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Kevin Papetti’s 2018 NHL draft rankings: June edition (#1-31)

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Who should the Maple Leafs pick at #25?

USA v Canada - 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Bronze Medal Game
Quinn Hughes is one of the best skaters in this draft class.
Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images

Welcome to my final 2018 NHL Draft Rankings. Part two will be out shortly, which will start to include players who will be available in the mid-to-late rounds. There is an emphasis placed on finding difference makers, rather than players who can be replaced with a $2 million splurge in free agency. Without further ado:

Tier One (1)

1) LD Rasmus Dahlin - Frolunda HC (SHL)

He’s a generational puck carrier, and while he might struggle defensively in year one, he owns the size and speed to develop into a complete player. He’s a human highlight reel with the ability to amaze you on any given shift, and a candidate to be a perennial all-star. He’s the clear #1 in this class.

Tier Two (2)

2) RW Andrei Svechnikov - Barrie (OHL)

Svechnikov’s put up monster numbers in the OHL, USHL, and in just about every international event. He’s a talented puck carrier, dangerous sniper, and NHL ready as top six forward. His numbers are Marner-esque, and he is the clear #2 on my board as a potential 65-70 point scorer.

Tier 3 (3-4)

3) LD Quinn Hughes - Michigan (NCAA)

I’m always a big fan of the best skaters and puck carriers in the draft, but it is usually a forward like Mitch Marner, Clayton Keller, or Mathew Barzal. Hughes can take over a game with his speed, and he weaves his way through opposing defenders to create zone entry after zone entry. He’s amazing in transition, and basically matched Brady Tkachuk’s scoring production on the US Under 18 team last year, even though he’s a defenceman. He’s the clear #2 defenceman on my board, and carries an incredibly slight edge over Zadina at #3.

4) LW Filip Zadina - Halifax (QMJHL)

He’s a talented puck carrier, great competitor, and you can centre your powerplay around his shot. He’s close to NHL ready, and should be able to top 60 points on a regular basis. Zadina looked dominant at the World Juniors, and was a major standout at the Top Prospects Game, so he’s shown the ability to differentiate himself from other first round picks. He’s closer to Oliver Wahlstrom than Svechnikov in terms of potential, but I do expect him to become a first line winger.

5) RW Oliver Wahlstrom - US Under-18 Team (USHL)

He’s one of the best scorers in this draft, and he’s a major asset in the Ovechkin spot on the powerplay. He’s a crafty puck carrier and playmaker down low, where he can use his heavy frame to shield off opposing defenders. He’s not quite as fast as the other players in the top 5, but his shot makes him a safe bet to score 25-30 goals, and he’s a top 5 talent as a result. He scored seven goals in seven games at the recent U-18 tournament, and he should develop into a second line calibre scorer at worst. In a league where Alex Ovechkin, Patrik Laine, and Steven Stamkos made it to the final four this year, there is clearly plenty of value in having a huge right-hand shot on the powerplay.

Tier 4 (6-10)

6) RD Adam Boqvist - Brynas IF (SHL)

Boqvist is a 5’11” right-shooting defencemen who sees the ice extremely well, and will run a top powerplay unit at the NHL level. He’s only 165 lbs and needs to get stronger, but he’s been a regular penalty killer while playing for Sweden, and he’s responsible enough to provide value on both ends of the ice. He’s usually the best player on the ice when I watch him play, and he seems to create half of his team’s scoring chances. His strength is the only thing holding him back, and NHL trainers can help to fix this. Despite his size, he’s been a regular shutdown pairing defender and penalty killer when playing for Sweden, but his offensive skillset will always be his calling card.

7) C Jesperi Kotkaniemi - Assat (Liiga)

Kotkaniemi creates a ton of scoring chances down low in the offensive zone, and he’s a much better playmaker than your average 6’2” forward. He competes hard for loose pucks, protects the puck well, and is not afraid to drive to the dirty areas. He led Finland to a gold medal at the U-18 tournament, and while he’s not quite quick enough to be a major zone entry threat, he is talented enough as a scorer to warrant a selection just outside of the top 5. As the top centre in a draft that is weak at this position, he seems unlikely to fall on draft day. He’s not strong enough as a zone entry threat to warrant a spot in my top 5, but he was one of the best players at the U-18 tournament, and should develop into a 50+ point scorer with the ability to contribute at both ends of the ice.

