The 2018 NHL Draft starts this Friday, June 22nd in Dallas at 7:30 PM ET. The first round is always fun, but this year will be less fun than usual for Tampa Bay Lightning fans because the team doesn’t have a first round pick. They traded that pick to the Rangers as part of the Ryan McDonagh deal. Instead, we’ll have to wait for day two for the Lightning to make their first pick. Round two kicks of Saturday morning at 11 AM ET.
To get an idea of some of the names likely to be available when the Bolts come up to the podium for the first time, let’s look at a new consolidated ranking of the top 93 players (first 3 rounds) for this year’s draft. These rankings are compiled from thirteen different scouts or scouting services. Eight of those are displayed in the chart below. The other five are paywalled so they aren’t displayed, but they do contribute to the consolidated ranking.
Here’s how the rankings look heading into the final days before the draft:
I won’t spend too much time on the top part of the draft because it isn’t relevant to our discussion of who the Lightning might target. I do want to point out that in these rankings, Oliver Wahlstrom has jumped up to number five, which is ahead of Brady Tkachuk. That’s quite the rise for the American forward. Jesperi Kotkaniemi also climbed all the way to seventh, just behind Tkachuk.
According to rumors circulating over the last couple days, the consensus is that third overall player Filip Zadina could slide below the fifth spot. Much of the discussion swirling around the first few picks suggests that Montreal is intent on taking a center, and will either trade back to do so or take one of Kotkaniemi or Tkachuk third.
Rumors always go wild this time of year, but the noise around the Habs is getting too loud to ignore. If the rumors prove to be true, passing on Zadina to draft for position would be quite a risk for a team that needs help at multiple positions.
But that’s enough about the top of the draft. Let’s talk about the Lightning. I have four players identified that I think would make sense for the Bolts. A couple of those players have profiles that match what the Lightning typically look for in prospects and a couple do not. We’ll start with those that do.
C/LW - Czech League - 6’1”, 172 lbs - 9 points in 42 games - Rank #54
If the goal is to identify players who fit the Lightning draft profile and are ranked in the range where the Bolts are likely to pick, Jakub Lauko is a prime candidate. Every scouting report screams all of the keywords that have been the hallmark of Steve Yzerman and Al Murray draft picks.
Lauko has excellent speed and is a skilled playmaker on offense. Scouts laud his creativity, vision, and anticipation. They commend his two-way game and give him credit for playing hard at all times, even trying to compete physically despite not quite having the body to do so in a professional league. He’s capable of playing in all situations.
The biggest knock on him is his size. He’s thin for his height and needs to grow into his frame to be able to get the most out of his willingness to get into puck battles. He also hasn’t shown the finishing talent that would make him an elite prospect.
Guessing who the Lightning will pick at 59 is nearly impossible. In the second round last year, they went completely off the board and took Alex Volkov, who wasn’t even ranked at the time. But if we’re just making a guess for fun, I’ll cast one for Lauko. He fits the mold perfectly and he’s ranked in the right range.
C - Ontario Hockey League (OHL) - 5’7”, 165 lbs - 65 points in 68 games - Rank #58
Dudas is another player who fits the Lightning prospect profile. Again, the main deterrent with Dudas is size. But, unlike Lauko, he doesn’t have the height to develop a more prototypical NHL body. Dudas will instead have to figure out a way to be successful in the NHL at 5’7”.
What makes Dudas intriguing is what he can do once you get over the size issue. He has an impressive set of offensive tools. His shot is particularly dangerous, especially on one-timers. Several different scouts expressed that they wished he would be more aggressive with his shot and that he sometimes looks to create for others instead of himself. Of all the weaknesses for a player to have, that’s definitely not the worst.
Much like Lauko, scouts compliment Dudas’ two way game and his consistent effort level. He doesn’t let his size deter him from trying to compete in all areas of the game. He played in all situations and can be especially dangerous on the power play with more space to work in the offensive zone.
Scouts also praise his creativity, vision, and intelligence. Again, these are the hallmarks of potential Lightning draft picks. Yzerman and Murray have shown a preference for centers who play the way Dudas does. The only thing holding him back is lacking traditional size.
