The NHL giveth, and the NHL take away. I am a huge fan of the current NHL lottery system as far as it’s ability to somewhat negate intentional tanking, and many readers may know that I’d advocate for making every pick between 1 and 15 a lottery to really shake things up. Last season saw the 5th, 13th and 8th ranked lottery teams picking 1st, 2nd and 3rd, while this year was a bit more of a regression to the odds with the 1st, 11th and 4th ranked teams “earning” the chance to take some excellent prospects. While the idea of lottery-izing every pick is a nice pipe dream for me, seeing a bubble team land an excellent draft pick is always exciting. I believe that each team that won a pick will earn a significant piece that they’ve been needing for a while, and as someone based in Toronto my whole life, having to deal with the players I believe Buffalo, Montreal, Ottawa and Detroit could be bringing to town over the next few seasons will be less than ideal. My interpretation of this draft is that the highest picks are the a better class than last season, with pretty solid depth through the middle of the 1st round with a ton of “riskier” high-upside players later on.
Without further ado, here’s how I could see the first 15 picks of the draft going for each team.
- Buffalo Sabres – Rasmus Dahlin (D) – Frolunda (SHL)
This is about as big of a no-brainer as it gets. Dahlin is the best defensive prospect since Victor Hedman. He’s unbelievably smart on the ice and remarkably fluid on his feet. He will get pucks up ice and through the neutral zone like very few others before him. He’s an A+ puck carrier and distributor, and he’s been getting a difficult job done in one of the best leagues in Europe against men. The NHL is a smaller surface, and a faster game, so it may take time to adapt, but Dahlin is the best player available today, and Buffalo will need to tread lightly to work him into a role he can excel in. Buffalo’s defense core was abysmal this season, and I’m not completely sold on the idea of putting anyone in a top line role from the get go, let alone puck carrying defensemen, but I have little doubt that Dahlin will be a #1 in Buffalo before too long.
- Carolina Hurricanes – Andrei Svechnikov (RW) – Barrie (OHL)
Some folks are interchanging Andrei Svechnikov and Filip Zadina at the 2nd pick, but I’m convinced that there is a divide between the two in terms of NHL upside. While Zadina and Necas were A+ together at the World Juniors, Svechnikov is relentlessly strong with the puck and scores goals better than any first year draft eligible in the CHL since Connor McDavid. He scores goals and primary assists at a 30% higher rate at even strength than Zadina, spent much of the year injured or recovering, and I see far more of a complete NHL game out of him. His second half was absurd and Carolina is in need of some more firepower in their lineup. Between Svechnikov and Jeff Skinner, if Carolina can add a second reliable goaltender, get Scott Darling back on track, and add a bit more talent down the middle Carolina will finally look primed to become the contenders everyone has been hoping they could be for years.
- Montreal Canadiens – Brady Tkachuk (C/LW) – Boston University (Hockey East)
Tkachuk at 3 might ruffle some feathers including mine, but this one just FEELS too right to me. Marc Bergevin has said repeatedly that his agenda includes culture and mentality issues that he felt were lacking in Montreal’s dressing room. Brady Tkachuk, similar to his brother, is a guy who you will love on your team, but hate to play against. He has clear NHL upside as a 2nd line forward, but will add value in his physical, envelope-pushing play. Considering Montreal’s relative lack of depth overall, Tkachuk could step in immediately and (ideally) transition to the centre position after playing on the wing for most of the season. I believe Zadina will be the best NHLer in terms of driving goal percentages and producing points, but if I’m Montreal, Brady Tkachuk is a rambunctious, all-around threat that could play centre one day. With Tkachuk and Poehling potentially down the middle of that roster in 2020, Montreal would have a great crop of young centres to build around.
- Ottawa Senators – Filip Zadina (LW) – Halifax (QMJHL)
The Senators capitalize on Montreal passing on Filip Zadina to draft one the best player available at 4. I considered Adam Boqvist, but Zadina’s upside as a lethal offensive option, especially on the power play, is too enticing. He has an excellent shot, and can be a powerful skater with the puck. He isn’t as versatile a scorer as Svechnikov, but the value is far too enticing as a shooting and scoring machine.
- Arizona Coyotes – Adam Boqvist (D) – Brynas U20 (SuperElit)
The Coyotes desperately need to build up a young defensive core. I wasn’t a huge fan of the Pierre-Olivier Joseph pick, but moving forward with Boqvist, Chychryn, and Joseph is a solid group. Cam Dineen is a bit of a sleeper as well, and could help form a good core to build around. Boqvist is an offensive defender who specializes in shot generation. He is an elusive and agile skater who needs some development on the defensive side, but he was a top shooter at the recent Under 18s and had 3 goals and 3 assists to show for it. He may take some time, but he could be a significant piece, especially as a power play QB one day.
- Detroit Red Wings – Quinn Hughes (D) – University of Michigan (Big-10)
Quinn Hughes has had a bit of an up and down year in the eyes of scouts. His World Junior left a bit to be desired, ending up with him briefly playing forward. Hughes is undersized, but he is arguably the most agile skater available at the top end this year and has produced very well at Michigan. He’s in Detroit’s backyard, and it seems like a good fit to go along with Detroit’s defensive future with Filip Hronek, and Dennis Cholowski. Detroit seems to be preferring to stay away from pure-offensive talents recently, but Hughes is a potential top-pair puck rusher and distributor in the offensive zone. Someone like Evan Bouchard or even Bode Wilde may be headed to Detroit, but Hughes seems to be the highest upside player available.
