The 2018 NHL Draft is in the books, so it’s time to hand out grades.
The first major date on this summer’s calendar got off to a slow start, but the fireworks finally started flying on Day 2 between the surprise trade of Dougie Hamilton and the news John Tavares would indeed entertain pitches from other teams to officially begin the free agency period this week.
Thinking strictly in terms of prospects, here are the report cards for all 31 teams from draft weekend.
NHL DRAFT 2018: Full seven-round results | Winners and losers
The Ducks usually know what they’re doing on draft day, and they proved it again by taking three skilled two-way forwards in centers Isac Lundestrom (23rd), B.O. Groulx (54th) and left wing Blake McLaughlin (79th). All three are first-round caliber. Goalies Lukas Dostal (85th) and Roman Durny (147th) aren’t towering, but they each put on some show at several high-profile tournaments. Abrasive winger Jack Perbix (116th) and physical overage defender Hunter Drew (178th) rounded out yet another solid Anaheim draft.
Arizona definitely earned a lot of points with this analyst for taking players I personally was very high on. They went a bit off the board to take center Barrett Hayton (fifth) over a winger in Filip Zadina, and went for pure defense with mammoth blue liner Kevin Bahl (55th). The next three skaters taken — winger Jan Jenik (65th), and hard-shooting puck movers Ty Emberson (73rd) and Michael Callahan (142nd) — all have tremendous potential to have significant NHL roles, and they made sniping winger Liam Kirk (189th) the first Englander to be drafted in the NHL. They beefed up their goalie pool by taking backstops Ivan Prosvetov (114th) and David Tendeck (158th), and gambled on injured two-way rearguard Dennis Busby (145th), who a few years back was considered a possible first rounder.
The B’s didn’t have much to work with in terms of picks, but they took three exciting forwards in centers Jakub Lauko (77th), Curtis Hall (119th) and Russian overager Pavel Shen (212th). The two defensemen taken, Sweden’s Axel Andersson (57th) and Dustyn McFaul (181st), are long-term projects with decent pucks skills.
The franchise made a 180-degree upright turn with just one pick, and the whole world will be fixated on Buffalo to see what Rasmus Dahlin (first) does on a nightly basis. Taking two-way physical blueliner Mattias Samuelsson (32nd) and hard-nosed 200-foot forward Matej Pekar (94th) will help the Sabres tilt the ice in their favor, and the trio of late-round European puck-moving defenders in Linus Cronholm (117th), Miska Kukkonen (125th) and William Worge Kreu (187th) beefs up a thin prospect pool on the blue line.
The Flames’ biggest maneuver this weekend had nothing to do with draft prospects, as they traded Dougie Hamilton, Michael Ferland and prospect Adam Fox on Day 2 to Carolina for Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm. The move made sense, especially when you consider the Flames weren’t picking until the fourth round anyway. All five of their picks were hard-working forwards with above-average puck skills who could provide either offense or defense, or both. Slovak center Martin Pospisil (105th) is reliable in all three zones and can match up against anyone, and Minnesota high schooler Demetrios Koumontzis (108th) not only oozes speed and finesse, but he also hammers the puck and is strong on his skates for an undersized forward. They receive first-round quality in Slovakian pivot Milos Roman (122nd), and both Mathias Petterson (167th) and Dmitry Zavgorodniy (198th) combine playmaking, skill and relentless pressure on the puck.
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Speed must not be that important to the Canes, because after taking elite sniper Andrei Svechnikov (second), they grabbed with their next two picks a pair of marginal skaters in centers Jack Drury (42nd) and Luke Henman (96th). Both have strengths in terms of puck possession and playmaking, but the speed just isn’t there. Finnish goal-scoring winger Lenni Killinen (104th) was a smart grab in the fourth round, and playmaking defender Jesper Sellgren (166th) was one of my top-rated draft overagers. They closed it out by selecting a towering goalie in Jake Kucharski (197), but they over-drafted with their two picks after Svechnikov to knock them down from a perfect grade.
