With the 2017 NHL Draft in the rear view mirror, it’s time to look forward to the next batch of future NHL stars. The 2017 Draft boasted prospects like Nico Hischier and Nolan Patrick, and next year is sure to be even deeper. Early predictions for 2018 forecast Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin and Russian forward Andrei Svechnikov among the top talents. Next year’s first round could be defense-heavy, yet spotted with high-scoring forwards.
Why stop at 2018, though? Why not forecast the top players in 2019 and 2020? With a renewed focus on speed, today’s NHL is increasingly built for younger players. Thus, coaches, analysts, scouts and fans put even more emphasis on building through the draft. In this respect, looking ahead a few years never hurts.
Many potential 2019 draftees are already playing in junior hockey leagues from the WHL to the OHL to the QMJHL. Others have committed to different colleges and universities, or are playing in European junior leagues. Scouts are also laying eyes on the 2020 draft class. These youngsters play hockey at prep schools or in minor-level hockey organizations such as the Greater Toronto Hockey League (GTHL).
In order to find the next Sidney Crosby or Connor McDavid, teams need to scout players from a younger age. Looking ahead to the next three drafts could help in that endeavor. We'll also try to project which teams will have what picks. That being said, here is a projection of the top five picks in the next three NHL drafts.
15 1st Pick In 2018: Golden Knights Select Andrei Svechnikov
With so much partity in the league, it's hard to say who will finish in the basement. We'll go with the expansion Golden Knights having a tough year, but winning the lottery. Andrei Svechnikov will make his OHL debut for the Barrie Colts this season. Svechnikov boasts a 6'2", 187-pound frame, swift speed, and a lightning quick release. He averaged more than a goal per game during his two seasons on the Ak Bars Kazan U16 Team from 2014-2016. He also scored 29 goals and 58 points for the USHL's Muskegon Lumberjacks last season.
His dominance resulted in the Barrie Colts taking him first overall in the 2017 CHL Import Draft. If he keeps up his high-scoring ways, he could find himself as the top pick in the NHL draft as well. It looks to be a dead heat between Svechnikov or Dahlin for next year's No. 1 overall pick.
“Andrei is a very skilled hockey player," Colts coach Dale Hawerchuk told NHL.com last June. "He's a natural goal scorer and we're fortunate to have player like that joining the team. He's one of those players that make his teammates on the ice better."
14 2nd Pick In 2018: Coyotes Select Rasmus Dahlin
The Coyotes seem to be starting over and are in prime position for a basement year. But at least they'll have a chance to get a top blueliner.
His stats may not suggest it, but Rasmus Dahlin is arguably the most talented defenseman in the 2018 draft class. The 16-year-old spent last season with Frolunda HC of the Swedish Elite League. He notched one goal and three points in 26 games, but those stats only scratch the surface of his NHL potential.
Even last summer, before he suited for his first SHL game, Swedish hockey reporter Dusan Umicevic compared Dahlin to Erik Karlsson. He tweeted: “Rasmus Dahlin is being described by those I’ve talked to as a player with bigger potential than world’s greatest Erik Karlsson. The future of Swedish hockey.”
Dahlin's play has backed up that lofty praise. He is considered a premier two-way defenseman with slick stick-handling skills, a physical edge, and a high hockey IQ. He showed comfort on both sides of the puck against professional competition in Sweden.
"He’s a smart two-way defenseman, an excellent skater and puck-handler,” said Goran Stubb, the NHL's director of European scouting.
NHL Central Scouting is still months away from releasing mid-season International prospect rankings, but Stubb made an early prediction.
"As it looks right now, he will likely be the No. 1 player," he told Sportsnet in July of 2017. Dahlin will need another strong SHL season in Sweden in order to live up to that hype. If he does, he could become the first Swede to be taken first overall since Mats Sundin in 1989.
13 3rd Pick In 2018: Red Wings Select Ty Smith
It looks like things are going to get worse before they get better for the Wings, but this would be a nice consolation prize.
Merkley is an offensive specialist, but Ty Smith is effective on both sides of the puck. His mix of puck-moving ability and defensive reliability puts him right on part with Merkley, if not slightly ahead, in terms of 2018 draft position.
Smith finished up a solid season for the WHL's Spokane Chiefs in 2016-2017. He put up 32 points in 66 games last season at 16 years of age. He emerged as a top power play threat in his first full season with the Chiefs since being taken first overall in the 2015 WHL draft. His plus/minus suffered a bit last season (-12) but his defensive awareness should improve in his second WHL season.
