Entering the NHL draft, teams tend to say they are targeting the best available player on the board, but most are looking to fill organizational needs at the same time. The vast majority of players taken in the first round of this year's draft probably won't be ready to contribute immediately in the NHL, so teams are likely to be looking toward the future.
What this draft lacks in top-end talent, it certainly makes up in depth because many of the players from the middle of the first round to the early stages of the second round are interchangeable. That means general managers and scouts can pinpoint players they want at positions of need without being called out for reaching.
Along with a full, first-round mock draft, here are my predictions for the most intelligent selections for every first-round team in terms of filling needs now and in the future.
1. Edmonton Oilers - Nail Yakupov, F, Sarnia
This may be one of the most unpredictable drafts in recent memory, but there is no question that Yakupov is the best player in the class, so the Oilers will make him the first pick.
2. Columbus Blue Jackets - Alex Galchenyuk, F, Sarnia
The Blue Jackets could go in any number of directions, but after trading Jeff Carter and looking to trade Rick Nash, they need a new cornerstone forward like Galchenyuk.
3. Montreal Canadiens - Filip Forsberg, F, Leksands
The Montreal Canadiens will have a lot of interesting options with the No. 3 pick. They could go with one of the top defenseman in the draft such as Mathew Dumba or Ryan Murray, or they could roll the dice on a high-risk, high-reward forward like Mikhail Grigorenko. Based on their situation, however, the smartest move for them would be to take Swedish forward Filip Forsberg in hopes that he can become a major contributor in a year at the most.
Forsberg is clearly one of the most talented forwards in the draft because he has great size, smooth hands and a fantastic skill set overall. The biggest issue is that the Habs need help now, but Forsberg may stay in Sweden for another year. That could compel the Canadiens to go with Grigorenko instead, but Forsberg is less likely to burn them in the end. If things go poorly for Grigorenko in Montreal, I could see him bolting for the KHL, but I doubt Forsberg would do the same.
Forsberg may not have a ceiling that is quite as high as Grigorenko's, but his floor is probably higher than anyone other than Yakupov. Forsberg is going to be a solid NHL player at the very least, and he will eventually bring size to a Montreal forward corps that desperately needs it. The Habs can't afford to swing and miss, so Forsberg will be the pick.
4. New York Islanders - Mathew Dumba, D, Red Deer
The Islanders figure to go with a defenseman because they have a strong group of forwards, and I believe that Dumba's offensive excellence will win out over Murray in the end.
5. Toronto Maple Leafs - Mikhail Grigorenko, F, Quebec
Toronto probably shouldn't be throwing a wild haymaker with its pick, but if Grigorenko lives up to his potential and stays in the NHL, he will be the best pick in the draft at No. 5.
6. Anaheim Ducks - Ryan Murray, D, Everett
When it comes to defensemen in this year's draft, there may be at least 20 of them that are worthy of being taken in the first round. Chief among them, however, is Mathew Dumba and Ryan Murray. The Anaheim Ducks would love to get their hands on one of them with the No. 6 pick, and with Dumba already off the board, they will be absolutely ecstatic to nab Murray—a star for the WHL's Everett Silvertips—at this spot.
Murray has a great all-around game. He is one of the premier puck rushers with a sound defensive game. He has good size at 6'1" and 200 lbs., and he is still growing, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see him become even more of a physical presence than he currently is. The Ducks have a lot of talent up front in Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan, but a blueliner like Murray would be a welcomed addition.
There is a pretty good chance he will be ready to contribute this coming season, so that makes Murray even more attractive. The Ducks need some help on defense aside from Cam Fowler and Lubomir Visnovsky, and they need it right away. Murray should be able to provide that, and he will be a steady force for years to come.
7. Minnesota Wild - Morgan Rielly, D, Moose Jaw
Although Rielly may not quite measure up to Dumba and Murray, some believe he is the best offensive defenseman in the draft, so the Wild will certainly snap him up.
8. Carolina Hurricanes - Teuvo Teravainen, F, Jokerit
The Hurricanes have some good defensive depth but are sorely lacking up front, so Teravainen is a great pick with only one year of seasoning likely left.
9. Winnipeg Jets - Griffin Reinhart, D, Edmonton
Winnipeg can afford to go with the best player available with its pick. Even though that depends on whom you ask, Reinhart would be a really nice fit for the Jets.
10. Tampa Bay Lightning - Jacob Trouba, D, USA U-18
The Lightning made several trades at the deadline to reshape their defensive corps, and selecting Trouba will simply continue that process.
11. Washington Capitals (from COL) - Radek Faksa, F, Kitchener
Faksa is a guy who has top-five potential thanks to his size and skill. With Alexander Semin leaving via free agency, the Capitals will be pumped to see him fall.
Which pick would be the best fit?
