Now that the order has been established, THN’s resident prospect expert jots down his initial list on how the draft may go down in Philadelphia this summer.
Florida won the draft lottery last night, meaning the Panthers get the first crack at an interesting field with a lot of variation in it. A lot goes into a draft list and the final results are always thrown into chaos by trades and reaches. As the draft gets closer and teams decide who they like the most, I’ll get a more accurate picture of how things might shake down. But for now, here’s a quick-and-dirty look at what could happen come draft day in Philadelphia, based on the teams’ current situation.
1. Florida – Aaron Ekblad, Barrie Colts, D
Yeah, yeah, defensemen never go first overall anymore (Erik Johnson was the last in 2006), but the Cats are loaded up front with Aleksander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad and Jonathan Huberdeau. Their best ‘D’ prospects are still in college, whereas Ekblad can step in right away and play a top-four role.
2. Buffalo – Leon Draisaitl, Prince Albert Raiders, C
The Sabres have great prospects up front and on the blueline. Draisaitl can step right into the NHL and play center thanks to his size and ability to make plays equally well on the forehand and backhand. Moving Cody Hodgson to the wing and keeping Mikhail Grigorenko in the minors/junior clearly meant the Sabres are still keeping jobs up the middle open (except Zemgus Girgensons – he’s your two-way guy).
3. Edmonton – Sam Bennett, Kingston Frontenacs, LW
Woe be the Oilers, who really needed a defenseman here. But hey, Bennett at least plays with an edge and does a lot of things right up front. In all likelihood the Oilers should trade up or down based on need this year, but if they end up with a character player such as Bennett, it’s not a bad scenario.
4. Calgary – Sam Reinhart, Kootenay Ice, C
There’s a certain neatness here, because Sam will join older brother Max Reinhart in the Flames organization. But can you imagine a 1-2 punch of Sam Reinhart and Sean Monahan down the middle? In a couple years, that would be deadly. Reinhart is smart, competitive and talented.
5. Buffalo (from NY Islanders) – Michael Dal Colle, Oshawa Generals, LW
It’s practically a coin flip, but I think the Islanders need to hold on to next year’s first-rounder. They have to give up one thanks to the Thomas Vanek trade and next year’s draft is just too good with Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel and Noah Hanifin up top. Dal Colle is a fantastic scorer with size and the Sabres’ cupboard gets even more stuffed with his addition.
6. Vancouver – Willie Nylander, Modo, RW
The Canucks need high-end skill in the worst way and Nylander is a lift-you-outta-the-seats kind of offensive player. He’s been playing against men in Sweden already and though I’m not sure if he’s ready to come over right away, it won’t be long before he’s dazzling crowds in the NHL.
7. Carolina – Nick Ritchie, Peterborough Petes, LW
I feel the Canes need to get a little tougher up front and adding Ritchie would fit the bill. He’s a great producer, but also hits like a truck and drops the gloves when necessary. Put him on a line with Jeff Skinner and I guarantee the talented center would be given more space out there.
8. Toronto – Brendan Perlini, Niagara IceDogs, LW
The Leafs won’t find the big center of their dreams in this slot, but Perlini is a big winger with top-end skill. He’s also made magic in Niagara with Carter Verhaeghe, Toronto’s rapidly developing third-round pick from 2013. The Leafs’ strength is on the wings, so perhaps an NHLer is dealt away to fill another void (shutdown defenseman) and Perlini represents the future.
9. Winnipeg – Jake Virtanen, Calgary Hitmen, RW
I think the Jets go Best Player Available in this slot. Mark Scheifele is the future No. 1 center; Jacob Trouba and Zach Bogosian the anchors on defense. In Virtanen, they get a rugged producer and, dare I say it, a future replacement for Evander Kane if his time in Winnipeg is limited (which I don’t condone, but that’s another story).
10. Anaheim (from Ottawa) – Kasperi Kapanen, Karpat Oulu, RW
Talk about playing with house money. The Ducks could win the Stanley Cup and are still guaranteed a top-10 pick thanks to the Bobby Ryan trade with the Senators. Kapanen is a smart, responsible forward who can also tear off some highlight reel moves when the occasion is right.
11. Nashville – Nikolaj Ehlers, Halifax Mooseheads, LW
Avenge the loss of Barry Trotz, Nashville, draft some high-end skill! Ehlers is a dynamo who makes plays at high speeds and has been compared to teammate Jonathan Drouin. He’s not a stocky kid, but the Preds have more than enough beef to keep him safe while he shreds opposing defenses.
12. Phoenix – Haydn Fleury, Red Deer Rebels, D
The Coyotes do have some nice defensive prospects, but I can’t see them passing on Fleury, who brings size, skating and smarts to the ice. That mobility will fit in well on a blueline corps that also includes Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Keith Yandle.
13. Washington – Jared McCann, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, C
The Caps need centers behind Nicklas Backstrom and McCann would be perfect for that role in the near future. The kid’s vision and playmaking skills are unreal and though he has battled injuries, has loads of potential and a good frame to build on.
30. New Jersey Devils – Thatcher Demko, Boston College Eagles, G
I’m being a bit cheeky here, because the Devils get bumped back to 30th thanks to the Ilya Kovalchuk sanctions and who knows what will happen with picks 14-29. But GM Lou Lamoriello loves college kids and Demko is the best goalie in the draft. He can play three more years with Boston College, then back up Cory Schneider to get his pro career going.