As I noodle on who BFLO might select at #8 sans General Manager, I’ve come to the conclusion that I do not like BFLO’s spot at #8. At all. Thanks, Lottery.
I say that because by my own rankings, the guys I really want will in all likelihood be off the Board when the #8 slot comes up. And that kind of bums me out. Here’s how I figure:
Guys I’m 100% Sure Will Be Gone By #8:
Nico Hischier, C/W, Halifax
Nolan Patrick, C, Brandon
Miro Heiskanen, LHD, HIFK
Guys I Am Confident Will Be Gone by #8:
Gabriel Vilardi, C/W, Windsor
Guys Who Could Be (Greater Than 50% Chance) Gone by #8:
Casey Mittlestadt, C/W, Green Bay
Cale Makar, RHD, Brooks
Cody Glass, C, Portland
Now, if any of the above are available – maybe not Vilardi, who I’m not as high on as others – I would choose them in a heartbeat. But I think it’s very realistic that those players above are all off the Board. So where does that leave the Sabres?
Well, a suite of options awaits whomever becomes the GM. Which is the issue. In a lot of Drafts, there is a finite handful of players thought to be available at any given spot. However, this Draft in particular has a wide breadth of players who could go at 6-7-8-9-10…more so than in years past. And I'm honestly not sure who I would go with at this moment. So even though, in the interest of full disclosure, my preference would be to trade down if at all possible…I’ll give a little blurb about all the players I suspect to be on the board at the Sabres selection. Would love to see who people like most at that spot. I’ll list them out by position, and then in alphabetical order so there is no perceived bias.
As an aside, I believe BFLO’s two biggest focuses should be adding defensive depth, and continuing to add speed, to the prospect pool.
Tim Liljegren, RHD, 6’0 190#, Rogle: The Wild Card.
Attributes: Elite skater, tremendous puck skills. Offensive minded. Can carry the puck. Confident.
Drawbacks: Turnover prone. Questions about defensive IQ. Decision making.
Story: Came into the year as a candidate for #1 overall. Contracted mono in late summer, after a lackluster Hlinka. Obviously it affected his conditioning, and quite possibly his development, as he didn’t return to action until around Christmas and when he did, his Elite League team sent him down to the under-20 league, where he continued to struggle before being sent down to his under-18 team. Presumably to raise his confidence. He leveled out and seemed to find his game toward March, but had an average U-18s after a really strong 5 Nations Tournament. The anti-Chyrchun - all offense, no D. A huge risk-reward pick. He probably has the highest ceiling of the remaining players, but he also might have the lowest floor. I’ve heard one NHL scout indicate Liljegren isn’t in his Top 31.
The Big Question: Where does the line between ‘illness hurt his development and conditioning’ stop and ‘he’s not as good as we thought and his peers have caught up to him’ start?
Urho Vaakanainen, LHD, 6’1 185#, JyP: Steady Eddie.
Attributes: Superb defensive instincts. Rarely makes mistakes. Some offensive upside. Great skater.
Drawbacks: Not dynamic. Level of offense uncertain. Gets outmuscled down low.
Story: Has seesawed up and down the Draft Board all year. Looked great at last summer’s Hlinka, carrying the puck and springing transition. Played a steady shift in Liiga, the Finnish men’s League, and performed well on the defensive end. Saw a comparison to Marc-Edourd Vlasic at the same stage. Suffered – like all the Finnish team – at the World Juniors, where he showed almost no offensive upside. But a team comprised mostly of under-agers had a rough tournament overall. Looked strong in the Liiga playoffs, and was excellent at the U-18s a few weeks ago, showing a lot more offense and a willingness to attack. Widely thought to be a mid-to late 1st rounder.
The Big Question: Is taking an improved version of Pysyk worth a Top 10 pick?
Juuso Valimaki, LHD, 6’2, 200#, Tri-City: Pro-Ready?
Attributes: Reads the play well on either end. Precise passer. Can attack or defend. Gets shot through.
Drawbacks: Clunky feet. Doesn’t transition well directionally. Gaps need to tighten up. Prefers offense.
Story: Came over 2 years ago to N America. Plays for a strong Tri-City team (will likely have 4-5 players drafted this year), where at times he played more of a ‘rover’ position than a traditional defense position. Constantly thinking offense, which can get him in trouble in his own end. While game-to-game he’s been consistently strong, in big showcases he’s played mediocre at best. Wasn’t visible at the Hlinka last summer, struggled in the World Juniors (as did all the Finn players to be fair), and the WHL playoffs. Good at generating transition with clean breakouts,but not so good defending transition. Very early birthday, so how close is he to bumping up against his ceiling? Is he going to anchor a bottom pair, or is there more to give?
The Big Question: How much upside does he have?
Klim Kostin, RW, 6’4 200#, Dynamo Moskova. The Specimen.
Attributes: Amazing physical skill set. Size, skating, hands, power. Creative and confident.
Drawbacks: Can disappear for stretches. Bum shoulder. Can get lost in D zone. Tries to do too much.