Hockeyprospect.com ranks the Saskatchewan native fifth in their top prospect rankings. FutureConsiderations.com praises Smith as one who "moves the puck smartly and quickly, with an efficiency," and how he is "patient and skilled running the point in the offensive zone." He should improve on his totals next season. If he further solidifies his defensive play, expect Smith to be a lottery pick come 2018.
12 4th Pick In 2018: Devils Select Brady Tkachuk
If Tkachuk's name sounds familiar, that's because it is. Brady is the son of NHL Hall-of-Famer Keith Tkachuk, and is turning heads with his play for the U.S. National Development Team. His brother, Matthew, enjoyed a solid rookie year with the Calgary Flames in 2016-17. Tkachuk would be a boost to the Devils, and would definitely be put alongside Nico Hischier in the future.
At 6'2" and 194 pounds, Tkachuk already has the size to compete in the NHL. His stats suggest he is ready to score as well. Tkachuk put up 25 goals and 29 assists for 54 points in 61 games for the U.S. U18 Team in 2016-2017. He also served as captain of the U.S. Men's National U18 Team that captured a gold medal at the 2017 IIHF U18 Men's World Championship. He notched one goal and six assists in seven games during the tournament.
Tkachuk earned praise with his rugged, energetic style of play.
"He plays the game at an extremely high level, with energy,” Team USA coach Bob Motzko told The Hockey News in August 2017. “You can see, as he gets stronger, he’s going to be not very fun to play against. He’s rugged, he’s going to bang around, he’s got hockey sense."
Tkachuk will play for Boston University this fall, just like his father before him. Expect Tkachuk to be a top five pick in 2018.
11 5th Pick In 2018: Canucks Select Ryan Merkley
2018 looks to be a defense-heavy draft class. That works out for the Cancuks, our projected pick at this spot, because they need some badly. Ryan Merkley could be one of the first defensemen selected. Merkley put up 12 goals and 43 assists for 55 points in 62 games en route to being named the OHL's Rookie of the Year in 2017. The Guelph Storm blueliner's mix of puck-moving prowess and offensive flair has drawn comparisons to Ottawa's Erik Karlsson. However, Merkley's size could scare some teams away from taking him in the top four. At 5'11" and 165 pounds, Merkley still needs to grow into his frame. His positional play will improve accordingly.
Merkley will return to Guelph for the 2017-18 season, where he will surely produce offensively. At the same time, scouts will focus on his defensive play, and how his size affects that part of his game. Either way, Merkley's offensive potential may be enough to overshadow questions over his size and defensive strength. He is still expected to go in the top five in 2018.
10 1st Pick In 2019: Kings Select Jack Hughes
Yes, we foresee things unraveling further for the Los Angeles Kings, so much so they'll slip to a lottery pick in 2019. The big market will then mysteriously win the lottery and raise questions about the NHL rigging the system.
Jack Hughes overpowered the competition last season during his time with the Toronto Marlboros of the Greater Toronto Hockey League. He finished the 2016-17 Minor Midget season with 73 points in 33 games. That's an average of over two points per game. He also added three goals and seven points in five games during the OHL Cup last March.
“I see a little bit of McDavid and Marner in him,” Mark Seidel of North American Central Scouting said. “He’s got the puck skills of Marner but he has a McDavid burst."
Surprisingly, Hughes fell all the way to number eight in the 2017 OHL Priority Draft. Perhaps his size (5'10", 151 pounds) might have been a factor. However, he was just 15 at the time of his selection. With two more seasons of development, Hughes will grow into his frame and continue to improve. The OHL’s website praised him as an "elite" center who "anticipates plays well and always seems to be a step ahead." Look for Hughes to finish atop NHL Central Scouting's prospect rankings ahead of the 2019 draft.
9 2nd Pick In 2019: Kings Select Peyton Krebs
The Coyotes will have another down year in 2018-19, but this time, they'll land a big prize in a lottery.
Peyton Krebs went first overall in the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft, just ahead of the aforementioned Kirby Dach. The Kootenay ICE struggled mightily in 2016-2017, but saw a glimpse of a bright future after calling up Krebs for six games. The Alberta native was a point-per-game player (1 goal, 5 assists) after his promotion from the Alberta Midget AAA League (AMHL). Before that, he scored 15 goals and 40 points in 29 games in the AHML in 2016-2017.
Krebs' slim build (5'11", 163 pounds) allows him to skate with fantastic speed and play an up-tempo game. The 16-year-old left wing will surely build on his point production during his first full WHL season in 2017-2018. With two more years of development before he's eligible for the NHL draft, Krebs could emerge as a first or second overall selection in 2019.
