For the first NHL mock draft post-draft lottery, we decided to shake things up a little and talk to a few outside writers to bring a new perspective to some of these picks. While there’s still a month and change to go until the NHL draft, things are starting to wind down, prospect rankings-wise, and the only major changes you’ll likely see from here on out will be due to either performance at the draft combine or performance in the Memorial Cup.
Note: For picks that aren’t yet set, we used reverse standings order of the remaining teams. Several trades are now reflected in this mock draft, as the terms of those trades have been met.
1. New Jersey Devils — Nico Hischier (C, Halifax Mooseheads, QMJHL)
Finally, a different team at the top — and what an unexpected team it is. While these aren’t quite your father’s boring Devils of yesteryear, they could still do with a punch of excitement. Selecting the dynamic, speedy Hischier to play alongside someone like Taylor Hall would be quite the punch.
2. Philadelphia Flyers — Nolan Patrick (C, Brandon Wheat Kings, WHL)
For Philadelphia, we talked to A.J. Maiorana / @EtsPhilly:
“We’re looking at one of two prospects, and who the Flyers get depends on the Devils,” Maiorana says. “It would be dumb for the Flyers to go off the board and pick a player who isn’t Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier, so we’ll ignore dark horse picks like Vilardi or Mittelstadt. Patrick has playing history with Ivan Provorov, and Hextall has probably spent more time watching Patrick, who played for the Brandon Wheat Kings, than Hischier.”
While Maiorana is of the opinion that Hischier would be better for the Flyers overall, in this mock draft, at least, he’s been snapped up. Still, Patrick is a solid choice — he’s missed time of late, but he’s been a solid, consistent player in years past, rather than a flash-in-the-pan type, and should be quite useful for the Flyers up front.
3. Dallas Stars — Miro Heiskanen (D, HIFK, Liiga)
For Dallas, we spoke to Sean Shapiro, who covers the Stars for FanRag Sports, as well as other outlets including NHL.com.
“The Stars are in desperate need of a successful draft after younger players have made the jump to the NHL and some of the more intriguing prospects are either NHL ready or long-term projects,” says Shapiro. “Dallas has never drafted in the top-3 in the Texas era (Modano was the top pick, but that was in Minnesota), so it’s an interesting opportunity for the Stars to draft an elite talent. At No. 3 it comes down to Heiskanen, Vilardi, and Tippett. Glass will probably also be discussed, but I’m not sold on him at 3. If I’m making the pick at No. 3, I go Heiskanen.”
Heiskanen is a solid, puck-moving offensive defenseman who has seen upward movement on many lists following the U18 World Championships. He’s solid at both ends of the ice, and would be an excellent boost to Dallas’s defensive prospect pool.
4. Colorado Avalanche — Cody Glass (C, Portland Winterhawks, WHL)
For Colorado, we spoke to Geremy / @GiantsInTheCrease
“Mostly every position is of need in this organization, with forwards being a slightly larger need than the goaltending/defense,” Geremy says. “With the promotion of Jost/Compher to the NHL level, the Avs are really lacking in quality forward prospects with their quality forward prospects now being Greer, Beaudin and Morrison.”
While Geremy’s first choice was Heiskanen, this mock draft has him going to Dallas, so the Avalanche take Cody Glass. Glass has both size and strong playmaking skills, and his hockey IQ is through the roof. Whether or not Colorado trades Matt Duchene this summer, adding a strong two-way center like Glass is a good idea.
5. Vancouver Canucks — Gabriel Vilardi (C, Windsor Spitfires, OHL)
Vilardi is hands down one of the best players in this draft. He’s a solid playmaker at his current level, and should be able to translate those skills to the NHL level with time and development. The Canucks need a rebuild, and with what’s available at No. 5, Vilardi seems like their best option for future center strength.
