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Kevin Papetti’s 2018 NHL draft rankings: Top 31 with profiles

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The real question is: who will fall to the Leafs on draft day?

Sweden v Russia - Bronze Medal Game - 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

The 2018 NHL Entry Draft will take place on June 22nd and 23rd in Dallas. The Leafs will be looking for a potential steal towards the end of the first round, while many of their division rivals will look to add franchise-altering players in the top 10. For context, I see a fairly clear top 8, as well as a drop-off after the top 16.

Tier One (1)

1) LD Rasmus Dahlin - Frolunda HC (SHL)

He’s a freak offensively, with the ability to stickhandle through teams and generate high danger scoring chances. While he carries plenty of room to grow defensively, he’s 6’2” and moves well, and should round out his game soon enough. He’s a safe bet to be a top pairing defender, and a near lock to go first overall in this class.

Tier Two (2)

2) RW Andrei Svechnikov - Barrie (OHL)

If you like scoring, you’ll like Svechnikov. He led the OHL in primary points per game this year, including an incredible 40 goals in 44 games. He’s a 6’3” power winger with quick hands and a lethal shot. He shoots left and plays his off-wing, and you can centre your whole powerplay around him. He usually leads every international event in scoring, and his 1.45 primary points per game mark this year isn’t just good, it’s Marner-esque.

He projects to be a top line winger, as he’s one of the most dangerous goal scorers in junior hockey, while also standing out as a high-end playmaker. He is the clear #2 on my board, and a perfect fit for the Carolina Hurricanes.

Tier 3 (3-4)

3) LW Filip Zadina - Halifax (QMJHL)

Zadina is a 6’1” winger who posted 82 points in 57 QMJHL games this season, in addition to scoring 7 goals in 7 games at the World Juniors. He’s likely to be a top-6 winger, and like Svechnikov, his shot will allow him to be a focal point on a NHL powerplay. He’s more than capable as a sniper, playmaker, and puck carrier, and he carries 30+ goal potential.

His hands are incredibly quick, and he’s well-coordinated, strong on the puck, and a tireless worker. He can receive a pass and release a shot in the blink of an eye, and he works hard to get himself into the high-danger scoring areas. I have him clearly behind Svechnikov, but I expect him to score at an impressive clip, and he’s the safest pick at #3 as a result.

4) LD Quinn Hughes - Michigan (NCAA)

He’s 5’10” and light, but an outstanding skater and puck carrier. He can go end-to-end with ease, and should be one of the NHL’s best puck-moving defencemen in the near future. I am usually high on each draft’s best puck carriers (Clayton Keller and Mathew Barzal for example), and Hughes is a clear standout in this regard. He might fall a few spots on draft day because of his size, but he should be a steal if he falls outside of the top 5.

Hughes is great in the transition game, and only a handful of NHL defencemen are quicker than him. His quickness and coordination allow him to play a tight gap, and he’s terrific at preventing zone entries. Zadina is the safer pick, largely because of his ability to score, but Hughes is a game-breaking skater and puck carrier who deserves serious consideration at #3.

Tier 4 (5-6)

5) RD Adam Boqvist - Brynas IF (SHL)

He sees the ice extremely well, and is a clear standout in terms of leading a breakout. He’s terrific at breaking down opposing defenders at the offensive blue line, and projects as a strong powerplay quarterback. If Sweden’s Hlinka roster played a full 82 game season, Boqvist would have a chance to lead the team in scoring. He’s been the best player on the ice almost every time I’ve seen him play, and makes a major impact in the transition game.

I’m more comfortable taking forwards this early in the draft, but he’s too impressive to place any lower. I’ve watched him share the ice with Ty Smith twice, and Boqvist outplayed him on both occasions. He’s only 5’11” and needs to get stronger, but he plays in all situations and competes well down low.

