Forget The Legal Technicalities: SEATTLE Has An NHL TEAM!

Officially all the NHL is doing is allowing a Seattle ownership group to make an ownership bid to which they will make the usual standard investigations about how appropriate it is, subject to league approval. Forget about them, they are just a formality. Seattle now has an NHL team, exactly a century after they became the first American team to win the Stanley Cup. It’s over; unless something incredible happens, the NHL is not going to refund $650 million back to Jerry Bruckheimer and David Bonderman. Seattle will begin play in the 2020-21 season.

The NHL had been eying Seattle for the past several years. Seattle is an obvious NHL expansion city, one of the better ones (I had it listed in my group of top 10 cities for NHL expansion), with deep roots in hockey in Canada, competing for the Stanley Cup in even its pre-NHL period and for decades in the CHL, competing for Canada’s top junior trophy, the Memorial Cup. In fact the only surprise is why it took 100 years to join the NHL. And if Las Vegas with its doubtful market is proving to be an overwhelming success because of excellent ownership, the same conditions should make the new Seattle team an undoubted, sure winner.

The new Seattle team will play in a $600 million renovated, Key Arena, a sports facility that opened in 1962 and is therefore 55 years old (more on the repercussions of this decision later). Aping Las Vegas owner, Bill Foley, Bruckheimer and Bonderman will conduct their own preliminary season ticket drive to see who will put their money where their mouths are.

Perhaps even more important than Seattle’s admission to the NHL is its repercussions for the future. The news of Seattle joining the NHL has direct repercussions on Phoenix, Vancouver, Hartford, Calgary, NHL realignment, renovated arenas, the NBA, and future NHL expansion. All these topics probably need full, fleshed-out articles, but I’ll go over them briefly now.

Vancouver

This is the easiest one to document. Edmonton and Calgary were always each other’s best rivals with Vancouver their number two choice. Vancouver will now have its own best NHL rival all to itself, joining the Seattle Sounders-Vancouver Whitecaps MLS rivalry. Seattle will also have rivalries with Edmonton, Calgary, all the California teams, and possibly Las Vegas.

Phoenix

With the current troubles about where the Arizona Coyotes will play in the future, there were rumors that Seattle and Portland were cities that the current Coyote ownership was negotiating with for possible relocation. The granting of an NHL franchise to Seattle obviously rules out the Coyotes moving there. Baring a miracle about building a new downtown Phoenix arena, funded by taxpayers, where will the Coyotes play? Houston, Portland, Quebec, and Hartford are still in the running.

The NBA

Originally it was supposed to be a new NBA franchise owner of a returned Supersonics building a brand new arena with an NHL expansion team as a tenant. But now the NHL has beaten the NBA to the punch. Where does this leave a returned Supersonics?

Calgary, Hartford And Renovated Arenas

As noted above, by virtually granting a team to Seattle, the NHL is saying that they approve the renovation of an old, 55 year old arena. Yet at the same time, the NHL is telling the Calgary Flames ownership to play hardball with Calgary taxpayers and city officials about building a new arena to succeed the 34 year old Saddledome, one of the NHL’s better arenas with over 19,000 seats (see below about the Seattle renovation). Just what is wrong with the Calgary Saddledome? The Flames ownership won’t say since they want a new arena that they don’t have to pay for. But surely a cheaper renovation of the existing building is much better for taxpayers and city officials than building a costly, perhaps unnecessary new arena. If the NHL is going to a accept a renovated arena in Seattle, how can they turn down a cheaper Calgary renovation?

For Hartford, the admission of Seattle in a renovated old arena should mean that the NHL will also approve the $250 million renovation Hartford and Connecticut plan to spend to get the Whalers back. The XL Center is only 41 years old so if the NHL can accept the Key Arena, they should also accept the XL Center. The new renovation will give the XL Center over 19,000 seats (again see below about the Seattle renovation).

More importantly, if this proposed Seattle renovation is done, the renovated Key Arena’s seating capacity will make it the third smallest arena in the NHL (2nd smallest if the New York Islanders get a new arena), ahead of only Winnipeg and New York. For the money they plan to spend ($600 million), would it not be better to tear down the Key Arena and build a brand new one with enlarged seating instead?

