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2018 NHL Draft Mailbag

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Will Rasmus Dahlin fall to the Leafs? Probably not, but if we start a rumour that he’s a Bruins fan, there’s at least a chance.

United States v Finland - 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Kevin Hoffman/Getty Images

“Would you consider this a strong or a weak class, or neither?“

This draft is strong on defencemen and scoring wingers, and weak at centre. All together, it’s slightly above average, but definitely not as strong as the McDavid draft in 2015.

“Do you have a pet favourite 2018 draft prospect? Who/why?”

I’m usually a fan of the best puck carrier and playmakers in the draft. Mathew Barzal, Mitch Marner, and Clayton Keller come to mind, and this year Quinn Hughes deserves this title. He’s a fantastic skater, and can take over a game despite his smaller stature, plus his brother is also incredibly fun to watch. He deserves to be taken in the top 5, but I have a feeling that he will fall a little bit.

I’m also higher on Ryan Merkley, Calen Addison, Jonatan Berggren, Niklas Nordgren, and Jett Woo than most. I’d like to see Evan Bouchard do well since i’ve watched him for so long, and I’m curious to see what Vitali Kravtsov can do at the NHL level. I could go on and on, but Hughes is probably #1.

“Do you think the Leafs will trade down?”

I think there is a good chance of this happening if Kyle Dubas is the GM, and if the Leafs still have their first round pick on draft day. In general, this is a great strategy, but it requires some serious willpower. If I was running the Leafs, I think this question would be impossible to answer ahead of time. If someone falls from my draft board I probably keep the pick. If no one falls, and there are 3-5 players at the top of my board who are in the same tier, I’d look to trade down. I assume the Leafs will use a similar strategy.

“Who do you think the Leafs could grab in the 20s? Outside of the first round, who do you think the Leafs should target?”

I expect that Ryan Merkley could be there when the Leafs pick, and he’s easily a top 15 talent in this class. The pre-draft interview will be extremely important for him, and i’m sure every team will be doing their homework here. I would be interested in Vitalii Kravtsov, Martin Kaut, Jonatan Berggren, and Rasmus Kupari if they were available.

Outside of the first round, some of my favourites who could be around are Calen Addison, Jett Woo, Jake Wise, Niklas Nordgren, and Aidan Dudas. David Gustafsson’s skill doesn’t jump off the page, but he’s a true centre who is consistently one of Sweden’s best players at every tournament, and he would be a good pick later on. There are a lot of lottery tickets there, but it’s tough to say without knowing who will fall.

“What’s more of an organizational priority for the Leafs this draft, C or D? Also, if in fact Dubas takes over, do you expect the draft choices to reflect this?”

I think these organizational priorities can get you into trouble, though i’d certainly like to add right-shooting defencemen and centres. It feels like everyone wants to add at these positions, and sometimes the steals after the top 20 are wingers. You can’t be too picky at #25, and if someone like Joel Farabee somehow falls, I throw organizational priorities out the window in order to take him.

I’m comfortable running Matthews, Kadri, and Nylander up the middle for the next decade, so I would say i’m more concerned about the back-end, but good teams tend to have a surplus up the middle. I’m not sure what Dubas’ role will be at the draft, but I expect that he can offer plenty of insight to help influence draft decisions.

“I’ve read that young NHLers are more prepared now than ever, and also that NHLers peak in their mid-20s. If this is true then are 2nd and 3rd round draft picks being under-valued based on outdated thinking?”

Second and third round picks are definitely under-valued. Sellers always seem to do well at the trade deadline, and I would avoid overpaying at this time of year for rentals. On the flip side, the last few picks of the first round are generally overvalued, and trading down often makes plenty of sense.

“With the position/range the Leafs are at, would you consider trading up in the draft to target anyone specific? What do you think it would take or do you think there’s enough talent it’s not worth the risk?”

Quinn Hughes is currently rated ninth on McKenzie’s board, and I’d be trying to move up if he fell outside of the top 10. This is my dream, rather than a realistic scenario. Ty Smith and Vitali Kravtsov also come to mind if they fall outside of the top 15, as do Barrett Hayton, Joel Farabee, and Joe Veleno. Unless something unexpected happens, I would be more interested in trading down. In terms of the cost of moving up, it’s entirely dependent on how far they want to move up. Trading up to 11 to take a player like Hughes would cost a fortune. Moving up two spots may only cost a third round pick.

