Nigerian forward Chinonso Offor scored the winning goal in the 39th minute and CF Montreal held on to defeat Toronto FC 2-1 in Canadian Championship quarterfinal play Tuesday.
With the lottery in the books, the Connor Bedard draft is finally coming into focus. There is no mystery as to whom will be first off the board on June 28 in Nashville, but there is plenty of intrigue remaining for the other 31 picks in Round 1, and beyond.
This draft class is full of skilled forwards, most of whom are 6-feet and under. While smallish players do flourish in today’s game, the recency bias of playoff hockey always rears its head when we get to draft day, and puts a premium on skilled players with size.
When looking at who will follow Bedard to the stage, two forwards with size come to mind: Adam Fantilli and Leo Carlsson. In comparison to the rest of the high-end, smallish, skilled forwards, neither of them give up anything when it comes to pure talent.
Then, there’s the case of uber-talented Russian superstar Matvei Michkov. There are a number of factors that will impact his draft status. From a pure hockey perspective he is deserving of top three consideration, but we’re miles away from looking at this player in a vacuum. It is expected teams that have had good relationships with Russian players in the past will be in the conversation to select Michkov. Washington and Detroit immediately come to mind. Then there are the teams with multiple first-round picks, beginning with St. Louis who owns three of them, while Arizona, Columbus, Chicago, Detroit, Montreal, Nashville and San Jose each possess two first-round picks. Any one of those teams can take a big swing on Michkov, knowing another good player will be available to them with their other pick.
But for all the forward talent, the first 16 picks of the draft projects to have just two defencemen included for now. Both Austrian-born David Reinbacher and Swede Axel Sandin-Pellikka, are right shots, which adds intrinsic value to their Vancouver high stock. It will be fascinating to track both of these players and where they will be picked based on the premium of the position they play. Will teams feel the urge to address positional need ahead of where both players are projected, knowing the gap between them and the rest of the defencemen available?
There’s plenty that can change between now and the end of June, but if the draft were to happen next week, here’s how we would project the first 16 picks and the rationale behind the selections, with insight on pick-by-pick strategy from scout Jason Bukala.
1. Chicago: Connor Bedard, C, Regina Pats (WHL): Just the next step in the process of Bedard officially becoming the first overall pick. The Blackhawks’ last first overall pick (Patrick Kane, 2007) kick-started a mini dynasty.
Draft Day Strategy: This one is easy. It’s a no-brainer. Chicago makes the pick and it’s obviously Bedard.
2. Anaheim: Adam Fantilli, C, U of Michigan (NCAA): There isn’t a team in the NHL that doesn’t covet size down the middle of the ice. When size is married with immense skill, you have a superstar in the making. Can Fantilli compare to Ryan Getzlaf and lead Ducks version 2.0?
Draft Day Strategy: I’m making the pick if I’m Anaheim. Fantilli fits nicely with the Ducks rebuild. He’s going to play the middle, but the fact he can slide to the wing when required gives the organization options in big games or when they want to load up a forward unit.
3. Columbus: Leo Carlsson, RW, Orebro (SHL): While his size and skill set are similar to Fantilli, Carlsson projects more winger than centre, and centres are more valuable. A move to the middle is not out of the question, the same way Tim Stutzle has done it in Ottawa. With a couple of solid defencemen on the way for the Blue Jackets, Carlsson will be a nice complement to Kent Johnson, Kirill Marchenko, Cole Sillinger and Yegor Chinakov.
Draft Day Strategy: Columbus has a chance to add a big, strong, skilled forward who can play the middle or the wing. Carlsson’s NHL ready. I wouldn’t overthink this selection. Calling Carlson’s name is a wise choice.
4. San Jose: Will Smith, C, USNTDP: Perfectly suited to play at the pace of today’s game with a penchant for making plays at top speed, while presenting a legit scoring threat in tight, off the rush, or net-front. Although Smith is committed to Boston College, with Mike Grier at the helm in San Jose, there is a Boston connection.