NHL Realignment

Probably this is only a temporary stopping point in NHL expansion (The NHL has an unofficial commitment to return both Quebec and Hartford to the league plus they want an NHL team in Houston). Probably they want to expand to the next symmetrical number of 40 teams. But by expanding to 32 teams in balanced conferences, the NHL now has the opportunity to realign into an NFL structure of 2 Conferences, each with 4 divisions of 4 teams each. Once the Seattle franchise is formally approved, expect the NHL to follow it up with an announcement of realignment. Whether there will be other new expansion teams added before this announcement is made remains to be seen.

Future NHL Expansion

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and his NHL owners have more than the obvious reason to welcome Seattle into the NHL and probably this is the most important one. The last NHL expansion to Las Vegas was a bust. Probably what the NHL wanted was an expansion of four teams, Quebec and three western cities so the NHL could not only expand but realign as well. Before the expansion was even announced, the press and the Internet were saying that there were four “done deals” already; Quebec, Las Vegas, second Toronto, and Seattle. But of 16 possible bids, only fanatical Las Vegas and Quebec City continued on to the end (The Quebec bid was “suspended” by the NHL probably because the NHL does not like the potential owner who made racist statements about an NHL Board owner, is an active pro-separatist of Quebec independence, and is generally untrustworthy), probably because the investment world would not accept a $500 million expansion fee. It was a humiliating failure, probably the first time a “big 4″ league expansion had no competition between rival cities. I even speculated that the NHL would have to refund some of the expansion money back to Las Vegas owner Bill Foley, and then set a lower expansion fee that the investment world could accept if the league wanted to expand in the future.

But the breach in the wall by Bruckheimer and Bonderman means that Gary Bettman’s brazen gamble paid off. Not only did they accept a $500 million expansion fee, they upped it to $650 million. Bettman has every reason to kiss their rumps. He and his NHL Board are not going to turn down Seattle now, even if the proposed season ticket drive doesn’t get a single client and the new renovated arena is the second smallest in the NHL. Now the investment world will have to accept a higher NHL expansion fee even when the value of any NHL team is not listed in the top 20 sports franchises in North America. Right behind Bettman, the commissioners of the NBA, MLB, and the NFL have lined up to bestow hugs and kisses on Bruckheimer and Bonderman. If the fourth ranked NHL can get expansion fees like this, imagine what their leagues can get when they announce expansion. MLB has already projected Montreal and Portland as its next teams and a realignment into a brand new structure with 32 teams. The NBA also wants to realign once it gets to 32 teams.

So Seattle is in and don’t think this is the end of NHL expansion. Houston, Quebec, and Hartford are waiting and there are probably more potential teams sitting on the fence. A 40 team NHL, here we come.

 

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The NHL’s Disappointing Teams Thus Far In ThE 2017/18 Season

After a quarter of the 2017 NHL season completed this post we’ll cover the NHL’s disappointing teams thus far. Although records and standings do not show everything this article is based on teams that went out and overpaid for players and still teams are struggling.                                                                                                                                                           1  Edmonton Despite having one of the highest paid players in Connor Mc David and Leon Draisaitl the Oilers haven’t improved that much from last year. At Christmas time the Oilers find themselves at the bottom of the Pacific division with a record of 11-14. The Oilers do have two quality goalies in Laurent Brossoit and Cam Talbot. If the Oilers are to make any kind of have any hope at all rotating the goalies may not be a bad idea.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  2. Ottawa. Even though it’s still early the Senators have to be one of the leagues biggest disappointments so far. The Senators find themselves in 7th place in the Atlantic  Division. Considering they have one of the games best defenseman it was Ottawa who eliminated the Bruins last year in round one of the playoffs.                                                                                                                                                                                                                        3 Chicago; This is a team loaded with talent and find themselves in 6th place in the Western Division. They have one of the games most explosive players in  Johnathan Toews. The Hawks have been getting solid contributions from 5’7” Alex Debrincat. Debrincat is one of the teams fastest and slickest puck handlers. Overall the Hawks rank 10th in the league in goals scored,5th in the league in goals against and a dismal 29th ranking on the power play.  Considering they’re one of the leagues richest teams at 1.5 billion they should be playing better than 6th place.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      4. New York Rangers, This argument can go either way. Currently, the Rangers are in sixth place in the Metropolitan Division. Also, the Rangers have one of the top three goalies in the game in Henrik Lundqvist. Not to mention overpaying for defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk this past summer. But so far Shattenkirk has lived up to his billing scoring 5 goals and 15 assists in 27 games. Another problem the Rangers had has  Lundqvist started fourteen straight games before coming down with an illness. Backup Ondrej Pavelec had the biggest game of his career making 41 saves in a recent 4-3 win. Despite being 4 points out of first look for the Rangers to play more consistent as the season goes on.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Even though the season is still young anything can happen. The teams who can stay healthy and enough depth will be the ones who go deep in the playoffs.                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