8) RD Evan Bouchard - London (OHL)

Bouchard’s speed is a little bit worrying, but he sees the ice well, and stands out as a big time scorer from the backend. He’s responsible, strong enough to win battles in front of his own net, and makes a good first pass to lead breakouts. He reminds me a little bit of John Carlson, who is not an elite skater, but moves the puck well and makes an impact in all situations. His scoring production was incredible in the OHL this season, and while he’s not as flashy as the other top defencemen in this class, he still manages to provide a high-end offensive skillset.

9) LW Brady Tkachuk - Boston University (NCAA)

Tkachuk’s a pain in the ass to play against, and he stands out as a terrific puck handler for a power forward. He’s going to score a ton of garbage goals at the next level, and his quick hands allow him to set up plenty of chances for his teammates. I’m not sure if he’s quick and dynamic enough offensively to project as a regular 70+ point scorer, but he can probably score 50-60+ points while winning plenty of puck battles. I don’t think he owns the offensive ceiling to warrant a top 5 selection, but it’s tough to pass up a strong top six forward in the back half of the top 10.

10) LD Ty Smith - Spokane (WHL)

Smith’s been Canada’s best defenceman at International tournaments, and posted jaw-dropping numbers in the WHL this year. He’s only 5’11”, and is not as flashy as Dahlin, Boqvist, or Merkley, but constantly makes smart and quick decisions. He’s talented enough as a puck mover to run a first unit powerplay, and competes well enough to be used on the penalty kill. He’s worth trading up for if he falls outside of the top 17 or so on draft day, but as a future top-4 defenceman, he should go safely inside the top 15.

Tier 5 (11-14)

11) C Joe Veleno - Drummondville (QMJHL)

Veleno’s a 6’1” centre in a draft that is weak at this position, and stands out as Canada’s biggest zone entry threat at every tournament. He’s an above average skater and strong enough to be valuable in his own end, plus he’s an above average playmaker on the powerplay. He can help his team in all-situations, and he’s usually Canada’s most noticeable forward. He needs to develop into a better goal scorer, as his shot is a bit weak, but he owns the speed, size, and carrying ability to develop into a good second line centre.

12) RD Noah Dobson - Acadie-Bathurst (QMJHL)

He’s a 6’3” right-shooting defenceman with above average quickness, and he scored around a point per game rate in the QMJHL this season. He’s not as dynamic on the powerplay as Dahlin, Hughes, Boqvist, or Ryan Merkley, but he offers an above average shot and can move the puck quickly. I don’t think he’s an outstanding puck carrier, but he owns all the tools to be a strong shutdown defender while contributing a little bit offensively. I wasn’t overly impressed with him at the Hlinka, but he’s coming off a strong performance at the Memorial Cup, and it’s hard to bet against a big right-shooting defender who moves well.

13) C/W Vitali Kravtsov- Traktor (KHL)

Kravtsov is 6’2” and a standout puck carrier. He broke out with 11 points in 16 KHL playoff games, and his knack for scoring should translate well. He’s a good skater rather than a great skater, and he’s not overly physical, but he’s a high-end scorer both in tight and from a distance. I wanted to put him a couple of spots higher based solely on my eye test, but I just haven’t seen him play enough to confidently place him ahead of Dobson.

14) RD Ryan Merkley - Guelph (OHL)

Every time I watch him play he creates more scoring chances than almost any of his forwards. He’s phenomenal offensively, as he’s a magician with the puck, and sees the ice incredibly well. He’s been perfectly fine in his own end in International events, but he will probably be kept off the penalty kill and top pairing to start his career. He might need to prove to teams that he can be a good teammate, but he will be in a different atmosphere compared to being a first overall pick on a lousy OHL team. I dropped him a couple of spots in this ranking to account for a little bit of extra risk, but this is as low as I can possibly place a player with Merkley’s offensive skillset.

Tier 6 (15-19)

15) C/LW Jonatan Berggren- Skelleftea (SHL)

I profiled Berggren here, and he’s one of the better puck carriers and scorers in this draft. He’s only 5’11”, and he may end up on the wing rather than at centre, but he’s consistently Sweden’s most dangerous scorer and zone entry threat at International tournaments. He’s an above average skater, competes well for loose pucks, and owns the creativity to make defenders miss. He’s quick, both with his hands and his feet, and I think that he will be a star at the 2019-2020 World Juniors.