6. Vegas Golden Knights — Owen Tippett (RW, Mississauga Steelheads, OHL)
Vegas got a little screwed by the draft lottery. Since the expansion franchise is basically starting with a clean slate, aside from Reid Duke, it’s anyone’s guess as to where it will go with this pick. However, Tippett likes to score goals. People like watching players score goals. He seems as good a place to start as any.
7. Arizona Coyotes — Cale Makar (D, Brooks, AJHL)
For Arizona, we spoke with Sarah Hall, managing editor of Five For Howling.
“The most pressing need for the Coyotes is a right-handed defender who can play with Chychrun and/or Ekman-Larsson long term,” says Hall. “They also need a true 1C, but before they panic they need to look and see what Dvorak, Strome and Keller turn into.”
Taking Makar inside the top 10 might be considered a risk by some, but the Coyotes have two picks in the first round and, just like in April’s mock draft (though not as high this go-round), they can afford to go a bit maverick. Makar’s a solid defenseman who’s smart and skates very well. With time and development, he could very well be worth the investment.
8. Buffalo Sabres — Timothy Liljegren (D, Rogle, SHL)
For Buffalo, we spoke with Aivis Kalniņs / @A_Kalnins
“The Sabres are in desperate need of a D-man of any kind,” says Kalniņs. “Be it offensive, defensive or two-way, as long as he can play on the blue line.”
Liljegren has fallen from grace with many a scout and analyst after a difficult return from a bout of mononucleosis. However, if his hockey IQ, skating and puck-moving capabilities return to the level that had scouts praising him as second only to Nolan Patrick in this year’s draft class, it will be difficult to fault the Sabres for selecting him.
9. Detroit Red Wings — Elias Pettersson (C, Timra, SweAI)
For Detroit, we spoke with Kyle, managing editor of Winging It In Motown, and Prashanth, contributor for WIIM.
Kyle and Prashanth were in lockstep on the Red Wings’ need.
“With Dylan Larkin and Andreas Athanasiou looking to be better suited as wingers, Detroit’s best center in their prospect pool is Axel Holmstrom,” says Prashanth. “While Holmstrom is great, he’s likely not going to be a solid top-6 center.”
“The Red Wings are in desperate need of centers,” agrees Kyle. “If the right defenseman is not there at ninth overall, I expect them to take the best forward available.”
Both writers mentioned Elias Pettersson and Martin Necas as options for the Red Wings at No. 9, depending who is available. Pettersson fills that need down the middle,
10. Florida Panthers — Nick Suzuki (C, Owen Sound Attack, OHL)
Suzuki, one of the younger players in the draft, has stellar offensive instincts and more than doubled his offensive output from last season, which bodes well for continued improvement in the future. The Panthers and their “computer boys” have likely been watching Suzuki carefully, and if he’s around at 10 (which he should be) it wouldn’t be out of the question for them to pick him up.
11. Los Angeles Kings — Michael Rasmussen (C, Tri-City Americans, WHL)
This is approximately the millionth* time Rasmussen has been the Kings’ pick in our FanRag mock drafts, but there are two reasons for this, and neither is that he should necessarily go 10th or 11th overall.
First: He’s pretty much a prototypical Kings player. He’s big and physical and yet he also has, if not an elite offensive skill level, a pretty decent one. Second: He’s one of those not-too-common big guys who can actually skate quite well for his size. The Kings need to get more mobile. He brings that power game and marries it with being able to see the ice well, and use his agility to move the puck.
*numbers approximated and perhaps exaggerated
12. Carolina Hurricanes — Casey Mittelstadt (C, Eden Prairie, High-MN)
For Carolina, we spoke to Pat Clarke, who covers the Hurricanes’ non-AHL prospects for @Section_328 as @CanesProspects
“The Hurricanes’ greatest need right now is a No. 1 center, preferably a self-driven playmaker or goal scorer,” says Clarke. “As bad as the team’s goaltending has been since the 2012-13 lockout season, goal scoring has held this franchise back from contending. And they haven’t gotten great production from their centers not named Eric Staal.”