Foley Sets The Bar For Future Expansion Owners

Whether the new expansion franchise Las Vegas Golden Knights win any more games this year or not, owner Bill Foley has set the bar for future owners of NHL expansion franchises to reach. Las Vegas would not be on my top ten list for NHL expansion franchises. Nor would it make my next group of cities that were not the best choices for an NHL franchise but were worth taking a chance on. In fact I would be inclined to rank Las Vegas as a poor choice for an NHL team, on the level with Phoenix.

But Foley has shown beyond doubt that good ownership can make up for a doubtful market. He was doing the right things long before Las Vegas was officially granted an NHL franchise. The NHL had long been eying Las Vegas as a potential franchise, the first professional league to try an untested market, but without Foley, it is doubtful that the league would have placed a team there during the last expansion. First he was taking surveys to see if there was enough interest to consider if an NHL team was feasible. When he was convinced that there was enough potential to take the matter further, he convinced the doubtful NHL to believe his sincerity by taking formal pledges for tickets from fans prepared to put their money where their mouths were to show the league that there was money already on the table. He along with Quebec were the only cities to accept the NHL’s $500 million expansion fee without a quibble.

But his competence did not stop there. He wanted to build a winning team and so far the Golden Knights have far exceeded anybody’s imagination. First he hired a competent general manager, George McPhee, who shared Foley’s vision that under the NHL expansion draft terms that had been set up, a winning team or at least a better than average starting expansion team could be built. The NHL had set better-than-usual expansion terms, but you have to have competent ownership and management to know what you are doing. Vegas not only has a winning record but there is a good chance that they could make the playoffs, something unprecedented in every expansion since 1970.

Foley and McPhee next hired a competent coach, Gerard Gallant, who was unaccountably fired by the Florida Panthers last season despite having a winning record at the time. Gallant immediately became a leading candidate for a coaching position this year and Las Vegas was happy to give him a chance. The success of the Golden Knights on the ice in no small way is due to Gallant’s coaching.

Success on the ice has led to success at the gate. The Golden Knights are enjoying sold-out standing room only crowds. Where once one doubted if the new arena would be filled, now one wonders whether it was built with enough seating capacity. Whether this is because the Knights are an entertainment novelty this season remains to be seen, but everybody loves a winner or at least a team that is playing to its total capabilities and it is hoped the Knights have made a deep and lasting impact among the Las Vegas sports fans. Bill Foley worked hard to make that happen and his pattern should be followed by future NHL expansion team owners (likely Houston next).

The expansion team that took the shortest time to become a true Stanley Cup contender was the New York Islanders, in only their third season, after setting a then record for a bad first season by an expansion team. Thanks to the more generous expansion terms and competent ownership and management, the Golden Knights are already closer to that status. If they make the playoffs and do well, it will be icing on the cake for Bill Foley.

 

Status Of Hockey In The United States Part 11: Where Is The American Media Coverage?

If you have Windows 10 as your operating system on your computer like I do, you can click on an icon and a panel of options comes up, one called current news. Since Windows is an American product, this news panel understandably has an American slant. You can choose news items from several fields including current national American news, world news, good news, financial news, American opinion, entertainment, sports, etc.

Since the current NHL season started two months ago, the number of sports articles I have seen about hockey can be counted on one hand. There have been articles on the current NFL season and controversies, the MLB playoffs, basketball, NCAA sports, the return of Tiger Woods to the golf tour, but hockey articles on this pro-American media platform are like spotting pandas outside of zoos. Over the time period when I’ve had Windows 10, sports items about hockey are few and far between. As far as media coverage is concerned, hockey is the poor brother of the “big 4″ sports.

There are more American teams in the NHL than ever before (24) and there are more Americans playing hockey than ever before, but as far as the American media is concerned, promoting hockey with coverage does not bring in the big bucks. It is like a vicious circle. Hockey doesn’t sell so it gets less coverage unless something truly startling occurs. Because it gets less coverage, nobody knows what happens which in turn prompts less interest in the sport which in turn means less coverage which in turn…

It doesn’t help that Americans are a parochial people, not interested unless stirred up by what Americans do. The vast majority of players in the NHL are Canadian or European and the fact that nearly one quarter of the league are Canadian franchises instantly downgrades the NHL in the eyes of the American public. Occasionally the American media takes note of what happens outside its borders; Lowell Thomas publicizing Lawrence of Arabia, the American media taking notice of the Beatles late in 1963. But mostly the attitude is if it is not American, it is not interesting.