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

It’s a good year to find a 30+ goal scorer at the top of the draft. He will rack up goals from the Ovechkin spot on the powerplay, and he’s a crafty and powerful winger who can finesse his way into the high-danger scoring areas. He’s a step slower than the players ahead of him on this list, and I see him as a winger rather than a centre, but his offensive toolkit is bound to make him a dangerous scorer.

His calling card will be his shot, and he’s ready to help an NHL powerplay today. He’s always been a top scorer at International events, and should be a big contributor at this year’s World Juniors. He’s able to use his heavy 6’1” game to win battles and protect the puck, and while I wouldn’t call him an elite zone entry talent, he’s a quick puck carrier in tight spaces and an above average playmaker.

Tier 5 (7-16)

7) RD Evan Bouchard - London (OHL)

Bouchard is a 6’2” right-shooting defenceman who posted an incredible 87 points in 67 OHL games this season. He plays a steady style and generates a ton of shots on goal, and this combination should make him a lock to be a top 10 pick. He’s not as quick and Hughes or Boqvist, but he sees the ice well enough to be a strong contributor on the powerplay, and he’s big and smart enough to log minutes on the penalty kill.

I generally prefer to take high-end skaters in the top 5, but Bouchard’s production is too good to pass up around #8. I think he’s more dynamic offensively than Noah Dobson, and while he won’t lead too many breakouts with his feet, he regularly makes high-end stretch passes. Bouchard’s style of play is mature beyond his years, and he looked like an OHL veteran when he was playing alongside Mitch Marner as a 16 year old.

8) LW Brady Tkachuk - Boston University (NCAA)

He lives up to the family name, as a powerful forward who is a pain in the ass to play against. His strength allows him to win more than his fair share of puck battles, and he owns quick hands in tight spaces. He’s close to NHL ready, already owns a strong showing at the World Juniors, and projects to be a top-6 forward.

He’s an alumni of the US U-18 team, and while he was a top performer, Quinn Hughes and Wahlstrom own more impressive resumes from this program. I wouldn’t pick him at #3, but he certainly deserves to be a top 9 pick. I prefer Svechnikov, Zadina, and Wahlstrom offensively, but Tkachuk will certainly be a complete player, and Leafs fans are bound to hate him if he plays for Montreal or Ottawa.

9) LD Ty Smith - Spokane (WHL)

Smith is coming off of a rather disappointing performance at the U-18 tournament, but he scored at an incredible clip in the WHL this year. He’s a good passer, can play in all situations, and is quick enough to be an asset in the transition game. Smith is 5’11” but plays a heavy style, and he’s typically thrown into a shutdown role in international events. He sees the ice well and should become a top 4 NHL defender within a couple of years.

He will be a key contributor for Canada at the World Juniors, and is probably the favourite to captain the team in the 2019-2020 event. He’ll quarterback a top powerplay unit at the NHL level, and there are now major flaws to his game other than the fact that he’s slightly undersized. A poor showing at the Top Prospects Game combined with a mediocre U-18 tournament could lower his draft stock, but he was Canada’s best player at the Hlinka, and an incredibly strong scorer in the WHL this year.

10) C/LW Jesperi Kotkaniemi - Assat (Liiga)

He’s a 6’2” forward with impressive numbers in a pro league, and was also one of the top scorers at the recent U-18 tournament. He’s a skilled playmaker on the powerplay, competes well for loose pucks, and is not afraid to go to the dirty areas. He’s out-produced fellow first round pick Rasmus Kupari in the same league this year.

I thought Kupari outplayed him at the Hlinka, as he was a step quicker, a better puck carrier, and more effective in the transition game. However, Kotkaniemi always looks dangerous in the offensive zone, and his strength should allow him to play a well-rounded game. He owns quick hands, protects the puck well with his powerful frame, and regularly makes high-end passes. He’s similar to Kravtsov, and both players boast plenty of scoring upside if they can become just a little bit quicker.

