As I write these words, April is winding down. The first round of the NHL playoffs are behind us. So, too, is the NHL Draft Lottery. The first period of the opening game of the second round series between Colorado and San Jose has just ended with the Avalanche and the Sharks knotted at one goal apiece.
The final order of the first round of the NHL draft is not fully known (I’m not even discussing trades here) but the picture is clearer. The lottery has laid out the first 15 picks of the festivities in late June in Vancouver. The final four picks will belong, in descending order, to the Conference Final loser with the worse regular season record, the other Conference Final loser, the Stanley Cup runners-up, and the Stanley Cup winners. The remaining 12 picks will line up from worst regular season record to best.
This is the first of three mock drafts that I will be publishing on Rotoworld. The players I am lining up with the teams is based on my knowledge of the drafting histories of the General Managers and Scouting Directors who pull the trigger on draft day and the organizational depth of the 31 teams. Of course, the mocks will also lean heavily on the scouting performed by the McKeen's Hockey international and domestic scouting staff, who have been providing scouting reports on the 31 players listed here, as well as many, many others who will hear their names called out between June 21 and 22 at the Rogers Arena in beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia. Don’t forget to buy your McKeen’s Draft Guide here.
I am not – nor will I through these mocks – try to predict who the teams will draft. I am looking at who they should, bearing in mind the known tendencies of the men (women are gaining foot holds in NHL front offices, but none are yet decision makers in draft matters) who are calling the shots.
In predicting draft order, I will, for now, at least, assume that the home ice favorites win out over the rest of the playoffs, giving Boston the 31st pick, San Jose’s pick – already traded to Buffalo – would be 30th, the St. Louis pick, which belongs now to Anaheim, will be 29th and the Islanders will have the number 28 selection. I am pretty sure that the final draft order will deviate from that in one, two, three, or four particulars, but I have no clue which ones.
With those caveats in minds, let’s gaze into our crystal balls and see what the future has in store.
1. New Jersey Devils – Jack Hughes, C, USNTDP (USHL)
Looking at Hughes’ performance at the U18 tournament, it is safe to say that he can show up for the big moments just as easily as he can dominate the relative minnows he sometimes faces in the USHL. Through the end of the quarterfinal round of the tournament, he leads the field in scoring with a whopping 16 points in five games. Earlier in the season, I had thought that the worst-case outcome for Hughes was a development path like that of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, with an upper tier more closely resembling Patrick Kane. As the months have passed, I am much more firmly convinced that he will be closer to the latter than the former. He is among the more agile skating prospects I have ever covered, if not the most, and his puck skills and hockey IQ are in the elite range. Hughes should be New Jersey’s #1 C within one season of being selected.
2. New York Rangers – Kappo Kakko, RW, TPS Turku (Liiga)
Theoretically, a team should never draft for need in the first round (or any round, really) of the draft. You should always take the player that your scouts have identified as the best available. Once in a while, particularly as more and more players are off the board, it makes some sense to consider player style or position when your scouts have them very closely ranked. In this draft, in this position, there can be no question. There can be an argument for taking Kakko over Hughes (I don’t fully buy it, but I can understand it), but there is no argument for anyone else over those two. The Finnish winger is NHL ready, with a pro-sized body, a mature game, near elite puck skills, and powerful skating and shooting ability. He generally plays on the wing as a teenager in Finland’s top league, but there is some belief that he could work as a center down the road.
3. Chicago Blackhawks – Kirby Dach, C, Saskatoon (WHL)
Here is where things get tricky. Hughes at one and Kakko at two are the chalk picks. Chicago has a pool of five or six players that they could and should be looking at here. I’d expect them to pass on Byram as they have taken blueliners with their top two picks in both of their two last drafts. Podkolzin as well, as the Hawks have rarely drafted Russians in the Stan Bowman era, drafting only four since 2010. So now they can either look for a big pivot from the WHL or a smaller, more offensively dynamic forward from the USNTDP. Some of the former group could play immediately in the NHL (at least theoretically), while the latter group would need at least one or two seasons of college hockey before turning pro. The Hawks do not typically rush prospects, but I think the 200-foot versatility offered by Saskatoon’s Kirby Dach will win out. His ability to slow the game down, vision and play making ability will allow him to start down the lineup and gradually move into a more central roll.
