The Sabres finally had luck swing their way at the 2018 NHL draft lottery on Saturday night. They won the Rasmus Dahlin sweepstakes with the top odds and will have the chance to take the Swedish defenseman with the No. 1 overall pick in June.
Dahlin, who turned 18 on April 13, is widely considered the top prospect in this year’s class. He’s a dynamo with the puck and shows poise and hockey sense beyond his years. References to him as the best defenseman prospect of the past decade don’t seem unreasonable, which should give you an idea of why it’s such a big deal for Buffalo to land him.
The rest of the draft is far less predictable as there are always some late risers and fallers in each class. Still, Blackhawks scouting director Mark Kelley recently said this draft looks good, so teams that didn’t win the lottery will still be able to get their hands on some excellent players.
With two months to go until the big event in Dallas, there’s still a lot that can change, but here’s an early 2018 NHL mock draft.
No. 1: Sabres– D Rasmus Dahlin, Frolunda (Sweden)
There’s no need for Buffalo to get cute here. Dahlin is considered one of the best defenseman prospects in draft history. He’sgoing to play in the NHL from Day 1 and could be the catalyst that finally pulls the Sabres from their doldrums. For a franchise that already has a potentially stellar one-two punch up front in Eichel and Mittelstadt, the chance to add a superstar on the backend is a godsend.
No. 2: Hurricanes– RW Andrei Svechnikov, Barrie (OHL)
Svechnikov could be the game-breaking scorer that the Hurricanes need to help push them over the top. He brings a tantalizing combination of size, speed and skill onto the ice and dominated the OHL with 40 goals in 44 games this season. That would give Carolina quite a nice young forward corps with Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, Elias Lindholm and 2017 first-round pick Martin Necas.
No. 3: Canadiens– LW Brady Tkachuk, Boston U. (NCAA)
The Canadiens could use a high-level forward capable of making a quick impact at the NHL level, and Tkachuk fits the bill there. He’s not a guarantee to be ready for the big leagues on Day 1, but you can see him doing damage on the same line as Jonathan Drouin in the near future. Concerns over his underwhelming production at BU won’t push him down very far.
No. 4: Senators– RW Filip Zadina, Halifax (QMJHL)
The Senators could add Zadina to a group of forward prospects including 2015 first-round pick Colin White and 2016 first-round pick Logan Brown. Zadina crushed it in the QMJHL with 82 points in 57 games and impressed at World Juniors with seven goals in seven games. He’s the kind of high-upside offensive talent Ottawa needs.
No. 5: Coyotes –D Adam Boqvist, Brynas Jr. (Sweden)
There are a bunch of different ways the Coyotes could go here, including a potential stud scorer like Oliver Wahlstrom. However, they still need help on defense, especially with Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s uncertain future, so here they take a shot on a Swedish defenseman who’s loaded with upside. Pairing Boqvist with Jakub Chychrun could be a blast to watch.
No. 6: Red Wings – D Noah Dobson, Acadie-Bathurst (QMJHL)
The Red Wings have drafted just one defenseman (Dennis Cholowski, 2016) in the first round over the past 10 years, so it makes sense that they’d target that position with the talent on the board here. It’s hard to separate Boqvist, Dobson, Hughes and Bouchard right now, but Dobson’s size (6-3, 180 pounds) and defensive ability stand out. He was productive with Acadie-Bathurst, too, recording 69 points in 67 games.
No. 7: Canucks – RW Oliver Wahlstrom, USNDTP (USHL)
Wahlstrom can only far so far given his scoring ability. In fact, it seems like there’s a chance he pushes into the top five, although we’ll slot him here with the Canucks, who would have a pair of monster scoring wingers in Wahlstrom and Brock Boeser. Vancouver needs to find its footing after the Sedin era, and Wahlstrom would help.
No. 8: Blackhawks – D Quinn Hughes, Michigan (NCAA)
There might not be a more high-risk, high-reward prospect in the top 10. Hughes is an incredible skater and playmaker who may have issues with his size and decision-making at the next level. It’s also fair to wonder whether the Hawks would want a defenseman who likes to carry the puck on the rush and create chances for others given the style typically used by Joel Quenneville. Still, Hughes is a tantalizing talent, the Hawks need major help on the blue line, and that makes for an undeniably interesting fit.
No. 9: Rangers– D Evan Bouchard, London (OHL)
The Rangers added some solid blue line prospects at the 2018 trade deadline in Libor Hajek, Ryan Lindgren and Yegor Rykov, but Bouchard would immediately become the top young defenseman in the system. He’s a good all-around player who put up big numbers (87 points in 67 games) as team captain for the London Knights this season.
No. 10: Oilers – C Barrett Hayton, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
Hayton won’t blow anyone’s hair back with an electric game, but he’s a super well-rounded center who would allow the Oilers to maintain their impressive depth at the position. They’ll need good, affordable pieces around with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl making so much. Hayton’s versatility would allow him to help regardless of how Edmonton wants to use its star forwards.
No. 11: Islanders– C Joe Veleno, Drummondville (QMJHL)
It’s been an up and down year for Veleno, who had been considered a possible top-five pick before an underwhelming QMJHL season split between two teams. He recorded just a point-per-game with Saint John before being moved to Drummondville, where he finished strong to 48 points in 33 games to help re-establish his draft stock. Veleno has the potential to be a very good two-way center and a great complement to Matthew Barzal.
No. 12: Islanders (via Flames)– D Ty Smith, Spokane (WHL)
With the second of back-to-back picks, this one coming from the Travis Hamonic trade, the Islanders look to help on the back end with Smith. They’ve missed out on the second tier of blue liners after Dahlin, but Smith is still a very well-regarded prospect who played well in the WHL this season.
No. 13: Stars– C Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Assat (Finland)
Kotkaniemi has been rising up draft boards this spring after a strong season. He held his own in Finland’s top league with 29 points in 57 games and played a key role for Finland’s gold medal-winning team at the U-18 World Championships. The combination of size (6-2, 190) and scoring ability gives him a lot of upside in the NHL.
No. 14: Flyers (via Blues)– D Bode Wilde, USNTDP(USHL)
The Flyers don’t pass up on the chance to land a potential impact defender in Wilde. The 18-year-old has all the tools to be a top-pairing blue liner in the NHL, and while it’s an open question whether he’ll develop the instincts and/or hockey I.Q. to reach his ceiling, Philadelphia has enough young talent to make it a worthwhile risk. Wilde, Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere could be an amazing top three.
No. 15: Panthers– LW Joel Farabee, USNDTP (USHL)
Florida already has a number of good winger prospects, including 2017 first-round pick Owen Tippett and 2016 second-round pick Adam Mascherin, but Farabee is widely considered to go in the top half of the first round right now. He’s a complete winger who put up big numbers with the U.S. development program and played well for Team USA at the U-18 World Championships.