When Gary Bettman was hired as NHL Commissioner, his job was clearly laid out by the NHL Board: Make hockey more popular in the United States. He has succeeded in a limited sense. As noted above, there are more American teams, there are more Americans playing hockey, and there is finally a better American television contract. But in terms of comparison among the “big 4″ sports, hockey runs a poor fourth.

As noted in part 4 of this series, there are alternative policies that could be pursued instead of groping vainly for American recognition; pursue a more pro-Canadian policy or become more Europeanized. Perhaps one day they will try the second option if hockey continues to grow slowly in the United States. But the pro-Canadian policy in hockey fanatical Canada will probably never be tried because of the opposition by – you guessed it – Canadians. From the very first expansion back in 1967, opposition to NHL growth in elitist, selfish Canada has been led by Canadians, particularly at the NHL Board level who refuse to share so much as a crumb of the Canadian market and Canadian hockey television money with anybody else. They blocked Vancouver from joining the league in 1967, opposed the WHA merger, refuse to set a reasonable compensation package for Toronto and Buffalo so that Hamilton or some other southern Ontario city can have another NHL franchise, etc. Only Calgary, Ottawa, and a returned Winnipeg managed to get into the NHL without any bother and fuss.

Many times I have written that Canadians have created a myth to console themselves, that the American NHL owners, led by Bettman are “anti-Canadian”. And of course the Canadian owners never refute this myth which neatly gets them off the hook for any responsibility about lack of new Canadian NHL growth. Bettman probably would like to see more Canadian franchises but as written about in my other articles, neither he nor his predecessors have ever reined in the Canadian NHL owners for the good of the game.

So right now the NHL pursues a pro-American policy which means 4th rate media coverage. Good luck if you manage to find the rare NHL sports article on that Windows 10 panel. Or even rarer, an article about any other hockey development outside of the NHL. If you want to know about what goes on in hockey, design your own hockey Internet searches. The American media will not help you.

 

2018 NHL Draft December Top 50

Holiday decorations are beginning to pop up, and that means that it’s time for my December draft rankings.  Big changes to the rankings since last time, I saw a lot of prospects play this month.  Those changes are detailed below.Edit

Risers and Fallers
First off, it’s important to note that these are only the most notable prospects that are listed here, and only the one’s that rose or fall by large amounts. If a guy rose or fell one or two spots, they aren’t listed.

Rising:

Brady Tkackuk

November: 11

December: 5

⬆️ 6

Oliver Wahlstrom

November: 14

December: 7

⬆️ 7

Noah Dobson

November: 20

December: 12

⬆️ 8

Adam Ginning

November: Not Ranked

December: 24

⬆️ 27+

Rasmus Sandin

November: Not Ranked

December: 25

⬆️ 26+

Ryan McLeod

November: 29

December: 23

⬆️6

With most of these prospects, the opportunity to see them play more allowed me to get an better idea of what their skill level is compared to the other prospects available in the draft. Dobson and McLeod both impressed me during the Canada-Russia juniors series, Dobson playing for the QMJHL and McLeod representing the OHL, while viewings of the other’s playing for their teams caused the rise for the others.

Falling:

Joe Veleno

November: 5

December: 13

⬇️8

Akil Thomas

November: 7

December: 14

⬇️7

Ryan Merkley

November: 10

December: 16

⬇️6

Jack McBain

November: 15

December: 39

⬇️24

The fallers fell for differing reasons, but they all mostly revolve around a poor start that has showcased their flaws. For Veleno, those flaws are his passing and defensive play. His passes have been off, and his defensive play hasn’t been two-way centre calibre. Akil Thomas just hasn’t really done that much this season, and he’s been outshone by others, while Merkley’s negative plus-minus this season shows that his offence doesn’t make up for his poor defence. And finally, Jack McBain, who has fallen all the way from 15th to 39th, hasn’t been producing in the second-tier junior league that he plays in, and a top prospect should be dominating.  

I’ve kept you waiting long enough, here’s the list.