4. Colorado Avalanche (from Ottawa Senators and the ill-fated Matt Duchene trade) – Vasili Podkolzin, RW, SKA-1946 St. Petersburg (MHL)
First about the Russian factor, as there have been loud whispers about Podkolzin wanting to stay in Russia for an additional two or more years. They may be true, for all I know. And those types of fears have kept many teams away from Russia players, but Joe Sakic’s Avalanche have not been one of those teams. Colorado drafted three Russians last year and two others the year before. Two additional Russian players were selected by the Avs in 2015 as well. Podkolzin is more of a two-way threat with size and skill than a purely offensive dynamo. More of a Landeskog than a Rantanen, if you will. Podkolzin plays a physical game and has made a rather rapid advancement in the Russian ranks in the past 12 months alone, moving from U17 hockey to cameos in the KHL in a single season, although most of his draft year was split between the MHL (U20) and VHL (minor pro). He has enough not-fully-tapped-into skill that I expect the production to follow the game as he settles in more at the higher levels starting next season.
5. Los Angeles Kings - Bowen Byram, D, Vancouver (WHL)
As Los Angeles continues to transition from the big, forechecking team that won a couple Stanley Cups in the last decade into a more modern speed and puck movement approach, they will need more blueliners who can kick start the transition. In Drew Doughty, they have one of the best in the NHL roster and he will continue to be there for a long time yet. They do not have another defender projected as a potential first pairing player in the system. Byram is easily the top defenseman in this draft class. He skates like the wind, can quarterback his team, and as evidenced by the 33 goals he has scored through the WHL Conference Finals (including regular season), he can score from the blueline. He is also not a “mere” offensive defenseman, as he is poised in his own zone and does not shy away from physical play. He has #1 D capabilities, but with Doughty on board, the Kings could ease him into the lineup. He could instantly change the team’s complexion as soon as he reaches the NHL.
6. Detroit Red Wings – Alex Turcotte, C, USNTDP (USHL)
Considering their extreme proximity to the USNTDP home base in Plymouth, Michigan, it is surprising that the Red Wings draft from the elite program as rarely as they do. Unless I missed something, the Wings drafted from the USNTDP only once in the last decade. That pick, Dylan Larkin, has worked out pretty well. At this stage, all of the top players on the board are centers and Turcotte seems to fit the Steve Yzerman style most closely. Size is not a factor, although Turcotte is not undersized by today’s standards. He has the best blend of skill and hockey IQ on the board. He is a natural center who also sees time at left wing. Although his top speed is only around average, perhaps a little bit above, he gets there really quickly. He struggled with lower body injuries at times this year, but when he played, he produced, out shining Jack Hughes on a point per game basis. He will spend one or two years in Madison, Wisconsin before turning pro, but this is a high-engine, top-two center that any organization could use.
7. Buffalo Sabres – Dylan Cozens, C, Lethbridge (WHL)
Through two drafts at the helm of the Buffalo Sabres, GM Jason Botterill has yet to select a single player from any of the CHL leagues. That is too small a sample size to read that much into it and it probably changes in Vancouver. There is no reason why not to break the mold right away, giving the Buffalo organization the type of player that it lacks on the team, in a big physical player with abundant skills. Cozens needs to add more bulk to his frame, but he can play both at center and at right wing. He has great puck skills and uses his size effectively to protect the puck while driving the net. He is an accomplished passer and is committed to being on the right side of the puck at all times. He is also the type of player who needs very little room to release his deadly wrist shot, making him a permanent threat in the offensive zone.
8. Edmonton Oilers – Trevor Zegras, C, USNTDP (USHL)
In giving a player to Edmonton, we have no history to work from. At the time of writing, the Oilers have still not yet announced their new GM, with interim man Keith Gretzky at the helm. He had a big role in a few drafts for Boston, but not knowing the role he will play in the next Edmonton regime, it is folly to assign any weight to Gretzky’s proclivities. Also, considering that the Oilers don’t really have any organizational areas of great depth, it makes sense at this point to give them our best player on the board, no other questions asked. Zegras has played everywhere along the forward lines for Team USA this year. He is a natural center, but has made a prolific partnership with Hughes when he plays on the wing. Zegras is a great north-south skater and has plus edges. He has exceptional hands and can carry the puck through a maze of sticks and then backhand saucer the puck to an open linemate on the other side of the slot. He makes his linemates better.