Draft Day Strategy: The Sharks have a ton of work to do rebuilding their depth. Based on this mock draft I see San Jose keeping the pick and selecting Smith. I envision Smith attending Boston College for one season to get stronger and elevate the overall detail in his game.
5. Montreal: Ryan Leonard, RW, USNTDP: Will have no issues competing hard and heavy when the game calls for it. A deft shooter who is equally efficient bringing pucks off the wall as he is operating in the slot. Leonard provides a bit of grit and beef to a set of forwards that could use that element.
Draft Day Strategy: Montreal should be excited with this pick. Leonard brings more than just offence. He played alongside Will Smith and Gabe Perreault at the USNTDP and was the most active three-zone competitor of the three. Leonard finished his season a plus-77 while scoring 59 goals and 52 assists in 64 games.
6. Arizona: Zachary Benson, LW Winnipeg Ice (WHL): Doesn’t need a lot of space to escape trouble. Possesses excellent vision and creativity to produce at a high level. Is a nice mix of Clayton Keller and Logan Cooley.
Draft Day Strategy: Eventually the Coyotes won’t have room for all their prospects. Until that time arrives, they will continue to add the “best player available” in the early rounds of the draft. Selecting the dynamic Benson in this slot is a wise move.
7. Philadelphia: David Reinbacher, D, Kloten (Switzerland): Right-shot defencemen are in such high demand that this prospect may go even earlier than projected here. He had a brilliant year in the well-respected Swiss league and would ignite a quick remodelling of the Flyers’ D corps.
Draft Day Strategy: This is a huge pick for the Flyers, but the organization needs as many assets as it can accumulate, and they don’t currently have a second-round pick in this draft. As they target a rebuild for the next couple years, Reinbacher makes sense, but I would pick up the phone and ask Washington if they are interested in swapping spots for their second-round pick. I would offer our third-round pick as part of the exchange. The deal would break down as follows: Flyers trade seventh overall and their own third round pick. Capitals move up from eighth to seventh and send their second-round pick to Philly.
Washington might take Reinbacher and that’s part of the risk of this deal, but having players like Colby Barlow and Samuel Honzek available as a second option – and adding the second-round pick – would be a smart strategy for the Flyers. If Washington isn’t interested in the offer, picking Reinbacher remains a wise decision.
8. Washington: Matvei Michkov, RW, Sochi (KHL): The Ovi connection will make this pick easier to make for Washington more than for any other club. Will it fit the Capitals’ timeline, though?
Draft Day Strategy: If there’s an organization that might be able to pry Michkov out of Russia sooner than other teams, it’s Washington. If Michkov is still on the board here he’s too good to pass up in this slot. He’s arguably the closest prospect, skill wise, to Bedard. I see Alexander Ovechkin assisting with the process.
9. Detroit: Colby Barlow, RW, Owen Sound Attack (OHL): The lasting impression of an average performance at the U18s not withstanding, this player will score goals and wear a letter at the next level. Might not do it right away, but could fill the void left by Tyler Bertuzzi’s departure.
Draft Day Strategy: Barlow makes sense for the Wings. With Dylan Larkin and Andrew Copp signed for several more years, and Marco Kasper beginning his NHL career, adding a goal scoring winger to complement the entire group, including Lucas Raymond, is a wise decision.
10. St. Louis: Samuel Honzek, LW, Vancouver Giants (WHL): He projects as an impact player who uses his size effectively to give him more space than needed to utilize his skill.
Draft Day Strategy: The Blues are retooling. They aren’t rebuilding. With three picks in the first-round they have an option to attempt to trade up from this slot, but it doesn’t feel like they need to. Honzek is a fantastic prospect. He’s a big body centre who averaged 1.30 points per game in the WHL this season playing for the Vancouver Giants.
11. Vancouver: Axel Sandin-Pellikka Skelleftea Jr. (Sweden): Neat and tidy in his own zone with the smarts to add second layer offence. An effective two-way player who can quarterback a power play as added value. The Canucks need to improve their defence prospect pool and Sandin-Pellikka is a great add.