16) LW Joel Farabee- US Under 18 Team (USHL)

Farabee is the third best forward on his team behind only Jack Hughes and Oliver Wahlstrom, and his scoring production should make him a clear top 20 pick. He does everything well, contributes in all-situations, and is bound to be one of his coach’s favourite players. He’s a slightly above average skater and carrier, and offers all of the tools to develop into a good second line winger, but I’ll be surprised if he becomes a 70+ point star. He would be a bit of a reach in the top 10, but should certainly be off the board within the top 20.

17) C Rasmus Kupari - Karpat (Liiga)

Kupari was the best zone entry specialist on Finland, and his speed and puck carrying ability should translate to the NHL quite nicely. He’s not NHL ready and needs to get stronger, but he’s talented enough as a scorer to warrant a top 20 pick. He should be a top player for Finland at this year’s World Juniors, and I expect him to be one of the best players in the ‘19-’20 event if he participates. My ranking places a premium on skating and scoring, and I believe that his ability to beat defenders out wide will translate nicely into a top six role in the NHL.

18) C/LW Isac Lundestrom - Lulea HF (SHL)

Lundestrom is strong, responsible, and a crafty puck carrier down low. There’s a good chance that he sticks at centre, and he’s closer to NHL ready than most of the players in this range. He’s not a game-breaker offensively, but he’s a safe bet to be a solid middle six contributor, and he can help his team in all-situations. I could see him being a low-end second line centre, a high-end third line centre, or a two-way top six winger. Like Farabee, it’s a reach to take him in the top 10, but he certainly belongs in the top 20.

19) C Barrett Hayton- Sault Ste Marie Greyhounds (OHL)

Hayton plays a strong two-way game, and he was one of Canada’s best puck handlers at the Hlinka. He’s not quite fast enough to be a game-breaker offensively, but coaches should trust him to play a complete game, and he’s talented enough as a playmaker to contribute on a NHL powerplay. He played behind Morgan Frost in Sault Ste. Marie this year, and while this can help to explain his somewhat mediocre numbers, I see him as a future middle-six scorer rather than a first line scorer. He has not scored enough to warrant a top ten selection, but I could see him following in Robert Thomas’ footsteps and developing into one of the best players in the OHL next year.

Tier 7 (20-26)

Note (specifically to Leafs fans): The Leafs currently hold the #25 overall pick. If all of the players listed in the top 19 are already taken, I would strongly consider trading down.

20) RW Dominik Bokk - Vaxjo (SHL)

Bokk is one of the bigger wildcards in this class, as we haven’t been able to watch him play against other top prospects in international tournaments. He’s a 6’1” winger who stands out for his ability to make defenders miss in open ice, as well as his ability to beat goalies with his wrist shot. However, he’s not overly physical or strong in puck battles, so he’s probably going to have to score at a decent rate to make the NHL. Jonatan Berggren outscored Bokk by a considerable margin in the SuperElit this year, but Bokk is impressive in his own right, and I expect a team to take a gamble on him in the first round. He’s one of the better puck handlers in this class.

21) LW/RW Gregori Denisenko- Loko Yaroslavl (MHL)

Denisenko is one of the craftiest, flashiest, and skilled puck carriers in this class. He’s only 5’10”, but does not shy away physically, and he’s clearly an above average playmaker on the powerplay. Although his numbers in the MHL are somewhat underwhelming, he’s made an incredible one-two punch with Svechnikov while playing for Russia in various junior tournaments. He looks like a future top-six scorer by the eye test, but this is a bit of a boom-or-bust pick, and he will likely fall outside of the top 14 or so as a result.

22) LD Jonny Tychonick- Penticton (BCHL)

Tychonick reminds me a lot of Travis Dermott, as he stands out as an above average skater, and is strong enough to hold his own in the defensive end. He’s a talented powerplay quarterback, makes quick and accurate breakout passes, and is quick enough to keep a tight gap in transition. He played the right-side for Canada at the U-18 tournament, and also earned time on the penalty kill. He deserves to be a first round pick, and I think he can be a solid second pairing defenceman.

23) C Jake Wise- US Under 18 Team (USHL)

Wise is a talented two-way centre who boasts strong numbers despite playing behind Jack Hughes on the US Under 18 Team. He’s slightly above average in terms of zone entries, but mostly stands out as a powerplay quarterback and playmaker. I haven’t seen Wise standout as a completely dominant puck carrier, but he should have no problem sticking up the middle, and should be quick enough to at least flash second line potential.

