Feature Story: Central Division Draft Grades

Sam Stern




Chicago Blackhawks




Round 1, pick 3: Kirby Dach, C

Round 2, pick 42: Alex Vlasic, D

Round 4, pick 105: Michal Teply, RW/LW

Round 4, pick 123: Antti Saarela, C

Round 6, pick 167: Dominic Basse, G

Round 7, pick 194: Cole Moberg, D


Day 1 Grade: B

Day 2 Grade: B-


Day One:


Kirby Dach:


I’m generally a big fan of swinging on talent, but this early? I’m not so sure. Dach certainly has high-end skill, but in my mind, there are some very serious questions that surround him. When he is fully engaged, Dach uses his massive frame in conjunction with elite vision, hands and passing ability. He’s capable of dominating play, in fact, when Dach is on the pace of play itself shifts. He possesses a rare combination of game-breaking skills and size that is ever-so coveted by NHL teams. The big problem with Dach is consistency. Sometimes that feels like a cop-out when evaluating a prospect, but in this case I feel it’s a very real concern. When Dach is off he looks utterly disinterested, confused and slow. If this were one or two games I’d write it off as an anomaly, but it isn’t. This happens often enough that I had Dach ranked 10th. 


Day Two Highlights:


Michal Teply:


There was a lot of value in landing Teply in the fourth round. He brings a really nice blend of power and skill in his game. Teply can be an absolute bull with the puck. If he wants to get to the front of the net he’s going to get there and he has the skill with the puck to finish a play once he’s there. He’s an above average finisher and an underrated passer which makes him a dual-threat with the puck. I’m more impressed, though, by his decision making with the puck; he’s very quick to identify passing and shooting lanes. One thing Teply will need to work on is how quickly he gets to top speed. Once he’s there he’s moving well, but it takes just a little too long to get there.


Cole Moberg:


This was one of my favorite picks in the draft. Moberg brings so many of the attributes you look for in a  modern defenseman. He’s big, he’s creative and he’s skilled. In my viewings, Moberg showed me one of the best processors in the class. This means that he identifies the right play and acts quickly to make it happen. Moberg’s biggest flaw is his skating. Maybe more so than anyone in this class I think this was a detriment to his draft-stock. I had Moberg as a third-round pick, but I’m of the opinion that you bet on a kid with the brain and tools and almost force him to improve his skating. It’s a problem that CAN be fixed with proper guidance and drive form the player.


What I Would Change:


I would not have bet on Dach at three. While his ceiling is very high, his floor is equally as low. Turcotte, to me, was the pick here. His ceiling is comparable if not equal, but more importantly, his floor is so much higher. He’s outstanding in all three areas of the ice and projects as a number one center in the NHL. 


Colorado Avalanche 




Round 1, pick 4: Bowen Byram, D

Round 1, pick 16: Alex Newhook, C

Round 2, pick 47: Drew Helleson, D

Round 3, pick 63: Matthew Stienburg, C/RW

Round 3, pick 78: Alex Beaucage, RW/LW

Round 5, pick 140: Sasha Mutala, RW

Round 6, pick 171: Luka Burzan, C

Round 7, pick 202: Trent Miner, G


Day 1 Grade: A+

Day 2 Grade: B-


Day One:


Bowen Byram:


What a win for the Avalanche. The Blackhawks taking Kirby Dach third overall left Colorado with a bit of a Sophie’s Choice between Byram and Alex Turcotte. In the end, they went with Byram which is a perfectly fine pick. Byram is an all-around stud on the backend who you can count on to produce offensively, stop oncoming rushes and defend well in his own end. I’ve not seen many teenage defensemen as sound in all three zones as Byram. He’s an adept skater and puck-handler who can create a play on the fly better than any defenseman in the class. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that Byram is the only defenseman with true number one upside. He loves to carry the puck into the offensive zone with speed, he’s a talented finisher and passer and just loves to stop on a dime and change the angle of a play. Byram is an incredibly dangerous passer; he’s one of the best players in the entire CHL at putting his teammates in a good position to score. 


Alex Newhook:


This pick put Colorado’s Day One over the top for me. I am thoroughly convinced that the only reason Newhook fell out of the top-10, let alone the top-15, is that he played in the BCHL last season instead of the QMJHL. For what it’s worth, he did this to maintain his NCAA eligibility — he’ll be attending Boston College in the Fall. But I digress. Newhook is an electric force on the ice. For my money, he’s the second best skater in this class behind Hughes. He is extremely dangerous off the rush, as he hits top speed by his second stride and just looks like he’s been shot out of a cannon. I truly have no idea how his brain or hands keep up, but they do. He is equally as dangerous once possession is established. Everything about Newhook’s game is predicated on speed. His hands are fast, his release is fast and his brain is faster. Another part of his game that I like in particular is his ability to sort of drift into an open area unnoticed. If I were to complain about one area of his game it would be that he’s too unselfish– which is a legitimate concern. He tends to overpass when the right move would be to shoot. He’s a dangerous shooter so it’s especially frustrating.


