After putting together the list of Top 15 Americans for the NHL Draft, I decided to take a stab at the top 30 of all players available for the Draft. I’ve been lucky enough to have seen a lot of the prospects from this year’s Draft either through TV, video or at the various international tournaments I’ve covered over the last two years. So I thought, why not? Everyone else is doing it, right? Figured I should jump off the bridge right along with them.
This year’s Draft is going to be almost impossible to predict, as mentioned many times. Once you get outside of the top 10 or top 15, it’s really tough to slot certain guys. That said, I really like the looks of the top half of this year’s draft and I think we’ve got a few potential superstars in the mix here. And it’s really not that the second half is bad. It’s not. It’s just a lot tougher to figure out what some of these guys are going to be down the road.
At the risk of looking like a complete fool and following the crowd of mock drafts and various rankings, I went ahead and put the American flag down for a few minutes. I decided not to do a mock draft, but essentially what would be my draft board if I was the one making the decisions for one team. Which, thankfully for many of you, I am not. So here goes…
1. Nail Yakupov — F — The first time I saw Yakupov live was at the 2011 World U18 Championship. He was eventually moved to a line with Nikita Kucherov, the tournament’s leading scorer, and the guy I’ve got at No. 2 on this list. It was as impressive a line combination as you’ll see in junior hockey. Yakupov’s speed, hands and shot were all there. After another year of development and building strength, there’s really no question anymore that he is the best player available. You need to score goals to win hockey games and there isn’t another player in the draft that will likely do it with the consistency and quantity of Yakupov.
2. Mikhail Grigorenko — F — There have been few people more frustrated with the character assassination and nitpicking of this player than myself. After seeing Grigorenko last year at the U18s, I thought he was Russia’s best player, and he was one of the youngest guys on the team. He’s probably a more complete player than Yakupov, but doesn’t boast the same speed or scoring touch. That said, Grigorenko isn’t an all-offense player. He gets the job done at both ends and on top of it, he’s 6-3, 200. His vision and hockey sense are elite. Oh, and he played through mono during the playoffs. Does that sound lazy or enigmatic to you? Didn’t think so.
3. Alex Galchenyuk — F — Sure, he missed all year and that’s a little scary to put a player with essentially a lost year of hockey development. Who cares though? His skills were all elite before he went down and those are the things that no injury can take away. He has some abilities that no coach instilled in him. They were just there. He’s a special talent. And American.
4. Filip Forsberg — F — There is a bunch to like about this Swedish phenom. One thing that really impressed me about him at the World U18s this year was his ability to create time and space by just outworking his opponents. He is so strong on the puck and that allows him the ability to create in all areas of the ice. Forsberg has some great puck skills and a terrific shot. He’s been playing over his head in events like the U18s and World Juniors as an under-age player and he’s performed extremely well. Forsberg a really intriguing talent.
5. Ryan Murray — D — If not for the immense skill of the four guys listed ahead of him, I’d have Murray a bit higher, but I still really like this defenseman and have since the 2010 World U18s in Belarus. Murray was by far the youngest player on Team Canada and was by far their best defenseman in the event. 2010 No. 3 overall pick Erik Gudbranson was on that team. Every year, Murray has taken a step further. He’s a very mature hockey player with poise and patience with the puck. As such a smart defender, I think Murray’s essentially ready for the NHL with some protected minutes.
6. Mathew Dumba — D — Coming into this year’s U18 Worlds, I had heard all the hype about Dumba’s offensive abilities. Somehow, Dumba far surpassed the hype while captaining Canada at the U18WC. He is a dynamic skater and is one of the more natural goal-scorers I’ve seen from the blue line. He knows how to get pucks to the net. He’s also a very physical player and has a pretty harsh edge on his game. I know it has been a concern about him, but I didn’t see too many defensive deficiencies in his game at the U18s, despite his immense offensive abilities. He led this year’s tournament in scoring and was one of the most threatening players every time he hit the ice. He has game-changing potential.
