Answering early questions about the 2018 NHL draft class

Brady Tkachuk (left), Andrei Svechnikov (centre) and Rasmus Dahlin (right) are the early front-runners atop the 2018 NHL draft.

Considering the puck hasn’t even dropped on the NHL season, it’s a little early to start thinking about next year’s draft.

But that will change quickly once reality begins to set in for fans of teams destined for the NHL’s basement.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Chasing a lottery pick, while soul-sucking at times, gives fans something to occupy their minds during the long winter. It also spurs fun debate, like Taylor vs. Tyler and Nico vs. Nolan for the truly downtrodden, or who to target if you’re not handed a golden ticket. And in the end, despite the pain of watching mostly awful hockey for six months, you get to walk away with a shiny new toy and a legitimate reason to believe a prosperous future is on the horizon.

So to help sort through some of the inevitable topics of discussion, we reached out to Dan Marr, director of NHL Central Scouting, to get his take on this year’s crop of draft-eligible prospects.

Is this a “good draft?”

You hear it ever year. It’s a weak draft. It’s a strong draft. It’s a deep draft. The draft is top-heavy. How is this year’s draft shaping up?

Central Scouting: “There’s a lot more depth to the draft. Right now there’s not a lot of front-line, top-end guys. There’s a lot more B players to go through than there has been in the past years.”

Dahlin vs. Svechnikov: Who’s the early favourite to go No. 1?

This will be the main event all season.

Rasmus Dahlin (pronounced dah-lean) is projected to be the first player off the board next June. The silky-smooth Swedish defenceman has elite offensive tools with a mind to match his skill set.  At 6-foot-1 and 165 pounds, Dahlin has a good frame and isn’t afraid to play physical. He is currently playing for Frolunda in the SHL and will be the star attraction on Sweden’s world junior squad.

Andrei Svechnikov, the younger brother of Red Wings first-rounder Evgeny Svechnikov, is an absolute assassin. The big (6’3″, 184) Russian winger isn’t just a goal-scorer, which he is quite good at, but he’s also a creative playmaker with exceptional wheels and a strong work ethic. After dominating the USHL last season at 16, Svechnikov will look to do the same in the OHL as the go-to player on the Barrie Colts.

So who has the edge?

Central Scouting:  “Two different positions and two different style of players. You ask some people and they’ll have one guy No. 1 and you ask others and they’ll have the other No. 1.”

Is there anyone else capable of challenging for the No. 1 spot?

Things get a little murkier after Dahlin and Svechnikov. The next wave includes players like Brady Tkachuk, Joe Veleno and Filip Zadina up front, along with a glut of defencemen.

But do any of them truly have what it takes to join or surpass the two front-runners?

Central Scouting: “Brady Tkachuk is capable to challenge for that mix. He would be the one guy that I could see being in that conversation no problem.”

The centre vs. winger debate

After Svechnikov, Tkachuk and Joe Veleno are projected to be the next best forwards. They both have played wing and centre, although Veleno is probably more suited to the middle than Tkachuk.

But what do you do if you want a forward at No. 3 overall? Do you take the player (Tkachuk) who has a slight edge but might be better suited for the wing? Or do you pass on Tkachuk and take Veleno because high-end centres are so hard to come by?

Central Scouting: “The fact that they can play both positions well, do a good job and make things happen, that just gives them an extra checkmark. Joey is more of a natural centreman, but that’s from a scout’s perspective. I saw him in a couple different roles this summer, but to me he stood out when he was able to control the play a lot more in the middle and he was able to make things happen because he processes things so quickly.”

Sorting out the D

Dahlin is undoubtedly the best defenceman available, but there are a number of supremely talented blueliners up for grabs in this draft.

Adam Boqvist (Brynas), Quinn Hughes (Michigan), Ryan Merkley (Guelph), Bode Wilde (USNTDP), Jared McIsaac (Halifax) and Ty Smith (Spokane) are all candidates to go in the top-10. But is there a player who has separated himself from the pack?

Central Scouting: “If we look at the play this summer at the various U18 camps, the world junior camps, the Ivan Hlinka, Boqvist really stood out ahead of some of the names there … I know in our group he was heads and tails above the other players there.

“He controlled the game and rarely went deeper than the faceoff circle in the defensive zone. He’s got very good anticipation, hockey sense and instincts that he can read the play and make the play. He made a lot of things happen in all zones, but he’s not one of those rushing d-men that keeps the puck and goes end-to-end all the time. He’s very, very smooth and very cool under pressure. If he makes a mistake, you don’t see that mistake repeated — he’s a very coachable kid.”

Who’s flying under the radar heading into the season?

Outside of the top guys, there’s always a bit of mystery surrounding some of players lingering further down the (extremely) early mock drafts.

Which players are poised to make some noise and shoot up the rankings?

Central Scouting: One player who made a significant move for us — the A-grade player in Barrett Hayton of Sault Ste. Marie.

“I’m also very interested to see how Akil Thomas’s season goes. People don’t recognize him for the really strong work ethic and compete game that he has. He has the speed and skill and can shoot, but he has a solid two-way game and he’s very responsible.

“Oliver Wahlstrom is another dynamic player who can make a good jump and continue to climb as the season goes on. They’re all kind of dynamic, exciting players.”

Any other lesser-known players who will raise eyebrows?

Dmitri Zavgorodny (Rimouski, QMJHL, C/W): “In that category of being a special player; he had five goals the other night as a rookie in the league. He might be the guy there, but he’s 5’8 1/2″ so that’s always the qualifier. It’s going to be interesting to see if he has the type of year we expect him to have. He’s one of those kids, I put my stamp of approval on him now.”

Gabriel Fortier (Baie-Comeau, QMJHL, LW): Another smaller player in Quebec. Really played well at the Ivan Hlinka in a number of roles. He’s such an effortless skater that he surprised the opponents on the ice. All of a sudden he’s there, all of a sudden he’s pulling away.”

Kevin Bahl (Ottawa, OHL, D): “He’s 6-foot-6, 230 pounds and he moves like he’s 6-foot-1, 190. He has a very soft touch with the puck. He was very intriguing at the U18s and I think he’s the kind of guy that’s going to get a lot of attention this year.”

Serron Noel (Oshawa, OHL, RW): “He turned heads at the Ivan Hlinka and everyone noticed him last year because he’s a good strong, size-strength player, works hard, strong skater. You just want to see what his hockey sense and puck skills are like, and he made a good showing in the summer and he’s another player teams will be focusing on.”

Any last words of wisdom?

Central Scouting: “What I found over time is that some of the better players at the Ivan Hlinka, they’re not necessarily the higher draft picks, but they are the better players once they get to the NHL as well. That’s one of my barometers I look for. The top players that you thought were good players in that tournament often end up being good NHL players.”

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