Day Two Highlights:


Drew Helleson:


A defenseman that isn’t going to blow the doors off offensively, but luckily, that’s not his game. I’ve heard Helleson be described as “the modern-day stay at home defenseman.” I’d be inclined to agree. He was one of the most important players on this season’s historically productive NTDP-U18 team. Not for what he brought offensively, but for what he did in his own end. On a team loaded with elite offensive talent, one would think that defense was often sacrificed. That’s were Helleson came in. He was the anchor that kept this team from getting lost. At 6’3 194lbs Helleson is very strong and does a really nice job of using his reach and strength to work opponents off the puck. He’s a very strong skater, thus, he’s able to keep up with his attacker and force them to the outside. Once he’s retrieved the puck Helleson displays high-IQ by making a quick first pass.


Sasha Mutala:


Mutala is somewhat raw at this point, but there’s upside in this pick. Coming into the year I was divided on him, was he a one-dimensional finisher, or could he round out his game to be useful in other situations as well? Mutala has a low center of gravity and skates with a lot of power. His ability to shoot is undeniable, he can absolutely rip the puck with accuracy. With the puck on his stick, he’s capable of pulling off some jaw-dropping moves that make you think there’s some first-round talent there. The problem is that it comes in flashes. When he’s not on he isn’t finding soft areas, he isn’t putting himself in dangerous positions and he’s trying to do too much with the puck. There are some things that need to be improved upon, but he’s a talented player worth betting on in the fifth round.


What I Would Change:


With the first pick of the third round the Avalanche selected Matthew Stienberg out of St. Andrew’s College. From what I understand there is some upside in this pick. He’s following the exact track Rangers 2017 6th round pick Morgan Barron took. That pick looks good two years later, so that gives some shallow hope as well. The problem is that there was much more projectable talent still on the board in the third round. The list could go on and on, but just to give you a taste Pavel dorofeyev, Patrik Puistola, Nathan Legare, Adam Beckman, and Domenick Fensore were all there for the taking.


Minnesota Wild




Round 1, pick 12: Matt Boldy, C

Round 2, pick 42: Vladislav Firstov, LW

Round 2, pick 59: Hunter Jones, G

Round 3, pick 75: Adam Beckman, C

Round 5, pick 149: Matvei Guskov, C

Round 6, pick 166: Marshall Warren, D

Round 6, pick 172: Nikita Nesterenko, F

Round 7, pick 197: Filip Lindberg, G


Day 1 Grade: A-

Day 2 Grade: B-


Day One: 


Matthew Boldy was ranked 8th on my final rankings, so landing him 12th is good value for the Wild. Boldy is one of the most unique skaters in this class. He’s fine in terms of straight line speed, but what he’s exceptional at is using his edges to cut 90 or 180 degrees on a dime and using his strong frame to power through defenders. He’s a skilled stick-handler who likes to use his frame to handle the puck in traffic while bursting through wayward sticks. Boldy is a dangerous shooter who has a quick and accurate release. He loves to use his backhand either to feather a pass through traffic or roof the puck in tight. Boldy projects as a surefire top-6 forward.


Day Two Highlights:


Adam Beckman:


For some reason, Adam Beckman seemed to go under the radar this season in Spokane, but he had a really promising year. His 32 goals were third highest by a U-18 player in the WHL this season. Beckman’s biggest asset is his ability to read the play. He positions himself in opportune areas to beat goalies with his dangerous release. He loves to shoot from between the dots and beats the goaltender with regularity when doing so. 


Marshall Warren:


I feel that this was one of the highest-value picks in the entire class. Warren is a very talented skater and puck-handler who is capable of taking the puck 200 feet to create offense on his own. While defenders are busy respecting that aspect of his game Warren makes a fantastic first pass and likes to follow the play and jump into the rush. He’s deceptive with the puck on his stick and uses that to work himself into areas where he can either take a dangerous shot or set a teammate up. I’m at a loss for why he dropped into the sixth round.


What I Would Change: 


There aren’t many versions of reality where I’d pick Hunter Jones either in the second round or as the third goalie off the board. He wasn’t in my top grouping of goalies and considering that real tangible talent in players like Albert Johansson, Albin Grewe, Patrik Puistola and Nathan Legare were all there for the taking, I’m not a fan of this pick.


Nashville Predators 




Round 1, pick 24: Philip Tomasino, C

Round 2, pick 45: Yegor Afanasyev, LW/RW

Round 3, pick 65: Alexander Campbell, C

Round 4, pick 109: Marc Del Gaizo, D

Round 4, pick 114: Semyon Chistyakov, D

Round 5, pick 148: Ethan Haider, G

Round 6, pick 179: Isak Walther, LW/RW

Round 7, pick 210: Juuso Parasinen, LW


Day 1 Grade: A- 

Day 2 Grade: A+


Day One:


Philip Tomasino:


The Predators landed one of the most purely skilled forwards in the class in Tomasino. He’s a very fast skater who reaches top speed quickly and has the hands to keep up. Generally, he makes defenders look foolish at least once a game. I don’t want to understate how skilled he is with the puck. It’s truly remarkable. That said, the other parts of his game are nearly as impressive. He’s an extraordinarily dangerous passer and shooter who uses his ability to get around on the ice to create new lanes at will. Everything Tomasino does on the ice turns into offense for his team. I had Tomasino ranked 15th, but luckily for the Predators, a run on defensemen caused him to fall to 24.


