When the NHL Entry Draft comes around, it doesn’t matter if a team finished dead last or won the Stanley Cup. It has a way of breathing new life into even the most beleaguered fan bases.
With just one pick or one trade, a general manager can theoretically turn a franchise around. And with five of the seven Canadian teams having missed the playoffs this past season, that certainly is the hope heading into the two-day event to be held in Dallas on June 22-23.
From finding a trading partner for Erik Karlsson and Max Pacioretty to why Canadians could be shut out of the top five picks, here are eight questions heading into this weekend’s draft:
Will Ottawa trade Erik Karlsson and Mike Hoffman?
The Senators have the fourth and 22nd picks in the first round, but expect them to have plenty more if Karlsson and Hoffman are moved.
In Karlsson’s case, look for Vegas as a potential destination, with a package including centre Cody Glass (sixth overall, 2017) and defenceman Erik Brannstrom (15th overall, 2017), as well as a roster player such as Tomas Tatar. Hoffman won’t fetch nearly as much now that Ottawa is painted into a corner of having to move him, but it’s not unrealistic to assume the Rangers could offer one of the first-round picks they acquired from Tampa Bay or Boston.
What other trades might we see?
Montreal already acquired Max Domi from Arizona in exchange for Alex Galchenyuk, but it doesn’t mean the Canadiens won’t trade captain Max Pacioretty if it means filling a void at the centre position. Nashville is reportedly gauging interest on P.K. Subban, while Edmonton goalie Cam Talbot might be available, and just about everyone needs a defenceman.
How good is this year’s No. 1 pick?
The term “generational talent” gets thrown around more than it probably should. But in the case of Rasmus Dahlin, who is going to be the first Swede since Mats Sundin to go first overall, it’s appropriate. Described as a mix between Nicklas Lidstrom and Erik Karlsson, the 6-foot-3 defenceman has the potential to be a franchise-changer. In other words, get your Sabres jokes out of your system. The days of Buffalo being a punch line are coming to an end.
If Dahlin is so good, why are people comparing him to Nail Yakupov?
The comparison to the first-overall bust is more a reflection of the 2012 draft, in which eight defencemen were selected in the top 10. This year’s draft could be just as rich with defenders. It obviously begins with Dahlin at No. 1, but scouts also believe that Adam Boqvist, Quinn Hughes, Noah Dobson, Evan Bouchard and Bode Wilde could all grow into top-pairing defencemen in a few years.
Why did the Senators keep their pick?
As part of the Matt Duchene trade, the Senators have the choice of giving the Avalanche either this year’s or next year’s first round pick. It looks like they are keeping this year’s pick, which is a bit of a gamble considering that Ottawa could be just as bad next year and potentially lose out on the No. 1 pick and a chance to select top prospect Jack Hughes.
At the same time, selecting fourth overall in this year’s draft was too much to pass up considering that their choices in that spot (wingers Filip Zadina and Brady Tkachuk) are NHL-ready and could make the sort of impact as rookies that would ensure Ottawa won’t be picking in the top-five again.
Which top prospect is going to tumble?
It was a year ago when Gabe Vilardi fell outside the top-10 — despite being NHL Central Scouting’s fourth-ranked North American skater — because of concerns with his skating. That’s not an issue with Hughes or Boqvist, who might be the two best skaters in the entire draft.
But there are concerns surrounding their size. It’s not that just that the 5-foot-10 Hughes or the 5-foot-9 Boqvist are short — it’s that they are also slight, with Hughes weighing in around 170 pounds and Boqvist barely tipping the scales at 154 pounds. Maybe one of the teams picking in the top-five will look past this, but with the 6-foot-3 Dobson and 6-foot-2 Bouchard also available in that area, expect one of Hughes or Boqvist to drop.
Who is this year’s sleeper pick?
There were five other players ahead of Jesperi Kotkaniemi on NHL Central Scouting’s latest European rankings, but don’t be surprised if he leapfrogs past most of them on the day of the draft. After all, he can do something that none of the others can: play centre.
Teams will say they don’t select based on position, but finding a No. 1 centre — or even a No. 2 — these days is next to impossible outside of the draft. In other words, don’t be surprised if the Canadiens, who are picking third overall, already have Kotkaniemi’s name on a jersey.
Where are all the Canadians?
The best defenceman in the draft is Swedish. The best forwards are Russian, American, Finnish or Czech. So where does that leave Canada, which enters this draft lacking in top-end talent?
It’s been almost 20 years since a Canadian-born player wasn’t selected in the top three. This year, there probably won’t even be one taken in the top five. That’s not a knock on Bouchard or Dobson, who are this country’s top-ranked prospects and should be snatched up within the top 10 picks. Just don’t expect them to be the next Connor McDavid or even Aaron Ekblad.
