By Jacob Messing
The NHL held the annual Draft Lottery on Saturday, with the Buffalo Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes walking away as the big winners of the 15 non-playoff teams that learned their draft positions.
A 31st-place finish for the Sabres earned them the highest odds of landing the No. 1 overall pick at an 18.5 percent chance. The balls fell in their favor as Buffalo prepares to draft consensus top pick defenseman Rasmus Dahlin.
The Hurricanes vaulted up nine spots for the No. 2 selection, and the Montreal Canadiens were the only other team to climb in the lottery with the third-overall pick.
With the anticipation over, new debates are settling over which players wind up where. With varying needs for each team and a deep, unsettled draft, FloHockey offers its projections for each of the first 15 picks on draft day, set for June 22-23 in Dallas.
1. Buffalo Sabres
Rasmus Dahlin | D | Sweden
Dahlin is the unanimous top selection of the NHL draft, and the Swede has been compared to countrymen Niklas Lidstrom and Erik Karlsson. That’s good company. He’s a skating highlight reel, and while he’s been heralded as more of an offensive defenseman, he’s no slouch in his own zone.
For a young, quick, Sabres team, Dahlin will help soon-to-be teammates including Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart, and Casey Mittelstadt reach the next level. He’s the full package.
2. Carolina Hurricanes
Andrei Svechnikov | RW | Russia
As mentioned, the Hurricanes came away as the biggest winners in the draft lottery and will get the chance to draft a highly needed finisher to complement the passing ability and possession metrics of the team.
Filip Zadina is labeled as a true sniper, but Svechnikov is bigger, faster, and has already adapted to North American hockey. He’s been regarded as the second-best player in the draft and will prove that for the Hurricanes in 2018-19.
3. Montreal Canadiens
Brady Tkachuk | C | USA
Boston University, NCAA
General manager Marc Bergevin has been vocal about having the right character in the locker room. That’s what caused him to bring in Andrew Shaw and Shea Weber, two hard-nosed veterans that play a postseason mentality in an 82-game season.
Tkachuk is just that. He takes after his father Keith and brother Matthew in Calgary. He competes form start to finish and, as a center, is a match made in heaven for a Canadiens in desperate need of a reliable middleman.
4. Ottawa Senators
Filip Zadina | LW | Czech Republic
A defenseman capable of filling the seemingly inevitable void of an Karlsson trade would be a nice, but having Zadina slip to No. 4 would be a blessing given the impossibility of replacing Karlsson in the first place.
Zadina has been touted as pure sniper and could be this year’s version of Winnipeg Jets winger Patrik Laine. The chance to play him with Mark Stone and Matt Duchene is a recipe for a dynamic top line for years to come.
5. Arizona Coyotes
Adam Boqvist | D | Sweden
With one year remaining for each of Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Niklas Hjalmarsson on the blue line, GM John Chayka will likely have some questions to answer in defense ahead of 2019-20.
That answer is another Swede in Boqvist, an elite skating and offensive-minded defenseman. He’s undersized at 5-foot-11, but he makes up for it with creativity and defensive wherewithal backed by utmost confidence in himself.
6. Detroit Red Wings
Evan Bouchard | D | Canada
Bouchard is everything the Wings lack on the blue line. His 6-2 frame logs minutes, brings power play expertise, defensive awareness, and a blistering shot. Even more, he’s right-handed.
His full-package ability helped him pace all OHL defensemen in scoring this season, and Ken Holland should salivate at the ability to draft him at No. 6. He was voted to have the hardest shot and named the best offensive defenseman in the West in 2017-18.
7. Vancouver Canucks
Quinn Hughes | D | USA
University of Michigan, NCAA
Had it not been for the number of undersized defensemen already in Detroit’s system, Hughes wouldn’t make it to Vancouver. But he will, and the Canucks would be wise to take a chance on the 5-10 defender.
His skill far outweighs his frame, as evidenced by a solid freshman season at the University of Michigan. Hughes has the ability to be a game-changer in the NHL and would be the future incarnate of the Canucks backend.
