The NHL Draft begins this Friday with the first thirty selections, and completes on Saturday with the final six rounds of the draft. We've been covering this year's draft with our Draft Hub since the day after last year's draft completed. If you haven't been following along, there's still time to catch up. Here's a quick guide of what you need to know to be ready for this weekend.
Is this a weak draft?
If you've followed the draft even a little bit, you've likely heard that this year is a considered a "weak draft," especially compared to next year, which looks much stronger on paper. That may be true to an extent. There aren't really any prospects labeled as sure-fire superstars in the league.
But with a few rare exceptions--2003 on the positive side, 1999 on the negative side--the talent level of most drafts end up looking remarkably similar. But much of that is also just the sort of natural progression of hype that all drafts follow. Every draft looks incredibly deep 12-18 months out, and much less promising the nearer it comes to draft year because draft prospects face intense scrutiny in their draft year and NHL scouts are able to pick out all the minor flaws in a prospects game.
It's also worth remembering that for all the hype, most drafts end up being "weak drafts". 210 players are selected, and there's just not that many job openings in the NHL each season. A player drafted in the second round only has about a 50% chance of playing in the NHL, let alone making any sort of impact, and the odds for a player only decrease from there. But past experience also teaches us that there will be diamonds among the rough, and some players drafted in the later rounds on Saturday will go on to be key player in the NHL.
Who is going first overall?
Usually, a player emerges throughout the year as a pretty clear first overall pick. That didn't happen this year, which played a large role in weak draft talk mentioned above. Florida holds the first overall pick, and while there have been hints that the Panthers might be interested in trading down with that pick, it seems unlikely a deal like that gets done. That leaves the Panthers with three main options. The first is defenseman Aaron Ekblad, a big, sturdy defender that was granted Exceptional Player status to play in the OHL as a 15-year-old. The second, Sam Bennett, a gritty playmaking forward from the OHL that is so raw that he infamously couldn't do a single pull-up at the NHL Combine. And Sam Reinhart, a bigger forward out of the WHL.
Ekblad is the favorite going in, and hints out of Florida seem to indicate that is the way they are leaning, but it almost feels like Ekblad is the top choice by default, after people were waiting for somebody else to step up and supplant him, and nobody did.
Where are the NCAA players?
For the second straight year, the top ten picks should be pretty quiet on the NCAA front(wait until next year for that). But after that, things will really pick up. NTDP forwards Alex Tuch(Boston College), Dylan Larkin(Michigan), and Sonny Milano(Boston College) are all projected mid-to-late first round picks, and Nick Schmaltz(North Dakota) could sneak into the first round as well.
College Hockey Inc. put together a great infographic on why it's wise to choose players headed to the NCAA in the first round of the draft. Meanwhile, this study by the Washington Post suggests NCAA players are undervalued by NHL teams at the draft.
My team needs a goalie.
The draft is an absolutely terrible place to look for goalies. Goalies take longer to mature than skaters, which makes drafting them a bit like drawing names out of a hat. The 2007 NHL Draft saw 20 goalies selected in the draft, and so far, those 20 goalies have combined to play a total of 12 NHL games(Former RPI goalie Allen York has played 11 of them.)
The top available goalie in this draft is Boston College goalie Thatcher Demko. One of the more interesting things to watch on draft day is how the NHL feels about two OHL goalies that will be battling it out to back-up Demko at next year's World Juniors. Plymouth goalie Alex Nedlejkovic has an impressive junior resume, but standing at 6'0" tall, lacks the type of size that NHL teams have begun to favor in goalies. Sault Ste Marie goalie Brandon Halverson on the other hand, spent much of his rookie OHL campaign last year as a back-up, but has the the type of size and athleticism that suggests he has a very high ceiling.
Meanwhile, draft day should be another showcase for the NAHL, which is quickly becoming a hotbed for developing talented young goalies. Chase Perry, Logan Halladay, and Kasimir Kaskisuo could all be selected out of that league.
My team needs a defenseman.
Aside from being the rare year where we may see a defenseman taken first overall, it's not a very good year for defenseman in the draft. After Aaron Ekblad, WHL defenseman Haydn Fleury is considered the next best available defenseman. Fleury isn't a super-exciting prospect, but is a dependable, low-risk pick. He'll likely be selected towards the end of the first ten picks in the draft.
For NCAA hockey fans, there is a group of four defensemen out of the NTDP all ranked right around the early-to-mid second round of the draft that will be sorted out on draft in day in Jack Glover(Minnesota), Ryan Collins(Minnesota), Jack Dougherty(Wisconsin), and Jon MacLeod(Boston University).
Who will I feel bad for when he has a long wait on draft day?
The safest bet might be Sarnia(OHL) defenseman Anthony DeAngelo. DeAngelo has pure offensive skill that no other defenseman in the draft possesses, but also comes with some huge red flags about his defensive abilities and attitude, including a multi-game suspension this past winter for an inappropriate comment made to a teammate. He's got the talent, but teams may not want to deal with the headache. DeAngelo will draw a lot of attention on draft day anyway, as he grew up about 20 miles south of where the draft is being held this year in Sewell, New Jersey.
Sometimes, high-end Russian players will slip in the draft or go unpicked completely because of concerns about those players staying in Russia to play in the KHL, but there aren't really any high-end Russians in this year's draft, so that shouldn't be an issue.
Who will make me scratch my head when he's picked way earlier than expected?
WHL defenseman Travis Sanheim was 54th among North American skaters in NHL Central Scouting's final rankings, but there's almost no chance he lasts that long. Sanheim was a near-unknown coming into this season, but has rocketed up the draft rankings all year. He closed out the season with a brilliant performance at the World U18 championships(which were played after the final Central Scouting rankings), and now has many people talking about him as a potential first round draft choice.
Who are some of the top European players?
This year's crop of European players features some names that are already familiar to a lot of NHL fans. Central Scouting's top European skater is the speedy Kasperi Kapanen, son of former NHLer Sami Kapenen. Sweden's William Nylander, the son of former NHLer Michael Nylander is the second ranked European, and both are likely to be top ten picks. The other European player worth keeping an eye on is Switzerland's Kevin Fiala, who had a quiet World Juniors tourney this past winter as a 17-year-old, but was lights out at the World U18 championships this spring, and has positioned himself to a be a mid-first round pick.
Should that guy stop thanking the hosts and congratulating the Kings and just announce their damn pick already?