NHL Draft 2018: Predicting Where Elite Talent Will Land in 1st-Round Mock Draft

Brian Marron@@brianmarron398Featured ColumnistApril 6, 2018

BUFFALO, NY - JANUARY 4: Rasmus Dahlin #8 of Sweden during the IIHF World Junior Championship against the United States at KeyBank Center on January 4, 2018 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Kevin Hoffman/Getty Images)
Kevin Hoffman/Getty Images

Oh, how pingpong balls can change the fortunes of an NHL franchise.

In 2017, the New Jersey Devils jumped up from the No. 5 spot to land top pick Nico Hischier, who helped lead them back into the playoffs, centering MVP candidate Taylor Hall's line.

The Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs were given the chance to take elite talents Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews in 2015 and 2016, respectively, and they have both since led their teams to the postseason.

This makes the lottery such a pivotal part of a franchise's rebuild, and the 2018 NHL draft could have a similar effect on the team that secures the top prize.

The first-round selection order is sure to change with the end of the regular season and the unpredictable lottery, but here is the latest mock draft if the season ended following Thursday's games.


2018 NHL Mock Draft

1. Buffalo Sabres: Rasmus Dahlin, defenseman, Frolunda (SWE)

2. Ottawa Senators: Andrei Svechnikov, winger, Barrie (OHL)

3. Arizona Coyotes: Filip Zadina, winger, Halifax (QMJHL)

4. Montreal Canadiens: Brady Tkachuk, winger, Boston U (NCAA)

5. Detroit Red Wings: Oliver Wahlstrom, winger, USNTDP (USHL)

6. Vancouver Canucks: Evan Bouchard, defenseman, London (OHL)

7. Edmonton Oilers: Quinn Hughes, defenseman, Michigan (NCAA)

8. Chicago Blackhawks: Adam Boqvist, defenseman, Brynas IF (SWE)

9. New York Rangers: Ty Smith, defenseman, Spokane (WHL)

10. New York Islanders: Noah Dobson, defenseman, Acadie-Bathurst (QMJHL)

11. Carolina Hurricanes: Joseph Veleno, defenseman, Drummondville (QMJHL) 

12. New York Islanders: Ryan Merkley, defenseman, Guelph (OHL)

13. Dallas Stars: Isac Lundestrom, center, Lulea (SWE)

14. Florida Panthers: Bode Wilde, defenseman, USNTDP (USHL)

15. Philadelphia Flyers: Joel Farabee, winger, USNTDP (USHL)

16. Colorado Avalanche: Grigori Denisenko, winger, Yaroslavl (KHL)

17. Philadelphia Flyers: Ryan McLeod, center, Mississauga (OHL)

18. Los Angeles Kings: Serron Noel, winger, Oshawa (OHL)

19. New Jersey Devils: K'Andre Miller, defenseman, USNTDP (USHL)

20. Anaheim Ducks: Barrett Hayton, center, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)

21. Columbus Blue Jackets: Rasmus Sandin, defenseman, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)

22. Ottawa Senators: Jesperi Kotkaniemi, center, Assat (FIN)

23. San Jose Sharks: Jared McIsaac, defenseman, Halifax, (OMJHL)

24. Minnesota Wild: Calen Addison, defenseman, Lethbridge (WHL)

25. Toronto Maple Leafs: Jacob Olofsson, center, Timra (SWE)

26. Washington Capitals: Rasmus Kupari, center, Karpat (FIN)

27. Detroit Red Wings: Mattias Samuelsson, defenseman, USNTDP (USHL)

28. New York Rangers: Akil Thomas, center, Niagara (OHL)

29. New York Rangers: Jett Woo, defenseman, Moose Jaw (WHL)

30. St. Louis Blues: Benoit-Olivier Groulx, center, Halifax (QMJHL)

31. Chicago Blackhawks: Dominik Bokk, winger, Vaxjo (SWE)


Dahlin on Top

If you are not familiar with Rasmus Dahlin's talents, just look him up on YouTube.

Playing in the SHL, Sweden's top professional league, since he was 16, Dahlin has dazzled with his elite skating ability and silky hands, which has led to 23 points in 67 career games. Thus, it is no surprise he is the consensus No. 1 projected pick by essentially every major scouting service and draft expert.

