For hopefully the only time in history, the seven Canadian teams are all in the draft lottery. This also happens to be a year in which the NHL tries to make the draft position fair to all teams finishing poorly. This year still gives the last place team (Toronto) a 20% chance of getting first choice but it also allows the top 3 picks to potentially go to any of the bottom 14 teams.
If rumor has it this will be the first of a few years where we will see a change in the draft and this might be the best odds for the struggling Canadian teams to get an elite player for a few years. Next year there is talk of the number of positions or the percentages changing during the lottery and then we go into expansion teams coming in as soon as the 2018-2019 season.
I don't think we will see a lot of mystery in the top three choices, no matter which team wins the picks. It is not even worth considering the chance that the first player drafted will be Austin Matthews. The American born Center appears to be everything the scouts say. He is a complete player offering amazing speed and a maturity to his game that allows him to dominate in a manner that will undoubtedly make him a franchise player. It doesn't hurt that the 18 year old seems to find the back of the net with ease and uses his larger frame to compete for the puck against any opposition.
Seeing him go to Toronto would be interesting. Despite talk that he will take time to develop into their top line center, it is clear to non Leaf fans at least that he will step onto their team and be the best player in blue and white. Nothing against their current team, this is a testimate to Matthews.
I do like to see a struggling team get the best player. I really like the Habs but with Price back, Matthews would make that struggling team a good bet for at least making the playoffs next year. Even Vancouver and Calgary who have decent top line centers (Sedin, Horvat and Monohan, Bennet) would be tough teams to compete against with just the additions of Austin. In fact few teams need him in the way Toronto does.
The second two picks will both come from the Finnish National team that dominated this years World Juniors. 18 year old Patrik Lane and 17 year old Jesse (someone needs to nickname this kid) Puljujarvi. Depending on the site both players are large and relatively the same in size (6'4/210 lbs). Other than size and the fact that both of these players are going to be immediate impact players for their teams, they are quite different.
Patrik Laine is ranked second by many but my bet is on his going third. Laine has a huge shot and has amazing hockey sense. The young Finish player has been criticized for his lack of speed and by some his overall skating ability (in terms of acceleration and mobility). Despite his shot he is known more as a two way play maker. The right winger (also used on the LW) can be played in any situation with confidence.
Jesse Puljujarvi offers many of the same skills as Laine. Listed by most as a dedicated RW, he also can play a strong two way game. He is well known for using his size to keep and take away the puck. Elite prospects compares him to Jamie Benn which says a ton. Although he is boasted as a play maker he is also known for having a quick release on an incredibly accurate shot. A shot that is not as well talked about as Laine's but still one that can find the back of the net when needed. The big difference between the two from most scouting reports seems to be Jesse's speed. He uses his speed and size to drive to the net.
To say these two players are the same is not fair as they really aren't. It would be like comparing Hall and Sequin during their draft year. Either player will make a huge impact on the team that drafts them. My money is that Jesse's speed will be the straw that gets him picked as the second overall.
With the draft there is always the chance of surprises. It is possible that teams might trade down leaving the two Finish players. There are many possible reasons for this but I don't feel there is enough of a chance of this happening to go over them all. I also don't think that a team would trade to get them both like Vancouver did with the Sedins. They are two Finish national players but not only is the value of top draft picks high, there is also no reason to see a need to have these two play together. Smart money is that they are the second and third in this years draft.
After this it seems that the next three forwards will be one of Dubois, Nylander or Tkackuk. There are some prospectors that have a defenseman in the top 6 but there doesn't seem to be a clear enough consensus on who the top blue liner is. Actually the list of who will be chosen as the top defender is long and varied. More so than any recent draft. There is a chance that a team might pick a defender they like but I wouldn't put money on it. Some scouts don't have Dubois in their top 6 so he is also someone that could slide out of the top 10.
Smart money is on Nylander and Tkachuk being the fourth and fifth player drafted and really where things get interesting.
Whoever gets Matthew Tkachuk or Alexander Nylander will be getting two amazing players. Obviously two more sons of greats, both have been amazing at the junior level and could be ready to join their NHL teams next season.
