Everyone and their brother does a mock draft this time of year, but I like that, because more options means a greater chance I’ll find someone who agrees with me. This year, though — this year I have a platform to do one of my very own. I’m feeling a bit mad with power.
To make things more interesting (and because my cohort has approximately zero interest in prospects) I’ve asked a friend of mine to participate in this mock draft with me, taking every other pick so that guys go off the table and we actually have to make decisions. Should you like her hockey logic, or if you just love women yelling about hockey, both NHL and major-junior, you can find Maggie on twitter at @backchecking. (I highly recommend following.) She’ll be taking odd-numbered picks; I’ll have evens.
Note: in this mock draft, we are assuming that everyone picks in the spots they currently have. We all know that’s not going to happen, but trying to predict trades makes our heads hurt, so this draft is being done on the above premise. These are the players we think the team that happens to be picking most needs, given the state of their organizational depth.
So without further ado, I give you the first annual High Heels & High Sticks Mock Draft!
1. Florida Panthers – Aaron Ekblad (Barrie Colts, D)
The Panthers need just about everything right now. They have some young talent worth building around—Huberdeau and Barkov, for starters—but adding to their store of blueline prospects can only help. There’s some valid questions concerns about Ekblad’s ability to succeed in the NHL due to his low even-strength scoring and his physical edge in the CHL (seriously, he looks like he’s in his late twenties already), but even if he tops out as a second pairing guy, if he can do that and run the powerplay well, he’ll be a solid contributor.
2. Buffalo Sabres – William Nylander (Modo, RW)
Buffalo actually has nice prospect depth at center, and their group of young, upcoming defensemen – Ristolainen, McCabe, Zadorov – could really surprise fans who’ve made fun of the Sabres without paying attention to their prospect pool. Where they need help, though, is on the wing. In the second half of the season, I started hearing more and more about Nylander – no surprise, as his season got much better in the latter half. He’s got more risk to his game than either of the Sams, because he needs to improve his defensive play, but his offensive upside is no joke. He’s got the hockey sense, he’s got the hands. Defense can be taught.
3. Edmonton Oilers – Sam Reinhart (Kootenay Ice, C)
If the Oilers don’t need defensemen, they need centers. I’ve seen this movie before. But should either of the Sams fall into their laps at third, it’s almost no question. I gave the edge to Reinhart here for his skill as a passer and his much-lauded defensive play, both of which the Oilers could dearly use down the middle. Bennett’s all-around skill is tempting, but the Oilers have so many goal-scoring wingers and, dare I say it, so many defensively irresponsible forwards, that Reinhart’s skillset is more appealing.
4. Calgary Flames – Sam Bennett (Kingston Frontenacs, C)
Look, I cannot imagine a world in which Sam “Some guys call me the top prospect in this draft” Bennett drops to fourth, but if he does and the Flames don’t take him, they’re idiots. They’re more in need of depth at right wing than anywhere, but Bennett is an elite talent who can play both center and left wing, and that versatility is nice to have. He also battles hard at the boards and isn’t shy about getting into the physical side of the game, something that would no doubt appeal to Big Burkie. He needs to get stronger, but he sees the ice well and can pull off flashy plays without being pushed off the puck.
5. New York Islanders – Nikolaj Ehlers (Halifax Mooseheads, LW)
This one pains me, because I would love to see Ehlers drop just a little farther, but he’s far too good for the Islanders to pass up here. He’s a good skater, a highly skilled player, and he drove play very effectively for the Mooseheads. And he didn’t play most of his minutes with Drouin, which is an important note, though they were monsters together on the powerplay. By all accounts, he’s a top-notch goal scorer, and would help the Islanders shore up their depth at the wing. And if it turns out that all the stat geeks are wrong and he really does need an elite center to perform, the Islanders have one of those lying around.
6. Vancouver Canucks – Michael Dal Colle (Oshawa Generals, LW)
I waffled a lot here, but Dal Colle is one of those players who just jumps out at you. If you’re looking for the puck, chances are Dal Colle has it. He’s got the size, too (6’2”, 172 lbs), and when you have a player that combines size and this kind of elite skill, you take it. His skating and work along the boards, particularly in the corners, could stand to improve, but this kid has patience. Where are you going to find patience in an 18-year-old who sees the ice this well? I say take him. Make him work on his skating, put him through some corner drills, but the Canucks could do far worse than snapping up the kind of elite thinker and puck possessor they’d get in Dal Colle.