24) RD Calen Addison- Lethbridge (WHL)

Addison is only 5’10”, and he will have to prove himself defensively at the NHL level, but he was a massive scoring threat in the WHL this season. High-scoring and right-shooting defencemen are tough to find, and he was all over the ice at last year’s Hlinka tournament, notching six points in just five games. You would mistake him for a forward on the powerplay, as he would jump into the middle of the 1-3-1 set up, or even end up behind the net. He can help out an NHL powerplay someday, and while he may never end up in a shutdown role, he competes and moves quite well.

25) C Akil Thomas- Niagara (OHL)

He scored just two points in four games at the under-18 tournament, but he was a strong scorer in the OHL this season, and one of Canada’s top forwards at the Hlinka. He’s above average as a puck carrier, and one of the top playmakers on Team Canada’s powerplay. On the other hand, he’s slightly undersized, and needs to get a step faster if he wants to be a top six forward. Compared to the other centres in the draft, I prefer Berggren as a carrier, Kupari as a skater, and Hayton and Wise for their two-way play. Still, he’s typically one of the better forwards when playing for Canada, and he deserves to be considered near the end of the first round.

26) RD Bode Wilde- US Under 18 Team (USHL)

Wilde is 6’2”, moves well, and shoots right, so Leafs fans are probably already sold. He’s a strong puck carrier for a player of his size, and is not afraid to jump up into the play to become a scoring threat. He’s not as talented of a passer as the majority of defenders in the first round, so he may end up as a capable powerplay quarterback rather than an elite one. He’s falling down draft boards after failing to find the scoresheet in the U-18 tournament, but the tools are still there for him to go in the back-end or middle of the first round.

27) LD Rasmus Sandin- Sault Ste Marie (OHL)

Sandin joined Boqvist to form a strong top pairing for Sweden at the Hlinka, but he did not play in the Under-18 Tournament because his team was busy in the OHL finals. He’s average to slightly above average in most aspects of the game, but I don’t see him as a major standout in any one area. He’s responsible, quick enough laterally to effectively deny zone entries, and moves the puck well enough to have a chance at running a second powerplay unit. If you’d like to learn more about Sandin, I profiled him here.

28) LW/C Filip Hallander- Timra (Allsvenskan)

Hallander missed the U-18 tournament due to injury, and he may end up flying under the radar as a result. He’s 6’1”, a fairly talented puck handler, and contributes in all-situations. While I’m a bigger fan of his skating than most scouts seem to be, he’s closer to average or slightly above average in this area rather than elite. He boasts strong numbers in Allsvenskan, impressed as one of Sweden’s better puck carriers at the Hlinka, and wins his fair share of puck battles. I see him as a potential middle-six forward.

29) RW Martin Kaut- HC Dynamo (Czech)

Kaut is coming off a strong year in a pro league, as well as a point per game performance at the World Juniors. He’s not particularly fast or flashy, but he sees the ice well and wins his fair share of puck battles. The main weakness here is that he lacks a “carrying tool”, as he’s not a speedster, he’s not a high-end powerplay quarterback, and he’s not an elite sniper. Nevertheless, he’s worth taking a chance on in the late first or early second round, particularly for a risk-averse front office.

30) RW Jesse Ylonen- Espoo (Mestis)

He’s one of the older players in this class, and he needs to get much stronger, but he’s crafty enough to develop into a solid scoring threat. He’s also an above average skater, so there’s some upside here, but he needs to start winning more puck battles to provide value at both ends of the rink. He was terrific at last year’s U-18 event, and his speed and carrying ability makes it easy to see him as a potential 40-50 point winger. He’s being overlooked at the moment, but his speed and carrying ability could make him a steal in the late second round.

31) C Ty Dellandrea- Flint (OHL)

He opened plenty of eyes at the Top Prospects game, as he’s a competitive centre who can help his team at both ends of the rink. He went from scoring 0 points at the Hlinka to scoring a point per game at the U-18 event, and his draft stock should rise as a result. His OHL numbers won’t wow you, but he played on a bottom team, and he could turn into a solid two-way centre at the NHL level. He sneaks into my top 31 largely due to my obsession with adding depth up the middle.