I’ve often said that the NHL Draft is my favourite time of the hockey calendar. I love the suspense when a trade is announced, and I enjoy projecting where players could go and what role they could eventually play.
With no Canadian NHL teams making the playoffs, the top 10 positions of the Draft will feature a lot of presence from the Great White North. Four Canadian teams are in the top five, with Toronto and Winnipeg occupying the first two spots. Six of the seven Canadian teams are in the top 10, so instead of trying to predict the whole first round, I’m going to try and predict the top 10 picks.
1st Overall, Toronto Maple Leafs: Auston Matthews
I believe the Leafs have narrowed down their selection to two choices: Auston Matthews or Patrik Laine. Matthews is projected to be a legitimate number one centre, something the Leafs haven’t had since Mats Sundin left town. Matthews has been the projected number one pick since September, and the fact that he plays centre definitely helps his case. As shown by the two Stanley Cup finalists this year, you have to be good down the middle to succeed in the NHL.
2nd Overall, Winnipeg Jets: Patrik Laine
The Jets have it easy this draft, as they are going to pick either Matthews or Laine, depending on what the Leafs do. Back in the fall, I predicted that Laine would be drafted between the 5th and 7th spots. Well, all he’s done since then is win the World Junior Championships with Finland while finishing the tournament with seven goals in seven games, win the SM-Liiga and the Jarri Kurri Trophy (the Finnish league equivalent of the Conn Smythe), and be named best forward at this year’s world championship. He has the potential to become a 40-goal scorer in the NHL, and the Jets are very fortunate that they will be able to draft him.
3rd Overall, Columbus Blue Jackets: Jesse Puljujarvi
At the beginning of the year, most places had Puljujarvi as the clear second overall selection. However, Laine has played so well that he knocked fellow countryman Puljujarvi down into the clear-cut third place. Not only did he also win the World Junior Championship with Laine, he was named best forward and the MVP of the tournament, as well as leading the tournament in scoring with a whopping 17 points in seven games. He’s been compared to Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars, as his 6’3’’ frame makes him very tough to play against.
4th Overall, Edmonton Oilers: Matthew Tkachuk
For this piece, we’re assuming that no team will trade their pick, though I suspect Edmonton might just do so. In any event, if they do keep it, it’s a bit of a stretch to take a defenceman here, so I think they will take the best player available in Tkachuk. He impressed mightily in the OHL with the London Knights this year, scoring 107 points in 57 regular season games, and 48 points in 22 postseason games as the Knights went on to win the Memorial Cup. Perhaps a player like Jordan Eberle will be traded to make room for Tkachuk.
5th Overall, Vancouver Canucks: Pierre Luc Dubois
Jim Benning loves his big, two-way players, and Dubois fits the mould perfectly. Compared to Anze Kopitar, he put up 99 points in 62 games with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles of the QMJHL, scoring 42 goals. His versatility is also a big asset, as he can play either on the wing or at centre. This player is the perfect fit for the Canucks and what they are currently trying to do.
6th Overall, Calgary Flames: Olli Juolevi
The Flames have a plethora of young forwards, but they lack a true number one defenceman — something they need to become true contenders in the league. Juolevi could be that player, but he won’t jump into the NHL right away. He’s a great skater, and with patience, I think he can soon become the player on the blue line the Flames desperately need.
7th Overall, Arizona Coyotes: Jakob Chychrun
Back in November, I had Chychrun pencilled in at second overall. He’s fallen significantly since then, but he’s still had a good season with 49 points in 62 games. It’s simply a case of players such as Laine and Tkachuk playing very well, causing him to fall down a bit in the rankings. Besides Oliver Ekman-Larsson, the Coyotes don’t have much on defence, so I think this pick makes a ton of sense.
8th Overall, Buffalo Sabres: Mikhail Sergachev
Sergachev has been linked by multiple sites to the Sabres, and it’s easy to see why it’s a natural fit. Buffalo looks set upfront, with the likes of Jack Eichel, Evander Kane, and Ryan O’Reilly; now they have to improve on the blue line if they want to contend. Sergachev put up close to a point per game in the OHL last season, and could be a solid fit alongside Rasmus Ristolainen.
9th Overall, Montreal Canadiens: Alexander Nylander
One of the biggest problems for Montreal last season (besides losing Carey Price) was the lack of high-scoring wingers. Nylander is a potential solution to that problem. The younger brother of William Nylander, Alexander was named CHL rookie of the year after putting up 75 points in 57 games for the Mississauga Steelheads. He may not be ready to be in the NHL next season, but he could be a big contributor for the Canadiens going forward.
10th Overall, Colorado Avalanche: Michael McLeod
Labelled as a two-way centre, McLeod seems like the perfect replacement for Ryan O’Reilly. Having only put up 61 points in 57 games hurts his draft stock, although he did play for an average Steelheads side alongside Alexander Nylander. Ultimately, McLeod would be a good fit with the Avalanche.