By Kevin Wickersham
Although we’re still getting acclimated all the to the recent widespread player movement spawned by free agency, the 2017 Entry Draft, the Vegas expansion draft and tons of trades, if you keep a close watch on prospects it’s time to examine who’s up next.
Here’s a small sampling of some we’ll likely see selected early in the 2018 Entry Draft:
Andrei Svechnikov – RW
The younger brother of 2015 Red Wing first-round pick Yevgeni, Andrei Svechnikov could very well be next summer’s top NHL draft pick. He lit up the scoreboard for USHL Muskegon at right wing last year. Maintaining an impressive 1.21 points-per-game average, the 6-02, 185-pound, 17-year-old Barnaul, Russia native potted 29 goals and 29 assists in just 48 games ending the season sixth in the league in total points with 58. He also racked up 68 penalty minutes. A world-class skater and puck handler with a large frame, especially considering his age.
Rasmus Dahlin – D
Newest of the star Swedish blue line pipeline, the left-shooting Dahlin played for Frölunda in the Swedish Hockey League, the nation’s top men’s league, at just age 17 last year and in the 2017 WJC at only 16. Currently 6-02, 181-pounds he’s considered a franchise-changer by some, with comparisons to fellow countryman Erik Karlsson and several scouts saying he’s further along at his age than Karlsson when 17. He’s hockey-smart and a fast, fluid skater and puck-handler with skilled hands who lends a physical presence. Has offensive intuition off the charts, and a wicked shot. Solid on defense with some room to develop in terms of positioning. In just 24 contests with Frölunda’s 2016-17 U-18 squad, Dahlin landed nine goals and 13 assists, with an impressive 74 penalty minutes.
Brady Tkachuk – C/LW
Another younger brother, this time of Calgary Flames’ Matthew and son of NHL legend Keith, Brady Tkachuk is one more family power forward star in the making. A Boston University commit, he’s viewed as a sure top-ten, possible top-five pick in 2018. The 6-02, 194-pounder tallied 12 goals and 11 assists in 24 USHL contests, and 22 goals with 25 assists in 53 games of U.S. National U18 Team play in 2016-17, along with 180 penalty minutes in 77 games between both. He’s extremely difficult to slow down when storming toward the net, which he does well and frequently. Has a great work ethic, strong degree of intensity, highly competitive nature, leadership skills, and an impressive set of on-ice qualities similar to those we have come to expect from the family.
Joseph Veleno – C
Veleno has already achieved something only the greats have done, joining John Tavares and Connor McDavid as the lone forwards granted exceptional status by Team Canada, thus permitted to enter two years ago at age 15 into major junior play. In this time with the Saint John Sea Dogs, he’s proven an offensive dynamo who elevates teammates with fantastic playmaking, sharp awareness, and a high hockey IQ. Has racked up 26 goals and 57 assists in 107 QMJHL contests. He dictates play, either threading the needle before defenders are ready with hard, accurate passes that set up cohorts in advantageous scoring position, or patiently waiting for opportunities to open up. A smooth skater with impressive acceleration, the 6-0, 181-pound Veleno projects as a top-line NHL forward.
Ryan McLeod – C
Still another younger brother from a hockey family, and this time both played on the same OHL Mississauga team the past two campaigns. Mike McLeod, an up-and-coming candidate for a roster spot and important forward role soon with the Devils, shared the ice with Ryan who excelled as a distributor (nine goals and 33 assists in 68 contests last year – adding 20 points in 20 postseason games) thanks to his blazing speed, shifty skating, a high degree of awareness and ingenuity. He has a big 6-02, 190-pound frame, particularly for a 17-year-old.
Ryan Merkley – D
An offensive blueliner who took significant strides in his defensive game with Guelph last year, his first in the OHL. Racked up impressive points totals with 12 goals and 43 assists in 62 games, adding 50 penalty minutes. Merkley’s a slick puck handler that’s adept at leading teammates with accurate passes and setting up high-percentage scoring opportunities. Not a huge defender at 5-11, 165-pounds, Merkley positions himself well and can skillfully slow attackers with his stick, but is developing in his own zone. Still 16 years old, he’ll turn 17 in August.
Quinton Hughes – D
Again not a large rearguard at 5-09, 168-pounds Hughes is a quick and crafty playmaker with impressive on-ice awareness hailing from Team USA. Like Merkely, he amassed 43 assists to go with 10 goals last year in juniors play, and added another 26 points, 22 of them assists, in 26 USHL contests. A University of Michigan commit, he often dictates the pace of the game, as he quarterbacks offensive sequences by initiating plays that lead teammates toward the net with pinpoint passes.
Allan McShane – C
McShane spent a good portion of 2016-17, his first juniors year, lined up with eventual OHL scoring champ Alex DeBrincat and the prolific Taylor Raddysh for Erie, ultimately totaling 17 goals and 44 points in 62 contests. Dealt at mid-season, the 5-11, 190-pound forward continued his skilled playmaking with the Oshawa Generals. McShane has a real knack for finding the net, whether it’s a tip-in, re-direct, or crisp pass setting up a teammate, he combines quick, elusive skating with skilled hands to produce points by any means necessary.
Filip Zadina – LW
Zadina’s an exceedingly dangerous, alert, cerebral offensive weapon who has excelled in international play for the U-18 Czech team (20 goals, 11 assists in 22 contests), and absolutely killed it at the Ivan Hlinka Tourney, leading the Czechs to their first ever title with three goals and three assists in five games. The 6-0, 198-pound Zadina impressively skates through often-overmatched traffic, using his hustle and contagious energy to regularly beat defenders into the offensive zone.
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