American born Tkachuk is an amazing player that many scouts believe already plays at an NHL level. Other than Matthews it is suggested that Tkachuk might be the most mature player in this draft and he will compete for a spot with whichever big club drafts him in the fall. He is a complete player that plays with grit and as one site says "nastiness." He is great at getting under the skin of the other team and has the PIM to prove it. Despite having more assists than goals, look for Tkachuk to have a long career of lighting the lamp in the NHL.
In terms of the draft, the most interesting part has to do with his play in the OHL. He plays on the London Knights top line with a player drafted to his home town (Scottsdale), Christian Dvorak and with the Leafs most highly ranked prospect, Mitch Marner. Dvorak, Marner and Tkachuk finished with 121, 116 and 107 points respectively with a minimum +/- of +45. Averaging almost two points a game in the regular season there are a lot of people that really think Tkachuk performance has stood out.
Last year Dvorak played with Marner and Domi so there is a lot of question if he is good or good by association. Either way I would expect Dvorak to start the season with the Coyotes next year.
The Leafs had hoped Marner, despite his size (5'11 165lbs), would be there answer for a long term top line center. However this year he struggled with faceoffs and was replaced at the dot by Tkachuk. Despite the move to RW he still continued to develop amazing chemistry with the new center.
It would be hard to believe that the Leafs would take Tkachuk over the two Finish players and no chance in taking him if they get the top pick. However it has to be a tempting thought for them. I would expect them to at least year offers for moving down to pick 4 if they didn't get the 1st pick. I also wouldn't be surprised if they packaged something to select twice in the top 5 to get Tkachuk and another player. For those who aren't sure why, watch a few clips of him playing with Marner. There is no doubt that those two would be a deadly pair on any teams top line going forward. Especially with both being able to play wing or center.
Alexander Nylander is the brother of Leafs William Nylander. I think there is less question of the Leafs trading to unite the brothers than to unite Marner and Tkachuk. Although he has to be on all the top teams radar. He is not as large as the other four listed but not small either at 6'0 180lbs. Nylander plays a lot like Matthews and might be a hidden gem in the top 5 this year. He possesses amazing skill with incredibly skating. He is not just fast but agile and able to use his side to side speed to go around some of the toughest defenders in both the minors and International play. He has a fast shot with a release that many scouts mention and great accuracy for his age. Although he plays a complete game, he is a goal scorer and that is most likely the biggest role he brings to the table. Despite this I still see him going at number 5 but only due to his marginal size difference and the way that Tkachuk plays a physical game.
So how should the draft go? I think everyone wants to see these young players go to teams that have a need as well as an ability to let these players see ice time with other talented players.
Personally, I would love to see Matthews go to the Leafs, Jesse to the Oil, Laine to Vancouver, Tkachuk to Calgary and Nylander to the Flames. Sorry to US fans but it would be cool to see the top 5 picks go north.
My reason for the teams. Leafs could use a franchise player, if nothing else it might stop their fans from complaining about the draft for a year.
The Oil have screwed themselves out of the first of their first overall picks with Nail asking to be traded. No true Oiler fan should see this as a good thing and although Maroon played great, it would be nice to see them get a large fast winger to play with Leon. Nice to have a line with size.
Laine to Vancouver as they have the team that can handle a player that is a little slower but has high end skill. Either with the Sedins or their new best player, Horvat, it would be nice to see them get a winger that can be the future of the aging team.
Tkachuk to Calgary even though his ability at Center will probably be left unrealized with Bennet and Monahan. Still they could use a gritty forward that can keep up with either of these centers and add that extra element to a team that isn't that far from being a playoff contender.
Nylander to Winnepeg as they seem to do great with underrated players that have amazing skill. Plus it never hurts to have a fast player that can put the puck in the net. The Canadian in me would really like to see the Jets succeed.
Nothing against Montreal and Ottawa. The Sens didn't finish low enough to realistically put them in a top 5 scenario. They very well could win the first pick but as a betting man, I don't like their odds. That said, they could use a high end forward more than Vancouver or Calgary in my opinion. Montreal is also from a place of admiration more than anything. They have a lot of young talented players. They struggled a little this year but no matter who they draft, I would put money on them being a playoff team next spring.