If your team really wants to get better, here’s who they should target on draft night
1. COLORADO AVALANCHE
D, Portland (WHL)
Every two or three years, the media labels a prospect “a generational talent.” It’s done twice as much as merited. Still, that’s the consensus about Jones. “It’s a nice fit for Colorado, with Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog and Ryan O’Reilly up front,” one Western Conference scout says. “He has great size [six-foot-four], amazing skating ability and puck skill that will have him as a first power play point man straight out of junior. That doesn’t come along every year.”
2. FLORIDA PANTHERS
C, Halifax (QMJHL)
Few teams have two young forwards who can match the potential of Florida’s Jonathan Huberdeau and Nick Bjugstad. With Jones gone, Halifax’s MacKinnon lands in GM Dale Tallon’s lap. A lot of scouts think he can be the best player in this class. Tallon had complementary pieces in place, but the Panthers’ fall from the playoffs last season revealed a need for elite skill up front to match Huberdeau’s.
3. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
LW, Halifax (QMJHL)
People love to compare the ultra-talented Drouin to Martin St-Louis, and this way he gets to apprentice directly under him. Drouin—the only Quebec league player to average more than two points a game this year—isn’t big, but his hockey sense is off the charts. “He’s a dynamic player, probably the smartest player in the draft,” says an NHL assistant GM. “Highly skilled and highly competitive.”
4. NASHVILLE PREDATORS
C, Ottawa (OHL)
Nashville GM David Poile was knocked reeling by three things in the past 12 months: losing Ryan Suter as a UFA; having to match Shea Weber’s offer sheet from Philadelphia; and falling out of the playoffs with a thud. The team’s previous successes, such as they were, came with a well-balanced roster without a first-line centre of note. Monahan might have to overachieve to be that, but a solid, responsible No. 2 should be expected.
5. CAROLINA HURRICANES
C, Taparra (FIN)
The son of a Russian who played in the top Finnish league, Barkov excelled on the same circuit this season as a 17-year-old lining up against men. He’s a two-way talent with size (six-foot-two, 205 lb.) who some believe has as much potential as anyone available. “He’s Anze Kopitar,” raves one scout, “an excellent, excellent player.” If Barkov pans out, Carolina could permanently move Eric Staal to the wing.
6. CALGARY FLAMES
C, Brynas (SWE)
You need sturdy pieces when you’re rebuilding a franchise, and Lindholm’s dependable game should have GM Jay Feaster smiling. As is the case with all prospects who play in elite European leagues, Lindholm’s numbers don’t pop, but that doesn’t diminish what he’s capable of. “He plays with a lot of pace and he’s one of the hardest-working skill guys there is,” says one assistant GM, who figures Lindholm will start his NHL career on the wing.
7. EDMONTON OILERS
C, London (OHL)
Even with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on hand, GM Craig MacTavish is convinced centre is the area of need. He’ll talk about moving up, and had conversations with Florida’s Tallon at the combine. If MacT can’t climb, Horvat would be a good fit. His skating holds him back from first-line upside and makes second-line projections a little speculative, but, as an Ontario-based NHL scout noted, “No centre in the draft has a better two-way game or more heart than this kid.”
8. BUFFALO SABRES
LW, Moscow Dynamo (KHL)
The Sabres’ swoon has put GM Darcy Regier in the firing line. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and Nichushkin would be a swing for the fences. His season began with Traktor Chelyabinsk’s juniors, but after dominating the Five Nations under-18s in February, his stock shot up, although teams weren’t in love with his interviews at the combine. “No question about his talent, and contractually he’s free to come [to the NHL], but you wonder how he’ll handle adversity,” says a scouting director.
9. NEW JERSEY DEVILS
G, Halifax (QMJHL)
Since taking Martin Brodeur with the 20th pick in 1990, the Devils have twice selected goalies in the first round. Jean-Francois Damphousse played six NHL games, six more than Ari Ahonen. Here’s betting New Jersey will get more bang for its buck by snagging Fucale. He’s technically superb, calm in and out of the crease, and has championship pedigree, having backstopped the Halifax Mooseheads to a Memorial Cup title.
10. DALLAS STARS
C, Djurgarden (SWE–2)
“Somebody smart is going to step up and take him,” says a scout. That team will be Dallas. With the first pick of the Jim Nill GM era, the Stars will do exactly what they did when they nabbed Loui Eriksson in the second round of 2003 and bet on a Swede whose game doesn’t wow you, but contains everything necessary for success. If you’re looking for a high-end comparable, think David Krejci.