12. Buffalo Sabres - Brendan Gaunce, F, Belleville
Gaunce has graded out anywhere from the middle of the first round to the end of it, but with a lack of size at forward in their system, the Sabres will reach a tad and take him.
13. Dallas Stars - Cody Ceci, D, Ottawa
The Stars have lost some defensive depth over the past couple years, but they can reverse that trend by taking Ceci, who is one of the best pure skaters in the draft.
14. Calgary Flames - Hampus Lindholm, D, Rogle
Calgary's farm system is dire at this point, so it simply needs to take a player that will pan out. Lindholm figures to that due to his success in Elitserien thus far.
15. Ottawa Senators - Sebastian Collberg, F, Frolunda HC
The Senators love to look to Sweden for their prospects more than any team aside from the Detroit Red Wings, and they'll do it again by taking the speedy, shifty Collberg.
16. Washington Capitals - Matt Finn, D, Guelph
Having already gotten Faksa to help forward depth, the Capitals should address their inconsistent back end by taking Finn and his superior puck-rushing skills.
17. San Jose Sharks - Olli Maatta, D, London
Maatta really came on late this past season, as he set the OHL playoff scoring record for defensemen in a single season. That will be enough to bait the Sharks.
18. Chicago Blackhawks - Zemgus Girgensons, F, Dubuque
Girgensons is a Latvian player who has competed in the United States and embraced the North American style of play, so he should become a good two-way player for Chicago one day.
19. Tampa Bay Lightning (from DET) - Malcolm Subban, G, Belleville
The Tampa Bay Lightning made an aggressive move this week when they traded a couple of picks to the Nashville Predators for goalie Anders Lindback, but Tampa still has a big organizational need when it comes to goaltending. The Lightning were killed by lackluster goalie play from Dwayne Roloson and Mathieu Garon, but perhaps Lindback can fix that.
Even if he does, the Lightning would be smart to nab Malcolm Subban with the No. 19 pick in the draft. He is clearly the best goalie in the class, and he would be a great value pick at this juncture. Tampa has seemingly swung and missed on young goalies, such as Riku Helenius and Dustin Tokarski, but Subban appears to be the real deal.
It can't hurt to have a contingency plan for Lindback because there is no guarantee he can carry the starting load. The Lightning tried something similar with Mike Smith, but they gave up on him, and he went on to flourish with the Phoenix Coyotes. You can never have too much quality goaltending in your system, so I feel like Subban has to be the pick if he is still on the board.
20. Philadelphia Flyers - Derrick Pouliot, D, Portland
The Flyers' NHL defensive depth is eroding with Chris Pronger on his last legs and Kimmo Timonen aging as well. This means Pouliot should be the pick because he can be groomed for the future.
21. Buffalo Sabres (from NAS) - Tom Wilson, F, Plymouth
The Sabres already took one big forward in Gaunce, but they could certainly benefit from another. Wilson figures to be the pick at No. 21 thanks to his physical presence.
22. Pittsburgh Penguins - Ludvig Bystrom, D, Modo
There doesn't appear to be enough defensive focus when it comes to the Penguins' group of blueliners, but taking Bystrom would be a step in the right direction.
23. Florida Panthers - Stefan Matteau, F, USNTDP
The Panthers have a lot of talent players up front, but they could use a bigger guy who can bring some physicality to the table. Matteau certainly fits the bill.
24. Boston Bruins - Brady Skjei, D, USA U-18
Boston is severely lacking when it comes to defensive depth within their system, so they'll go with a solid American puck mover in Skjei.
25. St. Louis Blues - Pontus Aberg, F, Djurgardens
The Blues are fond of forwards who play a solid two-way game, and Aberg is a guy who can put up some strong point totals. He is also responsible defensively.
26. Vancouver Canucks - Slater Koekkoek, D, Peterborough
Vancouver isn't noticeably weak in any one particular area, but it could certainly benefit from some defensive depth, making Koekkoek a logical pick.
Which player represents the safest pick?
27. Phoenix Coyotes - Tomas Hertl, F, Slavia
The Coyotes lean heavily on a couple Czech forwards in Radim Vrbata and Martin Hanzal, and they won't hesitate to select another.
28. New York Rangers - Scott Laughton, F, Oshawa
With players like Chris Kreider and Carl Hagelin, the Rangers already have some quality, young forwards, but they'll take one who they hope can become a top-notch scorer in Laughton.
29. New Jersey Devils - Nicolas Kerdiles, F, USA U-18
The Devils are likely to lose Zach Parise in free agency, and while it is impossible to replace a player of his caliber, they'll try to develop another promising American forward in Kerdiles.
30. Los Angeles Kings - Mark Jankowski, F, Stanstead
Los Angeles has finally won the Stanley Cup, so it has license to do whatever it wants, including taking a Canadian collegiate player who very well may be a late bloomer.
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