8 3rd Pick In 2019: Red Wings Select Kirby Dach
It's the Dead Wings era alright, but Kirby Dach could help the Wings fly again. Kirby Dach is a 6’3” forward excelling in the WHL. The Saskatoon Blades selected Dach second overall in the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft. The Blades called him up for the final 19 games of the 2016-2017 season. The 16-year-old center scored four goals and 10 points in that span. He has earned praise for his long reach, slick stickhandling, and high hockey IQ.
Before his debut with the Rockets, Dach starred in theAlberta Major Bantam Hockey League. He scored 35 points in 34 games during the 2015-2016 season for the Fort Saskatchewan Rangers’ U18 Team.Dach knows what he needs to do to improve for the 2017-2018 season and beyond. “When I came back this off-season, I really wanted to put on some muscle and add thickness to my body, so I can stand up for myself when I’m battling in the corners,” he told Zach Mueller at The Fort Saskatchewan Record in August 2017. “Most of the guys in (the WHL) are already men, so as a 16-year-old, I have to be quite strong to compete with them.”
He also laid out some lofty goals for his team and himself moving forward.
“From a team perspective, I hope we make playoffs this year,” he added. “From a more individual perspective, I just want to be the best 16-year-old player in the WHL."
Dach is clearly motivated to improve and that only helps his chances of going in the top three in 2019.
7 4th Pick In 2019: Islanders Select Nolan Foote
With the Islanders possibly playing without John Tavares come 2018-19, we have to project them as becoming a bottom feeder, hence the fourth overall pick. Like the aforementioned Brady Tkachuk, Nolan Foote comes from a prestigious hockey family. He is the son of long-time Avalanche defenseman Adam Foote and younger brother of 2017 first-round pick, Callan Foote.
In fact, Nolan and Callan played together on the WHL's Kelowna Rockets last season. Nolan recorded an impressive 19 goals and 35 points in 52 games as a WHL Rookie. The 6'3" left winger plays his game with a mix of rugged physicality and offensive firepower.
MileHighHockey.com compares Foote's lightning-quick wrist shot to that of Evander Kane. The Rockets took advantage of that skill by placing Foote as a primary shooter on their power play unit. He also represented Canada at the 2017 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in 2017. He is expected to join Canada's U18 Team this season. If Foote adds some more muscle to his frame, he can find another dimension to his game. Expect him to build on his rookie success in the WHL over the next two seasons. If he does, he will go in the top five in 2019.
6 5th Pick In 2019: Senators Select Artemi Knyazev
The Sens have some good young pieces, but every team has a down year, and in a tough Atlantic Division that's only getting better, we could see the Sens slumping in 2019. Andrei Svechnikov may go first overall in 2018, but another young Russian could follow in his footsteps in 2019. Defenseman Artemi Knyazev projects to be the top-ranked Russian prospect heading into the 2019 draft. Like Svechnikov, Knyazev spent time on the Ak Bars Kazan U16 Team. His numbers are fairly impressive for a defenseman. He scored two goals and two assists in six games during the Russian U16 Finals.
Knyazev also captained the Russian U17 national team to a gold medal at the European Youth Olympic Festival (EYOF) in Turkey last February. He scored four goals and 12 points during the four-game tournament, along with a +22 rating.
Knyazev clearly has a flair for offense. He moves the puck extremely well, is swift on his skates, and has great hands. This eclectic mix of skills make Knyazev a dynamic defenseman with goal-scoring ability. Any NHL team would love to have a young power play quarterback who anticipates the play before it happens. Knyazev is certainly on track to develop into that type of talent. Look for him to go in the top five.
5 1st Pick In 2020: Canadiens Select Alexis Lafrenière
The Oilers got their franchise savior in 2015. The Leafs got theirs in 2016. And 2020 will be the year the Habs finally get theirs and find the no.1 center they've been looking for... In their own backyard. The Habs will be an aging team by 2020 and Shea Weber will be a declining asset, which could lead to a down year in Montreal.
Few 15-year-olds hold more NHL potential than Alexis Lafrenière. The 6’0, 170-pound center turns 16 on October 1, but possesses skill beyond his years. He played for the St. Eustache Vikings in the Quebec Midget AAA league (QMAAA) last season. Lafrenière scored an astonishing 33 goals and 83 points in just 36 games. That averages out to an absurd 2.31 points per game! He led the QMAAA in scoring by 15 points.
By the time the 2017 QMJHL Draft arrived, Rimouski Oceanic took notice of Lafrenière’s stardom, and selected him first overall.
