If ever there was a year to tear it down and look to the future, this is it. Whatever one’s position on tanking as an organizational strategy, I think we can all agree that the team-building approach that yields one of this year’s top talents is one worth pursuing.
Sure, there’s Connor Bedard. Even hockey’s most casual fans know his story by now. Just a small chance at bringing him into the fold for the next decade-plus is enough to get the fans of a down-on-their-luck franchise excited. What makes this class unique, though, is the host of consolation prizes, at least two or three of whom would be first-overall picks in just about any other year.
Adam Fantilli has cooled off a bit (all things being relative) as Michigan has worked its way through the toughest part of their schedule, but he’s still generating offence at a historic clip as a true freshman. Leo Carlsson is mired in a bit of a slump at present, and all that’s done is drop his per-game rate to a nearly identical pace to draft-year Nicklas Bäckström – this time a month ago, Carlsson’s per-game rate had him on pace to match the Sedin twins and Peter Forsberg. Matvei Michkov, long thought of as a challenger to Bedard for the first overall spot, has struggled to find consistent playing time in the KHL this season, but still looks like a future NHL star.
Cruel as the NHL Draft Lottery process may be – and the NHL has dulled its blade recently – there’s no scenario where you finish in the bottom two or three of the league standings and leave the next draft without a franchise building block type of player if not a future superstar.
Let’s just hope that your favourite team isn’t looking for that franchise-defining player to be a defenceman. That may be harder to come by in this year’s draft. You’ll note that we don’t even place one on our board until the 11th overall selection, at which point there’s a bit of a run on defencemen.
Likewise, there are some solid goaltending prospects (Michael Hrabal, Trey Augustine, and Jacob Fowler foremost among them), but none that we would rate as first-round talents. Not at present, anyway.
Now that the stage is set for this year’s draft, let’s look at some of the players primed to walk its stage in Nashville this coming June.