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 31 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. Be sure to check back 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 Ranking, February Edition: #16-20
16.) Barrett Hayton, Centre, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, 6’1″ 185 lbs
The ninth overall pick in the 2016 OHL Draft, Hayton has 17 goals and 45 points in 48 games this year. The Greyhounds are stacked club, one of the best in the entire CHL, and he is playing top-6 minutes and contributing to their success. Hayton was also a member of Canada’s gold-medal winning Hlinka squad, with three goals and six points in five games.
Hayton has a heavy shot and a good release. A big reason for his increased goal scoring this year has been his ability to get into the right spots and just use that wrist shot more often. He has also improved his accuracy but can still stand to get better in this area. His slap shot is also very good. Hayton plays a straightforward game. He protects the puck well on the cycle but is not the type of forward to dangle a defenceman in a one-on-one situation. Instead, Hayton looks to keep the puck moving, find the open man, and then get it to the net. He is also good on the forecheck. While he does not lay a lot of big hits, he gets in quickly, pressuring defenders and creating turnovers. Defensively Hayton backchecks hard and shows good positioning.
17.) Isac Lundestrom, Centre/Left Wing, Lulea HF, 6’0″ 185 lbs
Lundestrom has played for Sweden in the last two Under-18 World Hockey Championships, scoring five points in seven games last year. As an underage player, he was a depth forward on the 2016 Bronze Medal winning squad. That season he played a bigger role for the Under 17 team, who won silver that year. He played 45 games with Lulea in the SHL last season, but only had six points. This year he is doing a lot more with 12 points in 33 games in Sweden’s top league. He also played at the World Juniors scoring two goals in seven games for the Silver Medal winning squad.
Lundestrom is a strong player in all three zones. He has high-end hockey IQ and always seems to make the right play. While he is not outstanding in any one area, his skills are good in almost all areas. He is a strong skater, with decent speed and acceleration. He is also willing to play a gritty game, battling on both the forecheck and the backcheck. Lundestrom has good vision and passing skills, as well as an accurate shot with a quick release. He also has the soft hands, and the agility to beat defenders in one-on-one situations, as well as to make a quick move to open up a passing or shooting lane.
18.) Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Centre/Right Wing, Assat, 6’2″ 190 lbs
Kotkaniemi burst onto the scene at last year’s Under-18 World Championships. He put up six points in seven games as an underager and helped Finland to the silver medal. He carried that strong play into this summer’s Ivan Hlinka tournament, where he scored four points in four games. The strong play has been enough to see Kotkaniemi graduate from the Finnish junior leagues, up to the top league with Assat. He has 22 points in 49 games this year.
Kotkaniemi has good size. He takes advantage of his big frame, playing a power game. He loves to take the puck and drive to the front of the net. Without the puck he is also found around the top of the crease, ready to provide a screen or pounce on a rebound. Kotkaniemi is also a good playmaker, with good vision and passing skills. He has the stickhandling ability to protect the puck on the cycle and extend plays to find an open teammate. Kotkaniemi is not a speedster like others in this ranking, but he is not slow either. He can keep up with the play and has the power and balance in his stride to fight through checks. Kotkaniemi reads the play well and plays a strong defensive game.
19.) Jared McIsaac, Left Defence, Halifax Mooseheads, 6’2″ 209 lbs
The second overall pick in the 2016 QMJHL Draft, McIsaac is another prospect showing the brilliance of the Mooseheads drafting and development program. After scoring 32 points in 59 games as a rookie, he has 6 goals and 31 points in 48 games this year. McIsaac has very good mobility, with good speed and acceleration in both directions. He also has the edgework and agility to cover 360 degrees of ice. This helps him to be an excellent two-way defender. He is very difficult to beat one-on-one. McIsaac can also play a physical game in the corners and in front of the net.
McIsaac can carry the puck out of his own zone and lead the rush. He combines excellent puck handling skill with his good skating and can carry the puck end to end. He also has the vision and skill to make a strong first pass and start the rush that way. McIsaac has a strong shot in addition to the ability to quarterback the power play. The skill is clearly there, and it is high end. However, the issue is consistency. McIsaac can look great one game and mediocre the next. This has caused him to slip a bit in the rankings as he was top 10 in November.
20.) Ryan McLeod, Centre, Mississauga Steelheads, 6’2″ 190 lbs
Ryan Mcleod’s older brother and teammate Michael McLeod was drafted in the first round by the New Jersey Devils in 2016. The younger McLeod put up 42 points in 68 games for the Steelheads last year. However, he took a real leap forward with 20 points in 20 playoff games. This season he has 18 goals and 54 points in 49 games.
Like his brother, McLeod is an outstanding skater and very good two-way player. Despite being just 17, he is a key man on the penalty kill. His line is also matched up against the other team’s top line on a regular basis. McLeod also has very good vision and passing skills. He can create off the rush, using his speed and stickhandling ability to get past defenders. He can make quick cuts to beat them or take them wide off the rush. McLeod uses his ability to change the pace as a weapon, beating defenders by quickly accelerating or creating lanes by slowing down. Working down low, he can also control the puck, slow down the play and set-up plays when his teammates get open. He also has a decent wrist shot but does not use it often enough.
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