7. Carolina Hurricanes – Leon Draisaitl (Prince Albert Raiders, C)
Honestly, short of an insane reach, it’ll be difficult for the Hurricanes to go wrong with this pick. They’re painfully lacking in forward depth and this section of the draft is rife with good forward prospects. With nice vision of the ice, as well as his strength and passing skills, there’s plenty to like about Draisaitl. While nothing I’ve seen about his defensive play makes me think “now there’s the next Anze Kopitar,” having fine defensive play is a good step up from needing to work on it. That could make it easier for him to stick at center in the NHL, as so few players do—and if he can do that, Carolina could then move another center prospect to the wing to make for an easier transition.
8. Toronto Maple Leafs – Kevin Fiala (HV71, LW)
Look, let’s be honest about two things here: 1) there’s a chance Fiala will be gone before 8th, and 2) even if he isn’t, Dave Nonis is probably going to take Hadyn Fleury or, god forbid, Nick Ritchie. (Don’t get me wrong, I like Ritchie, but I do not 8th overall like Ritchie.) Fiala, though, is an elite winger who didn’t look out of place in the top-tier Swedish mens league at 17. And if the Leafs are going to be idiots and trade James van Riemsdyk or Nazem Kadri, they need an elite scoring forward. He can make the shot, he can set up the play, he can read the ice. The Leafs need something special. Fiala can be that something.
9. Winnipeg Jets – Kasperi Kapanen (Kalpa, RW)
If I were actually in charge of the Jets, I would Lou Lamoriello this pick into a starting goalie, but Hannah said no trades, so no trades it is. Kapanen is small, and not great defensively, so a lot of GMs will probably treat him like a leper, but given his high end skating, skills, and hockey sense, he’s absolutely worth the risk. If he develops to absolutely the fullest potential, he could be a top line forward, and that’s great value for this pick. On top of that, the Jets need depth in their prospect pool, especially at the wing. If Kapanen is developed well, he could turn into a very good choice for them.
10. Anaheim Ducks – Robby Fabbri (Guelph Storm, C)
In terms of prospects, Anaheim is doing pretty well for themselves. There’s nothing they really desperately need. Because of that, they’ve got the ability to take a flyer on someone that maybe shouldn’t crack the top 10 by typical hockey standards. Fabbri is small, but the payoff on him is going to be anything but. He’s fast, he works his ass off in every zone of the ice, and he thinks the game at a fairly high level. He may not be immediately NHL-ready, but the beautiful thing about going to Anaheim is that he won’t need to be. They have the time to give him.
11. Nashville Predators – Sonny Milano (USNTDP, LW)
He’s not the elite centerman Nashville needs so badly, but that’s not a player they’re likely to pick up at eleventh overall anyway. Instead, they get a very smart, scoring winger who’s already made significant improvements to his defensive game (he can learn!) Other than size, his main issues are turnovers and defensive play, and both of those are fixable. With 86 points in 58 USHL games, he’s clearly a high-level offensive player, even if you take those numbers with a grain of salt because he spent the year super-prospect Jack Eichel’s wing. (More about him this time next year.)
12. Arizona Coyotes – Brendan Perlini (Niagara Ice Dogs, LW)
I think what I like most about Perlini is that he’s showing steady progression. He’s shown that he not only can get better, but is willing to make the effort. He’s surprisingly fast for his size, and when you add that to his offensive skill you have the makings for a great power forward. He needs to work on making his offensive skill more consistent, but he’s composed and quick with good scoring finish, and the Coyotes need more talented wingers.
13. Washington Capitals – Haydn Fleury (Red Deer Rebels, D)
I feel like a broken record with this one, but the Caps need to improve their pool of defensive prospects, and Fleury, despite his risk, has a high upside if he pans out. A good physical defenseman with powerplay skills, Fleury has some issues with trying to do too much, but he’s young yet and that’s a flaw that’s easily worked on. Defensemen are virtually always riskier than forwards, but if Fleury falls into Washington’s lap at 13th, he would be a good choice. Probably the best player available, and meets an organizational need.