9. Anaheim Ducks – Philip Broberg, D, AIK (Allsvenskan)
The last blueliner Anaheim took in the first rounder, Jacob Larsson from Sweden, finally found a home in the NHL in his fourth year after being selected. Broberg, despite some strong showing at the U18 tournament, is still figuring out what kind of defenseman he will be at full maturity. He reads the game well at both ends but has yet to consistently bring the offensive game that he shows at the junior level to the men’s game. Still, the fact that he has more than held his own as a 17-year-old in Sweden’s second highest league is its own form of praise. Broberg’s main selling point as a prospect is his skating, as his straight line speed is near elite. His size is also pro-ready and he can hang in when the going gets rough. His skating gives him an NHL floor, but he has shown enough flashes of more that he could conceivably be a good #2 at his peak.
10. Vancouver Canucks – Cole Caufield, RW, USNTDP (USHL)
It would not surprise in the least for the draft hosts to go for a big splash with their first pick. What better way to make a big splash than with a small winger who has broken goal-scoring record after goal-scoring record with the U18s, including setting a new record for goals scored at the U18 World tournament, after scoring twice against Russia in the semifinals to break Ilya Kovalchuk’s record from 2001. Caufield succeeds despite his tiny stature (5-7”, 165) thanks to skating prowess, a super quick release on his shot and a poacher’s instincts, and surprising strength for his size. He escapes physical punishment through his shiftiness and balance. He also has soft hands, enabling to make something from nothing with regularity. To his credit, he manages to score plenty even without frequent linemate Jack Hughes. After every NHL team passed up on Alex DeBrincat in the first round a few years ago, the league won’t make the same mistake with Caufield this year.
11. Philadelphia Flyers – Peyton Krebs, C, Kootenay (WHL)
While it was often hard to scout Krebs during the regular season considering the state of his WHL club, the worst in the league and facing the prospect of a relocation by the second half, Krebs was a standout there, and he also shone during the high profile events of the CHL Top Prospects Game, the pre-season Hlinka Gretzky Cup and the post season U18 tournament. He is a strong two-way center whose greatest strength is his play making ability. Krebs is also a high end skater with outstanding edges and impressive top speed. The thinking from Philadelphia and new GM Chuck Fletcher would be that he has already proven that he can still be a leader when playing with other high end talent and his current production – still pretty good – will be even better once he graduates from the WHL. I could also see him being a good fit playing alongside one of the Flyers’ 2018 first rounders, in Joel Farabee.
12. Minnesota Wild - Cam York, D, USNTDP (USHL)
From Chuck Fletcher’s new team to Chuck Fletcher’s old team. Second year GM Paul Fenton has a chance here to make a better drafting impression than he did with his inaugural picks. Coming from Nashville, he is surely appreciative of how a consistent contender can be built from the blueline out. With his first pick last year, he went to Sweden for a right-handed defender in Filip Johansson. So this year, I can see him taking a left-handed counterpart in USNTDP puck moving maestro Cam York. A very skilled player of the puck, York plays defensively like he’d rather be playing offensively. Keep a tight gap, get his stick in his opponent’s way and get the puck back. He can be a prototypical first unit powerplay quarterback at the highest level. The fact that he was already playing with the U18s in his age 17 season speaks to the high level of impact that he regularly brings to the game. A standout performance at the U18s (11 points in a bronze medal performance) is merely icing on an already decadent cake.
13. Florida Panthers – Victor Soderstrom, D, IF Brynas (SHL)
Having not drafted a defender before the third round since making Aaron Ekblad the top pick of the 2014 draft, look for Florida to get back to building up their blueline and snatch up the right-handed Swedish rearguard, who we feel is the best player available in this scenario. He might even have been drafted before Broberg were it not for a concussion which made for an early end to his U18 tournament. Soderstrom is a smooth defender, with excellent puck control and mature decision making capabilities. He will at times show great creativity and at other times make the simple plays. While not as fast as the aforementioned Broberg, Soderstrom has enough speed to keep up in the modern game and he has enough strength to allow us to overlook his being marginally undersized. Having played most of this past season in Sweden’s top league, there should be little question that he will be able to adapt to the NHL in due time.
