Final 1st-round mock draft and Bruins draft preview (audio)

Well, NHL Entry Draft time is upon us…I can hardly believe that I will be flying to Buffalo, N.Y. in the morning and that by this time Friday night, Bruins fans will know who the next big hopeful will be.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but rather than write an excessively long post here, I’ll take the advice of a recent blog critic who didn’t like the length of my Bruins draft strategy piece and break it down for you in about 15 minutes. He’s out of luck on the bolded names, though- sorry pal. As Kenny Loggins once crooned- I’ll meet you halfway. I’m sharing my thoughts on where the Bruins are heading into the draft, and where I think they’re going, and not just in round 1. Keep in mind this is just one person’s opinion, and lots of things can happen between now and pick No. 14 in the First Niagara Center.

Here’s the audio:

I am not going to weigh in on internet rumors surrounding Jimmy Vesey. Look, until he either signs with the Buffalo Sabres or he doesn’t and becomes an unrestricted free agent on August 15, I’m going to do my level best to stay above the fray. Because of my relationship with him and members of his family going back to his prep school days, that’s precisely *why* I’m not going to get into the middle of what is flying around. I give full credit to the Sabres for stepping up and getting his rights- that puts them in the driver’s seat, at least for the next some-odd 60 days, and Tim Murray will either convince him to forego the chance to pick his destination, or Vesey will stay the course. My thinking- and it’s just my own intuition here- is that he’s come a full four years since Nashville drafted him in Pittsburgh. What is less than two months more at this point? But if Murray and Sabres owner Terry Pegula (and don’t forget Jack Eichel) make a convincing enough pitch, there’s not much stopping him from ending the soap opera.

But, if you’re looking for me to repeat things flying around various message boards- that’s not happening.

Now, onto the mock draft:

1- Toronto- Auston Matthews, C; The Leafs get their man- Arizona native’s the wire-to-wire No. 1 overall selection and with good reason.

2- Winnipeg- Patrik Laine, LW; The first big winners of the NHL’s new lotto jackpot system cash in with this pure shooter who turns goal scoring into an art form.

3- Columbus- Jesse Puljujarvi, RW; GM Jarmo Kekalainen pounces on this Finnish horse who isn’t quite the threat his countryman is, but isn’t that far off, either.

4. Edmonton- Matt Tkachuk, LW; On a team whose GM once saw firsthand what Milan Lucic could do, the Oilers grab a high-end power forward with serious bloodlines.

5- Vancouver- Pierre-Luc Dubois, LW; The Canucks need help everywhere, so Jim Benning can’t go wrong here with as complete a two-way threat as there is in this class.

6- Calgary- Logan Brown, C; Described by my pal Reed Duthie (who calls Hamilton Bulldogs games) as an “aircraft carrier with feet”, this massive center is also highly skilled, meaning- he’s off the board in the blink of an eye.

7- Arizona- Olli Juolevi, D; Is this Finnish version of the old Val Kilmer movie ‘Real Genius’ the first defender off the board in Buffalo? Very possible.

8.- Buffalo- Jakob Chychrun, D; After making a splash with the Vesey trade, the Sabres fire more shots across the bow, picking up this big name at 8, but his hockey IQ has raised some doubts.

9- Montreal- Alex Nylander, RW; The Canadiens seek skill and scoring, so why not grab the player who might have absolutely been the most talented player in the OHL draft class, even if he doesn’t always bring it.

10- Colorado- Mikhail Sergachev, D; The Avalanche land a big talent that has scouts divided on his overall defensive awareness, but may be at the top end of the skill factor in the OHL.

11- New Jersey- Tyson Jost, LW-C; Ray Shero blinks- he can’t believe Jost is on the board here, and after landing Pavel Zacha a year ago, grabs another potential elite forward bound for North Dakota in the spirit of one Zach Parise 13 years ago.

12- Ottawa- Michael McLeod C; The Senators are betting that McLeod’s blend of size, skating and smarts propels him to stardom up the middle, even with questions about his NHL upside.

13- Carolina- Clayton Keller, C; Small but dynamic center has major league potential as an uber-dangerous playmaker.

14- Boston- Dante Fabbro, D; Knowing what the Bruins tend to value in their players and what they need at this stage, this defender is right up their alley at 14.

15- Minnesota- Luke Kunin, C; St. Louis native did a great job as a freshman on a poor team- the sky’s the limit and the Wild can’t resist.

