ST. PAUL, Minn. — In this writer’s 12 years of covering the NHL Entry Draft, this might be the most difficult one I have ever attempted to predict. The reason is an unfortunate one: there simply isn’t any player that has “standout” written all over him. It’s likely that most of the players who hear their name called in Friday’s first round will not play a single NHL game next season.
That said, matching up the teams with their short- and long-term needs, here’s my best guess at how Friday’s opening round will shake out:
1. Edmonton: A part of me thinks the Oilers could go the way of a defenseman and select Adam Larsson, but I think, like many others, I have to defer to the most talented player in the draft.
Oilers pick: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C, Red Deer (WHL)
2. Colorado: If Edmonton passes on Larsson, I actually think he could fall farther as the Avalanche really need talented wingers.
Avalanche pick: Gabriel Landeskog, LW, Kitchner (OHL)
3. Florida: No way with how bad the Panthers defense was last year that they can be a third team to pass on Larsson.
Panthers pick: Adam Larsson, D, Skelleftea (Sweden)
4. New Jersey: The Devils have a severe need for defensemen, but they’ve also drafted a number of blueliners in the last two years. If they go way of D, I think Dougie Hamilton is a possibility. That’s not my prediction, though.
Devils pick: Sean Couturier, C, Drummondville (QMJHL)
5. New York Islanders: Plenty of holes to fill on the Island. If they go offense, I’d say Jonathan Huberdeau is the pick, but I think Garth Snow will look to shore up the blue line.
Islanders pick: Dougie Hamilton, D, Niagara (OHL)
6. Ottawa: With Daniel Alfredsson’s career in its twilight, I’d say finding a decent center who can have an impact in 1-2 years would be a priority.
Senators pick: Jonathan Huberdeau, C, Saint John (QMJHL)
7. Winnipeg: The yet-to-be-named Winnipeg franchise has a pretty solid defensive corps, but could use a player with offensive skill.
Winnipeg pick: Ryan Strome, C, Niagara (OHL)
8. Philadelphia (from Columbus): The Flyers may steal the thunder — and the draft choice — of the Stanley Cup champs (picking ninth) if they take Ryan Murphy.
Flyers pick: Duncan Siemens, D, Saskatoon (WHL)
9. Boston (from Toronto): Boston’s biggest hole is on the blue line, with nearly all of its roster of forwards returning. Ryan Murphy is its best option, but if Columbus scoops him up, it’ll go the Siemens route.
Bruins pick: Ryan Murphy, D, Kitchner (OHL)
10. Minnesota: The Wild need one thing: instant offense. Likely the best forwards still available will be Zack Phillips and Mika Zibanejad. My guess is they’ll go the way of the Swede.
Wild pick: Mika Zibanejad, C, Djurgarden (Sweden)
11. Colorado (from St. Louis): Two picks this early is a good thing for the Avs. Likely they’ll keep trying to add solid offensive players.
Avalanche second pick: Zack Phillips, C, Saint John (QMJHL)
12. Carolina: Carolina GM Jim Rutherford isn’t afraid of grabbing smaller, crafty players like Jeff Skinner. Sven Bartschi from Switzerland matches that description to a T.
Hurricanes pick: Sven Bartschi, LW, Portland (WHL)
13. Calgary: The Flames need offense and have never shied away from European players.
Flames pick: Alexander Khokhlachev, LW, Windsor (OHL)
14. Dallas: The Stars have had a tendency to select American-born players, and that trend will continue.
Stars pick: Brandon Saad, LW, Saginaw (OHL)
15. New York Rangers: The Rangers like size, and no one offers that like Jamie Oleksiak.
Rangers pick: Jamie Oleksiak, D, Northeastern (HEA)
16. Buffalo: After Oleksiak, the floodgates begin to open on the college kids.
Sabres pick: Tyler Biggs, RW, U.S. Under-18 (USHL), Miami recruit
17. Montreal: Montreal could use solid talent at the forward position. Truth is, it needs it today but will have to wait with the likelihood that type of player won’t be available.
Canadiens pick: Mark McNeil, C, Prince Albert (WHL)
18. Chicago: The Blackhawks have a tendency of going after talented Americans and may take their chance with the draft’s biggest X factor.
Blackhawks pick: Rocco Grimaldi, C, U.S. Under-18 (USHL), North Dakota recruit
19. Edmonton (from Los Angeles): With their second pick, look for the Oilers to get the best available defenseman.
Oilers second pick: Jonas Brodin, D, Farjestad (Sweden)
20. Phoenix: The Coyotes have some pretty talented forwards up front and may look for a blueliner to develop.
Coyotes pick: Nathan Beaulieu, D, Saint John (QMJHL)
21. Ottawa (from Nashville): Another team with a second pick in the opening round, it’ll balance its earlier forward with a defenseman with potential.
Senators second pick: Scott Mayfield, D, Youngstown (USHL), Denver recruit
22. Anaheim: The Ducks have a penchant for players from the NTDP. This trend could continue but they’d be taking a big chance on players like Connor Murphy or John Gibson. That said, bet they still go the American route.
Ducks pick: Mario Lucia, LW, Wayzata (Minnesota H.S.)
23. Pittsburgh: The Penguins have a decent amount of defensemen in their system and likely will look for a forward they can develop.
Penguins pick: Nicklas Jensen, RW, Oshawa (OHL)
24. Detroit: The Wings seem to love European players, particularly Swedes.
Red Wings pick: Rickard Rakell, RW, Plymouth (OHL)
25. Toronto (from Philadelphia): First of two late-round picks for the Leafs. I’m actually shocked if they hold onto these picks and don’t try to make a deal to either move up or pick up talent. If they hold the pick, look for them to find a potential backup goaltender for a few years down the road.
Maple Leafs pick: John Gibson, G, U.S. Under-18 (USHL), Michigan recruit
26. Washington: A love of Russian players might just put the Capitals in the perfect place in the draft.
Capitals pick: Vladislav Namestnikov, C, London (OHL)
27. Tampa Bay: The Lightning will soon have to replace Dwayne Roloson in net, making Gibson a potential if he’s still available. Otherwise, they’ll go for defense.
Lightning pick: David Musil, D, Vancouver (WHL)
28. San Jose: Another team that probably needs more help on defense than at forward.
Sharks pick: Joe Morrow, D, Portland (WHL)
29. Vancouver: We saw in the playoffs that Vancouver has plenty of defense after filling holes when riddled with blue line injury. Thus, you have to believe they’ll be looking for a solid forward to develop over time.
Canucks pick: Nick Shore, RW, Denver (WCHA)
30. Toronto (from Boston): Again, don’t think this will be Toronto’s pick so it’s hard to predict who will get taken. The final pick of the first round has been a college player in the bulk of recent drafts, so I’ll make that guess here.
Maple Leafs second pick: Connor Murphy, D, U.S. Under-18 (USHL), Miami recruit