11) C/LW Vitali Kravtsov- Traktor (KHL)

Placing Kravtsov at #11 is certainly one of my bolder takes, as he did not play in the U-18 or Hlinka tournaments, and I think he’s flying a little bit under the radar as a result. He broke out in the KHL playoffs with 11 points in just 16 games, and he stands out as a 6’2” forward with quick hands. He’s dangerous with the puck in the offensive zone, and extremely elusive for a player of his size.

His offensive toolkit is impressive, as he boasts quick hands, quick feet, and drives into the slot with his heavy frame. He’s a good skater, rather than a great skater, but he can make defenders look foolish in open ice, and he gets his wrist shot off in a hurry. I’ve seen him dance his way around opposing defenders coming down on the rush, battle his way into the dirty areas with his heavy frame, and regularly beat goalies before they have a chance to set up. I’m not sure if he’s fast enough to be a star, but he’s one of the most talented puck handlers in this class.

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

If Dobson was already his prime, he would be the perfect addition for the Maple Leafs. He’s a 6’3” right-shooting defenceman with strong scoring production in the QMJHL this year, but his calling card is his ability to handle a shutdown role. He’s a pretty good skater, owns a good shot, and is an impressive puck mover for a player of his size.

He’s not Erik Gudbransson, who went 3rd overall largely due to his size and strength. Dobson is more mobile, more disciplined, and a better puck mover. However, I was not overly impressed with his offensive game at the Hlinka, as he did not make as many high-end plays in the offensive zone as Boqvist, Smith, or Ryan Merkley.

If all goes well, he’s an all-situations defender who can be used to matchup against top competition. However, I am not as sold on his offensive game compared to the players ahead of him, and I would be a little bit nervous taking him in the top six or seven. His all-around playing style, combined with his QMJHL numbers, places him just outside of my top 10.

13) RD Ryan Merkley - Guelph (OHL)

He’s one of the most impressive powerplay quarterbacks I’ve seen in recent years, and he should put up impressive point totals as a result. You’ll often see him holding onto the puck for ages, spin around, lose a forechecker completely, then make a tape-to-tape cross-ice pass. He’s listed at 5’11”, and he’s light, but it’s tough to deny his offensive talent. Scouts love to rip his defensive game apart, or cite his plus-minus, but he’s a high-end passer with a knack for breaking-down opposing penalty killing units.

There are concerns around Merkley’s attitude, and he seems likely to fall on draft day as a result. He was the first overall pick in the OHL, and has been stuck on a team with minimal talent around him. While it’s easy to understand many of his frustrations, teams will want to ensure that he can grow professionally and be a good teammate, rather than showing negative body language and quitting on plays defensively. He’s been a star at international events, and an incredible passer and puck carrier in transition.

14) C Joe Veleno - Drummondville (QMJHL)

He’s a 6’1” centre and one of the better skaters in this draft, so it is tough to see him falling outside of the top 15. He was also Canada’s best puck carrier at the Hlinka, and stood out as the team’s most dangerous forward. He is a better playmaker than goal scorer, but he’s talented enough as a carrier to help a NHL powerplay, and responsible enough to play on a checking line.

His low shooting percentage hurt him in the QMJHL this year, but he’s a true centre in a draft that is weak at this position. I don’t see him as a first line goal scorer, and this keeps him out of the top 10, but a second line centre who can play in all situations is certainly valuable. He looked slightly more impressive than Barrett Hayton at the Hlinka, but not quite as impressive as Ty Smith.

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

Lundestrom has already played 95 games in a top pro league, and he did not look out of place at the World Juniors. He’s one of the older players in this class, and a safer pick in the 11-17 range. He’s strong off the puck, a pretty good puck carrier, and can contribute in all situations. He’s probably a 40-50 point scorer rather than a 70+ scorer, and this keeps him outside of the top 10.

Expect him to be one of Sweden’s best forwards at this year’s World Juniors. He will be a valuable playmaker on the powerplay, then circle back to help his team in the defensive end. He could be a steal if he falls outside of the top 20, but he’s not quite deserving of a top 8 selection.

