I'm of two minds when it comes to mock drafts. On one side, it's a rather silly exercise. The NHL Draft, maybe more than other drafts, comes down to personal team preference rather than things like team need. The only way to know who Buffalo is going to take with the second pick is to know which of the three talented forwards likely available they prefer, and unless you're a part of that scouting organization, you probably don't know that. The other issue is that one trade--and there will be trades, probably many--and the draft order changes and the whole thing falls apart.
But on the other side, mock drafts are well-established as convention. For whatever reason, people love reading them. And more importantly, it's a surprisingly effective way of previewing the first round of the draft; not just who will be picked, but some of the decisions that might come into play for teams, and why they might go in the direction that they do.
So without further ado, here is our contribution to the pantheon of mock drafts:
1. Florida Panthers- Aaron Ekblad, D, Barrie(OHL)
I'm still not 100% convinced taking Ekblad, or any defenseman, with the first overall pick is the way to go, but the wind seems to be blowing in Ekblad's direction in the lead-up to the draft. Florida might make an effort to trade down with this pick, but I can't see anybody paying the price necessary to grab Ekblad.
2. Buffalo Sabres- Sam Bennett, F, Kingston(OHL)
Buffalo's pick will be one of the interesting spots in the draft. They'll pick one of Bennett, Sam Reinhart, and Leon Draisaitl. I went with Bennett. Even though he has a lot of developing to do physically, I really like his mixture of grit and skill. But either one of the other two would be just as good of a gamble. It will just come down to what's Buffalo's scouts liked.
3. Edmonton Oilers- Leon Draisaitl, F, Prince Albert(WHL)
Poor Edmonton. After years of drafting high-end forwards early in the draft, the Oilers could really use some help on the blue line. But Ekblad will be off the board by the third pick, and third overall would be too much of a reach for Haydn Fleury, the only other defenseman worthy of a top ten pick. Edmonton might want to trade up to get Ekblad, or trade down to get Fleury. If they can't close a deal, Draisaitl would be a good consolation prize. He had a nightmarish World Juniors tournament, but really impressed in Prince Albert as a playmaking forward.
4. Calgary Flames- Sam Reinhart, F, Kootenay(WHL)
Calgary is in a nice spot here. One of those top three forwards will fall to them at the fourth spot and they'll end up with a player that easily could have gone second, or even first overall. Reinhart is big, smart, and smooth. He never quite made the push to establish himself as the top overall pick, but is a really nice looking prospect.
5. New York Islanders- Nick Ritchie, F, Peterborough(OHL)
Ritchie has been a big riser late in the year, and if there's a surprise in the top four picks, I think it might be him. Ritchie is a big, mean power forward with some holes in his game, but his combination of a skilled guy that can play a heavy game is a valuable combination. The Islanders have been one of the teams that has expressed interest in moving down in the draft.
6. Vancouver Canucks- Haydn Fleury, D, Red Deer(WHL)
Fleury is another player that might go a few spots earlier than expected just because he's pretty clearly the second best defenseman available after Ekblad, and there's a huge gap between Fleury and the third best defenseman. If anybody is going to be trading up in this draft, it might be to get a guy like him.
7. Carolina Hurricanes- Michael Dal Colle, F, Oshawa(OHL)
This is a bit of a slip for Dal Colle, who most have just outside the cusp of the big four prospects. Dropping him to seventh was more a case of wanting to move Ritchie and Fleury up the boards. Carolina would be getting a great value if he's still available here.
8. Toronto Maple Leafs- Brendan Perlini, F, Niagara(OHL)
Perlini is a true power forward with a heavy shot and excellent skating for his size. Some feel Perlini has some high boom-or-bust potential
9. Winnipeg Jets- Nikolaj Ehlers, F, Halifax(QMJHL)
Pure offensive skill here.
10. Anaheim Ducks- Kasperi Kapanen, F, KaPa(FIN)
Kapanen had a terrible season, and it wouldn't be a shock if he dropped a bit in the draft, but it's tough to ignore his talent. He's a smooth skater that can play well in all areas of the ice.
11. Nashville Predators- William Nylander, F, Modo(SWE)
There was a time when Nylander was in the discussion for the top five, but he's dropped a bit over the course of the year. Eleventh would be a bit of a drop, but there's the possibility he could drop even lower.
12. Arizona Coyotes- Jake Virtanen, F, Calgary(WHL)
Virtanen has been highly-rated all year, but some have serious concerns about his hockey sense, and there could be concerns about a late-season shoulder injury that he played through. Another kid that may drop a surprising amount.
13. Washington Capitals- Alex Tuch, F, US NTDP(USHL)
Tuch is a really smooth skater for a player of his size with a ton of upside. NTDP teammates Dylan Larkin and Sonny Milano may be a bit more developed, but Tuch's upside might be a little higher.