Story: Kostin is a supreme physical talent. He plays a physical game, but has the agility and hands to make defenders miss and weave through traffic while maintaining possession to generate chances. Played in last summer’s U-18s and Hlinka as an under-ager, and played extremely well – dominated some games. But as is often the case of Russian junior players, he fell victim to a seniority system in the Russian leagues that limited his ice time and bounced him around between teams and levels of competition. As a result, his production suffered. Looked dynamic and confident in the Russia-Canada Super Series. Rumored to have been playing hurt, however, and then it wasn’t a rumor, having suffered a severe shoulder injury in January that ended his season. Does he have the head to make full use of all those physical skills, and can he bring more consistency to his game, especially on the defensive end?
The Big Question: Is he just a pure physical specimen, or legit high-end player?
Elias Pettersson, C/W, 6’2 160#, Timra: The Showman.
Attributes: Smarts. Tremendous creator. Excellent skater. Playmaker.
Drawbacks: Terribly thin. Not physical. Can be handled, loses a lot of board battles.
Story: Having undergone a significant body-type change in the last 12 months (+3 inches and 10-15#), Pettersson is now a long and lean forward who can dangle his way into scoring areas and make defenders look bad. However, the transformation has left him rail-thin and easily pushed around by bigger, stronger opponents. That said, you can’t question his production. In the Allvenskan – the Swedish equivalent to the AHL – he was leading the League in scoring for half the season…as an underager! - before finishing with 41P in 45 games. Had success at the U-18s last year, but did not produce in the World Juniors although he was snake-bit, hitting a couple posts and having the puck bounce on him once or twice as an open net stared at him. Must get much bigger, as his skating isn’t explosive enough to just blow past people on the outside…and so, he can be knocked off the puck by a check or a shove at his current size. A project, but if he can add mass, with his skill set he could be a top-line player.
The Big Question: How long will it take, if ever, to get big enough to play Top 6 role?
Mike Rasmussen, C, 6’5 205#, Tri-City: Big Boy.
Attributes: Size. Hands around the net. Nose for the puck. Reach. Tremendous skater. Hand-eye.
Drawbacks: Not a great shooter, which hurts his transition game. Lacks creativity. Broken wrist.
Story: Huge centerman who has matured rapidly this year. Big body dominates the front of the net, especially on the PP, where he scored almost half of his total points this year. More than a PPG player for Tri-City, some attribute his injury – broke his wrist in March – as the primary reason Tri-City was swept out of the playoffs in the 1st round. Was Canada’s best player on the Hlinka team from last summer, where they used him as a checking center due to his long reach and skating yet he still put up a PPG. Showed off some excellent hands passing the puck around the net at the CHL Top Prospects Game. Very low production 5v5 relative to other highly-rated prospects. Can get tunnel vision chasing the puck at times, which can get him in trouble. Has the upside to be a dangerous Top 6 forward, but can he get there? Does he have enough skill?
The Big Question: Can he be more than a PP specialist?
Nick Suzuki, C/RW, 5’10 185#, Owen Sound: Charlie Hustle.
Attributes: Compete. Shiftiness. Elite skill level. Smart, slippery. Dangerous one-on-one. Work ethic.
Drawbacks: Size. Can get overwhelmed by fast, physical game. Fearless style could cause injury.
Story: Intense competitor who has come (mostly) out of nowhere to really explode on the scene. Led all OHL draft eligibles in scoring with 96P in 65 games, scored 24 more in 17 playoff games. Very clean player without any issues, other than top speed and explosion. Terror on the forecheck, backchecks relentlessly, has the smarts to make the right play to the right player nearly every time. When the game really gets moving, he can appear to get crossed up, causing him to "stutter" with the puck. Motor never stops. Wore a letter for a surprising Owen Sound team that went to the OHL Conference Finals, and drove the offense at times for them. Will go headlong into the corners or drive the slot despite his size, which raises concerns about his long-term health, although he hasn’t suffered any significant injury since he came into the OHL. Very late birthday means he may still get bigger, and has more time to develop his game.
The Big Question: Is he quick enough to keep up, and stay healthy, at his size?
Owen Tippett, RW, 6’2 205#, Mississauga: The Shooter.
Attributes: Elite shot and release. Hands. Great top-end, explosive speed. Strong. Star in transition.
Drawbacks: Lack of smarts. Can get lost in all 3 zones. Doesn’t use teammates well.
Story: Had an excellent under-age year playing behind Alex Nylander in Mississauga. Generously compared to Phil Kessel. Blew out of box this year with 44 goals, and is a pure scorer who benefited from having one of the fastest pure speed line-ups in Canadian Juniors. Is a PPG in the OHL playoffs. Primarily a North-South type of player. The real concern is that he struggles mightily in the D-zone, and really, in any sort of set on either end. Can make a series of head-scratching decisions as far as positioning and where he puts the puck in a single sequence. Loses his man with frequency. And the question becomes are his elite physical skills at a level high enough where NHL players cannot contain him, and therefore his lack of awareness becomes moot? Or does he become super-forechecker who can put in 101-5 goals a game?
The Big Question: Can he stay within a structure on either end?