14. Arizona Coyotes – Matthew Boldy, LW, USNTDP (USHL)
For the first time since 2014, the Coyotes will get to draft day without a top ten pick (they traded the #7 pick on the morning of the draft to the Rangers in 2017). This is Arizona’s latest first round pick since 2012, a reminder on the futility of their perpetual rebuild to this point. The organization currently has a lot of future options along the blueline and with York and Soderstrom going off the board in the previous two picks in this scenario, another defender would be an overdraft at this point. The best talent still on the board is also a better fit for what this system lacks. They need players who are skilled at putting the puck in the net. Not only does Boldy have an NHL wrist shot, but he also plays a gritty, two-way game and became a trusted penalty killer for the USNTDP as the year progressed. When inspired, he can also be a dazzling stickhandler. Headed to Boston College, where he will team up with 2017 Arizona draft pick Michael Karow.
15. Montreal Canadiens – Arthur Kaliyev, RW, Hamilton (OHL)
In recent drafts, the Canadiens have gone heavily for centers, seemingly accepting that many NHL wingers started out as centers in the amateur ranks. Last year alone, the team drafted seven players listed as centers. I could see them taking a different tack this year and drafting one of the more divisive players in this year’s class in Russian-born, New York raised Hamilton winger Arthur Kaliyev. Almost a pure North-South power forward, Kaliyev has expanded his East-West game this year, to great effect as he scored 51 goals (adding 51 helpers) for the defending OHL champs. He still needs to round out his game more, compete off the puck with greater consistency, and work to add more explosiveness to his stride, but you can’t teach players to score like he can. Kaliyev will not likely be quick to stick in the NHL, but once he arrives, he will add a dimension to the Montreal attack that is very hard to find.
16. Colorado Avalanche – Alex Newhook, C, Victoria (BCHL)
We gave Colorado Russian winger Vasili Podkolzin with the fourth pick of the draft. I believe in the diversification of assets as a general rule, and there is a fine young center from the BCHL there for the taking at this stage. The Avalanche have shown great comfort with drafting from the Canadian Jr. A leagues – even with high picks – in recent years including first rounders Cale Makar from the AJHL and Tyson Jost from the BCHL. Newhook, like many of the players up for grabs so far, is coming off a fine showing for Team Canada at the U18 tournament. He has advanced hockey sense and brings terrific skating to the table for his team. His puck skills allow him to always be at the center of the attack. There was some concern earlier that he was beating up on minnows in the BCHL, as his performance in the WJAC was underwhelming and he was not invited to play for Canada at the preseason Hlinka Gretzky Cup. Ten points in seven games at the U18 tournament put those concerns to rest.
17. Vegas Golden Knights – Raphael Lavoie, C, Halifax (QMJHL)
The Golden Knights have only gone through two drafts as an organization and they have not shown any leanings towards draft tendencies as of yet. Lavoie is a prospect whose stock has fluctuated over the course of his draft year. Prior to the year, he was seen as a potential lottery pick. He has a pro frame and put up nearly one point per game in his D-1 season. He then proceeded to score five times in five games at last year’s U18 tournament. Going back to Halifax, big things were expected, and while his offensive output was improved, it didn’t improve by much. Some thought that the competition had caught up to his physical attributes. Then came the 2019 postseason. As of this writing, with Halifax one win away from a spot in the QMJHL finals, Lavoie has scored 17 times in 16 games. All of his tools are above average and his shot is the carrying tool. Both the wrister and the backhand are viable weapons with accuracy and quick releases. He may be only one year away from NHL readiness.
18. Dallas Stars – Simon Holmstrom, RW, HV71 J20 (SuperElit)
The Dallas Stars have often gone with a board much different than my own, excepting the selection of Miro Heiskanen third overall in 2017. Even I saw that one coming. The best prediction I can make about this pick is that my guess will be wrong. They have drafted heavily out of both Sweden and the OHL in recent years. This is a down year for the OHL although there are some players who would be reasonable at this juncture. I will instead give Dallas the top ranked Swedish player on the board in right winger Simon Holmstrom. After a slow start to his draft year spent recovering from hip surgery, his trajectory has since gone up and up, culminating in a big role for the Gold Medal winning Swedish side in the U18 tournament. He is a technically strong skater with great puck control and creativity. He needs to get stronger, although he will never likely be a physical player. He has clear top six potential.
