While the main focus of the NHL is on the teams jockeying for playoff position, the lottery standings for the 2018 NHL draft are also shaping up.
The projected draft order is becoming much more clear as the bottom-dwellers gain and lose points in the final few games of the regular season.
Losing increases a club's chances of moving up in the lottery, but tanking is not always the best strategy. A team like the Philadelphia Flyers, who finished with the second-worst lottery odds a year ago, were still able to get the fortunate bounce of the ping-pong balls and move up to No. 2 overall to take Nolan Patrick.
So while the draft order is destined to shuffle, here are the players fans can expect to be in the mix for come June.
2018 NHL Mock Draft
1. Buffalo Sabres: Rasmus Dahlin, defenseman, Frolunda (SWE)
2. Ottawa Senators: Andrei Svechnikov, winger, Barrie (OHL)
3. Arizona Coyotes: Brady Tkachuk, winger, Boston U (NCAA)
4. Montreal Canadiens: Filip Zadina, winger, Halifax (QMJHL)
5. Detroit Red Wings: Quinn Hughes, defenseman, Michigan (NCAA)
6. Vancouver Canucks: Evan Bouchard, defenseman, London (OHL)
7. Edmonton Oilers: Adam Boqvist, defenseman, Brynas IF (SWE)
8. Chicago Blackhawks: Noah Dobson, defenseman, Acadie-Bathurst (QMJHL)
9. New York Rangers: Ryan Merkley, defenseman, Guelph (OHL)
10. New York Islanders: Oliver Wahlstrom, winger, USNTDP (USHL)
11. Carolina Hurricanes: Isac Lundestrom, center, Lulea (SWE)
12. New York Islanders: Ty Smith, defenseman, Spokane (WHL)
13. Dallas Stars: Joseph Veleno, center, Drummondville (QMJHL)
14. Florida Panthers: Rasmus Sandin, defenseman, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
15. Colorado Avalanche: Grigori Denisenko, winger, Yaroslavl (KHL)
16. Philadelphia Flyers: Serron Noel, winger, Oshawa (OHL)
17. Philadelphia Flyers: Ryan McLeod, center, Mississauga (OHL)
18. New Jersey Devils: Joel Farabee, winger, USNTDP (USHL)
19. Columbus Blue Jackets: Bode Wilde, defenseman, USNTDP (USHL)
20. Los Angeles Kings: Akil Thomas, center, Niagara (OHL)
21. Anaheim Ducks: Barrett Hayton, center, Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
22. Minnesota Wild: Rasmus Kupari, center, Karpat (FIN)
23. Ottawa Senators: Jonathan Tychonick, defenseman, Penticton (BCHL)
24. San Jose Sharks: K'Andre Miller, defenseman, USNTDP (USHL)
25. Toronto Maple Leafs: Jacob Olofsson, center, Timra (SWE)
26. Washington Capitals: Jesperi Kotkaniemi, center, Assat (FIN)
27. Detroit Red Wings: Calen Addison, defenseman, Lethbridge (WHL)
28. New York Rangers: Jared McIsaac, defenseman, Halifax, (OMJHL)
29. St. Louis Blues: Mattias Samuelsson, defenseman, USNTDP (USHL)
30. New York Rangers: Dominik Bokk, winger, Vaxjo (SWE)
31. Chicago Blackhawks: Filip Hallander, winger, Timra (SWE)
Strong Defense Group Up Top
Forwards have dominated the top of draft boards in recent memory, as Aaron Ekblad in 2014 and Erik Johnson in 2006 are the only defenseman to go No. 1 overall in the last 15 years. That is sure to change this summer.
Rasmus Dahlin is the consensus best player available in this draft by pretty much every expert or scouting service. In fact, TSN is already presuming he goes No. 1 as it updates each team's lottery odds:
TSN Hockey @TSNHockey
THE RACE FOR RASMUS: Montreal’s OT loss and Arizona’s win pushes the #Habs to 29th overall, while the #Sabres can’t finish higher than 30th. Check out the updated #NHLDraft Lottery Odds with the chance to select Rasmus Dahlin on the line: https://t.co/WasZhwALxv #TSNHockey https://t.co/0yPI3nV1W8
Dahlin's elite skating ability and hands make him the clear cream of the crop of defenseman in this draft, but this class is loaded behind him.
Quinn Hughes has all of the tools to develop into a force on an NHL power play. At just 5'10" and 170 pounds, Hughes is a smaller player who relies on his speed and elusiveness to affect the game, and he did just that in his freshman year at Michigan, with 29 points in 37 games.
Adam Boqvist is a similar type of player, and both could become guys in the mold of Shayne Gostisbehere or Jared Spurgeon at the next level.
Right behind them are strong two-way defensemen in Evan Bouchard and Noah Dobson.
Bouchard is physical enough at 6'2" to clear out the front of the net while also being able to make plays in all three zones. His offensive game exploded this past season, as he racked up 87 points in 67 games, which could land him in the top six or seven picks this summer. After another year of growth, he should be able to compete for an NHL job.
Dobson is nearly an identical player who just trailed Bouchard in production this season. He is 6'3" and a great skater, which helped him put up 69 points in 67 games. Like Bouchard, he will be a legit top-four defenseman in the NHL who will see regular power-play time in a year or two.
Every year, guys fall into the middle or late stages of the first round but end up quickly becoming stars. For instance, Mathew Barzal is the Calder Trophy favorite this season with 83 points in 81 games, but he slipped to No. 15 overall in 2015.
Charlie McAvoy is another Calder contender, and he fell to No. 14 in 2016. He is now already a top-pairing defenseman on the Eastern Conference's possible top seed for the postseason.
It is nearly impossible to pick out mid-first-round players from this year's class and anoint them as future superstars, but there are some players who look to have a chance to outperform expectations.
Much like Barzal, Grigori Denisenko is considered a tremendously gifted but undersized offensive player. He is shifty, has great hands and can flat out score. He had no issues roasting Team USA at last year's U17 World Championship, where he showed the kind of high-end potential he possesses.
The 5'10" left wing also drew high praise from The Athletic's Corey Pronman, who specializes in scouting upcoming draft prospects.
"Denisenko is one of the most skilled players in his draft class," Pronman wrote in March. "On a pure talent level, he's one of, it not the top Russian in this draft class (and no I didn’t forget about Andrei Svechnikov). Denisenko manipulates the puck so well and does so at high speeds.”
He has had discipline issues in the past, which led him to be suspended from a game at the same U17 tournament for a hit to the head, as Pronman relayed:
If he can put it all together, Denisenko could end up being a top-line scorer for any NHL team. He is likely a few years away from challenging for a NHL lineup spot, but remember his name, as he may become a point-per-game player.
Statistics are courtesy of hockeyDB.com unless otherwise noted.