7. Teuvo Teravainen — F — I almost put Teravainen over the two defenseman and into the top five and even as I write this, I wonder if I should’ve. Teravainen might actually be the most creative player in the draft. This is a guy that will make everyone around him better. He has tremendous stickhandling ability and a very quick release on his shot. Teravainen’s patience and ability to make the right decisions are high-end. This is a guy who wants the puck all the time and knows what to do with it as soon as he gets it.
8. Jacob Trouba — D — I think if there are teams that don’t care to wait terribly long for a defenseman, Trouba is a really good option. His physical tools are all where they need to be, or at least close to it, for him to be ready to step into the pros. He still needs a little sharpening in a few areas, which I think he’ll get over the next year or two at Michigan. Trouba has that nastiness to his game that is an added bonus when you consider he’s a terrific skater. He doesn’t have golden hands, but his offensive game is improving and he has a pro-level shot.
9. Griffin Reinhart — D — Reinhart is one of the guys I haven’t really seen a whole lot myself, but judging by other scouting reports and some of his physical attributes, it looks like Reinhart has all the makings of a solid NHLer. At 6-4, 207, he’s got the right size, but on top of that he is a good puck-mover, while also possessing strong defensive skills. Having been part of the WHL champs and contributing in a big way is another big time factor.
10. Olli Maatta — D — Maatta has impressed me every time I’ve had the chance to watch him. The London Knights Dman isn’t going to be hopping into an NHL lineup right away, but the ceiling on him is really attractive. A lot of that has to do with his hockey sense. He makes good reads and good decisions and seems to have a good understanding of what he needs to do at all times. At 6-2, 202, he has a nice frame and looks like he could be a potential top-pairing defenseman down the line.
11. Radek Faksa — F — After the run on defenseman, I went back to one of the guys I believe could be a really exciting forward at the next level. The one thing as an American fan I wish we saw in more U.S. players is creativity in offense and that’s one of the things Faksa has. That’s after looking at the fact that he’s 6-3, 203. Faksa also is coming out of Kitchener, which has been a factory for top forwards including the last two Calder Trophy winners.
12. Hampus Lindholm — D — After getting a good look at Lindholm at the Under-18 World Championship, I think we’ve got another really great Swedish D prospect right here. He’s a smart defender with some really great puck skills and strong skating. Lindholm is a smart defender and really brings a little bit of everything to his game. I don’t think he’ll be terribly far away from becoming a steady defenseman in the NHL.
13. Morgan Rielly — D — I know I’m lower on Rielly than most, but I’m just not all that enamored with him as a potential top-10 pick despite some of his obvious gifts. I know scouts love his playmaking ability and I actually do too. He’s a really good skater and seems to have some great offensive instincts. I’m just not buying his defensive abilities as enough to pick him over the other guys listed above. He’s not necessarily small, but I don’t know that Rielly has the strength to markedly improve his defensive game. Obviously, that’s something that can change rather quickly, but it’s a concern for now. I’d be happy to eat crow if Rielly comes back from his ACL injury and dominates next year. Still see Rielly as a bit more of a longer-term guy, especially after the injury.
14. Codi Ceci — After seeing him as an under-ager on Canada’s U18 outfit last year, I really liked what I saw in Ceci. There’s definitely some rawness still, but he’s becoming a really strong two-way defenseman that really can make an impact offensively. With 60 points last season in Ottawa, he’s shown that he can produce. He’s 6-3, 207, which is an added bonus. There’s a good work-ethic to this kid and I think he’s a really interesting prospect going forward.
15. Zemgus Girgensons — F — Over the last two years, Girgensons has probably been my favorite player to watch in the USHL. He has great size and strength and he is relentless on the ice. There’s a work-ethic to his game and Girgensons finds a way to make it translate to offensive success. He plays the body well and gets to a good top speed. Girgensons has decent puck skills, but is best when he’s using that power portion of his game. He’ll be a great get for whoever picks him up.
16. Pontus Aberg — F — After spending most of last season in the SEL as a professional player, Aberg did pretty well for a kid his age against men. He has some really terrific skills and speed. He’s coming in woefully underrated to this draft.