19. Ottawa Senators (from Columbus Blue Jackets, in the other Matt Duchene trade. I’m pretty sure that Columbus has fewer misgivings about this one than Ottawa has about their original Duchene deal) – Ryan Suzuki, C, Barrie (OHL)
A curious factoid about the Senators’ 2018 draft class is that seven of the eight players selected were already in, or were bound to play NCAA hockey, with netminder Kevin Mandolese being the sole exception. Considering that most of their picks in the previous few years were not NCAA bound, I will take that as an anomaly and not expect it to be repeated. They do tend to put a premium on hockey IQ and character and Suzuki fits that mold, giving the Senators a potential top six center down the road. There is much to suggest Suzuki is following in the footsteps of older brother Nick, a former first round pick who is set to begin his pro career in the fall in the Montreal system. He is a skilled playmaker, a smooth skater and an ace penalty killer – two short-handed markers are among his 25 goals scored for a bottom feeding Barrie squad this year. The fact that the Ottawa system (NHL and below) is full of bigger players should make his relative lack of size and clearer lack of physicality less important of a factor.
20. Carolina Hurricanes – Thomas Harley, D, Mississauga (OHL)
In 2016, after using their first round pick on offensive blueliner Jake Bean, the Hurricanes were criticized in some circles for using a high pick on a defenseman, as their NHL defensive corps was young and talented, from end to end. That group is now in its prime, and a key factor in Carolina’s return to the postseason this year after a lengthy hiatus. But as strong as those players are, a smart team is always succession planning. Since the Bean draft (two draft classes), Carolina has drafted only one defender in the top five rounds. Harley is a beautiful skater and puck rusher. While owning a large frame, he is not an aggressive defender, although he positions himself well to get the job down without more than minimal bodily contact. He still has room to grow and develop, but there are enough strong elements to his game to suggest a top four outcome, and maybe more, is within reason. A mid-August, 2001 birthdate also means he is among the younger players in this draft class.
21. New York Rangers (from Winnipeg Jets, in the Kevin Hayes trade) – Tobias Bjornfot, D, Djurgardens IF J20 (SuperElit)
The Rangers have scouted Europe heavily in recent years. Six of their ten picks from last season had been playing overseas in 2017-18 as well as five of seven the year before. We are going with the chalk pick of Kappo at second overall, but a talented two-way defender like Tobias Bjornfot being available could easily make that two-for-two for the Rangers in 2019. Bjornfot’s SuperElit production compares favorably with 2018 first round pick Nils Lundkvist’s at the same age, although Bjornfot does not have Lundkvist’s SHL experience yet, having only played seven games at the top Swedish run this year, as his parent club was one of the tops in the SHL. He is a very strong skater who is controls the puck well, demonstrates leadership qualities and controls the puck well. He lacks the upside of K’Andre Miller, who the Rangers snatched at 22nd overall last year, but projects safely as a second pairing defender down the road.
22. Pittsburgh Penguins - Philip Tomasino, C, Niagara (OHL)
Barring a trade in the next two months, this stands to be the first Penguins’ first round draft pick since selecting Kasperi Kapanen at the same slot in 2014. Since then, the Penguins have won two Stanley Cups and traded away picks and prospects galore including Kapanen (sent to Toronto as part of the return for Phil Kessel) to reach those elevated peaks. Their system is currently barren, with Calen Addison perhaps the only player who has a reasonable projection to become a top half of the lineup player. In Tomasino, I am lining the team up with the highest skill player still on the draft board. One of the more dynamic talents in the CHL this year, Tomasino began to score with greater and greater regularity as the regular season progressed, and continued to produce at respectable levels in the OHL playoffs and the U18 tournament. His skating is almost as explosive as his puck skills and he regularly hits the highlight reels. A team with a core like Pittsburgh’s can afford to swing for the fences.