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

He’s a talented scorer, plays in all situations, and an above average playmaker on the powerplay. There aren’t too many flaws to his game, and he’s the captain of his team and every coach’s favourite player. He’s ranked a little bit lower largely because of his position, but he’s a borderline top 10 player in terms of scoring talent.

Farabee has posted impressive point totals at every level, and he could be a steal if he falls beyond the top 16 or so. He’s a little bit lower in this ranking because he is a winger, but he’s talented enough to be a 50+ point scorer at the NHL level if everything goes according to plan. He’s not Canadian, but he definitely would have been one of Canada’s best forwards if he played for them in the Hlinka, and maybe even their best forward. My point is: he’s a good player, and is not just being carried by Hughes and Wahlstrom on the US U-18 team.

Tier 6 (17-20)

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

He plays an impressive two-way game, and he was Canada’s second best forward at the Hlinka, so it’s not like he’s without offensive skill. He fell just short of a point per game pace in the OHL this year, coming up a little bit short of prospects such as Akil Thomas and Ryan McLeod. However, he’s strong enough defensively to play against top competition, he’s an asset on the penalty kill, and he’s a better scorer than his numbers indicate.

Hayton is also one of the younger players in this draft, and he played behind Morgan Frost in the Soo this year. He reminds me of Robert Thomas, who only scored at a point per game pace last year, but now looks like one of the best prospects in hockey. Given his lower scoring production, I can’t justify putting him in the top 10, but I expect him to be one of the best players in the OHL next year.

18) C Rasmus Kupari - Karpat (Liiga)

He’s a crafty puck carrier, and his ability to lose defenders in open ice showcases his scoring potential. Kupari is a fine skater, but I would like to see him put on weight and play a heavier style. It’s certainly easier to help a player to get stronger, rather than helping a strong player to learn to handle the puck like Kupari. He might start off his career at right wing, but he’s quick and skilled enough to be a potential top 6 forward.

He plays on Finland’s top powerplay unit at international events, and while I prefer Kotkaniemi as a powerplay quarterback, Kupari adds value here as well. He can play on the outside of the 1-3-1 setup, or in the middle, all while helping to create zone entries. I would avoid taking him in the top 13 or so, but he’d be a solid pick in the mid-to-late first round.

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

He was Sweden’s most dangerous forward at both the Hlinka and U-18 tournaments, and he posted terrific numbers in the SuperElit league this year before getting a cup of coffee in the SHL. He’s an undersized but quick forward who stands out as a puck carrier, and a talented playmaker on the powerplay. His speed helps him to draw penalties, but he will need to continue to score at an impressive clip to make the NHL as an undersized forward.

Berggren is one of the youngest players in this class, and he’s not quite big and strong enough to fill a prototypical checking line role. This is a bit of a boom or bust pick as a result, but I won’t be surprised if he ends up being a steal in the early second round. He’s quick enough, and skilled enough as a puck carrier, to offer top-6 potential.

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

He’s a 6’2” right-shooting defenceman who is coming off a disappointing performance at the U-18 tournament, where he did not register a point in seven games. His stock may plummet as a result, but he was the top scoring defenceman on the US Under 18 Team this year, and was a top scorer at the U-17 tournament a year ago. He is able to play a physical style, and moves fairly well for a bigger defenceman.

Wilde is a confident puck mover in the offensive zone, and is definitely not scared to jump up to join a rush. He’s a step behind Boqvist, Smith, and Merkley in the transition game, but he’s talented enough offensively to play on the powerplay, and big and strong enough to be an asset on the penalty kill. Ultimately, I would be slightly surprised if this talented right-shooting defenceman was available by the time the Leafs pick.

Tier 7 (21-26)

21) RD Calen Addison- Lethbridge (WHL)

He’s a slightly undersized right-shooting defenceman who scores at an impressive clip. He was excellent for Canada at the Hlinka, and he stands out as a quick skater and talented puck mover. Addison is a talented powerplay quarterback, and he can get his hard shot off in a hurry. I tweeted about Addison’s scoring production here, and this certainly makes him look like a first round talent.

