Welcome to Mock Draft two of three. Since the last mock, the hockey season has been whittled down to its nubs. The NHL is down to the Stanley Cup Final and I am writing, the Bruins and the Blues are knotted at one game apiece. Outside of those two teams, amateur hockey is through, with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies of the QMJHL winning the annual Memorial Cup, knocking off the hosting Halifax Mooseheads in the process, after outlasting WHL champions Prince Albert Raiders and OHL titlists Guelph Storm. In the USHL, the Sioux Falls Stampede, um, stampeded their way to the Clark Cup championship. Sweden won the WU18 tournament on their home ice. Somewhat surprisingly, that was the first time that the Tre Kronor won that title. The AHL championship are just underway, but those players are all drafted and the outcome of that event will not play a role in draft order.
The NHL Draft Combine is currently underway, but the scouts all know what these players can do. The only uncertainty left is the order of the final two picks in the first round, as the Stanley Cup champion picks 31st and the runners-up get the 30th pick. Well, that’s not entirely true as we don’t know what trades will happen (there WILL be trades), or which GM will cut the cut of which prospect’s jib in the combine (and subsequent) interviews.
But we know that this is a very talented draft class. The top two players are pretty settled (I have around 75% confidence in the order as well) and there is a group of around 11 players following who could go in any practically any order and I wouldn’t complain. The talent level drops a bit after that, but there are still top half of the roster players to be found through the rest of the first round.
As a reminder, 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. The McKeen’s Draft Guide is available when you click 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, assume that the home ice favorite wins the Stanley Cup. Congrats to Boston on this amazing honor. They will get the 31st pick, while St. Louis’ pick, which belongs to Anaheim, will be 30th. The rest of the order is settled until trades start falling. Let’s draft!
1. New Jersey Devils – Jack Hughes, C, USNTDP (USHL)
No change here. The fact that Hughes was only OK at the World Championship – after playing for his country at the WU18 tournament, while the next guy was pretty darn good doesn’t change anything in my eyes. Hughes will make everyone around him better in a way that I am not convinced that Kakko can. Hughes has the best combination of skating ability, puck skills and vision of any draft eligible player since Connor McDavid.
2. New York Rangers – Kappo Kakko, RW, TPS Turku (Liiga)
Easiest choice in the draft. Some people might prefer Kakko to Hughes and others like myself prefer Hughes to Kakko. I can’t see even the biggest purveyors of bad hot sports takes liking any other prospect in this stratosphere. The Rangers only need to sit take and take whichever player the Devils do not. Kakko has a powerful NHL frame and plays a powerful NHL game. He is a future first liner and there are even some who believe that he can slide over to center full time.
3. Chicago Blackhawks – Kirby Dach, C, Saskatoon (WHL)
I have a hard time seeing Chicago pop a defenseman at the top here after taking blueliners with their top two picks in both of the last two drafts and using their second pick on the D in 2016 as well. They have shown more openness to drafting out of Western Canada lately and Kirby Dach, who I had fitted to them last time, still works. They like size and skill up the middle and Dach has those two traits in spades. He also might only be one year away from being a regular contributor.
Think of the impact that Cale Makar had on the Avalanche when the Hobey Baker winner joined the club for the playoffs. Now give the Avalanche another future number one defenseman to put on a second pairing. They would have the best puck moving blueline in hockey to go along with some intensely talented forwards like MacKinnon, Rantanen, and Landeskog. The core of a long-term powerhouse would be in place. Byram is, by far, the top defenseman in this draft class.
5. Los Angeles Kings – Cole Caufield, C, USNTDP (USHL)
I think the Kings would have been silently praying that the Avalanche would pass on Byram, but they would not be upset to pick up the record-breaking goal scoring from the US U18 team. Caufield is small (but strong), pushing the Kings further away from the Darryl Sutter brand they had been identified with for so long, but he brings something extra special to the table. Something not so identified with the Sutter remnants. A little thing called “goals”.
6. Detroit Red Wings – Trevor Zegras, C, USNTDP (USHL)
The fact that Zegras has been developing in Detroit’s backyard is nice, but the fact that he is the best playmaker in the draft and also one of its better skaters is much, much nicer. Zegras can line up at any forward spot and rarely needs more than a single touch to make a scoring chance happen. The thoughts of him setting up goals for Anthony Mantha and Filip Zadina for years to come should be running through Steve Yzerman’s head.
