There are many reasons to be excited for the upcoming NHL Draft, beginning with the sheer uncertainty that over the last 11 months has fueled countless debates on which player goes where, and why this guy is better than that guy.
For social media platforms and fan message boards, business has been booming when it comes to draft talk, which for most fan bases started picked up in late April when the announcement of the draft order for non-playoff teams coincided with eight teams being eliminated in the postseason’s first round. Now, only a few days remain until the league kicks off the 2018 NHL Draft in Dallas on Friday night, when the first 31 picks will be announced.
What should be considered a given is that Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin will go first overall to the Sabres, followed by Russian winger Andrei Svechnikov to the Hurricanes. What happens thereafter remains a mystery, and any talk of player or pick movement is at this point nothing but pure speculation. Why? Because NHL general managers continue to stick to their age-old tradition of remaining tight lipped all the way up until the point when they walk up to the podium to announce their actual pick.
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Dahlin and Svechnikov each had ridiculous pre-draft resumes that border on historic, specifically when dealing with production as draft eligibles in their respective circuits.
Dahlin had the highest single-season point total of any under-18 defenseman Swedish Hockey League history, while Svechnikov scored even-strength goals as a Canadian Hockey League rookie at a rate (2.71 eG/60) that none of Sidney Crosby, John Tavares, Steven Stamkos, Connor McDavid and Patrick Kane came close to touching in their respective draft years.
Still, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a general idea on which players will go in the first round, followed by those who will be selected between Rounds 2-7 on Saturday.
After Dahlin and Svechnikov go 1-2, the belief is that one of Czech sniper Filip Zadina, and American-born power forwards Brady Tkachuk and Oliver Wahlstrom will be the next three forwards off the boards, possibly in that order to Montreal, Ottawa and Arizona, respectively.
If the next four players picked immediately after Dahlin are in fact forwards, then there’s a strong chance the remainder of the top 10 will be occupied by puck-moving defenseman. This grouping of elite blue liners is assessed as being six deep, beginning with Adam Boqvist, an electrifying talent with speed who likely is a candidate for first overall had it been a conventional draft year without mesmerizing talents like Svechnikov and Dahlin at the top.
Similar to Boqvist is American collegiate Quinn Hughes and Western Canadian Ty Smith, two defensemen who are listed under six foot but have explosive skating ability and can orchestrate a power play. Two of the bigger defenders with point-producing skills are Evan Bouchard of the OHL’s London Knights and Acadie-Bathurst’s Noah Dobson from the QMJHL. The former led his league in defenseman scoring, while the later was named a top performer during his team’s run to the Memorial Cup championship.
Rounding out this contingent of playmaking defensemen is Rasmus Sandin, who left Sweden to play and shine for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL. Not only should all six be expected to go within the first 15 picks, but they also could make this the first draft in NHL history where a center does not get picked in the top 10.
One name rising up rankings is Finnish forward Jesperi Kotkaniemi, who wasn’t considered an elite prospect to challenge for the top five until after he put on a dominant performance at the under-18 world championship in April. He had a solid season for a rookie production-wise in Finland’s elite SM-Liiga, where he played the entire season on the wing. The frequency of how many times Kotkaniemi’s name has been getting mentioned in draft circles represents a bit of recency bias, as his play in a late-season tournament seems to be the biggest reason why some are considering him a superior prospect to the likes of Zadina, Tkachuk and Wahlstrom.
But what about the names people aren’t necessarily talking about? History tells us that drafts as deep as the 2018 crop usually produce star talent who get either overlooked or undervalued in the first round. That's why our final big board goes 100 players deep.
NHL Draft big board: Top 100 players in 2018
1. Andrei Svechnikov, RW, Barrie (OHL)
Although it's highly unlikely Svechnikov leapfrogs Dahlin to be the first name called on draft day, his goal-scoring abilities are on par with the likes of Alex Ovechkin and Patrik Laine, only Svechnikov is more reliable defensively at his age.
2. Rasmus Dahlin, LHD, Frolunda (SHL)
An electrifying defenseman with ankle-breaking moves, Dahlin is ready to show the NHL what he's made of. He's been called the Swedish Bobby Orr, but Dahlin's passing ability and puck control techniques are quite unique for a defender from any era.