The questions surrounding Addison will centre around his defensive play, and while he’s not a liability, it’s tough to project him in a first pairing shutdown role. Nevertheless, any right-shooting defenceman who can skate and move the puck like Addison is a first round talent in my books. He doesn’t have the same tools as Dobson, but I thought he outplayed him at the Hlinka.

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

He is incredibly fun to watch with the puck, as he is an elusive puck carrier and creative playmaker. As an undersized winger, this is more of a boom-or-bust pick, as he will not make the NHL as a checking line or penalty killing specialist. You can run your powerplay through him, and he’s been a strong scorer at international tournaments, but he’s also had the luxury of passing to Svechnikov.

His numbers in the MHL do not jump off the page, but he certainly boasts all the tools to score at a strong clip. He’s a human highlight reel, and it’s easy to see him leading the 2019-2020 World Junior tournament in scoring. You might get a 50+ point scorer, or you may get a bust. He’s a major wildcard, but worth a chance at the end of the first round.

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

He’s a 6’1” forward with quick feet and quick hands, and I don’t see any major holes in his game that would prevent him from being in my top 31. He scored three goals in five games at the Hlinka, but missed the U-18 due to an injury. He played on the same team as another potential first round talent, Jacob Olofsson, and he’s a step quicker than him, but not quite as strong in the dirty areas.

He scored 0.5 points per game in Allsvenskan this year, which trails William Nylander and David Pastrnak’s production, but beats just about everyone else. Playing with Jonathan Dahlen probably inflates his numbers a little bit, but he’s quick and talented enough as a carrier to provide value in terms of zone entries. He was rarely the best player on the ice at the Hlinka, but he was an asset on the penalty kill, and did not look out of place on the powerplay. I see him as a future middle six forward.

24) LD Jonny Tychonick- Penticton (BCHL)

He’s a little bit undersized and needs to get stronger, but also one of the quickest defenders in this class. He sees the ice well and is regularly an asset in the transition game, but I give the edge to Smith, Merkley, and Addison on the powerplay. He played against weaker competition in the BCHL this year, and while he did not look out of place at the U-18 tournament, he did not exactly dominate either.

I’m a big fan of drafting high-end skaters, and he belongs at the end of the first round or early second round. He carries an outside chance of making the Canadian World Junior team this year, but should make it the following year. He would be a steal if he falls outside of the first round, but I would be surprised if he was taken in the top 20.

25) C Jacob Olofsson- Timra (Allsvenskan)

He was one of Sweden’s better forwards at the Hlinka, and is coming off of a strong year in Allsvenskan. He’s well-coordinated, comfortable with the puck, and fairly strong in board battles, but he lacks a top gear to breakaway from defenders. The question becomes: can he get a step quicker? I wouldn’t call him slow, but he’s just an average skater, rather than above average.

Olofsson is 6’2” and can play a solid two-way game. He’s strong enough to drive to the dirty areas, and coordinated enough to make the most of his chances. I generally prefer to take high-end skaters in the first round, but his game is complete enough to belong in the top 31.

26) C/RW Akil Thomas- Niagara (OHL)

Among the U-18 forwards in the OHL this season, Thomas finished second to only Svechnikov in points per game. He was also Canada’s third best forward behind Veleno and Hayton at the Hlinka, where he was one of their go-to powerplay playmakers. He’s quick and comfortable with the puck on his stick, but also slightly undersized.

Thomas would be a solid choice at the end of the first round, but he’s safely behind Veleno and Hayton, as well as Joel Farabee. He’s been a solid scoring option at international tournaments, but not a dominant one, so we are probably looking at more of a middle six forward. I wouldn’t take him in the top 20, but I would start considering him right around where the Leafs pick if no one has fallen.