7. Buffalo Sabres – Alex Turcotte, C, USNTDP (USHL)
Having blown an early season performance that had Sabres fans thinking that they were finally reaching the end of their long, dark tunnel, Buffalo blew it again, missing the playoffs for the eighth straight season. A lot has been made of GM Jason Botterill not drafting anyone from the CHL in his tenure and, with a player like Alex Turcotte staring him the face, he won’t need to start now. Turcotte has among the most gifted hands in the draft class and a non-stop motor. Could team with Jack Eichel to give Buffalo a high-end top two pivots.
8. Edmonton Oilers – Dylan Cozens, C, Lethbridge (WHL)
The big man from Whitehorse would add a dimension to the Oilers that they have little of. Size and skill in the same package. With new GM Kenny Holland unlikely to rush prospects as had been the Oilers’ MO for years, Cozens would be able to fill out, refine his game and achieve the consistency needed to play on the Edmonton top six. He could eventually center his own ne, or play next to one of McDavid or Draisaitl on the wing, creating space for a superstar linemate.
9. Anaheim Ducks – Peyton Krebs, C, Kootenay (WHL)
As much as Krebs was difficult to scout playing on an also-ran team in Kootenay, every time he was able to play with better players, be it at the CHL Top Prospects game, and more recently at the WU18 tournament in Sweden. He is a natural leader, playing a full 200-foot game, with great hands, and quick feet. With Ryan Kesler potentially nearing the end of his career, the Ducks are looking to renew their forwards. Sam Steel, Troy Terry, and Max Jones are the first wave. Krebs could join the likes of Maxime Comtois and Antoine Morand on the second wave.
10. Vancouver Canucks – Matthew Boldy, LW, USNTDP (USHL)
The Canucks can go in a number of directions here, but Boldy seems like a player who would not only bring a great deal of talent and versatility to the roster, but also seems like a fit in head coach Travis Green’s system. Once considered an offense only player, as the season progressed, he showed himself to be a hard-working, two-way forward with as much play making skill as he has shooting talent. Also, under GM Jim Benning, they have rarely drafted out of Sweden or Russia the source of the other top talents still on the board.
11. Philadelphia Flyers – Vasili Podkolzin, RW, SKA St. Petersburg 2 (MHL)
Neither the Flyers as an organization, nor newish GM Chuck Fletcher, as an executive, have had qualms about using high picks on talent from Russia. Podkolzin is a strong, mature two-way winger who may not be all that removed from readiness for the NHL but for the small matter of the Russian factor being real in his case. He is expected to stay in Russia for the next three seasons. There are questions about his offensive upside as he has not always produced as much as one would like, but the raw skill is high end and is wasn’t all that long ago that he was considered the front-runner to go third after Hughes and Kakko.
12. Minnesota Wild – Victor Soderstrom, D, Brynas J20 (SuperElit)
After kicking off his GM career by taking a high IQ Sweidsh defenseman in the first-round last year (Filip Johansson), Paul Fenton can one up himself here by taking a similar type of player, but with a higher upside in Soderstrom. In fact, in this case, Soderstrom does pretty much everything better than Johansson by a solid grade. A concussion derailed him in the WU18 tournament mid-way through, but this player adds high end skating and puck skills to his near elite processing ability.
13. Florida Panthers – Philip Broberg, D, AIK (Allsvenskan)
Although the Panthers have not drafted from Sweden in a while – Linus Nassen in the third round in 2016 was the last – the recent signing of Rodrigo Abols from the SHL shows they still scout the country heavily. And after not drafting a defenseman before the third round since Aaron Ekblad in 2014, the system could use an injection for the blueline. Thankfully, Broberg, the last man of the “second 11” still standing fits a few holes for Florida. He is perhaps the best skating defenseman in the draft, has an NHL frame, and spent his age 17 year playing with men in the Allsvenskan.
14. Arizona Coyotes – Cam York, D, USNTDP (USHL)
The Coyotes have drafted often and often for skill during the John Chayka reign. They have tended to prefer Europe and the CHL to the USHL, but they took another blueliner from the program last year as well (Ty Emberson). York is the prototype of the mobile, puck moving defenseman. The Southern California native is a natural quarterback and would give the Coyotes a big boost in the transition game after a few years with the University of Michigan.
