1. Rasmus Dahlin, D, 6’2″ 183 lbs (Frolunda, SHL)
What more honestly needs to be said about this kid that hasn’t been said? Whatever team that is fortunate enough to select Dahlin number one will have hit the jackpot. He’s a franchise defenseman and is one of the best defensive prospects to come out of the draft in a very long time. From a Buffalo perspective, Dahlin is everything that they need. He’s a fantastic skater that can jump into the rush and help create offense. But he’s not a one-dimensional offensive defenseman. He’s also great defensively. If Buffalo were to win the lottery, Dahlin would probably step right into their lineup as a top pairing defenseman alongside Rasmus Ristolainen. Dahlin was great for Sweden at the World Juniors and was selected as one of the best defensemen in the tournament and he was named to the WJC All-Star Team. Honestly, Dahlin isn’t getting enough hype from the media. This guy’s the real deal and could be a Norris Trophy winner in the future. He’ll be the number one pick in this year’s draft 100%.
2 Andrei Svechnikov, RW, 6’2″ 187 lbs (Barrie, OHL)
After a so-so performance at the World Juniors, Svechnikov took his game to another level. He finished the season with a 23 game point streak and had 40 goals in 44 games. Despite having a hand injury earlier in the season, his draft stock has not been affected at all. He was still top ten on goals in the O despite missing weeks with that hand injury as well as spending time at the WJC. No doubt he could have led the OHL in goals had he been healthy all year. Svechnikov is probably one of my favorite players in this draft. I think that when it’s all said and done, Svechnikov will be a 35+ goal scorer at the next level. But he’s also a great playmaker as well. Barrie traded for Minnesota Wild prospect, Dmitri Sokolov and watching Svechnikov set up his fellow countryman was a joy to watch. The typical thing that people think of when drafting Russians is the “Russian Factor.” They’re scared that he will bolt for the KHL but I don’t think there’s anything to worry about at all with Svechnikov. He chose to come to North America early to play with the Muskegon Lumberjacks last season where he was exceptional. Svechnikov projects to be a top line player in the NHL and you don’t see top line Russian players just bolt for the KHL unless they’re on the back nine of their career like Ilya Kovalchuk or Pavel Datsyuk. I’ve already seen some people bring up Nail Yakupov as a comparison to Svechnikov and that is just absurd. Although their draft year production is similar with both of them having 1.64 points per game, I think Svechnikov is a completely different animal than Yakupov. Yakupov had question marks around his hockey sense and defensive play and you can’t say the same about Andrei. Svechnikov will be picked in the top three, you can count on that.
3. Filip Zadina, RW, 6’1″ 192 lbs (Halifax, QMJHL)
Unlike Svechnikov, Filip Zadina had a great World Junior tournament for the Czech Republic finishing the tournament with 8 points in 7 games, 7 of which were goals. Zadina is a pure sniper and might have the best shot out of anyone in the draft. He came over to North America this season after being selected by the Halifax Mooseheads in the 2017 CHL Import Draft and he wasted little time adjusting to the North American game. On a stacked Halifax team, Zadina put up a remarkable 82 points in 57 games with the Mooseheads and had 44 goals. When you’re picking second or third, you can’t go wrong with either Zadina or Svechnikov. Personally, I have Svechnikov slightly higher that Zadina but I can definitely see a scenario where Zadina goes second overall. I’d argue that Svechnikov is a better skater and is better defensively and that’s part of the reason that I have Svechnikov at two. I know that people were in awe over Zadina because of his WJC performance but you just can’t judge a prospect based off of one tournament. And the same thing can be said about another player in the top ten that I’ll touch on in a little bit. If the Sabres can walk away from the draft with one of these two dynamic scoring wingers, fans should be extremely pleased. But of course they have to win the lottery to do that and we all know how that will inevitably turn out. So now let’s get into some players that the Sabres will more likely than not have a shot at come June’s draft.
