Before we delve into the 2018 class and where some of these talented youngsters should go in your fantasy drafts next fall, I want to talk about a kid who isn’t going to hear his named called until June 2020 but is quickly becoming the talk of the CHL.
When the Rimouski Océanic selected Alexis Lafrenière first overall in last season’s QMJHL Bantam Draft, they were expecting to add a dynamic player that could help them win in a couple of seasons.
Lafrenière was a dominant major midget player who exhibited high-level processing skills, great skating ability and equally deft playmaking and finishing skills. However, I’m guessing even the Océanic brass weren’t expecting what has happened thus far.
Through 54 games as a newly turned 16-year-old (his October birthdate prohibits him from being a part of the 2019 draft by less than a month), Lafrenière has torched the QMJHL competition to the tune of 41 goals and 76 points.
That mark has him sitting fourth overall in Q scoring and his 41 tallies ranks second – ahead of Filip Zadina, Vitali Abramov, and everyone not named Alex Barré-Boulet (more on him later).
The level that Lafrenière has been playing at is a near-historical rate for the Quebec circuit.
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
Being in the same breath as Sidney Crosby is never a bad thing. For those wondering, Vinny Lecavalier was only other U17 player to score 40 or more since 1990 when he popped 42 back in 1996-97.
At this point, there is no one who is rivalling Lafrenière for the first overall selection in 2020 but of course, we have an enormous amount of hockey left to be played and we’ve had numerous draft-mnus one and draft-minus two kids have big starts only to run into injury issues or plateau early so we won’t count our chickens early here.
That said, Lafrenière is showing the skill needed to potentially be a game-changing asset for an NHL team down the line.
Alright, let’s dig into the 2018 class.
This group has been dubbed "The Deep Defender Draft" by many (or maybe just me… I’m not great at dubbing). The first round will be littered with blue liners and if my rankings hold true, there could be as many as seven players from the back end selected within the first dozen picks.
That’s great for organizations who need help on the blueline, but in the fantasy realm, defense prospects are usually a long wait and not to be targeted too early in drafts. With that in mind, we need to establish which forwards have the highest upside coupled with the shortest wait time.
At forward, Andrei Svechnikov and Filip Zadina will continue to battle all season for the right to be selected behind Rasmus Dahlin in Dallas this June. When it comes to fantasy drafts, however, they’ll likely be battling for that top spot.
If you’re looking for a definitive answer today, I’m sorry but I can’t give it to you. I believe Svechnikov plays a more pro-style game that should lend itself well to early and hefty production. He isn’t as dynamic a triggerman as Zadina but he finds different ways to score goals and offers a more pro-ready frame, he’s a powerful skater and has a more advanced defensive acumen – traits that’ll get him far in his early NHL career.
Here’s a look at Svechnikov’s U18 Five Nations highlights (Zadina was ineligible due to his 1999 birthdate)
Zadina is a sniper. He can beat a goaltender with a clean look or change the angle on his release to fool the opposing netminder. He’ll need to be able to find the soft spots in the NHL to take advantage of his dynamic shot but the truly gifted offensive players find a way to do that, and usually pretty quickly – Patrik Laine and Brock Boeser being two recent examples.
If you’re looking for a dazzling player, Zadina is your guy, but he may have a bit tougher of a time transitioning, despite being several months older than his Russian competitor.
At this point, it may come down to destination. Does a team like Calgary fail to reach to postseason and hit on a lottery ball thus grabbing Zadina? If so, I’m racing to pick the Czech kid who will inevitably line up on the right side of Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan.
After those two, if he hasn’t already been selected, Rasmus Dahlin is your man. I have a lot of time for those who want to argue the point that he should be taken first in dynasty drafts as his potential to be an elite offensive defenseman is more valuable than a top-end scoring winger. However, as history has shown us, defensemen carry a little more risk and take a little while longer to start their prime.
I believe Dahlin will be a star and has the ability to one day challenge the top blue liner producers, but he’s sliding in at number three on my board as of today.
Brady Tkachuk is pretty clearly the number four player. While he falls further down my list when it comes to real-life rankings, he’s the elder statesman of this crop – missing the 2017 draft by a single day, and brings a mature frame and style that should allow him to crack an NHL lineup in the fall.