1. Rasmus Dahlin, D
Scouts everywhere gush about Swedish defenceman Rasmus Dahlin, and for good reason. The defenceman is good at a lot of things, especially on offence. The defenceman possesses great speed, which he uses to generate opportunities off the rush. Dahlin’s speed and puck skills allows him to go end to end with the puck. That won’t work too well in the NHL, where the defence is considerably better, but Dahlin can still use his speed and passing to move the op ice quickly. The Swede is nearly as deadly when set up in the offensive zone as he is off the rush, as his shot and offensive instincts allow him to score from the point, set up teammates, and jump up into the high slot and finish from there.  Dahlin is exceptionally talented and has drawn comparisons to Erik Karlsson. They certainly share some similarities, but I believe that Dahlin will establish his own game, and in 10 years, top prospects will be compared to him. One similarity that the two Swedes do share? Franchise potential.

2. Andrei Svechnikov, RW

Svechnikov broken hand is unfortunate, but it won’t affect his draft position. He is way too good for that. As good as Dahlin is, Svechnikov is not far behind. The Russian winger doesn’t really fit into any of the groups that prospects are often sorted into, not because he can’t snipe it, or he can’t drive the net, but actually because he can do it all. He can be a sniper, but he isn’t solely a sniper. He can take the puck to the net, but he isn’t just a power forward. In fact, if I had to put him in a category, it would be two way player, not because Svechnikov is gonna be a shutdown player, but because he’s nearly just as good in his own zone as he is on offense, and that’s saying a lot when you look at his offensive talent. To give you a better idea of how good he truly is on offense, if Svechnikov was 2017 eligible, he would of been 1st overall by a landslide, and in 2016 he would of been 2nd or 3rd overall, not quite as good as Auston Matthews, but practically equal to Patrik Laine. To put this simply, he’s really good.

3. Adam Boqvist, D

Adam Boqvist might be one of the most NHL-ready players, not because he is physically dominant, in fact, he is slightly undersized, but because he already plays an NHL style game on the blue line. Many top defensive prospects take advantage of the poor competition in their respective junior leagues and go end to end quite often, using their superior speed and hands to make highlight-reel plays. Top prospect Rasmus Dahlin is guilty of this, but it’s not like it’s a bad thing. There is nothing wrong with doing that, if it’s possible, why not do it? The only downside is that it will take prospects that do this more time to adjust to NHL play, where the competition is just too strong to consistently go end to end like that. Boqvist plays like how I think Dahlin will once he adjusts to the NHL, instead of going end to end, he generates opportunities by skating the puck up and dishing the puck up to forwards, and then joining the rush that he created. Boqvist can also generate a lot of opportunities when set up offensively, using his vision or shot to set up teammates or to get a hard shot on net. I like Boqvist’s play on the defensive side of the puck as well. He holds his own in battles in front of the net and in the corners, as well as playing well positionally and in 1v1 situations. His play popped out to me right from the start (I actually had him #1 for a bit in September), and I’m looking forward to seeing him play as an elite puck-moving defenceman in the future.

4. Filip Zadina, LW

You know it’s a deep draft when a guy like Filip Zadina doesn’t even crack the top 3. In most drafts, a player that looks like a future 40 goal scorer would go first overall, second at the latest, but the depth of this draft has bumped him Zadina is a goal scorer with speed, puck skill and creativity, which he combines to become absolutely lethal in the o-zone. He has a knack for finding a way to the net, whether that is by dangling, speeding past a defender, or dishing it off to a teammate, moving into open space and getting a return feed. His creativity makes him difficult to defend, as he might try something new on every play. I mentioned before that he could be a consistent 40 goal scorer, and that isn’t as hard as you might think when you have as good as a release as Zadina. I would say that it nears Auston Matthews’ especially in terms of release. It is absolutely lethal. Some of his plays remind of Ovie in his prime, when #8 was a dynamic, dangling winger with a great shot, not 30 year old Ovie that relies on his one-timer from the top of the circle to score a lot of his goals. Could be a steal at #4, it’s not often that you get someone this good outside the top 3 picks.

5. Brady Tkachuk, C

Brady Tkackuk plays is a powerful two way centre with a real knack for finding a way to the net. He’s a really smart player, and he moves into open space really well. He plays a power game atypical of a bottom 6 player, going to the net, except hems got elite skill. Goes to the net a lot and he’s got the shot and he hands to finish. Tkackuk excels at the behind the net style of play, when he has the puck down behind the goal line he’s got the skill to have multiple lethal options. He can cut the net, he can hit a teammate with a really nice pass or he can continue to cycle it down low, and he does all of them with elite fashion. Solid defensively, good on the forecheck. Really combined the best qualities from his father and his brother, and he’s the better than both of them. Really good player, would of gone first overall in 2017 for sure.

