The team to watch is Vegas.
On the heels of the most hotly debated and highly anticipated expansion drafts in the history of the league, the NHL’s 31st franchise is not done making noise.
Yup, look for them to be big players at the draft this weekend as so much chatter around the league involves what the Golden Knights will do with their pick.
Or should I say picks.
They already have the sixth overall selection but it doesn’t sound like they’re done by a longshot.
It looks like Vegas is picking up as many first-round picks as they can with the hopes to parlay them into a position to select either first or second overall.
Should Golden Knights GM George McPhee pull this off and get his team into one of the two top spots in the draft, we’d expect him to select Nolan Patrick of the Brandon Wheat Kings. The right-hand shot centre has a long and storied background with Vegas assistant GM Kelly McCrimmon and the fit seems right.
And with this year’s draft not considered as strong or deep as we’ve seen in the last few years (we’ve been spoiled), there is bound to be plenty of movement all weekend long.
Normally, we have a sense of how most of the draft should unfold, but this year it seems every team has its own completely distinct script.
And when that happens, look out.
Get ready for some potentially off-the-wall selections.
One team source told me it wouldn’t surprising to see teams in the top 10 call timeouts before making their picks. Expect selections go sideways and they’ll need extra time to rethink plans.
Then there are the wild-card scenarios.
Does Minnesota try to get in the first round?
We keep hearing Detroit may be looking to add another first-round selection, perhaps to take a goalie.
How many teams look to add first-round picks next season when the draft is considered above average?
Should be a fascinating time this weekend indeed.
So, here’s my mock draft I submit, knowing full well that there is about zero chance it ends up following this order.
1. NEW JERSEY DEVILS
Nico Hischier, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL): The Devils make the dynamic, two-way Swiss centre a key piece of their rebuild.
2. PHILADELPHIA FLYERS
Nolan Patrick, Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL): The Flyers snag the player scouts have been raving about for years. He’ll be a high-end pro for many years.
3. DALLAS STARS
Miro Heiskanen, HIFK (Finland): The Stars get back to drafting high-end blueliners early and take the top-rated defence prospect in the draft.
4. COLORADO AVALANCHE
Cale Makar, Brooks Bandits (AJHL): It’s no secret the Avalanche need a whole lot of help with their blue-line and they take perhaps the most creatively gifted defenceman in the draft.
5. VANCOUVER CANUCKS
Cody Glass, Portland Winterhawks (WHL): Sure Vancouver needs help on the blue-line but can’t pass up one of the highest risers in the draft.
6. VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS
Gabriel Vilardi, Windsor Spitfires (OHL): And with their first ever pick in the NHL Draft the Golden Knights take a champion. Dots down the best player in the draft.
7. ARIZONA COYOTES
Casey Mittelstadt, Green Bay Gamblers (USHL). The Coyotes go with the slick skating, point-producing centre from Minnesota.
8. BUFFALO SABRES
Timothy Liljegren, Rogle (Sweden): Job No. 1 for the Sabres is redo that blue-line. Liljegren is a step in that direction.
9. DETROIT RED WINGS
Elias Pettersson, Timra (Sweden): After focusing out on defencemen in the last couple of drafts, the Red Wings go with the skilled Swedish centre.
10. FLORIDA PANTHERS
Kristian Vesalainen, HPK (Finland): Has all the skills to fit the prototype power forward mould for the modern game. Struggled early in the season but turned it on at the end.
11. LOS ANGELES KINGS
Owen Tippett, Mississauga Steelheads (OHL): The Kings address their goal scoring issues and select the best pure sniper in the draft.
12. CAROLINA HURRICANES
Nick Suzuki, Owen Sound Attack (OHL): Carolina likes players with high hockey IQ and few better than this Attack forward.
13. WINNIPEG JETS
Martin Necas, Brno (Czech Republic): A highly skilled, albeit slight centre who plays in the top league in the Czech Republic.
14. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
Juuso Valimaki, Tri-City Americans (WHL): You check a lot of boxes with Valimaki. Can be used in every situation and has offensive instincts.
15. NEW YORK ISLANDERS
Erik Brannstrom, HV71 (Sweden): Some compare him to Kris Letang and the similarities are there.
16. CALGARY FLAMES
Cal Foote, Kelowna Rockets (WHL): Doesn’t bring the thunder like his dad but this defenceman brings great awareness and offence. Good shot from the point as well.
17. TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Lias Andersson, HV71 (Sweden): The Leafs want guys who play a smart, puck possession game. This intelligent and talented centre fits that bill.
18. BOSTON BRUINS
Ryan Poehling, St. Cloud State (NCAA): Reliable two-way centre, the kind the Bruins covet.
19. SAN JOSE SHARKS
Michael Rasmussen, Tri-City Americans (WHL): A big centre at six-foot-five, 205 pounds. An attractive combination of size and skill. Some scouts concerned that most of his scoring is done on the power play.
20. ST. LOUIS BLUES
Klim Kostin, Moscow Dynamo (KHL): One of the more interesting names in the draft this year. Kostin’s a beast, able to overpower opponents and blow shots past goalies.
21. NEW YORK RANGERS
Eeli Tolvanen, Sioux City Musketeers (USHL): This volume shooter sniped 30 in the USHL this year. Off to Boston College next season.
22. EDMONTON OILERS
Kailer Yamamoto, Spokane Chiefs (WHL): Speedy, creative and can put up points. The Oilers don’t need size anymore. They need more skill. That’s Yamamoto’s game.
23. ARIZONA COYOTES
Henri Jokiharju, Portland Winterhawks (WHL): A smart defender with a high hockey IQ. The Coyotes know they have to restock their blue-line and Jokiharju continues that trend.
24. COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
Robert Thomas, London Knights (OHL): Thomas got better as the season went on. A good skater and playmaker. Many compare him to another former London Knight, Bo Horvat.
25. MONTREAL CANADIENS
Urho Vaakanainen, JYP (Finland): Smooth-skating defenceman who defends very well. But scouts wonder if there’s any offensive upside here.
26. CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS
Josh Norris, USNTDP: Norris is real tough to play against with a never-say-die attitude. Good two-way centre.
27. ST. LOUIS BLUES
Conor Timmins, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL): This defenceman oozes offence and runs a power play smoothly.
28. OTTAWA SENATORS
Jesper Boqvist, Brynas (Sweden): Another player who’s stock rose as the season went on. A really good skating left-winger, especially with the puck on his stick.
29. DALLAS STARS
Jake Oettinger, Boston University (NCAA): Teams normally shy away from taking goalies in the first round. But with multiple picks and an organizational need, Dallas pulls the trigger.
30. NASHVILLE PREDATORS
Marcus Davidsson, Djurgarden (Sweden): The Preds have been able to find gems in Sweden and this left-winger’s skill set fits right in with what the Preds are doing with their forwards. A really good skater.
31. PITTSBURGH PENGUINS
Filip Chytil, Zlin (Czech Republic): This talented centre makes magic happen with the puck on his stick. He’s a real shifty skater, who’s not afraid to play in traffic.