21. Pittsburgh Penguins - Philip Tomasino, C, Niagara (OHL)
The Penguins picking in the first round is almost uncharted territory, having done so only once in the past six drafts. When they do draft (they also skip many later round selections) they have leaned more towards the blueline than forwards in recent years (six forwards, nine defensemen, one goalie in the last three drafts). The top two forwards drafted by the Penguins in the past five years (Kasperi Kapanen and Daniel Sprong) have both already been traded away. It is time to replenish Pittsburgh’s up-front talent. The top two forwards available are both OHL talents in Philip Tomasino and Ryan Suzuki. They are both offense-first players who need time to physically mature. I will give the slight edge here to Tomasino thanks primarily to his better performance at the WU18. But either player would be a good add to the Penguins’ organization here.
22. Los Angeles Kings (from Toronto Maple Leafs, in the Jake Muzzin trade) – Ryan Johnson, D, Sioux Falls (USHL)
See above for thoughts on how the Kings built their system. In this scenario, they have already selected Bowen Byram and might now be more inclined to draft a forward. They could also be a landing spot for top netminder Spencer Knight, but having selected three goalies in the last two drafts, maybe not, even if there is no heir apparent in the system to replace Jonathan Quick and Knight is actually from the same hometown. Instead, I see them going for a second defenseman, this time staying closer to home. Ryan Johnson is a native Southern Californian, although more Anaheim than LA. His father Craig is a former King and the current team Development Coach. This is not a nepotism pick though, as Johnson is solid value in the back third of the first round. He is an incredible skater and is preternaturally composed on the puck. He excelled in his first season in the USHL and will have more time to refine his game at the University of Minnesota. This is a projection pick, and one with a high floor already and a ceiling that is shrouded in fog.
23. New York Islanders – Ryan Suzuki, C, Barrie (OHL)
Although they are competitive now, the Islanders spent a few years in the wilderness before getting to this point, and stockpiled more than a few high-end players, who currently dot the organizational depth chart. One area of weakness in the system however is at center. As much as GM Lou Lamoriello likes big players, this may be too early for USNTDP speeding giant John Beecher. Instead, I see the choice as falling to one of Ryan Suzuki or Connor McMichael, both offensively-inclined centers from the OHL. I will give the edge here to Suzuki, as McMichael’s production deteriorated in the last month of the regular season and failed to pick it back up in the OHL postseason. A playmaker with good skating and puck skills and advanced vision, Suzuki could help get the most out of the talented wingers in the system.
24. Nashville Predators – Bobby Brink, RW, Sioux City (USHL)
With the system looking a bit barren at the moment, I don’t expect to see the Predators locked in on any one type of player. That said, there is only one natural right winger in the system below the NHL and I am talking about a 22-year-old they signed as an undrafted free agent less than two months ago. Considering how heavily the Predators scout the USHL (eight picks in the past three years spent some time in their respective draft years in the USHL), they might be the team to take Sioux City’s high scoring right winger Bobby Orr Brink. Yes, Orr is his real middle name. I have concerns about Brink’s foot speed, but his wrist shot and instincts are high end. They will need to be patient, and he will need to improve his skating, but he has top-six upside.
25. Washington Capitals – Brett Leason, RW, Prince Albert (WHL)
For years, Washington has practically excluded large swathes of prospects based on geography. They never draft out of the QMJHL or Finland and only very rarely out of the OHL. As they went with blueliners with their first picks in each of the last three drafts, they are probably due to take a forward. Considering how they are still square in their window of contention and have more use from an NHL-ready (or nearly so) player than most teams, Prince Albert’s late-blooming winger Brett Leason is a good fit. He has improved his skating enough since being passed over the third time that it is now passable. With his big time shot and NHL-ready size, he could be a middle six winger very soon, if not right away.
26. Calgary Flames – Thomas Harley, D, Mississauga (OHL)
Even though they didn’t make a pick until the fourth-round last year, each one of their five picks was used on a forward. Now the blueline, while young at the NHL level, is shallow organizationally. As much as the Flames like Slovakians, the best of that bunch will still be available in the latter rounds. Instead, while they should consider Swedish defenders Tobias Bjornfot and Albert Johansson, this should be the lowest that Mississauga’s Thomas Harley falls. He could go off the board ten picks earlier, but in this scenario, he just doesn’t. He offers Calgary a player who is used to playing big minutes, with high end skater and strong puck handling chops to suggest that top four is his destiny.