Day Two Highlights:


Yegor Afanasyev:


This could end up being the pick of the draft. Afanasyev boasts some of the most impressive physical tools in the class. At 6’4 201 lbs, he skates like the wind and is one of the best one-on-one players and finishers in the class. His size and skill combination reminds me of Rick Nash when he was coming into the league. Afanasyev’s tool-kit and brain aren’t quite on that level, but there’s so much raw potential here. The only question that I can find is whether or not he can be dominant against better competition as he spent his draft year in the USHL. He’s headed to the OHL next season so that question is going to be answered either way. This was one of my favorite picks in the draft.


Semyon Chistyakov:


In Chistyakov the Predators landed a player that could be the most complete Russian defensive prospect since Mikhail Sergachev in 2016. In his own end, Chistyakov is competitive along the boards and uses his stick well to strip the puck. He’s undersized and isn’t overly physical, but he doesn’t shy away by any means. Chistyakov does most of his damage in transition. His first pass is wonderful and he’s a deceptively good skater who loves to change direction with the puck to create space out of nothing. Despite some poor shooting luck this season in Russia, I find that he’s a dangerous shooter as well.


What I Would’ve Done Differently: 


I really don’t think that there’s much I’d change here. If I’m going to nitpick, maybe I would’ve used my fifth-round pick to take Xavier Simoneau, who went undrafted. I think every team made a mistake by not taking him.


St. Louis Blues


Round 2, pick 62, Nikita Alexandrov, C

Round 3, pick 93, Colten Ellis, G

Round 5, pick 155, Keean Washkurak, C

Round 7, pick 208, Vadim Zherenko, G

Round 7, pick 217, Jeremy Michel, RW


Draft Grade: C

Day 1 Grade: N/A

Day 2 Grade: C


Day Two Highlights: 


Keean Washkurak:


Undersized, but plays a power game. He just loves to beat defenders to the outside and make a power move to the net. Washkurak uses his thick frame and low center of gravity to his advantage both off the rush and when he’s parked in front of the net. Once he is in front of the opposing net he’s very competitive and difficult to move. He also has the hands to lift the puck from in tight and does a nice job of finishing from that range. He’s a somewhat limited passer in terms of creativity but will surprise here and there.


What I Would Change: I would’ve found a way to move up in the second round; instead of selecting Nikita Alexandrov, who I think has limited upside. Even without having a first-round pick the Blues could have gotten first round talent. Players like Nick Robertson, Sam Fagemo, Vladislav Kolyachonok, and Robert Mastrosimone were all available after pick 49. At the end of the day, if this is the price you pay for winning The Cup the Blues did just fine.


Winnipeg Jets


Round 1, pick 20:  Ville Heinola, D

Round 2, pick 51:  Simon Lundmark, D

Round 4, pick 113: Henri Nikkanen, C

Round 5, pick 134: Harrison Blaisdell, C

Round 5, pick 144: Logan Neaton, G


Day 1 Grade: B+

Day 2 Grade: B-


Day One:


Ville Heinola:


In Heinola the Jets are getting one of the smartest defenders in the class. In fact, he may be the second smartest behind Byram. Heinola spent his draft-eligible season playing in a feature role with Lukko where he excelled. Heinola is rarely caught out of position and even when he is he’s mobile enough to recover. He safely projects as a good second pairing defenseman with his ceiling being a good second guy on a top pair. I don’t see the offensive upside in his game to feel comfortable saying that he has legitimate top-pairing upside, but as I said earlier, he’s very smart and does have skill. I think he’s going to be an effective player.


Day Two Highlights:


Henri Nikkanen:


Nikkanen started out the year as a potential first-round candidate, but injuries really derailed his year. He has some really attractive qualities to his game that I think will translate well to the next level. He’s a strong skater who sees the ice very well and uses his strength and vision to create in the offensive zone. He’s a capable finisher who disguises his release well. In a nine-game stint with Jukurit he scored twice. Had he played a full season I’m confident that Nikkanen would have been a top-62 pick.


What I Would Have Changed:


I don’t think the Jets made any egregious errors at the draft, but if I were going to change something moved down with pick 144, or drafted someone other than Logan Neaton, an overaged goalie that played in the BCHL last season. I think that there were better goalies available as well as better skaters.




Find Sam Stern on Twitter @SternScouting



Name Fantasy Upside NHL Certainty
Mitja Jokinen 5.0 3.5
Kasper Pikkarainen 4.0 4.5
Sebastian Soini 3.0 7.0
Daniel Nieminen 5.0 5.5
Aatos Koivu 6.0 6.0
Topias Hynninen 6.0 5.5
Veeti Väisänen 4.0 8.0
Aron Kiviharju 8.0 8.0
Emil Hemming 7.5 6.0
Konsta Helenius 8.5 9.0