11. PHILADELPHIA FLYERS
D, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
The Flyers’ blueline was in tatters all season. GM Paul Holmgren saw it coming, hence the failed offer sheet to Shea Weber. Even if Holmgren can make a play on that scale this summer, he’ll look to raise the skill level on the back end. With a good bounce here and there, Nurse will still be around for the plucking. Some scouts have him well up in their top 10s thanks to great skating and slick puckhandling, while others are lukewarm.
12. PHOENIX COYOTES
C, London (OHL)
If he were six feet, he’d be off the board when Phoenix’s pick rolls around. The son of longtime NHL tough guy Tie Domi stands maybe five-foot-nine but won’t drop past the Coyotes. He’s arguably the most dynamic forward outside of MacKinnon and Drouin, and the latter is Domi’s only rival for vision and creativity. “He sees the game better than 95 percent of NHLers right now,” a veteran scout says.
13. WINNIPEG JETS
LW/C, Medicine Hat (WHL)
It was a listless Canadian team that showed up to face Finland for the bronze medal at the 2012 under-18s. Only the relentless drive of a scorer who has average size and terrific everything else could save them. “Shinkaruk almost says, ‘Enough of this, I want to win this game,’” says Ross MacLean, head scout for International Scouting Services. “He scores a hat trick, including the tying goal and the winner in overtime.”
14. COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
D, TPS (FIN)
New Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen won’t take Ristolainen because he’s a fellow Finn. He’ll take him because Ristolainen is six-foot-three, 207 lb., physical, moves well and, along with Columbus prospect Tim Erixon, could be part of an elite defensive pair for the next decade. “I think some teams get spooked by the mistakes he made at the pro level,” says an NHL executive, “but when he plays with guys his own age, he’s dominant. His upside is big.”
15. NEW YORK ISLANDERS
C, Rimouski (QMJHL),
At worst, the late-bloomer will be a six-foot-five shutdown centre. He was still playing midget a year ago and did hit a wall offensively halfway through his first major junior season. But he was a hard-working, responsible player who took care of his own zone. When you’ve got John Tavares as your top pivot, the guys behind him don’t need to be offensive wizards.
16. BUFFALO SABRES (via Minnesota)
D, Everett (WHL)
The Swiss blueliner is a competitor and did not let himself get pushed around as a rookie on major junior’s toughest circuit. Mueller doesn’t project to be a power play quarterback, but he’s a smart player, very stable defensively and makes great first passes. His minutes increased as the season went on and he responded well to the challenge. For a rebuilding Buffalo team, Mueller represents some reliability.
17. OTTAWA SENATORS
RW, Baie-Comeau (QMJHL)
No one has drafted better than Ottawa over the past few seasons and thus, even though Daniel Alfredsson’s future is unknown, the Sens won’t be drafting with a positional need. Zykov isn’t your run-of-the-mill prospect who watches his words—it’s easy to mistake his honesty for arrogance. But he’s a pure scorer (40 goals in the regular season, 10 more in 19 playoff games). “He’s skilled and works hard at his game,” a Quebec league scout says. “He doesn’t cheat the team or himself.”
18. DETROIT RED WINGS
D, London (OHL)
Detroit’s blueline was exposed by Chicago’s speed in the playoffs. Zadorov would be the ultimate speed bump. He showed steady improvement this season and possesses more puck skills than you’d expect from a six-foot-four, 200-lb. player. The Wings love a project, and it’s tempting to look at a tower on the back end as just that, but you’d be underrating his game right now.
19. COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS (via NY Rangers)
LW, Quebec (QMJHL)
With their second pick, the rebuilding Blue Jackets will be in best-player-available mode. And while you hope to find a kid with first-line upside at this stage, lowering your sights would be more productive. Erne is a wild card—teams came away from combine interviews wondering about his maturity. Still, his hockey sense ranks among the best in this class, and he understands an apprenticeship in the AHL will be in his and the team’s best interests.
20. SAN JOSE SHARKS
D, Brandon (WHL)
Sharks GM Doug Wilson hasn’t spent a first-rounder on a blueliner since 2007: Nick Petrecki, 28th overall, who played his first and only NHL game this season. With Dan Boyle and Brad Stuart well into their 30s, it’s high time Wilson addresses a crying need by selecting Pulock, whose shot from the point might be the best in this draft class. And nobody was more impressive when it came to physical testing at the combine.
21. TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
C, Edmonton (WHL)
The Maple Leafs landed in the playoffs for the first time since 2004 even though they didn’t have a centre who could consistently impose himself on a game—Nazem Kadri and Tyler Bozak had their moments, Mikhail Grabovski didn’t really until the playoffs. Lazar wouldn’t be immediate relief, but he might be a useful second-liner a couple of years from now if Kadri takes flight or GM Dave Nonis can conjure up a franchise player.
22. CALGARY FLAMES (via St. Louis)
D, Seattle (WHL)
With three first-round selections, Calgary can afford to be patient with some of its picks. Theodore’s defensive game has a long way to go, but there’s a lot to like on the other side of the puck. He always sees the offensive lanes and has a knack for floating pucks through to the net. In an era when shot-blocking is embedded in the game, that’s a crucial skill.
23. WASHINGTON CAPITALS
LW, Windsor (OHL)
Ovechkin, Backstrom, Green: The Capitals were long defined by their all-stars and the disappointing ends to their seasons. Coach Adam Oates righted a staggering team by letting gritty role players establish the work ethic for Washington’s elites. Rychel, the son of former NHLer and Spitfires GM Warren Rychel, is a fit with Oates’s system. “Maybe not great skills, but no one in junior goes to the net as hard as him,” says a scout who works the OHL.
24. VANCOUVER CANUCKS
LW, Cape Breton (QMJHL)
For a team bereft of high-end prospects, Carrier is a tantalizing option.
The knock on this kid is one you see every year: hands of silk, attitude of sulk. “He’s uber talented,” says one NHL front office man. “But his work ethic and commitment, at times, are very inconsistent.” It should also be noted that Carrier was in a bad situation, playing for an atrocious Cape Breton squad. It’s a risk-reward scenario, and worth a roll of the dice.
25. MONTREAL CANADIENS
D, Rimouski (QMJHL)
Morin shot up the rankings in the second half of the season and, as a six-foot-seven D-man who figures to fill out to 230 lb. and moves well for his size, he may do the same on the draft board when push comes to shove—it’s simply too good of a package to pass up. “I love him,” says an assistant GM. Even with P.K. Subban shining and big man Jarred Tinordi already in the mix, adding Morin would be a coup for the Habs, who’ve been pushed around on the back end for too long.
26. ANAHEIM DUCKS
RW, Val d’Or (QMJHL)
With Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry on the payroll, it will be hard to keep Bobby Ryan around long term. If persistent trade rumours finally come true, scoring on the right side will be a priority for GM Bob Murray. A 50-goal scorer this season, Mantha might have the best cannon of any draft-eligible forward. Given that he just missed for the 2012 draft, he also could be ready to step into the NHL sooner than later.
27. COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS (Via Los Angeles)
LW, Malmo (SWE–2)
His dad had a cup of coffee with the Senators in the early ’90s and was an excellent European pro for many years. Burakowsky was miscast in a checking role with his Swedish club this season and didn’t see nearly enough ice to demonstrate what he has—despite not having a ton of speed, he has definite goal-scoring potential, thanks not only to his talent, but also his gumption.
28. CALGARY FLAMES (via Pittsburgh)
RW, Owen Sound (OHL)
With their final first-round pick, the Flames could take a flyer and look for a goaltender, a weakness in the organization. Then again, this class is very thin at that position, and any goalie they get here could still be around when they pick next at No. 67. Nastasiuk might only have third-line upside because of his skating, but scouts love his compete level and hockey sense.
29. DALLAS STARS (via Boston)
C, Portland (WHL)
Petan does not hide from the fact that his five-foot-nine, 165-lb. frame might be a deterrent, but then again, this feisty centre doesn’t hide from anything. Petan plays with a chip on his shoulder, has elite hockey sense and makes the players around him better. With two first-round picks, the Stars can take
a swing at a highly skilled player.
30. CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS
C, Saginaw (OHL)
Lodge really grew on people as the season wore on, due in part to a monster January that saw him net 20 points in 11 games. The Hawks don’t really have a true offensive centre after Jonathan Toews, and this kid is an energetic player who makes good decisions around the puck. Dallas Stars (via Boston)
This story originally appeared in Sportsnet magazine. Subscribe here.