In fact, Nicklas Lidstrom, the gold standard of modern defenseman, heaped praise on the youngster, per the Detroit Free Press' Helene St. James:

Aaron Ekblad in 2014 is the most recent defenseman to go first overall, and he and Erik Johnson from the 2006 draft are the only two defenseman to go No. 1 since 1996.

It is generally said defense is the hardest position to adjust to as a rookie in the NHL. Therefore, would Dahlin make the jump next season, assuming he retains his status as the clear favorite to go No. 1 overall?

NHL Central Scouting (h/t NHL.com's Mike G. Morreale), compared Dahlin's skill set to one of the game's best in Victor Hedman, who went No. 2 in the 2009 draft after John Tavares. Like Hedman, Dahlin is expected to control the game every time he steps on the ice. 

"[Dahlin] is the clear-cut No. 1, pro-ready prospect for the 2018 draft," NHL Central Scouting said. "He has the skating, skills and elite hockey sense that can dictate the style of play and the pace of a game, whether it's with or without the puck. He finds ways to contribute and get the job done in all situations."

Despite the high expectations, is it realistic for Dahlin to step in and be an impact player right away? Recent history suggests that may be a bit lofty.

Hedman, Dahlin's closest comparable, did not come into his own until the 2013-14 season, his fifth in the NHL. Prior to that, he never topped 26 points, and he drew scrutiny for defensive lapses.

On the other hand, Ekblad burst on to the scene with 75 points and a plus-30 mark in his first two seasons combined, including a Calder Trophy win as the NHL's best rookie. He then came back down to earth with a 21-point campaign in 2016-17, including a dreadful minus-23, before bouncing back to his previous numbers this season.

So while Dahlin has impressed in Sweden, he did show signs of his age during the 2018 Olympics, as he was scratched for the first two games while playing sparingly the rest of the tournament. 

There is no reason to believe Dahlin will not turn into an elite defenseman in the NHL. It may not be next season or the year after that, but expect the Swedish phenom to be contending for Norris Trophies for whatever team is lucky enough to win the upcoming lottery.


Best of the Rest

Sure, this will be billed as the "Dahlin draft," but don't sleep on some of the other top talents in this class.

Matthew Bove of WKBW in Buffalo reminded Sabres fans of several other excellent options should they fail to get the Swedish phenom: 

In most drafts, Andrei Svechnikov would dominate the headlines as a rare offensive talent. After dominating the USHL as an underage player with 58 points in 48 games, the Russian sniper is tearing up the OHL, posting 72 points in 44 games for the Barrie Colts. 

At 6'3" and nearly 190 pounds, and with his top-end speed and great hands, there is no reason to think Svechnikov will not play in the NHL next season. 

Right behind him in the elite echelon of forward prospects in this draft is Filip Zadina and Brady Tkachuk.

Zadina followed in Hischier's footsteps as a foreign import who is killing it in his first season with Halifax. The speedster was named by the QMJHL as its top pro prospect after ripping it up for 82 points in 57 games, displaying a great display of skill and skating ability.

But if you prefer your forwards to play a more physical, gritty game, then look no further than Tkachuk. The brother of Matthew and son of Keith, Tkachuk plays an agitating game while blending in an excellent scoring touch around the net.

He put up 31 points in 40 games for Boston University this season, and he also has the physical stature similar to Svechnikov to step into the NHL next season.

Who could that be with? The Montreal Canadiens seem like a great fit, as the Habs are looking to become a tougher team to play against.

TSN's Dan Kramer seems to agree:

Tkachuk can play in front of the net on the power play with skill players like Jonathan Drouin or on checking lines with Andrew Shaw. His versatility and talent should make him a cornerstone player in Montreal.

On defense, Evan Bouchard is comparable to Ekblad as a two-way defenseman who, at 6'2", is big enough to consistently win battles in the corner while skating well enough to join the rush offensively. He is also fantastic on the power play, which helped total 87 points this season from the back end.

Quinn Hughes is a dynamo on defense with his elite speed. The 5'10" lightning bug is quick enough to break the puck out himself, and he is adept at running the point on the power play. He has the ability to develop into a Shayne Gostisbehere-type player in a couple of years.

Look for plenty of other players from the 2018 draft class to become stars besides Dahlin. As far as elite depth, this looks to be one of the better crops in recent history.


Statistics are courtesy of hockeyDB.com


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