8. Chicago Blackhawks
D| Noah Dobson | Canada
The need for younger defensemen was a reason the Blackhawks brought in Connor Murphy from Arizona last summer. Dobson is s slight step back from Boqvist, Bouchard, and Hughes, but remains an extremely reliable option for Chicago at No. 8.
He’s a similar mold to Duncan Keith. He’s been called the best two-way defender in the draft and logs big minutes on each end of the ice. His positioning is top-notch, which makes his smooth skating even deadlier.
9. New York Rangers
Oliver Wahlstrom | RW | USA
The Rangers could use help everywhere, but falling to No. 9 they’ll likely see the top tier of defensemen get drafted already, leaving them with several forwards. One of those is Wahlstrom, who boasts a game well-suited for a top-eight selection in itself.
Wahlstrom is elite in every facet of the game. He’s a two-way power forward with speed and a competitive drive that helps him create offense out of thin air and raise the play of his teammates.
10. Edmonton Oilers
Jesperi Kotkaniemi | C | Finland
Drafting another high-end center would once again jump-start the trade rumors of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, but it would also allow Leon Draisaitl to play on Connor McDavid’s wing full-time. Take the good with the bad.
Kotkaniemi posted modest numbers as a rookie in Finland’s top league as a 17-year-old. He has the poise of a veteran and would be an impeccable upgrade on an ugly Oilers penalty kill given his positioning, two-way play, and speed.
11. New York Islanders
Ty Smith | D | Canada
In need of help everywhere, the Islanders are fortunate enough to have consecutive picks, which will start by selecting needed defensive help exposed by a lack of two-way play and abysmal goaltending this season.
Smith is a smooth-skating defenseman with great positioning and intimidatingly good one-on-one play, even for his 5-10 frame. He was called the best in the WHL by one scout and is the only WHL player off the board thus far for a reason.
12. New York Islanders (via Calgary Flames)
Joe Veleno | C | Canada
After finding their defensive help, the Islanders will move forward with Veleno, a playmaking center who will grow into an enviable No. 2 middleman behind Mathew Barzal, pending the likely loss of John Tavares this summer.
Veleno is similar to Barzal with his fast, shifty play, pass-first mentality, and ability to make his linemates better. He’s more aggressive physically, competes hard, and dedicates his speed to both ends of the ice as a two-way force.
Two straight unreal goals by the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in OHL playoffs. Keeghan Howdeshell does the Michigan before Barrett Hayden goes between-the-legs pic.twitter.com/COwlK3bCvF— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) March 25, 2018
13. Dallas Stars
Barrett Hayton | C | Canada
Sault Ste. Marie, OHL
Hayton has been chalked-up by some as merely benefiting from an incredible skilled Greyhounds team headed to the OHL final, but the truth is closer to the opposite. As a third-line center, Hayton finished sixth in team scoring when you remove deadline acquisition Taylor Raddysh.
He’s fourth in team playoff scoring and continues to elevate his play as the playoffs push on. He would be a huge find to play behind Tyler Seguin in the coming years.
14. Philadelphia Flyers (via St. Louis Blues)
Joel Farabee | LW | USA
Farabee has been touted for his leadership abilities, and he captained the USDP in 2017-18. He plays a similar game to Veleno with his speed, transition, and ability to raise the play of his teammates.
He’s got a strong hockey sense and IQ that work in accordance with his foot speed to make high-end plays shift after shift. He and Wahlstrom mutually benefited from each other on a line with 2019 projected top pick Jack Hughes, brother of Quinn.
15. Florida Panthers
Rasmus Kupari | C | Finland
Kupari is more than the best player available at this point; he’ll be the third, first-round Finnish center the Panthers select in five years after Aleksander Barkov and Henrik Borgstrom.
Kupari has an impressive ability to back defenders off while driving to the slot and punishing the space they awarded him with a hard, accurate shot. He could use some defensive fine-tuning, but that’s something two-way dynamo, Barkov, can help him with.
Have a question or a comment for Jacob? You can find him on Twitter @Jacob_Messing.