6. Quinn Hughes, D

Quinn Hughes has done nothing but rise since the beginning of the year, thanks to his success on the NCAA level. Hughes is a fast puck-moving two-way defenceman capable of making a large mark on a game. He can rush the puck, he can make good, accurate breakout passes, he’s really good at quickly moving the puck up ice, making him a great transition defenceman and a great fit for today’s NHL. When I last saw Hughes play, the opposition was collapsing around their net, giving the two opposing defenseman a lot of room to work with on the point, and Hughes took advantage. He controlled the point, found open passing and shooting lanes, and generated a lot of opportunities. For me, a good sign of a defenseman with good offensive zone skills is the ability to walk the point to find an open lane. A lot of dmen will stay stationary, and either take a shot, pass it off or chip it in, but Hughes is able to walk the point and wait for things to open up. A top pairing defenseman if I’ve ever seen one.

7. Oliver Wahlstrom, C

Wahlstrom was a viral sensation as a kid thanks to his lacrosse-style goal in a shootout, and while a lot of the time those kids don’t end up making it to the show, it looks like Wahlstrom will. He’s got the best hands out of anybody in the draft class, and he uses them exceptionally well, creating countless opportunities. Great shot, deceptive release and he skates well with a powerful stride. Shows flashes of a power forward, can protect puck well and drove the net. Physical game needs some work. There isn’t much that’s bad about this player, he’s got elite skill and potential:

8. Ty Smith, D

Ty Smith, like Adam Boqvist, plays an offensive NHL-style game using speed and smarts to move the puck up ice quickly. As skilled as Smith is, the most impressive part of Smith’s game isn’t his skating or his hands, it’s his hockey IQ. Smith consistently makes smart plays with the puck, allowing his team to control possession. Another example of his smarts is how he shoots low, allowing his team to get tips and rebounds. His defense allows him to succeed as well, as he is solid in his own zone, winning battles in the corners and in front of the net, and his active stick closes passing lanes effectively. Will be an effective two-way top pairing defenseman.

9. Bode Wilde, D

Wilde is a big defenseman that moves the puck really well and generally plays an offensive style game without sacrificing much on the defensive side of the puck. His crisp, accurate passes appear effortless, and he uses them to breakout effectively and control the transition game. Wilde likes to jump up and make himself an option in the rush, and he can be a lethal high guy on the rush thanks to his deadly shot. He can really snipe the puck, I’ve seen him knock the water bottle off on numerous occasions. Plays an offensive NHL style game, doesn’t make many risky plays but still generate lots of offense. He’s so calm with the puck, he can have multiple players on him and wait until they are about to check him and then put a pass right on a teammate’s tape. Some of his passes are just amazing. One of the top passers in the draft. Puck moving defensemen like Wilde are all the rage in the NHL, and team’s will be eager to snap him up, especially since he’s already huge and essentially NHL ready physically. 

10. Rasmus Kupari, C

If Wahlstrom’s got the best hands in the draft, it isn’t by much, because Kupari is right behind him. The kid’s got hands like pillows. He can really dangle a player and he’s done that numerous times, but each to the finish just wasn’t there, and that could be Kupari’s biggest I said as he develops. Despite having fantastic hands and a great shot, he just seems to really struggle finishing in tight, and that could hold him back. There’s a point where he’s almost more dangerous from the hash marks that he is from right in front of the net, because at the hashes he has time to get that laser of a shot off, while he can’t do so in tight. That last sentence makes it sound like he needs a lot of time to take a shot, but the opposite is actually true. Kupari’s got a filthy release. It’s just that he seems to struggle with those open blade shots by the goalie. That’s really his only offensive weakness, because he can shoot, pass and dangle better than most. He’s a really exciting player to watch, might struggle a bit at first in the NHL as he has less space and time, but once he adjusts he could be a deadly threat.

11. Jett Woo, D

Jett Woo joins Adam Boqvist, Bode Wilde and Ty Smith as defencemen that play a two-way, NHL-style game, and while he is ranked later than the two of them in overall skill, he would ahead of both in terms of defensive skill, and maybe even first overall. Woo’s active stick allows him to keep opposing forwards to the perimeter, limiting scoring chances, and them important battles he wins in the corners and in front of the net lead to breakouts for his team. Not afraid to use his body, can separate the man from the puck. As Woo’s WHL experience has grown, so has his offensive impact, as Woo now joins the rush quite often, giving teammates another option. He’s also taken over a PP QB role for his team, and he’s good at it. He moves the puck around very well. A player of Woo’s skill-set will prove very valuable to his team, as he can be counted on as a shutdown defenceman as well as to create offence. Has the potential to become one of the league’s premier shutdown defensemen.