The Hawks get a high five for taking two elite playmakers in the first round in Sweden’s Adam Boqvist (eighth) and QMJHLer Nicolas Beaudin (27th). The next three selections are pure skill types, beginning with set-up guy Jake Wise (69th). Shifty winger Niklas Nordgren (74th) and Swiss pivot Philipp Kurashev (120th) both have top-six upside, and two-way overage center Mikael Hakkarainen (139th) is sound in all three zones, albeit with limited upside. Overage power winger Josiah Slavin (193rd) works best alongside talented passers, and righty goalie Alexis Gravel (162nd) needs to have his skills and smarts catch up to his pro-level size.
The Avalanche appeared to have an offense-first draft strategy. Not only for drafting five forwards out of the six skaters they selected, but also for the similar skill sets the newly acquired prospects all share. Winger Martin Kaut (16th) went higher than I expected, but he’s a good playmaker who excels in the cycle game and cashes in near the net. All three wingers they drafted — Sampo Ranta (78th), Tyler Weiss (109th) and Nikolai Kovalenko (171st) — can finish from just about anywhere, and overager Brandon Saigeon (140th) was a top-line forward for Hamilton as they nearly won the Memorial Cup. Goalies Justus Annunen (64th) and overager Shamil Shmakov (202nd) are both massive in height but need a lot of work in the quickness department. Overall, it feels like these were solid picks made by a staff with a clear intent to get players who can bury the puck.
Columbus Blue Jackets
The Jackets made this draft about skill and speed over size and strength, so for that, I salute them. Still, they took a big gamble in the first round on speedy center Liam Foudy (18th), and took players riddled with question marks in finesse forward Marcus Karlberg (80th), defenseman Tim Berni (159th) and tiny overager Trey Fox-Wolansky (204th). Taking a triple-overage goalie in Veini Vehvilainen (173rd) was smart because he’s basically at NHL readiness, but by the time he gets to North American he’ll only be a few years away from unrestricted free agency.
No, this isn’t because an arena full of green-jerseyed denizens who booed incessantly during trade announcements. No, this average grade begins with the pick at 14th overall of Ty Dellandrea, whom I love as a prospect and hated knocking down in my rankings but has a low ceiling in terms of point production. They took a pair of capable Swedes with their next two picks in sniping power winger Albin Eriksson (44th) and big, two-way pivot Oskar Back (75th), and rolled the dice on 2016 re-draft Adam Mascherin (100th), who can wire the puck and create chances but has below-average speed. OHL-trained centers appeared to have been a requirement for the Stars, as they took two more in Windsor’s mammoth two-way pivot Curtis Douglas (106th) and Kitchener’s speedy, hard-shooting Riley Damiani (137th). Defenseman Dawson Barteaux (168th) has good wheels and plays a smart positional game, and overage power winger Jermaine Loewen (199th) had a breakout season scoring goals for Kamloops in the WHL.
Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings were gifted three forwards with top-line upside in wingers Filip Zadina (sixth) and Jonatan Berggren (33rd), plus speedy two-way center Joe Veleno (30th), who was a steal in the late first round. They then took two punishing yet mobile defenders in Jared McIsaac (36th) and Alec Regula (67th), and goalies Jesper Eliasson (84th) and Victor Brattstrom (160th) are two of Sweden’s top under-21 goalies. Defenseman Seth Barton (81st) was a bit of reach in the third round, but they got almost a sure thing one round later in power forward Ryan O’Reilly (98th). Diminutive playmaking center Otto Kivenmaki (191st) capped off what certainly looks like one of Ken Holland’s best drafts as Red Wings’ GM.