Much like his brother, Matthew, the younger Tkachuk plays a hard-nosed game blended with soft hands in tight and a quality release. His ceiling may be a tad lower than some of the other guys in this top half, but he’ll produce a great deal sooner and that carries value.
The Next Wave
After that grouping, I believe we’re looking at Oliver Wahlstrom, Adam Boqvist, Quinn Hughes, Evan Bouchard and maybe Joe Veleno.
As with Tkachuk, Veleno slides into this tier due to his maturity on the ice and proximity to the NHL. Lower ceiling, likely lesser wait.
As mentioned before, if you’re targeting the defenders, prepare yourself for a long wait before they are clicking at a pace that is beneficial to your squad – ie 40-plus points. But both Hughes and Boqvist are the elite skating and offensively-driven type of blue liners you take a chance on.
A lot of situational elements will come into play. Who is ahead of them on the depth chart? Will they be surrounded by quality mates? These questions will be left unanswered until the end of June.
As far as Wahlstrom goes, I may just have an argument that he should be the third forward off the board. He plays a borderline reckless style of game that sees him dart into high traffic areas and consistently find the back of the net.
He's off to Harvard in the fall, which usually means the player wants to get AT LEAST two years under his belt as a degree is very important, but there have been whispers of him de-committing and joining his linemate and buddy, Joel Farabee at BU. Something to keep an eye on.
Feeling like betting big on some high-end talent? Take a gander at Grigori Denisenko, Dominik Bokk, Ryan Merkley, Joel Farabee, and Jesperi Kotkaniemi.
Each of these guys has a knock on them, whether it’s off-ice stuff, defensive ability, size, lack of exposure… but the common denominator is their skill levels are high and their upsides are equally so.
I'll review this topic post-draft and hopefully will have more tangible metrics for you to consider. Until then, take a gander at our last 2018 Fantasy Rankings which we'll update at least once more before fantasy draft time.
Elias Pettersson is still out there chasing history. After recording back-to-back one goal, one assist outings, the 19-year-old forward has taken over sole possession of second in points by an U20 player in SHL history with 20 goals and 50 points in 40 games.
Pettersson has four games remaining in his season and if he plays at his 1.25 point-per-game pace he’ll complete the season with 55 points and set a new record.
Talk about a draft-plus one campaign.
There isn’t really much left to say on the matter. Pettersson owns incredible offensive tools – both distributing and finishing. He remains under an ideal weight, lacks breakaway speed and will need to adjust to the smaller ice surface in North America but his ceiling is sky high.
If you’re in a league that will have him in the mix with the top 2018 group, I’m taking Pettersson first overall.
The Tampa Bay Lightning signed QMJHL runaway point leader, Alex Barré-Boulet on Thursday morning. Tamps is sticking with their proven formula of signing undersized and overaged junior players who have fallen through the cracks.
It’s worked with Tyler Johnson and Yanni Gourde; they were the first organization to give Jonathan Marchessault a real look in the NHL and they came swooping in on Marty St Louis a hundred years ago too. It’s gone well for them.
In Barré-Boulet the Lightning are getting a skilled player with a history of providing big numbers. He’s small, standing 5’10 and weighing in at 165lbs but he has quick hands and an accurate release. He’s not the fastest player and that will need to improve as his level jumps into the professional ranks.
He attended the Golden Knights camp last season but didn’t impress enough to earn a deal.
These type of players are pretty common each season but the fact that Tampa is the team that signed him adds a little more credibility to his potential.
Keep an eye on his production next season in Syracuse.
Eeli Tolvanen has confirmed that he is signing with Preds once Jokerit is eliminated from playoffs.— Aivis Kalniņš (@A_Kalnins) March 1, 2018
With Tolvanen confirmed to cross the pond at the conclusion of his KHL campaign, a follower on Twitter asked me when we can expect to see him.
The playoff schedules have yet to be announced but you can expect the #3 Jokerit to start their series against the #6 HC Sochi in the next couple of days with the Quarter Final round wrapping up sometime between March 10-14th.
If the favoured, Jokerit get's bounced, expect Tolvanen to find his way into the Predators lineup before the end of the month. If they win, tack on another two weeks and so on…
Whenever he does cross, Preds' fans are in for a treat.
That’s all for this week. Thanks for reading and feel free to follow me on Twitter @CrazyJoeDavola3
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