3. Filip Zadina, LW, Halifax (QMJHL)
This Czech sniper consistently has been the best player for his teams in both league and international play. Zadina is a complete player who is a danger to score no matter the situation.
4. Adam Boqvist, RHD, Brynas J20 (Superelit)
A lightning-quick puck rusher with a blistering shot, Boqvist has drawn comparisons to Erik Karlsson. He was too dominant for Sweden's top junior league, and his quick-strike mentality should present him with plenty of chances to create offense in today's up-tempo NHL.
5. Joel Farabee, LW, U.S. U18 (NDTP)
One of the more opportunistic forwards available, Farabee is a quick-skating offensive force who served as Team USA's captain. You're not going to find many teenagers who exploit turnovers better than this Syracuse-area native, who this year combined with Oliver Wahlstrom to form one of the USHL's most lethal duos.
6. Joe Veleno, C, Drummondville (QMJHL)
A quick-skating pivot with elite vision, Veleno is one of the best of what appears to be a thin group of centers. A midseason trade from Saint John helped boost his production and did wonders for Drummondville's power play. Veleno has pro size (6-1, 190) and is capable of taking on a leadership role.
7. Brady Tkachuk, LW, Boston University (Hockey East)
His last name may be synonymous with hard-nosed play, goal scoring and pugilism, but this power winger has great vision, an incredibly soft set of hands and anticipates puck travel better than any of his draft-eligible peers. Brady is both quicker and more disciplined than brother Matthew or father Keith.
8. Ty Smith, LHD, Spokane (WHL)
A silky-smooth puck mover who is the cream of this year's Western Canadian draft contingent, Smith is an outstanding power-play quarterback with excellent agility and a real nose for the net. There's some Drew Doughty to his game, especially the way he handles an aggressive forecheck.
9. Oliver Wahlstrom, RW, U.S. U18 (NDTP)
Wahlstrom is one of the top goal-scoring prospects in this draft. He plays an in-your-face style and crashes the net with little regard for his own safety. He also kills penalties and can provide any coach with the necessary intangibles they covet.
10. Quinn Hughes, LHD, Michigan (Big 10)
Hughes had an outstanding season as a freshman for Michigan and was a key cog in the Wolverines' march to the Frozen Four. He's quick, nimble and passes the puck with authority, and his size (5-10, 170) doesn't prevent him from out-muscling bigger forwards in the corners.
11. Jesperi Kotkaniemi, C/W, Assat (SM-Liiga)
Like his countryman Rasmus Kupari, Kotkaniemi spent his draft year playing in Finland's top circuit. Only difference is Kotkaniemi significantly out-produced him. He's a mature playmaker with world-class vision, but his first-step quickness at this stage of his development is average.
12. Noah Dobson, RHD, Acadie-Bathurst (QMJHL)
Pound for pound, there isn't a better one-on-one defender in this draft than Dobson, who uses his quick feet and NHL-caliber smarts to smother opposing puck carriers. On offense, he's more of a facilitator than an orchestrator, but he oozes potential in every area of the game and should be groomed to anchor a top pairing.
13. Rasmus Sandin, LHD, Sault Ste Marie (OHL)
Sandin is proof that you don't have to be fancy with the puck in order to achieve results. His decision to leave Sweden's junior league for the OHL is looking smarter by the day, as he is a top contributor for the Soo as they vie for a Memorial Cup bid. Sandin is a smooth skater who is as dependable away from the puck and he is with it on his stick.
14. Barrett Hayton, C, Sault Ste Marie (OHL)
Hayton is a heady two-way center that drives opponents batty with his rapid directional changes and ability to thread the needle with his passes. His straight-line speed probably is the one thing preventing him from being talked about as a lock for the top five, but Hayton checks every other block. It shouldn't shock anyone if he’s the first Canadian-born player drafted.
15. Evan Bouchard, RHD, London (OHL)
Bouchard, who this season was the OHL's top-scoring defenseman and carried London's gutted roster for almost three quarters of the season. He is a one-man breakout with a howitzer for a shot, plus he has the size (6-2, 190) and reach to make up for foot speed that appears average at best.