27. Tampa Bay Lightning– Tobias Bjornfot, D, Djurgardens J20 (SuperElit)
Although Tampa Bay has a new GM in Julien BriseBois, as an internal hire, I don’t expect the team’s drafting philosophy to differ much from the Steve Yzerman years. They value high floors and leadership without fully eschewing offensive skill. In that sense, the defenseman who captained Team Sweden to a Gold Medal on home ice at the WU18 is a good match. Tobias Bjornfot is a strong skater with a high hockey IQ. He has put up good numbers in Sweden’s junior leagues and is ready for a regular role in the SHL. He may only be a second pair at his best, but there is a lot of value in that. This is another potential landing spot for Spencer Knight, after they traded away one of the few goalies in the system, Connor Ingram, to Nashville a few days ago.
28. Carolina Hurricanes – Ville Heinola, D, Luuko (Liiga)
Looking at the new Hurricanes who finally broke the team’s long running postseason-less streak and the Charlotte Checkers roster than won the AHL’s Calder Cup, the Hurricanes seem to succeed with hard working, two-way players who have enough skill to be respected. They also love drafting players from Finland. While this year’s Finnish crop is not as strong as some other recent classes, they have Kaapo Kakko at the top and a few other players being considered in the first round as well. One of them is Patrik Puistola, about whom not everyone is convinced about his commitment level away from the puck. The other player, defenseman Ville Heinola, is undersized and not the most physically gifted player, but his hockey IQ is high end and helps everything else play above its inherent limitations. He also played most of his draft year in Liiga, against men, and might be more ready than others to play professionally in North America.
29. Anaheim Ducks (from St. Louis Blues, by way of the Buffalo Sabres. St. Louis traded the pick to Buffalo in the Ryan O’Reilly trade. Buffalo flipped the pick to Anaheim in the Brandon Montour trade) – Matthew Robertson, D, Edmonton (WHL)
We gave them Cole Caufield before, but the Anaheim blueline is also aging and thinning out due to trades. Noting that GM Bob Murray also likes players with size, after the tiny Caufield, expect him to draft big. Caufield’s USNTDP teammate Alex Vlasic has all that and might have some skill in his hands as well, but I like them drafting Matthew Robertson from Edmonton instead. He has size at 6-4”, and over 200 pounds and a strong two-way game. His playoff run hinted that his offensive upside might be higher than previously shown, but his floor is high enough to make this pick work even if his offensive output doesn’t take another step forward.
30. Boston Bruins – Spencer Knight, G, USNTDP (USHL)
The Bruins, despite a long history of NHL success, have a deep and varied farm system. Outside of the WHL, they draft from everywhere and have players who can be plugged into the NHL roster at every position. Except in net. They have a few guys who could be NHL backups if things break right, but Tuukka Rask is already 32 and his recent regular seasons were not as strong as this year’s magical postseason run. I have hinted that Spencer Knight could be a target for a few teams higher up (Tampa Bay, Colorado, Los Angeles) and others are surely thinking about it, but in this scenario, he isn’t drafted by those other teams, and the Bruins will have a chance to round off their system with the best draft eligible netminder in a few years. The wait will be long (he is, after all, a goalie) but the Bruins are not in any rush.
31. Buffalo Sabres (from San Jose Sharks, in the Evander Kane trade)– Robert Mastrosimone, LW, Chicago (USHL)
We gave the Sabres a big left winger in the top ten and noted how they don’t like to draft CHLers under GM Jason Botterill. I would bet on a CHLer at some point in this draft, but I am happy to play out the trend through their Day One picks. So we will go back to the USHL and take an undersized, yet hard-nosed winger with New York State roots who was the engine that took the Chicago Steel to the Clark Cup final in Robert Mastrosimone. He needs some time on campus (Boston University) to beef up, but he has a lot of offensive tools and plays a hard style of game.