“Jerry Turkulainen: certain mid-round steal or definite mid-round steal?”

Let’s start with a quick background for those who have never heard of Turkulainen. He’s listed as a 5’7” winger, and he was not selected in last year’s draft despite putting up strong numbers in a pro league. He scored 0.54 points per game in his draft year, as well as 0.63 points per game this year, which is higher than both Jesperi Kotkaniemi (0.51) and Rasmus Kupari (0.36) this year.

If he’s going to make the NHL at 5’7”, he better be able to skate. From what I’ve seen, he’s clearly an above average skater. His numbers aren’t quite Barkov-level, or even Heiskanen-level, so I wouldn’t call such a small forward a definite steal, but he will certainly carry more scoring potential than most mid-round selections. The Leafs took a few overage players in the “Dubas draft”, and i’m curious to see if they go this route once again.

“When and where does the draft dip in quality? So top 2, then top 15, then 40 or so, and then the rest, as an example. Where you would draw these line?”

Dahlin deserves his own tier, as does Svechnikov. I start to see a drop off after the top 16 or so. The next handful of players I would also be quite happy with if I was running the draft for the Leafs, but I don’t see a huge difference between my 26th and 35th ranked players, for example. I’ll try to remember to put my rankings into tiers so that I can provide a more complete answer before draft day.

Ultimately, I’d love to see the Leafs land a player in my top 16. If that isn’t possible, trading down might end up being the optimal strategy.

Are there any players in the top-ten(ish) projected picks that you think are busts? Any guys who have slid like crazy this year and could be stolen in the mid-late first round (à la Liljegren)? Is there any chance that one of the teams with a top-5 pick trades their pick away and/or trades down? Who and why?

I don’t think there is a clear bust who is projected to go in the top 10, at least relative to other years. I was lower than most on Lawson Crouse and Michael Rasmussen as top 10 picks, but this type of player doesn’t exist this year, at least not to a major extent.

Brady Tkachuk will have a long and successful career, but he could be a bit of a bust if he goes in the top 4 or so. I am usually scared to take mediocre skaters in the top 10, and both Wahlstrom and Bouchard aren’t great in this area, but Wahlstrom is talented enough as a goal scorer to avoid being a bust, and Bouchard makes plenty of high-end plays.

I’m not as confident in Noah Dobson as most evaluators seem to be. I thought he was clearly outplayed by Smith and Merkley at the Hlinka, and roughly just as good as Calen Addison and Jett Woo. He’s a 6’3” right-shooting defenceman who moves well and scores at a strong clip, so it’s still tough to argue with the team who selects him. He could easily be a top-pairing player, but i’m less confident than most on this.

No top-five picks will be moved. Merkley is the favourite to slide and be the steal of the draft, but his pre-draft interviews with teams will be important.

“Would you rather draft 100 duck-sized horses, or 1 horse-sized duck?”

If i’m trying to win some sort of competition or battle, then 100 duck-sized horses. If not, i’ll take the 1 horse-sized duck, as long as it isn’t Corey Perry.

“Labelling a draft as strong or weak is a favourite pastime of some and a faux pas for others. To what extent, if any, do you find the label useful or meaningful?”

It’s often not particularly useful or meaningful. For example, although I love Nico Hischier, the 2017 draft was weaker at the top than in previous years. However, that class carried plenty of depth, with an impressive group of players being taken outside of the top 15. While it may be known as a weak draft, the 20th overall pick was likely more valuable than in previous years, so it was a strong draft at certain points.

“In your opinion, are the widely-panned 2016 and 2017 leafs strategies of drafting large dmen, a) trying to exploit some sort of inefficiency, b) swinging for the fences with low chance picks, or c) misplaced value on size/oldschool thinking?”

Part of it could just be drafting for need, as they are loaded up front, and already have a few talented offensive defencemen. I see it as a combination of B and C, as they’re hoping for the next Colton Parayko. I don’t have a problem with taking bigger defencemen, but i’ll take a 6’3” player who is a decent skater over a 6’6 player who skates like me.

What part of Liljegren’s game do you think he has to work on the most next season?