14. Dallas Stars – Josh Ho-Sang (Windsor Spitfires, RW)
What Dallas really needs is an elite, game-breaking prospect, but – look, they’re just not going to get that at 14. They can still get a very good player in Josh Ho-Sang, though. His skill level is off the charts, and if he drops this low it’ll be because he struggles with decision-making and still needs work away from the puck. His skating, though, is elite – he’s one of the best in the draft. With their forward prospect pool, Dallas can afford to let Ho-Sang stay in Windsor another year or two to work on his weaknesses, and it will absolutely be worth it for them.
15. Detroit Red Wings – David Pastrnak (Sodertalje, RW)
He’s Swedish. Okay, okay, I’ll be serious. Pastrnak is a smart, smooth player who did very well in Sweden’s lower league—his 24 points in his 17-year-old season were more than Filip Forsberg had. He needs to develop his physical game, but given that this is Detroit, he should have more than enough time to do that before he’s called on to perform in the NHL.
16. Columbus Blue Jackets – Nick Ritchie (Peterborough Petes, LW)
Columbus has done fairly well for themselves lately in their first-round drafting, but something they still need is big forwards who can score (given that they already have the small forwards who can score). Ritchie gives them that on the wing. He’s got a great shot, and he can protect the puck while still playing his physical game. He’ll need to work on his defensive play a bit before he’s NHL ready, but I feel like he could be a solid pickup for the Jackets.
17. Philadelphia Flyers – Jakub Vrana (Linkopking, RW)
Vrana is a fairly high-risk, high-reward choice, as neither him being a bust nor him being a top-end winger would be a complete surprise at this point. However, he’s a quick, shifty player, who definitely has demonstrated potential to succeed in the NHL, which is just about all you can ask for at this point in the draft. He probably won’t be an elite forward prospect, but there’s reason to think he might be, which justifies taking him this high.
18. Minnesota Wild – Nikolai Goldobin (Sarnia Sting, RW)
I saw one journalist this week note that if Goldobin wasn’t Russian, he’d be a top-10 pick on his offensive skill package alone. It’s good that he’s still around at this point, because if there’s one thing that Minnesota needs in its prospect pool, it is offensive depth on the wing. Goldobin brings that – he reads the ice almost perfectly and always makes his pass. He needs to get stronger away from the puck, but that can come with time and experience.
19. Tampa Bay Lightning – Ivan Barbashev (Moncton Wildcats, C)
There’s actually not a ton that Tampa needs from the draft right now, so they should absolutely be in “best player available” mode, and the best player available in this mock is Barbashev, though I waffled a lot between him and McCann. Barbashev gets the edge for his offensive skill and usefulness on the powerplay and penalty kill. Given Tampa’s depth at forward right now, and their good drafting over the last few years, Barbashev should have more than enough time to work on improving his consistency and physical game, and, as I said, best player available.
20. San Jose Sharks – Dylan Larkin (USNDTP, C)
What I like about Larkin is that while he isn’t the most skilled player in this draft, he’s an excellent skater. Larkin is listed as a center, but he can shift between that and the wing, and has a terrific work ethic in every area of the ice. Versatility and speed combined with his physical skill gives him the potential to be an outstanding power forward. Give him time to develop a bit more (he’s committed to the University of Michigan for the 2014-2015 season) and I can’t see this not going well for San Jose.
21. St. Louis Blues – Adrian Kempe (Modo, LW)
Kempe is a very good skater, whose hand-eye coordination and willingness to go to the net make him dangerous. He can also play center fairly well, which is a difficult transition and represents a level of versatility that I would not take lightly. His game isn’t perfect yet and he needs more time to develop, but that’s the rule rather than the exception for prospects anyway. That one of the things he needs to work on is reading the play is worrying, but not enough so to pass him up.
