Welcome back to Top Shelf Prospects, the column looking at Hockey’s Future Stars. Over the next few days, we will be previewing the 2018 NHL Draft by ranking our top 30 prospects and honourable mentions.
With the Junior seasons not just in Canada but throughout the world gearing up for the stretch drive and a number of international tournaments (Ivan Hlinka, Four Nations, Subway Super Series, World Juniors) in the books, we have gotten a decent overview of what some of the biggest prospects for the draft are doing this year. This is an up-to-date look and ranking of these prospects. That said, there is still plenty of work to be done and many important games to be played including the five nations, junior league playoffs, European playoffs, and of course the Under-18 World Championships. While the rankings still have some fluidity, a pecking order is also starting to define itself. For now, this is what we have, we hope you enjoy the early preview and be sure to be ready in late March as we roll out our full player-by-player draft preview.
Our last update, the late November Rankings are here.
2018 NHL Draft February Rankings: 6-10
6.) Oliver Wahlstrom, Right Wing/Centre, US NTDP U18, 6’1″ 198 lbs
Wahlstrom split last season between the US Under 17 and Under 18 teams. He had 25 points in 43 games with the U17s. However, he had even better numbers with the U18 squad with 15 points in 20 games, and with five points in seven games in helping to win gold at the IIHF Under 18 World Championships. This year he’s picked up right where he left off and even taken his game to the next level. He has 29 goals and 50 points in just 36 games this year.
There are some questions around Wahlstrom concerning his position. He split time between right wing and centre during the 2016-17 season. However, he has been a right wing almost exclusively this season. Centring the top line for the US NTDP team is Jack Hughes, the likely top pick in the 2019 NHL Draft
One of the best stick handlers in the draft, Wahlstrom has an impressive array of moves. He isn’t afraid to use them in traffic either. He is a very good playmaker. Wahlstrom can extend plays and wait for a teammate to get open. Once they do, he can make a pass through the tightest of openings. He also has a very good wrist shot and outstanding release. However, it is the improvements in his shot that have taken Wahlstrom’s game up a notch. While his shot was already at a high level, it seems it is even better this year, and Wahlstrom is using it more. He is a pure sniper, and with this aspect of his game improving he is a better and more dangerous player. Wahlstrom is taking a ton of shots, from high danger areas, and putting the puck in the back of the net. That has to impress scouts.
7.) Quinn Hughes, Left Defence, Michigan Wolverines, 5’10″ 174 lbs
This undersized defenseman is an offensive dynamo. He helped the US to the gold medal at last year’s Under-18 World Championships, and was a part of this year’s World Junior Championships. A freshman at the University of Michigan, Hughes has a goal and 14 assists in 23 games this year. Hughes is an outstanding skater. He looks like he is floating above the ice. Hughes has a textbook stride, and the ability to change directions on a dime. He uses the outstanding speed to join the rush or to pinch in at the line. Hughes is rarely caught deep as he can still get back into position defensively thanks to that speed.
He also has excellent vision and playmaking ability, as well as the hockey sense to almost always make the right play. He seems to think the game and anticipate plays better than others out there on the ice. Hughes also has a hard slap shot. His defensive game is based on his anticipation and ability to quickly transition the puck out of his own zone. The size is a liability as Hughes can be outmuscled in his own end. He needs to be quick on the puck on dump-ins, as well as using a good stick check to steal pucks from attackers.
8.) Evan Bouchard, Right Defence, London Knights, 6’2″ 181 lbs
With Victor Mete playing for the Montreal Canadiens, and Olli Juolevi playing in Europe, Bouchard has been forced to step into a much bigger role on the London Knights blue line. He has thrived in the opportunity, with 60 points in 47 games this year. He has been outstanding in all aspects of the game, and a real bright spot for a Knights team that sold major pieces at the trade deadline in order to re-tool for next year.
In 2015-16 he won a World Under 17 gold medal, and was on the tournament all-star team, and led all defencemen in scoring. He also was part of London’s Memorial Cup winning team that year, but as a young defenceman did not see a lot of minutes on that squad.
Bouchard has an absolute bomb of a slap shot. His slap shot and one-timer are already NHL calibre. He has also really improved his passing this season. He is far more accurate and consistent than last season. Bouchard can quarterback the play from the point, and can also lead the rush. He has very good vision and anticipates the developing play. Bouchard finds open teammates and makes smart plays with the puck, especially in transition.
He has decent speed when he gets going, but needs to work on his first step and acceleration. Bouchard is willing to play a physical game on the defensive end of the ice. He uses his size and his reach to keep attackers to the outside and away from the danger areas of the ice.
9.) Noah Dobson, Right Defence, Acadie-Bathurst Titan, 6’3″ 174 lbs
The sixth overall pick in the 2016 QMJHL Draft, Dobson put up three points in five games in helping Canada to a gold medal at this summer’s Ivan Hlinka tournament. He also put up 26 points in 63 games for the Titan in his rookie campaign. This year he has improved his offensive game with 11 goals and 48 points in 48 games this year.
Dobson plays a strong defensive game, with good positioning and gap control. He also has the passing and skating skills to move the puck up the ice and provide some offence from the backend. He is a good playmaker, who can create off the rush, and play a quarterback role on the powerplay. Dobson can stand to improve his upper body strength and be more effective in physical battles and get more power on his shot. There is time for the 17-year-old to add muscle to a skinny frame.
10.) Joel Farabee, Left Wing, US NTDP U18, 5’11” 171 lbs
Farabee is the left wing on the US NTDP’s top line with Wahlstrom and Jack Hughes. He has been dynamic with 18 goals and 42 points in 36 games. Last season, he scored 31 points in 42 games with the U17 team, and 19 points in 22 games with the U18 squad. It was enough to get a role at the IIHF Under 18 World Championships, where he put up six points in seven games and helped the Americans to the gold medal. He is committed to Boston University for the 2018-19 season.
Farabee is an excellent skater, with the agility and edge work to get by defenders in one-on-one situations. He also has outstanding acceleration. If he gets a step on a defenceman, he can blow past him and cut to the net. Farabee has good hands and stick skills allowing him to control the puck while moving at top speed. Defenders must respect his speed, and so they back off him on the rush, creating shooting and passing lanes. Farabee has good vision and is an outstanding playmaker off the wing. He anticipates extremely well and seems to be a step ahead of the play. Farabee finds open ice without the puck and makes smart plays with it. He could stand to add some power to his shot though. This may come as he adds more muscle to his frame.
Embed from Getty Images