Tier 8 (27-31)

27) RW Niklas Nordgren- HIFK (Liiga)

I am the president of the Niklas Nordgren fan club, and I think he could be a potential steal after the first round. He broke out at the most recent U-18 tournament, trailing only Jack Hughes and Maxim Cajkovic in points, and leading the event in goals with eight. He also dominated his junior league this year, and the only U-18 players who have exceed his point production over the past decade are Teemu Pulkkinen, Teuvo Teravainen, Jesse Puljujarvi, Mikael Granlund, and Joonas Donskoi. I will caution that many of these players played in this league as a 16 year old, rather than a 17 year old, so let’s not call him a top 15 talent just yet.

Nordgren is also a clear stand out by my eye test. He’s only 5’9”, but he’s a talented puck carrier and a strong skater. He’s well-coordinated, makes the most of his chances, and can make a positive impact in terms of zone entries. He wins plenty of battles for a player of his size, and doesn’t shy away physically compared to most undersized forwards. He’s quick enough to help your penalty kill, and could even be available outside of the top two rounds.

28) RW Dominik Bokk- Vaxjo (SHL)

Germany did not play in the main group at the Hlinka or u 18 tournament, so he’s a tougher player to judge. The first thing you will notice about him is that he’s a talented puck carrier, and while he’s not overly strong, there’s room to grow into his 6’1” frame. He spent most of his season in the SuperElit junior league, and while his numbers were quite strong, he fell short of players such as Jesper Boqvist, Jonatan Berggren, Carl Grundstrom, and Jonathan Dahlen in their U 18 seasons.

He’s a boom or bust pick, as you’d be banking on him reaching another level offensively. I don’t expect him to excel in the dirty areas, but he’s a talented carrier who can make defenders miss in open space, and it’s easy to dream on his potential.

29) C Ryan McLeod- Mississauga (OHL)

McLeod is one of the fastest skaters in this class, and 6’2” forwards who can fly are generally safe selections. However, he’s also one of the oldest players in this class, and his scoring production is simply good rather than great. He did not find his way onto the scoresheet in four games at the 2016 Hlinka tournament, but he was one of the younger players in an event that featured Nico Hischier.

His speed will help him to generate breakaways and develop into an asset on the penalty kill. He’s a talented puck carrier in the transition game, but he’s not as talented in the offensive zone as the majority of players on this list. I expect him to develop into a respectable middle six forward, but he hasn’t scored enough to warrant a spot in the top 20.

30) RW Martin Kaut- HC Dynamo (Czech)

Filip Chytil posted 8 points in 38 games in the Czech pro-league during his draft season, then followed this up with a strong first year in North America. With 16 points in the same number of games, Kaut has outproduced him. He also scored seven points in seven games at the World Juniors, so he’s built himself an impressive resume.

He’s one of the older players in this class, but he’s a strong worker at both ends of the ice, and stands out as a talented forechecker and puck thief. He’s a sneaky good playmaker, as he’s not overly flashy, but he consistently makes smart and nifty passes that lead to scoring chances. He should get stronger as he ages, and he will offer an impressive combination of speed and skill for a power forward. I would be surprised if he became a star, but he’s well-rounded and does all the little things well.

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

I profiled Sandin here, noting that his point per game production was great this year, but his numbers are probably a bit inflated from playing on such a dominant team. Nevertheless, he is coming off of a strong rookie season in the OHL, and he’s reliable enough to play against top competition.

Sandin played alongside Adam Boqvist on Sweden’s top pair at the Hlinka, and while he’s not particularly flashy, he’s a slightly above average skater who makes a good first pass. He stood out as one of Sweden’s top performers at this event, and he should compete for a spot on their World Junior Team this December. I don’t see him as a future top pairing defender, but all the tools are here to be a solid all-situations player.

Just Missed: David Gustafsson, Jett Woo, Aidan Dudas, Nils Lundkvist, Jared McIssac, Jake Wise, Jack McBain, Serron Noel, Nicolas Beaudin, Jesse Ylonen, Ty Dellandrea, K’Andre Miller.