16. Bode Wilde, RHD, U.S. U18 (NTDP)
A thoroughbred puck mover who likes to live on the edge with his reads, Wilde has the skills to become one of the top players taken from this draft. Some question his ability to defend, but Wilde has proven he knows how to do it when it's asked of him. He's only a tweak or two away from becoming his generation's version of Scott Niedermayer.
17. Vitali Kravtsov, RW, Chelyabinsk (KHL)
Kravtsov not only is an 18-year-old forward that actually played more than three minutes a game in the KHL, but he also scored in bunches in the playoffs. He's big (6'2, 170) and soft mitted, but his contract in Russia likely stops him from getting drafted in the top 10.
18. Rasmus Kupari, C, Karpat (SM-Liiga)
Slick, dual-threat center with size who took to his role as a depth player on a contender in Finland's elite league. The Finns have become quite popular in terms of the recent NHL drafts, and Kupari arguably is the best they have to offer in 2018.
19. Akil Thomas, C, Niagara (OHL)
Skilled center who can control the puck for extended periods and punish opponents for giving him the smallest of windows. Thomas, who was born in Florida but reared in Canada, has an excellent shot and can play the wing as well.
20. Ryan McLeod, C/W, Mississauga (OHL)
Big-bodied power forward with speed and playmaking abilities who was one of the top OHL scorers among first-year draft eligibles. McLeod's versatility is one of several things that stand out about him — he can play center or wing, shoot the puck with authority and is a mainstay on both the power play and penalty kill.
21. Jacob Olofsson, C, Timra IK (Allsvenkan)
Olofsson was named the best rookie in Sweden's top minor league and played an important role in vaulting Timra into the SHL's top division for next year. He's big, quick and strong on the puck, plus he can be counted on to match up against top players.
22. David Gustafsson, C, HV71 J20 (Superelit)
Gustafsson was a role player for HV71's top team, but watching him play against peers reveals a dominant puck hound that is a threat in open ice. He uses his quick feet and active stick to strip pucks from defenders behind the net, but it's his ability to spot cutters and weak-side teammates that puts him in a select group of draft-eligible centers.
23. Grigori Denisenko, LW, Loko Yaroslavl (MHL)
Flashy winger with a ton of upside who can make a variety of moves to get within striking distance of the goal. Denisenko dealt with consistency issues throughout the season, but he's an unstoppable force when engaged.
24. Isac Lundestrom, C/W, Lulea (SHL)
Responsible two-way center who makes plays at high speed and beats defenders wide with regularity. Lundestrom was one of Sweden's top under-20 players and helped boost his draft stock when he filled in admirably for an injured Lias Andersson at the world juniors.
25. Blake McLaughlin, C, Chicago (USHL)
A gifted playmaker that can play physical and stick handle in a phone booth, McGlaughlin is one of the more complete players in the draft. He's among Chicago's scoring leaders and is expected to play for the University of Minnesota next season.
26. Dominik Bokk, RW, Vaxjo J20 (Superelit)
This German-born goal scorer poses a bit of a conundrum for draft evaluators because he was too good for junior hockey but very green for the SHL. Bokk's puck skills are undeniable, however, and he's proven to be a low-maintenance winger in terms of creating his own chances.
27. Alexander Alexeyev, LHD, Red Deer (WHL)
Underrated two-way defender with size who can either slow a game down or speed it up. Alexeeyev is very active in the offensive zone and uses his quick first step and elusiveness to sneak into the high slot with regularity.
28. Ivan Morozov, C, Mamonty Yugry (MHL)
One of the draft's top defensive centers also is a crafty playmaker and finisher. Morozov is strong on his skates and catches defenders flat footed with a deceptively quick first step.
29. Jakub Lauko, C, Chomutov (Extraliga)
Excitable forward with breakaway speed and a heavy shot who loves to agitate and irritate.
