern Conference Final last year and then there’s Edmonton…if Edmonton gets another first overall pick, there will be a lot of upset people outside of Edmonton.
The Oilers were supposed to finally be past the rebuilding stage after getting Connor McDavid and ending their playoff drought last year. However, a series of questionable trades that have looked terrible with the benefit of hindsight have contributed to derailing the Oilers and raising questions about GM Peter Chiarelli’s ability to build a winner around McDavid. After all, Taylor Hall is in the Hart Trophy conversation with the Devils while Mathew Barzal, who was taken by the Islanders with a pick Edmonton traded to them in exchange for a defenseman (Griffin Reinhart) that only ever logged 29 games with Edmonton, is the heavy frontrunner to win the Calder Trophy. While we’re at it, that seven-year, $42 million contract to Lucic that runs through 2022-23 is looking pretty questionable given his offensive struggles this season.
That all aside, it will be a challenge for Edmonton to bounce back going forward. Keep in mind that McDavid’s $12.5 million annual cap hit will kick in next season, so they’ll have less flexibility.
The Oilers’ woes aside, as long as we’re talking about the teams vying for the top Draft lottery position, we might as well have a look at what they’re hoping for. Every draft is different of course. The 2015 and 2016 drafts had generational talents at the top end with Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel going in 2015 while Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine proved more than worthy of the top two slots in 2016. By contrast, the 2017 draft wasn’t filled with that kind of exciting talent as while Nico Hischier and Nolan Patrick could go on to be great players, the top two picks from last year aren’t the near automatic NHL stars of the previous couple years.
First off, this time around the consensus number one pick isn’t a forward. Instead Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin is expected to go to whichever team is lucky enough to win the lottery. Dahlin is someone with that kind of franchise-player potential that basement dwelling teams hope is available at the start of a draft. He has the potential to be another Victor Hedman or Erik Karlsson and yes, I mean to say that he could be the type of big offensive contributor that fantasy owners love.
Beyond Dahlin, it gets a little complicated. Filip Zadina is considered by some to be the player who should be taken in the number two slot, but Andrei Svechnikov is also in that conversation. Then there’s also Brady Tkachuk, brother of Matthew Tkachuk and son of Keith Tkachuk, and Adam Boqvist, who might round of the top five.
Zadina is excelling in the QMJHL with 40 goals and 75 points in 53 contests. He’s got the potential to play in the NHL in 2018-19, but rather than expect him to be a huge offensive force out of the gate, it might be better to compare him to Hischier, who had 38 goals and 86 points in 57 QMJHL games last season and has 13 goals and 41 points in 67 games with the Devils this season. In other words, Zadina might be a great contributor by rookie standards, but not necessarily a great fantasy asset out of the gate.
Svechnikov has 35 goals and 61 points in 39 OHL games this season. It hasn’t helped that he’s missed some time this season due to a hand injury, but obviously he’s been great when healthy. He might not develop into an NHL star, but he should be a good offensive forward once he develops.
Brady Tkachuk has seven goals, 26 points, and 53 penalty minutes in 34 NCAA games with Boston University this season. He has taken a different path than his older brother Matthew, who instead played in the OHL before going pro. At any rate, one of the pluses with Tkachuk is that he brings a physical presence to the table and can serve that power forward role. As is the case with the other high-end picks discussed so far, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him play in the NHL next season, though it would likely be a stretch to already call him a lock.
Boqvist is another Swedish defenseman and like Dahlin, Boqvist has plenty of offensive upside. His defensive game needs work though and unlike Dahlin, there’s a good chance that Boqvist will need more seasoning before he plays in the NHL.
When it comes to examining upcoming drafts, I don’t regard myself that highly. I have lot of respect for McKeen’s and I think they’re an amazing resource for prospect analysis. I use it to read up on prospects and I did that while preparing this article.
Take what I’m about to say with a grain of salt, but I see this upcoming draft as one with an amazing talent at the top of it and some good-to-great prospects rounding out the top-five. Certainly there’s enough here to console fans of struggling franchises and winning the lottery would be a huge boost to any team thanks to the presence of Dahlin. I’m not sure that there is that second big name though. There might not be that Jack Eichel or Patrik Laine that makes having the second overall pick almost as juicy as the top selection, but of course, whoever gets that second overall pick is still going to be pretty happy with the options available.