In rankings, Dudas is all over the place. I’ve seen him anywhere from the top half of the second round to the end of the fourth round. He’s a possibility for the Bolts in the second depending who’s on the board, or could even be an option in the third if they’re lucky. I doubt he makes it all the way to them in the fourth, but if he did, that would be quite a steal.
C/LW - Western Hockey League (WHL) - 5’11”, 163 lbs - 73 points in 72 games - Rank #60
Fonstad doesn’t fit the Lightning profile as cleanly as Lauko or even Dudas. But he fits it enough, and has other interesting traits to make him a standout option for me at the end of the second round. In terms of size, he’s a bit small but nothing that would deter a smart NHL team in 2018. We’ve seen enough players his size succeed that it shouldn’t be an important part of the discussion.
Offensively, Fonstad’s strength is his creativity and playmaking ability. Scouts note his high end vision and passing ability. He has a knack for finding teammates and setting up dangerous shots. He doesn’t have a great shot of his own but his creativity and intelligence in the offensive zone cause enough problems for the opposition that his lack of a shot isn’t as big of an issue as it might be otherwise.
He grades out highly by quantitative measures. You can read this article from Jeremy Davis to get more information on that. But to summarize, players who performed similar to him in the WHL have a relatively high success rate in the NHL. Davis has him ranked 22nd in this year’s class, which is quite an endorsement from the person doing the best public pre-draft player evaluation analytics work.
His weaknesses are mainly on defense. He doesn’t have the complete two-way game that Lauko and Dudas have. How much of an issue he has with defense depends on which scouting service you read. I’ve only seen it identified as a significant problem in one place, while most others describe him as average or only slightly below average defensively. But, regardless, that does make him less of a fit than Dudas and Lauko.
In summary, he has the perfect offensive game built on creativity and intelligence for a Lightning draftee. However, he lacks the two-way game that Yzerman and Murray prefer. Whether they would take him at 59 likely hinges on who else is available and what exactly they’ve heard from their own scouts about his defense.
RD - Sweden (SuperElit/Allsvenskan) - 6’1”, 187 lbs - 10 points in 52 games - Rank #64
Listen, I’m just going to be frank here. I don’t think there’s much of a chance the Lightning pick Johansson. They haven’t picked a Swedish player during the tenure of Yzerman and Murray. Victor Hedman was the last Swedish player drafted by the organization and that was in 2009. Last year, they had a chance to pick Timothy Liljegren, and took Cal Foote instead.
The reason I’m including Johansson is because if he falls to the end of the second round, I think he could potentially represent great value at a prime position: right-handed defense. He seems to have flown a little under the radar because he only scored one point in twenty-three games after moving up to Sweden’s second highest level of hockey. That single point obscures a much more interesting player according to most scouts.
Johansson is an excellent skater and a gifted defender. Every scouting service praises his work in the defensive zone, but not purely in terms of physicality. While he isn’t afraid to clear the net front, that isn’t the basis of his game. Instead, scouts praise his skating, intelligence, and decision making to neutralize the opposition’s offense.
He doesn’t have a high end offensive game but he isn’t a “stay-at-home” defender either. He’s more than capable of starting the transition game. He’s a confident puck handler and a good passer.
Based on the scouting reports, Johansson seems to fit the profile of a defense-first blue liner for the modern NHL. Projecting outcomes for high-scoring forwards is easier to do with the data we have available. For players like Johansson, we’re still largely reliant on qualitative analysis from scouts. But based on what I’ve read, Johansson has all the tools to be an impact defensive player in the NHL.
No highlights available. Sorry. Here’s an interview from the combine instead.
Saying with any confidence who the Lightning will pick at 59 is unrealistic. Lauko, Dudas, Fonstad, and Johansson are players who, to me, would make sense at the end of the second round. Almost certainly, the Lightning will choose someone who isn’t one of those four players.
This front office has shown they know how to scout and that makes the draft one of the most fun days of the year. Day two is where the Lightning have separated themselves from the rest of the NHL. By trading away their first-round pick, they’ve challenged themselves to find success on day two once more.