4. Quinn Hughes, D, 5’10” 174 lbs (University of Michigan, NCAA)
Hughes was the youngest player in college hockey this season for the Michigan Wolverines. He’s probably the best skater in the draft. I’d say that Hughes and Svechnikov are right at the top of the list as far as skater go this year. Hughes is a dynamic defenseman that can get into the rush and create offense. It’s like he’s a fourth forward on the ice. Most people don’t have Hughes this high so you all are probably surprised to see him fourth here but I think Hughes is the real deal. Putting up 29 points as a defenseman is a pretty big accomplishment especially for a freshman. Just for comparison, Sabres forward, Casey Mittelstadt, put up 30 points this season. Zach Werenski could be comparable here for Hughes. Both of them were among the youngest players in college hockey in their draft years. Werenski had 25 points and Hughes had 29. Points, of course, aren’t the be all end all for evaluating defensemen but you get the point. Like Werenski, I expect Hughes to return to Michigan for next season and be one of the best players in the NCAA. If The Sabres lose out on a top-three pick, fans should be ecstatic at the prospect of Quinn Hughes suiting up on Buffalo’s blueline in the future.
5. Adam Boqvist, D, 5’11” 170 lbs (Almtuna, Allsvenskan)
It seems like just about every single defenseman that comes out of the draft that has solid offensive upside is being compared to Erik Karlsson. But that comparison is appropriate for Adam Boqvist. Like Hughes, Boqvist is a dynamic skater with great offensive upside. He’s just so fun to watch when he’s got the puck on his stick. It’s a shame that Boqvist didn’t make Sweden for the World Juniors and because of that, he’s been overshadowed by the likes of Dahlin, Svechnikov, Zadina, Tkachuk, and Hughes. But just because he wasn’t at the tournament doesn’t mean he’s an inferior player by any stretch. I believe that Boqvist is right there with Hughes but I give the slightest edge to Hughes. Boqvist is still probably a year or two away from playing in the NHL. He hasn’t been able to fully transition into the SHL for Brynas and he’s been up and down between the SHL, the Allsvenskan, and the J20 league in Sweden. I’d like to see him get a full season in Brynas next year then go from there as far as getting him over to North America. He’d be a great fit in Buffalo. He’s that kind of modern-day NHL defenseman that the Sabres need more of. A lot more of…
6. Brady Tkachuk, LW, 6’3″ 196 lbs (Boston University, NCAA)
Tkachuk is still a great prospect and I could definitely see him going as high as fourth in the draft but I just value players like Hughes and Boqvist higher than Tkachuk. Tkachuk had an amazing World Junior tournament and looked great alongside Casey Mittelstadt. But as I got into earlier when talking about Svechnikov, you can’t solely rate a player based on a good tournament or a bad tournament. Yes, Tkachuk had a great tournament and Svechnikov was just okay. But does that mean that Tkachuk is the better player? Absolutely not. Svechnikov is more dynamic than Tkachuk, is faster, and has a way higher offensive upside. Look at their USHL production from last year. Now also keep in mind that Tkachuk was playing on a significantly better team with the U.S. Development Team, while Svechnikov was playing with the Muskegon Lumberjacks. Also, keep in mind that Tkachuk is about six months older than Svechnikov. Last season, Tkachuk had .96 points per game while Svechnikov put up 1.2 points per game. I don’t understand how anyone could have Tkachuk over Svechnikov and the Sabres are even one of the teams that have Tkachuk 2nd on their draft board which is just frightening. Now it sounds like I’m trashing Tkachuk but I really like him as a prospect. I think that if Brady decides to leave school, he can play and contribute in the NHL next year. If the Sabres end up picking him if they lose the lottery, I’ll be very happy. I just like the players listed above more. He’s a complete package type of player. Fast, skilled, can score, physical, and good defensively. Just don’t pick him over Svechnikov or Zadina, Botts.
7. Oliver Wahlstrom, RW, 6’1″ 205 lbs (USNTDP)
Whenever I watch Oliver Wahlstrom play, I see similarities between him and Casey Mittelstadt. He has a great release and is probably right up there with Zadina for the best shooter in the draft. I don’t think he’s as good of a skater as Mittelstadt but his vision is great, hockey sense is great, and his puck skills are as good as anyone in the draft. I considered putting Wahlstrom at six and was very close but I need to watch him a couple more times before I can firmly say he’s better than Tkachuk. Wahlstrom is probably the last guy on the list that Buffalo will be considering with their 1st round pick and if he’s selected by Buffalo, fans should be pumped. He’s going to Harvard next year and that shouldn’t scare anyone off. Buffalo fans for some reason are paranoid more than any other fanbase about players not wanting to sign but I wouldn’t worry about Wahlstrom going to free agency. Or any other college player in the first round for that matter. Expect Wahlstrom to take the same route that Mittelstadt took, a year in college, then make the jump to the NHL.