15. Montreal Canadiens – Raphael Lavoie, RWC, Halifax (QMJHL)
Long, plays hard, skilled and mobile. He is also French Canadian. For more than a few people, Lavoie being available for Montreal is a west dream come to life. He is also, in this scenario, the best player available and Montreal taking him here would not be a paean to his cultural and geographical background. He is a tremendous shooter with an advanced all-around game and it might not be rushing him to think he could be in the NHL by the 2020-21 season. He has a lot of above average tools and a complete game.
16. Colorado Avalanche – Arthur Kaliyev, RW, Hamilton (OHL)
One interesting thing about the Avalanche drafting tendencies under Joe Sakic. They like to draft guys who have at least one big time tool when they can. Kaliyev is not for everyone, but he can shoot with the best of them. He is a sniper who needs to prove that he can play interested when he doesn’t have the puck, but when he does in the offensive end, there is a good chance he can score. His ability to read the game and play instinctively at least lends itself to the ability to grow his all-around game. If the Avalanche are patient with him, this pick could pay high dividends.
17. Vegas Golden Knights – Philip Tomasino, C, Niagara (OHL)
Despite their unprecedented success on NHL ice, and their AHL club making the Calder Cup finals in their first year not sharing the space, the Vegas system is still very much in its infancy. They don’t have depth enough anywhere to say they have a need and they haven’t called out enough names to say that they have a tendency yet. So we’ll send one the most offensively gifted player still available from the CHL in Tomasino. He is athletic, a marvelous puck handler and came on strong in the second half of his draft year.
18. Dallas Stars – Alex Newhook, C, Victoria (BCHL)
The Stars have clear draft tendencies in the Jim Nill era. It seems that 75% of their picks are from Sweden, the OHL and the WHL. Another 15% or so are college bound players. There are some good OHLers and Swedes available here, but Newhook is a very talented player on the road to the NCAA. He has great offensive instincts and loves to attack the net. More a playmaker than a shooter, he adds an element to the Dallas system that isn’t currently there.
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)
If I’m in GM Pierre Dorion’s shoes, I might be nervous about my job status. I would think about trading down five or six spots and drafting overager Brett Leason, as he might be able to contribute right away, making me look good by extension. But I’m not him. I take Suzuki, but he is a high IQ center with plus speed and skill. He won’t be ready next season, but he is the most likely player on the board to be a top-two center.
20. New York Rangers (from Winnipeg Jets, in the Kevin Hayes trade) – Moritz Seider, D, Adler Mannheim (DEL)
Even after drafting two defensemen in the first-round last year and acquiring college stud Adam Fox in a trade with Carolina, a team can never have too many defensemen. The Rangers are also more comfortable than most teams in drafting out of Europe. Seider, from Germany is a little different than most Europeans, but in terms of talent, he stands up for himself. He is a natural leader and has a strong defensive game with mobility and size. His ability to score against his own age group portends to more offense at maturity. With the newfound depth of the Rangers system, they will be happy to wait for Seider.
21. Pittsburgh Penguins – Simon Holmstrom, RW, HV71 J20 (SuperElit)
Assuming that a trade is not forthcoming, this will be the first Penguins first round pick since selecting Kasperi Kapanen in 2014. With a prospect cupboard that is essentially bare, more than anything, Pittsburgh needs to add talent to the team. In Holmstrom, they get a player who packages plus speed, puck skills and an impressive hockey IQ. He may be a year or two away as he grows into his body but he looks like the type of player who can some of the pressure off the two big centers in Western Pennsylvania.
22. Los Angeles Kings (from Toronto Maple Leafs, in the Jake Muzzin trade) – Thomas Harley, D, Mississauga (OHL)
The Kings have two primary haunting grounds when it comes to amateur player procurement. One is NCHC powerhouse St. Cloud State. There are no likely draft picks from the Huskies this year. The other is the OHL. Last year alone the Kings held the rights to seven players in the OHL ranks. They will also draft Swedish and Russian players regularly but I like this connection better. Harley is a tall and mobile defender with an NHL future as a puck rusher. He could stand to be more aggressive off the puck, but he has first pairing upside.