16- Detroit- Charlie McAvoy, D; A player who could just as easily go to Boston two picks earlier, if he’s still on the board here the Wings pounce.

17- Nashville- Jake Bean, D; The Predators know Bean has a high-end skill set and grab him with outstanding value at 17 where others had him projected inside the top-10.

18- Philadelphia- Kieffer Bellows, LW; Passed up by his hometown Wild, Bellows doesn’t have much time to dwell  on it & makes sense as a fit in Philly with his deadly release and penchant for filling the net.

19- NY Islanders- Riley Tufte, RW; Big, massive, skates well, tremendous long-term promise and the Isles struck gold with Brock Nelson in Minnesota before, so why not take a big payoff project here?

20- Arizona via NYR- Julien Gauthier, RW Major concerns about hockey sense and a tepid second half after tearing it up early in the season mean that the Val d’Or standout slides, but he’s solid value here.

21- Carolina via LAK- Max Jones, LW; Speedy power forward has some nasty play that has gone over the line, but if the Hurricanes can harness that raw aggression- he could be one of those role guys you win with.

22- Winnipeg via CHI- Logan Stanley, D; When you pick Laine at 2, you can afford to take on more of a project player with your bonus 1st-rounder, and with Stanley’s size, skating and snarl- he looks like a solid bet to play even if he tops out as a mid-tier shutdown D.

23- Florida-German Rubtsov, C; The Russian forward in class is someone worth jumping on in the early 20’s and Dale Tallon does just that.

24- Anaheim-Tage Thompson, RW; Huge but raw with an upside that some in the NHL scouting community feels is too legit to quit, the UConn Husky becomes a part of the West Coast quack attack.

25- Dallas- Dennis Cholowski, D; It sure looks like the late-surging BCHL two-way defender is bound to land in the 1st round, and he looks like a good fit for the resurgent Stars under Jim Nill.

26- Washington- Pascal Laberge, C; Speedy and skilled, the Capitals need to find secondary scoring behind Ovechkin and Backstrom- this Victoriaville Tigre brings that in spades.

27- Tampa Bay- Brett Howden, C; Some say he looks a lot like his older brother, but this Howden seems to have more killer instinct and finish around the net. Stevie Y. will take it.

28- St. Louis- Lucas Johansen, D; With Kevin Shattenkirk likely to leave via trade, the Blues will look to infuse more offensive talent and potential with this latest product of the Kelowna D machine.

29- Boston via SJS- Markus Niemelainen, D; The B’s could go with a forward with their second pick like a surprise 1st-rounder in Wade Allison here, but if they add another 6-5 D who can really skate, this Finn will complement the right-shooting Brandon Carlo nicely at some point.

30- Anaheim via Toronto via PIT- Boris Katchouk, LW; Anaheim grabbed the big RW earlier, now they get the gritty, in-your-face and underrated Soo Greyhounds scorer at the end of the round after giving up Frederik Andersen to the Leafs. (Thanks to the readers who pointed out my mistake)

Alex DeBrincat drops out of the 1st round, but he won’t last long in the 2nd.

***

Okay- that’s it. I’m off to Buffalo.

Reminder- if you want breaking NHL draft news, picks, analysis and hot takes (or is it “taeks?”) give me a follow on Twitter: @kluedeke29 I might be able to get some Periscope action going as well, so look for that.

Will be on TSN 690 with my Red Line Report boss, Kyle Woodlief, with host Tony Marinaro this Friday, June 24, from 11-noon (Eastern) live from First Niagara Center to talk draft, draft and nothing but draft.

Will do some deeper dives on the draft at the blog in the coming days, but this is pretty much it until the big event, and even then- will just hit the wave tops, but keep checking in- I might have some Easter Eggs and surprises for you.

Back from Grand Forks…U-18 Championship top-10

The blog has gone quiet for some time and apologies for that.

My schedule at the Under-18 hockey championship tourney was not conducive to posting each day, but quite a bit has happened since then, so I have some catching up to do. I’ll weigh in on the two after-season press conferences in Boston in a bit, but I need to gather my thoughts, as I want to make sure that I am neither playing to the crowd or opening myself up to the various trolls who aren’t interested in a thoughtful discussion.

