With each passing mailbag, we get one step closer to one of my favourite days of the year: draft day.
If you’re a long time reader of these articles, you’ll notice that the questions tend to start focusing more and more on the incoming crop of youngsters and away from the those already locked and loaded into NHL organizations.
This month is no different.
Sure we dive into a couple of guys who could crack their team’s lineup next season and potentially make a mark in the fantasy landscape right away, but the vast majority of the chatter surrounds the weekend of June 23/24 in Dallas. Who will go where? Who should go where? Why can’t my team ever win the lottery?
You get the drift.
For those of you with an insatiable appetite for all things draft-related, take a gander at my updated Top 100 Rankings
I’ll just make note that this month’s questions have been beyond quality. Enough so that I’ll be holding onto a handful for next month because after 2000 words, this piece starts to go from mailbag territory and into the short story zone.
So if you didn’t get your question answered this month, please check back in April and there’s a decent chance you’ll see some virtual ink spilled over them then.
Question: “Any “boom or bust” prospects at the end of the first round that a team like the Rangers could gamble on with their two late firsts?”
Answer: The obvious wildcard is Ryan Merkley. Blessed with some of the best pure offensive skills of any player I’ve scouted, his ceiling is massive. However, we all know about the red flags: He is woefully inept at reading plays at times, he cheats, he takes risky chances and he apparently doesn’t like to hear about it from his coaches. Not a good combination.
I’ve said for some time that a team with multiple first round picks is more likely to take a chance on him as they’ll have mitigated some risk by likely grabbing a safer player earlier and can swing on an elite talent with a bust-level floor.
Question: “Shane Bowers drafted 28th and 45 days older than Tkachuck has better stats. Where would you have ranked Brady Tkachuck last year? (suppose he was born 24 hours earlier.)”
Answer: I’ve been pretty outspoken in my opinion on Tkachuk, and it’s not as high as many. When considering a player of his age and physical maturity, it’s hard not to look at his draft-minus one season and consider it something of a draft year because, as you said, he’s just a few hours shy of being eligible for the 2017 crop.
The 2016-17 USNTDP U18 squad wasn’t the strongest crop and was led mostly by committee with Quinn Hughes (2018) and San Jose first rounder, Josh Norris leading the charge offensively. Tkachuk’s 54 points in 61 games is nothing to sneeze at, but is quite comparable to guys like Grant Mismash (61st overall ’17), Evan Barratt (90th overall ’17) and Scott Reedy (102nd overall ’17). All of those players are a few months older than Brady, but still it doesn’t get me overly excited.
Tkachuk is a big bodied player that can bring more to the table than simply raw counting stats. He agitates, he’s physical, he’s got soft hands in the paint and knows how to play with high-level players, but for my money, he would’ve been a late first rounder in 2017 and should be considered closer to 10th overall in this upcoming crop than the fifth overall.
Question: “With both having amazing seasons, it seems that there’s 2 early candidates for 1st overall pick in 2019 and 2020 drafts. Who would you rather start your franchise with : Jack Hughes (2019) or Alexis Lafrenière (2020)?”
Answer: What Lafrenière has done this season as a 16-year-old in the QMJHL has been historic
Through two periods of play Alexis Lafrenière has 1+1. That brings his season total to 75 points (40+35) in 54 QMJHL games.— /Cam Robinson/ (@CrazyJoeDavola3) March 1, 2018
He’s the first U17 Q player to hit 40 goals since Crosby (54) in 2003-04, and just the third guy to do it since 1990. #2020NHLDraft
He’s been piling up the primary points and producing in all sorts of ways. Honestly, the Quebec league hasn’t seen a player this dominant this quickly since Sidney Crosby. He's not at that level, of course, but he's likely not too many rungs below.
However, my heart belongs to Jack Hughes.
Hughes has absolutely electric stuff. His speed, hands, release, vision, awareness etc are all elite. He recently broke the USNTDP point record by a U17 player surpassing Phil Kessel and Clayton Keller – doing so in fewer games and while also playing a large chunk of his campaign with the U18 squad vs the U17 team.
He’s far too good for the U18/USHL circuit right now, so one has to wonder what he’ll be up to next season. I’m not the only one hoping he finds a way into the NCAA for his draft-eligible season despite being born in May of 2001.
He's going to be a superstar.
Question: “Is Tkachuk a winger or a center?”
Answer: He’s a winger for me. He needs a smart centre to get him the biscuit in the right spot to finish.
Question: “Prospect Centers question…Borgstrom, Chytil, Suzuki, Gaudette, Necas, Tkachuk…. Who puts the puck in the net most frequently next year at the NHL level? And who do you take as the highest ceiling looking forward?”
Answer: As mentioned above, I don’t see Tkachuk as a centre at the next level – and he hasn’t played too much of it at the lower levels either.
