2018 NHL Draft: Names to Know Among Next Year's Prospects

Allan Mitchell@@Lowetide_Featured ColumnistJune 24, 2017

2018 NHL Draft: Names to Know Among Next Year's Prospects

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    As soon as the 2017 NHL draft is over Saturday night, NHL teams will begin preparation for the next one. The first ranking often has little in common with the final one before each season's draft, but it's a starting point. 

    For fans, there are clues about impact prospects for next season, and in the case of the 2018 draft, there's a lot to discuss. Early indications have next year's draft class as another impressive crop, led by Russian winger Andrei Svechnikov. He played for the Muskegon Lumberjacks in 2016-17 and is the top-scoring prospect among 2018-eligible players, according to Elite Prospects.

    Here are 10 names to keep track of this fall and winter and notes about what kind of skills make them special. We'll know them well by this time next season, and many will go high in the 2018 entry draft.

Rasmus Dahlin, D, Frolunda (SHL)

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    Rasmus Dahlin plays for Frolunda of Sweden's top league, the SHL. He played in 26 regular-season games and then blossomed in the playoffs, scoring five points in 14 games. All of this despite not turning 17 before the end of the season. 

    Dahlin is regarded as a quality two-way player who can pass or carry the puck well. It's his skating that gets noticed a lot, as well as his ability to deke opposition players out of their skates with his elusive moves. He plays an intelligent game on both sides of the puck and has a real flair offensively. 

    He'll be back in the SHL this fall, poised to have a solid year playing pro hockey in an excellent league. Svechnikov has the early advantage for No. 1 overall, but this is going to be a fascinating race to watch over the coming winter. 

Joel Farabee, LW, US National Development Team (USHL)

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    Joel Farabee of the U.S. National Development Team (USHL) is a speedy winger with a great deal of skill. His 12 goals in 30 USHL games were an indication of his skill level, and he performed well at both the World U17 and U18 tournaments. 

    Scouts are no doubt excited about his ability but will want to see him take another step as a scorer. He has a great touch around the net and his speed is an effective offensive weapon already. He makes intelligent plays with the puck and is an excellent passer, but his future is probably as the scorer on his line.

    Farabee will want to take advantage of what should be a future role with the national team this winter. If you see his scoring totals soaring, expect to hear his name called early at the 2018 entry draft. 

Quinn Hughes, D, US National Development Team (USHL)

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    Quinn Hughes is an exceptional offensive defenseman who just posted a fantastic season. He delivered 26 points in 26 USHL games, giving scouts an indication of just how much skill comes in a 5'9", 168-pound body.

    His best attribute is skating, which goes hand in hand with great quickness, anticipation and passing ability. Hughes' lack of size hurts him defensively, but he reads and reacts well and has a good understanding of where he should be on the ice. 

    One of the most watched prospects in the 2018 draft already, Hughes will be examined from every angle this season. If he keeps making magic with the puck on his stick, he could go early at the 2018 draft. 

David Levin, W, Sudbury Wolves (OHL)

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    David Levin of the Sudbury Wolves (OHL) brings tremendous speed and skill to the rink. Levin is older than many players eligible for the 2018 draft, having been born September 16, 1999. That will mean he will have to post impressive scoring numbers in order to earn a higher draft position than the players who are several months younger.

    The attributes Levin brings are typical of those one associates with a smaller forward: speed, stick-handling and passing. And his 18 goals and 35 assists last season reflect a playmaker's game. Scouts will look for him to grow from his 5'10", 172-pound frame over the next 12 months and refine his skills. 

    Levin is probably a lock for top-10 status beginning this season, but there will be pressure on him to exceed last season's point totals by a wide margin. There will be a host of players emerging over the winter, and Levin's size and age makes him vulnerable to the young group who will spike during the year.  

Anderson MacDonald, LW, Sherbrooke Phoenix (QMJHL)

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    Anderson MacDonald of the Sherbrooke Phoenix (QMJHL) is one of the top goal-scoring prospects in the 2018 draft. His 29 goals in the Quebec league at 16 is an eye-popping total and will have scouts in attendance at his games all winter. 

    MacDonald also brings size, 6'2", 203 pounds, and is quick with a great release. The thing scouts will look for this winter is improved power in his stride and for more responsible play in a checking role. 