Mittelstadt’s skill level is nothing to sneeze at, and it would honestly be surprising to see him drop this far. Still, if he does, Ron Francis shouldn’t think twice before snatching him up. He’ll fit right in with the talented young crop in Carolina.
13. Winnipeg Jets — Nicolas Hague (D, Mississauga Steelheads, OHL)
For Winnipeg, we spoke with Art Middleton, Managing Editor at JetsNation.ca
“The Jets have a pretty robust prospect pool already, but the lack of depth on defense is a bit concerning and may be the greatest need they have,” says Middleton. “They have some nice prospects on the blue line (Nogier, Kichton, Poolman, Niku) but none of them project to be anything more than a 5-6 pairing defenseman at best. If the Jets want to add to their defense (which they should) then Nicolas Hague or Callan Foote would be ideal picks. They also aren’t projected to go in the high teens, so perhaps the Jets can trade down and get another pick or two out of their 13th overall pick and still get a kid who will add to the team’s depth charts.”
Hague may have tanked his draft stock with some after his suspension for a cheap shot on Travis Barron of the Ottawa 67s, but Middleton is right — with his size, he would be a great addition to the Jets’ defensive prospect pool.
14. Tampa Bay Lightning — Callan Foote (D, Kelowna Rockets, WHL)
For Tampa Bay, we spoke with GeoFitz, writer for RawCharge.com
“The Lightning have done very well in drafting and developing forwards since Steve Yzerman and Director of Scouting Al Murray took over in 2011,” he says. “Their success on defensive prospects has been a little shakier, but since it does take longer to develop defensemen, maybe a few more years will change our opinions on that, but it’s doubtful. Since Yzerman traded away former first-rounder Anthony DeAngelo prior to the 2016 draft for a second-round pick, the farm has lacked an offensive defenseman prospect. They’re also short on right-handers that have top-4 potential. More than just short, as they have no one projected as a right-handed top-4 defenseman.”
Foote is a great skater who can read the play well, has a strong shot, and is reliable in his own zone. He’s also a right-handed shot. While he’ll need time to develop before he’s ready for the NHL, the Lightning can certainly afford to give him that.
15. New York Islanders — Kailer Yamamoto (RW, Spokane Chiefs, WHL)
For the Islanders, we spoke with Steve Smith, writer at Lighthouse Hockey
“I am of the belief that a team should draft the best player available to them at their pick, and I think that especially applies to the Isles’ situation this upcoming draft,” Smith says. “They have a decent stable of both forwards and defensemen in the system, but I would say forward probably presents a greater need at this time.”
The forward Smith has in mind is American Kailer Yamamoto, who, while on the smaller side, is one of the most creatively minded players in this year’s draft. His hockey smarts are already NHL-level, his offensive talent is through the roof, and the biggest knock on him is his size.
16. Calgary Flames — Martin Necas (C, Brno, CzeE)
Creative offensively and responsible defensively, Necas has a lot of qualities to like in a center prospect. The Flames had a better showing this year than most expected, but improving their forward prospect pool is still to their benefit. Between his great skating, excellent vision, and defensive positioning, Necas projects to be a quality prospect. He’s got a tendency to play around the perimeter—and it will be interesting to see him on North American ice for that reason — and he could stand to add muscle, but those things come with time.
17. Toronto Maple Leafs — Juuso Valimaki (D, Tri-City Americans, WHL)
Valimaki finished the season as the top-scoring U18 defender in the WHL, and he’s pretty impressive in his own end, too. His hockey IQ is high, and he plays well with or without the puck. He’s not the fanciest player, preferring to keep his game simple, but that’s not a bad thing.