The Oilers had only five picks in a draft immediately after a playoff-less season, so they’re already playing catch-up to earn a solid grade. They started off very well by taking puck distributor Evan Bouchard (10th), who as a playmaking defenseman fills an organizational need but also may be ready to step in and help an ailing power play. They snagged another OHL stud in power center Ryan McLeod (40th), who very well could have been picked in the middle of the first round. There’s a strong chance that goalie Olivier Rodrigue (62nd) could end up with one of the best NHL careers among his draft peers, simply because the kid is a fierce competitor who can stop multiple quality chances in one series of shots. Later-round picks like defender Michael Kesselring (164th) and Finnish center Patrik Siikanen (195th) usually don’t have the highest of upsides, but both can play defined support roles and add depth to their system.
The Panthers came into the weekend needing to beef up their prospect depth on the blue line, specifically in the form of puck movers and power-play quarterbacks, which this draft had plenty to choose from. They took a superior puck handler and scorer in right wing Grigory Denisenko (16th), and stuck with the winger theme the next three picks by taking power forward Serron Noel (31st), speedy collegian Logan Hutsko (89th) and German playmaker Justin Schutz (170th). It wasn’t until the depths of the seventh round when GM Dale Tallon finally grabbed himself a rearguard, the first being heavy-hitter Cole Krygier (201st). The only offensive defensemen the Panthers drafted was Finnish overager Santtu Kinnunen (207th), who can skate and stickhandle but is rough in the important aspects of defending,
Los Angeles Kings
It seems like times are changing in Los Angeles, as the Kings, a team seemingly built from the net out for years, did not draft a defenseman for the first time since 2011. Their center depth was strong to begin with, so the additions of slick Finnish pivot Rasmus Kupari (20th) and stickhandling center Akil Thomas (51st) gives the organization a ton of flexibility down the road. They addressed a need for scoring from the flanks by taking turbo-charged Russian Bulat Shafigulin (82nd), a dynamic playmaker who can finish off the rush. They added another speedster with goal-scoring abilities in center Aidan Dudas (113th), and addressed the need for goaltending by taking NCAA standout David Hrenak (144th) and towering Mississauga backstop Jacob Ingham (175th). You can say the only 2018 draft pick who fits the traditional Kings mold of power and strength was big winger John Sodergran (226th), who can skate well for his size and be a net-front presence. The only thing that hurt their grade was not grabbing a two-way defenseman, which will be tougher to do out of next year’s draft crop.
This grade would be a lot higher had Minnesota not thrown away its first-round pick on a player who had identical cohorts all through the second, third and fourth rounds. To be fair to defender Filip Johansson (24th), the kid knows how to play defense and his mobility makes it easy to keep pucks out of harm’s way. Still, it was a reach pick, and everyone outside of Minnesota seems to think the same. Centers Jack McBain (63rd) and Alexander Khovanov (86th) were once considered locks for the first round before slipping due to mediocre second halves and questions about their foot speed. They did a great job, however, by nabbing aggressive puck rusher Simon Johansson (148th), and forwards Connor Dewar (92nd) and Shawn Boudrias (179th) were two of my higher-rated overagers. Smallish centers Damien Giroux (155th) and Sam Hentges (210) are decent skill players who could make a lot of noise with their respective junior clubs next year.
The Canadiens were a hot topic of discussion over the weekend for a variety of reasons, beginning with the fact that they entered the draft with the highest number of picks. And although GM Marc Bergevin never traded down from third overall, or dealt Max Pacioretty, Les Habitants vastly improved their thin prospect pool with the addition of several high-end prospects. Bergevin made it obvious he needed centers, and going off the board to take Jesperi Kotkaniemi (third) to fill that need is a move that will be scrutinized until the young Finn can prove the doubters wrong. Is he a franchise-changing building block? He never struck me as that kind of player, but his puck skills nonetheless are elite.
Then with their next pick, the Habs grabbed another Finnish puck magician in winger Jesse Ylonen (35th), but went against conventional wisdom in taking Russian two-way blueliner Alexander Romanov (38th) a good two or three rounds before where he was expected to go. Montreal added three fantastic playmaking centers of different sizes in towering Jacob Olofsson (56th), and smaller puck wizards Cam Hillis (66th) and Allan McShane (97th). Defenseman Jordan Harris (71st) is an end-to-end rusher who likely will play in college for the next few seasons, as will goal scorer Jack Gorniak (123rd), who is part of Wisconsin’s elite incoming recruiting class. Center Cole Fonstad (128th) is a potential steal considering he arguably was the WHL’s top first-year eligible forward, and centers Samuel Houde (133rd) and Brett Stapley (190th) are two more playmakers who round out a draft that on the surface looks good but lacks the game changer Habs fans were hoping for.