    His offense is going to get him noticed, and we could see a big number of goals in his draft year. If that happens, his lack of dimension as a prospect will be overlooked by teams who need goal scorers. There is still time for him to clean up elements of his game and emerge as a more responsible player. If that happens, we may see him land well inside the top 10 overall. 

Ryan Merkley, D, Guelph Storm (OHL)

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    Ryan Merkley of the Guelph Storm (OHL) is a splendid puck-moving defense prospect. He has exceptional talent in possession and is a creative player. Offensively, he has some of the elements Ottawa Senators defender Erik Karlsson brings to a game, but that's a superficial comparison because there is much development needed from Merkley.

    As is the case with most offensive defensemen, chaos without the puck is a concern. He's a small player, 5'11", 165 pounds, but a year of growth may change those numbers substantially. Merkley will need to improve positioning as well, and that will be something scouts look for this season. 

    Merkley will be back with the Guelph Storm this fall, and it's reasonable to expect outstanding offensive numbers again this season. If he hopes to close the gap between where he is and the top-ranked players in the draft, the coverage will need to improve in 2017-18. 

Andrei Svechnikov, RW, Muskegon Lumberjacks (USHL)

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    Svechnikov of the Muskegon Lumberjacks (USHL) is a brilliant player who checks off all the boxes scouts look for in a prospect. He is 6'2", 187 pounds and skates like the wind. He can pass the puck with aplomb and has a quick release that can beat goalies clean.

    His 29 goals and 58 points at age 16 are an indication of oncoming dominance at the USHL level. It's uncertain where he'll play in the coming year, although Gene Pereira of the Barrie Examiner reported the Barrie Colts (OHL) plan to use the No. 1 pick in the CHL Import Draft on him. 

    His resume is strong in international play, and the USHL totals scream impact player. This winter will probably be spent discussing which of Svechnikov or Dahlin goes No. 1 overall at the 2018 draft. Everything about the former suggests we are dealing with a generational talent. 

Ty Smith, D, Spokane Chiefs (WHL)

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    Ty Smith of the Spokane Chiefs (WHL) is a smooth-skating defenseman who is effective at both ends of the ice. His offensive output at 16 in the Western League, 32 points in 66 games, suggests he may be skilled enough to play on an NHL power-play unit if things continue to develop. 

    Smith can close space or shoot a gap quickly and has a good sense of the moment on offense and defense. It's unfair to project him from here, but he does have the elements that make up a complete defenseman.

    If Smith continues to progress in this manner, and there is a long way to go, we could be looking at a lottery selection at the 2018 draft. Watch for Smith's overall performance this year, with an emphasis on the offensive numbers.

Akil Thomas, C, Niagara Ice Dogs (OHL)

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    Akil Thomas of the Niagara Ice Dogs (OHL) is an emerging talent and one of the best prospects for the 2018 draft. Drafted No. 12 in the OHL Priority Selection in 2016, he has blossomed as a skill player in the months since. 

    Thomas can influence the game in several ways but is dynamite with the puck on his stick. He has a good work ethic and has improved away from the puck but will need to add size and strength in order to become a more complete player.

    Niagara has an impact player at the OHL level, and Thomas should expect major playing time at even strength and on the power play. He could emerge as one of the candidates at the top of the draft if the offense flows early. Thomas is still under the radar for hockey fans, but he won't be for long if his performance continues.

Brady Tkachuk, C/LW, US National Development Team (USHL)

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    Brady Tkachuk of the U.S. National Development Team (USHL) lives up to his last name, and for hockey fans, that means he's a load. At 6'2" and 194 pounds, he is already big enough to compete in pro hockey and still has time to grow. 

    He plays a similar game to brother Matthew Tkachuk, who lit up the NHL with outstanding and rugged play as a Calgary Flames rookie in 2016-17. The younger Tkachuk isn't as much the agitator but is a willing participant in physical play. He is an excellent playmaker and can score goals too.

    Tkachuk is headed to Boston University in the fall, and the college game can sometimes be difficult for a young player. Freshmen often take a back seat to more experienced players, and the challenge for Tkachuk will be working his way up the depth chart and earning big minutes. It'd be unwise to bet against him, and he should be in consideration for a top-five pick at the 2018 draft.