- Vancouver Canucks – Evan Bouchard (D) – London (OHL)
I’m a massive Bouchard fan, and have been since I started watching a ton of Knights games this year. He’s a good skater, efficient puck mover, and an excellent offensive catalyst able to drive a ton of offense off his shot. He has had historically remarkable production for a defender, with almost a 40%INV, which hasn’t been touched by an OHL defender since Anthony DeAngelo’s 45% in his draft year. Bouchard shoots a ton, and when London gutted the major pieces of their roster, Bouchard kept producing. One game all year without a shot on goal, four games with 10 or more shots on goal, and just 16 of 67 games without a point is remarkable. His play away from the puck, especially in his own end may need work, but Bouchard’s on-paper potential is remarkable as a Brent Burns-type offensive shooting defenseman with solid size.
- Chicago Blackhawks – Ty Smith (D) – Spokane (WHL)
When it comes to my tracking sheet, Ty Smith stands out immensely in terms of two-way play. Spokane’s even strength goal differential doubled with him on the ice, and was best among his cohort in the CHL. He’s an elusive, quick skater who can make the smart play constantly rather than the flashier one. He’s got Top-4 written all over him if he can refine his offensive play and get stronger to compensate for his smaller stature. Chicago is a high shooting event team these days, and Smith could easily be a piece that could refine that style of play positively.
- New York Rangers – Noah Dobson (D) – Acadie-Bathurst (QMJHL)
I haven’t seen a ton of Dobson, but his numbers on paper have been outstanding. He is an offensive catalyst as his team scored over four even strength goals per hour while he was on the ice. That’s an improvement of 90% relative to the team without him. Honestly between any of the defenders in this range, each one has their reasoning for going in any particular order. I think the Rangers are a solid fit, considering their depth up front and lack of a significant blue chip defender. You never draft for need, but Dobson’s production and potential as both a passing and shooting threat from the blueline gives the Rangers a major boost down the line, let alone what they pull off with their other two first round picks.
- Edmonton Oilers – Joe Veleno (C) – Drummondville (QMJHL)
Veleno has really turned it on since being traded from what became the worst team in the QMJHL. His production exploded in Drummondville, and in my viewings, I definitely see his upside. The Oilers may have memed themselves repeatedly with their recent decision making, but Veleno seems like a good fit. He’s a versatile forward with a great set of feet and a high level of awareness on the ice to make a play. He’s willing to play hard and fast around the net, and with some development on a great team in Quebec, he could slot in very well in the Oilers forward core.
- New York Islanders – Oliver Wahlstrom (C/RW) – USA NTDP (USHL)
Some have Wahlstrom going earlier than this, but I could see him sliding to the Islanders here. He is as pure a shooter as it gets, but he’s an excellent one. There could be a 30 goal scorer in Wahlstrom, and combining him with Kieffer Bellows gives the Islanders of the future two devastating threats who can finish on the wings. Wahlstrom benefitted from playing with Jack Hughes down the stretch, but even beforehand, he was clearly one of the better shooters available this year. Not the most dynamic playmaker out there, but his upside is scoring goals, and he’s quite good at it. With this pick and the next pick, the Islanders can think big to potentially land a big fish or two.
- New York Islanders – Jesperi Kotkaniemi (C) – Assat (Liiga)
Kotkaniemi is another guy who I have way higher than this on my own list, but concerns surrounding his skating and upside seem to be pushing him down draft lists. I see Kotkaniemi as a versatile forward who is getting it done across multiple leagues, including against men. He played somewhat sheltered minutes, but he showed an NHL-style game and while he may not be a first line centre, he could be a solid option behind John Tavares and Matt Barzal, assuming Tavares sticks around this summer. He’s a dynamic threat offensively who is coming off a great U18, and his on-paper metrics from the Liiga are promising in terms of production and possession.
- Dallas Stars – Barrett Hayton (C) – Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
Dallas has had a disappointing year, but I don’t think they’ll be in this position for long. The talent level is just too high. Barrett Hayton adds a scoring centre dimension to the team that they’ll be lacking down the line as Jason Spezza moves on. Don’t be fooled by his okay point production. He was on a stacked Sault Ste. Marie team and produced points at the same rate as names like Akil Thomas and Joe Veleno. I’m not as much into the Hayton fanfare as many, but he’s a versatile playmaker who is dangerous around the net, similar to Joe Veleno. I’m pretty sure he’ll have a successful NHL career, and a future C group of Seguin/Hayton/Faksa/Hanzal is solid, leaving out any trades or additions they may make.
- Philadelphia Flyers – Grigori Denisenko (LW) – Loko Yaroslavl (MHL)
This is about as much a raw upside pick as you’ll ever see. The Flyers can afford to be patient with a pick here, considering the volume of picks they’ve made recently, as well as the quality of their pool. Deniskenko is one of the shiftiest skaters in the draft who can make quick cuts from anywhere on the ice to make room for himself. He’s agile and intelligent with the puck. His production heated up as the year went on, but there are questions about his emotional play and his potential to cross the pond. My viewings showed a player who was almost there. You could see the talent and ability to generate chances, but he’ll need to put everything together consistently in order to get to the next level. There’s excellent NHL potential there for a scoring winger with a gamebreaking skill-based ceiling, it may just take some patience to get there.
- Florida Panthers – Bode Wilde (D) – USA NTDP (USHL)
Florida’s management has been a bit all over the place, and the team is pretty clearly better on paper than they were this year, with or without Jon Marchessault and Reilly Smith. Florida does appear to be a team focused on skill and physicality, and I could see them jumping at Bode Wilde here. I see Wilde as a significant boom or bust player. Some flashes of him show an excellent and fluid skater who can shoot, others show defensive blunders or a lack of intensity that is a bit concerning. He’s another pick that may require patience, but he could fit in nicely on Florida’s solid defense core in a few years. If he can iron out the pretty clear holes in his game, and if he can start playing a bit smarter and more consistently, he could be a solid two-way threat that is dangerous in the offensive end.