New Jersey Devils
The good times in New Jersey continue to roll along, as the Devils followed up their first playoff berth in six years with Taylor Hall winning the Hart Trophy, and then in the same week drafted a dynamic defense prospect in Ty Smith (17th). It was no secret that the Devils needed a cornerstone type of defender to augment their skill they have up front, and in Smith they get a mobile playmaker who passes the puck with both accuracy and authority. Hulking rearguard Xavier Bernard (110th) once was considered a possible first rounder but still has the size and physicality to become a steady middle-paring type. New Jersey got itself a quality goalie with No. 1 upside in Swiss netminder Akira Schmid (136th), and Belorussian Yegor Sharangovich (141st) is a double-overage center with size and playmaking ability. Mitchell Hoelscher (172nd) is an aggressive two-way center with the potential to put up more points, and Finnish winger Eetu Pakkila (203rd) has the speed and drive that fits with how the Devils like to attack these days. Still, they didn’t have a pick in the second or third round and only came away with one pure offensive defenseman when they could have used a few more.
Contending for a Cup proved costly, as the Preds had only four picks the entire draft, and none until Round 4. Power forward Jachym Kondelik (111th) can play a lot of roles but his thickness prevents him from keeping up with fast-paced games. Both Spencer Stastney (131st) and Vladislav Yeryomenko (151st) are two defensemen who can move the puck with speed and authority, and goalie Milan Kloucek (213th) has the size the Preds love in their goalies. Yet still, the team came away from the weekend with only one forward and two defensemen — none with the kind of upside you’d think a team with so few picks would be looking for.
New York Islanders
Does Lou Lamoriello know what he’s doing, or what? The guy’s been on the job for less than a month, and he struts out of Dallas with the best prospect haul of any of his 30 contemporaries. The Islanders were gifted both winger Oliver Wahlstrom (11th) and mobile defender Noah Dobson (12th), both of whom were expected not to last beyond the top 10 picks. Defenseman Bode Wilde (41st) is a thoroughbred with Scott Niedermayer’s quickness and aggressiveness, and Russian center Ruslan Iskhakov (43rd) is a deadly puck wizard who will make goalie look foolish in shootouts. Drafting Jakub Skarek (72nd) could turn out to be a third-round steal if the young netminder lives up to the billing of being the best Czech goalie prospect since Dominik Hasek. And a trio of American-born skaters in Jacob Pivonka (103rd), Blade Jenkins (134th) and defenseman Christian Krygier (196th) will add more speed and strength to New York’s prospect pool. Islanders’ fans will look back on Lou’s first draft with approval both today and five years down the road.
New York Rangers
This was supposed to be the draft to set the Rangers up for Stanley Cup contention, much like what former GMs Craig Patrick and Neil Smith did in the mid to late 1980s. Things started off great with skilled Russian goal scorer Vitaly Kravtsov (ninth), but began to head south when GM Jeff Gorton overpaid an extra second rounder to move up four spots to grab raw two-way defender K’Andre Miller (22nd). Swedish puck rusher Nils Lundkvist (28th) stood out against adult competition and has the potential to be their true power play quarterback of the future. What was inexcusable, however, was taking Olaf Lindbom (39th) as the draft’s first goalie to go on the board. Like Miller, the remaining four defenders taken — Jacob Ragnarsson (70th), Joey Keane (88th), Nico Gross (101st) and Simon Kjellberg (163rd) — all lack game-breaking abilities and the potential to be stars in this league. Wingers Lauri Pajuniemi (132) and Riley Hughes (216th) capped off a Rangers draft that began with hope and promise but crashed with a loud thud.
