Less than 24 hours from the first round of the NHL Draft, I figured I would take one final stab at what the first round will look like. This year's draft has been a bit of a mess to sort through, with a pretty equal jumble of players at 1-7 and a pretty equal of jumble of players at 8 through thirty-something, so odds are this will be a mess, but it's worth a try. For the record, this is really based on my personal opinions, since I haven't seen a lot of these players, or seen enough of the ones I have seen, but more what I think will happen based on all the information I've compiled.
There's the old football cliche that if your team has two starting quarterbacks, then you don't have any starting quarterbacks. A similar theory holds true for number one draft picks. With so many guys in the discussion for the top spot, either this is a once-in-a-generation type of draft or this is just a bit of a down year. I'll go with the latter. Nugent-Hopkins isn't the safest pick, but he almost seems to be the guy Edmonton has to take. There's talk that he isn't a great fit for Edmonton, but there's not a team in the league so well off that they can start passing up potential top line scorers, least of all the Oilers. If the Oilers could trade down a couple spots and end up with Adam Larsson and some other assets, I think they would be open to that, but that's going to be difficult to do. It's always tough to trade down and the number one pick seems to hold lower value this year.
I don't think Landeskog will ever lead the NHL in scoring, but the kid handles himself like an absolute professional, and is maybe the safest pick in the draft. Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog suiting up for the Avalanche strike me as the second coming of Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg.
Jonathan Huberdeau is expected to go here, but I'll go off the board a bit with a late riser. Last year it was Ryan Johansen that slowly rose up the board all year long, and went even higher than expected on draft day, and this year, I think it will be Strome that really surprises people. Teams love guys that come out of nowhere because it shows great potential, and Strome showed some great potential this year.
The Devils have a decent stable of young defensemen, but don't really have the potential franchise defenseman that Larsson could be. The Devils seem to like taking Swedish players in the first round of the draft in recent years, and it's a pretty sweet to have the best defenseman available sitting there waiting at the number four spot.
From a value standpoint, the New York Islanders may have lucked into the best spot in the draft. It would not be ridiculous if Huberdeau went first overall in this draft, and the Islanders could have him, or a very comparable player sitting there for them at the number five spot. The Islanders are in a similar spot as the Oilers. They could probably use a franchise defenseman a little bit more than a forward, but aren't in a position to pass up a gift like this.
Couturier seemed to fall out of favor after not producing as much as hoped at the World Juniors this year, and never seemed to be able to work his way back into the discussion for the top overall pick, but the Senators almost have to go with a forward here, and Couturier is the last remaining forward out of the top group of guys.
7. Winnipeg Blanks-Ryan Murphy, Defense, Kitchener(OHL)
Dougie Hamilton is the far safer choice, but Murphy is the more exciting choice. His potential to run a power play and be a big point scorer from the blue line is pretty appealing.
I don't know if you've heard, but the Flyers may be looking to rebuild offensively a little bit. This may be a bit of a reach, but do you see the Flyers picking some playmaking European, or a big, tough western Canadian kid? I thought McNeil was headed towards being a solid top ten pick until a poor U-18s seemed to scare some people off of him. He may end up there anyway.
Hamilton may be a top five pick, but just didn't seem to be the right fit for any of the teams drafting in that area. The Bruins would be thrilled if Hamilton dropped all the way down to 9th overall, and rightfully so. He's a very smart, dependable player that brings great size to the blue line.
The Wild need a lot of help on offense, but are also likely going to need to rebuild their blue line as well, since they are loaded with terrible contracts back there. Beaulieu gives them a nice piece to start rebuilding with.
11. Colorado Avalanche-Duncan Siemens, Defense, Saskatoon(WHL)
This draft has the potential to really work out in Colorado's favor. They'll likely have a great forward fall to them at the second slot, and then later in the round, they'll likely have a top defenseman fall to them as well. Siemens has the potential to be a shutdown defensive defenseman.
Zibanejad seems to have earned the honor of best available forward among the secondary group of players, and by this point in the draft, it's definitely about best player available over fit for an individual team. All of North Dakota will be holding their breath, hoping JT Miller isn't the pick here.
You can't teach size, and Oleksiak has really improved over the last year or so, showing that he can be more than just a big body.
Bartschi is an incredibly skilled forward, and could turn into a nice offensive asset for the Stars.
This is much higher than I would pick Miller, personally, but I see the Rangers liking the grit that he brings to the table.
Brodin isn't flashy, but is a solid, dependable defenseman that has made a late push up the rankings in the draft.
Klefbom is a little bit of a riskier pick than his teammate Brodin because he was used pretty sparingly by his team in Sweden, but he's a big guy with a lot of potential, and teams are going to be looking for a steal in the mid to late part of the first round.
Biggs is a nice fit in Chicago because the Blackhawks aren't necessarily looking for a flashy scorer, but could use a forward that brings toughness and grit to the table.
19. Edmonton Oilers-Connor Murphy, Defense, US NTDP
19th isn't a spot to be drafting based on need, but the Oilers do need to improve their defense and even though Murphy is a frightening pick due to his injury history, he could also be a home run type of pick if he stays healthy and develops.
A bit of a reach according to some people, but there's a lot to like about Jensen.
21. Ottawa Senators- Matt Puempel, Forward, Peterborough(OHL)
Finding a guy that can put the puck in the net on a consistent basis is one of the hardest things to find in the draft. Puempel is a pure sniper, and Ottawa can afford to take a chance on him since they'll end up with a pretty safe pick at the six spot.
The southern California kid Rocco Grimaldi would be a great story, but the Ducks love big forwards that can put the puck in the net. Despite a rough second half of the season, Saad definitely has that potential.
Mayfield is a smooth skater that fits in well with the Penguins organization.
Part of the Red Wings draft success in recent years has been their willingness to draft extremely skilled players, even in those players have some attributes that normally scare teams away, like a lack of size. Rattie is smaller, but a pure skill forward and an amazing passer.
As most suspected, the Leafs aren't likely to get a franchise player this late in the first round, and certainly not a player of the caliber they could have gotten if they still had the 9th overall pick, but Phillips is a very solid, consistent player, with some nice offensive skill.
Once again, a player that came out of nowhere this year, and played his best hockey at the end of the season, leaving a good last impression. He's not as flashy as some other first round picks, but is a solid, dependable centerman.
Armia has the skills necessary to go much higher in the draft. It will all depend on if a team feels like he consistently bring that at the next level.
Amazing hands, but questions about if he can bring more to the table.
The Canucks are in need of a talented young goalie, and will get an opportunity at the best one in the draft late in the first round.
30. Toronto Maple Leafs-Rocco Grimaldi, Forward, US NTDP
Grimaldi is one of the smallest players in the draft, but has the type of toughness that Brian Burke is looking for, and is worth a gamble since this is the Leafs' second first round pick.