30. Ty Dellandrea, C, Flint (OHL)
Underrated center that made the most of his opportunities despite having the misfortune of playing for a doormat. Dellandrea can score in a variety of ways and uses his size to protect the puck extremely well. He was Flint's go-to guy in every critical situation, so it's no surprise he likes to model his game after Jonathan Toews.
31. Serron Noel, RW, Oshawa (OHL)
Noel's combination of skill and power makes him an intriguing option for a team looking to roll the dice on a forward with the potential to be a dominant force.
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NHL Draft big board rankings: 32-62
32. K’Andre Miller
U.S. U18 (NTDP)
33. Benoit-Olivier Groulx
34. Jared McIsaac
35. Dmitry Zavgorodniy
36. Filip Hallander
Timra IK (Allsvenskan)
37. Jonathan Tychonick
38. Jesse Ylonen
Espoo United (Mestis)
39. Jack McBain
Jr. Canadiens (OJHL)
40. Jakub Skarek
Dukla Jihlava (Extraliga)
41. Jake Wise
U.S. U18 (NTDP)
42. Mattias Samuelsson
U.S. U18 (NTDP)
43. Milos Roman
44. Martin Kaut
45. Allan McShane
46. Jonatan Berggren
Skelleftea J20 (Superelit)
47. Ryan Merkley
48. Ivan Muranov
HK MVD (MHL)
49. Michal Kvasnica
Trinec U20 (ELJ)
50. Philip Kurashev
51. Kevin Bahl
52. Nicolas Beaudin
53. Danila Galenyuk
54. Cole Fonstad
Prince Albert (WHL)
55. Jay O’Brien
Thayer HS (Mass.)
56. Adam Ginning
Linkoping J20 (Superelit)
57. Gabriel Fortier
58. Calen Addison
59. Ondrej Buchtela
60. Jett Woo
Moose Jaw (WHL)
61. Ryan Chyzowski
Medicine Hat (WHL)
62. Curtis Douglas
NHL Draft big board rankings: 63-100
63. Ruslan Iskhakov
Krasnaya Armiya (MHL)
64. Nils Lundkvist
65. Oskar Back
Farjestad J20 (Superelit)
66. Blade Jenkins
67. Jonathan Gruden
U.S. U18 (NTDP)
68. Sampo Ranta
Sioux City (USHL)
69. Jan Jenik
Liberec U20 (ELJ)
70. Alexander Zhabreyev
Dynamo SPB (MHL)
71. Matej Svoboda
Kometa Brno U20 (ELJ)
72. Aidan Dudas
Owen Sound (OHL)
73. Martin Fehervary
74. Niklas Nordgren
75. Filip Johansson
Leksands J20 (Superelit)
76. Xavier Bouchard
77. Toni Utunen
78. Nando Eggenberger
79. Kirill Marchenko
Mamonty Yugry (MHL)
80. Olivier Rodrigue
81. Karel Plasek
Kometa Brno U20 (ELJ)
82. Cam Hillis
83. Gavin Hain
U.S. U18 (NTDP)
84. Jacob Bernard-Docker
85. Liam Foudy
86. Anderson MacDonald
87. Jake Pivonka
U.S. U18 (NTDP)
88. Santeri Salmela
KooKoo U20 Jr. A (SM-Liiga)
89. Kristian Kovacik
Dukla Trencin U20 (Slovakia JRS)
90. Riley Sutter
91. Ty Emberson
U.S. U18 (NTDP)
92. Arttu Nevasaari
Karpat U20 Jr. A (SM-Liiga)
93. Matthew Struthers
Owen Sound (OHL)
94. Tyler Madden
Central Illinois (USHL)
95. Luke Loheit
Minnetonka HS (Minn.)
96. Adam Gajarsky
Kometa Brno U20 (ELJ)
97. Alexander Khovanov
98. Giovanni Vallati
99. Matej Pekar
100. Jack Drury
Steve Kournianos is the founder of TheDraftAnalyst.com, a blog dedicated to the NHL Draft. He is a former prospects writer for ESPN.com and worked briefly for the Associated Press and McKeen’s Hockey. He also covered the Boston Bruins, the AHL and Hockey East for SportsTicker, and was a minor league baseball editor for Howe SportsData.