8. Evan Bouchard, D, 6’2″ 193 lbs (London, OHL)
The dropoff between Quinn Hughes and Adam Boqvist to Evan Bouchard, Noah Dobson, and Ty Smith isn’t that large but I do believe there is a dropoff in this draft after six or seven. Bouchard has stepped it up big time for the London Knights this year. The Knights are going into more of a rebuilding transition after shipping out the likes of Robert Thomas, Cliff Pu, and Max Jones. In the absence of most of their 2016 Memorial Cup core, Bouchard pretty much put the team on his back and didn’t slow down his production at all. He nearly doubled his production from last season, going from 44 points to 87 points. Bouchard is a very smart defenseman with a great shot. He’s not as flashy as Quinn Hughes or Adam Boqvist but he can still get the job done. He’s a puck-moving defenseman that can help create offense. He’s also a right-handed shot which is a luxury in the modern day NHL. A right-handed shot D that can do what Bouchard can do will have teams clamouring to select him come June. I can see Bouchard going as high as fourth or fifth this year. The top 10-15 of this draft is just as good as any other year as far as I’m concerned. But in this case, there’s a franchise defenseman right at the top instead of a franchise centerman. You can’t really go wrong with any of the guys in the top 10.
9. Noah Dobson, D, 6’3″ 179 lbs (Acadie-Bathurst, QMJHL)
Dobson has skyrocketed up the rankings since the Fall. Dobson is a smart good skating defenseman that looks like he can quarterback a power play at the next level. The big thing that I notice about him whenever I watch him is his shot from the point. His point shot is dangerous and he’s money on the off wing. I believe he’s pretty much interchangeable with Evan Bouchard but like I said, this draft is so good there will be some surprises in this range of the draft. Like Bouchard, I can see Dobson going higher than where I have him but he’s definitely a top ten pick.
Now we’re getting into the players that I’m 95% sure will not be selected by the Sabres with their 1st round pick. So I’ll try to be as brief as I can.
10. Ty Smith, D, 5’11” 176 lbs (Spokane, WHL)
I’m a huge fan of Ty Smith. He was a former first overall pick in the WHL draft and so far, he’s lived up to his draft status. He put up 73 points this season which is excellent for a draft eligible defenseman. He’s a dynamic defenseman that can get involved offensively but his defensive game is also good. And he’s a great skater, the guy is a great prospect.
11. Joe Veleno, C, 6’1″ 195 lbs (Drummondville, QMJHL)
It seems like a lot of people are sleeping on Joe Veleno. He was the first player to be granted exceptional status in the QMJHL and I will say that he hasn’t lived up to that hype at all. And he’s simply not an “exceptional” player like McDavid or Tavares, but he’s still very good. He’s taken his game to a new level since being traded to Drummondville and I think that he’ll be knocking on the door to be a top ten pick in June. He’s a fast, high skilled, two-way centerman.
12. Isac Lundestrom, C, 6’1″ 185 lbs (Lulea, SHL)
Lundestrom has been a steady riser in the draft over the course of the season. His two-way game is probably his best asset and I think he’s a pretty safe pick in this range of the draft. He has already played two seasons against men in the Swedish Hockey League, so it wouldn’t surprise me if he’d be able to make the jump to the AHL like Lias Andersson and Filip Chytl did this year. In a draft that is lacking centers in the first round, Lundestrom will be highly coveted by many teams.
13. Joel Farabee, LW, 6’0″ 174 lbs (USNTDP)
Playing on a line with Jack Hughes and Oliver Wahlstrom for the U.S. Development Team, Farabee has had a solid draft year. He may be playing with two elite prospects but, I don’t think he’s being carried by playing with two great prospects. He’s a gifted playmaker and can also put the puck in the net with his great shot. He’s a hard-working player that can play in all situations.