Draft Day Strategy: Part of me is staring at the reality that the Canucks don’t have a second-round pick in this draft. It’s tempting to consider moving down and attempting to acquire another selection, but Sandin-Pellikka carries more value than some other names below him on this list. The Canucks have to envision Quinn Hughes and Sandin-Pellikka sharing the puck on the power-play in time, or each of them quarterbacking their own units. I wouldn’t overthink things. I would make the pick.
12. Arizona (from Ottawa): Dalibor Dvorsky, C, AIK (Allsvenskan): How he performed in games he played amongst his peer group should be the metric used to predict future NHL success. With a number of gifted forward prospects in the system, Dvorsky gives Arizona a bit more of a two-way look.
Draft Day Strategy: Part of the Coyotes’ process with their prospect development will have a lot to do with timing. When an NHL team selects a prospect from Europe they have a longer runway to develop him. Dvorsky might be ready for the pro game in North America in a couple years, but he probably needs an extra year in Europe first. Either way, Arizona will retain his rights beyond the two years major junior players have to develop before turning pro, for example. Dvorsky is likely to be a winger in the NHL. He’s a sniper and Arizona will have playmakers to get him the puck.
13. Buffalo: Oliver Moore, C, USNTDP: The University of Minnesota commit has elite speed and a strong, powerful stride. Beats opponents wide and then uses quick hands to elevate the puck in tight. Moore fits the Buffalo profile to perfection as a team that wants to play with pace.
Draft Day Strategy: The Sabres are on the verge of becoming a very good team. They Vancouver have skilled forwards on the rise. Moore is the kind of player who can play up and down the lineup, provides energy, high end compete, and offence. He could end up being a “Swiss-army knife” for Buffalo. I value Moore in this range. I’m splitting hairs with a group of players in this range, but the fact Buffalo has two second round picks, including Philadelphia’s, makes me more comfortable taking Moore here.
14. Pittsburgh: Nate Danielson, C, Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL): Won’t be the sexiest pick in the first half of the draft, but may be the most effective at playing in all three zones. Where a more dynamic player might be a better fit for the Penguins, the safety of this pick will set the tone for whoever the new GM is.
Draft Day Strategy: Pittsburgh needs to add to the depth of their organization. They might have to get creative, but if Danielson is staring at them with this pick they have to call his name. There are several prospects who bring different qualities in this range. Danielson is a young captain from the Brandon Wheat Kings who scored 33 goals and 45 assists in the regular season. He played in all situations and provides a sneaky physical edge. He would be a great add for Pittsburgh.
15. Nashville: Gabriel Perreault, RW, USNTDP: Owns the best single season point total in the history of the USNTDP. He reads the play so well and has the skill to execute plays all over the ice. New GM Barry Trotz will have a number of tools at his disposal, including two first-round picks. Another playmaking forward added to a budding group that includes Luke Evangelista and Phil Tomasino will be welcomed.
Draft Day Strategy: The Preds have 10 picks in the first four rounds of this draft, and in Round 1 they own Edmonton’s pick as well as this one. Nashville is hosting the event and the front office is changing hands from David Poile to Trotz. Their scouting staff has done a great job over the years and value players coming out of the USNTDP. They make the pick and call Perreault’s name.
16. Calgary: Eduard Sale, RW, Brno (Czechia): If you could bottle up Sale’s final 10 minutes of the gold medal game between Czechia and Canada at the world juniors and apply it to the rest of his season, we would be looking at this player as a top 10 pick. This pick does carry some risk for the Flames, but also has high-ceiling potential.
Draft Day Strategy: Sale is the player with the most offensive upside available at this slot, but it might be too close to call in the long run. There’s a logjam of other forwards who are possible targets at 16 and Calgary doesn’t have a third-round pick in this draft. Ideally, they would ask for a late second-rounder in return for moving back a maximum of three or four slots. Sale’s close enough for me to nearly equally value players like Brayden Yager, Otto Stenberg, and Matthew Wood – with Tom Willander waiting on deck. I would work the phones trying to acquire more draft capital to increase the odds of hitting on more prospects.