So I didn't pay one iota of attention to a single draft article during the season (for some reason, Bishopcoughcough I thought we were going to go pretty deep into the playoffs), but over the last few weeks I've read pretty much every single draft-related thing anyone anywhere has written.
The good news? There will be plenty of really intrguing picks at #13 with tremendous upsides.
The bad news? We still have the same guys making the decisions as previous drafts.
Here's a quick rundown of who to keep an eye on:
High Ceiling ("Riskier") Guys:
K'Andre Miller. Huge ass defender who's really fast and has a powerful shot. Basically the Black Oleksiak. Actually a converted forward, a la Big Buff. He projects to go around 20-25 but will probably make a lot of teams that passed him up look foolish. Has far more impressive advanced stats than some top-8 defenders this draft.
Gregori Denisenko. Pretty much the definition of Engimatic Russian Forward. Has comparable skills to the top three lottery picks, but his production --in the MHL, not even the KHL-- is pretty blah. This should sound alarmingly familiar. Lottery pick skillz, but 2nd round production, makes for an interesting debate. A real swing for the fences here.
Vitali Kravtsov. The polar opposite of Denisenko. His skillz are ok, not anywhere near Denisenko's level, but his production (KHL, not MHL) in the KHL playoffs was spectacular. So if both are available, which way do you go? I wouldn't put him in the Safe Picks category because he's (a) Russian and (b) you're going off a sample size of 11 points in 16 playoff games, vs 7 points in 35 regular season games. Still, Central Scouting says he's #3 in Europe, so there's that.
Dominik Bokk. Best puck-handling skillz in the entire draft, period. Like, his highlight reels are just ridiculous. Every scout says the same thing: insane puck handling ability... but little else. He scores a lot, but doesn't play defense, and gets knocked off the puck easily. Basically the German Mike Ribeiro. An interesting pick who will almost certainly be available at #13 because of his flaws, but he's got a shitton of upside too. You can teach defense... can't really teach insane puck skills.
Bode Wilde. Hugh d-man with deft skating skills who puts up a lot of points. Unfortunately, he also sucks at actual defense. Which doesn't make a lot of sense, as he's a tremendous skater with a long reach. Still, he presses up a lot and gets caught up ice, and isn't overly physical at standing up forwards as they cross the blue line. I'd pass on him, but Nill might not.
Ryan Merkley. Easily my favorite player in this draft. Easily the best playmaker in this draft, and probably a guy who will fall all the way to the 25-30, if not the second round altogether. He's basically the 2018 Josh Ho-Sang: immense talent combined with an immensely shitty attitude. He takes entire games off, pouts a lot, gets in arguments with refs, and utterly dominates when he feels like it. There's not been a player like him in a while. I'd take him just for the entertainment value alone.
Low-Floor "Safer" Picks:
Joel Farabee. NHL captain material, puts up huge point totals, plays 200-feet, great 'intangibles', fantastic speed, and all that other stuff that GMs love. However! In terms of flashy talent, Farabee has none. He's also pretty small. So basically he's Ground Zero for the old Moneyball debate on Production vs. Talent. Like Denisenov, but in the opposite direction. Scouts have him ranked everywhere from 5th overall to 27th. The 27th-guy didn't think he would hold up against vastly bigger and more talented NHL players, but Farabee's outproduced three much more highly skilled lottery-pick players on his own team, so...
Filip Hallander. Swedish guy who plays like a wrecking ball, running goalies, laying down roots in front of the net, crashing in the corners, making space for teammates. Yet, strangely, he has next to zero penalty minutes. So, kindof a mix between PAtrick Hornqvist and Jere Lehtinen. He might be gone by #13 (GMs love that kind of player), but there's a real good possibility he'll still be there.
Isac Lundestrom. Big, older (i.e. , NHL-readier) Swedish forward who is really good at shutting down enemy forwards. He'll probably go on to a long NHL career as a checking line center... and there's value in that... but doesn't project to be much more than that. Ironically, he's probably exactly the guy a team picking in the top 10 actually needs.
Barzal "This Guy Won't Be There At #13, But If He Is..." Picks:
Evan Bouchard. This guy is like the second coming of Al McInnis. Launched almost 300 shots on net as a d-man, and 25 went in (in 67 games!). Also one of the smoothest passers in the draft, with great vision. He might drop, tho, because there are a lot of flashier offensive d-men in this draft, and some teams need forwards more badly, and others need centers, of which there are surprisingly few in this year's class. So he will probably go like 8th. But if not...
Joe Veleno. Possibly the best pure center in the draft, a guy with exceptional skills in all areas, yet overall most scouts have him in the 8-12 range. So there's a good chance he'll still be available at #13. He was so good as a 15 year old that he was given Exceptional Status by the QMJHL. From what I can read, the only weakness is his "hunger" or "drive," esp. when it comes to driving to the net. Which is maybe why he's not a top-5 pick.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi. This guy is basically this year's Heiskanen. At the beginning of the year he was a top-20 guy with little flash. But then over the course of the year, he improves his stock to top-15, maybe. Then he absolutely slays in a couple of U18 international tournaments, and suddenly scouts are putting him top-10 or maybe even top-5 (since he can play center). His skating sucks, and he played winger this past year, but other than that he seems like the real deal, and is allegedly "impossible to defend against." I doubt he'll be available after the hype but hey...
Ty Smith. Small, but extremely productive offensive d-man. His advanced stats are the best of any non-Dahlin d-man, hands down. But he went pointless in some late international tournaments, which really tanked his stock, a la the opposite of Heiskanen. Also plays the exact same position and side as our current high-scoring d-men, so there's that.
Barrett Hayton. Prototypical two-way forward with high hockey IQ (another thing GMs love), but he played on a totally stacked minor team so it's hard to gauge exactly how good he is. There's no doubt he's got the goods to be a Justin Williams-type third line center who can score in bunches. He might go in the top ten but again will likely still be there at #13. Five years ago there's no question we would've drafted this kid, but with a lot of Faksa/Dicksinon/Hintz type guys already in the system, Nill may pass on him and swing for the fences (or not.. who the *f-bomb* knows?)
I'm probably forgetting somebody important, but overall these are the names to watch, unless we trade up or down. My best guess is that a large number of these guys will still be available at #13, maybe even 1-2 from that last category.