17. Tomas Hertl — F — I think Hertl might be a bit underrated due to his being over in Czech pro hockey as opposed to dominating the CHL, which I’m certain he would have. He has terrific puck skills and shot to go along with a nice frame. He was a highly productive underager on a bad pro team and was a standout for Czech’s surprising World Junior squad.
18. Slater Koekkoek — D — Though his season was cut short by a shoulder injury, I think Koekkoek could be a pretty solid defenseman in the NHL. He’s got good size and some nice offensive tools. I think he’s a little risky this early, but I like what he can potentially bring to the table.
19. Derrick Pouliot — D — A little undersized for a first-round defenseman, Puliot makes up for it with skill. Hockey sense is one of his standout tools and if a player has that, he’s got a shot to go a long way in the game. High hockey sense trickles down to pretty much every skill necessary.
20. Sebastian Collberg — F — If this kid were just a little bigger, I think he’s an easy top-15 pick, but at 5-11, 176, there are going to be teams that take pause. I love Collberg’s creativity and puck skills and I think that with a little added strength, he’s going to be a producer at the NHL level.
21. Brendan Gaunce — F — After seeing what Gaunce can do when he’s turned his game up at the U18s, I think he’s going to be one of those forwards teams might take a chance on a little earlier. A lot of that has to do with his size, but he also has a really nice shot. I think Gaunce will be able to bring a lot of power to any lineup.
22. Stefan Matteau — F — Matteau is another guy who looks like he can be an effective power forward at the NHL level. With the added edge to his game, teams are going to like what he can bring to the table. Matteau has a heavy shot and underrated speed to go along with good size and strength.
23. Matthew Finn — D — Finn seems like the type of guy that can be pretty dependable on the ice. He moves well himself and can distribute with relative ease. He has been described as not too flashy, but effective. That’s kind of what starts happening at this point of the draft, as teams might go with a guy that’s a little “safer” in this range than reaching for a risky upside-type.
24. Nic Kerdiles — F — With a little more of a nose for the net, Kerdiles is unafraid to go to the dirty areas to score. He makes good decisions and has enough of a two-way game for teams to bypass the fact that he doesn’t have overwhelming puck skills. With his good skating and the room to add a touch more strength, he belongs in the top-30 conversation.
25. Thomas Wilson — F — With his great size at 6-4, 203, Wilson is another power winger in this draft. I’m not entirely sure he’s got the offensive abilities of some of the other big forwards, but he’ll be an effective NHLer.
26. Martin Frk — F — The risk with Frk is that he’s coming off a concussion that cost him several months this year and that’s always unpredictable. However, he’s got such a great mix of strength and natural goal-scoring ability that he’s worth taking a chance on.
27. Scott Laughton — F — I thought Laughton was one of Canada’s best forwards at the World U18s and he showed a good mix of grit, skill and scoring ability. In addition to his skill, he definitely has good defensive awareness.
28. Ludvig Bystrom — D — I was pretty high on Bystrom before the World U18s and came away a little disappointed, but there are clear elements of his game that are advanced. He makes good decisions with the puck and displays strong puck skills for a defenseman to go along with good distribution ability. He’s an intriguing longer-term Dman.
29. Ville Pokka — D — Having played 35 games against pros in the SMLiiga this year, Pokka has proven maturity in his game. He’s a good puck mover, but also displays really strong defensive abilities. He isn’t afraid to engage physically and makes a lot of smart decisions.
30. Andrei Vasilevski — G — It’s understandable why most goalies don’t go in the first round, but I think Vasilevski is in the same vein as the guys that have in the past and to me is clearly the best goaltender in the draft. At 6-3, 203, he has that coveted size and is technically sound. He’s excelled in the big international events and has put up some terrific numbers.
The first round kicks off at 7 p.m. EDT on NBC Sports Network Friday night.
Editor’s note: In the previous posting of this Top 30, the No. 21 was accidentally skipped causing this list to include only 29 players. The mistake has been corrected, and Andrei Vasilevski is now included at No. 30 as a result. The United States of Hockey regrets the error and is sentencing itself to a week of reviewing numerical flash cards and basic math skills.