14. Jesperi Kotkaniemi, C, 6’2″ 190 lbs (Assat, Liiga)
Kotkaniemi has been another big riser in the rankings this year. He’s having a pretty solid year for Assat in the Liiga in Finland. 29 points while playing against men, is pretty good, especially for a draft-eligible player. He needs to work on his skating, but he has a high skill set and deserves to be a top 15 selection in the 2018 draft.
15. Bode Wilde, D, 6’2″ 197 lbs (USNTDP)
Wilde put together a very solid season this year with the U.S. Development Team. Unlike most of the defensemen so far, Wilde already has NHL size but he plays a similar game to the likes of Ty Smith and Noah Dobson. Although Wilde may not be as flashy as those players mentioned, he still has pretty good offensive upside. He’s committed to the University of Michigan next season and there could be potential where he could play on a pair with Quinn Hughes if he decides to stay in school. That would be a treat to watch.
16. Barrett Hayton, C, 6’1″ 185 lbs (Sault Ste. Marie, OHL)
Hayton is a versatile player that can play either center or wing. He plays for a very good team in Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds and has even gotten some time with Flyers prospect, Morgan Frost. Hayton is a two-way centerman that can rip the puck as well as make some great plays with his passing ability. He could work on his skating but other than that, there’s a whole lot to like out of Barrett Hayton.
17. Grigori Denisenko, LW, 5’11” 175 lbs (Yaroslavl, MHL)
I see a lot of potential for Denisenko to slide a bit in the 2018 draft. The combination of him being kind of undersized and having the Russian factor play into it as well that could have him slide. But I think he’s a really talented player with good playmaking and skating ability. He’s currently playing in the Russian jr. league so I’d like to see him make the jump to the KHL next year.
18. Rasmus Kupari, C, 6’1″ 183 lbs (Karpat, Liiga)
Kupari had a pretty decent year for Karpat this season production wise. An 18-year-old playing in a men’s league in most cases, Isn’t going to light it up on the scoresheet. In Kupari’s case, it’s important to look at what he did against his peers in the World Juniors as well as the World U18s. He didn’t get a whole lot of ice time in Buffalo at the World Juniors as he was one of the youngest players on the team. He did, however, have a great World U18 tournament including a five-point game against Slovakia. Kupari is a talented centerman that can play the game at a high pace. I’m excited to see him step his game up next year with another year of development under his belt. He has the tools to be a very good NHLer.
19. Ryan Merkley, D, 5’11” 170 lbs (Guelph, OHL)
Probably the most polarizing player in the 2018 draft, Merkley is one of the most talented players in the draft an there’s really no debating that. his skill set is great. But, there are questions about his character and defensive play. Merkley was very highly touted coming into the OHL and of course, he’s going to be under the microscope and will be a victim of overanalyzing. It happens year after year. Look at Cam Fowler, Jakob Chychrun, and Timoty Liljegren for example, all three of the freefell in the draft when they all should’ve been taken higher because the scouts just overanalyzed them. If he’s good he’s good. Simple enough. Merkley can be the steal of this draft. I think I might be a little generous putting him at 19 as I have seen many others have him lower. Could he be an option at 32 or 33 for Buffalo? I certainly hope so. The kid can be a good NHL defenseman if he wants to.
20. Serron Noel, RW, 6’5″ 201 lbs (Oshawa, OHL)
Noel came out of nowhere at the start of the season and now he’s a can’t miss first round prospect. He is money in front of the net and that’s where he gets a lot of his goals. He kind of reminds me of Sam Reinhart in that sense. He’s a power forward that can put the puck in the net. He needs to work on his skating but I see a lot of potential here in Serron Noel.
21. Rasmus Sandin, D, 5’10” 183 lbs (Sault Ste. Marie, OHL)
Sandin is probably one of my top five favorite players in this draft. He’s a fast dynamic defenseman with a high offensive upside. He came over from Sweden this year to play for the Greyhounds in the OHL and he didn’t disappoint. He put together a solid year offensively and stepped up big time as one of the team’s top defensemen in the absence of Colorado Avalanche prospect defenseman, Conor Timmins.