18. Boston Bruins — Eeli Tolvanen (RW, Sioux City Musketeers, USHL)
For Boston, we spoke with Shawn Ferris, writer for HockeyGraphs
“With five first-round picks in the last two years, the Bruins have failed to acquire a strong scoring forward, going off the board on two of the three forwards they selected,” says Ferris. “There are some forwards with third- to second-line potential in the organization, but it seems like Boston would want to pick a forward here. If Eeli Tolvanen falls to 18, look for the Bruins to pick him up. He has fallen in some rankings this last month, so it wouldn’t be too surprising for the Boston College commit to fall to 18.”
Tolvanen would be an excellent choice for the Bruins, and him being right in their backyard so they can keep an eye on his development is just an added bonus. He’s a prolific scorer, with top-notch instincts and the ability to dominate in almost any situation in the USHL. It wouldn’t be a stretch to think he could carry that over to college hockey, and then to the pros.
19. San Jose Sharks — Ryan Poehling (C, St. Cloud State, NCHC)
Poehling impressed this year as the youngest player in NCAA hockey, and had a solid tournament for the gold medal-winning Team USA in the U18 World Championships. He’s a good skater who plays a gritty, straightforward game, effective at both ends of the ice. There’s both room for and reason to believe that his offensive abilities will improve with development.
20. St. Louis Blues — Klim Kostin (LW, Moscow, KHL)
If Kostin falls this far on draft day, it will be due in part to recency bias and the fact that he last played in January before being sidelined with a shoulder injury. The Blues have had success with dynamic Russian forwards in the past — Vladimir Tarasenko ring a bell? — and with his excellent skating and creative playmaking, Kostin could be next in line.
21. New York Rangers — Isaac Ratcliffe (LW, Guelph Storm, OHL)
For the Rangers, we spoke with Scott Maran, writer for Second City Hockey and Dobber Hockey
“In terms of prospects, the New York Rangers need (like most teams) a true elite forward,” Maran says. “However, since it is very hard to find those kinds of players in the draft, I’ll settle for the (slightly) more realistic need of a star/first-line forward who can score.”
Maran’s first choice was Kailer Yamamoto, but he’s already off the board. While Ratcliffe may not end up a first-line star, he should at the least develop into a very effective top-six forward. He’s a big, power-forward type, and his skating and high-level hockey sense make him a player worth investing in.
22. Edmonton Oilers — Maxime Comtois (C, Victoriaville Tigres, QMJHL)
For the first time in quite a while, the Oilers are picking toward the end of the first round. They’re not drafting for this year’s attempt at a savior — they got him in Connor McDavid — and now they’re looking for prospects to surround him for seasons to come. Comtois is a strong goal scorer who forechecks well and is good at his own end of the ice. This season wasn’t his best effort, but the potential is still there, and it’s potential the Oilers would probably like very much.
23. Arizona Coyotes (from Minnesota Wild) — Robert Thomas (C, London Knights, OHL)
This is Arizona’s second pick of the round, and honestly, why not stick with what works? The Coyotes have taken several players from the London Knights, and they’ve panned out pretty well so far. Thomas is creative, smart, and adds more center depth to the organization.
24. Columbus Blue Jackets — Conor Timmins (D, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, OHL)
For Columbus, we spoke with Mark Scheig of The Hockey Writers
“The Blue Jackets could also use defensive help, especially on the right side,” says Scheig. “With Werenski and Carlsson both on the Blue Jackets, they need to add to the system. With Gavrikov expected to stay in Russia, it takes on greater importance. Conor Timmins would be a great fit as a right-handed defenseman who can add offense.”
Timmins is a strong skater with excellent puck-handling capabilities, making him a good candidate to fill that defensive need for the Blue Jackets. He’s a terrific playmaker while also remaining strong at his own end, playing a physical defensive game.
25. Montreal Canadiens — Kristian Vesalainen (RW, Frolunda, SHL)
Vesalainen already has NHL size, and pairs it with excellent skating and pretty good hockey skill. Though he’s listed as a right wing, he can play on either side, and gets involved in the play no matter what zone it’s happening in. If he’s available at 25 — which, in a just world, he probably shouldn’t be — the Habs should snap him up.