23. Los Angeles Kings (from Toronto Maple Leafs, in the Jake Muzzin trade) – Moritz Seider, D, Adler Mannheim (DEL)
As much as I have mentioned diversity above, it is hard to resist giving Seider to the Kings at this range. Beyond the lack of blueline depth in the system, the Kings would have more familiarity and comfort with the German league than any other team. The Kings’ ownership group, Anschutz Entertainment Group, also owns DEL team Eisbaren Berlin. Eisbaren’s Sports Manager (a position similar to a GM) is Stephane Richer, who was a scout for the Kings as recently as 2016-17. In Seider, the Kings would be getting a rangy defender who spent the full year in the top flight of German men’s hockey, getting a regular shift on the blueline and whose offensive game is just beginning to take off. He even added in five assists in Mannheim’s run to the championship round. Whereas Byram’s game is based on supporting (or leading) the attack, Seider currently projects to have more value in a shut-down role. He is strong and towering, is recognized for his leadership qualities, reads the game very well and seems to always make the correct decisions. His passes are accurate and he skates well, but his value will not be predicated on his point totals.
24. Nashville Predators – Marshall Warren, D, USNTDP (USHL)
The Predators are a team that sniffs outs talent on the regular from the USHL, having dipped into that well at least once in each of their last four draft classes. In both of the past two years, they have drafted at least one player from the USNTDP. This is also an organization notorious for building from the blueline on out. Warren is sometimes hidden behind the elite forwards of this year’s USNTDP class and is similarly behind York on the blueline pecking order. His game and skillset should not be overlooked, though. He is smaller, but he can fly. When Warren sees a seam in the defense while wheeling through the neutral zone, he will be along the goal line in a flash. When his rush is over, he returns immediately to the blueline to patrol the zone from that vantage point. He has advanced puck control and protection capabilities. His point shot is not so menacing, which likely will prevent him from growing into a first power play unit player, but Warren is smart about getting the puck in deep and is responsible enough defensively to not have to be hidden from top end competition.
25. Washington Capitals – Pavel Dorofeyev, LW, Stalnye Lisy Magnitogorsk (MHL)
So Washington never drafts out of Quebec, and only rarely dips into the OHL for a player. They tend to draft players who will allow them a longer leash before signing them, tending to focus their selections (when they have them to begin with) on college-bound players and Europeans, with WHLers mixed in for balance. Considering their success drafting out of Russia, they make the first likely landing spot for Dorofeyev, a highly skilled winger who played more in the KHL this year than all but three other U19 skaters, two of whom were high draft picks last year. A late 2000 birthdate, he was not eligible to play in the U18 tournament this year, but showed well at the event last year, with four points in five games. On a point-per-game basis, he was the most prolific scorer in the MHL (Russian U20 league) this year, putting up 31 points in 19 games. A solid skater, he has spectacular hand-eye coordination and highlight reel puck control. Washington will be patient with his development, just like they were not that long ago with Kuznetsov.
26. Calgary Flames - Bobby Brink, RW, Sioux City (USHL)
While I am not Brink’s biggest supporter out there, I cannot argue with his numbers. His set of attributes are rather unique considering the players who have been eligible in the last three or four drafts. He has a pro-level shot, particularly his A-grade wrist shot. He is a highly skilled puck handler as well and has the vision to create a play for a teammate from distance. His game play is adaptable, both capable of carrying a heavy, heavy load shift wise with a Sioux City outfit that played with only three forward lines for long stretches of this season, and then fit in seamlessly with Team USA at the U18 tournament as a late addition to the roster after the Musketeers were eliminated from the USHL playoffs. Those elements are all pluses, but what makes him stand out as different is that he is only an average or so skater. His top speed is decent, but he rarely shows a second gear. He simply pops up in space when a teammate can find him and he capitalizes. There is risk that this trait will be harder to do at higher levels, but Calgary, who has been keeping tabs on Brink’s USHL linemate Martin Pospisil, who recently signed an ELC with the Flames, would be comfortable with what the Denver commit can do.