22. Pittsburgh Penguins – Jared McCann (Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, C)
I swear on everything that is holy, if the Penguins select a defenseman with their first round pick this year…And if McCann is still available at 22nd, he’s absolutely worth picking up. He’s got terrific hockey sense and is able to read the ice well, knowing where he needs to be and when. He’s unselfish and able to create plays in tough areas, and has a rocket of a shot. He isn’t the most physical player and needs to get stronger, but another season in the Soo could help with that, and if he does improve his physical play I see him being able to contribute sooner rather than later.
23. Colorado Avalanche – Thatcher Demko (Boston College, G)
Generally, picking goalies in the first round isn’t the best idea, but you have to work within the market that exists, and right now, top goalie prospects go in the first round. Demko had a solid season for BC, putting up a better save percentage (.919%) than Cory Schneider and Jimmy Howard did their U-19 seasons, and is by all accounts a technically sound goaltender. Additionally, Colorado has decent depth in goal but no particularly high-end prospects, which makes Demko a risk worth taking for them.
24. Anaheim Ducks – Alex Tuch (USNTDP, RW)
With Rickard Rakell’s name coming up in some potential trade talks this summer, it makes sense for the Ducks to replace the traded-off right wing prospect, particularly since they’ve got two first-rounders to burn this year (note: I do not actually expect them to use both picks). Alex Tuch is a creative player who can protect the puck fairly well. He’s also a pretty big guy, already measuring 6’4”, 215. He played on the USNTDP’s top line this year with fellow draftee Sonny Milano and one of next year’s favorites, Jack Eichel, and managed to keep up with both of them while making significant improvements to his own game. His defensive play needs work, but going to Anaheim gives him time.
25. Boston Bruins – Brayden Point (Moose Jaw Warriors, C)
Point is a good skater, who plays a good physical and defensive game, especially considering that he’s on the small size at only 5’9”. He’s good with the puck, sees the game well, and has a good shot, which means he could develop into the type of high-end forward the Bruins are lacking in their prospect pool.
26. Montreal Canadiens – Nikita Scherbak (Saskatoon Blades, RW)
Scherbak is the kind of player who just knows where he needs to be and what he needs to be doing. He can read the ice well enough to allow him to make just about any play at high speed, and has really improved in a lot of his weak areas over the past season (his first in the WHL). This late in the first round, you’re getting into choosing between “the ones that are left” and the guys who could easily go second round, but if I were Montreal I’d think Scherbak was a steal this late. He’s got the potential to turn into a solid player for them.
27. Chicago Blackhawks – Vladimir Tkachev (Moncton Wildcats, RW)
Tkachev is a bit of a reach here, but he’s a very smart player with top-notch offensive instincts, and he could easily develop into a high-end forward for Chicago. He’s small, but that has not been of great concern to the Blackhawks, and his defensive game is not great. Given his potential offensive upside, this could turn out to be a steal. (Of course, it could also be a bust, but that’s how high-risk, high-reward players work.)
28. Tampa Bay Lightning – Roland McKeown (Kingston Frontenacs, D)
Tampa has a nice stash of defensive prospects, but not many of them jump out at me as outstanding. McKeown has improved with each season he’s played in the OHL, even nabbing a defenseman of the year nomination, and he’s one of the better skaters in this year’s group. His skating not only allows him to make difficult plays, he also manages to jump into the play more often than other defensemen may because he can get back and cover. He needs to get a bit more physical, but he could definitely provide a boost to Tampa’s defensive prospect pool.
29. Los Angeles Kings – Conner Bleackley (Red Deer Rebels, C)
Bleackley showed significant improvement in his 17-year-old season for Red Deer, playing touch minutes in all situations, and if that trend of improvement continues he projects as a smart, two-way forward. He could be a nice addition to LA’s system at a position that is not their strongest, and they have the depth to let him develop at his own pace.
30. New Jersey Devils – Ondrej Kase (Chomutov, RW)
Look, I don’t even think the Devils should’ve had this pick in the first place. But since they do, it’s important to note that they have literally zero right wing depth and that played heavily into my decision-making. At 30, you pretty much get what you get, but the Devils could do worse than Kase. He may not end up being their best overall guy, but he projects as a scorer, and when you have no right wing prospects you may as well grab the one that can be creative with the puck and put up points, right?