This year's NHL Draft may go down as one of the best in a decade if these players are able to meet their projections in the future. Many of the players in the first round have potential to be major players at the next level and make an impact on the long-term future of their teams.
With that in mind, we here at Eye on Hockey graded each pick of the first round.
It should be noted that providing grades the day the pick is made is pretty difficult to do. It will take years to fully determine what type of impact a certain player has on the franchise that selects him. Draft-day grades are more tied to the perceived value of the player at that time versus the remaining players still on the board and what kind of impact said player makes on a team's prospect pool at that time.
With how deep this first round is, it's going to be hard for teams to make mistakes. There are so many players that have an argument to be in this first round.
It was a tough job, but I did my best to give the most honest assessment by utilizing what NHL scouts and junior scouts and coaches told me about the player prior to draft day, while also utilizing pre-draft scouting reports from reputable scouting services for a more comprehensive view.
The Avalanche may have been able to fill a more pressing need with Seth Jones, but it's hard to fault them for loading up with such a phenomenal forward. MacKinnon is a terrific all-around player who may end up starting out on the wing in the NHL, but is a natural center. Colorado's young forward group with MacKinnon in it is awfully exciting.
The Panthers surprised everyone by passing on Jones. Barkov is a pro-ready center that put up big numbers as a professional in Finland. He's got good size and plays a two-way game, so he'll fill out some forward depth for Florida. Passing on Jones however could be a regrettable decision for Dale Tallon, who has a young D corps that could have benefited from adding a cornerstone defenseman.
Another team that needed to bolster the back end went with a forward despite Jones being there. However, Drouin always made the most sense for Tampa. He is one of the best set-up man available in the draft and if he ever gets paired with Steven Stamkos, Tampa's got a scary duo for years to come. Jones had to tempt Steve Yzerman, but Drouin was the right fit here.
What tremendous value Nashville ends up with. As David Poile announced they were taking Seth Jones, he looked almost giddy. Adding Jones to a blueline that includes Shea Weber and Roman Josi makes the Predators a defensive force in the very near future. The Preds also get an instant star to join their team. This is a fortunate situation for Nashville.
The Hurricanes played it safe with going after Lindholm, who is an excellent two-way center with offensive skill. He has starred for Sweden internationally and should give Carolina depth down the middle. He won't be in the NHL next year, but he needs a little more time anyway. Valeri Nichushkin was another guy who could've made sense here, but Lindholm's value is similar.
Another safe pick here as Calgary nabs an NHL-ready center with its first of three picks this round. Monahan is a two-way player who is a high-end skater. Scouts I've talked to love his work ethic and hockey sense. He's a strong guy that won't be overmatched by the league next year. Calgary gets better with Monahan.
The Oilers were said to be looking for a center or defenseman with the No. 7 pick, and when the two best remaining centers were gone, they got Nurse. The Soo Greyhounds defender is a mean, physical defenseman with sound skating and good defensive sense. Some wonder about his offensive upside, however, so picking a primarily defensive D can be risky this high. Either way, the Oilers badly needed to boost D depth.
The Sabres drafted the best available defenseman and Ristolainen should move right to the top of their defensive prospects depth chart. He's been playing pro hockey in Finland for two years and getting significant minutes. He might be NHL ready now, but a little patience might not hurt for the Sabres. Ristolainen should help this team a lot in the near future.
I really like Horvat as a prospect and I think this is a fair range for him to be drafted, however, the Canucks just traded a proven NHL goalie in Cory Schneider for this pick. I think that changes the value here and while this is a good range for Horvat to go in, Vancouver gave up way too much for just one prospect. So the letter grade isn't as much of a knock on Horvat as it is on Mike Gillis.
Jim Nill's first pick as the Dallas Stars GM might be a home run. Getting Nichuskin at No. 10 is a coup for Nill and he very well could be rewarded as early as next season. Nichushkin has potential to be a dominant offensive force at the NHL level with great size, speed and skill. This is a tremendous value that does come with some risk. Nichushkin has said if he doesn't make the NHL roster next season, he'll return to the KHL at least temporarily. He's worth the risk.
The Flyers really couldn't afford to go with such a high-risk pick here in Morin. He is a giant, he's tough and he fights and there is a lot of potential there, but Morin is very raw. He's got a long way to go before he makes it to the NHL. However, if he reaches his full potential, he could be a top-four guy. That's no guarantee, however. To me, it's too early to take this kind of risk for Philadelphia. If drafting D, I think Nikita Zadorov would've been safer here.
Next to Jonathan Drouin, I think Domi might be the most skilled player in the draft. The son of former pugilist Tie Domi is a remarkably creative forward who has good vision and a nose for the net. He has some really wonderful stick skills. The risk with Domi is that he's undersized, but he plays with enough tenacity for that to only be a moderate concern. He adds a bunch of skill to a prospect pipeline that certainly lacks it.
This one surprised me a lot. Morrissey is a terrific puck-mover and has plenty of offensive upside, but he is an undersized defenseman who has some noticeable deficiencies in his own end. Considering what was available to Winnipeg on the board at both forward and defense, this is a high-risk selection for a pretty weak prospect pool. He could be a long way away.
Jarmo Kekalainen's first pick as GM of the Blue Jackets is a good one in this slot. There might have been a few flashier players available, but Wennberg does a little bit of everything. He plays at both ends of the ice and has some skill to be a solid offensive contributor. CBJ doesn't need him to be ready tomorrow, so I'd expect he'll get a year or two more in Sweden.