Projecting the top 10 picks
1. Buffalo: Rasmus Dahlin, D
6-foot-2, 181 pounds
Frolunda (Swe) 41GP 7G 13A 20PTS
The Sabres, who finished last but didn’t win the lottery in 2014 and 2015, are finally picking first overall. And they really couldn’t have picked a better year to do it. The team already has a star centre in Jack Eichel and one of the best forward prospects in Casey Mittelstadt. Now, they’re adding a potential future Norris Trophy winner.
2. Carolina: Andrei Svechnikov, RW
6-foot-2, 186 pounds
Barrie (OHL) 44GP 40G 32A 72PTS
Svechnikov cannot play centre, but that’s about all he cannot do. The Colts winger has been compared to Marian Hossa because of his responsible, two-way game, but don’t classify him as a defensive checker. He scored nearly a goal per game with the Colts and finished in the top 25 in scoring despite missing 24 games.
3. Montreal: Jesperi Kotkaniemi, C
6-foot-2, 188 pounds
Assat (Fin) 57GP 10G 19A 29PTS
The Canadiens need a centre — a legitimate one, that is. And the Finnish-born Kotkaniemi, who has been shooting up the draft rankings, is the best one available in this year’s draft. Scouts compare him to Anze Kopitar, because he can score but also because he’s noticeable even when he’s not factoring on the scoresheet. Either way, he’s a better option up the middle than Jonathan Drouin.
4. Ottawa: Filip Zadina, RW
6-feet, 196 pounds
Halifax (QMJHL) 57GP 44G 38A 82PTS
With Mike Hoffman likely gone in a trade this summer, the Senators are going to need someone to replace his offence. Zadina can do that — and more. A pure sniper who led Quebec league rookies in goals and points, his stock took off at this year’s world juniors, where he scored seven goals in seven games for the Czech Republic.
5. Arizona: Brady Tkachuk, LW
6-foot-3, 196 pounds
Boston University (NCAA) 40GP 8G 23A 31PTS
Arizona missed out on drafting Auston Matthews. But Tkachuk, who was born in St. Louis but lived in Phoenix when his dad was playing for the Coyotes, is the next-closest thing. Big, mean and skilled, he should free up space for Clayton Keller and Alex Galchenyuk and at the very least make the Coyotes tougher to play against.
6. Detroit: Evan Bouchard, D
6-foot-2, 193 pounds
London (OHL) 67GP 25G 62A 87PTS
Ever since Nicklas Lidstrom retired, the Red Wings have been searching for the Next One on defence. Bouchard won’t fill those skates, but he will fill the net after leading OHL defencemen in points last season. As a late birthday — born Oct. 20, 1999, he missed out on last year’s draft by a month — he could also be NHL-ready for next season.
7. Vancouver: Adam Boqvist, D
5-foot-9, 154 pounds
Brynas IF Gavle (Swe) 15GP 0G 1A 1PTS
The Canucks went the safe route by selecting two-way defenceman Olli Juolevi with the fifth overall pick in 2016. Boqvist is the opposite. Highly skilled and with a nose for the net, the offensive-minded defenceman won’t play on an NHL penalty kill. But pair him with Juolevi and Vancouver could have a tandem that does it all.
8. Chicago: Noah Dobson, D
6-foot-3, 180 pounds
Acadie-Bathurst (QMJHL) 67GP 17G 52A 69PTS
Dobson finished second amongst defencemen in scoring, but he really put his name on the map in the playoffs by leading Acadie-Bathurst to a QMJHL championship and then winning a Memorial Cup. In a pressure-filled atmosphere, he stood out for his poise on the backend. In other words, he could be the next Duncan Keith.
9. NY Rangers: Oliver Wahlstrom, RW
6-foot-1, 198 pounds
USNDTP 62GP 48G 46A 94PTS
The top scorer in the American under-18 program, where he was often paired with future No. 1 pick Jack Hughes, Wahlstrom patterns his game after Patrik Laine and plays a hybrid game that is the result of having a father who played professionally in Sweden. He’s committed to Harvard next season.
10. Edmonton: Quinn Hughes
5-foot-10, 174 pounds
University of Michigan (NCAA) 37GP 5G 24A 29PTS
The Oilers hired Paul Coffey last year to help coach the defence into being more offensive. But at the end of the day, they’ll need the horses to pull it off. Hughes can be that guy. He skates and thinks the game like Coffey, meaning Connor McDavid might finally have someone who can pass him the puck.
• Email: [email protected] | Twitter: @michael_traikos