Forecasting the NHL Draft is often a foolish endeavor, as beyond the top handful of prospects, each team’s draft boards vary wildly. One team’s late-first-rounder could be another team’s mid-third-rounder. So it goes when trying to predict how an 18-year-old will develop physically and mentally in the two to four years it usually takes for him to become NHL-ready (if he ever becomes NHL-ready). But here’s a look at how the lottery spots (top 15) and the two Blackhawks first-rounders (Nos. 8 and 27) might play out:
1. Buffalo — Rasmus Dahlin, D, Frolunda (Sweden)
Stats: 7G, 13A in 41GP
A “franchise-altering” talent, in the words of Blackhawks director of scouting Mark Kelley, Dahlin gives the perpetually flailing Sabres a No. 1 defenseman to go with No. 1 center Jack Eichel.
2. Carolina — Andrei Svechnikov, RW, Barrie (OHL)
Stats: 40G, 32A in 44GP
A big, skilled, speedy power forward, Svechnikov will be the cornerstone of the Hurricanes’ rebuild under new owner Tom Dundon and new coach Rod Brind’Amour.
3. Montreal — Filip Zadina, RW, Halifax (OHL)
Stats: 44G, 38A in 57GP
The Canadiens will have several options here, including American forward Brady Tkachuk, a high-end defenseman, or a possible trade for an instant boost to their lineup. But Zadina is the most well-rounded forward in the draft, a two-way player with a goal-scorer’s touch.
4. Ottawa — Noah Dobson, D, Acadie-Bathurst (QMJHL)
Stats: 17G, 52A in 67 GP
With superstar Erik Karlsson likely on his way out of Ottawa, the Senators need a new elite defenseman to build around. Adam Boqvist draws the most parallels to fellow Swede Karlsson, but has a lot of developing to do. Dobson, fresh off a Memorial Cup win, is a safer choice.
5. Arizona — Brady Tkachuk, LW, Boston University
Stats: 8G, 23A in 40GP
The gritty, powerful Tkachuk could go anywhere from 3-10, it seems. He’ll be a nice complement to the more skill-oriented talent in Arizona, such as Clayton Keller and Dylan Strome. Another good piece in the long rebuild in the desert.
6. Detroit — Quinn Hughes, D, University of MIchigan
Stats: 5G, 24A in 37 GP
The Blackhawks would love it if Hughes — the closest-to-NHL-ready defenseman on the board after Dahlin — fell to them at No. 8. But the rebuilding Red Wings are just as needy on the blue line, and Hughes, who starred for the Wolverines less than an hour from Detroit, is a no-brainer.
7. Vancouver — Evan Bouchard, D, London (OHL)
Stats: 25G, 62A in 67 GP
An offensive juggernaut who led all OHL defensemen in points this past season, Bouchard is the prototypical power-play quarterback. As with most offensive-minded defensemen, there’s some work to do in his own end.
8. Chicago — Oliver Wahlstrom, LW, US National Development Team
Stats: 22G, 23A in 26 GP
Yes, the Blackhawks need help on defense, but chances are, nobody other than Dahlin is stepping in this season, anyway. The Hawks are very high on Wahlstrom, a very talented and very confident winger with size and skill. He modeled his shot after Patrik Laine, and modeled his game after Alex Ovechkin. If he ends up being anywhere near as good as either, the Hawks will have another potent weapon up front.
9. N.Y. Rangers — Adam Boqvist, D, Swedish national team
Stats: 5G, 12A in 19 GP
Boqvist has a tremendously high ceiling, but is maybe the furthest from the NHL of the big five defensemen in the draft. A gifted puck-mover, he needs some work defensively before he can take the next step.
10. Edmonton — Jesper Kotkaniemi, C, Assat Pori, Finland
Stats: 10G, 19A in 57 GP
Kotkaniemi is, along with Tkachuk, the hardest player to slot in the top of the draft. He could go as high as three or four, or as low as 10 or 12. The fact that he’s a center, and all the other forwards ahead of him are wingers, plays in his favor. He’s a talented playmaker who is reliable in his own end. His performance against grown men in the Finnish Elite League has rocketed him to the top of many draft boards.
11. N.Y. Islanders — Ty Smith, D, Spokane (WHL)
Stats: 14G, 59A in 69 GP
With back-to-back picks, the constantly retooling Islanders need to grab a top-four defenseman and a top-six forward. Smith is just a hair behind the big five defensemen in the draft. He’s only 5-10, but in the modern-day NHL, size isn’t everything, even on the blue line.
12. N.Y. Islanders — Barrett Hayton, C, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
Stats: 21G, 39A in 63 GP
Scouts rave about Hayton’s hockey IQ, but say his skating needs some work. The Islanders are thin up front, particularly down the middle after John Tavares and Mathew Barzal (and Tavares might leave this summer via free agency).
13. Dallas — Joe Veleno, C, Drummondville (QMJHL)
Stats: 22G, 57A, in 64 GP
A playmaking center with terrific speed, Veleno also brings a solid defensive game and the intangible leadership skills scouts love.
14. Philadelphia, Joel Farabee, LW, U.S. National Development Team
Stats: 33G, 43A in 62 GP
The Boston University-bound Farabee is another dangerous two-way forward. What he’s lacking in size he makes up for in speed and savvy, and he’s another high-character guy that teams adore.
15. Florida, Rasmus Kupari, C, Karpat (Finland)
Stats: 6G, 8A in 39 GP
The Panthers aren’t hurting at center, but Kupari — who played a small role on a championship Karpat team this past season — is a terrific skater. He’s raw, but has high offensive upside.
27. Chicago — Nicolas Beaudin, D, Drummondville (QMJHL)
Stats: 12G, 57A, in 68 GP
The Hawks acquired this pick in the Ryan Hartman trade with the Nashville Predators, and would love to flip it to another team for a player (particularly a defenseman) who can step in right away. Because despite last season’s struggles, the Hawks are still in a win-now mode with Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith not getting any younger. That said, if they can’t trade the pick, a team source said they like Beaudin a lot. It’s almost always a crapshoot by this point in the first round, but Mark Kelley has a great track record of finding viable NHL players in the 20s and 30s, including Nick Schmaltz, Alex DeBrincat, Hartman, Phil Danault and Kevin Hayes. Beaudin is small at 5-11, but he’s a terrific skater and puck-mover with a high ceiling.