12. Noah Dobson, D

Dobson is a speedy puckmover that really impressed me in the Canada-Russia series for Team QMJHL, where he was paired with fellow draft eligible Jared McIsaac. Dobson shows a lot of patience and poise with the puck, and is very calm, waiting for an opportunity to make a good pass. He consistently makes good decisions with the puck, whether that is making a good pass, or finding a shooting lane. His NHL-style puck moving game should lead to top 20 draft position in June.

13. Joe Veleno, C

Veleno is a smart two way centre with a lot of skill. Veleno has dropped a lot since my last ranking, as he hasn’t really done much while other prospects are impressing me more. Veleno was overhyped, granted exceptional status as 15 year old, but he really isn’t on that “exceptional” level. He definitely has top 6 potential, and at this point I still think he could be a top line centre, but I’m not as sure as that as I used to be. At the start of the year, the question was whether or not Veleno could be an elite top line centre, now the debate for me is whether or not he can be a top line centre at all. Right now, the answer to that is yes, but if he doesn’t improve that could change. Veleno’s slow start has really magnified his flaws, particularly his offensive talent. He’s more of a playmaker than a goal scorer, but his passes aren’t consistently on the tape, which is necessary to be an elite playmaker. His speed and hockey IQ allow him to make good offensive plays, but against better NHL defence, those two factors will become less dominant. Veleno is often regarded as a two way centre, and he is pretty good in his own zone, and that is exactly what I think he’ll become. The real question however is whether or not he can improve offensively and be a top line true 200 foot player, or if he will be more of a two way, shutdown 2nd like pivot. I still have high hopes that he can achieve option number one, but he needs to step it up.

14. Akil Thomas, C/RW

Akil Thomas is one of the player’s who’s draft position isn’t very consistent across rankings because scouts either love their style of game or hate it. I like it, I wouldn’t say that I love it per say, but I think it will lead to success on the NHL level. One thing that I do love about Thomas is how energetic he plays. He’s always moving around, making it hard to defend against him. This, when combined with his speed, shot, hockey IQ and hands make him a constant offensive threat. Thomas is more of a playmaker, mad he’s a good one. His passes are accurate, I’d say more so than Joe Veleno, and he makes the smart play every time, and doesn’t attempt super risky passes that he’s going to miss 9 times out of 10. His defense needs some work, when I’ve seen him he’s chased the puck a little too much, but that should improve as he matures. Definitive top 6 talent with high upside. 

15. Jared McIsaac, D

McIsaac, like Dobson, was very good during the Canada-Russia series for the QMJHL. He’s very calm with the puck, taking his time to make good plays. McIsaac isn’t afraid to circle back when he doesn’t have options when bringing the puck up-ice, nor does he shy away from jumping up into the play, both on the rush or when set up in the offensive zone, which he does quite often. A two way defenseman, McIsaac is hard to beat 1 on 1 and isn’t bad in the corners and in front of the net. He and Dobson are actually fairly similar, playing NHL-style, puckmoving games, and both will be top picks in the 2018 NHL Draft.

16. Ryan Merkley, D

Merkley can do it all on offense, creating countless opportunities for his team. He’s deadly off the rush, and is equally good when set up offensively. He can shoot, pass and dangle, but there is one thing that he cannot do, and it’s pretty significant. The defenceman simply cannot defend, and it’s going to cost him at the draft. Merkley gets beat way too often in the corners and in front of the net, and while this should improve as he gets stronger, I expect this to continue to the NHL. Positionally, he isn’t very good either. The one thing he isn’t terrible at is 1 on 1’s, where he uses his speed and agility to counter the opponent. When I’m ranking offensive defencemen like Merkley, I usually try to see if the offence makes up for the defence, and in Merkley’s case, it doesn’t. His plus-minus makes that clear. Despite all the points Merkley puts up, he still allows more goals than he scores. Merkley is dynamic offensively and I think he’ll be a solid NHL player, but I can’t envision a player as bad at defense as him as top pairing defender, although he could possibly succeed playing alongside a shutdown defender.