23. New York Islanders – Samuel Poulin, RW, Sherbrooke (QMJHL)
The Islanders as an organization and Lou Lamoriello as a GM like drafting from the CHL and they like players with a touch of the “old school” vibe. They also like the USNTDP and could be a landing spot for big winger John Beecher, but Poulin seems like a fit with their drafting tendencies. He has a high hockey IQ and plays a heavy game in keeping with his plus size. On the offensive side of the ledger, he has a very strong shot and good hands. He will need to improve his pace before turning pro, but his game will always be more about creating space than setting the pace.
24. Nashville Predators – John Beecher, C, USNTDP (USHL)
David Poile and company have long been supporters of USA Hockey and the NCAA to the pros pipeline. John Beecher came on strong in the second half and at times looked unstoppable in the World U18 tournament. He will be pushed at Michigan but he is a big, powerful center who skates like the wind. He also has enough skill to take on a top six role and is versatile enough to play on the wing if needed.
25. Washington Capitals – Brett Leason, RW, Prince Albert (WHL)
The Capitals draft almost exclusively out of Europe or the WHL. They are also the perfect team to draft the late blooming sniper. Leason has improved his skating considerably in the years since he was first draft eligible and, if not a strength of his game, is no longer a weakness. His hockey IQ and big-time shot may be ready to play for the Caps, whose window to win is not getting bigger, right now.
26. Calgary Flames – Egor Afanasyev, LW/C, Muskegon (USHL)
The Flames are a hard team to nail down. They often go into the draft with fewer than their normal allotment of picks and they have a thing for drafting Slovakian players. They also draft more defensemen than they can all fit. Finally, they do draft regularly out of the USHL and like size (Gaudreau notwithstanding). Afanasyev fits the final set of characteristics here. He is a big man with a big shot and recently walked away from a scholarship at Michigan State so he could be developed according to plan of the team that drafts him.
27. Tampa Bay Lightning– Tobias Bjornfot, D, Djurgardens J20 (SuperElit)
Since drafting Victor Hedman second overall in 2008, Tampa completely ignored Sweden at the draft until the fifth-round last year. Now that they have proven to be comfortable with Swedes again, Tobias Bjornfot should see his slide stop here. The smooth skating defender has a versatile game with tools for both sides of the puck. He projects as a second pairing defender at maturity. This is a good value pick this low.
28. Carolina Hurricanes – Robert Mastrosimone, LW, Chicago (USHL)
Another team that values a college education, the Hurricanes usually get to pick much higher than this, but they are naturally elated to have to wait this year. As their reward they get a high energy winger with a knack for creating scoring chances. He works hard all over the ice and makes up for his lack of ideal size with outsized work ethic. They will have to wait on him as he goes to Boston University next year.
29. Buffalo Sabres (from San Jose Sharks, in the Evander Kane trade. Technically, the Sabres could keep the pick they received from St. Louis [#30] and send the San Jose pick to Anaheim instead)– Albert Johansson, D, Farjestad J20 (SuperElit)
We keep continue to keep the Sabres away from the CHL with their second pick as well. And in the interest of giving them some variety, after taking a high upside scoring center with their first pick, we can send Johansson, a steady, swift, late rising defender who played a key role in Sweden’s WU18 Gold Medal last month. He plays a two-way game, although his offensive contributions are currently more polished than his own zone work. He has the hockey IQ to suggest that he should be a quick study to tighten up his overall game.
30. 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. Louis pick or the San Jose pick, to Anaheim in the Brandon Montour trade) – Matthew Robertson, D, Edmonton (WHL)
I am not yet fully convinced that the Ducks are ready to move away from selecting for size. Yes, we gave them Krebs earlier, but trends at the top you take the talent. I could easily see GM Bob Murray wanting to give the Ducks a beefier presence on the blueline after watching his team be pushed around repeatedly when he took over as coach late in the year. Robertson has a lower upside, but it is still high enough for a 30th overall pick. He is large, skates well, and is strong in his own zone without being solely a defensive defenseman.
31. Boston Bruins – Nicholas Robertson, LW, Peterborough (OHL)
For a team as consistently competitive as the Bruins, they also have a deep pipeline of prospects with some upside. They can afford to take chances at the draft, yet when they do, they get it right more often than not. Robertson is severely undersized, but may be the most competitive forward in the draft. His offensive tools give him a top six upside and his work ethic will make sure he makes it in the league. He just feels like a Boston type player.