22. Jared McIsaac, D, 6’1″ 195 lbs (Halifax, QMJHL)
He’s not flashy like a lot of the defensemen that will go in the first to early second round in the draft but he gets the job done. McIsaac is a great passer and is very solid defensively. He had a slow start to the season but picked his game up as the year went on. He plays that simple style of game that could be underappreciated but the last couple of times that I watched him, I left being very impressed by McIsaac.
23. Jett Woo, D, 5’11” 205 lbs (Moose Jaw, WHL)
Plays a similar style game as Jared McIsaac. Woo is a smart, physical, two-way defenseman. His offensive upside may not be as high as others in the draft but I think he has the potential to be a good NHL defenseman. He missed a little bit of time this season due to injury as well but he has been one of the best defensemen for the Warriors this season.
24. Jonny Tychonick, D, 5’11” 165 lbs (Penticton, BCHL)
Tychonick is just yet another small-ish offensive minded defenseman in the top 31. He’s kind of under the radar because he plays in the BCHL. He was nearly a point per game player for the Vees this season. More players are going high in the draft out of the BCHL as of late including Cale Makar, Tyson Jost, Dante Fabbro, and Dennis Cholowski. In comparison to Makar and Fabbro, Tychonick’s production wasn’t as good but his production is pretty similar to Cholowski in his draft year. Tychonick is committed to the University of North Dakota for next season and I believe he’ll have a very successful college career for the Hawks.
25. Vitali Kravtsov, RW, 6’2″, 183 lbs (Chelyabinsk, KHL)
Kravtsov has skyrocketed up the draft rankings as of late. He’s been lights out for his KHL club in the playoffs as he has been nearly a point per game. He only had 7 points all season but it seems like he has flipped the switch on for the playoffs as he’s doubled his production from the regular season. He’s a versatile player that can play either center or wing. And he’s a good skater with pretty good goal scoring ability.
26. Jacob Olofsson, C, 6’1″ 192 lbs (Timra, Allsvenskan)
Olofsson has played a lot on a line with Canucks prospect, Jonathan Dahlen. Olofsson is a good all-around player. The power forward had a decent first full season in the Allsvenskan, collecting 21 points in 43 games.
27. Dominik Bokk, RW, 6’1″ 179 lbs (Vaxjo, SHL)
Bokk decided to come over to Sweden from Germany for this season and it’s paid off for him. He spent most of the year in the SuperElit jr. league and he had a terrific year being well over a point per game for Vaxjo. He even had an opportunity to play for the men’s Vaxjo club in the SHL for 15 games but the production didn’t quite transfer.
28. Ryan McLeod, C, 6’2″ 200 lbs (Mississauga, OHL
McLeod has shown pretty steady growth over his three seasons with the Mississauga Steelheads. He finished the season with 70 points in 68 games. That production is very impressive considering that he didn’t get much ice time with Panthers prospect, Owen Tippett, and Devils prospect, Mike Mcleod. Like his brother, Ryan McLeod is also a great skater.
29. Benoit-Oliver Groulx, C, 6’1″ 192 lbs (Halifax, QMJHL)
The first overall pick in the 2016 QMJHL Draft, Groulx has been blessed with playing on a stacked Halifax Mooseheads team through his two seasons in major junior. Groulx is a two-way centerman and also happens to be the son of the former Canadian World Junior head coach, Benoit Groulx. I don’t know if he’ll be able to produce at the next level but I think Groulx is a pretty safe pick in the late first to early second round. I think he can be a good third line center that can play in all situations.
30. Akil Thomas, C, 5’11” 170 lbs (Niagara, OHL)
Thomas had a great season for the IceDogs this season. The playmaking center had 81 points on the season and 59 of which were assists. He actually led all OHL draft eligible players in points for this season. Thomas is a fast and skilled player who can a steal in this area of the draft.
31. Mattias Samuelsson, D, 6’4″ 216 lbs (USNTDP)
Samuelsson is another player in the top 31 that is a product of the U.S. development team. At 6’4″, Samuelsson is the biggest defenseman in this month’s ranking. He’s very solid defensively and is committed to Western Michigan University for next season. He’s also the son of former NHLer, Kjell Samuelsson.
Thanks for checking out this month’s 2018 NHL Draft Ranking. Next month I will release my first 2018 mock draft so stay tuned for that.
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