Lafrenière joins some elite company for Rimouski. The last player Rimouski took first overall was Sidney Crosby back in 2003. Lafrenière does not appear daunted by the expectations.
“Crosby is a big name, that’s for sure,” he said after the draft. “But I’m not going to worry about that as I try to follow my own path.”
Expect Lafrenière to build on his QMAAA success and become a star in the QMJHL. He’ll be the talk of NHL scouting circles soon enough, if he isn’t already. This kid has all the making of a number-one draft pick in 2020.
4 2nd Pick In 2020: Golden Knights Select Marco Rossi
Following a surprising second year, the Knights will fall back down to earth in 2020. But they grab a good player here. He may only be 5’9”, but Marco Rossi’s size should not scare away scouts. The young Austrian’s skill is more than apparent. Even before age 15, Rossi was already skating with the Swiss GC Küsnacht U17 Team in 2015-2016. He scored 15 goals and 25 assists for 40 points in just 18 games.
He moved up to the Swiss Elite League (Elite Novizen) in 2016-2017, and scored 28 goals and 51 points in 29 games for the ZSC U17 team. Rossi and ZSC suffered a sweep at the hands of HC Davos in the Swiss U17 League Final, but Rossi notched eight goals and 11 points in 11 games during the run.
If Rossi continued to perform beyond his years against competition one to two years his senior, he could shape up as a top prospect for the 2020 draft. He may even follow in Thomas Vanek’s footsteps as the next Austrian NHL star.
3 3rd Pick In 2020: Islanders Select Brandon Coe
Without Tavares, the Islanders are going to continue to tank until they get better... Brandon Coe turns 16 on December 1 of this year. Yet, at 6’3” and 166 pounds, he already possesses the size of player two years his senior. That size could help him become a dominant physical presence in his first OHL season in 2017-2018.
He described himself as a power forward when speaking with OHL.com in March of 2017. “I like getting in the corners, digging deep, and I can finish the puck too sometimes,” he said.
The North Bay Battalion selected Coe third overall in the 2017 OHL Draft. The Ontario native was fresh off a standout 2016-2017 campaign with the Toronto Nationals Minor Midget AAA team. He notched 17 goals and 16 assists for 33 points in 31 games.
He admittedly models his game after Anaheim forward Corey Perry and prides himself on his play-making ability. At the same time, Coe knows what he needs to do to improve his game at the next level.
“Probably my conditioning,” he told OHL.com. “Get my conditioning up because the next level is a faster pace and game, and probably my defensive ability too.”
If Coe fixes those weaknesses, and improves with each successive OHL season, expect him to go in the top three in 2020.
2 4th Pick In 2020: Rangers Select Danil Gushchin
By 2020, Henrik Lundqvist will be in his late 30s and thus, his declining play will lead to a rough 2019-20 season for New York. However, there's a silver lining here in Europe. Let's not limit our search of top 2020 draftees to North America. Danil Gushchin is carving out a name for himself in the Russia U16 League. He scored 11 goals and 27 points in just 13 games for Dynamo Moksva’s U16 team during the 2016-2017 season. After starting the 2017-2018 season off with four goals in three games with Russia's U16 team, Gushchin was promoted to Russia's U17 team. Keep in mind that Gushchin doesn't turn 16 until February 6, 2018.
His skill allowed him to skirt the final months on the U16 team, and jump straight to U17 before his 16th birthday. At 5'8" and 143 pounds, the young Russian still has some maturing to do. Yet, there's little doubt he will grow into his frame and build that strength to complement his swift skating and deft scoring touch.
1 5th Pick In 2020: Red Wings Select Connor McClennon
Yup, it's the Red Wings again, but this is all part of rebuilding. Some might say prep school players are a bit too young to show realistic NHL potential, but we disagree. After all, many of the brightest stars in the NHL, including Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid, turned heads from a young age.
Here we come to Canadian forward Connor McClennon. The 15-year-old center put up spectacular numbers for the Pursuit of Excellence Hockey Academy Bantam Prep Team in 2016-17. In just 30 games, McClennon scored an otherworldly 45 goals and 99 points. He scored 16 more points in five playoffs games as Pursuit of Excellence Hockey Academy won the CSSBHL championship.
That production was more than enough to convince the Kootenay ICE to take McClennon second overall in the 2017 WHL draft. Garnet Kazuik, Kootenay’s Director of Scouting, praised McClennon as a kid who “loves to score.” The Wainwright, Alberta native will look to take his goal-scoring prowess into the WHL this season.