14. Dallas Stars- Kevin Fiala, F, HV71(SWE)
Fiala had an okay World Juniors, but was fantastic at the World U18 championships. He's a bit small, but is incredibly strong on the puck and is a tough competitor. He's really moved up the board in the second half of the year.
15. Detroit Red Wings- Robby Fabbri, F, Guelph(OHL)
Fabbri is a smaller forward, but is an incredible skater, and the Wings have built an impressive legacy by drafting high-skill players and not worrying about some of the minor flaws he might have.
16. Columbus Blue Jackets- Dylan Larkin, F, US NTDP(USHL)
Larkin doesn't quite have the offensive upside to push his way into the top-15, but he'll prove his value in other ways as a strong, two-way center at the pro level.
17. Philadelphia Flyers- Jared McCann, F, Sault Ste Marie(OHL)
McCann is similar to Larkin in that he's not as much of a high-end scorer, but somebody that can play center and be effective on both ends of the ice.
18. Minnesota Wild- Jakub Vrana, F, Linkoping(SWE)
There's a pretty clear drop-off after the first sixteen or seventeen picks in my mind. With the way this draft has shaken out, I'd almost prefer two second round picks to a late first round pick. Expect a lot of trades as we get to this point. Somebody will like Vrana though. He was one of the few first-time draft eligibles that didn't look terrible at the World Juniors this year. A very skilled winger.
19. Tampa Bay Lightning- Travis Sanheim, D, Calgary(WHL)
Sanheim was a big riser late in the late, and that huge upswing on his development curve is why I think he'll be the third defenseman off the board. With the lack of defensive prospects available, it wouldn't be a huge surprise if he ended up even going off the board earlier than 19th.
20. San Jose Sharks- Thatcher Demko, G, Boston College(NCAA)
Picking a goalie in the first round of the draft is almost always a bad idea, but with the talent getting a little thin in the back half of the first round, it might be worth taking a home run swing on the top goalie in the class in Demko.
21. St. Louis Blues-Sonny Milano, F, US NTDP(USHL)
Milano's an incredibly exciting offensive player. His size knocked him down the draft rankings a bit, but in the long run, he could end up being one of the best scorers to come out of this draft.
22. Pittsburgh Penguins-Ivan Barbashev, F, Moncton(QMJHL)
Barbashev has the skills to be a pure scoring threat. No concerns about him being Russian either, after coming over to play in the CHL, and he's reputedly a high character kid.
23. Colorado Avalanche- Adrian Kempe, F, MODO(SWE)
Colorado could be a bit of a wildcard. When not making fairly obvious top-5 picks, they've gone a bit off-the-board with some of their first round picks in recent years(Duncan Siemens at 11 in '11, Joey Hishon at 17 in '10). I went fairly safe with Kempe who is a very smooth skater for 6'2".
24. Anaheim Ducks- Nikita Scherbak, F, Saskatoon(WHL)
Maybe not as physically talented as some of his peers, but Scherbak has great hockey sense which makes him an effective player.
25. Boston Bruins- Ryan MacInnis, F, Kitchener(OHL)
MacInnis projects as the type of big, strong power forward the Bruins love. A little raw right now, which kept him out of the first round of most draft projections, but I think teams will look past that and see what he's capable of in a few years.
26. Montreal Canadiens- Julius Honka, D Swift Current(WHL)
Honka is a smaller, puck-moving defenseman. He was the early leader in the clubhouse to be the third defenseman selected behind Ekblad and Fleury, but interest seems to have cooled late, and he could be a player that ends up slipping farther down the board than expected.
27. Chicago Blackhawks- Nick Schmaltz, F, Green Bay Gamblers(USHL)
The Blackhawks love drafting American players, and there should be a very good local(-ish) one available late in the first round in Nick Schmaltz. Schmaltz has great offensive skills and the Hawks can afford to be patient while he develops at North Dakota.
28. Tampa Bay- Nikolay Goldobin, F, Sarnia(OHL)
Opinions are all over the board on Goldobin, who scored a lot this past year in Sarnia, but also comes with some serious question marks about his game. He's got first round talent, but could also slip deep in the draft. Tampa already has one first round pick earlier in the draft, so perhaps they can afford to gamble a little bit more with the second one.
29. Los Angeles Kings- David Pastrnak, F, Sodertalje(SWE)
Another kid that struggled at the World Juniors this year, but his talent is evident. He needs to fill out a lot, but his skating is excellent.
30. New Jersey Devils-Brendan Lemieux, F, Barrie(OHL)
It's kind of amazing that the NHL gave New Jersey this pick back, deciding they've already suffered enough. The Devils have already selected one goonish son of an ex-NHLer that backed out on a commitment to North Dakota. Why not take another? Add in Claude Lemieux's history with the Devils and it feels like a natural fit.