26. Chicago Blackhawks — Shane Bowers (C, Waterloo Black Hawks, USHL)
Bowers, a Boston University commit, has high-end offensive instincts and is just as reliable in his own end of the ice as he is in his opponent’s. He plays a smart, straightforward game and is effective against top competition, including on the penalty kill.
27. St. Louis Blues (from Washington Capitals) — Henri Jokiharju (D, Portland Winterhawks, WHL)
Thanks to the Kevin Shattenkirk trade, the Blues have another pick to play with in the first round. Assuming one of those picks doesn’t get traded for some other asset — which is likely — it’s possible the Blues will go a bit off board. Jokiharju is a strong puck-moving defender with excellent offensive instincts at one end of the ice and terrific positioning and gap control at the other.
28. Nashville Predators — Lias Andersson (C, HV71, SHL)
Andersson’s fearless nature makes him a player who would be the right fit for Nashville, and as recent injuries have shown, the Predators could use more center depth. His tenacity and high-end hockey sense make him a consistent scorer, and he’s relentless when he backchecks.
29. Ottawa Senators — Pierre-Olivier Joseph (D, Charlottetown Islanders, QMJHL)
For the Senators, we spoke with Michaela Schreiter, writer for Silver Seven and The Ice Garden and co-host of That’s What She Said on TSN 1200
“Given the length of time it takes for most defensemen to develop, I would say it wouldn’t hurt for them to pick up a defenseman or two, just to restock the pipeline, so to speak,” says Schreiter. “But their greatest need comes in the most difficult position: goalie. After trading away Robin Lehner, the Sens put all of their future goalie hopes in Matt O’Connor. Needless to say, O’Connor has yet to prove what kind of goalie he will be, but things aren’t looking so good.”
Schreiter’s hunch on defense is Pierre-Oliver Joseph. He’s a strong skater, he effectively quarterbacks the power play, and he’s able to cut down passing and shooting lanes and create turnovers thanks to his vision and active stick. Schreiter points out that Boucher has a history in the QMJHL, and finding a player Boucher likes holds weight with the Senators front office.
30. Dallas Stars (from Anaheim Ducks) — Jake Oettinger (G, Boston University, H-East)
“If they take a forward, they’ll take a defensemen with their second pick,” Shapiro says about Dallas. “The Stars could also take a chance on a goalie in the second round. The Stars haven’t had much luck with drafted goalies (Jack Campbell) and they haven’t truly developed a goalie since Marty Turco, so taking a chance and at least buying a lotto ticket on a goalie makes sense.”
It’s not the second round, but coming in at 30th is close enough, and with most of the top defensive prospects off the board, there’s no reason for the Stars not to take a gamble and grab a goaltender. Oettinger adapted quickly to the NCAA this season and is likely in for an even more impressive performance next season. He’s also the strongest contender for the starting goaltender job for Team USA at this year’s World Junior Championships.
31. Pittsburgh Penguins — Jaret Anderson-Dolan (C, Spokane Chiefs, WHL)
For Pittsburgh, we spoke with Bill West, Penguins beat writer for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
“Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin aren’t getting any younger,” says West. “Oskar Sundqvist is the only notable center prospect on the way up. It’s reasonable to assume the Penguins will start looking for future talent at center after stocking up at goalie and on the blue line over the past couple years. Their wealth of young wingers probably makes that part of the forward corps a lower priority.”
At 31, there are several good-quality center options remaining. The Penguins rarely do the expected with their draft picks, and Anderson-Dolan would be anything but the expected pick. Still, he’d be a good one. He’s a project pick, but one that should turn out to be a strong, effective two-way center, with excellent skating, good goal scoring and a solid defensive game. He could stand some improvement in all areas, but with where the Penguins are now, they won’t need him to be ready for a few more years.