Greetings Wingnuts! I hope everyone had a great summer. After a long hiatus, I am back. Even though the season hasn’t started yet, I am already beginning to start compiling my scouting notes this year, hoping to get an early jump on this work. While it is typically the norm to talk about prospects only at the end of the season at WIIM, I feel this year needs to be an exception, for a few reasons. First, as we are entering the 2017-2018 NHL season, things are looking very grim for the Red Wings as I write this. Quite frankly, I have zero enthusiasm to actually dedicate my time to watching them this season. Any hockey that I will be watching is either scouting, or watching Wings prospects play. At the same time, I see this year as being a prime opportunity for all of us to make the best of what I consider a bad situation for the team. The 2018 NHL entry draft looks like a year which is stacked with top-end talent within the first round. If there is any year that you would want your team to pick within the top 5, the 2018 draft is one that you would not want to miss, especially if your team is looking to transition to a rebuild. With Ken Holland’s contract expiring at the end of this season (and hopefully not getting renewed), the 2018 draft could also represent a turning point for the franchise, and a prime opportunity for the management to right this ship once again, and land a franchise player. It will not be pleasant. There would be a lot of pain and heartache. But I ultimately think that it’s the best thing that can possibly happen for the team if they have another horrible year, and put themselves in a position to win a lottery pick. That being said, Steve Kournianos recently came out with an extremely comprehensive list of over 500 prospects for the 2018 draft (which can be found here). While it would be utterly impossible to cover every single prospect on this list in analyses and articles, I strongly recommend that any of you who are particularly enthusiastic about prospects and scouting start early, and use the list he has published as a good starting point.
In the next while, we are going to be focusing specifically on some of the players in the top 10 of this list, as I think it would be a good idea to give all of you the skinny about each player early on in the season to pique your interest, and give some general expectations for them over the course of this season. Given that the Wings are expected to play like putrid raw sewage mixed with cholera-infested water that has been stagnating at the bottom of a dumpster for a few years, think of this discussion as at least giving us something to be optimistic about, even in such dark times.
Here is that list:
1. Andrei Svechnikov (RW – Barrie Colts) - One of the big fishes this year. We will be offered the treat of being able to see Svechnikov play in televised games in the OHL this year. Svechnikov has the potential to become the best Russian-born player drafted in the NHL since Ovi/Malkin. It remains to be seen whether he will ever measure up to either of them, but at this point in his development, there is no argument that Svechnikov is not a top 2 pick in this draft.
2. Rasmus Dahlin (D – Frolunda) - The best defenseman in this draft, hands down, is Rasmus Dahlin. As much as I would love to see the two Svechnikov brothers united under the Winged Wheel, Dahlin could end up being that franchise defenseman that has been eluding the Red Wings since 2012 should they be lucky enough to draft him. A lot of scouts would consider Dahlin the top contender for first overall, but it’s really a toss-up with Svechnikov. This year is one of those situations where one could argue in favor of either of them being selected first overall.
3. Filip Zadina (LW – Halifax Mooseheads) - Another year, another top-end talent playing out of Halifax. This Czech export is probably the best winger in the draft not named Andrei Svechnikov, and will be an excellent consolation prize for anyone who misses out on Svechnikov or Dahlin.
4. Ty Smith (D – Spokane Chiefs) - Smith has drawn a lot of attention recently, particularly after a strong showing for Canada at the Ivan Hlinka tournament, where he was arguably their best defenseman. Often compared to Morgan Rielly stylistically, Smith is a smaller defenseman that has an unreal amount of upside to him, showing an impressively well-rounded two-way game. The 2015 #1 pick in the WHL bantam draft is expected to take on a larger role this year with the Chiefs. While his last season was impressive for a draft -1 player (5 G and 27 A in 66 games), the expectations have been set even higher as he enters his draft year.
5. Joe Veleno (C – Saint John Sea Dogs) - I must confess right now, I have a bit of a man crush on Joe Veleno. Everything about this kid has future star written all over him. In my opinion, Veleno could end up being the best center taken in June. Everything about his game is so polished and refined. He is silky smooth, and probably one of the smartest prospects in this talent pool. If the Wings are in a lottery position, but miss out on Dahlin/Svechnikov, Veleno would probably end up being my top choice. He has all of the tools to become a legitimate top-line center in the NHL.
6. Brady Tkachuk (C/LW – Boston University) - Yet another Tkachuk. Much like his brother Matt, Brady has a lot of talent. He is an excellent playmaker and goalscorer, and is blessed with pro-level size, standing at 6’3” and 196 lbs. Plays a gritty, tenacious power forward style. Like his brother, he can be a complete shithead towards opponents, racking up 202 PIM in 85 games between the USNTDP Juniors team, and the National U18 team. That being said, his talent is undeniable, and there is a very good chance that he could see himself being in contention to be drafted in the top 5. Brady will be taking his talents to the NCAA this season. I don’t imagine too many other teams in Hockey East will take much of a liking to him.
7. Jesperi Kotkaniemi (C – Assat) - I admittedly haven’t had as much of a chance to scout Kotkaniemi, but I have been impressed by what I have seen. He recently had a great Ivan Hlinka Tournament, and has been off to an impressive start in the Liiga with Assat. I will need to tune in to some of their games to shore up my full notes on him, however.
8. Adam Boqvist (D – Brynas IF J20/J18) - What a year it is for defensive prospects. After his brother Jesper was taken in the 2nd round last June, Adam looks to be a lock for the top 10 this year. Not the biggest defenseman you’ll find, Adam more than makes up for that with his puck-moving abilities. He was a beast at the Ivan Hlinka tournament, where he was 2nd in tournament scoring, and led all defensemen. It will admittedly be a bit more difficult to find streams to scout him further, and he will not be in the World Junior lineup, but I’ve managed to find an excellent footage sample of him from the Ivan Hlinka tournament to dissect and peruse over, so I will be using a lot of that as the basis for my notes on him.
9. Ryan Merkley (D – Guelph Storm) - The 2016 1st overall pick in the OHL draft, Ryan Merkley brings a huge amount of offense to the table. His 55 points last season is good enough for 5th all time for U17 defensive scoring in a single season, and 5th all time in P/GP. The last defenseman that age to put up such a torrid scoring pace was Ryan Ellis in 2008. He is definitely someone to keep your eyes on. The kid is an offensive magician.
10. Quinton Hughes (D – University of Michigan) - You are going to be hearing a lot about the Hughes brothers over the course of the next two years. Not only is Quinn projected to be a top pick in this year’s draft, but his brother Jack is already in contention for the 1st overall pick in the 2019 draft. Quinn is probably the best defenseman to come out of the US development program this year (with perhaps Bode Wilde being the only one who could rival him). If you’re in the Michigan area, you’re in for a real treat, as he will be playing in Ann Arbor this season. Being in Canada, I will try to get my hands on a Big 10 stream to get a good look, but streams of NCAA games can be hard to come by here. That being said, any insights and contributions to the discussion from people who are able to watch him in person are more than welcome.
This is just a basic overview of what I want to talk about, and there is far more to delve into later on. Over the coming weeks, I will be dishing on each of these prospects in further detail (in no particular order) in anticipation for the upcoming season. The first player that I will be discussing is Rasmus Dahlin, and why Wings fans should be chomping at the bit for a chance to draft him.