The Sens finally gave their fans some good news by leaving Dallas with an excellent haul of elite prospects, beginning with power winger Brady Tkachuk (fourth). It might take a while, but the bull of a lad could soon prove that he was a worthy pick over the more popular Filip Zadina. Pierre Dorion deserves kudos for not only nabbing puck rusher Jacob Bernard-Docker (26th), but also for adding his future North Dakota teammate (and likely power-play partner) in Johnny Tychonick (48th). Skilled center Jonathan Gruden (95th) would have been considered a late first-round option had this draft not been so deep, and hard-nosed winger Angus Crookshank (126th) has translatable puck skills that he reveals frequently in open ice. Dorion got himself a boom-or-bust goalie prospect in Kevin Mandolese (157th), and rugged wingers Jakov Novak (188th) Luke Loheit (194th) play with a lot of moxie and energy.
The hits keep on coming for the Flyers and GM Ron Hextall, who came into the weekend already owning the league’s best pool of prospects. It doesn’t seem fair that he added a three-zone assassin like winger Joel Farabee (14th) and speed demon Jay O’Brien (19th) — two highly-skilled American kids with star potential who will marinate in college for another two or three years. They took a pair of punishing defenders in Sweden’s Adam Ginning (50th) and overager Jack St. Ivany (112th), but it’s cerebral two-way defenseman Wyatte Wylie (127th) who could become the best of the bunch. A Flyers’ draft just isn’t a Flyers’ draft without them taking a goalie, and Hextall dipped once again into Sweden’s talent pool to take netminder Samuel Ersson (143rd). They got great value with their later-round picks with playmaking NTDPer Gavin Hain (174th) and aggressive two-way center Marcus Westfalt (205) – two players ranked in my top-150. Philadelphia, however, was yet another team that opted to not draft a pure puck-moving defenseman.
Like Nashville, the Pens had only four picks, which obviously hurts their grade. Still, they did a good job taking a chance on three highly skilled players who skate well and compete hard. Calen Addison (53rd), who once was considered the flower of an average WHL crop, saw his stock slip a bit when his defensive-zone play proved to be nothing short of brutal. Power forward Filip Hallander (58th) is late first-round value in the bottom portion of the second, and his playmaking and aggressiveness combine to reveal significant top-six upside. Speedy overage center Justin Almeida (129th) put up a lot of points on a deep team, but he’s a perimeter player with average balance. Lastly, power center Liam Gorman (177th) has drool-inducing speed and size but has to improve in literally every other area.
San Jose Sharks
The Sharks made the most noise on Day 1 by taking much-maligned finesse defenseman Ryan Merkley (21st), who reportedly was on several teams’ no-draft lists. Is the potential for stardom there? Absolutely. Will it happen at the NHL level? At this point, you have to say it’s doubtful, only because Merkley’s immaturity is not his only shortcoming. Nonetheless, the Sharks are banking hard on Merkley’s potential, as they are with two-way center Linus Karlsson (87th), whom they traded up to acquire in the third round. Karlsson’s skating is rough, to the point where I felt his gaudy Superelit numbers had more to do with taking advantage of smaller players rather than pure skill and high hockey sense.
For whatever reason, the Sharks took another heavy-footed center with size in overager Jasper Weatherby (102nd), and goalie Zacharie Emond (176th) has the size most teams crave but is technically unsound and was one of the worst among draft-eligibles goalies in terms of rebound control. To be honest, I think the best pick they made was late in the sixth round when they took UMass-Amherst’s double-overage forward John Leonard (182nd), who in 2017 was Casey Mittelstadt’s linemate with Green Bay and a top scorer last season among NCAA freshman. This was an odd draft for San Jose, to say the least.