27. Tampa Bay Lightning– Matthew Robertson, D, Edmonton (WHL)
The Lightning were so good this year, they did not feel the need to trade away their first round pick for an upgrade at the trade deadline. Unfortunately, they were not able to pull off such a trade after the postseason had begun. Too soon? In all honesty, they deserve a lot of credit for not only building a regular season juggernaut, but for still maintaining a ton of depth throughout the system. I could see them leaning towards the blueline this year early, as there looks to be a fair bit of turnover on the NHL side and that attrition will create room for younger players to make their mark yet again. Not that immediate needs should, or would, sway GM Julien BriseBois, but Robertson is good value at this slot regardless. He has a pro frame, skates well, can control the pace of the game, keeps his end clean, and makes the right play, without being flashy. He showed well at last year’s U18 tournament and spent this spring taking his Oil Kings to the WHL Eastern Conference finals.
28. New York Islanders – Connor McMichael, C, London (OHL)
If McMichael had produced in the OHL playoffs, anywhere close to the better than point-per-game production he managed in the regular season, we would have been considering him a fair bit higher up this list. He is a high-end skater (his skating results were among the best at the CHL Top Prospects game this year) who forechecks aggressively, has a quality shot release, and is effective all over the ice thanks to advanced hockey intelligence. But he was a veritable non-entity in the postseason, contributing only five points across two series’, raising the question of his effectiveness when the going gets rough. He is undersized and lacking in muscle at this point of his development. He was a top pick as a bantam player and his play this year was a far sight better than what he produced as an OHL rookie, so he is not yet the finished product, but may be further from the final result than we can clearly see yet.
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 – technically one of the St.L pick or the SJ pick, to Anaheim in the Brandon Montour trade) – Robert Mastrosimone, LW, Chicago (USHL)
We gave Anaheim a blueliner with their first pick, so I would prefer to look for a forward this time. Mastrosimone would fit a general profile of Anaheim picks. Not only do they like to select players from the USHL, but they like picking Chicago Steel players, having drafted Jack Badini in 2017 and Blake McLaughlin last season. From a skills perspective, Mastrosimone has the full load, with his shot being his selling point. He has a great one-timer, and he can pick it with his wrist shot from the top of the circles on in. He is a fine skater and create for his linemates with pace. His tools also play up due to his motor. He is a high energy player who steps up in the biggest moments, including the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, the WJAC and the USHL playoffs this year alone. He still has a lot of physical growth to do and needs to learn how and when to throttle down at times, but as the saying goes, “it is easier to tame a tiger than to teach a kitten to attack.”
30. Buffalo Sabres (from San Jose Sharks, in the Evander Kane trade. Also see the #29 pick above. Technically, the Sabres could keep the pick they received from St. Louis and send the San Jose pick to Anaheim instead)– Vladislav Kolyachonok, D, Flint (OHL)
By the time the U18 tournament rolls around, for the most part, scouts have a fairly complete book on most players. They will have seen each player of note many times and have a good idea of what he brings to the table and what his deficiencies are. There are times when there is still projection to be gleaned from a player at the year end tournament. For one thing, a player may have missed a significant chunk of the regular season to injury, so the U18 is a prolonged last look making up for previously missed opportunities. The other case is for players who spent the year on also-rans. That was Kolyachonok, whose Flint Firebirds won only 16 games all season, none until November, 18 games in. Even then, his skating was notable, with explosiveness and four way mobility. He seemed to be able to read the play well off the puck, but he had to cover for so many of his teammate’s mistakes, that it could be a challenge, even for seasoned scouts, to get a read on what he could do. So the U18 tournament came in handy as he captained Team Belarus, finished second on the team in scoring and helped them remain in the top flight with victories over the Czech Republic and Finland. It is fair to say that Kolyachonok’s stock has risen.
31. Boston Bruins – Samuel Poulin, LW, Sherbrooke (QMJHL)
After using their top pick on a blueliner in each of the past four drafts, it is about time for an about face by the Bruins, even if they ride out the home ice advantage that they now have for the remainder of the playoffs to a Stanley Cup championship. In recent years, the Bruins have drafted mostly high IQ, defensively responsible forwards. Poulin fits that bill just fine. He is an intelligent player with good vision and a willingness to play in the dirty areas and plays with energy. He protects the puck well and uses his thick frame to his advantage. As far as offensive tools are concerned, he can snipe and has a knack for getting to loose pucks to create scoring chances. He needs to improve his stride, but his all-around game gives him the look of a solid middle six contributor in the Bruins offense.