17. Jesperi Kotkaniemi, C

Jesperi Kotkaniemi is a true 200 foot player, which is rare with draft eligibles. A lot of players develop that defensive responsibility later on, but Kotkaniemi’s got a head start. He’s responsible in his own end, he plays well positionally and wins battles. He goes in hard on the forecheck, and can strip the puck from an opponent with ease. Offensively, he’s a dangling, sniping centre (or at times, winger) that generates opportunities from high-danger areas. Controls play offensively. Top 6 potential with elite ceiling.

18. Nando Eggenberger, LW

Eggenberger has more than just a great name, he also has great speed, a deadly shot, and a knack for finding open space. Combine all the three, and you’ve got yourself a lethal offensive force, especially on the rush. Has silky hands too, has scored some nice goals, included a Bobby Orr-style diving across the net tally. The depth of this draft is impressive, as not always can you find a guy with this much potential in the mid-late first round. Could see him, as well as Kotkaniemi, on a top line some day.

19. Isac Lundeström, C

Lundeström has done nothing but impress with his slick passes and hockey IQ playing against men in the SHL this season. Really like how he’s played so far. Lundeström is a playmaking centre with fantastic offensive instincts, he seems to know where everybody is on the ice at all times and can make some beautiful passes accordingly. Passing is definitely his most refined skill, and he’s one of the best in this draft at it. Makes smart choices in the offensive zone, doesn’t overpass, knows when to get the puck to the net. He has pretty good hands, not as good as most others in the top 20 but it won’t hold him back offensively, still has the talent to finish. Slick playmaker has found success in the SHL, and that should translate to the NHL as well.

20. Calen Addison, D

Addison is undersized at 5’9 but that doesn’t hold him back at all. Addison can take over the games at times, generating a ton of offence from the blue line. Moves the puck up ice well, passes are hard and accurate, and is good in the offensive zone, controlling the blue line and keeping pucks in. Holds his own in defensive battles, has a good active stick that takes away passing lanes. In previous drafts Addison might have slid due to his size, but he came around at the right time to be selected in the first or early second round like he deserves to.

21. Anderson MacDonald, LW

Power forward plays a physical game and has natural finishing ability.

22. Evan Bouchard, D

Bouchard is a two way defender that can be very dangerous when he joins the rush, thanks to his skating and puck skills. Good at 1v1 defense, but struggles in the corners and in front of the net.

23. Ryan McLeod, C

Speedy way centre plays a power game and possesses a shoot first mentality. Good with his stick defensively, good on forecheck, using his speed to close in on opponents.

24. Adam Ginning, D

Big puck moving defender has a shoot first mentality in the offensive zone. Tends to panic a bit on the point, taking quick shots when he could walk in. 

25. Rasmus Sandin, D

Puckmoving defenseman likes to join the rush. Creates oppurtunities from the point with smart shots and passes.

26. Barrett Hayton, C

Hard working, two way centre that wins board battles and finishes well in tight.

27. Benoit-Oliver Groulx, F

Groulx is a fast and smart forward that plays a skilled, energetic game. Groulx is always hard in on the forecheck, and angles players out well, causing turnovers in the offensive zone. He’s also very smart, and always knows who is around him. I’d like to see him win some more puck battles, but overall his game is mostly positive.

28. Ty Dellandrea, C

Two way centre is great in his own zone, and works hard in the o-zone. Finishes well in tight, good hands.

29. Dennis Busby, D

Two way defender excels in the transition game and is a great skater and positional player.

30. Serron Noel, W

6’5 power forward moves well for a guy his size. Uses size and skating to be dominant when driving the net.

31. Allan McShane, C

McShane is a two way centre with playmaking ability. Patient in the offensive zone, waits for lanes to open up. Needs to improve his skating if he’s going to succeed as a playmaker in the NHL.

32. Nicolas Beaudin, D

33. Alexander Alexeyev, D

34. Xavier Bouchard, D

35. Joel Farabee, LW

36. Jakub Lauko, C/LW

37. David Levin, LW

38. Kevin Bahl, D

39. Jack McBain, C

40. Gleb Babintsev, D

41. Simon Appelquist, LW

42. Giovanni Vallati, D

43. Jacob Olofsson, C

44. Luka Burzan, C

45. Mattias Samuelsson, D

46. Jesse Ylönen, RW

47. Cole Fonstad, C/LW

48. Lukas Wernblom, C/LW

49. Vitali Kravstov, F

50. Alexander Khovanov, C