St. Louis Blues
The Blues were a non-playoff team that had to trade Paul Stastny to Winnipeg at the deadline just to partake in the Day 1 festivities. They swung another deal with Toronto to move up from 29th overall to 25, where they grabbed German sniper Dominik Bokk (25th), an accurate shooter and playmaker with speed to give all the quality centers in the prospect pool a dangerous option to pass to. Overage defenseman Scott Perunovich (45th) is undersized and mistake prone but his speed, vision and creativity are undeniable. Western Canadian goalie Joel Hofer (107th) was taken a lot higher than I expected, but he’s a sharp prospect with good size who is a nice compliment to Evan Fitzpatrick in their goalie depth chart. They took a diminutive double-overage winger in Hugh McGing (138th), who had a fine season with Western Michigan, and QMJHLer Mathias Laferriere (169th) is a goal-scoring winger who can blister the puck and once was a high junior league draft pick. Their final pick was stay-at-home defender Tyler Tucker (200th), who is a below-average skater who likes to throw his weight around. The grade would be a lot higher if this draft class was that of a playoff team or Cup contender, but outside of Bokk the Blues could have done a lot better.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Steve Yzerman has done really well at the draft the last few years, so it’s not easy to question the moves made by a staff that has one of the league’s top talent pools at both the junior and minor league level. Yet still, some of the picks made by the Bolts were downright confusing, not only for their relative anonymity but also the upside and potential they left on the table. Speedy center Gabriel Fortier (59th) was the only conventional prospect they drafted, and the two-way forward is a good choice when you consider his quickness, versatility and finishing ability. Russian blueline Dmitry Semykin (90th) was a kid a lot of scouts were in love with because he’s big and a punishing hitter with decent wheels, but the hockey sense and creativity just aren’t there from a prospect who was drafted well ahead of defensemen with more potential.
Cornell University freshman Alex Green (121st) looks like a shrewd choice in the fourth round when you consider how mature he plays and the increase in role and responsibilities he earned as the season progressed. Swedish goalie Magnus Chrona (152nd) didn’t play beyond the J18 level so it would be unfair for me to assess a player I never watched, and Yzerman closed out his draft with three more overagers in power winger Cole Koepke (183rd), Czech puck rusher and power-play quarterback Radim Salda (206th) and big goalie Ty Taylor (214th). Outside of Salda’s undervalued offensive game and Fortier’s speed, I just don’t see any home run picks you’d think a team with a deep pool would be making.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Did you know new Leafs GM Kyle Dubas once ran the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds? Well, he certainly acted like he still did, grabbing super-smooth Greyhounds puck mover Rasmus Sandin (29th) with his first-ever pick as Toronto’s draft maestro. In fact, four of Dubas’ first five picks were from the Ontario Hockey League. He took a similar offensive defenseman in Owen Sound overager Sean Durzi (52nd), and Peterborough’s puck wizard Semyon Der-Arguchintsev (76th) is a center who can put on a show once he’s in full flight. Overager Mac Hollowell (118th) also contributed offense from the blue line for Sault Ste. Marie, and Czech defender Filip Kral (149th) is one of those cool-under-pressure types who helps address the Leafs’ need for reliable players on their side of center ice.
Center Riley Stotts (83rd) is a capable two-way pivot who can make plays and contribute in all areas of the rink, and add overage winger Pontus Holmberg (156th) to Toronto’s growing list of skilled Swedish flankers who can act as primary set-up men while inside the offensive zone. Goalie Zachary Bouthillier (209th) is athletic and has good size, but his late-season surge masked his issues with making the right reads and getting beat short side with regularity. Their last pick was a good one in winger Semyon Kizimov (211th), who is a hard worker that contributes on the penalty kill and plays an aggressive, physical style.
The Canucks entered the weekend with a serious need for centers but opted to go for puck-moving defenseman with three of their first four picks. Obviously, taking Quinn Hughes (seventh) was a huge win, as the young American is NHL-ready and is the perfect prospect to groom as the franchise’s future No. 1 defender. They also must have liked defenseman Jett Woo’s (37th) maturity and reliability over some of the flashier names that still were on the board in the early second round, and he’s a good safety net for an aggressive puck rusher like Hughes or Finland’s Toni Utunen (130th), who GM Jim Benning grabbed in Round 5. They did, however, come away with one center, and speedy Tyler Madden (68th) has the kind of tenacity, physicality and inside play you wouldn’t expect from a kid who weighs around 150 pounds.