As for the remaining players, Nick Suzuki loves to finish, as does Gaudette but he has a lower ceiling than that of the Vegas’ first rounder. Suzuki isn’t a lock to crack the NHL roster next season, but since both he and Cody Glass are ineligible for the American league next year, they should both get very long looks as the CHL circuit likely won’t challenge them any further outside of the World Junior Championships.
I really like Suzuki’s long term upside.
I’m a big Martin Necas fan, and ditto for Filip Chytil but I would consider both to be more playmakers than finishers. I’m higher on Necas for top end potential especially as the Hurricanes clearly want him to be their 1C moving long term.
Borgstrom is something of a hybrid – he can distribute and finish equally well, but will almost assuredly begin his career on the wing as Sasha Barkov and Vinny Trocheck have the top six centre roles locked up in Florida for the next decade.
Question: “How many points do you think Kyrou could get next year in STL?”
Answer: I actually only see one rookie cracking the Blues’ lineup next season and his name is Robert Thomas.
I expect Kyrou to spend much of his season in the AHL adjusting to the pro game. He may receive a handful of call-ups, especially if the injury bug hits, but I wouldn’t count on anything more than modest results.
Question: “Who goes first? Quinn Hughes or Adam Boqvist?”
Answer: I think Boqvist is selected first, but I’ve got Hughes ranked slightly ahead.
Question: “Cam, I dont see any way he drops as Tolvanen did, but after what he’s shown in these KHL playoffs, is Vitaly Kravtsov going to be the steal of the 2018 1st round, or do you have another favourite?”
Answer: I’ll hold off on deciding who the steal of the draft is until after we see which player goes in which spot. That said, Kravtsov is definitely putting himself on the map with the tremendous KHL playoffs he’s having.
On Tuesday, he tied the KHL's U20 record for points in a single post-season (9) held by Evgeni Kuznetsov and Valeri Nichushkin by tacking on two second-period assists for Traktor against Salavat. He's accomplished that feat in just eight games.
Kravtsov is a big bodied winger, with great puck skills, a desire to drive into the hard areas and owns a lethal shot. He had quite modest point totals during 35 regular season contests in Russia’s top league and hasn’t had the opportunity to represent his country on the international stage – which is my theory on why he’s been outside the first round on many services lists this season, but he’s making people take notice now.
Kravtsov has been in my top 31 for several months and recently checked in at 20th on my aformentioned Top 100 Rankings released last weekend
Here’s what I had to say about him in that article:
Question: “Oliver Wahlstrom: What would be a good team for him to end up on ? Where do you see him get drafted ?”
Answer: He’s a lock for the top 10 and any team with a desire to add a powerful finisher with great pure puck skills, a nose for the net and strong two-way game would be lucky to grab him.
I suspect he lands in that 6-9 range.
Question: “Other than Dahlin and Svechnikov, what players in the 2018 class do you see making the NHL roster next season?”
Answer: I think Filip Zadina will be in there and Brady Tkachuk has a decent chance as well – not because he’s accomplished all he can at Boston University, but because physically he’s quite mature and his birthday will make him 19 and bit by the time training camp rolls around.
There’s always a random guy who cracks a roster too – whether it be a highly skilled player finding instant chemistry in a team’s top six, or a more well-rounded skater with good speed that simply forces a team to keep him around as a depth piece.
Look for guys with good all-around skill, speed and usually a later birthday – McLeod, Bouchard, Lundeström..
Question: “Will Thatcher Demko crack the Canucks roster next year or will he have to wait until Nilsson's contract expires and a spot opens up for him? His numbers are great, but what can we expect from him if he does come up next year onto a weak Canucks team?”
Answer: I believe the plan all along has been to let Demko play three full seasons in the American league. His developmental arc has been going exactly as planned:
Dominate the NCAA ✔️
Get his feet wet in a platoon role as a first year pro and steal the net by year’s end ✔️
Become a workhorse at the AHL ✔️
Dominate AHL while seeing a taste of NHL action
Join platoon role at the NHL level
Become Workhorse at the NHL level
Take over the wor… sorry I got ahead of myself there.
Anders Nilsson’s ability to inspire nearly no confidence may have fast tracked this plan and could see Demko get a real opportunity to fight for the backup role next season, but I remain steadfast that that isn’t the best option.
Let him play on a quality Comets’ squad that is about to witness a great deal of firepower in the way of Jonathan Dahlen, Kole Lind, Jonah Gadjovich, and Olli Juolevi while playing 55-60 games.
The Canucks will be terrible again next season and what does it really matter if Nilsson plays 25 games and produces below league-average numbers?
That’s all for this month. Thanks for reading (and contributing) and feel free to follow me on Twitter @CrazyJoeDavola3
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