For me, the most important opinions on the NHL draft come from the team scouts and execs, the people who will actually be making the picks come June 26 in Philadelphia. To that end, my mid-term pick for No. 1 overall may shock you, but this is based on input from the decision-makers themselves. There’s still a lot of hockey to be played, but here’s a look at how the draft may pan out.
1. Leon Draisaitl, C – Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)
The German pivot is blowing scouts away right now. One thought the kid had some Anze Kopitar in him thanks to a combination of size and playmaking. The latter is where Draisaitl really shines. A complete player with great awareness, he makes players around him better and has great anticipation. Makes plays equally strong on both his forehand and backhand.
2. Aaron Ekblad, D – Barrie Colts (OHL)
Is it mean to put Ekblad second based on the assumption Edmonton will be picking in this slot? Just kidding, Oilers fans. But hey, Ekblad would be a welcome addition. The Colts star played quite well as an underager on a weirdly shaky Canadian blueline at the world juniors and he can do it all. Ekblad is big, strong and can contribute at both ends of the ice.
3. Sam Bennett, C – Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)
A very versatile player, one scout noted that you don’t usually find players who can play a variety of roles in the top five of the draft. Bennett has a great motor and competes hard, but he’s also an excellent producer and hasn’t been held off the scoresheet since Nov. 2. Speed, hands and the ability to change the tempo of a game also help his cause.
4. Sam Reinhart, C – Kootenay Ice (WHL)
Someone has to fall when others rise and Reinhart is that guy right now. Though my scouts nixed the idea his skating needs work (a flaw in the minds of some others), there was a minor question about how deep he digs sometimes. Otherwise, Reinhart does everything well and thinks the game on an elite level.
5. Michael Dal Colle, LW – Oshawa Generals (OHL)
A big dude who can really put up numbers, Dal Colle is a creative winger with great hands who has been scorching all year long for the Generals. He’s been one of the top scorers in the Ontario League for most of the season and his 6-foot-2 frame has only 171 pounds on it right now, meaning he will get heavier and harder to play against in the near future.
6. Kasperi Kapanen, RW – KalPa Kuopio (Fin.)
Playing on a line with his dad, former NHLer Sami Kapanen, Kasperi has pushed through a couple injuries this year, one of which unfortunately meant we didn’t see him at the world juniors. But the kid has a pro demeanor and knows where he needs to be on the ice. A smart player who distributes the puck and reads off his teammates.
7. Brendan Perlini, LW – Niagara IceDogs (OHL)
Don’t be surprised if Perlini goes higher than this, depending on which teams are picking where. A power forward in the making, Perlini has the size and the skill, while working on the snarl. Nevertheless, he’s one of the highest scorers in the OHL on a rebuilding Niagara team, using his release and skating to cash in offensively.
8. Willie Nylander, RW – Sodertalje (Swe.)
Now on his third team of the season, Nylander has raised some eyebrows because of this unsettling situation, but scouts I’ve talked to said he has enough skill to make up for any issues in that realm. Tremendously gifted offensively, the son of Mikael Nylander has been on fire since joining Sodertalje’s third line, with eight points in six games.
9. Haydn Fleury, D – Red Deer Rebels (WHL)
In a draft thin on top-end defensemen, Fleury will be a beacon of light once Ekblad has gone off the board. Strong, quick and willing, his puck skills are still being investigated by scouts, but everything else about his skills package sings. A poised blueliner who also has great hockey sense.
10. Jake Virtanen, LW – Calgary Hitmen (WHL)
Another versatile player, Virtanen is the type of guy you could stick on a number of lines and still get an effective performance. He’s real nasty on the ice and definitely competes, using his strength to romp around the rink. Virtanen also has decent offensive numbers for a great Calgary team.
11. Ivan Barbashev, C – Moncton (QMJHL)
12. Roland McKeown, D – Kingston (OHL)
13. Nick Ritchie, LW – Peterborough (OHL)
14. Anton Karlsson, RW – Frolunda (Swe.)
15. Jared McCann, C – Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
16. Sonny Milano, LW – U.S. NTDP (USHL)
17. Conner Bleackley, C – Red Deer (WHL)
18. Alex Tuch, RW – U.S. NTDP (USHL)
19. Nick Schmaltz, RW – Green Bay (USHL)
20. Adrian Kempe, C – Modo (Swe.)
21. Julius Honka, D – Swift Current (WHL)
22. Jacob Middleton, D – Ottawa (OHL)
23. David Pastrnak, LW – Sodertalje (Swe.)
24. Brycen Martin, D – Swift Current (OHL)
25. Nikolaj Ehlers, LW – Halifax (QMJHL)
26. Josh Ho-Sang, RW – Windsor (OHL)
27. Jakub Vrana, RW – Linkoping (Swe.)
28. Dylan Larkin, C – U.S. NTDP (USHL)
29. Thatcher Demko, G – Boston College (HE)
30. Anthony DeAngelo, D – Sarnia (OHL)