The Islanders shipped out Nino Niederreiter, who was one of the club's best forward prospects, in an earlier trade. I was a little surprised to see the Isles go back to defense. That said, Pulock is a high-upside player with some great offensive skills. He has an elite shot and does bolster the Islanders' excellent depth in its defensive pipeline. There's a lot to like with what Garth Snow has built for the future of his blue line.
The Sabres doubled down on defense and considering the value they got with the two guys they picked, it's a great set up for the future. Zadorov is a big, physical defenseman who can move the puck decently for a big guy. He'll need some more seasoning in junior hockey, but he could be a future top-pairing guy. Buffalo made the most of its two first rounders to build its back end.
I thought this was a bit of a bland pick from the Senators, but I know scouts have been getting higher on Lazar as the draft drew nearer. The big question mark is if he has the offensive upside to be a top-six forward. Lazar is a great skater, who is committed to defense and may project more safely into a bottom-six role. Ottawa has some similar players in the system already and I thought there was more skill available here, but Lazar has the work ethic to make an impact at the next level.
Mueller was the best defensemen available on the board, but San Jose traded its 20th and 50th overall selections to get there. This is a year where second rounders carry more value than normal due to the depth of the draft. San Jose obviously wanted to make sure it got Mueller, but possibly could have without making this trade. He's an outstanding defenseman, who moves the puck well and is great in his own end. Mueller's a solid prospect, but I wonder if San Jose gave up too much to move up.
Since the Blue Jackets had multiple picks, they could afford to go with a guy who plays a more physical style here and that's what Rychel does. On top of that, he scored 40 goals in the OHL, so he's not just a bruiser. He plays with speed and is a relentless forechecker. He'll help Columbus in the near future and may one day be able to slide into its top six. This might be a little high for Rychel, but not by much at all.
The Red Wings did well to get a high-end goal scorer at No. 20, while also collecting a second-rounder from San Jose. Mantha scored 50 goals in the QMJHL last year and is 6-foot-4. I've heard some doubts about his overall upside and if the scoring will translate at the NHL level, but that type of production is worth taking a chance on, especially at this range.
Considering the dearth of skill among some of the forward prospects for Toronto, they're taking somewhat of a risk here with Gauthier. He does have some offensive upside and his size is really attractive, but Gauthier projects more as a two-way bottom-six guy. With Hunter Shinkaruk still on the board as a high-skill player, I think the Maple Leafs are limiting themselves a bit here at No. 21.
It wasn't necessarily surprising to see the Flames go off the board with one of their three first-rounders. Porier is a risky guy here, though, considering who else was on the board. He's a high-end skater, but needs to build strength to produce at the NHL level. There were a lot of valuable players still on the board. Especially considering the Flames took a big leap of faith with Mark Jankowski in the first round last year, it may have been more sensible to find someone a little safer here.
Burakovsky is a good value pick in this range for the Caps. After dealing away Filip Forsberg at the deadline last year, they gave up some skill in the prospect pipeline. Washington gets it right back with Burakovsky, who ended up falling short of preseason expectations. He's played pro hockey in Sweden and has solid international experience. He could be a very productive playmaker at the next level.
I am stunned that Shinkaruk fell this far in the draft and the Canucks are the beneficiaries. He may be the most skilled player in Vancouver's pipeline now and has top-line potential. He has a load of skill, speed and can score. This is tremendous value for the Canucks in this range. His stock fell as his production dropped this year, but the skills are there for him to be a highly productive player at the next level.
The Canadiens went a bit off the board, but McCarron is one of the most intriguing prospects in this draft. I thought if there was one guy projected into the second round to take a reach on, it was him. He's 6-foot-5, 225, with really impressive hands and a nice release. So he's not just a big body. McCarron combines his skill with toughness. He hits and fights, but can produce, too.
Considering there are other defenders that might be a little more well rounded still on the board, Theodore is a solid offensive-minded defense prospect. His defense is a little on the weaker side and he needs to make some strides in his decision-making, which is why I had him lower on my board. He'll need time to develop, but those offensive skills make his first-round selection much less surprising.
This is definitely a reach here, but I think the Blue Jackets played it relatively safe with its first two picks to allow for a bit more of a risk with this last one. Dano played in the KHL last season, he's starred for Slovakia internationally and does a lot of things that should lead to NHL success. He could've been had later perhaps, but he has a lot of upside and could turn out to be one of the big surprises from this draft.
The Flames needed to add forward depth and making Klimchuk the last of their three picks bodes well for Calgary. He has a lot of skill, but could work on his skating a little bit. I actually like Klimchuk better than Calgary's second pick, so they were able to get some good value here. Klimchuk could develop into a goal scorer at the next level. All in all, Calgary managed to make its system better in this first round.
With some more skill left on the board, Dickinson is a somewhat risky pick for Dallas. Also with the inherent KHL risk that comes with Nichushkin, the Stars may have been able to find a good Plan B here with a guy like Adam Erne or J.T. Compher. Instead, they've got a bit of a project. Scouts I've talked to were concerned with Dickinson's inconsistency this year, but did like his hockey sense, skating and potential. He'll need a lot of work before he's in Dallas.
Chicago did really well in selecting a hometown kid. Hartman was one of the best forwards available in the draft and plays a solid all-around game. He has some good skills, but scouts loved Hartman's components as an effective pest. He also has some great defensive capabilities. At over a point-per-game in the OHL, Hartman can produce as a well. So it's more than just a sentimental pick for the Stanley Cup champs.