Double-overage winger Artyom Manukyan (186th) is a low-risk, high-yield type of late-round pick, as the smallish Russian playmaker has been one of the top junior scorers in all of Europe. And although Benning didn’t really need to add a goalie to his pipeline, Matt Thiessen (192nd) is a sharp, butterfly-style netminder with size and smarts who had an excellent season for Steinbach in the MJHL.
Vegas Golden Knights
The Golden Knights had a wonderful inaugural season into the world of the NHL, but we still don’t know if it was a fluke or the beginning of a lengthy run at Cup contention. Building through the draft always has been a hallmark of George McPhee-run teams, and they followed up last year’s phenomenal draft haul by grabbing several high-end prospects with significant upside. Two-way center Ivan Morozov (61st) was a steal that late in the 2nd round, as the young Russian has undervalued puck skill and the potential to one day be a first-line center for Russia at the under-20 world juniors. Denver commit Stanislav Demin (99th) is a California-raised defenseman with size, speed and poise under pressure, and center Paul Cotter (115th) is a USHL-trained forward who had a big year for Lincoln.
Overage winger Brandon Kruse (135th) was one of the top freshman scorers in the nation a year ago, and stay-at-home defender Connor Corcoran (154th) was the first of three defensemen McPhee drafted over the weekend. Puck rusher Peter Diliberatore (180th) has a lot of speed and can run the point on the power play, and QMJHL’er Xavier Bouchard (185th) is a smart defenseman many thought would be picked way higher than the sixth round. The Golden Knights took project goalie Jordan Kooy (208th) with their final pick of what looks like the second strong draft in their two years of existence
Not only were the Capitals still basking in the glow of their recent Stanley Cup victory, but they also entered the weekend with the most picks they’ve had in several years. One thing the organization did not need was defensemen, as the prospect pool is loaded with quality rearguard of all types. Nonetheless, GM Brian MacLellan grabbed defenders with each of his first two picks, albeit two outstanding prospects in Russian Alexander Alexeyev (31st) from Red Deer and Slovak stopper Martin Fehervary (46th). Both are mobile, reliable and capable of matching up against any top line or star player.
Ottawa 67’s winger Kody Clark (47th) is a hard-nosed kid that can fill the net thanks to a great wrist shot, but he was a bit of a reach in the middle of the second round. They did get great value in the late third with Everett’s power center Riley Sutter (93rd); a physical kid with size and menace during board battles and cycles. The Caps seemed partial to the WHL, adding two more players in the Vancouver Giants’ raw puck rusher Alex Kannok-Leipert (161st) and underrated center Eric Florchuk (217th), who helped carry a thin Saskatoon squad. Overage goaltender Mitchell Gibson (124th) showed tremendous potential this season in the NAHL and was one of the more technically-superior netminders available in the draft.
Like several other teams, the Jets were sort of playing with house money, as they were a playoff team with young stars and a deep prospect pool to boot. Although they didn’t have a first-round pick, they made a splash by taking agile two-way center David Gustafsson (60th), a breakaway threat and aggressive forechecker whose speed and finishing skills makes me think he has realistic top-six upside. Overage center Nathan Smith (91st) is a good two-way player with good vision who will head to Minnesota-State Mankato, so there won’t be any rush to his development, as he eventually becomes their top-line player.
The Jets took two mobile OHL defensemen with legitimate middle-pairing upside in Peterborough’s Declan Chisholm (150th) and Kitchener’s Giovanni Vallati (153rd), although each prospect has yet to live up to their true potential. Overage goalie Jared Moe (184th) smothers pucks with regularity and plays an aggressive style. Lastly, forward Austin Wong (215th) is a physical, mean and a nightmare to play against because he can beat you with his puck skills as well.