This isn’t a 2018 draft question, but i’ll never pass up an opportunity to talk about Liljegren. There’s a few things, and the obvious one is that he needs to continue to get stronger and mature physically. He’s a capable defender in transition, but I would like to see him win more battles in front of the net, and eventually earn time on the Marlies penalty kill.

He’s also a little bit clumsy at times. He will fan on a pass or shot more often than most, and can cough it up in his own zone as a result. He tends to defer to his forwards on the powerplay and make the simple play, but I would like to see him make quicker decisions, take over the game a little bit more, and create more high-danger scoring chances. He is exceeding my expectations defensively.

“Tell me more about Jonatan Berggren and Niklas Nordgren”

They’re both small, likely to fall past the first round, and top scorers in their respective junior leagues (Berggren in Sweden, and Nordgren in Finland). They are both coming off a terrific performance at the latest under 18 tournament. They are both potential steals after the first round, and I think I was the first person who put Berggren in a top 31.

Berggren was one of the only forwards who could standout in the transition game against Canada’s outstanding group of defencemen. He’s fairly quick, a talented playmaker on the powerplay, and may be able to stick up the middle. He could benefit from getting stronger, especially if he wants to play a strong two way game and stick at centre, but he continues to score at every level.

Nordgren is only 5’9”, but he boasts above-average speed, and wins more battles than you’d expect for a player of his size. He’s a talented puck carrier, and I expect him to develop into a valuable option on the penalty kill. He’s already earned a cup of coffee in Liiga, and he will be one of my favourite mid-round picks. He also led Finland in scoring in the u-17 tournament a year ago, as well as in the u-16 tournament the year before.

“How many victory laps have you done over Eeli Tolvanen? More or less than 4?”

Less, and I wish he was earning ice time in the playoffs. I wasn’t too upset when outlets started putting him just outside of their top 10, but #30 was ridiculous. He was a lethal scorer in the USHL, and a major standout as a 17 year old in the under-18 tournament the year before. I still don’t understand why he fell.

I’m more focused on the players who outperformed my expectations, as learning is the only way you can get better. There’s more victory laps when you are right about a player who doesn’t have great numbers, and I think I was more excited when Victor Mete became a NHL player. Still, I’m excited to see what Tolvanen can do next year, and the Predators should be incredibly fun to watch.

“This is shaping up to be the second draft in a row where a player who received exceptional player status in the CHL (Day and Veleno) failed to go in the top 10 of the NHL draft. How does entry draft pedigree from the CHL translate to the NHL? Do the top players at younger ages typically remain the best as they get older or is there a lot of variance?”

Day was selected in the 2016 draft, but the question is still valid. I wouldn’t be shocked if Veleno ended up going ninth or tenth overall though. How exceptional status translates is extremely player dependent. McDavid and Tavares were leaps and bounds better than everyone else, and I believe that Jack Hughes would translate into a first overall pick if he went this route as well.

Both Day and Veleno are strong skaters with above average size. I don’t think they are as talented with the puck as McDavid or Tavares, but they could both fit in against older competition. Lawson Crouse was probably a better candidate for exceptional status than Mitch Marner, as I’d be terrified of throwing a young Marner out there against 20 year olds. There’s always going to be a lot of variance with teenage players.

Very important question: what is Mitch Marner’s middle name?

I hope it starts with an M. Mitch Mitochondria Marner is my best guess. He’s the powerhouse of the powerplay.

Are there any players that look to be close to NHL ready around the leafs 1st round pick? Any at RD or 4C, more specifically?

It’s a long shot. David Gustafsson comes to mind, as he played in the SHL this year, and he plays a mature style at centre. He will be somewhere between #30-36 on my draft board, but would be one of my top picks in terms of NHL readiness. However, I don’t think you can expect anyone to walk into an NHL role next year, and I’d avoid selecting based on NHL readiness or team need.

“I’d love to know more about Nils Lundqvist”

He’s a right-shooting defenceman, and he seems to be a popular player as a result. I see him as a borderline first round talent, and would be more interested in taking him in the second round. He’s made more than his fair share of nice breakout passes in the few times I’ve seen him play, and while he is not particularly flashy, he did not look out of place on the powerplay. He was one of Sweden’s best puck movers at the u-18 tournament, but his offensive skillset doesn’t jump off the page either. He will be in my top 40 or so, but I think he’s going to end up outside of my first round.

Thanks to everyone who submitted a question!