For the past week, I’ve been focused on the future of the NHL, watching the 2016 IIHF World Under-18s at the gorgeous Ralph Engelstad Arena, home of the 2016 NCAA champion University of North Dakota Fighting (Sioux) Hawks. It’s a true hockey cathedral and even though the tourney was not well-attended, we enjoyed being in a beautiful facility nonetheless.

So before I switch gears and post about the state of the Bruins, here are some thoughts on the top players at the U-18s. I am not listing any of the 2017-eligible players who performed admirably in Grand Forks- and there were quite a few! These are the players I had the most time for (in order) and aren’t necessarily the “top” or “sexy” names everyone else is talking about:

1. Dante Fabbro, D Canada- Legit two-way defender with some major upside at the next level. I cannot state enough how much I liked Fabbro’s performance in the four preliminary round games- he did a little bit of everything.
2. Tyson Jost, C Canada- The yin to Fabbro’s yang- exciting, dynamic, dangerous. He just might have played his way into the top-10.
3. Clayton Keller, C USA- I’ll admit it- late to the party on this kid, but he’s a player. Speedy, uber-smart and a dynamic playmaker. There was a lot of NHL buzz on the Illinois native and BU recruit coming in, but it’s warranted.
4. Markus Niemelainen, D Finland- Huge at 6-5 and a superb skater. Size and wheels alone isn’t a reason to take this Finn (the only 2016 draft eligible on a squad of seven D- all late ’98 or ’99-born guys) but his potential late-blooming offensive potential could push it over the edge. Anyone who has him ranked well out of the first-round is missing the boat on him in my view.
5. Kieffer Bellows, LW USA- The son of former NHL 500-goal, 1000-point man Brian Bellows has a ferocious shot, but when he’s playing physical and with a burr up under his saddle as he did here, he’s a force.
6. Logan Brown, C USA- The 6-foot-6 son of Ottawa 67’s coach and NHL D Jeff Brown (btw- he’s nowhere near 6-6 in height) is a heck of a prospect in terms of his pure talent and physical attributes. He doesn’t look like he’s working all that hard and then boom! He’s got a pair of nifty assists on creative plays after you didn’t think he was accomplishing much. He could go off the board much higher than expected, but right now is tracking at/around 15th overall.
7. Mikhail Sergachev, D Russia- Absolutely recognize (and love) the skill: skating, passing/puck skills are first rate. However, Sergachev didn’t assert himself or take control much in this one beyond a few impressive flashes. It may have had to do with the younger team around him, but he was good in this one, not great.
8. Jakob Chychrun, D Canada- See Sergachev. Chychrun has been so highly-rated for so long that it might be nitpicking at this point. He’s got great tools, but kept waiting for him to take charge of games and he never did. That distinction belonged to Fabbro, his defense partner.
9. Ryan Lindgren, D USA- He might be average-sized and lacking in a high-end skill set that jumps out at you, but boy- is this guy ever smart and driven! Team USA captain did nothing but make plays throughout the preliminary round, and it’s not tough to see why he has the ‘C’. He’s going to be a fine value pick in June.
10. Evan Fitzpatrick, G Canada- I didn’t want to like this guy based on some things I had seen during his QMJHL season with Sherbrooke, but man- he was dialed in. Especially against the Finns, when he had a memorable stop in the second period against Otto Somppi.

Honorable mention:
Boris Katchouk, RW Canada- Not fancy, but just plays the game in straight lines and is effective. Made an immediate splash in his 1st game (of two in the opening round) against Slovakia.

Alex Nylander, LW Sweden- Love the talent, but need more consistency, especially against the better foes.

Livio Stadler, D Switzlerland- Smallish defender is smart and gritty. Some may not see any NHL upside but as a late project pick, a team could do far worse than the Swiss captain.

Mareks Mitens, G Latvia “Mittens”- Nearly presided over an epic upset of the Swedes, and if nothing else- gave us an entire game’s worth of entertainment as the Legend of Mittens grew with each save.

Brett Howden, LW Canada- All he did was snipe goals and create opportunistic offense. His three-zone game didn’t stand out, but around the net, he was deadly.

Samuel Solensky, C Slovakia- Small but energetic and creative forward hustles and plays hard. He was not up to the task vs. Canada, so he’ll remain a mid-round project instead of raising his draft profile significantly.

Limited viewing (1 game):

Jesse Puljujarvi, LW Finland- He looked a little tired and not 100%, but his big-time potential emerged when the Finns were skating with the man advantage. He’s a load- not hard to understand why he’s considered a top-three draft prospect.